SpaceX Dragon V2 test flight vehicle set for May 5, 2015 pad abort test. Credit: SpaceX See below SpaceX live launch webcast link[/caption]
As promised, SpaceX is picking up its launch pace in 2015 with a pair of liftoffs from the Florida space coast slated for the next week and a half. They follow closely on the heels of a quartet of successful blastoffs from Cape Canaveral, already accomplished since January.
If all goes well, a commercial satellite launch and a human spaceflight related pad abort test launch for NASA are scheduled for April 27 and May 5 respectively.
The 13 day turnaround time will mark a new launch cadence record for SpaceX if the weather and rocket cooperate, eclipsing the 14 day turnaround record set last September.
The 224 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch at approximately 6:14 p.m. EDT (2214 GMT) on April 27 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It will deliver the TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat satellite to a geosynchronous transfer orbit.
This first satellite ever for Turkmenistan will be deployed approximately 32 minutes after liftoff of the fifth Falcon 9 rocket this year.
The outlook is currently 60 percent GO for favorable weather conditions at launch time.
You can watch the launch live via a SpaceX webcast that begins about 20 minutes before launch at: spacex.com/webcast
The May 5 pad abort test for NASA 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 to the space station.
The test will simulate an emergency abort from a test stand and will also take place from the Cape’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida.
SpaceX has a four hour launch window in which to conduct the test. The test window opens at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT) on May 5. There is a backup opportunity on May 6.
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.
The purpose is to test the ability of the abort system to save astronauts lives in the event of a real emergency.
The SuperDraco engines are located in four jet packs around the base. Each enigne can produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety, according to a SpaceX description.
Here is a SpaceX video of SuperDraco’s being hot fire tested in Texas.
Video caption: Full functionality of Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco jetpacks demonstrated with hotfire test in McGregor, TX. Credit: SpaceX
The pad abort test is being done under SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA.
The initial pad abort test will test the ability of the full-size Dragon to safely push away and escape in case of a failure of its Falcon 9 booster rocket in the moments around launch, right at the launch pad.
“The purpose of the pad abort test is to demonstrate Dragon has enough total impulse (thrust) to safely abort,” SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin informed me.
For that test, Dragon will use its pusher escape abort thrusters to lift the Dragon safely away from the failing rocket.
The vehicle will be positioned on a structural facsimile of the Dragon trunk in which the actual Falcon 9/Dragon interfaces will be represented by mockups. The test will not include an actual Falcon 9 booster.
A second Dragon flight test follow later in the year. It involves simulating an in flight emergency abort scenario during ascent at high altitude at maximum aerodynamic pressure 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 landing into the Atlantic Ocean.
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.
There will be no attempt to soft land the Falcon 9 first stage during the April 27 launch. The next landing attempt is set for mid-June.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
SpaceX has a big year ahead of it. The company not only plans to launch more Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station, but it will also work on developing a human-rated version that could one day do the same for astronauts. Meanwhile, it has a unique idea to land a rocket stage on an ocean platform.
While the Hawthorne, Calif.-based firm has drawn criticism for the slower-than-advertised launch pace, its 2014 achievements drew the attention of a Redditor that made an impressive infographic celebrating what SpaceX accomplished.
“So, this effectively took up $24 and 7 hours of my life (Had to buy Imgur Pro to host the large file + I’m slow at Photoshop & Illustrator), but hey, I don’t care,” EchoLogic wrote on Reddit last week. “I thought I’d make an infographic summarizing SpaceX’s 2014. Nothing new for those who are deep in the loop, but sometimes some perspective helps!”
The full infographic (which you can see here) commemorates the Dragon launches to the space station, the commercial services resupply contract SpaceX has with NASA, and developments on commercial crew and the Falcon 9-R. Enjoy!
A new generation of space rockets ready to lift new and exciting payloads spaceward is coming to a sky near you.
Tomorrow, a Delta IV Heavy rocket will boost the Orion space capsule on a two orbit journey around the Earth that will test key systems. And though tomorrow’s launch is uncrewed, the Orion Command Module will one day form the core of NASA’s Orion MPCV Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and is slated to care out humanity’s first mission to an asteroid and beyond in the next decade.
