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TWIRL 31: Chinese Space Station set to grow as Taikonauts return to Earth
by Paul Hill
In the upcoming week, China will launch a Long March rocket carrying Tianzhou 3 that will dock with the Tianhe module of the Chinese Space Station. The Tianzhou 3 will be carrying supplies up to the CSS for the next group of astronauts who go there and it will become a permanent fixture of the space station giving astronauts more space to roam around or store items.
Monday, September 20
There will be two launches to start off the week, the first is a Long March CZ-2C carrying three satellites with the designation Yaogan 30 Group 11. This mission, which launches from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, is a little bit secretive. There’s no specific time for the launch and the mission of the satellites is not known, although, it is speculated that they could perform signals intelligence.
The second launch of the day should take off between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. UTC from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center. A Long March CZ-7 will be carrying the Tianzhou 3 which will be itself carrying cargo for use aboard the Chinese Space Station. As mentioned before, this craft will make up part of China's space station allowing astronauts more room to move around. With every new module that joins the Chinese Space Station, the easier it should become to see from Earth too.
Saturday, September 25
The final launch on the schedule is an ExPace Kuaizhou KZ-1A rocket carrying more Jilin Gaofen 2D satellites. These satellites are part of the Jilin 1 Earth observation constellation and perform image captures in full colour at a resolution of 0.76 meters of 40km of surface area. In the end, the constellation will be made up of 138 satellites.
The first launch of the previous week took place on September 14 when a Falcon 9 rocket launched more Starlink satellites into orbit. Everything went to plan and the first stage landed back on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean.
On the same day, a Starsem Soyuz 2.1b launched 34 OneWeb satellites into orbit from Kazakhstan. Like Starlink, OneWeb satellites beam internet back to Earth.
Also this week, we had the launch of the Inspiration4 mission aboard a Falcon 9 rocket topped by a Dragon capsule. The launch went ahead without a hitch and the crew are still orbiting as of Friday, September 17.
Finally, in the early hours of Friday (UTC), the Chinese astronauts came back down to Earth in a capsule slowed down by a parachute.
TWIRL 30: Civilian astronauts set to go to space in Dragon capsule
by Paul Hill
After a boring last two weeks in space launches, this week promises to be a lot more interesting. The main focus is the Inspiration4 Crew Dragon mission set to launch in the very early hours on Thursday (UTC, Wednesday local time) carrying pilot Jared Isaacman and three civilian astronauts; Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski. Unlike Jeff Bezos’ trip to space, the Inspiration4 crew will stay in Earth orbit for several days before coming back to Earth.
Monday, September 13
The first launch of the week will come from SpaceX, which is launching a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket from Vandenberg AFB. The rocket will carry 60 Block 1.5 Starlink satellites that are equipped with laser com terminals. The satellites will join the Starlink constellation and provide internet to subscribers on Earth. This launch should be available on the SpaceX website after it has taken place or as a live stream on its website during the event.
The second launch will be a Long March CZ-2C taking off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It will be carrying two satellites with the designation Yaogan 32 Group 02. It’s unclear what the purpose of the satellites is but they’re reportedly going to perform signals intelligence work. The launch was delayed from September 12 but hopes to launch at 7:45 a.m. UTC on the 13th.
Tuesday, September 14
On Tuesday, the private French-Russian company Starsem will launch a Soyuz 2.1b rocket with a Fregat upper stage carrying 34 OneWeb internet satellites to Earth orbit. This mission was delayed from August 26 and September 9 so, hopefully, the mission will succeed this time. OneWeb is a competitor to SpaceX and has already announced plans to beam internet to commercial flights and the Canadian military.
Thursday, September 16
On Wednesday evening, but Thursday morning (1:01 a.m.) on Universal Coordinated Time, we’ll see a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket take off from Florida carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft containing a crew of four. The Inspiration4 mission will see pilot Jared Isaacman and three civilian astronauts spend about three days in Earth orbit before returning to Earth. Isaacman is joined on the mission by Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski. When the crew comes back to Earth, they will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Canaveral.
Sunday, September 19
The final mission of the week will launch from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. An ExPace Kuaizhou KZ-1A rocket will launch carrying the Jilin Gaofan 2F satellite. It will join the Jilin 1 Earth observation constellation which is run by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Company and is the 20th satellite to join the constellation. It will capture full-colour images down to 0.76 meters over a swath of 40km.
