This morning SpaceX made history once again as it made its first launch from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The pad that had previously been used by NASA for Apollo and Space Shuttle launches has been refurbished by SpaceX over the last couple of years.
Designed to support the launch of Falcon Heavy, National Security Payloads and Crewed Missions 39A was called into duty following the September, 1st 2016 accident that resulted in the loss of LC-40 at neighboring Cape Canaveral.
The launch was originally scheduled to lift off yesterday but during to a 2nd Stage Thrust Vector issue they decided to scrub to allow time to investigate further. The issue was resolved overnight and the countdown proceeded this morning to a 9:38 am EST launch when the nine merlin engines roared to life to propel the rocket to orbit. Following completion of the first stage burn, the booster returned to Landing Zone 1 (LZ1) and landed making this the third time SpaceX has returned to LZ1.
Eugene Cernan passes away
The last man to walk on the moon Gene Cernan passed away this week at the age of 82.
“Even at the age of 82, Gene was passionate about sharing his desire to see the continued human exploration of space and encouraged our nation’s leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the Moon,”
Check out his website here.
Upcoming Soyuz Rocket Engines to be replaced
Following the results of the investigation into the Progress MS-04 accident Russian Space officials have announced that they will be replacing the upper stage engines to ensure mission success.
Full Story here.
NASA considering purchase of additional Soyuz seats
Due to delays with the Commercial Crew Programs NASA is considering an option to purchase additional seats on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to ensure continued access to the International Space Station.
Full Story Here.
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.
NASA 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.
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
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.
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.
Ten months after the failed CRS-7 launch SpaceX resumed their servicing missions to the International Space Station today with the successful launch of their Dragon spacecraft.
Following a smooth countdown the Falcon 9 lifted off at 4:43 pm EDT to begin a 10 minute climb to orbit.
As with previous launches SpaceX also attempted to land the first stage on the Drone Ship after it had completed it’s job getting the 2nd stage and Dragon on their way. Unlike previous attempts to land on the Drone Ship this time they were successful.
Dragon is now in orbit and making it’s way towards a capture on Sunday.
The Russian Progress MS-02 spacecraft launched successfully today beginning a two day journey to dock with the International Space Station.
Roscosmos elected to do the two day journey to allow time to fully test all the upgraded systems on the newer MS version of the vehicle. The first Soyuz MS crewed mission is due to launch in June and validation of the systems is required before that can occur.
This is the second of three cargo vehicles scheduled to travel to the station in less than a month.
Last night United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft towards the International Space Station (ISS). This is the second Cygnus that has launched on an Atlas V rocket and will be the heaviest payload the Atlas V has ever launched. Even with the heavier payload ULA didn’t require any Solid Rocket Boosters as Cygnus is only launching to Low Earth Orbit.
Continuing in the tradition of previous Cygnus launches Orbital ATK named this vehicle the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rock Husband USAF.
Update: After the launch a number of people noticed that the burn time on the Centaur upper stage was almost a minute longer than originally planned. ULA has since announced that this was caused by the first stage RD-180 engine shutting down 5 seconds earlier than originally planned requiring the Centaur to compensate for the difference. They are investigating why the engine shutdown early and don’t currently know if this could impact the next Atlas V launch.