Tag Archives: engineering

Space hype versus reality

Three stories today illustrate the importance of maintaining some skepticism when reading the claims of rocket companies.

I could probably also include the story earlier today about the model rocket test launch that was hyped absurdly by the company and the British newspapers that reported it.

The first story reports the comments of a local politician claiming that SpaceX will be launching from its Boca Chica Texas spaceport by the end of 2018. Interesting, but I’d rather go by what the company itself says, and what SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell says today is “Our Texas site still doing landscaping, could be avail in ~ 2 yrs; no rush given our capacity at two Fla pads.”

In other words, the local official’s prediction was a bit overstated, and therefore should not be taken too seriously.

The second story however can be taken a bit more seriously, since it is a report from an actual company official, Clay Mowry, Blue Origin’s vice president of sales, marketing and customer experience. He explains that they hope to resume New Shepard suborbital test flights before the end of the year, with manned test flights occurring in 2018. However, he says little about why there was such a long gap in New Shepard launches after they completed their last test flight in October 2016. At that time they said they would be doing more test flights in early 2017, but by the spring of 2017 had back tracked.

The claim that they might be flying again before the end of the year, however, still carries weight, in that it matches earlier statements. In other words, Blue Origin has been very careful not to make promises it cannot meet. In rocket science this care cannot always be met, but they clearly have tried hard. This is why I take Mowry’s statement that they hope to fly humans on New Shepard in 2018 with some trust.

The third story is a perfect example of how a company loses trust. Virgin Orbit is part of the Virgin set of companies run by Richard Branson, and used to be part of Virgin Galactic. Branson and Virgin Galactic have been making promises now for more than a decade, none of which have born fruit. This unreliability has made me very skeptical about anything they say, which is also why I do not report their claims much anymore. When they actually fly something I will write about it.

For awhile I thought Virgin Orbit was a different bird, as the executives there have been more careful, only making cautious promises and then more or less fulfilling them. The story above however gives me pause. Even as they admit they have had to delay their test program their president still insists that they will be able to ramp up to two launches per month by 2020. Considering the fact that no single private company has yet managed to do such a thing, in the more than half century since the beginnings of the space age, I think it is a little dangerous for this guy to make this claim, even before the company has even launched its first rocket. Virgin Orbit might do it, but such wild claims make me very suspicious of them.

And then there was today’s earlier story about Starchaser Industries. They launch a model rocket 4000 feet in the air, and from this they claim that they will be putting humans on a suborbital rocket in only two years. If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you, cheap.

The bottom line here is to use some common sense and thoughtful judgment in reading stories about future space achievements. The first three stories above are actually all well written, well researched, and very careful in how they report their stories. It however is not necessarily their job to tell you whether the claims are trustworthy, especially if the claims seem reasonable based upon the available information. The last however is an example of bad journalism, rewriting a press release without doing any research at all.

In all cases, it is important to distinguish between stories about what is going to happen versus what is happening. I always prefer the latter, since a real achievement will always trump a mere prediction. And when it comes to the space industry and rocket science, predictions surely must take a back seat to reality.


China successfully completes third robotic docking

China’s Tianzhou-1 test cargo freighter successfully completed its third docking with the prototype test space station module Tiangong-2 today.

Commands for the rendezvous and docking were issued at 17:24 Beijing time, according to the China Manned Space Agency, with the new ‘fast’ process taking 6.5 hours to complete.

Previously the rendezvous and docking process took around two days, or 30 orbits. The breakthrough will be used to allow crewed Shenzhou craft to reach the future Chinese Space Station (CSS) much sooner after launch.

Tianzhou-1 will soon perform a third and final refuelling test with Tiangong-2, before the cargo spacecraft is carefully deorbited over the South Pacific.

No word yet on when China might resume launches however. Since the July launch failure of their largest rocket, Long March 5, the country has launched nothing. There have also been stories that suggest the planned December launch of their Chang’e 5 lunar mission will be delayed now until the spring.


Movie of Juno’s September 1 fly-by of Jupiter

Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt has done it again, assembling and enhancing the images taken by Juno in its September 1, 2017 fly-by of Jupiter to produce a spectacular movie, embedded below.

In his words,

This animation reconstructs the two and a half hours from 2017-09-01T20:45:00 to 2017-09-01T23:15:00 in 125-fold time-lapse with 25 frames per second, using 20 raw JunoCam images. JunoCam is Juno’s optical and near infrared Education and Public Outreach camera.

