Tag Archives: spaceflight

Starhopper: Success!

Starhopper in flight
Click for full image.

It appears today’s 150 meter hop (about 500 feet) of SpaceX’s Starhopper prototype was a complete success. To the right, and also below, are screen captures grabbed by me from one private live stream as well as from SpaceX’s own live stream.

In fact, this quick hop appears to have gone amazingly smoothly. It launched almost exactly at the target time, and landed quite softly on the launchpad, as intended. You can see the nozzle of the Raptor engine shifting and adjusting throughout the flight, also another indication that their engineering here is working perfectly. Congratulations SpaceX!

I have embedded SpaceX’s video below the fold. The flight begins around 30 minutes in.

Starhopper near the top of its flight

Starhopper beginning its descent

Starhopper on the ground
» Read more

Share

Assembly complete on Europe’s Franklin Mars rover

Engineers have completed the assembly of Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover that is scheduled for launch to Mars in July 2020

Rosalind Franklin, which is the result of cutting edge work from UK, European and Canadian scientists and engineers will now be shipped from the Airbus factory in Stevenage, Hertfordshire to Toulouse in France for testing to ensure it survives its launch from Earth next summer and the freezing conditions of Mars when it lands on the planet in March 2021.

Whether they can meet this schedule remains unknown because of the problems that occurred during testing of the spacecraft’s landing parachutes.

Share

Starhopper test flight scrubbed

The planned 150-meter-high test flight of SpaceX’s Starhopper test prototype was aborted at T-0 seconds last night when the Raptor engine did not ignite as expected.

A live video feed provided by SpaceX showed the squat, 30-foot-wide (9-meter) Starhopper vehicle counting down to a planned liftoff shortly after 6 p.m. CDT (7 p.m. EDT; 2300 GMT) Monday from the company’s facility in South Texas. The vehicle’s single methane-fueled Raptor engine could be seen swiveling side-to-side in a preflight steering check, as the Starhopper pad’s sound suppression system dumped water under the vehicle.

But the Raptor engine did not ignite as the countdown clock reached zero.

“Test aborted just after T-0,” read a text banner on SpaceX’s webcast. “Teams evaluating next test opportunity.”

They say they will try again today. If you want to watch this link provides some suggestions.

These test flights are testing the Raptor engine more than they are testing vehicle take-off and landing. This engine is a significant advancement from not only SpaceX’s Merlin engine but from almost every rocket engine previously built. It has the potential to set the record for the most efficient and powerful engine. It is therefore not unexpected that there will be issues during these test flights.

Share

Soyuz successfully docks to ISS on second attempt

An unmanned Soyuz capsule successfully docked to ISS tonight at a different docking port than the port where a failed component in the radar system caused the first attempt to be aborted two days ago.

This successful automatic docking confirms that the radar equipment on the other port was the problem. While manual manned dockings can occur there, the Russians will not be able to use it for unmanned Progress freighters until they get the faulty amplifier in the radar system fixed. To fix it will require a spare part and a spacewalk, and at the moment the Russians have said nothing about whether they have the part at the station.

Share

Orbiting X-37B breaks record for longest mission

The Air Force’s X-37B presently in orbit has now broken the record set by the other X-37B for the longest mission, with 717 days in orbit and now indication when it will return.

The previous mission had broken the earlier record by a little more than a month. How long the X-37B that is in space now will extend this new record is as yet unknown.

Share

More images from Chandrayaan-2

Moon image from Chandrayaan-2
Click for full image.

The Chandrayaan-2 engineering team has released more lunar images from Chandrayaan-2, this time from its higher resolution Terrain Mapping Camera 2.

One example is to the right, reduced to post here. It was taken from about 2,700 miles altitude, and shows a section of the northern hemisphere on the Moon’s heavily cratered far side. There are other images at the link.

The goal of these images is to demonstrate that the camera and spacecraft pointing systems are working. It appears they have done so successfully.

