Soyuz swaps and Mars rovers in the shop, during a suborbital week

Another week without an orbital launch, though it was not without notable space events, as early Tuesday, the space station received the cargo-laden Soyuz MS-14 capsule following a dramatic docking port swap for Soyuz MS-13.

On Monday, the same three astronauts that rode up in MS-13 piled back into the vessel and flew it around the ISS, to ensure MS-14’s robotic docking system could target the perfectly functioning KURS beacon at the end of the Zvezda module. Though the blinky autodock on Poisk had foiled FEDOR the Robot, the humans had no trouble docking manually.

Spaceflight events

26 Aug 2019 0335 UT: Soyuz MS-13 loops around ISS, returns at 0359 (Skvortsov, Parmitano, Morgan aboard)

27 Aug 2019 0308 UT: Soyuz MS-14 docks with ISS on second try

27 Aug 2019 1459 UT: CRS-18 leaves ISS, splashes down in Pacific

27 Aug 2019 2201 UT: Boca Chica Starship 150m test flight

Further news

23 Aug 2019 – Radio astronomy concerns over OneWeb constellation, SpaceNews reports

23 Aug 2019: Deep Space Atomic Clock brought online

23 Aug 2019 – NASA, INPE satellite data shows a record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest

26 Aug 2019: Koch speaks from ISS on Women’s Equality Day

27 Aug 2019 – ESA ExoMars rover assembly completed in UK, moving to France for tests

28 Aug 2019: JWST assembly hits milestone

28 Aug 2019: Helicopter installed on NASA’s next Mars rover

28 Aug 2019: Midwest Express flies again

28 Aug 2019: ESA announces GAIA probe has discovered string patterns in stellar births in the Milky Way galaxy

29 Aug 2019: US Space Command ceremony at White House

29 Aug 2019: Cape Canaveral prepares for Hurricane Dorian,
NASA TV features ISS observations

United States Space Command resumes

Space Command ceremony, 29 Aug 2019

The United States Space Command, which first operated 1985-2002, resumed 29 Aug 2019. President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary of Defense Esper joined Gen. John “Jay” Raymond and CMSgt. Roger Towberman in a brief ceremony at the Rose Garden of the White House, about 2020 UT.

After a brief speech from the President, the Defense Secretary signed an order establishing the United States Space Command. Raymond presented the President with a commemorative plaque, and Towberman unfurled the new flag for the Unified Combatant Command.

United States Space Command is presently headquartered with its major component, Air Force Space Command, at Peterson AFB, Colorado. Midwest locations that will participate in the new command include Offutt AFB, Nebraska and Cavalier AFS, North Dakota.

Midwest Express takes flight with Milwaukee – Grand Rapids charter

Midwest Express Airlines has returned to service with a flight between Milwaukee and Grand Rapids on 28 Aug 2019.

The inaugural flight departed General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee at 1631 UT and landed at Gerald Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids at 1655 UT. The 24-minute flight reached a maximum altitude of 5200m and speed of 222 m/s.

Midwest Express MKE-GRR, 28 Aug 2019 1631 UT (FlightAware)

The plane then returned to Milwaukee in 29 minutes, with takeoff at 1826 UT and landing at 1855 UT, with the same top speed of 222 m/s and a peak altitude of 4875 m.

Midwest Express GRR-MKE, 28 Aug 2019 1826 UT (FlightAware)

For its initial operations, Midwest Express is leasing N96EA, a CRJ200 from charter operator Elite Airways, painted plain white with blue and yellow cheatlines and the old M-E logo on the tailplane.

The new Midwest Express will fly from Milwaukee to Grand Rapids, Omaha, and Cincinnati. Reservations are not yet open, though an August 6 press release from the airline stated that revenue service will begin by the end of 2019. In the meantime, Elite Airways has returned the plane to charter flight service.

Starship flies free, CRS-18 returns

Anticipation was running high today, building since it was first announced that the SpaceX Starship – which passed a tethered lift test in July – was finally to break free of the Earth. It did.

It was a glorious show – a hiss of gas, half like an oboe, half like a shoe being scraped against concrete, then two puffs of vapour, billowing pearly white into the sunny Texas afternoon. A shower of snowy condensate as the engine cracks to life. An orange beam of methalox pierces the grey shroud. Finally, the stainless steel behemoth shook free of gravity, lifting like the Wonkavator over the sandy spits of Boca Chica Beach, kicking up a tan cloud of dust and sand.

The ship soon found itself over the horizon of the high-altitude webcam SpaceX mounted to capture the feat, backlit by the sky, with the ocean lapping the shore just metres to the east as Starship gracefully hurled 150 metres into the air.

