Soyuz TMA-14M hatches opened

The three crew members Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova and Barry E. Wilmore aboard the Soyuz TMA-14M have now entered their home for the next six months. Following a smooth docking, leak checks were performed and the hatches opened allowing the crew to enter the station. Just before the hatches opened NASA confirmed that after the docking of the Soyuz TMA-14M to the Poisk module the stuck Solar Array unexpectedly deployed.  The hatch opening occurred almost an hour later than originally planned.

Once on board the normal teleconference with the families and dignitaries on the ground was held before the crew headed to bed for their first night in orbit.

A fun fact from this arrival, there are 18 Zebrafish on Soyuz, add that to the 40 mice that arrived on Dragon earlier this week and the six crew members there are 64 living on the station currently.

Below is a video of the crew entering the station


Soyuz TMA-14M arrives at Station

Despite having a problem deploying one of it’s two Solar Arrays, after arriving on orbit this afternoon, the Soyuz TMA-14M arrived at the International Space Station after a four orbit, six hour journey.

During approach to the station Cosmonaut Max Suraev was asked to take pictures of the approaching vehicle to help controllers back on Earth determine why the Solar Array didn’t deploy correctly.

Now that the craft has arrived leak checks will be performed to ensure a secure connection has been established. After this the crew will enter the station to begin there time working on the station as a part of Expeditions 41 & 42.

Below are screen grabs of the approach and docking this afternoon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

TMA-14M launches successfully

Soyuz-TMA-14M-Mission-PatchA Soyuz TMA-14M carrying cosmonaut Aleksandr Samokutyayev, the first female cosmonaut Yelena Serova and astronaut Barry E. Wilmore lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:25pm EDT to begin a four orbit, six hour journey to the International Space Station to complete the Expedition 41 crew complement.

Following a smooth ride to orbit the spacecraft transitioned to orbital operations before beginning the accelerated approach plan that been adopted by the Russian Federal Space Agency for trips to the station. This reduces the amount of time the crew spends in the cramped environment of the Soyuz spacecraft, before the new plan was adopted it would typically take two days before the crew would be aboard the station.

Soyuz_TMA-14M_crew_during_an_emergency_scenario_training_session_at_JSCDocking is scheduled at 10:15pm EDT today and will be shown live on NASA TV, with hatch opening scheduled for a couple of hours later once all the leak tests have been completed.



Below are screen grabs of the launch from NASA TV.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission successfully insert into Orbit

Image: Indian Space Research Organization
Image: Indian Space Research Organization

Today India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft arrived at Mars and was successfully placed into orbit.  Launched 5th November, 13 days before NASA’s Maven the spacecraft, it took a slightly different route to Mars resulting in it arriving three days after MAVEN.  This is the first spacecraft from India to travel this far from Earth and it performed it’s orbit insertion as planned and is now in orbit of Mars.

India are only the fourth entity to place an craft into orbit of Mars following NASA, ESA and Soviet Union.  To add to the achieve they are the only one two achieve orbit on the very first attempt.

Image: Indian Space Research Organization
Spacecraft Layout – Image: Indian Space Research Organization

The MOM spacecraft is carrying the following instruments: –

  • Lyman Alpha Photometer – LAP
  • Martian Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer – MENCA
  • Mars Color Camera – MCC
  • Methane Sensor for Mars – MSM
  • Thermal Infrared Imaging System – TIS

For more information on MOM check out its mission page here.

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft reaches Mars

Following a ten month, 442 million miles journey NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) successfully entered into orbit of Mars this evening.  The orbit insertion maneuver began with six thruster engines firing briefly to damp out deviations in pointing. Then, the six main engines quickly ignite and burn for 33 minutes to slow the craft, allowing it to be captured in an elliptical orbit with a period of 35 hours.


MAVEN will now spend 6 weeks being commissioned before it begins it primary science mission.

The following instruments are being carried by MAVEN.


  • Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) – measures the composition and isotopes of thermal neutrals and ions.
  • Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) – is a part of the Remote Sensing (RS) Package and measures global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere via remote sensing.
  • Magnetometer (MAG) – measures interplanetary solar wind and ionosphere magnetic fields
  • Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (SWEA) – measures solar wind and ionosphere electrons
  • SupraThermal And Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) – measures thermal ions to moderate-energy escaping ions
  • Langmuir Probe and Waves antenna (LPW) – determines ionosphere properties and wave heating of escaping ions and solar extreme ultraviolet (EUV) input to atmosphere
  • Solar Energetic Particles (SEP) – determines the impact of SEPs on the upper atmosphere
  • Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA) – measures solar wind and magnetosheath ion density and velocity


SpaceX CRS-4 Mission Launches Successfully

crs4 mission patchAt 1:52:04am EDT today a SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station for the fourth CRS mission under the NASA’s commercial cargo program.  The launch originally scheduled for yesterday had to be scrubbed due to weather constrains. Unlike the recent satellite launches which had long launch windows SpaceX had to liftoff exactly on time or perform a 24 hour scrub.

Following a smooth countdown despite more weather concerns near the launchpad the rocket was able to liftoff to begin a 2 day journey to the station.

160 seconds after liftoff the first stage completed it’s job and dropped back to earth where despite not having landing legs SpaceX will perform a series of tests as they have before in an attempt to land the rocket. We learnt today during a NASA briefing that SpaceX has been sharing the data from these tests with NASA as they were planning to perform some very similar tests for landing on Mars and other planetary bodies. Instead of spending the money on there own tests they are providing assets for SpaceX to help track the first stage as it returns.

Once the stages had separated the second stage’s single engine propelled the rocket the rest of the way to orbit where the Dragon spacecraft was successfully deployed. Once in orbit Dragon deployed it’s solar arrays and began it’s journey to the station.

Below are some of the payloads that are being carried among the 5,000 pounds of supplies that Dragon is taking to the station.

3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment – Will demonstrate 3D printing technology in space, created by Made In Space Inc this will test out the capabilities of a 3D printer in micro-gravity something that has only been done in 30 seconds stints until now. Made In Space are already working on another bigger version of the printer which they hope to launch next year this could enable the station crew to print replacement parts instead of waiting for a visiting vehicle to bring them.

ISS-Rapid Scatterometer (ISS-RapidSat) – This is being carried in the trunk and will be attached to the outside of the station by the robot arm.  The ISS-RapidSat will be used to monitor ocean surface wind speed and direction.

Rodent Research-1 – For the first time SpaceX will be carrying live animals to the station, this has been made possible by the inclusion of SpaceX’s first Environmental Control and Live Support System (EGLSS) system.  This experiment will allow researches to determine the long-term effects of micro-gravity on mammals.  Half the rodents will be returned when CRS-4 lands, the others will remain on the station and will return on the next mission CRS-5.

Below are screen grabs of the launch

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Exciting times in Space

A lot has happened in Space or related to Space recently and the future is looking very bright.

Below is a summary of some of the recent news and upcoming events.

SpaceX and Boeing awarded CCtCap contracts – We now have two companies contracted to build manned spacecraft to deliver crew to the ISS.  Currently only two other countries have the ability to do this.  See my full article on the awards here.

ULA and Blue Origin announce BE-4 engine – Following pressure from various sources ULA have announced they are going to partner with Blue Origin to build the engine which will allow them to move away from the Russian RD-180 engine for Atlas.  Full article include specs can be found here.

Mars Orbiters arriving soon – This Sunday NASA’s Mars Maven orbiter will be arriving at the planet and next Wednesday India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is also expected to arrive.  They will join three other orbiters currently at Mars and the two active Rovers on the surface.

ESA Rosetta Lander Philae has a landing site – The European Space Agency has announced the landing site for Philae which is part of the Rosetta mission.  This will be the first time a vehicle has landed on the surface of a Comet.  For more information on the mission check out the excellent ESA Blog for Rosetta.

First 3D Printer heading to space – Early tomorrow morning SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission is scheduled to lift off, on board will be the first 3D printer to go into space.  The possibilities this opens up for the future are immeasurable.  For more information on the printer check out this page.  We will be posting an update tomorrow morning following the launch of CRS-4.


