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Monday, September 12, 2022

The "Off Nominal Situation"

Shortly after 10:30 am EDT this morning, the aerospace world received a stark reminder that launching spacecraft can be a risky proposition with unexpected results.

64 seconds into the 23rd flight of Blue Origin’s New Shephard program – so named for pioneering US Mercury program astronaut Alan Shephard – the unmanned vehicle failed and was quickly enveloped in a column of flame as the capsule escape system initiated. The rocket had just passed through the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure, accelerating at over 700 mph and nearing 28,000 feet in altitude.



The first sign of trouble as the New Shephard rocket's plume takes on an uncharacteristic form just after Max-Q, where aerodynamics forces on the vehicle reach their peak. From Blue Origin video feed.


Before today, New Shephard had been viewed as a consistently reliable, single-engine rocket. Media coverage had normalized launches of the vehicle from Blue Origin’s West Texas base in the wake of its first manned flight just over a year ago. That initial crewed launch sent Amazon magnate and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, along with three others, on a suborbital trip that climbed to 66 miles in altitude, with the entire flight clocking just over ten minutes from launch to landing. Since that first manned venture, 27 more passengers – including William Shatner – had ridden in a New Shephard capsule, known in part for its space-tourism-friendly large windows. Todays uncrewed flight was described by Blue Origin as a mission to “loft 36 payloads from research institutions and student organizations, half of which are funded by NASA.



Here the crew escape system has separated the capsule from the rocket, the vehicle still climbing before descent initiates. From Blue Origin video feed.


The good news: it may have been totally unplanned, but it appears the crew emergency separation system did exactly what it was designed to do had this been a manned flight. Of course, how this will impact the costly desirability of riding a rocket in pursuit of the ultimate tourist adventure remains to be seen.



The capsule's drogue parachutes were functional before giving way to the main parachutes seen here, used to slow the capsule to its final landing speed. From Blue Origin video feed.

You can watch video of today’s “off nominal situation” on YouTube. Fast forward to 1:20:14 for the final 30 seconds of the countdown followed by the aborted launch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqAVWvOT-1c

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Potential for Domestic Bliss

NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in coastal Virginia has not seen the launch of an Antares rocket since early this year, on February 19. That day, a Cygnus vehicle placed into orbit carried well over 8000 pounds of equipment, experiments, food, and other important supplies to the International Space Station, docking safely on February 21.

Almost immediately after that Russia initiated that country’s attempt to conquer Ukraine, and the ripples of that assault soon washed across the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in a significant way. That’s because the Antares 200 series rocket - which had performed successfully in its launches to the ISS – is a first-stage assembly that depended on the power of Russian RD-181 engines of Ukrainian manufacture.

 


Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket on Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. Photo: Northrop Grumman

 

Obviously, this dependence has been a massive cause for concern at Northrop Grumman, the US space company that is responsible for the Antares program.

This week, however, a more solid footing for the future of Antares was announced by Northrop Grumman and its new partner in rocket power, Firefly Aerospace. Firefly is a relatively new company founded in 2017 and based in a suburb of Austin, Texas. While Firefly has aspirations for vehicles ranging from winged rockets to lunar landers, it is engine technology that has led to their partnership with Northrop Grumman. The new Antares 330 first-stage vehicle will be powered by seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines, making this new generation of Antares a fully domestic launch vehicle. Significantly, launch site upgrades will be minimal as Firefly’s technology will utilize the same propellants that have powered the most recent Antares generation.

 


Initial engine testing performed by Firefly Aerospace, an early step on the path to this week’s partnership with Northrop Grumman. Photo: Firefly Aerospace

 

This alliance is certainly good news for the Antares program, which can now return its focus to future operations without a dependence on products from a region suffering through dynamic conflicts and upheaval.

 

For more information on Firefly Aerospace: https://firefly.com/

For more information on Northrop Grumman: https://www.northropgrumman.com/

Friday, July 22, 2022

Supersonic Visions

The Twitter presence of United Airlines aspires to establish the airline as your pal, with a “personality” that ranges from wry to whimsical. “Drop your perfect vacay using emojis only and we’ll guess the destination!” the account playfully instructs its followers in one tweet this week. Another – dispatched on Wednesday - confesses, “Our hearts went BOOM!” accompanied by a smiley face with hearts for eyes.

