The only rocket stage recovered during the 1960s space race returns to Florida

A section of the Gemini 5 Titan rocket first stage that was recovered by chance right after its launch on August 21, 1965 has now been moved from storage in Alabama to be put on display at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Museum.

The artifact, which encompasses the upper portion of the Titan II rocket’s first stage, flew with the vehicle from Launch Complex 19 at Cape Kennedy (today Cape Canaveral) in Florida for the first two and a half minutes of flight, reaching about 50 miles high (80 kilometers) before its two-nozzle engine exhausted its propellant supply. Unlike most rockets, which jettison their first stage before firing their second stage engine(s), Gemini-Titan “fired in the hole,” igniting the upper stage before separating from the first.

The Titan II first stage then plunged back to Earth, impacting the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Bermuda with no plans for its recovery. It was only by happenstance that a U.S. Air Force plane spotted the segment floating in the water, which led to a U.S. Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Du Pont, hauling it out of the ocean and back to shore.

Whether the surviving segment, which housed the booster’s oxidizer tank, tore apart from its fuel tank and engine section during the tumble back to Earth or on contact with the ocean is unknown. The lower section of the stage presumably sank to the seafloor.

Until the shuttle started flying in 1981, this booster section was the only first stage recovered from any American rocket launch. The rocket itself had lifted Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad into orbit, where they spent a then record eight days, proving humans could survive in space long enough to get to and from the Moon.

Lots of pictures at the link. More pictures here.

Investment in space dropped 58% in 2022

According to a new report by Space Capital, a New York venture capital firm, overall investment in space dropped 58% in 2022, dropping from the $47.4 billion peak in 2021 to $20.1 billion in 2022.

Space Capital, a New York-based venture capital firm, published its Space Investment Quarterly Jan. 19 for the fourth quarter of 2022. The report notes that early-stage startups fared better than later-stage and growth companies.

One exception was SpaceX, which raised $2 billion in 2022, or 32 percent of the total 2022 private investment in space infrastructure. SpaceX was also in the minority because it raised capital in both 2021 and 2022. Only 38 percent of the space infrastructure companies that raised capital in 2021 sought additional funding in 2022.

Essentially, if you remove SpaceX from the picture, major investment in space startups largely came to a halt in 2022. Furthermore, the report states that it also expects further investment in 2023 to be parsimonious. Apparently the venture capital community has realized how risky many of these space startups are (as seen by the loss of stock value for companies like Virgin Galactic, Astra, and Virgin Orbit), and is becoming more careful where it puts its money.

Lucy team suspends efforts to complete deployment of unlatched solar panel

Lucy's planned route
Lucy’s planned route to explore the Trojan asteroids

The Lucy science team has decided to suspend its efforts to complete the deployment of the unlatched solar panel that failed to fully open shortly after launch, having determined that little can be accomplished while the spacecraft is so far from the Sun.

A series of activities in 2022 succeeded in further deploying the array, placing it into a tensioned, but unlatched, state. Using engineering models calibrated by spacecraft data, the team estimates that the solar array is over 98% deployed, and it is strong enough to withstand the stresses of Lucy’s 12-year mission. The team’s confidence in the stability of the solar array was affirmed by its behavior during the close flyby of the Earth on Oct. 16, 2022, when the spacecraft flew within 243 miles (392 km) of the Earth, through the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The solar array is producing the expected level of power at the present solar range and is expected to have enough capability to perform the baseline mission with margin.

The team elected to suspend deployment attempts after the attempt on Dec. 13, 2022, produced only small movement in the solar array. Ground-based testing indicated that the deployment attempts were most productive while the spacecraft was warmer, closer to the Sun. As the spacecraft is currently 123 million miles (197 million km) from the Sun (1.3 times farther from the Sun than the Earth) and moving away at 20,000 mph (35,000 km/hr), the team does not expect further deployment attempts to be beneficial under present conditions.

The spacecraft will do another Earth fly-by on December 12, 2024, which will send it to the Trojans on the left side of the map above. Before that Lucy will do a mid-course correction in February 2024, at which time the engineers will reassess whether to try again to latch the panel, when Lucy is closer to Earth and thus also closer to the Sun.

January 19, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.

  • ULA plans 10 Vulcan launches in 2023
  • My count of total planned ULA launches in ’23 is 11, but that includes two Delta Heavy launches and five Atlas-5 launches. It seems a complete fantasy to expect ULA to complete 17 launches this year (10 of which will be the as yet unlaunched Vulcan), when ULA has never completed more than 16 in a single year, and that record was set in 2009, more than a decade ago. In fact, the company has never completed more than 8 launches in a year since 2016.






Machete Mesa on Mars

Machete Mesa on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on November 30, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a variety of ridges in a region of Mars called Arabia Terra, which is also the largest transition zone between the Martian southern cratered highlands and the northern lowland plains.

