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NASA Space Flight News

Virgin Orbit to Make First Orbital Launch Attempt with LauncherOne

After years of development and testing, Virgin Orbit is preparing to conduct its first orbital launch attempt. The maiden flight of the air-launched LauncherOne rocket is scheduled for Monday, May 25, in a window from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PDT (17:00 to 21:00 UTC).

(Lead photo via Jack Beyer for NSF/L2)

The attempt was originally scheduled for Sunday, May 24, but operations were scrubbed due to a sensor issue. The rocket was fueled completely, and all other components of the countdown were proceeding smoothly prior to the scrub. Fuel was offloaded to address the sensor issue, which has since been resolved. Now the countdown has been recycled for Monday’s launch opportunity.

The Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft is expected to take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 9:30 AM PDT (16:30 UTC), half an hour before the opening of the launch window. The LauncherOne rocket, intended to serve the small satellite launch market, will be air-launched from Cosmic Girl while flying over the Pacific Ocean.

A LauncherOne test article is dropped from Cosmic Girl during a drop test in July 2019 – via Virgin Orbit

Onboard LauncherOne for the demonstration mission is only a mass simulator. This is commonly done on the first launch of a rocket in order to facilitate the same performance requirements as an operational launch, without risking an operational satellite on an unproven vehicle.

Should LauncherOne reach orbit on its first attempt, the mass simulator will be deployed into a low enough orbit that the simulator will quickly decay and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

To reach that point, there are many previous steps that all need to go perfectly for the rocket to reach orbit. The Virgin Orbit team is aware of the risks on a maiden flight, and are focused on gaining as much data and learning as much as possible from the flight.

In announcing the demo mission launch window, Virgin Orbit stated that they are “mindful of the fact that for the governments and companies who have preceded us in developing spaceflight systems, maiden flights have statistically ended in failure about half of the time.”

The mission to defy those odds begins at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, where both Virgin Orbit and their sister company, Virgin Galactic, have based their flight test operations.

While Virgin Orbit expects the majority of their missions to begin in Mojave, they have designed the LauncherOne system to operate from multiple launch sites. Other planned launch sites include the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, as well as sites in England, Japan, and Italy.

Map showing the expected flight path and drop zone for the LauncherOne launch demonstration

After takeoff from Mojave, Cosmic Girl will fly west towards the Pacific Ocean. The Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft is a Boeing 747-400 that was previously operated as a passenger airliner for Virgin Atlantic. The aircraft was delivered to Virgin Orbit in 2015.

Cosmic Girl will climb to an altitude of 30,000 feet before turning south over the ocean towards the drop zone. The launch azimuth for the launch demo is approximately 163 degrees. This will take LauncherOne southeast from the drop zone, which is southwest of San Nicolas Island, off the coast of southern California.

Once in the drop zone, and once all systems have been verified to be go for launch, the pilots of Cosmic Girl will pitch up 27 degrees to climb to approximately 35,000 feet. At this attitude and altitude, LauncherOne is dropped from Cosmic Girl’s wing. After four seconds of freefall, the first stage engine ignites to begin accelerating the vehicle towards space.

The first stage is powered by the NewtonThree rocket engine, fueled by Rocket Propellant 1 (RP-1) and Liquid Oxygen (LOX). The NewtonThree engine produces 75,000 pounds of thrust. After approximately three minutes of powered flight, fuel levels deplete, and the first stage shuts down.

The first and second stages then separate, and the second stage engine ignites. Powering the second stage is a restartable RP-1 and LOX engine named NewtonFour, which delivers 5,000 pounds of thrust. After stage 2 ignition, the fairing which protects the payload during ascent separates from the rocket.

A test firing of the NewtonFour engine – via Virgin Orbit

The entire LauncherOne vehicle is a lightweight, all-carbon composite design built in house by Virgin Orbit at their factory in Long Beach, California. The LauncherOne vehicle is also equipped with an automated flight termination system, or AFTS, a feature only shared by Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket and SpaceX’s Falcon rocket family.

If all of the previous phases of flight proceed nominally, then LauncherOne’s ascent should conclude with the second stage shutting down in Low Earth Orbit. If the launch is successful, LauncherOne will become the first orbital-class, liquid-fueled, horizontally launched rocket to reach space.

After payload deployment, the second stage of LauncherOne will be deorbited to minimize space debris. The mass simulator payload on the launch demo will also be deployed into a low orbit which will naturally decay due to atmospheric drag relatively quickly.

The LauncherOne system can deliver up to 500 kilograms of payload to an equatorial, 230 kilometer altitude Low Earth Orbit, and up to 300 kilograms to a 500 kilometer Sun Synchronous Orbit. With the addition of an optional third stage, LauncherOne can also deliver payloads to higher Earth orbits, the moon, or interplanetary destinations.

Virgin Orbit has already developed a growing LauncherOne launch manifest. One notable future LauncherOne mission is the ELaNa-20 mission for NASA, which will deliver 10 CubeSats to Low Earth Orbit. Other customers for future LauncherOne missions include the OneWeb satellite internet constellation and the United States military.

The post Virgin Orbit to Make First Orbital Launch Attempt with LauncherOne appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

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NASA Space Flight News

Why those sometimes annoying launch, landing weather rules exist

There’s an age-old joke amongst those who work with/launch rockets and those who cover their missions: If the rocket is ready to go, the weather will force you to try again another day.

But why do NASA, the 45th Space Wing of the Space Force, their safety officers, and all launch providers make such a big deal about the weather?  Who cares if it’s raining 18 km from the pad when the safety rules say rain cannot be closer than 18.5 km?  Isn’t that close enough?

The answers to these questions lie in U.S. rocket history and the sometimes painful and fatal ways we have learned the lessons of what happens when launch officers don’t listen to the weather and what the vehicle is built to handle.

Hundreds and thousands of hours of training, testing and preparation go into readying a rocket, satellite, and crew (if it’s a human flight) for each mission.  The flight hardware must operate and perform flawlessly through the launch count to ignition.

After all of that hard work, there is one item no one can control, and that’s the weather. 

Launch Commit Criteria weather is a detailed set of guidelines that outlines the environmental limits a rocket and spacecraft can experience during ascent and landing to ensure a successful end of mission.

Variables like wind direction, humidity, temperature, cloud coverage, precipitation, and more come into play during flight.  

And weather Launch Commit Criteria must also take into account not just the 45th Space Wing’s overall Range safety requirements for the protection of people on land, at sea, and in the air, but also the rocket-specific weather requirements determined by the company that owns and operates the vehicle.

Some of those launch operator-specific weather criteria include how close rain can be to the pad at launch, wind speed and direction, upper level wind shear limits, and others.

Ice on the launchpad after temperatures dropped well below freezing in the hours before Challenger’s STS-51L launch. (Credit: NASA)

Two of these launch-vehicle specific criteria gave the U.S. the absolute hardest lesson it has had to learn about space flight on 28 January 1986 when the Shuttle Challenger was launched in near-freezing temperatures that were 20℉ colder than the lowest certified operational limit of the Solid Rocket Boosters.

The cold temperatures caused the failure of the primary and secondary O-Ring seals on the aft field joint of Challenger’s right-hand Solid Rocket Booster.  The failure method caused a temporary seal to form as O-ring material became jammed in the hole.

This temporary seal was shattered when Challenger encountered the most-intense upper-level windshear ever for a Shuttle (even through to the end of the program). 

Overriding those two vehicle-specific weather rules resulted in the loss of seven people that January morning.

Scrubs for upper level winds today are cause for great commentary on social media.  But as Challenger reminds us, there are serious consequences to flying a vehicle in conditions it’s not built for.

In addition to vehicle specific rules, there are also Range safety requirements launch providers don’t get any input on.  They are the rules in place to protect space center workers and the viewing public on land, in the air, and at sea.

They include some obvious things like lightning rules to make sure a lightning strike doesn’t destroy a vehicle’s electronics and make it impossible to destroy if it flies off course.

But there are less-known rules that come into effect that cause launch teams to have to scrub for lightning even when there is no lightning anywhere near the launch pad.

The lightning bolt triggered by Apollo 12 reaches the Launch Umbilical Tower at LC-39A. (Credit: NASA)

This is an example of a Range weather rule that exists from experience.

It was during Apollo 12 when Pete Conrad, Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean’s Saturn V was struck twice by lightning in the first minute of flight.

The strikes resulted in the failure of a number of critical flight systems, including the Apollo Command and Service Module’s fuel cells and all navigation displays for the crew.  Mission Control received garbled telemetry and communcation from the rocket and crew.

Thankfully, the Saturn V’s flight computer, isolated from the Apollo spacecraft, was not affected by the strikes and kept functioning as if nothing had happened.

Saving the mission was made possible by a single flight controller in Mission Control who remembered from over a year prior a series of strange numbers a team asked for his help in determining where they came from.  He eventually traced them to the Signal Conditioning Equipment (SCE) on the Apollo Command and Service Module. 

Inside the Apollo 12 capsule, there was an “SCE” button that had to be pressed to start bringing things back online.  The button was completely unknown to the Flight Director and the mission’s Commander, but Al Bean remembered it from a completely different training simulation.

With telemetry and information restored, the mission continued on to orbit, where a full checkout of the spacecraft resulted in a successful lunar landing mission and return.

What Apollo 12 revealed was a better understanding of how rockets can trigger lightning even when naturally-occurring lightning is not possible. 

According to a February 1970 NASA assessment of the Apollo 12 Lightning event, “Lightning can be triggered when an aerospace vehicle with a conductive surface and an ionized exhaust plume distorts the electrical field equipotential lines, thus increasing the potential gradient at the top of the vehicle and below the exhaust plume.”

This is a very technical way of saying that rockets act as giant conductors when they launch through the atmosphere, and that conduction lowers the total amount of electrical charge needed in the atmosphere to trigger a lightning strike even when all of the natural conditions needed for lightning are not present.

Triggered lightning conditions can easily be met when a rocket flies through a non-lightning producing cumulus cloud or through thick clouds in general.

In this event, a launch would be scrubbed for lightning (technically for the cumulus/thick cloud rule) even though no lightning is in the launch area.

Another element to launch weather calculations is abort needs.

For launches without people, the launch weather is largely confined to the conditions in the area around the pad.  But once a crew is onboard, an additional commit criteria for abort location weather is needed.

Falcon 9 launches into moody but Launch Commit Criteria acceptable weather conditions from SLC-40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Credit: Nathan Barker for NSF/L2)

This can provide additional frustration to those who travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to a launch site, as abort weather scrubs can and do happen when the launchsite weather is absolutely perfect. 

Back in the Shuttle era, abort weather considerations were somewhat easy to assess as the Shuttle Orbiters had to land on runways where support teams could make test flights to confirm all weather rules were “go” for an abort landing.

The Shuttle was only permitted to launch if it was able to perform all three abort scenarios: Return To Launch Site (RTLS), Trans-oceanic Abort Landing, and Abort Once Around to land back at either Kennedy or Edwards Air Force Base in California after a single orbit of Earth.

These abort location launch day forecasts were provided in conjunction with the NOAA National Weather Service and their Space Flight Meteorology Group in Houston Texas.

For Demo-2, those two groups will be called on for the first time in nearly nine years to provide launch day abort landing weather forecasts for a crew mission to the SpaceX launch team at Kennedy, the SpaceX flight control team in Hawthorne, California, and the NASA Mission Control team in Houston, Texas.

For the long-awaited Crew Dragon mission with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on Wednesday afternoon, a number of weather constraints are in place for launch and recovery.

The following weather Launch Commit Criteria must be satisfied for Crew Dragon to launch:

Like the Space Shuttle, in order for Falcon 9 to launch with Crew Dragon, weather at specific locations within Dragon’s four abort zones must be within recovery limits.  

Benji Reed, Director of Crew Mission Management for SpaceX, stated during the Flight Readiness Review press conference Friday that NASA and SpaceX will be monitoring and measuring 50 different points of weather data from Launch Complex 39A, up the eastern coast of the U.S. and Canada, and across the Atlantic to Ireland. 

Some of these data points will include wind speed, direction, wave depth, and sea conditions.

NOAA satellite and ocean buoy data with analysis by the Space Flight Meteorology Group will play a critical role in determining if Crew Dragon will be able to lift off on its historic mission Wednesday.

Yes, a launch delayed because of weather is disappointing and can often be confusing as everything can appear perfect.

But these rules are in place to protect not just the vehicle, but all launch personnel, cargo, spectators, and, of course, the astronauts.

The post Why those sometimes annoying launch, landing weather rules exist appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

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NASA Space Flight News

Demo-2 passes FRR milestone ahead of historic Crew Dragon launch

The path to regaining US domestic crew launch capability passed another major milestone on Friday, with the Demo-2 mission approved at the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) level during a two-day meeting at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Approval at the FRR provided the mission with NASA’s Certification Of Flight Readiness (CoFR).

With Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon currently sat on Pad 39A in preparation for a Static Fire test later on Friday, officials worked on the final paperwork requirements to approve the path to next Wednesday’s launch date.

The data from the Static Fire test of the integrated Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon stack will feed into the final review of the flow, known as the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) – which will ultimately confirm the launch date.

The FRR, however, has historically been the most important meeting on the path toward the launch of a crewed mission. Such reviews were a major element of approving the Space Shuttle for upcoming missions.

The DM-1 FRR process followed a similar path, with numerous reviews taking place ahead of the main FRR. This path would have been followed this week with the Demo-2 (DM-2) FRR, albeit with the additional pressure of two humans on board.

During the Shuttle Program, departmental FRRs would take place around a month ahead of a mission, allowing key elements such as “Orbiter” and “MOD” (Mission Operations Directorate) to review the specifics of their roles in a mission and cover any issues from the previous flight.