ULA and Blue Origin unveil BE-4 rocket engine

Today United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin announced a new liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas (LNG) rocket engine that delivers 550,000-lbf of thrust at sea level.

2014-09-17_132821The engine has been in development at Blue Origin for three years and a pair of them will be integrated into the Atlas rocket in appropriately three/four years. The upgraded rocket will have 1.1m lbf thrust giving it a boost over the single RD-180 engine design currently used.

The engine will be jointly funded by ULA and Blue Origin, the BE-4 was selected because of the progress that had already been made developing the engine.

One natural question that comes out of this is what will the impact on SpaceX?

Basically in the short-term this will not have much impact as SpaceX have a large manifest of orders on the books and just recently added nine more including potentially three Falcon Heavy launches.  Plus the engine isn’t scheduled to be ready for three/four years so ULA will still be using RD-180 until then.

Longer term we don’t believe it will have much of an impact either, once it has been integrated to Atlas they will have to have at least three flights to re-certify for any Air Force launches and also prove the new system is as reliable as what they have today before customers will commit, and finally they will have to reduce there prices to really have an impact on SpaceX.  If anything this could actually benefit SpaceX as they will have three/four more years of proven flights behind them and may also be closer to completing their new Raptor engine which has significantly more thrust than BE-4.

Following the announcement they held a Q&A session below are some of the questions that were found on twitter.

Atlas V launches with CLIO payload

This evening a United Launch Alliance Atlas V lifted off with a secret payload called CLIO for the Department of Defense.  Details of the orbit or what the payload is for has not been made available.  The launch was delayed several times due to weather constrains but those cleared allowing a liftoff to occur at 8:10pm EDT which was right at the end of the window available for today’s attempt.

CLIO was successfully deployed from the Atlas’ centaur upper stage nearly three hours after launch high above the eastern Indian Ocean. The spacecraft’s successful 11:01 p.m. separation will be followed over the next few weeks by maneuvering CLIO to it’s home in geostationary orbit.

Below are screen grabs from the launch webcast.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

CCtCap awards announced

Image Credit: NASA

Today at 4pm EDT from Kennedy Space Center NASA announced the winners of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts.

And the winners are:

Image Credit: Boeing

Boeing – The CST-100 capsule seen to the right has been awarded $4.2 billion of the money.  Over the next three years Boeing will have to complete a number of milestones below to prove that the CST-100 capsule can indeed deliver crew to the ISS.

While the CST-100, according to Boeing, can be launched on multiple rockets they have selected to use the Atlas V as the launch vehicle.

This will bring Boeing’s total under the Commercial Crew Development program to $4.77 billion.

Image Credit: SpaceX
Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX – The Dragon V2 again seen on the right has also been awarded a contract of $2.6 billion allowing NASA to have a two options for the CCtCap process.

At the time of writing SpaceX have not completed their pad or launch abort tests from the CCiCap contract, however they are scheduled to be completed in the next six months and there should be no reason that SpaceX couldn’t be ready before 2017.

This will bring SpaceX’s total under the Commercial Crew Development program $3.11 billion

Each company will have to pass five certification milestones as well as a number of others that they themselves have selected, payment will be based on the different milestones.  We will bring you news of these milestones once the information has been been made available.

Under the contracts awarded today both companies will perform one demo flight each and a maximum of six crewed missions to the station carrying four crew members each time, they also include some money towards additional studies.  With the introduction of the Dragon V2 and CST-100 NASA have also announced that the space station will move from a six member crew to seven members allow more research to be performed.

The award amounts are based on the paperwork that was submitted during the process by each company and both have to meet the same goals laid out by NASA.  Basically SpaceX will be achieving the same goals for 62% the cost that Boeing will.

In summary this is what we hoped would happen, two competitors have been selected and the next few years are going to be exciting for US manned spaceflight, we are another step closer to returning crewed flight to US soil and despite the fact that one of the competitors is still reliant on Russian engines to get into orbit that may change too as news of a partnership between ULA and Blue Origin to be announced tomorrow could see the RD-180 replaced, we will bring new of that announcement as soon as we have it.

At present we have no news on what will happen to the Dream Chaser program at SNC, when we have further information it will be made available here.