While this picture illustrates some nice geological facts about Mars (see below), I post it simply because of the dramatic sharpness of the ridge on top of the mesa, which I guess is several hundred feet high, but only a few feet across, at most, at its peak. A hike along this ridgeline would be a truly thrilling experience, one that the future human settlers on Mars will almost certainly find irresistible. Put this location on your planned tourist maps of Mars. It will likely be an oft-visited site.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Court clerk fired despite having valid health and religious reasons to refuse jab

Judge Claire Bradley, petty tyrant

They’re coming for you next: Today’s blacklist story is only one of tens of thousands, but it illustrates starkly the cruel and vindictive intolerance of the petty dictators who now run American society. It doesn’t matter if the jab doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter if you have valid health reasons for avoiding it. It doesn’t matter that you have religious beliefs. It doesn’t matter if you offer to be tested frequently to prove you aren’t sick. It doesn’t even matter that no mandate has been imposed by the local government.

The boss demands you to get jabbed, and if you dare to refuse, the boss will fire you.

Less than three years from retirement, Kitsap County court clerk Tammy Duryea was terminated in 2021 from her job because she did not wish to get the COVID shots for both health and religious reasons.

She has now sued, but her chances of victory are quite slim, especially since it was the court judges, led by Judge Claire Bradley, the presiding judge of the District Court, who imposed the shot mandate.
» Read more

Geotail mission finally ends after 30 years

Though initially planned as a four year mission, the Geotail probe — designed to study the Earth’s magnetosphere — finally failed on June 28, 2022 after 30 years of operation.

With an elongated orbit, Geotail sailed through the invisible boundaries of the magnetosphere, gathering data on the physical process at play there to help understand how the flow of energy and particles from the Sun reach Earth. Geotail made many scientific breakthroughs, including helping scientists understand how quickly material from the Sun passes into the magnetosphere, the physical processes at play at the magnetosphere’s boundary, and identifying oxygen, silicon, sodium, and aluminum in the lunar atmosphere.

The mission also helped identify the location of a process called magnetic reconnection, which is a major conveyor of material and energy from the Sun into the magnetosphere and one of the instigators of the aurora. This discovery laid the way for the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, or MMS, which launched in 2015.

Though it failed in June, engineers worked until November attempting to recover the spacecraft. When those efforts failed, NASA officially ended the mission.

ABL completes investigation of January 10th launch failure

ABL yesterday released the results of its investigation into the January 10th launch failure of its RS1 rocket.

Just over ten seconds after launch the rocket suffered “a complete loss of power,” its engines shut down, and it came crashing back to Earth about 60 feet to the east of the launch pad. The resulting explosion and fire damaged and destroyed significant equipment, including a nearby “fabric hanger.” The report then goes on to describe the cause:
» Read more

SpaceX completes first Starlink launch of 2023

Using a new first stage, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched 51Starlink satellites into orbit this morning from Vandenberg Space Force Base, the first Starlink launch of 2023.

The first stage successfully landed on a drone ship in the Pacific.

At present, SpaceX and China are tied for the lead in the 2023 launch race, each having completed 5 launches so far this year. No one else has launched as yet.

Astronauts complete Soyuz seat liner installation inside Endurance

Astronauts today completed the installation of Frank Rubio’s Soyuz seat liner inside the Dragon capsule Endurance so that he can return to Earth should an emergency requiring evacuation occur on ISS.

On Jan. 17, NASA Flight Engineer Josh Cassada, with assistance from NASA Flight Engineer Nicole Mann, worked inside the SpaceX Dragon Endurance crew ship collecting tools and readying the spacecraft for a seat liner move. The seat liner move, completed today, Jan. 18, ensures NASA Flight Engineer Frank Rubio will be able to return to Earth in the unlikely event of an emergency evacuation from the International Space Station. Rubio originally launched to the station with cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin aboard the Soyuz MS-22 crew ship on Sept. 21, 2022. The change allows for increased crew protection by reducing the heat load inside the MS-22 spacecraft for Prokopyev and Petelin in case of an emergency return to Earth.

It would be fascinating to get more details about the work that was done to install this Soyuz seat liner in Endurance. Clearly some improvisation was required.

Regardless, this work is only temporary, since Rubio’s seat liner will be shifted again into the replacement Soyuz scheduled to arrive in mid-February.

January 18, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of Jay, BtB’s intrepid stringer.





The COVID jab: An emerging health disaster whose name cannot be spoken

Sudden collapse
One of many sudden collapses. Click for full video.

While from the beginning it appeared that the various COVID shots from different pharmaceutical companies were relatively safe to take, time is proving this assumption to be very false, with the data increasingly suggesting that the jab not only poses a significant, dangerous, and immediate health risk to young people, its long term effects on everyone who either chose to get it or was forced to by government mandate could very well be disastrous.

