A United Launch Alliance Delta IV (in the 5,2 configuration) placed NROL-47 into orbit, a classified payload. And it was a beautiful launch — with an unusually large hydrogen fireball at ignition, making this a particularly spectacular one to watch. That cloud is actually normal and does no harm to the vehicle.
United Launch Alliance has earned a reputation for some impressive video production efforts post-launch, and tomorrow, in collaboration with NASA, they’ve decided to up their game. The 360 launch videos they’ve posted before aren’t enough — this time, for the first time ever, they’re going to stream a launch live in 360. (This will also be the first 360 video of an Atlas launch; ULA’s previous 360 videos featured Delta IVs, including a Delta IV Heavy.) So grab your Oculus Rift or your smartphone cardboard VR goggle adapters or just a 360-compatible browser (psst — I use Opera) and tune in to NASA’s channel on YouTube tomorrow. The stream will start around 11AM Eastern Daylight Time.
If you don’t know what a 360 video is, it’s a video that you can pan around in over a 360 degree range while it plays. It’s pretty incredible, and makes it feel so much more alive!
If you want a taste of what it will be like, or if you just want to make sure your equipment will show it in 360, here are ULA’s past 360 videos. If it’s working, it’ll look just like a normal video — except if you click and drag, you’ll move around. If it’s not working, you’ll see it all warped and weird looking, and you should try a different browser or player.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the joy of posting a spacecraft animation, and today I get to share one that’s very special to me — animation of a complete CST-100 mission. It’s not yet available anywhere I can just link it, but SpaceflightNow has posted it to their website. And alas, it doesn’t have sound yet. But it sure looks pretty. 😉
Cape Canaveral has a brand new zipline! But alas, it is not available to tourists. Not unless you’re a really, really, really rich tourist and have managed to book a ride on a CST-100 Starliner!
One of the requirements for a man-rated launch vehicle is some way to quickly escape the vehicle in case it’s about to go kablooie. Mercury and Gemini had no escape system, other than the vehicle’s own launch abort system (which in the case of Gemini, consisted of ejection seats that were believed to be nearly 100% certain to be fatal if used on the pad, due to the sidewise orientation of the vehicle before launch), other than riding the elevator back down and hoping really really hard. The first pad escape system that would save crews not yet in the vehicle or allow crews to safely egress during an abort was a super-fast elevator on the Saturn V launch umbilical tower that delivered the crews to a blockhouse under the pad, where they could survive for some time, long enough anyway for whatever was going on above to burn itself out and the fumes to dissipate. On Shuttle, things got a little spunkier, with the addition of the slidewire baskets that would let crews slide rapidly to safety — which would consist of several armored transports parked nearby, which they’d jump into and drive away as quickly as possible.
The slidewires were deemed more effective (and more reliable, being powered entirely by gravity) than the Apollo elevator, and so it is perhaps no surprise that ULA, in building a system to meet Boeing and NASA’s specifications, is opting for a wire again. Only instead of a set of baskets that can carry several crew apiece, this one is a zipline with a couple dozen single-person seats, enough to evacuate the crew and ground support personnel, and because they are individual, you just jump in it and go — you don’t have to wait.
But I gotta admit, part of me really likes the fact that this system isn’t being built by some stodgy old defense contractor, like most of the system. No, this one’s being built by a company that specializes in ziplines — Terra-Nova LLC. And it’s pretty much exactly the same system they build for tourist use at locations around the world. They’ve got extensive experience; from their perspective, this was actually a very small job….
Delta IV pulled off another flawless launch from Cape Canaveral today, placing the Wideband Global SATCOM-9 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. WGS-9 is a military commsat operated by the United States Air Force but jointly procured by five other nations: Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and New Zealand. This was not the first WGS satellite paid for by a foreign power; WGS-6 was contributed by Australia. And ground stations have been paid for partially by partner nations, who, again, receive bandwidth in proportion to their investment. USAF is moving towards launch of WGS-10 later this year, but that is expected to be the final element of the constellation, at least int the forseeable future.
This was the 35th flight of Delta IV, and the 108th successful Delta program launch in a row. This flew in the 5,4 configuration — 5 meter fairing, 4 solid rocket motors. Single-core Delta IV is expected to retire by the end of 2018, with only the Delta Heavy continuing on, alongside the Vulcan rocket that will be ULA’s next offering (intended to replace both Delta IV and Atlas V).
Atlas V has put another notch in their impressive belt of successful missions. It’s not a cheap rocket, but it is certainly reliable. It’s an interesting launch to watch; the rocket seems to practically crawl out of Vandenberg. This is the lightest variant of Atlas V, and from the performance I’d guess the payload/orbit is right at the limits of its capacity without boosters. Makes it kind of fun to watch. 😉
An Atlas V in its base 401 configuration placed the SBIRS GEO 3 military early-warning satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit this evening: