Following a 15 month gap between mission’s Sea Launch returned on Monday to successfully launch a 6.6 ton Eutelsat 3B satellite. The Zenit 3SL rocket lifted off successfully and following a nominal flight successfully deployed the satellite to orbit.
The communication’s satellite will now use it’s engine’s to transfer to it’s final operation orbit at 22,300 miles where it will serve markets in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America.
Built by Airbus Defence and Space it carries 30 Ku-band, 12 C-band and nine Ka-band transponders which will allow it to broadcast television, internet and data services.
Mars Opportunity Update
Opportunity Explores Region of Aluminum Clay Minerals – sols 3657-3662, May 08, 2014-May 13, 2014:
Opportunity is exploring south of ‘Solander Point’ on the west rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover is exploring the region of aluminum-hydroxyl clay minerals seen from orbit.
On Sol 3657 (May 8, 2014), Opportunity collected a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic of the surface outcrop, called ‘Ash Meadows,’ then placed the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) for a multi-sol integration. On Sol 3659 (May 10, 2014), the rover drove just under 85 feet (26 meters) to the east, approaching a region of extended outcrop as a possible site for clay minerals. Also, Opportunity tested the new two-second spacecraft clock correction sequence. Over the next two sols, the rover collected an atmospheric argon measurement with the APXS and performed two more one-second-clock corrections.
On Sol 3662 (May 13, 2014), Opportunity bumped 7 feet (2 meters) forward to approach an exposed rock outcrop for further in-situ (contact) investigation.
As of Sol 3662, the solar array energy production was 761 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.621, and an improved solar array dust factor of 0.964. Perfectly clean solar arrays would have a dust factor of 1.0, so the larger the dust factor, the cleaner the arrays.
Total odometry is 24.49 miles (39.41 kilometers).
NASA Releases book on Communicating with Aliens
Addressing a field that has been dominated by astronomers, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists, the contributors to this collection raise questions that may have been overlooked by physical scientists about the ease of establishing meaningful communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence.
SpaceX complete’s qualification of SuperDraco Thruster
SpaceX have completed qualification of their SuperDraco thruster after completing a series of hot fire tests. The thruster will be incorporated in the second version of Dragon which was unveiled on Thursday this week, see my previous post on the unveiling.
Next Orbital Cygnus flight delayed
To allow Aerojet Rocketdyne more time to investigate the recent AJ26 engine failure during testing Orbital has announced that their next mission to ISS has been delayed to No Earlier Than (NET) June 17th. A final launch date and time will be announced once the investigation has concluded and depending if there are any changes needed because of the investigation.
New Station Crew successfully launched
On Wednesday the next International Space Station (ISS) crew were successfully launched and six hours later docked to the station. See my previous post for more details including images of the liftoff, docking and hatch opening.
This evening Elon Musk unveiled the next version of the Dragon spacecraft designed to take crews to the International Space Station and beyond. The crewed version of Dragon has undergone quite a transformation from the first version which was hanging above the crowd during the unveiling. The spacecraft is much bigger then before, has SuperDraco thruster which will serve both as an Emergency Escape System should there be an issue during ride to orbit as a propulsive landing mechanism allowing the crew module to return to land at the completion of it’s mission. The crew module can carry up to seven passengers and the interior has a very modern looking interface with touch screen technology, with critical functions being available as button’s for emergencies.
Elon also said that with the addition of the SuperDraco thrusters it is now possible for Dragon to land anywhere in the world with the accuracy of a helicopter.
During the reveal Elon explained that the spacecraft still has parachutes which would be used in the case that the SuperDraco engines failed during landing. The spacecraft has been designed to be fully re-usable and once landed should only need to be re-fueled and attached to a Falcon 9 rocket to fly again. As part of this Elon revealed that they are now on version three of there heatshield technology which will further reduce the damage of re-entry.
