Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Another Falcon Sea Landing Crash

A little bit of SpaceX humor written onto the landing barge off the Pacific coast. All pictures credit: SpaceX.
On Sunday Jan. 17, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from its launch site at Vandenberg, California to place the Jason 3 satellite into orbit. This version of the Falcon was the last of the designated version 1.1 modifications, a stretched and re-engined Falcon 9. These versions have been flying since 2013. The next flights will be the Falcon 9FT, or "Full Thrust," which was most recently used in December 2015.
SpaceX launch site at Vandenberg AFB, California.
Last view of the Falcon 9 as it flies through low clouds.
Jason satellite program.
The Jason-3 satellite is a multi-program partnership between NOAA, NASA, EUMETSAT, and CNES. The multinational experiments will study sea surface topography, mainly sea surface levels. An additional experiment will study the radiation environment around the satellite.
Falcon slowing to touch down on the barge landing pad.
The Jason-3 spacecraft was successfully launched into orbit. Following separation, the Falcon 9 first stage descended slowly towards the recovery zone. Although SpaceX had made a totally awesome landing on a land recovery pad in December, Engineers were attempting to make the first successful sea landing on this attempt. Everything looked great right up to touchdown, when after landing one of the legs failed to lock in position, and the rocket toppled over onto the pad. Engineers suspect the heavy fog contributed to condensation which may have iced over and interfered with the lockdown.
Not successful at sea, yet.


FIrst EVA for the UK

British astronaut Tim Peake prepares to exit the ISS airlock. NASA pic.
On Friday, Jan. 15, astronauts Tim Kopra (USA) and Tim Peake (UK) took a spacewalk (EVA-35) to replace a Sequential Shunt Unit (SSU) which regulates electrical voltage from the Solar Arrays. It was the third EVA for Kopra, and the first for Peake. It was also a record as the first spacewalk for a British astronaut. There had been previous spacewalks by British astronauts when they worked for NASA, but this flight was the first time an astronaut representing the UK was performing an EVA.
Tim Peake enjoying the first British Spacewalk.
The replacement was scheduled to take place during one of the night portions of the station's orbit. Engineers did not want to risk removing the SSU during a sunlit period when the solar panels would be charged up and transmitting electricity. The astronauts moved out along the Truss and during a dark period changed out the failed unit with the spare SSU. They then moved back to the airlock area to prepare for using the rest of the EVA for some other minor tasks. 
Tim Peake moving along the side of the US Lab module.
Tim Kopra had completed the re-installation of a waste valve on Node 3 when he reported to NASA that he was experiencing a tiny amount of water leak in his helmet. Due to the experience astronaut Luca Parmitano had with a leaky water line that could have drowned him on EVA-23, ground Mission Control Director Royce Renfrew immediately cancelled the rest of the EVA and the two astronauts safely returned to the airlock. The leak in Kopra's helmet was not nearly as dangerous as the earlier incident, but no one was about to take any chances. No doubt the astronauts will be closely examining the problem and working with engineers to make repairs. The remaining tasks of this EVA will be left to another time.