Last Thursday, China launched a Long March 4C (CZ-4C) rocket from Taiyuan, which is an inland launch complex. One of the hazards of inland launch complexes is that spent hardward routinely drops over inhabited territories. This isn’t even in a failure mode — this happens by design. And on this occasion, unfortunately there was a house in the way:
And then when the homeowner went to see what had happened, he found this:
Honestly, it’s amazing this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. I’m glad it doesn’t happen more often, but still.
Last week, the Orion capsule completed another drop test, this one to validate the system’s performance if one drogue and one main both failed. It performed beautifully. Next flight of the spacecraft is scheduled to be an uncrewed flight aboard SLS in 2018, with crewed flights following in 2021.
It was a surprisingly busy week in spaceflight, with three launches from Asia. The first was a surprise launch of a Long March 4C from Taiyuan Launch Center in northern China on Thursday, placing a surveillance satellite into orbit. China ordinarily does not announce military launches. The payload is designated Yaogan 27.
Later that day, a GSLV Mark 2 rocket blasted off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, India. This was the third all-domestic flight, with an Indian-built cryogenic upper stage, and the second succesful one. The payload was an Indian geosynchronous commsat, GSAT 6, and telemetry indicates it has deployed its solar arrays and is active. GSLV has had a difficult break-in period, but with back-to-back successes, ISRO is ready to declare the Mark 2 operational.
And then Proton rounded out the week from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, making a triumphant return to flight after the May 16 accident that destroyed a Mexican commsat. This flight was completely successful, delivering the Boeing-built Inmarsat 5 F3 spacecraft to geosynchronous transfer orbit for Inmarsat of London. This will be the latest element in Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band mobile communications network.
Next rocket on deck is Monday’s Atlas V launch for the US Navy, and then after that is Wednesday’s scheduled manned Soyuz launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome to begin the forty-fourth Soyuz flight to the International Space station.
The New Horizons team has selected the second target for the probe: a Kuiper Belt Object with the provisional designation 2014 MU69 that orbits about a billion miles further out than Pluto. The object, which the team refers to as PT1 (“Potential Target 1”), is a different sort of object from Pluto, so should be valuable from a scientific perspective, rather than a rehash of the Pluto encounter. This object was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope last year during its survey for potential New Horizons targets, so this is a rare thing indeed: an object discovered *after* a mission was launched to it, and only discovered *because* a mission had been launched to it. It’s a small little object, just thirty miles across, which highlights the impressive capabilities of the Hubble to spot it at such extreme range. If the mission extension is approved (and it almost certainly will be, next year), New Horizons will encounter this tiny world on New Year’s Day of 2019.
At least we don’t have to wait as long for this one as we did for Pluto. ;-)
NASA’s New Horizons Team Selects Potential Kuiper Belt Flyby Target
Well, hopefully. For the first time, NASA has made it more of a priority to put orbiters around the two remaining major planets, Uranus and Neptune, and is soliciting proposals for Uranus and Neptune orbiters, perhaps as a flagship-class mission that could be build as two copies, one for each planet, to launch sometime after 2020 or even 2030. They’re also asking for proposals for cheaper options. Even with this renewed focus, though, the missions face some stiff competition — from the as-yet-unplanned mission that will retrieve the samples collected by the 2020 Mars rover, from missions to study the oceans of Europa and Enceladus, and from a proposed Titan lander that already missed its opportunity in the last round (losing out to Mars InSight). Plus, as outer-solar-system vehicles, they will certainly require plutonium, and that alone makes them expensive.
But I’m excited all the same! This is a very long-range thing, so many of the scientists and engineers currently working at JPL will be retired before these probes reach their targets. But with it finally a priority, perhaps these mysterious icy gas giants will finally get the missions they deserve. Neither world has been visited since Voyager 2 made its solitary flybies of each world during the Grand Tour, and they remain deeply mysterious.
SpaceflightNow: Uranus, Neptune in NASA’s Sights for New Robotic Mission
I love these time-lapse videos shot with a moving rig. Previously, though I’d seen them mostly of places out on the prairie or up in the mountains or deep in the desert. This one is right in my hometown, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. Both cities are represented here; have fun watching and, if you’re local, spotting local landmarks. ;-) For astrophotography afficiandos, there’s also a lovely sequence of the aurora borealis shot over boats docked at a marina somewhere in the Twin Cities.