Tag Archives: SpaceX

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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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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Falcon 9 lifts the second batch of Iridium Next spacecraft

Yesterday, less than 48 hours after the last Falcon 9 launch (from KSC’s LC-39A), a second Falcon 9 blasted off.  This one launched from Vandenberg AFB’s SLC-4 and delivered the next ten Iridium Next satellites.  Once enough Iridum Next spacecraft are delivered to orbit, they will begin to replace the famous initial constellation, which is nearing the end of its service life.  Alas, the new spacecraft are much smaller than the original Iridiums and will not wow spotters with bright flares with each pass.

The Falcon 9 for this flight is a full thrust Falcon 9 equipped with a new, all-titanium set of grid fins.  They’re heavier than the older ones, but can handle larger loads and provide more control authority.  This will be critical when the Falcon Heavy’s three cores attempt to return later this year.

This spacecraft’s first stage was successfully recovered by the drone ship Just Read The Instructions, and will eventually be reflown.

 

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