Trajectory data are retrieved from SPICE kernels via the NAIF spy.exe tool. The NAIF/SPICE environment is the way NASA provides spacecraft navigation data.

The movie shows Jupiter in a heavily enhanced way, in order to reveal detail.

Some of the raw images cover only part of the area required to render a still of the movie. In these cases, you’ll see the border of the raw image.

Each image is rendered into a short scene. The scences overlap and are blended.

Rendering the movie took about five days. Any shortcomings of the movie are a result of imperfect image processing.


Curiosity tops Vera Rubin Ridge

Curiosity's view from on top of Vera Rubin Ridge, sol 1812

The image above is a reduced resolution version of a panorama created by reader Phil Veerkamp of images downloaded today from Curiosity. If you click on the image you can see the full resolution image. It looks to more to the east than the panorama shown in my September 6 rover update, revealing more of the type of surface the rover will have to cross on its drive forward on this new geological layer called the Hematite Unit.

Curiosity has now topped Vera Rubin Ridge, but the plateau above is really not as flat as the image implies. The Hematite Unit that the rover is now traversing still climbs upward, and they will continue to gain altitude now with almost every drive.


Arianespace announces new launch contracts

Capitalism in space: Arianespace today announced it has won a new launch contract for two different satellites, bringing its launch manifest to 53.

The press release contains a lot of interesting tidbits:

  • They plan to complete 11 launches in 2017, which is slightly above their yearly average in the past six years.
  • In 2018 they presently have only 7 launches planned, the lowest number since 2013.
  • Of the 53 launches, Ariane 5 will do 17, Soyuz 27, and Vega 9, suggesting a shift away from Ariane 5, which has been the company’s mainstay.
  • The private joint partnership of Airbus and Safran, now called ArianeGroup, has taken control of the business, and has begun streamlining it.
  • Arianespace has now been relegated to only handling “customer relations” and launch operations.

Overall, it looks like this European private/government partnership is doing reasonably well in the new very competitive launch market. I still expect their business to shrink in the coming years, but I think they will be around for awhile.


Private rocket does short test flight

Capitalism in space: A private British rocket company, Starchaser Industries, successfully launched a small rocket from the back of a truck yesterday and sent it about 4,000 feet in the air.

All the articles covering this event appeared to essentially be rewrites of the company’s press release, and provide little usable information about the flight. The test launch had the rocket split into three sections at 4,000 feet and return to Earth by parachute. This apparently was the intended test goal, though one parachute did not release.

Based on what I read, I must admit I am not impressed. The head of the company made a lot of claims about flying humans on a bigger rocket soon to come, but based on this launch I think that is almost all hogwash. Essentially this launch looked like a big model rocket, with little capabilities beyond that. Previous stories about this company and its head have been equally dubious. In one, he made ridiculous claims. In another, it was reported that his bookkeeper had embezzled 200K pounds over six years from the company.

All in all, I think my real issue here is with the press. I read five different stories about this launch from so-called major British news sources like the Times of London and the Daily Telegraph, and not one had the slightest skepticism, or did the slightest research. Each journalist also appeared completely ignorant of space engineering and the history of space exploration, and seemed more interested in touting the wonders to come from this British entrepreneur. As a journalist myself I found this incredibly embarrassing.


New Horizons team looks for second flyby in Kuiper Belt

The New Horizons science team is hoping to send their probe past a second more distant Kuiper Belt object after its January 1, 2019 flyby of 2014 MU69, if they can find an object that the spacecraft can reach.

They haven’t found any candidates yet, NASA has not agreed to a mission extension anyway, and their focus now remains the 2019 flyby. Still, if they are lucky and can get another target, this would be a nice bonus for the mission.


Russia’s Proton rocket today successfully launched a commercial satellite

The competition heats up: Russia today successfully placed a Spanish communications satellite into orbit using its Proton rocket.

Russia remains one launch behind SpaceX, 13 to 12, for 2017, but they have three more launches scheduled for September, while SpaceX has nothing planned. Overall I think it is going to be a neck and neck race between the American private company and Russia, the former perennial leader in launches, for the final 2017 lead.


Cassini says goodbye to Saturn

Saturn, October 2016

Cool image time! The picture above, reduced in resolution to show here, was taken in October 2016 during one of Cassini’s last distant orbits that gave it a global view of Saturn and its rings. Since it began its dives close to the gas giant such views have not been possible.