This latter tweet, of course, serves to herald the airline’s upcoming plans to deploy a fleet of Overture airliners – the new supersonic concepts being brought to reality by Denver’s Boom Supersonic. United joins Japan Airlines as the initial commercial customers for this new aircraft.


The vision of commercial supersonic travel was brought into reality in 1976 by the Concorde, an aircraft documented in dozens of books, but none more beautiful than this oversized publication by Frederic Beniada and Michel Fraile. It is seen with commemorative materials given to Concorde passengers. Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions


It’s been nearly two decades since the last flights of the Concorde, the incredibly graceful airliners that brought supersonic travel into reality from 1976 to 2003. And looking through the stunning photography in the beautiful book Concorde by Frederic Beniada and Michel Fraile, it’s little wonder that this aircraft had dedicated fans of its futuristic stance.


An Overture depicted in the thin air of its cruising altitude, 60,000 feet. Image: Boom Supersonic


Overture’s design hallmarks certainly call to mind its predecessor. The long, thin body following a needle nose ready to pierce the sound barrier, the wide sweeping wings with engines mounted below. But naturally, a closer look reveals significant differences, including a subtle gull-wing design to reduce noise and stress from the four engines.


All dressed up: Overture in the livery of United Airlines. United will purchase 15 aircraft from Boom Supersonic, with an option for 35 more. Image: Boom Supersonic


Of course, lighthearted tweets from corporate airlines do little to dim the glaring suspicion of many raising environmental concerns about the implementation of a new supersonic aircraft, particularly in the midst of a week that has seen scorching ambient temperatures baking vast stretches of the upper half of the planet. But United’s media materials are quick to note that Overture’s propulsion is vastly different from the 1960s technology that was the hallmark of Concorde. The airline’s announcement of its partnership with Boom Supersonic stressed: “Once operational, Overture is expected to be the first large commercial aircraft to be net-zero carbon from day one, optimized to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)… United and Boom will also work together to accelerate production of greater supplies of SAF.

The first flights of an Overture aircraft are planned for 2026, with commercial air fleets taking to the skies within three years of the test program.

 

For more information: https://boomsupersonic.com/overture 

Friday, July 8, 2022

It Followed Me Home

It’s one of the oldest and most reliable story crutches in the realm of science fiction: humans brashly depart our home planet to explore space, returning some time later. But they haven’t returned alone – stowing away is a) a hostile alien being or b) a microscopically small killer that threatens planetary extinction.

It’s that latter scenario that hovers over NASA’s plans for digging into the past of Mars. And though the discussion of such a threat has generally remained out of the public eye, over the July 4 holiday weekend the topic made a big splash in one of the most well-regarded newspapers in the United States, the Philadelphia Inquirer.



Front page news! The July 3, 2022, Philadelphia Inquirer sounds the alarm about a potential Martian danger.


NASA’s remarkable Perseverance rover, which arrived on the surface of Mars on February 18, 2021, has been collecting samples, among its many other scientific endeavors. Deposited into tubes, these samples of rock and other materials – each weighing about .5 ounce - are left by the rover in its wake in a process NASA calls “depot caching.” The tubes are dropped off by Perseverance at several specific locations. NASA’s plan for these tubes? Here’s where the controversy brews.



NASA’s Perseverance rover captured this self-portrait on Mars on September 10, 2021. The rover’s most recent movements before the photo was taken can be traced in the tracks seen on the planet’s surface. Photo: NASA


In the next ten years, in an operation in partnership with the European Space Agency, NASA hopes to initiate the Mars Sample Return Mission. The plan is for another vehicle to venture to Mars, retrieve the Perseverance samples from their storage locations, and return to Earth. The samples will arrive on our planet in Utah, destined for a secure scientific facility yet to be constructed.

No doubt NASA will go to the greatest of lengths to offer reassurance about its Mars objectives and procedures to be implemented, and officials have indicated this plan has a “low likelihood of risk.” But as awareness of the Mars Sample Return Mission grows, one thing is certain: a swelling chorus of concern is likely to join those who are already sounding words of alarm – particularly in a general population that has spent several years wrestling with the impact of COVID.