A slide from STS-132’s Agency FRR (via L2).

Each presentation went into great depth for every element of the mission relating to that department, with some presentations being several hundred pages long. *L2 members can download hundreds of Shuttle FRR presentations here*

Those FRRs would then combine in a large-scale Space Shuttle Program (SSP) FRR, which brought together all of the previous departments into a Program-level review at the Johnson Space Center (JSC).

Once that review was passed, the final hurdle was the Agency-Level FRR, which took all the findings of the previous FRRs, most notably the Shuttle FRR, and reviewed them with NASA HQ and the ISS partners.

This would lead to final polling at the end of the meeting to provide the mission a “go” to proceed to the launch date.

A rare view inside an SSP FRR – via NASA

Normally, “Action Items” found during the previous FRRs would have been cleared by the time of the Agency FRR. However, if one of the FRRs suffered from a “no go” during polling, the option to reconvene was provided by the Delta FRR.

For Demo-2, the start and finish of the process saw a “sign off” via two pieces of documentation. The first, signed by Commercial Crew Program (CCP) manager Kathy Lueders was SpaceX’s “Human Rating Certification Package” which became part of the FRR.

The review began on Thursday, with teams from SpaceX, NASA and the International Space Station Program all present.

Steve Jurczyk, NASA Associate Administrator, led the review, with Hans Koenigsmann, vice president for Build and Flight Reliability, as SpaceX’s lead representation.

The Demo-2 FRR being conducted at KSC – via NASA

The key item reviews were presented by Ms. Lueders for the CCP, Kirk Shireman, manager for the International Space Station Program at NASA.

On the SpaceX side, Mr. Koenigsmann was supported by Joe Petrzelka, the Senior Director of Dragon Engineering at SpaceX, Bala Ramamurthy, the Demo-2 Launch Chief Engineer at SpaceX, and Benji Reed, Director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX.

The review focused on the readiness of SpaceX’s crew transportation system; the readiness of the station program and its international partners to support the flight; and the certification of flight readiness.

The review moved into a second session on Friday, which was not entirely unexpected given the gravity of the mission, allowing for all the documentation to be reviewed and signed.

The final document to be signed was the Certification Of Flight Readiness (CoFR), which ultimately concludes the FRR and approves the mission to proceed towards the Launch Readiness Review (LRR).

Reviewing the FRR, officials noted there were some “conversations”, but no significant open items, allowing the review to pass without needing to re-review any specific elements.

Most of the open items were satisfied ahead of moving to the FRR phase.

In a testament to the work that had been completed to this to this stage, Ms. Lueders added the SpaceX and NASA teams had “always performed miracles for her”, before adding she was “very proud of them right now”.

The remaining items of interest related to a smooth flow through the Static Fire test, the Dry Dress rehearsal – set for Saturday – and the final review, which will be the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) on Monday.

The post Demo-2 passes FRR milestone ahead of historic Crew Dragon launch appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.



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News Sputnik

Indian Airports Launch Contact-Less Food Service For Passengers as Airlines Ditch Meals On Board

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New Delhi (Sputnik): Planes in India are ready to take to the sky again from 25 May, as the airlines have re-opened bookings after getting the green light from the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Airports in Hyderabad and Delhi cities have come up with a contact-less food ordering solution at the airport – a travel app that allows for contact-less food ordering and payment.

Delhi International Airport has partnered with a travel app HOI for the initiative which is in line with social distancing norms.

The app will enable passengers to safely order and pick up their meals with shortened waiting time at the airports at a time when flights have suspended serving meals onboard in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.

Passengers will be able to find outlets inside the terminal on the app and place an order and make payment on their smartphones. Once the order is ready, they will receive an alert via SMS and Email.

GMR spokesperson told media: “HOI app comes with a comprehensive feature that lets the passenger enjoy contact-less food service at the airport. Besides food and beverages, passengers can also discover retail stores and other facilities available at the Delhi & Hyderabad Airports.”

The app also performs other functions such as helping passengers navigate the airport seamlessly.

Bringing relief for the ailing aviation sector, Indian Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri announced the resumptions of flight services on Wednesday.

​The standard of procedures rolled out by the ministry include a thermal screening zone prior to entry inside the airport.

The minimum fare has been capped at $46 (INR 3,500) with an upper limit of $131 (INR 10,000) depending on the distance. Commercial flight operations in India were shut on 25 March when a national lockdown was enforced by the government as a measure to contain Covid-19.



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News Popular Resistance

Worldwide Launch Of COVID-19 Global Solidarity Manifesto

Worldwide Launch Of COVID-19 Global Solidarity Manifesto

Worldwide Launch Of COVID-19 Global Solidarity Manifesto2020-05-21PopularResistance.Orghttps://popularresistance-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2020/05/capture.png200px200px

Washington, DC – The COVID-19 Global Solidarity Coalition will launch on May 23, 2020, unveiling a Manifesto signed by thousands of people and organizations worldwide. The launch will take place over a live video streaming through Zoom, Facebook Live, and YouTube. The goal is to establish guidelines, principles, and priorities for dealing with the current coronavirus pandemic to end the neoliberal assault on the environmental and social structures that protect the health and well-being of billions around the world. 

We call upon the global community to rethink the self-destructive path that humanity is presently following as demonstrated by the devastation and the continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, the existential threats of climate change and nuclear war, the waste of lives and resources due to ongoing warfare and unbridled militarismand the deplorable living conditions that billions of our sisters and brothers face daily.

The COVID-19 Global Solidarity Coalition is formed by academics, activists, writers, artists, workers, students, and professionals from 19 countries. Brief introductions of founding members are available here.

As the Manifesto states, “The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the urgency of changing global structures of inequity and violence. We, people around the world, will seize this historical moment … We declare our manifesto today to offer a vision of the world we are building, the world we are demanding, the world we will achieve.”

The Manifesto concludes with the words: “In a world where the gap between rich and poor is obscene, with the world richest 1% having more than twice the wealth of 6.9 billion people, a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power globally and within nations is imperative. Every human being must have the opportunity to live a healthy, creative, and fulfilling life, free from the ravages of poverty, exploitation, and domination.” 

The Manifesto (found here) will be publicly launched twice on Saturday, May 23 to accommodate people in different time zones around the world: 9:00 (9 AM) and 21:00 (9 PM) New York City time. It is available in 18 languages.

More information can be found on the Coalition’s website here.

We can follow-up press inquiries in these languages: اَلْعَرَبِيَّةُ | CATALA | 汉语 |漢語 |DANSK | DEUTSCH | ENGLISH | ESPAÑOL | ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ | FILIPINO | FRANÇAIS | ITALIANO | 日本語 | 한국어| KREYÒL AYISYEN | PORTUGUES | SUOMI | TIẾNG VIỆT | RYUKYU

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NASA Space Flight News

Examining Crew Dragon’s launch abort modes and splashdown locations

It’s a cliché statement to say Demo-2 will usher in a new era for human space exploration. That much is certain.

But with each new crew launch vehicle comes the inevitable question: how will Crew Dragon actually perform a launch abort and how will it aim itself to predetermined locations in the Atlantic Ocean stretching from the Kennedy Space Center across to the western Irish coast?

Crew Dragon has eight abort modes for Demo-2, one on the pad and seven in-flight.

The modes will likely be refined as flight experience is gained, but it is not expected at this time that the various abort modes will change significantly on future Crew Dragon missions to the Station unless an issue is identified that needs to be corrected.

After Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley board Crew Dragon, the hatch will be closed and the vehicle prepared for fueling.

Unlike all previous U.S. orbital human space missions, the Falcon 9 will be loaded with propellant after Bob and Doug are onboard. This necessitates pulling the crew access arm back at T-42 minutes and activating Crew Dragon’s launch abort system at T-38 minutes.

Fueling will begin at T-35 minutes, at which point Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco abort engines will be standing by to quickly pull the craft and crew away from the Falcon 9 should the unlikely need to do so arise.

 

This pad abort would result in Crew Dragon landing east of the launch site in the Atlantic Ocean just offshore.

Once liftoff occurs, the abort landing locations change with every passing second of flight, ultimately resulting in Crew Dragon requiring a potential landing off the western coast of Ireland.

In the Shuttle era, in-flight aborts were relatively straightforward as the Shuttle had to either return to the Kennedy Space Center or continue across the Atlantic to a pre-selected, suitably long runway in Europe or Africa where it would have landed like a glider.

To determine abort landing weather for Shuttle, teams only had to look at specific sites, and only one abort landing location had to be acceptable for the Shuttle to launch.

But Crew Dragon won’t land on a runway; it will splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean if an in-flight abort ever occurs.  And NASA has revealed that 50 predetermined abort landing locations will be monitored for the Demo-2 launch, with each of the 50 locations corresponding to one of the seven in-flight abort modes for Dragon.

A certain, undisclosed percentage of abort landing locations in each abort zone will need to be “go” for landing/recovery weather to commit to launch on Wednesday, 27 May during the single-second 16:33:31 EDT (20:33:31 UTC) launch opportunity.

The seven in-flight abort modes and the times after launch they begin are:

Abort Mode Mission Elapsed Time
Stage 1a 00 minutes 00 seconds
Stage 1b 01 minutes 15 seconds
Stage 2a 02 minutes 32 seconds
Stage 2b 08 minutes 05 seconds
Stage 2c 08 minutes 28 seconds
Stage 2d 08 minutes 38 seconds
Stage 2e 08 minutes 44 seconds

The Falcon 9’s second stage will cutoff 8 minutes 44 seconds into flight, delivering the Demo-2 crew into a preliminary orbit of approximately 190 x 205 km.

The stage 1a abort starts at the moment of liftoff and would result in a splashdown stretching from Florida to off the coast of North Carolina.

With recovery teams stationed in Florida and North Carolina, this allows search and rescue crews to reach Dragon within an hour should an abort occur in this region of flight. 

(Click here to read about the rescue forces).

Abort stage 1b, still during first stage flight, stretches until first stage cutoff and would result in a landing off the coast of Virginia. 

Crew Dragon aborts away from a Falcon 9 rocket during the In-Flight Abort test in January 2020. (Credit: SpaceX)

For both stage 1a and stage 1b aborts, Crew Dragon would use its SuperDraco engines to abort away from Falcon 9 before its regular Draco thrusters reorient and stabilize the capsule before parachute deployment.

Beginning with first stage shut down, the longest of the abort modes begins with stage 2a.

This stretches from T+2 minutes 32 seconds to T+8 minutes 05 seconds and would result in a landing in the Atlantic Ocean anywhere from off the coast of Delaware stretching northward to off the Canadian Maritime Provinces of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.

During a stage 2a abort, Dragon would separate away from the second stage of the Falcon 9 followed by a series of prograde burns of the SuperDraco abort engines to allow Crew Dragon to reach a very specific splashdown location in the North Atlantic.

Abort stage 2b then follows, a short window which would result in a retrograde burn of the SuperDraco engines after popping off the second stage to reach a specific abort location past the province of Nova Scotia.

The following abort mode is stage 2c, which jumps all the way across the Atlantic to just off the western coast of Ireland. It would require a prograde burn of the SuperDraco engines to allow Crew Dragon to reach its abort splashdown target. 

Abort stage 2d would also see Crew Dragon land in the Atlantic off the western coast of Ireland, but would require a retrograde burn of the SuperDraco engines to bring the crew down in this zone.

The final stage 2e abort is reserved for minor performance issues in the very last second of orbital ascent.

This is essentially an Abort To Orbit where Crew Dragon would either fire its regular Draco thrusters to achieve orbit or would be in what is known as a lower-than-planned-but-safe orbit where it could simply continue its mission.

The various abort modes will be called up to the crew during launch as each new abort stage is reached. 

(Lead image: Mack Crawford for NSF/L2)

The post Examining Crew Dragon’s launch abort modes and splashdown locations appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.



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Gateway Pundit News

“Electronic Communication” Used to Launch FBI’s ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ Spy Operation on Trump’s Campaign FINALLY Declassified, Released

Peter Strzok, President Trump

Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch announced Wednesday it obtained the infamous “electronic communication” used to launch the scam counter-intel spy op on President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

In July of 2016, Peter Strzok opened a counterintel investigation into Trump’s camp dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane” on suspicions (based on no evidence) that the Russians had infiltrated Trump’s circle.

For years the DOJ and FBI have resisted the release of this EC, and now we know why! It revealed the entire spying operation was a scam!

The “electronic communication” that launched Crossfire Hurricane was written by Peter Strzok and obtained by Judicial Watch as the result of a FOIA lawsuit.

TRENDING: BREAKING: Susan Rice’s Team Confirms She Was Directed By White House Counsel to Write January 20, 2017 Email About Secret Oval Office Meeting

The document was declassified and released with redactions.

The EC reveals Peter Strzok opened Crossfire Hurricane based on third-hand information that the Russian government “had been seeking prominent members of the Donald Trump campaign in which to engage to prepare for potential post-election relations should Trump be elected U.S. President.”

Peter Strzok also alleged Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos claimed to an unnamed individual that “they (the Russians) could assist the Trump campaign with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton.”

“It was unclear whether he [Papadopoulos] or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means. It was unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.”

Via Judicial Watch:

SECRET/ORCON/NOFORN
[Redacted]

Title: (S/ / CC/NF) CROSSFIRE HURRICANE
Re: [Redacted] 07/31/2016

BEGIN EMAIL

(U/ /FOUO) Legat [Redacted] information from [Redacted] Deputy Chief of Mission

Synopsis:
(U/ /FOUO) Legat [Redacted] received information from the [Redacted] Deputy Chief of Mission related to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s website/server.

