Falcon Heavy static fire test and Ariane 5 brush with disaster

in #space4 years ago

To start off the post, you have a short video of SpaceX's latest rocket, the Falcon Heavy, performing a static fire test on the upgraded launchpad 39A of Cape Canaveral, in Florida. All 27 Merlin 1-D engines were lit, and burned for about 10 seconds. They were staggered, the side-booster's engines were lit first, than the center core's, though this could only be seen on a high-speed camera. They weren't fired all at once, so as not to cause unnecessary stress on the struts holding the rocket together.

This brings the maiden flight of this rocket, first announced in 2011, closer, SpaceX's CEO, Elon Musk stating: "Falcon Heavy hold-down firing this morning was good. Generated quite a thunderhead of steam. Launching in a week or so". There is still no definitive date, as the craft has been delayed multiple times. It was initially supposed to fly in 2013, but development for the Falcon Heavy had been delayed, as advancements to the Falcon 9 were being implemented. Whatever the actual date may be, I'll be sure to inform you.

The test flight be the largest craft to fly since the gargantuan Saturn V that took astronauts to the Moon. It will not carry a dummy satellite, as is customary, but Elon Musk's personal Tesla Roadster, making this a great PR move for both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, who's CEO he is, also. The two previously flown side boosters will attempt a landing back at the launchpad, after around two minutes of firing, and the center core will attempt to land in the ocean where a drone ship will be waiting. The payload will fly by Mars and end up in a Sun-orbit.

Second on the list is Arianspace's yesterday launch of an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. It was carrying two satellites, one, the SES 14, on behalf of NASA, with a $53 million scientific package that will study Earth's upper atmosphere and space weather, as well as a communication satellite, dubbed Al Yah 3, built by Orbital ATK, that aims to bring broadband and data services to Africa and Brazil. Both are intended to reach a geostationary orbit.

The launch sequence occurred smoothly, with the Vulcain 2 engine of the core stage lighting up normally. Seven seconds later, the two side-mounted solid rocket boosters (SRB) fired after a planned internal computer check, and the spacecraft took off from the launchpad in Kourou. After MECO (Main Engine Cut-Off), the upper stage HM7B engine burst to life continuing the journey, as expected.

However, a few seconds after that, mission control stopped receiving any sort of telemetry, as the craft was supposed to switch ground stations for communications. During the following minutes, the teams were calling out milestones as they were supposed to take place, however there was no confirmation of any of these events. Worryingly, none of the stations would pick up any signals, and fears of a failure of the otherwise very successful launcher, with 82 consecutive clean lift-offs, began to surface.

Stephane Israel, the french chief executive on site, after one hour of uncertainty apologized to the company's customers, stating: "We have had an anomaly on this launch. Indeed, we lost contact with the launcher a few seconds after ignition of the upper stage. We know that there is no launch with no risk. We know that launch is always difficult, and tonight Ariane 5 has had an anomaly, so let’s take time now to better understand the situation of the satellites".

Engineers did not know the fate of the launcher or the two satellites on board, and could not confirm whether or not they made orbit. Luckily though, later reports suggested that disaster might have been averted. After around three tense hours after liftoff, Arianespace issued a statement: "A few seconds after ignition of the upper stage, the second tracking station located in Natal, Brazil, did not acquire the launcher telemetry. This lack of telemetry lasted throughout the rest of powered flight. Subsequently, both satellites were confirmed separated, acquired and they are on orbit. SES 14 and Al Yah 3 are communicating with their respective control centers. Both missions are continuing”.

I'm glad all is well with Arianespace's launch and the launcher's successful history is not tarnished. But this will incur some investigations, as such a long loss of signal surely is not an encouraging sign. Good luck to the team, and to more great launches ahead!

But what I'm really hyped about is the upcoming Falcon Heavy maiden flight. SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket from launchpad 40, of Cape Canaveral, just a few kilometers south from where the Falcon Heavy will launch. Thus, the largest rocket in operation will most likely take place a couple day after that, as the teams share resources. Whenever it is, I cannot wait to see if SpaceX will manage to land all three cores. Whatever the outcome, tune in, because as Elon Musk said, "Excitement on launch day guaranteed, one way or another".

What are your thoughts on the static fire? Are you as excited as I am for it? What about the Ariane 5's close call with disaster? How do you think this will impact the company? Share your thoughts below, along with any feedback you have. It is greatly appreciated!

Thank you for reading, and keep on steemin'!

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