The International Docking Adapter (IDA) that was transported to the International Space Station (ISS) in the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was successfully installed to the end of the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 (PMA-2) during a spacewalk today.
Astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins performed a 5 hour 58 minute spacewalk to complete the installation of the IDA, with the exception of a small issue removing the cap from one of the cable connectors the installation went very smoothly. Once the IDA was soft docked to the PMA Astronaut Takuya Onishi commanded two sets of hooks to permanently mate the IDA to the PMA thereby allowing Jeff and Kate to reconfigure the cables on the IDA to allow future visiting vehicle to dock with it.
Once the IDA work was completed they two moved on to installation of cables that will be used for the second IDA which is due to be delivered in late 2017. The crew were planning to attempt some get ahead tasks, however Jeff started to have communication issues and they decided to returned to the airlock to conclude the successful spacewalk.
This was the fourth spacewalk for Jeff, and the first for Kate.
The three crew members Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova and Barry E. Wilmore aboard the Soyuz TMA-14M have now entered their home for the next six months. Following a smooth docking, leak checks were performed and the hatches opened allowing the crew to enter the station. Just before the hatches opened NASA confirmed that after the docking of the Soyuz TMA-14M to the Poisk module the stuck Solar Array unexpectedly deployed. The hatch opening occurred almost an hour later than originally planned.
Once on board the normal teleconference with the families and dignitaries on the ground was held before the crew headed to bed for their first night in orbit.
A fun fact from this arrival, there are 18 Zebrafish on Soyuz, add that to the 40 mice that arrived on Dragon earlier this week and the six crew members there are 64 living on the station currently.
A Soyuz TMA-14M carrying cosmonaut Aleksandr Samokutyayev, the first female cosmonaut Yelena Serova and astronaut Barry E. Wilmore lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:25pm EDT to begin a four orbit, six hour journey to the International Space Station to complete the Expedition 41 crew complement.
Following a smooth ride to orbit the spacecraft transitioned to orbital operations before beginning the accelerated approach plan that been adopted by the Russian Federal Space Agency for trips to the station. This reduces the amount of time the crew spends in the cramped environment of the Soyuz spacecraft, before the new plan was adopted it would typically take two days before the crew would be aboard the station.
Docking is scheduled at 10:15pm EDT today and will be shown live on NASA TV, with hatch opening scheduled for a couple of hours later once all the leak tests have been completed.
Below are screen grabs of the launch from NASA TV.
This evening the second of three planned launches this week lifted off carrying the final European Automated Transfer Vehicle to orbit.
The Ariane 5 rocket lifted off at 7:47:38 p.m. EDT from French Guiana carrying the ATV spacecraft, 64 minutes after liftoff the vehicle is scheduled to separate from the upper stage to begin it’s two week journey to the space station.
The ATV which is named Georges Lemaître after the Belgian astronomer is carrying over 8 tonnes of supplies to the ISS, including a record of 2695 kg dry cargo. In addition to being the final ATV it is also the heaviest payload that Ariane 5 has ever launched at 20,300 kg. The ATV vehicle employ’s an automated docking system allowing it to autonomously arrive at the station and connect to the Russian section of the station like the Progress and Soyuz spacecraft do.
Once the spacecraft has completed it’s mission at the station it will be filled with trash and will then burn up in the atmosphere. During the fiery re-entry the spacecraft camera’s will be transmitting live video of the re-entry.
Below are screen captures of the launch from NASA TV.
When New Horizons was first launched towards Pluto the plan was for it to complete it’s mission and then fly on to another object in the Kuiper belt and perform the same observations as it does at Pluto. The second destination has not yet been choose and researchers are now utilizing the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to aid the search. While there is still plenty of time the science team will need to ensure they determined the orbit of the object so they can make any adjustments to the path of New Horizons once it leaves Pluto.
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft currently in orbit of Mercury has allowed scientists for the first time to spot a hot flow anomaly or HFA. A HFA is a classic space weather event which has been previous spotted at Venus, Earth, Mars and Saturn.
