A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images dealing with space transport (find previous roundups here):
** Russian Soyuz launches 3 new ISS crew members to orbit. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts later docked their spacecraft to the ISS after a 4 orbit, six-hour flight.
More about the launch and the crew:
- NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy, Crewmates Arrive Safely at Space Station | NASA
- Russia conducts first Soyuz 2.1a human launch; MS-16 crew to Station – NASASpaceFlight.com
- Live coverage: Soyuz crew launches from Kazakhstan, docks with space station – Spaceflight Now
** Chinese Long March 3B fails to put Indonesian communications satellite into orbit: Long March 3B fails during Indonesian satellite launch – NASASpaceFlight.com
A new communications satellite attempted to make its way into for Indonesia via a China Great Wall Industry Corporation launch on Thursday using a Long March-3B/G2 (Chang Zheng-3B/G2) rocket. The launch took place at 11:45 UTC from the LC2 pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, but reportedly failed during third stage flight. The satellite is understood to have already reentered and has thus been destroyed.
The satellite, based on the Chinese DFH-4 platform, was to be used by PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN) in cooperation with telecommunication service provider PT Indosat Ooredoo and PT Pintar Nusantara Sejahtera (PNS), to provide broadband internet access and high-quality broadcasting services.
Reports from China noting an issue with the Long March’s third stage has resulted in the mission being classed as a failure.
Here is a view of the launch on Weibo.
And a clip showing the probable reentry of the upper stage and payload:
— AskTheQ_ (@AskTheQ_) April 9, 2020
- China suffers its second launch failure in less than a month | Ars Technica
- Chinese rocket fails during launch of Indonesian communications satellite – Spaceflight Now.
** Rocket Lab demonstrates mid-air booster capture and recovery operation with a helicopter: Rocket Lab Successfully Completes Electron Mid-Air Recovery Test | Rocket Lab
Rocket Lab, a space systems company and the global leader in dedicated small satellite launch, has successfully completed a mid-air recovery test – a maneuver that involves snagging an Electron test stage from the sky with a helicopter. The successful test is a major step forward in Rocket Lab’s plans to reuse the first stage of its Electron launch vehicle for multiple missions. The test took place in early March, before ‘Safer at Home’ orders were issued and before New Zealand entered Alert Level 4 in response to the COVID-19 situation.
The test was conducted by dropping an Electron first stage test article from a helicopter over open ocean in New Zealand. A parachute was then deployed from the stage, before a second helicopter closed in on the descending stage and captured it mid-air at around 5,000 ft, using a specially designed grappling hook to snag the parachute’s drogue line. After capturing the stage on the first attempt, the helicopter safely carried the suspended stage back to land.
The successful test is the latest in a series of milestones for Rocket Lab as the company works towards a reusable first stage. On the company’s two most recent missions, launched in December 2019 and January 2020, Rocket Lab successfully completed guided the re-entries of Electron’s first stage. Both stages on those missions carried new hardware and systems to enable recovery testing, including guidance and navigation hardware, S-band telemetry and onboard flight computer systems, to gather data during the stage’s atmospheric re-entry. One stage was also equipped with a reaction control system that oriented the first stage 180-degrees for its descent, keeping it dynamically stable for the re-entry. The stage slowed from more than 7,000 km per hour to less than 900 km by the time it reached sea-level, maintaining the correct angle of attack for the full descent.
The next phase of recovery testing will see Rocket Lab attempt to recover a full Electron first stage after launch from the ocean downrange of Launch Complex 1 and have it shipped back to Rocket Lab’s Production Complex for refurbishment. The stage will not be captured mid-air by helicopter for this test, but will be equipped with a parachute to slow its descent before a soft landing in the ocean where it will be collected by a ship. This mission is currently planned for late-2020.
** NASA selects Masten Space Systems for commercial lunar lander mission: NASA Awards Contract to Deliver Science, Tech to Moon | NASA
NASA has selected Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, to deliver and operate eight payloads – with nine science and technology instruments – to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022, to help lay the foundation for human expeditions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024.
The payloads, which include instruments to assess the composition of the lunar surface, test precision landing technologies, and evaluate the radiation on the Moon, are being delivered under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative as part of the agency’s Artemis program.
As the country and the world face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA is leveraging virtual presence and communications tools to safely make progress on these important lunar exploration activities, and to award this lunar surface delivery as it was scheduled prior to the pandemic.
“Under our Artemis program, we are going to the Moon with all of America,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Commercial industry is critical to making our vision for lunar exploration a reality. The science and technology we are sending to the lunar surface ahead of our crewed missions will help us understand the lunar environment better than we ever have before. These CLPS deliveries are on the cutting edge of our work to do great science and support human exploration of the Moon. I’m happy to welcome another of our innovative companies to the group that is ready to start taking our payloads to the Moon as soon as possible.”
