A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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Setting the Spaceplane Stage

Dream Chaser shuttle. (Credit: NASA)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — Fly frequently, travel safely, land on (most) runways, and operate economically: such are the guiding principles for 21st century spaceplanes, cargo-carrying aerospace workhorses routinely launching to low-Earth orbit for space station resupply and crew transfers. Fans disconsolate after retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet can take heart: The next generation in reusable space vehicles is set to debut.

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Russia 2013 Space Year in Review

Expedition 37 takes off for the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Expedition 37 takes off for the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Russia once again led the world in orbital launches in 2013, keeping the International Space Station supplied with a study stream of crew members and cargo while earning hard currency with commercial satellite launches.

Although the vast majority of Russia’s launches were successful, the spectacular failure in July of a Proton rocket — which nosedived into the ground shortly after liftoff — accelerated efforts to reform the nation’s failure-prone space program. By the end of the year, the Russian space agency Roscosmos had a new leader and a major effort was underway to consolidate a large part of the bloated and inefficient space sector under a single government-owned company.

During 2013, Russia introduced a new variant of its venerable Soyuz rocket while also making progress on constructing a new spaceport in the Far East and developing a larger human spacecraft to replace the Soyuz transport and a heavy-lift booster to facilitate deep space exploration.

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Failure Prone Zenit Launch Vehicle Successfully Returns to Flight

zenit3slb
Land Launch Zenit booster

The problem-plagued Zenit launch vehicle returned to flight on Saturday with the successful launch of the Israeli Amos-4 communications satellite from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The 3.5-ton satellite, which was built by Israel Aerospace Industries for Israeli operator Spacecom, will deliver Ka- and Ka-band communications to the portions of the Middle East, Russia and south and east Asia.

This is the first successful flight of the rocket since the failure of a Sea Launch Zenit-3SL on Feb. 1. The launch vehicle crashed into the Pacific Ocean shortly after take-off when its first stage failed, taking the Intelsat 27 satellite down with it.

The Zenit launch vehicle, which has a success rate of just over 85 percent, was originally intended for multiple uses. Four Zenits were attached to the core of the giant Energia launch system designed to lift the Buran space shuttle into orbit. Zenits were also designed to fly separately as a replacement for the Soyuz booster for manned flights and as a satellite launcher.

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Russia Plays Follow the Leader on Heavy-Lift Vehicles

Buran shuttle and Energia rocket.
Buran shuttle and Energia rocket.

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

With America (or, at least its esteemed Congress, gentlemen engineers all) determined to build the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) regardless of the cost to the national treasury or the damage done to far more pressing priorities (like getting our astronauts back into orbit on U.S. vehicles), the Russians have begun dusting off old proposals for super boosters of their own.

In this case, the Russian need to emulate the Americans is somewhat less blatant than the follow-the-leader cloning process that resulted Soviet Union’s ill-fated, single flight Buran space shuttle of the 1980’s. However, it does involves much of the same launch vehicle hardware, which should set off plenty of alarm bells right there.

Yes, the Soviet Empire may have died and, with it, the mighty space program that had once sent shudders of fear through the West. But, the individual initiatives of that era continue to live on, although in somewhat altered states and, unfortunately, possessing many of the same problems.

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Russian Engineers Complete Angara Bench Tests, Eye Revival of Energia Engines

Angara rocket engine test

VIA ROSCOSMOS PAO

NITS RKP, Peresvet, completed firing tests of Universal Rocket Module URM-2 for Angara launcher.

Cold testing of URM-2 with kerosene filling, as well as totally-filled system tests, had been conducted successfully. The firing test, aimed at confirming URM proper operation as a part of Angara’s third stage, took place on Nov. 18 at test bench 102 (TB-102), the largest test bench in Europe.

URM-2 is to be used in the third stage of the rocket. The first and second sessions of the cold firing tests have been completed in June-July.

Angara’s URM-1 bench tests were completed in 2009.

Development of the Angara launcher is the high-priority national objective. Angara‘s customers are Russian Federal Space Agency and the Ministry of Defense. Khrunichev Space Center is the prime contractor in the project.

And in related news….

Russia’s advanced super heavy-lift launcher to use modified propulsion of Energia rocket developed under Energia-Buran project, KBKhA DG Vladimir Rachuk told Interfax-AVN.

He reminded that oxygen-hydrogen engine RD-0120 designed by KBKhA was used in Energia project. Development of the advanced super heavy-lift launcher is to begin in 2018.

Happy Birthday to….Everyone!

The International Space Station – that $100 billion plus, taxpayer funded lab/millionaut vacation getaway – turned 10 years old this week as astronauts worked to install a new module to the facility. ISS won’t be finished until 2010. In about two months, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan proposing the United States build the station.

Ah, progress….

Two other anniversaries to note this week: Moffett Field celebrated its 75th birthday this week by celebrating the return of the Zeppelin to the Silicon Valley facility. The base – now run by NASA – was originally opened as a Naval Air Station to operate the airship USS Macon. That ship crashed while on patrol off the California coast in 1935. A new Zeppelin-built airship owned by Airship Ventures recently arrived at the facility. It is being used for tourism flights.

Finally, this week also marked the 20th anniversary of the first and only flight of the Soviet space shuttle Buran. The vehicle took off from Baikonaur, circled the Earth, and then landed – all without a crew. It never flew again, and the Soviet Union collapsed three years later.

Coincidence? I think not.