Recently Browsing 0 members
No registered users viewing this page.
TWIRL 12: Remains of Chinese rocket land in sea after space station launch
by Paul Hill
Background image via SpaceX There are a handful of fairly routine rocket launches this week but it’s worth mentioning that the remains of the Long March-5B Y2 carrier rocket, which launched the Chinese Space Station recently, landed in the Indian Ocean luckily missing populated areas. In response to the rocket’s remains falling back to Earth in the uncontrolled manner that they did, the United States government called for “responsible space behaviors.”
Friday, May 14
It’s going to be quiet for most of next week in terms of rocket launches but from Friday we could see up to four launches. On Friday, there is one mission marked with ‘no earlier than’ which means Friday is the earliest time the mission will launch but it could come later. The mission in question will see Virgin Galactic launch its VSS Unity rocketplane carrying several revenue-generating payloads as part of the NASA flight opportunities program.
The possible launch of VSS Unity was mentioned in last week’s edition of TWIRL with a no earlier than launch penned in for May 5. The launch did not go ahead last week and is now due on Friday or later.
Saturday, May 15
On Saturday, there are two missions marked with no earlier than and one more definite launch. The two marked as NET are Northrup Grumman’s TacRL-2 mission, which was mentioned in TWIRL 10, and Rocket Lab’s ‘Running Out of Toes’ mission that will carry two BlackSky satellites into orbit. SpaceX has its Starlink 26 mission marked for Saturday too.
The BlackSky satellites that Rocket Lab aims to launch will be part of a constellation that can capture 1000 images per day in four bands and panchromatic mode at 1-metre resolution. The two satellites going up are newer Block 2.1 satellites which come with increased solar arrays that will deliver more power to the satellite. In all, BlackSky will operate 60 satellites that it will renew every three years.
The SpaceX Starlink 26 mission will carry 60 Starlink satellites into orbit which will join the existing Starlink satellites in beaming internet connectivity to subscribers back on Earth. As a secondary payload, there will be two Capella Space satellites aboard too.
SpaceX Starlink 25
Originally scheduled for a launch last Tuesday, SpaceX finally managed to launch its Starlink 25 mission earlier today. The recorded stream is now available to watch below:
SpaceX's Starship performs successful soft landing for the first time [Update]
by Paul Hill
SpaceX has successfully landed its Starship craft that it plans to use to fly astronauts to the Moon later in the decade. The Starship SN15 which flew on this test is the first Starship craft to make a successful soft landing after descending from an altitude of 10 km. Previous tests all saw the various Starship iterations blow up at landing and had varying degrees of success.
The launch today took off around 5:24 p.m. CDT (10:24 p.m. UTC) from Boca Chica in Texas. The main goal of the mission was to perform a successful soft landing which SpaceX did manage to pull off. With all that said, a fire did break out near the base of the ship and it was promptly doused with water before it eventually went out. SpaceX will definitely need to get this sorted out in future missions as fires can cause an explosion, as happened with Starship SN10 back in March.
Following the landing of Starship, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk took to what is presumably his favourite social media site, Twitter, to report that Starship’s landing was nominal – in other words, everything went to plan.
At the end of April, Reuters reported that the Federal Aviation Administration had authorised three launches of Starship – the one that just occurred, SN15; SN16; and SN17. It’s not clear yet when the next two launches are going to take off but we should see them in a relatively short time. We’ll be watching to see whether SpaceX truly has perfected the landing and whether it can stop fires from breaking out on the landing pad.
Update: Elon Musk has said that SpaceX may try to re-fly Starship SN15, following its successful landing.
TWIRL 11: SpaceX to launch 60 Starlink satellites and maybe Starship SN15
by Paul Hill
Background image via SpaceX We’ve got a pretty quiet week in terms of rocket launches this week. SpaceX will try to launch its Starlink 25 mission, we may see Virgin Galactic launch its VSS Unity rocketplane, and a Long March rocket will put three satellites into orbit to carry out possible SIGINT work. We may also see SpaceX launch its Starship SN15 this week as a launch was scrubbed on Friday.
Tuesday, May 4
On Tuesday, we’ve got just one launch from SpaceX who will be launching its Starlink 25 mission. This mission will send 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit where they’ll beam internet connectivity back down to the planet. The satellites will be taken into space atop SpaceX’s trusty Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket which has reliably sent hundreds of Starlink satellites to space. If you’d like to watch the launch, head over to SpaceX’s website at 7:01 p.m. UTC on Tuesday.
Wednesday, May 5
May 5 will be the first date that we could see the launch of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo-class VSS Unity. It’s really important to point out that this launch is marked as no earlier than which means the launch could take place after Wednesday. If the flight does go ahead, VSS Unity will launch from a VMS EVE carrier aircraft and fly to the edge of space. It will carry payloads as part of the NASA flight opportunities program that will generate revenue for Virgin Galactic.
Friday, May 7
The final flight of the week will launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China. A Long March CZ-2C rocket will launch three satellites that have been designated as Yaogan 30 Group 08. The satellites will perform electromagnetic detection and perform other technical tests but to what ends is unknown. It’s speculated that the satellites could be being used for signals intelligence work. No live stream will show this launch but post-launch videos could appear on YouTube afterwards.
