International Docking Adapter successfully installed

The International Docking Adapter (IDA) that was transported to the International Space Station (ISS) in the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was successfully installed to the end of the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 (PMA-2) during a spacewalk today.

Astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins performed a 5 hour 58 minute spacewalk to complete the installation of the IDA, with the exception of a small issue removing the cap from one of the cable connectors the installation went very smoothly. Once the IDA was soft docked to the PMA Astronaut Takuya Onishi commanded two sets of hooks to permanently mate the IDA to the PMA thereby allowing Jeff and Kate to reconfigure the cables on the IDA to allow future visiting vehicle to dock with it.

Once the IDA work was completed they two moved on to installation of cables that will be used for the second IDA which is due to be delivered in late 2017. The crew were planning to attempt some get ahead tasks, however Jeff started to have communication issues and they decided to returned to the airlock to conclude the successful spacewalk.

This was the fourth spacewalk for Jeff, and the first for Kate.

Images captured from NASA TV of the spacewalk

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Technology for the Journey To Mars – Laundry

In this series of posts we are going to take a look at some of the technology that will need to be developed so that we can make the trip to Mars.

Today we are going to take a look a something that may not be so obvious but for a 18-24 month round trip will become important and would save on the amount of supplies needed.  We have seen this question asked many times but on the International Space Station (ISS) it isn’t something that they worry about.

Today we will look at Laundry, something that we probably take for granted yet when we don’t have access to it people notice rather quickly.  On the ISS they take care of used articles of clothing by placing them in the cargo vehicles that are due to burn up in the atmosphere and have a regular supply of new clothes.  While this works for the ISS it isn’t as practical for a trip to Mars where there is no regular re-supply option and therefore you either have to keep enough clothing on board for the crew to use over the time of the trip or need to provide them a way to clean the clothes.

A Smithsonian article from 2011 said that a crew of six uses approximately 900 pounds of clothes a year.  As we are looking at 18-24m that would be between 1350-1800 pounds.  For our calculations we are going to use a Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket to launch the cargo which would give a rate of between $2.51m-$3.35m to launch all the clothes to orbit.

Additionally we are going to need to have space on the vehicle that travels to Mars to store all these clothes, it is difficult to put a price at present on this as we don’t have a vehicle available.

In 2011 NASA commissioned UMPQUA Research Company to build a prototype machine that could operate in space using jets of water, air and microwaves to wash clothes. A phase one study was completed that showed the technology could be used, however we have not been able to find any further research that was done.  A phase two study was mentioned but doesn’t appear to have been done.

To determine if a washing machine would be more beneficial on a trip we would need to answer the following questions:-

  1. How much space would the machine require?
  2. How much water, power, air would the machine use?
  3. How much would the machine cost?
  4. How much maintenance would the machine need?
  5. How many spare parts should be included?

In summary it is difficult to say which is the better option at present take all the clothes you need for the whole trip or take a machine which would reduce the amount of clothes but could present other challenges for the crew and may end up taking as much or more space on the vehicle.

We would love to hear you comments on this subject and any ideas you have for handling the issue.

SpaceX moves a step closer to Return To Flight

SpaceX has completed the first static fire test of their enhanced Falcon 9 rocket as they move closer to return to flight.  The upgraded rocket (name not yet known) uses Full Thrust Merlin 1D engines, previous flights the engines had only been run at 85% thrust.

This upgrade which was already in the works before the June accident that has grounded the Falcon 9 will allow larger payloads to be launched and still allow the company to attempt to land the first stage.

See video below of the test at SpaceX’s Mcgregor, Texas test site.

TMA-17M Docks with ISS

Following the successful launch earlier the Soyuz TMA-17M carrying Oleg Kononenko, Kimiya Yui and Kjell Lindgren arrived at the international Space Station following a four orbit journey.

After the launch it became clear that as with TMA-14M one of the solar panels had not deployed correctly, this didn’t impact the docking and as before the panel deployed either during or after docking.

Once the spacecraft completed the docking leak tests were performed to ensure a good connection between both vehicles before the hatches were opened allowing the three crew members to join Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Korniyenko and Scott Kelly.

Videos of the docking and hatch opening

Latest GPS Satellite launched by ULA

2015-07-15-113209-350x208This morning a United Launch Alliance Atlas V lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying the latest GPS 2F satellite to orbit.

The rocket used the 401 configuration, which is the simplest version of the Atlas V family.  Due to the configureability of the Atlas V family of rockets these numbers represent a four meter payload fairing (4), no solid rocket boosters (0) and a single RD-180 engine (1).

This was the 10th flight of the Block 2F GPS satellite.

The Atlas V in the 401 vehicle configuration lifted off as expected at 11:36 am EDT, once in orbit the upper stage will travel for approximately three hours before the satellite is deployed to its planned orbit.  We will update the article once confirmation of successful deployment is received.

UPDATE confirmation has been received of successful completion of the mission

Images of the launch from LiveStream Webcast

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LightSail Update – Solar Sails deployed successfully

The Planetary Society’s LightSail cubesat reach another amazing milestone this weekend as it became the first privately funded spacecraft to deploy a Solar Sail in orbit.

The spacecraft which was launched two weeks ago had been silent for eight days due to a computer glitch, suddenly on Saturday 30th May it started communicating again after a reboot caused by a cosmic particle hitting the spacecraft. To ensure the problem doesn’t happen again the mission team has elected to reboot the computer each day thereby avoiding the issue that caused the initial crash, we are not sure why a patch couldn’t be delivered to address the issue however.

