Weekly Space Blog 11/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

A video of the panel is available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Space Blog 11/9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Space Blog 11/2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ooKepler-78b

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

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

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

Weekly Space Blog 10/12

With the  shutdown continuing there isn’t much news from NASA this week

LADEE enters lunar orbit
Dispite the government shutdown the recently launched LADEE spacecraft entered into orbit around the moon this week. The spacecraft launched last month has been traveling to the moon since it launch and after a series of burns to refine its orbit will begin it’s scientific endeavors.

Next Falcon 9 payload shipped
The payload scheduled to be launched on the next Falcon 9 launch from the Cape was shipped from manufacturer Orbital Sciences this week dispite the government shutdown. Although the craft is a privately developed vehicle because the Cape is a government facility government personnel have to be available when it arrives. Alternate arrangenents have been made for the vehicle initial arrival in Florida, however there is uncertainity as to when the launch will be as it depends on the length of the shutdown.

Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter dies
Scott Carpenter one of the original seven Mercury astronauts died this week at the age of 88. Scott was the second American to orbit the Earth.

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft News
This week the Juno spacecraft used the Earth to perform a gravity assist to accelerate towards Jupiter. During the process the spacecraft entered into safe mode, however the projects lead scientist said that the flyby was successful and the spacecraft is now on course for Jupiter. Data returned from the spacecraft indicates that all the instruments are operating correctly. Late Friday NASA reported that the craft had resumed full operations.

Cygnus unloaded
Orbital Sciences reported this week that the astronauts on the station had completed unloading of their Cygnus spacecraft and are now loading disposable item that are no longer needed. Unlike the Dragon spacecraft Cygnus cannot return to the surface so any cargo loaded inside when it returns into Earths atmosphere will be destroyed when the craft burns up.

SpaceX updates flight manifest
To allow time to fully resolve the relight issue with the Falcon 9 upper stage SpaceX has delayed the next two flights. The SES-8 launch is now scheduled for November 12, with the next mission a month later.

Weekly Space Blog 10/5

This week has been another busy week in space.

Cygnus berths to station
Following a week delay, due to a data glitch, Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft successfully berthed with the International Space Station last Sunday.  See my previous post here.

Falcon 9 v1.1 Successfully Launched
On Sunday SpaceX successfully launched there modified Falcon 9 rocket.   See my previous post here.

Since the launch there have been rumors that the second stage exploded after dropping off the satellites, Elon Musk has stated that this didn’t happen, however there was an issue after deployment where the stage didn’t relight due to a sensor reading the craft didn’t like. They are aware of the issue and after full review of the data will make a fix before the SES flight that needs to relight the stage before deployment because of the geosynchronous transfer orbit needed.

Additional SpaceX reported that the tests to recover the first stage where successfully in that the engines relite as expected however because the first stage didn’t have the stabilizing legs that will eventually be in flown the stage span to much at the end causing the fuel to centrifuge and the engines to shutdown early. However they were still able to recover parts of the stage but more importantly believe they have everything in place to recover the stages in the future. The next attempt to recover will be the CRS-3 flight in February.

Proton Launched
In what turned out to be a busy day in space,  the Russian Proton rocket returned to flight last Sunday.  This was the first Proton launch since an explosion during a July launch that caused the lose of three GLONASS navigation satellites and caused significant damage near the launch pad.

The cause of the crash was determined to be due to the incorrect installation of angular velocity sensors which caused the vehicle to receive invalid information and automatically abort the launch.

NASA celebrates 55th birthday with shutdown
This week NASA celebrated it’s 55th birthday, however most employees didn’t get to enjoy it as much as they should have done because of the first government shutdown in 17 years. As a result of the shut down a large percentage of the workforce, with the exception of essential personnel needed to operate the space station, were not able to work. There were some others who could work but not many, this could also cause delays to the upcoming MAVEN mission to Mars if the shutdown goes on to long.

MAVEN processing restarted
Earlier this week processing of the MAVEN spacecraft was halted due to the government shutdown, however this only last a couple of days as the craft was deemed critical for communicationing with the two active rovers on Mars and future vehicles as well.

