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TWIRL 13: ULA to orbit missile early warning satellite
by Paul Hill
Background image via ULA The upcoming week in rocket launches promises to be fairly routine, that said, there are two particularly interesting missions. On Monday, the United Launch Alliance will orbit a U.S. military satellite that is designed to provide early warning of a missile launch and on Thursday, a Chinese Long March rocket will orbit the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft which will dock with the Tianhe module of the Chinese Space Station.
Monday, May 17
As mentioned, the United Launch Alliance is set to launch one of its Atlas V rockets (AV-091) into space carrying the U.S. military’s fifth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous (SBIRS GEO 5) satellite which has been designed for missile early warning detection. Secondary payloads going up on this launch include Technology Demonstration Orbiter 3 (TDO-3) and four CubeSats. You can find the live stream on YouTube.
Tuesday, May 18
The second launch of the week takes place on Tuesday. A Chinese Long March CZ-4B rocket will launch an ocean observation satellite called Haiyang 2D into orbit. It will use sensors to detect sea surface wind fields, sea surface height, and the temperature of the sea’s surface. As with most Chinese launches, you should not expect a live stream of this event but footage of the launch will likely surface on YouTube after the event.
Thursday, May 19
No more launches are pencilled in this week after Thursday. The first of the two launches is marked as ‘no earlier than’ and we’ve mentioned it on previous editions of TWIRL simply meaning it hasn’t launched yet. It consists of the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket carrying the TacRL-2 mission into orbit. This mission is part of the U.S. Space Force’s Tactically Responsive Launch program and is intended as a technology demonstration.
The second launch scheduled for Thursday is that of the Long March CZ-7 carrying the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft. Once in orbit, Tianzhou-2 will dock with the Tianhe module of the Chinese Space Station (CSS) which itself was only orbited a few weeks ago. The Tianzhou-2 can carry up to 6.5 tonnes of cargo as well as two tonnes of propellant. Cargo missions to the CSS might become more frequent in future as China looks to send Taikonauts to live on the station.
It was announced yesterday by China that it has successfully landed its Zhurong Mars rover at Utopia Planitia. It’s the first Mars rover from a country other than the United States to land successfully and marks a big leap for the Chinese space programme.
China successfully lands its Zhurong Mars rover
by Paul Hill
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has successfully landed its Zhurong rover on the Martian surface, according to a report from BBC News. During its 90 Sol mission at Utopia Planitia in the northern hemisphere, Zhurong will study Martian geology using a laser tool that can assess a rock’s chemistry and search for sub-surface water-ice.
While China and the United States may be squabbling over 5G, NASA had much more cordial words for China with regards to its landing. Thomas Zurbuchen, head of science at NASA, said:
According to Xinhua, the Zhurong rover touched down on the Martian surface on Saturday at 7:18 a.m. Beijing Time. The landing was all pre-programmed by CNSA due to the communication time lag between the Earth and Mars. To establish the success of the mission, the rover unfurled its solar panels and antenna and sent a signal back to Earth to indicate that it had survived the landing – this process took over an hour and included the Mars to Earth delay of 17 minutes.
With the successful landing, China becomes the second country in the world to land a rover on the Martian surface. Since the 1960s, only half of the 40 Mars missions have succeeded and this rate drops further when it comes to landing on the surface of the planet. The last few weeks have been very good for China’s space ambitions; a few weeks ago, it launched its space station which will eventually be manned by taikonauts.
SpaceX and Google Cloud join hands for Starlink internet connectivity
by Subir Kathuria
Google and SpaceX today announced that they have entered into a partnership that will allow Starlink to install terminals at Google’s cloud data centers around the world starting with the first one at New Albany, Ohio in a deal that could last seven years, according to people familiar with the matter.
Google said that the combined benefits of the partnership, which include secure data delivery to remote areas of the world, will be available to customers by the end of 2021. The Starlink satellite internet will rely on Google’s private fiber-optic network to quickly make connections to cloud services and deliver applications and data to customers.
This type of deal is a win-win for Google who is locked in a fierce battle with both Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud computing market. While Google’s cloud business grew 46%, Amazon's Web Services posted 32% revenue growth in the first quarter and Microsoft Azure which is under the “Intelligent Cloud” business grew by 23%. “Applications and services running in the cloud can be transformative for organizations, whether they’re operating in a highly networked or remote environment,” Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of infrastructure at Google Cloud, said in the press release.
As for SpaceX, it is in a race with Amazon's budding Kuiper Project which aims to launch more than 3,000 satellites in roughly the same orbit as Starlink to also provide global broadband internet.
Commenting on the partnership, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said:
SpaceX has more than 1,500 satellites currently in orbit. A Starlink beta program started last year has at least 500,000 deposits of $99 placed by potential customers of the service across the US, Canada, and a few European countries.
Source: Google via The Verge & CNBC | Image credit: Cobrt-Archive
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.