Tag Archives: CCAS

The Falcon has landed — after lifting off from the same pad as Apollo 11!

This morning, a Falcon 9 rocket roared into space from Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39A, the first commercial launch to lift off from this NASA launch facility.  (Previous Florida launches of the Falcon 9 were from the neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Station, operated by the USAF.)  Fittingly, this was still a NASA mission; the payload is the CRS-10 Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station.  But the next flight won’t be; the next flight will deliver the EchoStar 23 commercial commsat to geosynchronous transfer orbit.

LC-39A was originally built to support launches of the gigantic Saturn V for the Apollo mission, and so everything is proportionately gigantic on this pad.  Falcon 9 is the smallest rocket ever to fly from it, but later it is planned to support the massive Falcon Heavy, a triple-core variant that will be the most powerful rocket in the world when it flies, and that is the real reason for using this pad.

Today’s mission was completely successful, including the first daylight shore landing of a Falcon 9 first stage.  That stage landed on the existing SpaceX landing pad at Cape Canaveral.  And there’s some great footage.  😉

Full newscast:

And here is spectacular drone photography of the landing:


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Atlas V has successfully lifted off with SBIRS GEO 3!

An Atlas V in its base 401 configuration placed the SBIRS GEO 3 military early-warning satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit this evening:

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EchoStar 19 successfully launched by Atlas V

Atlas V chalked up another successful mission today, blasting off from Cape Canaveral in the 431 configuration (4-meter fairing, 3 solid boosters, single-engine Centaur).  The payload was EchoStar 19, a commercial commsat that will be operated by HughesNet to provide high speed satellite Internet service across North America.  It’s unusual to see the highly reliable but expensive Atlas V flying a commercial mission; in this case, HughesNet selected the vehicle due to rapid availability.  They are currently constrained from growing their service due to all of their existing spot-beams being at full capacity; EchoStar 19 will provide 160 more spot-beams, allowing them to grow beyond their current million customers.  The spacecraft is expected to enter service in March, following on-orbit testing, and will join HughesNet’s two other spacecraft, EchoStar 17 and Spaceway 3.

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John Glenn, last of the Mercury 7 – rest in peace

At the age of 95, John Glenn has passed away.

You almost certainly know his name; John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, a hard-working and principled man who already had an impressive career before NASA selected him for its first astronaut class, the Mercury Seven.  (The others were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepherd, and Deke Slayton.)  He’d flown fighter aircraft in WWII and Korea, then after that set a record as the first person to fly across North America at an average velocity above the speed of sound, proving that the aircraft was strong enough to tolerate that. He wasn’t just fast; he was a damned good fighter pilot as well, earning a reputation for flying dangerously low (to improve shooting accuracy on ground targets, a decision which improved his kill rate but caused him to often return home with holes in his airplane, a fact which earned him the nickname “Magnet Ass” for all the literal flak he took) and for killing a lot of MiGs.

When Glenn was selected for NASA’s initial astronaut corps, he only barely met their requirements, just barely squeaking in under their upper age limit of 40.  (It’s a little ironic he was the last of the Mercury Seven to pass, as he was also always the oldest of them.)  He watched Alan Shepherd and then Gus Grissom fly on suborbital hops, boosted by the little Redstone rocket.  And then, on February 20, 1962, Glenn flew the first manned flight aboard an Atlas rocket.  (Atlas boosted four more Mercury capsules, and then retired from human spaceflight.  Its much more modern descendent, the Atlas V, will return the line to crewed spaceflight in either 2017 or 2018 with the first flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner.)  He remained active in the space program only through the Mercury program, resigning in 1964 to pursue a political career.  It took a while to get there, but Glenn was as persistent in politics as he had been in everything else, and attained the Senate as a Democrat from Ohio in 1980.  He served in this position until 1998, when he retired.  The election to replace him was held while he was away from home in a very fundamental way — in 1998, he made his second spaceflight, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-95 mission, becoming the oldest person in space at the age of 77.  After that, he retired, and enjoyed a long retirement — finally passing away at the age of 95.

With him, it feels as if an era has ended.  While about half of the Vostok cosmonauts are still living (mostly because Soviet-era astronaut recruiting favored much younger candidates), the Mercury Seven have all passed.  It falls upon us to remember them, and teach our children about them.  They were trailblazers, and we must not let that trail grow cold.

John Glenn’s first launch, on Friendship 7:

And his second, on Discovery’s STS-95 mission:

And now, he’ll fly higher than anyone of us here on Earth can conceive.  Godspeed, John Glenn.  Godspeed.

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Two more launches: PSLV (Resourcesat 2A) and Delta IV (WGS 8)

Two more successful launches this week!  First off, yesterday India placed the Resourcesat 2A spacecraft into orbit aboard a PSLV XL rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota Island.  The satellite will fly on a polar orbit (inclination 98.7 degrees) to study resource utilization, soil contamination, water usage, and so forth across the Indian subcontinent.