 

The Philadelphia Inquirer article referenced above can be read here:

 Philadelphia Inquirer: Mars Mission Has Some Wary

The access portal to NASA’s many online resources covering the exploration of Mars is here:

https://mars.nasa.gov/

Monday, June 6, 2022

How Low (Observable) Can You Go?

Late last month what is arguably the first major East Coast air show of 2022 took place at Dover Air Force Base. And “Thunder Over Dover” certainly qualifies as major, having hosted both the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels across a practice show day and two public show days.

In the relatively near future, I’ll post a link to a photo album of the very best of over 1000 (!) images captured during the three days I spent at Dover Air Force Base.

But if any single aircraft could be considered the star of the Dover show it’s the B-2 Spirit, popularly known as the Stealth Bomber.



The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber banks over Blue Angel 1 for a final pass at Thunder Over Dover on May 21, 2022.
 Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions


The appearance of a B-2 at air shows always generates excitement, and the three passes by this unique aircraft at “Thunder Over Dover” – present on May 21 only – drove a massive attendance turnout despite high temperatures well into the 90s.



The B-2 "Spirit of Nebraska" passes over the awestruck airshow crowd below. 
Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

Built by Northrop Grumman, the B-2 first flew over 30 years ago, but despite being one of the most recognizable modern-day aircraft a noticeable hush fell over the crowd assembled at Dover AFB as the massive black boomerang made several passes along the flight line.

Despite the B-2’s popularity with the general populace, by the time the next airshow at Dover Air Force Base rolls around on the calendar it’s likely that a new generation of stealth will be coming into service.



Artist conception of the B-21 Raider ascending over Edwards Air Force Base. 
Image: U.S. Air Force rendering


The all-new B-21 Raider – also being built by Northrop Grumman – will be the result of a program to create the next-generation stealth bomber. Assembly of the first B-21 is nearing the stage where engine runs and taxi testing will lead to a first flight. The ground testing is now planned for later this year, with flight following in 2023. Initially flight testing was hoped for right about now on the calendar, but ironically on the day before the B-2 soared over Dover the Air Force announced this new testing timetable.

When the first B-21 is seen, the vision will look quite familiar at first glance. Retaining the B-2's overall shape, the Raider will have ample long-range capability even though it will be smaller than the B-2. Most important, though, the B-21 will boast new generations of what the Air Force refers to as “low-observable technology” – in another word, stealth.

Northrop Grumman has created website content for its B-21 Raider project, which you can visit here:

https://www.northropgrumman.com/what-we-do/air/b-21-raider/

Development logo of the B-21 Raider.

 Image: Northrop Grumman

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Raising Endeavour

One of the biggest thrills a space tourist can experience – not counting those tourists either financially well-off enough or lucky enough to find themselves actually launched into space – unfolds every few minutes at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

After watching a brief documentary, visitors are suddenly – and dramatically – presented with a sweeping view of the space shuttle orbiter Atlantis. As far as generating a goosebump-inducing experience, the revelation of Atlantis has been pretty much unrivaled.

Until now.

Next week groundbreaking will take place on a new home for Atlantis’ sister orbiter, Endeavour.


In 2021 the decommissioned space shuttle orbiters were dispatched across the United States for display. Here the first orbiter to fly, the test vehicle Enterprise, is seen en route to its new home in New York. Photo: Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions


In September 2012 the decommissioned and safed Endeavour arrived in California for transport to its new home, the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Since going on display shortly thereafter, Endeavour has been visited by thousands who have seen the orbiter horizontal in a temporary pavilion. But bigger plans are at last coming to fruition.

The Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center will be constructed adjacent to the California Science Center. The construction, estimated to take approximately three years, will result in a stunning presentation of Endeavour standing vertical as though ready for liftoff, mated to the last surviving space shuttle external tank and two solid rocket boosters (with, of course, propellants removed).


An artist conception of Endeavour's new home, the Samueal Oschin Air and Space Center. Image: Ron McPherson/ronmcpherson.com/


Having stood beneath Atlantis on the launch pad just before the STS-135 mission completed the space shuttle program, I can attest to the awe-inspiring nature of witnessing the full stack of the space shuttle system towering overhead. This new museum setting will be an appropriate depiction of one of mankind’s most amazing technical developments and will doubtless leave visitors with unforgettable memories.

