Roscosmos is still considering Moon as important point in their plan of gradual increasing scale of their space program; after decades of delay and intense exploration of Low Earth Orbit, Moon regained his place in future plans of space exploration – first mission of Russian cosmonauts will be preceded by robotic exploration to provide conditions for at least one week mission on Moon surface.
It seems that plans of establishing Lunar base by Roscosmos are not so fantastic as it could be considered. After announcement of starting development of the project of Lunar base by Central Research Institute of Machine Building (TsNIIMash), it was sure, that this plan is not possible to be conducted in following decade or maybe even in 2030s. On June 2016, when first news about Russian base on the Moon leaked to media, we had not even confirmed date for first flight of Russian cosmonauts around Moon, not to mention about landing or establishing any kind of habitable structures. But it seems, that Russian RCC Energia Company and some other specialists from research centers in Russia are predicting, that Moon exploration based on using some kind of small outpost should be considered as most appropriate form for first successful Moon mission by Roscosmos; and what is more important, they are predicting that it could be possible in 15 years timeframe. For example Vladimir Solntsev chief of Energia, claims (according to Roscosmos), that manned mission to the Moon is still possible in the beginning of 2031. It is covering with with date given by TsNIIMash in June 2016; Company then announced launching rocket with first habitable module to Moon in 2030s. According to TASS news agency also Head of the Space Gamma-Spectroscopy Laboratory at Russia’s Space Research Institute confirmed partially, that Russia is targeting with first lunar mission to remain on Moon longer than few days (it is worth to remind, that American manned missions to the Moon were not exceeding 3 days of stay on the surface). Doctor Igor Mitrofanov stated in the interview given to TASS, that place of landing for manned spacecraft should be located on one of the Lunar poles and will be prepared by autonomous machines send earlier. Such shelter would be created only with Lunar regolith. It would cover habitable module to protect it against micro asteroids and radiation. This concepts is almost identical as TsNIIMash project of lunar base, in spite of fact, that this outpost would serve for single mission, probably not longer than 2 weeks – it was not mentioned that module could be reusable. It is similar comparing to first phase of planned Lunar base by TsNIIMash: first habitable module was considered as autonomous module with 20 cubic meters of space suitable for up to four cosmonauts (it is worth to remind, that lunar version of Federation spacecraft is designed to take four crew members) and assumed further upgrade with additional modules. At the moment it is possible, that Roscosmos is really considering seriously sending cosmonauts to Moon for more than few days and provide them suitable conditions for exploring Moon, but State Corporation has not confirmed this news. Still it is bad idea to create shelter for cosmonauts using autonomous drones, but the first question should be if Russian industry is able to create such machines – powerful enough to perform tasks like regular machines from construction site independable enough to create shelter without any real time control from Earth. Second question should be is it economically justified to spend huge sum of money for Lunar outpost in case of using it once or twice, keeping in mind, that it would probably limit budget for other missions; still Moon is important, but probably Mars is ultimate goal for Roscosmos, and Moon still will remain secondary objective.
China has launched today Tianlian-1D, their latest, fourth from series of data relay satellites. Satellite was launched at 15:24 UTC on atop of Long March 3C/G2 from Launch Complex 2 at Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
It is fourth from series of data relay and communication satellites designed by China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). Until today, constellation was based only on three spacecrafts Tianlian-1A, Tianlian-1B and Tianlian-1C. All three were launched from Xichang on atop of Long March 3C: first in 2008, second in 2011 and third in 2012. All three were based (and probably Tianlian-1D is also using same platform) on DFH-3 bus with 8 years of planned operational life and two solar arrays combined with onboard battery. Tianlian constellation operates on GEO orbit and serve as support for communication between satellites remaining on orbit and ground control stations to provide real time communication.
Dongfanghong-3 platform used for creating Tianlian satellite weighs was 2100 kg, what places this spacecraft in the class of medium sized spacecrafts. Similar situation refers to powering system which is able to provide 1.7 kW what makes impossible to install highly efficient communication equipment. DFH-3 offers 3 axis Attitude Control System and integrated with bus thermal control system; payload capacity is 220 kg.
