Launch/Landing Recap — plus SpaceX and Electron status

I’m still way too busy to post every day, so in penance, here’s the last month worth of things going up and things coming back down! The vast majority of these are Chinese — they’ve been extremely busy lately!

On November 14, a Long March 4C blasted off out of Taiyuan, China with the Fengyun 3D weather satellite on board.

Then on November 18, the penultimate Delta II launched.  I already posted a link to a full-length video, so now here’s ULA’s traditional launch highlights video:

On November 20, a Long March 6 blasted off from Taiyuan, China with the Jilin 1 set of Earth observation microsatellites.  These are commercial satellites offering real-time video of the Earth, so I chose this launch video because although it doesn’t show very much of the launch, it does include some of the first images returned by the three spacecraft:

Four days later, China launched another rocket, a Long March 2C out of Xichang, with the Yaogan 30-02 photo reconnaissance cluster of three spacecraft:

On November 28, the Vostochny Cosmodrome finally hosted its second flight, a Soyuz 2-1b carrying the Meteor M2-1 weather satellite and a collection of smaller payloads.  Unfortunately, in another bit of bad news for the cosmodrome (and through circumstances beyond their control), the launch was a failure.  The Fregat upper stage was programmed incorrectly, leading to a failure to insert into orbit.  The spacecraft are believed to be somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

On December 2, however, the Soyuz 2-1b had a chance to redeem itself, succesfully placing the Lotos-S1 spacecraft, believed to be an electronic intelligent satellite, into orbit from Plesetsk Cosmodrome.  This was the first launch of this Soyuz variant from Plesetsk:

And then later the same day, a Long March 2D placed the Yaogan Weixing/LKW-1 Earth observation satellite into orbit from Jiuquan, China:

On December 10, China followed that up with a Long March 3B out of Xichang, placing Alcomsat 1 into orbit.  Alcomsat is a commercial geosynchronous commsat for the nation of Algeria:

And on December 12, an Ariane 5 carried the next four Galileo satellites, (spacecraft 19-22) into orbit from Kourou, French Guiana:

And the last launch on this list isn’t an orbital one: it’s another suborbital (and, technically, just barely sub-space) flight of the fully reusable New Shepherd rocket with the new version of their capsule, with super large windows:

They also, for the fist time, had a simulated passenger on board: a crash test dummy nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker.  Here’s his view:

Lastly, one more thing coming back down: the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft, following a successful six-month stay at the International Space Station, carrying Sergey Ryanzanskiy, Randy Bresnik, and Paolo Nespoli:

There were two other launches scheduled this week.  The first, Rocket Lab’s second attempt to test fly their Electron small rocket out of New Zealand, was aborted seconds after main engine start a few days ago.  Last I heard, they were trying for a launch today, but I have not yet heard if they flew.  (Which I think means they have not attempted another launch yet.)

The second is SpaceX’s latest CRS flight to the International Space Station, and the first where NASA has permitted the use of a reused first stage on the rocket.  Also, the return to flight for SLC-40 after the catastrophic loss of a Falcon 9 and Dragon there about a year ago.  They had a successful test fire, but technical concerns have delayed the launch.  It’s currently set for late Friday morning.  If they miss that launch time, however, they may have to stand down for a while.  The next crewed Soyuz is scheduled to launch on Sunday, and after that the thermal environment will be unfavorable for docking due to the sun angle.  Next attempt would likely be no earlier than Christmas Day.

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NOTGLaDOS: Electromagnetic Spectrum The Musical

This gave me enormous joy on a rather tense day.

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Just sixteen days until DOCTOR WHO!!!!

The Christmas Special “Twice Upon a Time”, Peter Capaldi’s swansong as the Doctor, is just over two weeks away now.  And the BBC has released another trailer, this one showing rather a bit more detail:

Whatever the alien menace is this time, it’s obviously got some teeth to it — what could it be?  What could be freezing time?  And what, exactly, does “freezing time” even mean in this context?

Now, we know there will be a British officer from World War I, and of course the First Doctor is appearing during the events of “The Tenth Planet”, which is set in 1986.  (Alas, that was the future at the time it first aired, back in 1966.  Today, many of those watching won’t even have been born in 1986!)  So something is causing time to merge, or slip, or otherwise get jumbled . . . what could that be?

Well, it’s apparently not the Cybermen, even though 12 just escaped them, and arguably so has 1 . . . the creatures debuted in “The Tenth Planet”.  (By the way, it’s rather clever to include 1.  Due to William Hartnell’s declining health, his part had been kept to an absolute minimum, so during that adventure, he’s often not to be seen.  Perhaps this story will explain where he went!)  Instead, the BBC has hinted something about “enchanted glass people”, who steal their victims out of frozen time.  So perhaps they use time freezing merely as a means of capture, and are not expecting to find a couple of Time Lords (or one Time Lord twice over, anyway), who are capable of maneuvering out of such a situation.