Groundbreaking for the new space center is scheduled for June 1, with much additional information on Endeavour’s new home to come in the wake of the ceremony. Visits the California Science Center website to learn the latest:

https://californiasciencecenter.org

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Sculpting the Skies with an F-22

With the first airshows of the 2022 season getting underway, I happened to take a look back at some of my work from 2021.

One of my favorite images pulled from the skies last year is this photograph of a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor as seen during a practice flight over New Jersey’s Millville Executive Airport. The image as a whole isn’t particularly noteworthy – F-22s frequently create their own cloud systems while maneuvering, which often translate into stunning photos. But the attraction here is in the details: an unusual exhaust pattern that is particularly striking.

 


Both photographs: Ⓒ 2022 Frank Moriarty/Aerospace Perceptions

 


From the heat and moisture content being displaced by the aircraft, the sky itself has taken on a three-dimensional appearance. It looks as though it’s a solid section, hovering in mid-air with a texture that could be felt – if you could only get your hands a few thousand feet up and not get burned as well!

Last year I had a half-dozen opportunities to photograph the F-22 in action, and look forward to further encounters in 2022.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

More Rockets for Wallops

Rocket Lab’s two-stage Electron vehicle has not been covered here at Aerospace Perceptions before now, largely because to date the company’s launches have taken place on the opposite side of the globe from a complex in New Zealand. But in the relatively near future, that may change.

Last week Rocket Lab announced the first three scheduled launches from increasingly-busy Wallops Island, Virginia. The company’s Launch Complex 2 was built at Wallops’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and has been awaiting its first Electron launch for three years, a delay largely generated by stringent safety initiatives in NASA software covering flight termination systems. But as soon as later this year an Electron will soar on a dedicated mission for Virginia satellite company HawkEye 360.

 


A Rocket Lab Electron heads uphill from the company’s first launch complex, located in New Zealand. Image: Rocket Lab USA

 

The payload for this initial mission launching from Virginia will be six radio-frequency-monitoring satellites, with nine more to be included in subsequent launches. As noted in a press release announcing these three missions, “HawkEye 360 provides commercial and government customers with insights that have helped to detect illegal fishing, poachers in national parks, GPS radio frequency interference along international borders, and emergency beacons in crisis situations.”

 


An artist conception of Rocket Lab’s Neutron, planned as a significant upgrade in launch capabilities. Image: Rocket Lab USA

 

Standing half as high as a space shuttle orbiter’s length, the Electron is unique in that it utilizes an electric pump configuration that feeds its Rutherford liquid propellant engines, built by Rocket Lab in Long Beach, California. By 2024 Rocket Lab hopes to implement launches of its under-development Neutron rocket from a second location on Wallops Island. This new vehicle will stand twice as tall as Electron.

Rocket Lab is also working toward enhancing its ability to recover and reuse rocket stages. One thing the company has already perfected is a certain comedic levity in naming its missions. The first three Electron launch attempts in New Zealand were christened “It’s a Test,” “Still Testing,” and “It’s Business Time.” Those were followed by missions including “Pics or It Didn’t Happen,” “Return to Sender,” and the upcoming “There and Back Again.”


For more on Rocket Lab visit: https://www.rocketlabusa.com/

For more on HawkEye 360 visit: https://www.he360.com/

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Cult of Personality

Elon Musk has been in the news a lot lately, which really isn’t news – or surprising. Whether it’s helping enable internet access to a besieged Ukrainian citizenry through his Starlink constellation system, or less altruistic activities like his hostile takeover attempt of Twitter, the richest man in the world injects his sphere of influence into many realms.

Perhaps Musk’s most high-profile endeavor, of course, is SpaceX. Currently – and successfully – cementing the idea of commercial space business activities in Earth orbit, SpaceX is also looking long-long-range at the colonization of Mars and eventual human exploration far beyond our Solar System neighbor. And from the beginning, SpaceX has proudly reflected its own spaceflight culture. Witness the decidedly different attitude on display during SpaceX launches, with lots of cheering and waving in a party-like atmosphere, compared to the staid liftoff proceedings witnessed within Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Control Center throughout the Apollo and Shuttle eras.


A featured image representing the content of a YouTube video.

