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NASA successfully flies Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
by Paul Hill
NASA/JPL-Caltech, Ingenuity's first black and white image during flight NASA has announced that it has successfully flown its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on the Red Planet. The event is historical as it’s the first time that humans have performed a powered, controlled flight on another planet.
The flight was controlled by the Ingenuity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The aircraft first flew at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) but due to the data having to travel 178.9 million miles, the confirmation of the flight was not received until 6:46 a.m. EDT (3:46 a.m. PDT).
Commenting on the news, acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said:
According to NASA, the craft flew to a height of 3 meters, hovered for 30 seconds and then touched down on the surface with the total flight lasting just 39.1 seconds. While the agency has received some data already, it is still waiting for other portions to travel across the Deep Space Network. The Martian airfield from where Ingenuity took off has been named Wright Brothers Field by NASA tying today’s event to the Wright Brothers who flew the first aircraft here on Earth in 1903.
Ingenuity is currently on the 16th sol (Martian day) of its 30-sol (31-Earth day) flight test window. NASA said it will continue to receive information on the test flight over the next three sols and then will decide how to conduct a second experimental test flight. It said that no more flights will be conducted before April 22 but it does hope to conduct several more over the craft’s lifetime.
TWIRL 9: SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon to take astronauts to ISS, NASA to try Mars Helicopter
by Paul Hill
Background image by NASA This week is panning out to be quite dramatic with NASA set to test its Mars Helicopter and SpaceX taking astronauts to the ISS on its Crew Dragon spacecraft. In addition to those events, SpaceX is also expected to launch the Starship SN-15 mission which will see the firm attempt to land the craft following NASA’s decision to pick Starship as the human landing system for its missions to the Moon from 2024.
Monday, April 19
There are no rocket launches listed for Monday, however, Elon Musk did put out a tweet explaining that SpaceX is aiming to launch Starship SN-15 this week, therefore, Monday is the earliest time we will see the launch. This is the first Starship launch since NASA chose the vehicle for its human landing system on the Artemis missions so SpaceX should have a bit more motivation to get the landing right this time around.
While this series is called This Week in Rocket Launches, it’s probably worth mentioning that NASA is looking to fly the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from Monday at 3:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 a.m. PDT). Data from the autonomous flight will take time to get back to Earth and a live stream is due to start at 6:15 a.m. EDT (3:15 a.m. PDT). If the flight takes place, NASA will hold a briefing at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT) to apprise us of how the mission went.
Tuesday, April 20
There’s only one event set for Tuesday and that is ExPace’s planned launch of the Kuaizhou KZ-1A with the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite (Jilin 28) aboard. We’ve spoken several times about this launch in older issues of TWIRL but briefly, this satellite will capture high-resolution full-colour images from 535 km and will work within the Jilin 1 constellation that’s already in orbit.
Thursday, April 22
Thursday will be one of the most interesting days of the week with SpaceX carrying out the Crew-2 Dragon mission which will carry NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide to the international space station. This Dragon capsule is named Endeavour after the Space Shuttle and was the first of the dragon capsules to carry a crew.
Interestingly, the ISS only got new arrivals two weeks ago so when the four new astronauts arrive there will 11 people on-board which is the highest number that has ever been on the space station at once, though, it’s not the highest number of people that have been in space at one time. Luckily for those on board, four of the astronauts will be departing on the SpaceX Crew-1 on April 28 bringing the ISS crew size to 7.
Sunday, April 25
On Sunday there will be two missions. Roscosmos is looking to launch the Resurs-P 4 satellite from Baikonur atop a Soyuz 2.1b rocket and OneWeb will have 36 of its satellites put into orbit by a Starsem-owned Soyuz 2.1b rocket. The Resurs-P satellite will conduct Earth observation for Russian government agencies while the OneWeb satellites will make up a constellation providing internet for people on Earth and flying in planes.
NASA chooses SpaceX to land next Americans on the Moon
by Paul Hill
NASA has awarded a $2.89 billion contract to SpaceX to continue developing a commercial human lander that will deliver the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. Under current plans, the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft will take astronauts to Lunar orbit where two of the up to four crew members would transfer to SpaceX’s human lander.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, said:
You’re probably already familiar with SpaceX’s human landing system, it’s the Starship which the firm has recently been smashing into the ground as it attempts to perfect the landing sequence. The latest Starship test is expected next week where it will hopefully achieve a landing with the newfound financial motivation from NASA.
For those wondering whether the private sector can meet the rigorous NASA requirements, the space agency has confirmed that SpaceX has been working closely with NASA experts to ensure the lander design meets NASA’s performance requirements and human spaceflight standards. The standards range from engineering, safety, health, and medical technical areas.
The first mission to the Moon's surface by NASA is its Artemis 3 mission which is expected in 2024 but it could still be delayed. Artemis 3 will be preceded by Artemis 1 expected in November 2021 and Artemis 2 planned for August 2023. Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed lunar orbital test flight while Artemis 2 will send a crewed mission to lunar orbit.
NASA has big plans for the Moon in this decade. It wants to carry out several lunar surface missions and build a space station in orbit around the Moon for easier access to the lunar surface.
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).