Last night United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft towards the International Space Station (ISS). This is the second Cygnus that has launched on an Atlas V rocket and will be the heaviest payload the Atlas V has ever launched. Even with the heavier payload ULA didn’t require any Solid Rocket Boosters as Cygnus is only launching to Low Earth Orbit.
Continuing in the tradition of previous Cygnus launches Orbital ATK named this vehicle the S.S. Rick Husband in honor of Col. Rock Husband USAF.
Update: After the launch a number of people noticed that the burn time on the Centaur upper stage was almost a minute longer than originally planned. ULA has since announced that this was caused by the first stage RD-180 engine shutting down 5 seconds earlier than originally planned requiring the Centaur to compensate for the difference. They are investigating why the engine shutdown early and don’t currently know if this could impact the next Atlas V launch.
More than a year after the catastrophic failure of the Antares Launch vehicle which resulted in the lose of the Cygnus Cargo vehicle and its payload Orbital’s enhanced Cygnus vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral today with the help of an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The launch which was delayed three times due to inclement weather finally lifted off this afternoon when the Atlas V RD-180 came to life.
Orbital elected to purchase two Atlas V launches to allow it to resume its Commercial Resupply contract with NASA for the International Space Station while the enhancements to its Antares rocket continue. Orbital were also able to introduce there enhanced Cygnus vehicle which can carry an additional 1,200-1,500 kg of cargo depending on launch vehicle.
In six or maybe ten years the International Space Station (ISS) will come to the end of its operational life. To ensure that we can continue the permanent occupation of space that has been going on since 31 October 2000 we need to define what happens beyond ISS.
Given how long it takes to plan, fund and build a project the size of ISS, we believe it’s time to start the process to define a replacement now.
It’s our hope that this post can start a discussion in the community on the future after ISS and we would value any constructive feedback both positive and negative to this plan.
Planning for the future
The first thing we need to do as we look to the future is determine what are the goals for a replacement? Should it just provide the same facilities as we have today or should we look beyond that?
We believe we should look beyond just a direct replacement and consider the benefits that could be gained by having a multi-station architecture. With this in mind we are proposing that at least three stations be build. Two of these would be smaller single module stations, one placed at Lagrange Point 2 and the other placed in orbit around the moon. The three stations would provide different working environments.
In order to provide for each of these different stations we would need to work closely with one or more of the companies that are currently planning to mine asteroids, water would be the primary resource that would need to be supplied, other resources would be provided based on need.
This approach would also require that crew providers have the ability to send people beyond LEO and return them at the end of the mission.
Primary LEO Station
For the direct replacement we have opted to utilize commercial platforms (planned or existing) rather than spend money developing our own system. Where a commercial option isn’t currently available we will discuss plans for these and seeing if a commercial option could be adapted to meet the needs. This would be the first station that is built so that we can continue our permanent occupation of space.
Standard crew size of 6-12 people.
Temporary crew size up to 18 people.
Minimum of three crew vehicles at same time.
Minimum of two cargo vehicles as same time.
Airlock to allow Spacewalks
Pressurized and Unpressurized experiments
Standard docking interfaces
Robot Arm that can reach any part of the station
The only commercial option currently available to meet these needs are the Bigelow Aerospace modules currently under development. Bigelow are planning to launch at least one of their BA-330 modules in the 2017 time frame assuming that there is at least one Commercial Crew provider available to launch crew to the station. Each BA-330 module provides 330m3/11,654ft3 of space. In order to connect these module and provide access points for Cargo and Crew vehicles we will be using inter-connecting modules, these would provide the visiting vehicle docking locations, as well as providing at least one airlock. Each BA-330 module is self contained providing it’s own power needs, life support and hygiene facilities.
Based on this we are opting to use three BA-330 modules, this will provide more space than is currently available on the International Space Station, additional space will be available inside the connecting modules.
At least one of the interconnecting modules will be used to supplement the power generation facilities provided by the BA-330 modules. Additional life support systems will also be available as a backup to those provided by the BA-330.
Initially the stations that are placed beyond LEO would be single BA-330 modules and would support a crew of four. Due to the distance to the station additional storage would be needed to ensure the crew had an adequate supply of food, etc. The stations would be upgraded over time based on demand including the additional of more BA-330 modules or large depending what is available.
These platforms would only be viable if at least one Commercial Crew and Cargo provider could demonstrate the ability to delivery to these remote destinations.
As the ISS gets older it will require more significant maintenance to keep it in orbit, in addition Russia are now taking about detaching there modules from the station in 2024, if NASA were to keep the station in orbit after this they would need to replace at least the Zvezda module as this provides the propulsion needed to move the station if needed to avoid space debris. With this in mind we believe it makes more sense to fund the development of new commercial stations rather than creating modules for the ISS and have to deal with older components failing and having to be replaced too.
The views expressed in this article are my own, if you would like to join the discussion on this please comments below.
Orbital announced today that the preliminary findings of the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) point to a Turbo pump failure in one of the two AJ26 main engines on the Antares rocket.
Because of this Orbital will no longer use the AJ26 engines and will instead accelerate the migration to a new engine on the Antares. Due to the delay in completing the migration, and due to the design on Cygnus, Orbital will use an alternative launcher (to be announced) to fulfill Cygnus missions until such time that Antares is ready. Orbital will assume any additional costs for using the alternate launcher .
Orbital will continue to use Wallops for the upgraded launcher once is it ready and will fulfill any remaining flights in it’s current CRS contract with the modified Antares.
Following a scrub yesterday due to a boat breaking the range safety keep out area the Orbital Sciences Orb-3 mission made another attempt today. Following a very some and uneventful countdown the Antares rocket carrying the ‘Deke Slayton’ Cygnus lifted off on time at 6:22pm EDT, unfortunately approximately 6 seconds later a catastrophic failure occurred causing the rocket to explode and come crashing back to the launchpad.
Orbital Sciences have instigated a failure investigation team which will be led by Richard Straka, Deputy General Manager of Orbital’s Launch Systems Group. The investigation team will include representatives from NASA, Orbital, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops, Va.
Reports on NASA TV indicate significant damage to the launch pad and fires could be seen burn over a wide area after the explosion. All range personnel have been accounted for.
This is certainly a setback for Orbital Sciences, the Commercial Cargo program and the numerous science teams that had payloads on Cygnus, it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on future launches for the other suppliers to the station. However until the cause of the anomaly is known and resolved we seriously doubt there will be any further Cygnus launches to the station.
We will continue to update this post as further information becomes available.
The launch of the Orbital Science’s Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus Cargo Vehicle named SS Janice Voss has been delayed until tomorrow 7/13 due to severe weather at Wallops Island that delayed several steps in the processing of the rocket on the launch pad.
The launch is now scheduled for 12:52 pm EDT, for mission updates check out there status page here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.