Successful Liftoff of NROL-33 aboard Atlas 5

logoThis 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.

Below are some screen captures of the launch.

Weekly Space Blog 5/16

Soyuz TMA-11M crew lands safely

The three crew members of TMA-11M landed safely after spending 188 days in space, See full article here

Russia fires back over US Sanctions

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.

Bigelow Aerospace BA-330As 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

Image of SpaceX Dragon at the station taken by Astronaut Rick Mastracchio during spacewalk.
Image of SpaceX Dragon at the station taken by Astronaut Rick Mastracchio during spacewalk.

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.

For further information check out the article here.

SpaceIL launch Indiegogo campaign for Moon Rover

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.

Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, Soyuz Commander and Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA will join the current Expedition 40 crew onboard the ISS later this month.

Astronomers find Sun’s first sibling

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.

For more information check out the article here.

Astronomers find odd gas giant Exoplanet

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.

For more information check out the article here.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot shrinking

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.

Check out the full article here.

Weekly Blog 5/9

This week in Space News

SpaceX launch of Orbcomm OG2 satellites delayed

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 image recorded by Curiosity's mast-mounted camera shows the drill site at Windjana.
This image recorded by Curiosity’s mast-mounted camera shows the drill site at Windjana.

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

Kent_Twitter_Question

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally

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.

If you are interested in leaning more check it out here.

Weekly Space Blog 5/2

We are back with our weekly blog, and what an interesting week it has been.

SpaceX announce suit against ULA Block Buy

On Friday 4/25, SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk announced that SpaceX had filed a suit protesting the bulk buy of Rocket Core’s from ULA.  SpaceX made several arguments against the block buy, including the fact that each launch was four times more expensive than then equivalent SpaceX rocket, the fact that ULA’s main engine’s were sourced from Russia.

“In light of international events, this seems like the wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin,” said Elon Musk. “Yet, this is what the Air Force’s arrangement with ULA does, despite the fact that there are domestic alternatives available that do not rely on components from countries that pose a national security risk.”

Elon stated also that they just want the chance to compete in a fair competition, at the end of the day if they compete and lose then they would except this decision.

Here is the full article regarding the suit.

On Thursday 5/1 SpaceX won a preliminary injunction prohibiting any purchases of Russian rockets engines by the US Air Force.

The full text of the preliminary injunction can be found here.

SpaceX confirm successful soft landing of CRS-3 first Stage

During the above Press Conference Elon Musk also announced that they had confirmed successful soft landing of the first stage from the CRS-3 launch.  However due to the rough seas in the area the rocket didn’t survive long in the water.

On Tuesday this week 4/29 SpaceX posted video from the first stage, unfortunately it is badly damaged and they are asking for assistance in cleaning it up further.  Several images have been posted that show the stage as it approaches the water.

The video can be seen here.

CRS Stage1 - 1 CRS Stage1 - 2

This week SpaceX also completed another test of there F9R test rocket to 1000m, these tests bring closer the day when re-usable rockets will be viable.

ATK & Orbital announce merger

This week Orbital Sciences Corporation and ATK announced that they were merging to form Orbital ATK Inc.  As part of the process ATK will split off the Outdoor Sports business into a separate entity and the Aerospace & Defense business will be merged with Orbital.

Classed as a merger of equal’s the new company valued at approximately $5 billion will be lead by current Orbital President and CEO Mr. David W. Thompson, with ATK’s President Mr. Blake E. Larson will become COO.

The transaction is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Full details of the merger can be found here.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister suggests US Astronauts use Trampoline to get to ISS

Due to the sanctions that been placed on several key members of the Russian government following the events in the Ukraine, Russian Deputy Prime Minister proposed an alternate solution to America’s dependency on Soyuz to get to ISS.

“I propose that the United States delivers its astronauts to the ISS with the help of a trampoline,” he said.

In response to this SpaceX’s Elon Musk tweeted the following

ElonMuskTweet3

Unfortunately he then followed up with another tweet.

ElonMuskTweet4

So we will have to wait until the end of this month to see the Crewed version of Dragon.

Length of ExoPlanet Day measured for the first time

Astronmers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have determined the rotation rate of an exoplanet.  Beta Pictoris b has been found to have a day that lasts only eight hours, much faster than any planet in our solar system.  The equator is travelling at almost 100,000 kph.

The full release can be found here.

