Orion’s maiden voyage delayed 24 hours

Today’s launch of the Orion spacecraft had to be scrubbed due to a technical issue with the Delta IV Heavy. During the countdown today there were several attempts made to lift off but various factors stopped that from happening. Two of the attempts were aborted due to higher than expected wind gusts during the final four minutes of the count. The issue that ultimately stopped the launch was with the fill/drain valves in the rocket core stages. Two of them had failed to close correctly and despite a valiant effort by the team they were not able to resolve it in time to launch in the window available.

Another attempt will be made tomorrow morning Friday 12/5 with the launch window again opening at 7:05am EST, the weather forecast for the launch calls for a 60% chance that the weather will violate the launch criteria.

Below are some screen grabs taken during the countdown, we will post later today with the Ariane 5 launch.

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T-1 day and counting to NASA’s Orion EFT-1

Tomorrow the first Orion mission should be under way, however the future for Orion and it’s carrier rocket Space Launch System (SLS) is not guaranteed.  The first flight for SLS is still four years away maybe sooner if they can finish the rocket faster but given the number of delays already it seems more likely that it could be delayed further.

Unfortunately before then there will be another Presidential election and there is no telling what the new President will do.  In a previous article I talked about the cost of SLS/Orion, that will fact into any decisions that a new administration makes.  The first crewed flight is not scheduled until some time in the early 2020’s, by which time we could be on a second new President.

By the first crewed launch, baring launches by other space agencies or commercial companies, it will have been almost 50 years since a crewed mission went beyond Low Earth Orbit.  There is also speculation that another test flight may be needed as the upper stage for the crewed mission will not have flown before and current flight rules require at last one test flight before a human crew is aboard.

Beyond that there are other missions that have been discussed but nothing has been finalized, proposals include a robotic mission to Europa, Mars Sample Return mission, Deep Space Habitat, etc.  For a full list of current proposals check out the Wikipedia page here.

We believe there is a place for SLS in the future of manned missions beyond Earth but are concerned with the cost so far to build SLS and Orion and whether future governments will be willing to fund it long term.

We have deliberately avoided comparing launch costs with that of SpaceX or Boeing and their commercial crew proposals for several reasons:-

  • SLS/Orion is not designed to fly to the International Space Station
  • SLS/Orion doesn’t currently have a published per launch cost making any comparisons impossible to determine.
  • SLS/Orion is designed for deep space and due to that has heavier components than on the commercial crew solutions.

The next update will be tomorrow after the launch of EFT-1

T-2 days and counting to NASA’s Orion EFT-1

The first orbital flight of the Orion spacecraft will allow NASA and it’s contractor Lockheed Martin to verify the design of the vehicle in space itself, for this flight there will be no crew members however there will be a vast amount of instrumentation and sensors on board to provide as much data as possible during the mission.

While Orion is designed to fly on the Space Launch System (SLS) in the long term because the rocket isn’t ready to fly yet this mission will be flown using a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket.

This is the first flight into space for Orion but it isn’t the first flight, a number of drop tests have already been performed to allow the parachutes and other systems used during landing to be validated, in addition a number of tests have been performed in a large pool to verify that the vehicle can right itself should it land in the wrong orientation.  Like the Apollo module used for the moon missions Orion will land on water, a number of tests have been performed to verify that the recovery ships can retrieve the module once it has landed.

EFT-1 Mission Diagram
EFT-1 Mission Diagram

The four and a half hour flight will take the Orion spacecraft on two orbits of Earth. Peak altitude will be approximately 3,600 miles. The high altitude will allow the the spacecraft to reach reentry speeds of up to 20,000 mph, which will expose the heat shield to temperatures up to around 4,000 °F, or 80% of the temperature that would be experienced upon reentry from a moon mission.

Next update tomorrow we will look at the future for Orion and SLS.

T-3 days and counting to NASA’s Orion EFT-1

Officially known as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) the vehicle was announced in May 2011.  The design of the vehicle is derived from the cancelled Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle which was to be a part of the Constellation program announced by President Bush in 2004, that program was eventually cancelled by President Obama and the new mission announced.

Cutout view of the Orion Spacecraft © NASA
Cutout view of the Orion Spacecraft © NASA

The spacecraft will be made up of two parts, the Command Module (CM), built by Lockheed Martin, where the crew will reside during flight and the Service Module (SM), supplied by the European Space Agency (ESA) and built by Airbus Defense and Space, which will provide power and propulsion.  For the EFT-1 flight the Service Module will comprise of the Delta IV upper stage and Orion will rely on batteries to provide power.

The first flight with the ESA provided Service Module is expected on Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) currently scheduled for 2018.

Orion is being designed for deep space missions which unlike missions to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) require a stronger heat shield during re-entry due to the increased speed as the spacecraft approaches the planet.  In addition the vehicle will need to withstand stronger doses of radiation than those visiting LEO which is still somewhat protected by Earth’s atmosphere.  The vehicle is designed along the lines of the old Apollo Command Modules but there the comparison finishes, internally it will have 50% more volume and will be 5.02 meters (16 ft 6 in) in diameter and 3.3 meters (10 ft 10 in) in length, with a mass of about 8.5 metric tons (19,000 lb).  The module is designed to support a crew of 4-6 for up to 21 days of active flight, with an orbital life of six months when combined with another module for longer missions.

