April 22, 2013
There may have been some applause in Russia, too. Antares uses Aerojet AJ26/NK-33 liquid kerosene rocket engines originally built for the Soviet Union’s canceled N-1 moon rocket in the late 1960s and early 1970s. After being warehoused for 20 years, the engines were purchased by American companies and modified. On Sunday they finally made it to space, powering the Antares first stage.
Antares is now scheduled to launch Orbital’s Cygnus cargo vehicle on its first trip to the International Space Station this summer. Meanwhile, Russia is looking at using the NK-33 on future Soyuz rockets.
A replay of the Antares launch for those who missed it:
October 8, 2012
A Dragon supply ship is now en route to the International Space Station, after launching last night on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Docking of the vehicle is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
In the video below, at about the 1:30 mark, you can see a problem develop with one of the engines, which immediately shuts down.Yet the rocket keeps going.
That’s the beauty of the Falcon design, which has 9 clustered engines. From our article on SpaceX that ran last January:
The choice of nine engines for the first stage was made with reliability in mind: From the moment of liftoff, Falcon 9 can suffer an engine shutdown and keep flying; after about 90 seconds, it can tolerate a second engine shutdown. Even if an engine explodes…the others will not be affected.
Update: SpaceX put out the following statement on Monday afternoon:
Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night’s launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first stage engine. Initial data suggests that one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued. We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it. Panels designed to relieve pressure within the engine bay were ejected to protect the stage and other engines. Our review of flight data indicates that neither the rocket stage nor any of the other eight engines were negatively affected by this event….
Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do. Like the Saturn V (which experienced engine loss on two flights) and modern airliners, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission. No other rocket currently flying has this ability.
It is worth noting that Falcon 9 shuts down two of its engines to limit acceleration to 5 g’s even on a fully nominal flight. The rocket could therefore have lost another engine and still completed its mission.
October 9 update: It also has become clear that, due to the first stage anomaly, the Falcon 9 sent a smaller secondary payload owned by Orbcomm into the wrong orbit. SpaceX wasn’t exactly forthcoming with this information, which trickled out on various space websites yesterday. As a private business, they’re not required to tell us anything, of course. But with all the uninformed criticism of “new space” ventures these days, companies like SpaceX might do themselves a favor by being open and upfront when something does go wrong. NASA always has been — and it’s one of the agency’s many strengths.
August 16, 2012
The rocketeers at Masten Space Systems (see p. 3) are pretty happy with the Xombie they’ve created. The vertical take-off/vertical landing vehicle passed a big goal Tuesday: flying 750 meters downrange. As you can see in the video below, Xombie — which won Masten $150,000 from NASA and the X PRIZE for precision landing in the 2009 Lunar Lander Challenge — ascended over 475 meters before reorienting to travel to its destination at a little over 50 mph.
Founder and Chief Technology Officer Dave Masten said of the test, “I could not be happier.” As for Xombie’s next steps:
We are discussing going a bit faster and further downrange, but the real purpose of Xombie is to be useful as a testbed. Where we hope to go with this is enabling NASA, NASA contractors, and others to more effectively test their new technologies. Next for Xombie will be to fly similar trajectories but with new technologies to demonstrate that those technologies are ready for use in mission critical applications, such as landing on Mars.
JPL [one of Masten's clients for Xombie, among others] will be releasing their take on what they can do with Xombie in the near future and I don’t want to steal their thunder, so I won’t say much more along those lines.
Here’s another view of Xombie’s flight.
July 27, 2012
Watching the Royal Navy’s HMS Ocean squeak past the Thames barrier to provide security for the Olympic Games got us wondering. What lies beneath London’s historic river?
You might be surprised: A Zeppelin from a 1916 bombing run. Two Hawker Hurricanes lost in 1940. A Junkers Ju 88 shot down in 1941. The remainder of two Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses that collided mid-air in 1944.
And that’s not all. As historian Peter Ackroyd writes in Thames: The Biography, “It was estimated, at the end of [World War II], that approximately 15,000 high-explosive bombs, 350 parachute mines, 550 flying bombs and 240 rockets had fallen upon the Thames and dockland in the course of 1,400 raids. It may have been surmised that to destroy the Thames was, essentially, to destroy England; but the river, and the country, somehow survived.”
The Zeppelin L-15 was one of five airships that raided the east and northeast coasts of England on April 1, 1916, killing 28 people and wounding 44. The L-15 was brought down at the mouth of the Thames: “the airship’s back had been broken by gunfire, her gondolas were riddled with shrapnel bullets,” reported the New York Times on April 2. “She came down like a sick bird, flopping at both ends as though they were wings,” said a sailor who watched the airship descend.
The Thames is just 215 miles long—by comparison, the Mississippi River meanders for almost 4,000 miles—and almost 100 aircraft were lost in the river during World War II alone. During the first few months of the war, more than 100 ships were sunk in the Thames Estuary, taken out by German magnetic mines.
It’s difficult to determine how much of this debris remains to be recovered. When approach channels were being dredged for London Gateway (a deep-sea container port that will open in 2013), marine archaeologists noted, “Although World War II took place only 70 years ago, records of the positions of aircraft lost at sea are often vague or incomplete.”
As recently as April, an unexploded 1,650-lb German mine was detonated in the Thames estuary, propelling water and ash nearly 400 feet into the air.
July 24, 2012
While the world’s Olympic athletes prepare for combat in the sports arena, the British Army is preparing to handle more serious attacks, in part by placing missiles on London rooftops.
Fred Wigg Tower isn’t among London’s 20 tallest buildings. In fact, at just 17 stories, it’s barely 155 feet tall. (In contrast, London’s tallest, the Shard, is more than 1,000 feet.) But what the East London public housing project lacks in height, it makes up for with location, location, location: The building has one of the best vantage points across London’s Olympic Park.
The tower, which hosted a rooftop battery of missiles during a test deployment in early May, is one of six sites chosen to have rooftop surface-to-air missiles during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games; it’s the first time that missile batteries have been positioned inside London since World War II.
The tenants of Fred Wigg tower block went to court to stop the missiles being placed on their rooftop, arguing that the installation would make their building a target for terrorist attacks. (They lost their court case.) Says David Enright, the residents’ lawyer, in this video from July 10, “The clear implication is that the Ministry of Defence now has the power to militarize the private homes of any person in Britain, so long as they can demonstrate that there is, in their view, a matter of national security in play.”
Not everyone is dismayed by the thought of missiles dotting London’s landscape. The Telegraph reported that one Duncan Simpson posted video of himself at the controls of an anti-aircraft missile launcher on his Facebook page. “After a couple of points this evening the army kindly allowed my friend and I to have a play with their weapons of mass destruction up on Blackheath [south east London],” he wrote. The Rapier surface-to-air missile, with a range of five miles, is capable of shooting down a 747 passenger jet.
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