(UPDATE: This launch was scrubbed on Monday, and is currently targeted for Wednesday, April 18 at 6:51 EDT. At a NASA social event for TESS on April 15, SpaceX Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann said there is, in fact, a launch opportunity for TESS every day through April 26.)
This Monday, April 16, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch, which is scheduled to lift off at 6:32 pm EDT (22:32 UTC), will feature a brand new Falcon 9 booster rocket that has never flown before. Unlike some of the more recent SpaceX missions, there are plans to recover the first stage of this Falcon 9 at sea aboard SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. If that recovery is successful, this particular Falcon 9 will be reused for the CRS-15 Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station this summer.
This current mission is generating some buzz because of its payload. SpaceX is sending a NASA satellite into orbit that is known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. The satellite is designed to conduct a two-year survey during which it will use an array of telescopes to monitor over 200,000 stars in “neighboring solar systems” (less than 300 light years away) in order to detect and identify planets ranging in size from roughly the size of the Earth to gas giants, with a particular interest in identifying Earth-like exoplanets that could one day (or perhaps once did or even already do) support life.
There is a 30-second launch window for tomorrow’s launch, but there is the possibility of launching on Tuesday if Monday’s launch has to be scrubbed. If SpaceX misses that back-up window, then they’ll have to wait until the moon comes around again. This is because once the satellite is deployed it needs the help of a perfectly-timed gravitational assist from the moon in order to put it into a highly eccentric orbit that will bring it close to Earth approximately once every two weeks. At present, the weather is 80% GO for an April 16 launch, and 90% GO for a Tuesday backup launch if necessary.
Peace, love and rockets…
Hot off the success of its most recent Iridium launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, SpaceX now turns its attention to the East Coast and the next in a series of resupply missions to the International Space Station. A Falcon 9 is scheduled to carry an unmanned Dragon capsule into the black from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Monday, April 2 at just past 4:30 pm EDT (20:30 UTC) for ISS resupply mission CRS-14.
The Falcon 9 first stage for this mission is a recovered booster that was previously re-flown during the CRS-12 resupply mission to the ISS. At this time it is still unknown whether or not SpaceX will attempt to recover the first stage again during this mission.
As was the case with previous CRS resupply missions, Dragon will deliver cargo and material to support science investigations aboard the International Space Station.
According to NASA, some of the investigations Dragon will deliver on this mission will look at severe thunderstorms on Earth, study the effects of microgravity on the production of high-performance products from metal powders, and even grow food in space!
Dragon will also deliver cargo for research in the National Laboratory operated by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). These materials will aid in the testing of the effects of the harsh environment of space on materials, coatings and components, as well as identifying potential pathogens aboard the ISS and investigating an antibiotic-releasing wound patch that is in development.
Dragon will remain berthed at the ISS for about a month before returning to Earth with results of earlier experiments and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
Those who watched the Iridium-5 launch may recall that SpaceX was not permitted to continue its live broadcast from space using cameras on the 2nd stage of the Falcon 9. This was because the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US Department of Commerce deemed the cameras to be a “remote sensing space system” and required SpaceX to apply for a provisional license in order to use them, which they would not have been able to obtain in time to stay on schedule for a March 30 launch that had already experienced delays for numerous other reasons. SpaceX has already stated that there is no such restriction for this mission. And that makes sense… since this resupply mission is being carried out on behalf of the very same federal government that put the restrictions on SpaceX’s most recent mission for a private client in the first place!
Peace, love and rockets…
On Tuesday, February 6th, during a launch window that opens at 1:30 PM and ends at 4:30 PM EST, SpaceX will attempt the maiden launch of its newest launch vehicle, the Falcon Heavy. As a demonstration flight, rather than a commercial or government satellite, it will instead launch a test payload consisting of CEO Elon Musk’s own Tesla electric roadster.
The historic significance of this launch will be lost on most, dismissed by cynics as just another corporation debuting a new product they hope to court the masses with. What a majority of people fail to realize is that not all rockets are created equal.
