Russia launches Progress 70 and completes fastest docking ever

Today Russia launched their latest Progress spacecraft to the International Space Station. The spacecraft lifted off at 17:51 EDT and then used an accelerated approach to dock just 3h 40m later making this the fastest launch to docking ever for Progress.

This was the third time Russia had attempted this, however, the previous two times the launch vehicle experienced technical issues while on the launch pad and the launch was delayed. Due to these delays, there wasn’t another launch opportunity available that would allow the accelerated approach so they had to revert to the standard docking profile.

As with previous changes to the launch profile for Russian vehicles, they test with the cargo Progress vehicles before attempting the same with the crew vehicles where the accelerated docking has more benefits for the crew aboard due to how cramped it is inside.

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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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 launches Dragon on 14th CRS mission

This afternoon SpaceX launched their 14th Dragon mission to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40.

Following a smooth countdown, the nine Merlin 1D engines powered the rocket and its payload to orbit.

This was the 7th launch for SpaceX in 2018, the 52nd Falcon 9 launch and 11th using a Flight Proven booster.  As this was an older Block IV booster SpaceX elected to forgo the landing attempt and instead used the booster to perform testing before it crashed into the ocean.

This was also the 2nd mission for this Dragon Capsule which had previously flown on the CRS-8 mission in 2016.  Now that the capsule is in orbit and the Solar Array’s have successfully deployed it will begin its journey to the ISS which capture and berthing expected on Wednesday morning.

SpaceX’s Dragon successfully completes CRS-13 mission

The Dragon capsule that was launched late last year completed it’s mission to the International Space Station with a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean today.

In another first, this time for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency the Dragon capsule was released by the robotics engineers on the ground instead of using the Astronauts aboard the station as they have for all the previous visits.

This was the second time the vehicle had visited the station also the second time SpaceX has reused a Dragon capsule.  Approximately 4100 pounds of cargo was returned inside the capsule which will now be handed over to NASA.  Check here for more details on what is being returned.

SpaceX confirmed successful completion of the mission at 10:39 AM EST.

The Year of Commercial Crew

If all goes to plan this year we should see at least four Commercial Crew vehicle launches as Boeing and SpaceX complete their uncrewed and crewed demo launches.  In addition, we should also see an in-flight launch abort from SpaceX as they test the system and Max-Q when the maximum dynamic pressure is felt by the rocket during launch.

So what is the Commercial Crew program?

Following on from the success of the Commercial Cargo (COTS) program, which resulted in Orbital ATK (formally Orbital Sciences) and SpaceX being awarded contracts to launch cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA launched a commercial crew program with the goal of delivering four crew members to the ISS and successfully returning them to Earth at the end of their mission.

As with the COTS program, NASA designed the Commercial Crew program to be milestone based where payments would only be made when the milestones had been achieved.  As part of the bidding process, the competitors defined their own milestones detailing when they would achieve to meet those.

The program was broken into multiple phases started with the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) 1 program which was awarded to five companies Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corporation and United Launch Alliance.  A total of $50 million was awarded and a total of 53 milestones defined all due to be completed by 2010.

The second phase CCDev 2, $270 mission was awarded in March 2011 to seven companies, three of those were non-funded.  The funded awards were given to Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX, and Boeing with the non-funded awards going to United Launch Alliance, Alliant TechSystems (ATK) and Excalibur Almaz.

In September 2011 the third phase awards were made under the name Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities (CCiCap), with this phase NASA wanted complete, end-to-end designs for spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services and operations.   Three companies were awarded contracts in this phase for a total of $1.1 billion, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX, and Boeing.

The next phase was awarded to the same three companies and was called the Certification Products Contract (CPC) 1, in this phase they had to define the certification plan for their systems.

The final phase was awarded to two companies Boeing and SpaceX under the name Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap).  Under this phase, the two companies are required to complete two demonstration launches of their vehicle with the second taking a crew to the ISS.

Boeing’s CST-100

Boeing is developing a capsule-based vehicle called the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner.  The capsule is designed to carry as many as seven crew members, for the commercial crew program however they will only be carrying four.

Full details of the CST-100 can be found here.