Long March 3C is medium sized launch vehicle designed in 2000s with maiden flight in 2008. Rocket is long for 54.8 m with diameter at 3.35 m and with total mass of 345000 kg. Payload capacity for GTO missions (just like during Tianlian-1D mission) is up to 3800 kg and could be extended to 3900 kg in C/E version. C/E is slightly larger comparing to C version; it has longer boosters and first stage with larger fuel tanks. Since maiden flight performed in 2010, larger version was used for 13 missions with success ratio at 100% – exact success ratio as regular version with three missions more.
Rocket is equipped with two boosters fueled with N2O4/UDMH and powered with single YF-25 engine each. Thrust of single booster is 740.4 kN and propellant mass is 41100 kg. Each booster is long for 15.33 m with diameter of 2.25 m. First stage is powered by 4 YF-21C liquid fueled engines each burning 171800 kg of N2O4/UDMH. YF-21C engines are able to provide thrust at 2961.6 kN. Stage is long for 23.27 m with diameter at 3.35 m. Second stage is powered by combination of central YF-24E (742 kN) and four stabilizing YF-23C (47.1 kN) engines. They are fueled with 49400 kg of N2O4/UDMH. It has diameter at 3.35 m and length of 12.92 m. Third stage is fueled with 18200 kg of LH2/LOX and its propulsion is based on single YF-75 engine generating thrust at 167.17 kN. Third stage diameter is slightly smaller and is exactly 3 m in diameter with 12.387 m of length.
Cygnus SS Alan Poindexter, cargo spacecraft by Orbital ATK, separated yesterday from Unity nadir docking port and begun its ultimate one week mission.
It is the end of OA-5 mission lasting for 34 days since October 17, when Cygnus OA-5 was delivered to orbit by Antares 230 rocket from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport LP-0A launch site. After docking to Unity module on October 23 it begun its stable phase of mission remaining attached to International Space Station. It was carefully unpacked and after over three weeks procedure of departing begun. Astronauts started to fill space inside Cygnus with unwanted equipment, trash , used or broken parts and anything what used precious space of ISS interior. Next Canadarm2 robotic arm grabbed Cygnus in the beginning of last week. Hatch was closed and sealed on Thursday and all systems joined by ISS and Cygnus were shut down and separated.
Procedure of separation was done by commander Shane Kimbrough with Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet as backup, remaining inside Cupola module and supervised by Orbital ATK’s control center in Dulles and Johnson Space Center’s Mission Control Center. Early in the morning on Monday, 21 November, bolts of docking port were released and Canadarm2 moved Cygnus to the position where it was waiting for releasing command from console inside Cupola module. Final moment of the separation was done at 13:22 UTC during passing over Pacific Ocean on altitude of 400 km. Cygnus slowly moved away from Station and started its engines for 3 minutes to enter Approach Ellipsoid. After reaching this point Cygnus went under control of Orbital ATK Mission Control Center in Dulles and started its lasting one week research mission with experiments inside, which were too dangerous to perform inside ISS.
Main tasks for Cygnus are initialization and performing SAFFIRE-II experiment and deploying four Lemur-2 satellites later this week (on Friday). SAFFIRE-II is second from series of experiments devoted to observation of fire dynamic in low gravity. It was initiated yesterday at 18:30 UTC and already ended. Data gathered by cameras and sensors will be transmitted to Earth in following days. Deploying four Lemur-2 satellites is planned for Friday after orbit raising maneuver (two burns will increase orbit for 100 km) on 25th November. Separating of first pair is planned for 21:05 UTC on Friday and second pair will be released at 01:05 UTC on 26th November. Last day of the mission will be finished with activation of BE-4 engine and conducting orbit reduce maneuver to enter atmosphere later on 27th November.
Yesterday three new members of Expedition 50: Peggy Whitson (NASA), Thomas Pesquet (ESA) and their pilot and Commander Oleg Novitskiy (Roscosmos) reached friendly interior of the International Space Station after almost two days and 34 orbits of space journey inside Soyuz MS-03.
