Tag Archives: Kennedy Space Center

SpaceX launches EchoStar 23

SpaceX completed another uneventful climb to orbit out of the historic LC-39A, placing EchoStar 22 into geosychronous transfer orbit.  This was a less exciting launch than most Falcon 9 flights of late, as EchoStar 22 is very near the absolute limit of Falcon 9’s capacity.  Therefore, the landing legs and grid fins were omitted from the vehicle, as there would be no propellant left to attempt a return.  The first stage was expended with no attempt to recover.  This was also the first night launch from LC-39A in nearly eight years — the last night launch from this pad was STS-131, with the Space Shuttle Discovery, on April 10, 2010.  The first night launch from this pad was Apollo 17, on December 7, 1972.  It gives me joy to know that this will not be the last one:

Upcoming launches the remainder of March include an H-2 from Japan, a Delta IV from Cape Canaveral (was supposed to have launched, but was bumped to give Falcon 9 a second launch attempt), an Ariane V from South America, an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, and finally the groundbreaking reflight of a Falcon 9 first stage on the SES-10 launch from Cape Canaveral (currently set for March 27).  As with any launches, these dates are subject to change for technical or weather reasons.


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35 years ago today: Columbia’s first flight; 55 years ago today: humanity’s first flight

On April 12, 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia blasted off the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39A.  Her crew for this test flight were Commander John Young and Pilot Bob Crippen.  Young was already an experienced astronaut, with three flights including a lunar surface mission under his belt, while Crippen was a rookie out of the cancelled MOL program.  This was the first, and so far only, time an orbital spacecraft has made its first flight with human crew on board.  NASA had wanted a suborbital test flight first, but Young had argued against it, saying that the flight profile (a deliberate Return To Launch Site abort) required “continuous miracles interspersed by Acts of God” in order to be successful.  And in the end, he was right.  The risky RTLS was not necessary, and STS-1 was a success.  After thirty seven orbits and 54.5 hours, the two men returned, landing Columbia in the deserts of southern California, at Edwards Air Force Base’s Dryden Flight Research Center (now the Armstrong Flight Research Center).  On this video, note the white External Tank (they stopped painting it after STS-2, which saved considerable weight) and the distinctive black chines that always marked Columbia.

But that’s not the only amazing thing on this date in history, for this is Yuri’s Night.  Today is also the 55th anniversary of Vostok 1.  Yuri Gagarin climbed into the capsule atop an R-7 missile.  The capsule was modified from spy satellites, which had a pressurized reentry capsule to return film for developing and analysis, and it was a tight fight even for the small man.  (All early cosmonauts were short in stature, selected specifically for ease in fitting into tight confines as well as high G-load resistance.)  He completed two orbits of the Earth and then returned, but since Vostok did not have a landing system, he ejected after reentry and parachuted down separately.  He landed in a farmer’s field in Russia, startling the farmer and his daughter.  “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”  Gagarin immediately was lauded as a hero, and grounded from future spaceflights; sadly this would not save his life, as he died in a plane crash only seven years later.  But it is Gagarin that all astronauts follow, and will forevermore.

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Will the Falcon Fly Again?

Originally, all indications were that it would perform a test firing but would not fly again.  But a recent tweet by Elon Musk has people wondering if SpaceX might use it again after all.  He posted “Falcon 9 back in the hangar at Cape Canaveral. No damage found, ready to fire again.”  I still think they’ll stick to the original plan, and just do a test firing to inaugurate LC39A in its new Falcon 9 configuration before hauling it back, either for museum display (like their original Dragon capsule, which hangs above their mission control room) or to be cut up for more destructive testing to really analyze its structural condition.  Although, Musk has said he wants to refly a stage sometime this year (2016), so perhaps this would be the one.  Either way, it’s actually looking impressively hale and hearty after its flight:


YouTube user Shannon Gordon was in the right spot at the right time to make a chance sighting of the used booster moving into the hangar near LC39A.  Note the crawlerway to the lower left of the image, and in the background at left, the ramp up to the pad, built in the 1960s for Saturn V, and in the second video, 39A much more visible, including the Space Shuttle’s Fixed and Rotating Service Structures, which SpaceX has not yet removed (and perhaps won’t, if it doesn’t need to).  Clearly, Falcon will have a much shorter rollout than its more massive predecessors.

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40 Years Ago Today: the Last Saturn: ASTP Launch

July 15, 1975, the final Saturn 1B to launch from Kennedy Space Center lifted off with the last Apollo capsule to fly into space.

And on the other side of the planet, Soyuz took off.  This was the first time most of the world saw a Russian manned space launch; NASA’s public affairs policy drove the broadcast.  Today, of course, we’re all much more familiar with what these look like.

Two days later, the two vehicles would meet up.  And I’ll have a longer post when that anniversary rolls around.  😉

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Hayabusa en route; Orion on deck!

Delta IV Heavy with EFT-1 Orion at LC37B

Delta IV Heavy with EFT-1 Orion at LC37B

With Hayabusa 2 safely off on its six-year cruise to an asteroid, we can turn our attention now to the long-awaited first test flight of the Orion space capsule on Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1).  Far from a boilerplate, this capsule has all the flight computers and maneuvering thrusters of a real, production spacecraft, and is even pressurized for flight despite not carrying a living payload.  It is instead carrying mass models of crew and thousands of instruments to measure its performance and the environment which crew and cargo will endure when this spacecraft goes into full service.  If all goes well, the nearly four-and-a-half-hour flight will take it 3,600 miles in altitude, high enough to get entry speeds suitable for validating the performance of its ablative heat shield, the largest ever built.  The flight will, of course, be carried live on NASA TV; search the web for a convenient stream.


