Anomaly-free SpaceX fires up SuperDracos, ISS astros go iFixit in orbit, and Buran turns 31

Roundup Last week SpaceX proved its Crew Dragon abort engines can work, ISS ‘nauts embarked on an EVA to fix their particle physics detector, and Searching for Skylab got a director’s cut of sorts. SpaceX fires up Crew Dragon’s abort engines, nothing explodes SpaceX successfully completed a full-duration static fire test of the engines designed…

Roundup Last week SpaceX proved its Crew Dragon abort engines can work, ISS ‘nauts embarked on an EVA to fix their particle physics detector, and Searching for Skylab got a director’s cut of sorts.

SpaceX fires up Crew Dragon’s abort engines, nothing explodes

SpaceX successfully completed a full-duration static fire test of the engines designed to whisk the Crew Dragon capsule to safety in an abort scenario.

Full duration static fire test of Crew Dragon’s launch escape system complete – SpaceX and NASA teams are now reviewing test data and working toward an in-flight demonstration of Crew Dragon’s launch escape capabilities pic.twitter.com/CMHvMRBQcW

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 13, 2019

During an attempt at a similar test back in April, the only Crew Dragon capsule to have made it to the International Space Station (ISS) was blown to smithereens on the ground. Nobody was aboard or injured by what SpaceX and NASA delicately referred to as “an anomaly”.

Last week’s test at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station gave the Draco thrusters, normally used for on-orbit manoeuvring, a workout. These engines are also used to reorient the capsule during an abort. A full duration firing of Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines was then performed.

April’s explosion was caused by a surprise titanium “ignition event” and SpaceX has redesigned things to prevent a repeat. This time all went well – handy, because those SuperDracos are needed to yank the Crew Dragon away from a failing Falcon 9.

SpaceX intends to demonstrate that very scenario with a sacrificial Falcon 9 in the coming months ahead of the first crewed flight to the ISS in 2020.

“No user serviceable parts”: ISS astros kick off an iFixit EVA

We hope the iFixit gang were paying close attention to NASA TV last week as astronauts Luca Parmitano of ESA and NASA’s Andrew Morgan started an ambitious set of spacewalks to repair the station’s AMS-02 Cosmic Particle Detector.

The device, which was launched on one of the final Space Shuttle missions in 2011, is failing but was never supposed to be repaired on-orbit. As such, engineers and astronauts have spent years pondering how to actually deal with the machine’s problems. Simply launching another isn’t really an option.

During last week’s spacewalk, the duo stripped a debris cover, pre-positioned materials and fitted handrails ahead of the next set of EVAs, when things will get even more serious. The next spacewalk, on 22 November, will see the ‘nauts cut and label the stainless steel tubes that attach the current cooling system to the AMS. A third spacewalk will be required to attach a new unit to the side of the instrument before leak checks can be performed.

Astronauts have never had to cut and reconnect fluid lines like these during a spacewalk, adding to the complexity of the procedure.

The robots are coming. With rockets

Rocket Lab has added a robot, dubbed “Rosie”, to its manufacturing line in an effort to speed up the production of its Electron launcher.

The company reckons the addition of the helper will allow it to increase the frequency of Electron production from one every 30 days to one every seven days.

Far be it from us to point out that, up until now, the company has yet to manage a launch cadence of once a month, let alone once a week, and so we fear that Rosie might soon find itself with a bunch of spare rockets, ready to go.

Those fearful of a human-like android, armed with launchers, should worry not. Rosie comprises a 3.5m by 16m five-axis machining window coupled with a custom-built sixth rotary axis. The thing is large enough to machine an entire Electron first stage. You could, according to the company, “park a bus” in the thing.

We’re thinking more Bertha than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The next mission for Rocket Lab, dubbed “Running Out Of Fingers”, has a launch window that opens on 25 November and will take off from the company’s New Zealand Launch Complex 1.

Happy Birthday, Buran

While Apollo grabs the anniversary headlines, it is worth noting that the 31st anniversary of the Soviet take on a winged orbiter, Buran, rolled around last week.

Started in response to the US Space Shuttle programme, work on the project began in the early 1970s, with construction of the orbiters (of which only one would fly to space) starting in 1980. Though visually similar to America’s shuttle, the Buran relied on the engines of the expendable Energia booster to send the spacecraft to orbit. Without having to lug three Space Shuttle Main Enginers (SSME) around, Buran would also have enjoyed a greater payload capacity.

Had it flown more than one uncrewed test flight.

After a lengthy series of atmospheric tests using a jet-powered prototype, the first operational spacecraft was launched on 15 November 1988. The uncrewed orbiter flew two orbits before successfully landing on auto-pilot. A further uncrewed flight was mooted, as were crewed missions, before the money ran out. For all its wizardry, launching something on Buran was just hellishly expensive compared with the alternatives.

Sadly, the flight version of Buran was destroyed when the roof of its Baikonur hangar collapsed. The Buran prototype, OK-GLI, can however be viewed in Germany at the excellent Technik Museum Speyer.

Hear Al Shepard give a trio of ‘nauts a dressing down

The makers of indie film Searching for Skylab have tweaked the documentary of America’s first space station, having unearthed the audio of astronaut chief Al Shepard reprimanding the crew for failing to notify mission control that one of the three, Bill Pogue, had thrown up while on orbit.

Shepard’s on-air bollocking of the crew comes at 1 hour, 12 minutes.

Other welcome improvements have been made in the quality of some of the film material (excluding the 1970s kinescopes) and the insertion of some additional content, such as an interview with an Esperance farmer who watched the Skylab impact in 1979.

We took a look at the original cut back in March and liked what we saw.

The creator, Dwight Steven-Boniecki, has also pretty much excised himself from the film and told us: “For me personally now, the film no longer has any cringe moments where I wish I could change it.”

Those (like us) who paid cash for the thing on Vimeo back in the day will already have the updated version available. Otherwise, the cost of a few beers for admission remains the price for anyone interested in a bit of almost-forgotten US space history. ®

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