Soyuz MS-03 with three crew members finally reached International Space Station after lasting two days chase filled with scheduled tests of MS-03 spacecraft. These test campaign begun with first mission of Soyuz MS on July 7, 2016 and will last until Roscosmos will manage to verify every modified system of Soyuz in flight. This time tests covered among others attempt of manual steering with utilization of DPO thrusters and receiving uplink of data sent by ground radio station using onboard S-band transponder. Flight of the MS-03 was finished with short rendez vous and as usual was done automatically by onboard computer of vehicle and other on ISS. Maneuver and docking were supervised by Mission Control Center in Korolev under Moscow and Johnson Space Center on Space Center in Houston TX.
Docking started from initiating automated rendezvous sequence at 19:40 UTC on Saturday with distance between MS-03 and ISS at 80 km. Soyuz was still below Station remaining on 400 km orbit and to reduce distance, it was necessary to start SKD thruster to increase chase speed. On the other side, different systems inside ISS were turned off to avoid any problems or jamming of navigational docking computer of Soyuz. Next, voice communication between Soyuz and ISS was started, just before switching on Kurs (ISS) and Kurs-NA navigational systems for docking. Later, SKD burns gradually helped in reducing distance until 1000 m point; from that moment Soyuz started flyaround maneuver using DPO thrusters (DPO thrusters are controlled by Attitude Control System and are able to provide thrust of 130 N burning Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine) to align with Rassvet nadir docking port. After that phase, Soyuz reached 200 m point and performed roll maneuver to set solar arrays on the correct position for docking. Finally, Commander Oleg Novitskiy decided to start docking. Kurs-NA and Attitude Control System gently trimmed DPO thrusters to start getting close to docking port with speed of 0.8 m/s and reduce it for 0.2 m/s just before touching rim of the docking port at 21:58 UTC during flying over Brazil.
After performing leak tests and general safety inspection, members of Expedition 50 opened hatch at 00:40 on Sunday, November 20. Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet entered ISS and joined Commander Shane Kimbrough (NASA), Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Roscosmos. They will spent together rest of planned 178 days of Expedition 50, until 26 th February 2017, when Soyuz MS-02 will return to Earth.
First from pair of new weather satellites designed and built by Lockheed Martin was delivered yesterday to orbit on atop of Atlas V rocket. Launch was performed from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral eighteen minutes before midnight.
This could be good sum up of present position of ULA on the market – maybe SpaceX got CRS-1 and CRS-2, but still United Launch Alliance is very reliable partner with legendary Atlas V heavy rocket, necessary for delivering to space heavy satellites with GEO as designated orbit. This time again Atlas V rocket long for 62m and powered by Russian RD-180 engines showed that reliability and performance are expensive, but this confidence is worth every dime. Estimated cost of Atlas V, which is at least $100 million in 541 configuration (what is in fact far beyond prices offered by SpaceX for launch service providers outside the USA) is nothing comparing to value of two GOES-R spacecrafts, which is $1.09 billion. In such case reliability is key and most important argument for choice of business partner.
Launch was planned with Atlas V in 541 configuration, what means that GOES-R satellite was covered with payload fairing with diameter of 5 m. Core stage with length of 32.46 m and with diameter at 3.81 was powered by RD-180 engine (fueled with RP-1/LOX) and able to provide thrust at 3827 kN. It was supported by four SRB boosters solid fueled with HTPB, long for 17 m and with diameter at 1.6 m. Each booster can generate 1688.4 kN of thrust. Last digit “1” is determining number of engines in Centaur upper stage. In this case 12 m long and wide for 3.05 m Centaur was powered with single RL-10A engine (fueled with LH2/LOX) and generating thrust at 99.2 kN.
