US Commercial Space 2 for 2 today

Following on from the Cygnus berthing to the space station this morning SpaceX successfully launched its modified Falcon 9 rocket this afternoon in the process achieving several firsts for the company.

The launch which came exactly five years after their first successful Falcon 1 launch was the first from their Vandenburg launch pad,  the first of the longer v1.1 rocket,  the first to use the Merlin 1D engines,  the first to have a satellite fairing and the first Falcon 9 not dedicated to Dragon.

The rocket carried six satellite’s to orbit and from initial reports all were successfully deployed as expected and the rocket performed exceptionally well.

In addition to the above firsts, SpaceX were also hoping to re-ignite three of the first stage engine’s as it descended back to earth to slow the impact of the stage as it lands in the Pacific Ocean.  If successful the plan is to retrieve the stage and potentially use it again for another mission.  These are early steps in SpaceX’s plan to have fully re-usable rockets in the future.

With the successful completion of this launch SpaceX will now be ramping up the launch rate to meet the large launch manifest pending, with several more this year and starting in 2014 almost one a month through end of 2015 already booked.

The following images were captured from the SpaceX Web Cast and show the rocket during countdown, launch and after first stage separation.

Screenshot_2013-09-29-11-51-44 Screenshot_2013-09-29-11-54-18 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-01-07 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-01-11 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-01-14 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-01-28 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-02-40 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-04-13 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-04-17 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-04-45 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-10-42

And then there were two

With the arrival of the Cygnus spacecraft at the International Space Station the US now has two commercial suppliers to deliver cargo to the station.  Since the retirement of the shuttle and before SpaceX and Orbital Sciences the US was reliant on International Partners Russia, ESA and Japan to deliver cargo.

There are now five cargo vehicles available for the station, Cygnus, Dragon, Progress, European ATV and Japanese HTV.

Below are some images of the Cygnus arriving at the station taken from the NASA LiveStream feed.

Now we just need for Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems to complete their commercial crew vehicles and for NASA to have the funds to allow these to progress to actual flights and the station will once again have multiple craft able to launch crews.

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Weekly Space Blog 9/28

This week in space…

Soyuz Launched to ISS
This week saw another Soyuz launch to the space station on board the Soyuz TMA-10M were Russian Cosmonaut’s Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy as well as NASA Astronaut Michael Hopkins.

Following a flawless countdown the three launched at 4:58:50 pm EDT, eight minutes later they were in orbit and heading towards a four orbit, six hour rendezvous with the station.  The crew docked a few minutes earlier than scheduled at 10:45 pm EDT and once all the leak checks were completed entered the space station at 12:34 am EDT to begin there extended stay aboard the station.

Due to their involvement in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games ceremonies the crew will leave after the TMA-12M has docked, this will be the first time since the Space Shuttle retired that there will be more than 6 crew members on the station at one time.

Cygnus berthing delayed
The berthing of the Cygnus spacecraft was delayed last Sunday due to a technical glitch with how the spacecraft interpreted GPS data received from the station.  Initially the plan was to back off from the station while Orbital worked on the problem and then attempt again on Tuesday.  However after further discussions with NASA it was decided to wait until after the Launch and Docking of the Expedition 37 crew members.  The berthing has been rescheduled to this Sunday 9/29, assuming everything goes to plan the Cygnus spacecraft will be captured by the Expedition 37 crew and berthed to the station.

SpaceX launch scheduled

Falcon 9 v1.1 on  Vandenburg Launch Pad at Sunset
Falcon 9 v1.1 on Vandenburg Launch Pad at Sunset

Elon Musk CEO and CTO of SpaceX confirmed that the first launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 has now been scheduled for Sunday 9/29 assuming no further problems are found and the weather co-operates.  This will be the first time the longer version of the rocket, the Merlin 1D engines and a fairing will be used.  In addition this is the first launch from the Vandenburg launch site for SpaceX and the first to dedicated to deploying a satellite.