During the animation demonstrating the abilities of Dragon V2 we saw the spacecraft docking to the station using the same mechanism that the Space Shuttle utilized. There was also a cargo Dragon attached to the station when the new version arrived.
Elon also explained that the SuperDraco thrusters were 160 times more powerful than the Draco thrusters that are used to maneuver when in space, there are four pairs on the vehicle and each is isolated so a failure won’t cause problems for the other. He also revealed that the thrusters were fully 3D printed.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a question and answer time during the presentation and no detailed about when the first flight will be.
At 3:57 pm EDT this afternoon the Soyuz TMA-13M lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European Space Agency flight engineer Alexander Gerst. Following a successful climb to orbit the spacecraft began a four orbit, six hour journey towards the International Space Station (ISS).
The spacecraft completed docking at 9:44 pm EDT slightly ahead of schedule due to a flawless flight. A series of leak check were then performed before the hatches were opened at 11:50pm EDT allowing the new crew to enter the station and being there time working and living on the station.
The accelerated docking processing has become the norm for Soyuz vehicles allowing the crews to launch, dock and enter the station within eight hours. However as was seen in the previous flight the backup plan is also available which results in it taking two days to reach the station instead.
The station is once again back at it’s full six crew member complement and has a busy schedule coming up which includes visits from Progress, Cygnus, ATV and Dragon as well as five spacewalks two from the Russian airlock and three from the US side.
This evening the Morpheus Lander performed it first night flight test to demonstrate the Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT)’s ability to function even in the dark.
The initial test was aborted, however following a review of the data the team re-cycled and was able to perform a successful test concluding with a successful landing as designed. We are waiting for word from the team to determine that ALHAT was in control for the whole flight.
At present this is the last of the tests for Morpheus.
Last Sunday at 3:05pm the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully completed it’s CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a splashdown in the Pacific ocean.
Launched on April 18th aboard a Falcon 9 rocket the Dragon spacecraft, carrying nearly 5,000 lbs of supplies and payloads including two in the un-pressurized trunk, the craft was deployed to orbit following the successful launch. On April 20th the craft was captured by the station’s robot arm and berthed allowing access to the cargo. On Sunday the craft was unberthed from the station carrying 3,500 lbs or cargo. After successfully backing away from the station, later in the day the craft was commanded executed de-orbit burn which concluded with the splashdown.
This was the longest orbital mission so far for Dragon at 29 days, 23 hours and 40 minutes.
On Tuesday the spacecraft arrived at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California where time-sensitive cargo was off-loaded and handed over to NASA, the spacecraft will now travel to the test facility in McGregor, Texas where the rest of the cargo will be off-loaded and handed over to NASA.
On Wednesday it was reported that during the landing there was some water seepage into the spacecraft after the landing, however it doesn’t appear that this caused any issues with the experiments on board. However due to this event NASA will require resulting from an investigation by SpaceX and any changes needed to avoid this happening again before the next Dragon flight will be approved.
Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide upper-stage propulsion for RELS
Aerojet Rocketdyne announced on Monday they had received a contract to supply six RL10C-1 engines, with an option for six additional engines. These engines will by used by the third stage of the revolutionary air-launch system being build by Stratolaunch Systems Corporation (SSC).
The three stage rocket being developed will be dropped from a carrier aircraft when it reaches the desired altitude, once released the rocket will begin it’s power flight into orbit.
The Government Accountability Office report on the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft indicates that NASA has masked the true cost of being the pair by neglecting to say what the system will cost to build for each flight.
So far there are only two missions slated for the combined vehicle and the estimated cost through 2021 is $22 billion.
While I believe NASA needs to have a crewed vehicle for deep space missions it would be interesting to see what SpaceX or another commercial company could create for $22 billion.
New Cameras to Probe Planets beyond our Solar System
Two new camera’s designed to image Jupiter class planets orbiting other stars and their atmospheres have been brought online. The European Southern Observatories Very Large Telescope camera Sphere saw first light on May 4, and the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South Observatory has reported back on data gathered from it’s first light.
