Bullseye: Amazing SpaceX Images Highlight Perfect Falcon 9 Landing

SpaceX was able to celebrate a successful return to flight this week with a picture-perfect launch of the Falcon 9 rocket on January 14, 2017 that successfully delivered a fleet of ten advanced Iridium NEXT mobile voice and data relay satellites to orbit. But the icing on the cake was the dead-center landing and recovery of the Falcon 9 booster on their drone barge (named “Just Read The Instructions”) in the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of California.

SpaceX released some images from the landing that are absolutely stunning, like this one, below:

A stunning view of the Falcon 9 rocket just before landing on a barge in the Pacific Ocean, on January 14, 2017 following the launch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit. Credit: SpaceX.

The Falcon 9 launched from Space Launch Complex 4E on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and the main goal of the mission was to deploy the payload of the first ten Iridium Next communication satellites to low Earth orbit. Iridium plans to eventually have a fleet of 81 such satellites.

It was the first launch for the commercial company since the September 1, 2016 explosion on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida during a routine launchpad test. The explosion destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and the payload of the Amos-6 communications satellite, which had an estimated value of $200 million. The explosion was traced back to a failure of a high-pressure helium vessel inside the Falcon 9’s second-stage liquid-oxygen tank.

Enjoy more images and video from the landing below:

Another view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster after landing on a barge in the Pacific Ocean on January 14, 2017. Credit: SpaceX.
The Falcon 9 booster sitting successfully on the barge after landing. Credit: SpaceX.

Here’s the full webcast of both the launch and landing:

You can see all of SpaceX’s latest images on their Flickr stream.

NASA’s Favorite Photos of 2016

There are a group of unsung heroes at NASA, the people who travel the world to capture key events in our exploration of space. They share their images with all of us, but most of the time, it’s not just the pictures of launches, landings, and crucial mission events that they capture. They also show us behind-the-scenes events that otherwise might go unnoticed, and they also capture the true personalities of the people behind the missions and events.

From exciting beginnings of rocket launches and rocket tests to the sad losses of space exploration icons, these photographers are there take these images that will forever remind us of the glories and perils of spaceflight and the joys and sadness of human life.

NASA photographers Bill Ingalls, Aubrey Gemignani, Joel Kowsky, Connie Moore, and Gwen Pitman chose some of their favorites images from 2016, and below are just a few. As Ingalls told us, “These are the favorite images created by our HQ photo team, not from the entire agency. There are many more talented photographers at the NASA centers producing some amazing work as well.”

In this 30 second exposure taken with a circular fish-eye lens, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower as a photographer wipes moisture from the camera lenses Friday, August 12, 2016 in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The team from the Juno mission celebrate after they received confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the engine burn and entered orbit of Jupiter on July 4, 2016 in mission control of the Space Flight Operations Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. Juno will orbit the planet for 20 months to collect data on the planetary core, map the magnetic field, and measure the amount of water and ammonia in the atmosphere. Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft lifts off on from Space Launch Complex 41 on Sept. 8, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. The asteroid, Bennu, may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of water and organic molecules found on Earth. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
Annie Glenn, Widow of former astronaut and Senator John Glenn, pays her respects to her late husband as he lies in repose, under a United States Marine honor guard, in the Rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Piers Sellers, former astronaut and deputy director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, speaks at NASA’s Earth Day event, Friday, April 22, 2016 at Union Station in Washington, DC. Sadly, Sellers passed away on Dec. 23, after battling cancer. Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 48 crew members NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin, and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Following his year in space on board the International Space Station, astronaut Scott Kelly spoke during an event at the United States Capitol Visitor Center, on May 25, 2016, in Washington. Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The second and final qualification motor (QM-2) test for the Space Launch System’s booster is seen, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, at Orbital ATK Propulsion Systems test facilities in Promontory, Utah. During the Space Launch System flight the boosters will provide more than 75 percent of the thrust needed to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth, the first step on NASA’s Journey to Mars. Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson gets her hair cut on Nov. 14, 2016 at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, a few days before launching to spend about six months on the International Space Station. Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Click on each of the images to see larger versions on Flickr. You can see the entire selection of these favorite photos from 2016 on the NASA HQ Flickr page.

China Just Launched Its Largest Rocket Ever

China’s newest and biggest heavy-lift rocket was successfully launched today, Nov 3, 2016, testing out China’s latest rocket along with bringing an experimental satellite designed to test electric-propulsion technology.

The Long March 5 rocket blasted off from the Wenchang launch center on Hainan Island, off China’s southern coast, at 8:43 a.m. EDT (12:43:14 UTC; 8:43 p.m. Beijing time).

Although Chinese space officials have not released many details about the mission or the new rocket, reportedly the Long March-5, (or the Chang Zheng-5, CZ-5) gives China a launch vehicle with similar launch capability to the Delta 4 Heavy or ESA’s Ariane 5, which is twice the capability of China’s Long March-3 (CZ-3).

