Tag Archives: CZ-3B

Space updates: Soyuz MS-02 returns, John Glenn to fly again, Chinasat 16, and Cassini’s next step

I’ve been way busy the last few days, so I regret I have not posted as often as I’d like.  But I’ll start making up for that.  😉  First off, the landing of Soyuz MS-02 from the ISS!  The imagery is great; you even get to see the capsule venting hydrogen peroxide as it descends under parachute (at which point the thrusters are no longer useful, so they dump the propellant to make it safer on the ground).  This completes the Expedition 50 mission.  On board were Sergey Ryzhikov, Andrey Borisenko and Shane Kimbrough.  Two crew will launch on the next Soyuz, due to funding constraints at Roscosmos which has forced them to make the difficult decision to reduce their crew size.  On a positive note, the commander of Expedition 51, who took command upon this crew’s departure, is Peggy Whitson, and NASA has just decided to extend her mission by three months.  She currently holds the female spaceflight endurance record, and by the end of her extended mission, will also capture the American spaceflight endurance record.

Meanwhile, in Florida, crews are preparing the next Cygnus vehicle, named for astronaut John Glenn, to be launched aboard an Atlas V to the ISS.  This trip will carry experiments to create new targeted chemo drugs in microgravity for Oncolinx (an experiment which will consume a lot of crew time; it’s stuff that cannot be done anywhere else), a crystal growth experiment that goes beyond the basic science of previous experiments and aims to build new radiation detectors, a mini greenhouse (the most sophisticated sent to space to date) with wheat and Arabidopsis seeds, 34 Cubesats in the pressurized compartment (to be deployed later from Kibo), and 4 Cubesats to be deployed by Cygnus itself after departing the station.  Finally, there are two experiments to be carried after Cygnus has completed its primary mission — the third SAFIRE test to better understand fire in microgravity, and three small reentry bodies that will be ejected prior to Cygnus’ reentry, a process which they are expected to survive.  They will splash down in the ocean and sink, however, so they aren’t expected to be recovered.  Instead, they will be continuously transmitting temperature data via the Iridium constellation, allowing testing of new heat shield materials under real-world circumstances.  Note: launch was delayed from March to April 18 due to a launch vehicle technical issue which has been resolved.

And although Falcon 9 has taken a lot of business away from Chinese launch vehicles, they still have a solid lock on their burgeoning government program.  A Long March 3B blasted off from Xichang with the Shijan 13 (Chinasat 16) communications satellite on board.  This is the highest-bandwidth spacecraft that China has launched, and in addition to acting as a technology demonstrator for several projects (including ion propulsion and laser communications), it will provide high-bandwidth Internet service to airline, ship, and train passengers in and near China.

And lastly, on a bittersweet note, yesterday JPL uploaded the instructions for Cassini’s next Titan flyby.  In six days the Cassini spacecraft is moving towards a major milestone — the last flyby of Titan.  This flyby will be used as a gravity assist to move the spacecraft from its current ring-grazing phase to the final phase of the mission, called the Grand Finale.  It will fly closer to Saturn that anything ever has before, completing several orbits before impacting Saturn in September.  But it will return astonishing data that could not be captured any other way, including passes through the tenuous outer atmosphere of Saturn and through the D ring itself.

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Chang’e 5 launch video now available!

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The Dark Side of Rocket Launches: Debris

No matter how neat and tidy everyone tries to be, it’s currently inescapable that every rocket launch produces debris — usually very large and unwieldy debris, most of which doesn’t reach orbit itself but crashes back down.  You might think that this is okay, because the debris all burns up.  You might think that.  But you would be wrong.

The old saying “what goes up, must come down” is true even in spaceflight, and the industry knows this.  They try to mitigate the risk to people on the ground, but there’s really only so much they can do before they have to shrug and accept the risk as the price of spaceflight.  After all, until someone finally develops either a fully-reusable or a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle, we’re pretty much stuck with dropping bits deliberately onto the Earth.

Recently, China launched its latest mission to the Moon, and like all CZ-3B rockets, it dropped strap-on boosters, the core stage, the second stage, and the payload fairing along its ground path.  This rocket launched from Xichang, in the southern part of Sichuan province, a lush, populous region between the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and the fertile Sichuan Basin.  Because of the dense population, 180,000 residents were evacuated from the immediate vicinity of the launch complex prior to the flight.  However, rockets drop material considerably downrange, and debris damaged two buildings as far away as Hunan and Jianxi provinces.  This debris was not from abnormal event; this was a picture-perfect launch, and I feel it’s important to stress that these pieces were not lost by accident but jettisoned deliberately.

Farmer in Hunan shows the engine combustion chamber that fell through the roof of his granary, waking him and his wife during the night.  This looks consistent with the type of engine used on the first and second stages of the CS-3B.

Farmer in Hunan shows the engine combustion chamber that fell through the roof of his granary, waking him and his wife during the night. This looks consistent with the type of engine used on the first and second stages of the CS-3B.

Local officials in Jiangxi inspect part of the Chang'e 3 payload fairing that impacted in the forest.

Local officials in Jiangxi inspect part of the Chang’e 3 payload fairing that impacted in the forest.

The logical solution is to launch over water, right?  That’s what the Americans do, and the Europeans.  (Russia, well, they still launch over land and Kazakhstan has decidedly mixed feelings about that.)  But while launching over water definitely helps, it’s no panacea.  A Delta II rocket launched from Florida in 2000 resulted in large debris falling on South Africa.  Visit the South African Astronomical Observatory’s page for more information, as well as pictures of the debris.  Look at that propellant tank and the size of the man standing next to it; if that hit a person it would really mess up their day.

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