Tag Archives: New Shepherd

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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Ariane & New Shepard both fly!

Ariane V completed another flawless mission from Kourou, French Guiana yesterday, placing into orbit Sky Muster 2 for Australia and GSAT 18 for India.  Both are geosynchronous commsats, the mainstay of Ariane V’s customer base.

And also yesterday, Blue Origin completed the fifth flight of their New Shepherd reusable suborbital rocket.  This flight did continue to test the rocket, but that wasn’t the main focus.  This mission was an inflight abort test.  The booster did not simulate an emergency; after the spacecraft separated, it continued merrily along its way (albeit at lower thrust to compensate for the loss of mass) and returned neatly to Earth on its own.  The escape looked a bit, well, “blarg-tastic” is the word that came to mind for me, as it yawed around dramatically.  I would bet that Blue Origin will be studying the data from sensors inside to make sure G-loads didn’t exceed human tolerance; the point of an escape isn’t to be comfy, but to be survivable.  Nevertheless, this fifth flight is expected to be the final flight for this particular vehicle.

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New Shepherd flies a third time, and Opportunity spots a dust devil

First off, Blue Origins launched their fully reusable New Shepherd vehicle a third time.  The suborbital spaceflight was a complete success, moving them closer to a point where they can begin selling flights.

And then I have a cool Opportunity to pic to share, right after yesterday’s cool pic.  The rover spotted a bit of Martian weather: a dust devil!  This picture also does a great job of highlighting the challenging terrain the rover has been contending with.  It’s fortunately nice and smooth, but anything but level.


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Beginnings and ends and approaching horizons

I’ll do these in reverse order.  😉  It’s been a busy day in spaceflight!  First off, the approaching horizon: New Horizons is getting inexorably nearer to Pluto, and can now faintly make out surface details.  Check out this animated GIF the team just released, covering almost a week of time earlier this month.  What I love is how clearly you can see what we’ve known for a long time: that Charon and Pluto are mutually synchronous.  OK, you can’t see Charon’s rotation here, but Pluto’s is unmistakably the same duration as Charon’s orbital period.  And that’s amazing to actually *see*.  The other amazing thing to see in this picture is the proper motion of Pluto and Charon.  This is really a double planet; the barycenter of the system is in open space between the two.


And now, some endings.  First off, an update on the ill-fated Progress M-27M: it’s bad.  They have been unable to restore communications, and at its current rate of sink, it’ll likely deorbit in the next week or so; Roscosmos is predicting a range from May 5-May-7, USSTRATCOM is predicting May 9 +/- six days, ESA is predicting May 9 +/- two days, and Spaceflight101 is predicting May 10 +/- three days.  None of these are near enough to predict the impact zone, so stay tuned.

Second, the mission of MESSENGER has finally come to an end.  Long after the end of its primary mission, and extended past the end of propellant depletion through the cunning use of helium pressurant gasses, MESSENGER has finally succumbed to the tidal influences of the Sun and Mercury.  It impacted Mercury earlier today.  It is expected to have created a small crater, which will be inspected by ESA’s BepiColumbo probe when it becomes the second Mercury orbiter in 2024.  On its way down, it took this picture:


At 2.1 meters per pixel, this is by far the highest resolution image ever taken of the innermost planet, within the crater Jokai.  MESSENGER then smashed down somewhere north of the Shakespeare Basin.

And finally, a new beginning: the relatively secretive Blue Origins company has conducted a successful test-launch of their New Shepherd suborbital spacecraft.  The rocket, boosted by a BE-3 hydrogen/LOX engine, failed to complete the flyback return they were planning, due to a loss of hydralulic pressure.  But the launch was smooth and the payload’s performance was flawless, right up through soft landing.  There is another commercial spaceflight contender coming up, and it is clearly not dependent on getting NASA funding.  Interesting….

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