So who are the enchanted glass people?

A transparent version of the Weeping Angels?

Something like the Auditors in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, beings not properly part of this universe but annoyed by its unpredictability and striving to make it more orderly?

Kidnappers, a la the Carnival in Space, capturing specimens for their amusement?

Or something more nefarious, something seeking to remove specific individuals surgically, so as to alter the timeline?

The Vardans?  (Nah, they are the only race in history ever to be defeated by the intellectual might of the Sontarans, after all.  But they do look a bit glassy, and they have tried to mess with time before.)

And what if the glass people are working for someone else?

Hmmm…….

Christmas can’t come soon enough!

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ISS Status Update: Cargo Craft Coming and Going

The ISS is going into another busy period with upcoming cargo ship movements.  First off, the latest Cygnus spacecraft, SS Gene Cernan, was unberthed and released to fly on its own.  SS Gene Cernan now moves into the second part of its mission: deploying nanosatellites, conducting another fire test (Saffire-III, the third and final in the series), and then deorbiting itself safely over the ocean.

The next bit of news is SpaceX preparing for their next flight to the ISS.  This will mark the return to flight of LC-40, the Cape Canaveral launchpad that was badly damaged in a Falcon 9/Dragon mishap last year.  Liftoff is currently scheduled for December 12, and their traditional pre-flight test fire was conducted yesterday, reinaugurating LC-40’s flame trench (skip ahead two minutes for the fire):

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Voyager 1’s main thrusters still work!

The Voyager 1 spacecraft has been flying for over 40 years now, an incredible history.  But recently, mission controllers at JPL have found that the attitude control thrusters appear to have degraded performance.  Concerned they might not last out the last few years of expected performance, JPL decided to try something else — to use the trajectory correction maneuver thrusters.  These thrusters were responsible for changes to the spacecraft’s actual trajectory, and are larger than the attitude control thrusters.  More importantly, they have a lot fewer hours of operation.  But there was a catch — the last time these thrusters fired, it was to set up the flyby of Saturn in 1980.  Could they still find the documentation to write a program to fire the thrusters in tiny pulses for attitude control?  And would the thrusters still work after being asleep for so long?

Well, the answer to both was “yes”, and JPL believes they’ve bought at least another 2-3 years for the spacecraft.  With the expected end of mission (or, end of extended-extended-extended-n-times-extended-mission) in 2020 or so, that’s pretty significant; this means they are back to expecting that declining electrical power output will be what kills the spacecraft.

At any rate, these magnificently engineered engines are working like a champ, and they will continue to be used, possibly for the remainder of the mission, with the attitude control thrusters now relegated to a backup role.  Meanwhile, they are exploring the same option for Voyager 2, although its attitude control thrusters still appear healthy.

https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/news/details.php?article_id=108

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Happy Doctor Who Day!

Fifty four years ago today, in a junkyard on Totter’s Lane, two schoolteachers worried about their young student wandered into a police box, and everything changed…..

So that makes today Doctor Who Day.  😉  Anniversary of the most extraordinary science fiction series ever recorded.  And in honor of that, Tom Baker has recorded a message:

(Yeah, I know in Britain it’s been over for a while now.  That’s the great thing about time zones — holidays get to last a bit longer!)

(Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving too!)

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The Penultimate Delta II: Launch of JPSS 1

The Delta II rocket was the main workhorse for NASA launches for a long time; now, after this launch, there is just one of them left on Earth.  (That last one left will fly next year, carrying ICESat-2.)  It has been a phenomenally successful rocket, with the highest launch-to-success rate of any launch vehicle ever flown, except Saturn V (which only flew a handful of times in any case).  This was the 155th Delta II, and the 99th consecutive successful flight; Delta II holds that record by a considerable margin, and if all goes well with the last mission next year, it will end its storied career with 100 consecutive successful missions.

JPSS-1, meanwhile, is the first of the Joint Polar Satellite System spacecraft.  Intended to replace the POES constellation, JPSS was born out of the NPOESS (National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System) program that would have shared polar-orbiting weather data responsibilities with the Department of Defense.  With that program dissolved, NASA/NOAA agreed to cover the afternoon orbit with JPSS, while the DoD would cover the morning orbit first with the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (their current and severely aging constellation) and then with the Defense Weather Satellite System.  DWSS was subsequently cancelled, and there remains no replacement for the aging DMSP; so NOAA has signed a deal with Eumetsat, where Eumetsat will cover the morning orbit.

JPSS-1 is flying into a critical role, as we have become intensely dependent upon accurate forecasting, and the massively successful Delta II was a perfect vehicle to place it into orbit.

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