First British Astronaut arrives at the #ISS

European Space Agency Astronaut Tim Peake of the UK arrived at the International Space Station today following a smooth launch and four orbit accelerated rendezvous.  Tim and fellow travelers NASA’s Tim Kopra and RSA’s Yuri Malenchenko lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 6:03 AM EST today and once in orbit begun there four orbit, six hour journey to the station.

The crew had to perform a manual docking after the KURS automated docking was aborted when the craft was just 20 metres away from the station.

Tim’s mission called Principia will see him stay at the station for six months during which time he will perform numerous experiments including interacting with two Raspberry PI’s that were recently launched to the station aboard the Cygnus spacecraft.  The PI’s will be executing programs created by school children around the UK which were selected during a competition.

Tim is the second UK astronaut to travel into space and the first to the ISS, the previous traveler Helen Sharman visited the Mir station.

Current station commander Scott Kelly posted the following picture of the launch captured from the station today.

Video of launch

Video of arrival and docking

Video of the hatch opening

Future Now – Replicators

As part of a new series of articles we will take a look at technology that was predicted in films and where they are today.

Today we will take a look at Replicators, in the future predicted by Star Trek replicators are used extensively to produce all sorts of different items. According to Wikipedia in theory replicators work as follows “by rearranging subatomic particles, which are abundant everywhere in the universe, to form molecules and arrange those molecules to form the object. For example, to create a pork chop, the replicator would first form atoms of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, etc., then arrange them into amino acids, proteins, and cells, and assemble the particles into the form of a pork chop.

So do we have replicator technology today?

If we use the definition shown above then then answer would be NO, however we are not going to use that definition. Instead we are going to use what we know today as a basis for our answer. Over the last few years 3D Printer Technology has exploded with printers becoming cheaper and the range of materials that can be used expanding. SpaceX and NASA have both produced Rocket Engine parts using 3D Printer technology both of which have been tested to extreme temperatures.

International Space Station Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore shows off a ratchet wrench made with a 3D printer aboard the orbiting lab. The wrench and other parts will return to Earth for comparison with ground samples in early 2015. Credit: NASA
International Space Station Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore shows off a ratchet wrench made with a 3D printer aboard the orbiting lab. The wrench and other parts will return to Earth for comparison with ground samples in early 2015.
Credit: NASA

During the SpaceX CRS-4 mission to the International Space Station earlier this year the first 3D Printer in space was delivered and later installed. While at present this is just a test environment a second more capable printer is already scheduled to be delivered some time in 2015 with an ESA printer also joining it on the station.  During the testing on the space station NASA emailed the design for a wrench which was then printed.

Natural Machines has announced a 3D Food Printer and NASA are also looking into this for future space missions, at the moment this is just a research project but could well be used on long duration missions in the future.

Therefore while we do not currently have the replicators described in Star Trek we do have the ability to replicate items using an increasing array of materials and as we invest more time and money into the technology that will continue to expand.

Ariane 5 launch scrubbed

The second launch scheduled today was unable to lift off due to the weather conditions over the launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana. A new launch date and time will be decided once the weather conditions have been evaluated.

The Ariane 5 ECA was due to launch the DirecTV 14 and GSAT 16 satellites

T-3 days and counting to NASA’s Orion EFT-1

Officially known as the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) the vehicle was announced in May 2011.  The design of the vehicle is derived from the cancelled Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle which was to be a part of the Constellation program announced by President Bush in 2004, that program was eventually cancelled by President Obama and the new mission announced.

Cutout view of the Orion Spacecraft © NASA
Cutout view of the Orion Spacecraft © NASA

The spacecraft will be made up of two parts, the Command Module (CM), built by Lockheed Martin, where the crew will reside during flight and the Service Module (SM), supplied by the European Space Agency (ESA) and built by Airbus Defense and Space, which will provide power and propulsion.  For the EFT-1 flight the Service Module will comprise of the Delta IV upper stage and Orion will rely on batteries to provide power.

The first flight with the ESA provided Service Module is expected on Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) currently scheduled for 2018.

Orion is being designed for deep space missions which unlike missions to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) require a stronger heat shield during re-entry due to the increased speed as the spacecraft approaches the planet.  In addition the vehicle will need to withstand stronger doses of radiation than those visiting LEO which is still somewhat protected by Earth’s atmosphere.  The vehicle is designed along the lines of the old Apollo Command Modules but there the comparison finishes, internally it will have 50% more volume and will be 5.02 meters (16 ft 6 in) in diameter and 3.3 meters (10 ft 10 in) in length, with a mass of about 8.5 metric tons (19,000 lb).  The module is designed to support a crew of 4-6 for up to 21 days of active flight, with an orbital life of six months when combined with another module for longer missions.

