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Rocket Lab is preparing for their third Electron rocket launch of the year. The seventh flight of Electron, named “Make It Rain,” will carry seven satellites for Spaceflight Inc. Daily launch windows from 04:30 to 06:30 UTC begin on June 27, and continue until July 10. The T-0 for the Thursday (local time) attempt is currently 04:40 UTC.

The mission name is inspired by Spaceflight Inc.’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Make It Rain is Spaceflight’s inaugural launch with Rocket Lab, and the first of five such launches planned for this year. Spaceflight has already launched two missions aboard ISRO’s PSLV and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets in 2019, and have ten additional missions scheduled for the year.

Rocket Lab, like other smallsat launch providers, is aiming to solve problems associated with large scale rideshare missions, such as limited control over destination orbits and lengthy delays. Dedicated smallsat launches, or rideshare missions like Make It Rain with only a few payloads, allow Rocket Lab to offer precise orbital insertion for all payloads on their own schedule.

BlackSky’s Global-3 satellite is integrated with Rocket Lab’s kick stage – via Rocket Lab

The largest of the seven satellites is BlackSky’s Global-3, a commercial Earth observation and imagery satellite. Global-3 will by BlackSky’s first inclined launch, at an inclination of 45 degrees.

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Also on board are two Prometheus cubesats, developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory for the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) as technology demonstration satellites. A student built technology demonstration satellite from the Melbourne Space Program named ACRUX-1 is also aboard Electron, as are two SpaceBEE communications satellites for Swarm Technologies.

The seventh payload on the launch has not been disclosed. The payloads will be deployed into a circular orbit at 450 kilometers in altitude, and have a total mass of 80 kilograms.

With the exception of Global-3, all of the payloads were processed and integrated at Spaceflight’s facility in Auburn, Washington. In early June, they were shipped to Rocket Lab’s private spaceport: Launch Complex 1, on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

The Electron rocket arrives at Launch Complex 1 – via Rocket Lab

The final stage test for Make It Rain was completed on May 21. The Electron rocket arrived at LC-1 in early June, and rolled out to the launch pad on June 19 in preparation for a Wet Dress Rehearsal. The rehearsal of the launch countdown, including fueling of the Electron rocket, was completed on June 21.

The mission countdown begins six hours before liftoff when the road to the launch site is closed. Four hours before launch, the Electron rocket will be lifted from its horizontal position to vertical on the launch pad and filled with RP-1 rocket fuel. Two hours before launch, Liquid Oxygen will be loaded onto both stages of Electron.

After Electron is fully fueled, the Launch Director will conduct a go/no-go poll of the launch team at T- 18 minutes. Two minutes before liftoff, Electron’s on-board computers take over control of the countdown, beginning to launch autosequence. The nine Rutherford engines on Electron’s first stage ignite two seconds before liftoff.

Electron launches the ELaNa-XIX mission for NASA in December 2018 – via Brady Kenniston for NSF

Once Electron’s computers verify all systems are healthy, the rocket will be released from the launch pad and begin an approximately nine-minute flight to orbit. The first stage will burn for two minutes and thirty-four seconds after liftoff, before separating from the second stage.

The vacuum Rutherford engine on stage two will ignite at T+ 2 minutes, 44 seconds. Three minutes and five seconds after launch, the payload fairing which protected the payloads during ascent will separate, with Electron above the dense parts of Earth’s atmosphere.

Stage two will burn until eight minutes and fifty-five seconds after liftoff. Rocket Lab’s kick stage will then separate from Electron and enter an approximately forty-minute-long coast phase. The Curie engine on the kick stage will ignite at T+ 50 minutes, 27 seconds, and burn for 44 seconds. All seven payloads will be deployed by T+ 53 minutes, 26 seconds.

After payload deployment, the kick stage will perform a deorbit burn, leaving no space debris in orbit. Rocket Lab has made limiting space junk a priority as part of their goal of growing the number of satellites in orbit with an accelerating launch cadence.

By the end of this year, Rocket Lab hopes that cadence will reach a pace of one Electron launch every two weeks. Part of this plan includes the first Electron launch from Rocket Lab’s new launch facility, Launch Complex 2, later this year. LC-2 is under construction at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

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Following verification and validation (V&V) testing in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) Program is set to roll Mobile Launcher-1 (ML-1) from High Bay 3 of the VAB out to Launch Pad 39B for a Summer of testing in preparation for the Artemis 1 launch.

Installation and checkout of systems on the mobile umbilical tower and launch platform is nearing completion and the tests at Pad 39B will verify that they are ready to support their first pad flow with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft.

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The scheduled three-month long stay at the pad includes demonstration tests of countdown activities in and around launch day including propellant loading, sound suppression water system flows, and vehicle servicing.

The next planned trip to the launch pad for the Mobile Launcher (ML) would be with the Artemis 1 vehicle for a full launch dress rehearsal. In addition to validating that the ML and the Pad systems work together as required, EGS will practice running through other countdown timelines, such as securing the ML and the pad area ahead of propellant loading operations.

After the upcoming round of testing at the pad, the ML will be rolled back to the VAB to complete work ahead of formally being turned over to ground operations to begin vehicle integration. A few more tests in the VAB and a certification review are necessary to complete ML construction.

Final VAB testing completed ahead of rollout

“We’re rolling out to the pad June 27th, ‘triple balls one’ (0001 local time, 0401 UTC) on the 27th,” Cliff Lanham, EGS Senior Project Manager for the Mobile Launcher, said in a June 10 interview. Crawler Transporter-2 (CT-2) will pick up the ML in the VAB for the four-mile drive out to the pad.

CT-2 took the ML out to Pad 39B from its East Park Site construction area for fit checks last September. The ML was then rolled into High Bay 3 of the VAB for the first round of Multi-Element Verfication and Validation (MEV&V) work, which included additional installations and systems checkouts with Launch Complex 39 (LC-39) infrastructure in the assembly building and Firing Rooms in the Launch Control Center.

Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky.

(Photo Caption: The Core Stage Engine Service Platform (center), with railings for the four RS-25 engines, is raised into its work position on the deck of Mobile Launcher-1 during pre-rollout testing and checkouts in mid-June. The two, large Tail Service Mast Umbilical assemblies to the left will plug into the engine section of the Core Stage. Two sets of four Vehicle Support Posts (middle foreground, middle background) indicate where the two SLS Solid Rocket Boosters will flank the liquid sustainer stage when the vehicle is assembled on the ML. On the periphery in this image, three of the Sound Suppression water “rainbirds” can be seen.)

Over the past few weeks, the ML-1 construction team has been wrapping up pre-rollout MEV&V work. Retract and drop testing of the arms that connect umbilicals to Orion and SLS was in work, along with checkouts of electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic systems. Other work included installations of Sound Suppression water equipment on the ML and testing of hazardous gas detection and environment control systems (ECS).

In addition, development testing was also worked on the overnight shift where modal testing was performed. Modal tests are being conducted to collect data on the structural dynamics of the ML by itself, which can be used with data from future modal testing to be conducted after the Artemis 1 vehicle is assembled on the ML.

Service platforms for the aft-end of the two SLS Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) and the four Core Stage RS-25 engines were also recently raised into the flame hole in the ML’s launch platform. These will allow technicians hands-on access to the rocket engines and nearby support equipment like the Booster thrust vector control (TVC) systems.

Additional data will be collected on system behavior and performance during the rollout on the crawler-transporter. “On the way out we’ll be essentially capturing the vibrations of the system as we roll out,” Lanhan said.

Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky.

(Photo Caption: The liquid hydrogen (LH2) Tail Service Mast Umbilical arm is extended just prior to a retract test in the VAB in late June prior to rollout.)

“It’s a dynamic check of how things are reacting during the actual roll. So we’ll be checking that for both the base and tower of the Mobile Launcher, we’ll be capturing that. There’s some ECS testing, Environmental Control System testing, we’ll be doing as we roll out.”

“So we’ll be checking a few things as we roll out and then obviously once we get there we’ll set down, get hooked up, and then we get into our whole pad flow of testing,” he added.

The rollout of ML-1 comes on the heels of the construction award for a second ML.  NASA announced the selection of Bechtel National, Inc. on June 25 to design and build Mobile Launcher-2 (ML-2), which was started by Congress with appropriations in March, 2018, to separate SLS and EGS development work on the SLS Block 1B vehicle from both ML-1 and the initial Exploration (now Artemis) Mission manifest that will use the Block 1 vehicle.

The 44-month contract period for ML-2 begins on July 1.

Pad testing campaign

One of the first things to test with the ML set down and hooked up to the pad is the Ignition Over-Pressure / Sound Suppression (IOP/SS) water system. “Basically that’s going to be four individual tests with a total of nine water flows out there,” Lanham noted.

Several water flows have been conducted at the pad without the ML, but the upcoming tests will verify joint ML-Pad operations.

“That’s one of the very first things that we want to get done out there is that first set of flows because we’re not sure, depending on the test data, whether we’ve got to change the orifice plates that are in the rainbirds and also on the pad side to get the flows right. So that’s going to be important to get that performed right away.”

Credit: NASA/Chris Swanson.

(Photo Caption: Eight of the IOP/SS nozzles (top left) for the Core Stage engines can be seen in this image at the mouth of the ML flame hole; there are an additional eight nozzles on the other side of the flame hole for the liquid engines and twelve more for the SRBs, six each. The Core Stage Engine Service Platform is in the foreground in this image prior to being lifted.)

Other tests will demonstrate the combined performance of other water systems. “We’ll be doing fire suppression testing where we’re checking our fire suppression systems as well as our emergency egress system and our washdown systems,” he said.

The propellant systems from the cryogenic spheres in the storage areas near the pad perimeter will also be tested with the cross-country lines that run up to the ML. The super-cold liquids will flow through the ML’s liquid oxygen (LOX/LO2) and liquid hydrogen (LH2) lines up close to the connection points for the SLS Core Stage in Tail Service Mast Umbilicals (TSMU) on the deck of the launch platform and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage Umbilical (ICPSU) up on the umbilical tower for the upper stage.

“We’ll flow the LO2, LH2 from the storage areas up through the ML to both the Core Stage area and the TSMUs and also up to the Level 200 where the second stage will be and that’s where we’ll flow up to with the cryos,” Lanham said.

Additional testing will be performed when the Artemis 1 vehicle visits the pad ahead of launch, but these first tests without the vehicle can check out all the plumbing up to the last few feet to the vehicle, initial flows through the system, and also exercise the hazardous gas detection system to look for leaks. The propellant then has to be turned around to exit, which is a little different than with a vehicle in place.

“What we’re doing is we’re putting in what we call the ‘bathtub’ which is the low point I’d say inside the Tail Service Mast Umbilical and then we’ll actually have a tool that will flow and turn the commodity around and flow back out,” Lanham explained. “So we don’t actually go out to the end of the plates here and also we don’t have a vehicle so obviously we’re not going there, but we do have a turnaround tool that we’ll be using.”

Lanham noted that the venting and exit legs will also be tested. After the cryos get to the turnaround tools, the liquid oxygen will exit the ML and be dumped to the pad’s oxygen pond area and the liquid hydrogen will go out to the new hydrogen separator to allow it to boil off to a gas before it is burned in the pad’s flare stack.

In contrast to the Space Shuttle, the SLS Core Stage MPS does not recirculate the liquid hydrogen bleed coming off the RS-25 engines during the chilldown process. While the LH2 and LOX propellants are loaded into the stage’s tanks, a smaller amount branches off to flow through parts of the engines to thermally condition them ahead of startup; in Shuttle, the LH2 was then routed by pumps in the orbiter to a small recirculation line running from the aft compartment into the External Tank.

The SLS Core Stage deleted those hydrogen recirculation pumps from its MPS design and the LH2 engine bleed is dumped from the vehicle, running out of the aft compartment to a port on the LH2 TSMU and then away from the ML. The hydrogen separator was added to the pad vent system to provide a place for any liquid hydrogen to warm up and become hydrogen gas before it reaches the flare stack.

Credit: NASA/Jamie Peer.

(Photo Caption: The LH2 propellant loading and vent lines can be seen in this drone image taken last August when ML-1 was at Pad 39B for a fit check. The lines run in between one of the pad lightning towers and the shorter pad water tower. Cross-country lines run from right to left from the LH2 storage (out of shot, middle right) to the ML. Vent and dump lines run left to right and the dark grey hydrogen separator can be seen about even with the water tower. Farther to the right is the hydrogen flare stack that will burn off hydrogen gas vented from the two SLS liquid propellant stages.)

Lanham went through some of the other tests at the pad: “We also have an integrated power demand and outage test where we check the capability of our power systems to satisfy the consumption that all of the subsystems are going to have when they’re active and the facilities, so we’ll do that,” he said.

“We’ll also be doing a CAA (Crew Access Arm) swing test out there. We have some SCAPE (Self-Contained Atmospheric Protective Ensemble) demos that’ll be done, so that’s all kind of a launch prep demo testing. And then we also have some end-to-end electrical testing that we’ll be doing as well for a few systems.”

“There’s also what we’re calling a launch prep demo test where we’ll look at the different activities that get you into a launch prep, like elevator securing, handling and access removal, pressurization of the ML, CAA (Crew Access Arm) closeouts, that type of stuff,” Lanham added. The EGS launch team will take part in those Integrated System Verification and Validation events to practice that part of the countdown timeline prior to the start of propellant loading.

There will also be some other work done out at the pad along with the MEV&V. “There will be some what I would call ‘punch list’ items that remain from the installation and the construction work, so we’ll be doing punch list items,” Lanham said.

“We do have just a little bit of structural work that we’ve got to complete that we won’t finish in the VAB that we’re going to finish up at the pad. Things like painting and architectural finishes, where we’ve got to put like acoustic tile in the electrical rooms, that type of stuff will be finalized. Really ‘cats and dogs’ types of stuff that we’ll have to finish up, including all the other testing at the pad, MEVV testing.”

Turnover to operations back in the VAB

After returning to the VAB from the pad, a few more tests will be conducted along with formal reviews to certify the ML is complete and ready to support its first launch.

“There is a couple of end-to-end tests that we have to complete once we get back to the VAB and also the booster stacking demo we’re going to do when we come back to the VAB, so we’ll do that in October, and then we go through the whole paper process of certifying the designs and all the systems,” Lanham said. “At that point we turn it over to operations and then operations will pick up with their work, which is the stacking of the vehicle.”

The booster stacking exercise will use inert, test hardware as in similar booster stacking practice that has occurred in the past in VAB High Bay 4.

“They’ll do the aft segment and I think a middle segment. [They will] practice making sure they can interface properly and get all their numbers and everything as they put the aft segment onto the Vehicle Support Posts on the Mobile Launcher and then I think they’re going to stack one more segment. And they’ll train their teams with that multiple times and they’re going to do both sides, the left and right sides of the Mobile Launcher with that, but they’re not stacking an entire booster.”

Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

(Photo Caption: Some of the inert SLS SRB hardware in High Bay 4 of the VAB early in 2018. At the time, the aft segment (left) and the center segment were used to practice final pre-stack preparations. After ML-1 returns to VAB High Bay 3 in the Fall, the hardware will also be used to practice lifting the segments into the SLS integration cell. The EGS integration team will practice mounting the aft segment to both the left and right sets of ML Vehicle Support Posts and also lifting the center segment and stacking it on top of the aft segment.)

The Core Stage Pathfinder, a full-scale replica that has the same weight and balance of a flight article along with much of the form and fit, was still planned to be transported to KSC for fit checks. The passive article is currently at the Stennis Space Center for fit checks there. Lanham said that the current plan was that testing at KSC with the Pathfinder would be something conducted after the ML is turned over to ground operations.

Certifications will cover all the development work. “Certifications meaning where each and every subsystem will show their paperwork essentially,” Lanham explained.

“Showing where they tested, showing their data packages, and saying we’ve met our requirements and we’re ready to go. That gets bought off and then we’ll transition the system over to operations and they’ll begin operations and maintenance, so that kind of work will continue on the Mobile Launcher that’s got to occur periodically or however they have it laid out.”

“But the big phase will be finish testing and then get into the whole certification process,” he added.

The next trip to the launch pad for ML-1 is expected to be with the fully assembled Artemis 1 vehicle.  Two trips to the pad are planned for the vehicle in this first launch campaign, the first for a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR), followed by a return to VAB for final inspections, stowage, and configurations.

CT-2 would then carry ML-1 and the Artemis 1 vehicle to the pad for a second time for a final week’s worth of launch preparations, including the two-day countdown to liftoff.  Plans for the WDR and vehicle pad stays could change if NASA officially decides to skip the Core Stage Green Run test campaign at Stennis Space Center and substitute a short pad firing at KSC to speed up the launch schedule.

Lead image credit: NASA/Cory Huston.

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After years of payload preparation, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket stands ready to launch one of the company’s most-challenging missions to date.  Space Test Program 2 (STP-2), a U.S. Air Force contracted flight with 24 government and civilian testbed payloads, is slated to launch within at 4-hour launch window tonight from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

The launch window opens at 23:30 EDT on Monday, 24 June (03:30 UTC on Tuesday 25 June), although the T-0 has moved to 2am local time.  After liftoff, the Falcon Heavy’s second stage will spend roughly 3.5 hours performing 20 deployments of 24 satellites into various orbits and various orbital inclinations.

Falcon Heavy: A unique mission

STP-2 will be a one-of-a-kind mission for SpaceX and the Falcon Heavy rocket.

The triple-booster rocket – the world’s most powerful currently-operational rocket – will blast off under 5.1 million lbf of thrust from Pad 39A in Florida and fly due east out over the Atlantic Ocean.

Launching a remarkably lightweight payload of just 3,700 kg, the Falcon Heavy – at a glance – seems wildly overpowered for launching a mission of this class into orbit.

However, part of the flight requires the second stage to re-ignite three times to radically alter the vehicle’s orbit for the various payload deployments.

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This requires the second stage to enter orbit with a healthy amount of propellant still inside its tanks – a requirement that therefore drives the need to launch the mission on the Falcon Heavy instead of a regular Falcon 9 because the Falcon Heavy can provide the extra margin to the second stage whereas the regular Falcon 9 – even in its expendable configuration – could not.

Even with the Falcon Heavy’s performance, the center booster – given final mission and performance margin calculations and needs – must burn so much of its fuel during first stage flight that it is incapable of performing a Boostback burn and therefore must free-fly itself 1,200 km downrange from the launch pad before reigniting its engines for the Entry and Landing Burns.

This will mark the farthest-ever downrange landing of a SpaceX rocket, with Of Course I Still Love You positioned ~1,245 km east of the launch pad.

The previous farthest landing was ArabSat-6A’s center booster, which landed ~965 km downrange.

Having flown the previous Falcon Heavy mission – ArabSat-6A – back in April, the two side boosters from that flight will return for STP-2, again serving as the side boosters.

STP-2 Animation - YouTube

At 74 days between ArabSat-6A and tonight’s scheduled STP-2 launch, this is not – by a matter of just 3 days – the fastest booster turnaround for SpaceX.

That record is still held by the Block 4 booster B1045 – the last Falcon 9 Block 4 – which was turned around in just 71 days from its use on TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) to its use on CRS-15 in April and June 2018, respectively.

The center booster for this mission is brand new.

After completing all pre-fueling steps, the Launch Director will poll the team at T-53 minutes to verify that all is “go” to proceed with propellant load.

Once that verification is received, fueling will begin at T-50 minutes with the start of RP-1 kerosene load into all three first stage boosters.

Stage 1 booster Liquid Oxygen (LOX) load will then commence 5 minutes later at T-45 minutes.

Stage 2 RP-1 load will begin at T-35 minutes, followed at T-18 minutes 30 seconds by Stage 2 LOX load.

The command to light all 27 first stage Merlin 1D engines will be issued by Falcon Heavy’s onboard computers at T-2 seconds – with all engines igniting at once and imparting 5.1 million lbf of thrust into LC-39A.

Falcon Heavy launches on its first operational and first all Block 5 mission on 11 April 2019 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Image: Mike Deep for NSF/L2)

Liftoff will follow at T-0.

The following is the pre-published timeline of events for the launch and landing sequence.

Mission Elapsed Time Event
42 seconds Max-Q (moment of maximum mechanical stress)
2mins 27secs Side booster engine cutoff
2mins 31secs Side booster separation
2mins 49secs Side booster Boostback Burns begin
3mins 27secs Center booster engine shutdown
3mins 31secs Center booster / Stage 2 separation
3mins 38secs Stage 2 Merlin Vac engine ignition
4mins 03secs Fairing deployment
7mins 13secs Side booster Entry Burns begin
8mins 41secs Side booster landings at LZ-1 and LZ-2 at Cape Canaveral
8mins 38secs Stage 2 engine cutoff  / Orbit insertion
8mins 53secs Center booster Entry Burn begins
11mins 21secs Center booster landing on Of Course I Still Love You

Based on fleet deployments, with Ms. Tree stationed farther downrange than Of Course I Still Love You, it appears – as of publication – that SpaceX will attempt to recover the payload fairings.

