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SpaceX launches Crew Dragon on first private mission

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WAILEA, Hawaii — SpaceX successfully launched a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four nonprofessional astronauts on its first private crewed mission Sept. 15, a long-awaited milestone in the commercialization of spaceflight.

The Falcon 9 lifted off at 8:02 p.m. Eastern from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. There were no issues reported during the countdown or liftoff, with the Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience separating from the rocket’s upper stage 12 minutes after liftoff after reaching orbit.

The Crew Dragon is flying a private mission called Inspiration4. The four people on board, none of whom are astronauts employed by a government agency or company, will spend three days in space at an altitude of approximately 575 kilometers before splashing down off the Florida coast.

The mission is the fourth crewed flight by SpaceX, but the first that does not involve NASA. The Demo-2, Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions all featured astronauts from NASA, the European Space Agency and Japanese space agency JAXA on missions to the International Space Station. Inspiration4 will not dock with the station.

Resilience, which first flew on the Crew-1 mission that returned to Earth from six months at the ISS May 1, is largely unmodified from others used for ISS missions, said Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight programs at SpaceX. The main difference is the addition of a large domed window, or cupola, in place of the docking adapter in the nose of the spacecraft.

“Since we’re not docking anywhere, it makes sense to have a cupola, and have the biggest continuous window that’s ever been put in space,” he said at a prelaunch briefing Sept. 14. “It’s otherwise the same, very safe Dragon that we’re flying right now for NASA.”

Inspiration4 is led by Jared Isaacman, a billionaire thanks to the online payments company, Shift4 Payments, that he founded. Isaacman and SpaceX announced Inspiration4 in February as a mission to raise at least $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The four people flying the mission fit into themes of leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity. Isaacman, the commander, represents leadership. The hope seat is filled by Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude who was treated for cancer there as a child. The 29-year-old is the youngest American to go into orbit and is the first with a prosthetic, a titanium implant in her leg from bone cancer treatment.

The other two people came from competitions Inspiration4 conducted in February. Chris Sembroski was the winner of a raffle contest for the “generosity” theme, where people purchased tickets to win a seat. The aerospace engineer entered the competition and was not selected, but got a seat when an unidentified friend who did win gave that seat to him.

The fourth seat went to Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and artist who set up an online shop through Shift4 and submitted a video describing her desire to fly in space for the “prosperity” seat. She participated in analog space expeditions on Earth and was a finalist for a NASA astronaut selection round in 2009.

While the mission has the goal of raising $200 million, of which $100 mission is donated by Isaacman, it has raised only about $31 million of the remaining $100 million through ticket sales and other activities. The spacecraft carries a payload of memorabilia and other items, including digital collectibles known as non-fungible tokens (NFT), that it will auction off to continue raising money.

That includes what Inspiration4 calls the first-ever minted NFT song to be played in orbit, by the rock band Kings of Leon. “We’re going to jam to it on orbit and later auction that for St. Jude,” said Arceneaux at the prelaunch briefing.

Inspiration4 will also conduct a series of medical experiments arranged by the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medicine. Those experiments range from biomedical monitoring of the crew to cognitive tests, comparing their health while flying at an altitude of 575 kilometers versus the lower altitude of the ISS.

Isaacman said he pushed for the higher altitude for this mission to help tackle some of the risk associated with human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit, such as radiation exposure, although it’s unclear how much data a three-day flight at that altitude will provide.

“It is a higher radiation profile than what would be observed at the space station,” he said. “The greater the understanding we can have on that, the better planning we can make for future long-duration missions, like going to Mars.”

The mission has more intangible goals as well. The mission is a demonstration of the feasibility of dedicated commercial human orbital spaceflight, a long-standing goal of both the space industry and NASA. That’s included work from mission design to training, although some lessons learned may not be applicable to companies planning other missions, like trips to the ISS.

