Two out of four ain't bad: It's been a weekend of mixed emotions for rocket fanciers

Also: Scotland edges closer to launch, and ad astra Gerald 'Jerry' Carr


In brief An impressive sequence of launches at the end of August was marred first by ULA's Delta IV Heavy preferring life on the ground just three seconds before lift-off and then SpaceX deciding the weekend weather looked a bit iffy for its next batch of Starlink satellites.

The Delta IV Heavy, carrying a spacecraft for the US National Reconnaissance Office, had already seen one launch scrubbed on Thursday. The latest attempt, on 29 August, was aborted in spectacular style as the engines fired up.

Three seconds before the rocket was due to leave the ground, an automated system noted an anomaly and shut things down.

"Cause appears to be in the ground system," ULA CEO and cowboy hat aficionado Tory Bruno tweeted. He went on to explain that the fault had occurred in a ground system that helped set the engines up for ignition. "When you routinely launch one of a kind, billion $ payloads, you don't take chances," he added drily.

While it will take at least seven days to recycle things for the mighty Delta IV, SpaceX's Starlink could launch on 3 September after a weather-based scrub on Sunday.

The launch as planned would have set up an impressive double for SpaceX on Sunday, but the company elected to stand down the Starlink mission due to "inclement weather during pre-flight operations" and instead send up the second Argentinian SAOCOM (Satélite Argentino de Observación Con Microondas) spacecraft into polar orbit. The mission was SpaceX's first polar orbit launch from the Cape.

The weather continued looking poor, with just a 40 per cent of chance of cooperation, but the company persevered and got SAOCOM-1B (along with two secondary payloads – Tyvak-0172 and PlanetiQ's GNOMES-1) off from SLC-40 at 23:18 UTC on Sunday 30 August.

It was the fourth flight for that particular Falcon 9, which had seen both Starlink and Dragon action previously. The booster performed the never-less-than-impressive landing trick at the company's Florida Landing Zone 1.

The final launch of the long weekend saw newcomers Rocket Lab successfully return to flight at 03:05 UTC on 31 August with flight 14 of its Electron booster in a mission for Capella Space dubbed "I Can't Believe It's Not Optical". The success came less than two months after the failure to reach orbit of flight 13.

Vertical launching from Scotland

The dream of tossing the silver caber to orbit took a step closer to reality as development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) applied for consent to build Space Hub Sutherland from the Scottish Land Court.

While planning approval has already been given, consent is needed since the facility will be on grazing land, meaning crofters with livestock would need to move their animals during the periods around launches. Twelve microsatellite launches a year are planned.

The infrastructure needed will also require 13 acres of the 2,464-acre site and as well as construction, the application also requests consent for operations and, eventually, decommissioning of the facility on the A' Mhòine peninsula.

Construction is set to start in 2021, and the first launch could take place before the end of 2022.

RIP Gerald Carr

Gerald Carr, commander of Skylab 4, died on 26 August aged 88.

Selected in 1966, Carr took on CAPCOM duties during Apollo 8 and the eventful Apollo 12 launch. While the truncation of the Apollo programme meant he missed out on the opportunity to go to the Moon, he spent 84 days in orbit as part of the final crew to visit the Skylab space station.

The mission, which launched on 16 November 1973, saw Carr and fellow rookies Ed Gibson and Bill Pogue conduct a full programme of science including four EVAs (one of which had Carr clambering about outside the workshop for seven hours on Christmas day.)

While Carr never flew in space again, and retired from NASA in 1977, he went on to found a company that worked on crew systems for the ISS and worked to train engineers in the effect of weightlessness on human interactions with hardware.

"NASA and the nation have lost a pioneer of long duration spaceflight," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. ®

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