Tag Archives: Vandenberg AFB

Launch/landing updates

It’s been a while since I’ve posted; work’s been crazy busy!  So I’ll quick catch you up with some of what’s gone up and down since I last posted:

On September 17, the latest Dragon capsule (CRS-12) returned from the ISS with a two tons of research material and hardware on board, including a population of laboratory mice sent into space to study effect on eyesight and movement.

On September 21, a Soyuz rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome placed the latest element of the GLONASS M navigation constellation into orbit.

On September 23, an Atlas V out of Vandenburg Air Force Base carried the classified NROL-42 into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Obviously, they won’t tell us much about the payload, but the mission patch and the launch site both suggest a polar orbiting spacecraft.  The size of the fairing and quantity of boosters both suggest a very big spacecraft, which is fairly typical for spy satellites.  It is believed to be a signals intelligence spacecraft, which means its job will likely be to intercept communications.  Maybe.  😉

Lastly, the Tianzhou 1 spacecraft returned to Earth in pieces last Friday.  It was supposed to; it was an experimental robotic resupply and refueling spacecraft similar in function to Progress, which also undergoes a destructive reentry at the end of its mission.  Tianzhou 1 completed a successful mission docking with the uninhabited Tiangong 2 space station, transferring propellant, and then later undocking and safely disposing of itself.  Tiangong 2 is not expected to host any more human occupants, but remains in orbit as a procedures testbed for ground controllers.  It is not clear when the next space station will fly; China intends to greatly increase the size and functionality of their stations, but they have had a major setback with the failure of the last Long March 5 rocket.  This is the heaviest rocket they’ve built to date, and is intended to place the major elements of their new modular space station in orbit, but with a 50/50 operational record after two flights, some more work is needed before it can carry such valuable cargo.

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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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Atlas V successfully delivers NROL-79

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.  😉

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WorldView 4, as seen by WorldView 2

DigitalGlobe, provider of the most detailed satellite imagery available on the commercial market, has completed on-orbit checkout and commissioning of their latest bird: WorldView 4.  WorldView 4 is a twin to WorldView 3, offering an unprecedented 1-foot resolution with its 3.6 foot aperture main telescope.  But since WorldView 3 is completely booked by the US military, WorldView 4 opens up this capability to the public.  In fact, it began acquiring images for paying customers on February 1, so this capability is already very real.

To commemorate the occasion, DigitalGlobe released this spectacular image, shot by WorldView 2, of SLC-3 at Vandenberg AFB right as the Atlas V rocket climbed away with WorldView 4 on board:

wv4-launch

Beautiful.  😉

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Falcon 9 has returned to flight!

After the shocking loss of the last Falcon 9, the rocket roared well and truly back into business today.  They had been slightly delayed by the much needed rains that have come to California, but today the weather was suitable and launch occurred on time and on target, with a successful barge recovery at sea of the first stage – the first from Vandenberg.  The Jason-3 launch a year ago was the first attempt to recover a Falcon 9 in the Pacific; it successfully soft-landed, but one of the landing legs failed to lock allowing it to fall over and explode.  This one was flawless, and the barge will return to shore in the next couple of days — I believe to San Diego, since that’s where SpaceX recovers their Dragons.

The payload is the first flight of the Iridium NEXT constellation, which uses a brand-new multi-satellite deployment system that appears to have worked flawlessly, deploying all ten spacecraft correctly into their high inclination orbit.

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Falcon 9 RTF has a launch date!

After the shocking pre-launch explosion of a Falcon 9 last September, destroying the payload and severely damaging the pad, SpaceX has announced a launch date for their return-to-flight.  The SLC-40 pad at Cape Canaveral is still not in usable condition, but SLC-4E at Vandenberg is of course perfectly fine; that’s where the next flight, with 10 Iridum NEXT satellites on board, will launch.

Pending FAA approval after submission of their failure investigation findings, the Iridium launch is expected to occur this Sunday, January 8.  SpaceX has a very full backlog that it will need to start working on right after that, but as SLC-40 will take time to repair, the next Florida launch (Echostar  23) will be from the venerable LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center, on Merritt Island.  LC-39A was originally built for the Saturn V, then modified for the Space Shuttle, and now is nearly ready to support Falcon 9.  Both SLC-4E and LC-39A will be capable of hosting the enormous Falcon Heavy, which SpaceX hopes to fly twice this year if all goes well — one test flight, and then the first operational flight on behalf of the USAF.  Meanwhile, cargo Dragon flights are scheduled to resume in February, and SpaceX tentatively plans to make their first uncrewed test flight of the crewed Dragon later this year.  However, their manifest is so full that even slight delays could push that into 2018.  Their ultimate dream has always been to fly humans, but they are committed to meeting their commercial obligations as well.

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Happy New Year, and Welcome 2017!

Welcome to 2017!  It’s gonna be a heckuva year!  Forget about politics — here’s some of the stuff I’m looking forward to in 2017:

1) Series 10 of Doctor Who!!!!!  More of the Twelfth Doctor (or, as my nine-year-old calls him, “Doctor Eyebrows”), new companions, new adventures . . . I can’t wait!

2) The total solar eclipse across the United States, August 21.  I’ve already made plans; my family will be camping across South Dakota and Wyoming, aiming to observe the event itself in Casper, Wyoming, which is expected to be way busier than it normally is; the longest duration will be closer to the tourist-trap haven of Branson, Missouri, but Wyoming is predicted to have the most reliable weather.  If you have not made plans, well, expect everything to be booked solid already…..  I’ve been anticipating this one for about twenty years.  😉

tse2017-1

3) The Falcon 9 return-to-flight mission.  After the shocking launchpad mishap last year, Falcon 9’s had a bit of a downtime, and now has a backlog to process.  They’re looking to return to flight possibly early in January, with a 10-spacecraft launch out of Vandenberg AFB on behalf of the Iridium NEXT constellation.

f9timeline1_1

4) Possibly also the Falcon Heavy maiden flight.  Resembling a Delta IV Heavy, and likewise comprised of three cores strapped together, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world when it finally launches.  It’s a crucial element of SpaceX’s larger aspirations – they still have Mars in their sights.

5) November 13, there will be a very close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus.  They’ll be closer together than the width of the full moon in the sky, a rare visual treat.

6) New Mythbusters, perhaps?  With the annual Mythbusters Mega-Marathon underway, I’ve got Mythbusters on the brain; but it would be lovely to get some new ones.  Jamie and Adam have moved on, but Discovery is running a sort of game show to select their successors.  Should be interesting!  Expect explosions!

Talking of stuff on the screen, there are some awesome-looking movies coming:

7) LEGO Batman!  Really, ’nuff said.  😉

8) Beauty and the Beast looks pretty amazing too:

9) Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  Luc Besson is amazing, and this movie is seriously his baby.  The comic book it’s based upon was a huge inspiration and influence to him growing up, so this should be pretty spectacular.

So, there’s a taste of stuff to look forward to in the new year!  There’s definitely some cool stuff coming our way.  😉  How about you?  What are you looking forward to in 2017?

 

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