7:05 AM EST/6:05 AM CST: Launch window opens; it stays open for two and a half hours, so the launch could occur from LC37B anywhere in that window.

T+0: Liftoff!

T+0:03:56: Strap-on booster cores shutdown and jettison.

T+0:05:33: Core stage shutdown and jettison.

T+0:05:49: Delta Upper Stage ignition.

T+0:06:15: Service Module panel jettison; there are three panels protecting the service module, as opposed to the four of the Apollo-Saturn, which protected the LM; these panels only protect a mockup of the Orion Service Module (the final version of which is under development by the European Space Agency in exchange for ISS services).

T+0:06:20: Launch Escape System and CM shroud jettison.

T+0:17:39: Delta Upper Stage shutdown; end of burn 1.

T+1:55:26: Delta Upper Stage relights for burn 2.

T+2:00:09: Delta Upper Stage shuts down.

T+2:05:00: Region of maximum predicted radiation exposure: passage through the lower Van Allen Belt.

T+3:05:00: Apogee.

T+3:23:41: Service Module jettison.

T+3:30:00: Second Van Allen passage.

T+4:13:35: Entry interface.

T+4:13:41: Radio blackout.

T+4:15:03: Peak heating.

T+4:16:05: Reacquisition of signal.

T+4:19:31: Drogue chute deploy.

T+4:20:38: Main chute deploy; like Apollo, there are three.

T+4:23:20: Pacific Ocean splashdown; recovery begins.

And, of course, here’s the animation of the mission. 😉

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Human Spaceflight News Roundup: Soyuz TMA-13M return, Orion EFT-1 preps, Cygnus seeks a new ride, and Rosetta’s about to drop its payload

Yesterday, Soyuz TMA-13M landed in Kazakhstan.  It was gusty and icy and cold (actually, pretty close to the temperature here in Minnesota, which is an unseasonable but not totally unreasonable 26F at the moment), so it looks from stills as if the vehicle was tipped over and dragged a bit by the parachute, but they nevertheless made it down fine and are in great condition.  And of course someone has posted the entire, unedited two-hour video from NASA TV on YouTube:

Also, Orion is being prepped for EFT-1!  Unfortunately, windy weather in Florida prevented its trip to the pad this morning.  They’ll try again tomorrow.  The vehicle is scheduled to blast off December 4 aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket that is already assembled and erected on the pad.  (Delta IV and Atlas V both adopt the Russian philosophy of horizontal integration, except when it comes to the payload; the American philosophy of hoisting it up on the pad is still followed there.)

Back to ISS, Orbital Sciences is still on the hook for lifting all that cargo to the ISS, but Antares is definitely grounded pending the outcome of the investigation (which currently is pointing towards the turbopumps, though that doesn’t tell us whether or not the turbopumps are bad — if there was debris in the fuel lines or something like that, you could get a turbopump failure as a result).  So now Orbital is shopping around for a new ride capable of lifting the four-ton fully loaded Cygnus.  There is a fairly short list internationally, and at present they’re not ruling anything out.  Even the Falcon 9 would (somewhat ironically) be an option, and ultimately it will likely depend more on vehicle availability than anything else — they want a vehicle that will help them fulfill obligations in 2015, but most rockets are booked well into 2016 or even beyond.  It will be interesting to see what they come up with.  Simultaneously, they’re accelerating their efforts to replace the AR-26 (former NK-33) engines; current rumor is that they’re looking at Energomash’s RD-193, cousin to the RD-180 that powers Atlas V.

And lastly, Rosetta is just about ready to release Philae!  At long last!  The many steps required to get Philae ready will start tomorrow, with the actual release following on Wednesday.  Touchdown is expected around 16:02 UTC on Wednesday, November 12, which is around noon for us in Central Standard Time.  And why yes, of course there’s a spacecraft animation for that.  😉

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MAVEN is spared from the shutdown!

The next Mars orbiter, NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN), was being processed for launch in November when the US government hit.  Unfortunately, NASA could not continue processing it at Kennedy Space Center, since there was no justification for labeling its workers essential under the philosophy of “preservation of life or property”.

MAVEN undergoes an illumination test at Kennedy Space Center, to validate the performance of the solar arrays

That’s changed now; NASA has declared the MAVEN processing staff essential under the logic that MAVEN will act as a data relay for Opportunity and Curiosity, two unique assets on the surface of Mars that currently relay data via Odyssey and MRO (and, occasionally, ESA’s Mars Express).  Odyssey is twelve years old, however, and seriously showing its age; when it goes, there will be no redundancy.  Plus, MAVEN is required to be in place for the next NASA rover mission in 2020.  So, voila, an argument for making sure MAVEN doesn’t miss the November launch window.  😉

SpaceflightNow: Mars orbiter granted reprieve from government shutdown

Universe Today: NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter granted ‘Emergency Exemption’ to resume processing during government shutdown

Mars missions cluster every two years, because that is when Mars and Earth are most optimally aligned for the transfer orbit needed to get a probe over there.  If MAVEN had missed this window, it would have had to wait until 2015.

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