Lesson learned? Problems with Schiaparelli EDM started already on Earth.

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Lesson learned? Problems with Schiaparelli EDM started already on Earth.

On May 24 ESA announced end of the investigation, which continued since anomaly and crash of the Schiaparelli EDM on Mars surface on October 19, 2016. Lander was destroyed after it hit into Mars surface after seven months of space journey, which started on March 14, 2017.

During attempt of controlled reentry and landing EDM lander created by Thales Alenia Space and being result of cooperation between ESA and Roscosmos was totally destroyed. EDM failed to reduce its speed and after series of problems it smashed into Meridiani Planum with speed of 540 km/h instead 10 km/h.

Until now ESA was conducting investigation to evaluate how it was possible that EDM suffered for problems during such crucial phase of flight. To remind ESA discovered in following weeks after crash, that EDM was unable to evaluate correctly its altitude.

Released on May 24 summary of the report from investigation points describes precisely reasons of anomaly. Schiaparelli EDM IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) failed to operate when EDM rotated much more faster than it was predicted. It caused, that onboard computer evaluated that EDM is reversed upside down what along with incorrect data from radar altimeter has led to the recognition that EDM is below sea level. Drag parachute and rocket retro thrusters were working correctly but most crucial part of the system failed.

Summary points out following reasons of issues with lander.

  • Simplified modeling of the parachute’s dynamics, caused that engineers did not predict that EDM will rotate with high velocity
  • Problems with IMU’s saturation measurement and its relation with guidance, navigation and control system of the lander
  • Failure Detection, Isolation and Recovery along with design robustness were not sufficient
  • Problems with coordination and control over subcontractors

David Parker, ESA’s director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration said in the official statement: “There were clearly a number of areas that should have been given more attention in the preparation, validation and verification of the entry, descent and landing system… We will take the lessons learned with us as we continue to prepare for the ExoMars 2020 rover and surface platform mission. Landing on Mars is an unforgiving challenge but one that we must meet to achieve our ultimate goals.”

ESA plans another ExoMars mission for 2020. In this mission ESA will send to Mars lander and robotic rover to perform series of scientific experiments.

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DARPA chooses Boeing for their XS-1 space plane project

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DARPA chooses Boeing for their XS-1 space plane project

The Boeing Company was chose by DARPA to continue development process their version of future space plane known under XS-1 codename. 

Boeing has been chosen from group of other companies which unfortunately did not reached advanced design work phase. Projects presented by Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems and Masten Space Systems have Phase 1 have not met acceptance of DARPA. Boeing will now continue development of their vehicle through two other phases of development until first flight and putting vehicle into mass production. DARPA announced about decision on May 24.

XS-1 project started in 2013. Main objective was to create space plane able to fly ten times daily in a row; each time it should deliver to trajectory orbit 1800 kg of payload for Department of Defense. It should operate without crew and each flight should not cost more than $5 million. Space plane should be able to reach 12.5 Ma speed with construction combining composite materials and alloys.

Boeing remains one of the most experienced companies if we consider creating space planes. U.S. Air Force successfully uses their X-37 vehicle for long term space missions since 2010. Company surely will use their experience and maybe even some solutions designed for X-37 during development process of XS-1. At the moment main construction detail well known is propulsion – Aerojet Rocketdyne will deliver to XS-1 their AR-22 engine for the vehicle. XS-1 will be delivered to certain altitude on the top of the reusable booster and later it will be deployed and continuing flight with its own engine.  If we consider that X-37 start mass is around 5000 kg and payload mass of XS-1 should be 1800 kg we can assume that it will be larger comparing to its predecessor with dimensions of business jet.

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Tundra early warning satellite on orbit !

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Tundra early warning satellite on orbit !

Russia managed to deliver to orbit another early warning satellite from EKS system yesterday. Soyuz rocket was launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome from Launch Complex 43/4 at 06:34 UTC.

This was in fact first launch of the rocket from Russia in 2017 not related with International Space Station. Mission was planned to cover demand of Russian Ministry of Defense for delivering to orbit another EKS satellite, which will operate as part of the Early Warning System against rocket missiles. EKS stands for Edinaya Kosmicheskaya Sistema (Unified Space System) and was planned to rely on on six satellites called Tundra. EKS was designed as a replacement for outdated OKO system remaining in service since 1972.

