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TWIRL 9: SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon to take astronauts to ISS, NASA to try Mars Helicopter
by Paul Hill
Background image by NASA This week is panning out to be quite dramatic with NASA set to test its Mars Helicopter and SpaceX taking astronauts to the ISS on its Crew Dragon spacecraft. In addition to those events, SpaceX is also expected to launch the Starship SN-15 mission which will see the firm attempt to land the craft following NASA’s decision to pick Starship as the human landing system for its missions to the Moon from 2024.
Monday, April 19
There are no rocket launches listed for Monday, however, Elon Musk did put out a tweet explaining that SpaceX is aiming to launch Starship SN-15 this week, therefore, Monday is the earliest time we will see the launch. This is the first Starship launch since NASA chose the vehicle for its human landing system on the Artemis missions so SpaceX should have a bit more motivation to get the landing right this time around.
While this series is called This Week in Rocket Launches, it’s probably worth mentioning that NASA is looking to fly the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from Monday at 3:30 a.m. EDT (12:30 a.m. PDT). Data from the autonomous flight will take time to get back to Earth and a live stream is due to start at 6:15 a.m. EDT (3:15 a.m. PDT). If the flight takes place, NASA will hold a briefing at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT) to apprise us of how the mission went.
Tuesday, April 20
There’s only one event set for Tuesday and that is ExPace’s planned launch of the Kuaizhou KZ-1A with the Jilin Gaofen 2D satellite (Jilin 28) aboard. We’ve spoken several times about this launch in older issues of TWIRL but briefly, this satellite will capture high-resolution full-colour images from 535 km and will work within the Jilin 1 constellation that’s already in orbit.
Thursday, April 22
Thursday will be one of the most interesting days of the week with SpaceX carrying out the Crew-2 Dragon mission which will carry NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide to the international space station. This Dragon capsule is named Endeavour after the Space Shuttle and was the first of the dragon capsules to carry a crew.
Interestingly, the ISS only got new arrivals two weeks ago so when the four new astronauts arrive there will 11 people on-board which is the highest number that has ever been on the space station at once, though, it’s not the highest number of people that have been in space at one time. Luckily for those on board, four of the astronauts will be departing on the SpaceX Crew-1 on April 28 bringing the ISS crew size to 7.
Sunday, April 25
On Sunday there will be two missions. Roscosmos is looking to launch the Resurs-P 4 satellite from Baikonur atop a Soyuz 2.1b rocket and OneWeb will have 36 of its satellites put into orbit by a Starsem-owned Soyuz 2.1b rocket. The Resurs-P satellite will conduct Earth observation for Russian government agencies while the OneWeb satellites will make up a constellation providing internet for people on Earth and flying in planes.
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.
By Hamza Jawad
Microsoft and HPE collaborate to connect Azure to space
by Hamza Jawad
Earlier today, Microsoft announced the development of its latest U.S. datacenter region centered in the state of Georgia. Last week, meanwhile, the tech giant rolled out Azure Quantum in public preview. Today, Microsoft has unveiled a new team-up with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), with the primary mission of connecting Azure directly to space.
What this means exactly is that by utilizing HPE's upcoming Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2), the Redmond firm is set to deliver Azure workloads on the International Space Station (ISS). This will make it the first time the ISS will be able to leverage both edge computing and AI capabilities together.
With Microsoft Research and Azure Space engineering teams delving in collaboration, new and advanced machine learning models are currently in the process of creation, alongside evaluation of the potential of HPE's processing with hyperscale Azure. The aforementioned models include:
Weather modeling of dust storms to enable future modeling for Mars missions. Plant and hydroponics analysis to support food growth and life sciences in space. Medical imaging using an ultrasound on the ISS to support astronaut healthcare. Notably, the connection between the SBC-2 and Azure will fully leverage the power of the hyperscale cloud to perform hugely complex analysis at the edge, aiming to tackle the challenges in advanced processing.
HPE's Spaceborne Computer-2 is scheduled to launch into orbit for the ISS on February 20. The aforementioned research endeavors will be sponsored by the ISS National Labs for the next two to three years. Microsoft believes that its latest advancement will help push Azure AI and ML to space on a different level than before.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA approves SpaceX and the Crew Dragon for regular crewed missions to the ISS
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA/SpaceX It has been a big year so far for SpaceX. Back in May, its Crew Dragon spacecraft completed its first manned voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). With Elon Musk accrediting Starship as the top priority for the company, the famed project has also picked up pace. So has the Starlink initiative, with its recent expansion to include more beta customers. The firm is also gearing up for Dragon's second manned mission, Crew-1, to the ISS in a few days as well. Amidst all this, it has now finally gained NASA's approval that it has been striving towards with the Commercial Crew program.
The approval came after NASA signed the Human Rating Certification Plan for SpaceX’s crew transportation system yesterday. The signing was completed after conducting a thorough flight readiness review ahead of the agency’s Crew-1 mission, with astronauts onboard, to the space station. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine commended the success of the Commercial Crew Program and the achievements of both companies, stating:
The founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk marked it as an honor and a motivating force in the company's vision to make flights to the Moon and Mars a reality:
This is a milestone for both companies. For SpaceX, this system of the Crew Dragon plus the Falcon 9 rocket along with the associated ground systems is the first to be NASA-certified for regular manned flights since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago. This obviously means that SpaceX's hefty investment in the Commercial Crew program has paid off. For NASA, this is the first time that the agency has certified a commercial spacecraft system in history that is capable of transporting humans to and from the ISS. This directly means that astronauts can regularly make trips to the ISS to and from American soil, which could be a vital step towards commercializing space flights.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA and SpaceX are gearing up for Crew Dragon's second manned voyage to the ISS next month
by Ather Fawaz
SpaceX Crew-1. Image via SpaceX/NASA SpaceX and NASA are preparing to launch the Crew Dragon's second manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) next month. Dubbed Crew-1, the private spaceflight will be ferrying astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi to the space station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Weather permitting and barring unforeseen circumstances, the Crew Dragon will launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:49 PM EST (0049 GMT) on Saturday, November 15.
Although the companies planned to launch this mission back in August initially, they have faced numerous delays. Last week, NASA announced that they were considering a launch window sometime early to mid-November. November 15 falls within that period, and it will be less than six months after the Dragon's first voyage to the ISS back in May this year. The latest delay, NASA stated, was to provide "additional time for SpaceX to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of Falcon 9 first stage engine gas generators observed during a recent non-NASA mission launch attempt".
Image via NASA Commercial Crew (Twitter) Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 28, 4 PM EDT, teams managing the Crew-1 mission will hold a media teleconference to get the media and the general public up to speed with what's in store for next month's launch. They will also be discussing results from the recent testing of Falcon 9 Merlin engines that have caused the latest delay. For those interested, you can join the live teleconference here.