Details:
(S/ /REL TO USA[Redacted] On Wednesday, July 27, 2016, Legal Attaché (Legat) [Redacted] was summoned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) for the [Redacted] who will be leaving [Redacted] post Saturday July 30, 2016 and set to soon thereafter retire from government service, advised [Redacted] was called by [Redacted] about an urgent matter requiring an in person meeting with the U.S. Ambassador. [Note: [Redacted]. The [Redacted] was scheduled to be away from post until mid-August, therefore [Redacted] attended the meeting.

(S/ [Redacted]) [Redacted] advised that [Redacted] government had been seeking prominent members of the Donald Trump campaign in which to engage to prepare for potential post-election relations should Trump be elected U.S. President. One of the people identified was George Papadopolous (although public media sources provide a spelling of Papadopoulos), who was believed to be one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers. Mr. Papdopoulos was located in [Redacted] so the [Redacted] met with him on several occasions, with [Redacted] attending at least one of the meetings.

(S/ [Redacted]) [Redacted] recalled [Redacted] of the meetings between Mr. Papdopolous and [Redacted] concerning statements Mr. Papadopolous made about suggestions from the Russians that they (the Russians) could assist the Trump campaign with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton. [Redacted] provided a copy of the reporting that was provided to [Redacted] from [Redacted] to Legal [Redacted]. The text is exactly as follows:

(Begin Text)

(S/ [Redacted]) 5. Mr. Papadopolous [Redacted] also suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama). It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.
(End Text)

(s/ [Redacted]
[Redacted]
(s/ [Redacted] Legat requests that further action on this information should consider the sensitivity that this information was provided through informal diplomatic channels from [Redacted] to the U.S. Embassy’s DCM. It was clear from the conversation Legal [Redacted]
had with DCM that [Redacted] knew follow-up by the U.S. government would be necessary, but extraordinary efforts should be made to protect the source of this information until such a time that a request from our organization can be made to [Redacted] to obtain this information through formal channels.

END EMAIL

(S/ / CC/NF) Based on the information provided by Legat [Redacted] this investigation is being opened to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.

“No wonder the DOJ and FBI resisted the public release of this infamous ‘electronic communication’ that ‘opened’ Crossfire Hurricane – it shows there was no serious basis for the Obama administration to launch an unprecedented spy operation on the Trump campaign,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “We now have more proof that Crossfire Hurricane was a scam, based on absurd gossip and innuendo. This document is Exhibit A to Obamagate, the worst corruption scandal in American history.”

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Demo-2 crew arrives at Kennedy for first U.S. crew launch since 2011

A sentence I have waited almost nine years to write: A flight crew has arrived at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for launch to the International Space Station.  Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley landed at the Florida spaceport at 15:52 EDT (19:52 UTC) today; their arrival marks the start of the final week of launch preparations.

Activities include final familiarization of Bob and Doug and the SpaceX team with the launch day countdown, a static fire of the Falcon 9 rocket, a series of Flight and Launch Readiness Reviews, and a historic liftoff planned for Wednesday, 27 May at 16:33:31 EDT (20:33:31 UTC) from launch pad 39A.

The first major visual milestone in the week leading up to the historic Demo-2 launch signifies the culmination of years of hard work and dedication from a powerhouse space company that was nowhere near the household name they are now when the last U.S. crew launch occurred on 8 July 2011.

That final Shuttle mission ferried supplies and equipment to the International Space Station and was piloted by none other than Doug Hurley, who will now Command the Demo-2 mission.

When the United States voluntarily gave up its ability to send people into space nine years ago, a small version of the Falcon 9 had only launched twice and there had only been one test flight of the cargo Dragon — and not even a flight to the Station yet.

Back then, SpaceX was a company with bold ambitions and a lot to prove.

Today, they are the arguable leader of U.S. launch and rocketry operations, with Falcon 9 currently at 84 missions to its name and tied with Atlas V for most-flown currently active U.S. rocket.

The company has also completed three Falcon Heavy missions and is actively and successfully testing its future Starship for lunar, Martian, and solar system at-large human travel.

The Demo-2 crew’s arrival a full week before launch differs from the timeline used for the Shuttle program, when crews would normally arrive four days before liftoff and the day before countdown operations began.

Driving the difference in crew arrival time is largely the difference in final training elements that can only take place once the Falcon 9 rocket is at the launch pad. 

While this part includes the planned uncrewed static fire of the Falcon 9 of the Crew Dragon vehicle on LC-39A later this week, it also represents the final time the Demo-2 crew and SpaceX launch teams have to perform dry run practice sessions at the launch pad with the actual launch vehicle.

As Falcon 9 rolls out just a few days before launch, the normal Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test — where crews conduct a dry run, do-everything-but-load-fuel-into-the rocket, day-of-launch simulation — cannot occur until the final week before liftoff, necessitating an earlier arrival for the crew.

Overall, this will be the Dragon v2’s fourth flight, following the Pad Abort Test in 2015, the highly successful uncrewed Demo-1 week-long orbital flight to the International Space Station in May 2019, and the In-Flight Abort test in January 2020.

After arrive and getting settled in to crew quarters at Kennedy, Bob and Doug will participate remotely in tomorrow’s (Thursday’s) all-important, interagency Fight Readiness Review (FRR), a joint SpaceX, NASA, International Space Station, Commercial Crew Program meeting of senior managers to review every single aspect of the vehicle, mission, hardware, software.

Bob Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley (right), the crew for SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. (Credit: NASA)

The FRR will provide final clearance from the International Space Station program to proceed to launch and will mark the second-to-last joint-clearance review from NASA and SpaceX to send the mission toward its planned launch date on Wednesday, 27 May.

SpaceX’s own internal reviews have already cleared Falcon 9 and Dragon to proceed to static fire, and pending data review, launch.

The crew will then take part in a Virtual Demo-2 event with media via teleconference on Friday, 22 May.

Monday the 25th will mark L-2 days (Launch -2 days) and the traditional Launch Readiness Review, the final technical review by NASA, SpaceX, and the Commercial Crew Program of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

The Launch Readiness Review will provide authorization to proceed to launch day.

During the crew’s week at Kennedy, they will remain primarily in crew quarters at the Operations and Checkout building located in the industrial area of the Kennedy Space Center

It is the same location where Apollo and Space Shuttle crews stayed and lived in the days leading up to their launches to the Moon and Low Earth Orbit.

The crew will also have access to the NASA astronaut beach house located close to SLC-41, the Atlas V launch pad on the Cape Canaveral Air Force side of the Florida Spaceport. 

On launch day, Bob and Doug will be woken up, given breakfast, and allowed to shower one last time before leaving the planet.

After this, they will suit up in their SpaceX-designed pressure suits and perform leak checks to verify everything is functioning perfectly before walking out to their waiting Tesla Model X for the approximate 20 to 30 minute drive to the launch pad.

The astronaut beach house, with the VAB watching over. (Credit: Nathan Barker for NSF/L2)

This will mark the first time space travellers are taken in an electric vehicle to a waiting rocket for launch into space.

Once at the base of the pad, Bob and Doug will have the opportunity to take one final look at their Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship which will ferry them to the International Space Station.

They will then board the elevator and ascend the Fixed Service Structure at LC-39A to the 265 foot added level of the tower, where they will walk across the Crew Access Arm and enter Dragon for a multi-month mission to the Station.

The crew access level was moved up from the Shuttle-era 195 foot level of the tower.  While SpaceX built a new Crew Access Arm for Dragon, they are utilizing the same slide wire basket emergency escape system and hardware that was used for Shuttle, having also raised it up to the 265 foot level.

If there are no technical issues and weather is acceptable at the Kennedy Space Center and within enough of the 50 predetermined abort zones in the Atlantic Ocean stretching up the east coast of the United States, off the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and across to just off the western coast of Ireland, the final “GO” will be given to proceed with fueling and launch. 

If all goes according to plan, Falcon 9 will lift off from complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 16:33:31 EDT (20:33:31 UTC) on Wednesday, 27 May 2020, ending the U.S. human launch drought which lasted nearly nine years — the longest cessation of human launch operations, voluntary or involuntary, for the United States.

The launch will mark the first time a privately built and owned rocket and spaceship will launch humans into orbit, the first crewed flight of the Commercial Crew Program, and the first flight to carry humans for SpaceX, the Falcon 9, and Dragon v2.

If weather or technical issues delay the launch on 27 May, a backup opportunity exists on 30 May.

The days on which launches will be permitted for Demo-2 is more restrictive than it will be for operational crew rotation flights given some of the manual tests objectives Bob and Doug must accomplish inside of Crew Dragon after launch but before reaching the station, necessitating a roughly 19 hour rendezvous profile of Dragon to the Station.

With a successful docking and a nominal flight timeline, this will be the fastest a U.S. crew mission has ever launched and docked with the International Space Station. 

(Lead image: Brady Kenniston for NSF/L2)

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Demo-2 crew en route to Kennedy for first U.S. crew launch since 2011

A sentence I have waited almost nine years to write: A flight crew is en route to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for launch to the International Space Station.  Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are expected to land at the Florida spaceport at 16:00 EDT (20:00 UTC) today; their arrival marks the start of the final week of launch preparations.

Activities include final familiarization of Bob and Doug and the SpaceX team with the launch day countdown, a static fire of the Falcon 9 rocket, a series of Flight and Launch Readiness Reviews, and a historic liftoff planned for Wednesday, 27 May at 16:33:31 EDT (20:33:31 UTC) from launch pad 39A.

The first major visual milestone in the week leading up to the historic Demo-2 launch signifies the culmination of years of hard work and dedication from a powerhouse space company that was nowhere near the household name they are now when the last U.S. crew launch occurred on 8 July 2011.

That final Shuttle mission ferried supplies and equipment to the International Space Station and was piloted by none other than Doug Hurley, who will now Command the Demo-2 mission.

When the United States voluntarily gave up its ability to send people into space nine years ago, a small version of the Falcon 9 had only launched twice and there had only been one test flight of the cargo Dragon — and not even a flight to the Station yet.

Back then, SpaceX was a company with bold ambitions and a lot to prove.

Today, they are the arguable leader of U.S. launch and rocketry operations, with Falcon 9 currently at 84 missions to its name and tied with Atlas V for most-flown currently active U.S. rocket.

The company has also completed three Falcon Heavy missions and is actively and successfully testing its future Starship for lunar, Martian, and solar system at-large human travel.

The Demo-2 crew’s arrival a full week before launch differs from the timeline used for the Shuttle program, when crews would normally arrive four days before liftoff and the day before countdown operations began.

Driving the difference in crew arrival time is largely the difference in final training elements that can only take place once the Falcon 9 rocket is at the launch pad. 

While this part includes the planned uncrewed static fire of the Falcon 9 of the Crew Dragon vehicle on LC-39A later this week, it also represents the final time the Demo-2 crew and SpaceX launch teams have to perform dry run practice sessions at the launch pad with the actual launch vehicle.

As Falcon 9 rolls out just a few days before launch, the normal Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test — where crews conduct a dry run, do-everything-but-load-fuel-into-the rocket, day-of-launch simulation — cannot occur until the final week before liftoff, necessitating an earlier arrival for the crew.

Overall, this will be the Dragon v2’s fourth flight, following the Pad Abort Test in 2015, the highly successful uncrewed Demo-1 week-long orbital flight to the International Space Station in May 2019, and the In-Flight Abort test in January 2020.

After arrive and getting settled in to crew quarters at Kennedy, Bob and Doug will participate remotely in tomorrow’s (Thursday’s) all-important, interagency Fight Readiness Review (FRR), a joint SpaceX, NASA, International Space Station, Commercial Crew Program meeting of senior managers to review every single aspect of the vehicle, mission, hardware, software.

Bob Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley (right), the crew for SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. (Credit: NASA)

The FRR will provide final clearance from the International Space Station program to proceed to launch and will mark the second-to-last joint-clearance review from NASA and SpaceX to send the mission toward its planned launch date on Wednesday, 27 May.

SpaceX’s own internal reviews have already cleared Falcon 9 and Dragon to proceed to static fire, and pending data review, launch.

The crew will then take part in a Virtual Demo-2 event with media via teleconference on Friday, 22 May.

Monday the 25th will mark L-2 days (Launch -2 days) and the traditional Launch Readiness Review, the final technical review by NASA, SpaceX, and the Commercial Crew Program of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

The Launch Readiness Review will provide authorization to proceed to launch day.

During the crew’s week at Kennedy, they will remain primarily in crew quarters at the Operations and Checkout building located in the industrial area of the Kennedy Space Center

It is the same location where Apollo and Space Shuttle crews stayed and lived in the days leading up to their launches to the Moon and Low Earth Orbit.

The crew will also have access to the NASA astronaut beach house located close to SLC-41, the Atlas V launch pad on the Cape Canaveral Air Force side of the Florida Spaceport. 

On launch day, Bob and Doug will be woken up, given breakfast, and allowed to shower one last time before leaving the planet.

After this, they will suit up in their SpaceX-designed pressure suits and perform leak checks to verify everything is functioning perfectly before walking out to their waiting Tesla Model X for the approximate 20 to 30 minute drive to the launch pad.

The astronaut beach house, with the VAB watching over. (Credit: Nathan Barker for NSF/L2)

This will mark the first time space travellers are taken in an electric vehicle to a waiting rocket for launch into space.

Once at the base of the pad, Bob and Doug will have the opportunity to take one final look at their Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship which will ferry them to the International Space Station.

They will then board the elevator and ascend the Fixed Service Structure at LC-39A to the 265 foot added level of the tower, where they will walk across the Crew Access Arm and enter Dragon for a multi-month mission to the Station.

