Weekly Space Blog 5/30

Sea Launch successfully launches Eutelsat Satellite

The Zenit 3SL rocket lifts off from the Odyssey launch platform at 2110 GMT (5:10 p.m. EDT) Monday. Photo credit: Sea Launch
The Zenit 3SL rocket lifts off from the Odyssey launch platform at 2110 GMT (5:10 p.m. EDT) Monday. Photo credit: Sea Launch

Following a 15 month gap between mission’s Sea Launch returned on Monday to successfully launch a 6.6 ton Eutelsat 3B satellite.  The Zenit 3SL rocket lifted off successfully and following a nominal flight successfully deployed the satellite to orbit.

The communication’s satellite will now use it’s engine’s to transfer to it’s final operation orbit at 22,300 miles where it will serve markets in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America.

Built by Airbus Defence and Space it carries 30 Ku-band, 12 C-band and nine Ka-band transponders which will allow it to broadcast television, internet and data services.

 

Mars Opportunity Update

Opportunity Explores Region of Aluminum Clay Minerals  – sols 3657-3662, May 08, 2014-May 13, 2014:

Opportunity is exploring south of ‘Solander Point’ on the west rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover is exploring the region of aluminum-hydroxyl clay minerals seen from orbit.

On Sol 3657 (May 8, 2014), Opportunity collected a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic of the surface outcrop, called ‘Ash Meadows,’ then placed the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) for a multi-sol integration. On Sol 3659 (May 10, 2014), the rover drove just under 85 feet (26 meters) to the east, approaching a region of extended outcrop as a possible site for clay minerals. Also, Opportunity tested the new two-second spacecraft clock correction sequence. Over the next two sols, the rover collected an atmospheric argon measurement with the APXS and performed two more one-second-clock corrections.

On Sol 3662 (May 13, 2014), Opportunity bumped 7 feet (2 meters) forward to approach an exposed rock outcrop for further in-situ (contact) investigation.

As of Sol 3662, the solar array energy production was 761 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.621, and an improved solar array dust factor of 0.964. Perfectly clean solar arrays would have a dust factor of 1.0, so the larger the dust factor, the cleaner the arrays.

Total odometry is 24.49 miles (39.41 kilometers).

NASA Releases book on Communicating with Aliens

Addressing a field that has been dominated by astronomers, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists, the contributors to this collection raise questions that may have been overlooked by physical scientists about the ease of establishing meaningful communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence.

More information and links to the books can be found here.

SpaceX complete’s qualification of SuperDraco Thruster

SpaceX have completed qualification of their SuperDraco thruster after completing a series of hot fire tests.  The thruster will be incorporated in the second version of Dragon which was unveiled on Thursday this week, see my previous post on the unveiling.

Next Orbital Cygnus flight delayed

To allow Aerojet Rocketdyne more time to investigate the recent AJ26 engine failure during testing Orbital has announced that their next mission to ISS has been delayed to No Earlier Than (NET) June 17th.  A final launch date and time will be announced once the investigation has concluded and depending if there are any changes needed because of the investigation.

New Station Crew successfully launched

On Wednesday the next International Space Station (ISS) crew were successfully launched and six hours later docked to the station.  See my previous post for more details including images of the liftoff, docking and hatch opening.

SpaceX unveils Dragon v2 – Crew Vehicle

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The Dragon V2 spacecraft

This evening Elon Musk unveiled the next version of the Dragon spacecraft designed to take crews to the International Space Station and beyond.  The crewed version of Dragon has undergone quite a transformation from the first version which was hanging above the crowd during the unveiling.  The spacecraft is much bigger then before, has SuperDraco thruster which will serve both as an Emergency Escape System should there be an issue during ride to orbit as a propulsive landing mechanism allowing the crew module to return to land at the completion of it’s mission.  The crew module can carry up to seven passengers and the interior has a very modern looking interface with touch screen technology, with critical functions being available as button’s for emergencies.

The touch screen interfaces with emergency manual button interface in the middle.
The touch screen interfaces with emergency manual button interface in the middle.

Elon also said that with the addition of the SuperDraco thrusters it is now possible for Dragon to land anywhere in the world with the accuracy of a helicopter.