Reaching its apogee just after 30 seconds of flight, Starship gingerly tilted over toward its target landing pad, the familiar circle with a SpaceX “X” in the centre, just metres away from the launchpad, and carefully came to a soft landing thereupon, kicking up considerably much less sand on landing than on liftoff.

The test is a major milestone for the SpaceX Starship program, which will be fêted in a major press event sometime in September, after a few more features are tacked on to the vessel.

The success follows a more mundane moment earlier in the day, the return of SpaceX CRS-18 to Earth, which splashed down in the Pacific filled with over 1000 kg of returned science payloads, after Christina Koch detached it from the ISS at 1459 UT.

SpaceX CRS-18 prior to leaving the ISS 1459 UT 27 Aug 2019.

Soyuz and Delta close out the week

A first and a last just today – at 0338 UT on 22 August, the Soyuz-2.1a rocket was tested sending up a Soyuz capsule along with a new launch escape system. For safety reasons, Soyuz MS-14 sent no crew except FEDOR the robot, a human-piloted haptic android equally capable of gingerly holding a pop can or squeezing off a round at the gun range.

Soyuz MS-14 launch, Baikonur, 22 Aug 2019 0338 UT (Credit: Roscosmos)

Delta IV Medium saw its last mission – a GPS satellite – going up at 1306 UT. This rounds out the D4M program, though D4H has several more launches even as the United Launch Alliance moves toward its newer Vulcan rocket.

Delta 4 Medium flies from Cape Canaveral, 22 Aug 2019 1306 UT (Credit: ULA)

Earlier in the week, there were three more launches:

17 Aug 2019 0411 – Jiuquan Smart Dragon 1 (first launch!)
18 Aug 2019 1203 – Xichang LM3B (satellite deployment failure)
18 Aug 2019 1212 – Māhia Electron

Further News

16 Aug – The Canadian Space Agency requested research proposals for extra time on NEOSat.

19 Aug – An Australian joint venture between Myriota and Optus will enter the megaconstellation fray with tiny satellites and tiny data plans.

20 Aug – The United States National Space Council held a session.

21 Aug – EVA218 and NEEMO NXT spacewalks at the ISS and under the sea

Spacewalks for training and dock maintenance

JAXA Astronaut Norishige Kanai in an exosuit during NEEMO NXT, Santa Catalina Island, California, August 2019 (Credit: @Astro_Kanai on Twitter)

On the rocky seashore of Santa Catalina Island, California, astronauts Drew Feustel, Norishige Kanai, and Thomas Pesquet are conducting a week of undersea analog training. NEEMO NXT is training them for lunar excursions, with a submersible “rover” and “spacewalks” in simulated lunar gravity using a partially-buoyant diving suit. Uniquely for the NEEMO program, this effort does not involve overnight stays in an aquatic laboratory – the trainees get to breathe fresh air each night. The NXT mission is hosted by the University of Southern California Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Meanwhile, Nick Hague and Andrew Morgan set out for ISS EVA218 on 21 Aug 2019 at 1148 UT to install a PMA-to-IDA docking adapter. A twenty-year-old space station will develop logistics problems over time. Oddly enough, one of those problems is what shape the doors should be.

Nick Hague (left, red stripes) and Andrew Morgan (right) attach the IDA-3 to the International Space Station during EVA218 21 Aug 2019. (Credit: NASA TV)

Today, there are three different types of docking ports on the ISS. Not long ago, there were four. The work today finally eliminated the old Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA), which dates back to Shuttle-Mir. An adapter unit converted the last open PMA port to the International Docking Adapter (IDA) hatch design.

In addition to the newer IDA, the older-style Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) is still available. Russian Progress and Soyuz spacecraft will continue to use the separate SSVP docking system.

Virgin Galactic up, Vector down in launchless week

No space launches this week, though Vector Launch suddenly shut down, and Virgin Galactic flew VSS Eve 12 August 2019 to participate in a media event 15 August at Spaceport America, as operations ramp up to punch the first of around 600 prepaid tickets within the next several months.

