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TWIRL 8: Starship SN15 undergoing tests ready for launch
by Paul Hill
Background image via SpaceX There’s not too much going on with rocket launches this week, SpaceX is going to be performing tests ready for the launch of its SN15 Starship and Blue Origin could finally launch New Shepard NS-15 which has been delayed for the last few weeks. If you read last week’s TWIRL article you might remember that a crewed mission was due to go to the ISS; the mission was successful and there are currently 10 people residing on the space station which is quite a lot of people to be in space at once.
Wednesday, April 14
Wednesday will be the first day that Blue Origin could launch its New Shepard NS-15 mission. A major caveat with this mission is that it’s marked as No Earlier Than which just means we won’t see any launch attempts before this date. The crew capsule has been upgraded for this flight to better suit the needs of astronauts that will be aboard for future missions. The crew will be involved in this mission but only to practice coming aboard and leaving the rocket again. The first crewed New Shepard mission will be NS-16.
When Blue Origin does finally go ahead with the launch, it will be live-streamed on its website and a replay will be available afterwards.
Thursday, April 15
The second and final launch of the week has also been discussed in previous editions of This Week in Rocket Launches (TWIRL). The launch will be performed by ExPace, a Chinese firm, which will launch a Kuaizhou KZ-1A rocket carrying the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite which is also known as Jilin 28. It will join the Jilin 1 Earth observation constellation and take full-colour images from a 535 km altitude with a resolution better than 0.75 metres.
This mission is also marked with No Earlier Than so it could take off at a later date and there probably won’t be a live stream but we may see post-launch footage.
Soyuz MS-18 (mission to the ISS) recap
Starship SN15 status
It isn’t clear yet whether we’ll see a launch of SpaceX’s Starship SN15 this week. SpaceX has been prepping the rocket for some testing expected this week before the firm has another crack at trying to land the rocket. While the firm made significant progress on the landing with SN10, SN11 turned out to be less successful. The Starship rockets will be crucial over the next decade as SpaceX turns to this rocket to conduct its planned missions to Mars.
As always, the SN15 mission will be live-streamed by SpaceX and a replay will be made available after the event on the firm’s YouTube channel.
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).
TWIRL 5: Starship SN11 could launch sometime this week
by Paul Hill
Welcome to the fifth instalment of This Week in Rocket Launches, this week has a packed schedule thanks to a few launch delays and a possible Starship SN11 launch by SpaceX. Glavkosmos will attempt to launch the Korean CAS500 satellite, Rocket Lab could finally launch the BlackSky Global 7 satellite, SpaceX has several missions penciled in, OneWeb wants to launch several internet satellites, India and a Chinese firm are looking at launches too.
The first launches of the week, on Monday, will be from Glavkosmos and possibly Rocket Lab. The Glavkosmos mission will take the Compact Advanced Satellite 500 (CAS500) into orbit along with Astroscale’s ELSA-d debris removal demonstration mission. The launch was scrubbed from last week but hopefully, it can get off the launch pad tomorrow. You can find a live stream on YouTube.
Rocket Lab’s ‘They Go Up So Fast’ mission has been a possibility for several weeks now. The launch could take off early this week from New Zealand but it’s not definite. The mission consists of an Electron rocket launching a BlackSky Global satellite alongside several other satellites. The BlackSky satellite constellation is made up of 1-metre resolution Earth observation microsatellites that are useful for ground observation. If Rocket Lab’s mission goes ahead, you can find a live stream on its website.
Wednesday is the earliest time we’ll see the launch of SpaceX’s Starship SN11, according to the Neowin forums. SpaceX wants to do a static fire test at the start of the week and if all goes according to plan, it can attempt a launch on Wednesday or Thursday. SpaceX was almost able to do a successful landing of its Starship SN10 rocket earlier this month but it ultimately exploded due to a fire. All of the SpaceX flights this week will be live-streamed and shared on the SpaceX website.
On Wednesday, SpaceX will also be trying again with its Falcon 9 B5 rocket to launch a batch of Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. This mission was mentioned in TWIRL 4 but was delayed. As the end goal, SpaceX wants to have 30,000 Starlink satellites in orbit around the Earth to beam internet connectivity down to those in areas that are hard to connect. The firm also has a separate Starlink mission to launch the day after.
On Thursday, India will launch its EOS 3 satellite that is designed to provide continuous remote sensing observations over India from a geostationary orbit. It will be taken into space using India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which has received several modifications that are being used for the first time.
Also on Thursday, China’s state-run ExPace will launch a Kuaizhou KZ-10 rocket with the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite (Jilin 28). The 230kg satellite will be used to take full-colour images from a 535km-high operational orbit to complement other satellites that are already in orbit as part of the commercial Jilin 1 constellation.
The final launch of the week will be a Soyuz 2.1b which will carry 36 OneWeb internet communication satellites. The satellites will go into a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 450km. OneWeb, which is now owned by the British government, announced plans earlier in the week to help deliver Wi-Fi to aeroplanes from its satellites; those being launched this week will contribute to connecting those planes to the net.
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.