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Elon Musk inside the Dragon V2 spacecraft

During the reveal Elon explained that the spacecraft still has parachutes which would be used in the case that the SuperDraco engines failed during landing.  The spacecraft has been designed to be fully re-usable and once landed should only need to be re-fueled and attached to a Falcon 9 rocket to fly again.  As part of this Elon revealed that they are now on version three of there heatshield technology which will further reduce the damage of re-entry.

Dragon V2 arriving at station with Dragon Cargo already attached
Dragon V2 arriving at station with Dragon Cargo already attached

During the animation demonstrating the abilities of Dragon V2 we saw the spacecraft docking to the station using the same mechanism that the Space Shuttle utilized.  There was also a cargo Dragon attached to the station when the new version arrived.

Elon also explained that the SuperDraco thrusters were 160 times more powerful than the Draco thrusters that are used to maneuver when in space, there are four pairs on the vehicle and each is isolated so a failure won’t cause problems for the other.  He also revealed that the thrusters were fully 3D printed.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a question and answer time during the presentation and no detailed about when the first flight will be.

Below are more images captured of the unveiling.

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Weekly Space Blog 5/23

SpaceX Dragon completes successful mission

Last Sunday at 3:05pm the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully completed it’s CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a splashdown in the Pacific ocean.

Dragon CRS-3 SplashdownLaunched on April 18th aboard a Falcon 9 rocket the Dragon spacecraft, carrying nearly 5,000 lbs of supplies and payloads including two in the un-pressurized trunk, the craft was deployed to orbit following the successful launch.  On April 20th the craft was captured by the station’s robot arm and berthed allowing access to the cargo.  On Sunday the craft was unberthed from the station carrying 3,500 lbs or cargo.  After successfully backing away from the station, later in the day the craft was commanded executed de-orbit burn which concluded with the splashdown.

This was the longest orbital mission so far for Dragon at 29 days, 23 hours and 40 minutes.

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

On Tuesday the spacecraft arrived at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California where time-sensitive cargo was off-loaded and handed over to NASA, the spacecraft will now travel to the test facility in McGregor, Texas where the rest of the cargo will be off-loaded and handed over to NASA.

On Wednesday it was reported that during the landing there was some water seepage into the spacecraft after the landing, however it doesn’t appear that this caused any issues with the experiments on board.  However due to this event NASA will require resulting from an investigation by SpaceX and any changes needed to avoid this happening again before the next Dragon flight will be approved.

Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide upper-stage propulsion for RELS

Aerojet Rocketdyne announced on Monday they had received a contract to supply six RL10C-1 engines, with an option for six additional engines.  These engines will by used by the third stage of the revolutionary air-launch system being build by Stratolaunch Systems Corporation (SSC).

The three stage rocket being developed will be dropped from a carrier aircraft when it reaches the desired altitude, once released the rocket will begin it’s power flight into orbit.

The full article can be found here.

Russia, China sign Space Exploration Agreement

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

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

The full article can be found here.

NASA Commercial Crew Program News

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

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

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

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

The full release can be found here.

Three private Moon Lander concepts on NASA short list

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

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

The full press release can be found here.

True Cost of SLS, Orion Unclear

The Government Accountability Office report on the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft indicates that NASA has masked the true cost of being the pair by neglecting to say what the system will cost to build for each flight.

So far there are only two missions slated for the combined vehicle and the estimated cost through 2021 is $22 billion.

While I believe NASA needs to have a crewed vehicle for deep space missions it would be interesting to see what SpaceX or another commercial company could create for $22 billion.

For more information check out the full article here.

New Cameras to Probe Planets beyond our Solar System

Two new camera’s designed to image Jupiter class planets orbiting other stars and their atmospheres have been brought online.  The European Southern Observatories Very Large Telescope camera Sphere saw first light on May 4, and the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South Observatory has reported back on data gathered from it’s first light.

The full article including video can be found here.

Planet formation in the constellation of the Wolf

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

Japanese researchers announced the discovery of a site of planet formation around a young star in the Lupus Constellation in the southern sky, it’s name is Latin for wolf.

The researchers found a proto-planetary disk around the star HD142527 and the dust appears to be concentrated in the upper part of the ring.  The observations where made using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA).

The full article can be found here.

