Monday, July 20, 2020

A Couple of Space Records Set on Peak of Western Civilization Day

Today we had the opportunity to watch SpaceX launch the ANASIS-II mission for Lockheed Martin (LockMart) in turn for the South Korean government.  You can watch it too on the SpaceX broadcast on YouTube.  As far as I can tell from their coverage, every single step was flawless. 

The mission today is noteworthy for pure space geek reasons.  The booster, B1058 shown here after successfully landing for reuse, was used to launch Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on Crew Demo 2 to the ISS, where they're currently scheduled to leave on August 1 and return to Earth on the 2nd.

Booster 1058 broke two records.  First, there was this 35 year old record:
Known as launch turnaround, the record SpaceX now holds refers to the time it takes for a reusable rocket to launch twice. Prior to today, NASA set that record in 1985 when it launched the same Space Shuttle orbiter (STS Atlantis) twice in 54 days – a truly incredible feat for such a complex vehicle. 
The record set today is 51 days.  The record set by Atlantis 35 years ago was on its first and second flights, and these were B1058's first and second flights.  B1058 also broke SpaceX's own internal record for turnaround of a booster; which had been 62 days.

SpaceX set another company record today, catching both halves of the fairings for the first time ever in the nets on the two recovery ships, Go Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief.  On previous missions, the best they had done was to catch one of two but there have been missions where halves were recovered after splashing down in the Atlantic.
The first successful double fairing catch comes after two failed attempts with both ships, suggesting that SpaceX has either made some significant improvements or got extremely lucky. Either way, it’s a huge step forward for a program that could ultimately save SpaceX up to $6 million (~10%) of the cost of every Falcon 9 satellite launch, while also acting as a multiplier for fairing production without requiring actual factory expansion.
SpaceX began experimenting with fairing recovery more than three years ago and started trying to catch fairing halves in February 2018. In 12 attempts, SpaceX managed to catch three single fairing halves, although many more were recovered and even reused after soft ocean landings.
It's arguable that compared to the real reason for today having been declared Peak of Western Civilization Day this is trivial stuff, and I have to agree.  Returning a rocket to flight a few days faster?  It's nice, it will reduce costs and make access to space cheaper, but it's not "going boldly where no one has ever gone before."  It's a reasonable argument that everything we've done in space exploration since the 1960s has simply been refinement of what they did back then. 

1 comment:

  1. Incremental steps in the right direction - the PEAK of Western Civilization - I hope that there are more peaks and that this isn't THE peak.