Wednesday, December 8, 2010

COTS-1 Launch Successful

Okay, I couldn't let this go by without a comment. SpaceX's COTS-1 mission is pretty much an unqualified success. Following up on their successful first launch in June, the Falcon 9 vehicle worked perfectly and inserted Dragon to the destination orbit even despite an issue with the niobium nozzle extension that mandated cutting off four feet of the nozzle just yesterday. A video of the launch and ascent can be seen below.

Following that (as can be seen on the video at about 10 minutes in) the Dragon separated from the second stage leaving the trunk section attached to the second stage. It then maneuvered on its Draco thrusters for several orbits, satisfying the FAA's requirements to clear the capsule for entry and testing on-board systems. At the same time, the first stage has been reported as sending telemetry from the water, where the best stage recovery team in the business (namely the Space Shuttle SRB Retrieval ships) is going after them. While Dragon was maneuvering, the second stage also deployed several nano-satellite payloads (reported as two National Reconnaissance Office cubesats, two more from Las alamos National Labs, and one Army SMDC-ONE cubesat) which are now communicating well with the ground.

At this time, the last reports I heard had Dragon in the water awaiting recovery. There's going to be a post-flight press conference on NASA TV at 3:30 EST, and it should be good. Personally, I think that after the post-flight analysis of this spacecraft, it should go to the Smithsonian and be placed in the milestones of flight display in the main hall, like SpaceShipOne and the Apollo 11 command module. It is, after all, the first private and commercially-operated spacecraft to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. If that's not historic, I don't know what is.

UPDATE: SpaceX now reports that splashdown was on target and the recovery team already has floats onto Dragon.

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Only Rocket Science

Well, SpaceX finally got their static fire test after three attempts (one yesterday, one at 9:40 AM EST or so this morning, and the final success at 10:50 AM EST). The issue appears to have been startup transients in the engines and being unsure exactly how much to allow before an automatic abort (with the number six engine proving to the hurdle in both aborts, first due to over-pressure and then under-pressure), so they were trying out several configuration files to get one that did the job.

Anyway, this reminded me of the "crash the code until it stops failing" approach that's sometimes required in coding, so I thought I'd talk some about what I've been up to in the last few weeks. One major thing I've had in the works is the TransHab module calculator that is now live on the Atomic Rockets website. (Thanks to Adam Schwaninger for his assistance with the interface, and to Winchell Chung for providing the web space.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Late-Breaking News

Well, either my jinx is getting less potent or SpaceX is getting better. (I hope the latter) Anyway, the static fire went off today at about 1:00 PM, and though the webcast still has similar issues to those encountered back at the Flight 1 launch in June (indeed, maybe worse), once things got going the actual fire seemed pretty incident-free. This morning, the two Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster recovery boats, which SpaceX has hired to use to attempt booster recovery for analysis on this mission and possibly reuse on later missions, left Port Canaveral to head out to sea, so it looks like everything is coming together. It's hard for me to adequately explain how much this flight excites me, but my heart jumped when this thing rolled out with the first man-capable vehicle to be developed in the US in my lifetime even if it's only being used for cargo at the moment, and today's success means that it could fly as soon as next week.

UPDATE (2:08 PM EST): Looks like all was not well. Apparently the test was aborted between T+1 and T+2 seconds (before the full runtime) due to a high chamber pressure on one engine. They're hoping to recycle for another go at it, but the range limit is 3 PM today. Crossing fingers... Anyway, thanks as always to the great people at NASAspaceflight and NSF L2 for keeping everyone informed.

UPDATE: (9:05 AM EST Saturday): Just woke up, and they're going for the second attempt. Counting at T-25 minutes, webcast is at the same place. Come on Falcon!
Falcon 9 Vehicle and Dragon Rolling Out for COTS-1 Static Fire
Dec 3, 2010
A bunch of great pictures came out of SpaceX with this static fire through their twitter feed (including the one above) and their twitpic account. I may post a few of my other favorites later today, and the closing link would be a video of the firing, but all the videos so far are off the jumpy low-resolution webcast. Oh well, can't be helped.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't Look Now...

I've had really bad luck predicting SpaceX's activities thus far, and it seems every time I predict something with the COTS-1 launch I immediately hear about a delay. Therefore, I am not going to advise anyone interested in spaceflight to check out the live webcast of the static fire from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM of the Falcon 9 vehicle tomorrow (Dec. 3) in preparation for the flight Tuesday if all does well. If me talking about it doesn't jinx things and this test goes well, the flight Tuesday should be very interesting. This mission will be the first flight of the Dragon spacecraft, which is being designed for cargo and possibly manned orbital missions.

Simulated image of Dragon spacecraft in Earth O