Before they could deploy the sails they needed to ensure the Solar Array’s were deployed as initial images from the vehicle showed that they were still stowed.  The command to deploy them was sent successfully however this caused a new issue on the vehicle whch resulted in several more days of lost communication.

CHEsVDDWcAAwUwAAmazingly the vehicle once again re-established communications and after seeing that it the Solar Array’s were indeed charging the batteries they decided to move forward with the Sail deployment.  This didn’t go as planned first time however they were able to successfully send the command again and the partial image to the right shows the sails had been deployed.  Additionally the video below from NASA that shows the vehicle clearly visible in the sky which is another indication that the sails deployed.

Full Image of Deployed Solar Sails
Full Image of Deployed Solar Sails

Due to the increased drag caused by the Solar Sail the vehicle will not last much longer in space, however there is no denying that the Planetary Society have achieved an amazing feat with this mission and it bodes well for the next mission which they are currently raising funds for on Kickstarter.

Atlas V launches military’s X-37B space plane

Following a smooth countdown today United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V launched the military’s X-37B space plane.  The rocket lifted off from SLC-41 and carried the space plane to orbit before deploying it, the rocket also carried a secondary payload of Cubesat’s including The Planetary Societies LightSail test.  The Planetary Society is currently raising money for the next test spacecraft due to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy next year.

While most of the X-37B’s mission is secret we do have some information on what will be done during the mission

1) Continuation of NASA’s advanced materials investigation – This was flown on the International Space Station a number of times and allowed NASA to test different materials in the vacuum of space to see the impact on those materials.

2) An experimental propulsion system – This ION engine called a Hall thruster will be tested while the vehicle is on orbit.

The last X-37B mission spent 675 days in space before returning to Earth, there is no details on how long this mission will last.

We will publish another article on the LightSail later when we hear news on it’s status and progress.

Below are images of the launch

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The Little Rover that Could continues to impress

Opportunity Rover's Full Marathon-Length Traverse
Opportunity Rover’s Full Marathon-Length Traverse

Eleven years ago the Mars Opportunity Rover landed on the surface of the planet for a planned 90 sol (Mars day) mission, nearly 4000 sols later the rover is still operating.  This week it achieved a another significant milestone becoming the first rover to complete the equivalent of a marathon driving across the surface of the planet.  A milestone that may be hard to beat until Humans are working on the surface of the planet.

Unfortunately the future for the rover is unknown for a couple of reasons, the primary being we just don’t know how much longer it can last it has already operated for 44 times as long as designed and has recently had a software patch to get around a problem with the flash memory.

The other reason the future is in doubt is the 2016 NASA budget doesn’t include funding to continue the operations of the rover. While this was also the case in the 2015 budget congress added funding back so we can be hopeful that they will do the same again, however there is no guarantee.

So how has it lasted this long? There are a couple of answers to this, the first being that it is solar powered so as long as the hardware survives and the solar panels can receive sunlight it should be able to operate. Here is where Mars itself has helped the rover, over the 11 years of operation the power from the solar panels has dropped as dust accumulated on them and then been boosted again when a dust devil (add link) cleans the panels.

Another obverse answer is the rover was well designed, while the initial mission was for 90 sols the designers ensured the rover was capable of operating longer, personally I don’t know if they ever expected it to operate this long but it is a testament to good design and engineering that it has.

Why continue to fund it? Again there are a couple of answers to this, first it is still returning valuable data, there is no other vehicle in that region of Mars and everything it finds helps us to better understand the planet.

Second the longer it operates the more we learn about long distance remote operations of vehicles, unfortunately the older it gets the more issues are likely to occur, as these happen we will learn to adapt the vehicle to handle these issues until the time comes when it is not possible to do that any longer. When that happens the Rover will have completed an extraordinary mission and set some records that will be hard to beat.

To learn more about this amazing vehicle and see the numerous images it has returned on Mars check out the mission page.

Delta 4 launches latest GPS satellite

In the first of six launches scheduled over the next four days a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 4 lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying the latest Global Positioning Satellite (GPS).

The satellite is the ninth Block 2F to be launched and was successfully placed into orbit following the on-time launch.

Below are some screen grabs of the launch

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SLS takes another step forward

Booster Engine on the stand prior to test
Booster Engine on the stand prior to test

Earlier today the largest Solid Rocket Booster ever was fired up at Orbital ATK’s test facility in Promontory, UTAH. Based on the Solid Rocket Boosters that carried the Space Shuttle into orbit for 30 years this booster has been upgraded to support NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS).

While the Booster is based on the shuttle design a lot of changes have been made to reduce the cost and improve the processes for creation of the boosters.

Due to the increased weight of the SLS this booster consists of an extra segment over that used by the shuttle.  The five segment booster produces a total of 3.6m pounds of thrust and will burn 1.3m pounds of propellant during its two minutes of operation.  The SLS will use two boosters during launch.

what_is_qm-1
Overview of the QM-1 Test performed today

The segments used during today’s test have flown on many different shuttle missions, once retrieved from the ocean after a launch they return to Orbital’s factory where they are refurbished for another mission.  Due to the cost of recovering the boosters and refurbishing this will no longer be done meaning they will fall back to the Atlantic but remain there.

Below are screen grabs of the test

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