The 187-foot-tall (57-meter) Long March-5 is powered by 10 liquid-fueled engines, which reportedly generate about 2.4 million pounds of thrust.

The increase in capability is seen as essential for China’s long-range space goals for a bigger and permanently-staffed space station, missions to the Moon, a robotic mission to Mars and the launch of commercial satellites.

The @ChinaSpaceflight Twitter account tweeted this image the launch control center when the YZ-2 upper stage fired:

The Long March-5 is a large, two-stage rocket with a payload capacity of 25 tons to low-Earth orbit. According to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the developer of the Long March-5, the rocket uses kerosene, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, moving away from more toxic propellants like hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. This makes the new rocket not only less expensive to launch but more environmental friendly.

Today’s launch is the second from the new Wenchang launch complex. This past summer, on June 25, China’s new medium-sized Long March-7 made its initial launch from the site.

Source: Xinhuanet

Israeli Shavit Rocket Delivers Malfunctioning Spy Satellite Into Orbit

Israel's Shavit 2 (Comet) rocket carried the Ofek-11 satellite into orbit on Sept. 13, 2016. Israeli media report that the satellite is malfunctioning. Image: Israeli Ministry of Defence.

Israel launched a Shavit2 rocket from its facility at Palmachim airbase on Sept. 13. The launch was the 10th one for the Shavit rocket system, which had its initial launch in 1988. The launch and delivery were successful, but Israeli media is reporting that the payload, the Ofek-11 satellite, is malfunctioning.

The Ofek-11 satellite in Tuesday’s launch is an optical imaging satellite, basically a spy satellite, operated by the Isreali Ministry of Defence. It operates at an altitude of 600 km. It’s orbital path is designed to pass over Israel’s region 6 times per day, allowing the Ministry of Defence to focus on targets of interest in their nation’s region.

Officials involved with the launch have successfully contacted the satellite. Amnon Harari, head of the Defence Ministry’s Space Department, told the Times of Israel that it was “not clear that everything was in order,” hours after the launch.

Doron Ofer is CEO of the Israel Aerospace Industries’ Space Division, the company that makes the Shavit rocket. He told the Times of Israel that due to the satellite’s path, and the rotation of the Earth, the satellite can only be contacted a few times per day. This complicates efforts to correct the satellite.

“We have downloaded some figures, and we are now checking them. It’s not functioning exactly the way we expected, and we don’t know what it’s status is,” Ofer said. “We are now working to stabilize it, but it will take some time because of the small amount of communication we have with it when it comes in our area.”

The Ofek-11 will be the 11th satellite that provides intelligence to the Israeli forces, but not much is known about its exact capabilities. For obvious reasons, the Israeli Defence Ministry is keeping things secret.

It is widely believed that this newest satellite is among the world’s most advanced satellite recon systems. It’s enhanced imaging system purportedly collects images at a ground resolution of 0.5 meters from its 600-Kilometer orbit.

The Ofek-11 surpasses its predecessor, Ofek-9, launched in 2010, which had only a 0.7 meter resolution. The Ofek-10 was a radar imaging satellite launched in 2014 to capture all-weather, day and night images at a resolution less than 1 meter. The overlapping nature of Israel’s satellite system eliminates any gaps in their ability to monitor their region.

Two weeks ago, Israel had another failure in its satellite efforts, though that one was much more catastrophic. The Amos-6 civilian communications satellite was going to be Israel’s largest satellite to date. However, the SpaceX rocket tasked with taking Amos-6 into orbit exploded on its Cape Canaveral launch pad.

Israel is the 8th country in the world to develop their own orbital launch capabilities. They launched their first satellite, the Ofek-1, aboard the maiden flight of their Shavit-1 rocket in 1988. Including that first launch, Israel has attempted 10 launches, and has been successful 8 times. All of those have been Ofek satellites, operated by the military.

All but one of Israel’s Ofek satellites have been launched by Israel’s Shavit-1 and Shavit-2 rockets. The lone exception is Ofek-8, also known as TecSar, launched aboard the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

Spacecraft Launches to Test the Hunt for Ripples in the Fabric of Spacetime

LISA Pathfinder Liftoff

The European Space Agency successfully launched the LISA Pathfinder, a spacecraft designed to demonstrate technology for observing gravitational waves in space. The launch took place at Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on a Vega rocket, at 4:04 GMT on December 3, (10:04 pm EST Dec 2), 2015.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, which were predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. So far, because they are extremely tiny and incredibly faint, gravitational waves have proved to be elusive. The technology needed to detect them is highly sensitive and therefore has been difficult to conceive, plan and build.
Continue reading “Spacecraft Launches to Test the Hunt for Ripples in the Fabric of Spacetime”

More Spectacular Images from the MUOS-4 Launch

Skywatchers across Central Florida got an unusual view early Wednesday morning in conjunction with the Atlas V launch of the MUOS-4 satellite.