The $75.9 million award includes end-to-end services for delivery of the instruments, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon’s surface, and operation for at least 12 days. Masten Space Systems will land these payloads on the Moon with its XL-1 lander.
A small rover is included in the payloads. See the NASA announcement for a full list of the payloads.
- Masten Space Systems Will Deliver NASA and Commercial Payloads to the Lunar Surface in 2022 — Masten Space Systems
- Masten wins NASA lunar lander award – SpaceNews.com
- The Rocket Man Who Wants To Beat the Billionaires – Popular Mechanics – Profile of Masten Space from last fall.
** Boeing announces Starliner uncrewed test flight do-over. There were just too many problems, including near loss of the vehicle, in the first uncrewed test flight last December to go directly to a crewed flight. So Boeing will try another uncrewed test flight to the ISS this fall.
- Boeing Statement on Starliner’s Next Flight – Boeing
- Boeing will refly botched Starliner test flight, setting back its hopes for sending people into space this year – The Washington Post
- After troubled first flight, Boeing will refly Starliner without crew | Ars Technica
- After problem-plagued test flight, Boeing will refly crew capsule without astronauts – Spaceflight Now
** Astra Space hunkers down during economic pause caused by the Wuhan Virus pandemic: Rocket startup Astra trims staff to survive pandemic until next year – CNBC
Rocket builder Astra, a San Francisco-area startup, recently reduced its staff through a mix of furloughs and layoffs in order to survive delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a person familiar with the situation told CNBC.
Astra cut its overall headcount to about 120 employees from about 150 last month, the person said. The majority of the dismissed workers were furloughed for three months, with only a handful laid off permanently.
Given Astra’s financial position – it has customer contracts for a few dozen launches and had raised about $100 million from investors including ACME Capital, Airbus Ventures, Canaan Partners and Marc Benioff – the person said that the company’s leadership expects it has enough cash to last until the first quarter of next year.
** Northrop Grumman aiming for first liftoff of an OmegA rocket in spring of 2021. The all-throwaway vehicle uses solid-fueled first and second stage boosters. The goal is to win a contract with the USAF for a share of military payload launches. Northrop Grumman making good progress toward OmegA’s first launch – NASASpaceFlight.com.
** An overview of PLD Space of Spain and the use of Nord Lock washers on their rocket:
Full video created by our supplier Nord Lock. They have explained in Social Networks: “From a garage to outer space, secured by Nord-Lock. This is the story about PLD Space, a Spanish aerospace business that was created by two students in 2011. Maintaining the preload in the rocket engine in the upper atmosphere is a top priority, and when locking wire didn’t meet PLD Space’s requirements they came across Nord-Lock wedge-locking washers”.
** Copenhagen Suborbitals will attempt to recovering rocket boosters by parachute:
- Xplore Receives USAF Award for Innovative Commercial Capabilities Around the Moon – Xplore – Development of positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) solutions for the lunar and other deep space activities.
- What is the future for commercial suborbital spaceflight? – The Space Review
- Private companies find role in developing nuclear power for space travel | Space.com
** Cargo Dragon returned for safe landing in Pacific on Tuesday after spending a month berthed to the ISS. This was the final flight of the Dragon 1 design. All subsequent cargo missions will use a variant of Dragon 2 (also called, confusingly, the Crew Dragon).
- Dragon Leaves Station, Returns to Earth with Valuable Science – Space Station/NASA
- The spacecraft that utterly transformed SpaceX has flown its last mission | Ars Technica
- With successful splashdown, SpaceX retires first version of Dragon spacecraft – Spaceflight Now
Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed, completing the 20th and final @Space_Station resupply mission for SpaceX’s first iteration of the Dragon spacecraft!
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 7, 2020
** SpaceX sets April 16th for next launch of Starlink satellites. This will be the 5th Starlink launch in 2020. The company is aiming for more than 20 Starlink launches this year: SpaceX plans another Starlink launch next week – Spaceflight Now
SpaceX is preparing to launch another batch of satellites for the Starlink Internet network from Florida’s Space Coast as soon as April 16, a sign that launch operations at Cape Canaveral could continue at a reduced pace amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
The launch next week is also set to occur weeks after a major competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink network filed for bankruptcy.
The mission is set for launch at around 5:31 p.m. EDT (2131 GMT) next Thursday, April 16, from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
No word from SpaceX yet regarding the cause of an early shutdown of a Merlin engine on the first stage booster during the last Starlink launch. That booster was on its fifth launch, the first Falcon 1st stage to reach that many reuses. The satellites successfully reached orbit but the booster failed to land on the ocean platform.