We could see SpaceX launch its Starship SN15 from Monday onwards following its flight last Friday that was scrubbed due to bad weather. SpaceX has still not performed a smooth landing of a Starship vehicle to date but NASA recently selected SpaceX’s Starship to land the next Americans on the Moon; this should motivate the firm to nail the landing process.
NASA Crew-1 Dragon set to return to Earth with Saturday splashdown
by Paul Hill
The American space agency NASA has announced that it will be live streaming the return to Earth for the NASA SpaceX Crew-1 mission from the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi are set to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 11:36 a.m. EDT on Saturday, May 1.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft which will be returning the astronauts is dubbed Resilience and will undock from the ISS at 5:55 p.m. following the hatch closure at 3:50 p.m. NASA TV will stream the hatch closure from 3:30 p.m. and the undocking from 5:30 p.m. It will then provide continuous coverage until the following morning when the craft finally lands back in the gulf. Following the return, NASA will hold a news conference from the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston at 1:30 p.m. You can find the NASA TV stream on the agency’s website.
According to NASA, the undocking and splashdown were originally slated for Wednesday, April 28, but due to weather conditions expected in the splashdown zones, the return has been delayed. The agency and its commercial partner SpaceX will continue to monitor the weather forecasts to ensure that the return can still go ahead on Friday night.
There are currently 11 people on the space station which is several more than we usually see up there at any one time. This is because the SpaceX vehicles take four astronauts up at a time rather than the three that Soyuz vehicles are able to carry and the arrival of two crews in quick succession. The latest crew arrived at the ISS on April 21 aboard the Crew-2 Dragon.
TWIRL 10: Chinese Space Station module Tianhe set for launch
by Paul Hill
It’s set to be a jam-packed week of rocket launches with launches scheduled every day except on Friday and Sunday. One of the most important launches this week will be of the Tianhe (Harmony of the heavens) module of the Chinese Space Station which will sit in a low Earth orbit (LEO). It’s expected that the first three taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) will arrive at the station as soon as June 2021.
Monday, April 26
The first launch of the week will be conducted by United Launch Alliance (Lockheed, Boeing) which will launch classified spy satellite cargo for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office atop a huge Delta IV Heavy rocket, the mission is called NROL-82. The payload is allegedly an electro-optical digital imaging Keyhole satellite (KH-11) dubbed Crystal 18 and has a ground resolution of up to 15 cm.
The launch will be shown on the United Launch Alliance website at 8:46 p.m. UTC.
To learn more about the flight itself, check out this ULA video about NROL-82:
Tuesday, April 27
On Tuesday, a Chinese Long March CZ-6 is expected to take off from Launch Complex 16 at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center at around 3:20 a.m. UTC carrying several Earth observation satellites including Qilu 1 and Qilu 4. We spoke about these satellites in This Week in Rocket Launches #7 explaining that they’re used for remote sensing radar and can produce detailed radar images of the Earth’s surface even if it's cloudy or dark.
Wednesday, April 28
The first mission is expected to launch at 1:50 a.m. UTC from Carbet Toukan, French Guiana. The mission is called VV18 and will see an Arianespace Vega rocket take the Pleiades Neo 3 and NORSAT 3 satellites into orbit. Pleiades Neo 3 is the first, not the third, Pleiades satellite to be orbited and will be joined by three more satellites later on. The very high-resolution Earth observation satellites will be able to capture images with 30 cm ground resolution. According to Arianespace, Pleiades Neo 4 will be orbited in the following Vega flight. You should be able to find a live stream of the launch on Arianespace’s YouTube channel closer to the time of launch.
The second launch of the day comes from SpaceX which is launching another batch of 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. The mission is called Starlink 24 and is set to launch at 4:05 a.m. UTC. There are already lots of Starlink satellites beaming internet connectivity back down to Earth but SpaceX is looking to eventually build the constellation to the point where there will be 30,000 satellites in orbit. You can watch the live stream on SpaceX’s website at the time of launch.
Thursday, April 29
There is only one launch scheduled for Thursday but it’s definitely the most exciting of the lot. The Chinese National Space Agency will be launching a Long March CZ-5B rocket carrying the first module of the Chinese Space Station (CSS) called Tianhe into a low Earth orbit at 3:18 a.m. UTC from Pad 101 at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center.
The Tianhe module will be joined at a later date by the Mengtian and Wentian modules as well as a robotic arm and a free-flying, dockable space telescope called Xuntian. The first three taikonauts to arrive at the CSS are expected to arrive by as soon as June and will push up the total number of people in space at any one time.
With the launch coming from China, it probably won’t be streamed live but there should be some clips from the launch posted online shortly after a successful launch.
Image via China Manned Space Saturday, May 1
Saturday’s flights are all marked as no earlier than which means none of them may take off. Some of the interesting flights listed include the Starlink 25 mission which will see 60 more Starlink satellites orbited, a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket could deploy the TacRL-2 mission as part of Space Force’s Tactically Responsive Launch program, and Virgin Galactic could carry out a test flight of its SpaceShipTwo rocket-plane carrying several commercial payloads. If previous weeks are anything to go by, we will likely look at these missions in a bit more depth in future TWIRL instalments.
We got some interesting news on the space front last week. For the first time, NASA flew a helicopter on the surface of another celestial body and NASA and SpaceX carried out the second successful Crew Dragon mission carrying astronauts to the space station. There are currently 11 people residing on the ISS for the next couple of days which is most likely a record for the number of people on the ISS at any one time.