Japanese researchers announced the discovery of a site of planet formation around a young star in the Lupus Constellation in the southern sky, it’s name is Latin for wolf.
The researchers found a proto-planetary disk around the star HD142527 and the dust appears to be concentrated in the upper part of the ring. The observations where made using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA).
This week Elon Musk received the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during the 22rd annual International Space Development Conference, after receiving the aware he talked further about the progress that SpaceX was making towards a permanent base on Mars and also more on the re-usable rocket tests.
The FAA have issued regulations establishing requirements for crew and space flight participants involved in private human space flight. The new rules maintain the FAA’s commitment to protect the safety of the public.
NASA and ATK moved a step closer to the 2017 launch of the first SLS this week with the completion of a significant structural test of the booster’s main attachment mechanism. The article tested was a major load-bearing structure known as the skirt.
The Mars Opportunity Rover has returned this Martian Vista from the ridge line of Endeavour Crater
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover spent several months exploring portions of Murray Ridge. Since reaching the local high point on the ridge line from which this panorama was taken, the rover has proceeded southward to reach an exposure of aluminum-rich clay detected from orbit.
Construction has begun on the new Mars lander Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is scheduled to launch March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from California. The mission will provide NASA with information toward their goal of sending a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Meet Quaoar, the Planetoid Beyond Pluto
Most people know of Pluto which for a long time was the 9th planet before being demoted, however there are many more objects beyond the last planet Neptune that many may not be aware off.
The following article introduces one of those objects a planetoid in the outer edges of our solar system called Quaoar. Discovered in 2002 it heralded a new age in Astronomy, this and a few other worlds being discovered caused the International Astronomical Union to form a new classification system for planets, planetoids and dwarf planets.
SpaceX launch of Orbcomm Satellites targeted for June 11th
SpaceX has re-aligned the next launch to No Earlier Than (NET) June 11th. The delay were caused by a Helium leak in the first stage that was found during fueling for the Static Fire Test.
This leak was a different location to a leak that delayed the CRS-3 mission, although further details were not available it seems likely that it was around the Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessels (COPV) which are used to pressurize the vehicle.
It is not clear yet if the issue has been repaired but SpaceX are working towards this date and a new Static Fire will be performed at some point before then.
The Planetary Society responds to coverage of ISS statements by Russia
The Planetary Societies Blogger Casey Dreier posted this week a response to all the coverage of the ISS suitation since Russia made statements regarding the status of the station.
Firstly there were two issues in the statements, one relating to the RD-180 engines which has been covered previously and the second relating to the station.
In summary the current operation plan for the station runs until 2020, NASA with the approval of the White House proposed to extend this until 2024, however as of yet none of the other partners had actually signed onto this new plan. However it was originally thought that Russia were interested in the extension however since the tensions over Ukraine that no longer seems to be be case.
However given that there are over six years left in the current operational plan there is nothing to say the situation won’t change again.
Space station’s Sphere’s use Google smartphone tech
The free-flying Spheres modules on the International Space Station will now be aided by Google’s Project Tango to assist the crew in mundane tasks. Project Tango is a smartphone project by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group which tracks the 3D motion of the device and create a 3D model of the environment around it.
The Spheres modules short for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites has been tested on the station since 2003 and with this latest upgrade will be able to perform more functions.
The Spheres project was originally inspired by Star Wars.
SpaceX DragonFly test vehicle revealed
In further SpaceX news this week details of the DragonFly test vehicle became available. The vehicle will be tested at SpaceX’s McGregor facility and consists of a 7 ton Dragon capsule equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters, an integrated trunk and up to four landing legs. The vehicle will be put through a series propulsive landing tests to validate the design and to enable future Dragon vehicles to perform a land based landing.
One of the Aerojet AJ-26 main engines for the Antares rocket suffered extensive damage during a test firing at the Stennis Space Center this week. Before the engine’s can be used for an actual launch they are test fired to verify everything is working correctly.
