A Niche in Time: “Lock the doors”

Debris is visible coming from the left wing of Columbia about two minutes before the shuttle broke up. The image was taken at Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base.

Part 3 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The space shuttle Columbia glowed brightly as it streaked across the predawn skies of the western United States on Feb 1, 2003. Decelerating from an orbital speed of 28,165 km/hr (17,500 miles/hr) at an altitude of 70,165 m (230,200 ft), the shuttle and its seven crew members were enveloped in super heated plasma as they descended deeper into the thickening atmosphere on their return from a 16-day science mission.

Three observers on the ground who were filming the fiery reentry suddenly noticed something odd. There was a sudden flash on the orbiter, and then bright objects streaked behind the ship and burned up.

“Look at the chunks coming off that,” one shouted. “What the heck is that?”

“I don’t know,” his friend replied.

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SES Selects Arianespace to Launch O3b Satellites

Arianespace’s Soyuz lifts off from the Spaceport’s ELS launch facility during the daytime launch with four more connectivity satellites for O3b Networks. (Credit: Arianespace)

PARIS (Arianespac PR) — SES has selected Arianespace for its fifth launch of four O3b satellites joining the O3b Medium Earth Orbit fleet. The mission on a Soyuz rocket will be conducted from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, in 2019.

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Soyuz Crew Launch to ISS Set for Tuesday Evening

In this one second exposure photograph, the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft is seen launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan (NASA PR) — Expedition 53-54 Flight Engineers Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos are scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:17 p.m. today aboard the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft.

Launch coverage will begin at 4:15 p.m. on NASA TV. After their launch, the trio will travel on a fast-track, six-hour path to the space station, where they are expected to dock at 10:57 p.m. tonight, Sept. 12.

Eumetsat Books Two Launches on Arianespace’s Soyuz Booster

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

PARIS (Arianespace PR) — Arianespace and EUMETSAT announce the signature of a contract entrusting Arianespace with the launch of the first two Metop-SG satellites of the EUMETSAT Polar System of Second Generation (EPS-SG), plus an option for the launch of a third satellite, to be performed from the Guiana Space Center – Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

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President Trump Welcomes Home Record-breaking NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson talks on the phone with President Donald Trump as she flew on a NASA plane to Johnson Space Center’s Ellington Field in Houston Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. (Credits: NASA/D. Huot)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer received a special welcome as they were flying home to Houston Sunday evening. President Donald Trump spoke by phone with Whitson and Fischer on a NASA plane following Whitson’s record-breaking mission to the International Space Station.

Whitson, Fischer, and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, landed back on Earth Saturday in Kazakhstan. She and Fischer flew to NASA Johnson Space Center’s Ellington Field Sunday.

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ISS Crew Return Safely to Earth

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, and NASA astronaut Jack Fischer undergo routine initial medical checks after returning from their mission aboard the International Space Station at 9:21 p.m. EDT Saturday (7:21 a.m. Kazakhstan time, Sunday, Sept. 3), landing southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. (Credits: NASA TV)

DZHEZKAZGAN, Kazakhstan (NASA PR)  — NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who set multiple U.S. space records during her mission aboard the International Space Station, along with crewmates Jack Fischer of NASA and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, safely landed on Earth at 9:21 p.m. EDT Saturday (7:21 a.m. Kazakhstan time, Sunday, Sept. 3), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.

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NASA TV to Air Return of ISS Crew Members on Saturday

Expedition 52 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson of NASA, Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA float through the Harmony module of the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Record-breaking NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and her Expedition 52 crewmates are scheduled to depart the International Space Station and return to Earth Saturday, Sept. 2. NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide complete coverage of their departure and landing.

Whitson, fellow Expedition 52 Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos will undock their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the space station at 5:58 p.m. EDT and land in Kazakhstan at 9:22 p.m. (7:22 a.m. Sept. 3, Kazakhstan time).

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NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Shares Thoughts on Extended Mission, Returning to Earth

Peggy Whitson aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson is set to leave the International Space Station – her home of the past nine months – on Saturday, Sept. 2, and return to Earth. Impacts from Hurricane Harvey at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston caused her final in-flight news conference to be canceled, however, she was able to participate via email in the following interview with the Associated Press’s Marcia Dunn, acting as a press pool representative.

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New Crew Arrives at International Space Station

Expedition 52 flight engineers Paolo Nespoli of ESA, left, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, and Randy Bresnik of NASA pose for a photograph outside the Soyuz simulator. (Credits: NASA/ Bill Ingalls)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — After a six-hour spaceflight, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) arrived at the International Space Station at 5:54 p.m. EDT Friday to continue important scientific research in the orbiting laboratory.

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A Look at the History of Suborbital Spaceflight

Neil Armstrong with the X-15 on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

With Richard Branson once again predicting that Virgin Galactic will fly SpaeShipTwo into space before the end of the year, it seems like a good time to take a look at the history of suborbital spaceflight.

The number of manned suborbital flights varies depending upon the definition you use. The internationally recognized boundary is 100 km (62.1 miles), which is also known as the Karman line. The U.S. Air Force awarded astronaut wings to any pilot who exceeded 80.5 km (50 miles).

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Soyuz Rocket Launches 73 Satellites in One Flight

Soyuz-2 launch (Credit: Roskosmos)

A Russian Soyuz-2 rocket deployed 48 Planet Dove and eight Spire Lemur CubeSats on Friday during a flight that deployed a total of 73 satellites.

The Dove and Lemur satellites were secondary payloads on the launch, whose main mission was to deploy the Kanopus-V-IK remote sensing satellite.

Planet co-founder Will Marshall tweeted that all 48 satellites were deployed as planned and were in contact with ground controllers.

