Starship SN10 hopeful for launch “this week” – Super Heavy waiting in the wings

Starship SN10’s wait for a launch date, following weather-related delays, could soon be over following… The post Starship SN10 hopeful for launch “this week” – Super Heavy waiting in the wings appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

Starship SN10 hopeful for launch “this week” – Super Heavy waiting in the wings

Starship SN10’s wait for a launch date, following weather-related delays, could soon be over following an optimistic update from Chief Designer Elon Musk. SN10 first requires a Static Fire test – expected No Earlier Than (NET) Monday – ahead of being cleared for launch, which was expected last week before Texas was hit by severe weather.

Over at the Production Site, SN11 and SN15 are being stacked, all while the first Super Heavy (BN1) continues build-up in the High Bay.

Starship SN10:

Starship SN10 Updates
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  • SN10 has been sat patiently on Pad A for some time now, rolling out down Highway 4 ahead of SN9’s launch, in turn marking the first time two Starships had been out at the launch site at the same time. SN10 was pressing towards its own launch soon after SN9’s debris had been cleared from the landing pad before Texas was hit by severe weather.

    Impacts past the obvious included SpaceX working alongside local officials to save Sea Turtles that were dying due to the cold weather. This included avoiding road closures required for conducting major milestones such as the Static Fire Test.

    Although work never ceased at SpaceX’s Boca Chica site, the improving weather over the weekend saw an increase in activity around SN10, including testing the aft flaps – albeit deployed via the leg power of a SpaceX worker on the mount.

    Interestingly, a Mary (@bocachicagal) photo of the aft flap work prompted Elon Musk to note that a launch could occur as early as this coming week.

    Such a flight would be subject to a successful Static Fire test – which is currently NET Monday, with notice of such a test provided to local residents, such as Mary, on Sunday night.

    Once SN10 has fired up her three Raptors, the only outstanding requirements ahead of setting the launch date would be acceptable data from the test – in turn fed into the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) – along with FAA approval – since granted, and acceptable weather conditions for launch day.

    SpaceX will be hoping SN10 is third time lucky, per nailing a landing. SN8 and SN9 both achieved numerous test objectives – such as controlled ascent and a stable bellyflop return before SN8 suffered engine issues due to a loss of pressurization in the CH4 Header Tank during the landing burn and SN9 failed to ignite one engine during the flip maneuver due to an apparent ignitor issue.

    Mitigation of both SN8 and SN9’s issues have been implemented, with helium pressurization of the Header Tank dealing with the former and firing all three Raptors during the flip on SN10, before deselecting the engine with the least lever arm in the event of all three Raptors firing up during the flip.

    Should all go to plan with the latest attempt, SN10 will get to plant her landing legs into a resurfaced and expanded landing pad.

    Thanks to the accuracy of the SN8 and SN9 returns, the resulting RUDs (Rapid Unscheduled Disassemblies) have caused some damage to the pad requiring repairs. Ahead of SN10, the entire pad was expanded and laid with rebar before being surfaced with fresh concrete on Sunday.

    How long that concrete takes to cure was the subject of social media speculation and may ultimately be the deciding factor when SN10 launches.

    Also unknown is the target altitude of this flight. It is expected to be anything between 10 kilometers and 15 kilometers.

    SN11 to SN19:

    Starship SN11 is all-but ready to make the trip to the launch site following the completion of its processing flow inside the High Bay.

    Starship SN11 in the High Bay – via Mary (@bocachicagal)

    Now with a nosecone and its aero surfaces installed, the option to take the trip and host the vehicle on Pad B has not been taken at this time but will remain an option if SN10 doesn’t launch by the end of the coming week.

    SN11 is a near mirror to her older sisters, albeit with an additional amount of TPS (Thermal Protection System) patches on the vehicle’s windward side.

    Pending the results of SN10, this vehicle could launch relatively soon after taking the trip down Highway 4.

    SN11 marks the final vehicle that will fly without the additional modifications that resulted in the scrapping of SN12, 13, and 14.

    Brendan (@_brendan_lewis) latest overview of the Starships at Boca Chica

    Starship SN15 will follow SN11 and will sport several improvements – some of which are unknown. What has been spotted is a new design for the Thrust Puck, while SN15 onwards will host a greater amount of TPS.

    SN15’s nosecone is already being prepared, allowing for the stage to be set where this vehicle will take over the position in the High Bay once SN11 vacates it for the trip to the launch site.