The mission ends this coming Saturday with a dive into Saturn. It was launched in October 1997, and after a seven year journey has spent the last thirteen years in orbit around the planet, providing us the first long term glimpse of a gas giant as its seasons evolved.

Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for nearly a half of a Saturnian year but that journey is nearing its end. This extended stay has permitted observations of the long-term variability of the planet, moons, rings, and magnetosphere, observations not possible from short, fly-by style missions.

When the spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004, the planet’s northern hemisphere, seen here at top, was in darkness, just beginning to emerge from winter (see Cassini’s Holiday Greetings​). Now at journey’s end, the entire north pole is bathed in the continuous sunlight of summer.

The spacecraft was also able to observe the seasonal changes that occurred to Titan. It also studied the plumes coming from the tiger stripe cracks on Enceladus, shown below the fold in a movie created by Cassini over a 14 hour time period in August 2017.

I expect that scientists will be exploring Cassini’s data archive for decades, finding many things not noticed in their initial viewing. Unfortunately, we will not have another spacecraft taking new pictures in orbit around Saturn to compare with Cassini’s past images for many decades to come. On Saturday, we go blind.
» Read more


Successful test of Austrialian 3D printed rocket engine

Capitalism in space: A privately-funded 3D printed rocket engine, built at Australian university, has successfully undergone its first test firing.

The engine also tested an aerospike nozzle, which is theorized to significantly increase engine efficiency but to date has never been flow.


Why is no one buying time on Nigeria’s satellites?

Despite having four working communications and Earth observation satellites in orbit, Nigeria officials complain there is a lack of interest in using them by both private companies and international governments.

The reasons? Well, two Nigerian officials said this:

[The Director, Centre for Satellite Technology Development (CSTD), Dr Spencer Onuh, told Daily Trust in an exclusive interview. “What do you want them to do when there is a failure? Let me tell you, NigComSat 1R is not enough for this country; it is not sufficient. There must be a backup. Many TV stations and even the national TV network will be very careful to transfer their services fully to NigComSat 1R because it is just one. The stations are set up for business, and they would not want anything to disrupt their services,” Dr Onu said.

He said it was not an issue of redundancy, adding that there was a need for market expansion…. He said: “Even private companies that own satellites don’t have only one. Some of them have five to six satellites, but mostly communication satellites which spin money. The return on investment is very fast but what happens in most advanced satellite countries is that these things are given out to the private sector to manage; they are not under government management and you can see the results.”

But a NIGCOMSAT official, Abdulraheem Isah Adajah, disagreed. Adajah who is the NIGCOMSAT’s General Manager, Satellite Applications, told Daily Trust that it was not entirely true that Nigcomsat1-R was recording low patronage due to lack of backup. According to him, inferiority complex and the mentality that ‘if it is Nigerian it can’t be good’ is the main reason. He called on the Federal Executive Council to come up with a policy which would make it compulsory for government agencies to patronise Nigeria’s satellites. [emphasis mine]

Typical thinking from government types. One government official lobbies for the government to build more satellites, while the other says the law should require their use. Neither seems very interested in discussing the actual lack of market demand that might be making these satellites unprofitable.

The article quotes a number of other government officials, most of whom remind me of the two above. Only one hints at the major source of the problem (the government), by noting that bickering between different Nigerian government agencies has been a factor. For example, the government agency that provides satellite television to Nigeria no longer buys time on these satellites, claiming that they have no backup should something go wrong.

It is a good thing that Nigeria is doing this. The problem is that it is their government doing it, instead of a private industry looking for profit.


ULA delays California launch because of Florida hurricane

Because some of its employees needed for a California launch in next week live in Florida, ULA has decided to delay that launch so that those employees can focus on preparing for and recovering from Hurricane Irma in Florida.

What I find interesting about this story is that it reveals that ULA, unlike SpaceX, apparently does not have more than one launch team, even though their staffing has historically been much higher. This limits their ability to do frequent launches, as well as launches from both coasts.


Saturn’s magnificent rings

Saturn's rings

The Cassini science team released two sets of images taken by the spacecraft of Saturn’s rings.

The image above, reduced in resolution to show here, is from the second link. As they note,

The pale tan color is generally not perceptible with the naked eye in telescope views, especially given that Saturn has a similar hue.