Morpheus Lander completes another Free Flight Test

This week the Morpheus Lander completed it’s 12th free flight test as KSC, for the first time the test vehicle used the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) to divert to a safe landing spot instead of the previously programmed landing spot..

Video of the test can be found here.

High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment attached to ISS

Once of the science experiments that was transported in the trunk of the Dragon last week was removed on Wednesday and attached to the space station.  The HDEV experiment will beam back live pictures from the station, and contains four HD camera’s which are housed in a enclosed, pressurized, temperate controlled housing.  While on station the effect of the space environment on these camera’s will be monitored.

2014-05-01_091727
Image from HDEV
2014-05-01_091751
Image from HDEV

The Live Stream from the Camera can be found here.

Boeing Showcases CST-100 Interior

This week Boeing released several new images showcasing the interior of there CST-100 Commercial Crew vehicle.  The CST-100 is competing with Dragon, and DreamChaser to become the vehicle of choice for crewed missions to the ISS.

Bigelow Aerospace reveals full scale model of BA330

As part of the CST-100 unveil Bigelow Aerospace also unveiled a full scale model of their BA-330 inflatable module which they aim to launch by 2016.  Because the module is inflatable four of these modules would provide more space than currently available on the International Space Station and would require significantly less launches to complete.

NASA Deputy Administrator Tours Bigelow Aerospace

NASA Selects new Flight Directors

This week NASA announced the selection of three new Flight Directors to lead Mission Control.  The directors will manage the International Space Station (ISS) operations and are Amit Kshatriya, Jeffery Radigan and Zebulon Scoville.

The full article and bio’s on each can be found here.

British Astronaut Tim Peake launches meal competition

British Astronaut Tim Peake who will be launching to the International Space Station next year has launched a competition in the UK for school children to create a meal that will fly with him to the station.

The winner will work with Celebrity Chef Heston Blumenthal to develop the idea further.

Full details of the competition can be found here

Images used in this post are copyright of their owners.

SpaceX CRS-3 Report

Well after a four month break I am pleased to say the blog is back and will be updated regularly.  The reason for the long hiatus was due to a busy Christmas session quickly followed by the birth of my third daughter Annabella in January.

Today’s post will focus on last weeks launch, capture and berthing of the SpaceX Dragon capsule on it’s CRS-3 mission, but first a little history on why this is important.

Introduction

Dragon in SpaceX's hangar, prior to vehicle mate.
Dragon in SpaceX’s hangar, prior to vehicle mate.

As most of you will probably remember on 21st July 2011 Shuttle Atlantis touched down for the final flight of the Shuttle program leaving the USA with no domestic ability to launch cargo or crew to the International Space Station.  Today the picture has changed but the USA still has no domestic ability to reach the station with crew, however following the successful completion of the demonstration missions by SpaceX and Orbital under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program the USA does now have cargo capacity to and from the station.  Before this week’s flight SpaceX has previously completed two missions under the Commercial Resupply Service Contract (CRS) known as SpX-1 and SpX-2, and Orbital have so far completed one known as Orbital-1.

With the introduction of the Dragon spacecraft the USA again has the ability to return significant amounts of cargo from the station, an ability unique to Dragon as the only other vehicle that can return to earth the Soyuz has limited cargo capacity being design primarily as a crew transport..

So why was this mission important?  Since the last mission SpX-2 SpaceX have made a number of significant changes both to the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft and despite several delays the launch this week was very successful.

Falcon 9 Upgrade

Elon Musk TweetsThe Falcon 9 rocket for the first time flew with landing legs, these have been added to allow SpaceX to move a step closer to it’s goal of having a fully re-usable spacecraft in the future.  The landing legs not only allow the craft to land they also provide stabilization during the decent.  SpaceX has previously returned a first stage however during the final step the engines cut out before the roll rate was too high to allow the fuel to flow to the engines.  As Elon Musk CEO and CTO of SpaceX states to the right they will continue to perform ocean landings with the first stage until they can proof full control of the first stage, at which point return to launch pad is the goal.

Falcon 9 in SpaceX's hangar with landing legs attached.
Falcon 9 in SpaceX’s hangar with landing legs attached.

Dragon Upgrades

This is the fifth Dragon mission so far, the first two under the COTS program and the rest under the CRS program.  From the outside this spacecraft looks similar to the previously launched spacecraft however it has undergone a number of significant upgrades including upgraded avionics, redesigned cargo racks to supply more power to cargo, additional freezers to carry more critical science payloads and the ability to provide power to un-pressurized cargo carried in the trunk section.