Share

Russian astronauts move older Soyuz to clear port for new Soyuz

Russian astronauts today undocked their older Soyuz MS-13 Soyuz from its docking port and manually docked it to the port with the technical issue, thereby clearing a different but functioning port for the unmanned Soyuz MS-14 capsule that failed to dock last week.

From the report it sounds like the Russians also did a test during the manual docking of the problematic docking radar on the older port, but no information about this has been released.

The unmanned MS-14 Soyuz will now make its second automatic docking attempt tomorrow, using the the cleared port.

Share

Planned Starhopper test shuts down Boca Chica

SpaceX’s planned next hop of its Starhopper test vehicle is apparently forcing local residents from their homes, as well as threatening damage to buildings as much as two miles away.

Those residents live in tiny Boca Chica Village, Texas, which sits less than 2 miles (3 km) from a SpaceX-operated launch site near the US-Mexico border along the Gulf Coast. SpaceX’s test of the so-called “Starhopper”—a prototype of a reusable shuttle meant for human transit—may well create an “overpressure event” capable of breaking glass in buildings nearby. The police-delivered warnings advise residents to, at a minimum, exit their homes when they hear police sirens around the 4pm launch window.

Comments posted under the Brownsville Herald article include, “Doesn’t sound good to me that they have to evacuate their homes all because Space X is testing” and “I think spacex should be prepared to pay for the window replacements.”

The test is also forcing the closure of roads required by residents to access or leave their neighborhoods.

It seems that SpaceX’s decision to conduct their Starhopper tests in Boca Chica rather than at their McGregor, Texas, engine test facility might have been a mistake. Unlike Boca Chica, McGregor is a much larger facility, which means tests are farther away from local residences. While Boca Chica gives SpaceX great visibility (hence some great publicity) for Starhopper, it appears to also be causing some bad press because of these negative impacts on the local community.

Either way, expect news of Starhopper’s biggest hop in the next day or so.

Share

Satellite company switches from Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5

Capitalism in space: The communications satellite company Ovzon has switched from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5 for the launch of its first wholly owned satellite in 2021.

In an interview Aug. 24, Ovzon CEO Magnus René told SpaceNews the company received a more appealing launch offer from Arianespace. “It’s nothing political or anything like that, it’s not that we don’t trust SpaceX — it’s just that we could get a better deal in cost and time and so on from Ariane at this time,” René said.

SpaceX charges $100 million for a Falcon Heavy launch, about the same as Arianespace charges for one of the two berths on its Ariane 5. Arianespace must have therefore cut its standard price to make it more attractive, and win the deal.

Ain’t competition wonderful? Governments have been trying (and failing) to get us into space for half a century, using the model of international cooperation. Introduce some competition and suddenly it becomes both easier and cheaper to do it. Who woulda thunk it?

Share

Curiosity’s future travels

Curiosity's planned route up Mt Sharp
Click for full image.

The Curiosity science team has released a new map showing an update of their planned route for Curiosity in the coming year or so, showing how they plan on leaving Gediz Vallis Channel after spending some time exploring the numerous geological layers exposed on its eroded surface.

The new information in this map is the route near the bottom of the image, showing more precisely the route up the canyon and then their retreat through the gap in the canyon’s western wall.

To get a better idea of what this means, I have updated my annotations on this Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image of Gediz Vallis Channel, posted previously in my May 30, 2019 rover update.
» Read more

Share

Unmanned test Soyuz aborts docking to ISS

Astronauts on ISS were forced to abort the docking of an unmanned upgraded Soyuz capsule today when it appeared to have problems locking onto its docking port.