SpaceX plans to launch its thirteenth resupply mission to the International Space Station from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral, Florida this Tuesday, December 12 at 11:46AM EST. A Falcon 9 rocket will carry an unmanned Dragon capsule into the black loaded with supplies, equipment and science experiments, including NASA’s Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) as well as a fiber optic payload. SpaceX will also attempt to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 at the LZ-1 landing site at Cape Canaveral.
This is SpaceX’s first mission since indefinitely postponing the “Zuma” rocket launch that was to have taken place at LC-39A at Cape Canaveral last month. SpaceX indicated that it had some concerns stemming from a payload fairing test for another customer (the “Zuma” mission is supposed to launch a clandestine payload for an unnamed government agency), and that it was standing down until engineers completed their analysis. At this time that mission has yet to be rescheduled, but there are no such concerns for this launch.
According to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, Tuesday’s launch of the Dragon will also be the first time that both the orbital rocket and the capsule are being re-flown. SpaceX has successfully reused Falcon 9 boosters on multiple occasions, and has already sent a reused Dragon capsule to the ISS, but this will be the first mission for which both the rocket and the capsule are flight proven. SpaceX has made reusability a priority for several years now, both in an attempt to lower costs and in order to take a significant step toward the day when frequent, perhaps even daily, launches both to and beyond Low Earth Orbit are commonplace.
A crewed version of the Dragon space capsule is scheduled to make its first manned test flight in the latter half of the coming year as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and as you probably well know by now, it’s this Crew Dragon that we hope will be named Serenity after the Firefly-class transport ship in Joss Whedon’s cult-classic space western TV series Firefly and motion picture Serenity. (If you want to know how you can help us make that happen, visit our Take Action page.)
In the meantime, the unmanned, flight proven version of the Dragon will begin its journey to the ISS on Tuesday, and you can watch the mission unfold live online. SpaceX’s webcast of the launch will go live at spacex.com and on the company’s YouTube channel approximately 20-30 minutes prior to liftoff.
Peace, love and rockets.
Hey, everybody. It’s Chris Tobias, co-founder of Take Back the Sky. I usually don’t post on our blog under my own name, but I feel the need to take personal responsibility for this one, and by that I mean both for what I’m about to say and for the social media post that gave me reason to say it.
On November 25, I tweeted an article by the Smithsonian on Take Back the Sky‘s Twitter feed about Mike Hughes, a self-taught rocket scientist who designed and built his own rocket, which he planned to launch this weekend with himself as a pilot. My comment on the tweet was: “This is the #Browncoats spirit!” You can still see the original tweet on Take Back the Sky‘s Twitter feed. It has not been deleted, and we have no plans to do so.
That in and of itself is relatively innocuous, but that’s not the whole story, of course. You see, Mr. Hughes was going to all this trouble because he was hoping that it would help to prove his belief that the Earth is flat! The article also stated that afterwards he planned to run for governor, which is somewhat eccentric, to say the least. I thought it was obvious that my admiration was solely for his gumption in designing, building, launching and piloting his own rocket. I should have known better.
This morning I got an e-mail from Take Back the Sky‘s other co-founder, Jeff Cunningham. He wanted to know if the tweet got the same amount of attention on Twitter that the cross-post had generated on our Facebook page (it hadn’t). According to Jeff, my posting of this one article had generated more discussion and comments than 99% of the other things we’ve ever posted to our Facebook page, and most of it wasn’t very positive. When I tweeted “This is the #Browncoats spirit!” I was referring to the fact that Mike Hughes was willing to do something against seemingly impossible odds because he believed strongly in a cause, even if the majority didn’t agree with him. But when I looked at the comments on Facebook, it was obvious that people were focusing on the fact that he believed in a flat Earth and was not a proponent of science, even though he was obviously making use of science in order to accomplish what he had set out to do.
In his e-mail Jeff made it clear that he did not see how Mike Hughes’ flight, or the Smithsonian‘s coverage of it, advanced an anti-science agenda. The Smithsonian is the last institution that either of us would accuse of that, and Jeff and I agreed that should be quite evident in the tone of their article. While I was relieved that he understood the motivation behind my posting it, he was obviously concerned that now some of our followers might actually believe that we were anti-science (despite over six years of statements to the contrary on this site, as well as Facebook and Twitter) just because we praised this man’s actions, even if we were viewing them independent (no pun intended) of his motivations. So I decided to take a closer look at the comments, and was very disappointed by what I saw.
