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Starship SN11 explodes as SpaceX tries low-visibility landing
by Paul Hill
Images via SpaceX The Starship SN11 mission was supposed to be the mission where SpaceX fixed the errors from the Starship SN10 mission and performed a flawless landing, instead, the company went for a landing attempt in low-visibility conditions and the rocket ended up failing for an as yet unconfirmed reason. The official live feed went dead five minutes and 49 seconds into launch but third-party feeds managed to capture the explosion.
According to Elon Musk, it looks as though there were some problems with engine 2 and that "something significant" happened after the landing burn but it's not clear what until more investigations have been carried out.
SN11 was the firm’s fourth attempt at landing the rocket after flying to an altitude of 10 km. The mission was delayed twice in total, first last Friday and then yesterday. The second delay was caused by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after its inspector was unable to reach the launch site in time.
Had the mission been delayed today, the firm would have had to have waited until Friday before it could get the go-ahead to launch. It also had several hours left today before the launch window closed so it could have waited to see whether the fog cleared but ultimately it decided to take the risk of launching. SpaceX had concerns that if it had waited, winds could have picked up making a launch unviable.
It’s unclear when SpaceX will be conducting its next Starship launch but we should probably expect it in the next few weeks if the previous launches are anything to go by. The firm really does need to nail the landing process soon as it wants to try out the rocket on orbital and lunar flights in the coming months and years. Be sure to follow This Week in Rocket Launches for any updates on the Starship-front.
TWIRL 6: Blue Origin prepares for a human space flight
by Paul Hill
Welcome to This Week in Rocket Launches 6, it looks set to be a bit of an interesting week with Blue Origin planning to launch its New Shepard NS-15 mission which will prep the firm for a crewed flight next time around. We’ve also got launches from SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Roscosmos, China, and ExPace which will re-attempt a mission originally slated for last week.
Monday, March 29
The first rocket we could see take off this week is ExPace’s Kuaizhou KZ-1A carrying the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite that will join the Jilin 1 Earth observation constellation. The payload, also known as Jilin 28, is a 230 kg satellite that will be used to take photos of Earth from 535 km. The launch of this rocket is not set in stone but it could go up from Monday.
SpaceX is also looking to carry out its Starship SN11 mission on Monday. The firm was aiming for a launch last Friday but it was ultimately scrubbed. Similarly to the last two test flights, SN11 will fly to 10 km before attempting to land. During the SN10 mission, Starship did land but it also managed to catch fire which caused the ship's destruction several minutes later. The SN11 mission will be streamed by SpaceX on its YouTube channel when Starship is ready to launch.
Thursday, April 1
The first rocket that we could see launch on Thursday is Rocket Lab’s Electron. As part of its STP-27RM mission, Rocket Lab will launch an experimental payload for the U.S. Air Force. The Payload is a space weather instrument called Monolith and is part of the Space Test Program. It will demonstrate the ability of small satellites to support large aperture payloads. While the mission is eligible for launch on Thursday, it could launch later.
Another mission that will take off from Thursday is the New Shepard NS-15. Blue Origin, who makes New Shepard, is the firm owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. It will be using a booster rocket called Tail 4 which itself comes equipped with an improved BE-3PM engine. The CC 2.0-2 RSS First Step capsule has been upgraded for astronauts who will also come aboard and then leave again before the rocket launch – this will prepare them for NS-16 which will be a crewed mission. You’ll be able to find a stream of the event here. As with the other launches so far, this mission is also marked with a No Earlier Than (NET) tag so it may happen after Thursday. Below is a video from the NS-14 mission:
The final launch on Thursday will come from Roscosmos who is launching a Soyuz 2.1b with the 4th Resurs-P satellite. The Resurs-P series of satellites are Earth observation satellites that are used by several Russian governmental agencies including Russia’s meteorological agency. The launch was delayed from November 2019 and November 2020.
Friday, April 2
The final launch of the week will come from China. The Long March CZ-4C will carry the Gaofen 12-02 remote sensing satellite which will perform high-res Earth observation. The satellite has a sub-meter level resolution which is suited for urban planning, crop yield estimation, and disaster prevention. The mission is being launched for the China High-definition Earth Observation System (CHEOS).
NASA's SLS' core stage to undergo final Green Run test
by Paul Hill
NASA has announced that its Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket designed to send astronauts to the Moon, will undergo its final Green Run series test this week on Thursday. The space agency said that the two-hour testing window will open at 3 p.m. EDT on March 18 and plans to begin streaming the event 30 minutes before the test on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.
In this eighth and final Green Run test, engineers will power up all of the core stage systems and fire the rocket’s four RS-25 engines to simulate the stage’s operation during launch. The engines will burn 700,000 gallons of supercold cryogenic propellant and generate 1.6 million pounds of thrust.