Last week a number of teams took part in the NASA Centennial Sample Return Robot Challenge that was hosted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, MA.
For this years challenge there were two levels available, the first level teams would compete for 30 minutes and had to return the designated sample to their starting platform with the robot operating complete autonomously. Fourteen teams competed for this level with a single $5000 prize being awarded to the Mountaineers, first-time competitors from West Virginia University, Morgantown.
For the second level, teams had 2 hours to complete the challenge, this time they had to autonomously collect as many samples as they could during the allotted time with the prize money based on total weigh collected within the rules which can be found here. This year there was only one team competing for this level, Team Survey who had completed level one last year, unfortunately due to a malfunction during start up of the robot they were not able to complete the challenge. They did reboot the robot and performed a demonstration run on the course allowing them to collect very valuable data on the performance of the robot.
This was the third year of the competition hosted by WPI, next year Mountaineers and Team Survey will both be eligible for level 2 if they choose to compete.
Airbus and Safran join forces in Launcher market
Love them or hate them SpaceX are clearly making waves in the satellite launcher business, this is born out by the news this week that Airbus Group and Safran are further strengthening there relationship by creating a 50-50 joint venture to combine the launcher systems from Airbus and propulsion systems from Safran.
Researchers in Chile have observed 800 celestial objects that are up to 100 times heavier than our Sun, and concluded that 90% turn out to be multiple systems. Current telescopes do not have the power to see individual objects with a multiple system however so they can only go by the oscillation of the brightness of the object while being observed.
Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) will soon be able to enjoy a freshly brewed coffee instead of the instant coffee they currently use. The ISSpresso machine is a capsule based espresso machine built by coffee retailer Lavazza and aerospace company Argotec. It is due to fly up to ISS later this year to coincide with the expedition of European Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti who will not only be the first Italian woman in space but if all goes as planned by the first to enjoy a real Italian espresso in space.
Earth’s gravity causes Lunar bulges
For the first time scientists have been able to observe the bulge on the surface of the moon that is created by the gravitational pull of the Earth on the moon, using NASA satellites. Due to the size of both the Earth and Moon they are in a gravitational tug-of-war which stretches both and causes them to have a slight oval shape.
On Earth we see the effects of this in the tides, however on the moon it is much harder as it is solid on the surface. Careful observations of the surface have shown a 20 inch bulge on each side of the moon. While the same side of the moon faces the earth this bulge does move around slightly due to the wobble of the moon during it’s orbit.
The final antenna for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observatory, high on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, has arrived. The array consists of 66 antenna’s which can work together to form a single massive radio telescope. The array has been operation since 2011 and has already returned stunning images of the universe.
The debate as to whether or not there are large planets beyond Pluto has been going on for decades and with the recent discovery of 2012 VP113 has revived interest in the subject. Observations of extreme trans-Neptunian objects seems to indicate that they are being shepherded by a distant, undiscovered planet larger than Earth.
Astronomers for the European space observatory Gaia, which was launched last December have run into a problem with stray light entering the spacecraft. This stray light will effect how well it can see the stars it is observing, the Astronomers stated that this would only effect the faintest of stars. They also announced that the optics are not transmitting as efficiently as designed but that the amount of scientific data return will still be immense.
A team of scientists utilizing supercomputers have developed a new absorption spectrum for methane that is 2000 times more comprehensive than before. This will allow Astronomers to sniff out Methane on alien planets and aid in the search for life beyond Earth.
Giant Telescopes pair up to image near-Earth Asteroid
Scientists from NASA working with a team from the Arecibo Observatory have taken radar images of Asteroid “2014 HQ124”. Captured on the 8th June they are some of the most detailed radar images of a near-Earth asteroid ever obtained.
This week United Launch Alliance (ULA) signed contracts with multiple US companies to allow them to mature next-generation rocket engine concepts. ULA would like to be able to replace the RD-180 rocket engines currently sourced from Russia with home-grown engines. The contracts call for first launch in 2019.