If all goes to plan SpaceX will also try to re-light one of the Merlin 1D engines as the first stage approaches the ocean to test out some of the re-usable technologies that are planned for later flights and would allow the first stage to land back on earth and be used again for a future flight.

Elon himself stated that there is a high chance that something could go wrong with all the changes in this mission.

Dragon Launch Delayed
The next CRS launch to the ISS has been delayed to February 2014 to allow SpaceX time to complete modifications to the Dragon spacecraft to increase the cold storage cargo capacity.  This will almost triple the amount of scientific cargo that can be carried up to and back from the space station.

Space Dino – Nyberg creates Dino on ISS

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg's stuffed toy dinosaur floats on the International Space Station. She made the doll for her son using materials she found on the orbiting outpost. (NASA)
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg’s stuffed toy dinosaur floats on the International Space Station. She made the doll for her son using materials she found on the orbiting outpost. (NASA)

This week Karen Nyberg a US Astronaut currently serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS) released a picture of a Dinosaur she created while in space.

Among the personal items she took to the station were needles, thread and some material, however The Dinosaur was created mainly from a velcro like material found in Russian food containers on the station.

She created the Dinosaur for her son, however he will have to wait a little longer before receiving the gift as Karen will remain on the station until November 11, and UPS/FedEx don’t currently offer delivery services to/from the ISS.

Water on Mars – Curiosity
This week NASA announced that the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument on it’s Mars Rover Curiosity had discovered water in soil samples that it had analyzed.  During the analysis for the soil it was determined that about 2% of the sample contained water.

Laurie Leshin, Dean of Science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institiute said “About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically.”

The SAM instrument takes samples of soil scooped up by the Rover’s arm and then heats it to 835C, SAM then uses several different processes to identify the chemicals found in the sample.

For further information about the discovery check out the full article here.

And Finally
Well that’s all for this week, for more Space News check out the Deep Astronomy YouTube channel.

Have fun and as Tony Darnell says “Keep looking up”

Weekly Space Blog 9/21

Another amazing week in space…

Cygnus Successfully Launched
Antares_LaunchWith the exception of one issue with the fuel system that caused a slight delay in the launch time Orbital successfully launched there Antares Rocket with the Cygnus spacecraft.  The Cygnus is currently on route to the International Space Station and once a number of demonstration steps have been completed successfully is due to berth with the station tomorrow.

Once the vehicle has been unloaded the ISS crew will load items that are no longer needed, after about 30 days at the station it will unberth.  Unlike the Dragon spacecraft the Cygnus cannot return back to earth but instead burns up during re-entry.

Latest reports show the the spacecraft has successfully fired it’s main engine’s to alter it’s course to the station, a number of the tests are performed close to the station to verify that the approach and capture can be aborted if needed.  Once all the tests are passed NASA and Orbital will have a final go-no-go poll before the craft enters the keep out zone around the station so that it can be captured by the crew using the station arm.

SpaceX Static Fire Test Update
The first static fire test of the new Falcon 9 v1.1 showed up some anomalies, due to this SpaceX attempted another test this week which was successful.  However due to the delay’s caused by needing the second test launch of the new version has been delayed until 9/29 to accommodate ICBM tests at the launch site.

Atlas 5 launch successful
A secure communications satellite was launched from the cape this week by an Atlas 5 for the U.S. Air Force.  This was the first of two large launches on the same day on the U.S. East Coast, the second was the Orbital launch of Cygnus seven hours later.

Next Station Crew Soyuz Integrated
The Soyuz TMA-10M vehicle was integrated with it’s Launcher this week in preparations for the launch of Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA, Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy, both with Russia’s Federal Space Agency on 9/26.  The next major milestone in this preparations will be roll out to the launch pad expected on Monday 9/23.

Deep Impact Update
Following a month of attempts to re-establish contact with the now silent spacecraft NASA to announced that the mission is over.  Engineer’s suspect that the vehicle lost stabilization control and was no longer pointing it’s Solar Array’s at the sun causing the battery’s to run out.  The vehicle was tremendous successful having completed all of it’s primary mission objects as well as returning approximately 500,000 images of different space objects.