Dragon Un-pressurized Cargo
Dragon Un-pressurized Cargo

Mission Report

Originally scheduled for December 2013 the SpX-3 mission has been delayed a number of times due to various conflicts and changes.  Once all of these conflicts and changes were resolved a new launch date was planned for April 14th, however that was aborted approximately one hour before liftoff due to a Helium leak on the Falcon 9.  SpaceX resolved this and the launch was re-scheduled to Friday April 18th.

The weather forecast for the launch was only showing a 40% chance that they would be able to launch however SpaceX continued ahead with the countdown and were able to liftoff on time as the weather improved throughout the afternoon.  Following the final pole of the mission team the spacecraft entered the final minutes of the count down and lifted off at precisely 19:25:22 UTC as expected.
The nine Merlin 1D engines roared to live lifting the rocket from the pad towards it’s LEO destination.  Three minutes after liftoff the first stage had completed it’s initial task and separated to allow the second stage Merlin 1D Vacuum engine to take over and propel Dragon the rest of the way to orbit.  Unlike all the other rockets in use today the first stage still had tasks to perform including a deceleration burn that slow it down enough to perform a controlled re-entry, after this the landing legs deploy and the spacecraft again fires it’s engines to allow a controlled decent.  ElonMuskTweet2

Initial reports from Elon Musk indicate that the spacecraft successfully returned to the Atlantic ocean with almost 0 role rate.

Due to high sea’s in the landing area we are not currently sure how much if any of the first stage was actually recovered by the ships that were waiting nearby however this is a promising step towards lowering the cost of launching spacecraft.

Meanwhile in space the second stage completed it’s mission and nine minutes after launch the Dragon spacecraft was successfully deployed in orbit.  Several minutes later we watched as the Solar Array’s successfully deployed and the spacecraft began it’s journey towards the International Space Station.  During the press conference after the launch Elon Musk did state that they had an issue with one of the Dragon thrust chambers but that had since been resolved.

Eighteen hours after launch the spacecraft approached the ISS and was successfully captured and berthed to the station.

Below are a number of images I capture from the live stream provided by SpaceX during the launch, capture and berth of the Dragon.

Weekly Space Blog 12/14

A lot has been happening this week in Space

ISS Coolant Failure
This week one of the two coolant systems on the station shutdown when a component reached a preset temperature limit.  While not posing an immediate danger to the crew on-board the shutdown did require that NASA shutdown non-critical systems on the station to ensure that nothing overheated.  Engineers are still determining what needs to be done to resolve the problem which may include a spacewalk.

Proton Launches Mobile Broadband Satellite
Last Sunday a Proton rocket lifted off from Kazakhstan carrying a powerful broadband communication satellite for London based Inmarsat, this launch marks the beginning of a next-generation fleet for the company.

Brazilian Satellite lost
A joint Chinese/Brazilian satellite was lost this week when the Long March 4B rocket failed to deploy it to the correct orbit, initial reports heralded the launch as a success but were quickly replaced with the launch failure notification.  The $250m earth observation satellite was the fourth in a series of joint adventures between the Chinese and Brazilian governments.

NASA Curiosity News
The Curiosity Rover continues to return fascinating news from the red planet.  Recent results from the ancient lakebed that it is exploring show that Mars could have been habitable in the past.  The rover is now looking for areas where erosion could have uncovered layers of martian soil that could contain organic components.

In related news NASA announced that the rover had fired it’s laser more then 100,000 times while on the planet surface.

Mars One sending Lander to Mars
Mars One who made news last year when they announced they planned to settle people on Mars by 2023 were in the news again this week.  They announced plans with Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd to develop and launch a privately funded lander to explore Mars.  Check out the full press release here.

Gaia Spacecraft enclosed in Soyuz fairing
The European Space Agencies Gaia spacecraft moved a step closed to it’s 12/19 launch this week as it was enclosed in it’s Soyuz launch fairing.  For more information on the mission check out the mission page here, we will post more information on the mission next week assuming a successful launch.

Launch pad 39A news
The commercial leasing of launch pad 39A moved a step closer following a decision by the Government Accounting Office regarding a protest by Blue Origin about the agencies fairness in the search for a long term tenant.  The launch pad currently costs NASA approximately $100,000 a month to maintain, as they no longer need the pad for future NASA missions and 39B will be used for SLS this money can be better used within the agency.

