Sunday, September 29, 2013

Falcon Flies, CASSIOPE Orbits, Cygnus Docks & Fresh New Politician Pontificates

Upgraded Falcon-9. Image c/o SpaceX Upgraded Falcon-9 Demonstration Mission press kit.
It's been a good day for both NewSpace advocates and champions of the Canadian space industry, with substantial domestic contributions to both the SpaceX upgraded Falcon-9 demonstration mission launched Sunday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, and the successful docking of the first Cygnus orbital resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) earlier the same day.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Photo c/o Bloomberg.

As outlined in the 3pm EDT SpaceX briefing on the launch, tweeted by many attendees including space industry analyst Jeff Foust, Florida Today reporter James Dean and science writer Michael Belfiore, all primary goals for the mission have been achieved.

All satellites, including the Canadian designed and built Cascade SmallSat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) satellite, CUSat 1 and CUSat 2 (from Cornell University), the Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer (DANDE, from the University of Colorado at Boulder), and three Polar Orbiting Passive Atmospheric Calibration Spheres (POPACS 1, 2, and 3) have been deployed into the proper orbits and are communicating with the ground controllers.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk even expressed "a huge relief to have successfully delivered CASSIOPE to orbit. It had been weighing on me quite heavily." The upgraded Falcon-9 rocket also performed "slightly better than expected" as did the new Vandenberg launch pad, which SpaceX was using for the first time.
SpaceX-Cassiope mission patch. Image c/o SpaceX Upgraded Falcon-9 Demonstration Mission press kit.

It's also worth noting the partial success of tests designed to explore the potential of restarting the Falcon-9 first and second stages after initial use in order to guide the stages to a soft landing and possible reuse during future missions.

While the second stage restart failed, SpaceX technicians expressed confidence that they understand the problem and will fix it in time for the next scheduled launch. The first stage restart, involving three of the rocket’s nine first-stage Merlin 1D engines, was successful in slowing its descent into the atmosphere. But SpaceX was unable to carry out a second burn of a single engine after the stage went into a spin and ran out of fuel due to what was described as a "centrifuge effect." SpaceX technicians expressed confidence that the centrifuge effect can also be addressed in time for upcoming missions.

SpaceX will not attempt any first or second stage reusability demonstration maneuvers during its next two launches, but most future missions of the rocket are expected to feature a reusable first stage, using legs similar in design to the SpaceX Grasshopper testing vehicle.

SpaceX wasn't the only commercial company in the news today. The first Cygnus unmanned resupply spacecraft, developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) developmental program also managed to finally dock at the ISS. Cygnus’ 7 a.m. EDT arrival came a week later than originally planned, delayed first by a software glitch and then by the higher priority docking of a Russian Soyuz capsule with three new station crew members.

"Vote for me and I'll set you free!" Graphic c/o
As outlined in the July 22nd, 2011 CBC post "Cygnus spacecraft to use Canadian technology," Ottawa-based Neptec Design Group was involved in the design and development of Cygnus and will contribute technology to future missions.

Of course, the only true test of the NewSpace age is mostly where old space age advocates end up, and it's worth noting that Alain Berinstain, the former director of planetary exploration and space astronomy at the CSA is now running for the Federal Liberal party nomination in Dorval-Lachine (LaSalle). Berinstain gives some background to his decision in the September 16th, 2013 blog post "Stand Up for Science" on the Psyence: Alain Berinstain website.

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