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

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 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.