Aside from such surface reflections, I’ve always been of a mind that when one space effort succeeds, they all succeed – if for no other reason than the illumination of success shines across the realm of space ventures as a whole. But it’s increasingly difficult to ignore a somewhat manic subset of SpaceX followers who eschew such a “one for all, all for one” philosophy.

This attitude was fully on display during NASA’s recent attempt to stage a full-dress rehearsal of its Space Launch System on Pad 39-B at Kennedy Space Center, complete with full system fueling. As might be expected with an entirely new assembly, numerous issues arose, to the extent that a roll-back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for problem resolution will delay launch plans until much later in the year. Each complication was derided by dozens of Twitter-based proponents of Musk’s Starship program – a program nowhere near as close to flight as NASA’s SLS. No matter – to them it’s Starship or nothing.

This fascination has led to seemingly-full-time social media “reporters” who plant themselves outside the SpaceX Starbase in Texas while trying to monetize hours-long web streams that usually show nothing more exciting than a pickup truck entering or exiting the Musk kingdom.

That’s just one symptom. I’ve seen SpaceX followers openly mocking the development efforts of other aerospace entities, with some even outright rooting for mission failures of rockets not bearing the correct logo. There’s nothing like holding aerospace programs to the standards of juvenile popularity contests.


Elon Musk and his partner in an on-again, off-again relationship, Grimes. A snapshot from the unavoidably glamorous life of the richest man in the world. Photo: thecut.com

Much of this frenzy is a strangely cult-like obsession with Elon Musk himself – which Musk certainly cultivates, consciously or not. It’s the aerospace edition of celebrity status circa 2022: how well known are you? In the increasingly weird global culture circling endlessly around influencers and personalities, being a celebrity is the very best thing you can do.

As a writer focused on the realm of aerospace, I will always be interested in Elon Musk and how he directs SpaceX. The interest in Elon as a person? Not so much. Like Apple’s own technical revolutionary, Steve Jobs, Musk may be brilliant - but I don’t think I’d want to spend much time around him.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Aviation Transformation Through imaginAviation

NASA operations, as of this writing, are struggling to deal with the inevitable new system problems that have arisen with the Space Launch System “wet test” - basically all aspects of launch pad operations (including fueling) save the launch itself.

A few weeks ago, though, much of the NASA community was embracing a much broader perspective through a program cleverly titled imaginAviation, under the auspices of NARI – the NASA Aeronautics Research Institute.

 


This three-day virtual event, which included the participation of many universities and other educational organizations, was based on imagination and how resulting visions can lead to the future transformation of aviation. Through more than 30 presentations, imaginAviation delved into topics and concepts ranging from environmental and emissions concerns to more esoteric topics such as Hyper-Spectral Communications for more robust and reliable air-to-ground communications.

 

NASA is continually involved in developing technical innovations in aircraft systems, a process that includes the utilization of this modified F/A-18. Photo: NASA


The tone for imaginAviation was set from the event’s keynote address, given by Dr. Kathryn Jablokow, a Program Director at National Science Foundation and Professor of Engineering Design and Mechanical Engineering at Penn State University. Dr. Jablokow stressed the idea of embracing multiple leading edges, noting, “Innovation makes people uncomfortable, but that’s not always a bad thing. It just means that people have this sense, this capacity to know when they’re getting close to an edge.

You can learn much more about ideas for the future of aviation and aeronautics as every presentation given across all three days of imaginAviation is available to watch by simply accessing the following link:

imaginAviation 2022 Presentations

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Color Statement

The March 18 launch of Russia’s Soyuz MS-21 – mentioned in an earlier Aerospace Perceptions update – has taken a turn for the surprising. After a fully nominal, brief two-orbit chase of the International Space Station, the Soyuz Korolyov spacecraft docked with the ISS. Hatches opened – and things took a turn toward the unexpected.

The three-man crew of the mission boarded the ISS wearing bright yellow and blue flight suits – the unmistakable colors of the Ukrainian flag.


Russian cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveyev speak upon their arrival at the ISS, in a video broadcast by the Russian space agency. Video image: Roscosmos


Rampant speculation commenced. Was this the orbital equivalent of holding up a “No War” sign on Russian state television? How could the crew of the Soyuz stow away unofficial gear in the cramped confines of their vehicle? Was this a semi-official Roscosmos statement expressing anger over the financial impact Putin’s folly will have on the Russian space program? If Roscosmos was horrified by a crew protest, why did they allow video of the impertinence to stream out before the eyes of the world?

