While hundreds of thousands of people made their way to the space coast for two straight weeks to get a shot of seeing the most powerful rocket ever blast off from Earth, two scrubs for NASA’s Artemis I mission left them frustrated.
But for those who put in their effort on the weekend, there was at least one rocket that lit up the sky for those hanging out.
SpaceX continued its frantic pace of Falcon 9 launches including two Starlink missions that flew: one just before midnight last weekend on August 27, about 32 hours before NASA canceled its first Artemis I attempt; Then again Sunday night, about 32 hours after NASA’s second attempt to send a Space Launch System rocket with an Orion capsule to the moon.
So, while NASA may eventually have to fall back on the Artemis I hardware capable of thrusting 8.8 million pounds on takeoff to the vehicle assembly building, SpaceX continues to send out 1.7 million pounds of thrust quotas.
For SpaceX, its latest launch is up to 40 for this year, sending 51 of its Starlink satellites to the Internet as well as a Spaceflight orbital transfer vehicle. It lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 10:09 p.m. Sunday. Once again, the company managed to land on the first stage of the booster, which flew for the seventh time.
Last week, it launched the Starlink mission from Cape Canaveral.
Casey Dreyer, a senior advocate and senior space policy advisor for The Planetary Society who was in town for the first SLS attempt, said on the nonprofit’s podcast that he was happy to see what he called an “emergency launch.”
“Beautiful view. The clouds lit up from below and I saw – you can picture the rocket, it’s all shaped, and that’s just a humble little Falcon 9 rocket.” He said. “So I saw a launch, even if I didn’t watch the SLS go by itself.”
So far, SpaceX has sent 61 Starlink flights, including 26 this year, since its first operational deployment in 2019, with more than 3,200 satellites sent into orbit, according to statistics tracked by astronomer Jonathan McDowell.
The growing constellation is about to reach its goal of 4,408 with about 20 more launches, although it is looking for FCC approval to grow to about 30,000 with future launches aboard the Starship rocket in operation.
SpaceX, which has already surpassed the 31 launches it recorded at the time in 2021 in July, is on track to surpass 52 launches before the end of 2022. While it uses Vandenberg Space Force Base for some, most of it comes from the Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39- A or Cape Canaveral SFS. This year now includes 12 aircraft from Kuala Lumpur International Airport including two with human passengers – the Axiom 1 Special Flight and the NASA Crew 4 Flight aboard Crew Dragons to the International Space Station. It has another flight, Crew-5, scheduled for October 3.
The other 19 rockets were from Canaveral, which also saw five launches from United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets and two from Astra Space. Another company, Relativity Space, is about to attempt its first-ever launch from Canaveral, or anywhere for that matter, with the 3D-printed Terran 1 on the launch pad now.
All of the companies combined have already put 38 rockets into space from the Space Coast this year.
So while Artemis I was the headline, now postponed twice and considering the possibility of looking into mid-October for his next attempt, the bottom cards kept standing up to keep the launch cadence occupied.
Scrubs were definitely a possibility, NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Frey, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said in July, referring to what NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Milroy told her family when they came to see her launch while she was an astronaut.
“She said she’s planning a seven-day vacation in Florida, and she might see a launch there as well,” Frey said.
Dreyer said that while he didn’t get the big show, he praised the drive behind Artemis.
“It has gotten to the point where there is something so profound in this endeavor that, even in our cynical age, motivates people to literally travel the world,” he said. “This intrinsic desire to be a part of something, to be a part of something great – that word that Carl Sagan so dearly loved and that I love so much, ‘numinosity’ – represents this rare opportunity for this in our culture and in our world these days. You really feel it, Even if it hasn’t been released.”
The first peeling caused between 100,000 and 200,000 emergencies, according to the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center. I predicted with the fall of the second attempt at the weekend, the Space Coast crowd could have grown to 400,000.
“Something is obviously there, because, again, looking at the appearance of this thing, it’s what drives these hundreds of thousands of people to get up, pull their heels out of bed at 2 a.m., and sit in these swamps like mosquito-infested swamps for hours and bake in The Florida sun is hoping this rocket is going up, that tells you something,” Dreyer said.
While spectators will feel and hear the power of the SLS as it rises, it’s not without competition. SpaceX has continued work on a Starship with a Super Heavy rocket at the Texas StarBas facility, awaiting final approval for its first orbital launch. When this rocket is up, it will blast the SLS away in terms of energy generated over 16 million pounds of thrust.
From NASA’s perspective, though, it’s not a competition, it’s just part of an international effort to pursue the ultimate goal of returning humans to the surface of the Moon and then to Mars. A copy of the Starship will be used for this first lunar landing which will include the first woman on the moon on Artemis III early in 2025.
But the Starship is still a prototype while the SLS and Orion, though behind schedule and budget, are about to fly.
“We must not discount the fact that we have a moon Rocket “Sitting on a pillow right now,” Dreyer said. “We shouldn’t easily say that something else could be better because we’ve never seen anything else work out.”
2022 Orlando Sentinel
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