Nov 15 2019

Operations Summary – Week of 11/11/19

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Progeny Mk6-I Mission Launches 1st Student Payloads

KSC returned to flight operations today after the Ascension attack with the launch of a Progeny Mk6 Block I rocket that carried up into space the first two of eight student-built experiments. After being delayed for a day due to hazardous weather in the recovery zone, the mission was carried out successfully but not without some minor issues. The decision was made to leave the rocket fueled after its wet dress rehearsal the day before the originally-scheduled launch and by the time the rocket finally flew off the rail the launch base had sunken into the ground from the extra weight. This affected both the pitch and heading of the rocket, causing it to fly a shallower trajectory than planned and only reaching 300km up into space. This thankfully did not have a serious detrimental effect on the onboard experiments and although it flew ~4 hours past the recovery zone it landed near shore and washed up on the beach for easy recovery.

Although KSC public access for launches remains off-limits, we were still able to bring on campus the students and their mentors who built the experiments that flew in this mission. It was great to be able to allow them to witness their hard work in action!

Deuce Continues Storm Chasing

Although the weather proved a hindrance for the Progenitor program the Genesis program saw it as an opportunity to collect more meteorological data with the new Deuce instruments. Jeb and Val took to the skies later in the day after the launch was delayed and flew out to find the area of low pressure and gather what information they could into the Deuce’s onboard storage. Being out of contact with KSC & having to store data meant they couldn’t observe the storm for as long as weather experts might have liked, but they returned with copious amounts of data that has been passed on to scientists to analyze.

Even with both flight crew aboard though it’s already been recognized that the navigator doesn’t have enough screens or spare attention to analyze all the data being collected and direct the pilot on the best course to gather more useful readings. The Deuce is back in the HAB getting some cabin upgrades to allow a passenger to take on this role for future flights.

ATN Database

The latest update for the Asteroid Tracking Network database is available here, containing 4,341 asteroids and 2 updated with new observation data. Here are the 45 asteroids that were discovered this past week.

From the Desk of Drew Kerman

Out of Character Behind the Scenes stuff

Written on 11/3/19

This weekend I finally got to watch an Antares/Cygnus cargo launch to the ISS in person after two tries. Well, really three tries. The first attempt though was only from the NJ shore, where you can see the end of the first stage burn just over the horizon. I stood out on the boardwalk at dusk gazing along the horizon but didn’t see anything and eventually decided I must have missed spotting it. Walking back to the car I checked up on twitter for mission updates and found out the rocket had fallen back to the pad and exploded shortly after lift off.

The first real attempt I made two years ago, driving over 4 hours down to Virginia and to the top of Arbuckle Neck Rd, which takes you down to the coast about 1.5mi from the launch pad. It was closed when I got there so I just decided to park on the side of the main road with others and watch the rocket clear the tree line. However with just 5 seconds to go in the final countdown “hold, hold, hold!” was called by the Range Safety Officer for a wayward plane in the range. They scrubbed for the day and I had to drive all the way back home disappointed. (felt worse for the car parked in front of me with NY plates)

This weekend was going to have perfect launch conditions so with just technical and range issues to worry about I decided to make another attempt. I once again drove to Arbuckle and got there early enough this time it wasn’t yet closed. Was able to witness a glorious sunrise with a few other spectators before the cops showed up and politely asked us to pull back. This time instead of parking at the top of the road I headed to one of my alternate viewing locations, Wisharts Point. I was now just over 3mi from the pad but still had a direct line of sight and also brought a 60x scope.

I had my iPhone for viewing the launch webcast and my iPad was propped up on my scope’s tripod to record the launch. My iPhone’s battery is old and crappy and it died on me minutes before the launch so I took up my iPad to use the clock. A minute before launch I set it back up but forgot to switch the camera view and ended up just filming back towards me instead of forwards at the pad. However it still got the audio just fine and launch videos are a dime a dozen anyways. Have a listen. I was surprised to still hear the “vrrrooomp!” of the engines starting up from this distance!

It’s too bad they don’t let you as close as Arbuckle Neck anymore (you can find Antares explosion videos that were clearly filmed there, and the blast either caused people to bring trouble to the Agency or they just realized at that point it was too close for public viewing), but the view from Wisharts Point was still phenomenal and more of a side-on angle for better viewing as it heads downrange. I will definitely have to make another trip for another Antares mission or even the first US Electron launch once their pad is complete next year.

Mk6 mission

I don’t know if anyone picked up on it but I’ll admit I had a little fun playing a game of seeing how many ways I could make people think the launch was going to be delayed or plagued with further problems, dropping hints about possible weather issues, that the rocket isn’t known for preflight issues, saying the weather for the day is good plenty of time to work through any technical issues… not all apparent foreshadowing is actual foreshadowing is the point I wanted to make.

Because it’s been a while since I flew a Mk6 Block I there was a lot of generic operational code improvements made in later Block II, Mk7-A and Ascension Mk1 flights I had to implement. I thought I had everything worked up great until after I flew the entire fucking mission and was compiling all my post-flight data when I realized the CSV file with my telemetry output was only 2kb in size. Nooooooooooo – I forgot one line of code that kicked off the logger at launch.

My second attempt was pre-empted since the time I had coded for the launch was still the original launch time so when I went to load the operations code during my preflight checklist off shot the rocket before I was ready. This didn’t happen the first time because I caught it and changed it – but I changed it during runtime and not in the base code so when I reloaded the game for the second attempt I forgot to edit it again.

Third time was the charm, as usual, but I still didn’t notice until after the flight the launch base was pointing slightly off-east and the rocket’s pitch was too low at launch. I think the pitch was messed up when I did some realigning of the base’s trusses in the VAB to make it easier to point east, but then I have no idea how it wasn’t pointing east after all despite my effort at doing that. Thankfully I had a decent unplanned excuse in the launch delay and full tanks causing the launch base to sag into the soft ground. Sometimes things just work out.

Deuce mission

Speaking of working out, the Deuce mission was also an unintended consequence of the launch delay. The delay was originally only there to keep the pacing of launches a bit uneven but then after deciding to delay the launch I realized how it could work in favor of the new project the Genesis program was working on for storm chasing. Which, if you don’t know, is based on a real thing.

So yea I was going to make the flight longer to match or exceed the previous flight that also gathered data but truth is I got bored and also hungry (remember I fly in real time here) – anyways I realized the Deuce was able to transmit data back to KSC during its other flight and would have to store data on this one and thus could not stay aloft as long collecting data. I’ll have to kiss that excuse goodbye once orbital relay satellites come online but for now it works.