Main Engine Cut Off

Issue #15

Hey there! I hope you’re not too tired out from the launch mayhem that these last two weeks have been. They’ve sure been pretty, though.

The SpaceX photo of a Falcon 9 launching EchoStar XXIII from 39A really captures the essence of a night launch—blindingly-bright exhaust illuminating pillars of smoke.

That photo was bested by John Krausshot of a Delta IV launching WGS–9. That has to be one of the greatest liftoff shots I’ve ever seen. The detail in the GEM–60 plumes, the shock cones from the RS–68A, the classic soot-covered look of a Delta IV launch, the umbilical silhouettes—it’s all perfect.

Spacecraft are pretty on the way back down, too, as shown by SpaceX’s shot of Dragon descending under her main chutes to close out CRS–10.

There has been a lot going on the last few weeks, so let’s catch up.


Altius Space Machines’ proposal for an in-space cryogenic propellant coupling was selected for Phase II of the SBIR program. A nice, long post on Altius’ blog explains why this project is so important to our future in space, and just how transformative its development will be.

On the Commercial Crew front, it seems good progress is being made. SpaceX and NASA tested the Dragon ECLSS module. The information is a little sparse on what exactly the test conditions were, but it is important to note that this test was not in a vacuum chamber. On the Boeing side, Starliner’s chutes were successfully tested for the first time. We’ve been waiting to see that test for a while, so it’s good to see it successfully completed.

This next item may not qualify as “news” but it’s worth a little of your attention. A courageous adventurer/trespasser shot some video in and around the Blue Origin factory currently under construction just outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center. The progress is encouraging—Blue Origin just might hit the end-of-year completion date.

Planet released the beta of Explorer. It’s a great beta, and shows off the unique advantage Planet’s constellation brings to satellite imagery—frequency. I had a great time playing with it, and suggest you spend some time with it, too.

SpaceX: GPS III, SES–10, and 39A

SpaceX won another GPS III launch, to no one’s surprise—though, this one was bid on by ULA. The price was a bit higher than SpaceX’s first GPS III bid win, but I’m not surprised to see that either. After all, you don’t have to outrun the bear, just the others you’re running alongside.

SpaceX’s upcoming launch of SES–10—the first launch of a previously-flown core—has a range-approved date of March 27. The spacecraft has been fueled, and was due to be encapsulated in its fairing over the weekend.

Importantly, March 27 puts the turnaround between EchoStar XXIII and SES–10 at just 11 days. That’s impressively-quick turnaround for launches from a still-fresh 39A. There was some work after the CRS–10 launch to repair damaged hydraulic plumbing and wiring, and the pad crew installed additional blast protection to prevent damage from future launches. Limiting repair work between launches is very important to keeping a steady—and high—cadence.

There has been a lot of movement of cores lately—both old and new—so SpaceX is certainly showing signs of picking up the launch cadence in the coming weeks. As I’ve said time and time again, SpaceX needs a strong and smooth 2017, and quick turnarounds are key.

This Week

I’m keeping my eyes on two main things this week: OA–7 and the 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Make sure to follow Jake from WeMartians for coverage of the conference all week long.

Thank you!

Thanks for reading the fifteenth issue of Main Engine Cut Off Weekly. Each week, I bring you what I find interesting and important in spaceflight, and you can get it however you like best—blog, podcast, or this here column.

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Thanks for reading, and I’ll talk to you next week.

— Anthony