NASA Names Commercial Spaceflight Astronauts

Commercial Crew Astronauts
(Image Source: NASA)

On August 3rd, NASA officially named the astronauts who will fly on the SpaceX and Boeing crew modules destined for the International Space Station. This is a tremendously important step, as it is allowing the US to reclaim their own access to space instead of relying on Russian launch capability as it has since 2011 when the Shuttle was officially mothballed.

On the SpaceX Crew Dragon:

  • (test flight) Col. Bob Behnken of the Air Force
  • (test flight) Doug Hurley, a retired Marine Corps colonel
  • (ISS) Mike Hopkins, Air Force colonel
  • (ISS) Victor Glover, Navy commander

On the Boeing CST-100 Starliner:

  • (test flight) Eric Boe, a former space shuttle pilot who retired from the Air Force
  • (test flight) Christopher Ferguson, a Boeing astronaut who left NASA in 2011
  • (test flight) Lt. Col. Nicole Mann of the Marine Corps
  • (ISS) Williams, a retired Navy captain
  • (ISS) Cmdr. Josh Cassada of the Navy

The test flights will be here before we know it, with uncrewed flights of the new modules scheduled for late 2018, and the first human test flights slated for mid-2019.

References:

SpaceX Merah Putih Mission Update – August 7 1:18am Eastern

SpaceX Merah Putih Mission Update - August 7 1:18am Eastern
(Image Credit: The Merah Putih spacecraft. Credit: SSL)

An update to the schedule of the new SpaceX launch – the Merah Putih mission is now scheduled for early morning of August 7th. If all stays on the new schedule, the reused Falcon 9 Block 5 booster will lift off at 1:18am Eastern and complete another important mission for the world leader in space technology!

References:

SpaceX Succeeds with Back to Back Launches – Next Scheduled for August 4th

Pacific Freedom tows home JRTI
(Image Credit: VesselFinder.com)

In an exciting update to news last week of a flurry of SpaceX launches, we are happy to report that they stuck the landing on Just Read the Instructions (JRTI) this morning in the Pacific despite high seas and strong wind shear. What’s more, they successfully completed the mission objective of deploying the next set of Iridium NEXT satellites, bringing the current orbiting total to 65. Only one additional mission remains to complete this large and ambitious new installation. Thanks to the wonder of modern technology, we can even track the tugboat Pacific Freedom as it tows JRTI back to shore!

Press Kits for recent two launches:

Get ready for yet another launch coming up next week – currently scheduled for August 4th from Cape Canaveral. This mission, with a launch window opening at 1:19am Eastern, will loft the Merah Putih (Telkom 4) communications satellite into orbit. Telkom 4 weighs in at 5,800 kg (at the upper limit of stated Falcon reusable payload capacity of 5,500 kg) and has a C-Band payload with 60 transponders, 36 for the Southeast Asia market and 24 for the Indian market. It is using the SSL 1300 bus and will be positioned at 108 degrees. Telkom 4 is a replacement for Telkom 1, which failed on August 25, 2017 before its planned retirement in 2022. The name Merah Putih represents the red and white of the Indonesian flag.

SpaceX Launch details: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida from pad SLC-40. Launch Window 1:19am-3:19am Eastern. Block 5 booster 1048. Recovery on Of Course I Still Love You is planned.

References:

SpaceX Upcoming Launches, July 22 and July 25

Droneship Tugboat
(Image Credit: Sam Sun for NSF L2)

Get ready for an exciting week ahead, as SpaceX sets out to prove once again just how quickly they can turn their operation around and get rockets into the air. This time they plan to stage 2 launches, on opposite coasts, landing each block 5 booster on their respective East and West Coast Autonomous Drone Ship! The Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read the Instructions are both at sea, positioning themselves for capture of the booster stages that will fly only several days apart.

This sort of launch cadence is another important way that they will prove to both fans and skeptics alike that they are capable of increasing their number of launches per year. This will be a key part of corporate growth – allowing them to fill more of the existing backlog of launch orders – as well as meeting their own ambitious goals for Starlink and eventual Mars supply runs.

