Thursday, April 30, 2015

News for the Month: CRS-6 LEO, Turkmenistan/Thales GEO, Blue Origin Sub-Orbital, and a Lack of Progress

A lot has happened in the last month. The month started up with SpaceX's CRS-6 launch and attempted booster recovery. The good news is that launch and ISS station arrival were flawless, the not so good news is that the booster recovery didn't work out quite as well. Great video of the attempt, though. Elon said he was going to get himself an volcanic lair should the booster landing succeed. While he can't start on his lair just yet, I am sure SpaceX will succeed eventually. You have to admire his attitude about the whole venture. It seems he sees every flight is a chance to learn something new, and he isn't terribly attached to the success or failure of the booster landing, just as long as that effort is leading to eventual success. To booster landing, after all, is just icing on the Falcon 9 launch effort. The important measure of success is delivering product to orbit for the time being.

Meanwhile, on April 28th, Russia launched the cargo mission Progress 59 towards the International Space Station, but the ship lost attitude control soon after reaching orbit. One could hazard a guess as to what happened (a stuck attitude control jet?), but the end result is the Progress and all of it's cargo are a complete loss.

The day prior to the Progress launch, SpaceX launched another Falcon 9, this time carrying Turkmenistan's first communications satellite, TurkmenAlem52E/MonacoSAT to a geosynchronous transfer orbit. No attempt was made to land the booster on this flight. I think this was decided because the geo transfer orbit uses more fuel than the LEO orbit insertions, so the booster comes down faster and emptier than with LEO attempts. The next booster landing attempt will come up this June with the next resupply mission to the ISS.

Lastly, big news arrived this morning that Jeff Bezos' rocket company, Blue Origin, has begun their sub-orbital spacecraft testing phase with the launch and successful capsule recovery of their "New Shepard" spacecraft. The rocket, shown in the image at the top of this post, launched on April 29th, and reached an altitude of 307,000 feet. The booster of the spacecraft, called the "propulsion module" by Blue Origin, was unable to land softly as intended (it crashed) due to a hydraulic system mishap. Overall, a very successful test flight. But I have to say "New Shepard" isn't the most attractive rocket I've ever seen. The rocket's shape is more than a tad suggestive. After some research, I learned that the shape is part of the booster recovery system. That's great, but perhaps Jeff could've passed the design by marketing prior to finalizing everything.

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