April 2012 Archives
The Space Shuttle Enterprise has been moved out of Washtington D.C. now that the city has the real thing: the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center received the Space Shuttle Discovery ealier in April, The Enterprise, which was only ever used for gliding tests rather than flying into orbit, was flown from the Udvar-Hazy Center into New York while mounted atop a NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) on 27 April, 2012. It is to be shown at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
A Starsem-marketed Soyuz 2-1a launch of Europe's MetOp-B weather satellite has been delayed by several weeks by a dispute involving its drop zones for its rocket stages. .The flight was originally scheduled for 23 May. However the Russia's space agency Roscosmos space agency noted that "additional measures" were needed to ensure the drop zone availability for Soyuz' stages after the vehicle's liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
This was after concern was expressed by Kazakhstan that the stages from the Northbound launch may not land safely in the Northerly region near to the Baikonur launch site, near Tyuratam, Kazakhstan. The fuel carried is poisonous. MetOp-B is to be launched into a near Polar Sun-synchronous orbit, whereas most flights from Baikonur are usually in an easterly direction.
MetOp-B is the second in a series of three meteorological spacecraft to be operated by EUMETSAT providing continuous weather observations until 2020. MetOp-A was launched in October 2006 by Starsem on another Soyuz mission from Baikonur Cosmodrome.
For those irked that the "Walking in the Air" choirboy song was used for "The Snowman" animation, this might change your tune. Time lapse photography from the International Space Station (Expedition 30) shows some lovely views (including aurorae, thunderstorms and city lighting) all set to the same song.
The European Space Agency remains hopeful that it can regain contact with its Envisat Earth observation satellite, which unexpectedly stopped sending data to the ground on 8 April.
Attempts to regain contact have so far been unsuccessful, but the spacecraft - one of the most sophisticated of its type and invaluable in such efforts as quantifying climate change - is in a stable orbit, ESA has determined by optical, radar and laser observation.
But earlier this week France's Pleiades Earth observation satellite passed within about 100km of Envisat and was successfully turned to gather images of Envisat that are being analysed along with ground-based observations to determine whether its solar panels are oriented to the Sun. If they are, ESA says, Envisat may have enough power to have entered a safe mode - and, possibly, enough power for re-establishing communication with Earth.
Information on Envisat's orbit is being provided by the US Joint Space Operations Center. In addition, multiple laser ranging stations on the ground are providing information to verify the stability of the satellite's orbit.
More than 4000 projects in over 70 countries have been supported with Envisat data, and even if contact is regained, many will have been affected by the loss of continuity of data. Should Envisat remain out of contact, a contingency agreement with the Canadian Space Agency will see some of the users assisted by data from its Radarsat.
But in any case Envisat, launched in 2002 with a planned life of five years has already exceeded its expectations. However, its current difficulties make the launch next year of the first in a series of replacements that much more urgent.
These Sentinel satellites are seies being developed for Europe's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme and will provide the data needed for information services to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security. ESA describes the Sentinal series missions thus:
Sentinel-1 is a polar-orbiting, all-weather, day-and-night radar imaging mission for land and ocean services. The first Sentinel-1 satellite is planned for launch in 2013.
Sentinel-2 is a polar-orbiting, multispectral high-resolution imaging mission for land monitoring providing, for example, imagery of vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas. Sentinel-2 will also deliver information for emergency services. The first Sentinel-2 satellite is planned for launch in 2013.
Sentinel-3 is polar-orbiting, multi-instrument mission to measure variables such as sea-surface topography, sea- and land-surface temperature, ocean colour and land colour with high-end accuracy and reliability. The first Sentinel-3 satellite is planned for launch in 2013.
Sentinel-4 is a payload that will be embarked upon a Meteosat Third Generation-Sounder (MTG-S) satellite in geostationary orbit scheduled to be launched in 2019. Sentinel-4 is dedicated to atmospheric monitoring.
