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TWIRL 34: William Shatner prepares himself to go to space for real [Update]
by Paul Hill
It has not been long since the last crew to the Chinese Space Station returned to Earth but now three more taikonauts are preparing to go aboard. Also this week, NASA is launching its Lucy spacecraft to visit some of Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids and Blue Origin will be launching its second crewed New Shepard mission which will be carrying William Shatner, famous for playing Captain Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series, among others.
Tuesday, October 12
The first launch of the week will come on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. UTC. Blue Origin will launch its New Shepard suborbital rocket from the West Texas suborbital Launch Site. It’s the second crewed mission that the rocket will perform and its crew will consist of William Shatner, Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries and Audrey Powers. As the craft is only capable of suborbital flights so their mission to space will be quite brief but they will experience low gravity.
Thursday, October 14
At 9:40 a.m. UTC a Soyuz 2.1b rocket carrying OneWeb internet satellites will take off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. There will be 36 satellites aboard which will work in conjunction with the rest of the OneWeb constellation. OneWeb beams internet back down to Earth helping customers get online in hard to connect areas.
Friday, October 15
At 4:24 p.m. UTC, China will launch a Long March rocket carrying Shenzhou 13 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Aboard will be three taikonauts, Zhai Zhigang (the first Chinese citizen to perform a spacewalk), Wang Yaping (the second Chinese woman in space) and Ye Guangfu. This is China’s eighth crewed space mission and the second to the Chinese Space Station since it began operations earlier this year. For a couple of days, the number of people in space will reach 12, which is higher than average.
Saturday, October 16
The final launch of the week will be exciting; an Atlas V rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral carrying NASA’s Lucy spacecraft which will head out past Mars, past the Asteroid Belt out to Jupiter where it will explore the gas giant’s Trojan asteroids. These asteroids orbit the Sun in front of and behind Jupiter and are quite unique making them of interest to the space agency. The mission will last about 12 years.
The craft was named Lucy after a hominin skeleton because these Trojan asteroids could be the ‘fossils of planet formation’ that give us a better understanding of how our and other star systems develop.
The only launch last week was the Soyuz rocket carrying an all-Russian crew to the International Space Station. You can see the launch below.
The crew also docked with the ISS, you can see footage below.
Update: Shatner's flight has now been delayed due to winds and will instead launch on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. UTC.
TWIRL 32: NASA preparing to launch Landsat 9 to observe Earth
by Paul Hill
We have several launches coming up over the next week. All of the missions on the schedule this week are satellite launches and among them the most interesting is NASA’s Landsat 9, an Earth observation satellite. The Landsat program currently has two satellites in orbit, Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 which launched in 1999 and 2013 respectively. The Landsat program itself has been up and running since July 1972.
Monday, September 27
The first launch of the week is ExPace’s Kuaizhou KZ-1A rocket carrying the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite to Earth orbit. The launch is scheduled to take off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 6:17 a.m. UTC. If you remember us covering this launch before, it’s because we have; this year, it has been pushed back from March, April, and September 25. It will take full-colour images with a resolution of 0.76 metres over 40 kilometres.
The second launch of the day also take place in China but this time at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The launch of the Long March CZ-3B/E Is scheduled for an 8:15 a.m. UTC launch but it’s not clear what payload will be aboard. It’s rumoured that it could be launching a new generation of BeiDou (navigation) satellite.
The third launch of the day takes place at 6:11 p.m. UTC from Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Complex 3. An Atlas V 401 rocket will carry the Landsat 9 satellite and several CubeSats into orbit. As mentioned earlier, the Landsat program started in 1972 and has tracked the growth of cities over that time, the changing climate, and how land is used for agriculture and infrastructure.
The Landsat 9 satellite will be put into a polar orbit 705 kilometres above the Earth where it will survey the planet every 16 days. Images will cover 185km and each pixel will be 30 metres across. The satellite has been designed to last for five years but actually has enough fuel for the mission to go on for a decade or more.