Autumn arrived in the Northern Hemisphere this past week, which means it’s time for us to reprise our “Leaf on the Wind” campaign to convince SpaceX to name their first Crew Dragon Serenity.
We’ve written about this campaign here a couple of times before, but in case you don’t want to go sifting through the archives to read about it, here’s how it works:
We’re asking each and every supporter of Take Back the Sky to go into his or her yard (or perhaps a park) and pick a leaf. It should be a leaf that is either still on the branch, or one that is very freshly fallen. Put that leaf in a small, sealable plastic bag, and put it in an envelope with a short note to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and/or president Gwynne Shotwell asking SpaceX to name its first Crew Dragon Serenity (and I do mean short– one or two sentences will do). Once you’ve done that, seal the envelope, slap a stamp on it and mail it to this address:Space Exploration Technologies Attn: Elon Musk (or Attn: Gwynne Shotwell) 1 Rocket Road Hawthorne, CA 90250 USA
When Elon Musk and Gwynne Shotwell get piles of leaves big enough to jump in, we’re pretty sure they’ll get the message that Browncoats around the world are passionate about the idea of a manned US spacecraft called Serenity!
Now, here are a few tips for a successful “Leaf on the Wind:”
- I can’t speak for Canada or Mexico, but for those in America, the US Postal Service will allow the mailing of plant matter only as long as it will not decompose before it reaches its destination, so be sure to pick a leaf that is either still on the branch or very freshly fallen. Those pretty autumn colors may look just like Serenity’s logo, but Elon Musk will never see them if the envelope gets flagged and pulled because it has a certain aroma of unpleasantness about it when it arrives in California. If you want your leaf to stay fresh longer, you can blow a tiny amount of air into the bag (not too much, or it won’t fit in the envelope) before you seal it. That way you really are sending SpaceX a leaf “on the wind.” Another helpful technique is to take a very small wad of paper towel, toilet paper or Kleenex tissue and moisten it slightly, and then wrap it around the leaf’s stem before you seal it in the bag.
- The note you include should be brief and hand-written. This will set it apart from the letters that have already been arriving. Again, one or two sentences will do. (I chose to include a little Haiku with mine: “Watch your Dragon soar/With the name Serenity/A leaf on the wind.”) It’s probably also a good idea to sign it, because CEO’s and presidents of big companies tend to get a little nervous when they start getting anonymous notes in the mail! If you want to make it seem informal, yet personal, try signing just your first name and where you’re from (for example, “Chris from Pittsburgh”).
- Make sure you know what kind of leaf you’ve chosen so you’re not sending a leaf that’s hazardous to the touch. (We want Elms and Maples, not Poison Ivy or Poison Sumac!)
- For our supporters who are not in North America, you can still get involved, but it will take a little bit more work. Since your leaves on the wind aren’t likely to arrive before they decompose, you’ll have to think outside the box, but you could send a handmade leaf cut out of construction paper. They may not be real, but I’m sure they still will be all kinds of pretty, and you won’t have to worry about them losing their beauty before Elon Musk or Gwynne Shotwell ever sees them. If you don’t want to go through that trouble, feel free to copy, print and cut out this one (coloring it is optional, but including a little note is still a really good idea):
- Regardless of whether your leaf on the wind is hand-picked or hand-made, be sure to tell people you’ve sent it on message boards and on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (#LeafOnTheWind), and encourage them to do the same. If we want this campaign to succeed, we need as many people as possible to participate. Also, this campaign is not meant to take the place of regular letters. Ideally, the two should work in tandem. We need to keep sending those plain old ordinary letters as well!
- Don’t forget: just like letters, leaves don’t have to be a “one and done” statement. Fall lasts about three months, and that leaves you a lot of time (see what did there?) to send an awful lot of fall foliage to SpaceX!
So, if you’re a Browncoat who would like to see a manned US spacecraft named Serenity, or just someone who believes that bridging the gap between science-fiction and hard science will help rekindle American interest in space exploration, please take a few moments of your time and the cost of a postage stamp to send SpaceX a leaf on the wind– literally.
Peace, love and rockets…