What was certain is that such colors have never been worn by any other Soyuz crew arriving at the ISS. When asked if the colors had special significance, mission commander Oleg Artemyev demurred.

“It became our turn to pick a color. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow,” he said.

Actions speak louder than words? Or perhaps an old truism says it best: a picture is worth a thousand words. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Developments, Both Modest and (very) Large…

Just before noon EDT this morning, mission Soyuz MS-21 launched from the Russian spaceflight facility in Kazakhstan – the first manned spaceflight of 2022. The flight carries three Roscosmos cosmonauts bound for the International Space Station, the Russian spacecraft closing in on the ISS as I write these words. There is no need to revisit the strained US-Russia relations when it comes to space programs resulting from the needless invasion of Ukraine.

 

Bouncing back from a February mission failure, Astra successfully launched this flight from Kodiak Island in Alaska on March 15. Photo: Astra

 

Instead, let’s shed some light on another spaceflight venture this week that likely didn’t attract public attention. This launch took place in the relatively exotic setting of the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska. Astra, the new spacecraft venture which suffered a mission failure earlier this year when a fairing failed to open properly after liftoff, this time enjoyed a successful flight to orbit with deployment of its small satellite payload a complete success. This venture opens the door for three planned Astra launches from Kennedy Space Center in months to come. More information on Astra and its planned ventures can be found here:

https://astra.com/

 

Some questioned when – if ever – the fully-stacked Artemis vehicle would appear ready for flight at Kennedy Space Center. The Artemis I vehicle began the final stage of its journey to the launch pad on March 17, as its eventual destination appeared in the skies overhead. Photo: Ben Cooper/ULA

 

Speaking of KSC in Florida, an hours-long process got underway late yesterday afternoon as the massive doors of the historic Vehicle Assembly Building slowly opened to reveal the fully-stacked Artemis I spacecraft system, ready to journey to Launch Complex 39B for final pre-flight testing. If all goes well, the massive vehicle – standing well over 300 feet tall – will climb into the skies later this year on an unmanned lunar test flight. Successful conclusion of this phase will put NASA’s space program within reach of a manned return to the moon – 50 years after the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, completed on December 19, 1972.

Much more information on Artemis can be found here:

https://www.nasa.gov/artemisprogram

A gallery of Artemis travels from the VAB to LC39B on March 17 into the early morning of March 18 is here:

Friday, March 11, 2022

The War of the Words

Although the International Space Station (ISS) is just that – international in focus and components in orbit – by far the two biggest players to cement the success of this outpost in space are the United States and Russia.

In the wake of the final Space Shuttle mission - STS-135 in the summer of 2011 – United States manned missions to the ISS entered into a multi-year gap of dependency on Russian transport. On the surface it was a business arrangement, with the US reimbursing Russia for costs of carrying US astronauts to orbit. But the arrangement always depended on stability between the two superpowers, and minor events on Earth weren’t allowed to interfere with the ISS operations.


The configuration of the International Space Station. The Russians have threatened to take their pieces and go home.


Now, however, there is a major event, and the seismic implications of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine have reverberated into the ISS orbit – just weeks after operation authorization of the ISS was extended to 2030. Now, the station’s future is in immediate doubt, let alone pondering eight years in the future.

Reflecting the belligerent attitude of Russia’s authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos – Dmitry Rogozin – stated, “In this situation, we can no longer supply the U.S. with our rocket engines that are the best in the world. Let them fly on something else, like their brooms, or whatever.” This followed up on Rogozin remarks during the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea when he suggested the US resort to the use of trampolines to reach orbit.


Scott Kelly during his year-long service aboard the ISS. When he returned, medical studies comparing Scotto to his twin brother Mark were conducted, seeking to understand the impact of long-term life in space.


Scott Kelly had heard enough. Kelly and his twin brother Mark made a lasting impact on NASA, the siblings aboard space shuttle flights as both pilots and commanders as well as logging time stationed at the ISS – Scott spending a year straight in orbit beginning seven years ago this month. As one does in 2022, Scott took to Twitter to counter the remarks of Rogozin, and the result was a spiteful feud between the two high-profile players in the realm of aerospace.