First the immediate risks. The numbers of individuals who have died suddenly and abruptly after getting the jab has been horrifying and shocking. Never in my life have I seen so many young and healthy people suddenly keeling over in public situations and dying. This story underlines the horror of the situation:

Such occurrences were unheard of prior to 2021. As noted at the link, “In fact, 500% more soccer players in the EU are dropping dead from heart attacks than just one year ago.” To capture the real horror of these events you need only watch the short video at this link. The thread that follows provides further documentation of this epidemic of “sudden death” and its apparent connection to the COVID shots.

Still, the actual medical link of these sudden heart failures to the COVID shots remains somewhat tentative, though more and more research is tying the two together.

From the last link:
» Read more

Curiosity climbs onto the Marker Band

Panorama as of January 17, 2023
Click for full image.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Curiosity’s exploration of the foothills of Mount Sharp continues. The panorama above, cropped, reduced, and annotated to post here, was taken on January 17, 2023 by the rover’s right navigation camera. It looks forward across the flat marker band terrain that the rover has been studying for the past few weeks.

From orbit, this marker band appears very smooth and flat, and is found in many places on the flanks of Mount Sharp, always at about the same elevation. The arrows in the overview map to the right mark several places near Curiosity where the band is evident. The blue dot marks Curiosity’s present location, the red dotted line its planned route, and the yellow lines indicate the approximate area covered by the panorama above. The distance across the marker band to the uphill slope is about 500 feet.

Now that Curiosity is on the marker band, it no longer looks smooth. Instead, it is a flat plain of many uneven paving stones interspersed with dust. While not as rough as the Greenheugh Pediment, which Curiosity had to retreat from because it was too hard on the rover’s wheels, the marker band is hardly the smooth soft terrain implied by the orbital images.

These paving stones have also proven difficult to drill into, with Curiosity’s drill already failing twice previously because the rock was too hard. That hardness should not be a surprise, however, as this layer’s flatness in many places shows its resistance to erosion.

As it crosses this wide section of the marker band the science team will obviously be looking for more candidate drill sites. Sooner or later one should work.

Alabama roadside rest stop about to lose its Saturn-1B rocket

Due to decay and rust, an Alabama roadside welcome center is about to lose the Saturn-1B rocket that has greeted visitors for the past 44 years.

The Welcome Center opened in 1977. In 1979, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center donated the Saturn 1B rocket, 168 feet high and 22 feet in diameter, to stand as a symbol of Huntsville’s role in the space program. The rocket was painted in 2006 and more maintenance was done starting in 2014, but it has steadily deteriorated since then.

“It was starting to fall apart,” [said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Tourism Department.] “We’ve gotten complaints for years about it.”

The cost to refurbish it appears to be too high. Maybe Sentell can get NASA to donate an SLS rocket for display, since it is very possible that several of those will become available at some point in the future when SpaceX’s much more efficient and cheaper Starship/Superheavy begins flying.

A review of Boeing’s struggling space effort

Link here. [now fixed] The article, entitled “As Boeing Struggles To Fix Its Airliner Business, Elon Musk Is Eating Its Lunch In Space,” is a remarkably accurate overview of Boeing’s space effort, considering it comes from a mainstream press outlet. This paragraph will give you its flavor:

New competition could also threaten Boeing’s lucrative Space Launch System. Nicknamed the “Senate Launch System” for its origins in 2010 as a pork-barrel program to preserve jobs with the Space Shuttle winding down, NASA procured the rocket with “cost-plus” contracts – totaling $13.8 billion for Boeing so far – which means the contractor is guaranteed its expenses will be covered, plus a profit. Critics say that’s encouraged cost overruns. NASA’s inspector general has pegged the cost of a single Artemis launch at $4.1 billion, which he characterized last year as “unsustainable,” with total spending on the program projected to top $90 billion by 2025. For reference, NASA’s budget this year is $25 billion.

“This is a sucking chest wound on NASA and their ability to actually advance planetary science and lunar programs,” said Chris Quilty, founder of the space -focused financial services firm Quilty Analytics.

That $13.8 billion figure is accurate as to what NASA has paid Boeing, though it underestimates the actual cost of SLS, which is more than twice that.

Read it all. It suggests Boeing faces very tough times ahead in space.

Oman building its own spaceport

Oman expects to begin construction this year on its own spaceport, intended to be open to commercial launches both orbital and suborbital.

Located in the port town of Duqm, the Etlaq Space Launch Complex, a project by the National Aerospace Services Company (NASCom), could see its first rocket launch early next year.

