Orbital Sciences Launches a New Rocket

ImageUp until now the word Antares has had only one meaning in our language, the given name of a star, but not anymore.  Sure, it is still the name of a giant red binary star, the brightest in the constellation Scorpio, about 424 light-years from Earth. The word Antares has its roots in ancient Greek meaning simulating Mars.  It looked red to them, just like Mars.

However, things change.  On Sunday, April 21, from a beach on Wallops Island Virginia, our own Orbital Sciences launched its newest horse in its extensive stable of rockets, the Antares. And for the first time in my memory, a first launch of a new rocket didn’t end prematurely in a puff of smoke or debris cloud. It went so smoothly that almost no one heard about it. That’s success in the rocket industry but a marketing failure.

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Your Very Own Personal Space Program

Michael Mackowski, a member of the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society, has given us another interesting essay:

Your Very Own Personal Space Program

There are many ways folks express their interest in the space program. Some space enthusiasts read everything they can find and often have a large book collection. Some people accumulate souvenirs and autographs. Photos, patches, and pins are popular collectibles. Scale models can be another way to bring the space program to life in your home or office.

I have been inspired by space exploration since I was a youngster. Prior to finishing school and entering a career in aerospace engineering, my participation in the space program was limited to building scale models of the vehicles that were leaving the planet. Actually, I have never stopped building models of spacecraft, even while I build them for a living as an engineer. Like engineering, I find that modeling is just another expression of one’s creativity.

Over the years I have been participating in a network of other hobbyists with similar interests. What I have found is that many of these people, while being hobbyists and craftsmen in terms of their model building, are also passionate about space. My situation is a bit unique in that space is both my hobby and career. Most people who are passionate about space have other, usually non-technical careers. So one way they can feel closer to space exploration is by building small replicas of the hardware that makes it possible.

Certainly this sort of passion is the root of many hobbies. Military history buffs build models of tanks and fighter jets. Auto racing enthusiasts build race car models. Would be sailors rig up miniature ships and sailboats. People collect or paint miniature horses because they cannot afford to own a real horse. Airplane fans who cannot afford lessons or a plane can have a shelf full of models. Frustrated astronaut candidates build Apollo lunar modules and space shuttles. It’s not the same, but for many people it may be as close as you will get. It’s your own personal space program.

Enthusiasts want a piece of the space program they can see up close, hold in their hand, and relate to three dimensionally. Books and videos and internet sites are flat and virtual. A model is real and fills space. And you built it yourself. That’s why model building is more fulfilling than just collecting or buying pre-built souvenir models. You are now a rocket scientist, only scaled down, and with simpler technology. You have combined art with technology. You feel more a part of the movement, a part of the collective that is moving out to space. Through model building, you are more than an observer. You have made a statement, that by building this miniature monument to space exploration, you are supporting it, and proclaiming it to whomever enters your hobby room or office or wherever you chose to display your work.

If you can’t be an astronaut or be an engineer in the space industry, you can have your own little private miniature space program, and thus pay homage to whatever past or future off-planet venture that inspires you.

In that way, maybe it will inspire someone else, and the movement grows by one more.

Launch Schedule – Japan

Here is the current calendar for 2010 for Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) satellites and rocket launch vehicles as listed on the Forum at NASASpaceFlight on 12 December 2011:

  • Complete
  • 2011
  • 22 January (NET) 06:29 UTC – H-IIB F2 – H-II Transfer Vehicle 2 – Yoshinobu Launch Complex
  • 23 September (04:36 UTC) – H-2A (F-19) – IGS (Optical-4)
  • 12 December 12 (01:21 UTC) – H-2A (F-20) – IGS rader-3
  • Upcoming
  • 2011
  • 2012
  • May – H-2A – GCOM-W1; Kompsat-3 (Arirang-3); SDS-4; Houryuu-2
  • 26 June – H-2B (F-3) – HTV3

Updated 13 December 2011

Launch Schedule – China

Here is the current calendar for 2011 for Chinese satellites and rocket launch vehicles as listed on the Forum at NASASpaceFlight on 2 December 2011, along with updates from other sources:


