Starship may fly in May; Ariane 6 making progress.

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Rocket Lab successfully launched a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office from Wallops Island, Virginia, marking the company’s fourth launch from this location. This mission, known as NROL-123, was the final mission under a Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract between the NRO and Rocket Lab, signifying a steady customer relationship between the two entities. The NRO did not divulge details about the payload, but the agency hinted at technology demonstrations being conducted during the mission, emphasizing the advancement of innovation and critical new technology.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s massive Starship rocket is posing a potential threat to small satellite launch providers, as its capability to carry over 100 metric tons of payload into low-Earth orbit may attract customers with both heavy and smaller spacecraft. The introduction of Orbital Transfer Vehicles for last-mile delivery services could make SpaceX’s Transporter missions and potential Starship rideshares more appealing to customers looking for cost-effective launch options. This development could challenge traditional small launch providers by offering lower prices and potentially reshaping the small satellite launch market in the future.

Astrobotic’s Xodiac rocket recently completed its first night flight, a significant milestone for this small terrestrial vertical takeoff and vertical landing technology testbed. Designed for vertical hops and equipped to host prototype sensors and payloads, Xodiac plays a crucial role in testing precision landing technologies for use on other worlds. Astrobotic’s acquisition of Masten Space Systems underscores the company’s focus on developing automated landing and navigation technologies, with NASA testing Xodiac’s sensors in preparation for the Nighttime Precision Landing Challenge to simulate landing scenarios on the Moon under low-light conditions.

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