Weekly Space Blog 6/29

Another busy week in space, here is this weeks blog.

Saturn News
Saturn was in the news twice this week, researches have discovered the mystery of the gigantic storm circling Saturn and a image capture by Cassini shows a propeller like structure in the rings.  The researchers announced there findings based on analysis of images returned by Cassini in combination with computer models, for further information check out the fall article here.  The image below shows one of the propeller structures that have been observed several times in the rings, small moon-lets in the rings cause the material to clump together causing this effect.  For further information on these check out the NASA page here.
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Russian Spacewalk
This week Expedition 36 Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin performed a 6h 34m spacewalk to prepare the station for a new Russian science module due to be delivered later this year.  During the walk they replaced a fluid flow control panel on the Zarya module, installed clamps to route power cables from the US segment and retrieved several experiment from the outside of the station.  This was the third spacewalk this year at the station and the 169th overall, the next planned spacewalk from the station will be conducted in July by Chris Cassidy of NASA and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency.

IRIS Mission Launch
Following a one day delay due to a power outage at Vanderburg the IRIS mission was successfully launched on Thursday this week.  The spacecraft will now undergo a period of tedting before the science operations begin.  For more information on the IRIS mission check out it’s mission page here.

NASA Thruster Achieves World Record
This week NASA announced that their Advanced Ion Propulsion engine had successfully operated for more than 48,000 hours.  During the testing the engine consumed 1,918 pounds of Xenon propellant and provided an amount of total impulse that would require more than 22,000 pounds of conventional propellant.  With today’s estimated launch costs this alone offers a saving in excess of $10m USD for future missions.
You can view the NEXT ion engine in operation here.

Chinese Astronaut News
This week the three person crew completed a manual undocking and docking of there spacecraft before heading back to earth for a successful landing on Tuesday in Inner Mongolia to complete a 15 day mission in space.  At the moment the Chinese and Russian’s are the only nations with the capability to launch crews into orbit, this mission further demonstrates that the Chinese are progressing with there research as they plan a large presence in space in the future.  During the mission there were a total of nine people in orbit of the earth.  For further information check out these stories of the Undocking and Landing.

Gliese 667 planets
This week astronomers announced that after further analysis they believe there could be as many as three habitat planets in the Gliese 667 system.  They have found at least 6 planets within the system and the three that fall in the habitat zone of the star are all super-earths.  The image below shows the potential Sunset from each of the planets compared with our own sunset.
sunset_gliese667c
For further information check out the teams paper here.

Ten thousandth NEO found
This week the ten thousandth Near Earth Object was announced, asteroid 2013 MZ5 was first detected by the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope on June 18.  NASA’s Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA Headquarters, said that finding the 10,000 object was a significant milestone, however there are at least 10 times as many objects out there still to be discovered.  For more information on the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope check out it’s page here, and for more information on the NEO programs at NASA here.

Two Soyuz Launches
This week there were two separate Soyuz launches one from Baikonur Cosmodrome and the other from Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana.  Both launches successfully placed there payloads into orbit and increased the number of satellites by five.  The first launch from Baikonur carried the Resurs-P Earth imaging satellite, the second from Kourou carried four 03b satellites, further information on both launches can be found here.

Next JAXA HTV
The next Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) “Kounotori” could pave the way to manned flights by JAXA, each flight gives the agency additional information about the dynamics of spaceflight, with the last one and this vehicle being fitted with an observation system called “i-Ball” to record its re-entry.  The data provided by the i-Ball system will help engineers better understand the dynamics of re-entry and help design future spacecraft to survive the re-entry process.  Further details can be found here.

New Type of Matter Found
A recent publication in the journal Nature Physics announced a new type of matter found only in Neutron star’s.  Called “Nuclear Pasta” because of how the nuclei of atom’s arrange themselves due to the density of the stars.  It is believed that these patterns are also responsible for limiting the rotation speed of the star’s, of the ones observed so far they haven’t found one that has a rotation period longer than 12 seconds.  Further information can be found here.