Some on the crew see their presence as a symbol. Proctor noted at the prelaunch briefing that she will be just the fourth Black woman in space and will be the first to serve as a pilot, supporting Isaacman in operations of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. “I have this opportunity to not only accomplish my dream but also inspire the next generation of women of color and girls of color, and really get them to think about reaching for the stars.”

For some, the flight is the culmination of visions dating back decades. Alan Ladwig has been involved in efforts to promote human spaceflight by nonprofessional astronauts since his time at NASA in the 1980s when he managed its Space Flight Participant Program, which included the Teacher in Space project. “The Inspiration4 mission is a wonderful opportunity for this crew and a historical milestone along the long and winding road to space tourism,” he told SpaceNews.

“Having received thousands of letters from people who wanted to apply for the Space Flight Participant Program, I wish we were closer to space tourism opportunities reaching the mass-market phase,” he said. “Nonetheless, as the Inspiration4 crew has shown, one should never give up on a dream.”


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Source: https://spacenews.com/spacex-launches-crew-dragon-on-first-private-mission/

Aerospace

China launches classified space debris mitigation technology satellite

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Shijian-21 lifts off atop a Long March 3B from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, at 9:27 a.m. local time, October 24.

China launched the Shijian-21 satellite from Xichang late Saturday with the stated aim of testing space debris mitigation technologies.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/china-launches-classified-space-debris-mitigation-technology-satellite/

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Arianespace breaks payload mass record on final Ariane 5 launch before Webb

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An Ariane 5 rocket lifts off from the Guiana Space Center with the SES 17 and Syracuse 4A communications satellites. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/S. Martin

A European Ariane 5 rocket fired into space Saturday night from French Guiana with a commercial broadband satellite for SES and a French military telecom craft, setting a new payload mass record for geostationary transfer orbit on the final Ariane 5 flight before launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in December.

Running a day late after a ground system issue forced a 24-hour delay from Friday, teams pumped cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the Ariane 5 launcher’s main stage and upper stage Saturday afternoon on the ELA-3 launch pad at the Guiana Space Center in South America.

The Ariane 5’s countdown stopped five minutes before the rocket’s first launch opportunity Saturday night. After a 67-minute hold to allow engineers to analyze pressure readings in the Ariane 5’s main stage, the countdown resumed and the rocket’s Vulcain 2 main engine flashed to life at 10:10 p.m. EDT (0210 GMT).

Seven seconds later, the Ariane 5’s twin solid rocket boosters ignited to propel the launcher off the pad with 2.9 million pounds of thrust.

The Ariane 5 lifted off at 11:10 p.m. local time in French Guiana, darting though a cloud layer as it accelerated due east from the spaceport on the northern coast of South America.

The rocket jettisoned its two spent solid rocket booster casings nearly two-and-a-half minutes into the mission. The Ariane 5’s  Swiss-made payload shroud released in two halves moments later, once the rocket climbed above the dense, lower layers of the atmosphere.

The main stage continued firing its Vulcain 2 main engine until nearly nine minutes into the flight, before switching off and dropping away to fall back into the atmosphere off the coast of Africa.

An upper stage powered by a hydrogen-fueled HM7B engine ignited for a 16-minute burn to inject the SES 17 and Syracuse 4A satellites into an oval-shaped geostationary transfer orbit stretching nearly 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the planet.

The Ariane 5 released each satellite right on time, first deploying the SES 17 spacecraft from the upper position on the rocket’s dual-payload stack nearly 30 minutes after liftoff. After casting off an adapter structure, the Ariane 5 deployed Syracuse 4A about nine minutes later.

The SES 17 satellite during integration and testing at Thales Alenia Space’s factory in Cannes, France. Credit: Marie-Ange Sanguy / Thales Alenia Space

Arianespace, the French company that manages Ariane 5 launch operations, declared success on the mission. Designated VA255 in Arianespace’s flight sequence, the launch Saturday night was the 111th flight of an Ariane 5 rocket since 1996, and the 255th mission overall with the Ariane rocket family.

