Thursday, December 29, 2011

Russians ditch problem stage, launch GlobalStars

GlobalStar navigation satellites in production.

After last week's launch failure, Russia has replaced its malfunctioning third stage on the Soyuz rocket with ArianneSpace's Fregat orbital stage. On Wednesday Russia launched 6 GlobalStar navigational position satellites into orbit successfully. This is the third set of 6 launched for the system, replacing an old and failing system. The happy launch also brings relief to Russian space managers, although they still have to investigate the cause of the Russian third stage failures.

China also added to the vast assembly of satellites in orbit with the launch of a "Compass" GPS satellite. Ten of the system's satellites are already in orbit, and six more are scheduled. Their goal is to compete with the USA's GPS system.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

China plans large space program for 2012

Chinese Taikonaut in orbit of Earth. Credit: CCTV.

China continues to make ambitious plans for its space program development. There are plans to expand the Tiangong-1 space station and send a human crew to visit. There are also plans to exceed 2011's number of space launches. You can see a video of their space plans at Parabolic Arc's website :

Last year, China beat the USA in the number of space launches, 19 to 18. Each country suffered one launch failure. This was the first year China has exceeded the number of USA launches. Their space launch program has definitely improved over the old days of failures and explosions on the launch pads.

I still don't hear any mention of thanks to the USA for the technology they have improperly obtained through spying and computer espionage. I doubt we ever will.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Santa visits ISS, can't rescue Russian rocket

Santa docks at the ISS.

The secret is out: Santa has no problem dealing with world-wide travel. We knew he was able to bend time and space to deliver gifts to billions around the world in one evening, but now we have proof that the secret is in his advanced technology sled. Images are now available showing Santa docking with the International Space Station and receiving a refueling of some sort of top-secret power source. This also explains how the world was convinced to work together to build the ISS and keep it manned even during difficult times.

Santa maneuvers over the ISS after refueling.

The images come courtesy NASA and the Canadian Space Agency and a bit of computer animation magic. You can find the complete animation at Parabolic Arc:

Soyuz rockets are used both for human and satellite launches.

I'm afraid it's coal for Christmas from Santa for the Russians. On Friday, Russia suffered yet another rocket failure, this time a Soyuz rocket third stage. The communications satellite failed to achieve orbit., and apparently has crashed somewhere in Siberia. This is the fifth failure in a year and a half for the Russians, and has many space leaders concerned. The major concern from the USA is that the Soyuz rocket is also used to launch astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS.

TMA-03M 290 miles above Africa, approaching the ISS.

The satellite launch failure was tempered by the successful docking on Friday of additional crew to the ISS. Thankfully no problems with THIS Soyuz. The additional Expedition 30 crew will bring the crew total to six on the station, and full operations will begin immediately. THe crew had been limited to three temporarily, due to delays in the Russian launches caused by previous Russian rocket failures.

Without the Shuttle program, the US is totally reliant on rides to ISS with our Russian partners, who promptly began overcharging for seats on the capsule. With the dangers now inherent in Soyuz launches, I imagine our space insurance rates will be increasing as well. One can only imagine the true thoughts of our brave astronauts who have to ride the Soyuz at these times.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Expedition 30 B-Team launches to ISS

Soyuz rocket lifts off from Baikonur.

At 6:16 am MST this morning, the Russian TMA-03M spacecraft was blasted into orbit aboard a Soyuz rocket on its journey to the International Space Station. The 3-man crew on board will join the ISS Expedition 30 A-team that is patiently waiting for the rest of their crew complement. Commanded by Astronaut Dan Burbank, flight engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin will be joined on Friday by astronaut Don Petit and cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kulpers.

Docking is expected to occurr on Friday at about 8:22 am MST, with the hatches opening at about 11 am. MST. The TMA-03m craft will dock at the station's Rassvet module (Russian).

ISS Mission Control in Houston monitors the launch.

ISS crew watches the video feed of the launch while in orbit. The large interior space of the ISS modules is very evident. Another astronaut can be seen in the connecting module farther back. The crew has been busy decorating ISS with a Christmas theme, though not seen in this screenshot. We'll see more of the Christmas spirit during docking procedures and the welcome aboard ceremony on Friday.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Less Money for Commercial Space Development

Orion capsule drop-tests into water.