Currently communication is relayed through the craft orbiting Mars, however these are getting old and lose of these would have a significant impact on the ability to get back science data from the rovers.

US Commercial Space 2 for 2 today

Following on from the Cygnus berthing to the space station this morning SpaceX successfully launched its modified Falcon 9 rocket this afternoon in the process achieving several firsts for the company.

The launch which came exactly five years after their first successful Falcon 1 launch was the first from their Vandenburg launch pad,  the first of the longer v1.1 rocket,  the first to use the Merlin 1D engines,  the first to have a satellite fairing and the first Falcon 9 not dedicated to Dragon.

The rocket carried six satellite’s to orbit and from initial reports all were successfully deployed as expected and the rocket performed exceptionally well.

In addition to the above firsts, SpaceX were also hoping to re-ignite three of the first stage engine’s as it descended back to earth to slow the impact of the stage as it lands in the Pacific Ocean.  If successful the plan is to retrieve the stage and potentially use it again for another mission.  These are early steps in SpaceX’s plan to have fully re-usable rockets in the future.

With the successful completion of this launch SpaceX will now be ramping up the launch rate to meet the large launch manifest pending, with several more this year and starting in 2014 almost one a month through end of 2015 already booked.

The following images were captured from the SpaceX Web Cast and show the rocket during countdown, launch and after first stage separation.

Screenshot_2013-09-29-11-51-44 Screenshot_2013-09-29-11-54-18 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-01-07 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-01-11 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-01-14 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-01-28 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-02-40 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-04-13 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-04-17 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-04-45 Screenshot_2013-09-29-12-10-42

And then there were two

With the arrival of the Cygnus spacecraft at the International Space Station the US now has two commercial suppliers to deliver cargo to the station.  Since the retirement of the shuttle and before SpaceX and Orbital Sciences the US was reliant on International Partners Russia, ESA and Japan to deliver cargo.

There are now five cargo vehicles available for the station, Cygnus, Dragon, Progress, European ATV and Japanese HTV.

Below are some images of the Cygnus arriving at the station taken from the NASA LiveStream feed.

Now we just need for Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems to complete their commercial crew vehicles and for NASA to have the funds to allow these to progress to actual flights and the station will once again have multiple craft able to launch crews.

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Weekly Space Blog 9/28

This week in space…

Soyuz Launched to ISS
This week saw another Soyuz launch to the space station on board the Soyuz TMA-10M were Russian Cosmonaut’s Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy as well as NASA Astronaut Michael Hopkins.

Following a flawless countdown the three launched at 4:58:50 pm EDT, eight minutes later they were in orbit and heading towards a four orbit, six hour rendezvous with the station.  The crew docked a few minutes earlier than scheduled at 10:45 pm EDT and once all the leak checks were completed entered the space station at 12:34 am EDT to begin there extended stay aboard the station.

Due to their involvement in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games ceremonies the crew will leave after the TMA-12M has docked, this will be the first time since the Space Shuttle retired that there will be more than 6 crew members on the station at one time.

Cygnus berthing delayed
The berthing of the Cygnus spacecraft was delayed last Sunday due to a technical glitch with how the spacecraft interpreted GPS data received from the station.  Initially the plan was to back off from the station while Orbital worked on the problem and then attempt again on Tuesday.  However after further discussions with NASA it was decided to wait until after the Launch and Docking of the Expedition 37 crew members.  The berthing has been rescheduled to this Sunday 9/29, assuming everything goes to plan the Cygnus spacecraft will be captured by the Expedition 37 crew and berthed to the station.

SpaceX launch scheduled

Falcon 9 v1.1 on  Vandenburg Launch Pad at Sunset
Falcon 9 v1.1 on Vandenburg Launch Pad at Sunset

Elon Musk CEO and CTO of SpaceX confirmed that the first launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 has now been scheduled for Sunday 9/29 assuming no further problems are found and the weather co-operates.  This will be the first time the longer version of the rocket, the Merlin 1D engines and a fairing will be used.  In addition this is the first launch from the Vandenburg launch site for SpaceX and the first to dedicated to deploying a satellite.

