Tag Archives: landing

SpaceX rocket aced a landing, then exploded so hard it launched again for a bit

Luckily, nobody was injured and the company seems to be taking the events in good spirits.

Image credits Official SpaceX Photos / Flickr.

SpaceX is a company that’s definitely not afraid to take risks and try new things. And a natural part of such an approach is that things will often not go according to plan, and sometimes they fail spectacularly. Yesterday was one such day, after one of the company’s Starship rockets touched down in Texas.

Post-landing problems

SpaceX wants to make going to space cheap enough that it’s practical. A large part of that plan involves cutting down costs by making rockets reusable. They’re hard at work doing that.

So far, they’ve run into their fair share of trouble. Their approach involves using the rocket’s thrusters in flight to orient the craft upright before landing. Two of their previous test flights ended in fireballs though, because, while the rockets maneuvered as intended, they didn’t decelerate fast enough before touching down.

The test yesterday went much better than those two. It used a full-scale prototype of the rocket, which launched, traveled around 6 miles (10 kilometers), and then headed in for a landing. The maneuvers worked like a charm, and the craft flipped upright after descending close enough to the pad. “Third time’s the charm as the saying goes,” quipped SpaceX commentator John Insprucker, referring to the previous trials, as the rocket touched down successfully.

A few minutes later, however, the rocket would explode, briefly sending itself upon a new flight path.

SpaceX has not issued an official statement on the event yet, but CEO Elon Musk did comment on his personal Twitter account with good humor.

Technically speaking, it did. The first time.

It’s all good to make fun of a bad situation, but even considering that the rocket exploded after landing, this is quite the feat. SpaceX’s approach was under question given how the last two tests panned out, but yesterday’s shows that the plan was sound after all. Most importantly, nobody was injured, and rockets can be rebuilt. Even a result like this — which was arguably, ultimately, a failure — brings us one step closer to the days when rockets are reusable and don’t explode on the landing pad. Both extremely desirable traits, as the Spaceship is earmarked to ferry people to and from Mars for SpaceX.

“SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” Musk added in a later tweet. It is not yet clear why the rocket exploded, but according to the Independent, “observers speculated that it was the result of a rough landing combined with a methane leak”.

A clock error spoiled NASA’s Christmas mission — but the craft just landed, safe and sound

Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule safely landed in the New Mexico desert on Sunday, after an internal clock error thwarted its mission of delivering presents and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Boeing Starliner spacecraft is seen after it landed in White Sands, N.M., Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Image credits Bill Ingalls / NASA via AP.

Although the mission itself was a bust, Boeing employees were relieved to get the Starliner back. Furthermore, the landing itself — the Starliner is the first American crew lander to land on the ground, not in the ocean — was a resounding success. The mission managers at NASA are currently reviewing data from the mission to decide whether they’ll run another test flight or go straight to manned missions, the agency reported.

A matter of time

“We pinpoint landed it,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a post-landing briefing.

“A beautiful soft landing,” added NASA astronaut Mike Fincke. “Can’t wait to try it out.”

The Starliner touched down at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in the predawn darkness on Sunday. It was scheduled for a week-long mission but only flew for two days. It was launched Friday from Cape Canaveral and all seemed to be going smoothly until, half an hour into its journey, the Starliner failed to fire its thrusters as scheduled. This burn was meant to put it on the same orbit as the ISS.

However, the capsule’s internal clock wasn’t set properly and showed an 11 hour difference with those on the Atlas V rocket that carried it, explained Jim Chilton, senior vice president of the Space and Launch division of Boeing. In the end, the Starliner set on a wrong orbit. Ground control had eventually managed to reset the clock — a process made difficult by frequent signal gaps due to the capsule’s position — but by this time the Starliner had used up so much fuel in an effort to reorient itself in orbit that it couldn’t reach the station any longer. So they decided to land the craft. The mission lasted nearly 50 hours and included 33 orbits around the Earth, about 100 orbits fewer than planned.

