Why SpaceX’s Historic Mission Needs to Wait Until Saturday for a Second Attempt

When you’ve got a 230-ft. tall rocket filled with 76,000 gallons of explosive fuel sitting on the launch pad, the President in the viewing stands and millions worldwide waiting to watch the great machine fly, you’d figure you wouldn’t schedule the event for a spring afternoon in Florida, when bad weather stands to wreck the whole party. Those are exactly the conditions in which the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley tried—and failed—to get off the launch pad on May 27, for the historic first crewed launch from American soil since 2011.

The scrubbed flight left a lot of people asking, Why don’t NASA and SpaceX just pick a day and time to launch when the forecast is clear? The answer: It’s not up to them. It’s up to physics.

If you were trying to launch any old spacecraft into any old orbit you could, indeed, pick pretty much any old time to fly. But things are almost never as simple as that, especially when you’re trying to rendezvous with another object already in Earth orbit — in this case, the International Space Station (ISS). Pulling off so delicate a pas de deux typically requires precise timing, which means launching in a fixed time frame on a fixed day within what’s known as a “launch window.”

The most conspicuous orbiting object with which astronauts have attempted to rendezvous is the moon. Back in the days of the Apollo program, the trick was not to aim for where the moon was in the sky at the moment of launch, but for where it would be three days later, when the spacecraft had covered the Earth-to-moon distance. With the moon orbiting the Earth at 3,683 km per hour (2,288 mph), that took some careful planning. Things were made even tougher by the fact that just reaching the vicinity of the moon wasn’t sufficient; after traveling 386,000 km (240,000 mi.), the crews were aiming to enter a lunar orbit just 97 km (60 mi) above the surface of the moon. That’s not just like standing in one end zone of a football field and taking aim at an apple in the other end zone—it’s like trying to skin the apple with your bullet.

The Apollo crews were also trying to arrive at the moon during optimal lighting conditions for landing, when the sun was at the correct angle in the lunar …read more

Source:: Time – Science


SpaceX’s First Crewed Launch Was Scrubbed. Here’s the Next Possible Launch Window

(Cape Canaveral, Fla.) — The launch of a SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts on a history-making flight into orbit has been called off with 16 minutes to go in the countdown because of the danger of lightning.

Liftoff is rescheduled for Saturday.

The spacecraft was set to blast off Wednesday afternoon for the International Space Station, ushering in a new era in commercial spaceflight and putting NASA back in the business of launching astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade.

Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian rockets to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

With thunderstorms threatening a delay, two NASA astronauts climbed aboard a SpaceX rocket ship Wednesday for liftoff on a history-making flight that was seen as a giant leap forward for the booming business of commercial space travel.

Space veterans Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were scheduled to ride into orbit aboard the brand-new Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, taking off for the International Space Station at 4:33 p.m. EDT from the same launch pad used during the Apollo moon missions a half-century ago.

Smiling, waving and giving the traditional thumbs-up, the two men said farewell to their families — exchanging blown kisses and pantomiming hugs for their young sons from a coronavirus-safe distance — before setting out for the pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV, another product from SpaceX’s visionary founder, Elon Musk.

Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrived to watch the liftoff.

The flight would mark the first time a private company sent humans into orbit.

It would also be the first time in nearly a decade that the United States launched astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil. Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.

With 2 1/2 hours to go before liftoff, controllers put the chances of launch at just 40 percent because of thunderstorms at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Thunder could be heard as the astronauts made their way to the pad, and a tornado warning was issued moments after they climbed into their capsule.

In the event of a postponement, the next launch opportunity would be Saturday.

The preparations took place in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed an estimated 100,000 Americans.

“We’re launching American …read more

Source:: Time – Science


Stormy Weather Threatens to Delay First SpaceX Astronaut Launch

(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) — Stormy weather is threatening to delay SpaceX’s first astronaut launch.

A SpaceX rocket is scheduled to blast off Wednesday afternoon from Kennedy Space Center, carrying a Dragon capsule with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. It will be the first time astronauts launch from Florida in nine years and a first for a private company.

The manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, Kathy Lueders, said everything was progressing well — at least on the ground.

“Now the only thing we need to do is figure out how to control the weather,” she said Monday evening as rain continued to drench the area. “We’re continuing to be vigilant and careful and make sure we do this right.”

Forecasters put the odds of acceptable launch weather at 40%. But that doesn’t include the conditions all the way up the U.S. and Canadian coasts and across the sea to Ireland — a complicated mix of measurements unique to the Dragon crew capsule.

The Dragon’s emergency escape system can kick in, if necessary, all the way to orbit. If that happens, the capsule will need relatively calm wind and seas in which to splash down.

SpaceX will have at least two recovery ships deployed off Florida, and NASA will have two military cargo planes ready to take off. Additional planes will be stationed in New York and England to assist with a potential water rescue, according to Lueders.

Hans Koenigsmann, a vice president for SpaceX, said the launch control team will incorporate global weather patterns and models to determine whether it’s safe to launch.

“If the weather gods are working with us,” he said, liftoff will occur at 4:33 p.m. SpaceX has a split-second launch window.

The good news is that the tropical weather headed toward Cape Canaveral should be gone in a couple days, with conditions also improving up the Eastern Seaboard later in the week.

If SpaceX doesn’t launch Wednesday, its next attempt would be Saturday.

…read more

Source:: Time – Science


Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit Fails on First Rocket Launch Attempt

(LOS ANGELES) — Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit failed Monday on its first attempt to launch a test satellite into space aboard a rocket carried aloft by a Boeing 747 and released over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California.

The inaugural launch had appeared to be going well until moments after the rocket was dropped from beneath the left wing of the jumbo jet dubbed Cosmic Girl.

“We’ve confirmed a clean release from the aircraft. However, the mission terminated shortly into the flight. Cosmic Girl and our flight crew are safe and returning to base,” Virgin Orbit said in its official Twitter commentary on the launch.

There was no immediate word on what went wrong.

The highly modified jumbo jet took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and flew out just beyond the Channel Islands, where the drop occurred.

The rocket was supposed to fall for a few seconds before the first of its two stages ignited and hurtled it down the coast toward the South Pole for insertion of its demonstration payload into a low Earth orbit.

The purpose of the flight was to gather data on every step of the launch process rather than to have a useful satellite in orbit; the demonstration payload was described as an inert mass and the intended orbit was very low to avoid contributing to the problem of space junk.

The launch attempt followed five years of development of the 70-foot-long (21.3 meter) LauncherOne rocket.

Virgin Orbit, headquartered in Long Beach, California, is a sister company of Virgin Galactic, the company Branson founded to carry passengers on suborbital flights into the lower reaches of space. Virgin Galactic is preparing to begin operations in southern New Mexico.

…read more

Source:: Time – Science