A SpaceX Falcon 9 Will Blow Up Very Soon, And That’s OK

They say you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and there are few fields where this idiom is better exemplified than rocketry. It’s a forgone conclusion that when you develop a new booster, at least a few test articles are going to be destroyed in the process. In fact, some argue that a program that doesn’t push the hardware to the breaking point is a program that’s not testing aggressively enough.

Which is why, assuming everything goes according to plan, SpaceX will be obliterating one of their Falcon 9 boosters a little after 8:00 AM EST on Saturday morning. The event will be broadcast live via the Internet, and thanks to the roughly 70% propellant load it will be carrying at the moment of its destruction, it should prove to be quite a show.

This might seem like an odd way to spend $62 million, but for SpaceX, it’s worth it to know that the Crew Dragon Launch Abort System (LES) will work under actual flight conditions. The LES has already been successfully tested once, but that was on the ground and from a standstill. It allowed engineers to see how the system would behave should an abort occur while the rocket was still on the pad, but as the loss of the Soyuz MS-10 dramatically demonstrated, astronauts may need to make a timely exit from a rocket that’s already well on the way to space.

In an actual emergency, the crewed spacecraft will very likely be speeding away from a violent explosion and rapidly expanding cloud of shrapnel. The complete destruction of the Falcon 9 that will be carrying the Crew Dragon during Saturday’s test will serve to create the same sort of conditions the spacecraft will need to survive if the LES has any hope of bringing the crew home safely. So even if there was some way to prevent the booster from breaking up during the test, it’s more useful from an engineering standpoint to destroy it.

Of course, that only explains why the Falcon 9 will be destroyed during this test. But exactly how this properly functioning booster will find itself being ripped to pieces high over the Atlantic Ocean in a matter of seconds is an equally interesting question.

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Mini Space Station Keeps Tabs On The Real One

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of projects that can blink an LED or otherwise notify you when the International Space Station is overhead. It’s a neat trick that brings space a little closer to home, but not exactly a groundbreaking achievement in 2020. That said, we think this version built by [Lance] deserves some special recognition for the unbearably adorable miniature ISS he designed it around.

Especially once you realize that its tiny little solar panels are actually functional. Well, more or less. [Lance] says conditions have to be pretty ideal for the panels to actually charge up the internal battery, so there’s the option to top things off with a USB cable if need be. To try and reduce power consumption as much as possible, he uses some pretty aggressive power saving tricks which are interesting in their own right.

As the ISS silently passes over your head several times per day, the notifier can’t spend too much time sleeping on the job. The Particle Photon needs to wake up regularly to pull down the time of the next pass given the current geographical position, then go back to sleep until right before showtime. When the Station is nearby, it blinks an Adafruit Smart NeoPixel positioned under a small 3D printed model of the Earth, and finally goes back to sleep until the process starts over.

If you’re looking for something a little less complicated, this two dimensional representation of the Space Station might be more your speed. Then again, an even more complicated take on the idea using lasers sounds pretty good too.

Russia’s Newest Weather Satellite May Have Been Killed By Space Junk

For humans and satellites alike, making a living in space is hard. First, there’s the problem of surviving the brief but energetic and failure-prone ride there, after which you get to alternately roast and freeze as you zip around the planet at 20 times the speed of sound. The latter fact is made all the more dangerous by the swarm of space debris, both natural and man-made, that whizzes away up there along with you, waiting to cause an accident.

One such accident has apparently led to the early demise of a Russian weather satellite. Just a few months after launch, Meteor-M 2-2 suffered a sudden orbital anomaly (link to Russian story; English translation). Analysis of the data makes it pretty clear what happened: the satellite was struck by something, and despite some ground-controller heroics which appear to have stabilized the spacecraft, the odds are that Meteor-M 2-2 will eventually succumb to its wounds.

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See You On The Dark Side Of The Moon: China’s Lunar Radio Observatory

For nearly as long as there has been radio, there have been antennas trained on the sky, looking at the universe in a different light than traditional astronomy. Radio astronomers have used their sensitive equipment to study the Sun, the planets, distant galaxies, and strange objects from the very edge of the universe, like pulsars and quasars. Even the earliest moments of the universe have been explored, a portrait in microwave radiation of the remnants of the Big Bang.

