Weekly Space News – 1/14

Colliding Stars to light up night sky in 2022

This week astronomers announced that we may see the result of a binary star system merging which will cause them to explode and becoming one of the brightest objects in the sky.  While they cannot say exactly when it will happen they can make estimated based on observing the system.  Full story here.

VLT to Search for Planets in Alpha Centauri System

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) will be used to search for planets in our nearest neighbor following an agreement between European Southern Observatory (ESO) and Breakthrough Initiatives.  With the discovery of Promixa B last year and Breakthrough’s longer term plans to visit Alpha Centauri this will allow them to utilize the power of the VLT to study the system in much greater detail.  Full Story Here.

Astronauts Complete Second EVA

On Friday Astronauts performed the second spacewalk at the International Space Station.  As with the previous spacewalk the week before the primary task was to complete the swap out and installation of new Lithium Ion batteries.  Due to them completing the tasks almost two hours ahead of schedule they were also able to complete a number of get-ahead tasks.

 

SpaceX launches first of seven Iridium Next payloads

This afternoon SpaceX successfully returned to flight operations following the September 1st anomaly with the successful launch of ten Iridium Next satellites.  The launch was delayed several times due to the investigation into the anomaly, as well as the unfavorable weather around Vandenburg this week.

As a result of the investigation into the anomaly, there were several changes to the countdown process for this launch, the first and most obvious was the lack of payload during the static fire test.  Less obvious was the change to the fueling process in previous launches the RP-1 and LOX were loaded at the same time in the last 35 minutes of the countdown.  However for this launch the RP-1 loading started 70 minutes before launch with the LOX being loaded as before with 35 minutes left.

Following a smooth countdown the rocket lifted off on time and successfully deployed the ten satellites, however due to a ground station issue confirmation of the successful deployments took longer then expected.  The first stage also successfully landed on the ASDS in the pacific ocean.

 

Weekly Space News – 1/7

We are excited to bring back our weekly review of Space related news. These are a selection of stories that excite us about the future of Space exploration/development. The opinions in these reviews are our own.

NASA announces selection of two Discovery Missions

This week NASA announced that he has selected the Lucy and Psyche missions both designed to explore asteroids in our solar system.  Lucy due to launch in 2021 will visit a main belt asteroid in 2025 and then six Jupiter Trojan asteroids between 2027 and 2033.  Psyche due to launch in 2023 will visit 16 Psyche a giant metal asteroid, scientists believe it may have been the core of a planet which lost its outer layers.

SpaceX moves closer to return to flight

This week SpaceX completed the first Static Fire test since the September 1st anomaly that resulted in the loss of the Spacecom Amos 6 satellite and inflicted significant damage to Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral.  Having concluded the investigation into the anomaly they determined that the most likely cause of the issue was due to the way the propellants were loaded into the rocket, full report here.  SpaceX has also received a launch license from the FAA allowing them to move towards a launch on Monday 9th from Vandenburg.

 

SpaceX ready for resumption of Falcon 9 launches

Following a four month investigation into the September 1st anomaly that resulted in the lose of a Falcon 9 rocket with it’s payload the Spacecom Amos 6 satellite and significant damage to Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX announced this week that they have completed the investigate (see report here) and are ready to return to flight operations started on Sunday 8th January with the first of seven launches for Iridium.

SpaceX are able to resume flight operations without having to make design changes to the rocket by changing their propellant loading operation to avoid the scenario that most likely caused the anomaly.  They have indicated that longer term they will make design changes to the COPV tanks to resolve the issue which will allow them to resume faster loading operations.

The flight of the Falcon 9 with ten Iridium Next satellites is currently scheduled for 10:28:97 PST on Sunday 8th January from Space Launch Complex 4E in Vandenberg, CA.  However this is still subject to the results of the Static Fire test scheduled for Tuesday 3rd and flight readiness review.

 

SpaceX Falcon 9 explodes during static fire test countdown

This morning during their standard Static Fire test procedure the Falcon 9 tasked with launching the Spacecom Amos-6 satellite exploded during the countdown to the static fire.

SpaceX have confirmed that the Amos-6 payload was lost due to the explosion, however there were no personnel lost due to standard procedures during tanking operations.

