SpaceX completes Crewed Dragon mission

This morning the first Crewed Dragon mission came to an end with a successful splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. The spacecraft which was launched last Saturday spent five days docked to the International Space Station during which time the crew spent time unloading and loading cargo and performing tests and inspections.

The hatches between the two vehicles were closed yesterday and autonomous departure occurred this morning complete another important test.

This mission included a number of first for SpaceX. This was their first crewed rated vehicle, their first autonomous docking, first splashdown in the Atlantic ocean.

With the successful completion of this mission, SpaceX will now refurbish the Dragon which will be used again for the inflight abort test where the eight SuperDraco engines on the capsule will fire while the rocket is at Maximum Dynamic Pressure (MaxQ) to verify the abort system. This is tentatively scheduled for June.

This then sets up Crewed Dragon for its first crewed mission which is tentatively scheduled for July this year, however that is subject to change as the data from these tests are completed and ISS schedules aligned.

Hatches Open on Crew Dragon

In another critical milestone the hatches between the International Space Station and Crewed Dragon were opened at 8:07 am EST today.

We were also treated to amazing views from inside the Dragon vehicle as the hatches were opened, the first time for a capsule docked to the station.

Over the next few days the crew will spend time unloading and loading cargo that is also being carried inside the vehicle.

Undocking and splashdown is expected in five days.

Crewed Dragon successfully Docks to ISS

Following a 27 hour journey to the International Space Station to crewed Dragon spacecraft has successfully docked to the International Docking Adapter on the station.

During the docking, a number of tests were performed to ensure the system was working as needed and once those were complete the vehicle completed the automated docking at 6:03 am EST. The soft capture which is the initial connection between the two vehicles occurred at 5:51 am EST, after that the full docking took approximately 12 minutes.

The hatches between the ISS and Dragon will be opening in a couple of hours.

SpaceX Launches Crewed Dragon

At 2:49 am EST today SpaceX launched the first of their Crewed Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.

As this was the first launch of the spacecraft there were no crew members onboard however the vehicle is heavily instrumented and does carry a dummy called Ripley which will allow SpaceX and NASA to monitor the loads experienced during all phases of the launch.

Dragon will now travel to the ISS for a docking tomorrow morning at approximately 6 am. Another feature of this vehicle is the ability to automatically dock with the International Docking Adapter which was launched by a Cargo Dragon in 2016.

This flight known as DM-1 is the first flight in the NASA Commercial Crew contract.

This marks another important first for SpaceX as with the cargo Dragon they are now the first private company to launch a crew rated capsule to orbit.

SpaceX launches Dragon for CRS-16 mission

At 1:16 pm EST today a Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 40 carrying a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station for there CRS-16 mission.  The Dragon capsule used for this launch was previously flown on the CRS-10 mission.

10 minutes later the Dragon capsule was delivered to orbit to begin it’s journey to the station, during this launch the first stage attempted a landing at Landing Complex 1 but wasn’t successful instead landing in the Atlantic ocean.

This was the 20th launch for SpaceX this year.

Update on the first stage booster

Soyuz MS-11 launches and docks successfully

Just over seven weeks after the MS-10 launch failed to reach space Russia resumed crewed launches today with the successful launch and docking of the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft today.

The launch lifted off at 6:31 am EST and successfully docked at 12:34 pm EST just four orbits later.  Once the leak checks are completed the hatches between the ISS and Soyuz will be opened allow the new crew members to enter the station.

Aboard the MS-11 are Russian Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA Astronaut Anne McClain, and Canadian Astronaut David Saint-Jacques.

This launch also marks the 100th of 2018 worldwide and the first to two scheduled for today.

Soyuz MS-10 aborts after launch, lands safely

What had become almost a routine process for Russia’s space program ran into an issue today when the launch of two crew members cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and astronaut Nick Hague aborted shortly after the first stage booster separation.

The two crew members were on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) and the flight was proceeding nominally until the four strap-on boosters separated.  Around the same time, a large plume of fuel could be seen escaping from the area of the vehicle.  This was followed shortly afterward by an alarm sounding, at which time the Russian Translator on the live feed started talking about booster failure and preparations for ballistic abort.

The crew landed safely around 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan and have been picked up by the search and rescue crews that were station about 90 minutes away from the landing site.  They are now on their way to Moscow and will then return to the launch site to meet with their families.

At present the impact on the ISS is unknown, Russia has announced they have set up a state commission to investigate the anomaly.  However, unless they can find an immediate cause of the issue and it can be resolved quickly it seems likely that there will be a stand-down of crewed launches using Soyuz.  This will mean that with no other vehicles available to launch crew to the ISS at present due to the delays in the US commercial crew program, and with the limited lifespan the Soyuz vehicle has on orbit that we may have to face the possibility of decrewing the ISS until such time that crewed launches can resume.

However, at present, the current crew of ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst who is currently the commander, Sergey Prokopyev and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor have plenty of supplies available and are not scheduled to leave the station until December having arrived in June.  Unfortunately, this is close to the lifespan of the Soyuz vehicle so there may not be a lot of room to extend the mission.

10/13/2018 – Update

While the telemetry is still be analysed the leading theory at this point is that one of the first stage strap-on boosters failed to separate correctly and impacted the second stage causing the launch abort.  The sequence of events meant that the main launch abort tower had already jettisoned however the Soyuz has a second abort system built into it (which apparent very few people knew about) which kicked in to take the crew away from the failing booster.

Russia has reported that they will provide an update on the investigation by October 20th at which time we should have a better idea of what impact this will have on future launches of Soyuz.

We will update this article as further information is made available.

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.

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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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.