The crew access level was moved up from the Shuttle-era 195 foot level of the tower.  While SpaceX built a new Crew Access Arm for Dragon, they are utilizing the same slide wire basket emergency escape system and hardware that was used for Shuttle, having also raised it up to the 265 foot level.

If there are no technical issues and weather is acceptable at the Kennedy Space Center and within enough of the 50 predetermined abort zones in the Atlantic Ocean stretching up the east coast of the United States, off the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and across to just off the western coast of Ireland, the final “GO” will be given to proceed with fueling and launch. 

If all goes according to plan, Falcon 9 will lift off from complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 16:33:31 EDT (20:33:31 UTC) on Wednesday, 27 May 2020, ending the U.S. human launch drought which lasted nearly nine years — the longest cessation of human launch operations, voluntary or involuntary, for the United States.

The launch will mark the first time a privately built and owned rocket and spaceship will launch humans into orbit, the first crewed flight of the Commercial Crew Program, and the first flight to carry humans for SpaceX, the Falcon 9, and Dragon v2.

If weather or technical issues delay the launch on 27 May, a backup opportunity exists on 30 May.

The days on which launches will be permitted for Demo-2 is more restrictive than it will be for operational crew rotation flights given some of the manual tests objectives Bob and Doug must accomplish inside of Crew Dragon after launch but before reaching the station, necessitating a roughly 19 hour rendezvous profile of Dragon to the Station.

With a successful docking and a nominal flight timeline, this will be the fastest a U.S. crew mission has ever launched and docked with the International Space Station. 

(Lead image: Brady Kenniston for NSF/L2)

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H-IIB prepares to launch last HTV mission to International Space Station

Japan’s H-IIB rocket will make its final flight Thursday, launching the ninth and last H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) spacecraft to the International Space Station. Liftoff from the Tanegashima Space Centre is planned for an instantaneous window at 02:31:00 local time (17:31 UTC on Wednesday).

The H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as part of its contribution to the International Space Station program. Like many Japanese spacecraft, it has two names, with its alternative name being Kounotori, or white stork.

The HTV-9 or Kounotori 9 mission concludes a series of resupply missions to the International Space Station flown by JAXA’s HTV over the last eleven years. This mission marks the ninth visit to the space station by an HTV spacecraft. Following its retirement, the next-generation HTV-X series is expected to begin launching no earlier than 2022.

The first Kounotori spacecraft launched to the International Space Station in September 2009, arriving at the outpost seven days later following extended on-orbit checkouts and demonstrations. Kounotori 1 spent 43 days at the space station. Seven more HTV spacecraft followed it with successful missions to the outpost, with HTV-9 marking the ninth and final visit.

Like the previous eight spacecraft, Kounotori 9 was built by Mitsubishi Electric. It is ten meters (33 feet) long and measures 4.4 meters (14 feet) in diameter. The spacecraft is equipped with four HBT-5 thrusters, built by IHI Corporation, which burn monomethylhydrazine and mixed oxides of nitrogen (MON-3, consisting of three parts nitrogen monoxide to 97 parts dinitrogen tetroxide). Twenty-eight smaller thrusters are used for attitude control and maneuvering.

The HTV spacecraft is designed for stays at the International Space Station of up to 45 days, plus five planned days of free flight before berthing and up to five days of free flight after departure. Power is generated by solar cells mounted on the vehicle’s exterior.

Kounotori can carry up to 3,000 kilograms (6,600 lb) of pressurized cargo and 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) of unpressurized cargo, for a total vehicle mass of up to 16,500 kilograms (36,400 lb). The unpressurized cargo is mounted on a special pallet contained within a bay in the middle of the HTV, accessible by the space station’s robotic arm.

Most of the cargo in Kounotori 9’s pressurized section is contained within Cargo Transfer Bags (CTBs) stored in HTV Resupply Racks (HRRs). This includes supplies and provisions for the space station’s crew – including fresh fruit and vegetables – as well as replacement hardware and scientific experiments.

The Solid Combustion Experiment Module (SCEM) will be delivered to the ISS by Kounotori 9. SCEM will contribute to JAXA’s Flammability Limits at Reduced Gravity Experiment (FLARE), a project to improve fire safety standards for spaceflight. SCEM contains four experiments to investigate how fires can start and propagate in a microgravity environment.

The commercial Integrated Standard Imager for Microsatellites (iSIM) is a prototype imaging payload for future miniaturized satellite missions developed by Spanish company Satlantis. It is being flown under a contract with JAXA which will see the instrument deployed on a medium-duration exposed facility outside the station’s Kibo module. The camera will capture and downlink images of the Earth according to a schedule uplinked to it.

HTV-9 is also carrying equipment to support the Space Frontier Studio Kibo project, including bidirectional communications systems, which will allow JAXA to investigate how the Kibo module might be used for commercial broadcasting and interactive media activities. Also destined for the Kibo module is COSMIC, or Confocal Space Microscopy, a new microscope that will be installed to support bioscience experiments in the laboratory.

NASA payloads aboard the HTV include Basic Express Rack 11B (ER11B), built by Boeing in conjunction with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. ER11B provides eight lockers and two drawers to house experiments, providing electrical and data connections, water and cooling to support each hosted payload. A new tank for the station’s water storage system, and a pressurized nitrogen refill tank for the Quest module’s Nitrogen/Oxygen Recharge System (NORS) are also aboard the spacecraft.

The HTV-9 mission will also deliver the European Drawer Rack Mk.II (EDR2), a new experiment rack for the European Space Agency’s Columbus module.

Kounotori 9’s unpressurized payload bay contains a pallet loaded with six replacement batteries which will be installed on the space station’s truss structure. Twenty-four new lithium-ion batteries have been launched across four HTV missions, replacing forty-eight nickel-hydrogen batteries. The new batteries delivered by this mission will be installed on the S6 starboard truss segment – the last part of the truss that has not been upgraded – with a series of spacewalks planned next month.

The last HTV launch also marks the final flight of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H-IIB rocket that was developed to carry it into orbit. Derived from the pre-existing H-IIA, this rocket features a widened first stage with two LE-7A main engines in place of the H-IIA’s one. Its additional performance allows it to carry heavier payloads – such as the HTV – than H-IIA. All nine of the H-IIB’s missions – including Thursday’s launch – have carried HTV spacecraft and with future HTV-X payloads expected to use the forthcoming H-III rocket no further launches are planned.

Thursday’s launch will take place from the Tanegashima Space Centre, located on the eastern coast of the island of Tanegashima, to the south of Kyushu – the southernmost of the main Japanese Home Islands. Tanegashima is one of two orbital launch sites in Japan, alongside the Uchinoura Space Centre. Larger, liquid-fuelled, rockets such as the H-IIA and H-IIB fly from Tanegashima, while Uchinoura is used for smaller solid-fuelled vehicles such as Epsilon and sounding rockets.
H-IIB shares its processing and launch infrastructure at Tanegashima with the H-IIA. The Yoshinobu Launch Complex has a single vehicle assembly building serving two launch pads. Pad 1 was originally built in the early 1990s for the H-II rocket, and continues to serve the H-IIA. Pad 2, which will be used for Thursday’s launch, was built as a backup H-IIA pad in the early 2000s and has been used for all of the H-IIB’s launches. Following this launch, Pad 2 will be modified for use by the H-III vehicle, which is expected to make its maiden flight towards the end of this year or early next.

Ahead of launch, the H-IIB rocket was stacked atop a mobile launch platform in the assembly building. The platform and completed rocket were then transported the 350 meters (1,150 feet) to Pad 2. Fuelling of the rocket will take place in the hours leading up to liftoff, as the countdown proceeds towards zero. The two-stage H-IIB rocket uses mostly cryogenic propellants – with both stages burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen – although four SRB-A3 solid rocket motors provide additional thrust in the early stages of flight. Kounotori 9 sits atop the rocket, encapsulated in a 5.1-metre (16.7-foot) diameter 5S-H payload fairing which will protect it as H-IIB climbs through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The zero mark Japanese launch countdowns is termed X-0 – equivalent to T-0 for a western launch. About three seconds before zero, H-IIB’s two LE-7A engines will ignite, followed at X-0 by ignition of the four solid rocket boosters and liftoff. H-IIB will pitch over, assuming a south-easterly trajectory that will take it out over the Pacific Ocean.

The SRB-A3 boosters will burn for about 108 seconds, providing additional thrust as the rocket climbs away from its pad and through the lower regions of Earth’s atmosphere. About fifteen seconds after burnout one pair of boosters, on opposite sides of the first stage, will separate. The remaining two boosters will follow suit three seconds later.

After the boosters have separated, both main engines on H-IIB’s first stage will continue to fire. Once the rocket has entered space, the payload fairing will no longer be needed to protect Kounotori 9 and will be jettisoned to save weight. Fairing separation will occur about 218 seconds into the mission, with the shroud splitting into two halves and falling away from the vehicle.

First stage flight will end with main engine cutoff, or MECO. Five minutes and 44 seconds after lifting off, H-IIB’s first stage engines will have exhausted their propellant and will shut down. Eight seconds later the first and second stages will separate, with H-IIB’s second stage igniting eleven seconds after stage separation.

The second stage is powered by a single LE-5B engine. This will make two burns during Thursday’s mission, the first to inject HTV-9 into low Earth orbit and the second to deorbit itself after payload deployment. The first burn will last about eight minutes and eleven seconds. Sixteen minutes and forty seconds after liftoff, HTV-9 will separate from the second stage.

HTV heading into orbit, as envisioned by Mack Crawford for NSF/L2

After insertion into orbit, H-IIB’s role in the HTV-9 mission will be complete. The Kounotori spacecraft will continue its own journey to the space station with a series of orbit-raising and phasing maneuvers over the next few days setting up a rendezvous on Monday.

After passing through a series of hold points at decreasing distances from the space station, Kounotori 9 will close to a capture point ten meters away from the outpost. Astronauts aboard the space station will use the CanadArm2 remote manipulator system to capture the spacecraft. This is scheduled to take place at approximately 12:15 UTC, with a backup opportunity on the following orbit if the operation cannot be completed before orbital sunset.

After capture is achieved, CanadArm2 will be used to reposition the HTV, and berth it at the nadir – or Earth-facing – port of the Harmony node module, via the Common Berthing Mechanisms (CBMs) on this module and the Kounotori spacecraft. HTV-9 is expected to be the last Japanese spacecraft to berth at the station – future HTV-X spacecraft will instead dock.

HTV grabbed by the SSRMS – via NASA

Kounotori 9 will remain berthed at the space station until mid-July. During this time the spacecraft’s cargo will be removed and replaced with hardware for disposal – including eight of the station’s old batteries.

When it is time for Kounotori to depart the berthing procedure will be repeated in reverse – the berthed spacecraft will be grappled with CanadArm2, unberthed and moved to its release position. After it is released, HTV will maneuver away from the space station before commencing a series of deorbit burns to ensure that it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere over an unpopulated ocean region. HTV is not designed to be recovered, so the mission will end with the spacecraft burning up as it re-enters.

Following Thursday’s mission, Japan’s next launch is currently scheduled for 14 July, with an H-IIA rocket slated for a commercial launch that will deploy the Al Amal mission to Mars for the United Arab Emirates. JAXA’s next mission in support of the International Space Station is expected in 2022, with the first flight of the new HTV-X spacecraft.

The HTV is part of a fleet of spacecraft that support the International Space Station with crew and cargo transfers – alongside the Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, the US commercial Dragon and Cygnus cargo craft and historically the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and American Space Shuttle. The next mission to the International Space Station – currently due to launch next Wednesday – will inaugurate a new spacecraft into this fleet in the form of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The DM2 mission will be the second time a Crew Dragon has visited the station, but the first time it has flown with astronauts aboard.

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Rep. Justin Amash Won’t Launch Third Party Presidential Bid : NPR

Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) announced on Twitter Saturday that he would not seek out a run on the Libertarian Party ticket. The independent left the Republican party last summer.

AP


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Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) announced on Twitter Saturday that he would not seek out a run on the Libertarian Party ticket. The independent left the Republican party last summer.

AP

Justin Amash, the Michigan congressman who left the Republican Party last year and became an Independent, has announced he won’t be seeking the presidency as a third-party candidate.

Calling it a “difficult decision,” Amash tweeted Saturday that he was ending his effort to be the potential nominee for the Libertarian Party.

“After much reflection, I’ve concluded that circumstances don’t lend themselves to my success as a candidate for president this year, and therefore I will not be a candidate, ” Amash said.

The five-term congressman had announced late last month the he had assembled an exploratory committee to weigh a potential bid for the presidency.

But in announcing his decision against a presidential run, Amash said these were “extraordinary times,” with polarization “near an all-time high.”

“Electoral success requires an audience willing to consider alternatives, but both social media and traditional media are dominated by voices strongly averse to the political risks posed by a viable third candidate,” wrote Amash.

He said the coronavirus pandemic would also make it harder for lesser-known candidates to gain media attention.

“I continue to believe that a candidate from outside the old parties, offering a vision of government grounded in liberty and equality, can break through in the right environment. But this environment presents extraordinary challenges,” Amash said.

Amash, once a star of the Tea Party, left the Republican Party last summer. In an op-ed published by the Washington Post at the time, he avoided any mention of President Trump, instead citing a disenchantment “with party politics” as the reason for his leaving the party.

“Instead of acting as an independent branch of government and serving as a check on the executive branch, congressional leaders of both parties expect the House and Senate to act in obedience or opposition to the president and their colleagues on a partisan basis,” Amash explained.