Due the classified character of this mission, Roscosmos did not provide live coverage. Soyuz started from Launch Complex 43/4 at Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 06:34 UTC.  Plesetsk placed 500 km to north from Moscow is often used for launching classified military payloads. Rocket with Fregat-M upper stage should reach GTO orbit to deploy satellite to make possible reaching GEO orbit with altitude of 38500 km x 1626 km inclined at 63.37º. It will be second Tundra class satellite after first launched in 2015 on November 17 (Kosmos-2510) and will enter the service under “Kosmos-2518” codename.

Each EKS satellite is manufactured by RKK Energia with utilization of USP bus – lightweight and relatively simple in design, without pressurized compartment for payload. Satellite weighs around 1200 kg. Payload is provided by TsNII Kometa; satellite is powered by two deployable solar arrays which can generate 2200 W of power to charge Nickel-Hydrogen onboard batteries. USP is equipped in three axis attitude control relying on star tracker, sensors and utilizes reaction wheels to keep satellite on correct orbit. Manufacturer has not announced any specification of the payload, but analogical satellites are usually equipped in IR telescopes and other optical instruments for tracking flying missiles. Russia plans to deliver to orbit last from six satellites in 2020.

Soyuz-2.1b was developed in the early 2000s as improved version of Soyuz-2.1a for lifting large payload covered with ST fairing. Its construction is based on four boosters, two core stages and upper stage. Each booster is powered with single RD-107A with thrust at 838.5 kN, which burns 44413 kg of propellant (RG1/LOX). First core stage is powered by one RD-108A with thrust at 792.5 kN and fueled with 90100 kg of propellant (RG1/LOX). Third stage (boosters are considered as first stage in spite of fact that they start in this same moment as core stage) is equipped in one RD-0124 providing thrust at 297.9 kN with fuel reserve of 25400 kg of RG1/LOX. Fregat upper stage weighs 902 kg and takes 6638 kg of NTO/UDMH propellant. Its propulsion is single S5.92 engine which provides 19.85 kN of thrust. It is able to perform up to 20 burns and is equipped with independent guidance, navigation, attitude control, tracking and telemetry systems.

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Electron launched from Launch Complex 1

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Electron launched from Launch Complex 1

Rocket Lab managed to launch their first Electron rocket from Launch Complex 1 placed on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Launch was successful but main objective was not be achieved – Rocket Lab announced in the official statement after mission.

This was great day for Rocket Lab, American company with research facilities in the United States and New Zealand. Company’s flagship rocket Electron was finally launched after four days of delay caused by strong winds over Mahia Peninsula. Plan of maiden mission assumed delivering capsule with sensors and scientific instruments to 300 km – 500 km orbit. Company did not provide full live video broadcast, so it is hard to give more details of the flight, but from official announcement we know that rocket was operating correctly but due the anomaly rocket failed to reach orbit.

Rocket was launched punctually at 04:20 UTC (16:20 local time) after erection from horizontal position. Nine Rutherford engines burning RP-1/LOX and providing 22.3 kN each were ignited and rocket started its flight towards south over Pacific Ocean. First stage was programmed to shut down after 120 seconds of flight; first stage separated correctly  at T+2’34”.  Unfortunately rocket failed to reach orbit, escape velocity was not reached; Company did not give any additional details on flight.

Rocket Lab is planning another two attempts to reach orbit this year. Main objective of the second flight will be reaching orbit with payload with mass close to planned for commercial flights, which is 150 kg. Still Rocket Lab is not unveiling dates of the future flights and characteristic of the payload.

Electron was designed as affordable launch vehicle with estimated cost of the mission at $4.9 million. Rocket built mainly with aircraft grade alloys and carbon is easy to manufacture due the wide usage of 3D printed parts. Company assumes that it is possible to perform even 50 launches per year, each with 150 kg of payload. Rocket Lab already booked flights for organizations and companies like NASA, Spire, Planet, Moon Express and Spaceflight.

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Launch of the Electron rocket delayed

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Launch of the Electron rocket delayed

Rocket Lab announced that launch of their light rocket called Electron is delayed due the poor weather conditions at Launch Complex 1 at Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand.

Rocket Lab suffers for delay since last Sunday. Maiden flight of the Electron rocket carrying capsule with sensors and scientific equipment was planned originally for 21st May, but due the unstable weather Company moved launch to Tuesday. Now it seems that launch will be delayed again. Weather conditions on Māhia Peninsula, where Launch Complex 1 is placed is still rough and it is possible that Rocket Lab will soon announce about moving launch to Thursday. Still it is estimated date and it can be changed if weather will not be better. Launch was scheduled for 24th  May to 01:00 UTC, Company has not confirmed launch until now.