9 Aug 2019 Vector Launch locks out 150 engineers and staff, boots CEO, new $3.4M contract in doubt

12 Aug ExoMars probe may be delayed due to parachute problems, rover segment still on schedule

12 Aug OSIRIS-REx team names four areas suitable for sample collection after Egyptian birds

12 Aug China’s LinkSpace enters reusable rocketry race with hop test

12 Aug Wisconsin Space Grant launched a StratoStar Balloon mission

13 Aug European Space Agency featured at Stockholm Culture Festival

14 Aug Major science-on-ISS organization to be audited

14 Aug Nova Scotia spaceport proposal still drawing public concern over hydrazine hazard

14 Aug Astrophysicist José Flores dead at 23

15 Aug 29th Annual Space Conference at University of Wisconsin Platteville

15 Aug NASA announces new interplanetary lasercomm and solar sail demonstration missions

15 Aug Soon-to-be-busy Virgin Galactic facility at Spaceport America holds Open House

Astrophysicist José Flores dead at 23

José Flores Velázquez, a grad student studying Physics and Astronomy at the University of California – Irvine, was shot dead outside his friend’s home in south Los Angeles, 14 August 2019.

Flores was pursuing a PhD in astrophysics, and had special expertise using supercomputers to perform kinematic simulations of galaxies using the Feedback In Realistic Environments (FIRE) method, first working with Jorge Moreno at CalPoly Pomona, and then over summer 2017 with Claude-André Faucher-Giguère at Northwestern University in Chicago. Flores’s work was featured in the Council on Undergraduate Research’s 2018 “Posters on the Hill” event at the United States Capitol, and had earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

A gofundme campaign was started to assist his family with funeral expenses.

ESA double feature at space-themed Stockholm Culture Festival

Col. Luca Parmitano speaks to the Stockholm Culture Festival, 13 Aug 2019 (Credit: ESA via NASA TV)

ESA brought Expedition 60 Astronaut Luca Parmitano down to Earth for a spell, to visit with the Stockholm Culture Festival 13 August 2019.

Though bald, a curious audience member asked how astronauts wash their hair. Luca shared a laugh with the crowd, and cited the experience of fellow astronauts like Karen Nyberg, the Minnesotan who served with Parmitano on Expedition 36/37 in 2013.

Speaking specifically about culture, Parmitano talked about sharing food, stories, music, and movies with fellow astronauts, but concluded, “In the end, when you talk about culture, culture is knowledge, and we on the Space Station, we create knowledge. Our job is to do science, we perform up to 120 hours of science in a week. We’ve all kinds of experiments – human experiments, physiology, biology, physics, engineering – and that is all going down for the benefit of Earth, and what more culture could you expect than that?”

Also at the 2019 Stockholm Culture Festival, ESA featured an orchestral-multimedia event, a collaboration between composer Ilan Eshker and astronaut Tim Peake, called Space Station Earth.

Atlas 5 flies AEHF-5 to end the week

The United Launch Alliance carried the AEHF-5 commsat to GTO with an Atlas 5 launch 08 Aug 2019 1013 UT. The launch was briefly delayed for 0944 due to a thrust vectoring concern with the RD-180 main engine.

The news for 29 Jul – 08 Aug 2019:

Space Launches

30 Jul 2019 0556UT Plesetsk Soyuz-2 Meridian-M 18L

31 Jul 1210UT Baikonur Soyuz-2 Progress MS-12
Record time for ISS rendezvous – 03h19m !

01 Aug Yemen conflict – Burkhan ballistic missile reached space

05 Aug 2156UT Baikonur Proton-M Blagovest-14L

06 Aug 1930UT Kourou Ariane 5 Intelsat 39 + EDRS-C

06 Aug 2323UT Cape Canaveral Falcon 9 AMOS-17

08 Aug 1013UT Cape Canaveral Atlas 5 AEHF-5

Further News

29 Jul 2019 1432UT Progress MS-11 reentry

29 Jul OrbitBeyond cancels moon mission; had finance and supply chain problems

30 Jul NASA issues $2.8 billion RFP for new round of commerical moon missions

30 Jul NASA announces 19 Artemis program technology projects

30 Jul $382 million loss of Intelsat 29E caused by static discharge or micrometeoroid

31 Jul University of North Dakota spacesuit material featured in Wired to Wear exhibit at Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

01 Aug GOES-17 cooling problem limits uptime to 97%; misses 99.93% goal for a $3 million mishap.

02 Aug Trenten Smith of UW-La Crosse awarded Research Fellowship from Wisconsin Space Grant

03 Aug TESS exoplanet survey passes midway point

05 Aug Canadian aerospace engineer Bruce Aikenhead OC AFCASI P.Eng dies age 95

05 Aug University of Iowa’s HaloSat gets mission extension

06 Aug Rocket Lab developing helicopter recovery of Electron first stage

06 Aug 1615UT Cygnus NG-11 SS Roger Chaffee unberths from ISS for extended mission

07 Aug Documentary film Thomas Pesquet – L’étoffe d’un héros premieres in France

08 Aug Skyrora announces test flight performed 10 Jul 2019; apogee 5.8 km