Monthly Archives: May 2015

Proof that some things don’t change…


Here are some fun stories for you, courtesy of The Space Review. Perry Mason, shotguns, bombs, and Thor–all of these have a common element–the human.  Just click on this link: The weird ones. And of course the whole thing wouldn’t be complete without mentioning NOAA-19.

Can this happen today during space operations and in the space industry? If you’ve worked with people in any sort of way, then you know the answer to this. While Murphy may have cheered all of them on, the characters in these stories certainly didn’t need much encouragement. Remember, one of the steps in completing human condition therapy is acceptance…

Just one question, really, resulting from these stories: If a government satellite falls over in a high bay, do taxpayers still foot the bill even though they didn’t hear it? I think the answer, no matter what sort of PR is posted around that story, is sadly, yes. But happy reading!


Another Apollo-related post

If you’ve been following this blog for a bit, then you know that about once a month I write a little history article for the Space Foundation’s “Space Watch” e-mail newsletter. Now’s the time to lead you to my most recent article for them: From Underneath Apollo’s Boilerplate, a Pegasus Emerges

“Hold your fire.” SpaceX’s “Escape Pod”

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule making its escape. Image from SpaceX. Click to embiggen.

When I first saw images of SpaceX’s test of their Dragon capsule’s pad abort test, the obvious nerd-quote going through my mind was “Hold your fire. There’s no lifeforms.” Which was true for the test. And if you don’t get the reference, please just search on the net, roll your eyes, and sigh. For the rest of you, you’re welcome!!

The big news, then, is that on May 6, 2015, SpaceX conducted the first test of the abort system for their capsule, and it looks like it worked. It also looked really cool. But why conduct this nifty-looking test in the first place? In plain English, SpaceX would like to build space capsules to take humans into space. The capsule they’re advertising to accomplish this feat is the Dragon Version 2 (v2). The pad abort test they conducted this last week was a step towards actually building and operating a manned capsule.

The test is a milestone, a critical step, required by NASA of SpaceX as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The program’s goal is to ferry people to and from the International Space Station (ISS) using commercially-built space capsules from the U.S. (for more information about this interesting program, click here). This particular milestone begins testing the Dragon’s escape system, which is supposed to keep astronauts safe in case something goes wrong with the rocket beneath it–such as going kablooey like Orbital’s Antares rocket did in October 2014. If such an explosive event were to occur, then the capsule needs to lift off from the rocket body quickly, which it looks like the Dragon does. See the video of the test below and then read on.

According to SpaceX, the capsule accelerated from rest to 100 mph (161 kmh) in 1.2 seconds. It eventually reached a top speed of 345 mph (555 kmh), and was supposed to fly as high as 5.000 ft (1524 meters). It took eight liquid-fed SuperDraco engines to move the capsule that high and that quickly. Each engine puts out 15,000 lbs of thrust. The same engines would normally be used for Dragon capsule landing after atmospheric re-entry.

The capsule does separate from the trunk (the white cylinder it’s attached to), flips, and then pops out a few parachutes to float down to the Atlantic Ocean. The Dragon capsule is supposed to be able to do this type of maneuver throughout a rocket flight, from launch pad through orbit. SpaceX notes that, based on data from the 270 sensors mounted on the capsule and possibly on the dummy sitting inside, a human would have come through just fine. But this is a single test, and there’s more testing to come for SpaceX. SpaceX is aiming to get the Dragon crew-rated and actually manned by humans traveling in it to and from the ISS come 2017. They seem to be making great progress.

You can go to SpaceX’s Pad Abort webpages to read more about the test and view the pictures.

Amazoom? Blue Origin launches a rocket

It does look a little…weird. But this is what Blue Origin’s rocket looks like. Picture from Blue Origin’s site.

Blue Origin is one of those rocket companies that’s been fairly secretive in its activities. But it’s very difficult, unless you’re Russia or China, to secretly shoot a rocket 307,000 feet (58 miles) into the sky. But launch is just what Blue Origin did last week, on 29 April.

The company not only tested the rocket, but then popped the capsule off of the rocket’s top. The capsule, which Blue Origin calls New Shepard, deployed parachutes and appeared to land successfully. Which is great when you consider Blue Origin would like to put passengers in that capsule. You can see it in the video below.

The other part, the more interesting one to me, is the reusable rocket part–the rocket body under the capsule . That’s the part they didn’t really focus on, and according to sites like Mashable, Blue Origin didn’t say what happened to the rocket body once the capsule was deployed. Supposedly, the rocket body is supposed to land the way it takes off, vertically. It’s the way SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage rocket body is supposed to land, when the Falcon 9 eventually succeeds in landing. You can go to Blue Origin’s “Technology” page to see what they’d like to do.

There’s really very little good information on that page, though, if you’re interested in details. There’s no payload weight range to LEO, GEO, GSO, etc. But, maybe they’ll have that information there eventually. They do list information about “payload lockers,” specialized containers to carry experiments to orbit in New Shepard. But I’m certain only so many of those boxes can be carried up.

So, Blue Origin has finally done something more visible for spaceflight. Sure, they’ve tied themselves to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) last September (still not sure why) to develop a rocket engine to take the place of the politically incorrect Russian engines. Maybe they’ll call the partnership BlULA? But, it is something I’ve noticed–most of these “New Gen” space companies, with as much chest-thumping as they do about changing the space scene, still rely very much on the older companies for some of their tech and processes. Perhaps that’s an article subject for another day.

Still, it’s very exciting to see someone else start launching rockets, even if it’s not that high or long. It’s only a matter of time…and Blue Origin’s money. And for those wondering about the title–Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is also the owner of Blue Origin.