Since the Space Shuttle completed it’s last flight the US has had to rely on Russia to launch manned missions to the International Space Station, and this will continue for at least two more years.
There are currently two countries with the ability to launch manned missions Russia and China, there are five others US, ESA, India, Iran and Japan working on programs.
India recently launched their Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mk III vehicle, the most powerful so far, which carried the Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) vehicle which is the first stage of their manned program.
The status of the other programs is unknown at this point with the plans calling for delivery in the 2020’s.
So what does this mean for the US Manned program?
At present there are four active programs for Orbital Manned Spaceflight in the US those are Boeing’s CST-100, NASA’s Orion, SNC’s Dream Chaser and SpaceX’s Dragon V2. Of these three are being funded by NASA and the four has previously been funded and is currently disputing the award to the other competitors.
Before we decide if the US is falling behind lets take a look at each program.
The CST-100 like the Dragon V2 and Orion spacecraft is based on a capsule design which will return to Earth and land under parachutes.
The CST-100 will be launched on an Atlas V rocket supplied by ULA.
Orion is designed to travel beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), while it could operate in LEO there really isn’t much point as the commercial companies will have this ability before Orion’s next flight. The first test flight of Orion was completed successfully earlier this month.
The Orion spacecraft will be launched on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket which is due to debut in 2018.
SNC’s Dream Chaser
Unlike the other’s Dream Chaser is a lifting body spacecraft designed to land automatically on conventional runways.
Dream Chaser will be launched by an Atlas V but a smaller version is also being designed that could launch on Stratolaunch.
SpaceX’s Dragon V2
The Dragon V2 spacecraft is the crewed version of the currently operating Dragon spacecraft that has supplied the space station five times. This vehicle will include the ability to automatically dock with the station and will use a propulsive landing to allow it to precisely control where it lands.
Dragon V2 will be launched on the Falcon 9 v1.1 as the current Dragon does.
Far from falling behind the rest of the world we truly believe that the US is in a far stronger position for the future. Having four active manned programs three of which are commercially owed will help to keep costs lower and will ensure that the US has access to space even if one system suffers a failure.
The ORB-2 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed again due to the on-going investigation into an AJ26 engine failure last month during testing. The Antares rocket which launches the Cygnus spacecraft uses two of the AJ26 engines on the first stage to orbit.
The new No Earlier Than (NET) date is July 1st, we will prove additional news when available on the launch date/time.
SLS design change could delay first crewed mission
NASA has decided to change the version of the second stage that will be used on the EM-2 crewed mission. Originally slated to be the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) stage that will be used on EM-1 they have now elected to use the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) stage that was originally scheduled to debut on EM-3. Due to this and the NASA Safety Office and Astronaut Office’s requirement that the upper stage complete at least one mission before any crew and be carried on it could mean that EM-3 becomes the first crewed mission for SLS in 2023.
An alternate option may be to add an additional flight between EM-1 and EM-2 which would be used to prove the EUS therefore allowing EM-2 to be the first crewed flight, however additional funding would be needed to achieve that. At present there are no future details as to the overall impact of the SLS schedule with primary focus on the EM-1 flight in 2017.
Progress M-21M undocks
This week the Progress M-21M spacecraft completed it’s mission to the ISS with a successful undocking and later burn up in the atmosphere. The cargo vehicle spent 144 days at the station having delivered almost 2,400 pounds of supplies it was then loaded with trash that was no longer needed. European Astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted the picture below of the Progress burning up in the atmosphere to conclude it’s orbital mission.
The ESA Rosetta spacecraft completed two big burns this week as it entered the final phase of its approach to the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after almost a decade journey. Unlike when it a spacecraft approaches a planet Rosetta will not be able to use the gravity of the comet to get into orbit but instead will need to execute a series of burns to precisely match the orbit.
It is currently approaching at a speed of 17,000 kpd (kilometers per day) and is currently less than 300,000 kilometers away. Over the next month and half it will continue to refine the orbit.
A team of Astronomers have discovered two new planets around a nearby red dwarf star Kapteyn, which is about 13 light years away in the southern constellation of Pictor. One of the planets Kapteyn c is considered to be too cold for life because of it’s distance from the star. However Kapteyn b is within the habitable zone and therefore could have liquid water on the surface. The planet is estimated to be 5 times the mass of earth, and has an orbital period of 48 days.
Boeing CST-100 News
This week Boeing showcased their CST-100 spacecraft which is one of the spacecraft that is competing for the Commercial Crew contract to deliver astronauts to the ISS.
The spacecraft will be launched by an Atlas 5 rocket and once in orbit will dock to the space station to deliver up to seven people to the station. During the return the spacecraft will utilize airbags when it lands.
