Space X Debacle

 

On February 28, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX made its third attempt in its campaign to launch the SES9 communication satellite which will provide service to Indonesia and surrounding areas in Asia. imageThe first attempt was hampered by weather and to be blunt, nothing can be done about that. You simply wait for another day when the weather is in your favor.  Next attempt the next day  was marred due to unfamiliarity with a new type of liquid oxygen fuel and  miscalculating the time needed to get the Falcon 9 fueled in time to meet the appointed launch time. To the casual observer,  it seemed like a debacle .

After a 24 hour delay after launch controllers worked the fuel issue, a third attempt to get SES9 into orbit was made last evening, All systems were go, the fueling issue had been solved and proper fuel levels had been reached. Weather was a go, SES – 9 was go, and  the Falcon 9 seemed ready to fly.

Then a boat of some sort decided to sail into the “keep out” zone which violated the range safety rules and resulted in a HOLD call at a minute and thirty three seconds from the SpaceX  launch team. I was thrown for a few moments because at the time it was unclear why we were holding and as I was letting out an audible “wtf not again!” as  reports of the boat holding the launch came through.

After what seemed like an eternity,  the launch attempt resumed, and the  countdown recycled with a little over eleven minutes placed on the countdown clock. This gave enough time for the USCG to get the ship out of the area. With the range now green this seemed to be fly time for SES9.  This was it, it looked like it was going to happen as the countdown ticked to 00:00 and then nothing. The computers triggered a shut down which resulted in an abort call shortly after. Later, SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk,  put out a tweet stating:

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Which seemed to place the onus on the wayward boat.

Well, it looks like third time is not a charm. As of this writing, SpaceX has not announced the new flight data for the 4th attempt in the campaign. Some press reports have said an announcement may not  come until Tuesday.

Reflecting back on the audio portion of the countdown network, being broadcast over the  web,  the launch team sounded like they needed a break. After listening to the audio again they almost sounded confused and frazzled. I received a text from a friend of mine who stated it sounded like “amateur hour” and I sadly had to agree.

It wasn’t just me either, others were making the same observation last night and it makes me wonder what exactly is going on over at Space X. Are they working their people a little too hard? SpaceX isn’t NASA, they are a private company unencumbered by stock holders. They are well within their rights to run their company in any way they wish to. However, tired people are going to make mistakes, and spaceflight  does not react well to human fallibility.

 

Rachelle Williams and Gene Mikulka

@AstroAnarchy and @genejm29

 

 

 

Space X and the Rose Colored Glasses

Thursday evening couldn’t have been more of a nail biter for all of us watching the Falcon 9 “launch” at launch pad SLC-40 in Cape Canaveral, Fl. After Wednesdays scrub due to weather we eagerly awaited the rescheduled launch on Thursday. It seemed all systems were go, weather was at 80% go and all checks were green.

Or so we thought…

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Via Space X

At T-Minus one minute and forty-one seconds an abort was called.

After I realized I wasn’t breathing, I realized I was cussing, what the hell just happened?! Twitter was exploding with the abort call and then the reason started rolling in, a LOX fueling issue. This is where my frustration grew, I started questioning why and how this could have happened so close to launch? Not enough fuel? How does this get over looked? I started to see people making excuses for Space X and that is when I realized people look at Space X with “rose colored glasses”.

I was hoping I would see someone question the same thing I was questioning. How does

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Via Space X

something such as “enough fuel” slip past the professionals hired to handle this? Then I started thinking, had this been NASA, heads would be rolling and no one would be making excuses for the oversight. The way I envision it is Space X is the media darling while NASA is the redheaded stepchild. With all this being said I need to make something perfectly clear, I support Space X but when I see a glaring issue not being addressed that’s when I speak up.

Then this was brought to my attention:

“SpaceX engineers struggled to master the handling of the super-cold densified propellants at the Falcon 9 launch pad before the maiden flight of the upgraded rocket in December, but the rocket successfully took off the first time it received propellants on a real launch attempt.

The launch team updated the Falcon 9’s countdown procedures to account for the sensitivity of the super-chilled propellants. Instead of loading the propellants three hours before liftoff, the upgraded Falcon 9 receives its fuel in the final 30 minutes of the countdown to minimize the time the cryogenic liquid sits inside the rocket tanks and warms up in the mild ambient temperatures of Florida’s Space Coast.” (Via SpaceFlight Now)

So in December Space X struggled with the exact same issue with the propellants but failed to realize it could be an issue again. My question is how do you make another fueling mistake when you already had one to teach you a lesson?

Listening to the audio of the abort call via Space X I truly wondered how anyone could make excuses. They were finishing the first and second fueling stages when they realized while evaluating how much time they had left they may not have loaded enough fuel. At that time the team decided to hold the count down.

Let that sink in.

Rachelle Williams

@AstroAnarchy

Goodnight, Philae

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You came into our lives and stole our hearts back in November of 2014 when you did the impossible.

You landed on a moving comet.

Sure there were some tense moments when you landed and bounced back up finally settling 110 minutes later. Yes, you were tilted rather caddywhompus in the shade but you pulled through and started sending back data. You were kept company by a spunky satellite named Rosetta and she made sure you were never alone.

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We thank you for your service you kick ass little lander and we thank ESA for daring to believe they could put you on a moving comet. You served us well and you will never be forgotten.

With a final transmission….

01000111 01101111 01101111 01100100 01101110 01101001 01100111 01101000 01110100

 

Rachelle Williams

@AstroAnarchy

 

 

 

The Passing of an Apollo Hero

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Thursday night, news came through that Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell passed away at the age of 85. Edgar was the sixth man to walk on the moon spending nine hours working on the lunar surface where he and Alan Shepard gathered over 100 pounds of lunar samples to take back to earth.

