Another week has come and gone and the stories continue to flow in, this week we have a number of exciting stories plus four Kickstarter projects related to space.
Bold New Plan for first SLS/Orion Launch
This week NASA managers announced the new plan which would see the first uncrewed mission named EM-1 travel to 40,000 miles beyond the moon. Due to the change in the mission it will not take approximately 25 days to complete, with 18 of those used for the travel time and the rest performing tests at the destination point. For more information check out the full article here.
Curiosity on the Move
The Mars Rover Curiosity has begun it’s epic drive to Mt. Sharp, expected to take the next year to complete the rover is making a 5 mile journey to a spot which will allow it access Mt. Sharp’s lower reaches. Check out the latest new on the rover here.
Mars Rover 2020 Plans announced
This week a NASA Science Team outlined the goals for the next Rover to head to Mars, based on the same design as Curiosity the rover will look for signs of past life on Mars as well as collect samples for a possible future Sample Return mission. Check out the press release here and more information is available here.
Ariane 6 News
This week European Ministers approved the start of preparatory activities for Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 launch vehicle. For more information on the rocket design and goals check out the press release here.
NASA’s Polar Robotic Ranger
Rover succeeds in the harsh environment of Greenland a new NASA Rover passed a series of tests. Known as GROVER for Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, it was designed by a team of students attending boot camps at Goddard. Despite the harsh weather the rover performed well during the 5 weeks of testing. For addition information check out the article here.
ISS Space Walk
This week Astronauts Christopher Cassidy and Luca Parmitano completed the 170th Space Walk devoted to station assembly and maintenance. Chris was performing his four space walk while this was Luca’s first. They were able to perform all the originally planned tasks for the walk as well as several get-ahead tasks. Both will be suiting up again on Tuesday for another spacewalk.
Astronomer’s witness birth of Star
Scientists using the new ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) telescope in Chile witness the birth of a massive star approximately 10,000 light years from earth in a dark cloud core. The star is 500 times the mass of our Sun and brighter making it one of the largest stars in our galaxy. For more information check out the full article here.
Solar System Tail Viewed
Using the IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft scientists have been able to map out the structure of the tail that our solar system produces. We have seen similar tails around other stars but until now have not been able to determine if our own star actually had one. For more information check out the article here.
Future ISS Crew Members Announced
This week NASA and it’s International Partners in the space station announced three new crew members who will launch in June 2015 and make up part of the Expedition 44/45 crews aboard the station. The three are NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Japanese Exploration Aerospace Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. For more information and the full bio’s for the crew members check out the article here.
Hubble Spots Blue Planet
Astronomers using the Hubble telescope have for the first time been able to determine the color of a planet orbiting an distance star. The planet called HD 189733b if viewed up close would be a cobalt blue color similar to Earth when viewed from space. However unlike Earth this is a Gas Giant that is orbiting very close to its star. Check out the full article here.
Solar Tsunami used to measure Sun’s Magnetic Field
The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the Japanese Hinode spacecraft have been used to provide the first accurate estimates of the Sun’s magnetic field. The Tsunami’s are created by massive explosions in the Sun’s atmosphere and by observing the effects of these they were able to determine that the Sun’s magnetic field is ten times weaker than a fridge magnet. For more information check out the article here.
Dream Chaser News
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) have completed the initial tow tests of their Dream Chaser spacecraft which is in the running for Commercial Crew missions to the ISS. The initial tests are designed to validate the performance of the craft and it’s equipment. For futher information check out the article here.
It would seem that following the success of the ARKYD project on Kickstarter a number of others have started new projects for Space related missions.
CAT – A Thruster for CubeSats
LunarSail – World First Lunar Sail Mission
Moon Spacecraft – Send your own Spacecraft to the Moon
Another busy week in space
Cassini captures picture of Saturn Moon Janus
This week Cassini returned a picture of one of Saturn’s small lumpy moon’s named Janus, the moon doesn’t have sufficient gravity to pull itself into a round shape as seen with most other moons. For more pictures of the moon check out the web page here.