“That wasn’t thunder this AM, Florida: An absolutely stunning MUOS launch!” tweeted photographer Michael Seeley, who shared several images of the launch with Universe Today. Mike is a freelance photographer and works with Spaceflight Insider. You can see more of his imagery at his website.

The pre-dawn light combined with unusual atmospheric conditions produced stunning views both during and well after the launch. The skyshow was visible across a wide area.

“Folks as far south as Miami and up to Jacksonville to the north saw it,” Universe Today’s David Dickinson said. “I even heard kids waiting for the school bus on our street crying out in surprise!”

You can read more about the launch and the mission in our article from Ken Kremer, but see a stunning gallery of images of the unusual cloud formations following the launch below:

A long exposure image of the light trail from the Atlas V launch of the MUOS-4 satellite, as seen from the ITL Causeway. Image used by permission. Credit and copyright: Mike Seeley.
A long exposure image of the light trail from the Atlas V launch of the MUOS-4 satellite, as seen from the ITL Causeway. Image used by permission. Credit and copyright: Michael Seeley.
A closeup view of the Atlas V MUOS-4 launch by United Launch Alliance. Image used by permission. Credit and copyright: Michael Seeley.
A closeup view of the Atlas V MUOS-4 launch by United Launch Alliance. Image used by permission. Credit and copyright: Michael Seeley.

Below are a group of images and video from UT’s David Dickinson, taken about 100 miles away from Cape Canaveral in Hudson, Florida:

The launch of the MUOS-4 satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 2, 2015 created an unusual noctilucent cloud display, visible even from 100 miles away. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
The launch of the MUOS-4 satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 2, 2015 created an unusual noctilucent cloud display, visible even from 100 miles away. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
Remaining noctilucent clouds about 25 minutes after the launch of the MUOS-4 satellite on board an Atlas V rocket on September 2, 2015. Image taken from Hudson, Florida, about 100 miles west of Cape Canaveral. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
Remaining noctilucent clouds about 25 minutes after the launch of the MUOS-4 satellite on board an Atlas V rocket on September 2, 2015. Image taken from Hudson, Florida, about 100 miles west of Cape Canaveral. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.

A view from Hudson, Florida, about 100 miles west of Cape Canaveral after the launch of the MUOS-4 Satellite on September 2, 2015. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
A view from Hudson, Florida, about 100 miles west of Cape Canaveral after the launch of the MUOS-4 Satellite on September 2, 2015. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
An Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-4 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41, creating a unique light display. Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: ULA.
An Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-4 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41, creating a unique light display. Sept. 2, 2015. Credit: ULA.

The Most Unique Rocket Launch You’ll Ever See

Have you ever heard of a girandola? I had not until we came across this video — which is pretty incredible! This might be one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen.

Girandolas are flying horizontal wheels and are a favorite of pyrotechnicians.

But as rudimentary as the setting looks in the video, girandolas are high precision, finely tuned instruments. According a group of fireworks professionals called the Pennsylvania Organization of Recreational Chaos (PORC), “you must have every driver (rocket motor) fire at the same time and be precisely tuned in order for the girandola to fly. There is very little room for error or it will not fly.”

You can find more info about girandolas at the link above, or here and it looks like they are available for purchase here.

SpaceX Could Launch 17 Rockets in 2015, Including the Most Powerful Rocket Since Saturn V

If all goes as hoped, SpaceX will have a very busy 2015. The commercial space company could launch as many as 17 rockets, including a mid-flight test abort of the Dragon capsule to demonstrate its in-flight crew escape system. Then there’s the launch that every rocket aficionado one has been waiting for: the demonstration mission of the 27-engine Falcon Heavy rocket.

Already, SpaceX has launched one mission in 2015, the CRS-5 Dragon resupply mission for the International Space Station that was delayed from December 2014. In addition to successfully hooking up with the ISS, SpaceX also tested out a flyback and landing system for the Falcon 9 first stage, which was deemed “mostly successful” despite a spectacular explosion when it careened off the target, a floating ocean barge. The next test of the landing system will occur with the launch of the solar wind monitoring DSCOVR satellite, which has just been delayed slightly to February 9.

While SpaceX itself does not list upcoming launch dates on its own website, a site put together by SpaceX enthusiast Lukas Davia called SpaceXStats has garnered a list of potential launch dates from NASA and other customers, and they say up to 16 more launches could take place this year. SpaceX will be launching more space station resupply missions, commercial satellite launch missions, and US government science and national security missions.

