Tag Archives: launch

SpaceX launch aborted and postponed for today. You can still watch it live

One Falcon 9 rocket that was shuttling Starlink satellites into orbit for SpaceX has encountered problems before launch on Sunday night. The launch was aborted just 90 seconds away from taking off.

A batch of 60 Starlink satellites coming close to being deployed into orbit aboard a Falcon 9. Image credits Official SpaceX Photos.

The veteran rocket was scheduled to take 60 new Starlink satellites to orbit, helping the company establish its fleet of internet-providing orbiters. Still, not everything went according to plan and the launch was postponed to later today, March 1st.

Automatically aborted

“Overall, the vehicle and payload are healthy and remain in good health,” SpaceX production supervisor Andy Tran explained during live launch commentary. “The next launch opportunity is tomorrow, March 1, at 8:15 Eastern time.”

Safety systems aboard the Falcon 9 rocket activated just 90 seconds before the scheduled launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Pad 39A. While nothing went really wrong, which would probably involve an explosion, this event doesn’t bode very well for SpaceX.

This was the latest in a series of delays for this particular mission (Starlink 17). It was originally slated for earlier in February but delayed due to poor weather and hardware issues. There are already around 1,000 Starlink satellites in orbit, which will work together to deliver high-speed internet coverage around the world, particularly to remote areas.

Today’s launch will be SpaceX’s 20th Starlink mission, and their sixth launch of 2021. The same rocket will be used as yesterday, a tried and tested veteran whose first-stage booster has launched off seven times to date — five times for Starlink, and once each to launch the Iridium-8 and Telstar 18 Vantage satellites.

If everything goes well this time, the rocket will touch back down on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX’s current Block 5 Falcon 9 rockets are designed to fly 10 missions before replacement — so its first-stage booster is nearing the end of its service life.

According to the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, there is a 70% chance of good weather for a SpaceX launch on Monday night. Hopefully that forecast proves to be right so we can watch the rocket blast off on SpaceX’s live stream

China launches the last of 55 satellites for its own GPS system

China has launched the final satellite of the Beidou constellation, its own GPS-like system.

The satellite taking off at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, Tuesday, June 23, 2020.
Image credits Xue Chen / Xinhua via AP.

On Tuesday, a Long March-3 rocket was being readied for launch in the mountains of southwestern China. Shortly before 10 a.m., its launch was broadcast live, and in about half an hour, the new satellite was deploying its solar panels, safely in orbit.

With it, China’s third iteration of the Beidou Navigation Satellite System was complete. Yang Changfeng, the system’s lead designer, said for a state broadcaster that Beidou’s completion shows China is “becoming a true space power”.

Domestic GPS

The USA, Europe, and Russia all have their own satellite constellations to handle communications and navigations — the GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS, respectively. China has so far had two iterations of its Beidou network, with this being the third. The 55-satellite strong network is meant to provide global coverage for communications, timing, location, and navigation.

Its initial launch, scheduled for last week, was postponed due to unspecified technical problems.

The now-complete system, BDS-3, consists of 30 satellites. It consists mostly of medium Earth orbit satellites, with six geosynchronous orbit satellites (such as the one launched today).

Work on BDS-3 first started in 2018 and provided service for countries partaking in China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative. It supports “short message communication, satellite-based augmentation, international search and rescue, as well as precise point positioning,” according to state-run news agency Xinhua. The short messaging system transmits up to 1,200 Chinese characters long and images, it adds.

China is only the third country to ever launch an independent space mission. Since then, it’s also sent rovers to the moon and constructed an experimental space station. Its plans for the future include a crewed, permanent space station, and possibly even sending a rover to Mars next month.

SpaceX delays next launch due to COVID-19 travel restrictions

SpaceX will be postponing its next launch due to international travel restrictions put in place to fight the current pandemic, the company announced. Two workers at the company’s headquarters have tested positive for COVID-19, it adds.

Image credits Official SpaceX Photos / Flickr.

SpaceX’s latest launch successfully delivered 60 satellites into orbit, which will underpin the company’s planned Starlink system. Their next launch was slated for March 30 and was supposed to carry the Argentine radar satellite SAOCOM 1B all the way to orbit. However, travel restrictions currently in place mean that the personnel from Argentina cannot travel to the launch site in Florida and ensure the satellite is running smoothly — as such, the mission was delayed.

But the coronavirus has affected SpaceX much closer to home, too. At least one of the company’s employees and one healthcare provider at their headquarters in Hawthorne, California, have tested positive for the coronavirus, CNBC reports, citing an internal company memo. They are now undergoing a 14-day quarantine, alongside a number of other personnel that were sent home just in case they also contracted the virus. The company One Medical, which provides on-site healthcare services at SpaceX’s headquarters and employs the second infected individual, has also asked any of their employees who feel sick to stay at home and get tested immediately.

So far, SpaceX has been putting a lot of effort into insulating itself from the outbreak, but it seems to have caught it in the end. Still, the company is and has been for some time now producing its own hand sanitizer handing out personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves to employees.

