Today United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin announced a new liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas (LNG) rocket engine that delivers 550,000-lbf of thrust at sea level.
The engine has been in development at Blue Origin for three years and a pair of them will be integrated into the Atlas rocket in appropriately three/four years. The upgraded rocket will have 1.1m lbf thrust giving it a boost over the single RD-180 engine design currently used.
The engine will be jointly funded by ULA and Blue Origin, the BE-4 was selected because of the progress that had already been made developing the engine.
One natural question that comes out of this is what will the impact on SpaceX?
Basically in the short-term this will not have much impact as SpaceX have a large manifest of orders on the books and just recently added nine more including potentially three Falcon Heavy launches. Plus the engine isn’t scheduled to be ready for three/four years so ULA will still be using RD-180 until then.
Longer term we don’t believe it will have much of an impact either, once it has been integrated to Atlas they will have to have at least three flights to re-certify for any Air Force launches and also prove the new system is as reliable as what they have today before customers will commit, and finally they will have to reduce there prices to really have an impact on SpaceX. If anything this could actually benefit SpaceX as they will have three/four more years of proven flights behind them and may also be closer to completing their new Raptor engine which has significantly more thrust than BE-4.
Following the announcement they held a Q&A session below are some of the questions that were found on twitter.
Q: When can ULA integrate the BE-4? A: About 4 years from now. – ULA CEO Bruno
This evening a United Launch Alliance Atlas V lifted off with a secret payload called CLIO for the Department of Defense. Details of the orbit or what the payload is for has not been made available. The launch was delayed several times due to weather constrains but those cleared allowing a liftoff to occur at 8:10pm EDT which was right at the end of the window available for today’s attempt.
CLIO was successfully deployed from the Atlas’ centaur upper stage nearly three hours after launch high above the eastern Indian Ocean. The spacecraft’s successful 11:01 p.m. separation will be followed over the next few weeks by maneuvering CLIO to it’s home in geostationary orbit.
This evening a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying a GPS IIF satellite. This was the second launch this week for ULA making it the fastest turn around for launches at the cape.
At the time of writing the spacecraft was still in it’s coast phase, once complete the RL10 engine will fire once more to circularize the orbit and then deploy the satellite.
Below are some images captured from the live stream of the launch.
Following one delay due to a technical issue and three due to bad weather a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket finally lifted off this evening carrying Twin inspector spacecraft and a micro-satellite test-bed. The launch was delayed several times this evening also due to weather but finally a window opened and they were able to get off the ground.
Due to the nature of the mission the live stream ended before the payloads were deployed, check back here later to determine the status of the mission.
Below are some images captured from the live stream.
Last Sunday at 3:05pm the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully completed it’s CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a splashdown in the Pacific ocean.
Launched on April 18th aboard a Falcon 9 rocket the Dragon spacecraft, carrying nearly 5,000 lbs of supplies and payloads including two in the un-pressurized trunk, the craft was deployed to orbit following the successful launch. On April 20th the craft was captured by the station’s robot arm and berthed allowing access to the cargo. On Sunday the craft was unberthed from the station carrying 3,500 lbs or cargo. After successfully backing away from the station, later in the day the craft was commanded executed de-orbit burn which concluded with the splashdown.
This was the longest orbital mission so far for Dragon at 29 days, 23 hours and 40 minutes.
On Tuesday the spacecraft arrived at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California where time-sensitive cargo was off-loaded and handed over to NASA, the spacecraft will now travel to the test facility in McGregor, Texas where the rest of the cargo will be off-loaded and handed over to NASA.
On Wednesday it was reported that during the landing there was some water seepage into the spacecraft after the landing, however it doesn’t appear that this caused any issues with the experiments on board. However due to this event NASA will require resulting from an investigation by SpaceX and any changes needed to avoid this happening again before the next Dragon flight will be approved.
Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide upper-stage propulsion for RELS
Aerojet Rocketdyne announced on Monday they had received a contract to supply six RL10C-1 engines, with an option for six additional engines. These engines will by used by the third stage of the revolutionary air-launch system being build by Stratolaunch Systems Corporation (SSC).
The three stage rocket being developed will be dropped from a carrier aircraft when it reaches the desired altitude, once released the rocket will begin it’s power flight into orbit.
The Government Accountability Office report on the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft indicates that NASA has masked the true cost of being the pair by neglecting to say what the system will cost to build for each flight.
So far there are only two missions slated for the combined vehicle and the estimated cost through 2021 is $22 billion.
While I believe NASA needs to have a crewed vehicle for deep space missions it would be interesting to see what SpaceX or another commercial company could create for $22 billion.
New Cameras to Probe Planets beyond our Solar System
Two new camera’s designed to image Jupiter class planets orbiting other stars and their atmospheres have been brought online. The European Southern Observatories Very Large Telescope camera Sphere saw first light on May 4, and the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South Observatory has reported back on data gathered from it’s first light.
Japanese researchers announced the discovery of a site of planet formation around a young star in the Lupus Constellation in the southern sky, it’s name is Latin for wolf.
