Category Archives: Space

I Want A BFR!!

Tonight Elon Musk of SpaceX gave a speech about SpaceX’s vision of their next generation of rockets, the ones that can not only launch satellites ten times larger than the current ones, but which can also let us build a moon base and start going to Mars as early as 2024. (Which might be just a touch aggressively optimistic, but at least they’re trying.)

This next generation, bigger than the Falcon Heavy, bigger than the Saturn V, but 100% reusable an a 100 times cheaper than current rockets, is being referred to as the “BFR.” I’ll leave figuring out what that stands for as an exercise to the student.

I want one. Now. Really, really badly.

I urge you to find the full speech when it’s put up on YouTube later tonight or tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are SpaceX’s tweets that accompanied the speech:

I’m ready to go!

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Heading Off-Planet

The first thought I had, which I was actually writing as a stand-alone thing for tonight, revolves around this from the @GeekxGirls Twitter and FaceBook account:

I love this a lot, but after sharing it on both Twitter and Facebook, it occurred to me – maybe we ARE on a career path toward Starfleet. If we believe that it (or its equivalent in the real world, whatever it will be or be called) will exist and exist in our lifetimes, someone is going to have to be involved in starting it and being the first faculty and/or students.

Why can’t that be us?

Then, just before 23:00 tonight, ULA launched an Atlas 5 (big freakin’ rocket) out of Vandenberg AFB up the coast. I knew of the launch and had thought about driving up to see it, but just have too many other things to do.

I was watching the launch online on my phone, and it occurred to me about 30 seconds into launch that there might be a tiny chance of maybe seeing something of the launch from outside. Vandenberg is over 100 miles to our WNW and I’ve got a big hill to my west, but maybe.

Oh. My. Freakin’. God!

Just as I got out the rocket started to clear the hill with a bright red and orange flame that stretched at least as far as the moon is wide. It was bright enough so that even with the city lights all around and the street lights and security lights at the school up on the corner, people driving down the street were seeing it and stopping to look.

Over the next minute or more, as the rocket climbed out of the atmosphere it also climbed more overhead, directly to our west. The flame trail grew less visible, but the exhaust cone, sort of a bright, curved V-shape, got very bright and spread out. Lots of blue and orange color, just a spectacular sight.

As the rocket kept climbing toward the south I crossed the street to keep it in view over the neighbor’s house. I could clearly see the first stage dim, flash, and cut off, followed by the flash of the second stage ignition. Another few seconds after that and it faded into the haze on the southern horizon.

I need to remember this. If seeing a launch is this moving and emotional and full of elation even when seen from this far away with none of the noise or smoke or other phenomenon present, I can’t wait to see one from a much better and much closer viewpoint.

Heading off-planet, the Earth in our rear-view mirror. Today a display on the horizon, tomorrow an addicting up-close experience, soon to be a career path for all of those waiting to go exploring and working. It would be neat if they named it “Starfleet” just like they named the first Space Shuttle “Enterprise,” but I don’t care what they name it as long as I get to go!

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For Cassini

Tough night. As they say, let’s not be sad because she’s leaving us, let’s be joyful because of all she showed us and taught us.

And when you’ve sworn that you’re going to put on your big boy pants and make it through the vigil, you get this thread:

Then of course you have to watch the Cassini “Grand Finale” video:

Tomorrow, maybe it would be a good thing to start working a little harder to try to figure out how to get the powers that be in Washington to fund the next mission to Saturn. Maybe a Titan explorer, a boat to sail those methane seas or a balloon to soar over those petrocarbon pinnacles. Or an Enceladus orbiter to taste the plumes coming out of the polar tiger stripes.

Or both.

But for tonight, hail and farewell Cassini. You will always be Queen of the ringed planet in our hearts.

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No Joy For Cassini

I had mentioned a couple of weeks back that I had applied for another NASA Social, this one at JPL in September for the Cassini finale. I had also mentioned that there were 25 spots available and I wouldn’t be surprised if they would get 2,500 or 25,000 applications and I thought my odds of being accepted were small.

I was correct!

I’ve gotten the “thanks so much for applying, but…” email and while I’m disappointed, I’m neither crushed nor surprised. But if you don’t apply, they can’t tell you “no,” correct? At least they didn’t say, “HELL, NO!”

Meanwhile, I’m one or two steps closer to getting my FAA flight physical renewed, which is the next big step to getting back into the left seat in the cockpit. While I’ve been flying (commercial doesn’t count) a handful of times in the past few years (here, here, here, and here for example), I haven’t been PIC (Pilot in Command) in almost four years.