If all goes to plan SpaceX will also try to re-light one of the Merlin 1D engines as the first stage approaches the ocean to test out some of the re-usable technologies that are planned for later flights and would allow the first stage to land back on earth and be used again for a future flight.

Elon himself stated that there is a high chance that something could go wrong with all the changes in this mission.

Dragon Launch Delayed
The next CRS launch to the ISS has been delayed to February 2014 to allow SpaceX time to complete modifications to the Dragon spacecraft to increase the cold storage cargo capacity.  This will almost triple the amount of scientific cargo that can be carried up to and back from the space station.

Space Dino – Nyberg creates Dino on ISS

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg's stuffed toy dinosaur floats on the International Space Station. She made the doll for her son using materials she found on the orbiting outpost. (NASA)
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg’s stuffed toy dinosaur floats on the International Space Station. She made the doll for her son using materials she found on the orbiting outpost. (NASA)

This week Karen Nyberg a US Astronaut currently serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS) released a picture of a Dinosaur she created while in space.

Among the personal items she took to the station were needles, thread and some material, however The Dinosaur was created mainly from a velcro like material found in Russian food containers on the station.

She created the Dinosaur for her son, however he will have to wait a little longer before receiving the gift as Karen will remain on the station until November 11, and UPS/FedEx don’t currently offer delivery services to/from the ISS.

Water on Mars – Curiosity
This week NASA announced that the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument on it’s Mars Rover Curiosity had discovered water in soil samples that it had analyzed.  During the analysis for the soil it was determined that about 2% of the sample contained water.

Laurie Leshin, Dean of Science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institiute said “About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically.”

The SAM instrument takes samples of soil scooped up by the Rover’s arm and then heats it to 835C, SAM then uses several different processes to identify the chemicals found in the sample.

For further information about the discovery check out the full article here.

And Finally
Well that’s all for this week, for more Space News check out the Deep Astronomy YouTube channel.

Have fun and as Tony Darnell says “Keep looking up”

Weekly Space Blog 9/21

Another amazing week in space…

Cygnus Successfully Launched
Antares_LaunchWith the exception of one issue with the fuel system that caused a slight delay in the launch time Orbital successfully launched there Antares Rocket with the Cygnus spacecraft.  The Cygnus is currently on route to the International Space Station and once a number of demonstration steps have been completed successfully is due to berth with the station tomorrow.

Once the vehicle has been unloaded the ISS crew will load items that are no longer needed, after about 30 days at the station it will unberth.  Unlike the Dragon spacecraft the Cygnus cannot return back to earth but instead burns up during re-entry.

Latest reports show the the spacecraft has successfully fired it’s main engine’s to alter it’s course to the station, a number of the tests are performed close to the station to verify that the approach and capture can be aborted if needed.  Once all the tests are passed NASA and Orbital will have a final go-no-go poll before the craft enters the keep out zone around the station so that it can be captured by the crew using the station arm.

SpaceX Static Fire Test Update
The first static fire test of the new Falcon 9 v1.1 showed up some anomalies, due to this SpaceX attempted another test this week which was successful.  However due to the delay’s caused by needing the second test launch of the new version has been delayed until 9/29 to accommodate ICBM tests at the launch site.

Atlas 5 launch successful
A secure communications satellite was launched from the cape this week by an Atlas 5 for the U.S. Air Force.  This was the first of two large launches on the same day on the U.S. East Coast, the second was the Orbital launch of Cygnus seven hours later.

Next Station Crew Soyuz Integrated
The Soyuz TMA-10M vehicle was integrated with it’s Launcher this week in preparations for the launch of Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA, Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy, both with Russia’s Federal Space Agency on 9/26.  The next major milestone in this preparations will be roll out to the launch pad expected on Monday 9/23.

Deep Impact Update
Following a month of attempts to re-establish contact with the now silent spacecraft NASA to announced that the mission is over.  Engineer’s suspect that the vehicle lost stabilization control and was no longer pointing it’s Solar Array’s at the sun causing the battery’s to run out.  The vehicle was tremendous successful having completed all of it’s primary mission objects as well as returning approximately 500,000 images of different space objects.