Once again, Congress cuts the wrong budget.

No doubt most readers are aware of the difficult economic times. Job losses are at an agonizing high level, and businesses are so worried about the current and future impact of business-strangling government regulations that they won't invest in hiring or new products. For space enthusiasts, we agonize over the poor planning of the White House over the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the lack of an American manned spacecraft. We go hat-in-hand to the Russians, who promptly raised the price of a seat on their venerable Soyuz spaceship, now the only path to carry humans to the International Space Station.

Soyuz spaceship approaches the ISS.

Supporters of the space program have known for a long time that one of the best investments of American tax dollars has been NASA. The spin-off technology derived from human and robotic space exploration has transformed the world over the last 50 years. Private businesses developing new products from this technology have produced millions, if not billions, of jobs worldwide and especially here in America. So it should be a no-brainer to our leaders in Washington as to which budget to keep, and if possible, expand. Apparently Not.

For several years NASA has been budgeting money to invest in companies who are also investing their own money in creating the first man-rated commercial-(as opposed to NASA-) made spaceships to reach low orbit and the ISS. The poor planning of the Bush and Obama administrations has resulted in a gap of time where America does not lead the world in manned spaceflight. This is unacceptable to the pride of our country.

This year, NASA had planned to invest $850 million spread amongst four companies in an effort to advance the development of new human-rated spaceships, aimed at getting a new system by 2015 or 2016. At the same time, NASA has been ordered by Congress to revive the Obama-cancelled Orion capsule design, even though a rocket has not yet been designed for it (Ares-1 was also cancelled, but not revived).

Although Congress praised the efforts of the commercial companies and urged them to hurry, Congress has instead cut the budget. NASA will receive only a budget $1 billion less than it needs, and in fact is $648 million smaller than last year. Therefore, NASA has announced it will only have $406 million to share amongst the competitors. The result is that the programs will be slowed down, and we will have to wait even longer to close the human spaceflight gap.

SpaceX's Dragon supply capsule will reach ISS in February 2012.

The worst part of this frustration is the waste of money by the Obama administration. WHile screaming in front of the cameras about the importance of creating jobs and investing in technologies for tomorrow, they have spent billions of dollars on failing solar-power companies which are now going into bankruptcy. The failed Solyndra company alone received over $500 million dollars, all sucked down a hole of a collapsing company. What's offensive to me, and anyone following this scandal, is that it is known that the White House knew the companies were failing and STILL SPENT THE MONEY.

Imagine what that wasted money could have done if instead invested in the companies that are attempting to build new rockets and capsules for astronauts to get to low orbit. Imagine how much shorter the spacecraft gap would be if the companies had the funds and support necessary to speed development. Imagine the jobs created as these companies ramp up production and sell seats to space. Well, it's gonna take longer now.

Funny thing, though. NASA has not cut the budget for the continued development of its own Orion capsule. Of course, Orion doesn't yet even have a rocket to get up into space. Things that make you go hmmmmm.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

50 YA: Titan 1 Test Series Concluded

Titan 1A at launch.

Fifty Years ago the Air Force concluded its series of launches of the Titan 1 rocket from the Atlantic Test Range at Cape Canaveral. There had been 40 launches, out of which 4 had been failures. The Titan 1 was an important development in the design of multi-stage InterContinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) for America's strategic rocket forces. The launches had taken place from launch complexes LC15, LC16, LC19, and LC20.

Titan-1 had a range of 5500 miles. As an ICBM, it could carry a nuclear weapon of 3.75 megatons of TNT. It became operational in our Strategic Missile Defense System in 1962 and was active until 1964. It was the first of our ICBMs to be launched from underground silos hidden in the western USA. There were difficulties with the first silo designs, needing an elevator to lift the rocket for launch, too long a time for fueling, and the command necessity of grouping them in threes, possibly making them vulnerable to a nuclear attack. During deployment, there were about 60 missiles available for launch at any given time. In 1965, as the new Titan 2 and Minuteman 1 missiles came on line, the Titan 1's were retired.