Ad Astra VF-200 Reaches important review milestone
This week Ad Astra Rocket Company announced that they had completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for their 200kW engine design for testing in space. After more than a year of planning the Ad Astra Engineers and Physicists as well as NASA engineers completed the review. The PDR incorporates the knowledge gained over several years from the VX-200 test engine as well as multiple conceptual designs carried out by Ad Astra. This is an important step towards the flight of the VF-200 engine on the International Space Station in the future. For further information check out the press release here.
Three articles appeared this week regarding ExoPlanets. The first reported the findings of a study by the University of Chicago suggests that the habitable zone of ExoPlanets can be extended by cloud behavior on the planet. The results show that the influence of cloud cover could double the number of habitable planets found around Red Dwarf starts meaning that in our galaxy alone there could be 60+ billion planets. For more information check out the press release here.
The second report Astronomers have uncovered the hidden identity of an ExoPlanet orbiting the star HD 97658. Based on there observations they estimate the planet HD 97658b is between 2 and 8 times the size of Earth, while the planet itself is not new the size and mass of the planet is. For more information check out the article here.
The third article to appear relates not to actual ExoPlanet’s but instead to their moons, the search for ExoMoons. A team led by Dr. David Kipping at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has jumped at this challenge. For further information check out the paper here.
World Premiere of IMAX 3D Hidden Universe
This week saw the World Premiere of the new IMAX 3D movie Hidden Universe. Check out the official web site for more information and current locations to see it.
Following a frantic finish including a four hour live presentation and $100,000 donation from Richard Branson the Planetary Resources team raised over $1.6m for the telescope. They are currently planning to launch an grace period to allow those who weren’t able to contribute to still be involved. Check out the page here.
Indian PSLV Launch
This week a Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carrier the first of the Indian Regional Satellite Navigation System spacecraft into orbit. Following a successful launch the spacecraft was placed into the expected transfer orbit. The system will eventually consist of four spacecraft and will provide navigation accuracy to India to about 20 meters.
Proton Launch Failure
The Russian space program suffered a major setback this week when one of their unmanned Proton rockets failed 20 seconds into it’s mission. The rocket launched as expected but very soon it was clear something was very wrong when the craft veered to the left and then right before breaking apart and exploding. Future flights of the Proton have been suspending pending the outcome of a review to determine what caused the failure.
ISS Changes position for Solar Science
This week the International Space Station changed it’s position to accommodate Solar Science research being performed by European Scientists into what the solar activities mean for our planet. Check out the full article here.
SpaceX completed two more milestones
SpaceX announced this week that they had completed two more milestones in their CCiCap plan towards manned spaceflight using the Dragon vehicle. In the first milestone SpaceX outlined the steps they will take towards certifying there system for human spaceflight. In the second they outlined the plan for their Pad Abort test which will demonstrate the ability for the Dragon Spacecraft to fly away from the Falcon Rocket should something go wrong during launch. For more information check out the press release here and while you are there check out NASA new web site layout.
NASA lays out plans for Commercial Crew Test Flights
This week NASA announced their plans for the actual test flights utilizing Commercial Vehicles to the International Space Station. These flights will include NASA astronauts onboard and result in a visit to the ISS. The new test phase called CCtCap is expected to kick off next summer and will include at least one crewed test flight. For further information check out the press release here.
Two new Pluto Moon names revealed
This week the two newest of Pluto’s five known moon were named Kerberos and Styx. The names were actually placed second and third in an international competition to name the moons, however the winning entry Vulcan was vetoed by the International Astronomy Union.
Cluster detects elusive Solar Wind
The Cluster spacecraft has provided conclusive evidence of a space wind proposed 20 years ago. Analysis of the data returned by the spacecraft showed a slow but steady wind releasing about 1kg of plasma from the plasmasphere around our planet. For more information check out he article here.
