SpaceX successfully launches Telstar 19V satellite

Early this morning SpaceX completed their 13th launch of the year with the successful deployment of the Telstar 19V satellite to its Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

This was the 2nd flight of the new Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 and was also the heaviest payload SpaceX has deployed to GTO weighing in at 15,600 lbs.

The first stage successfully landed on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) making this the 26th time a first stage has landed.

This was the 58th flight for Falcon 9 and 64th in total for SpaceX.

Their next launch is just three days away on the 25th when another Block 5 booster will carry another 10 Iridium Next satellites to orbit from SpaceX’s Vandenberg launch site.

Blue Origin completes 9th New Shepard Test Flight

Blue Origin completed their 9th test flight of New Shepard from their launch site in West Texas. For this test, Blue Origin tested the Capsule Escape Motor approximately 20 seconds after separation to determine how the Solid Rocket Motor operates at that attitude.

There was some concern that the test could cause issues for the booster landing, however, it successfully returned back following the successful separation.

As a result of this, the capsule traveled 50,000 ft higher than previous flights to a height of 389,846 ft but still returned safely to a touchdown under the three parachutes 11 minutes 17 seconds after launch.

This was the 3rd flight for this booster, capsule and also for Mannequin Skywalker who traveled inside the capsule to allow Blue Origin to see the impact of the flight on a life-sized mannequin.

Further delays to JWST

This week NASA announced further delays to the James Webb Space Telescope which was originally supposed to launch this year and has now been delayed to Now Earlier Than (NET) 2021.

The delays which have been caused by several factors from human error during construction/testing, design complexity and basically poor management of the project are now causing some people to rename the spacecraft the Just Wait Space Telescope.

There is no doubt that if/when the spacecraft is launched and successfully reaches its final operating orbit that it will provide amazing new images of our universe and increase our knowledge of the universe.

However, with these continual delays, there are some additional factors that need to be considered.

– JWST is designed to launch on an Ariane 5 which is due to be phased out by Arianespace sometime in 2021-22. If there are further delays to JWST then Arianespace will need to maintain the launch pad at Kourou for the launch. There have been discussions about using other rockets but the design changes needed to accommodate could delay it even further.

– The manufacturer Northrop Grumman are operating under a cost-plus contract for JWST, therefore, the taxpayer is on the hook for any additional costs which are already predicted to pass $9.6 billion dollars assuming a launch date of March 2021.

– Other missions are waiting on the data from JWST, with the abilities that JWST brings to the table there are a lot of other future missions that are being designed to utilize the data that is returned. With these delays, these missions may also be impacted both in funding and having to wait for the new data.

Once the vehicle is launched the deployment process is not a simple one and while NG and NASA have done extensive testing (some of which has led to the latest delays) there is no guarantee that it will be 100% successful once in space. The biggest concern is the fact that the massive sun shield is needed to keep the telescope operating at the correct temperature and if there are any issues during deployment, like ripping that happened during testing, then it will not be able to do that and the telescope will pretty much be useless.

Additionally, due to the width of the main mirror, it has to be folded too and then the side segments have to deploy correctly. If this process fails then the telescope will not be able to operate correctly as there will be 6 mirror segments missing.

Due to its final orbit at the Lagrangian point (L2) it is not currently possible to service the telescope, therefore if anything goes wrong there isn’t anything that can be done. At some point in the future, it may be possible to send a crew out to the L2 but that is still quite a way off.

Yes JWST is a complex spacecraft and a lot has to go correctly during testing, during launch and once in orbit. If it is all successful and the spacecraft makes it to its operating orbit then the science it returns will be amazing but until then we just have to continue to wait and hope that nothing else goes wrong.

My first live launch – SpaceX CRS-15

Today my family and I were able to see our first live rocket launch with the successful liftoff of the Falcon 9 carrying the Dragon Spacecraft to orbit for SpaceX’s CRS-15 mission to the International Space Station.

Originally the plan was to get up a 2 in the morning and drive from Davenport, FL to Titusville, FL to watch the launch, however, my wife decided that we should stay in Titusville on Thursday night so that we only needed to drive a few minutes to get a location to view the launch.

We decided to watch from nearby the Max Brewer Bridge as there was plenty of available space along the road.  While we waited I attempted to take some pictures of the Vehicle Assembly Building which was directly across the water from where we stood, however the Nikon D50 camera that we currently own wasn’t able to handle it well.  Thankfully once the rocket actually launched I was able to get some pictures on the camera.  Our kids also had their phones and took some amazing pictures which I have included below.

While I have watched most of the launches online over the years to experience it live for the first time was definetly worth the effort of getting to the launch and I would strongly recommend anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to do so.