For NASA, the tests enabled engineers to prepare for the successful Titan 2 missiles, which would be used to launch astronauts later in the Gemini series.

There were 33 Titan 1s given to museums, Air Force bases, and government installations as memorials. You can see one at the Cape Canaveral US Air Force Museum in Florida, on one of the bus tours that you can board from the Kennedy Space Center. Sorry, I didn't get a picture of it when I was there earlier this year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

50 YA: Discoverer 36 Launch Success

Thor-Agena rocket at Vandenberg AFB.

Fifty Years ago on December 12, 1961, the U.S. Air Force Space Division launched Discoverer 36 from a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The orbit of the 300+ pound capsule reached as high as 280 miles. The main experiments included testing space equipment, researching radiation in space, and detecting nuclear explosions. All the experiments were successful.

On this flight, the Air Force allowed a hitch-hiker. A 10 pound satellite named OSCAR (Orbital Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) was lifted aloft on the rocket to test beaming signals to HAM radio operators back on Earth. This was also a success. Even today, HAM radio operators often have opportunities through NASA programs to use amateur radios to contact astronauts on space missions such as the International Space Station.

Discoverer 36 would re-enter the Earth's atmosphere four days later after 64 orbits. The rocket itself burned up on March 8, 1962. The mission was one of the most successful launches of the Discoverer series.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

50 YA: Enos the Chimp Goes to Space

MA-5 lifts off from Cape Canaveral.

Fifty years ago, NASA launched its last test of a Mercury-Atlas rocket before placing a human in orbit. MA-5 blasted off from Launch Complex 14 at 8 am MST on November 29, 1961. Engineers had been preparing this flight for 40 weeks. It seems that as new technology continued to improve, the mission of MA-5 kept changing. Finally it was decided to test the capsule with a live occupant. But instead of an astronaut, a chimpanzee was placed aboard.

Enos in his space couch.

Until the flight of MA-5, the most famous space chimp was Sam, who had flown in a test of the Mercury-Redstone rocket before Alan Shepard flew his mission. This time the task fell to Enos, which means "man" in the Hebrew language. Five hours before liftoff, Enos was secured into his spacesuit-couch and placed in the capsule. The launch went well and Enos was placed into orbit.

However, once in orbit, things "went south". The attitude control system malfunctioned. The auto correction thrusters were engaged 9 times to keep the craft in proper attitude before retrofire. The environmental control system also malfunctioned, and the capsule began heating up inside. Enos' body temperature reached 100.5 degrees F and mission controllers worried about the health of the chimp. Then the environmental system corrected itself and normal temperature was restored. Because the thruster problem was using up fuel, it was determined to bring back the capsule after the 2nd orbit. The capsule splashed down in the Pacific off the coast of California. After search planes spotted the craft bobbing on the waters, the destroyer USS Stormes retrieved the capsule and extracted Enos the Space Chimp.

With the success of MA-5, the qualifications had been met for the launch of humans aboard the Atlas rocket, and preparations began for the launch of the first American to orbit the Earth. As for Enos, the brave animal passed away about a year later after contracting a form of dysentery.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Foreign Affairs: Russian Curse vs. Chinese Success

Phobos-Grunt being prepared for launch.

Russia continues to suffer under a curse. The Phobos-Grunt satellite, launched on November 9, remains in Earth orbit suffering a profound silence. The Zenit rocket carrying Phobos-Grunt had placed the exploration robot in a temporary orbit before heading out towards Mars and the Martian moon Phobos. However, the necessary signals to send the craft outward from Earth did not ignite the engines and the craft went silent. Russian and international scientists have struggled intensely to repair communications in the last couple of weeks. Suddenly, a signal got through a few days before Thanksgiving, and there was some hope communications could be restored as telemetry got through on our holiday. Thanks should be given to technicians at the European Space Agency station near Perth in Australia. Sadly, this success was not repeated and the robotic explorer remains silent now.

Phobos-Grunt launches on a Zenit rocket.