Boeing also indicated that further progress on the CST-100 would depend on them getting a contract from NASA in the CCtCap process which is currently on-going.
AAA Needed on Mars for Curiosity Rover
The Mars Curiosity Rover which has been roaming around on Mars for almost a year is starting show ware and tare from the journey so far.
Originally expected to take a year to get to the base of Mt. Sharp the rover is currently half way there and clearly showing signs of damage from the un-yielding rocks as it moves over the surface.
Hmm wonder what the call out charge would be for AAA to replace the wheel, sign me up for that trip.
Russia plans Biggest Rocket since 1960s
The chief of the Federal Space Agency in Russia, Oleg Ostapenko said this week, while visiting Crimea, that they would need to build a super-heavy rocket capable of lifting between 80 to 85 tons to earth orbit in order to realize it’s lunar ambitions.
100 Million Planets may Harbor Complex Life in Milky Way
Scientists from the University of Texas have released findings based on the “first plausible assessment of complex life in the universe using empirical data.” The findings estimate that there could be as many as 100 million planets in our galaxy that may harbor some form of complex alien life. The article also says that our galaxy is one of approximately 500 billion in the universe.
Author Note: The estimate of galaxies in this article seems to be very high a factor of 2.5-5 times higher than most other articles or current estimates.
Trillion Dollar Market
This week Planetary Resources released a video, explaining why they believe fuel from asteroids will create a Trillion Dollar market in the future. Currently satellite operators have to pay for total weight of the spacecraft, including any fuel needed for the life of vehicle.
Smoke detected on ISS Tuesday, crew were not in danger
This week smoke was detected on the ISS, in the Zvezda Service Module, requiring flight controllers to initiate emergency procedures to isolate the modules ventilation system while the source of the some was identified. The crew were never in any danger and the problem was quickly determined to be a heater that was used for water reclamation. The heater was deactivated, a fan and filter was then setup to clear the smoke.
Kepler Candidate List updated
The NASA Kepler project updated the number of Kepler candidates and confirmed planets from 3,845 to 4,254. There are now up to one hundred potentially habitable worlds in the Kepler candidates, 30 matching the conservative definition of a potentially habitable.
Pluto and Charon news
Pluto has often been considered a binary planet with its largest moon Charon, it now seems that they may both also share a thin atmosphere. While it is impossible to detect the atmosphere using ground based technology the New Horizon’s spacecraft that is current racing towards Pluto will have the ability to detect it.
We will know more in 2015 after the flyby has been completed and the data is back on earth.
Sierra Nevada Corporation who are building the Dream Chaser spacecraft that is competing for the contract to fly astronauts to the ISS this week announced a new partnership with Craig Technologies, a Cape Canaveral based company. The company will be responsible for the design engineering and manufacture of Dream Chaser.
The 3D Printer developed by Made In Space has passed the final certification by NASA and will now be launched to the ISS on the next SpaceX mission in August. The printer was originally planned to launch on the SpaceX 5 mission but having completed all the milestones needed ahead of schedule they will now only need to wait until then to see the printer in action.
Once on the station a series of tests will be run to verify the ability to created printed parts in a micro-gravity environment.
England’s Sky News has reported that Google and Virgin Galactic have been in talks for months regarding a potential investment by Google. While no deal has been finalized it is believe to be a part of Google plans to launch a fleet of satellites to provide Internet access to the whole planet.
The launch of six Orbcomm satellites on a Falcon 9 has been delayed again, originally scheduled for Thursday this week after previous delays the date was changed to Sunday after a problem was found with one of the satellites.
While the problem with the satellite appears to have been resolved Orbcomm have decided to perform additional testing to verify the issue has been fully addressed. In order to complete the analysis the June 15 launch date is no longer achievable and they are working with SpaceX to identify a new launch date.
NASA’s Maven spacecraft is 100 days away from Mars
The NASA Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft which launched last November is now 100 days away from arriving at Mars.
Last Sunday at 3:05pm the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully completed it’s CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a splashdown in the Pacific ocean.
Launched on April 18th aboard a Falcon 9 rocket the Dragon spacecraft, carrying nearly 5,000 lbs of supplies and payloads including two in the un-pressurized trunk, the craft was deployed to orbit following the successful launch. On April 20th the craft was captured by the station’s robot arm and berthed allowing access to the cargo. On Sunday the craft was unberthed from the station carrying 3,500 lbs or cargo. After successfully backing away from the station, later in the day the craft was commanded executed de-orbit burn which concluded with the splashdown.
This was the longest orbital mission so far for Dragon at 29 days, 23 hours and 40 minutes.