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Mitchell started his astronaut career in 1966 and retired in 1972. He was originally a backup pilot for Apollo 10 and finally took flight on the Apollo 14 space shuttle where, on February 5th, he walked on the moon. Sadly, Mitchell did not make it to see the 45th anniversary of his moon walk.

 

 

His legacy will live on….

 

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Rachelle Williams

@AstroAnarchy

 

 

 

 

Space Week in Review

This weeks space week review brought us two rocket launches, a curious selfie, an Orion update and the solemn rememberence of three separate tragedies.

 

Ariane 5

January 27th, 2016 saw the Ariane 5 rocket successfully launch with an Intelsat 29E satellite from the Guiana Space Centre. This was the 56th Intelsat satellite to be launched into space by Arianespace. It was a beautiful liftoff as the Vulcan 2 engine lit up the launch pad with 300,000 pounds of thrust propelling the Ariane 5 rocket into space.

Proton-M Eutelsat 9B

January 29th, 2016 gave us another successful launch this time on the Proton-M rocket with the Eutelsat 9B satellite from the Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The liftoff was carried out by six RD-276 engines and it happened so fast I barely had time to realize it had launched!

Both satellites were launched for better communications here on earth. That’s right, if it wasn’t for the space industry we would be tweeting by pen, paper and snail mail.

Orion EM-1

Next up is Orion and what an exciting bit of news it was! All systems are on track for an unmanned test flight around the moon targeted for 2018. The EM-1 test mission will pave the way for the manned EM-2 mission that is targeted for 2021-2023. The EM-1 was carefully loaded up and transported from New Orleans to the Kennedy Space Center where it will call home until it’s launch in 2018. While it is at KSC it will undergo tests for its structural integrity and then integrated with its launch vehicle, the SLS (Space Launch Vehicle)

 

Curiosity Selfie

A curious little Mars rover named Curiosity gave us the cutest selfie ever! Look ma, sand!

 

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I will end this week’s wrap with remembering seventeen brave heroes who gave their lives for space exploration.

Apollo 1

Challenger

Columbia

 

Rachelle Williams

@astroanarchy

 

Challenger and Columbia: What Have We Learned?

The following was written by Talking Space founder and commentator Gene Mikulka who is also a guest editor for AstroAnarchy.

 

Challenger and Columbia: What Have We Learned?

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On January 28th, 2016 we observed the thirtieth anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. On the cold, clear morning of January 28th, 1986 Challenger and her crew of seven shook the ice off of Launch Complex 39 B and attempted to reach for the stars.

They would never make it.

At .678 seconds after ignition, the aft field joint which connected the vehicle’s solid rocket booster, failed. The failure allowed a bright flame to burn though the booster casing acting like a blowtorch against the skin of the Challenger’s large external fuel tank. After seventy three seconds of flight, the orbiter, according to the Rogers Commission investigating the accident now ”under severe dynamic loads, broke apart into several large sections“after being engulfed by a fireball when its large external fuel tank, filled with volatiles was breached as a result of the booster malfunction. All seven of Challenger’s crew perished.

Did we really learn anything from that tragic event in 1986?

Sure we learned that we should not launch outside known parameters. The low air temperatures on that day played a factor and reveled a significant design flaw that had been know about since the second flight of the Space Shuttle program. It showed that we made a significant mistake putting all of our launch services all in one basket. At the time, America was depending solely on the Shuttle to launch all of its satellites both civilian and military. We saw the error there, and started to get back into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle business and saving the Orbiter fleet for missions where humans needed to be in the loop, and the orbiter could provide its services for those unique missions.

There were other contributions to the accident, including self-imposed launch schedule pressures and in the case of the aft field joint rubber O-rings, not listening to what the machine had been trying to tell us, or worse listening but engaging in a game of “Russian Roulette” as Dr. Richard Feynman, a member of the Rogers Commission investigating the accident, described it.

However did things really change?

 

Fast forward to the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia, the morning of January 16th, 2003. Eighty two seconds into the flight, a piece of foam, no bigger than a suitcase and weighing a mere two pounds ripped off the left bipod atop the orbiter’s fuel tank. The foam would impact the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. At the time of the impact the orbiter was traveling at a speed of about 1870 MPH. The impact created a large hole in the left wing.
The mission would end tragically when on the morning of February 1st, 2003 during re-entry, the insult suffered by Columbia on launch day sealed the fate of America’s first space worthy orbiter and her crew of seven astronauts, among them the first Israeli citizen to fly in space.

As the orbiter headed home through the atmosphere, the breech in Columbia’s hull allowed gasses which were in the neighborhood of 5000 degrees Fahrenheit, to enter the left wing of the spacecraft. The gasses acted like a blowtorch, destroying the structure of the wing. The automatic systems on board Columbia valiantly tried to keep the Orbiter on a straight path but in the end flight, controls deteriorated and with Columbia traveling at a speed of 10,000 MPH dynamic forces playing on the orbiter tore into the spacecraft. Survivability for the crew was impossible.wp-1454358988479.jpg

Once again, as the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) discovered the foam loss was a known problem demonstrated in several flights. Once again there were self-imposed launch schedule pressures, in this instance the desire to complete assembly of the International Space Station by a certain date. And once again we didn’t listen to what our machines were telling us.

The sad part with both accidents was that they could have been prevented had we listened to what our machines were telling us and taken action.

Will we learn our lesson so there isn’t a “next time?” My hope is that the design teams at Boeing assembling the CST100 Starliner, at Space Exploration Technologies putting the Crew Dragon together and NASA’s Orion spacecraft team have the crew pictures of Challenger and Columbia at their desks along with the crew of the first scheduled Apollo mission as a reminder to, as the late Gus Grissom, commander of the Apollo -1 had said
“Do Good Work”