Space Alien Claim
This week a scientist if Britain claimed to have evidence of Alien Life taken from sample obtained from the upper atmosphere.  The story got quite a lot of traction on some new media however was very quickly debunked.  The same scientist has made similar claims in the past and each time has proven to be wrong because there has never been scientific evidence to back up his claims.

Life on Mars Update
Hope’s of finding life on Mars faded a little this week when a study by the Mars Curiosity Rover detected only trace amounts of Methane in the atmosphere.  Of course if Mars One or other’s get there way this will change in the next couple of decades as human’s will visit the planet and bring with them microbes and other forms of life.

India Mars Mission spacecraft revealed
mangalyaan-mars-orbiter-isro-india-lgThe week India unveiled it’s first Mars Spacecraft expected to launch later in late October or early November.  The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced that the vehicle will have five scientific instruments on-board designed to conduct various experiments while orbiting the planet.  The vehicle is expected to arrive at the planet in September 2014 following a 9 month cruise.

Boeing Tests CST-100 Thrusters
This week Boeing announced that it has completed a series of tests of the thrusters that will be used on the CST-100 Spacecraft when in orbit.  In combination with Aerojet Rocketdyne the thruster manufacturer the tests assessed how the thrusters performed in different scenarios as would be expected in space operations.  This is a significant step forward in the design of the spacecraft which is designed to talk crew into LEO.

Chinese Space Station final days
The Chinese Space Agency announced that their first Space Station Tiangong was entering it’s final month’s of operation before a fiery re-entry into earth’s atmosphere.  Tiangong hosted two different crews during it’s lifetime and brought the Chinese one step closer to having a permanent presence in space.

And Finally
While not related to Space I wanted to share the news from Elon Musk that Tesla are currently looking for Engineer’s to work on autonomous driving option for the Tesla Model S car.  According to Elon they plan to use 360 deg flush mounted camera’s and radar which will require lost of image processing capabilities.  Anyone interested should email autopilot@teslamotors.com, the team will report directly to Elon.

 

Weekly Space Blog 9/14

We are back again with our weekly blog and what a week it has been for space news.

Voyager has left the Solar System
This week the Voyager Science Team announced that the long serving Voyager 1 spacecraft had left the solar system, making it the first human made object to achieve the feat.  As one of the team said this is a milestone as significant as Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon.

36 years in the making and 12 billion miles from home the Voyager 1 spacecraft has already provided us with a wealthy of information from it’s flyby’s of Jupiter and Saturn and from it’s journey through several layers of the outer solar system.

So what is next for Voyager 1, the spacecraft itself has enough power to keep the current science instruments running for a few more years, at that point the science team will begin to power down different instruments until they are all silent.  The spacecraft will still have enough power to operate for a number of years after that but will only be able to return engineering data on the health of the craft.  Once the spacecraft has run out of power it will continue it’s journey towards AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis in about 40,000 years from now.

For more information on the Voyager spacecraft check out there mission page here.

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 News
This week SpaceX performed the first Static Fire of the new Falcon 9 v1.1 at their Vandenberg launch pad.  SpaceX CEO tweeted later in the day that they had achieved full thrust for 2 seconds during the test, however due to some anomalies found during the test they will be performing another test on Saturday 9/14 and will announce a new launch date once the data has been analyzed.

Orbital Approaches Launch
The first operational Cygnus spacecraft rolled out to the launch pad this week for a 9/17 launch to the International Space Station, this will be the final test launch of the Antares and Cygnus vehicles under the COTS program for NASA.  Assuming nothing goes wrong Orbital will then begin commercial resupply missions to the station to augment those provided by SpaceX currently.

Japan’s Epsilon Launched Successfully
Following an aborted countdown recently, Japan successfully launched there new Epsilon rocket this week.  The new rocket which has been designed to make launches cheaper and more efficient completed it’s first launch by placing a compact telescope into orbit.

Well that is all for this week, a short post but more to come next week