    SN15 will mark the next range of Starships currently in various stages of preparation at the Production Site, with parts ranging up to SN19 already spotted by Mary (@bocachicagal).

    The stacking of SN16 will soon follow the same path as SN15, with the work taking place inside the Mid Bay.

    This vehicle already has all its tankage sections ready for mating, with its leg skirt making an impression of a roller skater by being wheeled around with its legs deployed.

    SN17 and SN18 are also building up the sections required for stacking later, while SN19’s is only a CH4 Header Tank at this stage.

    However, the fact they are already working on parts for SN19 is, in its own rights, an astonishing sign of Boca Chica’s production cadence.

    What is even more interesting is the evolution of what these future Starships will look like, in turn providing clues to their test regimes.

    One section inside a production tent appears to be undergoing preparations to cover the entire windward side in TPS.

    This unnamed section could indicate a vehicle that will be taken to an altitude that would test its heat shield under re-entry conditions. Current TPS patches are mostly being tested to see how they perform during the stresses of cryogenic propellant loading and launch and landing vibrations.

    Super Heavy:

    Even more impressive is the quiet build-up of the first Super Heavy vehicle, known as BN1. This vehicle could conceivably head to the launch site before the likes of SN19 take the road trip.

    It is understood that BN1 would be hosted at one of the Starship launch site mounts, Pad A or Pad B, and may only be used for ground testing.

    BN1 is now moving into the second phase of stacking, with the aft section moving into the High Bay for integration with the first half of the booster stack.

    Rolling BN1 to the launch site for ground testing would allow for valuable data related to pressure and cryo-testing. It could then have Raptors installed for a Static Fire test and even a 150-meter hop, as Elon Musk originally noted.

    At the time, and likely now outdated by the ever-evolving plan for Starship/Super Heavy, Elon noted a two-engine hop. BN1, however, has the capacity to host four Raptors.

    BN2, meanwhile, is already showing signs it’s a step further down the line of testing, with the Forward Dome sporting an additional support ring that will provide structural reinforcement.

    The plans for BN2’s test regime are unknown at this time. However, once additional sections have been spotted heading into the High Bay, all eyes will be on the aft end to gain an idea into how many Raptors it will host.

    Super Heavy will eventually sport 28 Raptors. That full-power version of the booster, which – due to the rocket’s sheer power – will utilize one of two sea platforms, Deimos and Phobos.

    The initial Super Heavy rockets, at least, will launch from the Orbital Launch Site that is continuing to be built up next to Starship’s two pads.

    With the supports for the Orbital Launch site mount now complete, as it waits for the launch table to be transported from the Production Site, a huge amount of work is taking place on the Ground Support Equipment (GSE) facility.

    This work includes protective bunkers for the plumbing and the groundwork for the additional commodity tanks required to quench the thirst of Super Heavy.

    There was also a hint at the construction of the huge service structure that will double up as an onsite crane to mate Starships atop the booster, with contractors being hired to build a 450-foot structure at SpaceX Boca Chica.

    The build-up is one of the key indicators of when Starship will make its first orbital attempt, with hopes it can take place this year.

    Progress towards that major milestone will be aided by the initial test phase, with SN10 tasked with going one better than her sisters and nailing the landing at the conclusion to its test flight.

    Photos via Mary (@bocachicagal)

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    The post Starship SN10 hopeful for launch “this week” – Super Heavy waiting in the wings appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

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    Northrop Grumman’s S.S. Katherine Johnson arrives at the ISS

    Northrop Grumman kicked off their 2021 launch manifest with the flight of an Antares rocket… The post Northrop Grumman’s S.S. Katherine Johnson arrives at the ISS appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    Northrop Grumman’s S.S. Katherine Johnson arrives at the ISS

    Northrop Grumman kicked off their 2021 launch manifest with the flight of an Antares rocket delivering the Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia at 12:36:50 EST (17:36:50 UTC) Saturday, 20 February 2021.

    The spacecraft then conducted a rendezvous with the Station two days later, where it was berthed to the Unity module using Canadarm2.  This uncrewed resupply mission delivers 3,729 kg to the ISS, consisting of CubeSats, science experiments, Station equipment, and crew supplies.

    The NG-15 mission

    Production for this particular flight began a little more than two years ago with the start of long-lead material purchases and integrated components needed for the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.

    While overall production and integration of an Antares/Cygnus mission can take place on a shorter time span, Kurt Eberly, Director Space Launch Programs, Northrop Grumman, related that the additional time is built-in not just for production delays but also to accommodate the potential of NASA requesting an advancement to a launch date, which has happened before. 

