Japanese H-2A rocket lifts off carrying Hayabusa 2

This evening a Japanese H-2A rocket lifted off with the Hayabusa 2 Asteroid Sample Return mission.  Following the success of the previous Hayabusa mission this mission is designed to go one step further and return an actual sample back to Earth.

Once in orbit the second spacecraft and upper stage will coast for 90 minutes before firing again.  At 1:10am EST we received confirmation that the Hayabusa 2 probe had successfully separated from the upper stage.

An H-2A rocket has never attempted such a lengthy coast period during any of the booster’s 25 previous flights.

“In this launch of the H-2A rocket, we will execute a difficult operation called a long coast operation,” said Hitoshi Kuninaka, JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 project manager, in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “For most H-2A rocket launches, the satellite is separated about 30 minutes after the launch, but for this mission, we have a long coast operation and the H-2A rocket will do one orbit around Earth and when the rocket comes back over Japan, we will turn on the second stage engine again. We accelerate the spacecraft away from Earth and separate.”

Over the next three and half years the spacecraft will travel to Asteroid (162173) 1999 JU3, Once there it will spend one and half years surveying the asteroid before departing to return to Earth expected around December 2020.

For more on the Hayabusa 2 mission check out it’s page here.

The images below were captured from the live web stream of the launch.

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SpaceX unveils Falcon 9 upgrades and landing pad

Elon Musk has revealed via twitter a design change to the next Falcon 9 rocket launching a Dragon capsule towards the International Space Station on December 16th for the CRS-5 mission, this flight was delayed a week to allow NASA more time to re-evaluate the payload manifest following the Antares launch failure last month.

The upgrades will allow the rocket finer control during descent back to the second introduction this weekend, the landing barge. It became clear that SpaceX were looking into this option when they challenged the patent currently held by Blue Origin for the same technology.

Both of these changes should allow SpaceX for the first time to realize the goal of landing a first stage rocket. Once landed the stage would need to be secured for transport back to base, although the longer term plan is for SpaceX to refuel the stage and allow it to fly back to the launch pad. However at present that isn’t an option as return to pad has not been approved by the FAA.

At this point it is not know when or if the first stage will be re-flown as there would need to be a number of tests done to verify that everything is working for another flight, only time will tell.

We will be following the next launch with interest to see just what happens and hopefully usher in a new era were re-usable rockets come another step closer to reality.

Expedition 42 crew launched successfully

This afternoon Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti began there six hour, four orbit journey to the International Space Station.  Launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-15M liftoff occurred on time at 14:01 pm EST.  Docking and hatch opening will occur later today, we will post again following each event.

Below are some screen captures from the launch

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AJ26 Turbo Pump most likely doomed Cygnus launch

Orbital announced today that the preliminary findings of the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) point to a Turbo pump failure in one of the two AJ26 main engines on the Antares rocket.

Because of this Orbital will no longer use the AJ26 engines and will instead accelerate the migration to a new engine on the Antares.  Due to the delay in completing the migration, and due to the design on Cygnus, Orbital will use an alternative launcher (to be announced) to fulfill Cygnus missions until such time that Antares is ready.  Orbital will assume any additional costs for using the alternate launcher .

Orbital will continue to use Wallops for the upgraded launcher once is it ready and will fulfill any remaining flights in it’s current CRS contract with the modified Antares.

The full press release can be found here.

Orbital CRS-3 Update 11/03/2014

Over the weekend, Orbital confirmed the participation of the following individuals who will serve on the Antares launch failure Accident Investigation Board (AIB), which is being led by Orbital under the oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The composition of the AIB is as follows:

Chairman

  • David Steffy, Chief Engineer of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group

Members

  • David Swanson, Senior Director of Safety and Mission Assurance for Orbital’s Technical Operations organization
  • Wayne Hale, Independent Consultant and Former NASA Space Shuttle Program Manager
  • David Cooper, Member of Orbital’s Independent Readiness Review Team for the company’s Launch Systems Group
  • Eric Wood, Director of Propulsion Engineering for Orbital’s Launch Systems Group
  • Tom Costello, Launch Vehicle Assessment Manager in the International Space Station Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center
  • Matt Lacey, Senior Vehicle Systems Engineer for NASA’s Launch Services Program

FAA Oversight Team

  • Michael S. Kelly, Chief Engineer, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation
  • Marcus Ward, Mishap Response Coordinator, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation

Antares Data Review

The AIB is initially focused on developing a “fault tree” and a timeline of the important events during the launch sequence. Due to the large amount of data available, the AIB is able to work with a rich source of information about the launch. One of the initial tasks for the AIB is to reconcile the data from multiple sources, a process that is now underway, to help create the launch sequence timeline.

Launch Site Status

Over the weekend, Orbital’s Wallops-based Antares personnel continued to identify, catalogue, secure and geolocate debris found at the launch site in order to preserve physical evidence and provide a record of the launch site following the mishap that will be useful for the AIB’s analysis and determination of what caused the Antares launch failure. The debris is being taken to a NASA facility on Wallops Island for secure and weather resistant storage.