Gemini Observatory New Optics
Astronomers recently got their hands on Gemini Observatory’s revolutionary new adaptive optics system, called GeMS, “and the data are truly spectacular!” says Robert Blum, Deputy Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory with funding by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
For further information check out the full article here.
Opportunity just keeps going
The Mars Rover Opportunity has reached the half way mark of it’s journey to “Solander Point.” where mission control plans for it to spend the next Martian Winter. The rover which touched down on the red planet Jan 24, 2004 to begin a 90 sol (Martian Day) mission is rapidly approaching 10 years on the planet.
NASA readies rescue plan for Kepler
The team behind the successful Kepler mission announced this week that they will being trying to revive the spacecraft mid to late July.
I have decided to change this section to list some of the great video(s) that I find during the week. Enjoy
Lots of great news this week
Herschel ends operations
This week the Herschel team send the final commands to shutdown the spacecraft following a series of tests that were performed on the spacecraft after the primary mission finished because of the depletion of the helium coolant that cooled the primary instruments. Since April the team have been using the spacecraft to test control techniques that can’t normally be performed in flight.
For more on Herschel check out it page here.
ATV-4 Albert Einstein Docks to Space Station
The Albert Einstein cargo ship that successfully launched on two weeks ago arrived at the Space Station last Saturday. Following a 10 day transit to the station it automatically docked to the Russian Service module and once leak checks were completed the six crew members were able to access the vehicle to begin unloading the cargo.
New Horizons News
Following a year of analysis the New Horizon’s and NASA teams have concluded that they do not need to change the trajectory of the spacecraft as it approaches Pluto. Scheduled to arrive in 2015 they feared that the dust around Pluto could cause damage to the spacecraft and they launched an investigation to determine if anything needed to be done.
LEGO Curiosity on the way
LEGO announced this week that they will be releasing a model of the Mars Rover Curiosity from there CUUSOO production line. More information on the design can be found here, I wasn’t able to find an exact launch date yet but will update on a future blog once more details are available.
NASA Announces 2013 Astronaut Class
NASA announced the latest class of Astronauts candidates this week, the eight were selected from over 6100 applications the second largest ever. They will begin preparing for low-Earth, Asteroid and Mars missions in the future. Half the candidates are women a first for NASA.
The eight candidates are:-
Josh A. Cassada, Ph. D., 39.
Victor J. Glover, 37, Lt. Commander, U.S. Navy.
Tyler N. Hague (Nick), 37, Lt. Colonel, U.S. Air Force.
Christina M. Hammock, 34.
Nicole Aunapu Mann, 35, Major, U.S. Marine Corps.
Anne C. McClain, 34, Major, U.S. Army.
Jessica U. Meir, Ph.D., 35.
Andrew R. Morgan, M.D., 37, Major, U.S. Army.
More info can be found here.
Mars Curiosity Billion Pixel View
Click on the Image to see the full picture and use the tools to look around the environment that Curiosity is currently operating in.
ISS 3D Printer Update
The 3D Printer that is destined for the International Space Station next year passed a series of Critical Microgravity Test flights recently. The printer which will be used on the station to test 3D printing functionality on the station will allow future missions to create parts etc that have failed.
NASA begin SLS Preliminary Design Review
This review once complete will allow the SLS design to move from concept to actual design. The review involved analysis of the complete concept to determine if there are any problems and how to address them. The review is expected to take several weeks to complete and is an important milestone in the road to launch. For more information check out the new feed here.
ARKYD Kickstarter Funded
The ARKYD Kickstarter project passed the $1m goal this week with more than 12,000 funders, to celebrate Planetary Resources announced additional stretch goals with the hope of raising a total of $2m with 8 days left to go. Check out the project here and if you haven’t yet please join this exciting project.
NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge
This week NASA announced the Asteroid Grand Challenge to utilize multiple disciplines working together to identify threats to earth from Near Earth Asteroids. Further information can be found here.
This week the Pegasus XL rocket that will propel NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph spacecraft, or IRIS, into orbit to study how the sun’s atmosphere is energized, was attached to the L-1011 carrier aircraft that will air drop it on 6/26. Once released the three stage solid fuel rocket will place the spacecraft in orbit.