The CST-100 will launch atop the Atlas V from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 41 which has been upgraded to include a crew access tower and arm to allow access to the CST-100 capsule.

SpaceX’s Dragon 2

The SpaceX entry for the Commercial Crew program is an upgraded version of the Dragon capsule that is currently flying to the ISS on a regular basis.  When first announced SpaceX planned to use the same thrusters for Launch Abort and Propulsive Landing capabilities, this would have given the capsule the ability to land anywhere that had a pad.  However, since then the propulsive landing capability has been dropped in favor of a water landing as the current Dragon capsule does.

The Crew Dragon launch abort system is built directly into the capsule allowing abort capability all the way to orbit.  SpaceX tested the system with a pad abort test on 6th May 2015 when the capsule fired the SuperDraco engines before successfully deploying its parachutes and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Full details of the Crew Dragon can be found here.

The Crew Dragon is designed to carry as many as seven crew members to orbit and safely return them to Earth at the conclusion of their mission.  For the Commercial Crew program, SpaceX will only be carrying four crew members to the ISS.  Once launched the capsule will use an automated docking system to approach and dock to the ISS, to aid with this NASA has modified the old Shuttle Docking system with the International Docking Adapter.  The first IDA was lost during the SpaceX CRS-7 anomaly, however, a 2nd adapter successfully flew to the station on CRS-9 in July 2016 and a replacement for the first is due to fly on CRS-16 in Summer 2018.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that whoever successfully launches the first crewed mission to the ISS will have bragging rights, however, the real winner in this program is the America Space Program which has been without the ability to launch any crew from US soil since the Space Shuttle retired in 2011.  In addition at present, there are only two countries with the capability to launch a crew into space China and Russia, once Boeing and SpaceX have completed their programs the US will double that and we still have the Space Launch System (SLS) and potentially a crewed version of Dream Chaser coming in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

SpaceX launches CRS-13 mission to ISS

SpaceX successfully launched their CRS-13 mission to the International Space Station today marking the return to flight for Launch Complex 40 (LC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).  The launch was delayed a couple of days to allow SpaceX time to resolve an issue with particles in the 2nd stage fuel system.

This launch also marked the first time that SpaceX had used a flight-proven booster for a NASA CRS mission, the booster 10XX.2 previously launched the CRS-11 mission in June 2017.  This was the second time a flight-proven Dragon capsule was used, having previously flown on the CRS-6 mission in April 2015.

This was SpaceX’s 17th launch for 2017 and the 45th flight of Falcon 9, and the 14th landing with 20 overall.

Orbital ATK launches Cygnus on OA-8 mission

Following a one day delay, due to a wayward plane during the countdown yesterday, Orbital ATK successfully launched their Cygnus spacecraft, S.S. Gene Cernan today for an International Space Station rendezvous on Tuesday.

This was the second Cygnus launch on the companies own Antares 230 vehicle, which uses the Russia RD-181 engines.  This was the seventh launch of Antares with six successfully completing their missions and one failure.  That failure led to the redesign of the Antares rocket which caused a two-year delay in launches, during that time Orbital made use of United Launch Alliances Atlas V to launch Cygnus to the ISS.

SpaceX launches CRS-12 mission

SpaceX resumed their 2017 launch campaign today with the successful launch of the Dragon vehicle for the CRS-12 mission to the International Space Station.  As with previous CRS launches the first stage returned to land at Landing Zone 1.

This launch comes after a month break to allow the 45th Space Wing to perform maintenance needed around Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.

This was SpaceX’s 11th launch this year and 8th landing.

SpaceX Dragon completes visit to ISS

In what looks to become another busy day for SpaceX the Dragon cargo vehicle that spent a month at the station following its successful launch last month was released by the station this morning and completed a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 8:12 EDT.

This was the second mission for this vehicle and clearly shows that SpaceX’s goals of creating reusable rockets and spacecraft have moved another important step forward.

The spacecraft returned 4,100+ lbs of research and other cargo from the station which will now be returned to port before being transported directly to NASA to be offloaded.

At present SpaceX has not said when another flight-proven Dragon will be used however there have been indications that this is under consideration as well as the possibility of using flight-proven Falcon 9 to launch them.