In recent years, one of the most impressive developments for space exploration has been the rise of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace). Beyond fulfilling contracts with space agencies like NASA to provide commercial and crewed launch services, private aerospace companies are also fostering innovation that is helping to reduce the cost of sending payloads to space.
Take RocketLab, the US/NZ-based small satellite launch company that has broken new ground with its Electron rocket. In a further bid to reduce the costs of individual launches, RocketLab announced last year that it would begin recovering and reusing the spent boosters of its rockets. Recently, the company took a big step by successfully retrieving the first stage of an Electron after it delivered a payload to orbit.
On May 30th, SpaceX and NASA made history when a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying two astronauts (Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley) launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket and rendezvoused with the International Space Station (ISS). With this one flight, NASA and SpaceX demonstrated that the US once again has domestic launch capability, something they have not enjoyed since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.
In one week, Sunday, August 2nd, Robert and Douglas will be returning to Earth using the same Crew Dragon spacecraft (named Endeavour) that took them to the ISS. This is the most crucial part of Demo-2 flight, where the spacecraft is tasked with bringing the astronauts home, safe and sound. As you can imagine, there are a lot of people who are understandably nervous, not the least of which is SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
In the summer of 2017, the company Rocket Lab officially tossed its hat into the commercial aerospace (aka. NewSpace) ring with the first test flights of their two-stage Electron Rocket. Dedicated to providing cost-effective launch services for the small satellite market, the company began conducting commercial launches from their complexes in New Zealand and California using the lightweight Electron.
Looking to cut the costs associated with individual launches further, Rocket Lab has decided to pursue reusability as well. In early March, before the isolation orders were issued, the company achieved a major milestone when it conducted a successful mid-air recovery of the test stage of an Electron Rocket – which involved a helicopter catching the test stage after its parachute deployed.
SpaceX is getting closer to its making its next big leap with the Starship super-heavy launch system. With hover tests now complete, the public is eagerly awaiting the completion of the full-scale prototypes and for orbital testing to begin. Never one to disappoint, Elon Musk has been posting regular updates on Twitter showcasing the latest progress of the Starship Mk.1 and Mk.2.
Blue Origin, the private aerospace company founded by multi-billionaire (and founder of Amazon) Jeff Bezos, is looking to make its presence felt in the rapidly expanding NewSpace industry. To this end, Blue Origin has spent years developing a fleet of reusable rockets that they hope will someday rival those of their greatest competitor, SpaceX.
So far, these efforts have led to the New Shepard rocket, which can send payloads (and soon, space tourists) to suborbital altitudes. In the coming years, Blue Origin hopes to go farther with their New Glenn rocket, a reusable launch vehicle capable of reaching Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). The company recently released a new video of the New Glenn, which showcased the designs latest features and specifications.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX is all set for a sunset blastoff Wednesday, Oct. 11 of the commercial SES-11/EchoStar 105 Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV satellite serving North America on a ‘used’ Falcon 9 booster from the Florida Space Coast – that is also targeted to re-land a second time on an sea going platform off shore in the Atlantic.
Spectators should enjoy a spectacular view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 dinnertime launch with a forecast of extremely favorable weather conditions. This comes on the heels of multiple deluges of torrential rain that twice scrubbed last week’s launch of a United Launch Alliance V carrying a USAF spy satellite.
The private SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite mission will launch on a ‘flight-proven’ booster and is slated for a dinnertime liftoff on Oct. 11 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the SES-11.
All systems are GO at L Minus 1 Day!
“#EchoStar105 is targeted for launch Oct. 11 from launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida-launch window 6:53-8:53 PM EDT,” EchoStar tweeted today.
“Getting Echostar-105/#SES11 ready for launch!” SES tweeted further.
If all goes well this will be the second launch for SpaceX this week following Monday’s Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg AFB, Ca carrying 10 Iridium-NEXT satellites to orbit – and a record setting 15th of 2017!
