Trouble in space
Yesterday I made this post, and it appears that the 82 perfect launch streak of the Ariane 5 launcher has indeed been interrupted. Although the lack of communications for a few hours did not mean a complete failure, as it was initially feared, the spacecraft did not end up in their intended orbits: perigee (lowest point) of 250 kilometers, apogee (highest point) of 45,234 kilometers, and an inclination (angle to the equator) of 3 degrees.
Although the operators reestablished contact with the satellites, it seems as though they ended up in a not so optimal orbit with a perigee of 232 kilometers, an apogee of 43,200 kilometers and an inclination of a whopping 20.6 degrees. So it appears that the rocked strayed from its intended easterly path after losing contact with the ground team that was monitoring it. However, all is not lost, as it seems that both payloads will be salvaged, though they'll get to where they need to be much later that originally planned.
The SES 14 satellite will use its electric xenon fueled thrusters to eventually reach a circular orbit of 35,800 kilometers (which would've taken months if all went to plan), but will do so taking four weeks longer. This is due to the fact that its engines are not conventional chemical motors, but ion thrusters that use electricity to change the electric charge of the normally inert xenon, which propels them out of the craft, generating thrust. These are not powerful engines at all, hence the long time to change the orbit, but are extremely efficient when compared to regular ones.
The Al Yah 3 communication satellite will also be salvaged. This uses a hydrazine fueled engine for major burns and electric thrusters that were intended for station keeping. But it appears that both will need to be used to also reach the geostationary orbit that it is required to be in, in order to operate as planned. Though both spacecraft will dip into their fuel supply, the SES 14 will be unaffected and will complete its 15 year mission, but the Al Yah 3, although healthy and operational, might not last for the full duration.
Hopefully, Arianespace resolves the issue swiftly and their operations are free from mishaps in the future. An investigation has started, but their current lineup from Kourou is unaffected and will launch on schedule, as they use different launch vehicles.
Unfortunately, this is not the only bad news in space I have for today. On the 23rd of January, astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle ventured outside the safety of the International Space Station (ISS) to replace an old grapple fixture that has suffered wear damage over the years. But it appears that the new replacement is not operating properly.
Ground control, along with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) struggled to troubleshoot the fixture, but yo no avail. Thus, the conclusion to replace it with the old worn LEE (Latching End Effector) on the 29th. Although it has suffered damage over the years, engineers are confident that it can still operate normally for now, until they can find a solution.
Astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Norishige Kanai already had an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) planned for that date, though it was to do with other CanadArm 2 related operations. Instead they'll mount the old motorized grappler back and store the backup they'll be taking off on a nearby mount.
It appears that it has not been a good few days for space enthusiasts, such as myself. Hopefully these repairs and salvage operations will be successful, and valuable lessons are drawn from these events. I'm confident that the scientists and engineers will come up with more permanent solutions and apply the knowledge gained for future operational safety. If you wish to read more on these stories, you can read my original posts of the Ariane 5 close call, with a bonus covering the SpaceX static test fire, and on the ISS spacewalk.
What are your thoughts on the troubles that faced space operations this weeks? Are you as confident in the restoration of normal work as I am? Share your opinions below, along with any feedback you might have. It is greatly appreciated!
Thank you for reading, and keep on steemin'!
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