Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Could The Root Cause of Artemis Scrub be a Bad Sensor?

That seems to be the direction the Artemis team is working toward according to sources interviewed for Ars Technica.  To begin with, though I need to detour to kill this fact I got from somewhere and didn't cross check thoroughly before posting it Monday

Pre-chilling isn't to reach cryogenic temperatures, although the chilling is done by running some of the liquid hydrogen fuel through the fuel tubing of the engine.  They chill the engine until the sensors (wherever they are) reach a temperature of about 40 F (5 C).  

The source I saw gave the temperature in degrees Rankine - of all things - which said 500 Rankine and I did the conversion.  (I mean, seriously, who uses Rankine in their work?)  The reality is yes, they do chill them to extremely low temperatures with the -420F liquid hydrogen.  My fault for not looking for other sources.

During a news conference on Tuesday evening, NASA's program manager for the SLS rocket, John Honeycutt, said his engineering team believed the engine had actually cooled down from ambient temperature to near the required level but that it was not properly measured by a faulty temperature sensor.

"The way the sensor is behaving does not line up with the physics of the situation," Honeycutt said.

The problem for NASA is that the sensor cannot be easily replaced and would likely necessitate a rollback to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a few kilometers from the launch pad. This would delay the launch of the rocket at least into October, and the space agency is starting to get concerned about wear and tear on a rocket that has now been stacked for nearly a full year.

The belief that the engine actually was the right temperature comes from other observations.  Other sensors showed that liquid hydrogen was flowing and the pressures were correct.  If hydrogen had been blocked from flowing into the engine, or if it had been spilling unrestrained as it would from a cracked open engine, the pressures would have been other than expected.  

Honeycutt said his team is working on a "flight rationale" plan that would allow the rocket to launch without getting good data from the temperature sensor on the engine, but based on all the data they have available.  It seems to me they're looking for some sort of consensus of the data that they can make themselves feel good about.

The schedule for today was for teams to crawl all over the vehicle looking for issues, including the inspection of an area where there was a small hydrogen leak during Monday's countdown.  If the managers are satisfied with the inspections and their flight rationale for dealing with the faulty temperature sensor, the team will start counting down on Thursday.  Fueling will begin Saturday morning.  Weather looks better than this past Sunday night/Monday morning, but roughly a 25% chance of showers in the morning, and NWS says chances go up as the day goes on, saying the start of the two hour launch window at 2:17 PM EDT looks better than the end.  

The things that linger in my mind are things like if the engine isn't chilled properly can it really be expected to meet its specs.  Remember how they said they thought the engine cooled down to near the required temperature?  How near and what does that imply?  If instead of -420F it's higher but still cryogenic, say -380F (number pulled from "air"), will flight software abort the launch?  In the shuttle days, if the engines weren't up to rated pressures and powers within seconds, the software aborted the mission.  Blowing up at ignition is bad, but perhaps blowing up in the first couple of minutes of flight is worse.  Then I think NASA has never completed fueling this vehicle and not done a static firing of it in this configuration. 

Artemis I/SLS on Pad 39B, August 19.  Trevor Mahlmann photo.



Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Even Minor New Records Are Good in the Orbital Launch Business

As part of last Friday's semi-regular roundup of small space stories, I mentioned a bit about the coming launch of Starlink 4-23 from SLC-40 on Cape Canaveral.  

The interesting part of the launch from SLC 40 is that this is Booster 1069.  This is the one SpaceX almost lost last December when it apparently landed harder than it should have, or perhaps landed on the octagrabber robot that helps keep the booster from sliding off the deck.  The booster required more than the usual amount of rework to make it flight worthy again, including replacing a few Merlin 1D engines.

It turns out to have been rather more involved than just that, and Teslarati has devoted an article to the launch, the booster and some interesting things about it.  To begin, Elon Musk tweeted this little remark early Sunday morning.  

It's a reference that B1069 set a new SpaceX record for payload weight to orbit.  The increase isn't extremely big, but seems to have been from lifting one more satellite than all the previous Starlink V1.5 missions.  

SpaceX confirmed that Falcon 9 broke the record with its launch of 54 Starlink V1.5 satellites at the end of its hosted webcast, revealing that the rocket launched 16.7 metric tons (~36,800 lb) to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The last confirmed record – claimed by CEO Elon Musk – was 16.25 tons spread over 53 Starlink V1.5 satellites, which doesn’t entirely add up unless SpaceX added several kilograms to the mass of each satellite between March and August 2022.

16.7 metric tons is 16,700 kg while the older record was 16,250 kg, or 450 kg more payload.  Nearly 1000 pounds.  Remember there are still rocket companies trying to become able to lift just that amount of increase to orbit!  

The other little records aren't as pleasant as these, and concern the record-breaking steps that SpaceX had to do in order to get B1069 flying again after the December mishap.  

According to spaceflight writer Alejandro Alcantarilla Romero, one additional cost – at minimum – was a full set of new Merlin 1D engines. Sometime shortly after Falcon 9 B1069’s flawless December 2021 launch and landing debut, a robotic helper known as Octagrabber most likely lost its grip on the booster while attempting to secure it. Likely already in high seas, the conditions prevented SpaceX workers from safely boarding the ship and manually securing the booster, which was then free to slide about its tilting deck.

Alternatively, it’s possible that Octagrabber successfully secured the booster but was then subjected to truly awful sea conditions. Designed to passively hold boosters to the deck with its sheer weight, even the tank-like robot wouldn’t be able to save a booster if a storm caught the drone ship off guard and the waves were high enough.

To re-post the already re-posted photo of B1069 after it returned to port, pressed against the lip of drone ship Just Read The Instructions’ (JRTI) deck, to show just how wrecked it looked...

While we can see three engine nozzles, all crumpled looking, it turns out that all nine of its engine nozzles had been crushed like tinfoil against Octagrabber, damaging them beyond repair.  

We don't know that these nine engines were totally scrapped (sold as scrap metal) or if SpaceX even addressed what to do if something like this happens, but (by looking at them) it seems there could be a chance that SpaceX was or will be able to salvage the parts of B1069’s Merlin engines above their bell nozzles.  It does make one wonder about things like what this implies about how much inventory of Merlin engines they have lying around, and how much money it saves to replace nine engines as opposed to building an entirely new booster.  

Eric Ralph at Teslarati points out the SpaceX must have been completely confident in their repairs to put the record-setting payload on a rebuilt/repaired booster.  If this Starlink mission had failed, it's entirely possible that NASA would have grounded ALL Falcon 9 flights until the cause was identified.  That would affect the Crew-5 mission, currently set for NET October 3, very likely delaying it.  

The Artemis/SLS press conference this afternoon announced the next attempt to launch Artemis I will be Saturday, September 3rd at 2:17 p.m. EDT, the beginning of a two-hour window. 

I didn't listen super-attentively to the entire hour conference but, I'm sorry, I don't feel any more confident that they know what they're doing and this will go without a hitch.  