Launch was originally planned for 22:42 UTC and due the favorable weather it seemed possible to keep the schedule. Rocket was waiting at SLC-41 since reaching launch pad after roll out from Vertical Integration Building on Friday afternoon. On Saturday at 15:52 UTC countdown procedure was started. Unfortunately, in different rocket ULA engineers spotted minor problem and it was necessary to perform additional tests and evaluate if unit planned to be used for GOES-R is also affected with issue. Luckily, bad news were not confirmed and it was possible to resume mission and launch Atlas V just in the end of planned launch window. Punctually at 23:42 UTC, rocket ignited core engine and its four boosters. Just after lift off rocket set its designated course at SE and at T+36″ it passed 1 Ma speed. It reached and passed fluently point of maximum dynamic pressure 13 seconds later. All four boosters separated correctly at T+1’34” and after another two minutes GOES-R was exposed after jettisoning payload fairing. One minute after losing payload fairing at around T+4’20”, RD-180 engine was cut off and separated from Centaur. Upper stage started its RL-10A engine and began to move satellite into GTO orbit. It was done in three burns. First lasted for 450 seconds and was followed by second burn, which lasted for 250 seconds and was initiated at T+22′. Next Centaur reached highly elliptical orbit with apogee at 32717 km, perigee at 187 km and inclination at 25.7°. For the third burn we were forced to wait three hours – at T+3h 27′ RL-10A was started for the last time and helped Centaur to raise perigee of the orbit for 8000 km in 93 seconds. At T+3h 32′ satellite was deployed on GTO orbit 8137 km x 35290 km inclined at 10.62°. Telemetry data and first self test report confirmed good health of the satellite and on Monday it will start orbit raising on following days. At day 8 of the mission, after five burns of its LEROS-1C Apogee Kick Motor, satellite should reach designated 105°W orbital slot.
GOES-R is weather satellite designed and built by Lockheed Martin for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. With dimensions of 6.1 m x 5.6 m x 3.9 m it weighs 5192 kg (wet) and was based on A2100A modular bus. It is powered with single deployable solar array, which along with onboard batteries, is able to provide power for at least 15 years of planned operational life. It was equipped with Attitude Control System based on reaction wheels and system of thrusters, S band, L band and UHF transponders and data transmitting system able to downlink data with speed of 100 Mbps. Meteorological data will be collected by set of following instruments: Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) for measuring humidity of clouds, Space Environment In-Situ Suite (SEISS – for monitoring of radiation generated by solar storms), Extreme Ultraviolet Sensor/X-Ray Sensor Irradiance Sensors (EXIS – for detecting solar flares), Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI – telescope for performing observation of ultraviolet wavelength range of sun), Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM – near-infrared optical imaging device for detecting lightnings), and Magnetometer (MAG – for monitoring magnetosphere).
Last days on Earth before flight to International Space Station members of Expedition 50 have spent together at Cosmonaut Hotel at Baikonur Cosmodrome space complex.
Yesterday mission was finally confirmed by state commission and technical specialists from Roscosmos and launch readiness was announced. Soyuz-FG is already assembled and Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft is placed on atop of the rocket and covered with payload fairing. Today rocket was rolled out from assembling facility to Launch Pad 1 at Area 1 called “Gagarin’s start”, traditional place of manned spacecrafts launches at Baikonur. Now it is waiting for launch planned for 17th November 2016 for 20:20 GMT. In the same time NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy (Roscosmos) and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) are still preparing for launch and passing last medical test.
Expedition 50 will begin from launch of the Soyuz-FG on 17th November at 20:20 GMT (23:20 local time). Next, just as during previous two missions of Soyuz MS spacecrafts, Soyuz vehicle will enter into correct orbit and start its chase for International Space Station remaining at orbit with following parameters: apogee at 425.8 km, perigee at 401,7 km and with inclination at 51.66°. After prolonged space travel planned by Roscosmos for Soyuz MS necessary to perform series of tests vehicle, it will dock to Rassvet ISS module docking port on 19th November at 23:30 GMT.
Sierra Nevada Corporation is keeping strong its leading position on the market of civilian spaceplanes – in fact at the moment there is no potential competition, which could interrupt SNC in creating monopoly on this segment of space market. But Sierra Nevada is not going to rest on laurels and is still continuing campaign for acquiring as many landing and launch sites as possible to hit the market with Dream Chaser.