Time to fix that.

We’re getting closer. Get the FAA medical, get a few hours of training back in and get my BFR (Bi-annual Flight Review) recorded, then start building up some hours. We’ve got that Navion that needs flying out at the CAF, and with a tailwheel endorsement, the PT-19. A few hundred hours there and a complex endorsement and the SNJ’s await.

Watch the skies. That’s me aiming to come to your town for that “$100 hamburger!”

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55 Days And Counting

Unless you’ve been in a cave without internet, television, radio, newspapers, or any kind of contact with the outside world…

Well, first of all, if you have and you’ve just come out, STAY OFF OF TWITTER, FACEBOOK, and whatever you do, DON’T WATCH THE NEWS!

Trust me on this one.

But aside from THAT, there’s this celestial event coming up on August 21st that you might want to think about finding a way to see. There will be a total solar eclipse, one of the singular most fantastic and astonishing sights to be seen by citizens of this planet. This particular total solar eclipse will be huge in terms of the number of people able to see it and the number of major metropolitan areas it will pass over or near. From Oregon to South Carolina, the path of totality will cover fourteen states. (THIS is an excellent site to see where totality will be, for how long, at what time, and so on. For more general questions, go here.)

As the big date approaches, you’ll be bombarded with news and articles. Not allowing for people not able to see the most spectacular parts of totality due to cloud cover, there are more than 12,000,000 people who be able to see the eclipse without leaving home. Counting people from major metropolitan areas (such as Atlanta) who are only a couple hours’ drive from the path of totality, it could easily be 40,000,000 watching.

It could be the biggest traffic jam in the history of the world. And totally worth it.

Not only will you be seeing a gazillion words from the mainstream media and online folks, you’ll be seeing quite a bit from me as well. We’ll be in the Kansas City area. Our hotel is already in the path of totality, so if it’s clear we can just go out into the parking lot and get 1:52 of totality. With a little driving out onto the back country roads of Missouri and Kansas so that we end up closer to the center line of the totality path, we’ll get 2:38 or so, near the maximum amount.

Weather will be the joker in the deck. We’ll spend Sunday watching the weather forecast and planning. If the Kansas/Missouri area is going to be totally socked in, we’ll start driving, either northwest into Nebraska or southeast toward Nashville.

If you’ve got questions, ask ’em! If you’ve got plans, share ’em!

Where will you be on August 21, 2017?

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Not A Once In A Lifetime Thing Any More

As mentioned yesterday, Space X just launched out of Florida on Friday and  then was going to try to launch out of California today, an unprecedented feat for a private space company, and one which even NASA the Air Force and their subcontractors don’t try.

So yeah, they succeeded. Brilliantly. Ten new Iridium satellites were delivered perfectly into their proper orbits – and the booster was recovered safely, landing on the Pacific Ocean based barge, “Just Read The Instructions.” Go ahead, watch the video that Mr. Musk links to and tell me that it’s not impressive as hell.

Going out of Vandenberg, a two-hour drive north of us, on a Sunday afternoon, one would think it would be a perfect opportunity to go see a launch. You can’t get on the base, but there are viewing spots in the Lompoc area where you can get a pretty good view.

Here’s a video that my friend Kate Squires posted on FaceBook. I just love the “ripping” sound you get at about 1:05 as the noise hits you:

I had commitments that kept me from going, but it’s not even a bad thing – BECAUSE THEY’RE GOING TO DO IT AGAIN. Soon. And then do it again. And again.

A launch used to be something that was almost unique unless you worked for NASA or the Air Force or a subcontractor or lived in the area. For guys like me with a “normal” job and a need to travel to see a launch, it was a destination and something to be planned out. It was a big freakin’ deal. A given launch might not be a true “once in a lifetime” opportunity (well, maybe Apollo 11, or the first shuttle flight, or the last shuttle flight…) but it was definitely not an every day occurrence.

SpaceX is well on the way to changing that. We might be a few years away from them having daily launches – but that’s what they’re aiming for.

They’re already talking about landing some of the boosters not back at a big, open landing site a mile or two from the launch pad, but back on the launch pad itself. They’re serious. They’re talking about a day when they have so little refurbishment necessary that they launch, land back on the pad, load the next payload on top, refuel, and launch the same rocket again within 24-hours. At which point they presumably would do it again.

