Boeing’s Unhelpful Statement

Falcon Heavy
(Thom Baur / Reuters)

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 Falcon 9 Block 5 First Launch! May 4th 4pm EDT

Falcon 9 Block 5 Under Construction
(Image Credit: NasaSpaceFlight.com)

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.

NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Launch Preparations

NASA InSight Lander attaches to Atlas 5 Rocket

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!

(Thanks to spaceflightnow.com for the excellent discussion of this new NASA lander)

Falcon 9 Success – TESS Is Safely Deployed

TESS Orbits
(Image: NASA)

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.

SpaceX – TESS Mission Rescheduled to Wednesday 4/18/2018

TESS Satellite
(Image Courtesy inverse.com)

The planned launch of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was scrubbed on Monday due to some last-minute rocket checks, and I for one am always happy to hear that they only will fly with every confidence of success. Fortunately there is another launch window available in a short time, and the launch has been rescheduled for Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 at 6:51pm Eastern time from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Remember, this is an exciting launch because they will attempt to land the Falcon 9 booster on a drone ship! Be sure to tune in to the live feed over at SpaceX, and enjoy the commentary and hopefully uninterrupted views of the entire launch.

SpaceX Falcon 9 TESS Mission Launch April 16, 6:32 PM EST

NASA TESS Mission
(Image Credit NASA)

Another SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is coming up soon, and this time they are again going to attempt a droneship landing of the Falcon booster. Something great to look forward to! The last two launches have seen them opt to expend that equipment into the briny deep because it had reached end-of-life, but this time around we will hopefully all see it make a perfect landing on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’.

The mission is to deploy NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which will greatly expand our ability to detect Earth-similar planets in orbit around distant stars. With a scope of over 200,000 stars as an initial aim of the mission, we can expect some truly exciting discoveries! If the comments of SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell today at the TED conference in Vancouver regarding the SpaceX ambition to not only reach Mars but to continue beyond our solar system hold merit, then such discoveries will be of great interest.

To learn more about the TESS mission, be sure to check out the informative NASA website dedicated to this new satellite and all of the discoveries it can enable!

Dragon Connects with ISS

Dragon Docks with ISS
In a follow-up from the story on Monday regarding the successful launch of the Dragon cargo capsule on the NASA resupply mission, word has been received today that docking with the ISS was successful. The 3 tons of supplies have been delivered safely to the orbiting space station, and the Dragon will remain connected for the whole of April, after which time it will be sent back to earth, again loaded this time with outgoing supplies. Landing will take place in the pacific where SpaceX will retrieve the capsule after it’s second successful mission.

At current design tolerances, the Dragon capsules are rated for three missions, so this one may have yet another trip in the future. The goal of re-usability is not only here, but has now been proven to work over and over again, with the results showing clearly in the price to orbit.
(space.com)

Stellar Jurisdiction

Star Laws
There is an interesting article over at SpaceNews today regarding the peculiar and sudden imaging restriction imposed by NOAA on SpaceX in the middle of their Falcon 9 launch last Friday. While conflicting reports had been surfacing, including from NOAA themselves, it seems that the truth of the matter has finally begun to surface, and in so doing may be handily managed by the fleet of lawyers.

It boils down to restrictions on images of Earth taken from orbit, and a number of bureaucratic hoops one must jump through in order to proceed with that sort of event. What really gets my goat however, is the notion that one government (apparently our own) can claim to exercise rights over imaging of the entire Earth from points in orbit which would only briefly even be over top of the US.

It raises in my mind the much larger and more important question of: who “owns” the moon and other planets? Or at least, who claims to? I like to think that Elon and co. can simply get to Mars, set up whatever they like, and then suggest that if someone doesn’t like it they can come there and ask him to stop. The idea that the US (or any nation) would claim to have jurisdiction over the moon or Mars – when so abjectly failing to get us there themselves – is frustrating to say the least. I’m looking forward to seeing that all play out, sooner than we ever expected!

References:

Falcon 9 Launch, Monday 4/2/2018

Dragon capsule docking with space station

SpaceX has committed to a very aggressive launch schedule for the remainder of 2018, and this back-to-back demonstration of master level rocketry is a direct result! We just finished cheering and celebrating the successful launch on Friday (albeit with shortened video thanks to NOAA involvement) and now we look ahead to the scheduled 4:30pm EDT Monday afternoon launch of a Space Station resupply mission.

This will be the 14th mission (code named CRS-14) for SpaceX under the ‘Commercial Resupply Services Contract’ from NASA, and will include about 5,800 pounds of equipment. This is a repeat attempt of a launch which was delayed from February 9th and again from March 13th. Unfortunately the current plan is not to attempt a landing and recovery of this booster, which has flown before and is being reused for this flight – a key feature of Elon Musk’s strategy for reducing the costs of commercial space flight. The rocket will be pushed to the edge of some trajectory limits in order to capture useful mission data, and will be expended upon reentry. Since SpaceX is gearing up to release their new Block 5 version of the Falcon 9, recent (and likely upcoming) missions are cycling out the old Falcon boosters to make way for the new and improved 2018 model. Won’t that be great – when we are versioning rockets as commonly as we do with automobiles?

(Florida Today)