Sentinel-5 is a payload that will be embarked on a MetOp Second Generation, satellite, also known as Post-EPS, to be launched in 2020. Sentinel-5 is dedicated to atmospheric monitoring.
Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite mission is planned to launch in 2015, thereby avoiding data gaps between Envisat (Sciamachy data in particular) and Sentinel-5. This mission will be dedicated to atmospheric monitoring.
India's GSLV Mk III launch vehicle is currently under development and the first flight test is currently planned to take place around December 2012. The three stage vehicle used on the first flight will carry a passive cryogenic upper stage. This test will be a sub-orbital flight and will only test the first two stages of the vehicle.
The earlier Mk I and Mk II variants of the GSLV have a miserable track record. According to the Ascend Space Review the Mk I and Mk II have been launched seven times with five of those flights failing and gives the vehicle an overall failure rate of 71.43%. (See the graph below from Ascend Space Review). We wish them luck with the Mk III.
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that NASA hopes to send its astronauts to the Moon, asteroids and even Mars with, could soon be getting a new high thrust engine as part of its booster configuration. In fact, the engine may not be new at all. This was after Dynetics and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) announced its partnership to off the Apollo-era Saturn V F-1 rocket engine for the competition which initially involves bidding for a NASA risk reduction analysis contract.
In a press release statement accompanying the announcement, Ron Ramos, Pratt & Whitney's vice president for Exploration and Missile Defense, noted the F-1 engines high thrust-to-weight ratio and good reliability as he said: "We offer a domestic booster design that takes advantage of the - more - flight-proven Apollo-Saturn F-1, still the most powerful U.S. liquid rocket engine ever flown,"
Flightglobal/Ascend previously noted that manned moon exploration rockets needed bigger rocket engines - mentioning that there was a dearth of US rocket engines in the correct size.
With the LOx/kerosene burning F-1 back in the game things now look very different. The Dynetics/PWR team proposes mounting two of the proposed 1.8million lb (8,000kN) thrust F-1 derived engines on each of these boosters as an alternative to an advanced solid rocket booster proposed by ATK. The team hopes to win some of the $200 million of NASA funding in a 30 month project to research the viability and risk of producing a liquid fuelled booster.
The selling points of those proposing liquid fuel boosters is that they are throttleable and would provide much more lifting power than a solid rocket booster, increasing payload of the most powerful version of the SLS (to carry a payload at least 130 tonnes to LEO). According to the Dynetics/PWR team, using F-1 powered boosters would boost the peak SLS payload by a projected 20 tonnes compared to using solid rocket boosters.
Artists Impression of F-1 derivative engine powered boosters attached to the core SLS launch vehicle. Note that the core will now have four or five RS-25D/E engines. Courtesy: Dynetics Inc.
While going back to 45 year old technology concerns some, the F-1 engine does have a precedent. PWR points out that later versions of NASA's SLS rocket, will be using the J-2X Lox/Hydrogen burning engine for its upper stage which is a derivative of Saturn V J-2 upper stage engine.
If the Dynetics/PWR team does decide to produce the F-1 or its more powerful F-1A derivative, it faces an uphill task. While most of the F-1 blueprints and some even actual engine examples survive, most of the original F-1 tooling has been destroyed.
Nevertheless, the news of a potential return of the F-1 (or its F-1A upgraded version) has been welcomed in the US space community, and not just because of an emotional and nostalgic response. There was concern that the only LOX/Kerosene burning rocket engines in the needed thrust range were either derivatives of the Russian-sourced RD-170 which uses a highly effcient staged combustion cycle, or the unknown quantity of the yet-to-be-built SpaceX Merlin 2 which, like the F-1, uses a simple, if slightly less efficient, gas generator rocket cycle.
Apart from the Dynetics/PWR team and probably SpaceX, other firms likely put their hat in the ring to bid for funding include Aerojet with its its enlarged -1000 version of its AJ-26 engine and ATK with its Advanced Solid Rocket Booster offering. It has also been mooted that Northrop Grumman my also pitch in with their past TR-107 design. Both the AJ-1000 and TR-107 engines are thought to offer about one third less thrust than the F-1.