Following the GAO decision NASA announced on Friday that it has selected the SpaceX proposal and will now begin negotiations with the company regarding the lease of the launch complex. During the negotiation process NASA are not allowed to released any further information. Once the deal has been finalized we will post any additional information that is made available.

Jupiter Moon Water Geysers

An artist's illustration of Jupiter's icy moon Europa, with a water geyser erupting in the foreground while Jupiter appears as a backdrop. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest Europa may have water plumes like Saturn's moon Enceladus. Image released Dec. 12, 2013. Credit: K. Retherford, Southwest Research Institute
An artist’s illustration of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, with a water geyser erupting in the foreground while Jupiter appears as a backdrop. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest Europa may have water plumes like Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Image released Dec. 12, 2013.
Credit: K. Retherford, Southwest Research Institute

This week scientists announced that Jupiter’s moon Europa may erupt with fleeting water plumes that are more then 20 times the height of Mount Everest.

If confirmed scientists believe these could provide a way of detecting signs of life in the underground ocean that is believed to be under the thick ice of the moon.  Due to it’s proximity to Jupiter scientists believe that the core of the moon is hot enough to maintain a liquid ocean via thermal vents just like in the depth’s of earth’s oceans that surprised scientists when they discovered a vast variety of life.

To learn more about the Jovian moon, scientists analyzed ultraviolet images of Europa taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in November and December of 2012 as well as older images taken by Hubble in 1999. They concentrated on finding hydrogen and oxygen, the elements that make up water.

First Orbital Cargo Mission to launch
Orbital’s first mission under there Commercial Cargo resupply contract is preparing to launch next week 12/18.  Roll out to the launch pad is expected on Monday once any last minute items have been loaded into the Cygnus spacecraft.  Orbital are currently contracted for eight flights to the station.

Morpheus Lander first free flight successful
A prototype lander that could be used for future missions to an asteroid or other planetary object completed it’s first free flight test this week.  Following a number of tether tests to ensure all systems worked the vehicles was shipped to Kennedy Space Center so that it could begin free flight tests.  The first test occurred this week and accomplished it’s goals, check out the video of the flight here.

Titan Flyover
This week NASA released a new video based on data from the Cassini spacecraft that shows a flyover of the lakes on Titan.  Check out the full release and video here.

China’s Lunar Rover scheduled to land today
The Chang’e-3 Lunar Rover is scheduled to land on the moon today, we will post more information next week once it is available on the success or failure of the landing and any other news from the event.

Interesting Articles in the News
Elon Musk on Colonizing Mars
Understanding Mars’ Past and Current Environments
Opportunity Ascending Solander Point at Endeavour Crater

Weekly Space Blog 12/7

SpaceX third try a success
Following two delays because of technical issues during countdown SpaceX successfully launched the SES-8 spacecraft on Tuesday.  This was a critical mission for SpaceX as it was there first to GTO and also the first to require a re-light of the second stage engine to ensure the spacecraft arrived at the proper orbit.

Unlike the previous two attempts the countdown went smoothly and the spacecraft lifted off on time for approximate 9 minute climb to the initial orbit.  Once in orbit the second stage and spacecraft cruised for another 18 minutes before the second stage fired its engine for 71 seconds to place it in the correct position to release the spacecraft into it’s designated orbit.

While the final stages of the flight were not broadcast live Elon Musk sent out several tweets advising of the progress of the mission and confirmation that the spacecraft had been delivered as expected.

Next up SpaceX will be flying another mission from the Cape, this time for Thaicom this was original scheduled to fly at the end of December, however this may change because of the delays in the SES-8 flight.

China’s Chang’e-3 arrives in Lunar Orbit
The Chang’e-3 spacecraft has arrived in it’s initial Lunar Orbit less then five days after it launched aboard a Long March rocket.  The spacecraft will now prepare for a historic rocket assisted landing on the moon later this month, assuming the landing is successful China will be the third nation to land a vehicle on the moon, Japan has impacted on the moon but not landed a craft that explored further.

Orion Heat Shield Ships
As the test flight for the Orion spacecraft draws closer another major element on the craft was shipped to Kennedy Space Center to be integrated.  The Heat Shield which will protect the craft from the intense heat of reentry was shipped from Manchester, NH via a Super Guppy aircraft.