According to NASA, Soyuz MS-14 entered an orbit above and behind the ISS, which would bring the spacecraft back into the vicinity of the outpost 24 hours later. However within an hour after the failed docking, the mission control in Korolev told the ISS crew that the next docking attempt would not be made until at least August 26 after a series of tests. Head of flight operations in Korolev Vladimir Soloviev informed the cosmonauts that ground specialists had narrowed down a potential root cause of the failure during docking to a “bad signal amplifier” in the Kurs-P avionics system aboard the station. Soloviev instructed the crew to swap the suspected amplifier for a new one and then conduct a test of the Kurs-P system. Provided the ongoing analysis confirmed the initial failure scenario and the in-orbit tests went successfully, another rendezvous attempt could be made in around 48 hours, between 08:00 and 09:00 Moscow Time on August 26. Soloviev asked the crew members whether they knew where the components in question had been located to which the cosmonauts said that they had remembered it approximately but asked for reference photos to be sent to them.

Assuming this is the same docking port the Russians have used for previous Soyuz and Progress dockings, the amplifier would have had to fail since the last docking.

UPDATE: It appears that they are instead going to use a different Russian docking port on ISS for the second docking attempt, thereby bypassing the suspect docking system.

Share

At a conference today

Posting will be intermittent, as I am attending a one day conference [pdf] at the University of Arizona being put on by Lunar & Planetary Laboratory.

Tidbits posted as I hear them (these tidbits do not involve new results that are still embargoed):

-Data from OSIRIS-REX at Bennu and Hayabua-2 at Ryugu have found that while both are rubble pile asteroids, there is evidence that suggests that Ryugu, but not Bennu, was subjected to heating in the past. In other words, it had been cooked.

-We presently possess no meteorites with a chemical make-up that matches the data obtained from orbit around Mercury. This isn’t a surprise, as any material thrown from the surface by an impact would not likely have the energy and velocity required to climb up out of the Sun’s gravitation well and get to Earth. Material from Mars however can easily fall into that well, which is why it is not difficult to find meteorites from Mars on Earth.

– Unlike the Earth, where atmospheric circulation in the north and south hemispheres is independent, Titan’s atmosphere is actually one large Hadley Cell, with flow going from one hemisphere to the other, depending on season.

-The evolutionary changes in Neptune’s orbit over time is thought to have caused the high inclination orbits seen in the objects in the Kuiper Belt, which are a mystery since all these objects must have once been confined within the protoplanetary disk, today’s plane of the solar system.

-Despite finding thousands of candidate exoplanets, Kepler found none in the habitable zone. This does not mean habitable exoplanets are rare, but that there were certain biases in Kepler’s observations that caused this lack.

-There is a lot of research going on to study buried ice/glaciers here on Earth. This work is directly aimed at better understanding the many buried glaciers now thought to exist on Mars.

Share

Results from tiny MASCOT lander on Ryugu

The scientists in charge of the tiny MASCOT lander dropped from Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft today released the results from the lander’s short seventeen hour observations of the surface of Ryugu.

They found that the asteroid has two different types of rocks (why is a mystery) and practically no dust.

Ralf Jaumann and his team were particularly surprised by the lack of dust: “Ryugu’s entire surface is littered with boulders, but we have not discovered dust anywhere. It should be present, due to the bombardment of the asteroid by micrometeorites over billions of years, and their weathering effect. However, as the asteroid has very low gravity – only one-sixtieth of that experienced on Earth’s surface – the dust has either disappeared into cavities on the asteroid or has escaped into space. This gives an indication of the complex geophysical processes occurring on the surface of this small asteroid.”

They also confirmed that the asteroid is a very fragile rubble pile.

“If Ryugu or another similar asteroid were ever to come dangerously close to Earth and an attempt had to be made to divert it, this would need to be done with great care. In the event that it was impacted with great force, the entire asteroid, weighing approximately half-a-billion tonnes, would break up into numerous fragments. Then, many individual parts weighing several tonnes would impact Earth,” says Jaumann, who is supervising the MASCam experiment, interpreting the observations. The asteroid is very similar to carbonaceous meteorites found on Earth, which date back 4.5 billion years. With an average density of just 1.2 grams per cubic centimetre, Ryugu is only a little ‘heavier’ than water ice. But as the asteroid is made up of numerous pieces of rock of different sizes, this means that much of its volume must be traversed by cavities, which probably makes this diamond-shaped body extremely fragile.