On Tuesday the spacecraft arrived at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California where time-sensitive cargo was off-loaded and handed over to NASA, the spacecraft will now travel to the test facility in McGregor, Texas where the rest of the cargo will be off-loaded and handed over to NASA.
On Wednesday it was reported that during the landing there was some water seepage into the spacecraft after the landing, however it doesn’t appear that this caused any issues with the experiments on board. However due to this event NASA will require resulting from an investigation by SpaceX and any changes needed to avoid this happening again before the next Dragon flight will be approved.
Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide upper-stage propulsion for RELS
Aerojet Rocketdyne announced on Monday they had received a contract to supply six RL10C-1 engines, with an option for six additional engines. These engines will by used by the third stage of the revolutionary air-launch system being build by Stratolaunch Systems Corporation (SSC).
The three stage rocket being developed will be dropped from a carrier aircraft when it reaches the desired altitude, once released the rocket will begin it’s power flight into orbit.
The Government Accountability Office report on the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft indicates that NASA has masked the true cost of being the pair by neglecting to say what the system will cost to build for each flight.
So far there are only two missions slated for the combined vehicle and the estimated cost through 2021 is $22 billion.
While I believe NASA needs to have a crewed vehicle for deep space missions it would be interesting to see what SpaceX or another commercial company could create for $22 billion.
New Cameras to Probe Planets beyond our Solar System
Two new camera’s designed to image Jupiter class planets orbiting other stars and their atmospheres have been brought online. The European Southern Observatories Very Large Telescope camera Sphere saw first light on May 4, and the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South Observatory has reported back on data gathered from it’s first light.
Japanese researchers announced the discovery of a site of planet formation around a young star in the Lupus Constellation in the southern sky, it’s name is Latin for wolf.
The researchers found a proto-planetary disk around the star HD142527 and the dust appears to be concentrated in the upper part of the ring. The observations where made using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA).
This week Elon Musk received the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during the 22rd annual International Space Development Conference, after receiving the aware he talked further about the progress that SpaceX was making towards a permanent base on Mars and also more on the re-usable rocket tests.
The FAA have issued regulations establishing requirements for crew and space flight participants involved in private human space flight. The new rules maintain the FAA’s commitment to protect the safety of the public.
NASA and ATK moved a step closer to the 2017 launch of the first SLS this week with the completion of a significant structural test of the booster’s main attachment mechanism. The article tested was a major load-bearing structure known as the skirt.
The Mars Opportunity Rover has returned this Martian Vista from the ridge line of Endeavour Crater
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover spent several months exploring portions of Murray Ridge. Since reaching the local high point on the ridge line from which this panorama was taken, the rover has proceeded southward to reach an exposure of aluminum-rich clay detected from orbit.
Construction has begun on the new Mars lander Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is scheduled to launch March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from California. The mission will provide NASA with information toward their goal of sending a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Meet Quaoar, the Planetoid Beyond Pluto
Most people know of Pluto which for a long time was the 9th planet before being demoted, however there are many more objects beyond the last planet Neptune that many may not be aware off.
The following article introduces one of those objects a planetoid in the outer edges of our solar system called Quaoar. Discovered in 2002 it heralded a new age in Astronomy, this and a few other worlds being discovered caused the International Astronomical Union to form a new classification system for planets, planetoids and dwarf planets.
SpaceX launch of Orbcomm Satellites targeted for June 11th
SpaceX has re-aligned the next launch to No Earlier Than (NET) June 11th. The delay were caused by a Helium leak in the first stage that was found during fueling for the Static Fire Test.
This leak was a different location to a leak that delayed the CRS-3 mission, although further details were not available it seems likely that it was around the Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessels (COPV) which are used to pressurize the vehicle.
It is not clear yet if the issue has been repaired but SpaceX are working towards this date and a new Static Fire will be performed at some point before then.
The Planetary Society responds to coverage of ISS statements by Russia
The Planetary Societies Blogger Casey Dreier posted this week a response to all the coverage of the ISS suitation since Russia made statements regarding the status of the station.
Firstly there were two issues in the statements, one relating to the RD-180 engines which has been covered previously and the second relating to the station.
In summary the current operation plan for the station runs until 2020, NASA with the approval of the White House proposed to extend this until 2024, however as of yet none of the other partners had actually signed onto this new plan. However it was originally thought that Russia were interested in the extension however since the tensions over Ukraine that no longer seems to be be case.
However given that there are over six years left in the current operational plan there is nothing to say the situation won’t change again.
Space station’s Sphere’s use Google smartphone tech
The free-flying Spheres modules on the International Space Station will now be aided by Google’s Project Tango to assist the crew in mundane tasks. Project Tango is a smartphone project by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group which tracks the 3D motion of the device and create a 3D model of the environment around it.
