Just before midnight on Friday night, SpaceX launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft towards the International Space Station. This launch marked several significant milestones in the democratization of space: Continue Reading
When a Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in the waning minutes of March 6, it will mark not only the twentieth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station, but also the final flight of SpaceX’s original, uncrewed Dragon capsule.
CRS-20 will be the final mission under the original Commercial Resupply Services contract that was signed with NASA in 2008, but the overwhelming success of the program has already led to a second contract, which will include not only SpaceX, but also Sierra Nevada and Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK).
Liftoff for CRS-20 is scheduled NET Friday, March 6 at 11:50 PM EST (Saturday, March 7, 4:50 UTC).
The Falcon 9 booster for this mission also flew the nineteenth commercial resupply mission to the ISS, and the Dragon capsule for this mission is a veteran of both the CRS-10 and CRS-16 resupply missions. SpaceX plans to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Dragon will deliver nearly three tons of supplies and science investigations to the ISS, and will eventually return with a similar cargo at the completion of its mission.
This will be the final mission of SpaceX’s “D1” version of Dragon (the original, uncrewed capsule that features prominently in Take Back the Sky’s logo). All subsequent missions will be flown with Crew Dragon, which will soon become the first US spaceship to launch from American soil with American astronauts aboard since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
It is Crew Dragon that we hope Elon Musk and SpaceX will name after Serenity, the Firefly-class transport ship in Joss Whedon’s short-lived but much beloved science-fiction television series Firefly and critically acclaimed motion picture Serenity. With a crewed demonstration flight of Crew Dragon (DM-2) likely to happen no later than this summer, our campaign to lobby for the name is obviously in its endgame, so if you agree that the ship should have this name, please send a card or letter to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and/or president and COO Gwynne Shotwell and tell them so ASAP.
And if you’d like to watch the final, historic flight of the OG Dragon, SpaceX’s webcast of the mission should go live approximately 20 minutes before launch at spacex.com and on the company’s YouTube channel.
Peace, love and rockets…
Astronomers may not be in love with the idea, but SpaceX plans to launch its fifth batch of Starlink satellites this Valentine’s weekend.
The latest Starlink mission is scheduled to lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force (Space Force?) Station in Florida NET Saturday morning, February 15. The launch window will open at 10:46 AM EST (15:46 UTC), and will remain open until 11:02 AM EST (16:02 UTC).
The Falcon 9 rocket for the mission will be making its fourth flight, and SpaceX plans to recover the first stage of the Block 5 Falcon 9 booster aboard its drone ship Of Course I Still Love You once again during this mission. The company’s fairing catcher ships will attempt to capture the fairings as well.
The weather forecast is currently 60% GO for launch. Should the launch be delayed, the weather is forecast to improve to 90% favorable for Sunday’s backup launch date.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk is working to create a space-based internet that will provide internet access to remote areas of the planet using satellites that beam signals down to Earth. The company already has 240 Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit, and plans to launch 60 at a time until they number in the thousands.
Peace, love and rockets…
“Take me out to the black, tell ’em I ain’t comin’ back…”
— Joss Whedon, The Ballad of Serenity
On this date 53 years ago, a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 killed all three Apollo 1 crew members– Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White II (the first American to walk in space), and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee.
In what can only be described as a cruel coincidence, the anniversaries of the other two most costly disasters in the history of the US space program both fall within a week of today’s. Tomorrow will mark the anniversary of the 1986 explosion during the launch of Space Shuttle Challenger that claimed the lives of her seven crew members– Commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, and Judith Resnik, Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis, and Payload Specialist and pioneer teacher in space Christa McAuliffe. This Saturday will mark the anniversary of the disintegration of Space Shuttle Columbia during reentry, which claimed the lives of her crew of seven– Commander Rick Husband, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, and Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel Clark and and Ilan Ramon (the first Israeli in space).
The names of these heroes are always worth repeating, and we at Take Back the Sky have written at length about these catastrophes over the past eight years. If you’d like to read any of our previous posts during this rough week of remembrance, you’ll find them if you conduct a simple search of our January and February archives of years past. If you’ve already read our previous articles, then might I suggest you observe this year’s anniversary by reading an NPR feature that was written on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy.