Just yesterday, on March 10, Rogozin threatened to break an agreement to land US astronaut Mark Vande Hei – himself approaching a full year in space aboard the ISS - along with two Russian cosmonauts next month. Effectively, Vande Hei would be left stranded on the ISS until the US could figure out the logistics to bring him home.

The backstory of the verbal conflict - one that points out how fragile the orbit of the ISS actually is when competing powers are supposed to act as partners - is detailed in this recent CBS News report:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-ukraine-scott-kelly-dmitry-rogozin/

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Ice, Ice, Baby?

Ever since mankind began lobbing rockets up and out of our atmosphere, ice has been known to occasionally play havoc with images in still photos, film, and video. From time to time, ice flaking or falling away from space-bound vehicles has masqueraded as any number of objects – even leading to occasional speculation that what was being seen might be romantically extraterrestrial as opposed to the commonly frozen.

The latest such conundrum comes from a SpaceX launch yesterday, as Falcon 9 booster B1052 successfully lifted off from Florida on a Starlink satellite deployment mission. Everything was routine until sharp-eyed viewers noticed something nearly seven minutes into the flight, as the booster – now separated from its payload – was orienting itself for landing and recovery.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster B1052 was preparing for post-launch descent yesterday when the circled object made its mysterious appearance.

Via a camera mounted on the booster, for several seconds something is seen moving vertically from the bottom of the screen to the top and slightly right to left. The object – dare I stick my neck out and not refer to it as ice – appears to be tumbling as it progresses, and before moving out of the frame reflects light. Although to be honest, for some object in space to be captured in the video for that amount of time, it would most likely have to originate from the SpaceX booster itself. Or did it?

You can see the video for yourself – and read the spirited debate or come up with your own explanation – by using the hashtag #B1052 on Twitter, or follow this direct link:

https://twitter.com/VickiCocks15/status/1501871833406181380

And if you figure it all out, let me know!

Friday, March 4, 2022

Mriya: Confirmation

Over the last few days – appearing as a footnote to the endless stories of death and destruction in Ukraine – several outlets questioned whether the massive Antonov An-225 known as Mriya had actually been destroyed in combat at Hostomel Airport outside Kyiv. Sadly, those questions have now been fully answered.

Video footage from “Channel One” retweeted by Turkish defense industry news platform SavunmaSanayiST.com provides evidence of the aircraft’s destruction.




Again, as I stated in my original post about the An-225’s fate: In no way am I equating the destruction of this flying machine with the loss of life and human suffering being imposed upon the world by Vladmir Putin’s dastardly and warped visions for power and control. This post is just a hope that an incredible vehicle will be remembered for the unique airplane it was.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

A Bitter End to the Legend of Mriya

It was the heaviest aircraft ever built, with a wingspan just ten feet shy of a football field’s length. It was almost equally as long. And now multiple reports from Ukraine indicate with growing certainty that the lone Antonov An-225 Mriya in existence was destroyed in its hanger at Hostomel Airport outside Kyiv, as Russian forces conduct the senseless invasion of their neighboring country.

 

The An-225 in its first days of glory, carrying a Buran prototype across the skies.

 

Designed by the Antonov Design Bureau in the Unkrainian Socialist Soviet Republic in the later years of the Soviet Union, the plan for the An-225 was for it to play a crucial role in the space program. Its capabilities were such that it could haul massive Energia rocket boosters as well as the orbiters of the Buran program, the ultimately failed attempt by the Soviet Union to mimic the United States’ NASA space shuttle fleet.

 

Revitalized as a powerful commercial cargo aircraft in more recent years, Mriya rising into the skies was an unforgettable sight.

 

After its military duties concluded, the aircraft languished for eight years until it began a new life as a commercial aircraft capable of moving payloads no other aircraft could match. Known as Mriya, the An-225 nearly had a sister ship. Largely assembled in the 2000s, the second aircraft was never completed, leaving Mriya to rule the cargo skies.

 

Runway width and clearance was the first crucial consideration when it came to planning ventures for the An-225.

