Main Engine Cut Off

ISRO Carries Out Pad Abort Test

Though ISRO doesn’t have an official human spaceflight program just yet, they’re making good progress on fundamental components, including the abort systems and the launch vehicle—GSLV Mk. III.

Looks like this was a successful test of the abort system, save for the crew module separating from the parachutes on final descent.

Make sure to check out the video of the test, if for nothing else but the audio experience including the club beats.

Thanks to June Patrons

Very special thanks to the 206 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of June. Your support keeps this blog and podcast going, and most importantly, it keeps it independent.

And a huge thanks to the 37 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Brian, Russell, John, Moritz, Tyler, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Barbara, Stan, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and seven anonymous executive producers. I could not do this without your support, and I am extremely grateful for it.

There are some great perks for those supporting on Patreon, too. At $3 a month, you get access to the MECO Headlines podcast feed—every Friday, I run through the headlines of the week and discuss the stories that didn’t make it into the main show. And at $5 a month, you’ll get advance notice of guest appearances with the ability to contribute questions and topics to the show, and you get access to the Off-Nominal Discord—a place to hang out and discuss all things space.

If you want to get in on some of these perks, of if you’re getting some value out of what I do here and just want to send a little value back to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and do it there.

There are other ways to help support, too: head over to the shop and buy yourself a shirt or a pair of Rocket Socks, tell a friend, or post a link to something I’m writing or talking about on Twitter or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.

Air Force Releases Request for Information for STP-4

The Air Force has a requirement to launch the STP-4 mission in April 2021 on an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class vehicle. This mission will require a direct injection to geosynchronous orbit for a satellite with a total mass range of 3,900kg - 6,300 kg. In order to achieve this launch date, a launch service contract must be in place by April 2019.

This is a direct-to-GEO mission that’s well within the capability of the current certified launch vehicles, but interestingly, they put out a Request for Information instead of a Request for Proposal.

Please provide responses to the following questions:

1. Does your company anticipate having the capability to perform a direct injection to geosynchronous orbit for a satellite weighing 3,900kg - 6,300 kg in April 2021?

2. Would your company respond to a request for proposal for STP-4?

I can only think of one company who would be able to launch that much directly to geostationary orbit by April 2021 that the Air Force doesn’t already have a wealth of information about.

It certainly reads to me like they really want to see some details about what New Glenn could offer, and they want to know if Blue Origin would put a bid in for the launch.

It’s also worth noting that the Space Test Program is shown to be comfortable with flying on new launch vehicles—the upcoming STP-2 is flying on the second-ever Falcon Heavy flight.

Six of Ten AR-22 Firings Completed

Jeff Foust, for SpaceNews:

The Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine is in the midst of a series of 10 100-second engine firings over the course of 10 days at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. As of July 2 the company has completed six such tests and was on track to complete the rest on schedule.

I’ve heard that they did lose a day due to weather last week, and have been working around some since, but this is at least somewhat encouraging.

I’ve also heard a lot of skepticism about the vehicle that is supposed to be attached to this engine, but I guess we’ll see soon:

Boeing is beginning to build hardware for the Phantom Express vehicle. The vehicle’s liquid oxygen tank, made of composite materials, is currently in an autoclave being cured, said Steve Johnston of Boeing. “We’re in the production of flight hardware, from a tank standpoint.”

Other subsystems are going through a series of critical design reviews in the coming months, culminating in a review for the overall vehicle in early 2019, he said. Full assembly of the vehicle will begin in the spring of 2019.

“Things are going quite well,” Wierzbanowski said. “I think we’re pretty much on a very solid path of making this happen on the timescale that we want to.”

Let’s just say that Aerojet Rocketdyne is the uncontested leader in developing engines without a vehicle.

Photos of Dual Engine Centaur in Final Stage of Production

Yesterday, ULA posted some photos of the dual engine Centaur for AV-080—the Atlas V that will fly the uncrewed Starliner demo flight—in final production. Another angle, posted by Tory Bruno, shows two Dual Engine Centaur stages side-by-side, and ULA confirmed that the other is for the first crewed Starliner flight.

It’s good to see this sort of hardware coming through the production lines. I’m excited to see ULA launch one of these brawny Centaurs. The last—and only—flight of a Dual Engine Common Centaur was 16 years ago—over four and a half years before ULA was formed.

SwRI Scientists Find Evidence of Complex Organic Molecules from Enceladus

Southwest Research Institute:

Using mass spectrometry data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists found that large, carbon-rich organic molecules are ejected from cracks in the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Southwest Research Institute scientists think chemical reactions between the moon’s rocky core and warm water from its subsurface ocean are linked to these complex molecules.

“We are, yet again, blown away by Enceladus. Previously we’d only identified the simplest organic molecules containing a few carbon atoms, but even that was very intriguing,” said SwRI’s Dr. Christopher Glein, a space scientist specializing in extraterrestrial chemical oceanography. He is coauthor of a paper in Nature outlining this discovery. “Now we’ve found organic molecules with masses above 200 atomic mass units. That’s over ten times heavier than methane. With complex organic molecules emanating from its liquid water ocean, this moon is the only body besides Earth known to simultaneously satisfy all of the basic requirements for life as we know it.”

My long-term gut feeling: we’ll one day look at life in the solar system the way we do water and geologic activity today.

We used to think just about everywhere but Earth was barren and static, and we’re constantly surprised whenever we go somewhere.

FAA Issues Virgin Orbit Launch License

Contrary to what was reported in SpaceNews a few days ago, there will be more than one captive carry test, there won’t be a captive carry test next week, and there will be a drop test before the first launch attempt. The test campaign will take most of the summer, so I wouldn’t expect to see engines light until the end of August or even September.

LauncherOne Getting Close

Jeff Foust, for SpaceNews:

Workers will be attaching the pylon that holds LauncherOne to the aircraft’s left wing in the next few days, he said. “If everything goes well there, we’ll conduct our first captive carry test,” he said. The flight will take place from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

Only a single captive carry flight is currently scheduled, he said, but added “it doesn’t preclude us from doing another if needed.” That test will also include demonstrating the deployment mechanism, releasing the inert LauncherOne test article to drop back to Earth.

If that flight is a success, Eisele said the company would be ready to conduct its first orbital test of LauncherOne later this summer. “We’re hoping to be ready to fly by the end of the summer, but the precursors there are making sure everything goes well with the captive carry test and all the other test data we have to derive from that,” he said. “We have our first orbital rocket ready to go on the factory floor, so it really is pending just a few of these final qual tests.”