CoRoT satellite shutdown
Further bad news this week for planet hunters around the world, the french satellite CoRoT (Convection, Rotation and Planetary Transits) has been officially shutdown following a computer failure last November.  The mission lasted twice as long as originally planned and so far has found 32 confirmed planets and another 100 waiting to be confirmed.  The mission also allowed astronomers to study the stellar physics and the interior of stars.

More Surprises from Voyager One
Despite having been in space for 36 years and being 11.6 billion miles from Earth the Voyager One spacecraft is still sending back data and surprising us.  In papers published this week in the journal Science the Voyager One team provided more clarity on the region they have named the Magnetic Highway.  For more information check out the full article here.

GALEX decommissioned
This week NASA decommissioned it Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) after ten years of operation.  The spacecraft used it’s ultraviolet vision to explore hundreds of millions of galaxies.
Highlights from the mission’s decade of sky scans include:
— Discovering a gargantuan, comet-like tail behind a speeding star called Mira.
— Catching a black hole “red-handed” as it munched on a star.
— Finding giant rings of new stars around old, dead galaxies.
— Independently confirming the nature of dark energy.
— Discovering a missing link in galaxy evolution
— the teenage galaxies transitioning from young to old.
For the full details of GALEX check out the article here.

Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opens

The new Space Shuttle Atlantus exhibit opened this week at Kennedy Space Centre and offers a view of the shuttle only seen by a few astronauts when in space.  For more on the new exhibit check out it’s psge here.  http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com

space-shuttle-atlantis-bay-doors

And Finally
There is only one day left on the ARKYD Kickstarter campaign if you haven’t contributed to this yet now is your last change to be involved in this ground breaking project.  Check out the project here.

Weekly Space Blog 6/22

Lots of great news this week

Herschel ends operations

This week the Herschel team send the final commands to shutdown the spacecraft following a series of tests that were performed on the spacecraft after the primary mission finished because of the depletion of the helium coolant that cooled the primary instruments.  Since April the team have been using the spacecraft to test control techniques that can’t normally be performed in flight.

For more on Herschel check out it page here.

ATV-4 Albert Einstein Docks to Space Station

The Albert Einstein cargo ship that successfully launched on two weeks ago arrived at the Space Station last Saturday.  Following a 10 day transit to the station it automatically docked to the Russian Service module and once leak checks were completed the six crew members were able to access the vehicle to begin unloading the cargo.

New Horizons News

Following a year of analysis the New Horizon’s and NASA teams have concluded that they do not need to change the trajectory of the spacecraft as it approaches Pluto.  Scheduled to arrive in 2015 they feared that the dust around Pluto could cause damage to the spacecraft and they launched an investigation to determine if anything needed to be done.

LEGO Curiosity on the way

Lego_CuriosityLEGO announced this week that they will be releasing a model of the Mars Rover Curiosity from there CUUSOO production line.  More information on the design can be found here, I wasn’t able to find an exact launch date yet but will update on a future blog once more details are available.

NASA Announces 2013 Astronaut Class

NASA announced the latest class of Astronauts candidates this week, the eight were selected from over 6100 applications the second largest ever.  They will begin preparing for low-Earth, Asteroid and Mars missions in the future.  Half the candidates are women a first for NASA.

The eight candidates are:-

Josh A. Cassada, Ph. D., 39. 
Victor J. Glover, 37, Lt. Commander, U.S. Navy. 
Tyler N. Hague (Nick), 37, Lt. Colonel, U.S. Air Force. 
Christina M. Hammock, 34. 
Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, Major, U.S. Marine Corps. 
Anne C. McClain, 34, Major, U.S. Army. 
Jessica U. Meir, Ph.D., 35. 
Andrew R. Morgan, M.D., 37, Major, U.S. Army.

More info can be found here.

Mars Curiosity Billion Pixel View

PIA16919-mars-billion-pixel-945This week NASA released a Billion Pixel view of Mars taken from pictures that were beamed back by Curiosity.

Click on the Image to see the full picture and use the tools to look around the environment that Curiosity is currently operating in.

ISS 3D Printer Update

The 3D Printer that is destined for the International Space Station next year passed a series of Critical Microgravity Test flights recently.  The printer which will be used on the station to test 3D printing functionality on the station will allow future missions to create parts etc that have failed.

