Secret In The Sky

Round and round the Earth it goes, who or what it’s spying on very few people know.

Delta 4 rocket successfully lofts surveillance satellite

A Delta 4 rocket made a thunderous departure from California on Tuesday afternoon, only to slip into a news blackout minutes later while it climbed higher and faster to deploy a classified spy satellite, a success-defining milestone that was confirmed by hobbyist observers.

The United Launch Alliance-made booster roared away from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 4:12:57 p.m. local (7:12:57 p.m. EDT; 2312:57 GMT) on a southwesterly course to reach a retrograde orbit inclined 123 degrees relative to the equator.

. . .

The hush-hush nature for the rest of flight is all part of launching covert payloads for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, the secretive agency that operates the country’s fleet of spy satellites. The NRO does not disclose the purpose of its spacecraft being sent up on each launch, saying only that the flight was called the NROL-25 mission.

See also:
Rocket Launches Secret Spy Satellite for US Military
United Launch Alliance Delta IV Rocket Successfully Launches Payload for the National Reconnaissance Office
United Launch Alliance Delta IV Rocket Successfully Launches Payload for the National Reconnaissance Office
US launches new spy satellite NROL-25
Delta 4 lifts off
Spy satellite-carrying rocket blasts off
U.S. rocket carrying classified payload launches
ULA Successfully Launches Delta IV Rocket
Rocket carrying classified payload launches from California’s central coast
Rocket launch includes key parts from Utah’s ATK sites
List of NRO Launches
National Reconnaissance OfficeNational Reconnaissance Office

According to the listed launch designation, NROL-25 is a radar imaging satellite operating in a retrograde low Earth orbit.

/if I had to guess what it’s looking at, I’d guess Iran

Partly Cloudy With A Chance Of Falling Satellites

Here we go again, this time it’s the German’s turn to randomly drop [expletive deleted] from orbit.

Falling German Satellite Poses 1-in-2,000 Risk of Striking Someone This Month

A big German satellite near the end of life is expected to plunge back to Earth this month, just weeks after a NASA satellite fell from orbit, and where this latest piece of space junk will hit is a mystery.

The 2.4-ton spacecraft, Germany’s Roentgen Satellite (ROSAT), is expected to fall Oct. 22 or 23.

The satellite will break up into fragments, some of which will disintegrate due to intense re-entry heat. But studies predict that about 1.6 tons of satellite leftovers could reach the Earth’s surface. That’s nearly half ROSAT’s entire mass.

There is a 1-in-2,000 chance that debris from the satellite could hit someone on Earth, though the likelihood of an injury is extremely remote, German space officials say. For German citizens, the risk of being struck is much lower, about 1 in 700,000.

All areas under the orbit of ROSAT, which extends to 53 degrees northern and southern latitude, could be in the strike zone of the satellite’s re-entry.

See also:
Falling ROSAT satellite to make reentry between Oct. 21 – 25
German satellite to plunge back to Earth
Huge German Space Junk Satellite To Fall To Earth Sooner Than Expected
Dead German satellite to fall on earth
Massive German satellite will fall to Earth this week
Duck and cover: ROSAT is the next re-entry
Reminder: ROSAT’s coming down soon
ROSAT expected to fall to Earth sometime this week, scientists say
German satellite set to fall to Earth
Not NASA but German Satellite will fall to Earth this weekend
Last chance to see doomed German satellite in night sky
Falling German Satellite Has a 1-in-2,000 Chance of Hitting Somebody
Track Germany’s Falling, 2.4-Ton Satellite in Real-Time
The ROSAT Mission
ROSAT

You’d think that by now, we’d have the technology to orbit powered drones with robotic arms that could guide these massive dead satellites into a controlled deorbit.

/joking about a 1 in 2000 chance of getting hit by tons of space junk moving at terminal velocity is all fun and games until someone actually gets hurt

Picking Up Where We Left Off

NASA may be grounded, but the Chinese are just getting warmed up.

Rocket launches Chinese space lab

A rocket carrying China’s first space laboratory, Tiangong-1, has launched from the north of the country.

The Long March vehicle lifted clear from the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert at 21:16 local time (13:16 GMT).

The rocket’s ascent took the lab out over the Pacific, and on a path to an orbit some 350km above the Earth.

The 10.5m-long, cylindrical module will be unmanned for the time being, but the country’s astronauts, or yuhangyuans, are expected to visit it next year.

