by Chris Tobias
SpaceX is set to launch yet another commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). A Falcon9 will carry an unmanned Dragon into the black from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:55pm EDT on Thursday evening, June 1 (If no attempt at a launch is possible during the instantaneous launch window, a backup launch window is set for Saturday, June 3 at 5:07pm EDT).
As is often the case with SpaceX launches, this one aims to make a bit of history. First off, it will be the 100th launch from LC-39A, which has been the site of myriad launches from the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs as well as more recent SpaceX launches. In addition, the Dragon space capsule being used to support the CRS-11 mission previously resupplied the International Space Station on SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission in September of 2014.
CRS-11 is the eleventh of up to twenty planned commercial resupply missions to the ISS by Elon Musk and company. This time around, the Dragon will carry almost 3 tons of supplies and payloads, including critical materials that are needed to support many of the more than 250 science experiments that will occur during ISS Expeditions 52 and 53. ISS crew members will use the station’s robotic “Canadarm2” to reach out and capture the Dragon spacecraft and attach it to the station on June 4. She’ll stay berthed to the station for approximately one month, at which time she’ll return to Earth laden with experiments and other materials being sent home from the ISS and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.
And when the Falcon9 breaks atmo and sends the Dragon on her way, the first stage booster will return to land at SpaceX’s LZ-1 landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Considered to be impractical if not impossible by many skeptics just a few years ago, this has now become almost a standard feature of SpaceX launches, with the only real question asked nowadays being “will they bring it back by land or by sea?”
CRS-11 is also a special mission for us here at Take Back the Sky, because we hope to convince SpaceX to name the first Dragon 2 variant of this very spacecraft (which is being developed to transport American crews to and from the station as early as 2018) after the transport ship Serenity from Joss Whedon’s sci-fi series Firefly (and the subsequent motion picture that shared its name with the ship). A successful resupply mission involving a Dragon is always a great opportunity for Browncoats to write a letter to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and president Gwynne Shotwell to congratulate them on their ongoing success and let them know that they think Serenity would be a very shiny name for the first Dragon to take US astronauts into the black.
SpaceX’s webcast of the launch will go live approximately 20 minutes before liftoff. We invite you to watch along with us, and envision what it will be like to watch a Dragon named Serenity return US astronauts to space from American soil in the not-so-distant future.
by Chris Tobias
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.
by Chris Tobias
Today was the kind of day that gets us excited about space travel.
SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket and deployed the Dragon capsule, which is currently on its way to the International Space Station with supplies, provisions, experiments and even an espresso machine!
And to top it all off, they darn near pulled off a historic landing and recovery of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket booster aboard their robot barge Just Read the Instructions. The rocket hit the bullseye, but came in too hard for a that landing “like a downy feather” that SpaceX was hoping for.
by Jeff Cunningham
Tomorrow evening, Sunday, February 8, SpaceX will once again attempt the historic recovery of a Falcon 9 booster rocket on a drone-piloted barge in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after they launch the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite into orbit.
It’s appropriate that SpaceX is aiming high for this launch, because their customer for the DSCOVR mission is the United States Air Force, in conjunction with NOAA and NASA. The probe will station itself at the Lagrange-1 Point, or L-1, a point in space about 1 million miles from Earth where the gravitational pull of our planet and the sun balance each other enough for DSOCVR to remain there indefinitely. Its mission will be to observe solar weather patterns (such as sunspots and solar storms) and how they can affect life on Earth, not to mention your wi-fi reception.
The launch window will open at approximately 6:10pm EST on Sunday, February 8, 2015, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. If all goes as planned, the DSCOVR satellite will be deployed to a 1,241,000 x 187 km orbit at 37 degrees approximately 35 minutes after liftoff, and that’s when the real fun will begin! Because that’s when, using GPS tracking, the Falcon 9 will guide its way back to the drone ship waiting for it in the Atlantic. If all goes as planned, it’ll touch down like a downy feather on the deck of the ship, which SpaceX, in their typically cheeky style we’ve come to know and love, has christened “Just Read the Instructions.”
If you remember, the last time SpaceX attempted this (after launching an unmanned Dragon to the International Space Station last month), the landing was, as Serenity’s Hoban Washburne would say, “interesting”…
Those who want to watch tomorrow’s potentially historic launch can log on to online coverage beginning at 5:50pm EST tomorrow at livestream.com.
by Chris Tobias
This past weekend SpaceX successfully launched its third resupply mission to the International Space Station. On April 18 the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off into the grey, afternoon sky of South Florida, carrying the Dragon capsule out of the world and into the black, where she rendezvoused with the ISS early on Easter morning, April 20. Today the crew of the ISS will be busy unloading the Dragon’s cargo. She will remain berthed at the space station for about a month, and is scheduled to return to Earth on May 18.
This mission is also significant because it was SpaceX’s debut of the new “legs” on the Falcon 9 booster rocket, which allowed the first stage of the rocket to stabilize its descent and return intact through the atmosphere to splash down in one piece. This opens the door to the possible reuse of the Falcon 9, and will eventually lead to the first truly reusable American spacecraft since the Space Shuttle.
We at Take Back the Sky congratulate the men and women of SpaceX and NASA on this spectacular achievement. We look forward to the day, hopefully within the next two years, when a ship just like this one will launch on a similar mission with American astronauts on board– a ship we hope will bear the name Serenity…