Though some of our younger readers may not have been born yet when these disasters occurred, those of us who were alive to experience the shock of hearing the news (or even seeing them live on television) will never forget where we were and what we were doing at the time. It would be easy to draw parallels to what many people experienced yesterday when they learned of the sudden and tragic deaths of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash in California.
However yesterday’s fatal crash, while equally tragic, will not lead to the grounding of all helicopter flights. The Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia accidents did cause the suspension, at least temporarily, of the nation’s space program, and they certainly ignited debates as to whether or not sending men and women to space was too risky an endeavor.
In a 1962 speech at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy famously said of the Apollo program, “We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” President Kennedy understood that it would be a rough road that would lead to the stars, but that traveling that road would bring out the very best that America has to offer on behalf of all humanity. The astronauts who perished on the launchpad in the Apollo 1 capsule and in space aboard Challenger and Columbia understood it too.
It is encouraging that SpaceX and Boeing will soon send US astronauts into space once again in American spaceships launched from American soil as part of the Commercial Crew Program, and NASA recently announced ambitious plans to return to the Moon and eventually press on to Mars. To those who would still insist that sending astronauts out to the black is too risky or too expensive, I can only respond that the risk and the expense are not only an investment in the future of mankind, but also the only truly fitting way to honor the memory of the brave men and women of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia. It will be the crews of ships like Crew Dragon, Starliner and Orion that will carry on their legacy, and as long as we let them take back the sky, then the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia will not have died in vain.
Ad astra per aspera…
Earlier today, SpaceX successfully conducted an in-flight abort test of Crew Dragon. In the words of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, “… This critical test puts us on the cusp of once again launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”
The test, which was to have been conducted on January 11 but was delayed due to weather concerns at the recovery site in the Atlantic Ocean, launched at 10:30AM EST and went off without a hitch. Crew Dragon separated from the Falcon 9 booster rocket, which was deliberately disintegrated in spectacular fashion while SpaceX’s new Mark 3 parachutes brought the capsule back to Earth like a downy feather to splash down in the Atlantic.
This was one of the final tests that Crew Dragon had to pass before a crewed demo flight can be greenlit. It’s reasonable now to expect that just such a flight will occur before the end of this calendar year, which means we only have a few months remaining to convince Elon Musk, Gwynne Shotwell and the rest of the SpaceX brass that the first Crew Dragon to carry astronauts into the black should be named after Joss Whedon’s fictional transport ship Serenity from the movie of the same name and the Firefly television series that spawned it.
If you count yourself among the Browncoats of the ‘verse and you have not yet written a letter to SpaceX asking them to name the Crew Dragon Serenity, now is the time! If you’ve already written a letter, then you have our gratitude, but it honestly couldn’t hurt to write another one.
In the meantime, SpaceX isn’t slowing down one bit. Tomorrow, the company plans to launch a fourth constellation of approximately 60 satellites for its Starlink broadband network aboard another Falcon 9. The mission is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida NET 12:20PM EST. Unlike the Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort test, SpaceX will attempt to recover the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster for this Starlink mission on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean.
Those who have the day off from work for the MLK Day holiday and would like to watch the launch can tune in to SpaceX’s live webcast at spacex.com and on the company’s YouTube channel approximately 20 minutes before liftoff.
Peace, love and rockets…
Here is how I’ll always remember hearing that the world had lost a superb writer, the greatest drummer in music history and an intelligent, inspiring human being who, by his own admission in the lyrics of the 2010 Rush song “Caravan,” could never stop thinking big…
I came home to an empty house Friday. My wife was still at work, and my son had stayed after school to work out with some of his teammates. I fed the cats, poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down to unwind from the work day. I was watching the second half of the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Sheffield United when I heard the familiar line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail that is my text tone: “Message for you, sir!”
It was my brother Randy (whom some of you may have met at Take Back the Sky’s outreach tables at Pittsburgh sci-fi and comics conventions over the years). His message instantly ruined my weekend.
“My day had really sucked already, so I didn’t think it could get worse. But, in case you haven’t heard, Neil Peart died this morning from brain cancer.”
I suddenly felt that odd tingling sensation and emptiness that come with a real shock. I had hardly finished typing my response when his second text arrived.
“I read the news release. He actually died on Tuesday, but the family did not release the information until today. Even at the end, the man wanted his life, and death, to be kept private.”