Payloads – Lightsail to surf Earth orbit

In all, 24 payloads are being launched on this Falcon Heavy – a mix of government and private testbed experiments that all seek – in some way – to demonstrate potential game-changing technology for future spaceflight endeavours.

Lightsail 2 (Credit: The Planetary Society)

NASASpaceflight has previously detailed several of these payloads.  CLICK HERE to read our past article on some of the experiments flying on the Falcon Heavy today.

In addition to these previewed payloads, a particularly interesting experiment on this flight is the Planetary Society’s Lightsail 2 mission.

This tiny – crowdfunded – satellite aims to become the first spacecraft propelled entirely by sunlight.

Lightsail 2 is a 5 kg (11 lb) payload contained in a 3U CubeSat measuring 11.3 x 11.3 x 48.7 cm (4.5 x 4.5 x 19.2 inches).  For comparison, it is roughly the size of a loaf of bread in its launch configuration.

A couple days after deployment from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage, it will deploy its solar panels, which will pop up from the four sides of the craft.

This will allow Lightsail 2 to begin charging its eight lithium-ion batteries.

A new way to travel space - with Bill Nye - YouTube

Deployment of the solar panels will also expose the craft’s imaging cameras – two 2-megapixel cameras with fish-eye lenses.

These cameras will allow Planetary Society controllers to image deployment of the solar sail and monitor its health throughout the life of the mission.

This will then be followed by deployment of the solar sail itself – a 5.6 x 5.6 m (18.4 18.4 ft) sheet of material that is only 4.5 microns thick (less than the thickness of a human hair).

With deployment, Lightsail 2’s sail will cover an area of 32 square meters (344 square feet).

Deployment will occur via four cobalt alloy booms that will each be unwound like a tape measure by an on-board motor.

The sail itself is designed with “rip-stop” seams that will prevent large-scale tearing should the sail be hit by space debris.

Spencer: When we deploy #LightSail2's solar sail, we'll choose a pass where we get a half hour of coverage from our ground stations in Kauai Community College, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Purdue University, and Georgia Tech. pic.twitter.com/P6N2G88hU2

— Planetary Society (@exploreplanets) June 23, 2019

If all goes to plan with deployment, the sail is expected to impart 0.058 mm/s squared of acceleration that should demonstrate light pressure’s ability to “noticeably change Lightsail’s orbit” around Earth.

Despite its small size, Lightsail 2 carries a cost of $7 million USD – with that funding coming from 400,000 supporters around the world who donated anywhere from $5 to $1 million USD.

“It couldn’t be done without our supporters,” said Jennifer Vaughn, Chief Operating Officer of the Planetary Society.  “This is their spacecraft. We’re so excited to thank them and have their spacecraft finally fly.”

Jumping off that, Bill Nye, Chief Executive Officer of the Planetary Society, said, “We are very excited about this launch because we’re going to get to a high enough altitude to get away from the atmosphere, far enough that we’re really going to be able to build orbital energy and take some, I hope, inspiring pictures.

“What we do at The Planetary Society is advance space science and exploration.  LightSail 2 is a big part of that. I cannot help but harken to the words of test pilot Tex Johnston who said, ‘One test is worth a thousand expert opinions.’

“This is one of the really, to me, exciting, and, for me, fascinating aspects of the LightSail 2 mission.  We’re going to see what really happens as we try to increase orbital altitude. … We’ve done all sorts of mathematical models, but we’re going to see how it really works.”

Lightsail 2’s total life expectancy is – of course – dependent on the successful deployment of the solar panels and sail itself.

If all works as planned, the mission should last about one year.

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China successfully launched another of its new range of navigation satellites on Monday. Launch of Beidou-3I2 (IGSO-2) took place from the LC3 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan province, using the Long March-3B/G2 ‘Chang Zheng-3B/G2’ (Y60) launch vehicle. Launch time was 18:05 UTC.

Also designated Beidou-46, the satellite is part of the GEO component of the 3rd phase of the Chinese Beidou (Compass) satellite navigation system, using both geostationary satellites and satellites in intermediate orbits.

The satellites are based on the DFH-3B Bus. This bus has a payload increased to 450 kg and payload power to 4,000 W. They feature a phased array antenna for navigation signals and a laser retroreflector and additionally deployable S/L-band and C-band antennas. With a launch mass of 4,600 kg, spacecraft dimensions are noted to be 2.25 by 1.0 by 1.22 meters.

Previous Beidou satellite was orbited on May 17, with a Long March-3C/G2 launch vehicle launching the Beidou-2GEO8 ‘Beidou-45’ satellite from Xichang.

The Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) has been independently constructed, developed and operated by China taking into account the needs of the country’s national security, economic and social development. As a space infrastructure of national significance, BDS provides all-time, all-weather and high-accuracy positioning, navigation and timing services to global users.

Render of a BeiDou-3 satellite by J. Huart.

Along with the development of the BDS service capability, related products have been widely applied in communication, marine fishery, hydrological monitoring, weather forecasting, surveying, mapping and geographic information, forest fire prevention, time synchronization for communication systems, power dispatching, disaster mitigation and relief, emergency search and rescue, and other fields.

Navigation satellite systems are public resources shared by the whole globe, and multi-system compatibility and interoperability have become a trend. China applies the principle that “BDS is developed by China, and dedicated to the world”, serving the development of the Silk Road Economic Belt, and actively pushing forward international cooperation related to BDS. As BDS joins hands with other navigation satellite systems, China will work with all other countries, regions and international organizations to promote global satellite navigation development and make BDS further serve the world and benefit mankind.

China started to explore a path to develop a navigation satellite system suitable for its national conditions, and gradually formulated a three-step development strategy: completing the construction of BDS-1 and provide services to the whole country by the end of 2000; completing the construction of BDS-2 and provide services to the Asia-Pacific region by the end of 2012; and to complete the construction of BDS-3 and provide services worldwide around 2020 with a constellation of 27 MEOs plus 5 GEOs and the existing 3 IGSOs satellites of the regional system. CNSS would provide global navigation services, similarly to the GPS, GLONASS or Galileo systems.

The Beidou Phase III system includes the migration of its civil Beidou 1 or B1 signal from 1561.098 MHz to a frequency centered at 1575.42 MHz – the same as the GPS L1 and Galileo E1 civil signals – and its transformation from a quadrature phase shift keying (QPSK) modulation to a multiplexed binary offset carrier (MBOC) modulation similar to the future GPS L1C and Galileo’s E1.

The Phase II B1 open service signal uses QPSK modulation with 4.092 megahertz bandwidth centered at 1561.098 MHz.

The current Beidou constellation spacecraft are transmitting open and authorized signals at B2 (1207.14 MHz) and an authorized service at B3 (1268.52 MHz).

The Chinese Navigation Constellation – via beidou.gov.cn

Real-time, stand-alone Beidou horizontal positioning accuracy was classed as better than 6 meters (95 percent) and with a vertical accuracy better than 10 meters (95 percent).

CNSS supports two different kinds of general services: RDSS and RNSS. In the Radio Determination Satellite Service (RDSS), the user position is computed by a ground station using the round trip time of signals exchanged via GEO satellite. The RDSS long-term feature further includes short message communication (guaranteeing backward compatibility with Beidou-1), large volume message communication, information connection, and extended coverage.

The Radio Navigation Satellite Service (RNSS) is very similar to that provided by GPS and Galileo and is designed to achieve similar performances.

The system will be dual-use, based on a civilian service that will provide an accuracy of 10 meters in the user position, 0.2 m/s on the user velocity and 50 nanoseconds in time accuracy; and the military and authorized user’s service, providing higher accuracies.

The Long March-3B/G2 was developed from the Chang Zheng-3A. The CZ-3B features enlarged launch propellant tanks, improved computer systems, a larger 4.2 meter diameter payload fairing and the addition of four strap-on boosters on the core stage that provide additional help during the first phase of the launch.

Long March 3B – via Xinhua.

The rocket is capable of launching an 11,200 kg satellite to a low Earth orbit or a 5,100 kg cargo to a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The CZ-3B/G2 (Enhanced Version) launch vehicle was developed from the CZ-3B, increasing the GTO capacity up to 5,500kg. The CZ-3B/E has nearly the same configurations with CZ-3B bar its enlarged core stage and boosters.

On May 14, 2007, the first flight of CZ-3B/G2 was performed successfully, accurately sending the NigcomSat-1 into pre-determined orbit. With the GTO launch capability of 5,500kg, CZ-3B/G2 is dedicated for launching heavy GEO communications satellite.

The rocket structure also combines all sub-systems together and is composed of four strap-on boosters, a first stage, a second stage, a third stage and payload fairing.

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The first two stages, as well as the four strap-on boosters, use hypergolic (N2O4/UDMH) propellant while the third stage uses cryogenic (LOX/LH2) propellant. The total length of the CZ-3B is 54.838 meters, with a diameter of 3.35 meters on the core stage and 3.00 meters on the third stage.

On the first stage, the CZ-3B uses a YF-21C engine with a 2,961.6 kN thrust and a specific impulse of 2,556.5 Ns/kg. The first stage diameter is 3.35 m and the stage length is 23.272 m.

Each strap-on booster is equipped with a YF-25 engine with a 740.4 kN thrust and a specific impulse of 2,556.2 Ns/kg. The strap-on booster diameter is 2.25 m and the strap-on booster length is 15.326 m.

The second stage is equipped with a YF-24E (main engine – 742 kN / 2,922.57 Ns/kg; four vernier engines – 47.1 kN / 2,910.5 Ns/kg each). The second stage diameter is 3.35 m and the stage length is 12.920 m.

The third stage is equipped with a YF-75 engine developing 167.17 kN and with a specific impulse of 4,295 Ns/kg. The fairing diameter of the CZ-3B is 4.00 meters and has a length of 9.56 meters.

In some missions it can be used the YZ-1 Yuanzheng-1 upper stage.

The Yuanzheng-1 (“Expedition-1″) uses a small thrust 6.5 kN engine burning UDMH/N2O4 with a specific impulse at 3,092 m/s. The upper stage should be able to conduct two burns, having a 6.5 hour lifetime and is capable of achieving a variety of orbits.

It will be adapted for use on the CZ-3A/B/C series mainly for direct MEO/GEO insertion missions (mostly for the navigation satellites of the Beidou GNSS).

The general mission launch sequence for the CZ-3B/G2 missions is similar to the one used for the YZ-1 missions.
The fuelling of the third stage with LOX and LH2 starts at L-7h. First and second stages, as well as the four strap-on boosters, use hypergolic propellant fuelled earlier. At L-1h 20m is the launch vehicle control system power on and function checkout followed by the telemetry system power on and function checkout.

