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Monthly archives "July"

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SpaceX conducts full-duration static fire on recovered booster

SpaceX conducts test fire on recovered booster. Image grabbed from SpaceX video.

SpaceX conducts test fire on recovered booster. Image grabbed from SpaceX video.

July 28, 2016 – SpaceX successfully conducted a full-duration test fire of the Falcon 9 booster recovered from a launch earlier this year. Not intending to re-fly the JCSAT 14 booster – it’s designated a ‘reference vehicle’ by SpaceX – the company hopes to put the launcher through a variety of tests in order to determine the viability of re-using recovered stages.

This particular booster experienced significantly greater re-entry and landing stresses as its flight profile was for a payload being delivered to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), as opposed to the booster recovered from the recent CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), which is in a much lower orbit.

SpaceX asserts that reusability is a key to lowering the cost of getting cargo and crew to orbit, and this is the first step in achieving that goal. SpaceX’s Elon Musk has said that they plan to launch a recovered booster later this year. Notably, communications satellite company SES has indicated a willingness to be the first to fly on a recovered booster, though there’s been no public announcement from SpaceX about the customer for that historic launch.

ULA successfully launches classified NROL-61 payload

Atlas V, carrying the classified NROL-61 payload, lifts off on its way to an undisclosed orbit. Photo credit: ULA

Atlas V, carrying the classified NROL-61 payload, lifts off on its way to an undisclosed orbit. Photo credit: ULA

At 8:37 a.m., precisely on-time, United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched the NROL-61 payload atop its reliable Atlas V rocket. Lifting off from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the vehicle quickly cleared the tower on its way to delivering the secretive National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO) satellite to an undisclosed orbit. Today’s launch marks the sixth of the year for ULA, and is the third NRO mission of 2016.

Prior to launch, weather conditions had improved to 100% favorable, thus effectively eliminating weather as a concern for a launch delay.

In a press release issued by United Launch Alliance, Laura Maginnis – ULA vice president of Custom Services – was quoted: “Thank you to the entire mission team for years of hard work and collaboration on today’s successful launch of NROL-61. We are proud the U.S. Air Force and NRO Office of Space Launch have entrusted ULA with delivering this critical asset for our nation’s security.”

NROL-61 mission patch. Image credit: NRO

NROL-61 mission patch. Image credit: NRO

The NROL-61 mission marked the 109th successful launch for ULA since the company’s founding in December 2006. ULA’s next launch is the Air Force’s AFSPC-6 satellite on a Delta IV, scheduled for August 19 from SLC-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Of interest for this particular mission is the buzz surrounding the mission’s “mascot”. Prior to the launch, photos showing artwork for this mission appeared to show a green gecko sitting atop the world as an Atlas V roared past. Additionally, the mission patch – which is painted on the payload fairing – showed the gecko riding atop the rocket on its way to space. The mascot was named ‘Spike’ and seemed to take on a story all his own, with tweets indicating interest from children in how Spike was doing after launch. With the NRO being such a secretive arm of the United States’ intelligence apparatus, this sort of widespread public interest is a bit out-of-character.

For a recap of today’s launch, be sure to check out the official “highlight reel” from United Launch Alliance embedded below.

 

Countdown progressing for NROL-61 launch

ULA's Atlas V stand ready to launch classified NROL-61 payload. Photo credit: ULA

ULA’s Atlas V stand ready to launch classified NROL-61 payload. Photo credit: ULA

The countdown is progressing towards Thursday’s 8:37 a.m. launch of the classified NROL-61 payload on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Weather remains favorable, with only a 10% chance of violating weather constraint criteria. This will be the third NRO launch of the year, and the sixth launch for ULA.

ULA will begin providing coverage of the launch on their YouTube channel approximately 20 minutes prior to the scheduled launch time.

Favorable forecast for NROL-61

ULA's Atlas V, carrying a classified payload for the NRO, stands at the pad for the NROL-61 mission. Photo credit: ULA

ULA’s Atlas V, carrying a classified payload for the NRO, stands at the pad for the NROL-61 mission. Photo credit: ULA

The weather forecast for the Thursday, July 28, 2016 launch of NROL-61 has improved to 90% favorable. Less than 24 hours out from the anticipated 8:37 a.m. EDT launch time on an Atlas V 421, the forecast gives a 10% chance that conditions will violate weather constraint criteria, with the primary concern being cumulus clouds. Should a delay be necessary, the following day’s forecast remains favorable, though the possibility of violating weather constraints increases to 20%.

United Launch Alliance plans to start coverage at 8:17 a.m. EDT. Visit the United Launch Alliance website for more information.

Classified payload makes its way to the pad

Atlas V, in the 421 configuration, makes its way out to the pad for the NROL-61 mission. Photo credit: ULA

Atlas V, in the 421 configuration, makes its way out to the padfor the NROL-61 mission. Photo credit: ULA

United Launch Alliance has transported the Atlas V 421 out to SLC-41 in preparation for Thursday’s launch of the classified NROL-61 mission. You can read more about this mission in my write-up for SpaceFlight Insider.

Is SLS *finally* getting a proper name?

SLS is begging for a name, NASA. Will it get one?

SLS is begging for a name, NASA. Will it get one? Image credit: NASA, with my commentary added.

A couple months ago, I wrote a piece on my “catch-all” blog imploring NASA to give SLS a fitting name. As I stated there:

“While our nation’s spacefaring endeavors might only be a few decades old, surely we haven’t run out of ‘cool’ names for our rockets. Come on – this is America…WE LANDED PEOPLE ON THE MOON!!!! We can do better than calling it ‘SLS’.

NASA: Names matter. Make it happen.”

Perhaps NASA’s Administrator, Charlie Bolden, read that piece. In an interview on the July 23, 2016, edition of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, Bolden might’ve just let the proverbial cat out of the bag.

Show host Peter Sagal had been engaging Mr. Bolden in a line of conversation, eventually leading up to Sagal asking: “Charlie, I’ve got to ask you, when are we really going to Mars?”

Without missing a beat, Bolden replied [emphasis added]: “We’re going to Mars in the 2030s. So we’ve got the vehicle called – we’re going to name it but right now we call it the Space Launch System. It’s a heavy lift launch vehicle.”

So, it would appear that SLS may, indeed, be getting a name less clinical-sounding and more appropriate for the vehicle meant to carry craft, crew, and robotic explorers far beyond low earth orbit. I sincerely hope so. Good on you, Mr. Bolden. Now…let’s just hope it’s a good name.

Blue Origin successfully tests landing with failed parachute

The New Shepard capsule suspended during post-landing recovery operations. Note the “bumper ring” on the bottom of the capsule. Image credit: Blue Origin

The New Shepard capsule suspended during post-landing recovery operations. Note the “bumper ring” on the bottom of the capsule. Image credit: Blue Origin

Landing with a failed parachute is not a condition a company would normally want their spacecraft to encounter, but that was exactly the scenario Blue Origin planned for the fourth test flight of their New Shepard vehicle last month. After a month of analysis, Blue Origin’s founder, Jeff Bezos, gave the word in an e-mail update that the test was a success.

You can read more in my full write-up at SpaceFlight Insider.