The Calm before the Storm

I was going through some of my previous Reddit posts and found this old memory…

Ya, I got one right at least.

Aside from the latest Antares launch and impeachment news, there’s really not much to talk about today. However, a lot of exciting, envelope stretching Space Flight firsts will come up in the next two months. I hope to write about all of these as they happen, but I might miss a few what with the holidays coming up. Plus, I’m working on Into the Dark book 2 right now and I want to finish the first draft by year’s end.

Let’s summarize the upper end of what’s coming up in the remainder of 2019.

Boeing CCD Pad Abort Test

This test sits on a pad today (November 3rd, 2019), at White Sands Missile Test Range in New Mexico, ready to fly tomorrow. In this test flight they will trigger the Starliner’s launch escape thrusters on the launch pad to simulate a malfunction of the launcher. If an accident similar to the the SpaceX Falcon 9 static fire failure, or the Antares explosion that occurred at Wallops Island back in 2014, were to occur underneath a Starliner capsule with crew on-board, this system would hurl the astronauts out over the ocean to a safe parachute splash down. This test must go well before NASA will trust the capsule to carry their people to the International Space Station for the Commercial Crew Program starting next year.

This launch will be a historic must-see. In these tests the capsule gets flung at an incredible acceleration, high into the air with lots of fire and smoke. Don’t miss it. It’ll be broadcast live on YouTube on NASA TV (see below).

Update: It looks like they came up a chute short. The live commentary said that is still nominal, but it isn’t. A real crew would have survived because of redundancy, but this flight wasn’t to save a crew. They test in order to shake out problems and some problem appears to have caused the failure of a parachute. They will need to find the root cause and fix it and that could cause more delays to the program. Stay tuned.


Sometime this month and next, SpaceX plans to launch its first three or four sets of sixty fully operational Starlink satellites. The ones it launched previously were shake-downs of the design and launch method. Still, those same test sats have been communicating with a U.S. Air Force plane for use in their operations. The United States military is very interested in the program and has apparently become Starlink’s first customer…well, that and Elon Musk himself, who sent out a test Tweet from his home through the Starlink system…

There are said to be hundreds of these satellites already sitting around built and ready to fly. SpaceX intends to try and send up about two of these flights per month on their reusable Falcon 9, increasing their launch cadence dramatically and pretty much exploding the number of operational artificial satellites in Earth orbit. Paying customers will come first of course.

Launcher One

Dropped from the belly of a 747, Virgin Galactic’s new orbital launch system may go on its first test flight sometime in November. The glory of air-launched satellite missions is that they can be launched from any runway that can host a large aircraft like the 747 and then set the satellite directly on its intended orbital plain, whatever that might be. This improves the efficiency of the launch and can also open up new launch window options.

Virgin’s suborbital space tourism flights (costing about the price of a house per person) will also start-up sometime very soon as well.

SpaceX Dragon

Another Dragon cargo launch to the ISS is planned for early December. We all remember when this program started right? Well these cargo trips to the International Space Station with SpaceX’s cargo Dragon put their foot in the door with NASA and got them started down the road to the Commercial Crew Program and other things that could come up in future years. These launches have helped fund their other endeavors and NASA has recently pointed out that they are very happy with SpaceX as a partner.

The Launch Abort Test for Crew Dragon is in the pipe to fly soon (late November or early December) as well. Don’t miss that. Not only will it make history, but watching those Superdraco engines toss that capsule at ridiculous speeds again will be quite a treat. One would think that they’d do this at the point in the launch where the vehicle is experiencing maximum stress, but apparently that detail is not exactly set in stone quite yet. The capsule that they’ll use had to be moved up the schedule and was originally planned to make Dragon’s first Commercial Crew test flight with NASA Astronauts to the ISS. However, the capsule that they used for the un-crewed test flight, that was supposed to fly this launch abort test, was blown to smithereens in a static fire test of the Super Dracos last spring. No museum retirement for that one. NASA says that the component that failed and caused that accident had been viewed by the entire industry as safe. The accident, which occurred on a test stand with no injuries, may have saved many lives.

The capsule that was intended for Dragon’s first operational flight of Commercial crew has been moved up the schedule to fly the first crewed test flight instead. They also have talked about extending the length of that mission to a month or more and treat it as a short operational mission to help NASA ride out these Commercial Crew schedule delays. The capsule that had been originally intended for that flight had not been designed to do that.

Boeing’s Test Flight

Speaking of Commercial Crew, Boeing plans to launch their un-crewed test flight of their ISS capsule around mid-December. This has been delayed because they also suffered some launch-abort system problems earlier in the development schedule.

It will launch on an Atlas 5 Rocket, rendezvous with the International Space Station, dock, and spend some days there while the crew of the ISS check it out like they did with the SpaceX un-crewed test flight. Then the capsule will un-dock and land safely to Earth as if it carried precious human lives. At least this is the plan. No one expects an old hand like Boeing to have any problems carrying out this mission successfully. They have not used much in the way of new tech to speak of and there shouldn’t be any problems. If there are, it will push the calendar for their first crewed launch way back, but that is why they test…to keep people safe.


Russia plans to test launch its heavy-lift rocket, the Angara-A5, again in December. Everyone is getting into the heavy-lift game since the largest market for launches has always been large communications and weather satellites going to Geosynchronus Orbit, which is quite high (a little over 22,000 miles). Heavy-lift rockets are best for these, as well as for launches to the Moon and other places elsewhere in our Solar System. A5, the largest configuration of Angara, lifts about a third as much as the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, but has a much wider payload capacity which is more appropriate for the larger satellites and lunar missions that folks have planned for the future.


~ by Bill Housley on October 30, 2019.

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