Mars Dust Storm and the Stalwart Opportunity

Mars Dust Storm 6/6/2018
(Image Credit: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter)

Owing to the major differences between ostensibly similar planets of Earth and Mars, the red planet is now experiencing a massive dust storm the size of North America. Right in the midst of this maelstrom is the little Opportunity rover, hunkered down as best as it can against the fury of the bringer of war.

What is truly amazing, however, is that the rover is expected to weather the storm with little difficulty, only experiencing a brief suspension of it’s ongoing mission objectives.

The large concerns in a situation like this, of course, are that the solar panels may become covered with too much dust to properly funciton, or that the sun is obscured for too long causing a sharp decline in temperature of the rover. Neither eventuality is expected to slow down the scrappy piece of tech, and NASA appears to be in good shape to claim yet another of the ongoing victories in their rover program.

Reference: cnet

Last Minute News – Falcon 9 to Launch 12:45am EDT 6/4/2018

Official SpaceX SES Mission Patch
(Image Credit: SpaceX)

Well Gazetteers, it’s last minute, but here’s an update that all of us night owls will (probably) get to see the next Falcon 9 launch at 12:45am Eastern, from Cape Canaveral. This mission is to establish the new SES communication satellite in orbit, providing a high level of broadband availability to Asian-Pacific and Middle East regions.

Unfortunately, as reported previously, this is a Block 4 booster, so recovery will not be attempted with this launch. Pretty soon, everything will be Block 5 and we can count on a smooth touchdown on the droneship or mainland pad every time.

Watch the launch here.

Lego Ideas – SpaceX Ultimate Collection

Lego Ideas: SpaceX Set
(Image Credit: Lego)

Here at the Mars Gazette, we are fans of Lego – as are most sentient beings. It is therefore with great delight that we direct your attention to the Lego Ideas line (sets driven by ideas from the fan community) which is currently voting on a tremendous SpaceX set! It comes not only with a Falcon 9, a Falcon heavy and a Dragon Capsule, but also a Roadster and mini-Starman.

Bop on over to the Lego site and cast your free, no obligation vote of support for this set. If they hit 10,000 then there’s a good chance they will produce it!

SpaceX BFR Raptor Engine Test

Raptor Engine
(Image Credit: inverse.com, check out that Shock diamond!)

While other companies (I can’t even call them competitors) are scrambling to catch up to where SpaceX was in February, the incredible pace of development has not ceased, and all systems are go on the new BFR Mars rocket!

The new Raptor engine, which will be used in a 31-engine configuration to power the BFR, has undergone over 1,200 seconds of static firing tests so far, with the longest one running for 100 seconds. For those readers who want some power numbers, the new engine will produce thrust of 1,700 kilonewtons with a specific impulse of 330 seconds at sea level.

   Specific Impulse is a measure of how effectively a rocket uses propellant, ie. the change in momentum delivered per unit of propellant consumed.
 

The first BFR missions are still on track for 2022, when the cargo train to Mars will start to run. That will allow SpaceX to send supplies in advance of manned missions, and I assure you they are developing robots and non-hostile AI to assist with remote construction duties. It’s clear that exciting news of this new venture will be coming out on a near-daily basis, and we will be here to cover it!

References:
inverse.com
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specific_impulse

SpaceX Falcon 9 Next Launch – May 31, 2018

SES-12 Satellite
(Image Credit: SES)

Mark your calendars for the next Falcon 9 launch, currently on the books for May 31st, 2018. The rocket will blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s pad SLC-40 and will be carrying a communications satellite (SES-12) for European telecom giant SES. Current indications are that this will be an older model Block 4 booster which is not planned to be recovered sadly. Pretty soon they will only have Block 5 hardware available and then we will be in the era of major and continuous reuse.

Reference: Space Flight Insider

Falcon 9 Iridium Launch, 5/22/2018 12:47pm PDT

Falcon 9 Iridium Launch
(Image Credit: SpaceX)

Get ready for the next Falcon 9 launch, Tuesday 5/22/2018 at 12:47pm PDT (3:47pm EDT) from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vanderberg Air Force Base in California. This mission will loft NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, an extension of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment which was retired in 2017. These precision instruments are intended to track the movement of water on Earth, and are also able to monitor the planet’s gravitational fields. This data will be used to track the planet’s distribution of mass, and to refine models of the ocean and climate.

Also launching tomorrow are Iridium Satellites 51-55, which are part of the ongoing construction of the 75 satellite Iridium NEXT worldwide network. This advanced network is intended to provide L-band data speeds of up to 128 kbit/s to mobile devices, along with improved service to marine terminals and high-speed Ka-band service. The Ka-band allows for higher bandwidth communication and is often part of modern satellite communication protocols.

The booster for this mission is a Falcon 9 Block 4, which is not intended to be recovered. Pretty soon all missions will be flown with the highly reusable block 5 rockets, which will ensure a landing show every time.

