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.

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.