EchoStar 105/SES-11 is a high-powered hybrid Ku and C-band communications satellite launching as a dual-mission satellite for US-based operator EchoStar and Luxembourg-based operator SES.
The used two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out to pad 39A today, erected to vertical launch position and is now poised for liftoff Wednesday.
It will launch the two and a half ton EchoStar 105/SES-11 to geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator.
SpaceX will also attempt to recover this recycled Falcon 9 first stage booster again by soft landing on a droneship platform prepositioned hundreds of miles off shore in the Atlantic Ocean – some 8 minutes after blastoff.
Spectacular weather is expected Wednesday for space enthusiasts gathering in local regional hotels after traveling here from across the globe.
Playalinda Beach is among the best places to witness the launch from – while surfing the waves too – if you’re in the area.
You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 10 minutes prior to the 6:53 pm EDT or 10:53 pm UTC liftoff time.
Watch the SpaceX broadcast live at: SpaceX.com/webcast
The two hour long launch window closes at 8:53 p.m. EDT.
The weather outlook is currently exceptional along the Florida Space Coast with a 90% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. The primary concerns on Oct. 11 are only for Cumulus Clouds.
The odds remain high at 90% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Oct. 12.
The 45th Space Wing forecast is also favorable for the landing recovery area through Thursday “when a low pressure system may move into the area, increasing winds and seas. This low will migrate west and possibly impact Florida by the weekend.”
After the 156 foot tall first stage booster complets its primary mission task, SpaceX engineers seek to guide it to a second landing on the tiny OCISLY drone ship for a soft touchdown some eight and a half minutes after liftoff.
OCISLY or “Of Course I Still Love You” left Port Canaveral several days ahead of the planned Oct. 11 launch and is prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters 2nd approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.
The EchoStar 105/SES-11 spacecraft was built by Airbus and shipped from the Airbus facilities in Toulouse, France to Cape Canaveral, FL for flight processing.
The satellite is scheduled to be deployed approximately 36 minutes after liftoff.
“SES-11 is a high-powered communications satellite designed to especially accelerate the development of the US video neighbourhood, and the delivery of HD and UHD channels. Optimised for digital television delivery, SES-11 joins SES-1 and SES-3 at the centre of its robust North American orbital arc, which reaches more than 100 million TV homes. Together with SES-1 and SES-3, SES-11 will be utilised for the expansion of the North America Ultra HD platform,” according to SES.
“SES-11 offers comprehensive coverage over North America, including Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, and will also empower businesses and governments to capture new opportunities and expand their reach across the region.”
The path to launch was cleared following last weeks successful static fire test of the first stage engines Falcon 9.
During the Oct. 2 static fire test, the rocket’s first and second stages were fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants like an actual launch, and a simulated countdown was carried out to the point of a brief engine ignition.
The hold down engine test with the erected rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 39A while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad – minus the expensive payload.
Following the hot fire test, the rocket was rolled back to the processing hangar located just outside the pad perimeter fence.
The 5,200 kg (11,500 pounds) satellite encapsulated inside the payload fairing was then integrated with the Falcon 9 rocket.
This is only the third recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 ever to be launched from Pad 39A.
SES was the first company to ever fly a payload on a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9. The SES-10 satellite lifted off successfully this spring on March 30, 2017.
The second reflown booster successfully launched the BulgariaSat-1 a few months later.
This Falcon 9 booster previously flew on SpaceX’s 10th resupply mission to the International Space Station (CRS-10) in February of this year and made a ground landing at the Cape at LZ-1.
Pad 39A has been repurposed by SpaceX from its days as a NASA shuttle launch pad.
The last SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from KSC took place on Sept. 7 carrying the USAF X-37B military space plane to orbit just ahead of Hurricane Irma.
Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Returning to the Moon has been the fevered dream of many scientists and astronauts. Ever since the Apollo Program culminated with the first astronauts setting foot on the Moon on July 20th, 1969, we have been looking for ways to go back to the Moon… and to stay there. In that time, multiple proposals have been drafted and considered. But in every case, these plans failed, despite the brave words and bold pledges made.
However, in a workshop that took place in August of 2014, representatives from NASA met with Harvard geneticist George Church, Peter Diamandis from the X Prize Foundation and other parties invested in space exploration to discuss low-cost options for returning to the Moon. The papers, which were recently made available in a special issue of New Space, describe how a settlement could be built on the Moon by 2022, and for the comparatively low cost of $10 billion.
Buster the Dummy is already strapped into his seat aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon test vehicle for what is called the Pad Abort Test, that is currently slated for Wednesday, May 6.
The test is critical for the timely development of the human rated Dragon that NASA is counting on to restore the US capability to launch astronauts from US soil abroad US rockets to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2017.
Boeing was also selected by NASA to build the CST-100 spaceship to provide a second, independent crew space taxi capability to the ISS during 2017.
The May 6 pad abort test will be performed from the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch pad from a platform at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The test will not include an actual Falcon 9 booster.
The SpaceX Dragon and trunk together stand about 20 feet tall and are positioned atop the launch mount at SLC-40 for what is clearly labeled as a development test to learn how the Dragon, engines and abort system perform.
Buster will soar along inside the Dragon that will be rapidly propelled to nearly a mile high height solely under the power of eight SpaceX SuperDraco engines.
The trunk will then separate, parachutes will be deployed and the capsule will splashdown about a mile offshore from Florida in the Atlantic Ocean, said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of Mission Assurance at SpaceX during a May 1, 2015 press briefing on the pad abort test at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
The entire test will take about a minute and a half and recovery teams will retrieve Dragon from the ocean and bring it back on shore for detailed analysis.
The test will be broadcast live on NASA TV. The test window opens at 7 a.m. EDT May 6 and extends until 2:30 p.m. EDT. The webcast will start about 20 minutes prior to the opening of the window. NASA will also provide periodic updates about the test at their online Commercial Crew Blog.
The test is designed to simulate an emergency escape abort scenario from the test stand at the launch pad in the unlikely case of booster failing at liftoff or other scenario that would threaten astronauts inside the spacecraft.
The pad abort demonstration will test the ability of a set of eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the crew Dragon to pull the vehicle away from the launch pad in a split second in a simulated emergency to save the astronauts lives in the event of a real emergency.
The SuperDraco engines are located in four jet packs around the base. Each engine produces about 15,000 pounds of thrust pounds of axial thrust, for a combined total thrust of about 120,000 pounds, to carry astronauts to safety, according to Koenigsmann.
“This is what SpaceX was basically founded for, human spaceflight,” said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of Mission Assurance with SpaceX.
“The pad abort is going to show that we’ve developed a revolutionary system for the safety of the astronauts, and this test is going to show how it works. It’s our first big test on the Crew Dragon.”
SpaceX and NASA hope to refurbish and reuse the same Dragon capsule for another abort test at high altitude later this year. The timing of the in flight abort test hinges on the outcome of the pad abort test.
“No matter what happens on test day, SpaceX is going to learn a lot,” said Jon Cowart, NASA’s partner manager for SpaceX. “One test is worth a thousand good analyses.”
Beside Buster the dummy, who is human-sized, the Dragon is outfitted with 270 sensors to measure a wide range of vehicle, engine, acceleration and abort test parameters.
“There’s a lot of instrumentation on this flight – a lot,” Koenigsmann said. “Temperature sensors on the outside, acoustic sensors, microphones. This is basically a flying instrumentation deck. At the end of the day, that’s the point of tests, to get lots of data.”
Buster will be accelerated to a force of about 4 to 4½ times the force of Earth’s gravity, noted Koenigsmann.
The pad abort test is being done under SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA that will eventually lead to certification of the Dragon for crewed missions to low Earth orbit and the ISS.