Should the core engines be changed next?
If large LOx/kerosene engines like the F-1 are chosen to be used on the SLS boosters then this has implications for the final design of SLS as they might be chosen for the core as well It was known that before the SLS design selection was finally made (under US Senate pressure to use Space Shuttle hardware), the propellant choice for the core stage was finely balanced between using LOx/kerosene and LOx/Liquid hydrogen. In the end the latter was chosen though there were some regrets. Using LOx/kerosene as common propellants for both the core stage and boosters would give SLS the benefit of having cross feeding of propellants, allow for a shorter rocket, and have propellant ground handling advantages.
Having said that, a LOx/Liguid hydrogen RS-25D/E engine core does offer a higher Isp (specfic impulse) than the LOx/kerosene alternative, if less initial thrust. The advantage of this efficient propellant combination really comes into play later, once the "brute force" lift off and initial acceleration of the fully loaded rocket is achieved. In other words, in a similar vein to the Russian Energia concept, a "medium thrust" highly efficient LOx/liquid hydrogen engine core using high thrust medium effciency LOx/kerosene engine boosters could prove to be the best combination for SLS.
Nevertheless, if a change to a LOX/kerosene engine core ever happens for the advantages listed above, then there may be no further need for an expendable version of the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME). This RS-25E version was to have replaced the 512,000lb (2,279KN) thrust ex-Space Shuttle RS-25D engines when they had run out. However, given that SLS flight rate is planned to be very low in its early years the first two flights are in 2017 and 2021 respectively NASA might have enough ex-Space Shuttle RS-25D engines in stock to make do until a new rocket is ready.
Sidemount might still have been a faster, cheaper choice for an interim HLV
NASA might have been wiser to have chosen the three RS-25D engine Sidemount design as an interim Heavy-lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) instead of the initial Block 1 version in-line SLS now (now confirmed as having four RS-25D engines), especially if the expendable RS-25E engine version never comes to fuition.
The Sidemount design, was, in effect, a wingless expendable space shuttle with which had much the same 70 tonne LEO performance as the initial Block 1 SLS but would have been much much faster and cheaper to produce - and importantly only used three RS-25D engines at a time. In the end, the Sidemount concept was rejected in favour of the much more expensive SLS inline design over Sidemount's obvious lack of evolvability and, less convincingly, due to crew escape concerns (though Sidemount mightly only have been used as an unmanned heavy lift launch vehicle with any exploration crew launched separately to orbit via a commercial crew launch system).
The Sidemount Heavy-lift Launch Vehicle (HLV) design was rejected by NASA in favour of the inline SLS design. Courtesy: NASA
The reliability and high-thrust-to-weight qualities of the venerable F-1 engine, or rather its F-1A derivative, make it like a good choice for an SLS booster engine, especially as it should require little development compared to other engines. That said, it would need some extensive work on its production facilities if it is ever to be used.
According to rocket analyst Ed Kyle, a four RS-25E core SLS launch vehicle with two boosters carrying four F-1A engines should be capable of carrying 140 tonnes into orbit - and that is without an upper stage. From that, we can deduce that with a J-2X upper stage and four twin F-1A boosters (if the core structure can be modified to take them), a 200 tonne-plus payload could be carried to LEO. Past long-range manned exploration studies have long favoured such a hugely powerful launch vehicle of this payload class.
Design concept for heavy lift launch vehice using four twin F-1A boosters as considered in NASA Mars Reference Mission 1997. While it would need its payload accomndation shortened by 40 feet to fit in the Vehicle Assembly Building it should have impressive lifting power. A similar booster configuraton attached to a four SSME (RS-25D) engine core and using a single SSME (RS-25D) upper stage had a projected LEO payload of 226 tonnes. Courtesy: NASA
Other configuations are possible of course. For aerodynamic, flexibility and balance reasons, it might be better to go for a "Delta II style" cluster of narrower single F-1A engine boosters rather than two large two-engined boosters. Such a configuration was briefly considered in the summary of the AIAA technical paper "The Saturn V F-1 Engine Revisited" written by Shelton and Murphy in 1992.
