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.


Mercifully, the whole thing is starting to fade, to become an episode. When I do still catch the odd glimpse, it’s peripheral; mere fragments of mad-doctor chrome, confining themselves to the corner of the eye. There was that flying-wing liner over San Francisco last week, but it was almost translucent. And the shark-fin roadsters have gotten scarcer, and freeways discreetly avoid unfolding themselves into the gleaming eighty-lane monsters I was forced to drive last month in my rented Toyota. — William Gibson, The Gernsback Continuum

The photoessay This Used to Be the Future reminded me of a childhood spent reading yellowed 1940s science fiction.

1958 General Motors Firebird III

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.

Redstone Rockets

I enjoy reading John Bullard’s History of the Redstone Missile System, although most people are likely to find it pretty dry. I found it linked from Jim Ryan’s marvelously informative site, which is a memoir of his Army experiences manning the Army’s Redstone missiles from 1958 to 1962. It’s a wonderful site to visit if you’re a hardcore rocket buff or cold war historian, although perhaps not much fun for those who couldn’t keep themselves awake in history class.

I think sites like Jim’s are the best thing about the World Wide Web. Computer professionals didn’t need the WWWeb to communicate with each other and organizations didn’t need the Web to move data – those needs were already met by the Internet itself, underlying the Web. But the Web lets people like Jim reach out to the whole world, not just computer gurus, with information that would never otherwise be available to many of the people most interested in it.

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!

New theories needed for star formation

“When zooming in on the young star clusters of NGC 2024 (in the center of the Flame Nebula) and the Orion Nebula Cluster, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory teamed up with infrared telescopes to take a census of star ages. Conventional thinking suggests that stars closest to the center of a given star cluster should be the oldest and the youngest stars can be found around the edges.

However, to their surprise, astronomers have discovered that the opposite is true.

‘Our findings are counterintuitive,’ said Konstantin Getman of Penn State University, lead scientist of this new study. ‘It means we need to think harder and come up with more ideas of how stars like our sun are formed.'”

Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight

“And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood” — Joel 2:30-1, KJV

NASA has more prosaic information, which should be more useful to most of us.

Here in the Eastern Daylight Time zone, the moon’s going to be completely full at 3:42:18 AM on 2014-04-15. The total eclipse will last from 3:07 to 4:25, peaking at 3:46, so it ought to be quite beautiful if the weather co-operates.

Since I worked all day and was in Boston all weekend, I will most likely be asleep. Enjoy it without me!

NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge offers $35,000 payout


Welcome to the Asteroid Grand Challenge Series sponsored by the NASA Tournament Lab! The Asteroid Grand Challenge Series will be comprised of a series of topcoder challenges to get more people from around the planet involved in finding all asteroid threats to human populations and figuring out what to do about them. In an increasingly connected world, NASA recognizes the value of the public as a partner in addressing some of the country’s most pressing challenges. Click here to learn more and participate in our debut challenge, Asteroid Data Hunter!

NPR has an article about the series here.

New Challenger Photos?

Over at Reddit there’s an ongoing discussion of some photos of the 1986 Challenger disaster.

The events of that day are pretty well seared into my memory, because I was working on the Morton Thiokol test range at the time, helping Ronald Reagan provide nuclear weapons capabilities to Arabs.

Francis Scobee (commanding), Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe were the crew of STS-51L.

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.

Falcon Nine should be on the pad by now… yup.

SpaceX has their newest version of the Falcon9 ready to lift a Canadian telecommunications satellite for Orbital Sciences. The live webcast starts at 5pm EDT.

Update: Missed the launch window, mission scrubbed until Thanksgiving.

Update: Scrubbed again… after ignition, which is a good trick. Not clear yet if it’s the same problem, but they’re taking the bird down to look at the engines and will try again in a few days.

Another successful Minotaur launch!

The Minotaur family of rockets use motors originally designed for intercontinental nuclear missiles, repurposing weapons of mass destruction for scientific missions.

The Minotaur I & II are based on the Minuteman II, a cold war ICBM which my father helped build.

The Minotaur III through VI+ are based on the Peacekeeper (MX missile) which both my father and I worked on during the Reagan era.

Orbital Sciences Corporation, which builds the minotaurs for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Development and Test Directorate, also uses Dad’s STAR motors (originally engineered for Pegasus and Delta vehicles) in the upper stages.

NASA’s latest Minotaur launched from Wallops last night contained 28 mini-satellites, one of which was built by Thomas Jefferson High School.