Launch 5 Diary

What is this?

For easy reference to the satellite nicknaming game:

Bildschirmfoto 2018-05-12 um 09.05.10

May 17, 2018

It’s probably very odd that I write about someone else’s experiences in my diary, but hey – when it comes to Iridium flares, there’s always room for exceptions. So it was not me and it has nothing to do with Launch 5, but it’s worth a mention:

Freya texted from the Kosovo that she saw SV 61 flare in a most spectacular way. They obviously had clear skies there and she was able to enjoy a 7 out of 7 on the flaregasm scale. SV 61 was a -6.1 mag. Beautiful! We savour every single one of those rare events and our flare count now stands at 331.

May 14, 2018

Iridiated:

A double #flarewell day, that’s a first: Due to Iridium’s rigorous de-orbit policy and their great fuel reserves with even the most veteran satellites, two birdies re-entered today: We have to say goodbye to our Juliet. I don’t have a lot to tell about SV 72 other than that it was Juliet and that I saw her flare seven times. I wonder whether Romeo cares or even knows … and then to SV 25, but that belongs to the Launch 4 Diary.

In my last entry I wrote that these days all the funny guys are given the boot. Still true! Now it has been Barney’s turn to leave mission orbit and retire as a spare.

Technical:

SV 72 has re-entered over the North Pacific.
SV 62 has been lowered to parking orbit.

May 12, 2018

And what’s a great performance without an encore? We’re not yet done, folks! All the satellites of Launch 5 have successfully taken up their jobs. But looking at the Block 1 birds of Plane 1, there’s the odd one out: While everyone else got a new best friend or whatatever their working relationship might have been, SV 14 was the one nobody played with. The poor fella had to orbit in his lonely corner while everyone else was having a blast. Why so? Well, remember, the Falcon 9 is very much at its loading capacity with ten Iridium satellites, but one satellite plane consists of eleven operative sats and one or two spare ones. So they can’t all come in in just one swoosh. That’s how the “drifters” come into play, a fascinating feat of orbital mechanics performed by Iridium where satellites deployed in a different plane travel to their assigned slot using the precession gradient between different orbital altitudes, among other things. Fantastic!

And here’s where the naming encore comes into play: It hasn’t yet happened, but sometimes you just have to look ahead, do some science fiction and see what the future will hold. What I see is SV 153 – from now on C3PO – drifting in from Plane 2, aiming to do its delicate dance with SV 14 – our R2D2. My guess is late August for those two cute little robots to meet. Watch R2D2 and C3PO say their first hellos:

Further news: The funny guys are taken away from misson orbit, probably so that they do not distract the others from doing their totally serious jobs: Bert and Jerry have both been given the boot.

Technical:

Nothing has happened yet, SV 153 is still drifting to Plane 1 and will replace SV 14 in late summer 2018.

SVs 66 and 64 have been moved to parking orbit.

May 11, 2018

Iridiated:

So it has happened as predicted in our Greek tragedy between Freda and Barry: They met, they established their positions, they haggled, bickered and scuffled for several days and in the end both lost – and won, depending on your perspective.

Freda did not get her way with Barry, so he won, sort of: He won the quiet time to watch TV and browse through his DIY catalogs. Ready for retirement, it seems. Which came quickly in the form of Freda who snatched his job and bonded with her new colleagues and neighbors. In a very flirtatious way, of course. Remember when she said

I’m on fire
With desire —
I could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir.
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight!

Well, guess what … Romeo could make for a terrific tenor. Miss Piggy rather not, but Freda is always willing to try something new. And then there’s the mysterious stranger from Plane 2, SV 137 (or is it SV 141?) who we know nothing about. (Do you finally realize why we needed this naming game?) Let’s assume it’s a world-class tenor and they’re having a great time. And the irony is: In a different plane, Freda would have had four neighbors to flirt with, but not even she can communicate with oncoming traffic. There just is a divide between Planes 1 and 6, sorry Freda!

Thinking of Freda, this catchy tune came to my mind. Yes, no trouble at all and I kinda like her style:

But most of all: Congratulations to Iridium on completing their Launch 5 program. Awesome progress, and Launch 6 is already knocking at the door!

Update: So this is highly amusing. I’ve just been told that Freda cross-links with both S 137 and 141, depending on whether she’s south- or northbound. So we’re back to four flirt friends, two of them being part-time lovers (maybe they’ve received a warning from Barry) and this of course brings another catchy tune to mind:

Okay now, Freda, let it go, please leave us alone now, enough is enough!

Another piece of news: Our dear friend Lucy will be toast. Great progress for the constellation, sad for sat lovers of Block 1. I have seen Lucy flare four times, the last time in 2015. Maybe I’ll get another chance before she re-enters.

And yet another one: We saw SV 37 flare today. It’s about two weeks before its re-entry and obviously not completely stable any more. We saw it tumbling! Two flashes, the second one much brighter and flaring!

Technical:

SV 140 was put into service on May 10, 2018, thus completing the slot-swaps of Launch 5.
SV 68 has embarked onto the de-orbit process.
SV 37 is tumbling.

May 8, 2018

Iridiated:

Freda hasn’t given up yet. She’s now eye to eye with Barry and she’s so hot that she does not even listen to his excuses, but still tries to win him over for her lusty pleasures:

Let’s do it, let’s do it, I really absolutely must.
I won’t exempt you,
Want to tempt you,
Want to drive you mad with lust.

But it has to be noted that her pleasures are not his and her desire remains unrequited. Freda, when a man uses the words “thermal vest” and “my mother” in his reaction to your seductive advances, it’s time to call it quits. Here’s Barry:

I can’t do it, I can’t do it,
I must refuse to get undressed
I feel silly.
It’s too chilly
To go without my thermal vest.
Don’t choose me,
Don’t use me
My mother sent a note to say you must excuse me.
I can’t do it, can’t do it tonight.

And I hate to be the messenger for this unfolding Greek tragedy, but here’s the facts: While Barry is right in refusing to take off his thermal vest – a satellite should always use protection (don’t get distracted, we’re talking about the extreme temperatures in space), he won’t have to bother for very much longer about the chills. His days are numbered – he will soon be sent on his terminal trip, which will end in a fiery climax – much hotter than Freda could ever have been.