The material responsible for bestowing this color on the rings—which are mostly water ice and would otherwise appear white—is a matter of intense debate among ring scientists that will hopefully be settled by new in-situ observations before the end of Cassini’s mission.

The different ringlets seen here are part of what is called the “irregular structure” of the B ring. Cassini radio occultations of the rings have shown that these features have extremely sharp boundaries on even smaller scales (radially, or along the direction outward from Saturn) than the camera can resolve here. Closer to Saturn, the irregular structures become fuzzier and more rounded, less opaque, and their color contrast diminishes.

Check out both. They reveal to me that our understanding of these rings remains essentially nil, even after more than a dozen years of study by Cassini.


First Juno movie of Jupiter’s changing weather

Gerald Eichstädt at the Juno image site has produced the first attempt to assemble a movie of Juno images of the same area on Jupiter in order to show its changing weather.

JunoCam has been seeing this scene about six times from very different perspectives between about 2017-09-01T22:03 and about 2017-09-01T22:19, hence a over a little more than 15 minutes.

This animation is a first attempt to reproject the six images to a similar common perspective in order to reveal some dynamical information.

An movie covering only 15 minutes won’t show much change, but it is a start. He also notes that in making the different images match up he likely introduced some artifacts that are not real.


Plan of New Horizons’ fly-by of 2014 MU69 announced

The New Horizons science team has announced its detailed plan for the January 1, 2019 fly-by of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.

If all goes as planned, New Horizons will come to within just 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) of MU69 at closest approach, peering down on it from celestial north. The alternate plan, to be employed in certain contingency situations such as the discovery of debris near MU69, would take New Horizons within 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) — still closer than the 7,800-mile (12,500-kilometer) flyby distance to Pluto.

…If the closer approach is executed, the highest-resolution camera on New Horizons, the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) should be able to spot details as small as 230 feet (70 meters) across, for example, compared to nearly 600 feet (183 meters) on Pluto.

MU69 is thought to either be two objects orbiting very close to each other or an object similar to Comet 67P/C-G, two objects in contact but barely so.

In a related New Horizons story, the International Astronautical Union (IAU) has officially accepted 14 names chosen by the New Horizons team for features on Pluto.


Juno finds mystery in Jupiter’s aurora

The uncertainty of science: Scientists analyzing the data sent back by Juno have found that the system for generating Jupiter’s aurora does not appear to be same as the process that creates auroras on Earth.

The science here is a bit complicated. Suffice it to say that Jupiter’s aurora seems produced by a much more complex process, which actually should not have surprised anyone, considering how much larger Jupiter is and more powerful its magnetic field.


Mars rover update: September 6, 2017

Summary: Curiosity ascends up steepest part of Vera Rubin Ridge, getting just below the ridgetop, while Opportunity inspects its footprint in Perseverance Valley.


For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Curiosity panorama, Sol 1807

Curiosity's location, Sol 1802

Since my last update on August 11, Curiosity has been slowly working its way along the base of Vera Rubin Ridge, and up its slope. Today’s update from the science team describes how the rover is now on the steepest part of that slope, which is also just below the ridgetop. The panorama above looks east at the ridge, at the sand-duned foothills in the Murray Formation that Curiosity has been traversing since March 2016, and the crater plains beyond.

The image on the right shows Curiosity’s approximate position, with the point of view of the panorama indicated. The image also shows their planned upcoming route across the Hematite Unit. As they note in their update:

Curiosity now has great, unobstructed views across the lowlands of Gale crater to the rear of the rover. The view is improving as the air becomes clearer heading into the colder seasons. The first image link below shows a Navcam view into the distance past a cliff face just to the left of the rover. The image is tilted due to the to the unusually high 15.5 degree tilt of the rover as it climbs the ridge. Part of Mount Sharp is in the background. The second link shows an image looking ahead, where we see much more rock and less soil. The foreground shows that some of the pebbles are relatively well rounded. The rock face up ahead is smooth, which will mean easier driving.

That report I think is somewhat optimistic.
» Read more


GAO report finds Navy training in Pacific inadequate

A General Accountability Office report has found that more than a third of the Navy’s ships based in Japan do not have properly trained crews.

There are 70 to 80 ships and submarines in the 7th Fleet, which is on the front line of sea-based missile defense against North Korea. The GAO testimony focused on the destroyers and cruisers, the two kinds of ships involved in the four collisions this year. The Navy’s ships require more than a dozen training certifications, including mobility and seamanship and warfare capabilities like ballistic missile defense and surface warfare.