Boeing are preparing to send out 215 layoff notices to employee’s currently working on the Commercial Crew entry CST-100. Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) they are required to give 60 days notice of any pending layoffs.
The next round of Commercial Crew awards is due over the summer, due to the funding it seems likely only one of the three competitors Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX will be awarded a CCtCap contract to continue working on there system.
NASA Dark Energy Mission could spot 3,000 more exo-planets
A NASA mission designed to probe the nature of dark energy may also help discover thousands more exo-planets. The Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) which is due to launch in the mid-2020’s will be able to capture 300 megapixels per image and would rely on gravitational microlensing to enable it to capture the images.
NASA has issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for commercial services for the ISS.
The International Space Station (ISS) Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract, a pre-solicitation conference is currently planned for August 7th with final proposals to be submitted by November 14th 2014.
The services requested are delivery of pressurized and unpressurized cargo, return and disposal of pressurized cargo, disposal of unpressurized cargo, special tasks and studies, and ground support services for the end-to-end cargo resupply services. The supplies to be delivered by terms of the contract include air, water, food, clothing, medicine, spare parts, and scientific experiments for use in the U.S. and International Partner experimental modules.
Russian EVA completed successfully
Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev conducted an extended seven-hour 23-minute spacewalk outside the International Space Station Thursday, installing a telemetry antenna, re-positioning an experiment and jettisoning a mounting fixture after moving another experiment to a recently installed payload boom.
They ran into several issues during the spacewalk trying to remove bolts that had been in place since the Zvezda module was first launched in July 2000, however were able to overcome those issues and complete the tasks successfully.
This was the first spacewalk for both Alexander and Oleg.
NASA wants to send Quadcopter Drone to Titan
While one NASA probe whizzes by Saturn’s moon Titan on Thursday to analyze its atmosphere, the American space agency is also considering a plan to send a quadcopter drone capable of searching for life.
The ambitious idea was outlined by Larry Matthies, a research scientist and supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California, and involves a drone that would be capable of flying out of a lander or balloon. The drone would explore the moon’s landscape and seas, collect samples, and return to the “mothership” in order to recharge its batteries and submit whatever it collects for analysis.
Sierra Nevada Corporation to Acquire Orbital Technologies Corporation
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), headquartered in Sparks, Nevada, announces that it has signed a definitive purchase agreement to acquire the Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) as a wholly-owned subsidiary of SNC. ORBITEC is a leading subsystems integrator and high technology development company based in Madison, Wisconsin. ORBITEC’s strong liquid rocket propulsion, life science and support, and fire suppression technology portfolio will enhance both SNC Space Systems’ Propulsion and Spacecraft Systems’ product lines.
The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) groundbreaking took place this week with a live Webcast of the first blast designed to flatten the mountaintop that the telescope will be built on.
The E-ELT will be the biggest optical/near-infrared telescope built so far with a 39m primary mirror made up of 768 hexagonal segments each 1.4m widfe and 5cm thick. It will collect more light than all of the existing 8–10-metre class telescopes on the planet combined, and 100 million times more light than the human eye.
Russian Dnepr rocket lofts record haul of 37 satellites
A Russian Dnepr rocket launched a record-breaking thirty-seven satellites on Friday morning local time, deploying a cluster of spacecraft for scientific research and commercial operation. The mission departed on schedule from Dombarovsky in Southern Russia at 01:11 local time (19:11 UTC on Thursday).
This launch saw the record for most spacecraft launched by a single rocket broken for the fourth time in less than a year.
NASA Announces Latest Progress, Upcoming Milestones in Hunt for Asteroids
NASA is on the hunt for an asteroid to capture with a robotic spacecraft, redirect to a stable orbit around the moon, and send astronauts to study in the 2020s — all on the agency’s human Path to Mars. Agency officials announced on Thursday recent progress to identify candidate asteroids for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), increase public participation in the search for asteroids, and advance the mission’s design.
