Review of July 2016: What Goes Up, Must Come Down!

July 2016 brought many a launch and developments within the space sector from across the world. This lead to many successes, near misses, and sadly some failures. However each flight and development leads to further learning for future flights by all companies involved.

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This month saw an increased launch rhythm from around the world and the first of them to conduct launches was Russia, and the launch of 3 new international crew members to the International Space Station. This resulted in the crew going from 3 members to the current limit of 6 on board of the Space Station. The crew began their Expedition with safety briefings and moved personal items into their crew quarters.

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It was the beginning of a busy time for Space Station traffic this month, with the first of many cargo crafts coming with valuable cargo supplies for all the crew at the International Space Station. Progress MS-03 launch with a lot of science and supplies and headed to the station of a 2-day rendezvous to the station.

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SpaceX also launched a Cargo Resupply mission towards the International Space Station with their 8th successful launch of cargo to Station. CRS-9 launched in the middle of the night with tons of cargo and importantly IDA-2 which is needed for Commercial Crew which should be beginning in 2017.

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SpaceX also continued with their landing tests of their First Stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. As planned the Falcon 9 first stage fired successfully and separated from the rest of the rocket and the stage flipped in preparation to return to LZ-1 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. Stage 2 and Dragon continued to orbit and successfully inserted into its planned orbit trajectory. First Stage fired as planned to return the stage back to the landing site and the stage softly touch down in its intended landing area.

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Copenhagen Suborbitals launched their Nexø I in July, however the test was not fully successful and the rocket flew for less time than planned. There was an issue which occurred during flight The flight then came to an end prematurely and the rocket became a ballistic missile heading for the Baltic Sea where it just launched from. The rocket landed an submerged into the Baltic Sea and within 20 seconds, it resurfaced mostly intact, and still boiling of the LOX that was in the tanks.

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Upgraded Soyuz Docks Crew of Three At International Space Station

A crew of three have successfully launched and docked at the International Space Station, with an on time launch of the newly upgraded Soyuz capsule, the Soyuz MS series. The three international crew members launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 01:36 UTC, on July 7th, which began the two-day rendezvous profile for this mission to the International Space Station.

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Soyuz Rocket carrying three ISS crew launches from the Cosmodrome – Photo Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls

The launch of the next crew occurred at break of dawn at the Cosmodrome, however the crew was preparing for launch many hours before the engines ignited and the Soyuz clearing the gantry to take flight to orbit. The international crew comprises of 1 American, 1 Russian and 1 Japanese astronaut. Anatoli Ivanishin is the Soyuz Commander for this flight and for the duration of the flight of this Soyuz in space. Accompanying him as Flight Engineers aboard Soyuz and at Station is NASA Astronaut Kathleen Rubin and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, both flying for the first time to space and the International Space Station. All the crew have been training for launch for many years, and in the previous weeks leading to launch, all crew including backup crew were assessed and tested on their contingency and normal flight profiles before being cleared for launch.

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Expedition 48 Primary Crew – Soyuz MS-01 – NASA (2016)

At the 2 hour mark before launch, all three crew said farewell to solid ground, and was escorted to the lift which would bring them to their ride to space. At that time preflight checks were made and configuration for flight was executed within the capsule. A period of silence was then experience as preparation were complete and the steps that lead to the final and important steps were complete. As soon as the gantry was removed from around the rocket, the flight abort system was activated in the event of a pad emergency which could affect the safety of the crew onboard or if a rocket failure could occur within the timeframe between countdown, the initial launch and through most of the early flight trajectory. Ignition of the engines occurred at the T-17 seconds in the countdown, and at that time the engines were spooling up, providing health checks as the engines operated at higher thrusts. At the T-0 mark, the engines were at full thrust and the rocket cleared the retracted gantry and the crew began their 10 minute ride to space, the first crew of the new Soyuz MS series, which should see the Soyuz to its planned retirement for the new Russian Explorer Class capsule, expected to take flight in the 2020 timeframe.

