Last week, SpaceX hosted a closed-door. invitation only Mars workshop, intended to bring together an interdisciplinary team of industry leading experts to discuss the plan for the red planet. Details on this meeting are, as you would imagine, still pretty minimal, but it is encouraging that this sort of thing is starting to ramp up, and the right questions are being asked of the right people.
A recent criticism that has been lodged against SpaceX is that they are very focused and successful with solving the engineering problems required to improve rocket technology and build the pathway to Mars. However, the amount of time spent considering the human factor, and how difficult it will be to keep astronauts alive both on the journey as well as once they have arrived is far less. Challenges ranging from radiation exposure (in space and on the surface) to adequate supplies to the ‘dust problem’ to basic human interactions all need to be considered and seriously addressed. Since Musk’s companies all show a propensity for thinking of the edge cases and surprising us when we think they are missing an angle, I maintain great confidence that what needs to be considered, is well under way.
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.
I’m really delighted to see how excited the local news is in Florida. I like to think that after nearly a decade of downtime since the Shuttle was mothballed, and far more years than that since there was palpable excitement across the country and the world for the promise of space flight, they are delighted to see this industry returning to their area, and with real conviction!
This flight is important, because it is the first reuse of their new Block 5 model first stage booster. Specifically, this will be the second flight of booster B1046, which was first flown on May 11th 2018 for Bangabandhu-1, Bangladesh’s first communications satellite.
So – stay up, or set an alarm, for the Merah Putih mission! (press kit)
(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!
NASA is reminding everyone that today, July 31st 2018, is the closest Mars will be to Earth for the next 269 years, at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers). That means, unless those of us alive now are very very lucky and some medical advances happen in the next 10-20 years, we probably won’t be around for the next one.
If it is cloudy where you are, don’t stress too much – the next close approach, while not prize winning, will still be fun to observe and will take place Oct. 6, 2020.
(Surface ice near the South Pole – liquid water underneath) Image Credit: NASA/JPL/MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SYSTEMS
A team from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, using Marsis, a radar instrument on board the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Mars Express orbiter, believe they have discovered a nearly 20km (12 mile) underground liquid water lake on everyone’s favorite backup planet. This is significant for oh so many reasons, and we need to get a probe over there stat and see about what may be swimming around.
The technique for finding this new Mars feature utilized the radar capability of Marsis, and the team realized that reflections from the bottom of a subsurface feature were stronger than reflections from the surface which, in radar terms, is a good sign of liquid H2O.
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!
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.
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 (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!
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.
(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.