Two hours after the test, NASA will hold a briefing on NASA TV where it will be able to explain whether everything went smoothly and will answer media questions by phone. Once this test is complete, NASA will be assured that the core stage of the SLS rocket is ready for the Artemis missions to the Moon, marking a major milestone.
The core stage of the rocket is a very important part of the rocket; it includes a liquid hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank, four RS-25 engines, computers, electronics, and avionics, which NASA explains, acts as the brains of the SLS.
The Artemis I mission, which will use the SLS rocket, is planned for November this year. It is an uncrewed test flight and will be the first to integrate the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the Space Launch System. This will then pave the way for two planned Artemis missions and a further six proposed missions - all of which will be crewed.
TWIRL 4: Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket set for maiden flight
by Paul Hill
In the coming week, it's expected that there will be around five rocket launches from the likes of Firefly Aerospace, SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and Glavkosmos. The most interesting launch will be that of the Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket which is making its maiden flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which we have been saying will launch for the last two weeks, still hasn’t launched yet but could do on Monday.
Firefly Alpha The first launch of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket will be carrying commercial payloads for Benchmark Space Systems and AstroGrams. The mission will also deploy a Spinnaker 3 dragsail prototype. In its first launch, the Alpha rocket will carry several projects from the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM) programme which gives students and small companies a way to put their payloads in space.
The rocket has been delayed several times since late 2019 so hopefully, it can perform the flight on Monday as planned. If it does get it off the ground it will fly a ‘dogleg’ inclination which is considered to be a safer option, protecting those near to the base, at the expense of more fuel being used.
Also on Monday, Rocket Lab could launch its Electron rocket carrying the Blacksky Global 7 satellite and SpaceX is expected to send up a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket carrying the SXM 8 radio broadcasting satellite for SiriusXM’s digital audio radio service (DARS). The SXM 8 will carry a large unfurlable antenna reflector which permits radio broadcasts to be sent back down to Earth without the need for a large dish receiver on the ground. It will be replacing the XM 4 satellite and has a lifespan of 15 years.
On Saturday next week, another Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket will take off, this time carrying 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. Whereas Rocket Lab has been continually delaying its latest planned launch, SpaceX is in fact bringing this launch forward. It was initially planned to take place sometime in the second quarter.
The final launch of the week comes from Glavkosmos, a Roscosmos subsidiary, which is flying a Soyuz 2.1a rocket with a Fregat upper stage carrying two Korean CAS500 (Compact Advanced Satellite 500) satellites. These are designed for the observation of Earth and were built by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute. The Soyuz rocket will also be taking several other satellites into orbit as well as Astroscale’s ELSA-d active debris removal demo mission.
Finally, SpaceX’s Starship SN11 could launch soon but we do not know when. If you’d like to follow all the latest developments on this front, be sure to check out the Neowin forum thread which is updated regularly by the Neowin community.
TWIRL 3: Rocket Lab to attempt launch of delayed mission
by Paul Hill
Last week was quite good for SpaceX with it almost successfully landing its Starship rocket during a test, unfortunately, it caught fire and exploded on the pad. Rocket Lab also had to delay its “They Go Up So Fast” mission which we covered in This Week in Rocket Launches #2 but will make another go of it this week.
Aside from Rocket Lab’s mission to put several satellites into orbit, there will be two SpaceX launches carrying more satellites for the Starlink constellation as well as a Chinese mission carrying an experimental satellite called Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 which replaces a satellite that was lost last year.
Rocket Lab’s launch will be performed by one of its Electron rockets, it will carry the Blacksky Global satellite and several CubeSats named Centauri 3, Gunsmoke-J, M2 (A/B), Myriota 7, and Veery Hatchling. Electron rockets are very light, weighing in at just 12,500 kg; this is probably where the inspiration for the name of the mission came from. The launch will be live-streamed on the company’s website on or around Wednesday if the launch goes ahead.
On Wednesday and Saturday, SpaceX will launch Falcon 9 rockets, both carrying 60 Starlink satellites. Internally, the missions are known as Starlink V1.0-L20 and Starlink V1.0-L21 respectively and the total payload mass weighs in at 15.6 tonnes with each satellite weighing 260 kg. There are 1141 Starlink satellites in orbit but the firm plans to orbit nearer 10,000 satellites eventually before ramping the number up above 30,000 so we’ll see these launches for a long time. To watch these launches, check out SpaceX’s YouTube channel which will carry recordings if you miss the live events.
Before SpaceX’s second launch, China will send up its Long March CZ-7A carrying the Xin Jishu Yanzheng 6 satellite. The satellite is experimental and a part of a series of demonstration missions being carried out by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA). As is typical with Chinese launches, video and photos of the launch will appear online following the launch but there likely will be no live stream.
There are plenty more rocket launches every week for the remainder of the month so be sure to look out for next week’s This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL).