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Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket will conduct its ninth test flight on Wednesday with a short hop pushing the vehicle to its limits – in order to satisfy safety parameters, whilst also carrying numerous payloads in the capsule. The launch from Blue Origin’s test site in West Texas is set to occur at 14:00 UTC – with the test campaign now in the final leg ahead of carrying paying customers.

New Shepard is the first of a potential line of vehicles for Blue Origin. The rocket and crew capsule system is aimed at the suborbital tourism market, allowing paying customers to enjoy into a few minutes of zero-G flight prior to a parachute-assisted landing.

Claims in the media – which haven’t been verified by Blue Origin – note Jeff Bezos’s company is going to charge between $200,000 and $300,000 per ticket for the short suborbital flight.

The test campaign began in 2015, and despite the loss of the first booster, the second flight in November 2015 kick-started a successful run of test flights.

That second flight saw the New Shepard booster lofting its Crew Module to an altitude of 329,839 feet before returning under powered control to an upright landing – marking the first time a suborbital rocket successfully landed after a straight-up/straight-down flight.

The test profile – via Blue Origin

By the seventh test, the campaign featured a new next-generation booster – powered by its BE-3 engine – and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0, a spacecraft that featured real windows, measuring 2.4 x 3.6 feet.

The test flight also carried 12 payloads and even a passenger – specifically an instrumented dummy brilliantly named “Mannequin Skywalker”.

The previous test flight, the eighth overall, saw the capsule reach 351,000 feet – making this a record flight altitude for the spacecraft.

Mannequin Skywalker’s ride to space onboard Crew Capsule 2.0 - YouTube

These latest tests were also designed to push the booster to its limit, which led to Blue Origin noting the potential they could lose the booster, not least during the focused testing on the escape system, centered around a solid motor firing for two seconds to fly the capsule free of a failing booster.

However, all tests – from test 2 to test 8 – have seen the booster return for a safe pinpoint landing, followed shortly after by the capsule parachuting to a landing site nearby.

The testing on Flight 9 will once again focus on the safety systems.

“We’ll be doing a high altitude escape motor test – pushing the rocket to its limits,” noted Blue Origin ahead of the test. How this will differentiate from the previous safety test is yet to be seen, such as the potential to fire the escape system later into the flight.

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Numerous payloads will be flying in the spacecraft during the test, ranging from international customers, such as Thailand’s “mu Space-1” – which includes an assortment of scientific and medical items, several textile materials they plan to use on their future space suit and apparel, and other special articles for their community partners – through to a suite of payloads from Blue Origin employees as a part of their internal “Fly My Stuff” program.

Several NASA payloads are riding along, such as SFEM-2 – which was first flown on Mission 8 of New Shepard, and will collect additional data on Mission 9. The experiment will record vehicle conditions including cabin pressure, temperature, CO2, acoustic conditions, and acceleration.

While testing with New Shepard continues, work on Blue Origin’s next vehicle, the New Glenn is pressing on, albeit mainly away from the attention of the media.

With the production facility at Exploration Park all-but ready to start producing New Glenn hardware, work is also now taking place on the LC-11 and LC-36 pad facilities from which the rocket will be tested and launched from.

The latest view of Blue Origin’s Florida launch site – via L2

LC-11 will be used to test fire New Glenn engines, while LC-36 will be the launch site for the orbital rocket that is being placed to take on other vehicles in its class, such as those from SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.

Blue Origin continue to take 2020 for the maiden flight of the New Glenn rocket, which like its smaller sister New Shepard, will include a booster that will return for reuse.

Although Blue Origin is yet to provide details, it is understood the company has already purchased the first landing ship for returning New Glenn boosters.

Blue Origin is also expected to eventually add an even bigger rocket to its family, the Super Heavy vehicle called New Armstrong. However, that is not expected until deep into the 2020s.

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is in its final, home-stretch of processing prior to its scheduled launch No Earlier Than (NET) 4 August 2018 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.  The mission, which will be humanity’s first to “touch the surface of the Sun”, is preparing for encapsulation inside its payload fairing at the Astrotech processing facility in Titusville, Florida – after which it will be mated to the top of the launch vehicle.

Launch site preparations began in earnest in July and August 2017 with the arrival of the three Common Booster Cores of the Delta IV rocket that form the first stage of the Delta IV Heavy configuration.

The Delta IV cores were all assembled in Decatur, Alabama, just west of Huntsville.

After mating the three Common Booster Cores together, technicians inside the Horizontal Integration Facility at SLC-37B mated the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (a modified version of which will serve as the SLS Block 1 rocket’s second stage) to the top of the three boosters in March 2018.

Immediately thereafter, the Parker Solar Probe itself arrived in Titusville, Florida, at the Astrotech processing center on 3 April – where its final sequence of processing activities and checkouts for launch began.

Artist’s depiction of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe as it heads toward a grazing encounter with the Sun. (Credit: NASA)

For the rocket, after a month of integrated checkouts in the integration facility, United Launch Alliance engineers rolled the assembled Delta IV Heavy the short ways from its hanger to the launch mounts at SLC-37B on 16 April and erected the rocket on the pad the following day.

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Unlike the other rockets currently available in the U.S. fleet, the Delta IV, especially the Heavy variant, spends by far the most amount of time on its seaside launch pad undergoing final launch preparations.

Extended, multi-month pad flows are not only common for this particular rocket offered by United Launch Alliance (ULA) but is done, in part, to assure the rocket’s functionality for critical missions – such as Parker Solar Probe, which needs to launch in a very short interplanetary launch window.

To this end, extensive testing has been undertaken by the ULA team to ensure all of the Delta IV Heavy’s systems are functioning properly and that any avoidable, last-minute surprises on launch day or during the duration of the launch window are evaded.

The testing is not entirely foolproof, with certain elements of the rocket subject to the so-called “lightbulb test” – meaning regardless of how many times they are tested, they can still break or malfunction when needed.

Good. Yes, good to go

— Tory Bruno (@torybruno) July 17, 2018

Nonetheless, such rigorous testing of the rocket in the months and weeks leading up to launch can root out several potential problems that can be fixed ahead of time, thus allowing the mission to launch without delay.

For ULA, part of this campaign for Parker Solar involved Wet Dress Rehearsals: a complete fueling of the Delta IV Heavy under the same conditions it will experience on launch day and a rundown of the countdown with various anomalies thrown in to test the launch team and ensure they are ready to handle any situation that might arise during an actual launch countdown.

For this particular mission, the Delta IV Heavy and ULA teams underwent two Wet Dress Rehearsals, with the first occurring on 27 June and the second following on 6 July.

Following the two Wet Dress Rehearsals, updated Eastern Range schedules seem to reflect that all went well with the tests, with no major issues discovered with the rocket ahead of final integration and launch preparations.

However, a small issue with the Parker Solar Probe at its Astrotech processing facility did present last Friday, 13 July.

Parker Solar Probe undergoes pre-launch testing. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman)

According to NASA, “After discovering a minor tubing leak in the ground support equipment during final processing, teams require additional time for processing NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft.  The tubing is being repaired, and the spacecraft is healthy.”

The issue is not an impact to the scheduled launch (confirmed by updated Eastern Range schedules on Monday, 16 July) largely because the tubing leak was on the ground side of the processing equipment and not on Parker Solar Probe itself.

This is good news as Parker Solar and its third stage are scheduled to be encapsulated inside the payload fairing this week ahead of transport to the launch pad for mating and integration atop the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The third stage for the Parker Solar Probe launch is a Star 48BV solid rocket motor originally developed by Thiokol Propulsion – then ATK, then Orbital ATK, and now Northrop Grumman.

The Star 48 stage takes its numerical designation from the rough diameter of the propellant casing (as measured in inches) and has been used on previous high-profile scientific missions for NASA – most notably as the third stage on the Atlas V 551 rocket that launched the New Horizons mission outward to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt in January 2006.

The Star 48 third stage fires to send the Parker Solar Probe into its correct orbit toward Venus. (Credit: NASA)

This will be the Star 48’s first use on a Delta IV Heavy.

Once the Parker Solar Probe and its Star 48 upper stage are encapsulated within the payload fairing, the entire assembly will be transported to the launch pad and lifted atop the rocket, where they will be mated and secured for liftoff.

Once that operation is complete, the United Launch Alliance team will perform their Mission Dress Rehearsal, currently scheduled for 1 August according to current Range schedules.

The Mission Dress Rehearsal is quite different from the Wet Dress Rehearsals.  In this case, the rocket will not be fueled with any propellant.

Instead, the Mission Dress Rehearsal is a final countdown practice designed to be a nominal run through the count with no simulated anomalies – the purpose of which is to allow the launch team to know what to expect going into launch.

Parker Solar Probe - YouTube

While the Eastern Range schedule does not reveal the specific time at which this Mission Dress Rehearsal will take place, ULA sometimes aligns them for the actual targeted launch time, which in this case would result in a Mission Dress Rehearsal T0 of 04:17 EDT (08:17 UTC) on 1 August.

Depending on the mission, the launch team might also continue the Mission Dress Rehearsal past the T0 point, simulating a nominal ascent and launch all the way to payload separation.

Presently, the Parker Solar Probe mission’s interplanetary launch window to Venus opens on 31 July and closes on 19 August.

Due to its unique science orbit, the probe must be launched at a very high velocity and use the planet Venus to gradually reduce its orbit for ever-closer approaches to the Sun.  Thus, the probe must launch within the upcoming Earth-Venus alignment to permit the seven Venusian flybys required for the mission.

Prior delays to spacecraft processing slipped the launch from the opening day of its window to No Earlier Than 4 August in a 45-minute launch window that extends from 04:17 to 05:02 EDT that day.

A ULA Delta IV-Heavy rocket launches at night from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s SLC-37B. (Credit: U.S Air Force)

As far as Eastern Range scheduling goes, Parker Solar Probe has precedence on the Range due to its need to launch within the short interplanetary window between Earth and Venus.

Right now, a SpaceX mission is currently scheduled on the Range two days prior to Parker Solar Probe, with a Falcon 9 set to launch the Telkom-4 satellite from SLC-40 on 2 August about 50 and one half hours prior to Parker Solar Probe’s opening launch attempt.

The only other mission on the Range within the Parker Solar Probe window is another SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with TelStar 18V, which according to a Range manifest update on Monday, 16 July is scheduled to launch NET 17 August from SLC-40 – two days before the end of the Parker Solar Probe launch window.

While neither of the SpaceX launches, right now, are impediments to the Parker Solar Probe launch, mission dates often realign and slip a few days based on previous mission actuals and overall processing timelines.

Should one of the SpaceX missions become a potential impediment to Parker Solar Probe’s launch, negotiations between SpaceX, NASA, United Launch Alliance, and the Eastern Range would have to take place to determine launch order.

The trajectory and orbit of the Parker Solar Probe and its seven encounters with Venus. (Credit: NASA)

In such a scenario, it is highly likely that SpaceX would agree to slip and move around the Parker Solar Probe mission, as Range users generally try to accommodate each other and short, mission-specific launch windows – knowing full well that there might come a day when they have to ask another provider to slip due to one of their missions having to launch within a short window.

Looking beyond the current August 2018 launch window, should something occur that precludes Parker Solar Probe from lifting off by the close of its interplanetary launch window on 19 August, NASA and United Launch Alliance will have to wait until May 2019 to launch the mission due to Earth-Venus orbital alignments.

If the August launch date holds, this will be the first Delta IV Heavy to fly in over two years.  The last Delta IV Heavy launched on 11 June 2016 from SLC-37B with Orion 9/Mentor 7 on a classified mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

A second Delta IV Heavy is currently scheduled to launch later this year, that one also for the NRO and flying from SLC-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Following that, only five Delta IV Heavy missions remain – one per year.  All of those remaining missions are for the NRO.

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Prime contractor Boeing recently completed Thermal Protection System (TPS) applications on the liquid oxygen (LOX) tank for Core Stage-1 (CS-1), the first NASA Space Launch System (SLS) Core Stage. The cryogenic propellant tank was moved out of Cell N at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans on June 20, where spray-on foam insulation (SOFI) was applied to the outside of the tank.

Work on the critical engine section element was slowed earlier this year by issues with contamination of tubing, but NASA and Boeing are continuing to move forward with work on all the elements of the rocket for the first SLS launch. In April, foam applications on the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA) were completed at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama.

The LOX tank is now in Area 6, where it is being prepared to be joined with the other two elements that form the upper half of the Core Stage.

CS-1 LOX tank TPS applications complete

Lying horizontally on factory ground support equipment (GSE) and transporters, the LOX tank was backed out of the building used by Boeing to apply SOFI to the stage’s two large propellant tanks. Cell N is located in Building 131 at MAF, adjacent to both the Building 110 high-bay and Building 103, the sprawling main building of the facility.

The factory transporters picked up the GSE attached to the tank, backed it out of the cell, and moved it into Area 6 of Building 103, where the next leg of work is being performed in preparation for “stacking” the tank with the other elements of the top half of the stage.

CS-1 LOX tank is backed out of Building 131, Cell N at MAF on June 20 after completion of SOFI applications. The forward end is closest to the vantage point, as the tank goes in the cell aft end first. Credit: NASA/Jude Guidry.

A system of roll rings and specialized Rotational Assembly and Transportation Tools (RATT) are attached to the propellant tanks to help apply both the SOFI for thermal protection and, before that, a coat of primer for corrosion protection. “These roll rings are three sections and it’s a neoprene [pad material] bolted up around the tank,” Steven Ernst, Boeing’s Core Stage Engineering Support Manager, said in an interview.

“They do attach, not structurally but for spacing reasons. They attach in a few places around the flange, but it’s a friction-type connection.”  The roll rings also attach to the RATTs, which can be used to move the roll rings and rotate the whole tank.

The RATTs can also be picked up by Boeing’s Manufacturing, Assembly, and Operations (MAO) Self-Propelled Modular Transporters (SPMT). Sets of two MAO SPMTs roll under and pick up each RATT. For large assemblies like an SLS Core Stage LOX tank (or larger), there are two sets that are linked together to both move and precisely position the entire assembly in tandem before setting it down again.

In Cell N, the SOFI was sprayed on top of the primer coat in two phases. First, the cylindrical barrels of the tank were covered in an automated, environmentally-controlled process where the GSE attached to the tank is rotated in front of a foam-spray gun until the barrel has the desired thickness of SOFI.

The tank RATTs are connected on both ends near each flange of the tank, which is a ring where the barrels and domes are welded together. One RATT is designated lead and the other a “follower.”

MAO SPMTs complete moving the CS-1 LOX tank into Area 6 in Building 103 on June 20. The tank is secured on both ends by white roll-rings attached to the blue RATTs. Credit: NASA/Jude Guidry.

“One is fixed,” Ernst explained. “It’s tied to the lead SPMT, that’s where the gear box is that drives the whole thing, so one is basically a slave. And how that goes is orientation specific. We do the aft end first into the [SOFI spray] cell, because we actually integrate these with the primer system and the SOFI system. So the control system for both of those cells is controlling the rotation of the RATT.”

After the barrels or “acreage” SOFI was sprayed, technicians manually sprayed the hemispheric domes on each end of the tank with a different SOFI formula suited for application in room temperature conditions. The tank will remain in the roll rings and RATTs while it is in Area 6, where the system is used to manually roll the tank to position different areas in front of a fixed work platform.

Some areas of the tank still need additional processing that requires access under the foam; besides areas under and around the roll rings, circular “sensor islands” around the barrel circumference were masked off prior to the foam sprays. The wiring runs were routed prior to foam application, leaving only access to the islands in the locations of different operational and development instrumentation sensors.

After the sensor installation is completed, some additional foam will be manually sprayed to cover or “closeout” those areas. Other areas were sprayed and then trimmed down.

Circular “sensor islands” are seen in areas around the circumference of the LOX tank acreage during the June 20 move. Those areas are being processed now in Area 6. Credit: NASA/Jude Guidry.

While the LOX tank was in Cell N the robotic system was also used to precisely machine down the foam in specific locations. “We’ll actually put a cutting head essentially on it to do some of the trimming, which becomes really critical down along the systems tunnel area,” Ernst noted.

The systems tunnel runs hundreds of feet up and down the length of the Core Stage; it will be attached in final assembly. “It’s just taking enough off to smooth it out and get it to a prescribed thickness,” Ernst explained about the trimming.

“It was a little tricky [for] the first tank, because the tanks as they are sitting here horizontally aren’t perfect, they do sag a little, deform a little bit, so there was a lot of development work going on to get the program for the robot refined to accommodate for that, but that was all part of the process,” he added.

The MAO SPMTs from Doerfer Companies Wheelift Systems Group has been used by Boeing for several years inside at MAF for positioning a variety of support equipment. “We use them a lot,” Ernst said.

“A lot of the work stands you see out and around the factory, those are moved into position using SPMTs. All the equipment, all the large pieces were designed with the intent of moving them around with SPMTs. It’s a lot safer, it’s very precise because you can position them just right.”

Ernst noted that other movers don’t have the positioning precision of the Wheelift transporters. “It can be a little bit nerve-wracking, for instance, you saw the clean room out in Area 6, that platform [to] go into the [LOX tank] aft dome,” he said. “We’ve got to bring that thing within inches of the flight hardware and that would be something you wouldn’t really want to do with a tug. So those SPMTs have that level of control to precisely locate that.”

CS-1 LOX tank “spotted” in Cell N in late March prior to the beginning of SOFI applications. Credit: NASA/Jude Guidry.

The MAO SPMTs will also be used during final assembly to horizontally position the four RS-25 engines one at a time for installation in the aft end of the stage.

More recently NASA took possession of a heavier-duty set of Wheelift SPMTs that are needed for both the more massive final assemblies and for longer, overland transportation.

LVSA foam applications completed in April, headed to Florida

At Marshall in Huntsville, the LVSA for the first SLS launch on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) was moved from Building 4707 to Building 4649 for final outfitting in late June. The LVSA connects the top of the Core Stage to the bottom of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS). At around 30 feet in length, the LVSA also provides room for the long engine nozzle extension on the ICPS upper stage.

NASA LVSA manager Keith Higginbotham said in an email that manual foam spray work on the LVSA was completed in Building 4707 on April 17. Welding of the flight article was completed last summer, when it was moved to Building 4707 for TPS applications. The weld lands were painted to complete the primer application, and then foam sprays began last year.

The LVSA for EM-1 is moved from Building 4707 to Building 4649 at Marshall on June 26. Credit: NASA/Tyler Martin.

The adapter will be outfitted with a pneumatic actuation system and a frangible joint assembly will be installed on the top of the adapter. The frangible joint will separate the top of the LVSA and Core Stage below from the bottom of the ICPS and Orion above.

Once outfitting work is complete, the LVSA will wait for a ride on NASA’s Pegasus barge from Marshall to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida later this year. Plans are for Pegasus to next arrive at Marshall with the liquid hydrogen (LH2) tank structural test article (STA) being prepped at MAF. After offloading the STA, the LVSA would then be loaded on Pegasus, along with perhaps some additional equipment that needs to be returned to MAF (such as the SPMTs).

Engine section tube contamination recovery

Integration of the CS-1 engine section remains the primary critical path for overall stage assembly and Boeing employs around-the-clock work shifts specifically for the element. The effort suffered a setback earlier in the year when it was discovered that tubing that will be installed in the element was contaminated.

Paraffin wax is used during manufacturing of the tubes to prevent crimping while they are being curved, but the supplier of the tubing failed to completely clean them prior to delivery to MAF. The problem wasn’t discovered until a quality control inspection in February.

“Some lines ended up being more susceptible to the contamination that we found and [it] was really a sizing-type thing,” Rick Navarro, Boeing’s Director of Space and Launch Operations, said during an interview. “Above a certain size of line, the paraffin wax was more in use as a part of the bending process.”

CS-1 engine section at MAF in late February, around the time the tubing contamination issue was discovered. A significant amount of work has been completed inside since then, but most of the tubing is still outside, being staged for later installation. Credit: Philip Sloss for NSF/L2.

Most of the tubing that will be installed inside the engine section has bends, and investigations found a widespread problem of tube sections that were not cleaned correctly. “It ended up being an across the board thing that we separated by system: gaseous oxygen, liquid oxygen, gaseous hydrogen, hydraulics, thrust vector control,” Navarro explained.

Navarro said that they finally decided it was prudent to re-check all the tubing. “There is a priority that was figured out: in which order and [what] specific sequence you need to get the tubes back into service,” he noted.

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“And by ‘back into service’ I mean whether it was getting a new tube from Core Stage-2, or getting a tube processed off-site, re-cleaned, and sent back to use, or getting a tube inspected. So we had a complete set of priorities that said in which order we needed the tubes to come to us.”

“Some of them for instance, had to go through some higher-temperature bake out, which we’re doing in a separate Boeing facility to bake out residuals,” he added. “Typically the inconel tubes are going through that process to bake out.”

The hardware going into the engine section is densely packed and there are specific installation sequences to provide adequate access for installing them. “Amongst all of them we had a priority scheme and that’s the way we’re getting them back and installed. I don’t think we’ve had a tube shortage in weeks.”

Recovering from the problem put the engine section further behind schedule and a recent estimate put completion of CS-1 five months later than the official date of December. Given there is little margin, the implication is that the forecast date for the first SLS launch is closer to mid-2020 than the end of 2019.

Boeing is working to try to recover some of the schedule and the engine section team has recently made visible progress. Management recently challenged them to install several large components, such as the composite over-wrapped pressure vessel (COPV) helium tanks, in two weeks time.

They finished all the work with a few days to spare.  “In fact, ten percent of the total build was done in the last two weeks, just based on the amount of installations that we had,” Navarro said at the time of the interview in early July.

A composite of all three CS-1 “forward join” elements, which now have their primary TPS work complete as they near work to stack them together. From left to right, the forward skirt, LOX tank, and intertank. Credits: NASA/Jude Guidry, Philip Sloss for NSF/L2.

Elsewhere on the Building 103 floor at MAF, work continues on the other CS-1 elements. In addition to the recent LOX tank milestone, the functional checkout of the forward skirt was completed in early July and that element is ready for stacking when the rest of the elements catch up.

Installation of the avionics boxes into the intertank is complete, essentially finishing the outfitting of that element. Functional testing was set to begin after the boxes were plugged into their wiring runs.

The flight LH2 tank is waiting for its turn in the line to get SOFI applications. Currently, it is behind the LH2 STA tank, which is now in Cell N.

Additional work on the LOX tank sensor islands is currently underway in Area 6 and an internal sensor mast will also be installed while the tank remains horizontal.  After additional preparations are completed, the forward skirt, LOX tank, and intertank will be stacked vertically later this year in Building 110.

The completed “forward join” of the upper half of the rocket stage will then be moved into the final assembly area for additional work.

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The P120C rocket motor that will be involved with both the Ariane 6 and Vega-C rockets has been static fire tested for the first time at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. The firing occurred early on Monday morning.

The P120C is 13.5 meters long and 3.4 meters in diameter, contains 142 tonnes of solid propellant and provides a maximum thrust of 4615 kN (in vacuum) over a burn time of about 135 seconds.

It will provide the first stage for the Vega-C and the side boosters – between two and four – for the larger Ariane 6, both of which will take over from their old variants in the coming years, potentially allowing for a maiden launch in 2020.

Ariane 6 and Vega-C via ESA

While there is a commonality between the two rockets with the use of the same motor on each vehicle, the P120C also has synergy with the current P80 first stage motor on the Vega in use today.

In the run-up to the test, all the main components of the motor – such as nozzle, igniter, solid propellant, and insulated motor case – had already been tested separately.

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“This static firing is designed to prove these technologies, materials and production techniques in combination and validate the behavior of the assembled motor,” noted ESA ahead of the test, adding sensors will gather about 600 measures during the static fire.

Unlike a lot of solid motor tests, this firing was conducted in a vertical position on the test stand. The test facility was modified or developed to accommodate this large motor.

While the former Shuttle and current Space Launch System (SLS) solid motors are much larger, and static fired in the horizontal position – they are assembled in segments. Likewise, the Ariane 5 side boosters are also constructed in segments, with the casings mated during integration. ESA note the P120C is the largest solid motor built in one piece.

Its nearest rival is likely to be Northrop Grumman’s Castor 300, which is based one segment of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster design and is intended to be used as the second stage of the Omega rocket.

An Orbital ATK OmegA rocket soars into the sky over Florida on a launch in the 2020s. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

That is expected to be 12.69 meters in length, still short of P120C’s 13.5 meters.

The Ariane 6 will be an evolution via integration streamlining and innovated design changes are major elements, which will play into reducing costs.

The Ariane 6’s Vulcain 2.1 engine is built with fewer parts while holding a greater efficiency, while the improved Vinci upper stage will allow for additional orbital destinations for more flexibility via a wider reignition capability.

It will operate in two configurations: Ariane 62 is fitted with two P120C strap-on boosters while Ariane 64 has four.

While Vega-C will continue to launch from the current Vega pad at the spaceport, a new launch pad complex is being built for the Ariane 6, called ELA-4.

And here is the status mid April 2018 #ESA #CSG #ELA4 #Ariane6 pic.twitter.com/77dFkJXBsY

— DutchSpace (@DutchSpace) June 19, 2018

For a launch campaign, the core stages will be integrated and prepared horizontally in the Launcher Assembly Building, less than a mile from the launch zone. The central core is then moved to the pad and erected vertically in the mobile gantry.

There, the boosters, payloads and fairing are added, before the mobile structure allows for platforms to access the different levels on the pad. The gantry is moved shortly before launch.

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SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon that will fly the uncrewed Demonstration Mission -1 (DM-1) as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for final launch processing.  With an internal work-to launch readiness date of 31 August 2018, it is now likely that the International Space Station’s crew rotation and Visiting Vehicle schedule over the next few months will be the primary driver for the flight’s eventual launch from the Florida Spaceport.

Crew Dragon gets ready for DM-1:

The arrival of the Crew Dragon for DM-1 marks an important and major milestone in SpaceX’s preparations for what looks to be the first flight of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Moreover, it is a critical step in returning the ability to launch astronauts to the International Space Station on a craft other than the venerable and extremely reliable Russian Soyuz crew vehicle.

The ability to launch astronauts to the Station on more than one spacecraft was lost on 20 July 2011 with the landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis and the retirement of NASA’s Shuttle fleet.

Landing of STS-135, the final space shuttle mission - YouTube

With that retirement, the Russian Soyuz became the sole vehicle capable of launching NASA, ESA, CSA, and JAXA astronauts to the USOS (United States Operating Segment) – of which Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency are a part – section of the Station.

Thankfully, the Soyuz has suffered no incidents in that time, as such an event would have eliminated the world’s ability to reach its international orbital laboratory.

Nonetheless, this gap in U.S. human launch capability is not the only period in the Station’s lifetime that the Soyuz has been the sole human ride to the lab.

Following the 2003 loss of Shuttle Columbia and the STS-107 crew, the Soyuz took up solo crew transportation duty to the Station until the Shuttle fleet returned to flight (STS-114) and began ferrying crewmembers to the outpost again (STS-121) in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Now, the U.S. is on the cusp of being able to launch humans into space again – and with final preparations now underway at the launch site for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon DM-1 mission, the commencement of Commercial Crew Program launches is tangible.

Crew Dragon arrived in Florida this week ahead of its first flight after completing thermal vacuum and acoustic testing at @NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. https://t.co/xXJE8TjcTr pic.twitter.com/lr0P95zzIK

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 12, 2018

Having completed assembly at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, the Crew Dragon that will fly the DM-1 mission was taken to NASA’s Plum Brook Station facility in Ohio – part of NASA’s Glenn Research Center – for vacuum chamber and acoustic testing.

Based on the craft’s arrival at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on Thursday, it appears that all went well with those tests – with no major issues that would impede the continuation of processing and delivery to the launch site discovered during the critical tests that ensured the Crew Dragon could properly function in the vacuum, thermal, and acoustic conditions it will experience during launch and while in Low Earth Orbit.

With the first Crew Dragon now safely at the Cape, the next major visual milestone will be the delivery of the Falcon 9 Block 5 booster that will launch the mission.

That Falcon 9 core is B1051 as confirmed by NASA documentation and public NASA conversations over the last several months.

First Block 5 on the McGregor Test Stand on Monday – via Gary Blair for NSF/L2

Based on core sightings/observations and launch campaigns, it is believed that core B1051 is finishing up construction in Hawthorne now and will ship to McGregor, Texas, for acceptance firing in the coming weeks.

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With cores B1047 and B1048 getting ready for their July roles in the Telstar 19V and Iridium NEXT-7 launches, respectively, core B1049 was the last core spotted at the McGregor test facility.  This likely indicates – as cores generally come off the assembly line and head for Texas in numerical order, that core B1050 will be next out of Hawthorne and on the test stand at McGregor soon.

Core B1051 was selected as the booster for the DM-1 flight several months ago, and its processing schedule was aligned with a work-to launch readiness date of NET (No Earlier Than) 31 August 2018.

Of note, at a press briefing prior to the launch of SpaceX’s CRS-15 Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station in late-June, International Space Station Program Manager Kirk Shireman and SpaceX’s Dragon Mission Manager, Jessica Jensen, both stated and reiterated that SpaceX’s work-to date for the DM-1 flight was 31 August.

However, Mr. Shireman made an interesting point during that briefing: that NASA was now looking at the Visiting Vehicle and crew rotation schedules aboard the International Space Station to see exactly when the upcoming demonstration flight could fit into the Station’s overall schedule.

Crew Dragon heads uphill on the Falcon 9 – via Nathan Koga for NSF/L2

To this end, it appears possible that SpaceX could in fact be internally ready to launch the DM-1 mission by or very close to its internal work-to date of 31 August but end up having to delay the flight because the International Space Station itself is not capable of receiving the Crew Dragon due to the current Visiting Vehicle schedule in September and October.

Most prominently on the U.S. side of the Station is the scheduled 10 September launch of the Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) HTV-7 uncrewed resupply vehicle.  

The HTV is berthed via Canadarm2 to Node-2 “Harmony’s” nadir (Earth-facing) port.  Just feet away from where the HTV will be berthed to Station is the location of the DM-1 Dragon docking port – Pressurized Mating Adaptor-2 (PMA-2) on the Forward end of Node-2 “Harmony”.  

HTV-7 is scheduled to remain at Station for 59 days based on the most-recent NASA documentation.  

The main potential complication between HTV-7 and DM-1 is the amount of crew time dedicated to berthed resupply vehicles like HTV – periods that take up a great deal of the U.S. segment crews’ time as they unload the craft, perform time-critical experiments, and reload the craft ahead of its departure.

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

This is a complication to the uncrewed DM-1 Dragon flight because SpaceX has stated that the DM-1 vehicle will bring up some supplies to the International Space Station, thus requiring Station crew time to unload the craft and fill it back up with any materials that require a ride back to Earth in a capsule that can safely reenter Earth’s atmosphere, splash down in the ocean, and be recovered.

Complicating crew-time matters more is the upcoming Soyuz crew rotation period in early- to mid-October, during which the Station’s crew complement will be temporarily reduced to three people from six – further limiting the remaining crews’ ability to work with HTV-7 and support the DM-1 mission in that timeframe.

Looking beyond HTV-7’s departure and the October crew rotation, the next Progress resupply vehicle from Roscosmos is currently slated to launch on 31 October (UTC), followed on NET 17 November by the 10th mission of Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus resupply spacecraft.  SpaceX’s own CRS-16 resupply mission is then set to follow NET 29 November.

There is also a planned November Soyuz crew rotation for the International Space Station – during which the Station’s crew will again be temporarily reduced to three people from six.

In short, these are complications.  But they are not, in and of themselves, complete impediments to launching the SpaceX DM-1 flight in September or October.

A Crew Dragon approaches the International Space Station for docking with PMA-2 on the forward end of Node-2 Harmony. (Credit: Nathan Koga for NSF/L2)

Potentially threading the 14-day DM-1 uncrewed flight of Dragon to the Station between all of these events could be somewhat tricky.

But as ISS Program Manager Kirk Shireman stated, this is what is currently being discussed between the ISS Program, Commercial Crew Program, and SpaceX as all three programs work to determine an exact target launch date for the DM-1 mission.

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Cape Canaveral’s LC-17 has been leveled after the demolition of its two service towers on Thursday. The pad last saw action with the retiring Delta II rocket but has a history that ranges back into the 1950s. It will become the new site for commercial operator Moon Express.
Launch Complex 17, as it was then designated, was built between August and December 1956 to accommodate tests of the Thor missile.

LC-17 in its original Thor configuration – via NSF L2

The first Thor launch occurred from LC-17B on 26 January 1957. However, it ended in failure when the rocket lost thrust and exploded on the launch pad.

A second launch in April was erroneously destroyed by range safety after a faulty console caused the RSO to believe the rocket was flying in the wrong direction.

The first successful launch occurred on 20 September, also from LC-17B.

Missile tests were made from LC-17B until 1957, after which it began to be used for orbital launches. The first orbital launch to be made from the pad occurred on 13 April 1960, when a Thor-Ablestar launched Transit 1B. The last of ten Thor-Ablestar launches from the pad occurred in May 1962, after which Delta launches from LC-17B began.

Thor-Able launch from LC-17 – via NSF L2

The first Delta launch from LC-17B was of Delta 11, carrying Telstar 1, the first commercial communications satellite. The pad was subsequently used by Delta A, B, C, E1, G and C1 rockets between 1962 and 1969. Between 1963 and 1965, six suborbital flights were also launched from LC-17B, carrying ASSET reentry vehicles to demonstrate technology for the X-20 DynaSoar spacecraft.

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Three of these launches used the single-stage Thor DSV-2F, and the other three used the two-stage Thor DSV-2G, which included a Delta upper stage, however its launches are not officially listed as Delta launches. None of the six ASSET flights reached space; instead, they flew shallower atmospheric flight profiles.

Delta launches from LC-17B resumed in September 1972, when the Delta 1000-series started using LC-17B. The 2000-series began to launch from the pad in 1974, with the last Delta 2000 launch from the complex occurring in 1979. From 1983 to 1989 it was used for Delta 3000-series launches and the short-lived interim Delta 4000 series made both of its launches from LC-17B; the first on 27 August 1989 and the second on 12 June 1990.

Delta II launches from LC-17B began on 11 December 1989. On 8 January 1991 the first Delta II 7000-series launch from LC-17B orbited a NATO communications satellite. In the mid-1990s LC-17B received modifications to accommodate the Delta III rocket, and in 1997 it was redesignated Space Launch Complex 17.

That year, LC-17A saw its most dramatic launch failure during the liftoff of the first Block IIR Global Positioning Satellite, GPS IIF-1. Thirteen seconds into the flight, the rocket self-destructed following the structural failure of one of the number 2 solid rocket motor.

Delta II Failed Space Launch - YouTube

Over 220 tonnes of debris fell within a kilometer of the launch pad, with one piece landing in the blockhouse car park, destroying twenty vehicles.

The first Delta III launch occurred on 27 August 1998, carrying the Galaxy 10 satellite. The mission also ended in failure after the vehicle’s solid rocket motors ran out of hydraulic fluid, resulting in a loss of control and the destruction of the rocket by range safety.

The second Delta III launch in May 1999 also failed, after the second stage engine’s combustion chamber ruptured, leaving the Orion 3 communications satellite in a useless low Earth orbit. A third launch with a mock-up satellite also underperformed, reaching a lower than planned orbit. After these failures, the Delta III was retired.

Because of its modifications to accommodate the Delta III, SLC-17B became the only launch pad that could accommodate the Delta II Heavy.

LC-17 in its Delta II configuration – via NASA

The first launch of the Delta II Heavy occurred on June 10, 2003, carrying the Spirit spacecraft and rover bound for Mars.

Launches of standard 7000 series Delta IIs continued throughout the time that the Delta III and Delta II Heavy have used the pad, this included a September 2009 launch carrying the two STSS-Demo satellites for the US military.

The final launch of the Delta II from LC-17 was in September of 2011, when a Delta II 7920H-10C carried NASA’s GRAIL spacecraft.

Delta II GRAIL Launch Highlights - YouTube

All remaining Delta II launches were moved to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with just one more launch to go for the veteran rocket.

The most southernly pad on the Cape Canaveral range, LC-17 has been awaiting the demolition of the structures for some time. Contractors finally conducted a major part of its site clearance with the demolition of the two service towers at the pad complex on Thursday.

And…they're down! Towers at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 17 demolished just after 7 a.m. ET. Makes way for Moon Express to build and test its lunar lander here. Video recorded from nearby LC-18. pic.twitter.com/LVEdsZpTCj

— Emre Kelly (@EmreKelly) July 12, 2018

Moon Express is set to take up residency at the pad complex, allowing for testing of its lander capability.

The company is working within NASA’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative, which has been fostering the growth of commercial lunar lander capabilities.

This is a good time for Moon Express to up its testing after NASA recently published a Request For Information (RFI) that will be used to gauge interest from the private/commercial space sector in building domestic lunar landers. The request points to an evolution of concept, with small-scale cargo landers being used to prove the technology before feeding into the development of human-rated vehicles.

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Restart of RS-25 rocket engine production is ramping up at prime contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Canoga Park facility in the Los Angeles area. Components for the next test series that will help certify design changes and modernization of manufacturing techniques are already assembled on a development engine at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

Workhorse ground test engine 0525 (E0525) now sports a new main combustion chamber (MCC) built using methods taken from other engines that are intended to make building new RS-25s more affordable. The first test in the series will be next month.

Current work is focused on re-establishing the supply chain for parts and manufacturing of components using modern methods, culminating in assembly of a completely new engine in 2021 that will be used for certification testing. Canoga Park is where Aerojet Rocketdyne (AR) does most of the engineering for the engines, along with component production and testing.

“Retrofit 1b” starts in August

Aerojet Rocketdyne was awarded a contract by NASA in late 2015 to restart production of the RS-25, formerly known as the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME). The Space Launch System (SLS) Program has sixteen engines left over from the Space Shuttle era, which will be expended on the first four launches.

The existing engines are referred to as “adaptation” engines and testing to certify they are ready to fly on SLS was completed in the Fall of 2017. “Right now we are pretty much done with what we’ve called the adaptation series of testing, which is the sixteen heritage SSMEs and those will operate [at] our 109 percent power level,” Dan Adamski, RS-25 Program Director for Aerojet Rocketdyne said in an interview.

RS-25 “adaptation” engines at AR Stennis, July 2. Flight engine 2063, left, is assigned to the second SLS Core Stage. Development engine 0528, right, is partially disassembled. It will next be used in the Retrofit 2 ground test series. Credit: Philip Sloss for NSF/L2

“So right now we’ve pretty much gone through that test series [and] everything now is on the restart certification…which is 111 percent power level standard.”

Beginning in December, 2017, the focus of testing shifted from certifying the adaptation engines to development and certification of the “production restart” design. The new engines will be flown at 111 percent of the original SSME “rated power level” (RPL) of 375,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, 470,000 pounds thrust at vacuum.

E0525 will begin the second production restart test series, called “Retrofit 1b.” The center piece of the new series is the new MCC that sits at the heart of the engine.

“I’d say the exciting thing obviously is the HIP-bonded MCC,” Adamski said. “Last test series we were all excited about the first additive-manufactured pogo assembly and we actually demonstrated 113 percent power level last time, which is the highest power level we’ve ever run on the engine, so that was kind of exciting.”

Development engine 0528 runs at 113 percent RPL during test at Stennis on February 21. Credit: NASA

The new MCCs use a method called “hot-isostatic pressing” (HIP) bonding to form the jacket around the liner. “That’s a great thing for the program,” he said.

“Right now it’s all about driving the affordability — maintain the safety margins, maintain the reliability of the engine [and] the performance of the engine, but drive down the cost. And the HIP-bonded MCC, that’s the single biggest affordability change going into the engine.”

“If I look at a single component, that’s it,” he added. “I think the number is on the order of like 50 percent reduction in cost, compared to the heritage Space Shuttle Main Engine MCC.”

“So that’s a huge thing for us — and it’s not only a cost driver, but then you also look at driving down the cycle time, how long it takes. I think that’s about a 50 percent reduction also.”

“The heritage SSME MCC worked great, no problems,” Adamski explained. “You’ve got the liner itself and you’ve got a structural jacket on the outside of that and the heritage SSME used a structural nickel plating process as that outside shell.  “[It] was good, it worked, but it’s a lot of plating, a lot of time, a lot of expense associated with that.”

First production restart main combustion chamber (MCC) at AR Stennis, April 2018. After the jacket is bonded to the liner, the outside of the jacket is machined down to reduce weight. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

For the new HIP-bonded MCCs, Adamski explained: “You’ve got the liner and you’ve got the jacket separately, you put that into the furnace and that hot, high-pressure allows you to make that bond between the liner and jacket and that’s what we’re utilizing now on the MCC.”

“[It] is exactly the same process that’s used on the RS-68 engine and exactly the same process that we used on the J-2X engine and ultimately we were able to reduce the cost and the cycle time on the MCC by over 50 percent of what it was for heritage SSME.”  Like the RS-25, those two engines use liquid hydrogen as fuel and liquid oxygen as oxidizer.

The first new MCC, number 8001, was completed in April and shipped to Stennis where engine final assembly and hot-fire testing occurs.

The additive-manufactured pogo accumulator assembly was the first major production restart component completed. It was test fired four times between December and February on Engine 0528 as a part of the Retrofit 1a test series. Aerojet Rocketdyne is using modern manufacturing techniques and the pogo accumulator was fabricated using an additive manufacturing / 3-D printing method called selective laser melting (SLM).

The first unit will also be used in this second test series and has already moved over to E0525. Major parts of the second pogo assembly are already 3-D printed at Canoga Park.

Aerojet Rocketdyne technician points to the 3-D printed pogo accumulator as installed on E0528 in November, 2017. After four hot-fire tests late last year and early this year, this same unit is now installed on E0525 for the upcoming test series. Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

As with lead components like the SLM pogo assembly, the MCC production line is up and running. The second MCC unit, number 8002, has already completed the jacket-to-liner HIP braze, with machining of the jacket upcoming. Once delivered to Stennis, that unit will join the second pogo unit for installation on E0528 for the next test series, which is Retrofit 2.

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The upcoming Retrofit 1b test series is currently planned to begin with the first hot-fire in the A-1 test stand at Stennis, targeted for around August 14th. The outline of the first test is for a nominal flight duration of 500 seconds with a standard throttle profile, as would be seen in an engine “green run” or acceptance test.

There are nine total tests planned in this series.  “We’ll be green-running or acceptance testing a new flight controller every test, so we’ll put a new one on, take it off,” Adamski noted.

“The other big thing obviously [is] we will be characterizing the MCC. It’s a different MCC; we’ve done all the flow tests on it, things like that. It will the first test series with the new MCC, [so] we’ll be going through the start box and various things — different inlet conditions, different mixture ratios, and different power levels.”

Honeywell is continuing to assemble new engine controller units (ECUs) at its Clearwater, Florida, facility and ship them to Stennis. ECUs for the first two flight sets have already been acceptance tested; the tests in this series will help complete the hardware for the sixteen Shuttle-era adaptation engines.

“We’ve got three controllers waiting at Stennis to be green-run and we’ll be delivering the rest of them over the next few weeks,” he added.

The engine is in the final stages of assembly and checkout at the Stennis AR facility. In addition to the new MCC and pogo accumulator, the insulation for the high-pressure fuel turbopump is another affordability improvement being demonstrated. “[The] heritage SSME system was effective, it was good, but it was multiple pieces that would get clamshelled around the engine,” Adamski explained.

Development engine 0525 in final assembly at AR Stennis, July 2. Credit: Philip Sloss for NSF/L2

“We’re going to be using a different type of insulation system which is used on RS-68, on their fuel pump. We’re pretty much going to clamshell a mold around it and then you inject the foam inside that mold and so you use that as the insulation system.”

“It’s very effective and much cheaper and much easier to work with than what we were using before, so we’re going to be demonstrating that on the high-pressure fuel pump,” he added.

The A-1 test stand underwent a period of maintenance and upgrades after the Retrofit 1a series finished in late February. E0525 is slated to be installed in the A-1 stand in mid to late July.

Retrofit 2

Following the Retrofit 1b series, the current plan is to perform the green run on Engine 2062, which is one of the adaptation engines in the second SLS flight set. Those four engines will serve as spares for the first flight set and E2062 is the last of the sixteen Shuttle-era engines that needs to be acceptance tested on the ground.

Although the hardware was built before Shuttle flights ended in 2011, the engine is one of two that hasn’t flown. With delays in SLS development, the acceptance test has moved out on the calendar behind higher priority testing.

During the maintenance period earlier this year, the A-1 test stand was outfitted with a new thrust vector control (TVC) system that will see use during the next development test series, called Retrofit 2. E0528 is pointed at that test series, which will include new units of all the components being demonstrated in the first two retrofit series along with new flex hoses.

Testing of the new TVC system in the A-1 test stand in May using an RS-25 mass-simulator. The system will be used by the RS-25 program beginning with the Retrofit 2 test series. Credit: NASA Stennis Space Center

“So it will be the second MCC, it will also be the second pogo,” Adamski said.  “[The] big thing on that series is we’re planning to get the flex-hoses on the ducts. That’s one of the big changes that we’re making to the engine is we’re doing away with the fairly complicated flex joints that we’ve had.”

“We’ve got a little bit lower gimbaling requirement for SLS so that allowed us to go to flex-hoses, which is a tremendous affordability improvement for the engine. So that’ll be a big thing going into Retrofit 2 on 0528.”

Retrofit 2 is planned to include twelve hot-fire tests, and the flex-hoses and the ground TVC system will be exercised as gimbaling is introduced into some of the test firings.  The final retrofit test series, Retrofit 3, is planned with E0525 and will include the first production restart nozzle assembly.

New engines

The development phase of the production restart program will culminate in production and assembly of the first complete new engine. AR is calling this first new engine a “certification engine.”

It won’t fly, but will be a fleet leader going through a ground test series that will certify the new integrated design, performance parameters, and production methods.  The first of six new flight engines should follow close behind and long lead items for those engines are already being fabricated in Canoga Park.