“The point is to gather data – you don’t have to have a flawless test to be successful,” Cowart said.
The second Dragon flight test follows later in the year, perhaps in the summer. It will launch from a SpaceX pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and involves simulating an in flight emergency abort scenario during ascent at high altitude at maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q) at about T plus 1 minute, to save astronauts lives.
The pusher abort thrusters would propel the capsule and crew safely away from a failing Falcon 9 booster for a parachute assisted splashdown into the Ocean.
Koenigsmann notes that the SpaceX abort system provides for emergency escape all the way to orbit, unlike any prior escape system such as the conventional launch abort systems (LAS) mounted on top of the capsule.
“Whatever happens to Falcon 9, you will be able to pull out the astronauts and land them safely on this crew Dragon,” said Koenigsmann. “In my opinion, this will make it the safest vehicle that you can possibly fly.”
The SpaceX Dragon V2 and Boeing CST-100 vehicles were selected by NASA last fall for further funding under the auspices of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), as the worlds privately developed spaceships to ferry astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS).
Both SpaceX and Boeing plan to launch the first manned test flights to the ISS with their respective transports in 2017.
During the Sept. 16, 2014 news briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that contracts worth a total of $6.8 Billion were awarded to SpaceX to build the manned Dragon V2 and to Boeing to build the manned CST-100.
The next Falcon 9 launch is slated for mid-June carrying the CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship on a resupply mission for NASA to the ISS. On April 14, a flawless Falcon 9 launch boosted the SpaceX CRS-6 Dragon to the ISS.
There was no attempt to soft land the Falcon 9 first stage during the most recent launch on April 27. Due to the heavy weight of the TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat satellite there was not enough residual fuel for a landing attempt on SpaceX’s ocean going barge.
The next landing attempt is set for the CRS-7 mission.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Following the flawless blastoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster and Dragon cargo ship on Tuesday, April 14, the resupply vessel arrived at the International Space Station today, April 17, and was successful snared by the outposts resident ‘Star Trek’ crewmate, Expedition 43 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, donning her futuristic outfit from the famed TV show near and dear to space fans throughout the known galaxy!
Cristoforetti grappled the SpaceX Dragon freighter with the station’s robotic arm at 6:55 a.m. EDT, with the able assistance of fellow crewmate and Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA.
Dragon is hauling critical supplies to the six astronauts and cosmonauts serving aboard, that now includes the first ever ‘One-Year Mission’ crew comprising NASA’s Scott Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko.
Cristoforetti and Virts were manipulating the 57.7-foot-long (17-meter-long) Canadian-built robotic arm while working inside the stations seven windowed domed Cupola, that reminds many of Darth Vader’s lair in ‘Star Wars’ lore.
The SpaceX Dragon blasted off atop a Falcon 9 booster from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT (2010:41 GMT) on the CRS-6 (Commercial Resupply Services-6) mission bound for the space station.
The Dragon cargo spacecraft was berthed to the Earth facing port of Harmony module of the International Space Station at 9:29 a.m. EDT.
The entire multihour grappling and berthing operations were carried live on NASA TV, for much of the morning and everything went smoothly.
The crew plans to open the hatch between Dragon and the station on Saturday.
Overall CRS-6 is the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission and the seventh trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the station since 2012.
Dragon is loaded with more than 4,300 pounds of supplies, science experiments, and technology demonstrations, including critical materials to support about 40 of more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 43 and 44.
Among the research investigations are a fresh batch of 20 rodents for the Rodent Research Habitat, and experiments on osteoporosis to counteract bone deterioration in microgravity, astronaut vision loss, protein crystal growth, and synthetic muscle for prosthetics and robotics.
An Espresso machine is also aboard to enhance station morale during the daily grind some 250 miles above Earth.
Following the April 14 launch, SpaceX made a nearly successful soft landing of the first stage on an ocean floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean. Read my story – here.