    “We want to make sure that we’re there and ready to launch when NASA needs us.  We want to put a little margin on things.  We don’t want there to just be a bar on a schedule.  We know that sometimes NASA wants to pull us forward a little bit, so we try to be ready a little bit early so we can offer that and be there for when NASA needs us.” 

    After integration with the Cygnus spacecraft and initial cargo load operations in the horizontal integration facility for this mission were complete, the entire Antares 230+ vehicle and payload were rolled to the launchpad on 16 February, where the entire rocket was taken vertical for pad checkouts and Wallops Range communications checks.

    Once late-load was completed, Cygnus’ hatch was closed for flight and the payload fairing pop top was reinstalled before the rocket was taken vertical for final launch operations.

    The five hour countdown began at 07:36 EST (12:36 UTC) ahead of the opening of a 5-minute launch window at 12:36 EST (17:36 UTC).

    Temperatures are predicted to be in the low-to-mid 30s Fahrenheit (0 – 2.7 ℃), within Antares’ operational range that allows for temperatures as cold as 20℉ (-6.6 ℃) at liftoff.

    After leaving the pad, Antares pitched and rolled onto a southeasterly trajectory to begin its chase of the International Space Station. 

    Following first stage shutdown and separation, the payload fairings deployed while the guidance system converged on a flight solution to place Cygnus into the correct orbit while also performing a series of energy scrub maneuvers to bleed off excess energy from the solid propellant upper stage (a detailed overview of how that process works can be found here).

    That Castor 30XL stage then finished the orbit insertion, delivering Cygnus into the Station’s orbital corridor for a two day rendezvous ahead of grapple and berthing on Monday, 22 February.

    After arriving in orbit, Cygnus’ large batteries do not mandate the immediate deployment of its solar panels, a process that will unfold over the first 90 minutes of flight. 

    The spacecraft’s hydrazine thrusters provide attitude control to keep it facing the Sun for power generation while reorienting the craft as needed for larger burns of the bi-propellant main engine to change the vehicle’s orbit as it approaches the Station.

    Canadarm2 grabs hold of the Cygnus NG-12 spacecraft as it arrives at the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

    After being installed onto Node-1/Unity, Cygnus can also serve not just as a cargo vehicle but as an additional scientific module for the Station to accommodate additional experiments or overflow during heavy science periods.

    Frank DeMauro, Sector Vice President and General Manager, Tactical Space Systems at Northrop Grumman, said “That service is available.  We did a demonstration on one of the earlier missions, and since then NASA has taken advantage of that capability where they actually have crewmembers in Cygnus running science experiments in our module.”

    Mr. DeMauro wasn’t sure if that element would be utilized on this flight, but he stressed it is available to NASA on all Cygnus missions, and the agency does not have to request the capability prior to liftoff.

    “The capability is there,” related Mr. DeMauro.  “So if NASA decides to move an experiment into Cygnus, they can plug it into ports in the cargo module and use it as another test lab.”

    Science onboard

    As part of the mission’s scientific objectives, Cygnus is carrying numerous CubeSats and ThinSats that will be deployed after the vehicle completes its approximate two month mission at the Space Station. 

    All of the current satellites to be deployed from Cygnus after it departs the Station are launching aboard the craft as well, though NASA and SlingShot could potentially add additional CubeSats as the months progress.

    In regard to the ThinSats, Kurt Eberly said, “We launched some of those previously.  And these are little STEM satellites, and this is in cooperation with our spaceport, Virginia Space.  And the idea here is to take advantage of extra performance on the vehicle when it occurs and carry along these student-built and designed satellites.”

    “We’re really excited about this, and it’s a shame that with the pandemic we can’t have the kids out here for the launch.  When we did this before, we had a bunch of the high school students out here with some of their teachers, and it was just awesome to see how excited they got to think about how something they designed was going to be in space.”

    While the students will not be able to attend the launch, data collected by their ThinSats will be made available to them in their classrooms.

    Additionally, a wide variety of scientific research is flying onboard NG-15, including worms, a Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing system, experiments to map astronauts’ dreams, a powerful computer system, an upgrade to the Environmental Control and Life Support System for the Station, and a protein grower.

    The Micro-16 experiment will aim to better understand the cause of muscle weakening experienced in astronauts in microgravity even after working more than two hours every day to prevent bone and muscle loss caused during long-duration missions. 

