Parabolic Arc – USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016 – Supercool article describes the launch successes and failures in 2016, including a tally of launches by country and life vehicles. Recap of status of all the US players.
I pulled the tally of attempts and successes, including the launch pad failure of a Falcon 9 as an attempt, even though it didn’t get off the ground and thus is not actually an attempt:
Fun articles lately on the wide open frontier of exploring space:
More details on SpaceX’s framework for how they plan to get people to Mars.
Bidding for GPS 3 launches and purchase price for two more satellites of the GPS III constellation.
What criminal law will apply in space?
China’s moon rover, Jade Rabbit, finally dies after 31 months, which is in contrast to its expected 3 month life.
9/29 – Space.com – Feasible or Fantasy? SpaceX’s Mars Plan Draws Expert Reactions – Author pulls in a variety of initial reactions to SpaceX’s outline of how to get colonists to Mars. My summary of comments is the plans have a lot of technological, funding, and timing hurdles to clear. In addition, a lot of work needs to be done to develop how the technological, food sourcing, economic, and energy systems would work on the planet to support long-term residency.
One hurdle has already been cleared – the technology for a soft landing on Mars is already in place as demonstrated by the successful recovery of boosters.
The Technology Quarterly issue from The Economist for August 27, 2016 described the open frontier of space. Check out Remaking the sky. I think that’s behind their paywall, so you may need a subscription.
Here are a few cool things I learned.
A sudden light– Nice description of the SpaceX launch when they recovered a booster back at the original launch site. Puts into context what an amazing step it is to recover a booster.
The small and the many– There are four major players in the world of communication satellites: Eutelsat, Inmarsat, Intelsat, and SES.
The typical cost for SES satellites range from $100M up to $300M. The launch cost is in ballpark of $100M. At those prices the entire satellite industry is very risk-averse. I get it. You cannot take a big chance when somewhere between $200M and $400M is on the line.
Tiny satellites, called cubesats, are built in multiples of blocks measured in “1U”, meaning a box 10 cm by 10 cm by 11.5 cm.
Cubesats are revolutionizing the satellite world by dramatically reducing cost and risk. The cost to develop a cubesat is small. One launch can lift a lot of cubesats which drops the cost. They don’t have the power to last very long and don’t have any propulsion, with both factors making it cheaper to experiment and not as risky to something trying something new.
A colony on Mars is no longer just a silly fantasy. It is now in the range of maybe actually possible.
SpaceX announced the outline of their plans for shuttle runs to Mars in order to populate a self-sustaining colony.
My summary of the concept
Here is my simple summary:
A booster rocket, standing 254 feet tall, will have 42 Raptor engines. The Falcon 9 in testing now is powered by 9 Merlin engines. The Raptor engine is three times as powerful as the Merlin. The booster will have thrust twice that of a Saturn V with ability to lift 300 tons into low-earth orbit.
4/7 – Wall Street Journal – SpaceX Lands Portion of Spent Rocket on Floating Platform – SpaceX nailed the landing of its booster on a floating platform. They have had four failures to recover at sea and one successful recovery back on land (which required a lot of extra fuel). Was just a matter of time until they nailed it.
I do hope it will now become the norm to recover the lift stage.
Behind the Black provided the best link to video I’ve seen yet:
Oh, this launch also successfully delivered a load of cargo to the ISS. Delivery of cargo to space by private companies is old news. Still extremely cool.
If you want to know why I remain so optimistic for our future even though the national political, geopolitical, and economic news is so depressing, check out the space news I’ve noticed in the last week. As Behind the Black often says, the competition is heating up.
One bit of not-so-great news. From Space.com: Video Shows SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Land on Droneship, Then Fall Over and Explode. The video is here. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 landed almost dead center on the drone floating 200 miles south of Vandenberg. The engine cut off which means it was landed successfully. Then one of the legs gave out, the rocket tipped over, then exploded. Preliminary guess is that something (a lockout collet?) iced over while on the launch pad.
1/14 – Behind the Black – Orbital ATK and SpaceX win Air Force contracts – ULA does not have engines for its rockets and thus must rely on Russian engines to get our military launches into space. Orbital ATK and SpaceX both have contracts to develop new engines.
The obvious story line here that gives me such encouragement is two new-on-the-scene, privately owned space companies have been called in to help the mega-contractor ULA get out of its mess.
One of the major reasons I blog is to learn. Nothing stretches me more than reading a fascinating article and commenting in public on it. Putting my thoughts out on the never-to-go-away Internet requires a very careful reading of articles.
On the third attempt to do so, they successfully landed the first stage booster on land. After (not if, but when) they figure out how to do this routinely the cost of a space launch will drop radically. Article says the drop in cost could be in the range of a factor of 100.
One of the commenters on the following video gave this comparison: The flight on 12/21 is like launching a pencil over the Empire State Building, slowing down, and landing softly inside an area the size of a shoe box.
Recently I’ve seen a number of fun articles on space exploration. Here are a few to share: successful resupply launch to ISS after several failures across the industry, competition between spaceplane and reusable boosters, and China developing a new manned capsule.
Orbital lost a supply run in October 2014, Russia lost one earlier in 2015, and SpaceX lost one in June 2015. Keep in mind that launching rockets into space is the difficult task that is behind the putdown of ‘it isn’t rocket science’.
Two follow ups on the previous post about the great news last week on space exploration. Competition in bragging rights heats up. Guesses on the cost for the successful launch of a commercial satellite by Japan.
Lots of fun news in the past week about the wide open frontier of space exploration. Three huge developments are:
SpaceX landed a contract for a manned flight,
Blue Origin successfully recovered a first stage, and
Japan successfully launched a commercial satellite.
What I describe in this post is the reason I am so wildly optimistic about the future. The astounding progress here stands in stark contrast to the foolishness and ridiculousness we see dominate the news every hour of every day.
The absolute best news:
11/24 – New York Post – The new space race is a private-sector affair – Editorial celebrates Blue Origin successfully recovering a first stage, SpaceX has already flown several resupply missions to the International Space Station, and Boeing & Virgin Galactic are also in the game.