Then this evening, a rare Delta IV Medium rocket (the “stick” configuration of the Delta IV, seldom used because although it is highly reliable, it is also highly *expensive*) placed the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) 8 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  WGS-8 will serve military customers, providing both targeted and full-disk communications beams in variety of frequency bands.  It is the most capable military commsat launched by the USAF, capable of serving multiple bands simultaneously and even switching between them on the fly.

And here’s a rather different perspective on the launch — a deceptively peaceful one, shot by a drone over nearby Cocoa Beach.  The audio is from the operator’s cellphone, so mostly records the sound of the ocean waves rolling in.  You have to listen carefully to hear the distant warbling roar of the rocket.

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100th EELV launches successfully, with a new generation for weather forecasting

An Atlas 541 (the second-heaviest configuration Atlas V in active use) blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Station today, ferrying the massive GOES-R weather satellite into its geosynchronous transfer orbit.  This was the one hundred launch of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program, created by the USAF in the 1990s and ultimately producing the Atlas V (by General Dynamics, then Lockheed Martin) and the Delta IV (by Boeing).  It is not likely to ever reach its 200th flight; both vehicles are due to be replaced by a newer rocket, the Vulcan, in a few years.  But the program has enjoyed a remarkable success rate — 98 flawless flights, 2 ending in suboptimal orbits.  That is an exceptionally rare success rate in rocketry.

The spacecraft, operated by NASA on behalf of  the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is the first of a fleet of four next-generation geosynchronous weather satellites; total cost of the program, including development and operation, is $11 billion.  But it’s an enormously valuable investment, because these satellites will be equipped like no other weather satellites.  They will be able to complete

Once it reaches its perch, GOES-R will become GOES-16.  (They do not receive their numbers until they successfully arrive in orbit.)  It will then spend a year sitting at 89.5 degrees west, undergoing testing for its commissioning phase.  It will eventually be moved to the primary GOES perches, as either GOES-East or GOES-West.  Those two positions are currently held by GOES-13 and GOES-15.  GOES-14 is also still in orbit, currently biding its time as an on-orbit spare.  Given the enormous amounts of money involved, and the absolutely critical nature of the data these spacecraft deliver, NASA and NOAA both want them up well in advance of them going into service, just in case.

GOES-R is much more advanced than its predecessors.  It carries advanced space weather sensors, in recognition of the fact that space weather forecasting has become enormously important both to our sensitive power grid and the many spacecraft we depend upon, the first-ever lightning imager designed to operate from geostationary orbit, a camera that can complete a full-disk image in just five minutes (fast enough to create detailed animations useful in local weather forecasting), and much more.  It’s so packed with revolutionary new instruments that scientists are excited just to find out what they can do with the gargantuan flood of data these spacecraft will produce.  It’s going to be fun to see what they come up with!

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OSIRIS-REx is on its way!!!

OSIRIS-REx, the hotly anticipated asteroid sample return mission bound for asteroid 101955 Bennu, has blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Station’s SLC-41!

Rocketcam footage of liftoff:

Full launch through Centaur MECO-1:

The rocket coasted halfway around the Earth after that, then relit Centaur for a second burn, and about forty-five minutes after launch, MECO-2 left it on an Earth escape course.  A fifteen minute coast then brought the vehicle within range of the tracking station in Canberra, Australia, and then the spacecraft was released.  At this point, OSIRIS-Rex has a solar orbit actually not too much different than the Earth itself.  This is by design; Bennu is an Earth-crossing asteroid, belonging to a class of bodies called Apollos.  So they don’t want to get too far away from Earth orbit or they will be going far too quickly when they encounter Bennu.  In about a year, OSIRIS-REx will briefly return for a gravity assist maneuver, stealing a tiny bit of the Earth’s momentum to propel it to a collision course with Bennu.  Then, nearly a year after that, the spacecraft will arrive at Bennu.

OSIRIS-REx is spending a long time at Bennu; the window for Earth return will not open until 2021.  So it will make good use of its time until then, mapping and investigating the carbonaceous (rocky) asteroid, selecting a site from which to collect a sample, and then gingerly flying up to the asteroid to collect the sample.  Bennu is too light for a spacecraft to meaningfully land on it; its gravity is very slight.  The concept is broadly similar to that of the Hayabusa spacecraft, which sampled the asteroid 25143 Itokawa in 2005 and returned the particles to Earth in 2010.  However, the collection mechanism is different.  Hayabusa had difficulties with its collector, and did not retrieve as much material as had been hoped; let’s cross our fingers for OSIRIS-REx to have better luck!

The mission does seem blessed so far — not only did the spacecraft survive the Falcon 9 pad explosion just a mile away, but the mission itself is $30 million under budget.  During the cruise, the team will have the pleasure of deciding what to do with that extra money.  Hire more scientists to make better use of the time they’ll have at Bennu?  Additional studies during the cruise phases?  A mission extension for the spacecraft after the canister is returned, a la Genesis?  It will be fun to see what they come up with.  😉


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