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Soyuz MS-01 completes processing ahead of flight – Roscosmos (2016)

The Soyuz MS Series is the last planned upgrade for the long lived Soyuz spacecraft and through these upgrades, the spacecraft has had many of its systems upgraded and lightened to support more KGs going into space. The majority of upgrades are seen more under the hood rather than those which may be clear to the uneducated eye of an onlooker. However these upgrades are not taking their first flight on this Soyuz, as Roscosmos has been trialing and testing these upgrades on the Cargo spacecraft, the Progress, which is a cargo variant of the crew carrying Soyuz spacecraft, however that variant is an expandable variant where no piece of the spacecraft survives the heat of reentry. These flew on the Progress MS01 and MS02 flights to station, and Progress MS01 successfully completed its mission a few days prior to the Soyuz MS-01 crew launch on the 7th July 2016.

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The upgrades included new meteoroid shielding which protects wiring and the capsule itself from small yet fast traveling debris in space. Additionally there was a new Kurs-NA rendezvous system installed on the Soyuz MS Series to support docking at the International Space Station and the likelihood of this system being used on the planned Russian Space Station post-International Space Station days. In terms of power and power sourcing, the Soyuz was provided with an additional power bank with the addition of an extra battery, and in turn, the upgrades for the MS Series provide the Soyuz with improved and more efficient solar panels which provide the power to the batteries on board. There is also a newly re-arranged attitude control thrusters on the Soyuz MS Series which provide more control authority when docking and with maneuvers in space. With many more upgrades for the MS Series that are too long to list, the Soyuz will continue to fly until Russia has it’s new spacecraft up and running before placing the Soyuz spacecraft into retirement and into the history books for the longest flying spacecraft.

The launch of Soyuz MS-01 marked the 130th flight of a Soyuz vehicle since its service began in 1967.

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Soyuz MS-01 approaching its docking port – Picture Credit: Roscosmos / Oleg Skripochka (2016)

With the 2-day flight to the station assisting in testing and verifying the new upgrades on Soyuz, the conclusion of the flight resulted in the spacecraft flying over the Space Station and aligning itself to its docking port before progressing to a hard dock (a secure connection between the spacecraft and the station). All progressed well and the Soyuz successfully docked to its port. The crew then verified that the spacecraft was in a stable configuration and that the power source was kept minimal in case of an emergency evacuation which would require the Soyuz to power up in a shorter period of time for crew safety. This crew is scheduled to stay on station for around 4 months, and it is very likely likely that Kathleen Rubin will assist an EVA to install the IDA which is currently scheduled to fly on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, its ninth on contract, which is currently scheduled to launch on the 18th July 2016.

The Nexø I Mission – Copenhagen Suborbitals

Copenhagen Suborbitals, a crowdfunded suborbital space company is currently targeting the initial launch of Nexø I on July 16th 2016. This will be the first of many flights which Copenhagen Suborbitals hope to have undertaken in the coming months and years ahead.

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Copenhagen Suborbitals was founded on the belief that anyone can make a rocket and fly payload or humans without major or any funding from a Government source. With this in mind, the use of a non-profit endeavour which is funded by public donations, private sponsors and donors alike. If you wish to support Copenhagen Suborbitals in their journey, their donation page, which 100% of the donation will be put into the work on their rockets and testing, it can be found here.

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“We build suborbital space vehicles – designed to pave the way for manned space flight on a micro size spacecraft, and on a micro size budget”

It is the belief of Copenhagen Suborbitals that “the Nexø I rocket is the next step towards our goal of flying an amateur astronaut into space.” For this mission the Nexø I rocket on measures to just over 5.5m and is the company’s first fully guided rocket which has been created by their engineers. Due to the nature of the surrounding areas, Copenhagen Suborbitals will be launching from a sailing launch platform in the middle of the Baltic Sea, which is east of Denmark. This mission will launch on a large arch trajectory and will have a height of around 6km – 10km, and will test the systems of the Nexø I rocket. After powered flight the rocket stage will return to the ocean and will parachute land, hopefully slow enough that the engineers are able to look at the rocket which had just taken flight, and use the trajectory and data found to support future flights and future rockets.

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Looking ahead to a bigger rocket and human suborbital flight.

This mission is a precursor before a bigger more powerful rocket is tested and progressed to support human suborbital flights which is the ultimate goal. We wish Copenhagen Suborbital the best of luck and we hope your flight and objective are 100% achieved.

If you wish to support Copenhagen Suborbitals in their journey, their donation page, which 100% of the donation will be put into the work on their rockets and testing, it can be found here.

We will update the Article post-launch.