“While the delay is unfortunate, it hardly comes as a surprise at the same time dozens of countries around the world are considering – or already enacting – extreme countermeasures to mitigate the damage that will be caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” writes Eric Ralph for Teslarati. “Thankfully, once Argentinian space agency (CONAE) employees are able to prepare SAOCOM 1B for flight, the mission is still set to make history, marking the first time a rocket launches on a polar trajectory from the United States’ East Coast in more than a half-century.”

“In the meantime, SpaceX – while not deriving any income – also has ways of potentially taking advantage of a bad situation and exploiting unexpected downtime as a result of customer delays.”

Remote camera records its last moments during NASA/German GRACE-FO launch on May 22, 2018. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA explains how one of its cameras melted during rocket launch

Remote camera records its last moments during NASA/German GRACE-FO launch on May 22, 2018. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

A remote camera records its last moments during NASA/German GRACE-FO launch on May 22, 2018. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Bill Ingalls is one of NASA’s go-to photographers when launches need to be documented. On May 22, he was responsible for recording a SpaceX launch from multiple vantage points. But despite his 30 years of experience shooting rocket launches, nothing could have prepared him for what happened next: one of his cameras got engulfed by flames set off by the booster. However, you could say it was all worth it. Now, we at least have this amazingly rare point of view.

It’s not like it was Ingalls’ fault, either.

“I had six remotes, two outside the launch pad safety perimeter and four inside,” Ingalls said in a statement for NASA. “Unfortunately, the launch started a grass fire that toasted one of the cameras outside the perimeter.”

The burned camera was actually the farthest out of all the bunch. However, it was surrounded by vegetation that caught fire from the booster’s ignition, which spread beyond the boundaries of the launch zone. When Ingalls inspected the site after the launch was over, he found that his Canon’s body was destroyed by the fire. Somehow, though, his memory card was unharmed and when he plugged it into his computer, the camera’s last recording was uncorrupted.

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls's camera after it was caught in brushfire caused by the launch of the NASA/German GRACE-FO from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls’s camera after it was caught in brushfire caused by the launch of the NASA/German GRACE-FO from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls's remote camera setup before the NASA/German GRACE-FO launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls’s remote camera setup before the NASA/German GRACE-FO launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The toasted camera will likely go on display somewhere at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, Ingalls is preparing to travel to Kazakhstan where he will document the June 3 landing of the International Space Station’s Expedition 55 crew. He doesn’t think he’ll come back with a melted camera this time.

Tomorrow, India will launch a record-shattering 104 satellite missions

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) hopes to one-up every other competitor in a big way — by launching a record 104 satellites on a single rocket. The agency has established a reputation for being impressively frugal, and this launch should cement its place in the developing commercial space race.

Assembled PSLV-C37 with Mobile Service Tower.
Image credits ISRO.

Currying favor

There’s a growing need for satellites to handle modern society’s denser and more complex communication systems. So space agencies and private companies are competing to address this demand. Over the years, ISRO has distinguished itself on the market for its surprisingly cost-effective missions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wittily remarked in 2014 that ISRO launched four foreign satellites into orbit for less than it cost Hollywood to make “Gravity”. Just one year before, the agency put an unmanned rocket on Mars’ orbit for $73 million. For a similar mission, Maven Mars, NASA shelved out $671 million.

Now ISRO is looking to securing a place on the market by setting the record for most satellites launched at once. The agency plans to blast off an incredible 104 satellites at about 500 km from Earth in the PSLV-C37/Cartosat 2 mission. They will be deployed from the tried-and-true Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, now on its 39th mission — the same rocket Modi was referring to.

“We want to make optimum use of our capacity. We initially wanted to launch three of our satellites, of which one weighs 730 kg and the other two 19 kg each.”

“As there was additional space for 600 kg, we decided to accommodate the 101 nanosatellites,” said ISRO chairman AS Kiran Kumar.

I just love the fact that in a three-satellite launch, ISRO found room for 101 extra ones.

Last steps

The Mission Readiness Review committee and Launch Authorisation Board has green-lit the launch and starting at 5:28 AM today, the 28-hour countdown to ignition has been officially started, ISRO said.

The agency used the biggest variant of the PSLV at their disposal for the mission — the XL variant, with an estimated 1800 kg (3970 pounds) maximum payload. It’s currently fueled up and awaiting launch at the Sriharikota spaceport, 125 km from Chennai.

It will carry a 730 kilogram (1610 pound) main satellite of the Cartosat 2 series and 103 co-passenger “nanosatellites” adding a further 664 kilograms (1463 pounds) of weight. The latter are almost all supplied by other countries including Israel, Kazakhstan, and Switzerland. The US is the biggest contractor with 96 such satellites. India will launch two co-passenger satellites on the mission.

