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Rocket Launch Briefing 11/2018

First up in November was a Chinese Long March 3B. The rocket has 3 core stages, 4 strap-on boosters and an optional 4th stage which is only used to kick navigation satellites into their medium earth orbits. This was not the case on this particular mission despite the satellite being from type BeiDou, which is meant to enhance the chinese GPS. However, BeiDou uses a mix of medium earth orbits and geosynchronous slots above China. It’s hard to find real images of these so simply picture a wrapped box with foldable solar panels attached. These are not designed to be pretty as nobody can see them up there, but that will actually change in the future as satellites will get bigger and heavier. Satellite makers like SSL from California, are already developing satellites that can assemble themselves on orbit, using a robotic arm. Their particular system is called Dragonfly and I bet we’ll get some nice satellite selfies in the future, as these are of course equipped with cameras. In case you wonder: the more unfoldable parts there are, the more hinges and springs and motors you need to unfold it. At some point it therefore makes sense to simply mount an arm like at the Space Station! Stacking stuff is also a little easier on the mounting points as they don’t have to secure the hardware while going through the forces and vibrations of a rocket launch.

Launches 01 and 02 November 2018

Anyhow, let’s move to the next rocket which is or was a Soyuz on November 3rd. It also launched a navigation satellite to space but this time for Russia aka. GLONASS or Global Navigation Satellite System. Soyuz used its regular two stages, 4 strap on boosters and the optional Fregat upper stage, which is similar to the chinese one, able to restart its engine multiple times, in order to get the satellites where they belong. In this case it was a slightly lower medium earth orbit at an altitude of 19,000 kms. Each of these constellations has its own peel around earth so to speak so they don’t interfere with one another.

Number 3 on the list is another Soyuz, but this one launched for Europe from Kourou in French Guiana. Yep, Russia sells their own rockets to other countries, so they can launch them from somewhere else. I think this is actually unique in the rocket industry but I’m not entirely sure. It would be quite amazing if Falcons or BFRs, would one day also launch and re-launch from Kourou for Arianespace, instead of SpaceX. This should be possible but of course needs governmental approval as such rockets could in theory also be used as missiles or missile carriers. SpaceX actually launched some secret payloads in the past already so there is a good chance, that this has already happened in one way or the other.

Launches 01 and 02 November 2018

Next up was a very small rocket for New Zealand. Rocket Lab’s Electron took off on November 11th and what you see next to it for scale, is a rather famous obelisk placed on top the volcanic elevation “One Tree Hill” in Auckland. Uptop its kickstage, which is boosted to space by the two stages below, were 7 cubesats. I talked about this one in my video about Black Holes already so feel free to check that one out in case you missed it. Or if you want to see what would happen if a black hole were to flyby our sun but who wants to see that, right? Another video I can highly recommend if you are interested into Rocket Lab, is an interview by the Everyday Astronaut. He sat down with Rocket Lab’s CEO Peter Beck and discussed rockets and space for more than an hour. That’s also linked below!

Skipping ahead on position 5 is one for India, not anyone but their biggest rocket to date, the GSLV Mk. III aka. Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle. It launched on November 14th as its name already indicates into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, where it successfully released GSAT 29. Here is an actual image of it. It’s a box. But Jokes aside, when we zoom in a little we can spot some cool things like these radiators meant to get heat out of the system by infrared radiation. Regular fans obviously don’t work in space so heat management is one of the most important parts. Every bit of waste heat has to be controlled as it can’t escape like down on earth through air. Further to the right, what looks like an engine bell, is actually some kind of antenna or transponder I believe. It keeps the radio beam narrow and also away from the rest of the hardware as this has to radiate with quite a bit power. Remember, this satellite will sit 35,000 kms away from earth in a geosynchronous slot and it has to not only reach the ground but also penetrate the atmosphere. Below is what looks like a towel covering up something secret. It does look like someone has put it there just for the photo as it appears to fall off any moment. There is also a spiral thing and further left is an actual thruster. You can see it has a little skirt that shields the satellite from the radiation heat it causes. It has one of these on each side seen from here so I assume that’s used for reaction control. There may be some bigger ones on the back as GSAT will have to push itself all the way into a circular orbit.

Launches 01 and 02 November 2018

And off to the next rocket which is a SpaceX Falcon 9 that launched one day after on November 15th from Cape Canaveral. Ontop the famous two staged rocket was Es’hail 2, a Qatari communication satellite that will also travel all the way to geosynchronous orbit, to place itself at 26° east over, over the Saudi Arabian peninsula. This particular launch was 100% successful and SpaceX got their block 5 booster back, which was actually its second flight already. It’s not rapid reuse yet but they are definitely hard at work to get there. Two and three reuses per booster are standard already and the more of these pile up at their headquarters the less new ones they will have to build, to then finally switch production to BFR.

The third Soyuz rocket for November took of for Russia again and as you can see up top there is no payload fairing, and instead a spacecraft. It’s Progress MS-10, the cargo version of the Soyuz spacecraft, which supplies the ISS on a regular basis. It took off on November 16th and was the first flight of that particular rocket version, after the anomaly which caused the Soyuz MS-10 launch abort mid flight. It seems all to work properly again and really shows that nothing is ever 100% safe no matter how often it went right before. Soyuz launched over a thousand times already! Cargo wise it was a pretty standard resupply mission indlucing 750 kg of propellant for the ISS, which it needs to stay in orbit, half a ton fresh water which is always nice to have even though they keep reusing a lot on the station. And lastly of course a big breeze of fresh air as they can’t open a window up there.