And his plea that Freda should not choose him, not use him: Ha, laughable! Here’s what the Greek Chorus has to say about it: Barry has been chosen for Freda not by her, but by her creators and she will use him, grab his job, make him redundant and have him fired – adding another layer of meaning to this word.

But come on folks, let’s have some fun and finally enjoy Victoria Wood’s hilariously racy Ballad of Barry and Freda. There couldn’t possibly be a better way to ring down the curtain on this Grand Finale of slot-swaps.

And do take a look at the lyrics of Barry and Freda. They are absolutely delicious! Thanks again to @SpaceY_UK for this fantastic contribution to the naming game!

Technical:

SV 140 has reached mission orbit.

May 7, 2018

Iridiated:

After a couple of days in mission orbit, Miss Piggy and Fred Flintstone have got used to their new surroundings, met their old or new friends and partners – and took over their jobs as of today. Can you imagine Kermit in retirement? I bet he will be up to all kinds of pranks. And Barney Rubble? Same story 🙂

Technical:

SVs 148 and 150 have been put into service, replacing SVs 70 and 62.

May 6, 2018

Iridiated:

And finally! Freda. The one most eager to unite with her slot-swap partner. It was on April 17 that I told Freda to hang in, it would only be a couple more days until she could get it on with Barry. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Those SNOC people kept her waiting and waiting and waiting until everybody else had left storage orbit. And then some. But now’s the time and Freda is flying. Hopefully they grant her a fast pass.

She’s not yet there, but already quite close, and probably Barry can already hear her woe and coo:

Let’s do it!
Let’s do it
Share a night of wild romance
Frenetic
Poetic!
This could be your last big chance.

Well, Freda, stay hopeful, that’s what I want to tell her. But then I feel my conscience nagging and pricking and maybe I better shut up and let the grand finale of the slot-swaps just unfold …

But as the day grows older and Freda gets closer to Barry, I change my mind:

Oh Freda! All the waiting, all the call-outs to your much desired lover. And now this … You could possibly not have deserved this! Here’s Barry’s reaction to Freda’s salacious advances:

I can’t do it, I can’t do it,
My heavy-breathing days are gone.
I’m older,
Feel colder;
It’s other things that turn me on.
I’m imploring —
I’m boring —
Let me read this catalogue on vinyl flooring!
I can’t do it, I can’t do it tonight.

We have not yet reached the final act of this drama. What a cliffhanger!

Technical:

SV 140 is being raised to mission orbit.

May 4, 2018

Iridiated:

Finally. Ms Piggy and Kermit are a thing now.

Technical:

SV 148 has reached mission orbit.

May 3, 2018

Iridiated:

Turns out Miss Piggy is travelling on the slow lane and yesterday’s hailstorm was not the proverbial thunderbolt between the flying pig and her froggie. It could have been Barney welcoming his friend Fred with a solid beating. Fred ruined Barney’s flying machine back in the days, remember? Anyway, those two are doing the slot-swap thing now. Good luck, guys!

On a different note – good for Iridium, less so for us flare enthusiasts, the Blues brothers now have every reason to have the blues. Jake has been sent on his last gig, the band is no more and Jake’s days are numbered. I don’t yet know whether he races towards his fiery destiny or takes the scenic route. The next days might tell.

Jake Blues aka SV 21 brings back nice memory: I only saw it flare two times, going the extra mile for the first one: I was commuting, quickly got off the tube and walked onto a nearby ramp hoping to be lucky, because I only had a few seconds to figure out where to look. And it worked! And back onto the tube I went, giving Jake a 5.0 on the flaregasm scale due to the extraordinary viewing circumstances.

Technical:

SV 150 has reached mission orbit.
SV 21 has started the de-orbiting process.

May 2, 2018

Iridiated:

It seems to be the turn for the last three satellites that have been sitting in storage orbit for quite a while now. Today Miss Piggy embarked onto the final leg of her tour. Most of those birds are pretty fast these days. If this holds true for flying pigs as well, then Miss Piggy might already be holding hands with Kermit. Or do so by tomorrow. Who knows – there’s thunder and lightning in the sky above me. It might be the sparks from their love at first sight.

Watch this – and protect your ears if you are musically sensitive:

This love was bound for heaven, not for earth
This love was meant to light the stars

But please, Miss Piggy, don’t make any false promises. Kermit might still grace us with lighting up like a star for a little while. But you won’t, sadly. No offense!

Technical:

SV 148 has started ascent to mission orbit.

May 1, 2018

Iridiated:

After some restful days in the storage orbit, Fred Flintstone is given a lesson in flying – direction mission orbit. Let’s hope he will have mastered the skill by the time he meets his friend Barney Rubble in a couple of days.

Technical:

SV 150 has started ascent to mission orbit.

April 30, 2018

Iridiated:

Thanks to the help of @planet4589 I’ve been able to deepen my understanding of TLEs and use space-track.org as a source of reference. I had avoided it so far because I didn’t find my way around as easily as with celestrak.com. This helped me to finally conclude that the mix up of SVs 144 with 148 and SVs 142 with 150 had been solely on celestrak’s part and I’ve notified them. The mix-up was corrected a couple of hours later.

This further led me to correct all the wrong entries in my “mission center”. Once in the mood of a spring cleaning, I reorganized my whole documentation. So many launches, so many satellites and maneuvers … Keeping track of all that has become a very time-consuming effort, so I need to be as well-organized as possible.

In times like these, seeing an Iridium flare deserves a mention in the diary. That’s how rare they have become. It was a beautiful occasion with part of the OxidanSky team taking a walk near our headquarters when we were lucky enough to spot SV 31 flare. For a mere -2.1 mag it was quite impressive. And we now treat every flare with a mixed bag of emotions: joy, nostalgia, awe …

Technical:

SV 13 re-entered yesterday.
SVs 144 and 149 were scheduled to go into service today.

April 28, 2018

Iridiated:

Jerry tried to hide in mission orbit, but Tom has finally caught up and found him. Let’s hope that ends well for the little mouseling.