Recently Russia has had some mishaps with the Soyuz rocket series, prompting a temporary grounding of spaceflights to the ISS while engineers worked to solve the problem. With the success of recent launches to ISS, the problem seemed solved, but now the Phobos- Grunt satellite remains stranded in orbit, with the fear that it could crash back to Earth with a significant supply of toxic fuel on board.

This was Russia's 4th attempt to reach Mars. It had not launched an interplanetary probe in 15 years. The other three launches to Mars also met with failure. In 1988, Russia sent Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 to reach the planet. Phobos 1 failed soon after launch. Phobos 2 reached MArtian orbit, only to go suddenly silent and was never heard from again. In 1996, the launch of a Mars probe went wrong and the satellite crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Are the Russians cursed when it comes to reaching Mars? Actually it goes to prove how difficult an interplanetary probe mission really is, and how amazing the American results have been.

Meanwhile, China keeps launching satellites with uneventful regularity.

Long March 2D blasts off from China.

So far this year, China has made 15 satellite launches, and only one was a failure. China usually uses the Long March 2D rocket. Years ago China would have suffered more failures, but since their "acquisition" of American rocket and satellite technology from Loreal and other American space firms, they have had a much higher success rate. While some of the technology was improperly transfered to China as a result of Clinton administration "deals", some has been determined to be lost to China as a result of Chinese computer hacking and corporate spying.

This week China launched 2 satellites from the Jinquan Satellite Launch Center, testing new technologies and observing environmental situations in China.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

MSL on its way to Mars!

Atlas V liftoff from Launch Complex 41.

At 8:02 a.m. MST, NASA ignited the engines of the Atlas V rocket carrying the MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) on its way to Mars. The launch has proceeded very well so far, with the separation of the nose cone fairings. The second stage Centaur rocket is expected to fire at about 8:45 a.m. (Update: Stage firing and spacecraft separation confirmed - MSL is on its way to MARS!).

MSL rover in the lab with scientists.

The MSL rover (named Curiosity) is the largest that has been sent to Mars. Its wide variety of sensors and controls will enable it to explore terrain unaccessible to prior rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity and Pathfinder. Scheduled to land on Mars in August 2012, Curiosity is expected to run a mission length of 23-24 months. Those of you who have been watching Mars rovers so far understand that the craft may last MUCH longer than that.

You can download a PDF fact sheet from NASA at

Friday, November 25, 2011

50 YA: Ranger 2 flubs, USAF tests Titan

Atlas-Agena launch.

Fifty years ago, launches continued from the Cape Canaveral pads. NASA launched Ranger 2 on an Atlas-Agena rocket combination on November 18, 1961. Ranger's 2 mission was to test the electronics of experiments that would later be sent to study other planets, and to also send back information on space radiation and magnetic fields. Scientists hoped to discover clues about a possible trail of hydrogen gas following behind the Earth as it orbited the Sun.

Ranger 2 at NASA Glen Research Center.

The Atlas rocket successfully placed Ranger 2 in orbit around the Earth, but disaster followed. The Agena second stage failed to ignite, due to a malfunctioning gyro. Ranger 2 was unable to be placed in the orbit necessary for the tests, and after separation it was stranded in an orbit that brought it closer and closer to Earth's atmosphere. It burned up two days later.

Titan 1 ICBM launch.

On November 21, 1961, a Titan 1a ICBM missile test was conducted by the USAF from its Canaveral site. This missile launched a special nose cone that would later be used in anti-missile missile tests with the Nike-Zeus system.

The next day, the military launched a mysterious satellite from Point Arguello in California. The rocket used was the Atlas-Agena combo. I still have not found out anything about this mysterious launch. It is recorded as the first "unannounced" rocket launch of a satellite.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Expedition 29 lands safely

Commander Mike Fossum happy to be on the ground. Not used to gravity after 5 months in Zero-G!

After 167 days in orbit and on the ISS, US astronaut Mike Fossum, Japanese astronaut Satosji Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov returned to Earth in their Soyuz capsule. They landed in a snowy field in the steppes of Kazakhstan.
The landing site. Auto headlights illuminate the landing area. Dark splash on right is where the Soyuz touched down, and the capsule is a bit to the left of that spot.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The New Mobile Launcher

The giant Crawler takes the ML out to Pad 39B.