But a second, lesser known launch also leaves Earth tomorrow as well, atop a rocket that will soon give way to a new generation of lift boosters as launch services vie for new customers. Just over eight hours after the launch of EFT-1, an Ariane 5 rocket lifts off from French Guiana with GSAT-16.
Is the ‘battle of the boosters’ heating up?
This comes after the December 2nd announcement earlier this week by participating members of the European Space Agency to proceed with the development of the next generation Ariane 6 rocket. Also included in the 5.9 billion Euro (7.3 billion USD) budget proposal is funding for the 2018 ExoMars mission, along with further support of ESA’s International Space Station commitments.
To date, ESA has fielded five of its Automated Transfer cargo Vehicles (ATVs) on missions to the International Space Station. ESA will also design the Service Module segment of the Orion MPCV.
“I can summarize this ministerial council by say it was a success… I’d even go so far as to say that it is a great success,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director-general of the European Space Agency.
The Ariane 6 is expected to be on the launch pad by 2020, and will feature two variants capable of placing 5 to 11 tonnes in a geostationary transfer orbit. The solid fuel booster to be incorporated will be based on the Vega rocket design, while the upper stage Vinci engine is already currently in development.
The design has been hotly contested among European Space Agency members, many of whom are in favor of other variants based on the upgraded Ariane 5. Some of the largest rockets of all time included those developed by NPO Energia, capable of lofting 100,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit. An Energia N1 Moon rocket exploded on the pad on July 3rd 1969, effectively ending the Soviet Union’s bid to put a man on the Moon. In comparison, the massive Saturn V rocket — thus far, the largest and most powerful ever fielded by the United States — could deploy the equivalent of 118,000 kg to low Earth orbit and 47,000 kg to a Trans-Lunar Insertion orbit around the Moon.
But that’s just the beginning. Though the Orion capsule will ride atop a United Launch Services Delta IV Heavy tomorrow — a system usually employed for launching clandestine spy satellites — NASA hopes to have its own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket sitting on the pad by the end of 2018. Boeing was awarded the contract for SLS earlier this year, and the system largely rose re-imagined from the ashes of the cancelled Constellation program. The SLS Block 1 is expected to have a lift capacity of 70,000 kg to LEO, while Boeing’s proposed SLS Block 2 variant would, if fielded, have the largest lift capacity of all time at 130,000 kg to LEO. Only the Long March 9 proposed by China approaches that lofty goal.
And the wild card is Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Already in the game of sending cargo via its Dragon spacecraft to the ISS, SpaceX is developing a reputation for dependability when it comes to getting satellites into orbit at relatively low cost. SpaceX hopes to field its Falcon 9 Heavy with a lift capacity of 53,000 kg to LEO sometime in 2015, and many proposed missions are banking on the the Falcon 9 Heavy as a future service provider for solar system exploration. Certainly, with the recent failure of the Antares rocket on October 28th, SpaceX may look like the more attractive option to many, and the development of the Ariane 6 is expected to face stiff competition in the brave new world of high tech rocketry.
Ever wonder what all of these launch vehicles and spacecraft past and present look like stacked up against each other? There’s a graphic for that, recently featured on Io9:
From Almaz to Zarya, this is a fascinating study in scale comparison. Be sure to zoom in and check out the tiny ant-like crew compliment of each, also to scale. Of course, the backyard satellite-tracker in us can’t help be notice the brightness-versus size comparison for many of these. For example, the International Space Station on a good pass can appear as bright as Venus at -4th magnitude — and even look “TIE Fighter shaped” in binoculars — while the smaller Shenzhou and Soyuz modules are often barely visible as they pass overhead. And how we miss watching the Shuttle paired with the International Space Station as they both glided silently by:
But such orbital drama can still be caught if you know when and where to look for it. And speaking of which, viewers in western Australia and the southwestern United States may be able to see Orion and EFT-1 on its first lap around the Earth tomorrow before it fires its engines over the Atlantic headed for a 5,800 km apogee over southern Africa. Assuming EFT-1 lifts off at the beginning of its 159 minute launch window at 7:05 AM EST/12:05 UT, expect it to see it crossing dusk skies over western Australia at 55 minutes after liftoff, and dawn skies for the southwestern U.S. at 95 minutes post-launch respectively.