As was not hard to guess, the love story of Romeo and Juliet was not meant to last long. Juliet has already been sent onto her terminal journey. She pleased me with her beautiful flares that Romeo described so poetically seven times.

Technical:

SV 144 has reached mission orbit.
SV 72 has been de-orbited.

April 27, 2018

Iridiated:

Iridia is quite irate that the data situation is so messy this time. This has nothing to do with Iridium, but somehow with the TLEs and the designators. My conclusion of April  13 was wrong that the mistake was with stuffin.space. I only found out via @IridiumBoss’ update that due to the incorrect sources I had SVs 148 and 144 as well as 142 and 150 wrong all the time. I’ve corrected it meanwhile.

So let’s turn to the good stuff – it is very good and very fast: Another three sats have meanwhile been put into service: Charlie Brown has taken over from Lucy. She can go to the playground now and sit in the sun. Leonard got on Suzanne’s wavelength and is now on it with satellite phone and IoT users, too. Even Ernie is among the grown-ups now and has a regular job, while Bert can now goof around or simply hang out with his pal.

I’m just amazed at how fast these slot-swaps now happen. It seems as if they new birds are switched on as soon as they have reached mission orbit. In reality it’s probably a lot more complicated 😉

Technical:

SVs 157, 142 and 146 have been put into service.
SV 149 has reached mission orbit.

April 26, 2018

Iridiated:

Here we go again. This time it’s Tom who has started chasing after Jerry again. 64 could be the number of the beast in this case. Let’s see later on.

Technical:

SV 144 has started ascent to mission orbit.

April 25, 2018

Iridiated:

Ernie has made his way up. I have the impression he is still being shoved around a bit, possibly goofing with Bert. Who definitely is SV 66.

Another pair will enter their delicate dance: Laurel and Hardy. I bet on SV 65 as our future Hardy.

Technical:

SV 146 has reached mission altitude.
SV 149 has started ascent to mission orbit.

April 22, 2018

Iridiated:

So another one of the NEXT satellites is taking the high road: Ernie is on his way up to meet Bert and they will rock LEO together. I have a suspicion who will take on the role of Bert: I guess it’s SV 66.

Technical:

SV 146 has started its ascent to mission orbit.

April 21, 2018

Iridiated:

And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you …

If these words elicit a melody in your mind, then you’ve caught the wavelength of Leonard and Suzanne. Leonard has reached mission orbit and now travels with Suzanne, formerly known as SV 67. She will trust him if he gets on her wavelength. That should happen at the latest when they will be crosslinked.

Technical:

SV 142 has reached mission orbit and will replace SV 67.

April 20, 2018

Iridiated:

Big day for the Launch 5 proceedings! The first two satellites have picked up their job and sent their old colleagues into retirement. Romeo and Elwood are now part of the Iridium constellation and communicate with the whole world. That’s pretty cool 🙂

And Charlie Brown has reached his friend Lucy. She had sent him a strong message: “If no-one answers the phone, dial louder.” It seems someone has heard the call. Our Lucy is SV 68

Technical:

SVs 143 and 145 have been put into service.
SV 157 has reached mission orbit and does the slot-swap with SV 68.

April 19, 2018

Iridiated:

Our sweet little Charlie Brown is having a heartache:

Goodbyes always make my throat hurt … I need more hellos.

Well, he had to say goodbye to parking orbit, but that’s not such a promising place anyway. He is now on his way to mission orbit and will meet Lucy in a couple of days. Hello!

Technical:

SV 157 has started ascent to mission orbit.

April 18, 2018

Iridiated:

Now it’s Leonard’s turn to move up to mission orbit to finally get on Suzanne’s wavelength. Have a good trip!

Technical:

SV 142 has started ascent to mission orbit.

April 17, 2018

Iridiated:

It was tough days again as far as TLEs were concerned. I must say that this has been the hardest launch for me so far when it comes to following data. For Launch 1 everything was new to me and I barely knew what data to look at and what to make of them. Launch 2 was difficult because satellite maneuvers generally caused a loss of TLEs for several days. I considered this disappointing, but thought it was a given. Launches 3 and 4 were incredibly smooth, TLEs just poured in regularly, irrespective of orbital maneuvers. It was pure joy and I took that for a given, assuming that processes had been improved in some way. And now this … Don’t we all consider it inacceptable when things get worse? But enough of my rant, today is a good day with fresh and somewhat conclusive data.

So let’s see how and what are duos are duoing up there:

Freda, still mad with desire, has meanwhile made it to storage orbit, where she will be tested and checked. To her great misfortune, space is vast and it can be quite lonely up there. Her launch travel group has disbanded, her lover is still far away and there she hovers and shivers in storage orbit, touched only by radio frequencies, while her mind goes:

Let’s do it, let’s do it, do it while the mood is right!
I’m feeling
Appealing,
I’ve really got an appetite.

Hang in there, Freda! Only a couple more days until you’ll be with Barry and then you can go wild!

Miss Piggy, who, as we recently have seen, is also a bit love-lorn, shares Freda’s fate in the parking orbit, but in a different section of the dark skies. So they can’t even feel sorry for each other.

Elwood and Jake Blues have finally reunited after Jake did time in mission orbit, uhm, I mean in Joliet. There’s nothing as touching as a family reunion. Watch how they show their happiness:

Now they can put their band together. Ka-Band will be its name. Just kiddin’, they will always be the Blues Brothers!

Fred Flintstone has obviously recovered and is chasing after Barney again. Let’s hope he has become better at flying and will reach mission orbit soon. I’m sure he will make some highly indecent business or swap proposal to his friend.

Well, and then there’s Romeo, this mysterious young brat. He can consider himself lucky that he’s far away. Because I would flat out spank him if he came close! Officially he met with Julia several days ago. But unofficially it only happened today. Teenagers, sigh! You never know where you stand with them!

Technical:

SVs 140 and 148 have reached storage orbit.
SV 145 has arrived in mission orbit.
SV 150 has begun its ascent to mission orbit.
SV 143, according to TLEs, has only now reached mission orbit.

April 14, 2018

Iridiated:

Holy cow, there is a lot of stuff going on! After my rant yesterday I woke up to a set of shiny updated TLEs, which made me very happy. Very, very happy! All my notes have already been updated and feel very fresh now.