In the coming days, teams will modify and practice propellant loading procedures to follow a procedure similar to what was successfully performed during the Green Run at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The updated procedures would perform the chilldown test of the engines, also called the kick start bleed test, about 30 to 45 minutes earlier in the countdown during the liquid hydrogen fast fill liquid phase for the core stage.

And starting this step in the countdown earlier is going to fix everything?  I sincerely hope they get it to work, but my first reaction was to say "r-i-i-i-i-g-h-t. "

Monday, August 29, 2022

Artemis Didn't Launch - Was This a Management Screwup?

As most everyone knows, the Artemis I mission never got out closer than T-40 minutes to launch today when a problem with engine chilling arose that affected only engine 3.  Pre-chilling isn't to reach cryogenic temperatures, although the chilling is done by running some of the liquid hydrogen fuel through the fuel tubing of the engine.  They chill the engine until the sensors (wherever they are) reach a temperature of about 40 F (5 C).  (See note at bottom)

All that aside, the issue that aborted the count being tracked to engine 3 has led some to remind us that engine 3 wasn't properly tested during June's Wet Dress Rehearsals.  Early in the day, the Mail (UK) said,

Monday's disappointment is due to a leak in engine 3 that was not detected in the last wet dress rehearsal due to testing being cut short because of a separate hydrogen leak.

Later in the day Ars Technica offered considerably more details:

Beginning in April of this year, NASA conducted four separate "wet dress rehearsal" tests during which the agency aimed to fully fuel the SLS rocket and countdown to T-10 seconds, ending the test before ignition of the main engines. Each of these four tests ultimately ended prematurely, although the fourth attempt in June saw engineers bring the rocket down to T-29 seconds.

However, to reach that late stage in the countdown, NASA had to "fool" the flight computer. During the test, a 4-inch hydrogen line—smaller than the problematic 8-inch line on Monday—had a leaky seal. To complete the wet dress test, NASA chose to mask the leak from the ground launch sequencer, the ground-side computer that controls the majority of the countdown.

Because of this masking, NASA could not complete the engine chill portion of the test. Had it done so, the agency may well have uncovered the problem that caused a scrub on Monday. In hindsight, therefore, NASA probably should have completed a full wet dress rehearsal before rolling the rocket out for a launch. Instead, the agency effectively attempted a fifth wet dress test on Monday, when the world was expecting a launch.

Now bear in mind that engine 3 chilled properly and was tested thoroughly during the Green Run full duration engine fire in March of '21.  It doesn't seem completely unreasonable to say that since it worked then it should have worked in June and "something else" was what kept the June WDR test from succeeding.  The problem with that line of thought is that one reason for doing these tests more than once is that the vehicle is being handled a lot between tests and something could have gotten broken.  

Then there are things being mentioned that kind of creep me out.  Like the fact that when the fueling operations began (two hours later that they should have started, due to thunderstorms in the area overnight) NASA had to do what I call Universal Software Fix to the SLS. Seriously. to fill the large liquid hydrogen tank was stymied by a leak at an 8-inch inlet leading into the tank. This problem was ultimately resolved by stopping the process and then restarting propellant loading—yes, NASA resolved the problem by essentially turning off the SLS and turning it back on again.

I had hopes from reading the NASA Artemis blogs that we might have some more details from them this evening, but no joy.  Earlier in the day, I saw an unconfirmed report that engine 3 was leaking in some unusual way - and no details beyond that.  If the engine itself checks out in whatever data they have and examinations they can do, it's possible that they could target the next launch window on Friday afternoon at 12:48pm ET.  If engine 3 needs to be replaced, the vehicle needs to be rolled back to the VAB.  Given how long it took to do that after the June WDR, and looking at the launch windows for the rest of September and October, it looks like launching by the first week of October doesn't seem likely.  If they're not back at pad 39 and ready to countdown to a September 28 liftoff, it looks like their next good window is in the last two weeks of October.

Engine 3 (highlighted at upper right and described below that) is the second most flown of the four engines, flying six Space Shuttle missions.  Of course, these reusable engines will all be thrown into the Atlantic after the booster Core does its job.  NASA Graphic.  The similarity between the SLS and Shuttle hardware gave rise to the idea that SLS stands for “the Shuttles' Leftover Shit.”

EDIT 8/31/22 2150 EDT:  Added strike through of a couple of sentences in the first paragraph.  An error or typo in a source I used resulted in the wrong temperature for the chilled engines.  See the post dated today, August 31.  

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Ham Radio Series 33 - One Antenna To Rule Them All

With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings books...

Probably the most common questions that came up when I was teaching ham radio beginner's classes were antenna questions, and of those, the most common was (paraphrasing), "why should I need more than one antenna?"  My impression is that people are used to carrying a portable radio with them, or even their car radios, and they never had to even think about antennas let alone their physical size.  

The answers are talked about in a piece two years ago on Antennas, Tuners and Analyzers.  As I said in that article, as a general rule, transmitters are fussier about the exact impedance (electrical characteristics) of the antenna than receivers are and you'll find that your transmitter might not put out power at all - especially if it's a solid state amplifier (transistor of some kind).  Some transmitters not only don't put out power if the antenna isn't close to 50 ohms, they'll put out smoke instead of power and never transmit again.  Still, while you might be able to put up an unwieldy bunch of wires or aluminum tubing at your house (and might not...) there's a large group of hams who want one antenna system that does everything.  If you're not active in the "thousand hobbies with one name," you might not be aware that there's a big interest in operating portable, hiking in parks or up to mountain tops.  These are called Parks On The Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA)

If you're backpacking up a mountain with a battery, a transceiver, a computer (Laptop, Tablet, Raspberry Pi, whatever) and pounds of other stuff, it's more difficult to take multiple antennas.  Likewise, putting up a few antennas and positioning them as optimally as can be just ain't happening.  Finally, you'd like something that doesn't need an antenna tuner - more weight and more to carry.  It's all compromise.  

Let me repeat my Three Laws of Antennas here.

First Law: anything you can put up works better than nothing at something.
Second Law: nothing is best at everything.
Third Law: whatever you can put up won't be as good as you'd like.  Unless you have a Jeff Bezos-level budget including the property to match. 

An antenna design that goes back decades but which hasn't been widely used since then is the End Fed Half Wave antenna, or EFHW.  The EFHW is pretty much the "new hotness" in antennas.  As the name says, it's a half wave long, so 468/frequency for the result in feet.  The most popular version of the EFHW is cut for the 80m band, about 133 feet long, because they have the interesting property of presenting a good impedance for every HF ham band - after one critically important trick.  I don't have an EFHW myself, but here's a plot of VSWR from a club in Greece that I found with an image search.

Notice that the markers are in every ham band from 3.5 to 28 MHz and the worst VSWR marker is 2.60 at 10.13MHz in the 30m band.  Most radios can tolerate a mismatch like that, although many will reduce their output power.  You should find that information in the user manual.

