Before the Phoenix: Imperfect Tools

Launch Control
Spaceflight Initiative

Mission Coordinator Laras Stelliré looked up from his monitors and their unhelpful loss-of-signal markers, and barked, “Status! Status reports, by stations. Do we have the ship?”

Nellis Steamweaver, at communications, pushing his headset firmly into his ears, was the first to respond.

“Voice communications are still up, so we have the capsule. I’ve got a lot of roar from the solids, some voices…” He tapped his transmit key, spoke into his throat mic. “Either their receiver’s out or they plain can’t hear me, though. I’m not getting any acknowledgement, just muffled high-octane commentary.”

Even as he glanced over at the technical consoles, the flight dynamics/systems engineering team, Lauré and Fíöré Talith, spoke as one:

“Confirmed cleared the tower successfully –”

“– radar track is nominal to this point –”

“– negative telemetry input on main channel –”

“– most probable case a capsule connector failure due to unexpectedly high vibration on lift –”

“– switching to auxiliary.”

Laras glanced down again, and peeled his white-knuckled fingers off the edges of his console as the secondary telemetry – not as detailed, but enough – flooded in from Skyreach. The trajectory display on his central screen filled in the extrapolated earlier data; the capsule accelerating smoothly between the flight plan’s minimax lines.

* * *


“Booster neck-down – thrust dropping!”

Nellis glanced over at the Taliths, nodded in acknowledgement, and spoke into his headset.

“Skyreach, Flight, can you hear me now? Skyreach, acknowledge, please!”

“Skyreach copies, Flight.” A burst of loud static came over the air. “– can hear you, too.”

“How are you doing up there, Skyreach?”

“On the good side, Flight, all systems are blue. On the bad side, so is my ass.”

Nellis snorted. “Thank you, Skyreach, we’re all glad to hear half of that. In that case, you are go to commence Roughneck ignition while you’ve still got ullage thrust.”

“As you say, Flight. Hydropower transfer initiated and igniters to run. Turbopumps spooling up… and ignition.” The slowly decreasing acceleration numbers on the monitors leapt forward again. “Confirm thrust, Flight.”

“Climbing on the curve, Skyreach… and holding at 20% nominal.” The roar of the boosters fell away in Nellis’s headset, overtaken by the throbbing rumble of the liquid motor. He glanced up at his status monitor, where flight dynamics had flash-highlighted the booster combustion chamber pressure. “And we show burnout on the boosters per sched. You are go for booster separation.”

“Confirmed, Flight.”

Three muffled explosions sounded in Nellis’s headset; the red-highlighted booster telemetry flicked over to no-signal amber.

“Skyreach, we confirm booster separation.”

* * *


“Skyreach, Flight, we show you having passed max Q, confirm please?”

“Flight, this is Skyreach, we confirm max Q.”

“Skyreach, you are go for throttle-up.”

“Acknowledged, Flight.”

* * *


“Ah, Flight, we may have a problem here. Give me the telemetry numbers on thrust, commanded versus actual?”

“Skyreach, we show 92% actual versus 100% commanded. We’re running diagnostics, but assume you are still go at this time.”