Orion’s CM will use advanced technologies, including:

  • “Glass cockpit” digital control systems derived from those of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
  • An “autodock” feature, like those of Russian Progress spacecraft and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle, with provision for the flight crew to take over in an emergency. Previous American spacecraft (Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle) have all required manual piloting for docking.
  • Improved waste-management facilities, with a miniature camping-style toilet and the unisex “relief tube” used on the space shuttle (whose system was based on that used on Skylab) and the International Space Station (based on the Soyuz, Salyut, and Mir systems). This eliminates the use of the much-hated plastic “Apollo bags” used by the Apollo crews.
  • A nitrogen/oxygen (N2/O2) mixed atmosphere at either sea level (101.3 kPa or 14.69 psi) or slightly reduced (55.2 to 70.3 kPa or 8.01 to 10.20 psi) pressure.
  • Much more advanced computers than on previous crewed spacecraft.
NASA has announced that it will conduct an unmanned test flight called the Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1 in 2014. Image Credit:
Artists rendering of the Orion Spacecraft in orbit with the Delta IV upper stage. Image Credit:

Next update tomorrow we will look at the Goals of the test flight.

Information for this article was gather from NASA and the 
Orion wikipedia page.

ISS Spacewalk US EVA-27 completed successfully

Today NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman and ESA Astronaut Alexander Gerst steps outside the International Space Station for a 6h 13m spacewalk.

This was the first spacewalk for each of the Astronauts and was completed successfully. This was the 182nd spacewalk in support of the ISS for a total of 47d 14h 15m,

During the spacewalk they were able to complete the following tasks.

The first task for Wiseman and Gerst was relocating a failed cooling pump to External Stowage Platform-2 (ESP-2) just outside the Quest airlock. It was temporarily stowed on the station’s truss by Expedition 38 spacewalkers Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio on Dec. 21 after they replaced the failed pump with a spare.

When they completed the pump module stowage work, the duo stowed adjustable grapple bars on ESP-2. Wiseman cleaned up the work area around the pump module.

Gerst went on to replace a light on an External Television Camera Group (ETVCG) outside Destiny.

The next task was the installation of a Mobile Transporter Relay Assembly (MTRA) on to the S0 truss right above the Destiny laboratory. The MTRA adds the capability to provide “keep-alive” power to the Mobile Servicing System when the Mobile Transporter is moving between worksites.

The Mobile Transporter can move supplies, gear and the Canadarm2 on rails along the Integrated Truss Structure, the station’s backbone. The Mobile Servicing System, which includes the transporter and Canadarm2, plays a key role in station maintenance tasks.

During the repress of the airlock, confirmation that the work on the Mobile Service System had been successfully tested was received.

Below are some screen grabs of the spacewalk from NASA TV

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Exciting times in Space

A lot has happened in Space or related to Space recently and the future is looking very bright.

Below is a summary of some of the recent news and upcoming events.

SpaceX and Boeing awarded CCtCap contracts – We now have two companies contracted to build manned spacecraft to deliver crew to the ISS.  Currently only two other countries have the ability to do this.  See my full article on the awards here.

ULA and Blue Origin announce BE-4 engine – Following pressure from various sources ULA have announced they are going to partner with Blue Origin to build the engine which will allow them to move away from the Russian RD-180 engine for Atlas.  Full article include specs can be found here.

Mars Orbiters arriving soon – This Sunday NASA’s Mars Maven orbiter will be arriving at the planet and next Wednesday India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is also expected to arrive.  They will join three other orbiters currently at Mars and the two active Rovers on the surface.

ESA Rosetta Lander Philae has a landing site – The European Space Agency has announced the landing site for Philae which is part of the Rosetta mission.  This will be the first time a vehicle has landed on the surface of a Comet.  For more information on the mission check out the excellent ESA Blog for Rosetta.

First 3D Printer heading to space – Early tomorrow morning SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission is scheduled to lift off, on board will be the first 3D printer to go into space.  The possibilities this opens up for the future are immeasurable.  For more information on the printer check out this page.  We will be posting an update tomorrow morning following the launch of CRS-4.


Rosetta arrives at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Close up image of 67P taken today by Rosetta as it arrived
Close up image of 67P taken today by Rosetta as it arrived

After a 10 year, 5 month, 4 day journey the European Space Agencies Rosetta spacecraft has arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.  Having spent the last few weeks refining it’s approach and returning amazing images (see below) of the Comet it finally arrived in it’s initial orbit earlier this morning.  Due to the small size and low gravity of the Comet the spacecraft is in a triangular orbit which is controlled by thruster firings.

