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!
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!
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!
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.
SpaceX has been hard at work, collecting the lessons of rocket reusability and how to always improve. Those lessons are incorporated into the new Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 booster, the first of which is named B1046. The maiden voyage of the first Block 5 is scheduled for next week, May 4th at 4pm EDT from the hallowed pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Block 5 includes over 100 improvements, both large and small, according to SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell, many of which are targeted towards making its reusability and rapid turn-around even more efficient than current models.
The pace of innovation keeps rolling with good speed, and it will be very important and exciting to see how the new version of what has become quite a workhorse and reliable rocket platform will be further improved.
The InSight Mars Lander has been connected to the Atlas 5 rocket at Space Launch Complex 3-East Vandenberg Air Force Base, with a projected launch window of May 5th – June 8th. Regardless of when during that window the rocket flies, the lander is scheduled to arrive at Mars on November 26th. This close alignment of Earth and Mars which allows for a direct trip, only happens for this window of time once every 26 months.
The mission of the InSight lander (aka Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is to study the crust, mantle and core of the red planet to learn more about the early formation of planets in our solar system. This launch will also send two ‘CubeSat’s to space, where they will follow InSight to Mars and provide essential communication services.
Now that human spaceflight to Mars is seeming more and more realistic, it’s fun to closely observe a new launch like this, and to realize that while it’s still a long trip, it is not a year of travel. Before you even have a chance to get through your collected works of Shakespeare on your tablet or re-calibrate the hydroponics systems to optimize lettuce production, it will be time to buckle up for landing!
This week’s launch of the NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite was a smashing success, and we should be getting early results from the device this summer. On May 17th it will fly by the moon on it’s way to the intended highly elliptical orbit, and should reach that destination in mid-June. Then shortly there after we should expect to start getting initial data and results from this small but mighty craft!
With mankind finally taking bolder steps into the cosmos, this hunt for Earth-like neighbors couldn’t come at a better or more exciting time. Now if we can get Elon working on the faster-than-light drive we’ll be all set.