All this assumes that upgraded ATK solid rocket boosters using better propellants (HTPB instead of PBAN) and lighter casings (wound composite instead of the heavy steel casings) do not remain the preferred choice for SLS. While less efficient and less flexible than liquid fuel rocket boosters, solid rocket boosters' cost/effectiveness may let them win any SLS booster competition, even if this means a smaller payload has to be carried.
Europe's Galileo satellite navigation constellation has taken another step towards realisation with the shipment of the first of 14 Full Operational Capability navigation payloads from Surrey Satellite Technology in the UK to prime contractor OHB System in Bremen, Germany.
The first two Galileo satellites were orbited in October, and two more are due for launch at the end of this summer. These four, with payloads built by Astrium UK in Portsmouth and integrated into satellite platforms by Thales Alenia Space in Italy, will be followed by the SSTL-OHB spacecraft for launch from 2014.
Once all 14 are in orbit, the 18-strong constellation will provide near-global coverage. Full coverage is planned for 2018, with 30 satellites.
The Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) announced that they have successfully conducted the maiden launch of the Agni 5 intermediate range ballistic missile. The launch took place at 0237 GMT on 19 April from Wheelers Island off the East Coast of India. The three stage missile flew for nearly 20 minutes before reaching its target in the Indian Ocean.
The 17 metre long Agni 5 missile has a range of more than 5000 kilometres, a launch mass of 50 tonne and can carry a 1.1 tonne warhead. The missile is also claimed to be capable of launching micro and nano satellites into orbit and to also have an anti-satellite capability.
Agni 5 maiden launch. Image courtesy of DRDO
Reports in the Russian Novosti Kosmonavtiki website state that the Russian Federal Space Agency is willing to go ahead with Phobos-Grunt 2 after the failure of the original Phobos-Grunt spacecraft in November 2011. The mission will be included in future plans but no date for the launch has yet been set. The original mission was intended to fly to the Martian Moon Phobos, collect some soil samples and return them to Earth.
Using imagery taken by classified sources during the 12 April launch of North Korea's Unha-3 launch vehicle from Tongchang-ri, Western intelligence analysts have now ruled out first stage failure as the cause of failed orbital launch the Kwangmyongsong 3 satellite. Instead they cite that the liquid fuel first stage fired correctly but that it was an aerodynamic pressure/resonant vibration-induced collapse of the third stage rocket structure and nose cone that caused the controversial flight to fail.
North Koean Unha-3 launch vehicle before its launch which caused international protests. ©Rex Features
A structural failure of the third stage, dubbed a "catastrophic disassembly" by space intelligence analyst Charles Vick of Globalsecurity.org in an article in EE Times, was noted as probably occuring during the Max Q portion of the flight, where the combination of air speed and atmospheric pressure yields a peak aerodynamic load. The existence of Max Q is the reason why many western rockets throttle back to limit aerodynamic forces as they go through this flight phase.
A flash of flame escaping from the forward part of the launch vehicle was reportedly seen at 81 seconds after lift-off and subsequent tracking of the assembly led analysts to believe that the first stage worked perfectly satisfactorily and in fact continued to accelerate the damaged rocket for another 40 seconds until first stage/second stage separation successfully occurred.
The second stage failed to ignite to carry the flight onward and it is suggested that this was because the flight control system was located in the damaged third stage. The rocket's remaining second and third stage assembly fell safely into the Yellow Sea.
In late March, the US space scientist Stewart Nozette who had previously worked on NASA projects, was awarded a 13 years jail sentence after admitting that he tried to sell space technology secrets during sting operation FBI sting operation in 2009. Nozette believed the FBI undercover men were working for Israel.
Having previously collaborated on the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (EIS) instrument for JAXA's Hinode (Solar B) mission, and with the UK having provided disaster monitoring imaging via the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) system after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, Japan and the United Kingdom have announced that they are going to collaborate further on space research.