This week SpaceX sign military agreement, Chinese Astronauts, Chris Hadfield, Opportunity and Kepler keep giving, and much more.
This week SpaceX signed a framework agreement for potential Military launches in the future. Under the agreement the air force will evaluate the Falcon v1.1 rocket over at least three launches as well as all the processes, procedures etc involved in create the vehicles. Once the evaluation period is complete SpaceX may have the chance to compete for future launches.
Chinese Launch and Docking
On Tuesday this week three Chinese Astronauts successfully launched to Orbit aboard a Long March 2F rocket, once in orbit the spacecraft made it’s way to the Tiangong 1 space station arriving on Thursday. Following a successful automated docking the three Astronauts made there way into the station to begin 15 days of work. During their stay at the station they will perform a manual undock and redock as well as numerous scientific experiments before heading back to earth.
This week the Mars Opportunity Rover team announced that they believe they have found clay minerals in a rock recently examined by the rover. The team explained that their presence is an indication that the rock had been altered by long term exposure to water. Although they have found indications of water since arriving on the planet they explained that this was different because it indicated a neutral pH balance where as previous examples had higher pH balances.
The Rover has been operating on Mars for 9+ years, over 35 times longer than originally designed and recently broke the US distance record on another planetary object.
In this panorama, Solander Point is the near peak on the left of the horizon. It is more than a kilometre away from Opportunity’s current position and the rover would hope to arrive by August
More Kepler planet candidate announced
The Kepler team announced another 503 planet candidates this week, some which may be the right size and distance from their star to support life.
The Kepler team continue to analyze the vast amounts of data they have already received from the four+ years of operations.
The Kepler spacecraft is currently operating in a Point Rest State due to the failure of a second gyroscope that is used to stabilize the craft, and a team has been formed to determine what course of action can be taken to restore some if not all the scientific operations of the Vehicle.
Chris Hadfield announces resignation
This week Chris Hadfield announced his resignation from the Canadian Space Agency after 21 years at the agency. Chris who recently returned from a six month mission to the space station the last part which was served as Commander, became well known for the amazing pictures that he tweeted from space.
Chris and his family have spent many years in Houston working with NASA and will be returning to his native Canada to enjoy his retirement.
Planetary Resources announce stretch goal
Planetary Resources announced via their Kickstarter ARKYD page an ambitious stretch goal for the campaign. If they are able to raise $2 million by the 30th June they then will add ExoPlanet detection capabilities to the spacecraft. Check out the project here.
That’s all for this week, will be plenty more next week.
Yesterday we visited Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for the Touch Tomorrow festival, there were lots of activities for the kids to do and some fun exhibits for everyone to learn about advances in robotics. The event sponsored by NASA was an opportunity for people to learn about the Space Launch System (SLS), visit a Moon Landscape and see various robots competing in the NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge, check out this video of the event. NASA setup a number of stamp stations around the campus and kids could win a prize if they collected 4 or more stamps.
There were various exhibits setup around the campus of WPI and in various buildings, as we walked around the site there were opportunities to learn by building or creating various items including Dome Structures made of Gum Drops and Toothpicks, Paper airplanes, Slime, etc. There were a number of different robotic technologies on display some created by WPI staff and students others created by NASA. A fall size model of Curiosity was on display in the main courtyard, it was amazing to see just how big it is and brought home to me just how challenging it was to land on the surface of mars.
The highlight of the day for me was getting the opportunity to hear Astronaut Captain Stephen G. Bowen, veteran of three spaceflights on the shuttle and seven spacewalks. Stephen showed two video’s during his talk from STS-132 and STS-133 as well as talked about his work on the space station. During the talk he told us that during one of his spacewalks Houston told him to hold for a moment as they needed to assess something, he knew it would take a while before they got back to him so had time to just look down at the Earth below. At one point he showed a picture with four astronauts two who were holding coffee pouches which had Yesterday’s Coffee and Today’s Coffee written on them, he then went on to explain how they recycle ALL the water on the station which draw a number of Eww’s from the crowd. During the video’s we got to see the lighter side of the work the Astronauts do as they played games on the station/shuttle and enjoyed meals together. The question is did they ever find all those skittles that were floating around?
