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posted by janrinok on Thursday May 25 2023, @07:56PM   Printer-friendly

With increasing demand on terrestrial launch pads, some companies are venturing out into the open sea:

With increasing demand on terrestrial launch pads, some companies are venturing out into the open sea, with this Virginia startup leading the way.

The Spaceport Company recently pulled off a series of rocket launches from a floating launch pad in the Gulf of Mexico, in its effort to create more options for rocket companies needing to reach space.

On Monday, the Virginia-based startup announced its successful demonstration, marking the first set of rocket launches from U.S. territorial waters using a prototype mobile floating spaceport.

"This demonstration provided numerous lessons which will be incorporated into our next project: building a sea-based spaceport capable of orbital operations," Tom Marotta, founder and CEO of The Spaceport Company, said in the company statement. "We are working towards offering the U.S.'s first truly commercial spaceport, which can best support the rapidly growing commercial launch industry and alleviate the burdens on government ranges."

In partnership with Evolution Space, which is providing the required propulsion systems, The Spaceport Company launched four small sounding rockets from a modified ship floating in the Gulf of Mexico. The demonstration paves the way for orbital launches hosted on offshore platforms—an effort to decrease demand on terrestrial launch sites as the cadence of rocket launches continues to increase. The launch pace and resulting traffic at Cape Canaveral, Florida, is now so intense, for example, that U.S. Space Force is looking for alternatives, as SpaceNews reported earlier this month.

[...] The idea of launching far from shore could resolve some environmental concerns on land, but it's not yet clear whether rocket launches at sea could also cause damage to marine life, or if offshore platforms are resilient enough to launch megarockets the likes of Starship. As for smaller rockets, that seems more feasible, as these recent tests suggest.

Future tests will have to determine if bigger rockets, especially those capable of reaching orbit, can launch from The Spaceport Company's facilities. Importantly, the company recently announced a partnership with Vaya Space to launch small rockets from its sea-based platforms staring in 2025.

As a concept, launching rockets from mobile sea platforms is nothing new. In 2019, China became the third country after the U.S. and Russia to do so.


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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by JoeMerchant on Thursday May 25 2023, @08:33PM (5 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday May 25 2023, @08:33PM (#1308203)

    Fine for low orbit small payloads. By the time you're up to man-rated sized launchers, it's going to get challenging.

    SuperHeavy oscillated the waterlogged soil under the pad at Boca Chica, a seaborne launch pad is going to be even more prone to "wave actions" and bobbing up and down caused by the launch vehicle thrust.

    I asked before in another thread: how does the SuperHeavy launch pad compare in size, and mass, to Deepwater Horizon? Sure, we can build many Deepwater Horizon sized platforms, but they're not cheap.

    --
    🌻🌻 [google.com]
    • (Score: 1, Troll) by khallow on Friday May 26 2023, @12:07AM (4 children)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 26 2023, @12:07AM (#1308234) Journal

      Fine for low orbit small payloads. By the time you're up to man-rated sized launchers, it's going to get challenging.

      Little missiles like this one [astronautix.com]?

      Sea Dragon

      American sea-launched heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle. Sea Dragon was an immense, sea-launched, two-stage launch vehicle designed by Robert Truax for Aerojet in 1962. It was to be capable of putting 1.2 million pounds (550 metric tons) into low Earth orbit. The concept was to achieve minimum launch costs through lower development and production costs. This meant accepting a larger booster with a lower performance propulsion system and higher stage dead weight then traditional NASA and USAF designs.

      That's about quadruple the payload of the Saturn V, using the technologies of 1962! While the link doesn't discuss it, a key advantage of water launch is that it is easier on both the rocket and any launch infrastructure you have. Water absorbs launch-generated sound energy better than ground does. My understanding is that this rocket was larger than one that could be launched from the ground without a sophisticated deluge system (as SpaceX learned recently).

      The first stage had a single pressure fed, thrust chamber of 36 million kgf thrust, burning LOX/Kerosene. The second stage was �considerably smaller' (thrust only 6.35 million kgf!) and burned LOX/LH2. The complete vehicle was 23 m in diameter and 150 m long. The all-up weight was 18,000 metric tons. The launch vehicle would be fuelled with RP-1 kerosene in port, then towed horizontally to a launch point in the open ocean. It would then be filled with cryogenic liquid oxygen and hydrogen from tankers or produced by electrolysis of sea water by a nuclear aircraft carrier (such as the CVN Enterprise in the painting). After fuelling, the tanks at the launcher base would be flooded, and the vehicle would reach a vertical position in the open ocean. Launch would follow. The concept was proven with tests of the earlier Sea Bee and Sea Horse vehicles. Aside from the baseline two-stage expendable version, a single-stage-to-orbit reusable vehicle with a plug nozzle was designed. Costs to low earth orbit were estimated to be between $60/kg and $600/kg - eg one fourth that of the Saturn V or less.

      Notice also the holy grail of orbital rocketry - reusable single state to orbit.

      • (Score: 3, Touché) by JoeMerchant on Friday May 26 2023, @12:23AM (3 children)

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday May 26 2023, @12:23AM (#1308237)

        >While the link doesn't discuss it,

        I don't recall that ever launching... BFR had plenty of speculation about a flawless first launch from a "simple" concrete pad at Boca Chica, until they actually lit the candle...

        --
        🌻🌻 [google.com]
        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday May 26 2023, @04:17AM (2 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 26 2023, @04:17AM (#1308252) Journal

          I don't recall that ever launching...

          So what? It's a serious design just the same.

          BFR had plenty of speculation about a flawless first launch from a "simple" concrete pad at Boca Chica, until they actually lit the candle...

          Which is quite irrelevant to this discussion except as a demonstration of the risks of large rockets that can be mitigated by a water launch.

          • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday May 26 2023, @10:19AM (1 child)

            by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday May 26 2023, @10:19AM (#1308287)

            Not only 60 years of advancement in design capabilities (digital simulation, FEA, etc.), but also "test firing data" led SpaceX to believe their launch pad was capable of BFR loads.

            There's a difference between a deluge system on a concrete pad and bobbing like a cork in the ocean.

            Also: salt water and reusable hot metal aren't a great combo.

            But, yeah, go invest $600m on a platform that might work and tell us how that goes.

            --
            🌻🌻 [google.com]
            • (Score: 0, Troll) by khallow on Friday May 26 2023, @12:07PM

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 26 2023, @12:07PM (#1308295) Journal

              There's a difference between a deluge system on a concrete pad and bobbing like a cork in the ocean.

              An 18k ton cork doesn't bob like a half ounce cork does. There are some things that get simpler with increased size.

              Also: salt water and reusable hot metal aren't a great combo.

              That is a real problem. Even so, one could launch from a fresh water lake. There are a number near the equator or one could create an artificial lake for the purpose.

              But, yeah, go invest $600m on a platform that might work and tell us how that goes.

              Or we could invest $60 billion on a platform that we already know won't work.

  • (Score: 1) by crotherm on Friday May 26 2023, @02:51PM

    by crotherm (5427) Subscriber Badge on Friday May 26 2023, @02:51PM (#1308320)

    We were already doing this.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Launch [wikipedia.org]

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