I doubt I have to tell you much about Neil Peart. A lot of people in the space community, and most self-professed geeks as well, have a high degree of reverence for the Canadian rock band Rush. Neil Peart, who joined the band in 1974, was regarded by many as the greatest modern rock-and-roll drummer, though he often infused Rush’s songs with elements of jazz, reggae and big band music as well. What really endeared him to lovers of science and science-fiction, however, were his lyrics. Peart took over the lyric-writing duties for the band starting with Rush’s second album, and his lyrics, as sung by the band’s bassist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee, immediately set Rush apart from the other rock groups of the day who only seemed to know how to sing about booze, women and decadent social rebellion. Over the years, Peart’s lyrics would draw inspiration from the writing of Ayn Rand and J.R.R. Tolkien as well as numerous works of science-fiction and philosophy, and it was this that made him a favorite of many fans of progressive rock, myself included.
Throughout his career with Rush, Peart often wrote about space and space travel. Some of the most well-known examples are “Cygnus X-1” from the 1977 album A Farewell to Kings, “Cygnus X-1: Book II” from the following year’s LP Hemispheres, and “Countdown,” the band’s tribute to the maiden launch of Space Shuttle Columbia, which appears on the 1982 album Signals.
2020 is shaping up to be a big year for SpaceX, and a pivotal one for Take Back the Sky as well. Elon Musk and company are ringing in the New Year with two launches in quick succession on Florida’s Space Coast, and if all goes well, the second will clear one of the final hurdles on the way to sending US astronauts into space aboard Crew Dragon, the spaceship that, if our campaign of nearly 8 years succeeds, will soon be known to the world as Serenity.
January 6 marks the end of the Christmas season for many around the world with the feast of the Epiphany, and if the Magi were around in 2020 they might see a whole new constellation of artificial stars in the night sky. That’s because SpaceX is scheduled to launch its next flight of 60 Starlink satellites into the black this Monday. Starlink 2 will mark the latest addition to SpaceX’s fleet of satellites designed to create a network that will provide internet services to those who are not yet connected as well as reliable and affordable internet access across the globe.
This upcoming mission will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station NET January 6 at 9:19 PM EST, with a launch window that will remain open until 9:29 PM EST. At present weather conditions are 90% GO for launch, but in the event of a scrub the launch would be postponed to Tuesday, January 7 with a liftoff time that would be approximately 20 minutes earlier.
SpaceX confirmed on Twitter following the static fire that the booster supporting this mission previously launched the Iridium-8 and Telstar 18 VANTAGE missions, and the Falcon 9’s first stage is scheduled to be recovered once again aboard the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. SpaceX’s fairing-catching vessels, Ms. Chief and Ms. Tree, will attempt to catch the Falcon 9’s fairing halves during this mission as well.
Once deployed, these newest satellites will bring the strength of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation to 180 satellites in total, making it the largest fleet of commercial spacecraft in existence. In response to concerns from astronomers that an ever increasing fleet of Starlink satellites could interfere with astronomical observations, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell stated that one of the 60 satellites set for launch this Monday will test a new, less-reflective coating designed to reduce the brightness of the spacecraft.
But if you’re a supporter of our campaign here at Take Back the Sky, then the launch that’s of real interest is scheduled NET Saturday, January 11. That’s when SpaceX intends to execute an (uncrewed) in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This test is a one of the final tests required before astronauts can fly aboard the capsule as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Its exact liftoff time has yet to be announced.
The mission will be configured to take the uncrewed capsule to a predetermined altitude before initiating a mock emergency that will trigger a launch escape shortly after liftoff. The spacecraft will be forced to use its abort engines to push away from the rocket, demonstrating Crew Dragon’s capability to safely separate from the Falcon 9 in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency.
There is no plan to recover the Falcon 9 that will be used for this mission. The booster is expected to break apart over the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted an animation on December 30 of a simulation of the first crewed flight of a Falcon 9/Dragon and tagged NASA in the tweet. In the ensuing Twitter conversation, Musk said, “Crew Dragon should be physically ready & at the Cape in Feb, but completing all safety reviews will probably take a few more months,” adding, “New technology development schedules tend to exhibit a version of Zeno’s Paradox— at any given point, you’re halfway there.”