NASA begin SLS Preliminary Design Review

This review once complete will allow the SLS design to move from concept to actual design.  The review involved analysis of the complete concept to determine if there are any problems and how to address them.  The review is expected to take several weeks to complete and is an important milestone in the road to launch.  For more information check out the new feed here.

ARKYD Kickstarter Funded

The ARKYD Kickstarter project passed the $1m goal this week with more than 12,000 funders, to celebrate Planetary Resources announced additional stretch goals with the hope of raising a total of $2m with 8 days left to go.  Check out the project here and if you haven’t yet please join this exciting project.

NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge

This week NASA announced the Asteroid Grand Challenge to utilize multiple disciplines working together to identify threats to earth from Near Earth Asteroids.  Further information can be found here.

And Finally

This week the Pegasus XL rocket that will propel NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph spacecraft, or IRIS, into orbit to study how the sun’s atmosphere is energized, was attached to the L-1011 carrier aircraft that will air drop it on 6/26.  Once released the three stage solid fuel rocket will place the spacecraft in orbit.

Weekly Space Blog 6/15

This week SpaceX sign military agreement, Chinese Astronauts, Chris Hadfield, Opportunity and Kepler keep giving, and much more.

SpaceX

This week SpaceX signed a framework agreement for potential Military launches in the future.  Under the agreement the air force will evaluate the Falcon v1.1 rocket over at least three launches as well as all the processes, procedures etc involved in create the vehicles.  Once the evaluation period is complete SpaceX may have the chance to compete for future launches.

Chinese Launch and Docking

On Tuesday this week three Chinese Astronauts successfully launched to Orbit aboard a Long March 2F rocket, once in orbit the spacecraft made it’s way to the Tiangong 1 space station arriving on Thursday.  Following a successful automated docking the three Astronauts made there way into the station to begin 15 days of work.  During their stay at the station they will perform a manual undock and redock as well as numerous scientific experiments before heading back to earth.

Opportunity News

This week the Mars Opportunity Rover team announced that they believe they have found clay minerals in a rock recently examined by the rover.  The team explained that their presence is an indication that the rock had been altered by long term exposure to water.  Although they have found indications of water since arriving on the planet they explained that this was different because it indicated a neutral pH balance where as previous examples had higher pH balances.

The Rover has been operating on Mars for 9+ years, over 35 times longer than originally designed and recently broke the US distance record on another planetary object.

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In this panorama, Solander Point is the near peak on the left of the horizon. It is more than a kilometre away from Opportunity’s current position and the rover would hope to arrive by August

More Kepler planet candidate announced

The Kepler team announced another 503 planet candidates this week, some which may be the right size and distance from their star to support life.

The Kepler team continue to analyze the vast amounts of data they have already received from the four+ years of operations.

The Kepler spacecraft is currently operating in a Point Rest State due to the failure of a second gyroscope that is used to stabilize the craft, and a team has been formed to determine what course of action can be taken to restore some if not all the scientific operations of the Vehicle.

Chris Hadfield announces resignation

This week Chris Hadfield announced his resignation from the Canadian Space Agency after 21 years at the agency.  Chris who recently returned from a six month mission to the space station the last part which was served as Commander, became well known for the amazing pictures that he tweeted from space.

Chris and his family have spent many years in Houston working with NASA and will be returning to his native Canada to enjoy his retirement.

Planetary Resources announce stretch goal

Planetary Resources announced via their Kickstarter ARKYD page an ambitious stretch goal for the campaign.  If they are able to raise $2 million by the 30th June they then will add ExoPlanet detection capabilities to the spacecraft.  Check out the project here.

And Finally

That’s all for this week, will be plenty more next week.

Touch Tomorrow festival

Yesterday we visited Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for the Touch Tomorrow festival, there were lots of activities for the kids to do and some fun exhibits for everyone to learn about advances in robotics. The event sponsored by NASA was an opportunity for people to learn about the Space Launch System (SLS), visit a Moon Landscape and see various robots competing in the NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge, check out this video of the event. NASA setup a number of stamp stations around the campus and kids could win a prize if they collected 4 or more stamps.

