Space transport roundup – Dec.21.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):

** Boeing Starliner crew spacecraft sent into wrong orbit due to a timing clock glitch shortly after deployment from Atlas V upper stage: NASA Statement on Boeing Orbital Flight Test | NASA

The test flight with no astronauts on board was intended to prove the vehicle’s performance and safety before the first crewed flight. Though many of the rocket and spacecraft systems will be tested, including the return for a parachute landing onto hard ground, the key rendezvous and docking capabilities will not be proven.

It’s likely, however, that NASA will not require Boeing do another uncrewed flight test since a crew would not have been endangered during today’s flight and might have even corrected the problem in time to achieve the orbit needed to rendezvous with the ISS. Nevertheless, the Starliner crew flight will be delayed not just to fix this particular problem but to determine what shortcomings in vehicle development, flight preparation, and management allowed it to happen.

Here is the post-launch briefing:

Another briefing teleconference will be held today at 2pm: NASA, Boeing to Provide Update on Starliner Orbital Flight Test Status – Commercial Crew Program/NASA

[ Update: No major news regarding the anomaly. They are continuing to study what caused the mis-timing. Other items:

  • The Starliner spacecraft is performing well.
  • Speakers emphasize the many systems that will have been tested on the flight despite no ISS rendezvous and docking.
  • Great deal of data being obtained.
  • Starliner will de-orbit tomorrow morning (Dec.22) and land at White Sands, New Mexico
  • NASA coverage of the return  will start at 6:45 a.m. EST.
  • The deorbit burn is scheduled for 7:23 a.m. EST, landing for 7:57 a.m. EST.

A recording of the briefing (embedding for it is deactivated): LIVE: Update on Boeing Starliner from Jim Bridenstine (audio-only teleconference) – YouTube

Extensive notes:


More about the flight test:

Video of the launch:

Scott Manley gives his analysis of the

** The Brazilian-Chinese remote sensing satellite CBERS-04A and Ethiopia’s first satellite, ETRSS-1, were launched on Thursday aboard a Long March 4B rocket:

** A Long March 5 rolled to the launch pad on Saturday (China time)  in preparation for critical return to flight mission :

See also China prepares to launch Long March-5 rocket – Xinhua.

Long March 5 rolls to pad for launch at end of December. The rocket will lift off from Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province on Saturday. Credits: Zhang Gaoxiang/Xinhua

** A Soyuz rocket launched the CHEOPS exoplanet observatory and four other satellites from French Guiana on Wednesday: Soyuz orbits a multi-passenger payload on Arianespace’s ninth and final launch of 2019 – Arianespace

Departing at the exact planned liftoff moment of 5:54:20 a.m. local time, the Soyuz ST-A launcher version flew a four-hour-plus profile to release its multi-satellite payload into Sun-synchronous orbit – beginning with primary passenger COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation, then CHEOPS (Characterising Exoplanet Satellite) and three auxiliary payloads: EyeSat, OPS-SAT and ANGELS.

More about the mission:

** Rocket Lab will build a second launch pad in New Zealand. This will be the third pad overall counting the new one at Wallops Island, Virginia:

In an interview, Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said the decision to build the second pad was driven by an anticipated increase in its launch rate. The company carried out six launches of its Electron rocket in 2019 but expects to launch once a month in 2020 and eventually increase to weekly launches.

“The additional pad really gives us the capacity to get down to one launch every week, which is what we’ve always been driving to,” he said. The company current spends about four weeks to recycle the pad between launches, which he said can be shortened to two.

At a recent ceremony marking the completion of the Wallops Island facility, Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut, interviewed Peter Beck:

I got to have an awesome conversation with Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck talking all about their reusability plans for Electron and all the exciting things they’ll be doing next year! I already have a video that dives into their recovery plans and the history of air launches here –… Last year I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter at Rocket Lab’s beautiful new factory in Auckland, New Zealand! –…

Rocket Lab posts highlights from 10 Electron launches:

** Highlights for Virgin Orbit in 2019

2019 has been one hell of a year for the Virgin Orbit team. We entered this year with a brilliant team and a lot of cool technology — but there were some really big milestones we still had yet to cross. We hadn’t yet fired our main stage. We had mountains of simulations for how to fly, but hadn’t run though a full mission sequence in software, much less done so with a fully integrated rocket on the test stand. And we hadn’t actually taken off with a fully loaded rocket strapped to its wing. As of today, we’ve done all of that and so, so much more.

** SpaceX:

**** In-flight abort test flight no earlier than January 14th: SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test Launch Date Update – Commercial Crew Program/NASA

NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Jan. 11, 2020, for a critical In-Flight Abort Test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, pending U.S. Air Force Eastern Range approval.

As part of the test, SpaceX will configure Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape shortly after liftoff and demonstrate Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 rocket in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency. The demonstration also will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

The demonstration of Crew Dragon’s launch escape system is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is one of the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft.

**** Three Starlink missions could lift off in January: SpaceX set to deploy another large batch of internet satellites as Starlink constellation expands – Teslarati

The next Falcon 9 launch of 60 SpaceX Starlink broadband Internet satellites is set for January 3rd from Cape Canaveral.  The subsequent two flights are set for mid and late January. It appears that SpaceX is hoping to average two Starlink launches per month in 2020. This will be in addition to their usual manifest of customer payloads.

SpaceX allowed by FAA to change the distribution of Starlink satellites in orbit: SpaceX gets OK to re-space Starlink orbits –

**** Starship

**** The Mk.1 section that SpaceX scraps first Starship prototype to make way for new and improved rockets – Teslarati

****** Initial stacking of stainless steel rings for the Mk.3

The first rings of Starship Mk3 have undergone a stacking test involving the ring with the “portals/portholes”. It looks like they had some fun with the names too.

Meanwhile, the new production facility is taking shape.

Footage and photos from Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica Ring Stack Progress Time LapseLabPadre

12.19.2019 Time lapse as SpaceX moves a ring into staking position for the first attempted ring stack of MK-3. Workers pin together both rings as they prepare for the welding process. 24/7 stream is powered by LabPadre, in cooperation with Sapphire Condominiums and @BocaChicaMaria1 (Twitter) @SpaceXBocaChica (Facebook). All video images explicitly owned by LabPadre Media.

****** SpaceX Boca Chica New Elevated View Of Starship Rocket ShipyardLabPadre

12.19.2019 Video shot by Maria Pointer with Esquire Magazine MK3 rings in fast production. Onion tent frame being erected. Fencing/walls being raised. Warning: Loud wind. Video Credit: @BocaChicaMaria1

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