At present it is not known if this failure will have any impact on the June 10th launch of an Antares carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on it’s next visit to the ISS.
Today was a busy day in Florida following on from the successful launch of Atlas 5 this morning another flight occurred a KSC when the Morpheus Lander test vehicle took to the skies for another flight.
This was the first closed-loop ALHAT free flight onboard Morpheus, which basically means the ALHAT operated completely autonomously during the flight. The ALHAT (Autonomous Landing Hazard Avoidance Technology) allows the vehicle to select the best landing site by detecting the environment and determine where it is safe to land. This technology will become increasingly important as we send landers further away from earth were making remote corrections during landing is impossible.
This morning a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida carrying the NROL-33 classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Liftoff occurred at 9:09am EDT and all was progressing well up to payload separation. Due to the nature of the launch there was a news blackout after that so we have no further news as to the success of the mission.
This week Russia fire back against US sanctions in two key areas, the first was to spurn NASA’s proposal to extend the life of the ISS through 2024. The second by announcing plans to block the export of Russia engines for U.S. Military launches.
Given the continued aggression in Ukraine is doesn’t seem likely that these issues will be resolved quickly. The impact of the station extension won’t be felt for a number of years yet and could well change before then anyway. The impact on launches could hit home much sooner depending on how many engines ULA have already available. Although there could be an alternate solution very soon as SpaceX are close to finalizing the EELV certification process which would enable them to compete for military launches.
As for the Space Station it looks like it might be time to start looking for a long term alternative and Bigelow Aerospace’s BA-330 solution could be a good option. If planning started soon there is no reason why a fully operational station couldn’t be in orbit and have crew members living on board well before the ISS concludes it’s operations in orbit.
While Russia hasn’t impacted the crewed launches to ISS yet, if the sanctions continue it could result in the US not being able to access the station, while some believe this is unlikely because NASA are paying for the seats to orbit it isn’t beyond believe that it could happen.
SpaceX Dragon returns this weekend
The Dragon spacecraft currently docked to ISS is expected to depart on Sunday to being it’s return to earth. Assuming all goes to plan Dragon will be unberthed from the station on Sunday at approximately 9:30am EDT and is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean about 6 hours later.
Dragon is the only cargo vehicle currently that has the ability to return to earth allowing critical experiments to be returned for scientists around the world to continue there investigations. All the other cargo vehicles that visit the station burn up in the atmosphere at the end of there mission.
Shuttle Engines selected for first SLS Launch
This week NASA announced the selection of four veteran Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) known as the RS-25’s to be used on the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2017.
The SSME’s had been used throughout the 30 year history of the Shuttle Program and with the exception of one flight where a safe Abort to Orbit was needed performed flawlessly during that time.
Unlike the Space Shuttle the engine’s will not be returned after the launch and will be destroyed during re-entry of the first core SLS stage.
SpaceIL one of the competitors in the Google Lunar XPRIZE have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $240,000 towards the cost of landing on the moon. The $1 = 1 mile campaign runs until June 17th and as of today has raised 20% of it’s target.
Exkpress AM-4R satellite launch failure
On Thursday a Proton rocket lifted off at 5:21 pm EDT, however 540 seconds into the flight the third stage engine’s terminated resulting in the lose of the rocket and satellite. The Exkpress AM-4R communication satellite was a replacement for one that failed to reach it’s intended orbit in 2011.
All future Proton-M launches are on hold pending a launch failure investigation.
New GPS satellite to launched today
Originally scheduled to launch yesterday but delayed by uncooperative weather the launch of a ULA Delta 4 from Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral carrying a new Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite is now scheduled for 8:08 pm tonight.
Expedition 40 Crew head to Baikonur for launch
This week the crew of the TMA-13M due to lift off on May 28 left Star City, Russia for Baikonur Cosmodrome to being final preparations for the launch.