Delays like the recently announced launch delay for DSCOVR, will greatly impact how many launches SpaceX will be able to conduct this year. Musk has said his company could launch about one rocket per month during 2015, while other sources predict 10-12 launches for the commercial company.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule packed with science experiments and station supplies blasts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Sept. 21, 2014 bound for the ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

As reported in Spaceflightnow.com, SpaceX had a similar number of flights on its docket in 2014, including the Falcon Heavy’s debut launch and the Dragon abort tests, which has slipped to be on the launch manifest for 2015. Six Falcon 9 rockets ended up blasting off last year.

Most of the missions will take off from Cape Canaveral’s launch complex, where up to 24 launches could take place this year. Along with the launches from SpaceX, United Launch Alliance has launches schedule for satellites for the U.S. military, NASA and commercial companies.

Video: Falcon Heavy

The Falcon Heavy was originally scheduled for its first test flight in late 2012 or early 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, but it now will launch from the refurbished pads at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX says this rocket was designed from the outset to carry humans into space and “restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the Moon or Mars.”

The Falcon Heavy will lift over 53 metric tons (117,000 lb) to orbit, about three times the performance of the Falcon 9. It is comprised of three nine-engine Falcon 9 first stage booster cores and uses upgraded Merlin 1D engines.

Here’s a sampling of launches from SpaceXStats, see the full list here.

9 Feb 2015 DSCOVR NOAA Falcon 9 v1.1 SLC-40, Florida
17 Feb 2015 Eutelsat 115W B & ABS-3A Asia Broadcast Satellite Falcon 9 v1.1 SLC-40, Florida
March 2015 Dragon Inflight Abort SpaceX / NASA Falcon 9 v1.1 SLC-4E, Vandenberg, California
8 Apr 2015 SpaceX CRS-6 NASA Falcon 9 v1.1 SLC-40, Florida
H1 2015 Falcon Heavy Test Flight SpaceX Falcon Heavy LC-39A, Florida

Video: SpaceX’s Year in Review, 2014:

High Winds, Technical Issues, and a Boat Delay Orion Test Flight

Wind gusts, an issue with valves on the Delta IV Heavy rocket, and an errant cruise ship all contributed to scrub the scheduled maiden test fight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

The launch team has tentatively rescheduled a new liftoff time of 7:05 a.m. EST on Friday, December 5 as the opening of a 2-hour, 39 minute window. Launch coverage will begin at 6 a.m. EST tomorrow on NASA TV. However, forecasts call for just 40% chance of acceptable weather conditions on Friday.

The test flight was scheduled from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a four-and-a-half-hour test flight of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to Earth orbit. The countdown was halted twice when wind gusts exceeded limits. The countdown was also delayed when a boat entered restricted waters off the coast near the Launchpad.

Then, during a third launch attempt an issue with propellant valves on the Delta 4 Heavy’s first stage could not be resolved before the launch window closed.

The planned two-orbit Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) flight around Earth will lift the Orion spacecraft and it’s attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years. It will test several key systems on Orion, including electronics, the heat shield and parachutes.

Universe Today’s Ken Kremer is on hand in Florida and will provide continuing coverage of the test flight. You can also follow NASA’s Orion Blog for updates.

NASA Releases Photos of Aftermath of Launchpad Explosion

NASA released images of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia following the catastrophic failure of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket shortly after liftoff on Tuesday, Oct. 28. Visible is damage to the transporter erector launcher and lightning suppression rods, as well as debris around the pad. But given the spectacular secondary explosion when the rocket fell back to the pad, the damage – as viewed from the air – looks relatively minor.

Another aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014 following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.'s Antares rocket Oct. 28, Wallops Island, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Terry Zaperach)
Another aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket Oct. 28, Wallops Island, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Terry Zaperach)

NASA and Orbital have begun and initial assessment of the accident, but they said it will “take many more weeks to further understand and analyze the full extent of the effects of the event.”

NASA added that a number of support buildings in the immediate area have broken windows and imploded doors. What suffered the most damage were buildings nearest to pad 0A, where the launch took place, as well as a sounding rocket launcher adjacent to pad 0A.

“I want to praise the launch team, range safety, all of our emergency responders and those who provided mutual aid and support on a highly-professional response that ensured the safety of our most important resource — our people,” said Bill Wrobel, Wallops director. “In the coming days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to assess the damage on the island and begin the process of moving forward to restore our space launch capabilities. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will rebound stronger than ever.”

NASA also said that environmental effects of the launch failure were largely contained within the southern third of Wallops Island, in the area immediately adjacent to the pad. Air sample were taken in the area and of nearby Chincoteague Island, and no hazardous substances were detected at the sampled locations.

You can see more imagery at NASA’s Flickr page.

Universe Today’s Ken Kremer was interviewed for NBC News, and you can view the feature below:

Source: NASA