Friday, October 1
The final mission of the week will take off from Uchinoura Space Center in Japan. An Epsilon rocket will be carrying the RAISE 2 satellite and several MicroSats. RAISE 2 is a demonstration satellite used for testing new technology in space. Among the MicroSats is the Debris Removal Unprecedented Micro-Satellite which will demonstrate technologies that future satellites need to remove the growing amount of space debris from orbit.
The exciting launch last week was that of the Tianzhou-3 module which was going to join on to the Chinese Space Station making station larger. The mission went ahead without a hitch, here’s the launch.
And here’s the Tianzhou-3 docking.
While three launches were scheduled last week, it looks like the Tianzhou-3 mission was the only one to get off the ground, so that’s all for this week’s recap.
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.
TWIRL 25: SpaceX getting closer to Starship orbital mission
by Paul Hill
Before we get onto next weeks launches, it's worth mentioning that SpaceX just took another big step with its Starship rocket yesterday. While no launches were performed as we’ve seen in the last couple of months, the company did finally stack the upper stage, called Starship, to the lower stage dubbed Super Heavy.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted images of the rocket at various stages throughout the stacking process and none of them really allow you to appreciate just how tall the rocket stands. Once stacked, Starship stands at around 120 metres which is taller than the 111 metre Saturn V rocket which NASA used to send men to the Moon decades ago.
Tuesday, August 10
This week, there are just two launches. The first takes place on Tuesday at 9:56 p.m. UTC from Wallops Island, Virginia. A Northrop Grumman Antares 230+ will launch a Cygnus spacecraft, once in space, Cygnus, which will be carrying operational cargo, will make its way to the International Space Station. The launch should be available on NASA’s YouTube livestream.
Thursday, August 12
The second and final launch of the week is the GSLV Mk.II rocket carrying Earth Observation Satellite 3 (EOS 3) into orbit. We have mentioned this mission several times in the past but it has suffered several delays. The satellites will be in geostationary orbit over the Indian subcontinent and will monitor natural hazards and disasters that will be able to assist government responses to incidents. You can learn more about the mission over on the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) website.
Last week were expecting United Launch Alliance to send up the Starliner spacecraft but this launch was delayed even though the rocket was put in place on the launchpad.
A Long March 6 rocket delivering two KL microsats into orbit for the Shanghai Engineering Center was also launched. These geostationary satellites will help test laser communications, electric thruster technology, and new interference suppression technology for Ka-band mobile communication satellites.
A Long March 3B successfully launched the Zhongxing 2E satellite which will be used for military communications.
Finally, NASA performed another test of the Space Launch System’s RS-25 engine.
Jeff Bezos gives NASA an offer it can't refuse to win the moon mission contract
by Chandrakant Isi
In Godfather-like fashion, billionaire Jeff Bezos has made NASA an offer it can't refuse. In a bid to secure a manned lunar lander mission for Blue Origin, its Founder who also happens to be the wealthiest man on the planet has offered to waive $2 billion of payments.
For those not in the know, this is a reaction to NASA's decision to award a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract to Elon Musk's SpaceX. Blue Origin has already managed to put this program on hold by filing a complaint with the Government Accountability Office (GOA) claiming favorable treatment to SpaceX.
In a letter to NASA's Administrator, Bill Nelson, Bezos emphasizes how "meaningful competition" is crucial to take the Americans back to the moon, perhaps making you wonder how he feels about Amazon's monopoly in e-commerce. Bezos highlights that in April, only SpaceX was given a chance to revise their pricing, which led to their selection. The billionaire called it a "mistake" but stated it is "not too late to remedy".
As a solution, Bezos has offered to waive payments of up to $2 billion. Mind you, it is not like Amazon Buy Now, Pay Later scheme. As mentioned in the letter, it is an outright and permanent waiver of those payments. Blue Origin is willing to accept a fixed-price contract and will take care of any cost overruns.
Bezos believes that his offer takes care of "NASA's near term budgetary issues". As a result, the space agency can now afford to go ahead with the "dual-source" strategy for the Artemis program.
NASA and Bezos' rival billionaire Elon Musk, have not yet commented on this offer. It will be interesting to see if $2 billion are enough to influence a decision at the most prolific space agency in the world.