Tiangong means “heavenly palace” in Chinese.

See also:
“Heavenly Palace:” China’s dream home in space
Space flight in service of science
Tiangong-1 blasts off
China’s Space Launch Closes Gap With U.S.
China launches Heavenly Palace space station module
China launches module for space station
China launches 1st space station module
China Launches Spacecraft, Eyes Space Station
China Launches ‘Heavenly Palace-1’ Into Space; Takes Step Toward Station
China Set to Launch Its Own Space Station; Mission: Unknown
China Launches Space Lab; An Insider Look Into China Space Program
Rocket’s red glaring error: China sets space launch to America the Beautiful
Tiangong 1

Okay, so the Chinese are still quite a ways behind the U.S. space program.

/but hey, at least they have an active space program

Progress Fails To Make Progress

It’s been a really bad week for the Russians with two rocket failures in the last seven days and four failures total in less than a year.

Russian Progress space freighter lost

An unmanned freighter launched to the International Space Station (ISS) has been lost.

The Russian space agency said the Progress M-12M cargo ship was not placed in the correct orbit by its rocket and fell back to Earth.

The vessel was carrying three tonnes of supplies for the ISS astronauts.

. . .

It appears the Soyuz rocket’s third and final propulsion stage shut down early. As a result, the Russian federal space agency (Roskosmos) said, the Progress vessel “was not placed in the correct orbit”.

. . .

Officials reported the ship coming down in Russia’s Altai province, some 1,500km northeast of the launch site. A loud explosion was heard in the region and there were reports of windows being blown out, but it is not thought there were any injuries on the ground as a result of wreckage coming out of the sky.

See also:
Russia’s Progress M-12M launches toward ISS – fails to achieve orbit
Russian supply spacecraft crashes after launch
Russian cargo rocket lost in rare launch mishap
Technology.ISS supplies strained as Russian Progress freighter crashes to Earth
Space station manager: We can weather the Russian crash
Rocket headed for space station crashes
Russian Progress unmanned ISS resupply vehicle lost during launch
Russian Progress space truck crashes in Siberia
Unmanned Russian Supply Ship for Space Station Crashes
Search Underway for Remains of Russian Spacecraft
Debris from Russian space freighter falls in south Siberia
Spaceship crash ‘exposes Russia’s systemic failures’
Russia likely to suspend space deliveries over loss of Progress freighter
Roscosmos to tighten control of space industry after rocket lost
Russia grounds rocket, orders probe
Russian spacecraft lost to apparent engine failure uninsured
Will cargo crash leave ISS crew high and dry?

It’s not that I was a big fan of the space shuttle, but if the Russians can’t get these recurrent rocket failure problems under control, there’s a possibility that the International Space Station might eventually have to be abandoned, because there’s currently no available alternative to supply the ISS. The ISS managers are putting on a brave face that they can manage the cargo loss, but losing three tons of scheduled resupply has just got to hurt.

/what is it they say about putting all your eggs in one basket?

It Is Heavy And Obama Can’t Cancel It

Obama may have killed the Constellation program, but he can’t stop SpaceX.

Huge Private Rocket Could Send Astronauts to the Moon or Mars

A massive new private rocket envisioned by the commercial spaceflight company SpaceX could do more than just ferry big satellites and spacecraft into orbit. It could even help return astronauts to the moon, the rocket’s builder says.

SpaceX announced plans to build the huge rocket, called the Falcon Heavy, yesterday (April 5). To make the new booster, SpaceX will upgrade its Falcon 9 rockets with twin strap-on boosters and other systems to make them capable of launching larger payloads into space than any other rocket operating today.

But the Falcon Heavy’s increased power could also be put toward traveling beyond low-Earth orbit and out into the solar system, said SpaceX’s founder and CEO Elon Musk during a Tuesday press conference.

See also:
SpaceX Unveils Plans for Falcon Heavy, World’s Largest Rocket
SpaceX announces Falcon Heavy: a low-cost, heavy-lifting, 22-story rocket
SpaceX unveils plans for Falcon heavy lift rocket
Space privateers to launch biggest rocket since 70s
SpaceX preps world’s largest rocket. It’s low cost, too
The Tech Behind the New SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket
SpaceX’s ‘Falcon Heavy’ Most Powerful Private Rocket Ever
SpaceX shoots for ‘next big thing’
SpaceX unveils heavy launcher
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation
SpaceX
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – Falcon Heavy
Falcon Heavy

If the Falcon Heavy becomes operational and performs as expected, this rocket will be able to lift a heavier payload into space than any other rocket ever built, other than the Saturn V behemoth.