So, first of all I’ve received another submission for the nicknaming game, this time from @SpaceY_UK: Freda and Barry. It didn’t mean a thing to me, so I had to do some research. And boy, was that worth it! Absolutely hilarious! But first we have to make sure that the setting is right, because space and all, ya know?

“Freda and Barry sat one night;
The sky was clear, the stars were bright.”

Okay, you got me at “stars”, if not earlier.

Freda, our highly motivated SV 140, can’t wait to slow-swap and more, much more, with Barry. Patience, Freda, patience, you still have about 100 miles to go. And don’t screw up the delicate dance by messin’ with anyone else, okay?

I’m on fire
With desire —
I could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir.
Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight!

And as you know, it takes two to tango. So we’re going to find out what Barry thinks about her desire. Stay tuned! 😜

We’ve received notification by @IridiumBoss on a different duo, which deserves some mention: Romeo has already been united with Juliet! We might all have expected a great fanfare for that, but no: Due to errant satellite trackers and the secrecy of their love, it was a quick and unnoticed event. Let’s switch to the modern version of what Friar Lawrence said, because we all might not be too versed in Shakespearean:

Come, come with me, and we’ll do the job quickly. Because if you don’t mind, I’m not leaving you two alone until you’re united in marriage.

This was it, this was their wedding! So much for the romance … In satellite terms: “Romeo has already arrived in slot and is cross-linked into Plane 1.” May they live happily ever after. Or at least one of them 😜

Technical:

SV 35 (of Plane 4, replaced on March 22 by SV 128 that had been drifting in from Plane 3) has finally been descended to a storage orbit.

April 13, 2018

Iridiated:

Satellite tracking is not easy those days! One of my favorite tools, the stuffin.space website, seems to have problems. For several hours today, most of the Block 1 satellites were completely missing on the site. Luckily they’re back! For several days the site has been mixing up SV 144 with 148 and SV 142 with 150. At least that’s the conclusion I’ve come to. And another problem on a different front: TLEs keep coming in very irregularly and late for some sats. The latest data of SV 150 that are available to me are from Monday (it’s Friday today). Correction April 27: It has turned out that the mix-up in stuffin.space isn’t one, they have had the correct attribution, while other data sources are incorrect. All entries have been amended accordingly.

I’ve seen it in the past that TLEs don’t update for several days when a sat is being maneuvered. The trackers somehow seem to “lose” it when it’s not in the position where they’ve calculated it should be. It can take some time to find and identify it again. But with the last launches I had the impression that this had become much better. Maybe due to announcement of the intended maneuvers? The last time this was an issue was with Launch 2.

For these reasons it’s rather hard for me to say what’s really going on up there as far as SVs 140 and 148 are concerned. They haven’t even got a nickname yet, since I cannot verify that they have left insertion orbit.

With our dear friend Fred Flintstone, it’s even worse. I can tell he started to take off, but don’t know whether he ever reached his destination. He did in all likelihood, but I have no data to verify it. I hope he didn’t pull a Freddo like in the nicknaming video I posted earlier on 😉

Romeo and Tom are also very hesitant in letting us know their whereabouts. Romeo might even be on his way to mission orbit already, but that’s all speculation. And a bit boring, I have to say ….

And wait, there is more, it’s about the nicknaming:

Bildschirmfoto 2018-04-14 um 02.13.54So who could say no to this? Not me, of course, so I doubled my effort to find a good way of introducing this legendary duo to the world of spaceflight. And guess what, Friday 13 is my lucky day!

I found a video of Miss Piggy as an astronut in space where she is reunited with … wait for it … No, actually you have to watch it. You might be in for a big surprise  🙂  WATCH IT!

What a way to end the day! 😂

Technical:

SV 143 has arrived in mission orbit, according to a later tweet of @IridiumBoss.

SV 150 has arrived in parking orbit.

April 9, 2018

Iridiated:

We’re nearly through with the nicknaming. Today it’s SV 150’s turn. It leads us to another admirable duo from way back. No, even wayer back than that 😉 I’m talking Stone Age. Even then there were people with innovative minds and ideas, like Barney Rubble. Watch this episode when Fred and Barney think about entering the aeronautics industry. Barney will be the slow-swap partner, because he was the first one to fly. And SV 142 is Fred, sorry for that 😉 Well, he’s a bit of a rookie at flying. SV 142 will do much better!

Technical:

SV 150 has started ascent to storage orbit where it will be tested.

April 8, 2018

Iridiated:

Woosh, Iridium is absolutely in the fast lane. Must be the experience of the previous four launches that enables them to go faster all the time.

Fast meaning: Another two birds have been sent to testing orbit and are in need of nicknames.

Let’s start with SV 149 and the “delicate dance” (as the slot-swap is often referred to by Iridium) that it will have to perform with its slot-swap partner once in mission orbit. I guess these two gentlemen serve as a perfect example for a delicate dance. And they give away the name of our next duo: SV 149 is Laurel, its partner will be Hardy. Watch this and have a good laugh:

But we are not done yet, there’s another one: SV 144 has been sent on its journey upwards. The part leading up to the delicate dance could in a way be considered a chase in which the NEXT satellite tries to catch up with the Block 1 bird. And who knows – there might even be some rivalry between them. Think in terms of Tom and Jerry, one of the most famous duos. And imagine if they went to space. Running out of imagination? I can help you out:

SV 149 shall be our Tom, who is chasing after Jerry, the space-faring super critter.

Two satellites (at least – keep in mind that my data always lag behind) are well in parking orbit now, being thoroughly tested and tried. That sound pretty neutral. But bring our naming convention into the game and it gets really funny: Those two are Romeo, our love-lorn boy singing sonnets to his Juliet – and Elwood Blues who has just picked up his brother from prison in a repurposed police car. Have fun, guys!

Technical:

SVs 149 and 144 moved from insertion orbit towards parking orbit.

SVs 145, 142 and 157 have reached parking orbit.

April 7, 2018

Iridiated:

Iridium are working their new satellites at colossal speed – I’m having a hard time catching up in the diary!