Most distantly orbiting exoplanet discovered
ooexoplanetThis week astronomers announced the discovered of an exoplanet that according to current understand of planetary formation shouldn’t even be there.  The planet HD 106906 b measures in at 11 times the mass of Jupiter and is estimated to orbit at 650 times the Earth-Sun distance.

 

Weekly Space Blog 11/16

Beyond Earth: Removing the Barriers to Deep Space Exploration round table
This week NASA’s Bill Gerstenmaier moderated a panel discussion to consider the challenges facing the U.S. space exploration program.

Panelists include:
• Julie Van Kleeck, Vice President, Space Programs, Aerojet Rocketdyne
• Charlie Precourt, Vice President & General Manager, ATK Space Launch Division
• John Elbon, Vice President & General Manager, Boeing Space Exploration
• Jim Crocker, Vice President & General Manager, Civil Space, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company

The discussion started with talk about the current progress on various aspects of Human Exploration including the importance of the International Space Station as a proving ground for technologies that will be needed for missions into deeper space.

The discussion then turned to talking about the environment between the Earth and Mars, at present we are Earth Dependent and stuck in Low Earth Orbit, between us and Mars is a proving ground that will enable us to improve upon the technologies that are already in development. Beyond that we enter into the Earth Independent zone where we need to be able to survive without a quick escape route back to Earth. Julie Van Kleeck talked about the importance of taking small steps as we expand out to Mars, “We can’t just strap it all on a single rocket and go to Mars, we need to be sure that when we get there we can land and explore.” She went to explain that the goal was to become a space-faring race.

They then talked about the progress of the SLS/Orion systems and the various missions that are coming up for the system. The first flight of Orion is less than a year away now and progressing well, the test vehicle has now been powered on and tests have started, the heat shield is in final testing and will be shipped from Boston soon. Boeing’s John Elbon also stated that SLS is currently 5 months ahead of schedule and below budget. Current estimates show that the expected $ per pound for SLS is the same as the current CRS contracts with SpaceX and Orbital*.

During the discussion it became clear that current manufacturing techniques were definitely making a big difference in the construction of both Orion and SLS and were speeding up the process while reducing the costs.

A video of the panel is available here.

* Would need to see further data to validate this statement.

MAVEN – Next Mission to Mars
MAVEN Mission LogoNext week the NASA’s next Mars Orbiter will begin it’s ten month journey to the red planet aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, the vehicle is expected to enter orbit in late September 2014.

So what is the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission and what will we learn?
The orbiter has two primary functions, firstly it will perform scientific investigations of the Martian atmosphere and it’s interactions with the Sun. Secondly it will act as another relay for the rovers currently operating on the surface of the planet, this function is currently handled by the existing orbiters Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter both of which have been in orbit for at least seven years.

What science will MAVEN do?
The spacecraft has been designed to explore the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine the role that loss of volatile compounds—such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and water—from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of Mars atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability.

For further information on MAVEN check out the mission page here.

Station crew return safely to Earth
Following a busy four days on the International Space Station which included the arrival of three new crew members, a spacewalk and the departure of three crew members the TMA-09M spacecraft landed safely in Kazakhstan, returning Fyodor Yurchikhin, Luca Parmitano and Karen Nyberg to conclude their six month mission on-board the station.

Unlike previous missions where the departing crew would have landed before the next crew members launched the roles were reversed so that the Olympic Torch could be carried to the space station and returned in a timely manner.

India Mars Mission glitch
The Indian Mars Missions failed to change it’s orbit as expected this week due to a shutdown of the main engine sooner than expected. Following a review of the data mission controllers were able to perform an additional engine firing place the craft back in the correct orbit to allow it’s journey to the red planet to proceed.

Why is Commercial Crew Important?
During the Beyond Space (check name) panel discussion earlier this week one of the speakers mention that he had recently been to the Baikonur Cosmodrome to watch a Soyuz launch and commented on the fact that at present there are only two options for getting crew into space, neither of which was American.

While the main discussion at this panel was around the SLS and Orion vehicles being created by NASA I think that we need to take a different approach and consider why Commercial Crew is just as if not more important than the government owed option.

If we look at the airline, car, train industries there are multiple manufacturers of vehicles that are used to transport people, having multiple companies creates competition which has the result of lowering costs but also with the correct regulation improves safety. Take for instance the car industry the manufacturers pride themselves on the safety ratings their cars achieve.