The deploy of this varied cargo turns out to be a pretty interesting challenge for tomorrow’s launch, as it must happen at two very different spots along the voyage. The NASA GRACE-FO mission needs to be deployed at 300 miles of elevation, which is intended to take place midway through the 2nd stage burn, so it seems. The burn will pause at the 305 mile mark, the NASA payload will be deployed, then burn will recommence and continue to a 500 mile elevation for the Iridium hardware. This all sounds like yet another amazing plan and raises the bar once again for what can be done with commercial (and low cost!) rocketry. Hopefully the cams will be working and we will all get a heck of a show!

References:
Iridium Next
express.co.uk
Techcrunch

Space Beer

Vostok Space Beer
(Image Credit: 4 Pines Brewing Company)

For the short history of mankind in space, there has typically been a prohibition on alcohol consumption once you are up there in orbit. Well, more precisely that rule has been applied to American astronauts – I really can’t say about the Cosmonauts except I hope that someone was having a good time up there! The theory of course being that space is a very dangerous place, and it was very expensive to get you up there. As a result, you have to be on your A-game all of the time, conducting important experiments, taking good care of yourself, and not messing up any of the sensitive equipment. Plus due to the outdated methods and equipment still being used to launch goods, it costs about $10,000 per pound to get materials into space. When SpaceX is able to lower that cost (very soon) then firing your case of booze into the heavens with you becomes a lot more doable.

It is a testament to the normalization of space travel that we can now have the conversation about being able to relax in that environment, instead of being a scientist/test pilot/NASA expert 24×7. Granted astronauts in recent times haven’t been all business to a fault, but have made time to show the public the more fun side of space, in an ongoing effort to keep people interested in our future among the stars. One recalls Chris Hadfield and his frequent guitar videos to show us at least a little fun being had while on assignment.

Well, if you want to kick back with a cold one while you listen to Hadfield’s latest live performance, 4 Pines Brewing Company has just the product for you: they have teamed up with Saber Astronautics to create Vostok – The World’s First Beer for Space! They approached this goal as true pioneers and scientists, considering the changes in human physiology effecting alcohol absorption, the challenge of pouring in zero gravity, and even how strange and uncomfortable a beer-burp is up there. I’m just glad that someone is thinking about these things, and it reminds me of the soon-to-be prophetic words from Elon Musk regarding Mars. In his SXSW Q&A, his reply to how we can all help with the space effort was: they will get us there and provide a stable environment where the flowers can bloom, then the entrepreneurs must step up to provide the business and innovation. Small steps like this beer, while seeming perhaps trivial, are actually laying the vital groundwork, critical in allowing basic humanity to exist off of our original home world.

I like to imagine a time in the not-too-distant future where someone will be enjoying the track ‘Space Beer’ by thrash metal stalwarts and beer heroes Tankard, while on the way to the 4th planet with ‘old home’ receding in the background, enjoying a fine Vostok.

NASA – Mars Chopper to Launch July 2020

Marscopter
(Image Credit: NASA)

NASA continues to impress, reminding us all that they were in fact the founder of this feast that we are all enjoying so very much. Just a few days ago they announced plans to send a small, autonomous rotorcraft to Mars, as a passenger on the planned Mars 2020 rover mission.

The main purpose of the chopper is to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet. NASA is also wasting no time in positioning it as a ‘first’, meaning the first nation to fly a craft on another world. That’s fair enough – so let’s get the marscopter there, get it aloft, and start streaming back some excellent images!

SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 – Picture Perfect

Block 5 Landing

Today’s inaugural launch of the new Block 5 model of the Falcon 9 workhorse from SpaceX went off without a hitch, boosting still further the overall confidence in their tight program. What is of greater import, however, is the confidence in the Block 5 booster, which certainly had a strong foundation laid today.

It should be taken as a point of national concern, and may be seen as such over the previous 10 years since the shuttle program was mothballed, that the United States is unable to ourselves launch an astronaut into space, relying instead on leasing space on Russian craft. It must conversely be seen as a point of national pride that SpaceX is poised to return that capability to native soil, and is ready to begin transporting crew, via their Crew Dragon capsule, to a from the International Space Station, requiring only the certification and blessing of NASA to do so. If my figures are correct, this will require 7 successful launches of the new Block 5 model booster, the first of which was handily conducted today.

Let’s keep a careful and excited count of those successful missions, and make sure that NASA is good to their word. SpaceX will have our bravest men and women back on their way to space before you know it!

Media of interest – beautiful shots of the Crew Dragon interior:

And my favorite sizzle reel from March with the big payoff at the end:

SpaceX Block 5 Launch – Try Again on Friday, 4:14pm EDT

Falcon 9 Block 5 Scrubbed
(Image: SpaceX Livestream)

After yesterday’s scrubbed launch at T-0:58 seconds, SpaceX is scheduled for another launch window at 4:14pm EDT this afternoon 5/11/2018. The scrub of yesterday’s launch took place 2 seconds after internal computers took over the countdown and launch prep, so something that the rocket itself saw made it not want to launch. Perhaps it was just too comfortable on the pad – hopefully they gave it a good talking to last night.

Be sure to tune in to the live stream at 4pm for all of the exciting build up!