The Rosetta spacecraft consists of two separate vehicles and orbiter and lander which is named Philae.

Now that the spacecraft is in orbit the mission team will now spent the next few weeks taking images to determine the best location for the lander which is expected to touchdown on the comet in November this year.  Once on the surface the lander will being it’s science mission, the two vehicles will observe the comet as it travels around the Sun over the 13 months from November 2014 to December 2015 returning unprecedented data of the processes that occur as it approaches the Sun and then moves away again.

The orbiter is carrying the following instruments

ALICE: Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer – analyses gases in the coma and tail and measures the comet’s production rates of water and carbon monoxide/dioxide. It also provides information on the surface composition of the nucleus.

CONSERT: COmet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radio wave Transmission – probes the comet’s interior by studying radio waves that are reflected and scattered by the nucleus.

COSIMA: COmetary Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer – will analyse the characteristics of dust grains emitted by the comet, including their composition and whether they are organic or inorganic.

GIADA: Grain Impact Analyser and Dust Accumulator – measures the number,mass, momentum and velocity distribution of dust grains coming from the nucleus and from other directions (reflected by solar radiation pressure).

MIDAS: Micro-Imaging Dust Analysis System – studies the dust environment around the asteroids and comet. It provides information on particle population, size, volume and shape.

MIRO: Microwave Spectrometer for the Rosetta Orbiter – is used to determine the abundances of major gases, the surface outgassing rate and the nucleus subsurface temperature.

OSIRIS: Optical, Spectroscopic, and InfraRed Remote Imaging System – has a wide-angle camera and narrow-angle camera that can obtain high-resolution images of the comet’s nucleus.

ROSINA: Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis – contains two sensors which will determine the composition of the comet’s atmosphere and ionosphere, the velocities of electrified gas particles, and reactions in which they take part. It will also investigate possible asteroid outgassing.

RPC Rosetta Plasma Consortium – In this instrument, five sensors measure the physical properties of the nucleus, examine the structure of the inner coma,monitor cometary activity, and study the comet’s interaction with the solar wind.

RSI: Radio Science Investigation – Frequency shifts in the spacecraft’s radio signals will be used to measure the mass and gravity of the comet nucleus in order to deduce its density and internal structure, to define the comet’s orbit, and to study its inner coma. RSI has already determined the mass and density of the asteroid Lutetia during the flyby in 2010, and studied the solar corona during the periods when the spacecraft, as seen from Earth, was passing behind the Sun (in 2006 and 2010).

VIRTIS: Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer – maps and studies the nature of the solids and the temperature on the surface of the nucleus. Also identifies comet gases, characterises the physical conditions of the coma and helps to identify the best landing sites.

The lander is carrying the following instruments

APXS: Alpha X-ray Spectrometer – is lowered to within 4 cm of the ground, it detects alpha particles and X-rays, which provide information on the elemental composition of the comet’s surface.

ÇIVA: Six identical micro-cameras take panoramic pictures of the surface. A spectrometer studies the composition, texture and albedo (reflectivity) of samples collected from the surface.

CONSERT: Comet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission – probes the internal structure of the nucleus. Radio waves from the CONSERT experiment on the orbiter travel through the nucleus and are returned by a transponder on the lander.

COSAC: Cometary Sampling and Composition experiment – is one of One of two evolved gas analysers, it detects and identifies complex organic molecules from their elemental and molecular composition.

PTOLEMY: is an evolved gas analyser, which obtains accurate measurements of isotopic ratios of light elements.

MUPUS: Multi-Purpose Sensors for Surface and Subsurface Science – uses sensors on the Lander’s anchor, probe and exterior to measure the density, thermal and mechanical properties of the surface.

ROLIS: Rosetta Lander Imaging System – is a CCD camera to obtain high-resolution images during descent and stereo panoramic images of areas sampled by other instruments.

ROMAP: Rosetta Lander Magnetometer and Plasma Monitor – is a magnetometer and plasma monitor study the local magnetic field and the comet/solar-wind interaction.

SD2: Sample and Distribution Device – drills more than 20 cm into the surface, collects samples and delivers them to different ovens or for microscope inspection.

SESAME: Surface Electrical Sounding and Acoustic Monitoring Experiments – Three instruments measure properties of the comet’s outer layers. The Cometary Acoustic Sounding Surface Experiment (CASSE) measures the way in which sound travels through the surface. The Permittivity Probe (PP) investigates its electrical characteristics, and the Dust Impact Monitor (DIM) measures dust falling back to the surface.

For more information on the spacecraft check out the mission page here, for the latest images and news check out the mission blog here.

Comet 67P Images
Combination of Comet 67P images created by Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society