The same would eventually apply to Commercial Crew, with more companies involved in the manufacturer and launch of crewed missions there will be more options available to both government and commercial companies to launch into orbit. As Julie Van Kleeck said during the panel discussion we need to take the steps necessary to becoming a space-faring people, this will not happen if we only have government launchers and crewed vehicles.

At present there are three clear leaders on the commercial crew field Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX each of who are operating under Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreements with NASA to build commercial crewed vehicles.

There are other companies working on crewed options including Virgin Galactic, XCor and Blue Origin most of these are currently focused on sub-orbital craft.

The future for crewed missions is looking brighter each day, especially when you consider that SpaceX has made it very clear there long term goals are to land crewed missions on Mars.

SpaceX CRS-3 to carry Spacesuits
The next SpaceX mission to the station will be utilized to carry a new Spacesuit to the station as well as return a broken suit. Originally the plan was to return the suit that Luca wore during his aborted spacewalk, however after careful troubleshooting the astronauts on the station were able to repair that suit using parts that were delivered to the station with recent cargo and crew arrivals.

At present there are four suits on the station only three are usable, the other is the one that will be returned allowing engineer’s on the ground to diagnose and resolve the problem.

At present the launch of CRS-3 is tentatively scheduled for 2/11/14, however that date may change depending on the actual launch of two other SpaceX missions scheduled for the end of this year, the next of which has just been delayed from 22nd Nov to 25th.

NASA Celebrates Successful end of COTS
This week NASA celebrated the completion of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), the program that helped fund Orbital Sciences and SpaceX in the development of the Cygnus and Dragon spacecraft was successfully concluded following a successful demonstration mission by the Cygnus spacecraft last month. Check out a video from NASA here.

NASA also announced that on Nov 19th they will be issuing a final Request for Proposals for the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. This contract is to ensure competing companies can meet NASA safety requirements for Crewed Missions and is expected to conclude with actual manned flights to the International Space Station before 2017.

Weekly Space Blog 11/9

India’s first Mars Orbiter Mangalyaan launched successfully
This week India successfully launched their first Mars Orbiter called Mangalyaan, the spacecraft was launched by a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket (PSLV) from India’s launch site, Satish Dhawan Space Center.  If all goes well the spacecraft is due to arrive in Sept 2014 and will make India only the fourth nation to explore the red planet.  There are five instruments on board to study the atmosphere and surface.

8+ Billion Goldilocks Planet’s in Milky Way
Astronomers using data from NASA have estimated that within just the Milky Way there are potentially 8.8 Billion planets within the Goldilocks zone of their star and also about the right size for life to survive.  For more information check out the full article here.

The “Goldilocks” zone around a star is where a planet is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water. Illustration by Petigura/UC Berkeley, Howard/UH-Manoa, Marcy/UC Berkeley.
The “Goldilocks” zone around a star is where a planet is neither too hot nor too cold to support liquid water. Illustration by Petigura/UC Berkeley, Howard/UH-Manoa, Marcy/UC Berkeley.

Station Crew increases to Nine
For the first time since the last Shuttle Mission to the station there are currently more than six crew members on the station, with the arrival of Mikhail Tyurin, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata, aboard there Soyuz TMA-11M a busy week of activities has begun, which will include a spacewalk and three crew members departing the station.

As well as bringing the new crew to the station the Soyuz also carried a replica of the Olympic torch which will be taken outside today during a spacewalk. Upon completion of the spacewalk the torch will then return to earth with Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano who are scheduled to depart tomorrow on their TMA-09M spacecraft..

Olympic Torch Relay on ISS
The nine crew members currently aboard the space station representing four different countries America, Russia, Japan and Italy performed an improvised Olympic Torch relay on the station this week. They each took turns to float through the station before passing the torch to the next crew member.

MAVEN spacecraft attached to Launch Rocket
Getting a step closer to it’s November 18th launch the MAVEN spacecraft has now been attached to it’s launch rocket. Assembly of the Atlas 5 rocket was completed with the attachment of the spacecraft and will now undergo final checkouts and testing in preparation for the launch. Next week we will be focusing primarily on the MAVEN mission.

