Thursday, January 30, 2014

50 Years Ago: Mission SA-5 Launches

Mission SA-5 launches from pad 37B.

Fifty years ago, Americans eagerly awaited the Gemini program which would precede the eventual Moon landings, but progress was also being made on the Apollo program itself. The first launch of the Saturn I block 2 rocket was made on January 29 from launch pad 37B at Cape Kennedy in Florida. This was the first orbital mission for the unmanned test rocket; a second stage, the S-IV, had been added to the previously tested first stage. The first stage also had added eight fins which would greatly aid the stability of the first part of the launch.

Beautiful launch, successful flight.

The Saturn 1 would not be the rocket to carry men to the Moon, but would play an integral role in preparing for the missions. First of all it would become our first heavy-lift vehicle. Second, it would place astronauts and spacecraft into orbit to be tested before sending them on to the Moon. Eventually it would play a part in US-Russian Space Cooperation and the transportation of astronauts to our first space station.

This mission did not include a test capsule, but did include a Jupiter-C nosecone, and placed the navigational instrument package into the second stage where it would normally be. When the second stage entered orbit, it became the largest satellite to ever begin circling the Earth. With this launch, the United states proved it could launch payloads heavier than the Russians, and that the USA had taken the lead in missile technology lifting vehicles.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2014 Starts with Space Success

Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX

The space business is booming literally and figuratively as a volley of rocket launches started off the new year. SpaceX continues its onward march of successful launches on Jan.6, lifting the Thaicom 6 communications satellite into orbit. The mission took off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral on behalf of Thailand, placing the craft in a geosynchronous orbit to provide communications coverage overThailand, parts of Africa, and a part of Arabia. This mission is a success also because previous Thaicom missions had been launched by Ariannespace on the French-built Arianne rocket. This is SpaceX's second successful launch of a craft into a geosynchronous orbit.

Overhead view of LC-40 in Florida.

History note: Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral station was originally home to launches of the Titan rocket series. Previous famous missions launched from there include the Mars Observer mission (which failed when its spacecraft failed to enter orbit of Mars), and the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and its moon Titan. The original launch tower was scrapped when SpaceX leased the site from the government. LEarn more about the SpaceX launch at NASA

Cygnus Cargo ship approaches the ISS.

NASA also provided great reporting on the launch of Orbital Science's latest cargo mission to the International Space Station. The OS Antares rocket original suffered a launch delay until January 9, due to extreme radiation concerns from a solar wind blast that hit the Earth's magnetic field. Once that had passed, the Antares was launched from the Wallop Island launch facility in Virginia. The Cygnus robotic craft was carefully guided in orbit to the ISS by ground engineers until its arrival on Saturday the 11th, followed by a grappling by the station's robotic arm just after midnight on Sunday morning. Now berthed at the station's Harmony Docking Node, the crew has begun the process of unloading the supplies.

India's GSLV-D5 rocket on launch pad. (Times of India).

On the International front, India launched a GSL-D5 rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Center.  The rocket placed a GSAT-14 satellite into geosynchronous orbit. The rocket has had some difficulties including a couple of recent failures, so this launch has definitely boosted the confidence of the Indian space program.