  • Complete
  • April 09 (2047 UTC) – CZ-3A (Y19) – XSLC – BeiDou-2 ‘Compass-I3’
  • June 20 (1605 UTC) – CZ-3B/E – XSLC – Chinasat-10
  • July 13 (1541 UTC) – CZ-3C – XSLC – TL-1B Tian Lian-1B
  • July 25 (2144 UTC) – CZ-3A (Y19) – XSLC – BeiDou-2 ‘Compass-I3’
  • July 29 (0742 UTC) – CZ-2C – JSLC – SJ-11 Shi Jian-11 (2)
  • August 11 (1615 UTC)- CZ-3B/E – XSLC – PakSat-1R
  • August 15 (2257:19.319UTC) – CZ-4B (Y14) – TSLC, LC2 – HY-2A Hai Yang-2A
  • August 18 (0928:03.993UTC) – CZ-2C – JSLC, SLS-2 – SJ-11 Shi Jian 11-04
  • September 29 (1316 UTC) – CZ-2F/T1 – JSLC – TG-1 Tian Gong-1
  • October 7 – CZ-3B/E – XSLC – Eutelsat-W3C
  • October 31 (2158 UTC) – CZ-2F (Y8) – JSLC – SZ-8 ShenZhou-8
  • November 8 (2016:02.871UTC) – Zenit-2FG (SLB41.1) – Bayk, LC45 PU-1 – YH-1 Ying Huo-1* (failed)
  • November 9 (0321:05.279UTC) – CZ-4B (Y21) – TSLC – YG-12 YaoGan Weixing-12; TX-1 Tian Xun-1
  • November 20 (0015:04.609UTC) – CZ-2D (Y19) – JSLC, SLS-2 – SY-4 ShiYan Weixing-4; Chuang Xin-3
  • November 29 (1850:04.467UTC) – CZ-2C – TSLC – YG-13 YaoGan Weixing-13
  • December 1 (2107:04.189UTC) – CZ-3A – XSLC, LC3 – Compass-I5
  • Upcoming
  • December 19 – CZ-3B/E – XSLC, LC2 – NigComSat-1R
  • December 26 (?) – CZ-4B – TSLC, LC9 – ZY-1 Zi Yuan-1 (2C)


  • Upcoming
  • January – CZ-4B – TSLC – ZY-3 Zi Yuan-3
  • January – CZ-3A – XSLC – FY-2F Feng Yun-2F
  • January (?) – CZ-3C – XSLC – Compass-G5
  • March/April – CZ-2F/G – JSLC – SZ-9 ShenZhou-9

*Launch of Chinese Mars probe YH-1 Ying Huo-1 took place together with the Fobos-Grunt Russian Mars probe, which is now stranded in Earth orbit.

Last Updated 13 December 2011

Solar Dynamics Observatory – Launch

The Sun
Image Credit: NASA
The Sun – Target for the Solar Dynamics Observatory
SDO on Altas V 401
Image Credit: NASA TV
SDO aboard Atlas V 401 – One Hour to Launch


At 7:30 AM Phoenix time (9:30 AM EST) the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is at T-minus 45 minutes in the countdown and 54 minutes from launch at 8:26 AM (10:26 AM EST). The entire rocket and payload is 191 feet tall, weighs 750,000 pounds at launch and will take off with 860,000 pounds of thrust .

SDO is a 5-year mission that will determine how the sun’s magnetic field is generated, structured, and converted into violent solar events like turbulent solar wind, solar flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs).

Currently, the winds are above 20 knots with gusts at 28 knots. Winds would like to be in the low 20’s for a maximum.

Liquid Oxygen (LOX) loading has been completed and Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) for the Centaur upper stage has stated.

The Sun
Image Credit: NASA TV
T-Minus 30 Minutes

At 7:50 AM Phoenix time, LH2 loading is at 50%. There are no technical issues at this time.