ESA Satellite to re-enter earth’s atmosphere
The European GOCE satellite which has been in orbit since March 2009 is due to re-enter sometime on Sunday evening and while most of the craft will burn up harmlessly as it enters there is the possibility that some smaller pieces will fall down to the surface. As the spacecraft doesn’t have re-enter engines it is not possible for the scientists to determine exactly where any pieces may fall.

NBC to broadcast first Virgin Spaceflight
This week Virgin Galactic announced that NBC would be broadcasting the first commercial flight of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle which will be carrying Richard and his two adult children Sam and Holly. There will be a prime-time special the day before the flight as well as a live three hour show during the actual launch.

And finally
One of my roles is to help maintain the web site for the Mars Foundation, this week we launched a new version of our site. Check it out here.

Weekly Space Blog 11/2

We are back after a rather long delay due to upgrading to Windows 8.1 and losing everything that was installed on the machine :(…

Cygnus completes COTS demo mission
The Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft completed it’s final test mission under the C.O.T.S program with a fiery end during re-entry to earth’s atmosphere.  Following a week delay because of an issue during the initial attempt to dock the rest of the mission was very successful with all the cargo being offloaded and trash that was no longer needed being placed in the vehicle.  Orbital are now gearing up for the first of eight Commercial Resupply mission’s under the $1.9 billion contract awarded by NASA, currently scheduled for the end of the year.

ATV-4 completes mission
The fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle Albert Einstein completed it’s mission to the ISS this week, having delivered seven tonnes of cargo to the complex and having been docked for four months the vehicle un-docked from the Russian Zvezda module and like the Cygnus vehicle will meet a fiery end when it re-enters the atmosphere later today.

Soyuz TMA-09M relocated
In preparation for the next manned crew to arrive at ISS the Soyuz TMA-09M which brought Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano was moved from the Rassvet mini-research module to the port freed up on Zvezda following the ATV un-docking.

Typically three members of the current crew leave the station and land before the next three members of the crew launch, however because of the Olympic torch event coming up next week this will be the first time since the last Shuttle mission where more than six people will be on the station at the same time.

Next Station Crew arrive in Kazakhstan
In preparation for their launch to the ISS the next crew consisting of Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, American astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome for their flight on Nov 7.  They will spent the next week preparing for their mission, and following a six hour flight will dock to the station.

The crew will be carrying a replica of the Olympic Torch which will be handed off to Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky who will then take it outside the space station during a space walk on Nov 9.  The torch will then return with Yurchikhin, Nyberg  and Parmitano when they depart the station Nov 10 and will then be used during the opening ceremonies at the Sochi games in Feb 2014.

Dream Chaser crash lands
During it’s first free flight test the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser performed perfectly right up to the point where the landing gear deployed, for some reason the left landing gear did not deploy, which caused the vehicle to skid off the runway.

However during the flight Sierra Nevada were able to gather a load of very valuable data from the instrumentation on the craft and verify that it could fly autonomously.  During the landing the craft detected the problem with the landing gear and was able to keep the left wing in the air as long as possible before it finally dropped causing the craft to to skid off the runway.  Sierra announced after the accident the the internal structures in the vehicle had not been damaged during the accident and they were confident it could fly again if need to further validate the design.

Orion spacecraft powered up
The first Orion spacecraft that will fly in space was powered up for the first time this week.  The vehicle which is currently scheduled to fly some time between Sept 18 and Oct 18 2014 was activated to allow testing on the main control computers to begin.

MAVEN readied for launch
NASA’s next mission to Mars the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft is just 16 days away from launch, NASA held a press conference this week to discuss the mission and it’s goals.  Check out the conference here, we will have more news next week.

First Earth-sized Rocky Exoplanet Found
This week astronomers announced the discovery of Kepler-78b a earth sized rocky planet orbiting Kepler-78, however the planet orbits every 8.5 hours making it far too hot to support life.  For more information on the new discovery check out the full article here.

ooKepler-78b

Most Distant Galaxy Discovered
This week astronomers announced the discovery of the most distant galaxy found so far.  The galaxy is seen as it was just 700 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only about 5 percent of its current age of 13.8 billion years.

Artist's Rendition: Galaxy z8-GND-5296
Artist’s Rendition: Galaxy z8-GND-5296 (©UC RIVERSIDE)

NASA sets Data Transmission record
One of the payloads on the LADEE spacecraft is a Laser Based communication system, during testing NASA set a record of 622 megabits per second. Laser based communications will significantly increase the amount of data that can be transmitted between spacecraft and the ground.