Launches 01 and 02 November 2018

Number 8, Antares. Now launching for Northrop Grumman it took off on November 17th carrying Cygnus NG-10 to the ISS. Yep, it’s another cargo ship but this one carried mostly hardware and experiments meant to be performed in microgravity. These experiments are currently the main purpose of the station but that will change in the future as NASA and its fellow agencies push towards the moon and at least currently plan to build a new station the lunar orbital platform. I used to think that would mean the end for the station but there is some new hope at the horizon as decreasing launch cost also mean that it will get progressively cheaper to keep the station running. I’ve also heard about a new bill that would secure the station’s funding up until 2030 but I haven’t really digged into that yet. I’ll definitely also do a separate video on the lunar platform so stay tuned for that.

The next launch was again one for China and very similar to the first one I just covered. It was a Long March 3B launching from Xichang on November 18 and up top were two Beidou satellites. These ones ware the medium earth orbit variants and the rocket therefore also carried its kick stage.

Launches 01 and 02 November 2018

And because China is really pushing it this year, two days after that there was another Long March, this time Long March 2D launching off Jiuquan. These rockets are relatively small compared to something like a Falcon 9 but still. China has an insane launch rate and they are just getting warmed up as they also try to jumpstart commercial launch providers in their country. Speaking of commercial space, up top was the first commercially owned satellite by a Chinese company named, hold onto your seats guys, SpaceOK. It is the first in what is going to be a commercial communication constellation in low earth orbit. Sounds familiar? Yep, some kind of Chinese Starlink. I just hope they are in contact with other companies that plan to do the same because I see a lot of conflict potential especially since China is known to not like the idea of an internet they have absolutely no control over. I’ll keep you updated on how that will develop.

Next up was another small launch vehicle, the european Vega launching off Kourou. The payload behind the fairing is Mohammed VI-B, the second one for Morocco. It weighs about a ton and is equipped with all kinds of sensory instruments to monitor the ground from its polar orbit. Vega itself is a relatively simple rocket build to be cheap and the lightest launcher of Arianespace. Its first three stages are solid boosters that don’t need complex engines and fuel pumping systems. They just burn like a firework from the inside out, but this is of course an oversimplification, as it still needs a steerable nozzle and many other complex systems that keep it on the right track. I still like the comparison as it is a good entry point into rocketry and pretty much everyone can build a solid motor at home. All you need is some noise

Launches 01 and 02 November 2018

The second to last rocket to launch in November 2018 was an Indian PSLV on November 29th from Satish Dhawan. The main payload was HysIS. The Hyperspectral Imaging Satellite which will circle earth on a 630 km high solar synchronous orbit. Hyperspectral means that its camera can take images with many different so called spectral bands at a time. A regular camera also uses multiple spectra, one for red, one for green and one for blue light. These then get mixed to create the final image. The hyperspectral cameras on board HysIS can distinguish more than 300 different of these and it’s needed to really separate all the different elements that emit this radiation from each other. Otherwise it would be just a giant white blob of everything mixed together.

Besides HysIS there were many more smaller secondary payloads onboard, like a cubesat for “Reaktor Space Lab”. It is very similar to the main payload and also features a hyperspectral imager, it’s just a very tiny one. According to their website it’s actually the first miniature version and uses an ARM processor similar to smartphones running a Linux distribution as operating system. The image processing itself however, is done using an efficient FPGA aka. Field Programmable Gate Array. Image processing turns the data from the sensor into images. That FPGA is a special piece of hardware that does not require to run an operating system like processors, and instead just performs the same logic operations on the input over and over. As if you had a large field of switches where the information would go through to mix and match in a described order. Well, that’s pretty much what such a gate array is, only that you can describe how the switches are meant to be setup using software which runs on the ARM processor. It burns or flashes the particular switch order you want on the FPGA itself which can then run and execute its task independently. Another cool part is such FPGAs are incredibly cheap and you can get them off amazon to learn how such logics work. In theory you can get pretty much anything done using just a logics board even games like pong. It really helps to understand how computers work on a fundamental level as processors are insanely complex and hard to grasp.

Anyhow, the last launch is a very short one. A Rokot for Russia that launched on November 30th from their northern launch site Plesetsk. Up top the repurposed ICBM were three military communication satellites from type Strela. Each satellite lives in a low earth orbit and has a life expectancy of round about 5 years. So they have to be replaced on a regular basis to act as a relay between different operators on ground that have no direct line of sight.

Launches 01 and 02 November 2018

Okay, that shall conclude this first beta Launch Briefing for November 2018 and please let me know what you think. I will of course keep improving it as this is only the beginning of kNews 2.0. I really want to give you and myself a nice overview about what is launching to space and hope to achieve that. In the end I want to give a big big shout out to the people who continue to support me on Patreon. It really means a lot and I would not be doing this without some light at the end of the tunnel that is you. Thanks for your thrust! And to all of you my viewers and readers I hope you had a merry Christmas and hyppe new year!