At L-40m the fairing air-conditioning is turned-off and the air-conditioning pipe is dropped-off. Technicians also proceed with the flight program loading and check-up. The gas pipes for the first stage second and are dropped-off. The pre-cooling of the third stage engines takes place at L-20m and at L-13m takes place the third stage propellants topping.

Between L-15m and L-10m the spacecraft umbilical disconnection takes place and at L-3m the telemetry and tracking systems power is switch-over and the third stage propellant fueling pipe is disconnected.

The disconnection of the gas pipe for the third stage is disconnected at L-2m followed by the control system power switch-over at L-1m 30s. Control system, telemetry system and tracking system umbilical disconnection takes place at L-1m as well as the swinging-off of the rods. The TT&C systems start at L-30s and ignition comes at L-0s.

Long March-3B launches BeiDou-3 MEO-17 and BeiDou-3 MEO-18 - YouTube

Eleven seconds after lift-off takes place the pitch-over maneuver. Boosters separation occurs at T+2m 21s followed at T+2m 39s by the separation between the first and second stages. Fairing jettison comes at T+3m 55s.

Separation between the second and third stage takes place at T+5m 44s, with the third stage igniting for the first time. This burn ends at T+10m 12s. The vehicle is now on a preliminary orbit until T+20m 56s when the third stage starts its second burn.

This burn will last for 3 minutes and 6 seconds, ending at T+24m 2s. After the third stage shutdown takes places at T+24m 22s an attitude adjustment before Yuanzheng-1 separation with the two satellites at T+25m 42s.

The upper stage will then execute a series of maneuvers to deliver the satellites to its orbits.

The Xichang Satellite Launch Centre is situated in the Sichuan Province, south-western China and is the country’s launch site for geosynchronous orbital launches.

The Launch Site – Google Earth

Equipped with two launch pads (LC2 and LC3), the center has a dedicated railway and highway lead directly to the launch site.

The Command and Control Centre is located seven kilometers south-west of the launch pad, providing flight and safety control during launch rehearsal and launch.

Other facilities on the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre are the Launch Control Centre, propellant fuelling systems, communications systems for launch command, telephone and data communications for users, and support equipment for meteorological monitoring and forecasting.

The first launch from Xichang took place on January 29, 1984, when the Chang Zheng-3 was launched the Shiyan Weixing (14670 1984-008A) communications satellite into orbit.

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The Russian Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, returning NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency to Earth. The End Of Mission events began on Sunday, with a Space station change of command ceremony, during which Konenenko handed over command to Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin. Undocking is set to take place at 7:25 pm Eastern on Monday.

The crew is completing a 204-day mission spanning 3,264 orbits of the Earth and a journey of 86.4 million miles.

McClain first trip into space has been a busy mission, including two spacewalks that completed a battery swapout and worked on the Station’s power systems.

Among her numerous tasks on the Station, McClain also took part in welcoming the first Commercial Crew vehicle to the ISS, as Dragon 2 completed its opening DM-1 flight.

She also made friends with one of Dragon’s passengers, leading to numerous viral tweets and an unaware producer of “Little Earth” toys running out of stock.

McClain inside Dragon 2 with Little Earth and Ripley – via NASA

David Saint-Jacques of the CSA is also completing his first spaceflight and was involved with one of McClain’s EVAs, his first.

Following McClain’s tour of the ISS, Saint-Jacques was also heavily involved with the Visiting Vehicles that arrived and departed from the ISS, which involved obvious synergy via the use of the Canadian robotic assets. He was last involved with the departure of the CRS-17 Dragon, which was released by the Canadian SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System).

CSA astronaut @Astro_DavidS returns to Earth on Monday! Here are some highlights from his mission. What was your most memorable moment of David’s time in space? #DareToExplore

Video: CSA/NASA/Roscosmos/Trio Orange pic.twitter.com/Y8RdrNKs18

— CanadianSpaceAgency (@csa_asc) June 22, 2019

Saint-Jacques’ mission will be the longest single spaceflight by a Canadian astronaut.

They will be transported home under the command of Kononenko, which will have logged 737 days in space on his four flights, putting him in sixth place on the all-time list of space travelers for cumulative time.

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Following the handover ceremony, McClain will close the hatch to their Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft Monday afternoon and undock from the station.

Following undocking, Soyuz will enjoy a few hours of free flight as it departs from the Station’s neighborhood via two separation burns while the onboard crew prepare for the final aspect of their mission.

The deorbit burn will occur at 9:55 p.m Eastern, reducing the Soyuz’s velocity just enough for it to begin the plunge back to Earth via a 4 min, 40 second retrograde firing.

The Soyuz will then enter the critical part of its mission as the spacecraft has no other option but to re-enter.

The first milestone is module separation as the three major elements of the Soyuz spacecraft – the OM, DM and Instrumentation/Propulsion Module (IPM) – are pushed apart via the use of pyrotechnics.

One of the separation planes on the Soyuz spacecraft, via Shuttle era FRR documentation – L2

All three modules nominally separate simultaneously – shortly after the deorbit burn is completed – at around 140 km altitude.

Two “off nominal” re-entries occurred in 2007 and 2008 and were the cause of separation failures on the modules, thus initiating a very stressful return for their three-person crews.

Known as “ballistic entry” – the crew have to endure much higher G-forces and land at an alternative site.

An overview of the investigation into the ballistic return via STS-119 Shuttle Flight Readiness Review (FRR) documentation, L2

An investigation (L2 Russian Sectionnoted issues with the long-term exposure to electromagnetic emissions on-orbit, and the potential to cause issues with the pyro bolts, came after an extensive investigation that included the removal and return of one pyro bolt from Soyuz TMA-12.

Mitigation against this issue has resulted in no further issues with the module separation milestone in any of the following missions.

Once through the plasma of entry interface, the capsule is prepared for the deployment of its drogue chute. This readies the spacecraft for the deployment of its main parachute.

Clipped from the ESA video:https://t.co/nh5uXkJCVY

Returning in a Soyuz. It's rather dynamic! pic.twitter.com/Ih6qzouMTX

— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) June 23, 2019

This is one of the hardest parts of the return for the crew, which has been described as being inside a washing machine by some returning astronauts.

The Soyuz craft then completes the return to terra firma, landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan. This is scheduled to occur at 10:48 p.m Eastern.

A Soyuz landing – picture from ESA

The exact timing of touchdown, under a “soft” thruster engine firing, is always dependent on a number of factors – such as the impact of winds on the Soyuz chutes – and can vary by several minutes.

With the Soyuz safely back on Earth, ground and air crews will converge on the Soyuz and extract the crew from the SA.

The crew will undergo immediate and preliminary health checks once outside their Soyuz spacecraft. All three are then transferred to a medical tent and then prepared for transit away from the landing site.

After landing, the crew will return by helicopter to the recovery staging area in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, where McClain and Saint-Jacques will board a NASA plane for their return to Houston, and Kononenko will return to his home in Star City, Russia.

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Russia’s Proton-M rocket will have to wait until July 12 to launch the Spektr-RG observatory. Proton was expected to lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 17:17:14 local time (12:17 UTC) on Friday and, with the aid of a Blok DM-03 upper stage, will deploy its payload two hours later. However, this was delayed due to issues relating to the charging of the batteries on the spacecraft.

The Spektr-RG satellite is an international collaboration led by the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos in partnership with the German Aerospace Centre, DLR, and universities and research institutes in both Russia and Germany. It is the second of three satellites in Roskosmos’ Spektr series, which aims to survey the cosmos across a wide range of electromagnetic frequencies. Spektr-RG covers the x-ray region of the spectrum.

Spektr-RG, whose name means Spectrum – Roentgen Gamma, follows the Spektr-R satellite that was launched in July 2011. Specializing in radio astronomy, the Spektr-R satellite exceeded its five-year design life but ceased operations in January 2019 after ground controllers unexpectedly lost contact with the satellite.

Attempts to restore communications continued until the end of May, at which point Spektr-R was declared lost. A third satellite, Spektr-UF, is slated to launch in 2025 and will be equipped for visible-light and ultraviolet observations.

The Spektr-RG mission will build on the research conducted by previous x-ray astronomy satellites, including the Granat observatory operated by the Soviet Union and later Russia from 1989 to 1998 and the German-led ROSAT mission that operated between 1990 and 1999.

Spektr-RG – via Rocosmos

Spektr-RG is designed to conduct a series of eight whole-sky x-ray surveys, each lasting six months, in the first four years of operation before beginning more detailed observations of specific targets of interest at high energies. The mission is expected to last at least six and three-quarter years from launch, including six and a half years of scientific observations.

Using its two x-ray telescopes, Spektr-RG’s primary mission is to find and map all massive galaxy clusters in the observable universe at x-ray wavelengths. By observing the universe at X-ray wavelengths, Spektr-RG will be able to see details that may be obscured at lower energies.

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It will also look for active galactic nuclei – supermassive black holes at the heart of other galaxies – as well as regions of star formation, accreting white dwarf stars and stars with active coronas, and study x-ray emissions from the interstellar and intergalactic mediums.

Scientists hope that the satellite will help to give an increased understanding of the roles of dark matter and dark energy in establishing the structure of the universe, and of the lifecycles of supermassive black holes.

Spektr-RG was originally formulated as a Russian-led multinational research mission, slated to launch as early as 1995 with participation from the United States, Israel, Turkey and the European Space Agency. The program was canceled in 2002, but several of its instruments had already been built, including the JET-X telescope which now hangs in London’s Science Museum. Spektr-RG was reinstated in 2005 with the involvement of Germany, including a complete redesign of the satellite.

The redesigned Spektr-RG had been manifested to fly aboard a Zenit-3F rocket, however it was later moved to the Proton rocket that will carry it to orbit – the Zenit that had originally been built for the Spektr-RG mission was launched at the end of 2017 with Angola’s Angosat-1 satellite aboard instead.

The Spektr-RG space observatory will be sent to the Baikonur Cosmodrome today, April 24, to continue preparations for its launch on a Proton, which is scheduled for June 21, 2019. #SpektrRG #Proton #launchservices pic.twitter.com/hA7goX9Vri

— ILS (@ILSLaunch) April 24, 2019

NPO Lavochkin constructed the Spektr-RG spacecraft around its Navigator platform, which has previously been used for the Elektro-L series of weather satellites and the Spektr-R satellite. The bus incorporates fuel and propulsion systems and provides three-axis stabilization and control. It can generate 1,805 watts of power through twin deployable solar arrays, while the satellite communicates with the ground through an X-band antenna. Spektr-RG has a total mass at launch of 2,712.5 kilograms (5980.0 lb) including propellant.

