The perils of rocket watching


SpaceX Falcon 9: Source SpaceX

Ah rockets rockets. You wait hours for one and three come at once. Oh no wait that’s buses.  Rockets are dangerous things. Full of combustible chemicals mixed and ignited. The science is simple, but the key is in the management.

This isn’t though the peril that I refer to; this peril is closer to home. This peril is that which my or indeed any rocket launch watcher’s fears rest on; the thin crust of our patience and nerves.

Space faring rockets you see like Space X’s* Falcon 9 launches are set to strict tolerances and limits. Rather than risk catastrophic failure, the rocket and or Space X will abort. The clock will be stopped and mission control will likely scrub the mission. This is especially true of instantaneous/1 second window launches.

They absolutely do not want to waste both the vital and expensive payload and the rocket to a seemingly minor or major fault, or environmental and weather factors, and so the next available window will be found and set.

Example Launch Updates:

Launch Postponed

Today’s launch of the DSCOVR mission is scrubbed due to leaves on the track, which is an obstruction to launch. Earliest next opportunity is ARGGGGGH!

Launch Postponed

Launch is scrubbed for winds. Next attempt tomorrow Feb. 11, 6:03pm ES

Launch Postponed

Today’s launch of the DSCOVR mission is scrubbed due to loss of the Air Force’s Eastern Range radar, which is required for launch. Earliest next opportunity is tomorrow, Monday, Feb. 9th at 6:07pm ET.

The stakes for us viewers are (perhaps artificially) higher when we know some new technology is to be tested. This is why SpaceX’s Falcon launches try our patience so.  Why are the current launches so important?  Well:

During our next flight, SpaceX will attempt the precision landing of a Falcon 9 first stage for the first time, on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. While SpaceX has already demonstrated two successful soft water landings, executing a precision landing on an un-anchored ocean platform is significantly more challenging.

The odds of success are not great—perhaps 50% at best. However this test represents the first in a series of similar tests that will ultimately deliver a fully reusable Falcon 9 first stage.

Video of previous first stage reentry test with soft water landing

Returning anything from space is a challenge, but returning a Falcon 9 first stage for a precision landing presents a number of additional hurdles. At 14 stories tall and traveling upwards of 1300 m/s (nearly 1 mi/s), stabilizing the Falcon 9 first stage for reentry is like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm.

– SpaceX

Source NBC News

Source NBC News

In other words this will be the first time a major stage of a rocket has ever returned to earth under it’s own power and with a controlled landing.  A truly reusable rocket that can be retrieved without damage and prepared for the next launch quickly is massively cheaper.  This is a game changer for the space industry.

My friend though tells me he makes a cup of tea before each flight.  Seeing as there have been 3 scrubbed flights since the first prepared launch late last year, this may well be the reason.  I am a man of reason but superstitious ignorance dictates that I could lay all blame on his shoulders.  Go to make a cup of tea only to find the clock has been stopped and the launch scrubbed.

I don’t want to have to exclaim ‘Bloody hell Space x I stayed up late for this bloody thing AGAIN, just damn well launch it for me and will say no more about it. What is it this time? A butterfly on the tip? Leaves on the track?  Of course I’m not the one paying the bills.

So here we are again, waiting for the next launch window. Oh and if my friend goes for a cup of tea again I’ll slap him with a kipper.  Next launch is in 2 hours approx GMT.  Details below.

SpaceX’s customer for the DSCOVR mission is the United States Air Force, in conjunction with NOAA and NASA. In this flight, the Falcon 9 rocket will deliver the DSCOVR satellite to a 187 x 1,241,000 km orbit at 37 degrees.The DSCOVR launch window will open at approximately 6:10pm EST on Sunday, February 8, 2015, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. If all goes as planned, the DSCOVR satellite will be deployed approximately 35 minutes after liftoff.

* SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.

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