NASA plans to launch the ARM robotic spacecraft in 2019 and will make a final choice of the asteroid for the mission about a year before the spacecraft launches. NASA is working on two concepts for the mission: the first is to fully capture a very small asteroid in open space, and the second is to collect a boulder-sized sample off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts would require redirecting an asteroid less than 32 feet (10 meters) in size into the moon’s orbit. The agency will choose between these two concepts in late 2014 and further refine the mission’s design.
This week SpaceX conducted another test flight of it’s F9R rocket, this time with deployable fins on the side of the rocket, these are designed to give the rocket more control during descent and is another step towards Elon Musk’s goal of having a fully re-usable Falcon 9 first stage.
No word yet when/if these will be flown on an actual Falcon 9 vehicle.
There may also be a possibility of testing the controlled descent on the Orbcomm flight scheduled for tonight.
SpaceX Launch later today (hopefully)
The Orbcomm OG2 launch has been rescheduled for later today, last Sunday’s attempt to scrapped to allow Orbcomm more time to verify their satellites were in a good configuration for launch. The launch window starts of 6:08pm EDT and extends for 53 minutes.
At time of publishing the forecast shows only a 30% change that weather would co-operate, with a slightly better 60% tomorrow. However the last launch had a low change of launching and they plugged away and got off the ground on time so there is a chance it will still go.
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.
The Kepler spacecraft that was sidelined last year after two of it’s gyroscopes failed has been re-purposed to the K2 mission.
The original mission of Kepler was to continuously observe the same patch of the sky looking for slight dips in the brightness of the star. This indicated that a planet or object transitioned across the star. To determine if there truly was a planet there and it’s orbital period they needed to observe the same dip at least three times. The initial results from Kepler showed planets that were very close to their parent star and yielded a lot of results, as the mission continued they started to see planets that were further out and had much longer orbit periods. Over the four years Kepler was observing they found 962 confirmed exoplanets in more than 76 stellar systems, along with a further 2,903 unconfirmed planet candidates.
K2 will use approximately 80-day’s of observations per campaign allow it to perform a unique exoplanet survey which fills the gaps in duration and sensitivity of other missions and much better precision than is possible on the ground.
The first test flight of the Orion capsule moved a step closer this week with the attachment of the heat shield. The heat shield which protects the vehicle from the intense heat of re-entry is the largest ever flown.
The test flight which is scheduled for later this year will demonstrate the ability of the vehicle to survive a high speed re-entry similar to those experienced by the Apollo missions that went to the moon.
The mission is tentatively scheduled for December 4th on-board a Delta 4 heavy but that may change depending on progress of the test vehicle.
This week SpaceX’s COO Gwynne Shotwell gave a talk at the Atlantic Council, during which she gave more details about the success of the company both in there launch successes so far with 9 for 9 in Falcon 9 launches. They currently have 42 missions on the books worth about $4.2 billion, approximately $100 million per mission. She also explained that SpaceX captured 100% of the launch contracts in the Falcon 9 class market during 2011/12.
They are currently producing one Falcon 9 a month and are moving towards increasing this to two. She also talked about the Falcon Heavy test launch and that they are current building the tanks for that flight which is expected early next year.
She also talked more about the up-coming manifest, and addressed the concerns regarding their ability to meet the commitments. She believes that they will prove that they can over the coming months. She then went on to talk about the re-usability of rockets and the change that will bring to the market in the long run.
In other related news Dr. Garrett Reisman of SpaceX indicated that the Dragon V2 vehicle will look to use the 6 hour accelerated approach to the station as the Soyuz does today.
First Laser communications from ISS
This week the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) experiment on the station this week transmitted it’s first video via Laser. The video can be seen here.
These experiments will eventually lead to higher capacity communications between vehicles in space and the ground. OPALS was delivered to the station on the last SpaceX Dragon mission in the un-pressurized trunk and placed on the outside of the station by the CanadaArm 2.
European Extremely Large Telescope
The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will be the largest optical/near-infrared telescope built to far, with a 39 metre main mirror it will gather 15 times more light than any other telescope currently in operation today and will take images that are 15 times sharper than anything Hubble has taken. It will be able to image Earth like planets around other stars and study Jupiter like planets in great detail.