SDO will observe the sun, from its deep interior to the outermost layers of solar atmosphere, at the highest ever time cadence. SDO will snap a full disk image in 8 wavelengths every 10 seconds… SDO will send down about 1.5 terabytes of data per day, equivalent to downloading half a million songs each day. SDO’s spatial resolution gives it a tremendous advantage over earlier missions. All solar images will be 4096 pixels x 4096 pixels—almost IMAX quality.

At 7:58 AM Phoenix time, LH2 loading is complete. There are 12,000 gallons of LH2 and 4,000 gallons of LOX in the Centaur stage.

SDO Payload at T-Minus Four Minutes
Image Credit: NASA TV
T-Minus Four Minutes

We are now in the built in hold at t-minus 4 minutes. There are no technical issues. The wind conditions are above requirements and the hold will likely be extended all the way through to the end of the launch window at 9:26 AM Phoenix time (11:26 AM EST). The wind conditions are expected to improve towards the end of the launch window.

At 8:30 AM Phoenix time, launch is expected no earlier than 8:56 AM (10:56 AM EST).

The Atlantic Range has confirmed the launch area is clear (no planes, no boats) for launch. We are waiting on the winds. Comment from the Forum at NASASpaceFlight: “If these winds are the same ones that passed over the Gulf Coast yesterday, don’t look for any relief. They just got worse and the temperature just dropped all day long. Today is much calmer but frigid.”

The Launch Director has polled all systems, and they are go. The winds are not cooperating, and the launch will be delayed until 9:26 AM Phoenix time. The count would resume at 9:22 AM (11:22 EST). SDO has been put back on external power, and will be put back on internal power a few minutes prior to resuming the count.

The launch has been scrubbed due to wind, and rescheduled for tomorrow.

Image Credit: NASA
Solar Dynamics Observatory Toward the Sun
Image Credit: NASA
Observatory End of SDO


There are three instruments on board the Solar Dynamics Observatory:

  • Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) will measure sound waves reverberating inside the sun to build up a picture of the interior.
  • Atmospheric Imaging Assembly The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) will take highresolution pictures of different layers in the sun’s atmosphere to further understand how changing solar magnetic fields release the energy that heats the solar corona and creates flares.
  • Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment The Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) will measure the sun’s ultraviolet brightness. The sun’s extreme ultraviolet output constantly changes. Slow variations in ultraviolet flux affect Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

The Team America Rocketry Challenge

The 2009 Contest

In 2009, Jacqui German, Tenzin Sonam, John Schoech and Ben Winokur from Madison West High School in Wisconsin won the Aerospace Industries Association’s (AIA) Seventh Annual Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). The competing teams were required to design, build and launch a model rocket to an altitude of 750 feet with a flight time of 45 seconds and a raw-egg payload situated horizontally to mimic the position of an astronaut. The egg had to return to earth unbroken in order for the launch to qualify.

The Madison West High School team won a trip to the International Paris Air Show in June, shared a $60,000 prize pool with other top finishers, and earned $5,000 scholarships, awarded each of the top three teams, from Lockheed Martin Corporation.

AIA created the Team America Rocketry Challenge in 2003 to celebrate the centennial of flight and to generate interest in aerospace careers among young people. A major goal is attracting young people to consider careers in aerospace and advancing their studies in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM fields.

The 2010 Contest

This year, the rules for the TARC contest are more difficult:

The rules for TARC 2010 offer a new kind of challenge to the student teams, forcing even teams that may have entered TARC previously to go “back to the drawing board” and learn some new rocketry skills. While the flight goal remains flying an egg to a precise altitude (825 feet this year) and duration, the teams this year will be required to use a completely different type of recovery device to return the egg and altimeter: a streamer rather than a parachute. The techniques for achieving the duration goal with a streamer are quite different; it’s harder, and it will put a new emphasis on protecting the fragile egg payload.

The application deadline for this year’s contest was November 30, 2009. Only the first 750 teams that submit a completed application, including payment, are allowed to compete in the 2010 contest. However, considering the complexity of the contest, start planning now for 2011.