After launch it will take Spektr-RG about three months to reach its operational orbit and complete initial testing and calibration. The satellite will be operated in a halo orbit around the L2 Lagrangian point between the Earth and the Sun, located 1.5 million kilometers (0.93 million miles, 0.81 million nautical miles) from the Earth in the opposite direction to the Sun.

At this point in space the interaction of the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Earth keeps a spacecraft at the same position relative to the latter. Spektr-RG will take about six months to complete an orbit around this point in space, and one year to complete a revolution around the Sun, along with the Earth.

Because it puts the Earth between the satellite and the Sun, the L2 point is ideal for spacecraft carrying sensitive instruments that must be kept at cold temperatures. For Spektr-RG this simplifies the cooling requirements for its X-ray detectors.

Spektr-RG carries two astronomy payloads: Astronomical Roentgen Telescope – X-ray Concentrator (ART-XC) and Extended Roentgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array (eROSITA).

The ART-XC telescope contains an optical bench with seven mirror modules, focusing incident radiation onto seven detectors at the other end of its carbon fiber structure. It was developed by the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute in cooperation with the Russian Federal Nuclear Centre.

ART-XC’s detectors, which use a Cadmium telluride semiconductor, measure 30 by 30 millimeters (1.2 by 1.2 inches) and are 1 mm (39 thou) thick. The mirror assemblies, each of which contains 28 individual mirror shells, were constructed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The mirrors are comprised of a nickel/cobalt alloy with an iridium coating and arranged in a nested structure with increasing diameters to maximize the number of photons focused onto the detectors. The overall instrument has a mass of 350 kilograms (771 lb) and draws 300 watts of power from Spektr-RG.

A radiator is incorporated into the ART-XC instrument to keep the telescope’s detectors close to their design operating temperature of -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit, 253 Kelvin), while a sunshield protects the optics. With a focal length of 2.7 meters (8.9 feet) ART-XC can observe high-energy x-rays between 5 and 30 kiloelectronvolts (wavelengths between 0.25 and 0.041 nanometres) with a 0.3-square-degree field of view and an angular resolution of 45 arcseconds.

As well as contributing to Spektr-RG’s sky survey, ART-XC will record transient x-ray events and attempt to identify their sources. It will also characterize the mass and physical properties of accreting white dwarf stars – binary systems where a white dwarf strips material from its companion star.

The eROSITA telescope is a German contribution to the mission, with the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics leading its investigation. Whereas ART-XC is designed to study high-energy or “hard” X-rays, eROSITA will observe lower-energy “soft” x-rays between 0.3 and 11 keV (4.1 to 0.12 nm wavelength).

Like the Russian instrument, eROSITA consists of seven detectors with independent mirror assemblies, separated by x-ray baffles. Each module contains 54 individual gold-coated nickel mirrors, while the square detectors are made of silicon with sides of 28.8 mm (1.13 in) and are passively cooled to -95 degrees Celsius (-139 degrees Fahrenheit, 178 Kelvin) by a radiator and a system of heat pipes.

eROSITA has a focal length of 1.6 meters (5.2 feet) and can capture a field of view of 0.81 square degrees at an angular resolution of 18 arcseconds. It has a mass of 815 kilograms (1797 lb) and draws 405 watts of power from the parent spacecraft.

eROSITA will specialize in detecting accreting black holes and binary star systems and studying X-ray emissions from other phenomena such as pre-main-sequence stars and supernova remnants. It will also map the intergalactic medium and filaments between clusters of galaxies.

The different energy ranges of the two instruments complement each other, allowing Spektr-RG to cover almost the entire X-ray spectrum. The overlap at energies between 5 and 11 keV allow the telescopes to be calibrated against each other and to verify each other’s observations.

Spektr-RG’s ride into orbit will be aboard a Russian Proton-M rocket with a Blok DM-03 upper stage.

Общая сборка РКН "Протон-М" с обсерваторией "Спектр-РГ" - YouTube

Built by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre, Proton has for many years been the most powerful fully-operational rocket in Russia’s fleet, and has been used to deploy geostationary satellites, interplanetary missions and heavier payloads destined for lower orbits. Blok DM-03 is an evolution of the Blok-D series of upper stages and will carry Spektr-RG to its deployment orbit after the three-stage core Proton vehicle has completed its role in the mission.

Proton’s first three stages burn storable hypergolic propellant: unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine which is oxidized by dinitrogen tetroxide. The Blok DM-03 burns RG-1 kerosene oxidized by liquid oxygen.

Proton evolved from Vladimir Chelomei’s Universalnaya Raketa – Universal Rocket – concept, a series of rocket and missile designs sharing common technology that were proposed to the Soviet Union during the 1960s. The UR-500 was designed as a two-stage missile to deliver the heaviest nuclear weapons over intercontinental distances, however instead it found its niche launching satellites.

Four UR-500s were launched in 1965 and 1966 with high-energy physics research payloads named Proton. After these initial launches the rocket was adapted for orbital missions, including the addition of a third stage, and the resulting UR-500K vehicle quickly became known as the Proton-K.

Early applications for the Proton-K were in support of the Soviet Union’s space exploration programs, launching test flights of a circumlunar version of the Soyuz spacecraft – the 7K-L1 – and probes bound for the Moon, Mars and later Venus. The Salyut space stations were launched by Proton-K vehicles, as were all modules of the later Mir space station excluding a docking compartment that was delivered by the US Space Shuttle, and the Zarya and Zvezda modules of the International Space Station.

Proton-K remained in service until 2012, the end of its service overlapping with the introduction of its replacement, Proton-M. Proton-M first flew in 2001 as a modernized version of the Proton-K, incorporating digital flight control systems and more powerful first-stage engines.

Further upgrades since its introduction have increased the rocket’s payload capacity to enable it to compete for commercial launch contracts from international customers. From the late 1990s through most of the 2000s Proton became a workhorse for commercial satellite operators, however increased competition and a spate of launch failures dented Proton’s share of the market, resulting in a reduced launch rate over the last few years.

When flying to higher orbits, Proton requires a fourth stage to transfer the payload from an initial low Earth orbit or suborbital trajectory to its final destination.

Mating of the spacecraft and the Fourth Stage to the Launch Vehicle – via Roscosmos

Blok-D was introduced alongside Proton-K for this purpose, followed by a series of upgraded versions including the Blok-DM, DM-2, D-1, D-2 and DM-2M. The Blok DM-03 that will be used for this launch is an enlarged version of the Blok DM-2 with stretched propellant tanks which first flew in 2010. It was manufactured by RKK Energia.

Spektr-RG’s launch marks the fourth flight of Blok DM-03, whose maiden flight in December 2010 ended in failure after engineers loaded too much propellant into the new upper stage, leaving it too heavy for Proton to reach its planned parking orbit.

The stage’s second launch, in July 2013, also failed after the Proton went out of control seconds after liftoff, the result of an incorrectly-installed sensor in the booster’s first stage. At its third attempt, Blok DM-03 successfully inserted the Ekspress AM-8 communications satellite into orbit in September 2015.

Proton’s flight will begin with ignition of the six RD-275 first-stage engines and liftoff of the rocket from its launch complex at Site 81/24 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

РКН «Протон-М» с обсерваторией «Спектр-РГ» на стартовом комплексе - YouTube

One of four Proton launch pads that were built at Baikonur – of which two remain active, Pad 24 is used primarily for Russian Government launches while Pad 39 at nearby Site 200 has been used for more commercial launches in recent years, although neither pad is exclusively tied to either role. Pad 24 is expected to be decommissioned by the end of next year, at which point Pad 39 will take over all Proton launch duties until the rocket’s planned retirement at the end of the next decade.

The first stage of Proton consists of six radial fuel tanks clustered around a center oxidizer tank – a design chosen to facilitate rail transport of the rocket, keeping each component within the maximum width that could be carried to the launch site by train. The fuel tanks, which each incorporates an engine at its base, can be removed and reinstalled once Proton arrives in Baikonur. Proton’s first stage will burn for 123.8 seconds during the launch.

As the first stage approaches burnout, the rocket will begin its stage separation sequence. The second stage ignites before separation occurs, with exhaust gases escaping through the lattice interstage structure that connects the two stages. Once the four second stage engines are burning, the spent first stage is jettisoned. This “fire in the hole” staging technique keeps second-stage propellants settled eliminating the need for additional ullage motors to assist in its startup and is common on Russian rockets.

Proton’s second stage is powered by three RD-0210 engines and a single RD-0211. These are essentially identical, the only difference being the presence of additional hardware on the RD-0211 that is used to keep the propellant tanks pressurized. The second stage will burn for three minutes and 27.6 seconds before giving way to the third stage and separating.

An RD-0212 propulsion module – consisting of an RD-0213 main engine and an RD-0214 vernier engine with four steerable chambers for attitude control – powers Proton’s third stage. Just under thirteen seconds into its four-minute, 12.5-second burn Proton’s payload fairing will separate from around Spektr-RG at the nose of the vehicle, exposing the satellite to space for the first time. The fairing – which protects the satellite during its climb through Earth’s atmosphere – is no longer needed once the rocket reaches space and is discarded to reduce weight.

Mission Profile – from Roscosmos

After completing its burn, Proton’s third stage will also be jettisoned. Six minutes later Blok DM-03’s RD-58M engine will ignite for the first of its two planned burns. The first burn, lasting around two minutes, will establish the upper stage and payload in an initial parking orbit, where they can coast until in the proper position for the next burn. This coast phase will last about 78 minute, with the second burn expected to take about nine minutes.

Fourteen minutes after the second burn concludes, Spektr-RG will separate from Blok DM-03. Spacecraft separation marks the end of Proton’s role in the satellite’s mission, and the beginning of a series of maneuvers that will take the satellite to its planned station. The spacecraft is expected to make first contact with its ground stations about eight minutes after separating from the carrier rocket, before deploying its solar arrays, establishing a lock on the Sun and powering on the eROSITA instrument within two hours.

The launch – before the delay – was to be the second in less than a month for Proton, following a five-month hiatus between the rocket’s two previous missions. It is the first time since September 2015 that Proton has flown with the Blok DM-03 upper stage, with the last thirteen Protons all using the storable-propellant Briz-M upper stage. Well-suited to the complex long-duration multiple-burn ascents required to deploy geostationary communications satellites from Baikonur, the Briz-M is used for the majority of Proton’s launches.

Proton’s next flight is currently scheduled for 15 July, when a Proton-M/Briz-M vehicle will loft a Blagovest communications satellite for the Russian military. With the Spektr-RG delay to July 12, it is yet to be seen if this impacts on the Blagovest launch.