In a scene reminiscent of the glory days of the Saturn V launches to the Moon, a giant launch tower is again seen moving to the pads. NASA engineers have moved the huge 355 foot tall tower to Launch Complex 39B to test how the new structure responds to the stresses of moving on the large Transport Crawler.

The ML tower was originally constructed for use with the Aries 1 rocket, which was cancelled three years ago by the Obama administration. Three years after its cancellation, the project is again alive thanks to Congressional intervention. During the last year, Congress has passed laws requiring NASA to design and build a new heavy-lift rocket to replace the lifting capacity of the cancelled Space Shuttle program. The new rocket is designated (for now) as the SLS, standing for Space Launch System. There's a creative, catchy name for you, eh? Despite my sarcastic response to the name, the new system will provide the United States with a rocket capable of lifting large satellites and spacecraft into orbit and beyond to the Moon and the asteroids.

Currently the ML tower stands at a total height or 400 feet while on the tremendous transporter. The trip from the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) to Pad 39B takes about 14 hours and travels 4.2 miles. The tower weighs in at a wopping 6.5 million pounds. It currently does not yet have the swinging arm bridges that will allow engineers to access parts of future rockets along its length.

Pad 39B is also going through changes. The old towers that serviced many shuttle flights have been torn down, and new structures are building in its stead in preparation for the new ML series of towers. In fact, the base of the ML will need enlargement for exhaust, as it was originally designed to work with the thinner Aries rocket. The new SLS will be wider at the base and include side-mounted Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs, like the shuttle had).

My hope is that the shuttle towers will be broken into small pieces for sale to space collectors like myself. I currently own a piece of the gantry from Launch Complex 26, from which the historic Explorer 1 satellite (America's first successful space satellite) launched atop a Jupiter rocket in 1958. I would love to add a remnant of the space shuttle era to my collection.

Launch of Ares 1-x in 2008. This was the test rocket for the cancelled Ares series of rockets, launched from Pad 39B to test the marriage of the SRB as a first stage with a second stage test structure. The temporary tower used at the pad will be replaced with the ML Tower structures.

Friday, November 18, 2011

2 Space Station Updates

Soyuz rocket blasting off in snowstorm.

Two international dockings this week made the news. Our first story is the return of human spaceflight to Russian space Operations, as a successful Soyuz launch was made to the ISS. On board the TMA-22 Soyuz spacecraft were two cosmonauts and an astronaut of Expedition 29. Even though the launch occurred during a snowstorm, the spacecraft successfully made it to the ISS and docked to the Russian Poisk module on Wednesday.

Expedition 29 all together now.

Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin and astronaut Dan Burbank join the rest of the Expedition 29 team for a six month stay aboard the station. Burbank is in the middle of the front crewmembers in the photo. Station Commander Mike Fossum (middle in back row), astronaut Satoshi Furukawa (left back row) and cosmonaut Sergei Volkov (right back row) will return to Earth next week. Another group of three astronauts will launch to the station in December.

Meanwhile, the Chinese have been continuing their tests with their Tiangong-1 space module which acts as a remote-control station for practice purposes.

Tiangon-1 (left) and Shenzou-8 (right)

Chinese ground controllers have been practicing undocking and redocking the Shenzou-8 spacecraft. No Taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) are on either craft. Notice the Shenzou-8 (right side of picture) looks remarkably like a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Why start from scratch when you can borrow (?) from something that has worked well for decades. The Chinese are actually doing very well and making good progress in their goal to establish an inhabited space station and then press on to the Moon. Certainly they have benefited from the American and Russian technology. Sure would be nice if they paid for the use of those patents, though.

Recovering the landed Shenzou-8.

Like the Russian Soyuz, the Chinese Shenzou spacecraft land in an open wilderness for recovery. In this case, Inner Mongolia. It had undocked from Tiangong-1 on Wednesday and returned to Earth on Wednesday. It is expected that Taikonauts will be on either the next flight to the station or for certain the third flight up.