The critically important trick is that while the impedance of a center fed, half wave dipole is close to 73 ohms, the impedance of a half wave when fed at the end is much higher, thousands of ohms.  What users do is add an impedance transformer between the feedline (coax) end and the antenna wire.  A very common step up is 7 turns to 1, which gives an impedance transformation of 72 or 49:1. That steps 50 ohms up to 2,450.

As law #2 states, nothing is best at everything, nothing is perfect after all, and the trade with the EFHW is that the antenna pattern, the directions in which it receives and transmits best, changes with frequency.  Antenna patterns are also strongly affected by the way the antenna is strung between supports and especially the antenna's height with respect the wavelength.  In use, these tend to be thrown over tree branches and run in almost random directions.  As rough rule of thumb, the higher in frequency the antenna is used, the more the strongest patterns approach the direction the wire is pointing.

As always, you can build an EFHW yourself or buy one ready to string up. 

Update 29 Aug 2022 0915 EDT: I neglected to add part 1 in the original title.  Over another couple of posts, I plan to add some coverage of more types of multiband antenna systems. 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Everything You Might Have to Explain About the Artemis/SLS Launch

As we sit through the early portion of the Artemis I countdown to Monday Morning's launch, it's sucking up all the air in the space coverage.  If you find yourself in a group or with family members explaining the answers to "what's that?" questions, this may be a useful video.  Provided by Scott Manley.

The opening of the launch window is 8:30 AM Monday morning.  The forecasts I'm seeing show a high chance of rain on Monday, but mornings are ordinarily lower chances than later in the day.  The details of cloud cover and ability to see the launch are notoriously hard to get right, but it's not looking good at the moment.  For what it's worth, Weather Underground is showing around a 35% chance of rain at 9AM, with around 70% cloud cover.  The papers are saying massive numbers of people are coming for this launch with some reports of hundreds of thousands.

The conditions tonight aren't very favorable for us to see the Falcon 9 Starlink 4-23 launch at 10:22 PM, although that's only tenuously related to Monday morning's launch.  Today's forecast was similar to Monday's, but a lower chance of rain.  No rain until early afternoon and then we had plenty of rain.


Friday, August 26, 2022

Another Small Space News Story Roundup

The One-Ton-Class Orbital Rocket Race heats up a bit.  In that article two weeks ago, I went on published data saying ABL Space Systems had announced a several day launch window for their RS-1 vehicle toward the end of August, potentially as early as August 29th, from their launch site at Alaska's Pacific Spaceport Complex.  The piece also highlighted that Firefly Aerospace, Relativity Space, and ABL Space are all neck and neck in the race to be the first to achieve orbit.  

A bit of a look at the Alaska Pacific Spaceport Complex (green button - pdf) shows that the ABL launch is now looking to be No Earlier Than September 6, meaning it has slipped one week (the launch is coded P137 on the calendar).  Poking around the forums on NASA shows that the week they've been claiming they'll be ready to launch seems to have been slipping later over the course of the year, which isn't surprising.    

This week, Firefly Aerospace announced the launch window for the second flight of its Alpha rocket. The launch is NET September 11th from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, with a launch window that opens at 3 pm local Pacific time (22:00 UTC). (Hat tip to Ars Technica's weekly Rocket Report.)  September 11th is toward the end of the window the Pacific Spaceport shows for ABL's launch, but it's always possible one or both of these first launches won't actually happen or that one or both won't be successful.    

For its second demonstration flight, Alpha will attempt to launch multiple satellites to low Earth orbit at an altitude of 300 km. Payloads include a 3U Cubesat for NASA and a 3U Cubesat for Teachers in Space to collect atmospheric data for the education community. 

Not to be left out, Relativity Space also had an important test this week.

This week Relativity chief executive Tim Ellis said the company completed a 20-second test firing of its Terran 1 rocket's first stage. In doing so, Ellis said on Twitter that the company remains on track to become the first liquid oxygen-methane rocket to reach orbit. The company completed the test on its launch mount at Launch Complex 16 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The video of the test, with sound, is worth watching.  It's 20 seconds of engine test and 35 seconds total.   

Also earlier in the month, I posted that Astra was pivoting from the small satellite launch business toward bigger payloads. That didn't go over well with investors. 

The New Space Economy website, which has offered bearish coverage of the launch firm Astra, notes that the company's stock is at risk of being delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange. "Astra has now lost more than 90 percent of its market value as of August 24, 2022. As Astra’s stock price continues its downward plummet, their stock price has passed below the $1 minimum bid price requirement to be listed on the Nasdaq," the site reports.

Nasdaq's rules on this aren't going to immediately cause Astra trouble; it could take over a year for them to actually be booted off the exchange.  If Astra’s stock price trades below $1 for 30 consecutive business days, the company will be notified that it is non-compliant with Nasdaq listing requirements and given 180 calendar days to become compliant.  After 180 days with stock under $1, the company may be notified that it's being delisted, but under some some circumstances may be given another 180 days.  Confused?  Me, too.

The issue is that with no commercial launches this year or probably next, it's difficult to see what might make Astra's stock increase in value in the coming months, outside of a large outside investment, or significant sales of its in-space thruster.

This weekend's dual Falcon 9 Starlink launches have slipped around.  The original schedule had a Vandenberg launch (Starlink 3-4) early this morning: 0530 UTC on the 27th, 1:30AM Saturday Eastern but 10:30 PM on the 26th Pacific time.  That would be followed with a launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station SLC 40 (Starlink 4-23) early Sunday morning UTC, 0222, which is 10:22 PM EDT Saturday.  The Vandenberg launch has been rescheduled to Wednesday, August 31, at 0540 UTC. 

The interesting part of the launch from SLC 40 is that this is Booster 1069.  This is the one SpaceX almost lost last December when it apparently landed harder than it should have, or perhaps landed on the octagrabber robot that helps keep the booster from sliding off the deck.  The booster required more than the usual amount of rework to make it flight worthy again, including replacing a few Merlin 1D engines.

B1069 on arrival at Cape Canaveral on the deck of recovery drone Just Read The Instructions.  The yellow I-beam, bottom just left of center, is a rail that helps keep the booster on deck in rough seas.  In the background, above the bent rail you can see the Merlin engines that were damaged and bent up.  


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

A Unique Overview of the SLS

Over at Ars Technica, Eric Berger who is their senior space editor and has been for the years I've been reading over there, puts together a good perspective piece on next Monday's scheduled Artemis I mission.  It's entitled “The SLS rocket is the worst thing to happen to NASA—but maybe also the best?” Yeah, I've done a few pieces on the mission, and with it starting to drown out all other subjects in the "usual sources," I'll probably have to do some more in the coming days, but it's hard to not get drawn into the story.  

Eric starts out with a pithy observation.  

President Eisenhower signed the law establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on July 29, 1958. At the time, the United States had put about 30 kg of small satellites into orbit. Less than 11 years later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon.

President Obama signed a NASA Authorization Act on October 11, 2010. Among its provisions, the law called on NASA to create the Space Launch System rocket and have it ready for launch in 2016. It seemed reasonable. At the time, NASA had been launching rockets, including very large ones, for half a century. And in some sense, this new SLS rocket was already built.