Astronomers announced this week they had detected what they believe to be the first sibling of the Sun. This star HD 162826 is believed to have been created from the same gas cloud that the Sun is believed to have been created from. The star is 100 light-years away in the constellation Hercules and isn’t visible to the naked eye, the star is approximately 15% more massive than our Sun. They have been observing the star for 15 years and have yet to detect any planets orbiting it.
To detect the sibling the Astronomers looked for two identifying features, the first a simliar chemical composition to our Solar System and secondly similar orbit’s around the cetner of the Milky Way galaxy.
Astronomers have detected an exoplanet that is roughly 2,000 times the Earth-Sun distance from it’s star. Based on the distance from the star it would take approximately 80,000 earth years to complete a single orbit. The planet located around GU Psc, located in the constellation Pisces has been observed directly by combining observations for various telescopes.
One of the most prominent features of Jupiter is slowly shrinking, the Great Red Spot – a swirling storm bigger than earth – is now smaller than ever measured before. Observations going back to the 1800s estimated the spot to be 25,500 miles on it’s long axis. When NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 flew by in 1979 they measured it to be 14,500. In 2009 Hubble measured it at 11,130 and since 2012 amateur observations have noticed it shrinking by as much as 580 miles per year.
Yesterday Station Commander Koichi Wakata handed control of the International Space Station to US Astronaut Steve Swanson to begin the final stage of the TMA-11M crews return to earth. Mikhail Tyurin, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata have spent the last 188 days on the space station, during which time they saw the departure of Progress M-22M, the arrival of Progress M-23M, the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon, undocking and re-docking of the Progress M-23M to test KURS-NA. In addition due to the failure of the MDM a spacewalk was added to the manifest.
Today the three crew members bid farewell and then entered their Soyuz capsule concluding with the closing of the hatchway between the station and capsule at 3:26 p.m. EDT. After the leak checks were completed the Soyuz TMA-11M undocked from the station at 6:36 p.m. EDT and slowly moved away from the station.
At 9:04 p.m. EDT the deorbit burn was performed beginning the return to earth for the crew which concluded with the safe touchdown of the crew module at 9:58:30 p.m. EDT. The crew were successfully removed from the module after landing and are doing well.
The following are images capture from NASA TV of the different events today.
The planned launch of six commercial communications satellites for Orbcomm has been delayed. The planned static fire test on Thursday was called off after SpaceX ran into technical trouble during the countdown. The static fire test was rescheduled for Friday but was stopped while the rocket was being fueled. SpaceX announced that the OG2 satellites and rocket was in a safe condition and would be rolled back to the integration facility.
At present a new launch date/time is not available.
Judge rules Russian engine purchases can continue
Judge Susan G. Braden has reversed the injunction she issued in the case that SpaceX filed against the ULA Block Buy. While SpaceX didn’t explicitly request action to stop ULA buying the engine’s this was the first action taken by the count after the filing of the case. This follows letters submitted to the court from the Treasury and State departments stating that NPO Energomash was not subject to the sanctions.
Curiosity drills into Martian sandstone
This week Curiosity successfully drilled into Martian sandstone. The rock dubbed “Windjana” was selected for the drill site. Over the next couple of weeks the rover will collect samples of the fine grained samples into a pair of research instruments.
This is the first time Curiosity has drilled into Sandstone, having samples Mudstone previously in 2013.
Russian spy satellite launched by Soyuz
This week a Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launched a clandestine payload from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Likely a Kobalt-class imaging satellite for the Russian Military.
Station crew members prepare to return home
Three of the station residents have entered their last week aboard the orbiting complex. Commander Koichi Wakata, Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio and Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will be returning to earth May 13th inside their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft having spent 187 days onboard.
Former Astronaut Kent Rominger answer questions on Twitter
This week Astronaut Kent Rominger who now works for ULA answered questions on Twitter during a #SpaceChat session. Among the questions asked was one from us regarding SLS
This week I signed up for an online Astronomy course which includes time controlled several robotic telescopes around the world. Below are a couple of images I have processed so far as part of the course.