Picture credits NASA and Chinese Space Agency.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Here Comes A BIG One!

Radar image of 2005 YU55.

It's time for watching the skies again, as a large asteroid passes pretty close to the Earth. Asteroid 2005 YU55 is expected to zoom past our planet at about 4:28 p.m. Mountain Time this afternoon. By Pretty Close I mean Pretty Close. Many close calls are actually several times the distance between the Earth and Moon, but this one will actually come closer to Earth than the Moon does!

Scientists have been closely tracking this asteroid with radar-imaging telescopes to precisely verify its trajectory and speed. We should be quite safe, as its orbit around the Sun has already been established. This gives researchers a chance to observe a close up asteroid and learn more about the dangers that could be posed to the Earth by these close misses.

You see, this isn't some little po-dunk bus-sized little rock, this one is as big as an aircraft carrier! Yes, it would survive going through the atmosphere and smack us good, but it looks like it will miss (phew!)

The last time a rock this size passed this close to the Earth (about 200,000 miles away) was in 1976. That pass by was undetected until scientists caught it going away (lucky us). The next approach of an object this big won't be until about 2028.

2005 YU55 will continue on past us and continue circling the Sun, passing by the Earth, Venus and Mars.

Down here in the Bunker we are glad that our scientists will get such a close opportunity to study and analyze the enemy's weapons. Should this have hit the Earth, the damage would have been quite appreciable, creating a crater larger than that found at Meteor Crater in Arizona. Celebrate the Near-Miss with a toast to the Near-Earth-Observations Program at JPL and NASA. The more we learn about these objects, the safer we can be in the War against the Comet Empire and their Allies, the Asteroids.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dockings in space

Steady... steady... careful now...

On Wednesday morning November 2, Progress 45, a robotic cargo delivery spacecraft, approached the International Space Station and successfully docked to the Russian PIRS module. Supplies included food, fuel, oxygen, water, and electronic supplies. I'm sure what the astronauts of Expedition 29 were REALLY waiting for were the 2 Apple iPads that were stored on board!

THis docking brings a sigh of relief from Russian space program managers, who were no doubt worried to death after the failure of the last Progress mission. That crash resulted in a delay of the Progress missions. Looks like the bugs have been worked out... for now.

Steady... steady... careful now...

Celebrations in China this week as a major milestone has been achieved for the Chinese SPace Program. Earlier this year, China launched the Tiangong-1 science module, basically a mini-space station. Tee T-1 will be used for practice in rendezvous and docking practice, and later next year Chinese Astronauts will actually dock with the spacecraft. In this event, a Shenzhou-8 Space ship robotically docked with the T-1 module. China is continuing to make strides forward in their development. No doubt this is due to all the scientific help we have either given them or they have stolen. I do not make that claim lightly.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Weekend Launches

NPP assembly in the clean room.

On early Friday Morning, NASA launched the NPP, the NPOESS Preparatory Project, into orbit aboard a Delta II rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This satellite will be the first in a new series of Earth-observing probes that will help us monitor what is really happening with the climate.

Progress 45 lifts off to the ISS.

After a delay for investigating the causes of a Progress crash a couple of months ago, Russia has given the green light and launched the next cargo mission to the ISS. Progress 45 blasted off from Kazakhstan on Sunday for a 3 day trip to the station. As usual, the pod contains fuel, oxygen, water, spare parts and supplies for the Expedition 29 crewmembers.

Last Saturday, the crew of Expedition 29 jettisoned the Progress 42 cargo pod, and ground controllers sent it to burn up in the atmosphere, taking a load of station garbage with it. Progress 45 will dock in its place on Wednesday.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

50 YA: First Saturn 1 launch

Saturn SA-1 launch from LC-34 at Cape Canaveral.

Fifty years ago, NASA achieved one of its major milestones in the Apollo program. From Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, the first rocket in the Saturn family blasted off. The basic first stage consisted of several Redstone rockets linked together, with a second and third stage assembly filled with water to test weight requirements.

Saturn 1 first stage during assembly.

