Virgin Galactic edges closer to space

VSS Unity has completed another powered test flight, edging a bit closer to the Karman Line.  On today’s test flight out of Mojave Air & Space Port, they fired their engine for 42 seconds and the coasted to an apogee of 170,800 feet/32.3 miles/52 kilometers.  This is a little over halfway to the official demarkation of space, and puts them one step closer to taking paying customers on suborbital spaceflight.

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Two launches, 14 spacecraft: Falcon 9 and Ariane 5 fly

There were two launches in the early hours today: a Falcon 9 out of Vandenberg AFB and an Ariane V out of Kourou, French Guiana.

The Falcon 9 delivered 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit.  The first stage landed on the barge Just Read The Instructions.  The ship Mr Steven attempted to catch one of the two payload fairing sections, but again was unsuccessful, with relatively high wind shear believed to be a contributing factor.  All ten spacecraft were deployed properly and appear to be healthy.  Unfortunately for those of us viewing at home, the notorious sea fog of Southern California rolled in before liftoff.  But the rocketcam views were all great at least!

 

Then Ariane 5 departed from Kourou, carrying the next four elements of the Galileo satellite navigation constellation to orbit.  When complete, Galileo will supplement GPS and GLONASS, and also provide a domestic navigation capability for users in the European Union in the event access to GPS or GLONASS is no longer available.  This was the final flight of the Ariane 5 ES configuration, with a hypergolic upper stage.  The Ariane ECA configuration, which is popular with commercial customers, uses a cryogenic upper stage that can only be relit once in orbit; this makes it suitable for large commsats and duplex launches, but not for more complex multi-payload launches such as this one, which requires multiple restarts.  Ariane 5 will not perform any further Galileo launches; the next launches are expected in 2020 and will use the Ariane 6.  The weather on the coast of French Guiana was unusually clear, so this one has some wonderful ascent ground photography.

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Falcon 9 raises the bar: heaviest commercial commsat ever launched

SpaceX just set a record by boosting Telstar 19 VANTAGE, which at 15,600 pounds is the heaviest commercial commsat ever launched — and they also recovered the booster.  This was possible because of two things: first, the Block 5 vehicle (“Falcon 9 Full Thrust”) has significantly improved performance, and second, SpaceX was able to negotiate with its customers to give them a better deal on the launch if they will accept needing to carry more propellant of their own to finish raising the orbit for geosynchronous transfer.  This contributed to Telstar 19’s mass; it carries an unusually large propellant load.

The previous record for commercial commsat mass at payload separation was held by TerraStar 1, at 15,234 pounds, launched by an Ariane V nine years ago.

Telstar 19 VANTAGE will have Ku- and Ka-band beams servicing customers over a huge footprint, including Western Europe, Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, much of Canada (including some high priority customers in remote parts of Nunavut), the eastern US, the Caribbean, and much of South America.

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Waiting for Series 11: new trailer!

Time for a happy-dance!  A new trailer, this time with snippets from the upcoming season, has been unleashed upon the world!  I am so happy; it has that real Doctor Who feel to it, and it’s just going to be wonderful, I know it!

More looks at the new Doctor, the three new companions, some alien worlds (yay, they’re not pulling a repeat of 1970 and stranding the Doctor on Earth!), and even a new sonic screwdriver!  Ooooooh, fall can’t come soon enough!

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Space and Time in Great Britain: Doctor Who teaser, and the first British spaceport

My two favorite things, Doctor Who and spaceflight, get to come together today.  😉

First, of course, a belated look at the teaser trailer that dropped last weekend during the World Cup:

It reveals basically nothing, but I’m still doing my happy dance.  😉

And then, there’s an exciting new announcement from the UK government, Lockheed Martin, and British rocketry startup Orbex: the first orbital launch site in the UK has been selected.  On the A’Mhoine Peninsula in Sutherland, on Scotland’s northern coast, the site will be well positioned for polar and sun-synchronous launches.  In addition to the already agreed-upon use of Orbex’s still-in-development small launch vehicle, Lockheed is also talking with Rocket Labs about using their Electron launch vehicle.  Here’s Lockheed’s own little teaser trailer on the subject:

And that’s not even it for Brit-Space!  Virgin Orbit, which is aiming for their first orbital launch possibly as soon as next month out of the Mojave Air & Space Port, is now also developing plans to operate out of Cornwall as well.  Being run by Brits, they have a very strong interest in bringing Cosmic Girl and her under-wing launch vehicle home.  😉  They hope to thereby appeal to European and British satellite manufacturers, by being able to skip a costly and time consuming transatlantic shipment of their spacecraft to a launch site.  Here’s *their* teaser trailer, for Spaceport Cornwall:

It sure is an exciting time, isn’t it?  😉

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Waiting for Series 11: Introducing the new sound of Doctor Who

Almost the entire crew is changing along with the cast for “Doctor Who” — but don’t be afraid; it’s been through this many, many times before.  😉  The latest addition is the composer, since Murray Gold announced that after ten seasons (plus the year of David Tennant specials and the 50th anniversary), he’s moving on.  And they’ve found someone really special: a relatively young but extremely talented Nigerian-British composer named Segun Akinola.  His work has a sweeping, cinematic style that I’m really looking forward to hearing more of.  I’m especially eager to see what he decides to do with the theme song, reimagined so many times since Delia Derbyshire first reworked Ron Grainer’s theme into pure magic.  But we will have to wait a while.  😉  No premier date has yet been released, but it will be at least a few more months.

In the meantime, check out Akinola’s other work on his Soundcloud page!  It’s amazing to just sit and listen to.

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Progress flies to the ISS in just two revolutions – a new record!

Progress MS-09 launched to the ISS today and docked with the station just two revolutions later.  This is the fastest ever ascent to the station.  (It is not the fastest ever ascent to a target in Earth orbit; I believe that record may still be held by Gemini 11, which performed a direct ascent to its Agena target just 94 minutes into the flight.  But is definitely the fastest to the ISS.)

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