That may be a ways off, simply because the market isn’t there for that yet. But it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. The market isn’t there because no one is designing projects that require hundreds or even thousands of launches because there was no conceivable way to get a thousand launches. But if you could, and if you could get those thousand launches for what it used to cost to get ten launches, and you could use those thousand launches to…

Look at the time! It’s late – we’ll have to continue that thought tomorrow or the next day. But you get the idea.

As for true “once in a lifetime” events, there’s one of those coming up in two months, which we also should talk about in the next day or two.

(I’m such a tease!)

 

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What Has SpaceX Been Up To?

Besides low Earth orbit (LEO)? Besides geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO)?

The “usual,” if you define “usual” as doing things routinely that a year ago no one had ever even dared to try.

1 – They’re retrieving their first stage boosters, landing them either on land near the launch site or on barges out in the middle of the ocean. (This is orders of magnitude beyond anything that anyone else is doing.)

2 – They’re re-using those boosters to launch new missions. (The Space Shuttle re-flew, and some of the Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters (SRB) were recovered and refurbished, but only with MUCH higher cost and MUCH longer turn around times.)

3 – They’re launching much more often than anyone else. For example, they launched on Friday from Florida (see pictures below) and they’ll try to launch tomorrow afternoon from California.

Yesterday’s launch was another tough one, with the booster coming back for landing from a very high altitude and energy condition, requiring it to have a large delta-V and to endure a lot of stress on re-entry. Elon Musk thought this might lead to a failure to recover the booster. It might be a “learning experience.” (And that’s another thing – that’s not just a euphemism. The folks at SpaceX are willing to take acceptable risks in order to push the envelope and learn how to do the hard things. That takes guts.)

All images from the SpaceX webcast:

It was a gorgeous day for a launch. Note that this booster launched out of Vandenberg in California on January 14, 2017, so the turnaround between launches was only 161 days.

As the rocket rises, the exhaust plume expands (much less air pressure to push against) and you can start to see the nine separate plumes from the nine engines.

Happiness is the Earth in your rear view mirror!

Looking up from the top of the first stage (left) we see the second stage (right) starting to fire.

The first stage (left) doesn’t have time to sightsee – it’s got a barge to catch. The grid fins pop out and act to steer in the atmosphere, much like you can “steer” with your hands out the car window as you’re driving along. The grid fins might look small, but they’re something like six feet square, similar in size to a king sized mattress. The second stage engine (right) starts to heat up…

…to the point where it’s glowing cherry red hot. The first stage does another burn with some of its nine engines to put it on a course to fall (with style!) down onto the recovery barge.

The first stage camera (sometimes) gets covered with soot and debris from the rockets, as well as condensation as it gets back into the lower atmosphere. But you can still see the grid fins glowing, getting red hot from the air friction. (Hopefully your hands out the car window don’t get this hot.)

The second stage is pressing on to orbit. While the launch and first stage recovery are spectacular, this is the part that pays the bills and lets them do it again and again and again.

The SpaceX barge in the Atlantic Ocean is “Of Course I Still Love You,” seen here just seconds before the first stage landing. (We lost video during the actual time of landing, in large part due to the interference of having a freaking rocket come down from space on a pillar of fire!)

That’s terrible, isn’t it? I mean, they missed the bullseye by at least eight or ten feet! On a more serious note, you can see that the rocket is leaning just a bit. This was one of the hardest landings and the booster came down fast, hitting the deck hard. That’s okay – the legs are designed to absorb a decent amount of energy in a hard landing. We’ll see how the booster checks out when it gets back to port, but preliminary reports are that it survived the landing without any major problems.

After a coast phase of about 19 minutes (see the timeline at the bottom) the second stage re-lit and boosted the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Once travelling at 34,000 km/hour, the Bulgarian communication satellite was cut loose, pushed away by springs, as we watch it going…

…going…

…gone

That’s impressive!

More impressive, they’re going to try to do it again tomorrow. Launch is scheduled for 13:25:14 PDT. If you’re anywhere along the California coast from Ventura County to San Luis Obispo you should be able to see it. Here’s what a previous launch looked like from Camarillo – in fact, I just realized that’s the rocket that was re-launched yesterday from Florida! Of course, the closer you can get to the Lomoc and Vandenberg area, the better the view.

If you can’t get to the Central Coast to see it, you can watch the SpaceX webcast starting at about 13:10 PDT.

The impossible becomes the possible becomes the routine becomes the commonplace. We’re still somewhere between “possible” and “routine,” but we’re moving in the right direction!

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