During April, the UK Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts signed an agreement with the Japanese Economy Minister Motohisa Furukawa for greater collaboration on space research and technology, This is likely to include working on on earth observation technology, such as the NovaSAR space radar programme or the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) run by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited
The UK Government, via the UK Space Agency and the Technology Strategy Board, is to grant nearly £6 million to four projects as part of the National Space Technology Programme (NSTP). The funding is to be awarded to projects run by Astrium Ltd, Avanti Communications Ltd, DMC International Imaging Ltd and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.
Astrium Ltd: Project to begin the development of the Next Generation Telecommunications satellite platform. The work is focused on developing the mechanical platform architecture for future European telecommunications satellites in the 3 to 6 tonne range. This project will also prepare UK companies to take leading roles in future European Space Agency programmes to develop telecommunication space technologies:
Avanti Communications Ltd: Project to develop a ruggedised and light-weight portable Ka-Band satcom terminal. This "suitcase" terminal will provide portable and mobile access to the latest generation of high bandwidth satellite broadband services.
DMC International Ltd: Project to develop a system and service for measuring land carbon stocks and fluxes from Satellite Earth observation data. This service will provide much higher resolution services than are currently available and enable the monitoring and trading of carbon credits and similar commercial tools for tackling climate change.
Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL): Project to prepare the way for the planned UK NovaSAR Synthetic aperture radar mission by accelerating the technology development of an innovative S-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument.
Beginning on the 12 April, - and carrying on over the next two months, the British Interplanetary Society in Vauxhall, London, is showing "First Orbit", the hit Internet film which re-creates the story of the Major Yuri Gagarin's revolutionary spaceflight of 12 April1961. The quirk is that the film is being shown in 30 different languages after the film's fans around the world translated the Russian into subtitles for free.
This "installation art" documentary, which was directed and produced by Christopher Riley, tells the story of the very first orbit by mimicking the orbit in near real time by using footage shot mainly by Italian astronaut Paulo Nespoli while he was on the International Space Station (iSS) with the cooperation of NASA, ESA and Roscosmos.
Interspersed in the subtitled footage is English commentary from contemporary Radio Moscow and BBC broadcasts complete with their strangely old fashioned accents. The film was originally released on the internet to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the flight last year. It became a viral internet sensation taking the record, at over 3.5 million, for the largest number of hits on YouTube for a long film.
While the space station's orbital elements (i.e. its inclination, apogee, perigee and eccentricity) differ a bit from cosmonaut Gagarin's Vostok 1 spacecraft's passage, by cobbling together various sections of the high definition video along with actual footage (yes - most of that is in monochrome) as taken from the original and other space missions, director Christopher Riley has managed to create pretty close depiction on what it was like to look out of the Vostok's porthole window.
While there are a few quibbles about some of the views - at one stage a parachute appears to open before the re-entry (the shots were taken out of order from NASA's Apollo 10 mission re-entry) - Riley, who has a space related planetary geology background himself, and his editing team, took especial care to get the ground track and solar angles correct. Night views for the orbit, including some sparky thunderstorms, were provided by some NASA night vision cameras.
Most impressively the voice communications during the first part of the flight between Gagarin and the ground stations (including the voice of legendary Soviet space designer S.P. Korolev) has been included after cooperation with the Russian government.
During the latter part of the flight Gagarin is mainly silent. He was alleged to have lost consciousness after his craft went into a spin minutes before it successfully re-entered Earth atmosphere. Gagarin recovered consciousness in time to eject and parachute as planned from the re-entry capsule to a safe landing - though his ejection was kept under wraps for several years in case anyone challenged the new record given he had left the craft before it touched down.