At virtually 12 years since the program was authorized, it has taken longer to get SLS ready to launch than the entire Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs (until the moon landing) put together.  Every single major piece of the Saturn rocket family had to be created from nothing - by engineers and scientists with primitive computers and slide rules.  Every single piece of SLS is either completely reused or modified from earlier programs.  The most challenging aspect of virtually any new launch vehicle is its engines.  Not for SLS.  It uses RS-25 engines left over from the space shuttle program.  As Berger puts it:

So here we are, nearly a dozen years after that authorization act was signed, and NASA is finally ready to launch the SLS rocket. It took the agency 11 years to go from nothing to the Moon. It has taken 12 years to go from having all the building blocks for a rocket to having it on the launch pad, ready for an uncrewed test flight.

I have decidedly mixed emotions.

On one hand, he says he's incredibly happy for the people who actually busted hump to get this thing ready to fly.  It is, after all, going to be the most powerful rocket at liftoff in history, and who doesn't want to watch something like that fly?  

On the other hand, it's difficult to celebrate a rocket that, in many ways, is responsible for a lost decade of US space exploration.  It's absurdly expensive;  NASA Inspector General Paul Martin said in March of this year that operational costs alone for a single Artemis launch—for just the rocket, Orion spacecraft, and ground systems—will total $4.1 billion.  The RS-25 engines, $600 Million for just the four engines on the first stage, are thrown out after one use - they were designed to be reusable when they were the Space Shuttle Main Engines.  

The way the program was setup, as a jobs program for a handful of contractors to ensure votes for certain D.C. "Deep State" players, was looking entirely backwards.  It was to be an Apollo-style system - including its "best of the 1970s" technology.  

Effectively, NASA was told to look backward when this country's vibrant commercial space industry was ready to push toward sustainable spaceflight by building big rockets and landing them—or storing propellant in space or building reusable tugs to go back and forth between the Earth and Moon. It's as if Congress told NASA to keep printing newspapers in a world with broadband Internet.

To be fair, there were people in NASA who tried to push in the direction of newer technologies, such as refueling on orbit, reusable vehicles, and more.  That was fought by "Big Aerospace" pushing on members of congress.  Let's be honest; building rockets that nobody wants to use, but that just sit in storage somewhere (ICBMs), or even better, rockets that get thrown away after one use, sounds a lot easier than building a rocket that can go to orbit, come back, land and be ready to fly again within days. 

Artemis I/SLS on Pad 39B, August 19.  Trevor Mahlmann photo. 

This is just a tease for Eric Berger's article.  He goes into lots of details because he has been watching and reporting on SLS for virtually the entire program.  It's a long and twisted story that's hard hitting; it's the same story we see in virtually every federally-funded program haunting our country today.


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Weak Geomagnetic Storm Claims an Old Satellite

Last Friday, August 19, the giant satellite service provider Intelsat reported that they had lost control of one of their older satellites, Galaxy 15.  They're attributing the loss of control to the mild geomagnetic storm that hit last Friday as a result of coronal mass ejections earlier in the week.

“The satellite is otherwise operating nominally, keeping earth pointing with all payload operations nominal,” Intelsat spokesperson Melissa Longo said.

While Intelsat is working to restore its ability to command the satellite, Longo said the company expects all customers to “have service continuity” until its Galaxy 33 replacement arrives in November.

Galaxy 15 is in geosynchronous orbit at 133 degrees west, providing satellite coverage to the Americas.  It was built by Orbital Sciences corp and launched in 2005.  Orbital Sciences has since been bought by Northrup Grumman, and they're now in the final stages of preparation on Galaxy 33.  SpaceX is expected to launch Galaxy 33 and 34 in October, and Galaxy 33 is to take over for 15 by November.  

It's fortuitous that the satellite that gets crippled by the geomagnetic storm was scheduled for replacement anyway, and it's not hard to think that the satellite's age might have something to do with it being damaged.  Strangely, this isn't the first time Intelsat lost control over this particular satellite. 

In 2010, the company lost contact with the satellite for over eight months before it finally began accepting commands from Intelsat's control center after its batteries fully drained and prompted a reset.

Geomagnetic storms are a feature in any solar cycle, and while cycle 25 is pretty much just getting started, it is starting out stronger than cycle 24.  Still, it's a long way from challenging even cycle 23, which we thought was pretty mild.  (Graph at the bottom of this page)  After all, 23 was the weakest cycle I'd lived through by that point.  The warning from NOAA for geomagnetic storms predicted G1-G3 depending on UTC date.   The scale runs from 1 to 5, so G3 is not an extremely strong storm.  Note that the chart says that the "Physical Measure" for a G3 storm is X1 and there were no X-class solar flares.  There were a couple of M-class (next class down from X) that were close enough in time to being a cannibal Coronal Mass Ejection storm

The wild card in how damaging a geomagnetic storm can be, though, isn't this scale but could be the Earth's magnetic field and how its weakening faster than has ever been seen before, while the north and south magnetic poles are simultaneously moving faster than has ever been seen before.  The magnetic field's protection from solar storms is critically important.

Intelsat Galaxy 15 in easier days.  


Monday, August 22, 2022

Cycles Upon Cycles

Regular readers know that I frequently post on the solar activity cycles, and have been doing so for most of the life of the blog.  This is largely because I find it interesting - solar activity has an enormous impact on my ham radio hobby, and there's plenty of evidence that solar activity affects the earth in ways besides the "10.7 Centimeter Solar Flux Index (SFI)" that hams obsessively track.  About that radio propagation; the 10.7 cm (2803.738 MHz) is incapable of affecting the ionosphere and causing the improved propagation we associate with the higher solar flux.  That wavelength simply doesn't have enough energy.  What affects the ionosphere is the flow of charged particles from the sun - that is, ions hitting or interacting with the ions in the ionosphere.   

This display of solar terrestrial data is found all over the web, from N0NBH.  The 10.7cm Solar Flux Index (SFI) is top left.

Everyone who gets near this subject learns that solar activity goes through an average 11 year cycle of activity.  Increasingly, though, it seems to be emerging that there are cycles within that cycle.  Space News is reporting that a new observation is pointing to a shorter cycle (or sub-cycle) found within the longer cycle that is better at predicting solar flares and the potentially hazardous solar activity.

Partnership for Heliophysics and Space Environment Research (PHaSER) scientist, Robert Leamon, the new framework is based on research that indicates notable and sometimes abrupt changes in the solar cycle occur with a rhythm at each one-fifth of a cycle.

Taking a cue from musicians (I suspect), Leamon and the team refer to this as the cycle of fifths.  The team is saying that despite the fact solar cycles can vary by months or even years, they still operate with a clear and predictable sequence of events.  Consequently, if they observe the things they expect for a certain fifth of the cycle they can say that's where we are in the cycle. This is reminiscent of how researcher Scott McIntosh, whom I've referred to many times, observes visible effects in the sun's surface seen in the right wavelength of light and declares a termination event that puts a line between the old and new solar cycles.  Dr. McIntosh is a co-author on the paper.  