After his talk Stephen answered several questions from the crowd, including how did it feel to launch on the shuttle, he wasn’t really able to describe it except to say that you feel a lot of pressure as you go up, almost three G’s and then are suddenly weightless. However he did say the only way to really understand it was to experiencing it yourself.
Following the successful launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket the next ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle is currently on it’s way to the ISS. Following a 10 day journey to the station it will dock and the cargo transfers will begin. The ATV is the largest cargo vehicle available to the ISS with a capacity three times that of Progress and twice of the Dragon, included in the vehicle is fuel, air and water as well as the cargo.
Welcome to my new weekly blog on all things Space, this week we take a look at the latest Soyuz launch to the International Space Station, the ARKYD Kickstarter project and Astronaut Abby a 15 year old with an amazing vision for STEM and Space.
On Tuesday this week Karen Nyberg, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Luca Parmitano launched about there Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from Kazakhstan on an accelerated six hour journey to the space station. This is the second time a Soyuz has used the express rendezvous to the station which cuts down the time spent in the Soyuz from two days. They join current station crew members Chris Cassidy, Alexander Misurkin, and Pavel Vinogradov to complete the Expedition 36 crew.
The crew have a very busy increment coming up with a number of visiting vehicles and five space walks as well as the hundreds of science experiments that are performed each day.
On Wednesday this week Planetary Resources announced the launch of there ARKYD: A Space Telescope for Everyone Kickstarter project. The goal of the project is to raise $1,000,000 to provide a Space Telescope for citizen science, as of writing they had already raised $600,000+ with 6000+ backers. There are multiple sponsorship levels available from $25 for a photo from the spacecraft or yourself with the Earth in the background to $10,000 for a very neat package (check out the page).
I have signed on to this project at the $65 level and would encourage anyone who has dreamed of being involved in space to get involved.
And finally this week we meet Astronaut Abby who has just completed an amazing trip to Russia and Kazakhstan to watch the Soyuz launch. She recently raised $35,000 through the RocketHub CrowdFunding site to “Inspire Future Generations”, she will be using the money raised to provide classroom visits and share her vision to be the first Astronaut on Mars.
In addition she has been selected to be Astronaut Luca Parmitano’s Earth Liason while he is on the space station. Abby will be communicating regularly with Luca and will be posting updates about his adventure. When asked Luca said that he selected Abby for her passion for space and reaching her dream and that one day he would be training her to be an Astronaut.
This week I wanted to vent my frustration about the SLS/Orion project at NASA, here we have a new rocket system that current estimates say will cost in excess of $41B for four launches by 2025 for the 70 metric tonne version, the 130 metric tonne version isn’t expected to be ready until 2030. Next year SpaceX is expected to launch the Falcon Heavy which will cost significantly less money and will be capable of launching 53 metric tonnes, it seems very likely that by 2025 SpaceX could have greater launch capacity then SLS will have.
In addition the Orion Space capsule which has already had structure problems during pressure testing only has a four person crew capacity which while being one more than Soyuz and other current space capsules is three less than the planned Dragon Crew Capsule, the Dreamchaser vehicle or the Boeing CST-100. The first planned uncrewed launch for the capsule will be next year and the first crewed mission isn’t expected until 2021. Again by this time one or more of the capsules mentioned above will have already launched multiple crews to the ISS and I know SpaceX have plans to go beyond LEO with Dragon.
It seems at this point it would be more logically to invest some of the $41B in SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Boeing to improve their vehicles and the rest of the money in Planetary Science to go explore the Europa or Titan.