Amash also quit the House Freedom Caucus, of which he was a founding member, that same summer.

In the months since, he has emerged as a vocal critic of the president. In December, he became the only non-Democrat in the House to vote in favor of impeaching the president.



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Dems launch ANOTHER Trump probe – after he fires State Dept official who was investigating Pompeo & pushed a new ‘dossier’ — RT USA News

Two Democrat-led committees on Capitol Hill have launched a fresh investigation into President Trump. This probe focuses on allegations that Trump fired a State Department employee for political reasons.

Trump informed Congress on Friday that he intends to fire State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, claiming he “no longer” had confidence in him.

By Saturday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-New York) and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) sent a letter to the White House, alleging the firing was “politically-motivated,” and announcing an investigation.

The two Democrats wrote that Linick was in the process of investigating State Secretary Mike Pompeo for some non-specific “wrongdoing.” Pompeo, they claimed, instructed Trump to sack Linick.

Trump may have had other reasons to fire Linick. A holdover from the Obama administration, Linick came forward last October with a mysterious dossier, which allegedly revealed an effort by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to push the State Department to investigate Joe Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine. 

Coming after the initial intelligence community whistleblower complaint that kickstarted the impeachment drive against Trump, the dossier was briefly hyped by the media as an impeachment “bombshell.” However, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) – who received the dossier – said it raised “more questions than it answers,” and contained nothing “directly relevant to the president’s impeachable conduct.”




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Washington Post suggests Trump would REJECT a lost election… just like it’s been doing for YEARS!



When Trump was eventually acquitted by the Senate, he fired star witnesses Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland. That the president would remember Linick’s role in the impeachment drama is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.

Engel and Menendez have requested that the Trump administration turn over all documents related to Linick’s firing by May 22. Until then, the precise details of the firing, and Trump’s motivations, remain a mystery.

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ULA Atlas V to launch sixth mission for X-37B spaceplane

The United States Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane will begin its sixth mission with launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket Saturday. Atlas is due to lift off from Cape Canaveral during a two-hour, 29-minute window that opens at 08:24 EDT (12:24 UTC), with deployment of the X-37B into low Earth orbit likely to occur about twenty minutes later.

Built by Boeing, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) is a recoverable, reusable, platform that can operate in low Earth orbit for months or years at a time. The spacecraft facilitates on-orbit research and experiments, as well as other military applications. Most of the specifics of each mission are classified.

The US Air Force has a fleet of two X-37B spacecraft both of which have already performed multiple spaceflights. Saturday’s launch will begin the first X-37B mission operated by the US Space Force – although overall control of the X-37B program and ownership of the vehicles remains with the Air Force.

This sixth flight of the X-37B is designated United States Space Force 7 (USSF-7) – formerly Air Force Space Command 7 (AFSPC-7) – part of a series of generic designations that are increasingly being used to identify US military space launch missions. As the sixth X-37B mission, the flight is also designated OTV-6.

Once on orbit, the X-37B will acquire another public designation, under the USA series that is used for American military satellites. Each X-37B receives a new USA designation each time it enters space. USA designations have been assigned sequentially since 2006, so USSF-7 is expected to become USA-299 on orbit.

The X-37 program was started as a joint venture between NASA and the US Air Force, aimed at developing a recoverable multi-mission spacecraft which could be used for research or satellite servicing and repair. An X-37 would have been carried into orbit in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle before being released to begin its own operations. The Shuttle and X-37 would then have returned to Earth separately after completing their respective missions. NASA awarded an initial development contract to Boeing in 1999.

Following the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003, and the subsequent decision to retire the Space Shuttle as soon as its remaining International Space Station assembly missions had been completed, meant that the Space Shuttle was no longer available to launch the X-37. After NASA left the program in November 2004, X-37 was transferred to the remit of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The X-37 would launch atop a Delta II rocket, without a payload fairing, to conduct missions for the US military. The prototype, X-37A, first flew on a captive-carry flight in June 2005 before beginning drop tests in 2006. X-37A was used to test the design’s performance during atmospheric flight – its glide in to landing at the end of a mission – but was never designed to operate in space.

The Air Force began development of the spacegoing X-37B in late 2006. Another change of launch vehicle saw it manifested to fly aboard an Atlas V rocket – whose five-meter payload fairing could enclose the spacecraft – owing to aerodynamic concerns about launching the spaceplane unencapsulated.

The first X-37B began its maiden flight on 22 April 2010, remaining in orbit for over seven months before making a successful landing in early December of the same year. Four more successful missions have followed, with increasingly long durations. On its most recent mission, which began in September 2017, the X-37 remained in space for over two years before returning to Earth last October.

As well as flying on Atlas V, OTV spacecraft can be deployed by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, a capability that was demonstrated with the OTV-5 launch in 2017. For Saturday’s launch, the X-37B spacecraft is back atop an Atlas V.

USSF-7 is believed to be using the first X-37B spacecraft, which will be making its third trip into orbit, although this has not been confirmed. After carrying out the program’s maiden flight, OTV-1, in 2010, this spacecraft returned to space in December 2012 as OTV-3, conducting a 22-month mission that ended in October 2014. The spacecraft has likely spent some of the four and a half years since its last flight undergoing maintenance and modification to enable operations with a new service module which will make its debut on this mission. The OTV-2, OTV-4 and OTV-5 missions were flown by the second X-37B vehicle.

On its USSF-7 flight, the X-37B is expected to demonstrate new capabilities – including flying with the service module for the first time. This module, which is attached to the aft end of the spacecraft, hosting additional equipment and experiments for the mission. Ahead of Saturday’s launch Barbara Barrett, the Secretary of the Air Force, stated that this mission would carry out more experiments than any previous OTV flight. The X-37B spacecraft incorporates a payload bay that can be opened in orbit to expose experiments to space. A solar panel, deployed from the bay, provides power to the spacecraft and its experiments.

During the course of its mission, X-37B will deploy the small FalconSAT-8 satellite for the US Air Force Academy. The latest in a series of experimental satellites built by the Academy for technology demonstration and to give cadets experience constructing and operating spacecraft. FalconSAT-8 carries eight experiments. Two of these are being carried on behalf of NASA, investigating the effects of the space environment and radiation on material samples in one experiment, and on seeds in the other. FalconSAT will also conduct an experiment for the Naval Research Laboratory to investigate wireless power transfer, generating electrical power through the satellite’s solar panels and transmitting it to the ground as microwave radiation.

The planned duration of the X-37B’s mission has not been announced, although the spacecraft has already shown that it is capable of remaining on orbit for over two years. It is not clear whether the new service module will remain attached to the X-37B for the duration of its mission, or whether it will be jettisoned partway through. When it is time for the X-37B to return to Earth it will fire its engine for a deorbit burn, lowering the perigee – or lowest point – of its orbit into the Earth’s atmosphere. Following re-entry into the atmosphere the spacecraft will glide down to a runway landing at one of its three designated landing sites.

USAF photo of X-37B post landing safing.

The first three X-37B missions landed at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, however since Boeing moved processing operations to NASA’s Orbiter Processing Facility 1 (OPF-1) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) beginning at the end of 2014, the two most recent missions have landed at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility. KSC is likely to be the primary landing site for the USSF-7 mission, with the west coast Vandenberg and Edwards Air Force Bases available as backup sites if weather or other factors prevent a landing in Florida.

USSF-7 will launch aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, which is flying in the 501 configuration for this launch. This will be the eighty-fourth flight of an Atlas V rocket, one of the most proven and reliable rockets currently in service. Atlas is a two-stage rocket, consisting of a Common Core Booster (CCB) and a Centaur upper stage. It can fly with up to five AJ-60A solid rocket boosters to provide additional performance for heavier payloads or where the rocket is targeting a higher-energy orbit. However, with lightweight payloads like the X-37B Atlas flies without these additional motors.

The three-digit configuration number – in this case 501 – denotes the diameter of the rocket’s payload fairing, number of solid rocket motors and number of engines on the Centaur upper stage. In this case, it means a five-meter fairing, no solid rocket motors, and a single-engine Centaur (SEC). Atlas V can fly with a four or five-meter fairing – with three different lengths available at each diameter – or with no fairing when carrying payloads such as Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner which do not need to be encapsulated. Saturday’s launch will use the shortest version of the five-meter fairing, which is 5.4 meters (17.7 feet) wide and measures 20.7 meters (68 feet) in length. The composite structure is produced by Swiss manufacturer RUAG, who also makes a similar fairing for the European Ariane 5 rocket.

This Atlas V has tail number AV-081, a unique designation assigned to each individual Atlas rocket which began with Atlas-Centaur rockets in the 1960s. The Atlas-Centaur tail numbers (beginning with the letters AC) were continued by the Atlas I, Atlas II and Atlas III rockets which evolved the Atlas-Centaur design, before being replaced with the “AV” series for Atlas V.

Atlas V on SLC-41 – via ULA

Saturday’s launch will take place from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SLC-41 is the East-Coast home of Atlas V, with the USSF-7 mission marking the rocket’s sixty-ninth launch from this pad. Prior to its role in the Atlas V program, SLC-41 served the Titan family of rockets. Originally constructed as a Titan IIIC launch pad in the 1960s, Launch Complex 41 (LC-41) as it was then designated was part of the Integrate-Transfer-Launch (ITL) complex alongside nearby Launch Complex 40 and a shared vertical integration building.

In the mid-1970s a series of Titan IIIE rockets launched from LC-41 bearing interplanetary missions to study the solar system and beyond – these included the Helios spacecraft that studied the Sun, the Viking missions that orbited and landed on Mars, and the Voyager probes that explored the outer planets and continue to return data from interstellar space. From 1989 until 1998 the pad was used by Titan IV vehicles. In total twenty-seven Titan rockets were launched from the pad before it was torn down and rebuilt for Atlas.

Atlas rockets flying from Space Launch Complex 41 are assembled in the nearby Vertical Integration Facility (VIF), located about 550 meters (1,800 feet) away from the pad. The Common Core Booster – the first stage – of AV-081 was hoisted into position on its mobile launch platform on 27 April – designated as the start of Launch Vehicle on Stand (LVOS) operation. Two days later the interstage, Centaur upper stage and the lower section of the rocket’s payload fairing – which had already been mated together and are known as the base module – were brought to the VIF and lifted atop the first stage. The X-37B spacecraft, encapsulated in the upper section of the payload fairing, was added on 5 May.

The Mobile Launch Platform, with Atlas V mounted atop it, was rolled out from the Vertical Integration Facility and transported to the launch pad on Thursday.

Saturday’s launch will begin with ignition of the Common Core Booster’s RD-180 main engine, about 2.7 seconds before the countdown clock reaches zero. The rocket will reach launch readiness at T-0, with liftoff itself taking place a fraction of a second later. The twin-chamber RD-180 was developed by Russia’s NPO Energomash and is derived from the RD-170 family of engines developed for the Zenit and Energia rockets. The first stage burns RP-1 kerosene propellant, oxidized by liquid oxygen.

About eighteen seconds into her flight, AV-081 will begin a pitch and yaw maneuver to assume the planned trajectory for the climb to orbit. Flying on a north-easterly heading, Atlas will head for an orbit with an inclination of about 44 degrees. Just over seventy seconds after liftoff the rocket will pass through the area of maximum dynamic pressure – or Max-Q – where it experiences peak aerodynamic loads.

When Atlas V flies with a five-meter fairing, the fairing attaches to the interstage between the first and second stages, completely enclosing the Centaur upper stage as well as the payload. Because of this, the fairing must be jettisoned during first-stage flight. By around three minutes, 40 seconds mission elapsed time Atlas will have reached space, and the fairing will no longer be needed, so it can be safely discarded. A few seconds later the forward load reactor will also separate. This device, which attaches at the forward end of the Centaur, helps to spread some of the payload’s weight across the lower half of the fairing.

Booster Engine Cutoff, or BECO, will mark the end of first stage powered flight, about four minutes and 24 seconds after liftoff. The RD-180 will shut down, and about six seconds later the spent CCB will separate. The Centaur’s RL10C-1 engine will enter its prestart sequence, igniting about ten seconds after stage separation. It is at this point in the flight that operations are expected to enter a media blackout – as is normal for launches with certain types of military payload such as the X-37B – with the only subsequent official announcement being a press release confirming the outcome of the launch.

Centaur’s first burn is likely to continue for about fourteen minutes, placing the X-37B directly into orbit. The RL10C-1 engine, which was built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, is an evolution of the RL10 engines developed for the original Atlas-Centaur and Saturn I rockets in the 1960s. It burns cryogenic propellant – liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen – giving it high efficiency, or specific impulse. Although the RL10 can make multiple burns to deliver spacecraft to complex orbits, it is likely that only one burn will be needed prior to it deploying the X-37B on Saturday’s mission.

A few minutes after the end of the second stage burn – second stage cutoff or SECO – spacecraft separation will occur with the X-37B beginning its mission. While the target orbit for separation has not been announced, and will depend on required conditions for the experiments aboard the OTV, the rocket’s planned ground track suggests it will be inclined at about 44 degrees to the equator, while the altitude will likely be between 300 and 400 kilometers (190-250 miles, 160-220 nautical miles) as on previous missions.

Shortly after spacecraft separation, Centaur will burn its engine again to deorbit itself. The upper stage will reenter on its first orbit, over the Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia.

The X-37B launch is part of a busy weekend at Cape Canaveral, with back-to-back launches of Atlas V and Falcon 9 rockets from adjacent launch pads. The Falcon 9 launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), located 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) south of the Atlas pad at SLC-41, is scheduled for 03:53 Eastern Daylight Time (07:53 UTC) on Sunday morning. Falcon will deploy additional spacecraft for SpaceX’s Starlink constellation of low Earth orbit communications satellites.

Saturday’s launch is the third Atlas V mission of 2020, following launches in February and March which deployed the Solar Orbiter and AEHF-6 spacecraft. Once the X-37B launch campaign is complete, Space Launch Complex 41 will be turned over to preparations for the next Atlas launch. This will be the deployment of NASA’s flagship Mars 2020 mission, including the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV), that is slated for liftoff in mid-July. The tight launch window to get the spacecraft to Mars calls for an extended launch campaign, with additional testing and contingency time built into operations.

The post ULA Atlas V to launch sixth mission for X-37B spaceplane appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.



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Stennis returning as battle to protect SLS maiden launch in 2021 restarts

Hands-on operations with the Space Launch System (SLS) resumed this week, following a lengthy standdown due to the restrictions relating to COVID-19. This included a return to Green Run preparations at the Stennis Space Center, with “limited crews” preparing the Artemis-1 core stage on the B-2 test stand for what will be one of the most defining tests relating to the launch date. That maiden launch of NASA’s new rocket is awaiting a realigned launch date, which officials cite will be moved to “late 2021”.

The Green Run, which at one point was set to be deleted from the test flow to attempt to protect SLS’ schedule, will involve the Core Stage’s four RS-25 engines firing up on B-2 to provide key validation of the hardware’s readiness ahead of being shipped to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

The Green Run was still awaiting a firm date for the milestone firing, although the overall goal was to complete testing “in the summer” in preparation for a trip on the Pegasus Barge to Florida later this year.

However, Stennis moved to “Stage 4” – per the COVID shutdown – on March 16, with only the personnel needed to perform mission-essential activities related to the safety and security of the center allowed on site.

“Though Stennis remains in Stage 4 of NASA’s COVID-19 Response Framework, we assessed state and local conditions and worked with agency leadership to develop a plan to safely and methodically increase critical on-site work toward the launch of the next great era of space exploration,” noted Stennis Center Director Rick Gilbrech.

Key SLS centers, such as Marshall and Michoud are also are in Stage 4.

Work to bring the B-2 Test Stand out of its slumber includes restoring facility power and controls, as well as ensuring pressurized gas systems are at proper levels for SLS operators to proceed with testing activities.
Engineers return to working at B-2 - via NASA“The test facility has been in standby mode, so we allotted two days to reestablish some facility support of mechanical and electrical systems that will also assist the vehicle contractors in performing their operations,” added Barry Robinson, project manager for the B-2 Test Stand SLS core stage Green Run testing at Stennis.

Following modal testing to validate structural analysis on the vehicle, the Stennis team had connected feed and pressure lines. They had about 10 days worth of integration work to get to “phase one” test activity when the center halted operations due to COVID restrictions.

A handful of workers remained on-site to keep the Core Stage safe and watch for water intrusions during several documented “rain days”.

With more workers returning to the B-2 stand, teams will start the ramp-up to phase one testing, starting with electrical checkouts, working through an avionics checklist and driving the Trust Vector Control (TVC) system for the engines.

With the flagship event of the Green Run being an eight-minute, full-duration hot fire of the core stage with its four RS-25 engines, passing that phase – and being ready to ship the stage to KSC – will provide schedule guidance, which has been fluid throughout the lifetime of SLS.
The Green Run was tracking an August test, which is now expected to occur sometime in mid-autumn – followed by shipping to KSC at the end of the year, or early in 2021.

Ahead of the next schedule realignment, which is set to occur next week, Tom Whitmeyer – NASA assistant deputy associate administrator – provided an overview at the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee.

Unsurprisingly, the anchor item for the overview was the status of the Green Run.

“The one thing that we’re really in the process of doing right now is that middle item, the core stage, it’s been manufactured and delivered to Stennis. It’s sitting in the test stand at Stennis, the B-2 test stand. We really need to get through what we call the Green Run test,” Mr. Whitmeyer said.

“When we complete the Green Run test, we’ll take that core stage, and literally begin to build up this integrated stack, test it at the Cape, and then fly it. We bring the motors in first, and then we drop the core stage in, and then we actually stack the rest of the vehicle. We’ll do a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) next year, then we’ll get ready to fly.”

When the Core Stage arrives at KSC, it will be greeted in the Vehicle Assembly Building by the Mobile Launcher with the two Solid Rocket Boosters already stacked on its deck. This follows a similar path to during the Shuttle era, where the boosters would be “built-up” on the Mobile Launch Platform, ahead of receiving the External Tank.

The booster segments for Artemis-1 are already built and preparing to make the train journey from Utah. The latest L2 schedule for transportation cites a NET (No Earlier Than) departure date of next week, on a journey that will take around three weeks before arriving into KSC.

“Right now we currently have all the motor segments we need for this flight out in Utah, (stored) there to keep them dry,” added Mr. Whitmeyer. “Then what we will do is we will begin to transport those motor segments towards the KSC, and they’ll be delivered by rail car to KSC in the mid-June timeframe.”

The final element to be stacked in the VAB will be the Orion spacecraft, which is currently in storage at KSC after completing most of its pre-flight assembly.

“We actually have Orion, almost in a completed state, put it in temporary storage at this point – (ready to) begin the flight preparation processes with the completed vehicle, which involves putting high-pressure helium in its tanks and beginning the bi-prop loading operations at the Cape,” Mr. Whitmeyer continued.

“And by the time we have that completed, we should be in a stacked configuration with the core stage, and we’ll actually begin the integration of Orion then, to the vehicle.”
Per the launch date, the latest realignment was tracking a Summer 2021 launch of Artemis-1, before the COVID restrictions halted the bulk of SLS preparations. The SLS schedule has been slipping an average of one year, each year – although recent schedules had begun to slip only by a matter of months.

“We had for a year now maintained our schedule, in terms of getting that work done. We had some earlier delays in the program, but I think (recent schedules were) an indication of things that had really turned around with manufacturing and processing activities,” added Mr. Whitmeyer.

“SLS, the Marshall folks working with the Boeing team, had created a lot of manufacturing practices and really improved how we were going through these operations. And they held schedule for the entire year, and they actually held schedule when we got to Stennis, up to the point when we had temporary hold operations for the virus.”

Although Mr. Whitmeyer wouldn’t commit to an actual launch date, several references to the end of 2021 were made, ahead of next week’s official schedule announcement.

“That’s the reason I started with the mission map. It’s an incredible journey, it’s going to be an incredible flight for this hardware. And we’re going to really take it a step at a time and make sure we’re ready to commit ourselves to a launch later next year.

“We’re feeling fairly comfortable that we will be having the Artemis 1 mission towards the end of next year.”

The post Stennis returning as battle to protect SLS maiden launch in 2021 restarts appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

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Polymath Eyes June Testnet Launch for New Blockchain Designed for Security Tokens

Polymath is closing in on the launch of the first test network for its new blockchain – one designed to bring new safeguards for financial institutions working with security tokens.

With the Aldebaran testnet, the security token issuer is implementing a relatively new type of protocol scheme known as nominated proof-of-stake (NPoS), which the firm says brings “absolute transaction finality,” a factor “crucial” for the trading of blockchain-based securities.

With a launch date now slated for June 23, according to an announcement on Thursday, Aldebaran will allow testing of the permissioned chain, which aims to be an additional security layer allowing specific actions to be performed by identifiable participants on the network.

“Aldebaran is a major milestone and accomplishment,” Thomas Borrel, chief product officer at Polymath, said in a press release. “A year ago, we built an aggressive roadmap to deliver the capabilities required to satisfy regulators and institutions and give everyone equal access to economic growth.”

Polymesh on Aldebaran will address four “areas of concern” for financial firms dealing with blockchain securities: governance, including removing the legal complexities of blockchain forks; ensuring all parties have passed due-diligence checks; allowing users and trading data to remain private; and using automation to ensure regulatory compliance.

The testnet marks the first iteration of the new blockchain – first announced by co-founder Trevor Koverko at CoinDesk’s Consensus in 2019 – allowing it to be put through its paces and receive early feedback. It will also help the company build collaborations, Borrel noted.

For Polymesh on Aldebaran, the firm is now looking for testers, with a mainnet release penciled in for some time in the first quarter of 2021.

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Vitalik Buterin Clarifies Remarks on Expected Launch Date of Eth 2.0

Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin has clarified his remarks on the expected launch date of Eth 2.0.

CoinDesk chief content officer Michael J. Casey asked if the overhaul to the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market cap was “really coming in July. Are we ready for it?”

“I think so, yeah,” Buterin said, before rattling off milestones achieved so far.

In response, Buterin tweeted, “Yeah I did not say July. Perhaps the question contained the word July but I did not hear July when it was asked.” He then sent a second tweet, saying, “OK I definitely should have heard July in the question, it was my mistake.”

When reached by CoinDesk on Tuesday, Buterin offered a full statement:

“I re-listened to the interview. The question indeed contained ‘July’, I don’t recall hearing ‘July’ so it sounds like it’s my fault for mishearing. Apologies for that,” Buterin said via email. “My actual stance is that eth2 is ‘on track’ in that there aren’t any unexpected bumps in the road, testnets are coming along, etc, but I defer to the client devs on timelines and if they are now saying ‘Q3’ more broadly then I believe them.”

Eth 2.0 represents a fundamental shift from a proof-of-work (PoW) consensus algorithm like Bitcoin’s to proof-of-stake (PoS).

The transition, which was included in the early plans of Ethereum, has grown to be a contentious topic following delays and missed deadlines.

Watch the full exchange from Consensus: Distributed:

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Soyuz-7 Rocket for Sea Launch to Be Equipped With New Fregat-SBU Upper Stage

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MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The Soyuz-7 rocket for blastoffs from the Sea Launch floating spaceport is planned to be equipped with the new Fregat-SBU upper stage, the director-general of the upper stage developer – Lavochkin Research and Production Association – Vladimir Kolmykov said.

“The use of the Fregat-SBU upper stage as part of the Soyuz-7 space rocket from the Sea Launch complex owned by the S7 Space Transportation Systems company is being considered. At the end of 2020, the development of a preliminary design will be completed. The first launch of the Fregat-SBU upper stage using the Soyuz-7 launch vehicle is planned to be conducted in 2025″, Kolmykov said.

Earlier reports said Russian state space corporation Roscosmos set a task to its enterprises to conduct an economic assessment of the resumption of the Sea Launch operation – to estimate the costs of repairing the floating spaceport and the creation of a new Soyuz-7 rocket. Launches are planned to be resumed from 2024.

In March, the Sea Launch Commander command ship arrived in Slavyanka in the Primorsky Territory in Russia’s Far East, according to global ship-tracking website https://www.marinetraffic.com.

The vessel, along with the Odyssey launch platform, is a part of the Sea Launch project, developed as a joint venture of companies from Russia, Ukraine, the US and Norway in 1995. The project was used to deploy nearly three dozen commercial satellites into orbit between 1999 and 2014. In 2014, the joint venture was abandoned. In April 2018, the project was purchased by the private Russian airline and aerospace company S7 Group.

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Sidestepping Telegram, Devs and Validators Launch Fork of TON Blockchain

Telegram’s blockchain network finally launched today – or, at least, a version of it. 

TON Labs, a startup that helped Telegram run the test network for the Telegram Open Network (TON), launched its own version of the blockchain Thursday, with the support of professional validators. Called Free TON, the fork comes after the group decided not to wait until Telegram is able clear the regulatory hurdles it faces before it can officially send TON live.

The initiative is supported by 13 validators and used code maintained by TON Labs. During a Zoom call livestreamed on YouTube, the “zero state file” of the new blockchain was generated, effectively marking its launch.

“The network must not be censored, it must go to the world,” TON Labs CTO Mitya Goroshevsky said on the call.

To distinguish itself from the original TON project, this forked version is named Free TON, and its tokens are called “tons,” not “grams,” as Telegram’s were dubbed.

Telegram did not reply to a request for comment on the initiative by press time. 

Telegram was not involved in the launch, according to Alexander Filatov, CEO of TON Labs. “It’s an independent launch of the open-source software,” he told CoinDesk. TON Labs is providing technical support for the code, while the team of (for now) 13 validators will be supporting the network. The code will be used under the GNU Lesser General Public License, version 2.

The original TON had initially been scheduled to launch in October 2019, but was delayed after the SEC sued the messaging app company for allegedly selling unregistered securities. An injunction to halt the project was granted by a U.S. court in February, making the second launch deadline of April 30 unfeasible.

Devs in

However, as the code for TON is publicly available on GitHub, it’s technically possible to launch it without Telegram’s participation. “This project has its own community, its own idea, its own ideology. Not launching it would be a mistake,” said Konstantin Lomashuk, head of P2P, a Moscow, Russia-based blockchain startup and a Free TON validator. 

It’s not a mainnet, but it’s not a testnet, either, said Sergey Vasilchuk, founder of the Kiev, Ukraine-based EverStake, also a validator. “We’re trying to launch the alpha version, see how this software works in real life,” Vasilchuk said. Like the Kusama network is for Polkadot, Free TON is serving as a proving ground for the tech before it can be launched in full, he explained. 

“The way we see it is as a testnet that has the real distribution but might – and will possibly be – rolled back to the genesis state at any time if there are vulnerabilities in the code and black hats [malicious hackers] decide to exploit them on the live chain,” said Hendrik Hofstadt, CEO of the Berlin-based staking startup Certus One. 

Currently, the 15 entities acting as validators include EverStake, P2P, Berlin, Germany-based Certus and other professional validation-as-service startups that are already supporting networks like Cosmos, Loom, EOS and Tezos. 

