Leading theories for SpaceX CRS-7 mishap

2015-06-28_102410It has been two days since the Falcon 9 carrying the CRS-7 Dragon exploded and there are currently two leading THEORIES on what happened.

As we have yet to hear an official reason from SpaceX these are just PURE SPECULATION at this point.

1) The International Docking Adapter or a part of it came lose during the flight and impacted with the top of the 2nd Stage. This caused damage to the 2nd stage that resulted in the explosion.

2) The Liquid Oxygen tank ruptured causing the explosion, either due to a manufacturing issue or because of a leak in the Helium Pressure system which caused too much pressure to build in the tank.

At this point it is impossible to say if these are even close to the truth and until we hear officially from SpaceX the speculation will continue to grow.

T-14 days and counting to New Horizons Pluto Flyby

180px-New_Horizons_LogoA journey that started 3451 days ago aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V is rapidly closing in on its primary destination Pluto. The New Horizons spacecraft will be the first to visit the Pluto system and will bring the distant planet and its five moons to life.

In 14 days it will reach its closest approach to the planet before speeding on further into the Kuiper Belt and eventually another destination (to be decided later).

During the flyby a number of different instruments will be gathering data, it will take more than a year to return all the data to Earth due to how far away the spacecraft is.

The following instruments are on board the spacecraft :-

The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (“LORRI”) is a long focal length imager designed for high resolution and responsivity at visible wavelengths. The instrument is equipped with a high-resolution 1024×1024 monochromatic CCD imager with a 208.3 mm (8.20 in) aperture giving a resolution of 5 μrad (~1 asec). The CCD is chilled far below freezing by a passive radiator on the antisolar face of the spacecraft. This temperature differential requires insulation, and isolation from the rest of the structure. The Ritchey–Chretien mirrors and metering structure are made of silicon carbide, to boost stiffness, reduce weight, and prevent warping at low temperatures. The optical elements sit in a composite light shield, and mount with titanium and fibreglass for thermal isolation. Overall mass is 8.6 kg (19 lb), with the Optical tube assembly (OTA) weighing about 5.6 kg (12 lb),[29] for one of the largest silicon-carbide telescopes flown at the time (now superseded by Herschel).
Principal investigator: Andy Cheng, Applied Physics Laboratory, Data: LORRI image search at jhuapl.edu

Solar Wind At Pluto (SWAP) is a toroidal electrostatic analyzer and retarding potential analyzer (RPA), that makes up one of the two instruments comprising New Horizons‍ ’​ Plasma and high-energy particle spectrometer suite (PAM), the other being PEPSSI. SWAP measures particles of up to 6.5 keV and, because of the tenuous solar wind at Pluto’s distance, the instrument has the largest aperture of any such instrument ever flown.
Principal investigator: David McComas, Southwest Research Institute

Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI) is a time of flight ion and electron sensor that makes up one of the two instruments comprising New Horizons‍ ’​ Plasma and high-energy particle spectrometer suite (PAM), the other being SWAP. Unlike SWAP, which measures particles of up to 6.5 keV, PEPSSI goes up to 1 MeV.
Principal investigator: Ralph McNutt Jr., Applied Physics Laboratory

Alice is an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer that makes one (of two) photographic instruments comprising New Horizons‍ ’​ Pluto Exploration Remote Sensing Investigation (PERSI); the other being the Ralph telescope. It resolves 1,024 wavelength bands in the far and extreme ultraviolet (from 50–180 nm), over 32 view fields. Its goal is to determine the atmospheric composition of Pluto. This Alice instrument is derived from another Alice aboard the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft.
Principal investigator: Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute

The Ralph telescope, 6 cm (2.4 in) in aperture, is one of two photographic instruments that make up New Horizons‍ ’​ Pluto Exploration Remote Sensing Investigation (PERSI), with the other being the Alice instrument. Ralph has two separate channels: a visible-light CCD imager (MVIC- Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera) with broadband and color channels, and a near-infrared imaging spectrometer, LEISA (Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array). LEISA is derived from a similar instrument on the EO-1 mission. Ralph was named after Alice’s husband on The Honeymooners, and was designed after Alice.
Principal investigator: Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute

The Student Dust Counter (SDC), built by students at the University of Colorado Boulder, will operate continuously through the trajectory to make dust measurements. It consists of a detector panel, about 460 mm × 300 mm (18 in × 12 in), mounted on the antisolar face of the spacecraft (the ram direction), and an electronics box within the spacecraft. The detector contains fourteen polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) panels, twelve science and two reference, which generate voltage when impacted. Effective collecting area is 0.125 m2 (1.35 sq ft). No dust counter has operated past the orbit of Uranus; models of dust in the outer Solar System, especially the Kuiper belt, are speculative. VBSDC is always turned on measuring the masses of the interplanetary and interstellar dust particles (in the range of nano- and picograms) as they collide with the PVDF panels mounted on the New Horizons spacecraft. The measured data is expected to greatly contribute to the understanding of the dust spectra of the Solar System. The dust spectra can then be compared with those observed via telescope of other stars, giving new clues as to where Earth-like planets can be found in the universe. The dust counter is named for Venetia Burney, who first suggested the name “Pluto” at the age of 11. A thirteen-minute short film about VBSDC garnered an Emmy award for student achievement in 2006.
Principal investigator: Mihaly Horanyi, University of Colorado Boulder

The Radio Science Experiment (REX) will use an ultrastable crystal oscillator (essentially a calibrated crystal in a miniature oven) and some additional electronics to conduct radio science investigations using the communications channels. These are small enough to fit on a single card. Since there are two redundant communications subsystems, there are two, identical REX circuit boards.
Principal investigators: Len Tyler and Ivan Linscott, Stanford University

Next week we will take a look at some of the images that have already been returned as New Horizons approaches Pluto.

Now comes SpaceX’s true test

This morning SpaceX suffered the first failure of their Falcon 9 rocket as it explode two minutes into the CRS-7 mission. Initial data from Elon Musk indicates that an over-pressure event happened on the second stage.

This was the first time since the third flight of Falcon 1 that SpaceX has suffered a mission ending failure, they have had minor issues during launch including loss of engine (this caused a secondary payload to be lost but primary mission was successful) and an issue with Dragon after deployment (which was later resolved).

Since that Falcon 1 failure in August 2008 SpaceX have launched 20 rockets include 18 Falcon 9 vehicles all reaching orbit successfully, quite an achievement for a new launch provider.

The true test of what SpaceX are made of happens now as they review the data from the failure today, what changes they need to make to address the issue, how open they are about the failure and how quickly they turn this around and start launching rockets again. One advantage that SpaceX have over other people as stated by COO Gwynne Shotwell is the fact that they make most of the parts of the rockets so don’t have to seek data from other parties.

While it is sad that this happened on a NASA International Space Station (ISS) launch it is also a blessing in some respects as we are more likely to hear more information about the failure than if it had been for a commercial customer’s launch.

Over the coming days SpaceX will review thousands of pieces of data and any debris that the teams were able to recover to fully determine what happened.

Initial indications show that the Dragon capsule actually survived the initial explosion of the rocket and continued to transmit data afterwards, most likely stopping when it impacted the ocean.  One change that we hope for future flights of Cargo Dragon (just in case) is a way for Mission Control to be able to deploy the chutes during an non-nominal event, this potentially could have allowed Dragon to splashdown safely in the ocean just as a Crewed Vehicle is designed to.

UPDATE – Elon this morning tweeted an update on the investigation

SpaceX loses CRS-7 mission to ISS

CRS7-logoThis morning SpaceX launched their latest mission to the International Space Station, unfortunately during the first stage flight the rocket exploded causing lost of Falcon, Dragon and the cargo it was carrying

 

Among the cargo that Dragon was carrying was the first of two International Docking Adapters for the station which will be used by Boeing and SpaceX to dock their crewed vehicles in the future.  They were also flying the Meteor experiment which was originally launched on the fated Orb-3 mission last year but lost when the rocket exploded.  For further details of the cargo manifest check out this pdf file.

Below are screen grabs of the launch captured from the Webcast

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NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Gutted by Congress

The President’s 2016 request for $1.2b towards the continued development of the Commercial Crew program by Boeing and SpaceX has been reduced to $900 million by Congress.

At present there is only one way to get crew to the International Space Station aboard Russia’s Soyuz rocket. To allow its astronauts to fly to the station NASA has to purchase seats from Russia which at the last count totaled $76m per seat. With the latest budget it is very likely that the CCtCap program will not be completed as planned in 2017 requiring that NASA purchase additional seats from Russia.  It is very likely that the price per ticket could go up as it has each time NASA purchases more seats.

As NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated

“I am deeply disappointed that the Senate Appropriations subcommittee does not fully support NASA’s plan to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil as soon as possible, and instead favors continuing to write checks to Russia.

 

“Remarkably, the Senate reduces funding for our Commercial Crew Program further than the House already does compared to the President’s Budget.

 

“By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to space – and continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own.