However, it will take three years to fully complete the centre. “We have two main goals with the Duqm launch land: to build a launch centre for commercial, professional and educational rocket users to assemble, test and launch from,” [officials from NASCom said]. “The launch centre will be globally accessible for expanding rocket companies, and locally available for educational research programmes.”

Though the article at the link is not clear, it appears that NASCom is government-owned.

American astronaut seat liner shifted to Dragon temporarily

Though NASA has not issued an update, the Soyuz seat liner used by American astronaut Frank Rubio was supposed to be shifted from the leaking Soyuz capsule to Endurance today, just in case that Soyuz needs to be used as a lifeboat. From the January 13th ISS update:

On Thursday, Jan. 12, the International Space Station mission management team polled “go” to move NASA astronaut Frank Rubio’s Soyuz seat liner from the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft to Dragon Endurance to provide lifeboat capabilities in the event Rubio would need to return to Earth because of an emergency evacuation from the space station. The seat liner move is scheduled to begin Tuesday, Jan. 17, with installation and configuration continuing through most of the day Wednesday, Jan. 18. The change allows for increased crew protection by reducing the heat load inside the MS-22 spacecraft for cosmonauts Prokopyev and Petelin in the event of an emergency return to Earth.

Once the replacement Soyuz MS-23 arrives at the space station on Feb. 22, Rubio’s seat liner will be transferred to the new Soyuz and the seat liners for Prokopyev and Petelin will be moved from MS-22 to MS-23 ahead of their return in the Soyuz.

I expect that once this work is completed tomorrow NASA will issue an update.

January 17, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay. I remain on the mend, and think by tomorrow I should be fully back to normal.




The sea of dunes surrounding the Martian north pole

The sea of dunes surrounding the Martian north pole
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on December 5, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a collection of wormlike dunes located in the giant sea of dunes that surrounds the Martian north pole ice cap.

North is to the top. The season when this picture was taken was northern winter. The Sun is barely above the horizon, only 8 degrees high, and shining from the southeast. Because it is winter it is also dust season, making the atmosphere hazy and thus making the light soft. No distinct shadows, except that the sides of the dunes facing away from the Sun are darkly shadowed.

The consistent orientation of the dunes suggests that the prevailing winds blow from the northeast to create the steep-sided alcoves. The wind however might not be the only factor to form these dunes.
» Read more

Hakuto-R completes five of ten milestones on test flight

Ispace’s private commercial lunar lander, Hakuto-R, has now completed five of the ten milestones the company had established before launch as its goals on this first test flight to the Moon.

The first five milestones completed are:

  • Completion of launch preparations
  • Completion of launch and deployment
  • Establishment of a Steady Operation Status
  • Completion of the first orbital control maneuver
  • Completion of stable deep-space flight operations for one month

The next five milestones involve entering final lunar orbit and landing successfully, the most difficult milestones of all.

SpaceX to build five Starship/Superheavy prototypes in 2023

According to Elon Musk, SpaceX intends to build five Starship/Superheavy prototypes in 2023 for flight testing.

Assuming they can get launch permits, these five rockets should provide the company ample launch testing capability for at least the next two years, especially if it succeeds in landing these units and can consider reusing them in test flights.

At this moment, the launch permits from the federal government appears the main obstacle to getting this heavy lift reusable rocket tested and operational.

Pushback: Southwest flight attendant demands Southwest be sanctioned for violating the terms of her court victory

Southwest: Enemy to free speech

Bring a gun to a knife fight: Charlene Carter, a flight attendant who had worked at Southwest Airlines for 20 years, was fired in 2017 because she had publicly opposed for religious reasons the use of her union dues to fund pro-abortion protests, and was then reinstated after winning her lawsuit against the airline, is now demanding the court sanction Southwest for violating the terms of her court victory.

In her victory, Southwest was required to reinstate Carter with full benefits, and also issue a statement to its employees that it “may not” engage in religious discrimination. Instead, the airline sent out two notices. The first simply stated “that the Court ordered the company to notify them that it ‘does not’ discriminate on the basis of religion.” The second notice however was worse, as it once again slandered Carter for her religious beliefs.
» Read more

A Martian river canyon?

A Martian river canyon?
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image highlights the biggest mystery of Mars that has baffled scientists since the first good pictures of its surface were taken in the early 1970s by the Mariner 9 orbiter. The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on October 24, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and shows a very small segment of the 400-mile-long meandering canyon on Mars called Nigal Vallis. From the Wikipedia page:

The western half of Nirgal Vallis is a branched system, but the eastern half is a tightly sinuous, deeply entrenched valley. Nirgal Vallis ends at Uzboi Vallis. Tributaries are very short and end in steep-walled valley heads, often called “amphitheater-headed valleys.”

We can see one of those short tributaries on the image’s left edge. The overview maps below provide a wider view of this entire canyon.
» Read more

1 2 3 4 5 921