Spaceflight Is Hard: SpaceX and Galileo mishaps

Spaceflight is hard.  Failures are, therefore, to be expected.  SpaceX has analyzed the failure of the F9R Dev 1 test article in Texas recently, and has found that the fault was due to a clogged sensor tube which caused the vehicle to not orient itself properly, which in turn led to the on-board computer detecting the flight deviating from plan and terminating.  This single-point-of-failure does not exist on the flight Falcon 9 rockets, because those vehicles have full redundancy.   Additionally, although the test article has only three engines so the loss of one of them would cause a critical navigational problem, the flight model has a whopping nine and can maintain control with only eight.  Meanwhile, the AsiaSat launch scheduled for last week ended up delayed for unrelated tank pressurization concerns.

Spaceflight is hard.

That got demonstrated also on a Soyuz-Fregat launch from Kourou last week, as the Fregat did not impart adequate delta-vee to the payloads (cause is not yet known), leaving them in the wrong orbit.  This is a particular problem since the payload was two more spacecraft for Europe’s nascent Galileo navigation constellation.  Navigation satellites have to fly in very specific orbits at very specific altitudes, so it’s a problem.  ESA hasn’t given up, though.  The spacecraft have deployed their solar arrays, and they’re exploring options at the moment.

And sometimes even when everything goes right, it doesn’t — Russia’s Foton M4 biosatellite just returned after six weeks in orbit.  Almost everything seems to have gone perfectly, with many experiment packages recovered with good data, including a fruit fry colony that has been, well, fruitful.  But the highest profile experiment was a group of five geckos, which it was hoped would mate in space and produce offspring.  Alas, all five are deceased.  It’s not yet clear how they died.

Spaceflight is hard.  And we’re going to be reminded of that many more times.  But you can’t succeed if you live in fear of failure; we must keep pressing onwards.

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Finding a Home for Philae

ESA has shortlisted five potential landing sites on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, where Philae can theoretically drop down and anchor itself.  Now they get the difficult task of narrowing it down to just one, in what looks like a geological bonanza.  Here they are:

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Tomorrow we go . . . into the Dalek!

EDIT: I thought I’d scheduled this to post Friday, but it posted Thursday instead.  Whoops!  Please accept my sincere apology, and pretend we just travelled 24 hours into the future.  ;-)

Tomorrow’s episode of “Doctor Who” is titled “Into the Dalek”, and sounds like a Fantastic Voyage style trip into the homicidal tinpots — except this one isn’t homicidal.  It’s so broken it’s turned good.  The BBC has released a couple of advance clips to whet our appetites:

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Into the Dalek Trailer

Ahh, it’s nice to have Who back on our screens!  The Daleks return this Saturday, with an interesting premise — a ship of rebels surrounded by Daleks, and their only hope lies in a Dalek so damaged that it has turned good.  They must venture inside of it — Fantastic Voyage, but with a Dalek!

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Video of the ill-fated SpaceX F9R test

Just to reiterate, this is the sort of thing that inevitably will happen in a test program.  That’s why you test.  ;-)

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It’s almost here!!!!

The wait is nearly over.  In half an hour, BBC America will air “Deep Breath”, the series eight premiere for Doctor Who.  I know, I’m a total hopeless geek, but I do love Doctor Who.  And the experience of meeting a new Doctor is very special.  We don’t have Troughton’s first episode anymore, but the others . . . “Spearhead from Space”, “Robot”, “Castrovalva”, “The Twin Dilemma”, “Time and the Rani”, the “Doctor Who” telemovie, “Rose”, “The Christmas Invasion”, “The Eleventh Hour”, “The Day of the Doctor”, and today . . . today we meet Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor in “Deep Breath”.

So.

Take a deep breath.  ;-)

We’re almost there.

Goodbye, Matt Smith.  We’ll miss you.  And welcome, Peter Capaldi!  We’re all looking forward to the adventures.  ;-)

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SpaceX Mishap: F9R test article terminated over Texas

In addition to their regular satellite launch business, SpaceX is conducting a series of test flights with a Falcon 9 first stage core, launching up a ways and then landing again to fine-tune the landing process before attempting a full-up stage return on an orbital mission.  The Grasshopper test article was a resounding success, and they moved on to carrying out tests with a prototype Falcon 9R (R for “reusable”) with deployable legs and stabilizing fins.  Until now, it’s all been going great, but today they had their first major anomaly.

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The vehicle’s onboard computer detected an anomaly and automatically triggered the flight termination system.  That’s basically rocket speak for “self-destruct system” — all launch vehicles in America carry these, to destroy the rocket before it can threaten life or property.  That actually does include the manned rockets, the idea being that astronauts have signed on for a known risk, which is not the case for random civilians just going about their lives on the ground.

It’s a setback for SpaceX, but it’s not clear how *much* of a setback.  They have a commercial flight for AsiaSat scheduled for Tuesday, which would also include another flyback and splashdown test; it’s not clear if this mishap will delay or whether they’ll press on knowing that the flyback test is a secondary objective.  They’re also planning on making higher altitude F9R flights over White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico later this year, but it’s also unclear whether this will impact those plans.  I’ll post again if/when I hear more.  ;-)

SpaceflightNow: SpaceX Rocket Prototype Explodes in Test Flight

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