Upcoming 2019 Space Events

Here's a list of what's on tap, kind of biased towards events early in the year:

New Years night (US time) -- NASA's New Horizons performs a flyby of Kuiper belt object Ultima Thule. (See the other thread.)

January 3 -- The Chinese Chang'e 4 lunar lander is scheduled to attempt a landing on the far side of the Moon.

January 17 -- Unmanned SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight. (Demonstration Mission 1 - DM1)

January 31 -- India's Chandryaan - 2 lunar lander will attempt a landing near the Moon's south pole, releasing a rover that will snoop around and look for water ice.

Early February -- The Insight Mars lander will commence its boring boring, hoping to place sensors at least 16 feet down.

February 12 -- NASA's Juno spacecraft will perform another close-range Jupiter flyby, hopefully returning more of those surrealistic photos of chaotic Jovian weather (kind of like a real life Mandlebrot set).

February 13 -- Israeli private startup SpaceIL will try to land its own lunar lander (lunar landers seem to be the happening thing this coming year) with SpaceX launching it atop a Falcon 9.

Late February -- Japan's Hayabusa 3 may try to collect a sample from asteroid Ryugu. (The vehicle is nearby and has been looking for a suitable site).

March -- Unmanned test flight of Boeing's Starliner capsule.

March -- Another SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, this one carrying a heavy communications satellite.

April 4 -- Parker Solar probe perhelion (closest approach to the Sun for a while, its still adjusting its orbit).

April -- Elon Musk has been teasing a possible first flight for SpaceX's currently-under-construction test-hopper Starship prototype, designed to ascend up to a few thousand feet, hover and then propulsively descend for engineering tests. ('Starship' is the new name for the huge upper-stage spaceship portion of the 'BFR'. It's as big as a navy frigate, capable of carrying a hundred people to Mars.) I kind of doubt it will be this early but Elon suggests that it might be.

June -- First SpaceX manned spaceflight using a Falcon 9 and the Crew Dragon. Two NASA astronauts are currently training for that mission. I'm personally guessing that with manned spaceflights in the offing, SpaceX might delay the Starship test-hopper so that the company can concentrate all of its attention and resources on safely becoming a manned spaceflight program.

August -- If all goes well, the second SpaceX manned flight, this one will dock with the Space Station.

October-November -- The European Space Agency's Cheops exoplanet-hunting satellite is set to launch to join NASA's TESS which is already doing similar work. (Can't hurt to have two of them.)

Somewhere during the year Blue Origin is likely to fly its first manned flight of its New Shepherd suborbital rocket and Virgin Galactic will almost certainly fly its rocket plane again, probably several times. It might even start flying space tourists (Richard Branson wants to be the first of those).
Almost too many. Threating to look as mundane as airport scheduling. Everybody at the turn of the 20th-century looking up to see the amazing flying machine go by, gathering at barnstorming events, etc. Nowadays only noticing even the giant jet airliner when hundreds of passengers die in a crash or thousands via kamikaze into towering corporate temples.

(Jan 2, 2019 07:02 AM)C C Wrote: Almost too many. Threating to look as mundane as airport scheduling.

For years I felt that way myself. I kind of lost interest in NASA during the space shuttle years, when it became clear that they didn't intend to use it for anything exciting. (I did like the Hubble.) Perhaps it was the shuttle's name. Astronauts went from being intrepid explorers of the unknown, straight out of science fiction, to being space bus drivers, repeatedly plying the same routine route to nowhere. I'd originally hoped that the shuttle would ferry up components for deep space vehicles for assembly in orbit and stuff like that, but it never happened. The damn thing was just so expensive (about $1/2 billion per flight) and labor intensive, that it became NASA's total focus. And after the loss of the Challenger, NASA's officials realized that if they lost another one, people would be blamed, heads would roll and they would lose their jobs. So the whole thing became almost pathologically risk-averse. That's not always a bad thing, but bad if you're a space exploration agency, since space exploration is risky by its nature. The safest thing, after all is to do nothing. Next safest is to do something you know how to do over and over.

Then along comes the X-prize and Burt Rutan's tiny do-it-yourself spaceship. It was just a little suborbital thing, but it showed that regular people could do extraordinary things without waiting for the government to do it for them. Then along comes Elon Musk, convinced that he could run a better space program than NASA, and then showing everyone that he really could do it. Not only can he put similar payloads into orbit as the shuttle at something like 1/5 the cost, not only will he be able to fly humans in space starting this June (hopefully), there's the fact that contracting with a private company allows NASA to have plausible deniability and somebody else to blame if something goes wrong. So hopefully they will allow Elon and the other space start-ups a long leash and maybe a bit of the old 1960's space-cowboy spirit will return.