At two-fifths of a cycle dark regions known as polar corona holes formed at the sun's poles. At the three-fifths mark, the sun blasted out that cycle's last X-class flare ,  a strong and potentially hazardous type of solar flare.

Less consistently, at four-fifths of a cycle, sunspots at the sun's photosphere reach a minimum. Then the final event of the cycle the sun passes through another terminator. 

"The max number of sunspots doesn't quite align with when the polar field reverses, but the polar field reversal happens at exactly one-fifth of the cycle going from terminator to terminator," Leamon said.

With a young theory like this, unless they've been able to compare predictions to records going back more than just this cycle and the last, I'll have to say it's interesting, but I'm most interested in its prediction power.  I'll judge it based on how good is it at telling us the likelihood of flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) is going up.  

The second cycle upon cycles is that within a cycle, the number of flares and CMEs is not smoothly increasing to the peak and then smoothly decreasing.  Let me grab a graphic from a few weeks ago:

Sunspot cycle progression from the Spaceweather Prediction Center.

Now let me zoom in on the start of cycle 25 in a bit more detail. Note this one as one more dot on the right end of the measured data.  This is from a month newer chart on their website.

The dots along the purple "measured data" curve are the sunspot number measured plotted on a monthly basis, and while I can't find higher resolution, there's an observation going around that there's a subcycle that this data just hints at.  It's said to be on the order 11 or 12 weeks, and while I've tended to write that off to coincidence, I have noticed that sunspot numbers were bigger in mid-June and mid-August than mid-July.  There were more CMEs and some m-class flares a week ago and the solar activity has been dropping since then.  I have to say, though, that my ability to see that depends too much on when I can spend long periods in the ham shack.  I can easily accept I may be wrong and the other guys who talk about it have a better handle on it than I do.  

Food for thought.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

It's That Time Again

Florida's primary elections are this Tuesday, the 23rd.  While early voting is open at the precincts, with photo ID and all the usual precautions, the last few weeks have been filled with enough personal crap that today was the first day I felt well enough to sit down with my sample ballot to look up more info on the candidates for the different offices.  

Florida is a closed primary; we can only vote in the party we've registered under, and our sample ballot was surprisingly short.  Governor DeSantis is unopposed, as is most of his administration, so there were only five races to look into.  One was statewide, the Commissioner of Agriculture as the current Commissioner, Nikki Fried, is running for governor in the Evil Party primaries.  The other one was countywide; our county commission seat.  The other three elections were judges. 

There is nothing like the major issue we had back in 2016, a ballot initiative to help fix the Indian River Lagoon.  That initiative (which passed) was a "temporary" sales tax increase of 1/2% to raise $300 million.  The plan was supposed to be a 10 year fix, and we're at year six.  There's surprisingly little talk about whether the river is getting better or worse, but it's certainly a reasonable question to be asking.  Two of the four candidates running for the county commission seat said they wanted answers.  Neither of them seem to be doing much in the polls.  

The two Stupid Party candidates for the commissioner of agriculture are a guy new to politics with actual farming experience and the former leader of the state senate; he also claims to be a farmer.  I believe he's running for Ag Commissioner because he was term-limited out of the Senate.  Everybody in the local races is claiming to be local to the county, pro-police, endorsed by the popular sheriffs around the state, or the county and pro-firefighters.  The old familiar, "I'm pro second amendment," "I'm pro-life," song is still prominent, and has been joined by, "I support Governor DeSantis."  A couple of the candidates proudly waved the "I'm endorsed by Trump" banner.  

I've said many times that politics is like cleaning out the cat's litter box.  It's a dirty, disgusting job filled with things you'd rather not see or be around, but not doing the job only makes it worse.  Eventually that cat box must be cleaned out. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Today, Voyager 2 Turns 45

That's right; August 20, 1977 Voyager 2 started its four year mission to the outer solar system.  In a "it doesn't have to make sense" moment, Voyager 2 launched 16 days ahead of Voyager 1, on September 5, 1977.   Soon enough, both will be in the 45th year of their four year missions.  

I've done many columns on the Voyagers; in my view of the History of the world, a strong candidate for the title of "Greatest Achievement of Mankind" is the two Grand Tour satellites of Voyager 1 and 2.  A pair of missions that almost didn't happen. 

In the late 1960s, a doctoral student named Gary Flandro was working at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.  He was the guy who plotted the positions of all of the outer planets for the coming 20 years, (with pencil and paper) and realized that a trajectory was possible where a probe could use each planet in series as a gravitational slingshot to the next.  A complete tour of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune could be done in 10 or 12 years rather than the decades such a tour might require otherwise. The mission launch window would open for a matter of months in the late 1970s, and then the geometry would be gone - not appearing for another 175 years.  

NASA pretty much didn't sell the grand tour mission to Congress for the funding it would require, but was funded for four year missions to Jupiter and Saturn.  Voyager 1 completed its tour at Saturn in November of 1980 and headed for interplanetary space, but Voyager 2 took the tour, arriving at Saturn in August of '21, then visiting Uranus in January '86 and Neptune in August '89 before it, too, headed into interplanetary space - in a different direction than its sister probe. 

Voyager mission summary graphic from the Voyager mission website at JPL

The Voyagers have not been without problems, but clever people on the ground found ways around them.  Not even a year after launch, April of '78,  Voyager 2 had a major failure.  A capacitor failed in a frequency synthesizer.  It was the receiver's tracking loop, used to tune the receiver to remove Doppler shift effects from the relative motion of the earth rotating and the satellite receding.  The fix was to calculate what the frequency shift would be at the satellite, and then adjust the transmit signal frequency during transmissions to it.  Tune out the Doppler on the ground instead of in the satellite.  Voyager has been flying handicapped by not having that circuit since 1978.

Reality is that the Voyagers don't have much time left.  Both probes are powered by Radioisotope Thermal Generators (RTGs) and those are expected to keep the few instruments that need to run alive until 2025, but that could change with the random failure of any one of thousands of components.  The RTGs might operate longer than 2025 although probably not much longer.  Either way, eventually the RTGs will no long be able to power enough of the instruments to get data and transmit it back.  Eventually, first one Voyager then the sister spacecraft will go silent.  Even though they won't generate enough heat to run the RTG, they might keep the Voyagers a little warmer, but eventually they'll cool to almost absolute zero.   

As I said a full decade ago, if we're lucky some day a ship from Earth may find one and bring her back to whatever serves as the equivalent of the Smithsonian in those days.  In all probability, they will simply follow the Newtonian laws of motion, cool to a couple of degrees Kelvin and glide away forever, all alone in the night.

Friday, August 19, 2022

A Little More on the One-Ton to Orbit Class Rockets

We talked about ABL Space, Relativity Space and Firefly Aerospace a couple of days ago.   What I didn't talk about was the leader in that world right now, Rocket Lab and their Electron booster.  Another aspect I didn't talk about is what they can do.