The Soyuz also launched three Cicero radio occultation satellites for GeoOptics and two Corvus-BC imaging CubeSats for Astro Digital.  Both companies are based in the United States.

In addition to Russia and the United States, the 72 secondary satellites came from Canada, Germany Japan, and Norway.

Corruption Cases Far Outnumber Launches at Vostochny

Soyuz launch complex at Vostochny. (Credit: Roscosmos)

We here at Parabolic Arc haven’t been writing too much lately about the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East. It’s not so much from a lack of interest, but rather a lack of actual news to report.

Since the much heralded maiden launch of a Soyuz-2 booster in April 2016 from the spaceport designed to free Russia from dependence on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, there have been no additional flights from the site in more than a year. As in none, zero, zilch, cero, nada, big goose egg.

But, that doesn’t mean nothing is happening at Vostochny. Construction crews continue to build out the spaceport, which will feature an additional launch pad for Russia’s rocket of the future, the Angara. This module family of rockets has flown only twice, most recently in December 2014.

While Vostochny has been decided short on launches, the corruption cases the facility has become notorious for — with their millions in missing rubles, unpaid workers and diamond-encrusted Mercedes — continue to pile up like cord wood.

Mikhail Kalinin, the former CEO of the state enterprise Glavnoye Voyenno-Stroitelnoye Upravleniye No. 9, is the latest to be arrested for allegedly lining his pockets at the expense of Russia’s hard-working taxpayers.

“Kalinin demanded 4 million rubles ($66,250) from a Krasnoyarsk businessman for assistance in concluding a subcontract for construction work at the Vostochny Cosmodrome,” Russia Crime reports. “The second criminal case against Mikhail Kalinin is connected with the appropriation of 10 million rubles for the construction of the spaceport.”

If my math is right, the 10 million rubles is equivalent to $165, 625, making Kalinin’s alleged haul from the two capers a cool $213,875.  Not bad work, if you can steal it.

Kalinin has pleaded not guilty, although he is willing to cooperate in the investigation.

Mid-Year Launch Report: U.S. (& SpaceX) in the Lead

Screenshot of SpaceX Falcon 9 Bulgaria 1 satellite launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

We are now halfway through 2017, so it seems like a good time to take a look at the year in orbital launches.

ORBITAL LAUNCHES THROUGH JUNE 2017
NATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
United States130013
Russia8008
China6017
Europe5005
India4004
Japan3104
New Zealand0101
TOTAL392142

A total of 42 launches have been conducted thus far, with 39 successes, two failures and one partial failure. The two failures were inaugural flight tests of new boosters.

American companies have launched 13 times. Nine of those flights have been conducted by SpaceX, giving the company more launches than anyone else thus far. United Launch Alliance successfully three three Atlas V boosters and one Delta IV rocket.

Russia has conducted eight launches. Included in the total are two Russian Soyuz flights conducted from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.

China is close behind with seven launches. Six flights were successful, but a Long March 3B booster suffered a partial failure earlier this month that left a spacecraft in a lower-than-planned orbit.

LAUNCHES BY VEHICLE THROUGH JUNE 2017
LAUNCH VEHICLENATIONSUCCESSES
FAILURES
PARTIAL FAILURESTOTAL
 Falcon 9United States9009
 Soyuz 2Russia6006
 Ariane 5 Europe4004
 Atlas VUnited States 300 3
 H-IIAJapan3003
 Long March 3BChina2013
 PSLVIndia2002
 Delta IV United States1 001
 GSLV Mk II India 1 001
 GSLV Mk III India 1 001
KT-2 China 1 001
 Kuaizhou 1 China 1 001
 Long March 2D China 1 001
 Long March 7 China 1 001
 Proton Russia 1 001
 Soyuz-2.1vRussia 1 001
 VegaEurope 1001
 Electron New Zealand0101
 S-520-4 Japan010 1
TOTAL392142

Europe follows with five successful launches, including four using the Ariane 5 booster and one using the Vega launcher.

India launched four times, with the highlight being the successful first orbital test of the new GSLV Mk. III booster. The launch vehicle — the nation’s most powerful to date — had been previously tested during a suborbital flight without an upper stage.

Japan also launched four times with three successes. The maiden flight test of Japan’s new SS-520-4 nanosat launcher failed in January, destroying some CubeSats.

New Zealand made the orbital launch list for the first time this year. The maiden flight test of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster failed to orbit an inert mass. Rocket Lab is a U.S.-New Zealand company.

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Russian Rocket Engines Exempted from Sanctions Bill

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

Officials at Orbital ATK and ULA breathed sighs of relief on Thursday as the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to exempt rocket engines from a sanctions bill targeting Iran and Russia.

The amendment to the sanctions measure exempted RD-180 engines used by ULA in the first stage of its Atlas V booster and the RD-181 engines Orbital ATK uses in the first stage of its Antares launch vehicle. Both engines are produced by NPO Energomash of Russia.

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Man Dies in Fire at Soyuz Drop Zone

Soyuz launches Progress supply ship on June 14, 2017. (Credit: Roscosmos)

TASS reports some sad news: a truck driver died while trying to extinguish a Kazakh steppe fire at the drop zone for the stages of a Russian Soyuz-2.1a rocket that launched a Progress supply ship to the International Space Station on Wednesday.

“According to the available information, the Kamaz truck driver, an employee of JSC NPO Mashinostroyenia, has died while extinguishing the fire. JSC NPO Mashinostroyenia (not affiliated to Roscosmos) oversees maintenance of the drop zones. The fire engulfed the Kamaz vehicle after a particularly strong gust of wind,” TASS reports, citing a report from Roscosmos.