Weekly Space Blog 5/23

SpaceX Dragon completes successful mission

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.

Dragon CRS-3 SplashdownLaunched 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.

Photo credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News
Photo credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News

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 full article can be found here.

Russia, China sign Space Exploration Agreement

Following on Russia’s announcement that they don’t extend operation of the International Space Station after 2020.   This week they have signed an Space Exploration agreement with China instead.

Even more reason for the US to move away from dependence on Russia to get into space.

The full article can be found here.

NASA Commercial Crew Program News

Each of the partners in the Commercial Crew Program made progress in the latest press release from NASA.

Boeing – Completed most in-depth evaluation of software planned to operate the CST-100 spacecraft.

SNC – Put models of it’s Dream Chaser spacecraft through rigorous wind tunnel tests to help refine the final design.

SpaceX – Conducted an integrated critical design review to demonstrate major hardware and software elements of the Dragon/Falcon 9 vehicles.

The full release can be found here.

Three private Moon Lander concepts on NASA short list

Recently NASA selected three private Moon Lander concepts for non-funded agreements as part of the agencies quest to land robotic craft on the moon.

The companies Astrobotic Technology Inc, Masten Space Systems Inc and Moon Express Inc will now proceed to the next stage of negotiations for Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative.

The full press release can be found here.

True Cost of SLS, Orion Unclear

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.

For more information check out the full article here.

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.

The full article including video can be found here.

Planet formation in the constellation of the Wolf

Dust and gas around the star HD142527, as seen by ALMA in red and respectively green.
Dust and gas around the star HD142527, as seen by ALMA in red and respectively green.

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).

The full article can be found here.

Elon Musk receives Award

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 full article can be found here.

New Regulations Govern Private Human Space Flight

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.

The full article can be found here, including a PDF of the rules.

SLS Moves One Step Closer

SLSmechanismNASA 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 full article can be found here.

 

Opportunity Rover News

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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.

Full panorama can be found here.

Construction of Insight Begins

InSightConstruction 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.

The full article including artist concepts of the object can be found here.

Boeing and Samsung to Evaluate Mobile Technology for New Spacecraft

This week Boeing and Samsung announced a collaboration on ways to incorporate the latest mobile technology into Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft.

Under the agreement they will start to identify how mobile technology can be used to improve CST-100 crew and mission operations.

Seeing how rapidly Samsung brings to market new devices it will be interesting to see how this works out and what technology is added to the CST-100.

The full press release can be found here.

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.

Casey’s full blog article can be found here.

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.

Further details and a demonstration video can be found here.

Antares AJ-26 engine fails during test

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.

 

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