There are also three cryptocurrency exchanges in the role, according to a list of validators shared with CoinDesk, including Kiev-based Kuna, London-based CEX and Hong Kong-based HitBTC. They won’t list ton tokens at this point, and will only act as validators, Filatov told CoinDesk. 

Some of the validators came from the TON Community Foundation (TCF), also supported by TON Labs. The foundation launched its own testnet for TON earlier this spring. However, Filatov said “TCF didn’t become a truly international movement,” and thus didn’t succeed in leading the blockchain launch. However, its members can join the new network, too, he added. 

“There is absolutely no technical reason now for somebody to join this network (except the common reason for all altcoins – to get some coins),” CTF cryptographer Alexey Pryanishnikov wrote in a chat while watching the launch livestream.

From launch, each validator will receive 380,000 ton tokens to stake and start producing blocks for the proof-of-stake blockchain. There will be a limited supply of 5 billion tokens, as was the plan for the original TON blockchain. Out of those, 85% will be distributed to “Free TON partners and users,” 10% to developers and 5% to validators, a press release says.

“We expect the TON network to mature quickly and transition into a mainnet state over time,” Hofstadt said, adding that crypto exchanges will later list ton tokens, so that early participants will ultimately be rewarded. 

Investors out

As a fork of TON, Free TON will have nothing to do with Telegram’s obligation to distribute tokens to investors in its $1.7 billion token sale, the participants say. 

“It’s also very cool to launch a network with just validators and developers and having the vast majority of tokens controlled by a community pool, as opposed to investors. It’s a great experiment,” said Brian Crain, co-founder and CEO of staking firm Chorus One.

Hofstadt echoed the sentiment, saying: “We’re very excited about TON because it is one of the first networks that is launching with a token distribution that is not centralized around early stage investors and VCs.”

Telegram’s investors are unlikely to get their tokens. The firm sent them a letter last week, just before the launch deadline, saying the event has been pushed back to 2021. Five days later, Telegram fired off a new letter saying that the token distribution, awaited by the investors for over two years, is now not on the table

Those who funded TON now can opt to either take 72% of their investments back now, or lend their funds to Telegram for a year to get a return of 110% in April 2021. U.S. investors, though, have only offered the first option.

On Wednesday, the deal was further detailed. According to the Russian publication The Bell, Telegram sent over the terms of the loan, offering the 52.77% annual interest rate. It seems Telegram is reserving the option to repay investors at any time, meaning an investors would get 72% plus interest for the time the company utilized the loan, but with a minimum of three months.

Sergey Solonin, founder of the Russian e-payment firm QIWI and TON investor, told CoinDesk there’s no point in lending money to Telegram on such terms.

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‘Very Near Launch’: Polkadot Founder Gavin Wood Details Network Rollout

The Polkadot network is “very near launch,” founder Gavin Wood told attendees of the Ready Layer One (RL1) virtual conference on Wednesday in a sneak peek of the Ethereum co-founder’s new network.

Wood, who wrote Ethereum’s technical paper in 2014, created Polkadot with the intention of allowing users to send transactions across blockchains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum in what is commonly referred to as making them interoperable.

Like Kusama, Wood told RL1 attendees Polkadot will roll out in five or six stages, beginning with a “chain candidate” launched by the Web3 Foundation. The candidate operates as a de facto genesis block for the network, but under the guidance of Web3 Foundation developers. If the candidate does not meet the team’s requirements during this initial phase, it will be replaced by another, Wood said.

Notably, the network will launch under a Proof-of-Authority (PoA) consensus algorithm that Wood invented, which will initially give all on-chain authority to the Web3 Foundation, the non-profit behind Polkadot. As such, the Polkadot network will have limited functionality, Wood said.

“It allows us to start the chain without having to have a set of validators already assembled and having to trust in our potentially unfulfilled governance structures to move the chain forward,Wood said.

The PoA structure is not dissimilar to the NEAR protocol, another Ethereum competitor that announced the launch of its mainnet earlier this week. NEAR is likewise rolling out in a heavily restricted form.

Subsequent stages of the Polkadot rollout will issue the network’s DOT tokens to holders and form validators for the planned switch to PoS. This work will be overseen by a “Sudo module,” Wood said, that will govern how the blockchain structure is initially formed. This module will eventually be dissolved, with DOT token holders taking over the network’s governance toward the end of Polkadot’s launch.

The Sudo module and overarching rollout structure are a “staging ground as much as a proposal” for evolving the chain from something that is restricted to something that is permissionless, Wood said.

Watch Wood’s full presentation below:

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NASA Space Flight News

Firefly gains Quality Certification en route to maiden Alpha launch

Firefly has announced that they have received the AS9100 Quality Certification. This will allow Firefly to move from the development phase to the production phase as Firefly is getting ready for the maiden flight of the Alpha rocket.

Firefly passed all of the quality requirements in order to receive the AS9100 Quality Certification. The AS9100 certification is a quality management practice that is widely used and standardized across the entire aerospace industry.

Firefly has required all suppliers to be AS9100 certified to ensure quality assurance, as qualification test begins for full production capabilities.

“Our AS9100 certification marks a key milestone in the maturation of Firefly as we move from development into the production phase of the Alpha launch vehicle. We are well-positioned to take on new contracts and development opportunities,” said Dr. Tom Markusic, Firefly CEO. “At Firefly, we blend heritage-space principles used to achieve high reliability with NewSpace nimbleness and flexibility, allowing us to rapidly develop economical and high-quality products.”

Firefly will use its AS2100 certified quality assurance program to support a wide range of Spacecraft, including the Alpha and Beta launch vehicle, Genesis Lunar Lander, and the Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV).

“This important AS9100 certification formalizes the strict focus on quality that Firefly has always demanded of itself and its suppliers and partners,” noted Paul Garland, Firefly’s Director of Quality Assurance, who has nearly 35 years of experience driving quality operations for leading aerospace companies. “Firefly’s certified quality processes provide further assurance to our commercial and government customers that we will successfully execute their critical space missions.”

The Alpha launch vehicle is Firefly’s first but smallest rocket. Designed to get 1 metric ton to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or 630 kilograms to a 500 kilometer Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO).

Firefly Alpha – via Firefly

Alpha is a two-stage rocket that uses four Reaver 1 engines on its first stage. The engines run on RP-1/LOX and can generate 736.1 kN (165,482 IBF) of thrust. The second stage uses one Lightning 1 engine that also runs on RP-1/LOX and generates 70.1 kN (15,759 IBF).

Alpha is designed to be a primary/rideshare payload rocket. It can take a larger primary payload to orbit then separate an OTV which can take multiple secondary payloads to their desired orbit. The OTV can take payloads to an orbit unreachable by other launch vehicles and be used as a host platform for payloads.

Firefly also has a larger rocket called Beta. Like the Delta IV Heavy and Falcon Heavy, it has three first-stage cores strapped together. It will have a thrust of 2,208 kN (496,378 IBF) with all 12 Reaver engines firing. The second stage is an extended Alpha second stage and uses the Lighting 2 engine which will have a thrust of 163 kN (35,643 IBF). The Beta can take 4,000 kg payload to LEO, 3,000 kg to SSO, and the capability to take a payload to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).

In October of 2019, Firefly Partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne to increase performance in the Alpha and possibly use the AR-1 engine for the Beta rocket. The Beta will first launch in the 2021-2022 time frame.

Soon Firefly will start the development of their next vehicle Gamma. A reusable rocket-powered orbital spaceplane. Designed to be versatile it can be launched from the air or the ground and can land on a runway at an airport. It will use two aerospike engines and then a vacuum optimized cross-fed second stage to take it to orbit. The Gamma will have its first launch in the mid-2020s.

Firefly’s development center in Texas this month – via Gary Blair for NSF/L2

Firefly is also entering the lunar lander market. Firefly partnered with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to continue the development of SpaceIL’s Beresheet lunar lander. Called Genesis, -Genesis is the English translation of Beresheet- the lander is apart of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services. It will use the lessons learned from the Beresheet lander and will have its first mission in Q4 of 2022.

Firefly has leased two launch sites from the Air Force for the Alpha and Beta rocket. Space Launch Complex (SLC)-2W at Vandenberg Air Force Base which was used for the Thor and Delta rockets, -it was the place the final Delta II launched from- it can allow Firefly to reach Polar and SSO orbits.

The second pad is SLC-20 at Cape Canaveral Airforce Station which was used for the Titan rockets but only had a few numbers of launches, it can allow low inclination orbits that can allow payloads to GTO and to the moon.

Firefly confirming SLC-20 – photo Space Florida

The maiden flight of the Alpha rocket will take place in mid-2020 at SLC-2W with multiple payloads to orbit. With multiple customers including Spaceflight Inc. -who recently signed a multi-satellite launch contract with Firefly- and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, Firefly has a large launch manifest to allow many launches for many years

When Firefly reaches orbit it will be the second time a private smallsat launch provider to reach orbit, after Rocket Lab. Rocket Lab has launched 11 times with the 12th time called “Don’t Stop Me Now” with the ELaNa 32 mission and multiple payloads on May 15th.

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UAE-built Mars orbiter arrives at launch site ahead of July liftoff

An Emirati-built Mars explorer, named Al Amal (“Hope” in English) and developed by engineers at the Mohammed bin Rashed Space Centre, has been shipped to the JAXA-run Tanegashima Space Center for final checkouts and preparations ahead of its launch aboard an H-IIA rocket. The launch window for this mission is currently scheduled to open July 14th, with an arrival at the Red Planet set for 2021.

The Hope spacecraft is the singular major component of the Emirates Mars Mission, which will study the Martian atmosphere and weather, daily and seasonal weather cycles, and how the climate varies in different regions. The scientific data that will be collected from Hope will help us answer key questions about Mars’ atmosphere, such as why gaseous hydrogen and oxygen are being lost to space and how the planet’s drastic climate changes occur.

The Emirates Mars Mission was announced in July 2014 “with the purpose of enriching the capabilities of Emirati engineers and increasing overall knowledge” about the Martian atmosphere. The mission is funded by the UAE Space Agency as part of an agreement with the Mohammed bin Rashed Space Centre (MBRSC), which specializes in the development of satellites and the promotion of space science and research in the Middle East. The UAE Space Agency will also operate the Hope spacecraft during its mission.

The Hope spacecraft was built by 150 Emirati engineers and 200 partnering U.S. engineers and scientists, with construction having taken place at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. Academic partners from the University of California, Berkeley and Arizona State University also collaborated in the development of the spacecraft.

Hope spacecraft undergoing assembly at Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics – credit: MBRSC

Hope’s main structure is cubical and is constructed out of aluminum with a composite face-sheet. The spacecraft measures in at 2.37 meters (7.8 feet) wide and 2.90 meters (9.5 feet) long, and weighs approximately 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) when fully fueled.

Electrical power will be provided to the Hope spacecraft via two large solar panels, which supply up to 600 watts each once unfolded. A 1.5-meter (5-foot) high-gain antenna will enable communications with ground stations on Earth via radio waves, with smaller low-gain antennas also being present in the structure of the spacecraft. These combined can provide up to 1.6 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth at Mars’ closest approach to Earth.

Hope will also be equipped with six 120-Newton thrusters and eight 5-Newton reaction control system (RCS) thrusters, both of which are supplied with hydrazine monopropellant for in-space maneuvers. The six 120N engines will be primarily used for velocity management, while the eight RCS thrusters will be used for fine-tuning. An onboard reaction wheel system and star trackers will also be used to reorient the spacecraft while traveling through deep space, thereby helping to point the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna towards Earth.

To achieve the primary scientific goals of the Emirates Mars Mission, the Hope probe features three major scientific instruments, developed by MBRSC and partnering universities.

Artist’s impression of Hope spacecraft in orbit around Mars – credit: UAE Space Agency

The Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI), which was developed at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics, will function as a multi-band camera capable of taking high-resolution images of the Martian surface, with a spatial resolution of better than 8 kilometers (5 miles). The instrument utilizes a selector wheel mechanism consisting of six discrete bandpass filters, with three ultraviolet (UV) and three RGB bands available for spectral imaging. EXI will help to measure the properties of ice, water, aerosols, dust, and ozone in the Martian atmosphere, along with providing color images of the Red Planet.

Hope also features a far-ultraviolet imaging spectrograph known as the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS), which will examine emissions in the 100-170 nanometer wavelength range in order to characterize the escape of gaseous hydrogen and oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere into space. Like EXI, the EMUS instrument was designed by Emirati and U.S. engineers at the University of Colorado.

Lastly, the spacecraft will host a thermal infrared spectrograph developed by Arizona State University, known as the Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS). The instrument will examine temperature patterns, ice, water vapor, and dust in the Martian atmosphere to track its water cycle and thermal state. EMIRS features a spatial resolution of 300 kilometers (186.4 miles) and is capable of making up to 60 observations a week.

Upon its completion at the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics, the Hope spacecraft underwent environmental testing in the United States, which began in June 2019 and concluded in December 2020. The probe was then transported to MBRSC’s facilities in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for a final set of tests before shipping to the launch site.

On Monday, April 20, Hope was packaged up and shipped from Dubai to the Al Maktoum International Airport, then to the Nagoya International Airport in Japan. The spacecraft was then transported by ship to the Tanegashima Space Center, with offloading occurring on Friday, April 24.

Hope will now undergo final checkouts before its integration onto the two-stage medium-lift H-IIA launch vehicle, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). The H-IIA first flew in 2001 and has enjoyed 40 successful launches to date.

The Emirates Mars Mission is set to launch at the beginning of a three-week-long launch window, which will open July 14th and close on August 3rd. If, for any reason, the launch cannot be attempted within this window, the mission would have to wait two years for another launch opportunity to arise.