Rocket Lab made the news in a couple of ways in the last few days, including that their next mission in September will be a milestone setter in a couple of ways.  The unexpected and therefore more interesting news was the announcement that they intend to carry out the first privately conducted mission to another planet in history, including funding it entirely.  It will be the first mission to Venus that will sample the Venusian clouds in nearly forty years. 

While the Electron has been quite successful and I've devoted many inches of column space to Rocket Lab, it may not be immediately apparent what we're talking about when we talk about "small satellite launchers."  The Electron is 18 meters tall and can throw all of about 300 kg into low Earth orbit, to be precise.  For comparison, the Falcon 9 is 70m tall, almost four times the height, and can put over 75 times the mass, 22,800 kg, into LEO.  

Since Electron is a small satellite launcher, just how small a payload to Venus are we talking about? The entire Venusian probe will weigh just 20 kg, 44 lbs. The ultimate instrument they want to send will weigh 1 kilogram.  Two pounds three ounces.  

On Tuesday evening Rocket Lab announced that it will self-fund the development of a small spacecraft, and its launch, that will send a tiny probe flying through the clouds of Venus for about 5 minutes, at an altitude of 48 to 60 km. [Rocket Lab founder Peter] Beck has joined up with several noted planetary scientists, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sara Seager, to design this mission.

Electron will deliver the spacecraft into a 165 km orbit above Earth, where the rocket's high-energy Photon upper stage will perform a number of burns to raise the spacecraft's orbit and reach escape velocity. Assuming a May 2023 launch—there is a backup opportunity in January 2025—the spacecraft would reach Venus in October 2023. Once there, Photon would deploy a small, approximately 20 kg probe into the Venusian atmosphere.

The spacecraft will be tiny, as deep-space probes go, containing a 1 kg scientific payload consisting of an autofluorescing nephelometer, which is an instrument to detect suspended particles in the clouds. The goal is to search for organic chemicals in the clouds and explore their habitability. The probe will spend about 5 minutes and 30 seconds falling through the upper atmosphere, and then ideally continue transmitting data as it descends further toward the surface.

The CubeSat form factor small satellites have been very popular and have been funded by colleges, small companies and even NASA, who developed two that went to Mars along side the Mars InSight probe in 2018.  Despite that record, no company has ever privately developed and sent a spacecraft directly to another world in the Solar System beyond the Moon.  

Saying something is a high risk mission, by definition, means a high risk of failure.  Peter Beck seems to be saying, "nothing ventured, nothing gained, so why not try?" 

Rocket Lab's August 4th launch of the NRO payload - Rocket Lab photo.


Thursday, August 18, 2022

German Greenies Make Stunning Realization

From an article in German, quoted at Watts Up With That,  Germany’s ADAC automobile association has had the stunning realization that electric cars are not 100% efficient!  Even worse, nothing connected to those cars is 100% efficient!  

Why didn't somebody tell them?  I mean besides any engineer they would talk with?  

I'm not making this up.  The article begins:

This makes electric cars even more expensive, and less affordable, than previously thought.

The ADAC’s results show, “electricity consumption when charging electric cars is significantly higher than indicated on the consumption displays.”

Manufacturers forgot to tell e-car buyers that lots of energy – about 10% – in fact gets lost during charging and battery storage.

10%?  In your dreams.  That's considering the energy delivered by the charger to marked capacity of the battery, which is the very last step of the charging process.  Before the battery gets charged by the charger, the charger converts the power grid output (in Germany and much of the world, 240V 50Hz) to the voltage required to charge the battery.  These systems are typically based on switching power supplies; those get good efficiencies and over 90% is not unheard of even as they age.  But take that last number in article, 90% of the energy ends up being usable in the battery, and consider the efficiency of the charger and you find (0.9*0.9 or 0.81) so 19% lost.  Instead of dumping a few liters of gasoline on the ground, it's dumping twice that. 

There are many steps between that outlet the charger is plugged into and the generation system that creates that electricity.  Ignore the power generator and whether it's a wind turbine, coal or nuke, the power distribution grid itself has losses.  Transformers step up and step down AC voltages with little loss, but the route to some particular destination is hard to know and some will have more losses than others.  It's absolute truth that there are no gains of energy from the power generation to battery being charged, only losses.  I posted this cartoon years ago as a reminder, in a post on a related topic: Climate Fix Science is Just This Stupid.

ADAC actually ran tests on some cars to get the losses:

The ADAC tested electric vehicles were all connected to the same 22-kW wall box at 23 degrees ambient temperature, all under the same conditions. According to the test results: “a 100 kWh battery in a Tesla Model X100D actually requires 108.3 kWh. The Kia e-Niro Spirit requires 72.3 kWh for a 64 kWh battery. Even the Jaguar I-PACE EV400 needs at least 10 kWh more for a 90 kWh battery,” reports

With skyrocketing electricity prices in Germany, these hidden costs are turning out to be substantial. But the news will soon get a lot worse, reveals: “Electricity prices will rise by 320 percent. […] Driving electric cars is and will be more expensive for drivers than previously thought.”

The author at WUWT notes that current electricity rates in German cities are at about 50 euro-cents a kilowatt hour. With a 300% rise, mobility is about to become a luxury only affordable by the rich. Apparently just what the people pushing this global nonsense are trying to accomplish. 

Look, I laugh at this because I'm old enough that the memories of facing this inefficiency are hard-wired in my brain.  The first battery powered system I worked on (a small box for the ISS which never actually flew) had NiCd batteries and the rule for charging them was to apply 1/10 of the rated Amp*Hours capacity of the battery (0.1C) for 16 hours.  That's right, 160% of rated capacity to charge them slowly and safely.  That makes the efficiencies that ADAC measured, all around 8-13%, look highly optimized.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The One-Ton-Class Orbital Rocket Race

The race to be the first privately developed one-ton-class orbital booster to attain orbit seems to have an unlikely leader at the moment.  ABL Space Systems has announced a several day launch window for their RS-1 vehicle toward the end of August, potentially as early as August 29th, from their launch site at Alaska's Pacific Spaceport Complex. The dates that appear in documents from the Spaceport indicate potential dates of August 29 to 31, followed by September 6 - 10.  

Per a regulatory document filed on August 4th, that launch debut could happen before any of ABL Space's main competitors. While there are many other companies developing similarly-sized rockets (capable of launching 1-2 tons or ~2200-4400 lb to low Earth orbit) both in the US and around the world, it just so happens that Firefly Aerospace, Relativity Space, and ABL Space are neck and neck. Firefly's unfortunate but unsurprising failure on its first launch attempt means that all three companies are still in the running to become the first NewSpace company to successfully build and launch a one-ton-class rocket.

As we've said many times, Space Is Hard.  Orbit is Hard.  ABL successfully tested out their RS-1 first stage on July 9th at the Pacific Spaceport Complex, on Kodiak Island.  Further, the second stage of the booster was tested in May, and they say all of their hardware is flight ready.  Obviously, Firefly thought that all of their hardware was flight ready and proven out before their failure on their first launch attempt so ABL's confidence is no guarantee.  While the Pacific Spaceport document didn't specifically mention ABL was going to launch, they're the only company known to be approaching ready to launch up there. 