The Spheres modules short for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites has been tested on the station since 2003 and with this latest upgrade will be able to perform more functions.
The Spheres project was originally inspired by Star Wars.
SpaceX DragonFly test vehicle revealed
In further SpaceX news this week details of the DragonFly test vehicle became available. The vehicle will be tested at SpaceX’s McGregor facility and consists of a 7 ton Dragon capsule equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters, an integrated trunk and up to four landing legs. The vehicle will be put through a series propulsive landing tests to validate the design and to enable future Dragon vehicles to perform a land based landing.
One of the Aerojet AJ-26 main engines for the Antares rocket suffered extensive damage during a test firing at the Stennis Space Center this week. Before the engine’s can be used for an actual launch they are test fired to verify everything is working correctly.
At present it is not known if this failure will have any impact on the June 10th launch of an Antares carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on it’s next visit to the ISS.
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.
Another week has come and gone and the stories continue to flow in, this week we have a number of exciting stories plus four Kickstarter projects related to space.
Bold New Plan for first SLS/Orion Launch
This week NASA managers announced the new plan which would see the first uncrewed mission named EM-1 travel to 40,000 miles beyond the moon. Due to the change in the mission it will not take approximately 25 days to complete, with 18 of those used for the travel time and the rest performing tests at the destination point. For more information check out the full article here.
Curiosity on the Move
The Mars Rover Curiosity has begun it’s epic drive to Mt. Sharp, expected to take the next year to complete the rover is making a 5 mile journey to a spot which will allow it access Mt. Sharp’s lower reaches. Check out the latest new on the rover here.
Mars Rover 2020 Plans announced
This week a NASA Science Team outlined the goals for the next Rover to head to Mars, based on the same design as Curiosity the rover will look for signs of past life on Mars as well as collect samples for a possible future Sample Return mission. Check out the press release here and more information is available here.
Ariane 6 News
This week European Ministers approved the start of preparatory activities for Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 launch vehicle. For more information on the rocket design and goals check out the press release here.
NASA’s Polar Robotic Ranger
Rover succeeds in the harsh environment of Greenland a new NASA Rover passed a series of tests. Known as GROVER for Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, it was designed by a team of students attending boot camps at Goddard. Despite the harsh weather the rover performed well during the 5 weeks of testing. For addition information check out the article here.
ISS Space Walk
This week Astronauts Christopher Cassidy and Luca Parmitano completed the 170th Space Walk devoted to station assembly and maintenance. Chris was performing his four space walk while this was Luca’s first. They were able to perform all the originally planned tasks for the walk as well as several get-ahead tasks. Both will be suiting up again on Tuesday for another spacewalk.
Astronomer’s witness birth of Star
Scientists using the new ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) telescope in Chile witness the birth of a massive star approximately 10,000 light years from earth in a dark cloud core. The star is 500 times the mass of our Sun and brighter making it one of the largest stars in our galaxy. For more information check out the full article here.
Solar System Tail Viewed
Using the IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft scientists have been able to map out the structure of the tail that our solar system produces. We have seen similar tails around other stars but until now have not been able to determine if our own star actually had one. For more information check out the article here.
Future ISS Crew Members Announced
This week NASA and it’s International Partners in the space station announced three new crew members who will launch in June 2015 and make up part of the Expedition 44/45 crews aboard the station. The three are NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Japanese Exploration Aerospace Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. For more information and the full bio’s for the crew members check out the article here.
Hubble Spots Blue Planet
Astronomers using the Hubble telescope have for the first time been able to determine the color of a planet orbiting an distance star. The planet called HD 189733b if viewed up close would be a cobalt blue color similar to Earth when viewed from space. However unlike Earth this is a Gas Giant that is orbiting very close to its star. Check out the full article here.
Solar Tsunami used to measure Sun’s Magnetic Field
The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the Japanese Hinode spacecraft have been used to provide the first accurate estimates of the Sun’s magnetic field. The Tsunami’s are created by massive explosions in the Sun’s atmosphere and by observing the effects of these they were able to determine that the Sun’s magnetic field is ten times weaker than a fridge magnet. For more information check out the article here.
Dream Chaser News
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) have completed the initial tow tests of their Dream Chaser spacecraft which is in the running for Commercial Crew missions to the ISS. The initial tests are designed to validate the performance of the craft and it’s equipment. For futher information check out the article here.
Kickstarter Projects It would seem that following the success of the ARKYD project on Kickstarter a number of others have started new projects for Space related missions.
VASIMR – Create Video of VASIMR missions CAT – A Thruster for CubeSats LunarSail – World First Lunar Sail Mission Moon Spacecraft – Send your own Spacecraft to the Moon
Here are some additional articles I found but haven’t summarized in the blog.