The researchers found a proto-planetary disk around the star HD142527 and the dust appears to be concentrated in the upper part of the ring. The observations where made using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA).
This week Elon Musk received the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during the 22rd annual International Space Development Conference, after receiving the aware he talked further about the progress that SpaceX was making towards a permanent base on Mars and also more on the re-usable rocket tests.
The FAA have issued regulations establishing requirements for crew and space flight participants involved in private human space flight. The new rules maintain the FAA’s commitment to protect the safety of the public.
NASA and ATK moved a step closer to the 2017 launch of the first SLS this week with the completion of a significant structural test of the booster’s main attachment mechanism. The article tested was a major load-bearing structure known as the skirt.
The Mars Opportunity Rover has returned this Martian Vista from the ridge line of Endeavour Crater
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover spent several months exploring portions of Murray Ridge. Since reaching the local high point on the ridge line from which this panorama was taken, the rover has proceeded southward to reach an exposure of aluminum-rich clay detected from orbit.
Construction has begun on the new Mars lander Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is scheduled to launch March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from California. The mission will provide NASA with information toward their goal of sending a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Meet Quaoar, the Planetoid Beyond Pluto
Most people know of Pluto which for a long time was the 9th planet before being demoted, however there are many more objects beyond the last planet Neptune that many may not be aware off.
The following article introduces one of those objects a planetoid in the outer edges of our solar system called Quaoar. Discovered in 2002 it heralded a new age in Astronomy, this and a few other worlds being discovered caused the International Astronomical Union to form a new classification system for planets, planetoids and dwarf planets.
SpaceX launch of Orbcomm Satellites targeted for June 11th
SpaceX has re-aligned the next launch to No Earlier Than (NET) June 11th. The delay were caused by a Helium leak in the first stage that was found during fueling for the Static Fire Test.
This leak was a different location to a leak that delayed the CRS-3 mission, although further details were not available it seems likely that it was around the Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessels (COPV) which are used to pressurize the vehicle.
It is not clear yet if the issue has been repaired but SpaceX are working towards this date and a new Static Fire will be performed at some point before then.
The Planetary Society responds to coverage of ISS statements by Russia
The Planetary Societies Blogger Casey Dreier posted this week a response to all the coverage of the ISS suitation since Russia made statements regarding the status of the station.
Firstly there were two issues in the statements, one relating to the RD-180 engines which has been covered previously and the second relating to the station.
In summary the current operation plan for the station runs until 2020, NASA with the approval of the White House proposed to extend this until 2024, however as of yet none of the other partners had actually signed onto this new plan. However it was originally thought that Russia were interested in the extension however since the tensions over Ukraine that no longer seems to be be case.
However given that there are over six years left in the current operational plan there is nothing to say the situation won’t change again.
Space station’s Sphere’s use Google smartphone tech
The free-flying Spheres modules on the International Space Station will now be aided by Google’s Project Tango to assist the crew in mundane tasks. Project Tango is a smartphone project by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group which tracks the 3D motion of the device and create a 3D model of the environment around it.
The Spheres modules short for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites has been tested on the station since 2003 and with this latest upgrade will be able to perform more functions.
The Spheres project was originally inspired by Star Wars.
SpaceX DragonFly test vehicle revealed
In further SpaceX news this week details of the DragonFly test vehicle became available. The vehicle will be tested at SpaceX’s McGregor facility and consists of a 7 ton Dragon capsule equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters, an integrated trunk and up to four landing legs. The vehicle will be put through a series propulsive landing tests to validate the design and to enable future Dragon vehicles to perform a land based landing.
One of the Aerojet AJ-26 main engines for the Antares rocket suffered extensive damage during a test firing at the Stennis Space Center this week. Before the engine’s can be used for an actual launch they are test fired to verify everything is working correctly.
At present it is not known if this failure will have any impact on the June 10th launch of an Antares carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on it’s next visit to the ISS.
This morning a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida carrying the NROL-33 classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Liftoff occurred at 9:09am EDT and all was progressing well up to payload separation. Due to the nature of the launch there was a news blackout after that so we have no further news as to the success of the mission.
This week Russia fire back against US sanctions in two key areas, the first was to spurn NASA’s proposal to extend the life of the ISS through 2024. The second by announcing plans to block the export of Russia engines for U.S. Military launches.
Given the continued aggression in Ukraine is doesn’t seem likely that these issues will be resolved quickly. The impact of the station extension won’t be felt for a number of years yet and could well change before then anyway. The impact on launches could hit home much sooner depending on how many engines ULA have already available. Although there could be an alternate solution very soon as SpaceX are close to finalizing the EELV certification process which would enable them to compete for military launches.
As for the Space Station it looks like it might be time to start looking for a long term alternative and Bigelow Aerospace’s BA-330 solution could be a good option. If planning started soon there is no reason why a fully operational station couldn’t be in orbit and have crew members living on board well before the ISS concludes it’s operations in orbit.