ABL Space Systems RS-1 - their image.

If the RS-1 reminds you of a smaller version of SpaceX's Falcon 9, nine sea-level engines on the first stage and a version of the same engine on the upper stage optimized to run in a vacuum,  it might be helpful to know the company was started by SpaceX engineers.  According to some site that sells that sort of info and won't let me look at it ("your browser isn't cool enough!!"). Certainly, it isn't hard to find the general pattern of what's in a Falcon 9; nowhere near as hard a figuring out what it takes to copy one.  

Around August 9th, Firefly Aerospace announced that the launch window for its second Alpha rocket would open on September 11th, setting up a minor space race. Simultaneously, Relativity CEO Tim Ellis recently suggest that its first Terran 1 launch could be just a few weeks away, meaning that all three companies could potentially be targeting the same few-week period.

It's an interesting little three way race: Relativity, Firefly and ABL. ABL appears to have a shot at being first but we'll have to keep an eye on it.



Tuesday, August 16, 2022

An Interesting Possibility

One of those things we hear from time to time is something like, "it's the 21st century?  Where are the flying cars?"  The thing is, while we aren't living in the Jetsons, there are flying cars out there.  Not very widely talked about, not widely available, not very well established, but it's an area of serious investigation by a lot of big players.  Both big name and startups alike.  There's a couple that turn up in web searches that aren't something you're likely to run across out in real life (unless you're lucky enough to live near where they're tested) but they're fairly advanced in their development.    

  • The Jetson One: "a jet ski of the air" - seems like a bit of a toy compared to...
  • The AirCar, which converts from more car-like to very plane like with the push of a button.
  • This video is an overview that shows several of the bigger development projects.  After about the first half of it.

I say this to introduce yet another consortium that made the Electronic Design magazine news this month.  Korean automaker Hyundai and Rolls-Royce have joined into a flying car development project.  While all of those flying cars in those videos seem to rely on drone technology: several electric motors, relatively small propellers (except AirCar) and battery packs on board.  The Hyundai/Rolls-Royce vehicle (which doesn't seem to have a name yet) will be powered by fuel cells, or stated more directly, it will be powered by hydrogen gas.  They plan to have a flying demo car by 2025.  

The article doesn't explicitly call this picture a prototype of their goal and I can't help but think it looks like a helicopter.  The door on the side toward us having been opened upwards adds the illusion of a wing, but with no visible means of propulsion or much of anything else, it's hard to say what this model is supposed to be.

All that aside, fuel cells are an attractive technology but less practical than a battery operated vehicle.  Why?  To refuel the battery, you plug in the charger; to refuel the hydrogen fuel cell, you fill a tank somewhere with pressurized hydrogen.  Maybe you replace one fuel tank with an already-filled and stocked tank, but there is virtually zero, zip, no hydrogen distribution infrastructure in the country.  Yes, it may be possible to get filled tanks from a local supplier of welding and other industrial gasses, but that's as convenient as it seems it can get.  Another disadvantage of hydrogen is that it's the smallest molecule in the universe, so it's hard to handle.  It tends to leak out of pressurized tanks and fuel lines, even going between the atoms in metal tubes.

Rolls-Royce seems to see this joint venture as a way to refine their designs for aviation grade fuel cells, in the belief that commercial aviation will be driven from fossil fuels soon.  

“Battery-powered propulsion to fuel larger aircraft over longer distances is not possible with today’s technology,” explains Matthieu Thomas, Airbus’ ZEROeAircraft Lead Architect. “Hydrogen fuel cells could be a great alternative because they can generate—with zero emissions—significantly more power and energy for a given weight. This makes fuel cells an extremely interesting technology to achieve our ambitions.”

Hydrogen fuel powerplant benefits include:

  • Regional transport range; longer flight times than battery-powered engines.
  • No battery charging required.
  • Zero carbon emissions.
  • Reduced noise signature.

Both Hyundai and Rolls-Royce share a vision of leading the AAM segment via battery-electric and fuel-cell electric solutions to the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and Regional Air Mobility (RAM) markets and advancing sustainable aviation.

Everyone knows that batteries wear out and can't be recharged beyond some number of cycles.  There was a story widely talked about in the last month about someone buying a used EV for their kid and the battery failing.  A replacement battery would more than double what they paid for the car.  I'm new to the concept of fuel cells wearing out, but this article was talking about it being a major obstacle to the wider adoption of fuel cells back in 2011.  Toyota published an article implying that their fuel cell-powered Electric Vehicles would likely have their fuel cells wear out around 62,000 miles, and they had some way to ameliorate that. 

Along with the peace of mind of a 100,000 km warranty, Toyota’s take-back scheme ensures that when the fuel cell stack nears the end of its life it can either be reused in other applications or dealt with safely and responsibly.

It's hard to draw a comparison of driving 100,000 km on a car to the number of hours in a flying car. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

A Sentence Never Before Uttered

This sentence.  Artemis and SLS are ahead of schedule.  

On Saturday, the NASA Artemis blog said rollout to the pad would start Wednesday evening at 6:00 PM so that the Artemis/SLS/Orion stack would be at Pad 39B by Thursday morning.  I included that in Saturday's update.  Today, we see that NASA has moved the date up.  

The space agency's final pre-launch preparations for this Artemis I mission are going so well, in fact, that NASA now plans to roll the rocket to Launch Pad 39B as soon as Tuesday, August 16, at 9 pm ET (01:00 UTC Wednesday).

The earlier rollout date is a reflection of the Flight Termination System tests having gone easily.  This was the last major test of the system prior to rollout and marks the completion of all major pre-launch activities.  Just to underline what we've talked about a few times, getting to the launch complex a day early can't affect the launch date, still set for August 29th at 8:33 a.m. EDT (with a two-hour launch window).  The launch dates are set by positions of the Earth and Moon, and probably something like Amber Heard's astrologer.  OK, scratch that last one; that wasn't fair.  

NASA's Space Launch System rocket, reflected in the turn basin at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rolls out for a fourth attempt at a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022.  Trevor Mahlmann photograph. 

While the crawler and rocket will only travel 4 miles (6.4 kilometers), the journey will take eight to 12 hours, according to previous NASA statements.  In fact, the crawler that will drive under the mobile launch tower, lift it, and carry it to Pad 39B started driving to the Vehicle Assembly Building this morning.  

Sunday, August 14, 2022

A More Complete Look at Artemis Launch Opportunities

Weekends tend to be slow news days in the space biz, unless something cool gets launched, so some tidying up.

Last May I posted a picture extracted from the Artemis Program office's .pdf of the dates when launch windows are possible. While a small piece of a bigger schedule; July and August of this year from one showing July '22 to June '23, I can reproduce that image here:

This graphic, though, doesn't even show the rest of launch windows for the current Artemis I mission attempts.  August 29 is there, but September isn't.  When I published this, NASA was talking July 26 for the current mission. 