Electron is two stage rocket equipped with ten (first stage – nine, second stage – single engine) Rutherford engines fueled with RP-1/LOX propellant. Rocket will be able to deliver 150 kg of payload to 500 km altitude to Sun Synchronous Orbit. Rocket weighs 10.5 t with length of 17 m and diameter at 1.2 m. Rocket Lab claims that single launch of the Electron with 150 kg of payload to SSO should cost around $4.9 million. Rocket is built with wide usage of carbon composites and aircraft grade alloys. Many parts, including engine parts, were manufactured with 3D printing technology. Rutherford engines are equipped with electrically powered pumps which are pressurizing fuel instead pressurization in the tanks. Fuel is coolant, it is cooling engine by flowing through cooling system before it will reach combustion chamber. Brushless electric motors actuating the pumps are generating 37 kW of power at 40 000 RPM powered by lithium battery pack is providing 1 mW of power. Engine is able to give 20.33 kN of thrust on sea level.

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Additional spacewalk on ISS !

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Additional spacewalk on ISS !

Today we could watch not planned spacewalk performed by crew members of International Space Station. It was sixth EVA in 2017 and another success of ISS crew.

Today Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer left Quest airlock to perform service on MDM computer unit, which was installed outside the Station on lab’s power truss. Both MDM units installed in the same place called Tier 2 were replaced during EVA-4 during Expedition 50 on  March 24 and March 30, 2017 by Shane Kimbrough, Peggy Whitson and Thomas Pesquet. After over a month one of them failed on last Saturday and NASA decided to change it today after series of test performed by Peggy Whitson on Sunday.

To remind MDM (Multiplexer-Demultiplexer) are electronic units working as a part of Command and Data Handling (CDH) system which controls ISS including power system, attitude control system and every crucial segment of the ISS. MDM’s are controlling streams of data floating from various elements of the subsystems to others keeping everything connected. These continuous exchange of the data is necessary to keep Station operationable and keeping each system under control and protecting from interfering between each other.

Spacewalk began at 11:20 UTC when Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer left Quest airlock and begun their walk to MDM computer. They were able to unplugged cables and take MDM unit out. Surprising issue started with main bolt which was not as sstable as it should. Peggy Whitson cleaned it with compressed nitrogen and reinstalled another MDM unit successfully. After finishing tests and receiving confirmation that MDM is working both NASA astronauts returned to Quest airlock and closed hatch at14:06 UTC. Whole spacewalk last only 2 hours forty minutes.

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Electron debut planned for Monday

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Electron debut planned for Monday

American company Rocket Lab is going to launch their Electron rocket this week using New Zealand’s latest launch complex placed on Mahia Peninsula near North Island.

This will be real test of alternative approach for rocket design. Electron is lightweight small launch vehicle made mostly of aircraft alloys and carbon fiber and equipped with nine Rutherford rocket engines with significant number of parts made in 3D printers. Rutherford engines has fueling system electrically powered and using the electric pump feed cycle. Engines are fueled with RP-1/LOX and are significantly less complicated and cheaper comparing to ordinary rocket engines. These are one of few rocket engines designed from the beginning with low unit price as a main objective.

Electron rocket long for 17 m with 1.2 m of diameter will be launched from Launch Complex 1 with 24 h of delay caused by poor weather conditions. Special announcement was given by Rocket Labs and it was officially confirmed that launch will be performed around 09:00 UTC on Monday.

Rocket will be launched in its maiden flight and it was planned to reach SSO and altitude of 500 km . Its main payload is set of sensors and instrument fitted into container which will help in better analysis of the flight. Both stages of the rocket will operate to test propulsion, separation system, guiding system and flight control system. First stage powered by nine engines generating 162 kN of thrust will deliver second stage to specified altitude, where upper stage will ignite its single engine providing 22 kN of thrust. Upper stage after reaching 500 km altitude will deploy payload (basically set of sensors and scientific devices). Whole mission is planned to last 7 minutes 32 seconds, first stage will fall into dropzone in the Tasman Sea. Upper stage will remain on orbit until it will perform destructive reentry in following months.

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Second mission of Elysium Cubesat satellite planned for 2018

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Second mission of Elysium Cubesat satellite planned for 2018

Elysium, USA based Company which offers place inside Cubesat satellites for cremated remains announced on May 16th that plans for 2018 putting their Elysium Star II satellite as piggyback payload for Falcon-9 rocket.