The cause of the McCain collision is still under investigation, but military leaders, lawmakers and the GAO have long warned about the Navy’s readiness crunch as the size of the fleet has increased and the number of ships deployed has remained constant, while the length of deployments has increased. “The Navy has had to shorten, eliminate, or defer training and maintenance periods to support these high deployment rates,” John Pendleton, director of the GAO defense capabilities and management, said in the written testimony.

But the GAO has also issued specific warnings about ships based abroad, and specifically Japan. In a May 2015 report, the GAO said that the Navy’s schedules for overseas ships limited dedicated training and maintenance time — and found that incidents of degraded or out-of-service equipment nearly doubled from 2009 to 2014.

There’s more, but essentially the Navy has been sending these ships out without properly trained crews.


Arianespace pins down source of launch abort

Arianespace has identified an issue in the electrical system in one of the Ariane 5’s solid rocket boosters as the source of the launch abort yesterday.

This is a preliminary report. They still need to find out exactly what happened and why. However, they also announced that their objective is to launch before the end of September. Moreover, they are not going to change the schedule of any of their other launches because of this.


How the “internet of things” robs us of our rights

Link here. Key quote:

One key reason we don’t control our devices is that the companies that make them seem to think – and definitely act like – they still own them, even after we’ve bought them. A person may purchase a nice-looking box full of electronics that can function as a smartphone, the corporate argument goes, but they buy a license only to use the software inside. The companies say they still own the software, and because they own it, they can control it. It’s as if a car dealer sold a car, but claimed ownership of the motor.

This sort of arrangement is destroying the concept of basic property ownership. John Deere has already told farmers that they don’t really own their tractors but just license the software – so they can’t fix their own farm equipment or even take it to an independent repair shop. The farmers are objecting, but maybe some people are willing to let things slide when it comes to smartphones, which are often bought on a payment installment plan and traded in as soon as possible.

How long will it be before we realize they’re trying to apply the same rules to our smart homes, smart televisions in our living rooms and bedrooms, smart toilets and internet-enabled cars?

This is once again why, when I buy something, I try to find the stupidest version I can. It is why I don’t use a smart phone, since all the companies that work with them do not respect my privacy. It is why I avoid Google and Facebook, for the same reasons. In every case, there is an immoral component to the actions of these companies, and it is the personal responsibility of each individual to not participate in or endorse such behavior.


New Generation looks to establish private spaceport

Capitalism in space The new private partnership led by Canon, dubbed New Generation Small Rocket Development Planning, is now searching for a location to build its own private spaceport in order to bypass restrictions placed on launches at Japan’s two government launch sites.

While JAXA can launch at any time during the year, the deal with the local fishing council limits the number of launches per year to 17, and requires JAXA to coordinate its launches for the year with that council. For New Generation, which wants to compete in the smallsat rocket business and will thus likely need to launch dozens, if not hundreds, of times per year, this arrangement won’t work.


First images released from Juno’s seventh close fly-by of Jupiter

Jupiter's South pole, August 2017

Cool image time! The raw images taken during Juno’s seventh close fly-by of Jupiter have been released. The image on the right, reduced in resolution to post here, was reprocessed by Gerald Eichstädt and shows the gas giant’s south polar region.

It is worthwhile comparing this with previous south pole images, as well as other images from this fly-by reprocessed by Eichstadt. I want to know whether anyone can identify specific storms and show how they have changed over time. Unfortunately, Juno’s orbit is large, and so it only drops in close every 53 days, allowing for these storms to change a great deal, and thus making it more difficult to link images of the same changing storm. Moreover, the images don’t necessarily show the same longitudes on Jupiter, making this even more difficult.

Nonetheless, to gain a real understanding of Jupiter’s atmosphere will require a clear understanding of the pace in which its storms and atmosphere change. These images might give us our first glimpse of this process.


Building launch backlog in China

The two launch failures in June and July experienced by China has forced an extended pause in rocket launches, resulting in an increasing launch backlog.

The main contractor for the Chinese space programme, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), had announced plans for a national record of close to 30 launches this year, but recent failures have halted progress, putting pressure on an increasingly intense schedule.