/Wernher von Braun would be proud

St. Patrick’s Day Mercury

A week from today, the MESSENGER will be checking out the first rock from the Sun. Remember to hoist a green beer or two to NASA.

MESSENGER Spacecraft to Swing Into Orbit Around Mercury

Scientists are excited about solving some of the mysteries surrounding our smallest and hottest planet. The findings are expected to broaden our understanding of rocky planets, more and more of which are being discovered in other solar systems.

At about 8:45 pm Eastern Daylight Time on March 17, the MESSENGER spacecraft will execute a 15-minute maneuver that will place it into orbit around Mercury, making it the first craft ever to do so, and initiating a one-year science campaign to understand the innermost planet.

See also:
At last! Messenger craft poised to orbit Mercury
MESSENGER poised for Mercury orbit insertion
MESSENGER Poised For Mercury Orbit Insertion
NASA’s Messenger Spacecraft Gears Up to Orbit Mercury
Next Week Messenger Probe Will Become First Craft To Orbit Mercury
When Messenger Arrives in Orbit: Q&A With Sean Solomon, NASA’s Mercury Boss
Planet Mercury in the news next week
NASA – MESSENGER – Unlocking the Secrets of Mercury
MESSENGER

I’m sure the scientists will find this interesting although, as far as planets go, Mercury is pretty much worthless. It doesn’t have an atmosphere and it’s way too hot.

/that said, it was launched seven years ago and it’s not costing us much extra at this point, so go MESSENGER, send us back some good data

The Sun Is Pissed Off

Run for your lives!

Massive solar flare hits Earth tonight

The biggest solar flare in four years has blasted out from the sun, and is expected to reach Earth late tonight.

The flare, or coronal mass ejection (CME), was emitted on Monday at 8:56pm EST. It’s been categorized as a Class X2.2 flare, the most severe type. It follows one Class M – medium-sized – flare the day before, and several low-grade Class C flares over the preceding week.

The coronal mass ejection associated with the flare is currently traveling about 900 Km/second and is expected to reach Earth’s orbit tonight at about 10pm EST. It’s the biggest flare yet in the current solar cycle.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the flare in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 193 Angstroms – although the SDO imager was for a moment overwhelmed by the bright flash.

It emanated from Active Region 1158, in the southern hemisphere; this has in the past trailed behind the north in activity but now leads in big flares.

A flare of this size could have noticeable effects on Earth when the cloud of charged particles reaches us. It’s possible that radio transmissions and GPS systems could be knocked out, and power grids could be affected.

See also:
Sun Erupts with Enormous X2 Solar Flare
Solar flare 2011: How a dazzling display can wreak electrical havoc
Here comes the sun: Solar flares make way to Earth
Biggest Solar Flares in 4 Years Heading Toward Earth
Scientists await arrival of solar flares
Planet awaits largest solar flare effects today
Giant Solar Blast Headed for Earth
Solar flares due to hit Earth
Sun has biggest solar flare of the year
Solar flare could light up night sky
Solar flare could cause Northern Lights over New England
Is Class X flash first warning of 2012 solar storm?

So, if your power goes out or your electronics go haywire, you’ll know why, the Earth is getting a solar spanking. And if a solar flare can disrupt the power grid, it kind of makes you wonder what kind of radiation dose humans are taking.

/in any case, don’t forget to duck

Russian Rocket Roulette

Less than two months after losing three satellites in the ocean, Russia’s apparently lost yet another one.

Russian satellite feared stranded by rocket mishap

Russia is struggling to contact a military research satellite believed stranded in a low orbit by a rocket failure, according to Russian media reports.

The spacecraft lifted off on a Rockot launch vehicle at 1400 GMT (9 a.m. EST) Tuesday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome about 500 miles north of Moscow.

The two-stage Rockot, a converted ballistic missile, flew north from Plesetsk toward space. A Breeze KM upper stage was supposed to fire twice to propel Russia’s GEO-IK 2 satellite to an orbital altitude of 1,000 kilometers, or more than 600 miles, about 90 minutes after blastoff.

But U.S. military tracking data indicate the rocket is still in an elliptical transfer orbit with a peak altitude of about 650 miles and a low point of 200 miles. Such an orbit might indicate the hydrazine-fueled Breeze KM engine did not ignite for a second time as planned.

