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Daily archives "September 6, 2016"

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ULA completes Launch Readiness Review for OSIRIS-REx

OSIRIS-REx mission artwork. Credit: ULA

OSIRIS-REx mission artwork. Credit: ULA

United Launch Alliance (ULA) continues to progress towards Thursday’s launch of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. ULA completed their Launch Readiness Review on Tuesday, September 6, and are currently working no reported issues ahead of the September 8 launch date.

The L-2 forecast currently calls for an 80 percent chance of favorable weather, with the primary concern being cumulus clouds during the nearly 2-hour launch window. Should a 24-hour delay be necessary, the following day’s forecast worsens slightly with a 70 percent chance of favorable weather, with both cumulus and anvil clouds being the primary concerns.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is NASA’s first vehicle designed to return asteroid samples to Earth. Scientists hope to collect at least 60 grams (2.11 ounces) — or as much as 2 kilograms (4.41 pounds) — of material from the asteroid 101955 Bennu, and return it to the Utah Test and Training range in September 2023.

Launching atop a ULA Atlas V rocket in the comparatively rare 411 configuration — 4-meter payload fairing, single solid rocket booster, single-engined Centaur stage —  the 1,529 kilogram (3,371 pound) explorer will conduct a variety of experiments ahead of the sample collection. Once the asteroid’s material has been secured, all science activities will cease as part of a measure to ensure the pristine material isn’t contaminated.

OSIRIS-REx is part of NASA’s highly successful New Frontiers program. Managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, New Frontiers has fielded a couple of notable missions: New Horizons and Juno.

Thursday’s launch window opens at 7:05 pm EDT and extends to 9:00 pm EDT, and will launch from SLC-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Aerojet Rocketdyne conducts successful test of Orion LAS jettison motor

Aerojet Rocketdyne performed a 1.5-second static fire of the jettison motor for the Orion Launch Abort System. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

Aerojet Rocketdyne performed a 1.5-second static fire of the jettison motor for the Orion Launch Abort System. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

On Wednesday, Aug. 31, Aerojet Rocketdyne successfully conducted a full-duration test of the solid-fueled rocket motor designed to jettison the launch abort system and separate it from the Orion spacecraft.

This 1.5-second test took place at the company’s Rancho Cordova, California, facility. It was conducted on the third development motor. The test helped provide performance data for Aerojet Rocketdyne and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin.Aerojet Rocketdyne performed a 1.5-second static fire of the jettison motor for the Orion Launch Abort System. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

“In today’s test, the jettison motor generated more than 45,000 pounds of thrust, which is roughly enough thrust to lift two school buses off the ground,” said Cheryl Rehm, Orion program manager at Aerojet Rocketdyne, in a release issued by the company. “Data from this test will be used to confirm our test objectives and ensure our readiness to begin manufacturing our qualification and production flight motors.”

Not to be confused with the abort motor that pulls the Orion crew vehicle from the launch vehicle, which would only be used in the event of an emergency, the jettison motor is a critical element of every flight.

In a nominal flight profile, the Launch Abort System (LAS) – along with the accompanying aerodynamic shell protecting Orion – will need to be detached from the spacecraft shortly after first stage separation, and it is the job of the jettison motor to accomplish this critical task. Read more in my piece for SpaceFlight Insider.

OPINION: Thoughts on SpaceX after the AMOS-6 incident

Animation of the booster from CRS-8 landing on a drone ship. This is cool, but more effort needs to be expended on making operations more reliable. Landings come later. Much later. Credit: SpaceX

Animated GIF of the booster from CRS-8 landing on a drone ship. This is cool, but more effort needs to be expended on making operations more reliable. Landings come later. Much later. Credit: SpaceX

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ve no doubt heard that SpaceX had a rocket explode on the pad while in the midst of preparing for a brief static fire of the Falcon 9’s (F9) first stage engines. The incident, which occurred on September 1, 2016, is still in the early stages of being investigated and — as of this posting — the company has made no mention of a cause, suspected or otherwise. Regardless of how learned or informed the analysis may be, one must understand that unless and until a statement is made by SpaceX and/or an investigatory panel, all other analysis is conjecture.

I don’t intend to discuss my thoughts on what caused this particular event as I’m not qualified to do so, nor am I privy to any information not otherwise publicly available. That said, I have been following SpaceX since their early days and have some definite thoughts about the company. As stated in the title, this is strictly an opinion piece, though I will be backing up those opinions with facts wherever possible.

I believe that SpaceX has achieved things that many, myself included, thought would be supremely difficult, if not impossible, to pull off. Being able to recover the Falcon 9’s first stage, be it on land or on one of the ‘Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships’ (ASDS), is a remarkable achievement. Combine that with them being the first private company to launch and recover a LEO-capable spacecraft…and ferry supplies to and from the International Space Station (ISS), one would be disingenuous if they didn’t respect SpaceX’s accomplishments.

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