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SpaceX successfully launches SES-12 satellite

Early this morning SpaceX successfully launched the SES-12 satellite, the launch was originally scheduled for May 31st but was delayed to allow SpaceX additional time to check the rocket’s second stage to ensure mission success.

The nine Merlin 1D engines came to life at 12:45 am EDT following a smooth countdown and propelled the payload to orbit, this was the 11th launch of the year for SpaceX. There was no attempt to salvage the first stage which had been flown on a previous mission to boost the Airforces X-37B spaceplane. The payload fairings where set to be picked up from the ocean once they had landed as the catcher boat is still station off the West Coast as they perfect the process of catching them.

To date, SpaceX has launched 55 Falcon 9’s, 13 of them reused.

SpaceX launches Iridium and NASA Satellites

SpaceX continued their 2018 campaign with the successful launch of five more Iridium Next satellites as well as two for NASA.

The NASA satellites consisted of two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-on (GRACE-FO) satellites which will measure variations in gravity over Earth’s surface.

The two Grace satellites were deployed shortly after the second stage reached orbit, it then coasted for 45 minutes before firing the engine for the second time and then deploying the five Iridium Next satellites.

This was the 10th launch of the year and the 9th for Falcon 9, this was also the 12th time that SpaceX used a previously flown booster.  To date, SpaceX has successfully launched 56 times (2 Falcon 1, 53 Falcon 9 and one Falcon Heavy) and delivered 114 satellites, 15 Dragons, and a Roadster to orbit.

Orbital ATK launches Cygnus J.R. Thompson

Orbital ATK successfully launched their Cygnus spacecraft towards the International Space Station this morning. The spacecraft named J.R. Thompon is carrying 7,385 lbs of cargo to the station and is scheduled to be captured on Thursday by the stations Canadarm 2.  As with the previous Cygnus launches the spacecraft was given a name this time “J.R. Thompson”

S.S. J.R. Thompson

For each CRS mission, it is a tradition at Orbital ATK to name the Cygnus cargo spacecraft for an individual who has furthered our nation’s human spaceflight programs. For our OA-9 mission, we are proud to announce that the OA-9 spacecraft will be named after J.R. Thompson, a distinguished leader in the aerospace industry and a member of our Orbital ATK family. Throughout his life, J.R. held prominent positions at NASA, the Marshall Space Flight Center, and Orbital Sciences. We are honored to celebrate his life with the upcoming launch of the S.S. J.R. Thompson.

Quote from OA-9 mission page

The launch was originally scheduled to liftoff on Sunday 20th but was delayed a day to allow the teams additional time to perform inspections and tests of the system to ensure a successful launch today.

This was the first launch for Orbital ATK this year, the 8th overall for the Antares rocket and the 10th for the Cygnus spacecraft.  After the Orb-3 launch failure in October 2014, Orbital launched two Cygnus spacecraft on United Launch Alliances Atlas V.

SpaceX successfully launches Bangabandhu Satellite-1

SpaceX continued its 2018 launch campaign with the successful launch of the Bangabandhu Satellite-1 aboard its first Block 5 Falcon 9.

The Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 has been designated as the final version and incorporates a number of changes designed to allow multiple flights to be performed by each booster with minimal to no changes needed. During a conference call today Elon Musk explained that the changes also addressed all of NASA Crew requirements.

The most obvious visual changes are the black interchange at the top of the first stage, the larger landing legs, which are now retractable.  Other changes that have been detailed include upgraded Engines to address a cracking issue in the turbopump blades and also increases the thrust by 8%, new Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel (COPV) tanks.

With this launch, SpaceX returned to fast fueling process with both the RP-1 and LOX loading starting at T-35m.  This was the process was in use when the AMOS-6 incident happened, SpaceX stopped using it after that until now.

After successfully completing its job of boosting the rocket towards orbit the first stage successfully landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone  Ship (ASDS) “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.

This was the 9th launch of 2018 and 54th overall for Falcon 9, and the 5th landing of 2018 and 25th overall.

 

SpaceX Dragon completes CRS-14 mission

SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule completed its CRS-14 mission today with the successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The capsule which was launched on April 2nd and spent 31 days attached to the International Space Station before being loaded with critical experiments and cargo that will now be processed by NASA.

ULA launches Mars InSight

United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched NASA’s Mars InSight lander today aboard their Atlas V rocket in the 401 configuration from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Following a smooth countdown, the rocket lifted off at 7:05 AM EDT and approximately 94 minutes later the spacecraft separated from the upper stage to begin its six-month journey to the red planet.

After separation of the main payload, two CubeSats MarCO-A and MarCO-B were also successfully deployed and will accompany InSight on its journey.  They will be used to relay information from InSight during it’s landing on Mars in November.

This was the first time that a spacecraft destined for another planet had been launched from the west coast.