Russia’s Novosti news agency quoted Oleg Ostapenko, commander of Russian space troops, as saying the satellite was placed in a bad orbit. Russian controllers are attempting to establish control of the craft, which did not radio back to Earth following launch.

See also:
Russia loses new military satellite
Russians Lose Spy Satellite Hours After Launch
Russian Dual Purpose Geodesic Satellite Lost
Russia loses control of new military satellite
Russia Reportedly Loses Military Satellite
Russia loses contact with newly launched satellite: report
Military Sources: Russia Lost Satellite
Russia loses new satellite in space: Interfax
Anyone Seen a Russian Military Satellite?

And this comes shortly after India lost a satellite last Christmas, when a Russian designed rocket exploded shortly after launch.

/is it just me, or does there seem to be an inordinate number of problems with Russian rocket quality lately?

Melior Diabolus Quem Scies

On top of a Delta 4-Heavy rocket, the largest rocket ever launched from the West Coast, the NRO’s NROL-49 spy satellite is off to orbit on a classified “national security” mission.

Massive Rocket Blasts Off on Probable Spy Mission

The largest rocket ever to blast off from the West Coast launched into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Thursday afternoon.

The most powerful launch rocket in the U.S., the Delta IV Heavy, took off a little after 1 p.m. Pacific Time carrying a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spy satellite called NROL-49.

“This launch marks a significant milestone in our nation’s space capability,” launch director Lt. Col. Brady Hauboldt said in a press release. “We’ve really restored a national capability for heavy lift on the Western Range… This extends our ability to cost-effectively deliver payloads of all sizes and compliments.”

According to the United Launch Alliance (ULA), the organization that is running the launch for NRO, “this launch supports the military’s national defense mission.” However, that’s about all of the information that has been publicly disclosed about the payload.

See also:
First Delta IV Heavy launches from Vandenberg
Vandenberg rocket: largest American rocket blasted off today on West Coast
Launch of giant rocket in Southern California heard for miles
23-story rocket launches U.S. spy satellite
Delta IV rocket launches from Vandenberg
First Delta IV Heavy blasts off from Vandenberg
New Spy Satellite Blasts Off on Secret Mission
Vandenberg launches Delta IV Heavy rocket
California: Rocket Launches With Secret Payload
Secret payload launched on largest West Coast rocket
Boeing: Delta – Delta IV Launch Vehicles
Delta IV
Vandenberg Air Force Base
Vandenberg Air Force Base
National Reconnaissance Office
National Reconnaissance Office

And, that’s about it. Except that it’s supposedly an imaging satellite, there’s not much use in speculating further. I’m just happy that it made it to orbit safely, our taxpayer dollars much better spent than on Obamacare.

/pretty pictures, NROL-49

Christmas Fail

India’s space program gets a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking.

Indian Rocket Explodes Seconds After Liftoff

An Indian space rocket carrying an advanced communications satellite exploded in smoke and fire just seconds after lifting off from a launch pad at the Sriharikota space center in Andhra Pradesh state, about 50 miles from the city of Chennai.

The Christmas Day launch of the satellite had originally been planned for December 20, but was delayed after engineers discovered a leak in one of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle’s (GSLV) engines, the United News of India reported.

The GSLV was carrying a GSAT-5P communication satellite into orbit when it strayed from its planned flight path, and was deliberately blown up by mission control 47 seconds after liftoff, according to state-owned Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman K. Radhakrishnan.

Radhakrishnan said the GSLV developed an error shortly after takeoff, and then lost command, resulting in a higher angle in the flight.

“That caused a higher stress, breaking up the vehicle,” he said.

The GSLV exploded “at an altitude of 4.9 miles (8 km) and the debris have fallen in deep sea,” Radhakrishnan said.

See also:
Indian space rocket explodes soon after launchIndian rocket explodes after take-off
Indian rocket explodes on launch
Satellite-Carrying Indian Rocket Explodes After Launch
Unmanned Indian rocket explodes
GSAT-5P, GSLV-F06 were not insured
ISRO teams analysing data to pinpoint GSLV failure
Heavier payload caused Indian rocket’s failure: Expert
Disaster leaves Isro with 1 cryo engine
GSLV failures fuel disappointment and anxiety
GSLV failure sparks safety fears for 2016 manned space flight

Apparently, this isn’t the first time this particular type of rocket has failed.

/India might want to rethink their plans to use these rockets for manned flights