An awesome sight to behold indeed, marking the start of a brave new era of space exploration.
So what do you, the astute and space-minded reader of Universe Today think? Are the SLS and its kin the lift vehicle(s) of the future, or ‘rockets to nowhere?’ Will they survive the political winds that are bound to blow over the coming decade? Will the Ariane 6 best the Falcon 9 as the lift platform of choice?
One thing is for sure, expect coverage of space exploration drama and more to continue here at Universe Today!
NASA inaugurated a new era of research for the International Space Station (ISS) as an Earth observation platform following the successful installation and activation of the ISS-RapidScat science instrument on the outposts exterior at Europe’s Columbus module.
The ISS Rapid Scatterometer, or ISS-RapidScat, is NASA’s first research payload aimed at conducting near global Earth science from the station’s exterior and will be augmented with others in coming years.
RapidScat is designed to monitor ocean winds for climate research, weather predictions, and hurricane monitoring.
The 1280 pound (580 kilogram) experimental instrument is already collecting its first science data following its recent power-on and activation at the station.
“Its antenna began spinning and it started transmitting and receiving its first winds data on Oct.1,” according to a NASA statement.
The first image from RapidScat was released by NASA on Oct. 6, shown below, and depicts preliminary measurements of global ocean near-surface wind speeds and directions.
The $26 million remote sensing instrument uses radar pulses to observe the speed and direction of winds over the ocean for the improvement of weather forecasting.
“Most satellite missions require weeks or even months to produce data of the quality that we seem to be getting from the first few days of RapidScat,” said RapidScat Project Scientist Ernesto Rodriguez of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which built and manages the mission.
“We have been very lucky that within the first days of operations we have already been able to observe a developing tropical cyclone.
“The quality of these data reflect the level of testing and preparation that the team has put in prior to launch,” Rodriguez said in a NASA statement. “It also reflects the quality of the spare QuikScat hardware from which RapidScat was partially assembled.”
Dragon was successfully berthed at the Earth-facing port on the station’s Harmony module on Sept 23, as detailed here.
It was robotically assembled and attached to the exterior of the station’s Columbus module using the station’s robotic arm and DEXTRE manipulator over a two day period on Sept 29 and 30.
Ground controllers at Johnson Space Center intricately maneuvered DEXTRE to pluck RapidScat and its nadir adapter from the unpressurized trunk section of the Dragon cargo ship and attached it to a vacant external mounting platform on the Columbus module holding mechanical and electrical connections.
The nadir adapter orients the instrument to point at Earth.
The couch sized instrument and adapter together measure about 49 x 46 x 83 inches (124 x 117 x 211 centimeters).
Engineers are in the midst of a two week check out process that is proceeding normally so far. Another two weeks of calibration work will follow.
Thereafter RapidScat will begin a mission expected to last at least two years, said Steve Volz, associate director for flight programs in the Earth Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington, at a prelaunch media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center.
RapidScat is the forerunner of at least five more Earth science observing instruments that will be added to the station by the end of the decade, Volz explained.
The second Earth science instrument, dubbed CATS, could be added by year’s end.
The Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) is a laser instrument that will measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates in the atmosphere.
CATS is slated to launch on the next SpaceX resupply mission, CRS-5, currently targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral, FL, on Dec. 9.
This has been a banner year for NASA’s Earth science missions. At least five missions will be launched to space within a 12 month period, the most new Earth-observing mission launches in one year in more than a decade.
ISS-RapidScat is the third of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to launch over a year.
Learn more about Commercial Space Taxis, Orion and NASA Human and Robotic Spaceflight at Ken’s upcoming presentations:
Oct 14: “What’s the Future of America’s Human Spaceflight Program with Orion and Commercial Astronaut Taxis” & “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 7:30 PM
Oct 23/24: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA