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Posts Tagged ‘space flight’

Israeli lunar lander to launch tonight

Posted by Richard on February 21, 2019

Israel is set to join the exclusive club (US, Russia, and China) that has landed a spacecraft on the moon. But it’s not the Israeli government’s undertaking. This will be the first private lunar mission:

Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) say that Israel’s inaugural voyage to the moon – the world’s first privately funded lunar mission – will begin Thursday night at approximately 8:45 p.m., U.S. Eastern time, when the lunar lander “Beresheet” (“In the Beginning”) blasts off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceIL was a finalist in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, which ended last March with no winner when Google withdrew its support. The XPRIZE Foundation is seeking a sponsor for a new Lunar XPRIZE.

As usual, SpaceX will provide a live webcast of the launch.

So, how long until Hamas declares that Mohammed, in a dream, rode his winged horse to the moon and claimed it for Islam, making this mission an act of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people?

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Incredible must-see video of today’s SpaceX launch and landing

Posted by Richard on April 8, 2016

Trust me, you need to set aside 37 minutes to watch SpaceX’s video of the Dragon CRS-8 mission. If you’re pressed for time, you can skip the first 15-18 minutes. Make sure you watch in full-screen mode and HD. If you have a big-screen TV with a web browser, watch it on that.

Launch is at the 19-minute mark. You definitely want to watch from there through main engine cutoff (MECO) and second stage ignition (~21:30), and the first-stage landing (~27:00) is simply amazing, awesome, breathtaking … words are inadequate to describe it. I’ve watched it five times now and each time is still a thrill. “The crowd is going a little nuts here” is an understatement, and the joy of the people at SpaceX is contagious. It’s the best I’ve felt in a long time.

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SpaceX launches private spaceship into orbit

Posted by Richard on December 8, 2010

The first operational test of the Dragon spacecraft, capable of carrying up to 7 astronauts, appears to be a success. This morning, SpaceX launched the Dragon into orbit atop its Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Gizmodo has video.

This was only the second launch of the Falcon 9 (the first was in June), and the first under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The plans for this flight were ambitious: 

The upcoming demonstration mission will launch from Cape Canaveral and should follow a flight plan nearly identical to the first Falcon 9 launch, but this time the Dragon spacecraft will separate from the second stage and will demonstrate operational communications, navigation, maneuvering and reentry. Although it does not have wings like Shuttle, the Dragon spacecraft is controlled throughout reentry by the onboard Draco thrusters which enable the spacecraft to touchdown at a very precise location – ultimately within a few hundred yards of its target.

While Dragon will initially make water landings, over the long term, Dragon will be landing on land. For this first demo flight, Dragon will make multiple orbits of the Earth as we test all of its systems, and will then fire its thrusters to begin reentry, returning to Earth for a Pacific Ocean splashdown off the coast of Southern California. The entire mission should last around four hours.

It looks like they're well on their way to a successful mission.

UPDATE: Splashdown! And complete success!

The Dragon spacecraft the first private space to reach orbit and return to Earth. It just splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, after a perfect launch, separation, orbit and re-entry. This is a huge milestone in the history of space exploration.

Woohoo! Congrats to Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX team!

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SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled

Posted by Richard on June 3, 2010

The inaugural flight of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's Falcon 9 launch vehicle is scheduled for this Friday, with a backup launch date of Saturday. The launch window on both days is from 11 AM to 3 PM Eastern, and the launch will be webcast here.

The Falcon 9 is SpaceX's next step in cheap, reliable private space transportation. Its predecessor, Falcon 1, has already successfully placed satellites into orbit. Falcon 9 will provide much greater payload capacities, including the reusable Dragon crew and cargo capsule that's expected to be used to resupply the International Space Station. 

One of the few decisions President Obama has made that I wholeheartedly agreed with was the cancellation of NASA's Ares/Orion shuttle replacement program in favor of relying on private companies like SpaceX. Unfortunately, after an uproar from all the vested interests and their congresscritters (Republican and Democrat), he backpedaled, so now it's going ahead in some kind of scaled-back form.

When Obama originally cancelled Ares/Orion, SpaceX CEO/CTO Elon Musk succinctly stated the argument against the breathtakingly expensive shuttle replacement: "The President quite reasonably concluded that spending $50 billion to develop a vehicle that would cost 50% more to operate, but carry 50% less payload was perhaps not the best possible use of funds."

Orion was designed to carry four people and cost $1.5 billion per flight. SpaceX's Dragon capsule will carry seven people in crew configuration. SpaceX has a contract with NASA to resupply the ISS using Falcon 9 and Dragon. The cost? $1.6 billion for twelve flights. Total. Just a smidge more than a single Orion mission.

I hope the Falcon 9 flight goes well (although a failure or limited success wouldn't be a big deal; the first Falcon 1 launch failed, but it went on to success). The commercialization and privatization of space flight can't come soon enough. As Glenn Reynolds says, "Faster, please!"

UPDATE (June 4): Woohoo! A completely successful inaugural launch:

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time
T+ 00:09:34 Please continue to check for additional flight information, including photos and videos as they become available!

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time
T+ 00:09:04 Falcon 9 has achieved Earth Orbit!

Unfortunately for me, it happened while I was out getting lunch. Oh, well — I'm sure they'll post a video here soon enough.

UPDATE 2: The first video clips are available. 

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Spectacular space station flybys

Posted by Richard on November 27, 2009

Those of us in the know were treated to a rare and spectacular celestial event Thanksgiving evening. At 6:12 pm, the International Space Station appeared brightly in the WNW sky, followed 30 seconds later by the somewhat dimmer space shuttle Atlantis. The pair crossed to the southeastern horizon in about two minutes — they were really moving! Tonight, the ISS provided an even better solo performance (Atlantis had already returned to Earth), appearing even brighter and much higher in the sky. It passed very close to the moon, which was quite a sight.

So, how did I know when and where to look? Click Satellite Flybys in the right sidebar, enter your ZIP code, and they'll show you a schedule for the ISS and several satellites. The latter are significantly less bright (and less interesting, at least to me), and probably hard to spot from a metro area. But the ISS is intensely bright. Tonight's flyby was at 5 pm, with still a fair amount of light in the sky, but it shone so brightly that that was not a problem.

I also like to check out the great celestial photos at The last three days featured photos of the ISS-Atlantis duo. At other times, they have aurora borealis shots, sun dogs, and other cool stuff. Pick some dates from the archives (right sidebar) and see what turns up.

And of course, is where I keep up with current sunspot activity as we continue an unusually long and deep trough between solar cycles 23 and 24. In fact, NASA has acknowledged that we may be heading into a repeat of the Dalton Minimum (1790-1830, toward the end of the Little Ice Age).

Let's hope it's not a Maunder Minimum — that one lasted over half a century (1645-1715) and coincided with the depths of the Little Ice Age, when the Thames frequently froze over so solidly that a commercial district sprung up on it.

But we shouldn't worry about prolonged cooling. Al Gore and the climatologists charlatans at Hadley CRU have assured us that it's going to get hotter. They have computer models that "prove" the empirical data showing a cooling trend since 1998 are wrong. And they've carefully analyzed manipulated the data to show that there really was no medieval warm period.

So pay no heed to the fact that a graph that mirrors solar activity over the past 1000 years seems to closely match global temperature variations over the same period. <snark>Your SUV and lawn mower are much more powerful factors than a little thing like the sun.</snark>

UPDATE: If you want more info about the Climategate scandal, check out the links in the comments at this post.

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Apollo 8

Posted by Richard on December 24, 2008

Forty years ago today, Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit:

The SPS ignited at 69 hours, 8 minutes, and 16 seconds after launch and burned for 4 minutes and 13 seconds, placing the Apollo 8 spacecraft in orbit around the Moon. The crew described the burn as being the longest four minutes of their lives. If the burn had not lasted exactly the correct amount of time, the spacecraft could have ended up in a highly elliptical lunar orbit or even flung off into space. If it lasted too long they could have impacted the Moon. After making sure the spacecraft was working, they finally had a chance to look at the Moon, which they would orbit for the next 20 hours.

Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were the first humans to escape Earth's gravitational field and the first to look directly upon the far side of the moon.

Apollo 8 was only the second manned Apollo flight. It was the first manned flight atop the Saturn V rocket. The mission was originally planned as a low-Earth orbit test of the combined command module (CM) and lunar module (LM). Depending on whom you believe, NASA gave Apollo 8 a lunar-orbit mission either because production of the LM was behind schedule or because the Soviets were suspected of planning a manned lunar-orbit mission for late 1968.

The Soviets, of course, never made that flight. NASA repeated the lunar orbit mission five months later with Apollo 10. Two months after that, Apollo 11 landed men on the moon. That should be a big anniversary celebration next July!

Maybe then someone can explain to me why, 40 years later, we don't have a thriving lunar colony, a large orbiting colony at L5, and reasonably priced space tourism — all the stuff Heinlein envisioned back in the 50s.

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Liquid hydrocarbons on Titan

Posted by Richard on August 1, 2008

Scientists analyzing data from the Cassini space probe have discovered that it rains on Saturn's moon Titan, and there's at least one large lake. According to Saturn Daily, the precipitation (and thus the lake) consists of complex liquid hydrocarbons:

"We are quite certain that there is at least one large liquid-filled lake on Titan", stated Professor Ralf Jaumann of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research (DLR-Institut fur Planetenforschung) in Berlin.

"The measurements carried out with the VIMS spectrometer on board the Cassini space probe are all point in the same direction: Close to Titan's south polar region, we have discovered a lake filled with liquid ethane: The lake contains natural gas in a more or less liquid state."

It is likely that the ethane is mixed with other liquids, such as methane or other light hydrocarbons from the alkane series. The newly-discovered lake is called Ontario Lacus, in reference to the 300-kilometre long Lake Ontario near Niagara Falls on the US-Canadian border, because of the similarity in shape between the two.

Complex hydrocarbons. Liquified natural gas. You can make virtually any kind of petroleum product from those raw materials.

Brings to mind a bumper sticker I've seen: "Earth First – We Can Mine the Other Planets Later" 


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Remembering Heinlein

Posted by Richard on July 9, 2007

Glenn Reynolds has posted the transcript of Bill Bruner's remarks at the Heinlein Centennial in Kansas City. Bruner, NASA's head of legislative affairs, talked about what Heinlein meant to him personally and what he meant to the future of freedom in space:

Beating the odds, I was the first in my family to earn a college degree – a Bachelor’s in Astronomy. Now, I am a retired Air Force fighter aviator & colonel working for America’s space agency – in large part because RAH told me that race doesn't matter, military service is honorable, freedom is better than tyranny and humankind's destiny lies among the stars.

Go. Read the whole thing. Might put a lump in your throat.

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Falcon 1 launch failed

Posted by Richard on March 24, 2006

I was watching the streaming video of the maiden launch of Falcon 1, and everything seemed to go perfectly all the way through the countdown and for maybe twenty seconds afterward. The liftoff was beautiful to watch. Shortly after, the video stream switched to an onboard camera showing the ground receding below, and everything seemed to be going well. Then, suddenly, the video stream stopped.

Out of the Cradle, which live-blogged the launch, confirmed loss of the vehicle about 10 minutes after launch and posted an update a little later:

Few details are available, but at this stage it looks like the vehicle veered of course after less than a minute of powered flight. Given that about 50 per cent of first launches of new rockets end in failure, there was always a chance that this would happen. Our sympathies are with the SpaceX team, who have worked so hard to reach this point.

This is a terrible disappointment. A successful launch would have been another giant step in the commercialization and privatization of space flight.

Falcon 1 is the first and smallest of three launch vehicles developed by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) in an astonishingly short time period. SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal. It promised greater launch vehicle reliability and costs to orbit as low as a tenth of current alternatives, and it has a number of contracted customers already.

Go to Out of the Cradle for pictures of the countdown and launch.

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