Since 2012, we at Take Back the Sky have been leading a grassroots effort to convince SpaceX to name the first of its manned space capsules after Serenity, the fictional spaceship from Joss Whedon’s science-fiction television series Firefly and feature film Serenity. Despite the fact that we’ve devoted a lot of space as of late (yes, the pun is intended) to covering the many launches that SpaceX has completed so far this year, we still think it’s important that we not lose sight of our raison d’être. To that end, here are ten good reasons why we believe the first manned SpaceX Dragon should be named Serenity…
For many of us Americans, summer is a time to dial it back a bit. We enjoy a more lazy pace that fits the mild weather and the longer days, and we associate the months of summer with vacations, trips to the ball park and hours spent relaxing on the beach. Perhaps no weekend of the summer embodies this more than Independence Day weekend, with its tradition of picnics, baseball and fireworks.
It comes as no surprise to us that SpaceX sees things a bit differently.
Following two successful Falcon 9 launches last weekend, SpaceX plans to launch again this Sunday, July 2. This launch, which will be from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, has an evening launch window that is set to open at 7:36pm EDT (2336 GMT), and if the weather cooperates (the latest forecasts call that into question) it should make for some spectacular viewing that will rival any 4th of July fireworks display. For those who want to watch online, the live webcast will begin approximately twenty minutes before liftoff on SpaceX’s YouTube channel and at spacex.com.
The payload for Sunday’s mission, the Intelsat 35e satellite, is built by Boeing, who along with SpaceX is contracted to provide manned space capsules to NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Program. It is designed for broadband data delivery, Ultra HD television broadcasts, and services for mobile and government customers. Due to the heavy weight of the Intelsat 35e satellite, there is no plan to attempt recovery of the Falcon 9’s first stage following Sunday’s launch.
SpaceX will have a recovery of a different sort in mind this Sunday though, as the Dragon capsule that has been berthed at the International Space Station since early June is set to return this weekend and is scheduled to splash down on Sunday. So, if all goes according to plan, the theme for the day will be “one up, one down.”
Once Sunday’s mission is completed, SpaceX will likely turn its attention to its next Dragon resupply mission to the ISS and its first launch of the Air Force’s top-secret X-37B space plane, which some have dubbed the “drone space shuttle.” Those flights aren’t scheduled until August, however. After all, even Elon Musk and company deserve a little time to kick back, grill some hot dogs, catch a Dodgers game and enjoy some fun in the sun.
Of course, this is SpaceX we’re talking about, so they’ll probably just head back to 1 Rocket Road and get right back to the business of making history!
If everything goes according to plan, a SpaceX Falcon 9 will break atmo for the third time this year in the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 14.
This Falcon will be carrying a commercial communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) for EchoStar Corporation. According to SpaceX’s mission press kit, the satellite, called EchoStar XXIII, is a highly flexible, Ku-band broadcast satellite services (BSS) satellite with four main reflectors and multiple sub-reflectors that will support multiple mission profiles.
There is a two-and-a-half-hour launch window for this mission, which opens Tuesday morning at 1:34am EDT. The satellite will be deployed approximately 34 minutes after launch. This will be SpaceX’s second launch from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center. There will be no attempt to land the Falcon 9’s first stage after launch because the specific requirements of this mission make landing the booster prohibitive.
One interesting aspect of this mission is that it will likely be the last SpaceX launch that has an Air Force officer ready at the console as part of a traditional flight termination system. SpaceX’s launch on February 19 marked the first time that responsibility for commanding the rocket to self-destruct lay with computers on board the Falcon instead of a human being monitoring the flight from the Mission Flight Control Officer’s console at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX is the first and only US launch company approved to use the Automated Flight Safety System, or AFSS, which continually records the rocket’s position and trajectory and commands the rocket to self-destruct if it repeatedly crosses pre-programmed boundary lines or violates flight rules. With the successful use of the system during the February 19 launch as well as thirteen previous tests in “shadow mode,” there is a high probability that SpaceX will use the AFSS, which is capable of responding faster than a human being could in the event that a flight needs to be terminated, for all future Falcon launches. (The system has yet to be approved by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program for planned launches of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, one of which we hope they’ll name after Serenity.)
For those who feel sufficiently recovered from Daylight Saving Time to stay up for it, SpaceX’s launch webcast will go live about 20 minutes before liftoff.
If necessary, a backup launch window opens on Thursday, March 16, at 1:35am EDT.
For the second consecutive year, Take Back the Sky will be presenting a panel at Wizard World Pittsburgh Comic Con. This year’s panel, Still Flyin’: Browncoats in Space, will examine the historical relationship between science-fiction and the space industry as well as recent developments and achievements in commercial spaceflight, with a special emphasis on SpaceX and its involvement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Take Back the Sky co-founder and Pittsburgh native Chris Tobias will present the panel, which will take place on Friday, November 4 from 6:30-7:15pm in Room 401 of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh, PA.
If you’re going to be at the con on Friday and have an interest in Firefly, SpaceX or just commercial spaceflight in general, stop by and hear what we have to say. We’ll have updates on our latest activities for those who want to see SpaceX name its first manned Dragon Serenity, as well as some ideas and resources that will make it easier for Browncoats to join our cause.
We hope to see you one week from today at Wizard World Pittsburgh!
(Note: This blog post was originally supposed to appear last month, but due to technical difficulties that were beyond our control, it couldn’t be salvaged until now. We hope you accept our apologies, and that you still find this updated version of the article relevant. — Chris)
Fifty years ago, Star Trek debuted on television screens across the United States. On September 9, I attended a special screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and For the Love of Spock at Pittsburgh’s historic Hollywood Theater (the very same theater that is featured prominently in the Rocky Horror scenes in the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower) in honor of that anniversary. The event was an opportunity for me to return to my sci-fi roots, because while there are few Browncoats whose coats are more of a brownish color than mine, I was a Trekkie long before Joss Whedon read a book about the Battle of Gettysburg and was inspired to create a space-western TV series called Firefly. So, when it was announced that geekpittsburgh.com was sponsoring “a Steel City Celebration of Star Trek” for the benefit of the Hollywood Theater and Pittsburgh’s ToonSeum (two organizations that have hosted Pittsburgh’s “Can’t Stop the Serenity” screenings in recent years), I was content to leave my browncoat in the closet for one evening in favor of the command gold of a Starfleet uniform (once a cap’n, always a cap’n) and boldly go where I had always so enthusiastically gone before.
SpaceX recently completed its second successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket in less than two weeks, a record turnaround time for the company. The first of those launches sent an umanned Dragon to the International Space Station. It’s still berthed there, and will return to Earth later this month.
But while that unmanned Dragon remains in Low Earth Orbit at the ISS, SpaceX is about to take a major step in the development of their manned Dragon capsule, the very same one that we hope will one day be named Serenity.
On the morning of Wednesday, May 6 at approximately 7am, SpaceX plans to conduct a “pad abort” test of its Dragon V2, the manned version of the Dragon that will carry astronauts to the ISS as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 will simulate a launch pad emergency. The Dragon will be shot into the air from the launch pad, and will deploy its parachutes and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. In the process, the Dragon will also employ its “SuperDraco” thrusters, which are designed to aid the capsule and its crew in escaping from a rocket on the pad or in flight if things get “interesting” in Hoban “Wash” Washburne’s definition of the word.
Following this test, the next step will be this summer, when SpaceX will conduct an “in-flight abort” test, launched from California. In that test the Dragon will attempt to escape from a Falcon 9 rocket after its launch.