Two more sats need to be named today: We have SVs 142 and 146 now on the move towards testing orbit. When it comes to the naming game, we were off to quite a serious Shakespearean start, followed by two rather jocular duos. So it’s time for a quieter note again, and it goes to SV 142. Like Romeo, one leg to our new pair is a prescient man:

“Then she gets you on her wavelength …”,

he famously says about her. Let’s call him Leonard. He is singing to his Suzanne, rightly knowing they will cross-link sooner or later. Shall we give him a hint? Her wavelength is Ka-band!

And then there is SV 146, a naughty little fella who is working his way up while obviously still under the influence … of the launch, we guess. Listen closely:

Welcome, Ernie! I guess we’re going to have a lot of fun with you and your odd bird colleague Bert.

On a different note, there’s news as well: SV 19 de-orbited today. #flarewell and I hope you had a great ride through the fire.

An update from Plane 2: SV 20 that had been swapped with drifter-in SV 113 has now been retired to a parking orbit and presumably stay there until the constellation is finished.

Technical:

SVs 142 and 146 have been moved from insertion orbit towards testing orbit.

SV 19 re-entered the atmosphere and decayed.

SV 20 was moved from mission orbit in Plane 2 to parking orbit.

April 5, 2018

Iridiated:

Those sat operators are working fast: We need another naming ceremony, because SV 157 has begun its journey away from insertion orbit. Why not fall back on the Peanuts? SV 157 is our Charlie Brown, who’s saying all so wisely: “Keep looking up … That’s the secret of life!” Well, at least it will be for the next couple of weeks in his life.

charlie_brown_ohne

Technical:

SV 157 has started its ascent to storage orbit. SV 143 has probably already arrived there (eccentricity down to 0.0000967, rev/d indicate an altitude of app. 718 km).

April 4, 2018

Iridiated:

Another of the satellites, SV 145, has stirred and therefore will be given a name. Let’s call him Elwood. In case you might not yet be able to guess who his brother in crime will be, this clip might help you. And yes, it’s true for sats, too, if they want to swap: Everybody needs somebody …

Technical:

SV 145 has started ascent to storage orbit.

April 3, 2018

Iridiated:

Yesterday the satellite numbers and their attribution to catalog IDs finally made it to me. They’re still not up on CelesTrak.com due to T.S. Kelso being on holiday, but even the magnificent, but slow stuffin.space meanwhile has them online. That was great news for me – the naming convention would otherwise not be possible.

And then, 🎶 drum roll 🎶, there’s this epic thing added to the Iridium store: #flarewell T-shirts. Yay! This is super awesome! @IridiumComm’s post on Twitter holds the promise of more to come. Can’t wait!

More news to come: We already have our Romeo! Based on yesterday’s naming convention, the first satellite to move would be called Romeo. This happens to be SV 143. It will take a while until Romeo can meet his Juliet, and we will follow closely.

Technical:

SV 143 has reduced its inclination from app. 86.68 deg to 86.60 deg and its eccentricity from 0.0013125 to 0.0012151, currently (i.e. latest data on stuffin.space) orbiting at 674/657 km. It has started its ascent to storage orbit, where it payloads and antenna links will go through intense testing.

April 2, 2018

I’m not sure how common this is, but I tend to give names to things. My teeth, for example, each have a name – it’s a good memory training to address them individually while brushing them. But you probably never wanted to know this. Anyways …

After an absolutely hilarious exchange on Twitter with @IridiumBoss where he came up with Thelma and Louise, my penchant for naming things was vigorously triggered and reared its head. I started feeling sorry that the sats only have numbers, but no names. And since it takes two to tango in a slot-swap, the satellites involved should be named after well-known duos, pairs or couples, right?

From a quick research I concluded that most of the famous duos were famous because they have some kind of tragic story. Which is a bit of a drag for a merry satellite (well, talking about the NEXT ones, at least. There’s no happy ending for the Block 1 guys, as we all know). So I’ll try to avoid the tragic ones, BUT …

… But for the first duo I just couldn’t resist the temptation: They need to be Romeo and Juliet. In front of my mental eye, I saw Romeo serenading his distant love already from the nether heights of his dispenser balcony (I know, usually it’s Juliet on the balcony, but equal opportunities, ya know) when still at Vandenberg:

Just listen to him – here he goes:

Her eyes in heaven would through the airy region stream so bright …

How would you possibly explain that her eyes are in heaven and stream in airy regions ? Bright, like a bright light, right? It’s more than obvious that Romeo is referring to Juliet’s flares!

And Romeo continues to croon:

O, speak again, bright angel, for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o’er my head,
As is a winged messenger of heaven

Blatantly obvious: He calls her bright angel because she flies and she flares. He knows she’s in orbit (o’er my head, heaven), he knows she has solar panels (winged), and he knows she exists to communicate (messenger). This is not how humans talk to each other! If I were on a date and the guy called me “bright angel” I would get worried, yet it could be his way of trying to be charming. But if he called me “winged messenger”, this would be the moment to get up and run. Run as fast as I can. This is clearly satellite talk!

So here’s the deal: Whichever satellite from Launch-5 moves first will be called Romeo. And his slot-swap partner will be Juliet. Iridium of course already knows which sats that will be, but I don’t. Can’t wait to find out!

The other duos won’t be Shakespearean, I promise!

April 1, 2018

Still in stand-by mode, waiting for the catalog items to be attributed to the satellite numbers given by Iridium.

March 31, 2018

Iridiated:

I stayed up quite late yesterday, hoping for the TLEs to come. For Launch 4 they were out seven hours later, so I was hopeful. But no, nothing. Not even when I woke up today (needless to mention it was the first thing I checked after waking up). When I finally received the TLEs late morning, I was really happy. I guess this makes me a bit of a perv, but so be it 😂

Technical:

TLE show a mixed-up sequence, catalog items include item I which is quite unusual. Might be changed later, so I took down the NORAD numbers to avoid confusions further down the road.

March 30, 2018

Iridiated:

Today’s the day! Launch 5, finally. And now the L-5 Iridiary can really start rolling.

I’m so glad that I have the day off. Now there’s every time in the world to tweet and blog and watch and keep my fingers crossed, enjoy – and update the blog while things are unfolding.

