Alpha Rocket Readies for Launch
Hello fellow space enthusiasts! Welcome to Norminal News! Time seems to fly, as it seems all of these rockets we will discuss were just in their infancy, just pen and paper. Now, Firefly, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Astra have all come so far since their first ideas unfolded. But, before we get to the failures, let's talk about a new age in rocketry.
Firefly's Alpha rocket is a carbon-fiber smallsat launcher, like Rocket Lab's Electron rocket. But, it is much bigger than the Electron, and it will be the biggest carbon-fiber rocket to ever launch, once it does. It is the Goldilocks of rockets, perfectly middle sized, allowing a large enough payload volume, but small enough to be in a specified orbit, without too many other payloads. The payloads flying on this mission include multiple science experiments, a rideshare program called DREAM, an envelope that traveled to the Russian MIR space station. The envelope was in memory of John Glenn's first flight in orbit, and it was flown on the space station to show the cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union after the space race. This envelope will be flown in space once more, marking a new era in spaceflight. To see when this will launch, go to the upcoming tab on the website.
Now, it is time for the sideways rocket. Astra, as I discussed in my last post, was so close to orbit on its third attempt, and everyone thought they would make it to orbit on its fourth. Spoiler alert, it did not. 3...2...1...Ignition, liftoff! Everything went according to plan until right after the first sign of motion when a small explosion can be seen on screen near the engine mount. One of the engines lost thrust almost immediately. The Thrust to Weight Ratio (TWR) of Astra's rocket is about 1:1.5 when it launches. If one of the five engines loses thrust, the thrust to weight ratio is about 1:1. This means the rocket hovers. (The TWR of a rocket is how much thrust it produces versus how much it weighs. E.g. if you had a 100 lb rocket and an engine that produces 200 lbs of thrust, it will go up.) When a rocket is hovering, it uses all of its fuel fighting gravity, and none of it is going to use to make it go up. In other words, the rocket is using up too much fuel. One other thing to take into account is that the engine is no longer producing thrust, so the rocket will tip over, as seen in the video below. Thankfully, rockets need to stay in the right position during takeoff, so there is a guidance computer that can somehow miraculously straighten out the rocket (the guidance computer coders must be really, really good). Now, you might ask, won't the rocket sit there until it runs out of fuel? Actually, no! To produce thrust, rockets need to throw fuel out of them. The fuel weighs something, so as it gets shot out, the weight goes down. This also means the thrust to weight ratio goes up, which also means the rocket goes up. Astra has a very interesting way of terminating their rockets. Some companies will blow them up, but Astra lets its rockets fall into the ocean. The reason Astra did not turn the engines off after launch is because if the rocket hits the expensive launch pad, full of fuel, it will go boom, and it will cost a lot of money to rebuild. Instead, if the rocket hits the ocean without much fuel, the boom will not be as big, or it will not explode at all, and the launch pad will not be nearly has harmed in the process.
Source: NASA Spaceflight
Lastly, SpaceX Launched another Cargo Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, landing its booster on its newest droneship, A Shortfall of Gravitas. The droneship is equipped with engines, meaning it can drive, rather, sail around the sea without tugboats, unlike the other two droneships, Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read The Instructions. It also has a Starlink satellite dish, a cellular system designed to provide fast connections worldwide. The Cargo Dragon spacecraft carried experiments, like genetically modified seeds to study plant growth in microgravity. It also carried concretes, solar cells, fiberglass, and other materials (sent up to study the effects of space on the materials); a robotic arm; wine byproducts thought to reduce bone loss, and much more. To see what else is launching, watch this video. To watch a replay of the launch, go here.
Okay, that is all for today. Thank you for coming, and keep sharing the passion of space with everyone!