It is another sign confirming how seriously Sierra Nevada Corporation engaged into Dream Chaser. Initiative for the certification of civilian airports for Dream Chaser started on September 10, 2015, as Dream Chaser-Preferred Landing Site Program. It covers cooperation with authorities and management of Airports around the world for creating appropriate conditions for landing of Dream Chaser after returning from space commercial missions. Receiving certificate from Sierra Nevada Corporation will open door for airport to provide services for Dream Chaser landing and maybe even post flight services. Airports and spaceports in the USA declared readiness for starting process of the certification last year and this number is growing dynamically according to SNC. Sierra Nevada Corporation is also looking for spaceports able to serve as place to launch Dream Chaser. One of considered locations is Texas with Houston Airport System which is at the moment managing three airports.
To airports and spaceports like Houston’s Ellington Airport or Huntsville International Airport, which are going to open for Dream Chaser in future, joined on November 3 2016, Midland International Air & Space Port. Operated by Midland Development Corporation airport was already earlier certified by FAA as spaceport. Obtaining certificate from SNC means, that Airport has probably first customer utilizing civilian airport during commercial space missions. This fact will result in increasing number of employees and new contracts between Airport and present and future contractors. Certification received by Midland International Air & Space Port is great success for Texas, which is showing how space industry opens locally new business opportunities. In the near future probably next Airport will receive certification. Alabama with Huntsville International Airport are still waiting for FAA certification, which allows officially for landing of space vehicle at airport and will give possibility for receiving SNC certificate.
It is not very common to unveil secrets of Chinese space program by people involved directly with it. Especially when maiden flight of largest rocket ever created by Chinese industry is concerned.
Few Chinese specialists present during launch of Long March 5 on November 3, 2016, from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center announced on Chinese social media unknown details about this mission. It seems that Chinese information policy regarding space flights has changed – few years ago probably something like that would not be possible. Thanks to this change, we know how dramatic events preceded launch of Long March 5 – largest Chinese rocket ever created.
Four days before flight appeared first problem. On October 30, 2016 two days after rocket was rolled out from assembling facility to LC-1 launch site it was detected that launch table is misaligned. Launch table is the part which is reflecting whole thrust generated by engines. If it is not installed with specified angle, nozzles of rocket engines will automatically adjusted by rocket’s onboard thrust control computer even up to maximum values. This can destroy part of the launch tower and even cause disaster of rocket. Of course it is possible to reduce this problem by disassembling boosters and adjusting them in the factory but it means months of delay. CNSA decided to take a risk and luckily, this time nothing wrong happened. But it was not only issue with first flight of Long March 5. Later, as we remember, launch suffered for additional delay and was postponed for over 60 minutes. It was result of additional problems with leaking LOX from two from four boosters supporting Long March 5 during start. It turned out, that there is no leakage and probably failed sensor or data were wrongly interpreted. Next issue appeared at T-90′. Core of the rocket, equipped with two YF-77 engines seemed to have problem with fueling system – turbo pumps, which should be chilled with fuel, reported to keep too high temperature. Launch was postponed again for 100 minutes. Specialists decided to input commands manually to valves – it helped and about 70 minutes from launch (which took place finally at 12:43 GMT) chilling procedure was resumed. Another issue was recognized after switching rocket to battery power, but it was quickly eliminated by engineers in control center. After launch and smooth flight to orbit, when problems appeared to finish, second stage of the rocket started its propulsion to place Yuanzheng-2 upper stage on GTO orbit. According to some Chinese space forums, propulsion was working not as long as it was planned and was cut off 11 seconds earlier. It was not officially confirmed, but it is worth to remind, that problems with countdown were also not mentioned during live broadcast. Due the shorter time of burn of second stage, Yuanzheng-2 performed prolonged first and second burns to compensate it.
Preparing for Expedition50/51 entered into last phase on Earth and on International Space Station.
After landing of Soyuz MS-01 with Anatoly Ivanishin, Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi, International Space Station have been occupied only by three crew members: Commander Shane Kimbrough from NASA and Sergey Ryzhikov with Andrei Borisenko, flight engineers from Roscosmos. Expedition 50 with Oleg Novitsky (Roscosmos), Thomas Pesquet (ESA) and Peggy Whitson will reach Station on 19th November 2016, after two days of space journey. It will surely help in increasing productivity of ISS and will help in relieving current crew members, which are responsible not only for scientific experiments, but also for maintenance activities and extracting cargo from Cygnus OA-5 cargo spacecraft.
