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 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.

SpaceX Launches TESS

This evening SpaceX successfully launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) telescope this evening.

SpaceX’s eighth launch of the year and 53rd overall for Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Launch Complex (LC)-40 following a smooth countdown.  The TESS telescope was delivered to orbit approximately 48 minutes later to begin on-orbit operations.

The first stage of the rocket successfully landed on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) “Of Course I Still Love You” marking the fifth landing of the year and 24th overall.

The launch was originally scheduled for Monday 16th but was delayed 48 hours to allow SpaceX more time to perform Guidance Navigation and Control analysis to ensure a successful mission today.

For more information on TESS check out their web page here.

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.

SpaceX launches CRS-11 to ISS

SpaceX passed another important milestone, on their route to reusability, with the successful launch of the CRS-11 Dragon mission to the International Space Station.

The Dragon capsule used for this launch previously flew to the ISS on the CRS-4 mission in September 2014 and following some refurbishment and re-certification was approved for this current mission.  With this launch, SpaceX became the first commercial company to send a previously flown capsule to orbit.

This was the 7th launch this year and 5th landing for SpaceX and the cadence doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon with several more launches scheduled for June including one from Vandenburg.

Among the payloads being carried to the ISS are the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), Roll-Out Solar Array (ROSA) and Multiple User System for Earth Sensing Facility (MUSES).