While Russia hasn’t impacted the crewed launches to ISS yet, if the sanctions continue it could result in the US not being able to access the station, while some believe this is unlikely because NASA are paying for the seats to orbit it isn’t beyond believe that it could happen.
SpaceX Dragon returns this weekend
The Dragon spacecraft currently docked to ISS is expected to depart on Sunday to being it’s return to earth. Assuming all goes to plan Dragon will be unberthed from the station on Sunday at approximately 9:30am EDT and is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean about 6 hours later.
Dragon is the only cargo vehicle currently that has the ability to return to earth allowing critical experiments to be returned for scientists around the world to continue there investigations. All the other cargo vehicles that visit the station burn up in the atmosphere at the end of there mission.
Shuttle Engines selected for first SLS Launch
This week NASA announced the selection of four veteran Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) known as the RS-25’s to be used on the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2017.
The SSME’s had been used throughout the 30 year history of the Shuttle Program and with the exception of one flight where a safe Abort to Orbit was needed performed flawlessly during that time.
Unlike the Space Shuttle the engine’s will not be returned after the launch and will be destroyed during re-entry of the first core SLS stage.
SpaceIL one of the competitors in the Google Lunar XPRIZE have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $240,000 towards the cost of landing on the moon. The $1 = 1 mile campaign runs until June 17th and as of today has raised 20% of it’s target.
Exkpress AM-4R satellite launch failure
On Thursday a Proton rocket lifted off at 5:21 pm EDT, however 540 seconds into the flight the third stage engine’s terminated resulting in the lose of the rocket and satellite. The Exkpress AM-4R communication satellite was a replacement for one that failed to reach it’s intended orbit in 2011.
All future Proton-M launches are on hold pending a launch failure investigation.
New GPS satellite to launched today
Originally scheduled to launch yesterday but delayed by uncooperative weather the launch of a ULA Delta 4 from Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral carrying a new Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite is now scheduled for 8:08 pm tonight.
Expedition 40 Crew head to Baikonur for launch
This week the crew of the TMA-13M due to lift off on May 28 left Star City, Russia for Baikonur Cosmodrome to being final preparations for the launch.
Astronomers announced this week they had detected what they believe to be the first sibling of the Sun. This star HD 162826 is believed to have been created from the same gas cloud that the Sun is believed to have been created from. The star is 100 light-years away in the constellation Hercules and isn’t visible to the naked eye, the star is approximately 15% more massive than our Sun. They have been observing the star for 15 years and have yet to detect any planets orbiting it.
To detect the sibling the Astronomers looked for two identifying features, the first a simliar chemical composition to our Solar System and secondly similar orbit’s around the cetner of the Milky Way galaxy.
Astronomers have detected an exoplanet that is roughly 2,000 times the Earth-Sun distance from it’s star. Based on the distance from the star it would take approximately 80,000 earth years to complete a single orbit. The planet located around GU Psc, located in the constellation Pisces has been observed directly by combining observations for various telescopes.
One of the most prominent features of Jupiter is slowly shrinking, the Great Red Spot – a swirling storm bigger than earth – is now smaller than ever measured before. Observations going back to the 1800s estimated the spot to be 25,500 miles on it’s long axis. When NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 flew by in 1979 they measured it to be 14,500. In 2009 Hubble measured it at 11,130 and since 2012 amateur observations have noticed it shrinking by as much as 580 miles per year.
The planned launch of six commercial communications satellites for Orbcomm has been delayed. The planned static fire test on Thursday was called off after SpaceX ran into technical trouble during the countdown. The static fire test was rescheduled for Friday but was stopped while the rocket was being fueled. SpaceX announced that the OG2 satellites and rocket was in a safe condition and would be rolled back to the integration facility.
At present a new launch date/time is not available.
Judge rules Russian engine purchases can continue
Judge Susan G. Braden has reversed the injunction she issued in the case that SpaceX filed against the ULA Block Buy. While SpaceX didn’t explicitly request action to stop ULA buying the engine’s this was the first action taken by the count after the filing of the case. This follows letters submitted to the court from the Treasury and State departments stating that NPO Energomash was not subject to the sanctions.
Curiosity drills into Martian sandstone
This week Curiosity successfully drilled into Martian sandstone. The rock dubbed “Windjana” was selected for the drill site. Over the next couple of weeks the rover will collect samples of the fine grained samples into a pair of research instruments.
This is the first time Curiosity has drilled into Sandstone, having samples Mudstone previously in 2013.
Russian spy satellite launched by Soyuz
This week a Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launched a clandestine payload from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Likely a Kobalt-class imaging satellite for the Russian Military.
Station crew members prepare to return home
Three of the station residents have entered their last week aboard the orbiting complex. Commander Koichi Wakata, Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio and Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will be returning to earth May 13th inside their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft having spent 187 days onboard.
Former Astronaut Kent Rominger answer questions on Twitter
This week Astronaut Kent Rominger who now works for ULA answered questions on Twitter during a #SpaceChat session. Among the questions asked was one from us regarding SLS
This week I signed up for an online Astronomy course which includes time controlled several robotic telescopes around the world. Below are a couple of images I have processed so far as part of the course.