The basic design of the rocket was under the direction of Werner Von Braun, who had succeeded in launching America's first satellite Explorer 1 on his Jupiter rocket back in 1958. The Saturn 1 used six times the fuel that the Jupiter had used in that flight. The nose cone of the Saturn SA-1 flight was a Jupiter nose cone.

Von Braun and Engineers with Saturn assembly.

LC-34 was constructed with Apollo in mind. A large concrete pad and rocket stand were built on the north end of the Cape Canaveral complex. The pieces for the Saturn 1 arrived in August. The main first stage arrived by barge. During the trip, the barge managed to hit one of the low bridges in the area. Still, assembly went well and fuel began loading on October 26th.

First stage being positioned at LC-34.

One sad note: LC-34 would be the site in 1966 of the Apollo 1 fire, in which three astronauts would perish. THe tower structures on LC34 were enormous compared to Atlas and Gemini structures, due to the height and size of the new rocket.

Saturn SA-1 ready for launch.

By morning of October 27, 1961 all was ready for the launch. There had only been a delay of about one hour. At about 11:06 am (my estimation from UTC) the vehicle lifted off and flew 206 miles downrange over the Atlantic. It reached an altitude of 86 miles before descending. All mission objectives were met.

Von Braun in the firing room bunker, observing the launch through a periscope for safety.

Remaining Concrete structure at Pad LC-34. Picture taken by SpaceRubble Commander.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

50 YA: MIDAS, Discoverer 33, and Polaris Testing

Agena stage being loaded onto an Atlas rocket.

Fifty Years ago the US Air Force was attempting to place satellites in orbit that could warn us if an enemy country launched ballistic missiles at the USA. Named MIDAS (MIssile Defense Alarm System) the project would eventually launch nine satellites between 1960 and 1966. The sensors were primitive compared to later versions and often failed to detect launches. But the mission launched October 21, 1961 was successful. An Atlas-Agena rocket placed the MIDAS 4 sub-satellites into a polar orbit from the Pacific Missile Range.

Thor-Agena on the pad at Vandenberg AF Base in California.

On October 23, the USAF launched another Discoverer mission. Discoverer 33 failed to achieve polar orbit. The rocket shut down too early in the flight, and the spy satellite failed to separate and was lost into the Pacific.

Titan 1a.

On October 24, while scientists tracked the movement of the MIDAS sub-satellites in orbit over Earth, the Air Force launched a Titan ICBM from Cape Canaveral AF station. The small test MIDAS satellites detected the launch and successfully sent signals to Earth. This development helped our scientists plan on creating better sensors for the MIDAS satellites.

Polaris A1 on the test pad at Cape Canaveral.

Meanwhile on October 23, 1961, tests continued on the newest types of ICBMs, which were submarine-launched. The nuclear submarine USS Ethan Allen successfully fired off a Polaris A2, which was basically an improved Polaris A1. Eventually this missile design would enter srvice before the year was out and was placed on 13 submarines until 1974. This launch stands as the first underwater launch of the Polaris missile, and the tests were successful.

SSBN 608, USS Ethan Allen under way.

The USS Ethan Allen was the first submarine to be designed as a Ballistic Launch Nuclear Submarine. The first sub to launch a Polaris missile was the USS George Washington back in 1960, but that sub was modified from an attack submarine. The Ethan Allen had just completed trials and was commissioned in August 1961, before preparing for the Polaris tests.

Monday, October 24, 2011

New Launch site for Soyuz rockets

Soyuz rocket blasting off from French Guiana. ESA credit.

Russia is no longer limited to launching their Soyuz rockets from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. On October 21st, in partnership with the European Space Agency, a Soyuz rocket lifted off from modified facilities in French Guiana in South America. Sent into orbit were the first two parts of the new European satellite navigation system, called Galileo. The twin IOV (In Orbit Validation) satellites will check and verify the position of other satellites to be placed in the network and test the system.

Twin Galileo IOV's separate.

The launch marks important milestones in the development and use of the Soyuz rockets. This is the first time the Soyuz has been launched outside of Russia's facilities, and strengthens the new working collaboration between Russia and the European Space Agency. This also gives ESA another reliable rocket in its portfolio of space operations.