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As part of standard planning among the international partners, NASA has revised its Visiting Vehicle plan for all upcoming and long-range missions to the International Space Station.

The update includes new planning dates for the first Commercial Crew launches on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner vehicles, when U.S. crew rotation flights are slated to begin, when Japan’s newest version of the HTV cargo craft will take flight, and when Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser cargo resupply vehicle will make its first trip to the outpost.

U.S. Commercial and Russian crew rotations:

(NOTE: The dates presented below are found on the most recent Flight Planning Integration Panel (FPIP) document – available in L2 – from NASA and are planning only dates.  They are not approved, target launch dates. They are subject to change, but do give insight into the earliest possible time frames for the remaining Commercial Crew demonstration flights.)

Of particular note, the FPIP shows Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) of they’re Starliner vehicle moving to a launch planning date of 17 September 2019 from SLC-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Like SpaceX’s uncrewed demo flight earlier this year, Starliner’s OFT mission will see the vehicle spend 5 days docked to the International Space Station before returning to Earth.

Past that, Starliner’s Crew Flight Test (CFT) is dependent on the vehicle’s overall performance and post-fight reviews from its OFT mission.

More so, while SpaceX and NASA continue to investigate the cause of the Crew Dragon’s anomaly suffered on 20 April during a static fire test of the SuperDraco thruster system, the revised FPIP now shows a new planning date target for SpaceX’s crewed DM-2 mission.

DM-2 is now tentatively planned for 15 November 2019.  The flight would see NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley perform a 7-day test flight of the Dragon capsule before returning to Earth on 22 November.

According to the document, this would be followed one week later by the work-to launch date of Starliner’s CFT mission, which will see Mike Finke, Nicole Mann, and Chris Ferguson launch on 30 November 2019 and dock to the International Space Station on 1 December for the start of five months of on-Station operations.

Go Atlas! Go Starliner! The Atlas V Starliner Emergency Detection System - YouTube

The relined planning dates for the two crew test missions were updated on 17 June according to notes on the FPIP.

Looking ahead into next year, the document shows that the CFT mission of Starliner would remain at the Station until the end of May, joined in mid-May 2020 by the first official crew rotation flight as part of the Commercial Crew Program.

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This mission would overlap with CFT by about a week, providing a direct handover between United States Operating Segment (USOS) crew on the Station.

Interestingly, the document reveals that NASA has not yet decided which of the Commercial Crew partners will fly the first official crew rotation mission; thus, the two U.S. crew members who will be on that flight to the Station in May 2020 is completely dependent on whether Starliner or Dragon flies the mission.

Regardless, the document shows that Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi will be on that first crew rotation mission regardless of which commercial partner flies it.

The second Commercial Crew rotation flight is then planned for mid-November 2020 before the first rotation mission returns at the end of that month.

These U.S. Commercial Crew rotation flights are currently slated to occur in the middle of scheduled Russian crew rotations with the Soyuz (e.g., the first U.S. crew rotation in May 2020 will follow a Russia vehicle-transported crew’s arrival in March).

Dragon 2 and Starliner set to make maiden flights to the ISS this year – via Nathan Koga for NSF/L2

As has been the plan from the beginning, one U.S. astronaut will always be present on future Soyuz rotation flights – even after U.S. crew vehicles begin flying – to maintain the agreed-upon presence of at least one U.S. astronaut and one Russian cosmonaut aboard the Station at all times.

However, a plan beginning in March 2021 appears to take Soyuz crew rotations exclusively to indirect handovers – meaning the only people to have arrived on a Soyuz will leave the Station on that Soyuz prior to their replacements arriving on the next Soyuz.

This is possible because four crew members will still be aboard the Station via U.S. commercial vehicles.

If this plan holds, it will mark the first time that no Soyuz vehicle will be present at the International Space Station since permanent crew habitation of the outpost began in November 2000.

Conversely, all U.S. crew vehicle rotations will involve direct handover periods, where two U.S. crew vehicles will be docked to the International Space Station at the same time.

CRS1 cargo contract completion:

The newly revised FPIP also provides insight on when the current Commercial Resupply Services 1 (CRS1) cargo contract will reach completion for each of the two providers.

Each advanced capability demonstrated during our #Cygnus cargo resupply missions allows the @Space_Station to maximize its potential as an orbiting laboratory and develop a new economy in low-Earth orbit and, eventually, cislunar space. #NorthropGrumman pic.twitter.com/ADW6MVZLpq

— Northrop Grumman (@northropgrumman) June 7, 2019

Northrop Grumman’s portion of the CRS1 contract will conclude on 27 July 2019 with the NG-11 Cygnus’ planned unberth from the Station.

That Cygnus will then spend several more months in orbit testing long-duration mission capabilities for future missions.

SpaceX, on the other hand, has three more flights remaining in its CRS1 contract, with CRS-18 planned to launch No Earlier Than (NET) 21 July 2019, CRS-19 slated for 4 December 2019, and CRS-20 following in March 2020.

CRS-20 will mark SpaceX’s completion of the CRS1 contract and the final scheduled flight of the series of Dragons that currently perform Station resupply missions.

CRS2 flights – enter the Dream Chaser:

Following Northrop Grumman’s completion of their CRS1 contract this summer, the company will move seamlessly into the CRS2 contract round of flights this fall.

The first CRS2 Northrop Grumman flight of Cygnus is currently planned for launch on 22 October 2019 on the NG-12 mission, which will perform an 82 day berthed flight to the Station.

For SpaceX, CRS-21 is planned for August 2020 and will mark the first use of the previously flown Crew Dragon (either the In-Flight Abort or DM-2 Dragon) in its cargo configuration for Station resupply.

SNC Dream Chaser Capabilities Overview - 2018 - YouTube

CRS-21 will deliver the NanoRacks airlock to the International Space Station via the Dragon’s trunk and will also mark the first cargo resupply Atlantic Ocean End Of Mission splashdown for a Dragon.

While CRS-21 is currently planned to be a standard 30-day mission, the FPIP indicates that beginning with CRS-23, SpaceX cargo missions will begin to stretch out to the 60-day and beyond mark.

Joining the Dragon and Cygnus vehicles for the CRS2 round of flights is Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser mini-space shuttle cargo plane.

According to the document, the first flight of Dream Chaser will take place in a planned September 2021 timeframe and will see the vehicle remain berthed to the International Space Station for up to 75 days before returning to Earth to land on a runway for reuse.

International cargo and module deliveries:

Of immediate note on the FPIP in this category is the upcoming Progress MS-12 cargo mission, slated to launch NET 31 July 2019.  It will perform a super fast-track 2 orbit, 3-hour rendezvous and docking with the Space Station.

Moreover, the new document provides a timeframe for JAXA’s upgraded HTV cargo vehicle’s debut.

Canadarm2 reaches and grabs the arriving HTV-7 resupply vehicle in December 2016. (Credit: NASA)

The new HTV is known as HTV-X and is now planned to make its inaugural trip to the Station in February 2022.

Finally, the document reveals that Russia’s long-planned and delayed science module, Nauka, is currently planned to launch in the June 2020 timeframe.

This will be followed in mid-December 2020 with the launch of another Russian Node (M-UM) up to the Station.

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Ariane 5 is back in action on Thursday with the dual passenger launch of two telecommunications satellites, AT&T T-16 and Eutelsat 7C. Liftoff from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana occurred on schedule at the start of a 47 minute launch window that opens at 21:43 UTC. Flight VA248 will launch from Ariane Launch Complex No. 3 (ELA 3).

Flight VA248 is the second Ariane 5 launch of the year following a 2018 that marked 11 missions across the Arianespace fleet. Six used the heavy-lift Ariane 5 – which is one of three launch vehicles operated by Arianespace at the Spaceport, along with the medium-lift Soyuz and light-lift Vega.

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Ariane 5’s 2019 opened with the successful Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1 and GSAT 31 launch in February.

The two satellite passengers for Arianespace’s upcoming Ariane 5 flight – AT&T T-16 and EUTELSAT – will result in the 104th Ariane 5 mission, the 71st with an Ariane 5 ECA version.

Both are telecommunications relay platforms for operation by long-time Arianespace customers: AT&T, which provides mobile, broadband, video and other communications services to U.S.-based consumers; and Eutelsat, the Paris-based company providing satellite capacity to clients that include broadcasters and broadcasting associations, pay-TV operators, video, data and internet service providers, enterprises and government agencies.

The launcher will be carrying a total payload of approximately 10,594 kg.

AT&T T-16 – produced in France by Airbus Defence and Space based on the Eurostar 3000 LX Hybrid platform – will occupy the upper passenger position in Ariane 5’s dual-payload configuration, to be released first during the launch sequence.

This hybrid-propulsion-powered broadcast satellite can be operated from five different orbital slots (from 99 deg. West to 119 deg. West) following its deployment by Ariane 5, with a coverage area that will include the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Its liftoff mass is estimated at 6,350 kg.

T-16 after arriving at the launch base.

T-16 is to be the 11th satellite to be orbited by Arianespace for AT&T (DirecTV), following SKY Mexico-1 and DIRECTV 15, launched together on an Ariane 5 in May 2015; and SKY Brasil-1, launched in February 2017.

T-16 was manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space and will provide high-power broadcast services in Ku- and Ka-bands. Being flexible, the spacecraft can be operated from five orbital slots (from 99° West to 119° West) and will cover the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

T-16 is designed for a lifetime of 15 years. Airbus Defence and Space France is prime contractor for T-16, which will be the 130th spacecraft from this constructor to be launched by Arianespace. There currently are 21 Airbus satellites in Arianespace’s backlog.

EUTELSAT 7C will be the 66th satellite based on a Maxar’s platform to be launched by Arianespace. It will also be the 56th based on Maxar’s 1300 class platform to be launched by this launch provider.

EUTELSAT 7C is an all Ku-band satellite equipped with 44 operational transponders to provide service from 7 degrees East longitude. It is also designed with a steerable beam for flexible coverage.

MAXAR photo of the satellite during testing

The new satellite will be copositioned with EUTELSAT 7B, releasing EUTELSAT 7A to another orbital location. This improved two-satellite constellation with enhanced coverage flexibility and connectivity will take the 7° East neighborhood to a new level.

“Following the successful launch of EUTELSAT 65 West A, we look forward to continued collaboration with the Eutelsat team,” said John Celli, president of SSL. “The EUTELSAT 7C spacecraft has advanced capabilities that demonstrate the flexibility and power of the SSL satellite platform.”