Last Tuesday at 3:01 a.m. UTC, a Long March 4C carrying the second Gaofen 5 satellite launched. It will be using instruments to observe the atmosphere and measure greenhouse gas emissions, trace gases, and more.
On Thursday, a Long March 3B launched the Zhongxing 9B satellite into orbit to replace the Zhongxing 9A satellite. The satellite is used for telecommunication and will help provide radio, TV and other services in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
Also on Thursday, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation launched a Soyuz 2.1v carrying the Kosmos-2551 satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. It will perform Earth observation tasks.
TWIRL 29: China set to dominate launch schedule this week
by Paul Hill
The upcoming week won’t see any really exciting launches, just run-of-the-mill satellite launches. Interestingly, all the launches with a definite launch window will be launching from China. Launch sites seeing action this week include the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, and the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
Monday, September 6
The first launch of the week will see a Long March CZ-4C rocket carry the Gaofen 5-02 hyperspectral Earth-imaging satellite into orbit where it will make up part of the CHEOS constellation. The satellite will be carrying a number of scientific instruments that will allow it to perform atmospheric sensing to measure things like greenhouse gas emissions, trace gases and other atmospheric properties. This mission will launch from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.
Thursday, September 9
The second launch of the week will take place at 11 a.m. UTC from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. A Long March CZ-3B/E rocket will carry the Zhongxing 9B satellite into orbit. The satellite will provide various services such as TV and radio in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The lifespan of the satellite is 15 years and it’ll support or replace the Zhongxing 9A satellite which used too much fuel trying to correct its position.
Sunday, September 12
The final launch of the week is due to take place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. A Long March CZ-2C rocket will be carrying two Yaogan satellites for the military. It’s unclear what the purpose of these satellites is.
Last Sunday, SpaceX’s CRS-23 mission managed to lift off following an earlier aborted launch.
Not long after launch, the CRS-23 Dragon docked with the space station. It was carrying operational cargo for those aboard the ISS.
The other rocket launch this week was Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket which was performing its maiden flight. Unfortunately, the craft exploded not long after launch, destroying the numerous payloads that were aboard. The launch failure was put down to ‘an anomaly’.
NASA is conducting pioneering research into flying taxis
by Paul Hill
NASA has announced that it has begun trials with Joby Aviation’s all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The flight testing is being done under the space agency’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign and will run until September 10 at Joby’s Electric Flight Base near Big Sur, California. The work being done by NASA now could unlock flying taxis as a means of transport in the not-too-distant future.
With these flight tests, NASA is collecting data about the vehicle’s performance and acoustics. This data will be used for modelling and simulation of how this technology could be used on a wide scale in the future and will help to highlight any gaps in the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations. Plugging these regulatory gaps will ensure flying taxis can take to the skies in the years to come.
Commenting on the news, Davis Hackenberg, NASA AAM mission integration manager, said:
As an end result, NASA wants to see AAM providing an efficient and affordable system for passenger and cargo transportation that’s fully compatible with FAA regulations. It would enable applications such as flying taxis, package delivery drones, and medical transport vehicles. NASA said that the testing campaign will run for several years at different locations before aircraft are ready for prime time.
Starlink dishes apparently no match for ... pigeons, but there may be hope
by Sayan Sen
SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet speeds received pretty good marks in Ookla's recent assessment report where the service was compared against fixed broadbands from several places throughout the world. However, while that is indeed praiseworthy, apparently the Starlink terminals or the dishes at users' places are seemingly vulnerable to pigeons, perhaps among other animals, as the birds' interference with the dishes apparently could disrupt the connectivity.
About his newly installed Starlink service, Professor Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at the University of Surrey, told the BBC recently that he "noticed a series of outages - some a second, some longer," despite the performance itself having "actually been very good".
Woodward believes that "pesky pigeons" are responsible for the outages as the creatures "have taken a fancy to sitting on the dish". While the Prof is still looking at the root cause of such glitches, a certain expert has confirmed to the BBC that a
Pigeons indeed love to sit in dishes for some reason or another, a rather common behavior most people have probably observed. And, it seems the current Starlink terminals aren't made in a way to handle such attention. However, that could all change soon.
According to a recent license filing in the FCC, the company seems to be working on a more "high-performance (HP)" "rugged" version of the dishes that are being built for "use in harsh environments". These new "rugged" terminals may be able to handle such nuisances from animals like pigeons, if they are deployed for households too.