MASCOT was another example of a cubesat demonstrating that these tiny spacecraft can do very sophisticated science.

Share

Melting rocks on Mars

Melt pools near Mohave Crater
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The image to the right, reduced, cropped, and annotated by me to post here, was part of the July image download from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and was titled “Melt Pools around Mojave Crater”.

You can see that the flow began to the south, flowed northward (in the middle of the image), and then pooled in the two places as indicated. In the full photograph you can also see that the flow continued to the north, forming more pools.

The title to me suggests that this flow and the melt pools were lava, not ice. The low latitude, 7 degrees north, also suggests this is not ice. Though I was unable to reach the person who requested these images, it appears his research is aimed understanding the melt events that occur in the vicinity of craters upon impact. From his website:
» Read more

Share

Japan’s plan for returning Hayabusa-2’s Ryugu samples to Earth

Japan’s today provided an update on what it has done to prepare the location where Hayabusa-2’s samples from the asteroid Ryugu will land on Earth.

The landing site is in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) in the outback of southern Australia. Japan has already signed an agreement with that country for the recovery, as well as done preliminary surface work

The recovery site is an Australian Government prohibited area and is not accessible to the public. As part of the preparatory work, a field survey of the proposed recovery site in the WPA was conducted with permission from the Australian Government. This preparatory work confirmed the suitability of both the proposed recovery site and the candidate site for the antenna station that will search for the capsule.

The landing of the recovery capsule is now scheduled for late in 2020.

Share

Sierra Nevada unveils full scale Gateway habitat module prototype

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada yesterday unveiled a full scale prototype of a habitable module that it developed under a NASA contract for the agency’s proposed Lunar Gateway space station.

[The module] measures more than 8 meters long, and with a diameter of 8 meters has an internal volume of 300 cubic meters, which is about one-third the size of the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada developed this full-scale prototype under a NASA program that funded several companies to develop habitats that could be used for a space station in orbit around the Moon, as well as potentially serving as living quarters for a long-duration transit to and from Mars. As part of the program, NASA astronauts have, or will, spend three days living in and evaluating the prototypes built by Sierra Nevada, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Bigelow Aerospace.

The selling point for Sierra Nevada’s habitat is its size, which is possible because the multi-layered fabric material can be compressed for launch, then expanded and outfitted as a habitat once in space. It can fit within a standard payload fairing used for launch vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan booster, or NASA’s Space Launch System. It is light enough for any of those rockets to launch to the Moon.

What we are seeing here is the unfolding of the Washington lobbying game to guarantee Gateway gets funded and built. NASA is spreading its available Gateway cash around to multiple companies, who will now have a vested interest in lobbying Congress to get this lunar space station funded and built.

The one very good component of this lobbying process is that NASA is not doing the building or the designing. It is hiring private companies, which means the project will act to stimulate the American aerospace industry. Moreover, it is leaving the ownership of the spacecraft and the decision on what launch vehicle to use to the companies, which means this cannot be used as a lever to fund the SLS boondoggle. Under this arrangement more will get done faster for less.

Even so, Lunar Gateway will mostly act to slow the United States’ effort to colonize the solar system. We will be spending our government space dollars on an orbiting lunar space station, thus generally trapping us in orbit, as we watch China, India, Russia and others land and explore the surface.

There is only one way Gateway could possibly be beneficial to the United States. NASA gets it built fast and cheaply, so that it then can be used as a jumping off point for further exploration. This would give the U.S. capabilities in space that far exceed other countries.

My fear is that NASA has a terrible track record in the past half century of doing anything fast or cheaply. Instead, NASA projects like Gateway end up taking forever and costing many times their initial proposed budget. SLS is a perfect poster child for this. Its goal is not so much to launch as to provide Congress endless pork.

Share

China successfully tests navigation in space using pulsars

Using the X-ray space telescope Insight it launched in 2017, China has successfully tested an autonomous navigation system using pulsars.