Bildschirmfoto 2018-03-30 um 20.21.31

Time’s passing so quickly, now even the second stage’s loading with fuel is complete and I feel more excited with every minute passing.

Webcast’s on now! SpaceX’s cool ambient music always gets me in this unique launch mood. Love it!

Wow, what a beautiful lift-off that was, against the backdrop of the rose-tinted sunrise!

L5_liftoff

Iridium 5 seems to be off to a great start. But there’s also some huge disappointment: Due to NOAA restrictions, SpaceX is not allowed to show sat deployment or anything else from the launch. WHAT? WHY? This is not a classified mission, for heaven’s sake! We have already seen it four times, so what’s the problem now? According to @SpaceflightNow a spokesperson of NOAA told CBS they are not aware of any image restrictions. What on earth or in the skies is going on?

And on a different note: Where is John Insprucker? We miss him!

Meanwhile NOAA denies they put any restrictions on SpaceX, so it all seems a bit like an April’s fool’s thing.

Waiting for confirmation from Iridium that the sats are well and responsive. And hopefully some TLEs soon.

Yesss! Confirmation is in, all sats are communicating! So that’s what I call a great and successful mission for Iridium!

Looking back a couple of hours later: What I liked very much was the short video that was shown during the webcast, explaining what Iridium’s IoT services are about. They do very well at grasping the huge opportunity of the launches to communicating what their range of services are about in a more detailed and relatable form. And they were very quick to publish the video:

This is a first: I got myself a tiny bottle of champagne to celebrate the successful launch. Can’t wait for the TLEs to come out, but I’m afraid that won’t be until much later in the day – or night, rather.

After having gone really wild on Twitter (the image shows a stage where I was in a sulking mood due to those NOAA restrictions and needed a little playfulness) , I’m ready for some peace and quiet. Re-watching the webcast now looking for specific nuggets and because I had a break-down of my WIFI early into the live webcast. This usually never happens – and then it does right in those precious nine minutes that I had been waiting for for months!). I nearly freaked out, had to switch the rooter off and on and wait for the reboot. That’s a mighty long time in such a short webcast. Thank you, NOAA!

What I found:

Firstly, Iridium got themselves an exceptionally pretty rocket today. The azure of the morning sky against the shades of soot and sunrise on the vehicle – gorgeous!

Then, let’s talk about SpaceX’s orbital Easter bunny, Michael Hammersley. He was adorably brave in his attempt to explain the mechanics of spaceflight to a five year old: “The parking orbit is going to be an egg-shaped orbit, where the … top of the egg is about 625 km, but at the bottom of the egg, the orbit is only 180 km …”. He also had to sell us the fact that there would be no video coverage after SECO. Who would want to be in his place?

Bildschirmfoto 2018-03-30 um 21.42.16

And in the end, he just sat there and didn’t say anything at all, most probably trying to make sense of what he heard through his headset and maybe incredulous himself of the fact that the livestream had to be cut right there. For red tape or whatever reason that no one understood. Well done and Happy Easter, Michael!

Technical:

Successful launch, all ten satellites in orbit and communicating.

March 29, 2018

Geez, I’m so glad that the launch didn’t take place today. The café with WIFI where I had planned to watch in between some meetings was actually closed today. I would have freaked out completely!

And I am SO ready for the launch now. I’ve set up my whole mission control center 😉 and all my forms are just waiting to be filled in.

March 28, 2018

Iridiated:

Exciting days! Yesterday @IridiumBoss announced that there was a problem with one of the satellites and the launch would have to be pushed to Saturday or even next week, depending on how long it would take to determine the cause and fix the issue. Luckily, an all-clear message came a couple of hours later. It had just been a minor issue with an electronic harness. The satellite itself was perfectly okay. Great relief!

What really flabbergasted me, though, was how calmly Matt Desch handled the situation. I would expect it to be somewhat stressful, with everyone whirling around. But @IridiumBoss not only kept his cool, but informed the public and was transparten about the issue. Even more so, he responded with a great sense of humor to all the funny hilarious people on Twitter came up with. How impressive is that!

So the launch will be postponed to just Friday, which is great for everyone that has the day off on Good Friday. Lucky me! In hindsight, I wouldn’t have needed to shuffle all my appointments around  launch time 🙂

On a different note, SV 23 has re-entered. Sob! 😢😭 As I’ve already pointed out, this satellite is particularly dear to us, since it was the last of all the sats that we saw flare. We had been waiting for it to come by for many months and it kept teasing us before it finally completed our flare bingo. This was the reason why SV 23 was the shining star in our Iridium celebration video. I personally believe that SV 23 should have won an oscar as best supporting actor for its role.  Here you can find out more about creation of the video. So #flarewell, big bird, and rest in peace. You will be remembered.

Technical:

Issue with communication harness causes a one-day delay of the launch.

SV 23 re-entered the atmosphere.

March 25, 2018

Iridiated:

Before every IridiumNEXT launch, I love to revisit the video I made to celebrate Launch-2 because it gets me in the mood and reminds me of what I love so much about these launches. Making the video was a similar process as with my first celebration for Iridium animation: I went through a lot of material including interviews, videos, launch webcasts etc. to find out what I considered to be the essence of it all. The finished version probably can only be appreciated by die-hard fans of both Iridium and SpaceX, since there are so many little details that probably go unnoticed by someone not familiar with these launches:

Take e.g. the constant background cheering. Something I love about SpaceX launches so much: They carry an incredibly positive, joyful spirit. You see young people with a high degree of diversity who are so proud and happy to be part of the SpaceX experience. I wanted to capture this spirit by giving the background cheering a rather high volume. In real life, there have been several launches where I could not hear the commentator because of the happy crowd. I further tried to illustrate the diversity by additional personages that I sneaked into the otherwise rather indiscriminate crowds.