Read Ken’s earlier onsite coverage of the CRS-6 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Help ULA name America’s next rocket to space. Credit: ULA Voting Details below
Watch ULA’s March 25 Delta Launch Live – details below
Update 3/26: 2 new names have been added to the voting list – Zeus and Vulcan ![/caption]
United Launch Alliance (ULA) is asking the public for your help in naming their new American made rocket, now under development that “represents the future of space”- and will replace the firms current historic lines of Atlas and Delta rocket families that began launching back near the dawn of the space age.
Eagle, Freedom or GalaxyOne – those are the names to choose from for the next two weeks, from now until April 6.
UPDATE 3/26: 2 new names have been added to the voting list – Zeus and Vulcan !
ULA says the names were selected from a list of over 400 names submitted earlier this year by ULA’s 3400 employees and many space enthusiasts.
ULA has set up a simple voting system whereby you can vote for your favorite name via text or an online webpage.
Currently dubbed the “Next Generation Launch System,” or NGLS, ULA’s new president and CEO Tory Bruno is set to unveil the next generation rockets design and name at the National Space Symposium on April 13 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“ULA’s new rocket represents the future of space – innovative, affordable and reliable,” said Bruno, in a statement.
“More possibilities in space means more possibilities here on earth. This is such a critical time for space travel and exploration and we’re excited to bring all of America with us on this journey into the future.”
The NGLS is ULA’s response to what’s shaping up as a no holds barred competition with SpaceX for future launch contracts where only the innovative and those who dramatically cut the cost of access to space will survive.
The first flight of the NGLS is slated for 2019.
Here’s how you can cast your vote for America’s next rocket to April 6, 2015:
Voters can text 22333 to submit a vote for their favorite name. The following key can be used to text a vote:
• ULA1 for “Eagle”
• ULA2 for “Freedom”
• ULA3 for “GalaxyOne”
3/26 Update: Zeus and Vulcan have been added to the voting list
“Name America’s next ride to space. Vote early, vote often … ” says Bruno.
I have already voted – early and often.
Over 11,000 votes were tallied in just the first day.
Currently ULA is the nation’s premier launch provider, launching at a rate of about once per month. 13 launches are planned for 2015- as outlined in my earlier article here.
But ULA faces stiff and relentless pricing and innovative competition from NewSpace upstart SpaceX, founded by billionaire Elon Musk.
NGLS is ULA’s answer to SpaceX – they must compete in order to survive.
To date ULA has accomplished a 100 percent mission success for 94 launches since the firms founding in 2006 as a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. They have successfully launched numerous NASA, national security and commercial payloads into orbit and beyond.
Planetary missions launched for NASA include the Mars rovers and landers Phoenix and Curiosity, Pluto/New Horizons, Juno, GRAIL, LRO and LCROSS.
ULA’s most recent launch for NASA involved the $1.1 Billion Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission comprised of four formation flying satellites which blasted to Earth orbit atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, during a spectacular nighttime blastoff on March 12, 2015. Read my onsite reports – here and here.
“Space launch affects everyone, every day, and our goal in letting America name its next rocket is to help all Americans imagine the future of endless possibilities created by affordable space launch,” Bruno added.
NGLS will include some heritage design from the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, but will feature many new systems and potentially some reusable systems – to be outlined by Bruno on April 13.
ULA plans to phase out the Delta IV around 2019 when the current contracts are concluded. The Atlas V will continue for a transitional period.
The Atlas V is also the launcher for Boeing’s CST-100 manned space taxi due to first launch in 2017.
NGLS will launch from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, the same pad as for the Atlas V, as well as from Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
ULA’s next Delta IV launch with GPS IIF-9 is scheduled shortly for Wednesday, March 25, with liftoff at 2:36 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral.
Live webcast begins at 2:06 p.m. Live link here – http://www.ulalaunch.com/webcast.aspx
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.