Space Alien Claim
This week a scientist if Britain claimed to have evidence of Alien Life taken from sample obtained from the upper atmosphere.  The story got quite a lot of traction on some new media however was very quickly debunked.  The same scientist has made similar claims in the past and each time has proven to be wrong because there has never been scientific evidence to back up his claims.

Life on Mars Update
Hope’s of finding life on Mars faded a little this week when a study by the Mars Curiosity Rover detected only trace amounts of Methane in the atmosphere.  Of course if Mars One or other’s get there way this will change in the next couple of decades as human’s will visit the planet and bring with them microbes and other forms of life.

India Mars Mission spacecraft revealed
mangalyaan-mars-orbiter-isro-india-lgThe week India unveiled it’s first Mars Spacecraft expected to launch later in late October or early November.  The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced that the vehicle will have five scientific instruments on-board designed to conduct various experiments while orbiting the planet.  The vehicle is expected to arrive at the planet in September 2014 following a 9 month cruise.

Boeing Tests CST-100 Thrusters
This week Boeing announced that it has completed a series of tests of the thrusters that will be used on the CST-100 Spacecraft when in orbit.  In combination with Aerojet Rocketdyne the thruster manufacturer the tests assessed how the thrusters performed in different scenarios as would be expected in space operations.  This is a significant step forward in the design of the spacecraft which is designed to talk crew into LEO.

Chinese Space Station final days
The Chinese Space Agency announced that their first Space Station Tiangong was entering it’s final month’s of operation before a fiery re-entry into earth’s atmosphere.  Tiangong hosted two different crews during it’s lifetime and brought the Chinese one step closer to having a permanent presence in space.

And Finally
While not related to Space I wanted to share the news from Elon Musk that Tesla are currently looking for Engineer’s to work on autonomous driving option for the Tesla Model S car.  According to Elon they plan to use 360 deg flush mounted camera’s and radar which will require lost of image processing capabilities.  Anyone interested should email autopilot@teslamotors.com, the team will report directly to Elon.

 

Weekly Space Blog 9/14

We are back again with our weekly blog and what a week it has been for space news.

Voyager has left the Solar System
This week the Voyager Science Team announced that the long serving Voyager 1 spacecraft had left the solar system, making it the first human made object to achieve the feat.  As one of the team said this is a milestone as significant as Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon.

36 years in the making and 12 billion miles from home the Voyager 1 spacecraft has already provided us with a wealthy of information from it’s flyby’s of Jupiter and Saturn and from it’s journey through several layers of the outer solar system.

So what is next for Voyager 1, the spacecraft itself has enough power to keep the current science instruments running for a few more years, at that point the science team will begin to power down different instruments until they are all silent.  The spacecraft will still have enough power to operate for a number of years after that but will only be able to return engineering data on the health of the craft.  Once the spacecraft has run out of power it will continue it’s journey towards AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis in about 40,000 years from now.

For more information on the Voyager spacecraft check out there mission page here.

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 News
This week SpaceX performed the first Static Fire of the new Falcon 9 v1.1 at their Vandenberg launch pad.  SpaceX CEO tweeted later in the day that they had achieved full thrust for 2 seconds during the test, however due to some anomalies found during the test they will be performing another test on Saturday 9/14 and will announce a new launch date once the data has been analyzed.

Orbital Approaches Launch
The first operational Cygnus spacecraft rolled out to the launch pad this week for a 9/17 launch to the International Space Station, this will be the final test launch of the Antares and Cygnus vehicles under the COTS program for NASA.  Assuming nothing goes wrong Orbital will then begin commercial resupply missions to the station to augment those provided by SpaceX currently.

Japan’s Epsilon Launched Successfully
Following an aborted countdown recently, Japan successfully launched there new Epsilon rocket this week.  The new rocket which has been designed to make launches cheaper and more efficient completed it’s first launch by placing a compact telescope into orbit.

Well that is all for this week, a short post but more to come next week