Thursday, December 9, 2021

Space News Week Roundup

As usual, a group of small stories each too small to warrant much column space, but that seem interesting to me.  And I really ought to number these - or do something to find them again. 

This morning at 1:00 AM EST, SpaceX launched NASA's IXPE mission and we watched from our side yard.  This is a good time to watch launches from here because the trees have lost some (or most) of their leaves and it's easier to see the first few moments of the flight.  The view isn't as good as this, mind you, but that's about a 45 minute drive from here and would require staying up most of the night.

Photo by Richard Angle for Teslarati, as it says.  

I think I know where this was taken: from a city park on the mainland, looking across the Indian River Lagoon toward the Kennedy Space Center.  Pretty much dead middle of the picture, there's short, reddish, vertical streak that looks like it projects down from the main contrail; that's the first burn of the Falcon 9 first stage as it slows down a bit from its peak speeds as it comes into the densest part of the atmosphere.  Those burns are about 20 to 30 seconds long and more than a minute from the landing.  I had hoped to see that but it was too low in the sky putting it behind several neighbors' houses and trees.  I've only seen that burn once, on a night flight with a Return to Launch Site landing which made it closer and therefore higher in the sky.

The French ArianeGroup has announced plans to accelerate its development of a reusable booster.  

On Monday French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced a plan for Europe to compete more effectively with SpaceX by developing a reusable rocket on a more rapid timeline.

"For the first time Europe ... will have access to a reusable launcher," Le Maire said, according to Reuters. "In other words, we will have our SpaceX, we will have our Falcon 9. We will make up for a bad strategic choice made 10 years ago."

Sounds good, but we should add, "not really."  They're calling this rocket Maïa and the goal is to have it flying by 2026.  This is four years ahead of a timeline previously set by the European Space Agency for the development of a significantly larger, reusable rocket. All of that is good.

The rocket they're talking about, though, is more in the category of a small satellite launcher like Rocket Lab's Electron or Astra's Rocket 3.2 than being their own Falcon 9.  Maïa will have a lift capacity of up to 1 metric ton to low Earth orbit.  It will be powered by a new engine under development called Prometheus, which will be fueled by methane and liquid oxygen, like the SpaceX Raptor and Blue Origin BE-4 (methane/LOX engines are the big new thing in rocket engines, if you haven't noticed).  In comparison, Prometheus has a thrust comparable to a single Merlin 1D rocket engine, which powers SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.  Of course, there are nine engines on the SpaceX rocket so it can lift more than 15 times as much as the proposed Maïa in fully reusable mode.

The linked article at Ars Technica goes into some of that European politics behind this (which, I'm betting, is just as opaque and strange to US readers as US politics is to Europeans), but I keep going back mentally to an article I wrote in '18 about how the rest of the world couldn't keep up with the US - which was essentially that they couldn't keep up with SpaceX.  If you think you've seen some arrogance, go read that 2018 article.

Finally, I saw a story that had a real "we've come so far" vibe; at least to me.  Space News reports that the Russian space agency Roscosmos has selected a Russian cosmonaut to fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon for a mission to the International Space Station.  

Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, tweeted Dec. 8 that cosmonaut Anna Kikina will go to the ISS in the fall of 2022 “as part of the crew of an American commercial spacecraft.” In exchange, a NASA astronaut would be part of a crew of a Soyuz mission to the station launching in the same time frame.

Kikina is the only woman currently active in the Russian cosmonaut corps. She was selected in 2012 but has yet to fly in space, although Rogozin and other Russian officials had previously said she would fly in the fall of 2022.

Despite all that, NASA hasn't confirmed the agreement, telling Space News that a seat barter agreement with Roscosmos is still being finalized.  

I just remember so clearly how from 2011 until 2020 that nobody went to the ISS unless they were on a Roscosmos Soyuz.  Now we're trading (bartering?) seats on missions.  

If Kikina does fly on a Crew Dragon, it's likely to be on the Crew-5 Crew Dragon mission, currently estimated to be in the fall of '22, to which NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata are currently assigned. 




  1. Looks like the camp ground often used by Scouts and CAP on the east side of Merritt Island north of the 528. Been there not during launch and you can see most of the launch complexes there.

    1. Do you mean KARS Park? I haven't been there since the '90s. The dock on the left of the picture doesn't seem right.

      I was thinking on west side of the IRL, near Titusville. There are several small places on the river one could set up. Looking at a few places in Bing Maps, neither of those seem just right. And their pictures may be out of date, too.

    2. Yes! KARS Park. Been there and watched things go on but never got to see a launch from there.