So set your watch for this Sunday, July 22nd at 1:50am Eastern and watch as the brand new Block 5 booster takes off with Telstat’s Telstar 19 VANTAGE satellite. Then be sure to set another alarm for Wednesday, July 25th at 7:39am Eastern and watch the next Iridium NEXT mission take flight, fulfilling another piece of that vital contract.

Tug Rachel tows B1046 booster, the first Block 5, to shore
Tug Rachel (our favorite unsung support vessel!) tows booster B1046, the first Block 5, to shore.
(Image Credit: Julia Bergeron)

This excellent article at NasaSpaceFlight.com points out that SpaceX will actually be attempting 5 recoveries in two weeks. This includes the flights mentioned above, as well another launch on August 2nd, the Dragon capsule and the faring halves as well, making it an extremely busy couple of weeks! They have some additional excellent information in that article about the tugboats assigned to the drone ships, as well as the crew boats which deploy on those missions as well so be sure to check it out!

References:

SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Arrives at Cape Canaveral

SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Arrives at Cape Canaveral
(Image Credit: SpaceX)

The next big step towards private capacity for human space fight has been taken, and the Crew Dragon module from SpaceX has been delivered to Cape Canaveral for testing.

Plans are to launch the capsule on an un-piloted test later this year in order to assess the performance of key systems and, most importantly, the safety and reliability of the module before human lives are trusted to it. Estimates are that SpaceX should be able to complete the certification process by early 2019, though both they and Boeing are thought to be running behind on their programs. This has the potential for leaving a gap in access to the ISS due to the end of the collaboration with the Russians to use their Soyuz rocket to fly our people.

While this would be an unfortunate eventuality, it is still likely for the best since it will force progress on the NASA side, and should help remove any potential roadblocks that may be inclined to delay the process unduly.

Reference:

SpaceX BFR Progress – Boca Chica LOX Tank

SpaceX LOX Tank en route to Boca Chica
(Image Credit: Miguel Roberts / The Brownsville Herald)

As steady progress is made on the BFR tooling at the Port of LA, parallel work continues at the SpaceX spaceport at Boca Chica, Texas. Leased in 2014 and named as a future site of high activity for their developing efforts and aspirations, activity at the TX site has been somewhat understated since then. However, the impending ramp-up of massive activity which is sure to accompany the roll-out of the Big ‘Falcon’ Rocket has all systems go at the southern site. The arrival of this liquid oxygen (LOX) tank is a sure sign of that.

This massive tank can hold nearly as much as 20 tanker trucks, and “will be used to support propellant-loading operations during launch and vehicle tests” said Sean Pitt of SpaceX. Musk’s ever-optimistic (yet increasingly plausible) timelines target 2019 for the first ‘hopper’ flights of the BFR and he has previously stated that the first humans to depart for another planet may very well leave from the Texas spaceport. Keeping that excitement high as always!

The site is expected to be up and operational by the end of 2018. It already has 600 kilowatts of solar arrays on site, as well as a pair of 86-ton ground station antennas that are currently used to monitor the Dragon resupply missions to the ISS.

References:

SpaceX CRS-15 ISS Resupply Mission – June 29th 5:41am EST

SpaceX CRS-15 Mission
(Image Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is once again getting ready to resupply the ISS, as part of their ongoing contract with NASA to provide that vital service. The launch is scheduled for 5:41am Eastern on June 29th, from pad SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral. The hardware for this mission will include both a previously flown Falcon booster as well as a previously flown Dragon capsule.

It’s exciting that the development of the Crew Dragon is moving ahead strongly, and every launch of the existing resupply dragon capsule provides more data and more assurance that the systems are up to the challenge of safely launching and returning astronauts. What a relief it will be soon, to have that capacity within our own control after many years of outsourcing.

SpaceX Relative Rocket Sizes

As construction of the BFR is underway at the Port of LA, we are all trying to imagine just how Big this Falcon Rocket is really going to be. Well, some enterprising soul put together a captivating video that helps us to comprehend the size, and it must be accurate enough for Musk to re-tweet. So – in case you haven’t seen it, have a look at how big this Falcon Rocket really is!

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!