At present there is no information available as to the cause of the explosion or what impact this will have on the aggressive launch schedule that SpaceX has. It can be assumed there will be some impact but will depend on a number of factors including:

  • How much damage was caused to the pad?
    • The visible damage to the pad doesn’t look too bad, however it is very likely that significant damage was caused to the infrastructure aroundthe pad which will take time to replace/repair.
  • How much damage was caused to the strongback part of the Transporter Erector Launcher?
    • The strongback took the brunt of the explosion and looks to be severe damaged and may not be salvageable.  This would need to be replaced as it is unlikely that the spare at 39A will work on SLC-40.
  • What caused the explosion?
    • Unconfirmed reports indicate that the issue was internal to the 2nd stage of the rocket.  Elon Musk tweeted that it originated around the Oxygen tank but no further details yet available.

We can be sure that SpaceX will recover from this just as they did after the CRS-7 launch in June 2015, they will determine what caused the issue, what needs to be done to address it and when they can resume operations.  In the meantime they will need to do damage control with there customer especially those who were counting on launches this year that could be delayed now.

Once further information is available we will post it here.

Update 9/1/2016 @ 1:19pm EDT

Update 9/2/2016 @ 8:30am EDT

Based on the amount of damage likely at SLC-40 it will be quite some time before SpaceX can launch from there again, however that may not be as significant an issue as it could have been because they have a second launch pad nearby a LC-39A. At present this pad is still be refurbished ready to support Falcon Heavy and Falcon crewed launches however it is likely this could be finished sooner than any repairs at SLC-40.

Jeff Williams sets new cumulative time in space record for US astronaut

m16-026NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams broke NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly’s record today for the longest cumulative time spent in space for a US astronaut. Jeff is on his fourth mission to space, which include one Space Shuttle mission and three long duration missions to the International Space Station.

For this current mission Jeff launched on March 18th, 2016 with Cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka aboard their Soyuz TMA-20M vehicle and docked at the station 6 hours later. Jeff later took command of the station just before the departure of previous commander NASA Astronaut Tim Kopra.

Jeff previous flew on STS-101, Soyuz TMA-8 (Expedition 13), Soyuz TMA-16 (Expedition 21/22).

Jeff will return to Earth in September having surpassed 533 cumulative days in space.

International Docking Adapter successfully installed

The International Docking Adapter (IDA) that was transported to the International Space Station (ISS) in the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was successfully installed to the end of the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 (PMA-2) during a spacewalk today.

Astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins performed a 5 hour 58 minute spacewalk to complete the installation of the IDA, with the exception of a small issue removing the cap from one of the cable connectors the installation went very smoothly. Once the IDA was soft docked to the PMA Astronaut Takuya Onishi commanded two sets of hooks to permanently mate the IDA to the PMA thereby allowing Jeff and Kate to reconfigure the cables on the IDA to allow future visiting vehicle to dock with it.

Once the IDA work was completed they two moved on to installation of cables that will be used for the second IDA which is due to be delivered in late 2017. The crew were planning to attempt some get ahead tasks, however Jeff started to have communication issues and they decided to returned to the airlock to conclude the successful spacewalk.

This was the fourth spacewalk for Jeff, and the first for Kate.

Images captured from NASA TV of the spacewalk

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Cargo Vehicles arrive at ISS

Following the two successful launches over the weekend the International Space Station now has two additional vehicles attached.

Monday evening the Progress MS-03/64P vehicle completed it’s mission with a picture perfect docking to the Pirs module.

And early this morning ISS Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Dr. Kate Rubins successfully captured the Dragon CRS-9 spacecraft.

Three hours later Dragon was berthed to the station completing the two day journey and allowing the crew to begin operations to access the cargo.

Now that Dragon is attached to the station the crew can begin preparations for a Spacewalk to attached the International Docking Adapter 2 (IDA-2) that was carried to the station in the trunk of the vehicle. This is critical to the future of the Commercial Crew program for SpaceX and Boeing as it will allow there new vehicles to automatically dock with the station.

SpaceX CRS 9 launches

The second launch of International Space Station Cargo this weekend was completed successful this morning following the successful delivery to orbit of the Dragon capsule.

Following a smooth countdown the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 12:45:29 am EDT today propelling the Dragon capsule to orbit, the first stage then returned to the Cape for a successful landing at LZ1.

Once in orbit the Dragon capsule deployed it’s Solar Array’s before starting its journey to the station.

Progress 64P launches

In the first of two International Space Station Cargo launches this weekend the Russian Progress 64P was successfully delivered to orbit today by it’s Soyuz booster.

Following a smooth countdown the Soyuz rocket lifted off at 5:41pm EDT.

This is the third flight of the MS version of the Progress Cargo vehicle and will be using a two day rendezvous profile with arrival at the station expected on Monday 18th at 8:22 PM EDT.