Phrases like “a few more months” and “halfway there” would lead us to speculate that a crewed test flight could take place as early as this June, if not earlier. This means our efforts to convince Musk, Shotwell and anyone else at SpaceX who is in need of convincing that the first Crew Dragon should be christened Serenity have truly reached an endgame.
Of course we’re all well aware that when it comes to the space industry, delays are the rule rather than the exception, and just like Badger said about crime and politics in the pilot episode of Firefly, “… the situation is always fluid.” One of the biggest challenges to our campaign over the years has been convincing folk of the importance of consistently lobbying SpaceX in the face of multiple delays. Heck, our first online petition to SpaceX asking them to name their Crew Dragon Serenity stated that her first crewed flight could take place “… as early as 2015.”
But with statements like those Musk made at the end of December, it’s now extremely likely that the next time we see the ball drop in Times Square, American astronauts will have already broken atmo in the Crew Dragon.
So, if you’re a Browncoat, a fan of Joss Whedon’s work in general, or just someone who thinks Serenity would be an appropriate moniker for America’s next crewed spaceship, now is the time to send Elon Musk and Gwynne Shotwell a postcard or letter at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California and tell them you want the first Crew Dragon to bear the name Serenity!
And then, once you’ve dropped that card or letter in the mailbox, you can log on to the live webcast of the Starlink 2 mission at spacex.com or on the company’s YouTube channel this Monday approximately 20 minutes before liftoff and watch SpaceX launch into the New Year.
From all of us here at Take Back the Sky, may your New Year be filled with good health, prosperity, and of course Serenity.
Peace, love and rockets…
At 7:10 PM EST tomorrow, the 16th of December, SpaceX will attempt to launch a Falcon 9 rocket bearing two Boeing-built communications satellites, one for Japanese JCSAT Corporation of Japan and Kacific of Singapore. The most recent weather projections as of this writing suggest a 90% chance of favorable launch conditions. Should the launch be delayed for other reasons, it will be delayed to the following evening, when weather will only have a 50% chance of cooperating.
Though the mission will target a geostationary orbit, the first stage will attempt a landing and recovery aboard Of Course I Still Love You.
Live coverage of the launch will be streamed from SpaceX’s YouTube channel, and from SpaceFlightNow.com.
A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to carry Dragon into the black on December 4 for SpaceX’s next commercial cargo resupply mission to deliver several tons of supplies, equipment and science investigations to the International Space Station.
Liftoff is currently scheduled NET 12:51 p.m. EST (17:51 UTC) on Wednesday from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If the launch occurs on time, the launch pad will be almost directly underneath the orbital track of the ISS at liftoff due to the Earth’s rotation. The backup launch date is Thursday, December 5 if necessary.
The launch, SpaceX’s twelfth of the year, will feature a brand new Falcon 9 first stage booster. SpaceX plans to land and recover the first stage on their drone ship Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean so it can be refurbished for future use.
Among the more than one ton of scientific investigations being delivered to the International Space Station on this mission are 40 mice, which will aid in studies of muscular degradation during spaceflight and hopefully yield data that will help make future space missions– including long-range space missions– safer for humans.
If the mission launches on time, Dragon will arrive at the ISS on December 7, where it will remain until early January.
Peace, love and rockets…
It’s been a bit quiet on the launch front for SpaceX these past few months, but when a Falcon 9 breaks atmo with its next set of 60 Starlink broadband network satellites this week, Elon Musk and company will return to the black with yet another milestone mission.
The Starlink launch that is scheduled NET November 11 will mark the first time that a SpaceX mission will employ a reusable payload fairing. The fairing for the upcoming mission last launched with the Falcon Heavy on April 11 of this year.
And if that’s not impressive enough, SpaceX confirmed last month that the upcoming Starlink mission would also be the company’s first to fly a Falcon 9 first-stage booster for a fourth time.
The Starlink mission is scheduled to liftoff Monday, November 11 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, with a launch window that opens at 9:56 a.m. EST (14:56 UTC) and will remain viable for eleven minutes. If necessary, a backup launch opportunity is available on Tuesday, November 12 at 9:34 a.m. EST (14:34 UTC).
SpaceX’s President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said in September that the company plans as many as 24 Starlink launches next year, with the eventual goal of providing broadband satellite coverage to all populated areas of the globe.
Peace, love and rockets…