Boeing is still working to figure out how the timing error occurred. Right now, however, they’re relieved to have the capsule back in one piece. The landing was broadcast live on NASA TV, showing the craft fully upright and with very little wear and tear from reentry by dawn.

The astronauts assigned to the first Starliner crew, two from NASA and one from Boeing, were part of the welcoming committee. Rosie the Rocketer, a test dummy that flew in the capsule, survived the landing in perfect condition — as did the food, clothes, and presents inside. The returned capsule also received its name following the landing: Calypso, after Jacques Cousteau’s boat.

“We didn’t do everything we wanted to do, but we don’t see anything wrong with this spaceship right now,” despite the timing error, Chilton said.

He also apologized to the six space station residents on behalf of the company for not delivering their Christmas presents.

The capsule will return to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in two weeks for inspections and refurbishments.

“We’ve got a lot of learning in front of us,” Bridenstine said. “But we have enough information and data to where we can keep moving forward in a very positive way.

Chinese lunar rover shows dark side of the Moon like you’ve never seen it before

China quietly released a new set of images provided by its Chang’e 4 lunar exploration mission. The rover, which became the first mission to ever land on the far side of the moon, shows some features of the lunar surface in unprecedented detail.

Image credits: CLEP/CNSA.

China’s mission has already gone as well as you could hope for — if not better. It became the first mission to perform a soft landing on the dark side of the moon, it carried geophysical studies of its landing surface, and it successfully grew potatoes and a few other plants on the moon — marking another impressive first.

The Yutu 2 rover has now traveled a total of 178.9 meters (587.9 feet), which far exceeds the record by its predecessor, Yutu 1, during the Chang’e 3 mission, which managed to travel 114 meters. Durings its latest travels, the rover also snapped a few photographs which it beamed back to Earth, and some of those images have now been released by China’s National Space Administration (CNSA).

The lunar surface, as seen by the Yutu 2 rover. Image: CLEP/CNSA.

The Von Kármán crater, close to where the rover landed, is believed to contain an intriguing mixture of chemical elements, including thorium, iron oxide, and titanium dioxide, which could provide important clues about the origin and evolution of the lunar surface. Researchers hope that the mission will help answer questions about the crater’s surface features and test whether plants could grow in lunar soil.

The mission is also observing low-frequency radio light coming from the Sun or beyond that’s impossible to detect on Earth because there is so much radio noise interfering with it.

Early tracks from Yutu-2 after its descent from the Chang’e-4 lander, visible in the top-left. Image: CLEP/CNSA.

More recent tracks. Image: CLEP/CNSA.

The rover is currently in hibernation mode until April 28. It has already survived for four lunar days and nights, or about 29.5 days on Earth. It’s still going strong, preparing for its fifth lunar night — despite being designed to last for three lunar nights only. Everything that happens now is just a bonus on this already excellent mission. The rover is also turning intermittent naps when it is facing the sun directly, as temperatures soar to 200 degrees Celsius.

Much of the scientific data gathered hasn’t been relayed back to Earth yet. It will take several more weeks before it is all sent back, and a bit more time to analyze it after that. In the meantime, we can all enjoy these crisp images.

Drone landing gear.

New research plans to keep drones in the air longer by giving them the ability to land

An international team wants to make drones fly for longer — by teaching them how to land.

Drone landing gear.

Examples of various perching and resting actions.
Image credits Hang et al., (2019), Sci. Robot.

Drones today are really awesome gadgets, but they’re still severely limited by their short flight time. Despite a lot of effort being expended into improving their batteries or energy efficiency, drones can still only last minutes in the air.

Now, a new study reports that we don’t need bigger, better batteries to keep drones aloft for longer; it’s as simple as sticking landing gears on them.

Take a breather

The team says they’ve taken inspiration from birds, bats, and their impressive biological landing gears.

