ASX and UTAT co-moderate event, with rocketry lead answering audience questions
By: Adam A. Lam
A new era of space flight began with the blastoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on May 30, livestreamed to an audience of over 3 million — including over 25 participants tuning in to a watch party by the Astronomy & Space Exploration Society (ASX) and the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT).
The flight of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station was the first in history undertaken with a spacecraft designed and built by a private company. The success followed a first attempt scrubbed due to weather on May 27 — also watched by over 45 participants in a first watch party on Zoom by the ASX and UTAT.
Leading up to the successful launch, Jacob Weber, the Hybrid Engine Propulsion Lead from UTAT’s Rocket Division, fielded questions from participants about the science and engineering of the rocket launch during both watch parties.
Posting questions in the Zoom chat, audience members asked about topics such as the impact of weather on launch safety, the extent of automation of the rocket’s launch, and why white vapour was billowing out of the spacecraft before liftoff.
Audience members learned about the importance of weather monitoring to avoid excessive wind shear during a launch, which could damage the rocket and capsule in flight. Weber also noted the importance of “favourable conditions downrange” for the astronauts’ recovery, in case of an aborted mission mid-flight.
Weber also explained that the rocket’s launch was fully automated. He noted that, similar to UTAT’s rocket, the liquid oxygen, which is used to burn rocket fuel, needs to be vented out as it heats up during the launch.
In addition to technical questions, participants also asked lighthearted ones, such as if Weber would go to space (“definitely”) and what he would say to an angry Martian telling him to get off his lawn (“I’m not sure what I’d say”).
Upon the successful launch of the rocket, the chat erupted with cheers, as the two astronauts with sci-fi-inspired spacesuits departed in the first launch from US soil in nine years. Behnken and Hurley eventually arrived safely at the International Space Station after a 19-hour flight.