Built Thales Alenia Space, the SES 17 communications satellite will provide internet connectivity to airline passengers over the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean for SES of Luxembourg. The fully fueled satellite weighed 14,133 pounds (6,411 kilograms) at launch, according to Arianespace’s launch press kit.

SES 17 is the largest satellite ever procured by SES, and the largest spacecraft ever built by Thales. It carries a new digital payload controller, developed in a public-private partnership with ESA, that is capable of re-programming the satellites’s nearly 200 spot beams, adjusting power and frequency allocations to respond to changing customer needs.

“Thanks to Arianespace, SES-17 is now on its way to orbit,” said Steve Collar, CEO of SES. “We are looking forward to SES customers being able to leverage the high throughput, global reach and low-latency of SES’s multi-orbit, interoperable Ka-band satellite network comprising SES-17 and our upcoming O3b mPOWER constellation.”

The SES 17 satellite also carries a mechanically pumped loop cooling system, the first such active thermal control loop to be used on a large commercial communications spacecraft. Previous commercial telecom satellites used passive thermal control systems, or heat pipes, to keep their internal electronics at proper temperatures.

The 8,492-pound (3,852-kilogram) Syracuse 4A spacecraft, also built by Thales Alenia Space, will provide communications services for the French military. The satellite will relay secure communications between French military aircraft, armored ground vehicles, and naval vessels, including submarines.

The Syracuse 4 program replaces the Syracuse 3 generation, which comprises two French satellites launched in 2005 and 2006, and a joint spacecraft with Italy that went into orbit in 2015. The Syracuse satellites provide relay services for French military forces deployed and on the move in areas outside the each of terrestrial communications.

“All of these activities require constant, reliable communications, and only space telecommunication can provide that,” and Commander Ludovic Esquivié, Syracuse program officer at French Space Command. “Syracuse … is a secure communication system totally controlled by the armed forces, and hardened against external aggressions.”

The French defense ministry announced in 2019 that the new generation of Syracuse satellites would have cameras to help identify and monitor possible attackers. The Syracuse 4 satellites are also resistant to jamming, and provide higher data relay rates and improved flexibility over the aging Syracuse 3 satellites.

“These satellites are exposed to, or must be capable of dealing with, all kinds of threats, including a nuclear threat, but also threats in terms of cyber security or cyber attacks,” said Hervé Derrey, CEO of Thales Alenia Space.

The Syracuse 4A satellite. Credit: DGA

SES 17 and Syracuse 4A will use plasma thrusters over the next few months to circularize their orbits more than 22,000 miles over the equator. Once in geostationary orbit, the satellites will have fixed geographic coverage zones as they more around Earth with the planet’s rotation.

Saturday night’s mission set two records.

The combined launch weight of the SES 17 and Syracuse 4A satellites was 22,626 pounds (10,263 kilograms). The two spacecraft comprised the heaviest payload stack ever to be launched into geostationary transfer orbit, a typical drop-off orbit for large communications satellites.

The Ariane 5 rocket Saturday night flew with a raising cylinder at the base of the payload fairing that increased the launcher’s height by 5 feet (1.5 meters) relative to the standard launcher design. The change gave the rocket a total height of 184 feet (56.3 meters), making it the tallest Ariane 5 to ever fly.

The flight Saturday night helped clear the way for the next Ariane 5 mission to launch the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope.

The Ariane 5 is one of the most reliable launch vehicles in the world, with just one partial failure in its last 97 flights. The European Space Agency is paying for Webb’s launch as part of its contribution to the mission. NASA paid the bulk of Webb’s development costs, and the Canadian Space Agency is the third partner on the observatory.

NASA engineers helped ESA and Arianespace assess the Ariane 5 rocket’s readiness to launch Webb, the most expensive robotic space mission in history. The launch Saturday was the final test before Webb is mounted to the next Ariane 5 for a liftoff scheduled for Dec. 18.

The Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center, which provides oversight for launches carrying NASA science missions to space, took on a consulting role for the James Webb Space Space Telescope.

“I think that helps calm some folks’ feelings, or perhaps perceptions, of why in the world are we launching this on a foreign vehicle,” said Omar Baez, a launch director at Kennedy, in a recent interview with Spaceflight Now.

Baez said he took his first trip to the Ariane 5 launch base in Kourou, French Guiana, two decades ago to start evaluating facilities at the spaceport, which is managed by CNES, the French space agency.

“It’s touchy because you’re going up against Arianespace and CNES, and you’re a foreign agent, but we have worked well together,” Baez said.

He said NASA assigned experts in spacecraft processing, mission integration, and risk management as consultants to work with ESA and Arianespace ahead of Webb’s launch.

“Our risk manager has been following how the French and ESA folks bubble up any problems that Arianespace may have, and it’s very similar to the system we have here, with regard to insight and oversight by government agencies,” Baez said. “So we take credit for some of that insight by seeing that they have the same type of rigor that we show when we fly one of our precious payloads.”

“Ariane 5 demonstrates continuous improvement with each launch,” said Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s director of space transportation, in a statement after Saturday night’s launch. “The success today of launch VA255 and the success of VA254 last July were crucial to move towards Ariane 5’s December launch carrying the James Webb Space Telescope.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is seen inside the S5C payload processing facility at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

In their analyses to ensure the Ariane 5 is ready to launch Webb, engineers in Europe and the United States have focused on the rocket’s payload fairing, or nose cone, which protects payloads during the first few minutes of flight through the atmosphere. The shroud jettisons in two pieces a few minutes after launch, exposing satellites for separation from the rocket once in orbit.

JWST will fold up origami-style to fit under the Ariane 5 rocket’s payload shroud, then unfurl solar panels, antennas, a segmented mirror array, and a thermal sunshield the size of a tennis court after separating from the Ariane 5 on the way to an observing post nearly a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

Once in position, JWST’s telescope — the largest ever flown in space — and four science instruments will peer into the distant universe, studying the turbulent aftermath of the Big Bang, the formation of galaxies and the environments of planets around other stars.

The Ariane 5 payload shroud is made by RUAG Space in Switzerland.

Engineers introduced modifications to the Ariane 5’s payload fairing to reduce vibrations imparted on the satellites during separation of the nose cone.

ESA, Arianespace and RUAG also changed the design of vents on the Ariane 5’s payload shroud to address a concern that a depressurization event could damage the Webb observatory when the fairing jettisons after liftoff. Engineers were concerned residual air trapped in Webb’s folded sunshield membranes could cause an “over-stress condition” at the time of fairing separation.

Baez said NASA engineers based at Kennedy Space Center were “very instrumental” in discovering an issue with how the Ariane 5 fairing depressurizes during ascent.

“We were able to, in cooperation with our French partners, instrument the fairing on previous flights that captured that environment and make sure that we had accurate information,” Baez said. “And, in fact, we did find a problem. We had to work on a scheme to be able to vent that fairing properly on its ascent.”

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/10/24/arianespace-breaks-payload-mass-record-on-final-ariane-5-launch-before-webb/

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NASA sets Artemis 1 launch for no earlier than February

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Orion Artemis 1

NASA officials said they’re now targeting no earlier than February for the Artemis 1 launch as the completed vehicle enters the final phase of launch preparations.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/nasa-sets-artemis-1-launch-for-no-earlier-than-february/

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Live coverage: Ariane 5 rocket counting down to launch from French Guiana

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Live coverage of the countdown and launch of an Ariane 5 rocket with the SES 17 and Syracuse 4A communications satellites. Text updates will appear automatically below; there is no need to reload the page. Follow us on Twitter.

Arianespace’s live video webcast will begin approximately 15 minutes before launch and will be available on this page.

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Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/10/23/live-coverage-ariane-5-rocket-counting-down-to-launch-from-french-guiana/

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