The original Mercury astronauts knew that they were risking their lives. (They were all bad-ass test pilots used to doing that.) The Apollo astronauts were willing to try landing on the Moon with an untested lunar lander. You have to be like that if you are going to try doing something nobody has ever done before. (Like landing and re-flying boosters or building the BFR and flying it to Mars.)

I'm sensing a new willingness to be audacious and push the envelope of what's believed possible. And I'm increasingly excited again...

The Chinese are set to try to land their Chang'e lunar lander on the far side of the Moon, perhaps in the next 24 hours, releasing a little rover. They report that they have been adjusting its orbit around the Moon in preparation for doing that.

The far side of the Moon is interesting since it's unlike the near side. It doesn't have the lunar 'seas', the ancient basalt lava flows that make parts of the near side look dark and relatively smooth. That needs investigating since the Moon's crust may be thicker on the far side. And not only that, the Chinese hope to land their Chang'e in one of the Moon's deepest craters, where they hope the impact penetrated the Moon's crust into its mantle, so that they can measure compositions and depths and things.

Besides, the far side of the Moon, turned eternally away from Earth, is shielded from the Earth's radio transmissions, making it (perhaps) an ideal place for a zero-interference radio astronomy observatory. The Chinese hope to measure electromagnetic levels to assess that.

Rumors are swirling that the Chinese Chang'e lunar landing attempt is currently underway, but no official confirmation yet.

(I guess that they don't do live-feeds like SpaceX and NASA.)



Edit: CCTV, the Chinese state media network is apparently now reporting a successful lunar landing.


The US NASA Administrator is congratulating China, so I guess that it's confirmed.

SpaceX has another test flight coming up that might be kind of spectacular to watch, perhaps in May. It's the in-flight abort test for their Crew Dragon capsule.

It will basically reproduce the flight profile of the failed Soyuz flight a couple of months ago, except intentionally this time. They will launch a Falcon 9 with a Crew Dragon atop it (reportedly a reuse of the same capsule used for the unmanned Crew Dragon orbital flight in two weeks). When the booster hits maximum aerodynamic pressure ('max-Q') they will initiate the abort sequence which rockets the Dragon capsule away and shuts down the first stage engines. The first stage is rendered unstable by these events and is expected to tumble and break up.

The goal is to see if the capsule's auto-abort system successfully rockets the capsule away from danger at the most difficult point in the ascent (the way the Soyuz capsule rocketed the two astronauts that it was carrying safely away from the fragmenting Soyuz booster). NASA doesn't want SpaceX to be launching NASA astronauts unless the in-flight abort system has been proven to work.

It should be pretty dramatic through the telescopic tracking camera. Sometime in May.

Official description:

"The Falcon 9 would be configured to shut down and terminate thrust, targeting the abort test shutdown condition (simulating a loss of thrust scenario). Dragon would then autonomously detect and issue an abort command, which would initiate the nominal startup sequence of Dragon's SuperDraco engine system. Concurrently, Falcon 9 would receive a command from Dragon to terminate thrust on the nine first stage Merlin 1D (M1D) engines. Dragon would then separate from Falcon 9 at the interface between the trunk and the second stage, with a frangible nut system. Under these conditions, the Falcon 9 vehicle would become uncontrollable and would break apart. SpaceX would not attempt first stage booster flyback to KSC, CCAFS or a droneship, nor would they attempt to fly the booster to orbit.

Dragon would fly until SuperDraco burnout and then coast until reaching apogee, at which point the trunk would be jettisoned. Draco thrusters would be used to reorient Dragon to entry attitude. Dragon would descend back toward Earth and initiate the drogue parachute deployment sequence at approximately 6 miles altitude and main parachute deployment at approximately 1 mile altitude. Dragon recovery operations would be very similar to actions for normal Dragon reentry and recovery."

(Jan 4, 2019 04:25 AM)Yazata Wrote: . . . NASA doesn't want SpaceX to be launching NASA astronauts unless the in-flight abort system has been proven to work. It should be pretty dramatic through the telescopic tracking camera. Sometime in May.

A month later in June, if that succeeds and work falls in line as originally scheduled, NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken are supposed to be the two "lucky" guinea pigs going up for the 14-day SpX-DM2 mission. Not exactly young spacemen.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight on January 17 won't just be a test of the capsule. It's also the first use of SpaceX's new airliner-style boarding gate for astronauts. Elon says that this photo isn't rendered, it's the real thing. (which naturally makes me wonder if it is rendered... Elon Musk's a sly one.)


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The Israeli-made private-enterprise lunar lander is scheduled to launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 this Thursday Feb 21, at 8:45 PM EST/5:45 PM PST. I'm guessing that the launch will be live-streamed on SpaceX's website.


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