There were various exhibits setup around the campus of WPI and in various buildings, as we walked around the site there were opportunities to learn by building or creating various items including Dome Structures made of Gum Drops and Toothpicks, Paper airplanes, Slime, etc. There were a number of different robotic technologies on display some created by WPI staff and students others created by NASA. A fall size model of Curiosity was on display in the main courtyard, it was amazing to see just how big it is and brought home to me just how challenging it was to land on the surface of mars.

The highlight of the day for me was getting the opportunity to hear Astronaut Captain Stephen G. Bowen, veteran of three spaceflights on the shuttle and seven spacewalks. Stephen showed two video’s during his talk from STS-132 and STS-133 as well as talked about his work on the space station. During the talk he told us that during one of his spacewalks Houston told him to hold for a moment as they needed to assess something, he knew it would take a while before they got back to him so had time to just look down at the Earth below. At one point he showed a picture with four astronauts two who were holding coffee pouches which had Yesterday’s Coffee and Today’s Coffee written on them, he then went on to explain how they recycle ALL the water on the station which draw a number of Eww’s from the crowd. During the video’s we got to see the lighter side of the work the Astronauts do as they played games on the station/shuttle and enjoyed meals together. The question is did they ever find all those skittles that were floating around?

After his talk Stephen answered several questions from the crowd, including how did it feel to launch on the shuttle, he wasn’t really able to describe it except to say that you feel a lot of pressure as you go up, almost three G’s and then are suddenly weightless. However he did say the only way to really understand it was to experiencing it yourself.

This week we have a lot of news

This week we have a lot of news related to Space, enjoy.
SpaceX Rocket Test
This week SpaceX CEO tweeted that they had tested fired their most powerful Rocket yet, with 1.3m lbs.
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Here is a copy of the image, looking forward to seeing this vehicle in flight.
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Boeing Marching on with CCiCap milestones
This week Boeing announced that it has completed another two milestones under their CCiCap agreement with NASA.  These two milestone bring the reality of Human Space flight for US closer with the completion of the wind tunnel tests on a scale model of the combined CST-100 and Atlas V rocket that will launch it.  The second milestone related to the propellant plumbing changes needed to support the two engine Centaur stage that will be used, all previous Atlas V flights have used a single engine Centaur.
Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX are all competing to bring Manned Space Flights to the International Space Station and LEO back to US soil.
In related news Sierra Nevada announced this week they they have successfully started the main testing for the Hybrid Rocket motor that will be used on the DreamChaser vehicle.
3D Printing in Space
There have been a number of exciting announcements about 3D printing recently, NASA announced they were funding a 3D food printer with the first focus on pizza.  This week NASA and Made in Space, Inc announced an agreement to fly a 3D printer to the space station next year to being testing the production of items.
3D printing techniques offer a number of opportunities to improve the cost of manufacturing and reduce the payload required.  Deep Space Industries and The Mars Foundation plan to use materials found in space to supply 3D printers that would allow in-situ manufacturing of parts, these could be used to build structures or even spacecraft and wouldn’t have the same restrains that we have on earth to do Payload mass limits on rockets.
ATV-4 (Albert Einstein) Launched
Following the successful launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket the next ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle is currently on it’s way to the ISS.  Following a 10 day journey to the station it will dock and the cargo transfers will begin.  The ATV is the largest cargo vehicle available to the ISS with a capacity three times that of Progress and twice of the Dragon, included in the vehicle is fuel, air and water as well as the cargo.
Kepler keeps giving
While the Kepler spacecraft may not be able to continue it’s science mission (they haven’t given up on it yet and are planning ways to compensate for the recent failure), the science data that has already been received from the vehicle will keep scientist busy for years to come as they confirm the planet candidates.  <<ADD KEPLER STATS HERE>>
ARKYD Kickstarter Update
As of writing the Planetary Resources ARKYD Kickstarter project has raised more than $750,000 of the $1,000,000 needed to fund the project.  With more than 20 days remaining it is looking increasingly likely that they will exceed the required amount.  For the latest updates on the campaign check out the Kickstarter page here.
Curiosity Mars Rover Update
During this weeks Rover update teleconference NASA announced that the second drill investigation was complete and they were now heading towards Mount Sharp.  When asked how long it would take to arrive they stated that it would depend on what they found on the way and if it was worth stopping to investigate.   It could take as much as a year to arrive at Mount Sharp.  The Rover’s power supply is good for many years to come therefore they are going to take there time and do the science as they find the need.  Full details of the announcement including additional pictures are available here.
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Orion Update
After venting my frustration with the SLS/Orion program last week I thought it was only right to pass on the news that the Orion Capsule had completed stress tests this week that replicate the stresses that would be experienced during an actual mission.  The fixes they made to the designed after the cracks appeared before worked successfully and the vehicle passed all the tests.
And Finally
Today my family and I will be heading to Worchester to visit WPI for the Touch Tomorrow festival, this will be an opportunity for us to meet a NASA Astronaut and see some of the latest developments in Robotics.