Orion’s CM will use advanced technologies, including:

  • “Glass cockpit” digital control systems derived from those of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
  • An “autodock” feature, like those of Russian Progress spacecraft and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, with provision for the flight crew to take over in an emergency. Previous American spacecraft (Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle) have all required manual piloting for docking.
  • Improved waste-management facilities, with a miniature camping-style toilet and the unisex “relief tube” used on the space shuttle (whose system was based on that used on Skylab) and the International Space Station (based on the Soyuz, Salyut, and Mir systems). This eliminates the use of the much-hated plastic “Apollo bags” used by the Apollo crews.
  • A nitrogen/oxygen (N2/O2) mixed atmosphere at either sea level (101.3 kPa or 14.69 psi) or slightly reduced (55.2 to 70.3 kPa or 8.01 to 10.20 psi) pressure.
  • Much more advanced computers than on previous crewed spacecraft.
NASA has announced that it will conduct an unmanned test flight called the Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1 in 2014. Image Credit: NASA.gov
Artists rendering of the Orion Spacecraft in orbit with the Delta IV upper stage. Image Credit: NASA.gov

Next update tomorrow we will look at the Goals of the test flight.

Information for this article was gather from NASA and the 
Orion wikipedia page.

T-4 days and counting to NASA’s Orion EFT-1

800px-Exploration_Flight_Test-1_insigniaA few days from now the first flight of NASA’s new crewed space vehicle Orion is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral. The mission called Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) will not be a crewed test flight and is designed to test out the Orion systems and heat shield. For this mission the capsule will be carried to space on top of a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket from space launch complex 37B. Future missions will be carried to orbit by NASA Space Launch System (SLS).

Over the next week we will explore the Orion spacecraft, the goals of the test flight, the future for Orion and the SLS rocket.

Next update tomorrow we will look at the Orion spacecraft.

TMA-15M arrives at International Space Station #ISS

Following a four orbit, six hour journey to the International Space Station, the crew of TMA-15M Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti have arrived safely, a series of leak checks will now be performed before the hatches between the two vehicles can be opened and the crew can enter the station.

Below are screen grabs of the approach and docking

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Expedition 42 crew launched successfully

This afternoon Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti began there six hour, four orbit journey to the International Space Station.  Launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-15M liftoff occurred on time at 14:01 pm EST.  Docking and hatch opening will occur later today, we will post again following each event.

Below are some screen captures from the launch

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CCtCap is Back On

cctcapOn Oct. 9, under statutory authority available to it, NASA has decided to proceed with the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts awarded to The Boeing Company and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. notwithstanding the bid protest filed at the U.S. Government Accountability Office by Sierra Nevada Corporation. The agency recognizes that failure to provide the CCtCap transportation service as soon as possible poses risks to the International Space Station (ISS) crew, jeopardizes continued operation of the ISS, would delay meeting critical crew size requirements, and may result in the U.S. failing to perform the commitments it made in its international agreements.

These considerations compelled NASA to use its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences where contract performance remained suspended. NASA has determined that it best serves the United States to continue performance of the CCtCap contracts that will enable safe and reliable travel to and from the ISS from the United States on American spacecraft and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for such transportation.

CCtCap on HOLD

Due to the appeal by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) of the CCtCap awards to Boeing and SpaceX both companies have been told to stop any work until the appeal process has been completed.

SNC filed a complaint on 26th Sept 2014 with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), while full details of the complaint are not currently available the general summary appears to be related to irregularities with the selection process and the fact that their bid was $900m less than Boeing’s.  The GAO has 100 days to review and rule on the appeal, at present there is no way to know what they could decide, at the minimum they could rule there is no basis in the complaint at worse they could rule that the contracts are invalid and require the process to be done again.

So what impact does this have on the Commercial Crew program for NASA.  Depending on the GAO’s decision it could either result in a slight delay or at worse could push Commercial Crew into 2018 or beyond.  This would almost certainly mean that NASA would also have to negotiate more seats on Soyuz to cover the delay which based on the last cost increase could run at more than $80m a seat.

What if GAO rules one of the contracts is invalid?  Well that would almost certainly guarantee an appeal by whoever’s contract is invalidated which could drag out the process even further.

The Irony in all this is clearly based on the SNC/Stratolaunch System’s announcement made just yesterday SNC has no plans to abandon the Dream Chaser program and while we are sure having $3.3b would go a long way to complete this they most likely could have found funding elsewhere.

The same goes for SpaceX they clearly have plans that go well beyond just providing Dragon V2 for NASA and again the $2.6b will help realize these goals faster then if they had to fund the development themselves.

Finally Boeing did indicate that if they didn’t get the award they would be laying off workers, whether they would abandon CST-100 is really unknown as there have been indications that they might have or still might consider competing for the CRS2 Cargo contracts which was announced recently.

It seems to us that the only people who will lose out in the mess is NASA and the Taxpayer, NASA because they will potentially be reliant on Russia for longer and Taxpayer because we will have to foot the bill of the appeal process and any changes to the contracts resulting form the appeal.

 

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft reaches Mars

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

2014-09-21_114613

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

The following instruments are being carried by MAVEN.

MAVEN_Instruments_Labeled_v2

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