SpaceX does it again

Another Falcon9 successfully landed on a moving barge this morning.

In order to make the economics work, these birds do a ballistic reentry, essentially falling out of the sky and making a corrective landing burn at the last possible minute. Since this Falcon was delivering a Japanese communications satellite to high orbit, the lifter fell a lot further than the last one did, ending up going twice as fast and requiring a 12-G final burn before touching down softly on the recovery vessel Of Course I Still Love You.

Congratulations to Elon Musk and the SpaceX team, who are among the many people who don’t read this blog.

SpaceX lands at sea

A little late with the news, but anyway the SpaceX’s Falcon-9 has successfully landed on the drone barge “Of Course I Still Love You”. The landing deck is 170 by 300 feet long, and the Falcon’s legs stand 60 feet apart. As you can see by the whitecaps, the sea was very rough with high altitude crosswinds of 50 mph and low altitude winds of 25 mph.

For true space geeks, the beautifully produced full 18 minute video:

Orbital ATK Cygnus 6 space truck

The unmanned Cygnus cargo mission OA-6 went up Saturday on a Russian/American Atlas V, successfully delivering a new 3d printer to the International Space station. The ISS crew snagged the Cygnus today with their robotic arm.

Interesting side note on this mission, before Cygnus 6 plunges to its fiery reentry doom it’s going to test artificial gecko feet and be used for a fire-in-space experiment.

VTOL Rocket Roundup

The Experimental Delta Clipper (DC-X) of the 1990s was canceled before it ever made it into space.

The Rotary Rocket Company’s incredibly innovative Roton was designed to land with helicopter blades instead of a parachute or a landing rocket. After the collapse of the small telecommunications satellite market in 1999 the company went out of business without ever building their unique spinning aerospike main engine; without a clear mission, investors were unwilling to fund the various exotic technologies that the company was successfully pioneering.

In 2013 SpaceX’s series of “grasshopper tests” picked up where the DC-X left off.

But SpaceX’s plan to land their Falcon 9 lifter on a seagoing barge has not yet succeeded.

And bringing us up to date, Blue Origin landed the New Shepard on the 23rd. I love the final replay of the landing sequence!


Mechadon was built as a contestant for the (now defunct) robot wars TV show. The show had devolved into mostly a bunch of ramps trying to flip each other upside down, and Mechadon is sort of the antithesis of that. He really doesn’t even have any up or down, and his back’s not any different from his front. Unfortunately Mechadon is very heavy, too heavy for the main fighting categories of the show, despite his lack of armor over the actuators. The end of this video shows a maneuver the creators called the “death blossom” – note the feet punching divots in the concrete floor on touchdown!

Busy weekend at ISS

Elon Musk’s Dragon spacecraft left the International Space Station Saturday after delivering 5000 lb of cargo, and in the wee hours of this morning a Russian Progress unmanned cargo lifter undocked with a full load of garbage, freeing up some parking spaces (video replay on NASA TV at noon today). The Progress will stay nearby for a while to assist with some engineering experiments, and is eventually destined to burn up on reentry on Oct 19th.

Around 2:00pm EDT there will be a course adjustment to dodge some incoming debris left over the 2003 launch of a Cosmos communications satellite.

An Orbital Sciences Cygnus, named in honor of Deke Slayton, is scheduled to launch on an Antares from Wallops tonight. This will be the first Antares launch to use a Castor 30XL upper stage; the payload will include the Planetary Resources Arkyd-3 test satellite and nearly 3 tons of supplies. Coverage starts at 4:00pm EDT on NASA TV, launch at 5:45.

1970s scientific spacecraft rebooted

ISEE-3, the International Sun/Earth Explorer 3, has been responding to signals. Thanks to crowdfunding and NASA, a group of space enthusiasts led by Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowingare are going to try to kick it back into Earth orbit, where it will resume its original mission after taking off into the outer system to chase comets decades ago.

Technicians are now racing to maneuver the spacecraft, which currently appears to be on a collision course with the Moon. It is unclear at this point whether they will be able to redirect the spacecraft in time.

Click here for current ISEE-3 Reboot Project status reports!

skipping and hopping robots

Jason Kottke put up a video from SIGGRAPH Asia 2013 that shows virtual robots evolving effective gaits. Once the model has been designed, the computer flails around (like a human baby flailing around in a bassinet) until it finds a way to make the model walk optimally.

What I found most interesting was the development of a suboptimal “skipping” behavior (right at the 5:00 mark, in “outtakes”), and an optimal hopping gait in models with the kind of leg structures found in kangaroos, potoroos, pademelons and the tammar wallaby.

NASA Valkyrie flubs her first battle

The guys at Johnson entered their Valkyrie robot into the DARPA Robotics Challenge and she got zero points.

Despite this poor performance, I love the Valkyrie, basically because the designers purposely included “must look cool” in their objectives. I’m sure she’ll do better in the future.

The other NASA robot competing (JPL’s Robosimian) did much better, coming in fifth and looking reasonably cool. The winner was the boring looking Japanese SCHAFT S-1, recently purchased by Google as part of their huge push into robotics.