    The experiment will measure the muscle strength of C. Elegans worms to test whether decreased expression of muscle proteins is associated with decreased strengths.  “Results from this study could provide insights into mechanisms causing muscle strength decline in the elderly since physiological changes occurring in spaceflight mimic accelerated aging,” said Dr. Siva Vanapalli, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Texas Tech University. 

    “These results may support new therapies to combat the effects of age-related muscle loss on Earth and can help us further understand how humans cope in the absence of gravity as we plan to go beyond Earth on longer duration crewed missions.”

    Building on their previous experiment sent to ISS in 2018, LambdaVision’s Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing project will evaluate a manufacturing system to test the effectiveness of microgravity for production of light-activated protein retinas that might be able to replace the function of damaged eye tissue and can assist those on Earth suffering from retinal degenerative diseases.

    Meanwhile, the European Space Agency’s Dreams experiment will examine why astronauts have often reported getting a better night’s sleep during their stays aboard the Station than on Earth.  The crew members will use themselves as test subjects, donning a sleep monitoring headband.

    Additionally, the Real-Time Protein Crystal Growth 2 experiment will produce high-quality protein crystals that will undergo detailed analysis back on Earth after returning on a future SpaceX Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft.  Astronauts will check the crystals, report their growth, and then make changes based on initial observations. 

    Microgravity produces high-quality protein crystals that can be analyzed to identify possible targets for drugs in the treatment of diseases; however, it is difficult to analyze protein structures on Earth because gravity interferes with the optimal growth of protein crystals. 

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  • Aside from the bio-medical experiments onboard Cygnus, the craft is also carrying a new high-performance computer called Spaceborne Computer-2.  This experiment will test  off-the-shelf systems that can process data faster in space by employing artificial intelligence capabilities as well as in-situ data processing on Station, eliminating the need to send the data to Earth for analysis.

    Additionally, the Station’s Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) will receive an upgrade in the form of Exploration ECLSS: Brine Processor System.

    This device will increase water recovery and recycling efficiency on the Station from the current 93% level to 98%.

    Current systems on the Station recover 93% of water and water vapor, but Exploration ECLSS: Brine Processor System will increase that by recovering additional water from the Urine Processor Assembly.

    This upgrade feeds directly into longer-duration future spaceflights, which will be required to achieve 98% water recovery.

    Honoring Katherine Johnson

    It is Northrop Grumman’s tradition to name each Cygnus vehicle after someone who has had a pivotal role in human spaceflight.  This flight is named in honor of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, an instrumental figure in ensuring the safety of early U.S. human spaceflight missions from Freedom 7 onward to Apollo 11.

    Katherine Johnson, 1961. (Credit: NASA)

    Johnson graduated from West Virginia University with degrees in Mathematics and French at just 18 years old and became the first black woman to attend graduate school at the same university.

    In 1953, she joined the all-black West Area Computing group at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Langley laboratory.  In 1957, Johnson joined NACA’s Space Task Group, which later became NASA.

    During her time in the Space Task Group, Johnson performed the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission in May 1961, the United States’ first human spaceflight.  Johnson also co-authored a paper on orbital spaceflight and landing, becoming the first woman to receive credit as an author of a research paper at NASA. 

    Johnson is most well-known for her work behind John Glenn’s orbital mission, which launched exactly 59 years ago today (20 February 1962).

    Friendship 7 launches. The mission is some of Johnson’s best-known work. (Credit: NASA)

    Glenn specifically requested that Johnson run the computer’s calculations by hand to proofread its work, saying “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

    Johnson went on to contribute valuable calculations for the Apollo 11 lunar landing and authored or co-authored 26 papers during her time at NASA.

    In 2015, at age 97, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, the highest honor for a U.S. citizen. 

    Johnson passed away on 24 February 2020 at the age of 101.

    Speaking to the decision to name this mission in honor of Johnson, Kurt Eberly said, “In rocketry, in spaceflight, we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.  And when our students learn orbital mechanics and how to calculate trajectories in college, and then they run a computer program, it seems second nature.”

    “But really it’s built on the hard work of all those people like Katherine Johnson that came before us and developed the methodologies for figuring out how a rocket needs to fly through the atmosphere and get to orbit.”

    “The fact that we still rely on humans to this day to put together these trajectories and fly these missions, she represents that capability that the best of us have.”

    (Lead image: NASA)

    The post Northrop Grumman’s S.S. Katherine Johnson arrives at the ISS appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

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