Tag Archives: SpaceX

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, Launch, GRAY LAUNCH!

I’ve been offline due to a heavy workload at the office, but I have time to catch up a bit with launch videos!

On October 30, Koreasat 5A launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket out of Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39A:

The next day, an Orbital ATK Minotaur C launched from Vandenberg AFB in California to place six SkySat satellites and four Doves into orbit.  Minotaur C represents the return to flight for Taurus, whose name was changed to Minotaur C to make a break from the bad luck that had plagued Taurus:

And then on November 5, a Long March 3B out of Xichang, China placed the next two Beidou spacecraft into orbit.  Beidou, when complete, will compete with the GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo constellations for satellite navigation.

On November 7 (in South America; it would’ve been November 8 in Europe), a Vega rocket from Arianespace placed the Mohammed VI-A observation satellite into orbit for the nation of Morocco, flying out of Kourou, French Guiana:

And lastly, after a one-day scrub due to an errant private airplane straying into the launch zone minutes before liftoff, the latest Cygnus cargo ship is on its way to the ISS.  Launched by an Orbital ATK Antares rocket out of Wallops Island, Virginia, this placed the OA-8 Cygnus “SS Gene Cernan” onto its path to intercept the ISS in a couple of days:

(PS. I’m from Minnesota.  So yes, it is Launch, Launch, Gray Launch.  And always will be.  😛 )

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SpaceX has reused another booster!

A Falcon 9 rocket successfully placed the SES-11/EchoStar 105 spacecraft onto geosynchronous transfer orbit, and recovered the first stage after an exceptionally hot reentry from this high-energy trajectory.  This was their third flight of a reused stage.

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Falcon 9 places another 10 Iridium NEXT spacecraft into orbit

SpaceX completed one more launch early this morning from Vandenberg AFB, precisely placing the ten spacecraft on board into the vehicle into Plane 4 of the Iridium NEXT constellation, successfully recovering the first stage.  There’s no rest for the weary, however — SpaceX is on target for another launch, this one from the opposite coast, on Wednesday.

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X-37 dodges Hurricane Irma aboard a Falcon 9

Today was the scheduled liftoff day for the fifth X-37 mission (OTV-5), and the first aboard a Falcon 9.  (X-37 was designed from the start to be compatible with almost any launch vehicle, including the Space Shuttle, but its first four launches were all aboard the Atlas V.)  As a bonus, since SpaceX is still unable to use their original Florida launchpad, Cape Canaveral Air Station’s SLC-40, this launch used the pad they’re adapting for Falcon Heavy, Kennedy Space Center’s venerable LC-39A.  So LC-39A got to launch another spaceplane after all.  😉  (LC-39A’s last spaceplane launch was STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle program, just over six years ago.)

Coverage of the ascent stops with first stage separation, as normal for classified flights*, but since this was Falcon 9, we got to see coverage of the first stage continue all the way to touchdown back at the Cape.  Now, SpaceX gets to scramble to safe it and stash it safely in a hangar in advance of Hurricane Irma.

*X-37 is not a classified spacecraft, but its missions are generally classified.  This one does carry one unclassified payload, the Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, for the Air Force Research Laboratory.  It will “test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long duration space environment”.  Satellites already use heat pipe technology to draw waste heat away from sensitive electronic components (since obviously fans don’t work for cooling a spacecraft computer), but this new technology will be lighter and cheaper.  All the other payloads, as well as their quantity and the target orbit and any planned maneuvers, remain classified.  But they are probably also experimental technologies, since X-37 offers a unique opportunity to test equipment for a long duration in space and recover it for extensive engineering analysis afterwards.

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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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An era fades: the Rotating Service Structure at LC-39A comes down

It’s been kind of fun watching the last few Falcon 9 launches with the Shuttle’s Fixed Service Structure and Rotating Service Structure still in place at the icon LC-39A.  (The structures at LC-39B were removed years ago to return it to its “clean pad” configuration from the Apollo years.)  But that fun has come to an end.  Crews have begun delicately removing the Rotating Service Structure, piece by piece, to avoid damaging the new Falcon 9 structures in place at the pad.  It doesn’t need to be gone right away, but there is a bit of a downtime in the Falcon 9 launch schedule at Merritt Island, so it was a good time to get some progress in.  They expect to have it completely demolished by the end of the year, and the steel hauled off for recycling.

The Shuttle structures won’t be completely gone, though.  The Fixed Service Structure will be retained to support a gantry that will allow crew access once the crewed Dragon flights begin.  That access arm is scheduled to be added this fall, to support flights sometime next year.

There’s a time-lapse video in this article, showing the cranes arriving and beginning to lift down sections:

https://spaceflightnow.com/2017/08/05/shuttle-era-structure-dismantled-piece-by-piece-at-pad-39a/

But, as one era ends, another is beginning.  The loss of Shuttle remains bittersweet, but we’re moving into an exciting era of commercial spaceflight, not just in crewed flights but unmanned as well.  With luck, by the end of the year we’ll also see the launch of some of the Google Lunar Xprize candidates…..

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