“The development and certification series that we’re in the midst of now and that will conclude with a design certification review (DCR) in the December 2021 time-frame, that will now baseline and certify the engine,” Adamski said. “That’s the certification for those six engines.”

“So right now the main focus of the program is to implement affordability design changes, things like that since the last time that we’ve built these engines,” he added. “In some cases, with some of these components, that’s 10-15 years ago, plus.”

“And so it’s implementing all that affordability — design changes, manufacturing changes, affordability improvements — that’s what the focus of the program is now, so when you get to that certification engine, that’s the culmination of all that work and now gives you the certified configuration, which is that six-engine production configuration.”

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NASA SpaceFlight.com by Chris Bergin And Chris Gebhardt - 1w ago

The Northrop Grumman OA-9E Cygnus spacecraft has conducted a unique test objective on the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday. The cargo resupply vehicle provided a reboost to the Station at 4:25 pm Eastern, with a short 50 second burn of its main engine on the aft of the vehicle, raising the Station’s altitude by 295 feet. This test will pave the way for future, longer burns, removing some of the orbital stationkeeping strain from the Russian assets.

This was the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in July 2011, a US spacecraft had performed a reboost of the ISS.

Although the Station is high above the heavens, there is still a very thin amount of air in the 220 mile orbit of the ISS, enough to provide a tiny amount of atmospheric drag that results – over time – in the Station losing some altitude while increasing velocity.

Reboosts of the Station’s altitude are required to counter the natural decay of the ISS’ orbit as it races around the planet.

Reboost events were commonplace during the Shuttle era, conducted via firings of the Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters on the docked orbiters, providing a thank you present to the Station that was protecting and – in later years – feeding the orbiter during her stay.

Shuttle docked to the ISS timelapse

With reboosts required every couple of months, the Russian visiting vehicles would also chip in with the occasional push, a practice that has continued to this day, in tandem with Europe’s since-retired ATV craft.

The Station also has a set of thrusters on the Zvezda module can be employed. However, they are mainly reserved for when a Visiting Vehicle can’t conduct the task, as the requirement of protecting the Station’s propellant stores is paramount.

Future Visiting Vehicles, such as the Commercial Crew vehicles, are also being evaluated for potential reboost capabilities and now a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) vehicle has shown it is capable of helping take up some of the load.

Dragon 2, Starliner and CRS2 Dream Chaser all at the ISS – via Nathan Koga for NSF L2

“We actually started engaging NASA on this topic probably the fall of last year,” noted Frank DeMauro, Vice President and General Manager of the Advanced Programs Division for Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

The reboost was small and negligible, classed officially as a Detailed Test Objective in which Cygnus fires its main engine for just a few seconds to demonstrate its capability to perform more robust ISS orbit raising maneuvers in the future.

“We have a large engine on the back of the spacecraft that puts out a lot more thrust [than the 32 maneuvering thrusters on Cygnus], and this is the engine we use for orbit raising burns,” noted Mr. DeMauro.

The S.S. J.R. Thompson at its 10 m capture point – as the Station arm reaches out to grapple Cygnus. (Credit: Nathan Koga for NSF/L2)

“So we started talking with NASA at the program office about the possibility of Cygnus providing some form of orbit raising capability using that engine.  And one of the things we decided to do earlier this year is to put this Detailed Test Objective in place and at least work through the process of seeing if we could get that approved by NASA and of course specifically the safety review panel.”

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The NASA program office showed great interest in this potential capability from Cygnus, and NASA and its safety office have been moving through the process of performing the various analyses needed to ensure that using Cygnus while berthed to the Node-1 nadir port to reboost the ISS does not impart dangerous thrust loads onto the structure of the Station.

“If we’re going to be imparting thrust or forces on the ISS by thrusting our engine, [NASA] has to do work on their side, and they’ve done that,” noted Mr. DeMauro.

“As far as if it’s going forward, we expect it to go forward. We are waiting for the final sort of dot the Is and cross the Ts with the safety panel, but we don’t expect any issues closing that all out.”

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).

One last hurdle for the Tuesday test had to be passed, namely the arrival of the Progress MS-09 craft during its record-breaking ascent to the Station.

Had the two orbit attempt suffered issues, the test would have been delayed as the Progress needed to be firmly docked to the ISS for the reboost to be carried out.

Assuming this test is classed successful on the review that will now be taking place, Orbital ATK hopes to offer this capability to NASA on future Cygnus missions both as part of the extended CRS1 and upcoming CRS2 contracts for cargo resupply of the orbital lab.

Orbital ATK has the option to repeat the test on the following flight of Cygnus later this year.

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The long sought attempt at launching a Russian Progress resupply vehicle to the International Space Station and having it rendezvous with the orbital complex after just two and a half orbits and just under 4 hours in space will be tried today.  Roscosmos plans to launch the Progress MS-09 craft at 17:51:33 EDT (2151:33 UTC) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with docking to the Space Station scheduled to follow at 21:39 EDT (0139 UTC on 10 July) – just 3 hours 48 minutes after launch.

Progress MS-09 – fast-track rendezvous:

Overall, this will be Roscosmos’ third attempt to launch a Progress resupply vehicle to the International Space Station and have it dock in just three and a half hours.  Previous attempts to execute such a maneuver were planned for the Progress MS-07 and MS-08 missions.

Both of those missions, however, had their launches scrubbed with just seconds remaining in their countdowns, thus missing the critical ISS ground track alignment with the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site and preventing a fast-tracked rendezvous from taking place.

This alignment between the ground track of the International Space Station and the launch site is what permits such a fast-track orbital rendezvous – that coupled with the upgraded Progress MS-series vehicles’ ability to quickly confirm their orbital insertion parameters with a downrange tracking station installed at the newly built Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia.

РН «Союз-2.1а» с ТГК «Прогресс МС-09» вывезена на стартовый комплекс - YouTube

This ground track alignment with the launch site is not a random occurrence but rather one that is carefully planned for by the International Space Station Program.  For this particular fast track rendezvous attempt, the International Space Station’s orbit was reboosted on 23 June by the Progress MS-08 spacecraft’s thrusters – a reboost designed to specifically align the Station with the Baikonur Cosmodrome for today’s rapid-fire launch and docking attempt.

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As with the other fast track rendezvous attempts, the reboost and phasing alignment of the Space Station with the Baikonur Cosmodrome is only available for a single launch attempt: today’s.  A scrub to today’s instantaneous launch of Progress MS-09 will result in the craft having to fly a two-day, 36 orbit phasing profile to the ISS on a realigned launch date later this week.

Should today’s launch be successful, the Progress MS-09 vehicle will liftoff atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from Site 31/6 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 17:51:33 EDT (2151:33 UTC) on 9 July – which is 03:51:33 local time on 10 July.

At the time of launch, the International Space Station will be just to the southwest of the launch site, tracking northeast, in an orientation that will place Progress MS-09 just ahead of the scientific outpost in the same orbital plane once the Progress reaches orbit.

Location of the International Space Station at the time of Progress MS-09’s scheduled launch today. (Credit: GoISSWatch app & GoSoftWorks)

Progress MS-09’s total powered launch will last for 8 minutes 45 seconds, at which point the Soyuz 2.1a’s third stage will shut down and Progress will be inserted into orbit.  Just 1 hour 24 minutes after liftoff, Progress’ onboard computers will start the automated rendezvous sequence.

Ten minutes after the start of automated rendezvous, the International Space Station will maneuver into its docking attitude and will then transfer all maneuvering operations from the United States Operating Segment (USOS) to the Russian control section.  This will occur 2 hours 7 minutes after Progress’ launch and just 1 hour 40 minutes ahead of Progress MS-09’s docking to the orbital outpost.