This morning SpaceX successfully launched their latest Falcon 9 witth Dragon towards the international space station. Following an aborted launch on Saturday that was traced back to a faulty value on engine 5 SpaceX successfully fixed, validated and prepared for launch this morning.
After the 9 minute ride to orbit which was performed flawlessly by Falcon 9 the Dragon spacecraft was successfully separated and deployed it’s Solar Array’s. This was the first of many new systems on Dragon which will be tested during this mission. During the press conference after launch NASA and SpaceX confirmed that Dragon has also performed it’s first burn procedure successfully as it starts it journey to catch up with the space station.
Over the next few days they have a lot more work to complete including the critical opening of the bay door that contains the probes and capture device used by the station’s robotic arm to grapple Dragon when it is close enough to the station. Once Dragon arrives at the station on Thursday it will perform a number of procedures under the COTS Demo 2 mission plan to confirm that it can operate successfully near the station without cause danger to the station or it’s crew. Upon successful completion of these objectives and with approval from NASA Dragon will then proceed to the COTS Demo 3 objectives which include berthing at the station.
The next few days are going to be very exciting for the Commercial Cargo program at NASA but incredible nerve racking as SpaceX execute all the tests needed for a successful mission.
In just over three weeks SpaceX is scheduled to launch their second and hopefully last COTS demo mission. Today we are going to take a look in detail at the Dragon spacecraft and what a successful mission will mean for SpaceX and the US space industry in general.
Designed and built by SpaceX the Dragon space capsule which has already flown one successful mission, upon completion of that mission SpaceX were the first commercial company to launch a spacecraft and successfully return it to earth. While the initial missions for Dragon are for cargo, the craft has been designed from the beginning to allow crewed missions too.
The Dragon space capsule has a launch cargo capacity of 6,000 kg in cargo version and can support up to 7 crew in the crew version. The payload capacity is split between pressurized and unpressurized as shown in the image on the right. Once the craft reaches orbit the solar panels will deploy from the unpressurized section ( the blue area at the bottom ) and provide power to the craft.
Recently NASA performed a crew equipment interface test (CEIT), this allowed NASA astronaut Megan McArthur to work inside the pressurized part of the craft as part of her training for a future mission to the station. SpaceX also completed their own Wet Dress rehearsal where the fully configured Falcon 9 with the Dragon capsule were taken out to the Launch pad, erected into launch position and fully fueled before the countdown proceeded to T-5 seconds.
Assuming there are no problems found during the Flight Readiness review on April 16th then SpaceX are scheduled to be launching on April 30th, once in orbit Dragon will complete a series of tests as it approaches the station culminating in a capture and docking. For this mission Dragon is scheduled to stay at the station for around 30 days as the crew unload cargo and then place items due to be returned to earth. Unlike the other cargo vehicles that visit the station Dragon will actually return all the way to earth initial in the pacific ocean, with plans to use the thrusters in the future to land back on land.
While the last demo flight for Dragon was well over a year ago now, SpaceX have not been sitting around doing nothing, they have had a lot of work to do to make sure Dragon operates correctly when approaching the Space Station and ensuring a save and successful mission.
In addition to that they have been very busy working on the crew version including testing the unique crew escape system which will be built into the side of the vehicle and will for the first time allow escape all the way to orbit, and can be used for powered landing on earth or other destinations. SpaceX recently completed their first NASA Crew trail where 7 crew entered the vehicle and strapped in as they would for launch, as the pictures below show there is plenty of room inside.
I believe the future both for SpaceX and the US Launch industry looks very bright. In additional to all these activities the company is also working on their Falcon Heavy launcher, working towards fully reusable launch vehicles, have a large manifest of launches already booked and have been profitable. In addition Elon Musk recently said that he believes eventually they will be able to launch people to Mars for $500,000.
In the meantime all eyes will be on Kennedy Space Center for the rest of this month as SpaceX enter the final countdown towards their launch.
The information in this article is the personal opinion of the author and any future statements are based on information that is freely available on the internet.
Copyright Notices: All the images used in this article are the property of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and are also available on there website www.spacex.com.