2018 started on a sad note for space enthusiasts with the passing of John Young.
Less than a week into the new year, news started to filter through that the veteran astronaut had left us for good – aviation records, 2 Gemini flights, 2 Apollo flights to the Moon, the ninth man to walk on the moon and commander of the first orbital shuttle flight, Young had spanned the initial eras of America’s spaceflight adventures. His achievements back on Earth were no less impressive. He served NASA faithfully for 42 years, staying with the agency whilst many of his Apollo contemporaries chose to move on and serving as Chief of the Astronaut Office for over a decade.
On August 22nd 1963 high above Smith Ranch Dry Lake in Nevada, NASA pilot Joe Walker dropped away from the NB-52 carrier aircraft in X-15 number 3. In the seconds that followed he successfully ignited the research plane’s powerful XLR-99 rocket engine and pulled back on the side-stick, aiming for the darker skies above. Three previous attempt to get this flight – the 91st of the programme – launched had been scrubbed for various reasons, but today everything had worked fine and the X-15 soon streaked upwards leaving the NB-52 and chase planes in its wake. Continue reading →
The Martin Marietta X-24A Lifting Body [IMG: NASA]
With the exception of the Space Shuttle, the high altitude flights of the X-15 and SpaceshipOne, all other human spaceflights have used capsules for reentry followed by descent under parachute. The capsule approach was originally adopted as the quickest way to get humans into space, but even during the 1950s other approaches were being considered – designs that would allow returning spacecraft a greater deal of control during reentry and more accurate landings than the first generation capsules could offer.
One line of thought centred around a vehicle that could generate lift via the shape of its body alone, a ‘lifting body’, and one of the most effective of the configurations that followed was the Martin SV-5/X-24. Continue reading →
SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 launch, possibly as early as March 29th, will mark a major milestone for the company. Carrying the Luxembourg owned SES-10 communications satellite, it will be the first to reuse – and hopefully recover for a second time – a previously flown Falcon 9 core.
Since the first successful Falcon 9 landing on December 21st 2015, SpaceX have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to recover their first stages to both downrange droneship and Return To Launch Site pad landings. But while there can be no doubting how technically impressive this capability is, it will ultimately count for nothing unless they can refurbish and re-fly the recovered cores repeatedly, amortising their development costs and sustaining reduced launch costs for their customers.
SpaceX had originally hoped that this flight would take place in 2016, but that was before the launch pad explosion of a Falcon 9 carrying the AMOS-6 satellite during a static-fire test on September 1st, 2016. Since Falcon’s return to flight in January this year, the company are pushing hard to regain lost ground across a number of fronts. Continue reading →
In a break from my usual posts I offer some thoughts on the launch event for Sentinel-2B held at the European Space Agency’s operations centre (ESOC) on the 6-7th March. All opinions expressed here are my own and I fully appreciate they may not shared by all readers (disclaimer over!)
As I write this, i’m sitting in a hotel room in Darmstadt, Germany after attending the ESA launch event for Sentinel-2B last night (and early this morning!) Continue reading →
A Chrysler advert highlighting their involvement with the Saturn programme [IMG: Chrysler Corporation]
Few sights could be more synonymous with the space age optimism of the 1960s than the mighty Saturn V. Built to take Americans to the Moon at the culmination of a politically fuelled space race, it also represented the ultimate expression of von Braun’s long held desire to use rocketry to reach other worlds. But while the Saturn V is deservedly honoured for its historic role, much of the work to make this success possible was carried out during the development of its smaller, less well remembered predecessor – the Saturn I.
Often consigned to the footnotes of space history the Saturn I story began well before Apollo, the programme that provided its defining role. Saturn I’s early development spans the military power struggles of the pre-NASA age and indeed its development helped bring key capabilities to the nascent space agency that remain important and controversial to this day. Although understandably overshadowed by the mighty Saturn V, for a while it looked like the Saturn I and subsequent variants might become among the most important workhorses of America’s expansion into space, a flexible and ubiquitous launcher with a life way beyond the lunar landings. Unfortunately, as with so many of the ambitious plans of the 1960s, the Saturn I never fully realised this potential. Continue reading →