The time interval of two adjacent pulses emitted by the pulsar is constant. If a spacecraft moves toward the pulsar, the received pulse interval will be shortened, and vise versa. Thus the observed pulse profile will change as the spacecraft moves in space. The relative arrival times of pulses also indicate the relative position of the spacecraft with respect to the pulsar. Therefore, by analyzing the characteristics of the pulsar signals received by the spacecraft, the three-dimensional position and velocity of the spacecraft can be determined, Zheng explained.

From Aug. 31 to Sept. 5, 2017, Insight observed the Crab pulsar for about five days to test the feasibility of pulsar navigation. The research team had also proposed an algorithm for X-ray pulsar navigation, according to Zhang Shuangnan, lead scientist of the Insight space telescope.

The research team further improved the algorithm and applied it in the processing of the observation data of the three detectors onboard Insight. The satellite’s orbit was determined successfully, with the positioning accuracy within 10 km, comparable to that of a similar experiment conducted on the International Space Station, Zhang said.

This is not the first such test. U.S. scientists did something similar using an X-ray telescope on ISS in 2017.

Share

ISRO releases Chandrayaan-2’s first Moon image from lunar orbit

The Moon as seen by Chandrayaan-2

India’s space agency ISRO has released the first image taken by Chandrayaan-2 after entering orbit around the Moon.

That image is to the right, reduced to post here. It was taken from about 1,600 miles elevation, and shows mostly the far side of the Moon. The dark mare in the upper right is the Sea of Moscow, which is the only large mare on the far side.

This image once again proves the camera and the spacecraft’s ability to point it accurately are both functioning.

Share

Russia and ULA successfully complete rocket launches

Russia and ULA both successfully placed spacecraft into Earth orbit today.

Russia sent an unmanned upgrded Soyuz capsule to ISS, filled with cargo, in a test flight that also tested a new upgraded version of the Soyuz rocket.

According to Navias, this Soyuz launch is a critical shakedown flight to test the performance of the upgraded Soyuz capsule and the Soyuz 2.1a booster before the first crewed flight on the rocket in March 2020.

“The Soyuz 2.1a booster, equipped with a new digital flight control system and upgraded engines, is replacing the Soyuz FG booster that has been used for decades to launch crews into space,” NASA officials wrote in a statement. “The Soyuz spacecraft will have an upgraded motion control and navigation system, as well as a revamped descent control system,” they added.

The mission will also help Roscosmos develop a cargo version of the Soyuz capsule capable uncrewed reentry to return experiments and other gear to Earth, Navias said. Russia’s Progress cargo ships can currently only deliver supplies, and are filled with trash and discarded at the end of their missions.

ULA in turn launched an Air Force GPS satellite in the last launch of the Delta-4 Medium version of its Delta rocket family.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

13 China
13 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab
4 ULA

The U.S. leads Russia and China 19 to 13 in the national standings.

Share

SpaceX’s Tesla has completed its first solar orbit

Capitalism in space: The first privately launched car, a Tesla placed in solar orbit on SpaceX’s first launch of its Falcon Heavy, has now completed its first orbit around the sun.

Its future?

Car and driver will probably make many more laps around our star. Last year, an orbit-modeling study calculated that the Roadster will eventually slam into either Venus or Earth, likely within the next few tens of millions of years. But there’s just a 6 percent chance of an Earth impact, and a 2.5 percent chance of a Venus impact, within the next million years, the study’s authors found.

Share

An eroding Martian glacier?

An eroded glacier on Mars?

Close-up of an eroded glacier on Mars?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! In my never-ending review of new images downloaded each month from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I came upon an image dubbed merely “Terrain Sample” in the August release. To the right, cropped and rotated to post here, is the weird terrain from that image, with the section in the white box shown below at full resolution.

To keep MRO functioning properly, they need to take images on a regular basis, even if they have no planned features coming into view. As noted by Singleton Thibodeaux-Yost, the HiRISE Targeting Specialist at the University of Arizona who requested this image,

It was not taken in response to a suggestion from the public or our team database. This image was a ride-along with another instrument on MRO. [The scientists for that other instrument] targeted this region for a particular reason and we just turned on our camera as well to gather more data while they collected their data. I title these types of images “terrain sample” as we don’t always know what the results will be.