Elon Musk receives Award

This week Elon Musk received the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during the 22rd annual International Space Development Conference, after receiving the aware he talked further about the progress that SpaceX was making towards a permanent base on Mars and also more on the re-usable rocket tests.

The full article can be found here.

New Regulations Govern Private Human Space Flight

The FAA have issued regulations establishing requirements for crew and space flight participants involved in private human space flight.  The new rules maintain the FAA’s commitment to protect the safety of the public.

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

SLS Moves One Step Closer

SLSmechanismNASA and ATK moved a step closer to the 2017 launch of the first SLS this week with the completion of a significant structural test of the booster’s main attachment mechanism.  The article tested was a major load-bearing structure known as the skirt.

The full article can be found here.

 

Opportunity Rover News

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The Mars Opportunity Rover has returned this Martian Vista from the ridge line of Endeavour Crater

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover spent several months exploring portions of Murray Ridge. Since reaching the local high point on the ridge line from which this panorama was taken, the rover has proceeded southward to reach an exposure of aluminum-rich clay detected from orbit.

Full panorama can be found here.

Construction of Insight Begins

InSightConstruction has begun on the new Mars lander Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is scheduled to launch March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from California. The mission will provide NASA with information toward their goal of sending a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.

Meet Quaoar, the Planetoid Beyond Pluto

Most people know of Pluto which for a long time was the 9th planet before being demoted, however there are many more objects beyond the last planet Neptune that many may not be aware off.

The following article introduces one of those objects a planetoid in the outer edges of our solar system called Quaoar.  Discovered in 2002 it heralded a new age in Astronomy, this and a few other worlds being discovered caused the International Astronomical Union to form a new classification system for planets, planetoids and dwarf planets.

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

Boeing and Samsung to Evaluate Mobile Technology for New Spacecraft

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

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

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

The full press release can be found here.

SpaceX launch of Orbcomm Satellites targeted for June 11th

SpaceX has re-aligned the next launch to No Earlier Than (NET) June 11th.  The delay were caused by a Helium leak in the first stage that was found during fueling for the Static Fire Test.

This leak was a different location to a leak that delayed the CRS-3 mission, although further details were not available it seems likely that it was around the Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessels (COPV) which are used to pressurize the vehicle.

It is not clear yet if the issue has been repaired but SpaceX are working towards this date and a new Static Fire will be performed at some point before then.

The Planetary Society responds to coverage of ISS statements by Russia

The Planetary Societies Blogger Casey Dreier posted this week a response to all the coverage of the ISS suitation since Russia made statements regarding the status of the station.

Firstly there were two issues in the statements, one relating to the RD-180 engines which has been covered previously and the second relating to the station.

In summary the current operation plan for the station runs until 2020, NASA with the approval of the White House proposed to extend this until 2024, however as of yet none of the other partners had actually signed onto this new plan.  However it was originally thought that Russia were interested in the extension however since the tensions over Ukraine that no longer seems to be be case.

However given that there are over six years left in the current operational plan there is nothing to say the situation won’t change again.

Casey’s full blog article can be found here.

Space station’s Sphere’s use Google smartphone tech

The free-flying Spheres modules on the International Space Station will now be aided by Google’s Project Tango to assist the crew in mundane tasks.  Project Tango is a smartphone project by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group which tracks the 3D motion of the device and create a 3D model of the environment around it.

The Spheres modules short for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites has been tested on the station since 2003 and with this latest upgrade will be able to perform more functions.

The Spheres project was originally inspired by Star Wars.

SpaceX DragonFly test vehicle revealed

In further SpaceX news this week details of the DragonFly test vehicle became available.  The vehicle will be tested at SpaceX’s McGregor facility and consists of a 7 ton Dragon capsule equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters, an integrated trunk and up to four landing legs.  The vehicle will be put through a series propulsive landing tests to validate the design and to enable future Dragon vehicles to perform a land based landing.

Further details and a demonstration video can be found here.

Antares AJ-26 engine fails during test

One of the Aerojet AJ-26 main engines for the Antares rocket suffered extensive damage during a test firing at the Stennis Space Center this week.  Before the engine’s can be used for an actual launch they are test fired to verify everything is working correctly.

At present it is not known if this failure will have any impact on the June 10th launch of an Antares carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on it’s next visit to the ISS.

 

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.

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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.

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Image from HDEV
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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.