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!
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 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!
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!
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.
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.
The Trace Gas Orbiter, which is part of a joint venture between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, has been orbiting Mars for over a year and is now in position to begin its research. These readings and results started to be gathered on April 21st and are now flowing back home for analysis and review.
Specifically, this probe is investigating the methane which is present in the Martian atmosphere, because it is very often associated with the former (or current!) presence of life. On Earth, an overwhelming percentage of the available methane is the result of biological processes. To add stakes to the game, current scientific understanding of the Martian atmosphere says that what is there should be destroyed by ongoing chemical reactions in several hundred years, though there it remains.
The orbiter has 2 main scientific instruments through which it will make this survey:
* the main spectrometer, NOMAD, operates in the infrared, ultraviolet and visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.
* the color camera, CaSSIS, will build detailed 3D maps of the planet’s terrain.
The craft will eventually serve in a new capacity as a communications depot once the ExoMars Rover arrives in 2021, relaying signals from the ground based explorer back to mission control.