 

Like the remains of the Buran program, which now are shamefully rotting away in remote facilities in Russia ( Visiting Buran Relics ), the Antonov An-225 was a relic of a different time – yet still a fully functional contributor to the world of aviation. Aircraft fans kept close tabs on this plane’s adventures, seeking a chance to witness the An-225 in flight. It’s certainly a sight I wish I could have witnessed myself.



In no way am I equating the destruction of this flying machine with the loss of life and human suffering being imposed upon the world by Vladmir Putin’s dastardly and warped visions for power and control. This post is just a hope that an incredible vehicle will be remembered for the unique airplane it was.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Back to Work

Last week’s show is over, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship system prototype now de-stacked in Texas. Yet in the wake of his high-profile briefing at the Starbase facility, Musk was continuing to bring attention his way by apparently sniping dismissively at spaceflight rivals on Twitter, issuing this gem on February 18:

SpaceX’s goal is to make life multiplanetary, whereas their goal is to put a handful of satellites in orbit

SpaceX certainly is the big commercial aerospace player with flashy talk of lunar stations and colonies on Mars, to be made possible by rockets carrying dozens of passengers – the Starship program being a very public work in progress. But right now, the unflashy work of supporting space operations goes on largely unheralded by the media or public.

A Cygnus/Antares stack heads uphill from Wallops Flight Facility on February 19, 2022. Photo: Northrop Grumman 

The day after Musk’s tweet, an Antares rocket launched to the International Space Station, smoothly and on schedule from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in coastal Virginia. The Cygnus vehicle placed into orbit was carrying well over 8000 pounds of equipment, experiments, food, and other important supplies. Safely docked at ISS early on February 21, offloading of the varied cargo soon was underway.

There seems to be a growing tendency to take for granted the meat-and-potatoes missions that make up almost all launch calendars - even those of SpaceX, Musk’s tweets notwithstanding. But no mission is ever routine until it concludes successfully. That’s a truth that will remain a constant, no matter how seemingly mundane or unglamorous the payload.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Stacking and Speaking Starship

 

A screen image of the Starship stacking operation in Texas live streamed by NASASpaceFlight.com


Just over one week ago SpaceX successfully stacked their massive Starship system at their operations base in Texas, for the first time using their new “chopsticks” methodology – grabbing a prototype of the Starship crew vehicle and raising it to the top of a huge Super Heavy booster. By contrast, NASA continues to perform hoisting within their gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, as they have recently done with what will be the first Artemis assembly of the Space Launch System/Orion spacecraft. In a few months Artemis will undertake an unmanned mission to the moon before crew operations get underway within a year.

 

As for Starship? The ultimate goal is a large crew bound for Mars. But last week speculation ran rampant about exactly what visions SpaceX head Elon Musk might reveal at a scheduled media gathering and worldwide streaming event in the immediate wake of the Starship stacking. The thought was that if Elon said anything hard to believe, we may be the ones that need to rethink that belief. After all, the amount of progress SpaceX has made has been stunning. Ten years ago, I toured what was the humble SpaceX facilities at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. To see the visions presented back then come to fruition has been beyond impressive. And there are plenty of near-future developments in store. For example, those Starship chopsticks aren’t just for lifting – the plan is to use them to snatch a returning booster out of the sky. Impossible? We’ll see about that…

 

The fully-stacked Starship system prototype, beautifully captured by photographer John Kraus ( @johnkrausphotos ) the morning after the stacking operation. The operation had begun the night before as the clock neared midnight, taking place in darkness. 

In the aftermath of Musk’s actual remarks at his showy evening Starship status gathering, some observers have expressed disappointment. There was no bold announcement of imminent breakthroughs, just a report on concrete progress. But the very fact that a Starship prototype loomed in the skies above a place now known as Starbase, Texas… Well, that was a statement in itself.


Friday, February 18, 2022

The Missing Link(s)

 


While investigating a potential re-platforming of the Aerospace Perceptions content repository, an extraction process inadvertently removed several dozen posts from the middle years of AP’s existence since its inception in 2011. The content and images are not lost (I worked in IT far too long to let that happen) but they are not in the accessible content hierarchy here. At some point I’ll initiate the effort to reposition it all back into the date-sorted format on this site; for now, though, let’s move on with AP posts into the future.

Bottom line: mind the gap!