12:14 pm EST: Max altitude is reportedly 294,000 feet, or 89.6 km, or 55.7 miles. [Update: 295,007 feet, or 89.9 km, or 55.87 miles.]
12:08 pm EST: The SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity is back safely on the ground after a second successful powered flight to the edge of space. Official apogee not yet announced. Unity definitely achieved 50+ miles, which crosses the USAF/NASA definition for the boundary altitude to space.
11:56 am EST: The motor has finished firing and the vehicle reached Mach 3.
11:55 am EST: Unity has been released and its motor is firing.
11:28 am EST: The WK2/SS2 combo should reach the launch altitude in about half an hour and release the SS2 for its powered test flight. There are three crew persons on the SS2 today:
We have a 3rd crew member in the cabin of SpaceShipTwo today, Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses. She will provide human validation for the data we collect. Including aspects of the customer cabin and spaceflight environment from the perspective of people in the back. pic.twitter.com/WiUxhuf2zv
Virgin Galactic plans to fly SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to the edge of space today. This will be the fifth rocket powered flight and the second to to go to 80+ kilometers in altitude. Currently, the schedule has the WhiteKnightTwo with the SS2 hung beneath it taking off from Mojave Air & Space Port at 8:00 am PST local time (11:00 noon EST).
Virgin Galactic plans to send the SpaceShipTwo “VSS Unity” once again to the border of space on Wednesday morning in Mojave, California (see earlier posting). No target time posted yet for takeoff of the WhiteKnightTwo with the SS2 hung beneath. Winds could always lead to delays. Once the duo takes off, it takes about 45 minutes to reach the altitude for the drop of the SS2. Check updates at Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) | Twitter.
This new video released on Tuesday focuses on the pilots:
Here are tweets about the two pilots, Dave Mackay and Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci:
Get to know @VirginGalactic Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay. He has over forty years’ experience as a pilot, flying more than 140 types of aircraft. He has flown everything from Harrier jump jets, to Boeing 747’s and SpaceShipTwo. He’ll be in the cockpit for our next test flight. pic.twitter.com/HvYoOiXyz6
Co-piloting SpaceShipTwo for our fifth supersonic powered test flight will be Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci. He’s flown over 80 different types of aircraft and accumulated more than 10,000 hours in the air as a pilot. Our test flight window opens tomorrow morning. pic.twitter.com/pn94WNvUsa
completed engineering prototype of the Stage 2 rocket (the stage that will transit into orbital flight after launch) [that] is made from a specially-formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite and includes the world’s largest 3-D printed rocket engine.
** PLD Space of Spain also makes progress in development of a smallsat launcher with a reusable first stage booster:
As we promised. #MIURA5 Liquid Porpulsion Stage Recovery (LPSR) reusable booster demonstrator is under manufacturing. First stage of the launch vehicle will be integrated in 1month for a full-scale test in April. One of our major milestones this year. Exciting test to come. pic.twitter.com/b6Tw0dyORq
While most engineered structures operate at a fraction of their material’s tensile strength—how far they can be pulled without breaking—most biological structures, such as tendons, operate near their max. That’s because biological structures are constantly breaking themselves down and rebuilding, which allows for continual repair.
Space elevators won’t require such a strong cable if the cable also continually renews itself, Sun and Popescu reason. This feat could be achieved, they suggest, by developing a cable that’s constantly serviced by autonomous robots. Rather than waiting for breaks in the cable, these robots can dynamically break down and rebuild the cable to make sure it’s always in good working order. This cable would be segmented so that if a break occurred, it wouldn’t extend beyond a small site, note the researchers, who recently reported their solution on the pre-print website arXiv.
The goal of the Prometheus demonstrator is to be able to build future liquid propellant engines in the 100 tons thrust class, for a cost ten times less than that involved in building an existing engine such as the Vulcain®2.
The success of a technological challenge of this nature depends on a completely new design: over and above the change in the traditional Ariane propellant (switching from the liquid oxygen and hydrogen combination to liquid oxygen and methane), the demonstrator will entail major changes, including digitization of engine control and diagnostics. It also depends on the use of innovative design and production methods and tools, including construction using 3D printing in a connected factory environment.
“This new launcher does not constitute a sustainable response in order to be competitive in a commercial market in stagnation,” the auditor’s report states. The Ariane 6 rocket design is too “cautious,” according to the report, relying on mostly traditional technologies.
