SARGE rocket splutters, Boeing shows us its 'chute, NASA trundles Mobile Launcher to pad

Also, happy Asteroid Day! Let's party like it's 1908

Rosetta snap of Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Pic: ESA
Happy Asteroid Day from ESA ... Rosetta snap of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Roundup Beyond the crowd-pleasing Falcon Heavy landing antics there were other adventures in space last week that you might have missed.

Exos suffers a wayward SARGE

While eyes were on SpaceX and Rocket Lab, Exos Aerospace, an outfit including several former Armadillo Aerospace staffers, had another crack at launching its SARGE Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicle.

The launch, the third following less dramatic flights in March this year and August 2018, did not go well as seconds after leaving its stand at around 1800 UTC on 29 June the rocket veered out of control into the New Mexico skies.

Youtube Video

Rather than hitting a make-it-go-boom button, controllers managed to salvage some control, venting fuel and deploying the booster's parafoil to guide the stricken rocket back to Earth. The party trick of stage re-usability means that engineers will have a good chance of rapidly working out what went wrong.

The SARGE (Suborbital Autonomous Rocket with GuidancE) has heritage from Armadillo's abortive STIG-B design. The current system stands 11m tall with a 51cm diameter and can fling up to 50kg on a sub-orbital lob. The plan is to use SARGE as a test bed for the company's follow-up, the Jaguar, which will be able to send up to 100kg to Low Earth Orbit.

And, of course, the plan is to keep that first stage reusable in the way that Rocket Lab's Electron, which also has the small satellite market in its sights, isn't. Once the gang actually manages to launch something into space, that is.

Boeing shows off its parachute prowess

While its commercial aviation division may still be enduring software agonies, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner gang celebrated two more milestones on the road to putting a crew into the company's spaceship.

Last week's tests, at two different locations, were designed to see how the capsule's parachutes would perform with a failed drogue and failed main parachute. The objective was to observe the system handling a double failure scenario.

The first test, with a full-sized CST-100 mock-up, was conducted above the US Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The second, this time using a dart-shape mass simulator, was dropped from a C-17 over the Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. In the latter case the parachutes were inflated at a higher pressure than those expected during a mission to see how they would behave.

To the relief of all concerned, both test articles landed safely and the gang are reviewing the results ahead of a possible uncrewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) later this summer.

If all goes well, a crewed flight will then follow, ideally before the end of the year. Although, as rival SpaceX will ruefully agree, an awful lot of testing still needs to happen before humans will be allowed in the commercial crew spacecraft.

NASA takes its Mobile Launcher out for a spin

The Mobile Launcher, to be used with NASA's monster SLS rocket if and when it finally flies, was taken for a trundle to Launch Complex 39B last week, atop one of the agency's Apollo-era transporters.

The 116m tower, originally built for the cancelled Ares project and adapted for SLS, will now spend some quality time at the pad while NASA checks everything fits and flows as it should ahead of a planned SLS launch next year.

The launcher consists of a two-storey base, acting as a platform for the rocket, and a tower festooned with umbilicals to keep the SLS stack fed with fuel and data. The 6.5km trek from High Bay 3 in the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad will take eight hours when fully loaded.

Happy World Asteroid Day!

NASA, ESA and other organisations got together over the weekend to talk asteroids and mark the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska impact. Both agencies were keen to talk up their rock-bothering chops as NASA showed off imagery from the Shoemaker-Levy 9 crash into Jupiter 25 years ago as well as some close-ups of the asteroid Bennu.

NASA also plans to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid in an effort to demonstrate it can be deflected (if only by a tiny amount) as part of its DART mission. While the 2022 deflection will be visible from Earth telescopes and radars, ESA has proposed a mission called Hera, launching in October 2024, to take a closer look at the results. Hera would also deploy a pair of CubeSats to conduct surveys of the asteroid.

ESA has quite a bit of experience with rocks hurtling through space. A pair of spacecraft, Philae and Rosetta, are currently sitting on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The former was a lander and the latter an orbiter sent to a gentle "impact" on the surface in 2016.

The Rosetta experience will stand ESA in good stead for the proposed Hera mission. ®

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