Many birds fly in short bursts and perch on elevated positions between bouts, they explain. By taking these elevated positions, they are able to conserve energy while keeping tabs on their surroundings for food or threats. Bats fly in a similar manner, but instead of perching, they simply hang upside down.

So the researchers set to work on incorporating similar abilities into our drones. The design they came up is reminiscent of a hawk’s talons. Drones equipped with this landing gear can land on flat or semi-flat surfaces like a bird, or perform a leaning landing on objects such as window sills.

An Xbox One Kinect sensor built into the design allows drones to automatically find and navigate perches, the team adds. After landing, the drone can turn down its rotors, thus saving battery power and prolonging its ability to fly. Other onboard devices such as cameras can be kept operational, allowing landed drones to keep performing their intended tasks.


The landing gear has only been tested under laboratory conditions so far. Although the results are encouraging, the team says they still need to tweak their design further to get the drones to land and take off autonomously. With some more work, however, they’re confident we’ll soon see drones perching atop buildings and other high surfaces.

The paper “Perching and resting—A paradigm for UAV maneuvering with modularized landing gears” has been published in the journal Science Robotics.

A private company plans to land on the moon, but what will this precedent mean for space exploration?

Moon Express is the first private organization to ever get approval from the US government to land a spacecraft on the moon. The space company says this could happen as early as next year.

Image credits Kevin Gill / Flickr.

“With this landmark ruling, Moon Express has become the first private company approved to literally go out of this world as a pioneer of commercial space missions beyond Earth orbit,” Moon Express said in a press statement.

Founded by billionaire entrepreneur Naveen Jain, computer scientist Barney Pell, and space futurist Bob Richards, the company will be the fourth organization in history to soft-land on the Moon after the US, Chinese and USSR federal space agencies. And should they be successful, Moon Express will become the first privately funded group to land on the Moon — something they intend to capitalize on fully.

But being the first isn’t ever as straightforward as it sounds, and because Moon Express is the first company that has been granted permission to leave Earth’s orbit on a commercial venture, they’re in a bit of a legislative pickle — nobody actually knows exactly which permits they need, because there’s no precedent to this situation. There isn’t any type of regulatory framework set in place by which the US government can green-light similar companies in the future.

[ALSO SEE] How should space mining be regulated?

So Moon Express has been granted a one-time exception to launch a commercial mission beyond Earth. This will give regulatory bodies the time and experience they need to handle a similar request in the future.

“There are no new laws, no new regulations,” Bob Richards from Moon Express told The Verge.

“We proposed a scenario where we would build on the existing payload review process.”

Funnily enough, Moon Express received the legal approval to mine and profit off Moon minerals before it even had permission to go there, explains Emily Calandrelli for Tech Crunch:

“In November 2015, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act was passed, which explicitly stated that private companies are allowed full ownership of resources they extract in space. The bill made it legal for Moon Express to mine the Moon and keep what they extracted, but they still didn’t have permission to travel to the Moon in the first place.”

“Ironically you had a great ‘space resources’ act that says you can own what you get, but we’re in a situation where you can’t launch to go get it,” Richards added.

Original image via solarviews.com. Photoshop Alexandru Micu / ZMEScience.

We require more minerals.
Original image via solarviews.com; Photoshop Alexandru Micu / ZMEScience.

It wasn’t until April this year that the US State Department, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), among other bodies, were actually ready to receive Moon Express’s application to explore beyond Earth’s orbit, and approval has now been granted. Approval hinges on the US guaranteeing future missions won’t violate the Outer Space Treaty — the basic framework of international space law.

Basically this means that Moon Express had to show that it will be fully transparent with its goings to and from the Moon, that it would not interfere with other space missions, ships or existing artifacts — “Don’t do wheelies over Neil’s footprint,” as Richards jokingly put it — and most importantly, that it won’t contaminate another world. The last point isn’t too serious a concern as the Moon is as barren a hunk of space rocks as they come, but it’s a key point to make for future missions that might operate on planets with the potential to host life, such as Mars.