It will be second attempt performed by Elysium – first one failed after launch when Super Strypi sounding rocket failed to reach planned orbit. This time Company decided to choose as a contractor experienced partner. To remind, Super Strypi was experimental rail launched rocket – completely different comparing to Falcon-9 which is offered on commercial market for a long time.

Again payload of the Elysium Star II is unchanged. These will be cremated remains of relatives, friends or any other close persons to Customers who decided to pay through Elysium website $2,490 for sending few grams of cremated remains to Short Synchronous Orbit for two years and track their position by special application available for smartphones.

Elysium is also planning to offer another service with price starting at $9,950. It covers delivering remains to the Moon. Service will be developed in the cooperation with Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh.

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SES-15 on orbit, Arianespace celebrates 79th successful launch in a row

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SES-15 on orbit, Arianespace celebrates 79th successful launch in a row

Arianespace is getting close to new record: 100 successful launches in a row performed by one organization. Thanks to Russian Soyuz rocket Company delivered today to orbit SES-15 communications satellite.

With the codename VS17 Arianespace signed launch of Russian Soyuz-2.1b rocket from Guiana Space Center with first SES satellite with electric propulsion. This step is important on the way of SES to improve their fleet of communication satellites. SES-15 was contracted and built by Boeing with utilization of reliable and proven Boeing 702SP satellite bus with 15 years operational life.

Launch took place from ELS launch site at Guiana Space Center punctually at 11:54 UTC. Rocket performed extremely well and after sixteen minutes Fregat upper stage separated from the core of the rocket and begun its journey to GTO orbit. After nine minutes of burn Fregat entered into ballistic phase of the flight on 31500 km orbit for 4’34” to reach specific point of deployment of the satellite. Short burn lasting only five minutes was performed successfully and at 17:14 UTC SES-15 satellite was deployed. Spacecraft sent first report of its good condition and confirmed that it was deployed correctly. After first tests it will be moved to GEO orbit, to 129° West orbital slot.

Weighing 2400 kg satellite is powered with solar arrays and onboard batteries. Thanks to its four XIPS electric thrusters it can change orbital position multiple times using only small percent of propellant comparing to chemical propulsion. Satellite will operate on Ku and Ka band covering with its range North America providing communications services,  VSAT network services, government data transfer and helping in maritime monitoring. Secondary payload will help in augmentation process of GPS navigation system.

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One of the BE-4 modules destroyed during test fire at Blue Origin facility in Texas

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One of the BE-4 modules destroyed during test fire at Blue Origin facility in Texas

Module containing high efficient turbo pumps installed in BE-4 engine was subject of failure during last test fire of this engine performed at Van Horn test facility belonging to Blue Origin – manufacturer and designer of BE-4.

Blue Origin offers BE-4 as main engine for United Launch Alliance future Vulcan rocket and also is planning o use it as main propulsion for the first stage of their New Glenn heavy rocket. New Glenn is independent project developed by Blue Origin with announced maiden flight in 2020 and is considered as second after Falcon-9 already offered by SpaceX reusable rocket on the market.

History of BE-4 started in 2011; engine will be fueled with LOX/liquid methane propellant and operating in single-shaft oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle. With potential thrust at 2400 kN it  was considered with BE-3 engine as important part of Company’s portfolio. It will be able to power first stages of the large heavy rockets including New Glenn or Vulcan. To remind BE-4 will be largest LOX/Methane fueled engine ever created – due this fact many technical problems appeared for the first time in history during its development. First prototype was assembled in March 2017 after years of development and trials.  Also this year United Launch Alliance, most important Customer, announced that decided to wait with decision about selecting engine for their Vulcan launch vehicle until BE-4 will pass fire tests.

Test performed at Van Horn on Sunday, 13th May, was planned as the part of test program. During test fire module containing turbo pumps, valves, piping and many other crucial elements, was destroyed. Blue Origin has not announced any details yet – we do not know how long test was planned to last or how long engine really worked before malfunction. Company declared only that following fire tests will not suffer large delays and whole module will be probably replaced- again it was not directly confirmed by Company. From the point of view of Blue Origin any delay is huge problem – advanced development of the project was one of the most important advantage over main competitor – Aerojet Rocketdyne and their AR1 engine, which is not even planning test fires in 2017; company managed to perform preburner hot-fire tests in the beginning of the May 2017, but assembling of the first units is still planned for 2019. To remind first Vulcan rocket will fly in 2019, so in fact AR will leave only months for ULA to integrate engines with their rocket and perform static fire tests. If Blue Origin catch some delay it will be dangerously close to date of presentation of AR1 and will strength in this way position of the competitor.

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