Tag Archives: Dragon

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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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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Launch/landing updates

It’s been a while since I’ve posted; work’s been crazy busy!  So I’ll quick catch you up with some of what’s gone up and down since I last posted:

On September 17, the latest Dragon capsule (CRS-12) returned from the ISS with a two tons of research material and hardware on board, including a population of laboratory mice sent into space to study effect on eyesight and movement.

On September 21, a Soyuz rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome placed the latest element of the GLONASS M navigation constellation into orbit.

On September 23, an Atlas V out of Vandenburg Air Force Base carried the classified NROL-42 into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Obviously, they won’t tell us much about the payload, but the mission patch and the launch site both suggest a polar orbiting spacecraft.  The size of the fairing and quantity of boosters both suggest a very big spacecraft, which is fairly typical for spy satellites.  It is believed to be a signals intelligence spacecraft, which means its job will likely be to intercept communications.  Maybe.  😉

Lastly, the Tianzhou 1 spacecraft returned to Earth in pieces last Friday.  It was supposed to; it was an experimental robotic resupply and refueling spacecraft similar in function to Progress, which also undergoes a destructive reentry at the end of its mission.  Tianzhou 1 completed a successful mission docking with the uninhabited Tiangong 2 space station, transferring propellant, and then later undocking and safely disposing of itself.  Tiangong 2 is not expected to host any more human occupants, but remains in orbit as a procedures testbed for ground controllers.  It is not clear when the next space station will fly; China intends to greatly increase the size and functionality of their stations, but they have had a major setback with the failure of the last Long March 5 rocket.  This is the heaviest rocket they’ve built to date, and is intended to place the major elements of their new modular space station in orbit, but with a 50/50 operational record after two flights, some more work is needed before it can carry such valuable cargo.

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CRS-12 successfully launched!

A Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered the CRS-12 Dragon capsule to Earth orbit today, complete with a successful return of the first stage to Cape Canaveral.  It carries 3642 lbs. / 1652 kg of cargo in its pressurized compartment, and the 2773.4 lbs. / 1258 kg CREAM experiment package in the unpressurized “trunk” section.  (At around 10:27 of the following video, you can start to see CREAM in Dragon’s back section, complete with RMS grapple fixtures that will be used to extract it from the trunk later on.)  CREAM, Cosmic-Ray Energetics And Mass, has been flown from stratospheric balloons already; mounting it on the JEM Exposed Facility will give it the opportunity to make far more measurements over a long period of time.  Of more immediate practical return are the experiments in the pressurized compartment, including a crystal growth experiment funded partly by the Michael J Fox foundation to study Parkinson’s Disease, a commercial microsatellite to be deployed later, and an experiment that will grow human lung cell tissue scaffolds to be used in pharmaceutical and biological research.

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Catching up on launches and landings!

I’ve been remiss in blogging, so here’s a pile of videos to try to make it up.  😉

First off, last Saturday China carried out the second launch of their new heavy-lift rocket, the CZ-5 (Long March 5), from their newest launch site on Hainan Island.  CZ-5 is intended to support their deep space exploration aspirations, including eventual manned missions to the Moon, so a successful launch was very important.  Unfortunately, it does not appear to have been successful.  Initial indications suggest the first stage burned considerably longer than expected, which would suggest a possible engine failure resulting in the stage burning much longer in attempt to compensate, perhaps to propellant depletion.  The second stage appears to have carried out a normal burn, but was clearly unable to make up the velocity shortfall.  The upper stage and its seven-ton experimental commsat payload (Shijan-18) both reentered, most likely impacting in the Pacific Ocean.  The strap-on stages of the CZ-5 operate on kerosene and LOX, while the core and upper stages burn LH2/LOX.  The booster engines use a design licensed from NPO Energomash in Russia, the world’s undisputed leader in staged-combustion kerolox engines (it really is amazing how many vehicles around the world use their designs), while the cryogenic engines are domestically designed and produced.

Meanwhile, the first recycled SpaceX Dragon capsule completed its mission to the ISS.  One of its payloads was the Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA), an experiment to test a new type of solar array that is more robust than earlier roll-out designs (remember Hubble’s original arrays, which usually looked a bit twisted and wonky when deployed?) but more compact than rigid arrays.  The experiment was almost a complete success, with the array generating lots of power.  Unfortunately, retraction was unsuccessful, so the array had to be jettisoned in its deployed state.

The ROSA’s ride up also left the ISS, but in a more controlled fashion, and returned to Earth.

The CRS-11 spacecraft then made the first Dragon reentry at night.  Astronaut Jack Fisher photographed the plasma trail from orbit:

Rounding out the launches of the last few days is today’s launch of the tenth Falcon 9 of the year, placing Intelsat 35E into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  Due to the size of the payload, this was flown as a fully expendable launch vehicle, with no grid fins and no excess propellant margin to carry out a reentry burn:

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CRS-11 Launch: First reused Dragon capsule has flown

The CRS-11 Dragon mission is now underway, the first with a reflown Dragon capsule.  (The heatshield is new, as of course is the unpressurized trunk section and the solar panels, as these are discarded with each flight, burning up while the pressurized module returns to the Earth.)  The Falcon 9 rocket was still brand-new, but the first stage will eventually be reused; it completed the fifth successful landing at Cape Canaveral.

This was the one hundredth launch from LC-39A.

Here’s the replay of the SpaceX webcast (jump ahead 16 minutes for the launch):

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SpaceX could be the next to send humans to the Moon???

Yes, you heard that right.  They have yet to launch their crewed spacecraft as far as the ISS, but this week they announced that two undisclosed wealthy individuals have approached them about riding a Dragon capsule, boosted by their soon-to-fly Falcon Heavy, in a trip around the Moon.  (I’m betting they’re talking a lunar swingby mission, not an orbital mission.)  They plan on conducting this mission by the end of 2018.

For perspective, there are only two flights of Falcon Heavy currently on the manifest (the demo launch and a USAF experimental mission, one this year and one the next), and the crewed Dragon isn’t set to fly to the ISS until the fourth quarter of 2018 as it is.  (And the GAO recently expressed serious doubt about that even happening.)  So this is pretty ambitious.  Exciting, and very very cool, but certainly a stretch goal.

Who are the two individuals?  SpaceX isn’t saying.  They did, however, say they’d be happy to give NASA dibs on flying to the Moon aboard Dragon first — an announcement which came as a great shock to NASA, since they found out about all of this the same time the rest of us did.

This is sure to shake things up, and I’d not put odds on whether or not they’ll manage this.  I do have to wonder whether they’re overextending themselves.  They have put a lot of very ambitious challenges in front of themselves.  From a program risk perspective, this doesn’t seem like a good idea.  But if they pull it off . . . hoo boy.  There’s quite a payoff in terms of bragging rights, and it’s definitely a strong step towards their ultimate goal: Mars.

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