So now, we just have to sit back and wait to see if Moon Express can reach the Moon by its intended date. And hopefully, when companies like SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace come with their own applications to launch a Mars mission, the US government will be ready with the paperwork. Because when people with a ton of money want to invest in getting us off this little planet into the vastness of space, our governments should be ready to give them the get-go.

In triple exemplary, signed in the lower right corner.


SpaceX lands a rocket on a barge in the middle of the ocean

It’s a historic moment for SpaceX and space exploration in general, as the company managed to land its Falcon 9 rocket back on a barge in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s a closeup of the landing:

Bull’s eye!

In 2015, just before Christmas, SpaceX made history when they successfully managed to launch a rocket, send it to outer space, and then land it back safely. Then, for the first time, the prospect of using reusable rockets became a reality. However, in order to be really safe, the land should take place in the sea, where it doesn’t jeopardize human lives and property. After a few failed attempts, SpaceX finally landed such a rocket on a floating barge.

Building reusable rockets is vital for future space exploration, as it would save a lot of time, money and invested technology. This would make the whole process cheaper and more efficient, and could facilitate trips to the International Space Station or a potential moon base. Also, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has pointed out in the past, the ships are critical for high-velocity missions, like commercial satellite missions.


Discovery shuttle prepares for final landing

As I told you yesterday, the Discovery shuttle is preparing for a well deserved retirement, after 365 days spent in space, during which it traveled more than 150 million miles. All systems are go for landing at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, thus concluding its 13th and final mission.

The shuttle left the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday after the crew performed one last check on Tuesday, and found that everything is working correctly. Discovery’s orientation and steering. Cmdr. Steve Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Alvin Drew, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and Steve Bowen also put away hardware and equipment.

When they wake up, Wednesday morning (if they haven’t already) they will begin the preparations, and if everything goes according to plan, the de-orbit burn will begin at 10:52 and Discovery will land at 11:57 a.m, according to NASA.

After the shuttle returns to Earth, it will be given a golden retirement at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, but only after NASA will turn it into an unflyable mechanism.

Scientists propose one way trips to Mars

As any traveler surely knows, it’s always cheaper if you travel one way; especially if you go to Mars. Recently, two renowned scientists made a proposal that startled the whole scientific community: one way trips to Mars. The whole purpose would be to colonize the planet faster and more economically, pretty much in the way the first settlers came to America, not expecting to go back.

“The main point is to get Mars exploration moving,” said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a Washington State University professor who co-authored an article that seriously proposes what sounds like a preposterous idea.

However, numerous astronauts frown upon this idea.

“This is premature,” Ed Mitchell of Apollo 14 wrote in an e-mail. “We aren’t ready for this yet.”

However, NASA seems to really like this idea. President Barack Obama has already outlined a plan for going to Mars in the mid 2030s, but he hasn’t mentioned the fact that the astronauts wouldn’t be coming back. Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University make a pretty strong case, arguing that in the more and more plausible scenario of an Earth cataclism, mankind has to be prepared somehow – and the best way would be one way trips, which would start in two decades.

“You would send a little bit older folks, around 60 or something like that,” Schulze-Makuch said, bringing to mind the aging heroes who saved the day in the movie “Space Cowboys.

It’s also important to understand that this is not a suicide mission.

“The astronauts would go to Mars with the intention of staying for the rest of their lives, as trailblazers of a permanent human Mars colony,” they wrote. “We are on a vulnerable planet,” Schulze-Makuch said. “Asteroid impact can threaten us, or a supernova explosion. If we want to survive as a species, we have to expand into the solar system and likely beyond.”

And if you think about it, they will actually feel more connected to home than Antarctic explorers. Now ladies and gents, an interesting question arises here: would you sign up for such an affair ?