The total number of Starlink satellites to reach orbit so far is 362 Starlink satellites. About five have de-orbited and the first 60 on the “Starlink 0” appear to be treated as test vehicles and may not participate in an operational Internet service.
** NASA and SpaceX test zip line emergency escape system from Pad 39A launch tower: NASA, SpaceX Team Up for Emergency Egress Exercise – Commercial Crew Program/NASA
— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew) April 7, 2020
** More scenes from the recent launch day practice: Video: Astronauts participate in Crew Dragon launch day dress rehearsal – Spaceflight Now
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, assigned to fly SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on its first piloted mission into orbit, participated in a dress rehearsal of their suit-up procedures and a trip to launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 17, 2020.
NASA and SpaceX officials organized the practice run before the launch of a Crew Dragon capsule on a high-altitude escape test to demonstrate the performance ship’s launch abort engines.
In this video, the astronauts are seen suiting up inside the Operations and Checkout Building at KSC, riding inside a Tesla automobile to pad 39A, then taking an elevator to the 265-foot-level. Hurley and Behnken walked down the crew access arm to the white room, where they would board the Crew Dragon during a real countdown.
Video credit: NASA/Michelle Stone and Chris Chamberland
** Time lapse view of the booster return and landing for the launch of Bulgaria-1 in 2017:
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 7, 2020
High pucker-factor landing pic.twitter.com/cTHxc03Oee
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 7, 2020
** SpaceX continues to operate most all of its projects despite work restrictions during the corona pandemic: How SpaceX is prospering in the year of the coronavirus pandemic | TheHill
SpaceX’s Elon Musk must count himself lucky that commercial space is considered an “essential industry” while the coronavirus pandemic ravages the world. The designation has allowed SpaceX to not only survive but to prosper as the company continues its efforts to open the space frontier, both in partnership with NASA and alone.
****** The collapse of the prototype Starship SN3 was due to an incorrect sequence of commands, according to Elon Musk. The lower tank was depressurized while the upper tank was still full of liquid nitrogen, leading to a collapse of the structure.
Pretty much. Good news is that this was a test configuration error, rather than a design or build mistake. Not enough pressure in the LOX tank ullage to maintain stability with a heavy load in the CH4 tank. This was done with N2.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2020
If you lose pressure control on rocket propellant tanks, you’re doomed anyway, so might as well go all in
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2020
There are redundant pressure control valves. It’s a new system and SN3 was simply commanded wrong. Rockets are hard.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2020
- Starship SN3 failure due to bad commanding. SN4 already under construction – NASASpaceFlight.com
- SpaceX’s Elon Musk reveals next Starship’s Raptor engines, explains latest failure – Teslarati
****** The Raptors for a Starship prototype strike a pose:
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 5, 2020
****** Boca Chica facilities as seen from a virtual sky: Boca Chica Starship Launch Pad [LN2 corrected] (virtual flyover, april 2nd 2020) – Alex Rex on YouTube
This short video shows a virtual flight over the Starship Launch Pad area in Boca Chica, TX on April 2nd, 2020. It is kept as simple as possible with major focus on BUILDINGS, JIGS and STARSHIP-Parts. For future updates, please support my work via https://www.paypal.me/alexrexdesign This is the LN2 corrected Version! → Also check the 3D-Model Viewer: https://p3d.in/4j9Pg For other design projects, please visit my webpage: http://www.alexrex.de/ Or check out my instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/alexrex.de/
****** April 5: SpaceX Boca Chica – Starship SN3 disassembly continues as SN4 takes shape – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
SpaceX teams continued to dismantle the Starship SN3 prototype after a collapse during a cryogenic proof test. Meanwhile, the construction of the SN4 prototype continues at speed. Video and Photos by Mary (@BocaChicaGal) for NSF. Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).
****** April 7: SpaceX Boca Chica – Salvaging Starship SN3’s Thrust Section – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
SpaceXers have been salvaging Starship SN3’s Thrust Section in amid a buzz of activity in Boca Chica. Video and Photos via Mary (@BocaChicaGal). Edited by Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer).
****** April 8: SpaceX Boca Chica – Laying the groundwork for Starship SN4 – NASASpaceflight – YouTube
A relatively quiet day in Boca Chica, per Starship Assembly in the open, but SpaceXers have been busy at work preparing the launch site and associated buildings. Video and Photos via Mary (@BocaChicaGal).
**** SpaceX Starship News, SN4 to reuse thrust section, Starship Users Guide surprises and Tesla Updates – Marcus House
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