The scenes with Iridium staff on the launch site and the role of Matt Desch, the CEO of Iridium, in particular are based on footage by Thales Alenia and Iridium covering the launches, picking out notable quotes and embedding them into dialog phrases and gestures: All of this was really said and done, says the internet 🙂

I also love this video because it challenged me so much when it came to the props and details that I needed to make it come alive. The animation platform that I use provides a very limited range of objects and settings. Take the way I illustrated upper altitude winds or the one second launch window. Or the brief scene with Elon Musk riding in in a sportscar: This was the only option I had – no red car, no persona that even closely looks like Elon. So how to make him recognizable? I shied away from putting a Tesla logo on the car for reasons of property rights. But I found a simple nail – like the ones you use for fixing tar-paper on a roof – in the props which I used to symbolize the Tesla logo.

When it comes to props, spaceflight is basically non-existent on this animation platform. There is no launch pad or strongback, so I had to throw together some power towers. The booster itself and the landing of the first stage were the biggest challenge. There is only a chubby blue rocket which I shape-shifted. The flames are an entire different object, they are not connected to the booster. They both have to be moved, which should happen on the same trajectory with the same timing. That went okay for lift-off and ascent, but got pretty difficult for the landing sequence: Due to their different shapes and starting points they tended to have different infleciton points and therefore drifted apart. Which means the landing burn was not co-located with the engine. It took me hours of experimenting to come up with an okay result. Which I now really love to watch.

And then there’s the thing with the hamster which makes appearances in two scenes: It’s the only thing that has no roots in reality, I just thought it would be funny. In the final scene I zoomed in on Matt Desch’s figure to avoid the impression that the incapacitated critter was conveying some kind of message. And mind you: If you think the hamster is dead, look twice (on a large screen): It’s quite happily rolling its eyes – it’s just star-struck! 🤩

If you look for this kind of detail in the video, I promise you will enjoy it a lot more.

March 23, 2018

Iridiated:

noflareI guess “irridated” would be the appropriate play of words to describe how I felt when I saw the result of my flare search for the next seven days. The realization that this will be the lasting fact in not too long made me quite sad.

But it should not overshadow the good news about SVs 113 and 120 put into service today, the  excitement about the upcoming launch and my craziness.

Yes, me crazy. Yesterday I was having dinner and right in the middle of it told the waiter to leave everything in place, I’d be back in a couple of minutes. Guess what I did? Well, my flare-hunt was not successful, the sky was hazy and overcast once again. But at least I gave it a try. Flare rhymes more with rare every day and they have become so precious to me that I often go the extra mile for them.

March 22, 2018

Iridiated:

Rrrrring!

Technical:

SV 128 has been put into service to replace SV 35.

March 21, 2018

Iridiated:

Iridium only wants to reveal the mysteries behind the Launch-5 patches on launch day. Who will have time to read about it when all the launch excitement is going on? We’ll all need tranquilizers on launch date 😉 It’s really a beautiful, fiery patch. I love the diamond-shaped pentagon, the upper part reminding of the satellites’ shape. Then there’s the clover. And hey, the big dipper has an eighth star now! 🌟 That makes the ticking off of the launches convenient. The Falcon 9 hasn’t been shown on the patches for quite some time and I thought that SpaceX, too, have their history with fiery destruction and powerful rebirth.

About SV 128’s escapade of yesterday: It can well be summed up by 🎶 It’s alright, baby’s comin’ back 🎶 and I don’t really care where he’s been.

And happy me has seen another flare today: SV 14 was a delight and warmed my heart.

March 20, 2018

Iridiated:

Today @IridiumBoss announced the new mission patches and I added them (and the Launch-4 ones)  to the Iridiary. So – you see what happens when OxidanSky tries Iridium on for size! 😂😜
The Launch-5 ones have just come out. The Phoenix rising from the ashes as a reference to Iridium’s very tumultuous history.

But now to something entirely different: What on earth is SV 128 doing? Oh, wrong metaphor. Let me try it this way: 🎶 Where do you go to, my lovely? 🎶 (It’s worth clicking this link for heightened entertainment, but I’m digressing). It’s soaring up as if there was no tomorrow with a mission to accomplish. SV 35 is waiting for you, so what are you waiting for?

Technical:

Whatever.

March 19, 2018

Iridiated:

The SV 128 integration seems to be a more complex process than I had expected a couple of days ago. Because rocket science, I presume. The critter has been raised to slightly above mission orbit, which is very surprising to me. Combined with an increase in eccentricity. Hm …

March 18, 2018

Iridiated:

I currently expect a pretty fast de-orbiting journey of SV 13 – it seems the sat is taking quite a plunge!

I might have been a bit to cheeky on SV 128 – the progress hasn’t been as fast as I had expected and the argument of perigee has been going up instead of down. That’s one of the moments where I wish I could sneak into orbit and watch what’s going on. Or better yet, be a fly on the wall at Iridium’s SNOC to learn what they are doing. Oh wait, what did we OxidanSky folks say about flies? Maybe I should look for a different metaphor.

Technical:

Eccentricity of SV 13 raised to 0.0100971.

SV 128: inclination 86.6013, argument of perigee at 116.65.

March 17, 2018

Iridiated:

There it was again, my weird noise: a triumphant “ha” – actually several of them – as if I had caught SV 13 in the act. And in a way I have: The guy is publicly and overtly de-orbiting! And my mixed feelings have said hello again as well. On the one hand I’m always glad to see something happening in orbit, on the other hand it soon will mean one less to marvel at.

Technical:

The TLEs of SV 13 show a significant increase in eccentricity and revs/day.

March 16, 2018

Iridiated:

Related to my notes of March 13, there’s more evidence on why preparation of the satellites for launch takes such a long time. There is the issue of fueling, among other things. Sounds easy, like putting the nozzle into the tank of our car. Well, not quite. While the booster is fueled with rocket-grade kerosene, the satellites’ appetite is for hydrazine. The name may sound nice (it reminds me of some flower, but I don’t know which one), but the substance is not something you would like to sniff or have any encounter with at all. Iridium re-posted a great blog article on the subject. I had already read it last June, but you know – there’s the learning curve and then there’s the forgetting curve. In short: It was interesting for me to read it again what intricate safety measures have to be taken to get the fuel into the sats. Just to give you an idea: “… all non-essential personnel are evacuated from the building and the operation is controlled from a building several hundred meters away.”