In other words, the scientists running the high resolution camera have no inkling what they will see until see it.

This image shows the inside rim of a crater, with the crater rim to the south just beyond the image’s bottom edge. This somewhat large crater is located in the middle of Arabia Terra, one of the largest regions of the transition zone between the southern highlands and the northern lowlands (where some scientists believe an intermittent ocean might have once existed). This transition zone has many features that suggest a tidal basin on the edge of that ocean.

A few months ago I would have been entirely baffled by what we see here. I might have speculated that these strange features were another variation of that shoreline region. Maybe these features are the erosion one sees on a dried lakebed after the water has drained away.

I might have also speculated that these shapes looked like the kind of frozen ice blocks one sees in the icecap of the Arctic here on Earth.

Both speculations then would have been complete guesses.

I now know, based on things I have recently learned in writing about several other images from MRO, that the second guess is likely right (though of course my opinion as a very amateur planetary geologist should not be taken very seriously). My reasons?
» Read more

Share

ULA wins private lunar launch contract

Capitalism in space: Astrobotic, the private company building a lunar lander for NASA, has chosen ULA’s Vulcan rocket for its launch vehicle.

Astrobotic announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket in a competitive commercial procurement to launch its Peregrine lunar lander to the Moon in 2021.

“We are so excited to sign with ULA and fly Peregrine on Vulcan Centaur. This contract with ULA was the result of a highly competitive commercial process, and we are grateful to everyone involved in helping us make low-cost lunar transportation possible. When we launch the first lunar lander from American soil since Apollo, onboard the first Vulcan Centaur rocket, it will be a historic day for the country and commercial enterprise,” said Astrobotic CEO, John Thornton.

This is the second contract announcement for ULA’s Vulcan rocket, with the first being Sierra Nevada’s announcement that it would use Vulcan for Dream Chaser’s first six flights.

Isn’t competition wonderful? It appears to me that ULA must be offering very cut-rate deals to get these contracts, since the rocket has not yet flown while SpaceX’s already operational Falcon Heavy (with three successful launches) could easily do the job and is a very inexpensive rocket to fly. These lower prices, instigated by competition and freedom, will mean that funding missions to the Moon will continue to become more likely, even if NASA and the federal government fail to get their act together.

Share

Chandrayaan-2 successfully enters lunar orbit

The head of ISRO today announced that, after completed a 29 minute engine burn, India’s Chandrayaan-2 orbiter/lander/rover has successfully entered the correct orbit around the Moon.

In his briefing, Dr. Sivan announced that “The LOI maneuver was performed successfully today morning using the onboard propulsion system for a firing duration of about 29 minutes. This maneuver precisely injected Chandrayaan-2 into an orbit around the Moon.” He emphasised the unique requirement of 90 degree orbital inclination of Chandrayaan-2 and said that it was achieved by the precise execution of both the Trans Lunar Injection (performed on August 14, 2019) and today’s LOI maneuver.

“The satellite is currently located in a lunar orbit with a distance of about 114 km at perilune (nearest point to the Moon) and 18,072 km at apolune (farthest point to the Moon)”, he added.

Over the next four lunar orbits they will execute four more engine burns to lower the spacecraft to the orbit needed to send the lander/rover to the surface on September 7 in the south polar region of the Moon between the craters Manzinus C and Simpelius N at about 71 degrees latitude.

Share

Rocket Lab & China launch satellites

Both Rocket Lab and China today launched rockets to put satellites into orbit, though it is as yet still unclear whether the Chinese launch was successful.

Rocket Lab successfully placed four smallsats into orbit. It was the company’s eightth consecutive successful launch, continuing its perfect launch record.