Orbital CRS-3 Update 10/31/2014

Antares Data Review

It is a travel day for the remainder of Orbital’s Antares data review team who were on site at Wallops Island supporting the initial “quick look” flight data evaluation on Wednesday and Thursday. At this point we believe the on-site data review process has progressed as far as necessary, so the team is transitioning back to their home bases. The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) Chairman, Mr. Dave Steffy, and members of the AIB that are now being identified, will immediately take over further development of the “fault tree” that will drive future investigation activities.

Launch Site Status

Today, the Wallops team continued to document and catalog the debris field. Yesterday’s focus was on clearing any potentially hazardous items. Current priorities are on finding, cataloging and securing any elements of the stage 1 propulsion system that will be of particular interest to the AIB, as well as any cargo that may be found at the site. The team’s goal is to complete that work today. With adverse weather predicted for the weekend, they do not want to lose any evidence or any of the intact cargo that survived the mishap. Orbital expects the process of cataloging and securing all the remaining debris to continue for several days.

CRS Go-Forward Plan

The company’s senior managers have begun developing a comprehensive plan to maintain the cargo supply line between Earth and the International Space Station, fulfilling Orbital’s commitment to NASA for the delivery of supplies for the astronaut crew, necessary equipment for the operation and maintenance of the station, and scientific experiments conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory. Details about Orbital’s approach for completing future missions under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA will be made public in the near future.

Our next update will be on Monday, November 3 to report on activities conducted during the weekend.

Orbital CRS-3 Update 10/30/2014

Launch Site Status:

Based on initial sweeps conducted by an Orbital safety team, it appears a significant amount of debris remains on the site and it is likely substantial hardware evidence will be available to aid in determining root cause of the Antares launch failure. Some of the Cygnus cargo has also been found and will be retrieved as soon as we have clearance to do so to see if any survived intact. After up close visual inspections by the safety team, it still appears the launch site itself avoided major damage. There is some evidence of damage to piping that runs between the fuel and commodity storage vessels and the launch mount, but no evidence of significant damage to either the storage vessels or launch mount. Detailed evaluations by MARS and their engineering team will occur in the next couple of days. An Orbital-led team has begun cataloging and documenting the location of all pieces of debris over the next several days after which the debris will be relocated to storage bays on the island for further evaluation.

Antares Data Review:

Telemetry data has been released to Orbital and our engineers presented a very quick look assessment to the Accident Investigation Board at the end of the day. It appears the Antares vehicle had a nominal pre-launch and launch sequence with no issues noted. All systems appeared to be performing nominally until approximately T+15 seconds at which point the failure occurred. Evidence suggests the failure initiated in the first stage after which the vehicle lost its propulsive capability and fell back to the ground impacting near, but not on, the launch pad. Prior to impacting the ground, the rocket’s Flight Termination System was engaged by the designated official in the Wallops Range Control Center.

Atlas V launches successfully with GPS IIF-8 satellite

This afternoon ULA successfully launches another GPS IIF satellite aboard it’s workhorse Atlas V vehicle. This was the third launch attempt around the world within a 24 hour period following the Orbital Antares accident yesterday and the successful Soyuz launch early this morning EDT.

This was the 8th GPS IIF satellite to be launched by ULA, the first 5 abort Delta IV and the others using Atlas V.

Following a smooth countdown the Atlas V’s RD-180 engine roared to life lifting the rocket towards orbit.  At the end of the live broadcast the rocket was coasting to it’s second Centaur firing destination, the satellite will be deployed once the second stage arrives at it’s drop off destination.

The following screen grabs were taken from the ULA live feed.

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Progress 57 arrives at the International Space Station

Fifteen hours after the lose of the Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft another cargo vehicle from Russia arrived successfully at the station.  Launched just six hours before, the Progress 57 completed it’s four orbit, six hour journey to the station with a successful docking at 9:08am EDT.

Carrying almost three tonnes of supplies for the station, the craft will be remain at the station for the next six months, it will be unloaded and eventually filled with trash that will burn up in the atmosphere.

Here is a video of the launch earlier this morning

Below are some screen grabs of the docking.

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Orbital Sciences Orb-3 rocket explodes after liftoff #Orb3

2014-10-28_182331Following a scrub yesterday due to a boat breaking the range safety keep out area the Orbital Sciences Orb-3 mission made another attempt today. Following a very some and uneventful countdown the Antares rocket carrying the ‘Deke Slayton’ Cygnus lifted off on time at 6:22pm EDT, unfortunately approximately 6 seconds later a catastrophic failure occurred causing the rocket to explode and come crashing back to the launchpad.

Orbital Sciences have instigated a failure investigation team which will be led by Richard Straka, Deputy General Manager of Orbital’s Launch Systems Group. The investigation team will include representatives from NASA, Orbital, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops, Va.

Reports on NASA TV indicate significant damage to the launch pad and fires could be seen burn over a wide area after the explosion.  All range personnel have been accounted for.

This is certainly a setback for Orbital Sciences, the Commercial Cargo program and the numerous science teams that had payloads on Cygnus, it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on future launches for the other suppliers to the station.  However until the cause of the anomaly is known and resolved we seriously doubt there will be any further Cygnus launches to the station.

We will continue to update this post as further information becomes available.