The schedule for 2010 is:

  • Feb. 1 – Complete first test flight *
  • Mar. 15 – Complete first official flight attempt *
  • Apr. 5 – Submit qualification form to AIA
  • Apr. 9 – Top 100 team selected
  • May 15 – National Finals at Great Meadow in The Plains, VA
  • * recommended


NASA – Flexible Path and the Rocket to Get Us there

It seems pretty clear that sometime in February (watch for the release of the 2011 Budget), the Obama Administration will task NASA with the Flexible Path architecture (see Flexible Path 5D from The Augustine Commission Wrapped Up post). This is likely to involve taking aim at Phobos in a series of increasingly difficult tasks.

In the past several days, it has become increasing clear that a political compromise is being crafted concerning NASA’s rocket program. It has become obvious that NASA’s budget is not likely to increase very much, and therefore, the development of two brand new rockets is impossible (The Ares I, underpowered and over budget, and Ares V, a paper rocket that is so large we would need to rebuild half the Kennedy Space Center infrastructure). On the other hand, a true Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV) using the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME), The External Tank (ET), and the ATK Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) would be affordable (40% of a rocket development is engine design, and we skip that step), and ready to launch large payloads to re-supply the aging International; Space Station (ISS) by 2014.

If one looks at throw weight from the Summary Report of the Augustine Commission: the Ares I + Ares V can put 185 mt into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) while two (2) SDLV vehicles can put 200 – 220mt into LEO. Its no contest.

All this is from the technical point of view. To craft a solution, one must factor in the politics of the pork. A lot of jobs are at stake. And apparently Senator Shelby has joined the compromise (see Ross Tierney’s comments). Further, Alliance Technology (ATK), which has a contract to develop a five (5) segment version of the Shuttle SRB for the Ares I rocket, is willing to settle for the 5 segment over the 4 segment SRB, and has joined the compromise.

Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle Capable of Diverse Missions

Image Credit:

So what does the most likely SDLV look like? As discussed here, and reviewed at NSS Phoenix, the rocket will use four (4) SSMEs, a stretched External Tank to increase the fuel load to accommodate the four engines, and two (2) five segment SRBs.

And where can we go from here? A video of Manned NEO Mission concept from the Constellation program gives some idea of what to expect (ignore the launch vehicles).

And what are the missions along the “Flexible Path”? A preliminary list is given below from one of the threads on the Forum at NASASpaceFlight.com.

The List

  1. First launch of SDLV (2014):
    • the biggest launch vehicle in the world (by far)
    • the vehicle that will take mankind to the moon, Mars and beyond
    • the dawn of the next space age
  2. First crewed launch of Orion (2015):
    • the rebirth of American human spaceflight
    • the first flight of the spacecraft that will take us out into deep space
    • the beginning of a new era of exploration for all of mankind
  3. First circumlunar flight (2018):
    • returning to the moon for the first time in half a century
    • shake-down flight of the spacecraft that will take us into the solar system
  4. First visit to EML2 (2020):
    • the farthest out into space that any human being has ever gone
    • going beyond the moon for the first time
    • visiting the staging ground for all future deep-space missions
  5. First L2 base (2022):
    • building humanity’s first deep-space outpost
    • the first step in man’s expansion into the solar system
    • the gateway to the moon, the asteroids and the planets
  6. First NEO mission (2024):
    • first human visit to an asteroid
    • first trip out into the solar system
    • farthest into space that any human being has ever gone (by far)
    • longest deep-space mission ever
    • preparation for future trips to the moons of Mars
    • learning more about possible future threats to human civilization
    • developing techniques to prevent future disasters
  7. Lunar landing mission (2028):
    • mankind’s triumphant return to the moon
    • studying how to live on the moon so we can move on to Mars
    • finding ways of using the moon’s resources for future missions
  8. Phobos visit (2032):
    • first mission to Mars
    • first landing on the moon of another world
    • preparation for an eventual human landing on Mars

You can disagree over the timetable, you can quibble about the missions, you can wince at Bernie Roehl’s hyperbole, but it is an exciting list of missions that increasingly build infrastructure for the exploration of the Solar System.