** New Blue Origin video highlights the activities and future plans of the company:
** Momentus Water-Plasma propulsion for smallsat– While small satellites are growing into major sector of the space industry, cost-effective and technically practical in-space propulsion for small spacecraft remains a challenge, especially for those sized in the CubeSat scale of a few kilograms. The startup company Momentus offers propulsion modules that will attach to smallsats and and send them to the exact orbits after they are released from a rocket that takes them into space.
Momentus propulsion system uses water heated into a plasma state by microwaves. Water is obviously a safe fuel and this means that a spacecraft using it for propulsion will encounter fewer hurdles to integrating the craft into a launch system compared to using more energetic fuels.
Momentus just got its first contract with a $6M order from the German company Exolaunch to provide in-space propulsion for satellites that will be launched in 2020 and 2021:
There are longer term advantages to water propulsion as well. Water has been found to be abundant throughout the solar system. Water-based propulsion clearly offers significant advantages for in-space transportation with the Moon and asteroids providing filling-station services for spacecraft of all sizes.
***Spadre.com South Padre Island Information – Feb.5.2019 (opens with Raptor engine test video):
*** Spadre.com South Padre Island Information – Jan.30.2019
*** South Padre Island Info also offers a free webcam that includes views of the SpaceX site:
SPadre.com Starship Cam views the Spacex Starship, the Launch Pad, Isla Blanca Beach Park which is the closest possible launch viewing area, and the beach at South Padre Island Texas. Enjoy free continuous live streams and recordings of all upcoming launches, and Starship launch schedules and the latest SpaceX Boca Chica news. Launches will begin soon, watch all launches live on SPadre.com Starship Cam. For launch schedule and South Padre Island information visit: https://www.spadre.com Starship Cam hosted by South Padre Surf Company: https://www.southpadresurfcompany.com
The secretive mission of a U.S. Air Force X-37B mini-space plane has winged past 500 days of flight. This robotic drone is performing classified duties during the program’s fifth flight.
This mission – tagged as Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-5) — was rocketed into Earth orbit on September 7, 2017 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Testing rocket engines never gets old. Ignition dramatically interrupts calm in different ways from day to day. This video shows LOx fog settling before ignition, then being rapidly carried away. #MakingSpaceForEveryonepic.twitter.com/ZhVsgBSTaV
Heres some long duration Vector-R stage 1 engine testing from earlier this evening for your viewing (and listening) pleasure (note we’re still working on perfecting image stabilization of our cameras at night with the high thrust engines) #NewSpaceRacepic.twitter.com/AuruLYjvVg
Of potentially more interest are applications for two permits related to the launch of the next Falcon Heavy mission, Arabsat 6A, and the landing of two side boosters and the central core. These applications indicate that the launch of the Arabsat 6A mission will occur no earlier than March 7 from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. This is consistent with existing estimates for the current launch date.
The landing permit also confirms that SpaceX will seek to land the two side boosters at its landing zone along the Florida coast—setting up for a repeat of the dramatic side-by-side landings during the inaugural Falcon Heavy test flight last February. The company will also attempt to land the center core on an ocean-based drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean about 1,000km offshore. During the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX narrowly missed landing the center core.
There is a lot riding on these landings, as SpaceX intends to reuse both the side boosters and the center core for its third Falcon Heavy mission, Space Test Program-2. This flight could occur as early as April, although some slippage to the right seems likely, as a one-month turnaround of three boosters is ambitious. The payloads for this ride-share mission, bought by the US Air Force, include six weather research satellites, several demonstration missions, and academic projects.
Feb.18: Indonesia’s PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara GEO comm-sat + SpaceIL lunar lander. SpaceIL is a non-profit Israeli endeavor that sought the Google Lunar XPRIZE but has continued after the GLXP expired.
Feb.23: Crew Dragon Demo 1 is an unmanned test of the Dragon Crew system, which will dock with the ISS. If the mission goes well, the first crew flight should happen early this summer.
Iconic fairing recovery vessel Mr. Steven appears to have quietly departed for SpaceX’s Florida launch facilities a few days after completing (successfully or not) one final controlled fairing catch test in the Pacific Ocean.
While bittersweet for those that have closely followed the vessel’s development and many attempted Falcon fairing recoveries, this move should ultimately give Mr. Steven around three times as many opportunities to attempt fairing recoveries thanks to SpaceX’s significantly higher East Coast launch cadence.