Soyuz launch, ARKYD Kickstarter, Astronaut Abby

Welcome to my new weekly blog on all things Space, this week we take a look at the latest Soyuz launch to the International Space Station, the ARKYD Kickstarter project and Astronaut Abby a 15 year old with an amazing vision for STEM and Space.

Soyuz Launch

On Tuesday this week Karen Nyberg, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Luca Parmitano launched about there Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from Kazakhstan on an accelerated six hour journey to the space station.  This is the second time a Soyuz has used the express rendezvous to the station which cuts down the time spent in the Soyuz from two days.  They join current station crew members Chris CassidyAlexander Misurkin, and Pavel Vinogradov to complete the Expedition 36 crew.

The crew have a very busy increment coming up with a number of visiting vehicles and five space walks as well as the hundreds of science experiments that are performed each day.

ARKYD Kickstarter

On Wednesday this week Planetary Resources announced the launch of there ARKYD: A Space Telescope for Everyone Kickstarter project.  The goal of the project is to raise $1,000,000 to provide a Space Telescope for citizen science, as of writing they had already raised $600,000+ with 6000+ backers.  There are multiple sponsorship levels available from $25 for a photo from the spacecraft or yourself with the Earth in the background to $10,000 for a very neat package (check out the page).

I have signed on to this project at the $65 level and would encourage anyone who has dreamed of being involved in space to get involved.

Astronaut Abby

And finally this week we meet Astronaut Abby who has just completed an amazing trip to Russia and Kazakhstan to watch the Soyuz launch.  She recently raised $35,000 through the RocketHub CrowdFunding site to “Inspire Future Generations”, she will be using the money raised to provide classroom visits and share her vision to be the first Astronaut on Mars.

In addition she has been selected to be Astronaut Luca Parmitano’s Earth Liason while he is on the space station.  Abby will be communicating regularly with Luca and will be posting updates about his adventure.  When asked Luca said that he selected Abby for her passion for space and reaching her dream and that one day he would be training her to be an Astronaut.

And Finally

This week I wanted to vent my frustration about the SLS/Orion project at NASA, here we have a new rocket system that current estimates say will cost in excess of $41B for four launches by 2025 for the 70 metric tonne version, the 130 metric tonne version isn’t expected to be ready until 2030.  Next year SpaceX is expected to launch the Falcon Heavy which will cost significantly less money and will be capable of launching 53 metric tonnes, it seems very likely that by 2025 SpaceX could have greater launch capacity then SLS will have.

In addition the Orion Space capsule which has already had structure problems during pressure testing only has a four person crew capacity which while being one more than Soyuz and other current space capsules is three less than the planned Dragon Crew Capsule, the Dreamchaser vehicle or the Boeing CST-100.  The first planned uncrewed launch for the capsule will be next year and the first crewed mission isn’t expected until 2021.  Again by this time one or more of the capsules mentioned above will have already launched multiple crews to the ISS and I know SpaceX have plans to go beyond LEO with Dragon.

It seems at this point it would be more logically to invest some of the $41B in SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Boeing to improve their vehicles and the rest of the money in Planetary Science to go explore the Europa or Titan.