 

“I support investing in America so that we can once again launch our astronauts on American vehicles.”

Senator Nelson has also made a statement regarding this

This decision is particularly worrying for several reasons:-

  1. Russia have suffered a number of hardware issues in recent weeks including two launch failures, one Progress thruster failure (later resolved) and just this week a Soyuz thruster issue.
  2. Congress has mandated that United Launch Alliance must stop using Russian RD-180 engines for US Military launches, yet with this budget are continuing to fund the very same government for US Astronauts
  3. Having a single option available to launch crew to a $100 billion space station for another 2+ years is asking for trouble, as we have seen with the Commercial Crew program if there had not been redundancy in the program US cargo missions would have been delayed by more than a year with the Orb-3 launch failure.

So what can we do about this?  Contact your local elected official and ask them to fully support the Commercial Crew program and allow US Astronauts to be launched on US vehicle.  If you don’t know who you official is, the following page will help.

 

LightSail Update – Solar Sails deployed successfully

The Planetary Society’s LightSail cubesat reach another amazing milestone this weekend as it became the first privately funded spacecraft to deploy a Solar Sail in orbit.

The spacecraft which was launched two weeks ago had been silent for eight days due to a computer glitch, suddenly on Saturday 30th May it started communicating again after a reboot caused by a cosmic particle hitting the spacecraft. To ensure the problem doesn’t happen again the mission team has elected to reboot the computer each day thereby avoiding the issue that caused the initial crash, we are not sure why a patch couldn’t be delivered to address the issue however.

Before they could deploy the sails they needed to ensure the Solar Array’s were deployed as initial images from the vehicle showed that they were still stowed.  The command to deploy them was sent successfully however this caused a new issue on the vehicle whch resulted in several more days of lost communication.

CHEsVDDWcAAwUwAAmazingly the vehicle once again re-established communications and after seeing that it the Solar Array’s were indeed charging the batteries they decided to move forward with the Sail deployment.  This didn’t go as planned first time however they were able to successfully send the command again and the partial image to the right shows the sails had been deployed.  Additionally the video below from NASA that shows the vehicle clearly visible in the sky which is another indication that the sails deployed.

Full Image of Deployed Solar Sails
Full Image of Deployed Solar Sails

Due to the increased drag caused by the Solar Sail the vehicle will not last much longer in space, however there is no denying that the Planetary Society have achieved an amazing feat with this mission and it bodes well for the next mission which they are currently raising funds for on Kickstarter.

The Re-usable Rocket Era approaches

While SpaceX have yet to successfully land a Falcon 9 first stage it appears their vision has spurred the industry to react with both United Launch Alliance (ULA) and now Airbus Aerospace announcing plans to include re-usable components in future rocket designs.

The three companies have quite different plans to achieve the re-use.

Falcon 9 landing on ASDS
Falcon 9 attempting landing on ASDS

SpaceX – Plan to land the complete first stage initially on their Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) which is placed about 400 miles off the Florida coast during liftoff. Eventually they would like to return the stage to landing pads located near the original launch pad.

recovery-1024x639
Vulcan Re-usable Plan

ULA – Their new Vulcan rocket will allow the Engines to be re-used. Once the first stage has completed its work the engines will be detached, an inflatable heat shield will protect them during re-entry and then an Parafoil will be used to slow the descending engines so that a helicopter can capture them while still in the air.

Screen-Shot-2015-06-05-at-11.43.43-AM-879x485
Airbus Re-use module

Airbus – They plan to have a detachable module too which contains the engines and main avionics, unlike the ULA module this will be a winged module that will return to Earth and land like a plane.

Only time will tell how successful these plans are however SpaceX has two big advantages at present.

First they are already testing their design and have already demonstrated that they can return the full first stage to the ASDS, they just haven’t been successful at landing it yet. The next attempt will be later this month during the CRS-7 launch.  ULA will not be flying the Vulcan rocket until at least 2019 and the Ariane 6 rocket will not include the re-usable module initially.

Second once they have successfully landed a first stage they will be able to determine just how quickly it could be re-used.  The other two plans will require that the rest of the first stage be constructed each time before the engines can be attached.

 

LightSail deployment planned for Wednesday

Following the successful resumption of communications with the LightSail spacecraft the mission team are planning to deploy the Solar Sails on Wednesday this week.

They were looking to deploy on Tuesday but to ensure everything is working as needed they added an extra day to the plan.

To ensure they don’t run into another issue with the spacecraft they are also planning a reboot event each day as highlighted by Jason Davis via Twitter

We will post an article once confirmation of Sail deployment which should also include images of the deployment.