Rocket Report: Tearing down Ariane's SUSIE concept; is ChatGPT a rocket scientist?
Welcome to Edition 5.24 of the Rocket Report! I joined Ars more than seven years ago to write about space. It has been an amazing ride, and now I'm thrilled to say we're expanding our coverage. Come work with me as a space reporter! Pay is competitive, and you can work remotely. But you must be passionate about space and writing. At least some experience in space journalism is preferred. Here is the place to apply. Anyway, in a few months, I hope to have someone to help with the Rocket Report, so there will no longer be interruptions!
As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.
A deeper dive into the German launch industry. A German market research firm, Capitol Momentum, has published an extensive report on the financial and technical health of Germany's three most prominent small launch companies--HyImpulse Technologies, Isar Aerospace, and Rocket Factory Augsburg. The report (which requires an email address to download) provides a trove of data about the companies, which are all attempting to bring orbital rockets online within the next 12 to 24 months.
That's a lot of projected launches ... Since they are all private, limited recent data exists about their overall progress, but the report culls what is available. What emerges is a paradoxical picture: One company, Isar, is well funded but has not produced significant technical milestones of late; the other companies, HyImpulse and Rocket Factory Augsburg, have less financing but appear to be closer to launch readiness. One red flag for me is that both HyImpulse and Rocket Factory Augsburg have business cases built around 50 commercial launches a year, which seems completely unrealizable, both from a demand standpoint as well as the exceptional technical capability needed to reach such a cadence.
Virgin Orbit in financial trouble. This week, small launch company Virgin Orbit formally notified investors that it raised an additional $10 million from Virgin Investments Limited, an investment firm owned by Sir Richard Branson. Exactly what this filing means for the company's future will probably not become clear until Virgin Orbit releases financial details about its fourth-quarter earnings for 2022, and this may not happen until late March. But there are a few things in the filing that raise concerns about the financial solvency of the US-based small-launch company, Ars reports.
Paying a higher rate ... The $10 million amount is very low, providing only a few weeks of funding for the company given its high overhead and large payroll. Moreover, the note has an interest rate of 12 percent, double the rate of the November and December notes, which had interest rates of 6 percent. And finally, the new filing contains a separate security agreement that explicitly turns the unsecured November Branson note into a secured obligation. This could have been an injection of cash to meet payroll.