Cartosat 2 is meant for earth observation and will be used to monitor road networks, coastal land use and regulation, water distribution, and map creation among other applications. The two INS’s (Isro Nano Satellites) will provide a testing and demonstration platform for ISRO tech. INS-1A carries a Surface Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function Radiometer and INS-1B carries the Earth Exosphere Lyman Alpha Analyser as payloads.

The launch is scheduled for launch on Wednesday, February 15, at 9:28 IST. If you want to see history blasting off, here’s your chance.

A North Korean soldier stands guard in front of the now defunct Unha-3 rocket at Tangachai -ri space center. (c) AFP

It really is rocket science, North Korea. In the wake of the nation’s failed launch

The whole world had its eyes on North Korea yesterday, when the nation proceeded on its third attempt to launch an object into space, this time a weather satellite, despite intense political pressure against such action due to concern of it actually being a covert long-range missile test and numerous U.N. treaty violations. Like North Korea’s past attempts, the Unha-3 carrier failed miserably, splintering into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff.

Just minutes after the rocket crashed, the US and South Korea declared the launch failed, a statement surprisingly followed by the North Korean government as well, albeit some hours later. The whole event was publicized far and wide for weeks, and heralded as a major technological achievement to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder and current leader’s grandfather. Foreign journalists were even invited to photograph and witness the launch site, though the invitation wasn’t prelonged for the launch event itself, probably due to rising pressure from other nations to diffuse military speculations. The media pressure, on the other hand, is what probably prompted the North Korean government to publicize the failure to its people as well, a fact rarely admitted, certain to tarnish confidence in Kim Jong-un, who rose to power after his father’s passing in December.

The failure “blows a big hole in the birthday party,” said Victor Cha, former director for Asia policy in the U.S. National Security Council. “It’s terribly embarrassing for the North.”

North Korea is one of the most isolated and oppressive countries in the world, governed by a class of politicians who believe military ambitions and playing astronaut is what’s best for their people, currently literary starving by the millions. After the failed launch, the country is set to be met with even stricter embargoes, U.N. sanctions and humanitarian aid cuts, the first one being U.S.’s food aid. Sadly, the North Korean people wasn’t the one that brought any of this upon itself, however they’ll be the ones most suffering as a consequence.

In the wake of this failed attempt, other governments will keep the rogue state (even North Korea’s long time allay, China, urged the Pyongyang government to cancel the launch) under close supervision, as all intelligence hint towards an imminent nuclear test in the near future.

“We have to watch very carefully what they are doing now at the nuclear test site and how they explain this with all those foreign journalists in the country,” Mr. Cha said.

Well, at least the Unha-3 didn’t get to blow up in orbit, otherwise we’d have a new peak in space junk material. What really cracked me up, though, was that North Korea issued a public announcement in which it warned of “merciless punishment” directed towards any government (read South Korea and Japan, which had anti-missile units positioned to fire if the North Korean rocket would have crossed in their space) who would dare to disrupt the launch into orbit or collect any debris from the rocket. Now that the launch failed all by itself, where will this merciless punishment turned to? Its people


‘Yuri Gagarin’ blasts off to the ISS

It’s a pretty busy period for the people over at the International Space Station (ISS). Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome last night paid tribute to Yuri Gagarin as the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft named after the first man to walk into space blasted off towards the ISS.

A week from now, on April 12, we will be celebrating 50 years from the groundbreaking first flight into outer space, done by Yuri Gagarin, and astronauts Ronald Garan, and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyayev and Andrei Borisenko departed from the same pad as their predecessor.

The Soyuz, a legedary Russian spaceship is due to dock the ISS tomorrow, and there it will hook up with Expedition 27 crew members commander Dmitry Kondratyev, and flight engineers Cady Coleman and Paolo Nespoli who have been orbiting the space station since December last year and will return to Earth in May. They will be replaced by NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Satoshi Furukawa. NASA will be streaming LIVE videos of tomorrow’s docking here, and if you ask me, it wil be quite a show, so don’t miss it.

EDIT: the live broadcast is already running, you can see the guys gearing up and preparing for the launch.

Huge military US rocket launched into space

It’s not hard to think what the purpose of the ‘Eavesdropper’ is; this mammoth of the US National Reconnaissance Office (portraied below) has launched what is officially the biggest satellite ever sent into uter space. It has a military purpose, but there really are no surprises here.

The spacecraft was put into orbit on a Delta-4 Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force station on Sunday, but authorities gave no other additional details about exactly how much load it carries or what the specific equipment is. The largest unmaned rocket was lauched at 17:58 local time (22:58 GMT). It features three core boosters strapped side by side, each of which has a Rocketdyne-built RS-68 engine.

The engine develops almost 3.000 KN (650,000lbs force) of thrust at lift-off. The largest manned Apollo mission (which had a totally different purpose) could only produce 3 times more the thrust of the Delta, but it had to carry way much more equipment, such as life support and all that; oh, and fuel to travel to the Moon and back. It will be indeed very interesting to see what the political response will be to this launch.