There have been no launches since the high profile failure of the second flight of China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5, on July 2. Preceding that, a Long March 3B, used for launches to geosynchronous and medium Earth orbits, left the Zhongxing-9A telecommunications satellite in a much lower than intended orbit. This partial failure has apparently hit the schedule for launches of China’s Beidou navigation satellites, while two more launch vehicles – the Long March 2D and 4C – also suffered issues last time out.

The Chinese launch calendar typically sees the vast majority of its activity in the second half of the year, and this will need to be the case once again to prevent a large mission backlog. China was looking to launch 6-8 new satellites for its own version of the GPS constellation, starting in July, but it is unclear if the first pair, Beidou-3M3 and Beidou-3M4, will be ready for launch from Xichang in mountainous Sichuan Province.

Right now China has only completed 7 launches in 2017. The article also notes that further launches might be delayed for political reasons:

With the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, a major political event that will see a once-every-five-years reshuffle of the country’s leadership, set for October, it is likely that unnecessary risks – particularly regarding a space programme regarded as a source of national pride and prestige – will be avoided.

What this article indicates is that China is undergoing the same kind of launch pressures experienced by Russia and SpaceX. Rocket science is hard, but the benefits are so great that it forces those involved to solve the problems. I expect we shall see China resume launches, at a fast pace, sometime after October.


A look at UAE’s space program, its overall goals and its Mars probe Hope

Link here. Much of what this article discusses, the use of space to help diversify the UAE’s economy, have already been noted previously by this same site and linked to by me in an earlier post. However, the article also provides some details about the scientific mission of their Mars Hope probe, set to launch in 2020.

[Hope, or the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM)] will be the first probe to study Martian climate through the daily and seasonal cycles. It will explore the connection between the upper and lower atmosphere, study the events in the lower atmosphere such as changes in temperature and dust storms, and how they affect the upper atmosphere in the following days or weeks.

It will also seek to answer some of the key questions that we have about Mars such as why the planet is losing its atmosphere to space, by tracking the behaviour of hydrogen and oxygen, which are the building blocks of water. With the discovery of periodical water on the surface of the Red Planet, Hope will be able to answer if the source of the Martian water is from the atmosphere. This research will create the first global image of weather on Mars during the days, weeks, months, and years, adding a new dimension to human knowledge on how the Red Planet’s atmosphere really works.

Overall, it appears that the primary goal so far has been to train engineers in the building of satellites. This is a good thing, and you have to start somewhere, but the UAE nonetheless has a big hill to climb before it can compete in the global satellite market.

Note too that it appears that all the investment capital for this effort is coming from the Emirates’ leadership. If one of those newly trained engineers wanted to form their own company, would he or she be allowed to obtain capital elsewhere, thus becoming a truly independent and competing operation? I suspect not, which means that this will limit the long term diversification of this industry, despite that being the UAE’s number one goal.


Soyuz returns three astronauts to Earth from ISS

The successful return from ISS today of three astronauts by a Soyuz capsule marked the end of Peggy Whitson’s record-breaking nine-month mission.

When she launched to the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 50 and 51 crews on the Soyuz MS-03 mission, her tenure aboard the Station was due to end after approximately six months, landing with the same two crewmembers she launched with.

But a realignment of the Russian crew manifest and a desire on the part of Roscosmos to reduce Russian Station personnel from three to two until the launch of their new Mini-Research Module resulted in an ability, unplanned at her launch, to allow Dr. Whitson to remain aboard the ISS for nine months instead of six. Her planned six month stay, assuming it lasted the entire duration, would have seen Dr. Whitson break an important record for NASA – that of the most cumulative time in space for any NASA astronaut in history. Dr. Whitson broke that record on 24 April 2017, when she accumulated 534 days off Earth – breaking the record set by Jeff Williams in 2016. With the conclusion of her current mission, Dr. Whitson will have amassed a cumulative time of 665 days 22 hours 54 minutes in orbit, more than shattering Jeff Williams’s record and placing her 8th on the list of total time in space for a single person.


SpaceX completes static fire tests of Falcon Heavy first stages

Capitalism in space: SpaceX announced today that they have completed static fire testing of the three first stages that will be used on the first Falcon Heavy test flight, tentatively scheduled for sometime in November.

That November launch remains very tentative. The launchpad still needs to be prepped, and these stages still have to be shipped to Florida, assembled, and then undergo at least one static fire test, as a unit. Despite these caveats, it is clear that that SpaceX is getting closer to that first Falcon Heavy launch.

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