While some of the images are beautiful, especially, the sunrise and sunsets emphasizing Earth's thin atmospheric border, the most impressive part of the film is actually its haunting musical score as composed by Philip Sheppard. This is at times, reminiscent of music from the seminal eco-science fiction film "Silent Running". In a presentation made before and after the showing, Riley apologized for the variable quality in some images variously caused by human focusing error, dirty windows and also by bright spot pixels caused by space radiation damage to the cameras' CCD (Charged Couple Device) sensors: a problem that Gagarin could barely have imagined in those pioneering and inspiring days.
Flightglobal/Ascend Overall Rating: This film is, at times, awe inspiring and enlightening. It can also be a bit tedious as well, with long stretches in which nothing seems to be happening. It is perhaps one to have running in the background (especially for the music) so you can dip in and dip out of a beautiful space trip - 7/10.
The Attic Room productions film is now available now on DVD and Blue-ray.
If SpaceX choses to build there, which is not inevitable, the complex would consist of a launch vehicle area -- complete with processing area, launch pad and flame ducts -- and a control center.
Operations would consist of up to 12 launches per year with a maximum of two Falcon Heavy launches. All Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches would be expected to have commercial payloads, including satellites or experimental payloads. In addition to standard payloads, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy may also carry a capsule, such as the SpaceX Dragon capsule. All launch trajectories would be to the east over the Gulf of Mexico.
This document does not mean SpaceX has committed to building there, and the Brownsville Herald, the local newspaper, quotes an area economic development official as saying that SpaceX is also looking at sites in Florida and Puerto Rico.
There have long been rumors and hints that SpaceX was considering building in the area, but SpaceX has consistently declined to speak on the record about it. Within the last couple of days the company has confirmed looking at at Brownsville-area location.
The location is very well-suited to rocket launches. The general idea with non-polar orbital launches is to launch east, as close to the equator as possible to take advantage of the Earth's rotation. Ideally nothing should be beneath the rocket's flight path (Russia and China both launch over isolated landmass instead of ocean, the downside being that sometimes a piece of something lands where it shouldn't). The slight but crucial advantage gained this way has given rise to some interesting solutions -- France may never officially decolonise French Guiana because of its launch site in Kourou, and platforms like SeaLaunch and Stratolaunch take a mobile approach.
Note that the site isn't all that far from SpaceX's existing McGregor, TX engine facilities.
North Korea's latest satellite launch attempt, which is set to occur from 12th April onwards, is to take place from the Tongchang-ri launch site, North of Pyongyang. The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite is to use a Unha 3 three stage launch vehicle (a derivative of the Taepodong missile) to fly into a near polar orbit and will use an imaging payload to image the Earth.
Tongchang-ri is a different launch site from the Musudan-ri launch site of two previous Uhna launches, both of which failed to achieve orbit. Some analysts suspect that these flights were never intended to do so and were actually Taipodong ballistic missile tests. This time North Korea is making a more convincing case that their launch is serious about putting a satellite into orbit. It has invited space experts and journalists from several countries to observe the launch.
While some nations declined to send any space experts citing that the UN had urged North Korea not to perform the launch, those experts and journalists who are attending were surprised to be shown the actual satellite to be flown which was not apparently in clean-room conditions. In other words, the flight is suspected to be more about testing capability of the rocket rather than the spacecraft.
To achieve the planned orbit, a launch trajectory is set to head southwards, just skirting islands near South Korea, before heading over the Philippines. For air and shipping safety, North Korea has released a NOTAM (Notice to Air Men) warning with details of its expected rocket stage landing zones in the Yellow Sea and Philippine Sea.
Following its December 2011 decision to push ahead with the long-mooted Midlife Evolution update to add 20% payload capacity to its 10-tonne Ariane 5 heavy-lift launcher, the European Space Agency has awarded Astrium a €112 million contract for the job.
Pending budget approval by ESA member states in late 2012, the project will be slated for a test flight in 2017.
With a new restartable cryogenic upper stage, and nose fairing extended by 3m, the ME will be capable of simultaneously placing two satellites of more than five tonnes each in geostationary orbit, cutting launch cost per kilogramme by 20% compared with today's Ariane 5 ECA.
Astrium has released this animation of an ME launch with dual payload.