ULA launches NASA’s Solar Parker Probe

Delta IV Heavy launching

United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched NASA’s Solar Parker Probe on their Delta IV Heavy rocket.  Today was the second attempt to liftoff proceeded smoothly for an on-time lifted off at 3:31 am EDT.

The first attempt yesterday was delayed twice before a scrub was called when a new issue occurred at T-1:55m and counting with no time left in the window to try again.

Due to the extremely high energy required for this mission, the Delta IV Heavy’s capability was augmented by a powerful third stage provided by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.  This allowed the vehicle to get up to 45,000 mph by the time the Solar Parker Probe separated.

Confirmation of the 3rd stage events was delayed due to a signal dropout issue, however, the information was received at one of the ground stations and was relayed manually.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to “touch” the Sun. The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere about 4 million miles from our star’s surface.   

More details can be found here.

This was the 6th launch for ULA this year

SpaceX launches Merah Putih satellite

SpaceX continued their 2018 launch campaign with the successful deployment of the Merah Putih communications satellite for Telkom Indonesia this morning.

The 5000 kg satellite was successfully deployed to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit and is now making its way to its operating orbit.

This was the first reflight for a Block 5 Falcon 9 booster which was previously used in May to launch Bangladesh’s Bangabandhu-1 satellite.  Following successful stage separation the booster landed on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship, Of Course I Still Love You.

This was the 60th flight of Falcon 9, 13th with flight proven booster and the 28th landing.

Arianespace launches four Galileo satellites

In the first of two launches today Arianespace successfully delivered four Galileo satellites to add to the constellation already orbiting the Earth.

There were a lot of lasts for this mission as shown below

With this launch the initial phase of the Galileo constellation is complete.  Future launches will be performed on the Ariane 6 which is due to start flying in 2020.

SpaceX successfully launches another 10 Iridium Next satellites

This morning SpaceX completed their 14th launch of the year and second of the week with the successful deployment of another 10 Iridium Next satellites.  This was the second launch of the morning coming just 14 minutes after the Arianespace launch, however, the mission completed first due to the shorter coast phase before deployment.

Launching from their Vandenberg launch site the Falcon 9 lifted off at 07:39 am EDT. This was the third launch of the upgraded Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9, despite some heavy wind sheer in the Pacific ocean the booster successfully landed on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship Just Read The Instructions.

During this launch, SpaceX also attempted to recover one half of the payload fairing on their ship Mr. Stevens.  Unfortunately, due to the wind sheer in the Pacific, they were not able to recover the fairing this time.

This was the 59th Falcon 9 launch and 27th landing.

SpaceX successfully launches Telstar 19V satellite

Early this morning SpaceX completed their 13th launch of the year with the successful deployment of the Telstar 19V satellite to its Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

This was the 2nd flight of the new Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 and was also the heaviest payload SpaceX has deployed to GTO weighing in at 15,600 lbs.

The first stage successfully landed on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) making this the 26th time a first stage has landed.

This was the 58th flight for Falcon 9 and 64th in total for SpaceX.

Their next launch is just three days away on the 25th when another Block 5 booster will carry another 10 Iridium Next satellites to orbit from SpaceX’s Vandenberg launch site.

Blue Origin completes 9th New Shepard Test Flight

Blue Origin completed their 9th test flight of New Shepard from their launch site in West Texas. For this test, Blue Origin tested the Capsule Escape Motor approximately 20 seconds after separation to determine how the Solid Rocket Motor operates at that attitude.

There was some concern that the test could cause issues for the booster landing, however, it successfully returned back following the successful separation.

As a result of this, the capsule traveled 50,000 ft higher than previous flights to a height of 389,846 ft but still returned safely to a touchdown under the three parachutes 11 minutes 17 seconds after launch.

This was the 3rd flight for this booster, capsule and also for Mannequin Skywalker who traveled inside the capsule to allow Blue Origin to see the impact of the flight on a life-sized mannequin.

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.

Further delays to JWST

This week NASA announced further delays to the James Webb Space Telescope which was originally supposed to launch this year and has now been delayed to Now Earlier Than (NET) 2021.

The delays which have been caused by several factors from human error during construction/testing, design complexity and basically poor management of the project are now causing some people to rename the spacecraft the Just Wait Space Telescope.

There is no doubt that if/when the spacecraft is launched and successfully reaches its final operating orbit that it will provide amazing new images of our universe and increase our knowledge of the universe.

However, with these continual delays, there are some additional factors that need to be considered.

– JWST is designed to launch on an Ariane 5 which is due to be phased out by Arianespace sometime in 2021-22. If there are further delays to JWST then Arianespace will need to maintain the launch pad at Kourou for the launch. There have been discussions about using other rockets but the design changes needed to accommodate could delay it even further.

– The manufacturer Northrop Grumman are operating under a cost-plus contract for JWST, therefore, the taxpayer is on the hook for any additional costs which are already predicted to pass $9.6 billion dollars assuming a launch date of March 2021.

– Other missions are waiting on the data from JWST, with the abilities that JWST brings to the table there are a lot of other future missions that are being designed to utilize the data that is returned. With these delays, these missions may also be impacted both in funding and having to wait for the new data.

Once the vehicle is launched the deployment process is not a simple one and while NG and NASA have done extensive testing (some of which has led to the latest delays) there is no guarantee that it will be 100% successful once in space. The biggest concern is the fact that the massive sun shield is needed to keep the telescope operating at the correct temperature and if there are any issues during deployment, like ripping that happened during testing, then it will not be able to do that and the telescope will pretty much be useless.

Additionally, due to the width of the main mirror, it has to be folded too and then the side segments have to deploy correctly. If this process fails then the telescope will not be able to operate correctly as there will be 6 mirror segments missing.

Due to its final orbit at the Lagrangian point (L2) it is not currently possible to service the telescope, therefore if anything goes wrong there isn’t anything that can be done. At some point in the future, it may be possible to send a crew out to the L2 but that is still quite a way off.

Yes JWST is a complex spacecraft and a lot has to go correctly during testing, during launch and once in orbit. If it is all successful and the spacecraft makes it to its operating orbit then the science it returns will be amazing but until then we just have to continue to wait and hope that nothing else goes wrong.

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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SpaceX successfully launches SES-12 satellite

Early this morning SpaceX successfully launched the SES-12 satellite, the launch was originally scheduled for May 31st but was delayed to allow SpaceX additional time to check the rocket’s second stage to ensure mission success.

The nine Merlin 1D engines came to life at 12:45 am EDT following a smooth countdown and propelled the payload to orbit, this was the 11th launch of the year for SpaceX. There was no attempt to salvage the first stage which had been flown on a previous mission to boost the Airforces X-37B spaceplane. The payload fairings where set to be picked up from the ocean once they had landed as the catcher boat is still station off the West Coast as they perfect the process of catching them.

To date, SpaceX has launched 55 Falcon 9’s, 13 of them reused.