It’s a busy week in the new space race with two commercial operations trying new things, and China sending a rover to the moon.
SpaceX is hoping the third time is the charm tonight with its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket currently fueled up and ready to launch the company’s first geostationary payload. The long trip to an altitude of 22, 236 miles for the SES-8 broadcast satellite has been twice delayed due to last second issues with the latest version of SpaceX’s rocket. The latest attempt was on Thanksgiving when the nine rocket engines that boost the first stage towards orbit actually ignited, but were shut down a moment later after they failed to develop thrust quickly enough.
Currently the liftoff is scheduled for 5:41 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral in Florida and the company has a 86 minute window to launch before they would have to delay it again for tomorrow. Check out the live stream of the launch below (assuming it happens this time).
Down in Texas Blue Origin has been busy testing its own new rocket engine, and released information and a video from a test completed on November 20. The company’s BE-3 rocket engine is a hydrogen fuel engine designed to boost Blue Origin’s sub-orbital launch vehicle. Like SpaceX, Blue Origin plans to use reusable boosters that will return to earth and land themselves so they can be reused on later flights.
The normally quiet space company is Jeff Bezos’ space venture, and today’s news comes on the heels of his bigger PR push yesterday with the fanciful Amazon Prime Air drones. Blue Origin is part of NASA’s commercial crew development program, and like other companies, Blue Origin has been working with the agency during their engine development.
The test firing of the BE-3 was a partial simulation of a sub-orbital flight that included an initial 145-second burn to boost the rocket and then a shutdown for several minutes to simulate a coast phase. Sitting on the test stand at Blue Origin’s Texas test facility, the engine was then reignited for a minute to simulate a controlled, soft touch down back at the landing pad. The company says the engine has been test fired more than 160 times, with more than 9, 100 seconds of burn time.
Unfortunately there wasn’t any information from the quiet company about when a first sub-orbital launch may occur using the new engine.
And on the other side of the world, China is monitoring its lunar rover as it makes the long trip to the moon. The six-wheeled vehicle lifted off atop a Long March 3B rocket at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, and is currently on a four day trip, before entering lunar orbit on Friday.
The launch was streamed live on China’s national television station, and included fantastic English language commentary from Chinese engineers describing the launch and the mission.
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