H-IIA rocket lifting off from Tanegashima Space Center – credit: JAXA

Following launch, Hope will deploy its solar panels and activate its onboard antennas in preparation for a nine-month-long coast to the Red Planet, with an arrival set to occur in 2021. (This will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the formation of the United Arab Emirates.) Upon arrival, the spacecraft will fire its thrusters to place itself into an elliptical 22,000 x 44,000 kilometer (13,670 x 27,340 mile) orbit, with an orbital period of 55 days. Hope’s mission is planned to last until 2023, with a possible mission extension allowing for a stay until 2025.

Hope is one of three Mars missions slated to launch in July. NASA’s Perseverance surface rover is still on track towards a July 17th launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida, with the U.S. agency taking all necessary steps to keep the mission on schedule amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Perseverance is currently scheduled to make a landing on the Red Planet on February 18th, 2021.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is also preparing to launch the Tianwen-1 exploration mission – consisting of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover – to Mars using a Long March 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle. Not much is known regarding the mission’s status at this time, though it has been scheduled to launch no earlier than July and arrive at Mars in February 2021.

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From Shuttle Sadness to Dragon Delight – USA prepares to regain domestic crew launch capability

The gap in US domestic crew launch capability is coming to an end as soon as next month, concluding a convoluted and painful path that ultimately began when Columbia was lost during STS-107. The last time American astronauts launched from US soil was in 2011 with Shuttle Atlantis during STS-135. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is set to launch with Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken onboard the Crew Dragon as early as May 27.

For decades, the US relied on the Space Shuttle as its crew launch vehicle. While the Shuttle era was filled with accomplishments, its cost and complexity curtailed its envisioned role in taking the US space program forward and was ultimately shackled by safety issues that resulted in the loss of two orbiters and their crews.

The findings from The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) ultimately set NASA on a path to transition to a new crew vehicle, to be designed and built while the Space Shuttle Program concluded a final swansong of missions focused on the assembly of the International Space Station (ISS).

Proclaimed as the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) by President George W. Bush, it had the goal of sending US crews into deep space, and was announced while officially confirming the Space Shuttle Program was to end.

As with most grandiose plans, the planning phase underwent numerous iterations, as the “Moon, Mars and Beyond” plan centralized into a “Constellation Program (CxP)” that used a flagship “Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV)” that became the Orion of today – albeit after a multitude of design changes.

Orion was, in fact, originally set to take over Shuttle duties by first transporting astronauts on crew rotations to the International Space Station (ISS), missions that would mature the vehicle for its deep space role with CxP, a program that included two launch vehicles, Ares I – dedicated for Orion launches, and Ares V – the heavy lifter.

Ares I and Ares V, a 1.5 launch system architecture for LEO and BEO missions. NASA render.

A manifest was created, portraying a relatively small gap between the end of the Shuttle Program – designed to occur in 2010 to redirect Shuttle funding into CxP – to crew flights to the ISS on Orion.

The original plan also called for the end of funding for the ISS in 2017, allowing for a refocus on Lunar missions with Orion, Ares I and Ares V – with the latter lofting the Altair Lunar Surface Access Module or LSAM.

A realignment of funding was mostly required due to the cost of the hardware. Altair alone was classed as costing in the billions, a far cry from the costs expected for the commercial “Human Landing System” contract that is set to be announced this week.

The CxP manifest, created in 2005 and acquired by NSF L2

As with most major development programs, challenges soon arose with Ares I and Orion, further exacerbated by manifest stretch and additional demands on the Space Shuttle Program.

Shuttle, having fought back from the Columbia disaster, was beginning to hit its stride again. Numerous post-Columbia safety improvements were proving their worth, allowing for the addition of missions to the latter part of the program’s endgame.

This included Atlantis’ STS-125, a final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, albeit with Endeavour on rescue standby as STS-400 as this would become the only post-Columbia mission to fly without the “Safe Haven” of the ISS available to the crew.

This flagship mission – and all of the final Shuttle flights – was a complete success, to the point calls were made to extend the Shuttle program for several more years. These calls grew when problems within the Constellation Program – ranging from technical challenges and additional funding requirements – resulted in the schedule slipping almost to the point of year on year during reviews.

The infamous “Zero Based Vehicle” review for Orion – a morale-sapping effort that stripped the vehicle “to the bone” in an effort to control mass growth that was challenging Ares I’s capabilities – almost reset the clock on several years of development and proved to be one of the final straws for lawmakers, as the entire human space flight program underwent a major review in 2009.

The Augustine Commission’s “Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee” highlighted the problems with the Constellation Program, saw numerous presentations – including one from veteran astronaut Sally Ride that overviewed a potential life extension for the Space Shuttle – along with various alternative long-term goals for deep space exploration.

Ultimately, the findings resulted in President Obama canceling the Constellation Program the following year, soon followed by the President’s speech to the Kennedy Space Center workforce that Orion would be “saved” as a stripped-down crew escape vehicle on the ISS, while astronauts used the Russian Soyuz for crew rotations.

As part of the 2010 Authorization Act, NASA’s exploration plans began to center around a new Heavy Lift Launcher, utilizing former Shuttle and Constellation heritage hardware, providing Orion with a second life as a BEO (Beyond Earth Orbit) specific crew transport and ultimately redirecting NASA’s primary mission into deep space with a rocket that is now known as the Space Launch System (SLS).

Senator Bill Nelson overviews the SLS rocket that’s design was heavily influenced at the political level – as former NASA administrator Charlie Bolden – understood not to be a big fan of the rocket – looks on. Photo: US Senate.

While the cost and schedule of what is now known as the Artemis Program have more than its fair share of critics, the realignment of NASA’s own goals gave birth to the Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Building on the success of the commercial missions to resupply the ISS, NASA’s ability to purchase services from the commercial companies allowed the Agency to begin the “handover” of Low Earth Orbit and focus on sending NASA astronauts back to the Moon and eventually beyond.

Numerous award contract phases and milestones were created, starting with the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program in 2010.

By the time the program reached the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) award milestone, numerous suitors had failed in their bids, ranging from the United Space Alliance (USA) with its commercial Shuttle extension option, through to Blue Origin and t/Space.

Only three companies won through to the CCtCap phase – SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) – with the latter’s Dream Chaser crew vehicle a fan favorite and with high hopes of success based on NASA’s major wish for “dissimilar redundancy”.

Dream Chaser’s spaceplane concept, with the ability to return to a variety of runway options, provided a different option to Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

Although Dream Chaser suffered a runway incident during her first Approach and Landing Test – notably caused by a malfunction with landing gear borrowed from a fighter jet – this didn’t play heavily into the downselect decision to initially award Boeing up to $4.2 billion and SpaceX up to $2.6 billion. With rumors of heavy lobbying from Boeing, SNC officially protested the decision, but their protest was ultimately denied.

Crew Dragon and Starliner racing to the ISS – envisioned by Nathan Koga for NSF/L2

Although the schedules for the transition to commercial crew transportation suffered numerous slips to its original readiness date, part of that was due to a funding squeeze that saw numerous NASA budgets place a higher focus on SLS – via the “exploration budget” element – funding, with numerous lawmakers championing support for a rocket that involved large contractors from their respective States.

Both of the winning commercial crew companies have suffered technical mishaps on the road to crewed flights, with Starliner suffering an abort motor fuel leak in 2018 that delayed its schedule before the Orbital Flight Test (OFT-1) failed to reach the ISS due to software issues.

Boeing is currently working to mitigate the problems found during the post-flight investigation before reflying the uncrewed test mission later this year.

Starliner launches on Atlas V – Photo by Mike Deep for NSF

SpaceX’s path hasn’t been plain sailing either. While DM-1 Dragon successfully completed its own docking mission to the ISS, a historic flight that set the stage for the return of US domestic crew flights, the vehicle later exploded on the test stand at Cape Canaveral during a key SuperDraco abort motor test. SpaceX has also had to conduct numerous tests of upgraded parachutes.

However, in typical SpaceX fashion, the company quickly fought back, with a successful In-Flight Abort test completed, along with numerous Mk3 parachute drop tests and the usual multitude of reviews.

Confidence is now high enough to set as NET (No Earlier Than) launch date of May 27 for Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to head uphill on the Crew Dragon and dock at the ISS.

Colonel Hurley will provide the perfect bridge between the final flight of the Space Shuttle – following his role as Atlantis’ pilot – and the return of US domestic crew launch capability, which is taking place from the same 39A launch pad at KSC, albeit after a SpaceX stylized revamp, as STS-135 launched from.

Crew Dragon launches on the IFA flight from 39A – photo by Brady Kenniston for NSF/L2

Unlike Orion, the gap to the following Crew Dragon mission will be short – providing all goes well with the DM-2 flight. The USCV-1 (US Crew Vehicle -1) mission is set to follow in the summer with Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Soichi Noguchi and Shannon Walker on board.

While Dragon is all set to win the “race” to become the first US crewed vehicle to arrive at the Station since Atlantis in 2011, the importance of Starliner becoming involved with crew rotation is vital to NASA.

The lack of dissimilar vehicle redundancy during the standdown in the Shuttle Program after the loss of Columbia saw the initial reliance on the Russian Soyuz to maintain an American presence on the ISS. Soyuz will continue to provide a backup role during the early phase of the Commercial Crew flights to the Station before NASA can claim confidence they have both Dragon and Starliner capability to provide all of its transportation requirements.

For Starliner, additional synergy with the Shuttle past will come via Commander Chris Fergurson, who flew with Doug Hurley during STS-135. The duo left a flag marking the Shuttle’s history and proclaimed it would be returned to Earth when domestic launch capability returned.

Colonel Hurley will gain that honor, although the ultimate success will come when Commander Ferguson also makes his return to the Station, on the first Starliner docking to the orbital outpost.

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Rocket Lab rolls out first Electron at LC-2 ahead of Q3 2020 launch

Rocket Lab has rolled out the first Electron rocket that will lift off from Launch Complex 2 (LC-2), the company’s launch site at Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS). Rocket Lab has also performed several tests on the rocket and ground equipment to verify pad systems. LC-2’s maiden launch, carrying the sole payload of the STP-27RM mission, is set to take place in the third quarter of 2020.

Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2

To help reduce the load on Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, and to allow Electron to reach different orbits, Rocket Lab began a search for where to construct a second launch complex. The new site – named Launch Complex 2 – would be located somewhere in the United States.

Eventually, Rocket Lab narrowed down the search to four different sites: Kennedy Space Center, Vandenberg Air Force Base, the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska, and MARS at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Ultimately, Rocket Lab decided on building LC-2 at MARS – primarily due to having lower launch traffic than other facilities, along with the ability to reach lower-inclination orbits.

MARS has historically only launched one or two missions per year – leaving plenty of room on the range schedule for Electron to launch up to 12 times per year.

LC-2 would be built next to the existing MARS Pad 0A, where Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket launches from.

On the same day as the selection announcement – October 17, 2018 – ground was broken for Launch Complex 2. Construction on the site began in earnest in February 2019.

Throughout 2019, LC-2 was constructed at a quick pace. By October, the launch mount and strongback had been installed at the pad.

Officials and team members from Rocket Lab, MARS, and the Virginia government at LC-2’s opening ceremony in December 2019. Credit: Rocket Lab

LC-2 was officially opened on December 12, 2019 – setting a record for the fastest launch pad construction to date.

Recently, Rocket Lab has been testing and validating the systems at the new pad. This included raising the site’s first Electron rocket vertical and performing a test of the engine igniters.

Tests of powering and communication were also performed on the vehicle.

Rocket Lab has noted that the launch site tests occurred before the Virginia government ordered non-essential businesses to close due to COVID-19. Currently, only essential personnel are on-site to ensure the safety of pad equipment.

The first Electron raised vertical at LC-2 for tests of the rocket and ground systems. Credit: Rocket Lab

Currently, the company still has to complete NASA certification for its Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS).

If there is a major issue during launch – such as a deviation of trajectory or loss of tank pressure – the AFTS will destroy the rocket to ensure the safety of people and structures nearby.

AFTS is preferred over a manual system because it simplifies the launch process and range preparations.

Rocket Lab has already flown several missions with an active AFTS from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. When the first Electron lifts off from LC-2, it will mark the first time an AFTS flies from MARS.

NASA expects the certification to be finished in time for a launch in Q3 2020.

Rocket Lab is also continuing work on an Integration and Control Facility (ICF) near MARS. As its name suggests, the ICF will be where simultaneous integration of multiple Electron rockets and their payloads will take place. In addition, the facility will include office space and a launch control center.

From the ICF, completed Electron rockets will be moved to LC-2 and raised vertical for launch.

The first mission from LC-2 will be the STP-27RM mission for the US Air Force’s Space Test Program. Previously, the mission was expected to launch in the second quarter of 2020. However, due to delays from COVID-19-related closures, launch has been pushed back to the third quarter.

For the mission, Electron will carry a single microsat to Low Earth Orbit. The satellite will determine the capability for smallsats to monitor space weather. The microsat is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Monolith program.

STP-27RM is the second Electron flight for the Space Test Program, following STP-27RD in May 2019.

In 2021, another Electron will launch from LC-2, carrying NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) to a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. This pathfinder mission will verify that the unique orbit can be used for the future Gateway station as part of the Artemis program.

Rocket Lab is also building a third launch pad, called LC-1B.

LC-1B is being constructed near LC-1 in New Zealand to ensure that a launch pad is always available.

Currently, it takes about 4 weeks after a launch to return LC-1 to flight readiness. With two launch pads, the company can process a rocket on one while refurbishing the other. The new pad is expected to be finished in late 2020.

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