And yet with all these observations, there’s a substantial slice of the radio spectrum that remains largely a mystery to radio astronomers. Thanks to our planet’s ionosphere, most of the signals below 30 MHz aren’t observable by ground-based radio telescopes. But now, thanks to an opportunity afforded by China’s ambitious lunar exploration program, humanity is now listening to more of what the universe is saying, and it’s doing so from a new vantage point: the far side of the moon.

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Boeing’s Starliner Fails To Reach Space Station

After a decade in development, the Boeing CST-100 “Starliner” lifted off from pad SLC-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station a little before dawn this morning on its first ever flight. Officially referred to as the Boeing Orbital Flight Test (Boe-OFT), this uncrewed mission was intended to verify the spacecraft’s ability to navigate in orbit and safely return to Earth. It was also planned to be a rehearsal of the autonomous rendezvous and docking procedures that will ultimately be used to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station; a capability NASA has lacked since the 2011 retirement of the Space Shuttle.

Liftoff at 6:36 AM Eastern

Unfortunately, some of those goals are now unobtainable. Due to a failure that occurred just 30 minutes into the flight, the CST-100 is now unable to reach the ISS. While the craft remains fully functional and in a stable orbit, Boeing and NASA have agreed that under the circumstances the planned eight day mission should be cut short. While there’s still some hope that the CST-100 will have the opportunity to demonstrate its orbital maneuverability during the now truncated flight, the primary focus has switched to the deorbit and landing procedures which have tentatively been moved up to the morning of December 22nd.

While official statements from all involved parties have remained predictably positive, the situation is a crushing blow to both Boeing and NASA. Just days after announcing that production of their troubled 737 MAX airliner would be suspended, the last thing that Boeing needed right now was another high-profile failure. For NASA, it’s yet another in a long line of setbacks that have made some question if private industry is really up to the task of ferrying humans to space. This isn’t the first time a CST-100 has faltered during a test, and back in August, a SpaceX Crew Dragon was obliterated while its advanced launch escape system was being evaluated.

We likely won’t have all the answers until the Starliner touches down at the White Sands Missile Range and Boeing engineers can get aboard, but ground controllers have already started piecing together an idea of what happened during those first critical moments of the flight. The big question now is, will NASA require Boeing to perform a second Orbital Flight Test before certifying the CST-100 to carry a human crew?

Let’s take a look at what happened during this morning’s launch.

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Globe Lamp Tracks The ISS For You

Assuming you don’t work at a major space agency, you probably don’t really need to know the exact location of the International Space Station at all times. If you’d like to know just because it’s cool, this lamp is for you.

The lamp is driven by a Wemos D1, which pulls in data on the space station’s current location from Open Notify. A stepper motor and servo motor serve to control a pan-tilt assembly, aiming a 405nm laser at the inside of a 3D printed globe to indicate the station’s position above Earth. As a nice touch, there’s also a ring of NeoPixel LEDs that are controlled to glow on the sunny side of the planet, too.

This is a fun project that makes it easy to know when to bust out your ham gear to chat to the team overhead, and would also make a great conversation starter. It’s not the first hardware ISS monitor we’ve seen, either! Video after the break.

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Chandrayaan-2 Found By Citizen Scientist; Reminds Us Of Pluto Discovery

What does Pluto — not the dog, but the non-Planet — have in common with the Vikram lunar lander launched by India? Both were found by making very tiny comparisons to photographs. You’d think landing something on the moon would be old hat by now, but it turns out only three countries have managed to do it. The Chandrayaan-2 mission would have made India the fourth country. But two miles above the surface, the craft left its planned trajectory and went radio silent.

India claimed it knew where the lander crashed but never revealed any pictures or actual coordinates. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took pictures several times of the landing area but didn’t see the expected scar like the one left by the doomed Israeli lander when it crashed in April. A lot of people started looking at the NASA pictures and one Indian computer programmer and mechanical engineer, Shanmuga Subramanian, seems to have been successful.

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