By almost doubling capacity over Sub-Saharan Africa, from 22 to 42 transponders, EUTELSAT 7C will have room for several hundred additional digital channels to support the region’s fast expanding TV market. It will also be equipped with a beam providing enhanced capacity for government services over Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as a steerable beam that can cover any region visible from 7° East.

EUTELSAT 7C satellite - YouTube

“EUTELSAT 7C will help us meet ongoing demand for broadcast content delivery in a fast-growing communications environment,” said Rodolphe Belmer, chief executive officer of Eutelsat. “SSL has proven a valued and customer-driven manufacturing partner and we are very pleased to continue working together on advanced satellite technologies.”

The SSL 1300 platform has the flexibility to support a broad range of applications and technology advances.  It will exclusively use electric propulsion for orbit raising as well as station keeping and will provide service for a minimum of 15 years.

All-electric satellites provide efficient solutions for satellite operators by reducing launch mass while retaining payload performance. SSL’s all-electric satellites are derived from SSL’s extensive electric propulsion heritage that includes 19 satellites launched with electric propulsion since 2004 representing 53,000 hours of on-orbit thruster operation.

As a pioneer in the field of electric propulsion, Maxar’s extensive experience includes in excess of 100,000 hours of active electric propulsion thruster operation across more than 30 spacecraft currently in orbit.

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Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) is getting Mobile Launcher-1 (ML-1) ready to roll out to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Pad 39B next week as it moves through the final phases of integration and testing of the combination launch umbilical tower and platform ahead of the Artemis 1 launch. ML-1 is currently going through verification and validation (V&V) testing in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at KSC.

Along with confirming that installation of systems up and down the tower and on the platform are complete, the testing inside High Bay 3 of the VAB also verifies that the Launch Control Center can command and control ML-1 in anticipation of assembly of the first integrated Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle prior to a launch late in 2020 or 2021.

The current round of outfitting and V&V testing is working on data, electrical, mechanical, and other services employed during vehicle assembly, while the Summer at the launch pad will also checkout fluid and propellant-related connections to and operations with the pad systems needed to launch Artemis 1.

Wrapping up swing arm testing in the VAB ahead of pad rollout

ML-1 is the platform that the SLS launch vehicle stands on, along with the umbilicals that provide all the services needed by the launcher and the Orion spacecraft. Artemis 1 (also known as Exploration Mission-1) is the first launch of SLS and the first use of ML-1 and all the EGS-related Launch Complex 39 (LC-39) infrastructure.

The launch will also start the second Orion mission and is the first flight integrating all three Exploration Systems Development (ESD) programs (EGS, Orion, SLS). The upcoming rollout to Pad 39B, currently scheduled for June 27, marks completion of most of the installation and outfitting of the Mobile Launcher (ML) and the end of the first round of V&V testing in the VAB.

Credit: NASA.

(Photo Caption: The Mobile Launcher umbilicals and connections for the SLS Block 1 Crew vehicle configuration for Artemis 1. The umbilical arms attached to the Core Stage and Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) swing away from the rising vehicle after the umbilical plates disconnect at liftoff. Hydraulic extension and retraction of the arms individually and in groups is being tested in the VAB this month.)

“We rolled into the VAB back in early September and at that point we still had some installation work to do and then we got into our Multi Element Verification and Validation (MEV&V) testing which is our big testing effort between the VAB and the Mobile Launcher,” Cliff Lanham, EGS Senior Project Manager for the Mobile Launcher, said in a June 10 interview.

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As all of the subsystems and components are installed on the ML, the MEV&V testing makes sure they are meeting their functional and other requirements, both as standalone systems, but also connected to VAB services.

Testing also verifies the command and control infrastructure to the ML from the Firing Rooms in the LC-39 Launch Control Center adjacent to the assembly building. “Some of the series of testing that went on was for each of our electrical systems,” Lanham explained.

“We went through and performed end-to-end testing where we basically run in many cases locally, meaning we can control from the Mobile Launcher the subsystem or the electrical system out to the end of the umbilicals. Then once we were confident in that we then go to a remote testing where test our systems from the Firing Room all the way through the VAB through the ML out to the end of the arms.”

“We also have been swinging the arms, so we have been testing the Core Stage Forward Skirt Umbilical (CSFSU) and swinging that, the Core Stage Inter-Tank Umbilical (CSITU), the Interim Cryo Propulsion Stage Umbilical (ICPSU), have all been going through a series of swing testing throughout the past several months,” he added.

“Along those same lines the Orion Service Module Umbilical (OSMU) has also been tested [and] we’ve been prepping the Tail Service Mast Umbilicals (TSMU) and getting ready for drop testing which we’ll be performing in the next week or so, hopefully this week, to get that done as we prep for the roll to the pad.”

Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux.

(Photo Caption: The Core Stage Inter-Tank Umbilical arm in February as swing arm testing was beginning in the VAB.  The umbilical plate at the end of the arm (middle left) mates to a plate on the Core Stage intertank to (among other things) provide air conditioning to stage avionics and to allow hydrogen gas boil off from the liquid hydrogen tank to be vented away from the vehicle.)

“We make sure that we can control it when we extend the arm because obviously you don’t want something that could possible damage the vehicle, but primarily what you’re looking for, the big bulk of the testing is tuning the arm so that it will appropriately swing back and brake and connect to the tower the right way,” he explained.

Most of the other ML systems are in various phases of testing. “There’s also some other fluid-type systems, hydraulic systems,” Lanham noted.

“We’ve been testing the TVC (Thrust Vector Control)/hydraulic subsystem, which provides hydraulic servicing to the Boosters and the Core Stage systems and we’ve also been doing a lot of environmental control system (ECS) testing. There we test out through the system to a portable purge unit outside the VAB.”

“They provide the air-conditioning and such up through the VAB, through the Mobile Launcher system out to the ends of the arms and we’ve been doing testing there to ensure we can deliver all the proper air and temperatures and humidities, those types of things out to the ends of the arms where they feed the vehicle,” he added. “We’ve also done the backup testing where if we were to have a failure with a portable purge unit we [have] mini-purge units.”

Credit: NASA.

(Photo Caption: The Core Stage Inter-Tank Umbilical arm in an extended position away from the ML tower during swing arm testing in the VAB.  At liftoff, the ground and vehicle plates are separated and the ML’s hydraulic arm subsystem swings this and other T-0 umbilicals away from the rising vehicle.)

“We do all the same testing to make sure we can supply what’s needed to the vehicle.”

In addition to the vehicle’s hydraulic system needs, the ML swing arms are also hydraulically actuated and an additional, pre-rollout swing test is planned to retract the ICPSU, the CSFSU, and CSITU at the same time. “It’s called an Integrated System Verification and Validation (ISVV) test,” Lanham said.

“The HAASP (Hydraulic Arms and Accessories Service Pressure subsystem) is the hydraulic system that controls the arms, so we’ll do a simultaneous retract of those three arms.” Lanham said the simultaneous retract ISVV test is an end-to-end test that will be commanded from the Firing Room.

He also noted they are wrapping up drop testing of the Vehicle Stabilizer and working on testing and checkout of the hazardous gas detection system.

Finishing pre-rollout installations

In addition to all of the testing on completed sections of the ML, installations and other work also continue ahead of the rollout. “From the standpoint of installation work in the VAB we’ve had to do some structural mods and we’ve been working through those,” Lanham noted.

“We’re about ninety, ninety-five percent complete on the structural mods that we’ve been working. We’ve been doing a lot of pneumatics work, finalizing the tubing throughout the Mobile Launcher and then getting all those systems cleaned.”

“Basically what you’ve got to do is go through and you pressure test the systems, then you’ve got to clean them and then you’ve got to dry them and then once the pneumatic pieces are in place we get into testing pneumatic systems as well,” he added. Testing of the pneumatic system, which functions as a part of the propellant loading infrastructure will continue at the pad ahead of a propellant loading demonstration planned there.

Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

(Photo Caption: The south-facing side of the flame deflector, showing some of the Ignition Over-Pressure/Sound Suppression water system plumbing.  The pad deluge and other water flows will be tested with the Mobile Launcher in place for the first time this Summer.)

“We’ve also been putting in nozzles which are [for] the IOP (Ignition Over-Pressure)/Sound Suppression system,” Lanham said. “We’ve had to weld [them] into the flame hole and get those positioned properly, they’re all in.”

Lanham said there are twenty-eight nozzles around the flame hole. “There’s eight on each side for the Core Stage and then six on each booster,” he noted. “This week we’ll be putting on the rainbirds, which go on the 0-deck.”

Lanham also noted that testing of the IOP/Sound Suppression water system with the ML is one of the first set of Pad-ML MEV&V tests. “We’ve got to get the rainbirds installed to be ready for our water flows when we first get out to the pad, so we’re working to get that done,” he said.

“Right now what we’re trying to get accomplished before we leave would be the engine service platforms, we’re trying to get those installed and tested but again if we don’t get that done we can do that at the pad. That’s one area we’re trying to complete.”

“We’ve got some ICPSU arm swings to complete so we’re still working on those,” he added. “We’re doing some haz gas testing that’ll go right up to when we’re ready to leave.”

Modal testing on second shift

Lanham said that the team is current working two shifts in the VAB to get ready for rollout. In addition to the integration and testing work to complete the ML to support its first launch, a modal test of the ML is being conducted prior to rollout.

“We’re getting ready for the modal test which will be our next really big test, which kicks off second shift this coming Sunday night the sixteenth,” he said. “That’s where we’ll be driving the Mobile Launcher and seeing how it responds to different inputs and then they’ll be recording all that data, so we’ll be doing that over the next several weeks just about right up until when we roll.”

“So the idea here is we’re going to do the modal on second shift,” he explained. “What we’ll be doing is a 12-hour shift and then we’ll be doing our regular work and other testing on the first shift, so we’ll continue to test right on up to when we’re ready to roll out.”

Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux.

(Photo Caption: The upper umbilical/access arms on the Mobile Launcher umbilical tower back in September following roll into VAB High Bay 3.  Pictured here, from the top are the extended Crew Access Arm and Orion Service Module Umbilical, then the retracted Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage Umbilical and Core Stage Forward Skirt Umbilical.)

The plan is to finish as much work as possible before rolling out to the pad, but in addition to finishing leftover systems testing there will also be some other work done out at the pad along with the MEV&V.

“There will be some what I would call ‘punch list’ items that remain from the installation and the construction work, so we’ll be doing punch list items,” Lanham said. “We do have just a little bit of structural work that we’ve got to complete that we won’t finish in the VAB that we’re going to finish up at the pad.”