On a different matter: SV 128 was sent to orbit on Launch 2 and deployed in Plane 3. But it was soon sent on a journey towards Plane 4. This involves quite a lenghty process: SV 128 started drifting in mid July 2017. It’s the only NEXT satellite so far that’s drifting eastwards (as far as I understand, there will be another one on Launch 8). Eastwards works differently than westwards, and I’m still trying to understand it fully. But today’s note: I guess SV 128 has arrived at its destination and is being integrated into the constellation. I expect its inclination to decrease to 86.4° quickly and its argument of perigee to zoom in to app. 90°. I guess SV 128 might be put into service within the next couple of days. Let’s see how my cheeky predictions turn out. 😜

Technical:

@IridiumComm informs that all ten satellites have been mated to the dispenser and are ready for fueling, stacking and encapsulation into the fairing.

SV 128 at same RAAN as SV 35 which it is going to replace, correcting orbit.

March 15, 2018

Iridiated:

It seems SV 128 has come sufficiently close to Plane 4 to start being integrated into the constellation in Plane 4. Now it gets really exciting! I still have to find out about the difference in approach between the sats drifting westswards and SV 128 which has been travelling eastwards, “against” precession.

Technical:

SV 128’s inclination has been lowered from 87.50° to 87.09°, its eccentricity being raised from 0.0002130 to 0.0003350 at the same time, going hand in hand with a shift in argument of perigee form 91 to 123°.

March 14, 2018

Iridiated:

Yesterday was probably the spaciest day in my life so far, beginning and ending with great Iridium-related stuff that made me happy. Sandwiched in between some more gorgeous things:

We all know that, sadly, Iridium flares have become a rare thing. On top of it, winter in my country is an annoying party pooper for any kind of sky-watching because of constant clouds and fog. So I was extremely happy to see SV 18 flare. It was a –8.1 mag, that’s why I could see it although it was still nearly daylight. BTW: Great recommendation for the IridiumFlares app. It was the only app that knew about this flare.

Then Aleks Vansky, our CEO at OxidanSky, notified me that Boltonov’s fairing protoype had been successful. A great milestone for us, which I have documented in its making. We will need a deployable fairing for emulating the upcoming Iridium launches in our aSpIrM mission.

What made me totally freak out: Space for Humanity posted my application video for going to the stratosphere on their Twitter account! I had applied last July and nothing much happened after that. So it felt like a big boost and that things might start getting serious soon. Please take a look at my video and like it on Youtube, if you like it 😉

At the same time I learned that my application for membership at the Austrian Space Forum had been accepted. The folks had just returned from their amazing analog Mars mission AMADEE-18 in the desert in Oman and I was very happy to receive positive notice from them.

And finally, I was already quite exhausted and took a relaxing bath, I found out that Thales Alenia, the ones that have actually built the IridiumNEXT satellites, had just published their web series on Iridium Next and more. Of course I had to look at all the videos immediately. And it was definitely worth it! There’s beautiful material not only on the recent launches – that’s rather common knowledge anyway. But there’s also an interview with Dan Colussy, the brave savior of the whole constellation and the Iridium project. I was delighted to find so many references to the extraordinary history of Iridium. And then, of course, the stories about the slot-swaps and operating the sats. Yay! My kind of turf! You can guess how happy I was about that!

Technical:

Thales Alenia have come forward with a web series on Iridium.

March 13, 2018

Iridiated:

The clock is ticking very loudly on Launch 5 for IridiumNEXT: Woosh, all the sats have  arrived at VAFB and are now being carefully and gently manhandled and readied for launch. It’s so hard for the mind of an ordinary = non-tech person like me to imagine what goes into that process. How can it take weeks to put the sats into the freakin’ rocket? Well, it’s obviously not the same as loading your grocery shopping into the trunk of your car. Rocketwise, I’ve understood there’s an insane amount of wiring, tubing, electronics, hydraulics and other fancy-named things involved. And a lot of checking and double-checking, because: no screw-ups allowed, there’s no second chance if things go wrong.

Working on a project like OxidanSky’s aSpIrM – our as-if SpaceX Iridium Mission – is very instructive and a great lesson in humility. Even at our laughably small scale we realized how things can go totally awry e.g. when the temperature is not right: We had a motor failure and knocked-out electronics due to the cold. No wonder the hugely complex Iridium sats have to be transported in temperature controlled containers. And while we can have a good laugh, entertain our audience and get offered money for our fail videos (that being the funniest part), I guess Iridium wouldn’t have a such a ball if something went wrong.

In case you want to get a glimpse of what goes on inside a Falcon 9 fairing, take a look at this reddit on the anatomy of a fairing. Definitely a great read for tekkies. When I try to read it though, it feels as if my brain gets fried. So no.

Technical:

According to @IridiumComm, all 10 Iridium NEXT satellites for the launch are onsite at Vandenberg Air Force and in processing for launch.

“Upon arrival to the launch site, each Iridium NEXT satellite begins a number of pre-launch processing steps including mating to the dispenser, fueling and encapsulation within the fairing. The satellites were shipped two at a time, in specially-designed motion and temperature-controlled containers designed to maintain optimal environmental conditions” (taken from Iridium press-release).

March 12, 2018

L4-diary.jpgThat’s the kind of motivation I needed as propellant  to launch the IriDiary for IridiumNEXT’s Launch-5. Thanks for rooting for OxidanSky, Matt!

I’m greatly looking forward to the Launch-5 experience, all the swift slot-swaps and – sigh, there’s no word for it, because sad and crying …  but the de-orbits are interesting to monitor in their own right, accompanied by a lot of #flarewell hollering from my side.

So we’re on T-17d to launch and I can already feel the excitement building up …

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To start with …

Intro and notes are the same as for Launch 4: If your are the kind of person who likes to read the fine print, you can find it there.

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The L-5 IriDiary is going to be topsy turvy because I know you don’t like to scroll. So it’s last in first out this time.

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You SpaceX launch watchers know it: There is (or was?) the technical webcast and the hosted webcast. I’m going to build on this idea for the L-5 Diary: one part with the stone-cold sober facts and one part for the fun, my guessing and musing of what’s going on up there in orbit.

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CREDITS:

WAIVER:

  • OxidanSky is in no way affiliated with or representing Iridium Communications.