More important, the company now has completed four launches in 2019. Their goal, announced early this year, was to achieve a monthly pace by summer, then ramp up to twice a month by the end of the year. So far they are not quite meeting that goal, averaging one launch every 1.5 months (March, May, June, August). Still, this record is quite impressive, considering they are a very new and very small private company that it now is beginning to match or exceed the launch pace of other nations (India) as well as well-established companies (ULA).

China’s Long March 3B launched a civilian communications satellite, but according to the story at the link, “the usual announcement of a successful separation has yet to published by Chinese State media.” For the purposes of the launch standings, I will assume at the moment that this was a successful launch, but will revise this post should we learn the satellite did not reach orbit. Update: It appears the launch was successful, but the satellite is having problems. This would mean the launch counts below.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

13 China
12 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India
4 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 18 to 13 in the national rankings.

Share

Parker to extend instrument operations in future solar fly-bys

The engineering and science team for the Parker Solar Probe have decided they can turn on its science instruments for a longer period during future solar fly-bys, and have now done so for its upcoming third approach.

Parker Solar Probe turned on its four instrument suites on Aug. 16, 2019 — earlier than during its previous two solar encounters, extending the observation period from 11 days to about 35 days.

During the spacecraft’s first two solar encounters, the science instruments were turned on when Parker was about 0.25 AU from the Sun and powered off again at the same distance on the outbound side of the orbit. (One AU, or astronomical unit, is about 93 million miles, the average distance between the Sun and Earth.) For this third solar encounter, the mission team turned on the instruments when the spacecraft was around 0.45 AU from the Sun on the inbound side of its orbit and will turn them off when the spacecraft is about 0.5 AU from the Sun on the outbound side.

This decision will allow them to get more data about the solar wind from farther from the Sun.

Share

Northrop Grumman leases part of VAB for assembling Omega rocket

Northrop Grumman has become the first private company to lease a bay of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, where it will its new OmegA rocket.

Northrop Grumman will assemble and test its new OmegA rocket inside the massive facility’s High Bay 2, one of four high bays in the building. … The company also is modifying mobile launcher platform-3 (MLP-3) to serve as the launch vehicle’s assembly and launch platform. Both the VAB and MLP-3 were originally built for the Apollo Program and went on to enable the three-decade Space Shuttle Program.

OmegA’s development is being funded by an $800 million contract with the Air Force.

In many ways, I could ask the exact same question here as I just did in the post below about the Chinese government’s pseudo private launch industry: From an American private enterprise perspective, this Air Force attempt to create a commercial launch industry using government funds but tight government supervision and control is very puzzling. OmegA will be competing directly with other American launch companies that are privately funded, owned, and run by private corporations (though also getting significant government contracts for their already operational products). How the federal government prevents its government agencies (NASA, the Air Force) from putting their thumbs on the scale to favor one over the other I do not understand.

Share

China launches three satellites on new rocket

China today successfully completed the first orbital launch of its privately-funded but government-built smallsat Smart Dragon rocket, putting three smallsats into orbit.

From the Chinese state press:

The rocket, developed by the China Rocket Co. Ltd. affiliated to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT), blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 12:11 p.m. (Beijing Time).

The three satellites, respectively developed by three Beijing-based companies, will be used for remote sensing services, communication and Internet of Things.

Different from the carrier rockets of the Long March family, the new Dragon series is developed in a commercial mode to meet the market demand of launching small commercial satellites, said Wang Xiaojun, head of CALVT.

What they mean by “a commercial mode” is that the funding comes from private Chinese investors who hope to make money from the rocket’s launches. However, this is not a private operation by any means, since the rocket is owned and built by a government entity and uses military solid motors.

From an American perspective, this Chinese attempt to create a commercial launch industry using private funds but tight government supervision and control is very puzzling. This government company is now competing directly with other Chinese launch companies that are, at least superficially, owned and run by private corporations (though also supervised closely by the government). How the Chinese government prevents its government agencies from putting their thumbs on the scale to favor one over the other I do not understand.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

12 Russia
12 China
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S leads 17 to 12 over Russia and China in the national rankings.

Share
1 2 3 4 5 236