The Station’s Kurs docking navigation system in the Zvezda Service Module will be activated shortly thereafter, as will the Progress’ Kurs system.  With Progress MS-09 at a distance of 45 km (28 miles), control teams in Mission Control Moscow (MCC-M) will validate Progress/Station range data through the Kurs system just over 1 hour prior to docking and just 2 hours 43 minutes after Progress MS-09’s launch.

Another Kurs test will occur once Progress closes to within 15 km (9 miles) of the Station.  Shortly thereafter, the ISS crew will deactivate the outpost’s ham radio and power up the TORU (Teleoperated Mode of Control) VHF-2 system.

A Progress MS-series vehicle approaches the International Space Station for docking. (Credit: NASA)

TORU is the manual docking system that would be used by the Russian crew of the Space Station to manually dock Progress MS-09 should its automated docking system fail for some reason.  The Station’s side of the TORU system will be fully activated by the time Progress MS-09 is 45 minutes away from docking and at a distance from the ISS of 9 km – which will occur just 3 hours 2 minutes after launch.

Progress MS-09’s TURO will then be fully activated 11 minutes later – at the same time that the US crew of the Station verify that all Station EVA communications equipment and the SpaceX Dragon’s CUCU (CRS UHF Communication Unit) are inhibited to prevent communications interference with Progress’ automated rendezvous system.

Progress MS-09 will then begin its ISS flyaround to properly align itself with its docking port on the Nadir (earth-facing) side of the Pirs docking compartment.  Once aligned, Progress MS-09 will hold its position relative to the ISS (Stationkeeping) 3 hours 34 minutes after launch and just 13 minutes before scheduled docking.

Stationkeeping is planned to last for about three minutes; however, past Progress missions routinely hold for much shorter periods.

Once given a “go” to proceed from MCC-M, Progress MS-09’s computer will pulse the craft’s thrusters to begin final approach and docking.

Location of the ISS and Progress MS-09 over the Tasman Sea at the expected time of docking, just 3 hours 48 minutes after launch. (Credit: GoISSWatch app & GoSoftWorks)

Docking is expected (but could occur a few minutes earlier than planned) at 21:39 EDT on Monday, 9 July (0139 UTC on 10 July) as the two craft fly over the Tasman Sea, west of New Zealand’s North Island.

As soon as the Station registers contact between the two craft, the ISS’s computers will command the Station into free drift, inhibiting all ISS attitude control and allowing the relative forces and motions of docking between the two vehicles to dampen out.

Once those motions are no longer present, latching hooks will be driven to form a hard-dock between Progress MS-09 and the Station.

Once docked, Progress MS-09 will deliver 2,567 kg (5,659 lb) of supplies to the Station, including 530 kg (1,168 lb) of propellant, 52 kg (114 lb) of oxygen and air, 420 kg (926 lb) of water, and 1,565 kg (3,450 lb) of dry cargo.

Even without these new supplies, Station is extremely well-provisioned.  The current limiting consumable is food, which without Progress MS-09 is currently stocked through at least December 2018 (not counting other resupply crafts scheduled throughout the rest of the year).

Progress MS-08 docking to the ISS - YouTube

With Progress MS-09, that food consumable limit will be increased by 1.5 months, taking the limiting consumable out to mid-January 2019.

In all, Progress MS-09 (spacecraft No. 439) is the ninth in the new line of Progress spacecraft, the 161st Progress mission since the program began in 1978 for resupply efforts of the Salyut 6 space station, and the 72nd Progress mission to the ISS, counting the two Progress flights that were not designated as resupply missions because they delivered modules to the Station.

One of those two Progress non-resupply flights occurred in 2001, when a modified Progress delivered the Pirs docking compartment – a module of the Station that Progress MS-09 is currently scheduled to remove for a destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere in January 2019 to make room for Russia’s Nauka science laboratory.

Including this flight, 72 Progress missions have launched to ISS to date, with Progress MS-09 (or Progress 70 as it is known to NASA) being the 69th attempt of a Progress family vehicle to successfully reach the Station following the Progress 44 launch failure in August 2011, the Progress 59 launch mishap in April 2015, and the Progress 65 launch failure in December 2016.

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China launched two new satellites for Pakistan on Monday, in the first of two Chinese launched scheduled for July 9.
The launch took place at 03:56 UTC from the LC43/94 launch complex at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center using a Long March-2C/SMA launch vehicle.

Onboard were the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS-1) and the PakTES-1A satellite.

Operated by Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), the PRSS-1 was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and is based on the CAST-2000 bus.

With a launch mass of 1,200 kg – the satellite will be used for land and resources surveying, monitoring of natural disasters, agriculture research, urban construction and providing remote sensing information for the Belt and Road region. Operational lifetime is 7 years at an altitude of 640 km.

The satellite is equipped with an imaging system with a ground resolution of 1 meter (pan-chromatic) and 4 meter resolution in multi-spectral mode observation.

The PRSS-1 satellite

This is China’s first optical remote sensing satellite sold to Pakistan and the 17th satellite developed by the CAST for an overseas buyer. The SUPARCO and the China Great Wall Industry Cooperation (CGWIC) signed an agreement for the development and launch of the PRSS-1 in 2016.

The CAST-2000 is a compact satellite platform characterized by its high performance, expandability and flexibility. It is fitted with an S-band TT&C sub-system, X-band data transmission sub-system and 3-axis attitude stabilization, and is able to offer highly precise control, large-range sway maneuver, flexible orbit maneuver, highly integrated housekeeping and highly efficient power supply.

Bus mass is 200 kg to 400 kg with a payload mass capacity of 300 kg to 600 kg. It has a 3-axis stabilization and a sway maneuver capability.

The platform can be used for Earth observation, technology demonstration, scientific exploration, Earth environmental exploration, meteorological research and application, communications and navigation.

The Pakistan Technology Evaluation Satellite (or PakTES-1A) was developed by SUPARCO, with its payload being developed by the Space Advisory Company (South Africa). The satellite had a launch mass of 285 kg and will be used for remote sensing observations. The satellite will be operational on a 610 km sun-synchronous orbit.

The Chang Zheng 2C (Long March 2C) is a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) launch vehicle derived from DF-5 ICBM.
It can be launched from either the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center or the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, with some launched also taking place from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

The launch vehicle has three configurations. The basic two stage Long March-2C and the Long March-2C/SMA and the Long March-2C/SM, using upper stages.

Long March 2C launches with two satellites

The rocket is a two stage hypergolic launch vehicle with a total length of 35.15 meters, a diameter of 3.35 meters and a total mass of 192,000 kg. The first stage is equipped with four YF-20A engines. It has a length of 20.52 meters and a burn time of 122 seconds.

The second stage is equipped with one YF-22A engine and has a length of 7.50 meters with a burn time of 130 seconds.

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Ejin-Banner – a county in Alashan League of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region – was the first Chinese satellite launch center and is also known as the Shuang Cheng Tze launch center.

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The site includes a Technical Centre, two Launch Complexes, Mission Command and Control Centre, Launch Control Centre, propellant fuelling systems, tracking and communication systems, gas supply systems, weather forecast systems, and logistic support systems.

Jiuquan was originally used to launch scientific and recoverable satellites into medium or low earth orbits at high inclinations. It is also the place from where all the Chinese manned missions are launched.

The LC-43 launch complex, also known as South Launch Site (SLS) is equipped with two launch pads: 91 and 94. Launch Pad 91 is used for the manned program for the launch of the Long March-2F launch vehicle (Shenzhou and Tiangong). Launch Pad 94 is used for unmanned orbital launches by the Long March-2C, Long March-2D and Long March-4C launch vehicles.

Long March 2C on the launch pad.

Other launch zones at the launch site are used for launching the Kuaizhou, Kaituo and the Long March-11 solid propellant launch vehicles.

The first orbital launch took place on April 24, 1970 when the Long March-1 rocket launched the first Chinese satellite, the Dongfanghong-1 (04382 1970-034A).

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