“Things like painting and architectural finishes, where we’ve got to put like acoustic tile in the electrical rooms, that type of stuff will be finalized. Really ‘cats and dogs’ types of stuff that we’ll have to finish up, including all the other testing at the pad, MEVV testing.”

The testing will continue during the rollout. “On the way out we’ll be essentially capturing the vibrations of the system as we roll out,” Lanhan said.

“It’s a dynamic check of how things are reacting during the actual roll. So we’ll be checking that for both the base and tower of the Mobile Launcher, we’ll be capturing that. There’s some ECS testing, Environmental Control System testing, we’ll be doing as we roll out.”

Getting ready for handover to operations

The multi-element testing first in the VAB and next out at the launch pad is pointed at finishing construction of the ML so it can be turned over to ground operations to begin launch preparations for Artemis 1. Testing at Pad 39B is scheduled to run through the Summer, with the ML being rolled back to the VAB around the end of September.

After returning to the VAB from the pad, a few more tests and a partial booster stacking exercise will be conducted along with formal reviews to certify the ML is complete and ready to support its first launch.

Credit: NASA/Michael Miller.

(Photo Caption: A fire extinguishing system (Firex) test of Mobile Launcher-1 (ML-1) while at Pad 39B for fit checks last September. A more exhaustive set of water flow tests are planned early in the ML’s Summer-long stay at the pad. Early water flows will help determine if any adjustments need to be made to fine tune the system configuration.)

The booster stacking exercise will use test hardware similar to booster stacking practice that has occurred in the past in VAB High Bay 4. With the ML complete, technicians can practice lifting inert aft segments onto the ML’s Vehicle Support Posts and run through stacking a center segment on top.

Certifications will cover all the development work. “Certifications meaning where each and every subsystem will show their paperwork essentially,” Lanham explained.

“Showing where they tested, showing their data packages, and saying we’ve met our requirements and we’re ready to go. That gets bought off and then we’ll transition the system over to operations and they’ll begin operations and maintenance, so that kind of work will continue on the Mobile Launcher that’s got to occur periodically or however they have it laid out.”

“But the big phase will finish testing and then get into the whole certification process,” he added. “I’m the project manager for the Mobile Launcher for development, so I take it all the way through certification and then again it transitions over to operations and then they’ll give me something else to go do.”

Lead image credit: NASA/Cory Huston.

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Following a call late last year for companies to submit ideas on how NASA can best resupply its upcoming Lunar Gateway outpost, the U.S. federal space agency has taken its initiative one step further, releasing the draft resupply Request For Proposals it developed from the feedback received.

The Gateway Logistics Services draft document was released on Friday (14 June) to the commercial space industry and seeks input on the agency’s final Gateway resupply contract plan.

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As part of the current feedback process, NASA will host an industry day forum on 26 June to answer questions, provide context to its plan, and discuss how it envisions the cooperation between NASA’s government SLS rocket and commercial rockets and capsules will work for the Gateway.

Companies have until 10 July to provide comments that will be reviewed (and some of them incorporated) into the Gateway logistics plan before NASA releases the finalized solicitation for companies to bid on fixed price resupply contracts to deliver supplies to the lunar outpost.

Gateway Logistics Services contract requirements:

Commercial resupply efforts of the Lunar Gateway follow the tremendous success of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program – which thus far has seen SpaceX and Northrop Grumman conduct 28 resupply missions to the International Space Station (17 from SpaceX with Dragon and 11 from Northrop Grumman with Cygnus).

Cygnus berthed to Node-1 nadir, where it will hopefully perform the first U.S. craft orbit raising of the Space Station since the Space Shuttle fleet’s retirement. (Credit: Nathan Koga for NSF/L2).

These 28 CRS missions followed Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration flights of Dragon and Cygnus, two of which (one from each vehicle) also delivered cargo to the ISS.

Now, NASA seeks to incorporate its cooperation with the commercial services realm from the very beginning of its Lunar Gateway.

“We’re asking industry to provide a spacecraft to deliver cargo and other supplies to the Gateway.  It will dock to the orbital outpost but will be responsible for generating its own power,” said Marshall Smith, Director of Human Lunar Exploration Programs at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“We’re using the Moon as a proving ground for Mars to develop the technologies and systems we need for exploration farther into the solar system, so we look forward to seeing how industry responds to our upcoming solicitation, and potentially awarding multiple contracts for this lunar service.”

To this end, NASA is creating the Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) arena that will oversee supply delivery efforts to the lunar outpost.

The draft Request For Proposals document, released by NASA last Friday, will form the basis for the formal Request For Proposals that companies will use later this summer to submit their bids for selection as part of the GLS program.

We’re asking U.S. companies to provide thoughts on innovative ways to supply #Artemis Moon missions, beginning with the first delivery of supplies to the lunar Gateway by 2024. Details here: https://t.co/xYhrDg9e0b pic.twitter.com/nVn97rwRYi

— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) June 14, 2019

The draft document will be reviewed by commercial industry providers who will then submit feedback for NASA to consider as the agency formalizes the document.

While not official in its entirety, large portions of the document will remain unchanged or only undergo minor tweaks/clarifications at this point.

Thus, the draft provides excellent insight into services, pricing, and timelines that commercial companies will have to meet if selected to participate in the GLS offerings.

Of note, any company selected to fly GLS missions would receive a guarantee of two missions, minimum, and each awarded contract would not exceed $7 billion (USD).

The total number of contracts NASA can award is not constrained via the language in the draft GLS solicitation document.

Included in the draft is a proposed NASA requirement that any selected launch vehicle have completed “one successful flight of a common launch vehicle configuration before each Standard GLS Mission,” notes the draft GLS document.

This follows from a CRS requirement that the launch vehicles (in that case, the Falcon 9 and the Antares) have completed one successful flight prior to commencement of Station resupply efforts – a requirement completed via COTS demonstration flights.

Cygnus OA-5 launch on Antares rocket - YouTube

Unlike the CRS contracts which did not carry a “one successful flight” requirement if changes to the launch vehicle were made after initial certification (both the Falcon 9 and the Antares underwent significant design changes after their CRS flights began – with some of those changes debuting on CRS flights), the draft GLS language seems to indicate that NASA would seek to prohibit launch vehicle design changes debuting on GLS contract flights.

If the draft language becomes formal, the GLS contracts would require a launch vehicle that undergoes a design change to complete one successful flight of those changes before its next GLS mission is allowed to proceed.

Additional GLS baseline mission requirements include a resupply vehicle’s ability to remain docked to the Lunar Gateway for one year of operations, provide and generate its own power while docked, and be capable of autonomous disposal at the end of its mission.

Moreover, NASA may seek to have resupply vehicles perform tasks “over and above baseline GLS mission requirements.”

These are referred to as Mission Unique Capabilities and include – in agreement with the contracted commercial provider – a requirement that a resupply vehicle remain docked to the Gateway for up to 6 months beyond the baseline one year requirement and that the resupply vehicle perform a “Fast Transit to Gateway” rendezvous profile.

The proposed Lunar Gateway (latest version) – envisioned by Nathan Koga for NSF/L2

Those are the two currently defined Mission Unique Capabilities; however, NASA’s draft GLS document notes that additional Mission Unique Capabilities – which will be defined “at a later date if needed” – may include: EVA Translation Path/Anchor Points; Extended visits beyond 3 years; late cargo load, Gateway refueling; additional payload power abilities; undocking, maneuver, and re-docking abilities; long-term habitation; and being co-manfisted on an SLS launch.

Additionally, NASA is seeking the ability to have commercial launch vehicles – as part of a GLS contract – perform Specialized Delivery Missions, defined in the draft document as “Specialized logistic services for delivering other Gateway elements.”

This is significant as it signals a continued willingness on NASA’s part to forgo launching all/any Gateway elements on the agency’s own SLS rocket.

For a long time, the SLS was touted as the only vehicle capable of launching the Gateway – despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Earlier this year, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine finally publicly confirmed that SLS was neither crucial for the Gateway’s construction nor for launching crew on Orion and its European Service Module.

The latter part of that public admission was quickly walked back by the Administrator by stating that internal agency reviews revealed that only SLS could launch Orion and its European Service Module.

Looking back at Orion and its European Service Module from a viewpoint on one of four solar arrays. (Credit: Nathan Koga for NSF/L2)

Nonetheless, his statements were not walked back for Gateway modules and elements.

In fact, the first Gateway element, the Power and Propulsion Element, received its formal contract award in May – a contract that specifically stated that a launch vehicle would be determined at a later time.

Therefore, NASA is formally taking steps to define a set of parameters inside GLS missions to have Specialized Delivery Missions of Gateway elements/modules on commercial launch vehicles.

To this end, NASA is proposing a requirement that commercial launch vehicles have completed “three successful flights of a common launch vehicle configuration” before they are allowed to launch Gateway elements.

Launch window targets and postponement fees:

The draft document also reveals how launch window targets would be given within each contract flow.

Upon initialization of a GLS contract through L-12 months (Launch -12 months), a company would work toward a launch within a 90 day window.

NASA: Launch Windows - YouTube

Between L-12 months and L-6 months, that target launch window would be reduced to a 30 day period.

Beginning six months before launch and continuing through launch, companies would be required to target and meet a launch of that GLS mission within a 7 day window.

Within there, NASA or the Contractor can – through Grace Days – request a delay to the start of the target launch window of up to 150 days over the life of a specific GLS mission contract.

These Grace Days do not include “Excusable Delays” that are imposed “not due to the fault or negligence of NASA/Contractor.”

Such Excusable Delays include launch date changes imposed by the Eastern Range in Florida and launch vehicle failure investigations – the latter of which is acceptable only if “NASA retains its original position in the order of the queue sequence and that all data related to the failure investigation is made available to NASA without restriction.”

Outside of Grace Days and Excusable Delays, NASA or a Contractor can request additional delays to a launch of up to 18 months; however, daily Postponement Fees will be assessed to the party responsible for the requested delay – beit NASA or the Contractor.

The daily Postponement Fee (beyond Grace Days and Excusable Delays) from the commencement of a GLS contract through L-12 months is $1,000 USD per day.  

From L-12 months to L-6 months, the Postponement Fee increases to $10,000 per day.

The Postponement Fee from L-6 months to launch day is $20,000 per day.

If the Contractor is responsible for launch delays resulting in fees, NASA would subtract the applicable Postponement Fee from the Contractor’s next scheduled payment per the Milestone Payment Schedule and would also suspend that next milestone payment “for the length of the delay and then resume with all remaining milestones and payments shifted by the amount (length) of the delay.”

If NASA is responsible for launch delays incurring a fee, NASA would assess that fee to itself by paying the Contractor the agency’s postponement fee at the next Milestone Payment.

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