All three members of Expedition 50/51 arrived to Baikonur from Star City under Moscow, on November 1, 2016, and started their last phase of preparing to flight. They have tried and tested their personal Sokol space suits and begun last training before launch from working inside Soyuz on November 4. In the same time International Space Station was already after preparing for docking of Soyuz MS-03 on 19th November. Day after arrival of Oleg Novitsky, Thomas Pesquet and Peggy Whitson to Baikonur, flight control specialists in Mission Control Center in Korolev under Moscow, prepared Station for rendezvous and docking. They transmitted series of commands to change orbit of ISS orbit using onboard MSK engines on Zvezda module. It was not done as usual, using propulsion of one of docked Progress cargo spacecrafts, but with two main thrusters of Zvezda module. Whole maneuver lasted for 96 seconds and had begun at 03:22 GMT. Two S5.79 engines burning dinitrogen tetroxide and UDMH provided 2.95 kN each and increased speed of ISS for 1.5 m/s. This cause increasing orbit for 2 km; at the moment International Space Station is travelling on orbit with following parameters: apogee at 425.8 km, perigee at 401,7 km and with inclination at 51.66°.
In the meantime on Earth, Soyuz MS-03 is still passing last tests and procedures before launch. Today spacecraft was fueled with propellant and gases for pressurizing fuel tanks and onboard systems and is under inspection to detect any leaks. For tomorrow it is planned to continue general inspection of spacecraft.
Soyuz MS-03 will be launched on 17th November 2016 on atop of Soyuz-FG from Baikonur Cosmodrome; after34 Earth orbits it will dock to Rassvet nadir docking port.
European Commission, one of the most vital institutions in European Union, decided to support financially European commercial space sector. Ultimate objective for European space program was finally refined: starting independent space access with Ariane 6 in 2020.
12 billion Euros by 2020 for Airbus Safrane for supporting mainly Ariane 6 project – this is solution for European space program announced on October 24, 2016. European space program after years of public-private partnership programs is still far from space program of Russia, main partner for European space agency – ESA. Agency is still relying mostly on Russian launch vehicles and has large number of projects based on Russian technology and experience. It should be considered as sign of common sense that European Commission would like to change this situation. There is no other way for Europe, if EU would like to join leaders like USA, China or Russia. But due the simple reason Ariane 6 seems to be lost chance for bringing European space industry into first league.
First question should be is it good to invest in Company, which suffers for delays and tried to offer rocket with launch cost beyond level of competitiveness comparing to competition. Well probably not – before last official announcements from 2014 and 2015 (concept of Ariane 6 has changed many times) it was rather clear that rocket will not be less expensive than main competitors. But in fact European Commission probably has no other way; last decades resulted in establishing on space market in Europe small number of large Companies like Airbus Safrane. Without any competitors inside EU and achieving something like monopoly, Airbus Safrane with Ariane 6 remains only project European rocket on the market able to deliver large payload. Competition from Russia wins with price, but companies like RKK Energia or TsSKB-Progress are associated in Sate Company Roscosmos; they are interested only in selling launch services with lowest possible price to make creating any launch vehicle in Europe economically unprofitable. European politicians seem to spot this simple fact and would like to spend 12 billion Euros for creating new European rocket. For sure at the moment, when work on Ariane 6 seems to be advanced, it would be hard to find in EU any company with competitive project for less money or even impossible, if we keep in mind 2020 as planned date of the maiden flight of new rocket. Of course, Arianespace and Airbus Safrane still states that new Ariane 6 will be able to deliver up to 10 t to GTO orbit for less than doubled cost of Falcon-9 FT, but not earlier than in 2020. It means, when one of the main competitors for Arianespace, SpaceX will already possess Falcon Heavy (22 t for GTO missions) already for at least two years. Is it possible to reduce launch cost with Ariane 6 under cost of Falcon Heavy with reusable technology? It seems that European Commission strongly believes that it is possible, forgetting about simple fact, that last decade was full of innovations which will not be part of Ariane. In this case money will simply not change anything – Ariane 6 will not be next generation launch vehicle but only average construction with more sophisticated competitors.