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!
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:
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!
(Image Credit: SpaceX) Watch Live – current liftoff target is 5:47pm EDT.
A quick note that the SpaceX Block 5 launch, which we have been tracking and very excited for, is scheduled for 4:12pm EDT this afternoon! It will be launching the Bangabandhu 1 communications satellite for the government of Bangladesh from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The plan is to land this new and improved booster on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” which is stationed in the Atlantic patiently waiting. We hear reports of heavy seas, so hopefully the four diesel powered azimuth thrusters are up to the challenge!
Happening this week, from May 8-10 at the George Washington University in DC, is the Humans to Mars event. Heavy with NASA and Boeing speakers, we also see Josh Brost, Senior Director, Government Business Development at SpaceX on the agenda, who participated in a round-table discussion on May 9th. I am continually excited that the conversation about this next bold step for mankind is intensifying, having tipped over what I hope is critical mass to make sure it actually happens – and quickly. I hope many Gazettians are younger and can look forward to a long lifetime of exciting solar system exploration, but your humble author is no spring chicken! We need to make this happen pretty soon!
After delaying the initial launch estimate of Monday, May 7th while results of the static-fire test conducted on Friday, May 4th were evaluated, SpaceX has just announced today that they plan to fly the new Falcon 9 Block 5 on May 10th. This is a tremendously exciting launch that will begin a new era of the SpaceX company as well as reusable rocketry and human space flight, and if we are all very lucky we will also see Elon begin to name this new batch of rockets!
The successful InSight launch from last weekend has pointed the new NASA Mars lander on the way to Mars, with a scheduled touch-down of November 26 2018. The launch also lofted two little Cubesats into space which are accompanying the main mission, forming a delightful caravan to the red planet. The mission for the Cubesats (MarCO-A and MarCO-B) is to observe the lander as it plummets to the surface of Mars in late November. But more importantly and in a broader sense, the briefcase-sized satellites will help refine our understanding of how to use these compact, affordable and increasingly high-performing devices to further explore our solar system.
Saturday afternoon, 5/5/2018 the first radio signals from the two little Sats were received by NASA, confirming that they are alive and well and in the midst of their new mission. The mission data which is collected during the flight of these two little pioneers should help usher in yet another new era of exploration and discovery of our solar system.
Mark your calendars now – more great Mars data coming soon this December!
Reference: Space.com and their article on the aspects of the mission.
After the negativity of yesterday, this seems like a great time to revisit some positive and exciting scheduled launches for later this week! NASA’s Mars InSight mission is still on schedule to launch at 4:05am Pacific Time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This will make it the first launch to another planet from the West Coast. The fact that we are keeping baseball-like stats on that sort of thing now should make us all very happy.
Here is a NASA page with lots of good info, including links to watch the launch live for anyone who wants to set an alarm. The good news for us night-owls is that the time difference puts this launch at 7:05am Eastern which is downright reasonable!
This launch will come only hours after the first flight of SpaceX’s new Falcon 9 Block 5 model, in theory still scheduled for this Friday at 4pm Eastern from pad 39A at Cape Canaveral. What another great week for space!
(Update) The SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 launch has been pushed to Monday, 5/7/2018 for an afternoon launch window between 4pm and 6:25pm.
Boeing, angered over the impending and inevitable demise of the SLS before it is even complete, issued a petulant and misleading statement disparaging the Falcon Heavy accomplishment by SpaceX. Forgetting for a moment that their SLS is $billions over budget, and still years away from even a phase 1 test flight. Forgetting that the reality behind their claim of “most powerful rocket ever” is that the NASA’s Saturn V from the Apollo era was able to lift 118 metric tons to low Earth orbit while their still incomplete SLS booster is only rated for 70 tons, with hopes and dreams to somehow edge that higher with subsequent designs requiring even more money and time. And forgetting that SpaceX is already actively building the BFR at the Port of LA which will handily eclipse their SLS.
Forgetting all that, I think that Rep John Culberson, R-Texas said it best while recently touring aerospace contractor Oceaneering Space Systems (which is heavily involved in SLS construction) in Houston: “What about reusability?”
Yeah, sorry Boeing. Maybe start putting your efforts into a redesign instead of defensive press releases. The fact you are missing is that Elon Musk simply wants us to get to Mars and save mankind. He’s not interested in his stock price. He’s not interested in hollow arguments. If you were able to do it first or do it better, that would probably be a relief to him. Let’s make that next press release something positive, and something that will help move the needle in the right direction instead of distracting from a design that the shifting market has left behind.
A current and ongoing experiment at the Eden-ISS lab of Germany’s Neumayer Station III in Antarctica has successfully grown vegetables without dirt, daylight or pesticides. Certainly hydroponics have been a thing for many years, and this work borrows heavily from that discipline as a starting point, but they purposefully pushed the restrictions even further in order to simulate the harsh conditions which will need to be overcome when we first start trying to produce our food off-world.
These sorts of groundbreaking experiments and investigations, which are critical to our success as a space-faring people but not as ‘high profile’ as a rocket launch, are sure to be accelerating in the coming weeks and months. It is a testament to the focus and excitement again associated with the exploration of space, and making humanity multi-planetary, that institutions around the world are spinning up programs to facilitate our next steps into our larger destiny.