While this next graphic is reduced in size from the pdf, these are the remaining windows in calendar '22.  Click it to embiggen it.  By the color code, it appears that the target for this mission is the long duration mission, since their announced launch windows of Aug. 29, Sept 3 or Sept 5 are the dark green.

Since the next Artemis mission, Artemis II is currently projected to be in 2024, chances are good you won't need to see the launch windows after this graphic, although we can't eliminate the possibility until Artemis I flies.  

This post is here so that any of us can search on "Artemis Launch Windows" using the search tool in the upper left corner of the blog screen and find everything again. 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

As Artemis/SLS Prepares to Roll Out

According to the official mission blog site, NASA's Artemis/SLS system is in the final stages of preparation to roll out to pad 39B for what everyone hopes will be the last time with launch No Later Than September 5th.  The rollout will begin Wednesday evening EDT, targeted at 6PM, so that the vehicle should be on launch pad by daybreak Thursday. This week, teams began the second part of the flight termination system (FTS) test.  For safety purposes, anything that launches with enough fuel and power to make orbit is required by Space Force Delta 45 to carry an FTS so that it can be destroyed if it gets too far from its predetermined trajectory. 

The first part of the test was conducted earlier this year prior to the wet dress rehearsal and Space Force has a limit on the number of days the FTS can sit out on the pad without being tested again.  

In order to meet the Aug. 29 launch attempt and backup attempts on Sept. 2 and 5, NASA has received an extension from the Space Launch Delta 45 on the validation of the FTS from 20 to 25 days before the system would need to be retested. The waiver will be valid throughout the Artemis I launch attempts.

NASA has previously posted three target launch windows:

  • Aug. 29 at 8:33 a.m. EDT (Two-hour launch window); Landing Oct. 10 
  • Sept. 2 at 12:48 p.m. (Two-hour launch window); Landing Oct. 11 
  • Sept. 5 at 5:12 p.m. (90-minute launch window); Landing Oct. 17 

As a reminder, this is a test mission that will not be carrying a crew.  It will launch from Pad 39B and fly by the moon on a six week mission, testing all flight hardware before a crew rides it.  Expected landing dates are listed with launch dates. The first crewed mission of Artemis is currently projected to be early 2024. 

An interesting aspect that I haven't come across before is that the mission will be carrying three mannequins for different purposes.  One of them, given the name Moonikin Campos, in tribute to the electrical power systems manager back on the Apollo 13 mission, Arturo Campos. 

The Moonikin is a male-bodied manikin previously used in Orion vibration tests. Campos will occupy the commander’s seat inside and wear an Orion Crew Survival System suit– the same spacesuit that Artemis astronauts will use during launch, entry, and other dynamic phases of their missions.

Campos will be equipped with two radiation sensors and have additional sensors under its headrest and behind its seat to record acceleration and vibration data throughout the mission. Data from the Moonikin’s experience will help NASA protect astronauts during Artemis II, the first mission in more than 50 years that will send crew around the Moon.

A least they didn't call it Mannequin Skywalker.  

The other two female-bodied mannequins are part of a dedicated radiation exposure test. 

The Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment torsos, Helga and Zohar, outfitted with sensors to measure radiation levels future crew will be exposed to, have joined Commander Campos and are now installed inside the Orion spacecraft. The final payloads, including the agency’s Biology Experiment-1, will be installed once the rocket and spacecraft are at the pad for launch.

I was tempted to say that the reason for two female to one male mannequins was because of the Artemis mission statement to "land the first woman and the next man" on the moon.  While it could be, if I was running that experiment to measure radiation on two mannequins I'd do my best to ensure those two were as identical as can be made.  As close to exactly the same size, weight and all other measurements as we can get.  It's hard enough to run a controlled experiment with only two experimental subjects, with inevitable differences in their positions in the Orion capsule, how thick barriers are to the outside and everything else.  

Two manikins are installed in the passenger seats inside the Artemis I Orion crew module atop the Space Launch System rocket in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 8, 2022. As part of the Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE) investigation, the two female manikins – Helga and Zohar – are equipped with radiation detectors, while Zohar also wears a radiation protection vest, to determine the radiation risk on its way to the Moon.  Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux. 

Clearly Helga is closer to the camera while Zohar, in the radiation protection vest, is in the background. 


Friday, August 12, 2022

Small Space News Story Roundup

As we do from time to time, stories that are interesting or not widely reported (or both) that are too small to justify a full post.  

From Space News we find that SpaceX's rideshare flights are in high demand and staying that way.  

In a presentation at the Small Satellite Conference Aug. 9, Jarrod McLachlan, director of rideshare sales at SpaceX, said the company has launched more than 400 customer payloads through its series of Transporter missions and other rideshare opportunities with “several hundred more” payloads manifested for launch.

“One of the questions that we’re getting a lot is, ‘How full are you guys?’” he said. “All the Transporters are fully manifested in 2023 and we’re getting pretty full in 2024. We’ve really seen a strong market demand.”

McLachlan also said they had missions booked into 2025, but while '23 is full, openings tend to happen.  The small satellite sector is a bit bubbly.  “We get a lot of movement in the manifest, a lot of customers coming off and on,” he said. “We’re often able to backfill customers.” In addition, launch brokers who procure ports on Transporter launches often have room to accommodate latecomers.  While the Transporter missions have all been into sun-synchronous orbits, they have put rideshare pay loads on Starlink missions, too.  

Eric Berger at the Ars Technica Rocket Report notes:

This is consistent with what I've heard from a couple of sources—that demand for rideshares on Falcon 9 is really high, which is perhaps not surprising given that it is currently the lowest price toll road to space.

While it's still off in the future at some point, as Starship becomes operational the opportunities for sharing a ride become practically unlimited. Nobody is actually working on the details, yet, but it has been mentioned.  You get the feeling someone is mulling it over in the background somewhere.

The news broke earlier in the week that a Russian Soyuz rocket launched the "Khayyam" spy satellite for Iran; named for the 11th Century Persian poet and scholar Omar Khayyam.  What I hadn't heard until today is that Russia isn't just launching it and handing the keys over to the Islamic Republic.  Russia is going to use the satellite themselves.  For a while. 

Russia, which has struggled to achieve its military objectives in its five-month-old assault on Ukraine, has told Tehran that it plans to use the satellite for several months, or longer, to enhance its surveillance of military targets in that conflict, the two officials said on the condition of anonymity, citing sensitivities surrounding intelligence collection.

Eric Berger reports:

Russia's new space buddies ... The spacecraft’s camera has a resolution of 1.2 meters, Western security officials said. That’s far short of the quality achieved by US spy satellites or high-end commercial satellite imagery providers, but a substantial improvement over Iran’s current capabilities. The cooperation with Russia comes after Iran’s own attempts to launch military reconnaissance satellites into orbit have largely been met with disappointment.

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket booster with the Iranian satellite "Khayyam" blasts off from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan August 9, 2022. Roscosmos/Handout via REUTERS.