To be built on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile the telescope first light is planned for 2022.
The HDev experiment is attached to the outside of the International Space Station and provides high definition views of the earth via a UStream channel. Below is a slide show of some of the images from this week.
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.
This week Russia fire back against US sanctions in two key areas, the first was to spurn NASA’s proposal to extend the life of the ISS through 2024. The second by announcing plans to block the export of Russia engines for U.S. Military launches.
Given the continued aggression in Ukraine is doesn’t seem likely that these issues will be resolved quickly. The impact of the station extension won’t be felt for a number of years yet and could well change before then anyway. The impact on launches could hit home much sooner depending on how many engines ULA have already available. Although there could be an alternate solution very soon as SpaceX are close to finalizing the EELV certification process which would enable them to compete for military launches.
As for the Space Station it looks like it might be time to start looking for a long term alternative and Bigelow Aerospace’s BA-330 solution could be a good option. If planning started soon there is no reason why a fully operational station couldn’t be in orbit and have crew members living on board well before the ISS concludes it’s operations in orbit.
While Russia hasn’t impacted the crewed launches to ISS yet, if the sanctions continue it could result in the US not being able to access the station, while some believe this is unlikely because NASA are paying for the seats to orbit it isn’t beyond believe that it could happen.
SpaceX Dragon returns this weekend
The Dragon spacecraft currently docked to ISS is expected to depart on Sunday to being it’s return to earth. Assuming all goes to plan Dragon will be unberthed from the station on Sunday at approximately 9:30am EDT and is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean about 6 hours later.
Dragon is the only cargo vehicle currently that has the ability to return to earth allowing critical experiments to be returned for scientists around the world to continue there investigations. All the other cargo vehicles that visit the station burn up in the atmosphere at the end of there mission.
Shuttle Engines selected for first SLS Launch
This week NASA announced the selection of four veteran Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) known as the RS-25’s to be used on the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2017.
The SSME’s had been used throughout the 30 year history of the Shuttle Program and with the exception of one flight where a safe Abort to Orbit was needed performed flawlessly during that time.
Unlike the Space Shuttle the engine’s will not be returned after the launch and will be destroyed during re-entry of the first core SLS stage.
SpaceIL one of the competitors in the Google Lunar XPRIZE have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $240,000 towards the cost of landing on the moon. The $1 = 1 mile campaign runs until June 17th and as of today has raised 20% of it’s target.
Exkpress AM-4R satellite launch failure
On Thursday a Proton rocket lifted off at 5:21 pm EDT, however 540 seconds into the flight the third stage engine’s terminated resulting in the lose of the rocket and satellite. The Exkpress AM-4R communication satellite was a replacement for one that failed to reach it’s intended orbit in 2011.
All future Proton-M launches are on hold pending a launch failure investigation.
New GPS satellite to launched today
Originally scheduled to launch yesterday but delayed by uncooperative weather the launch of a ULA Delta 4 from Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral carrying a new Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite is now scheduled for 8:08 pm tonight.
Expedition 40 Crew head to Baikonur for launch
This week the crew of the TMA-13M due to lift off on May 28 left Star City, Russia for Baikonur Cosmodrome to being final preparations for the launch.
Astronomers announced this week they had detected what they believe to be the first sibling of the Sun. This star HD 162826 is believed to have been created from the same gas cloud that the Sun is believed to have been created from. The star is 100 light-years away in the constellation Hercules and isn’t visible to the naked eye, the star is approximately 15% more massive than our Sun. They have been observing the star for 15 years and have yet to detect any planets orbiting it.
To detect the sibling the Astronomers looked for two identifying features, the first a simliar chemical composition to our Solar System and secondly similar orbit’s around the cetner of the Milky Way galaxy.
Astronomers have detected an exoplanet that is roughly 2,000 times the Earth-Sun distance from it’s star. Based on the distance from the star it would take approximately 80,000 earth years to complete a single orbit. The planet located around GU Psc, located in the constellation Pisces has been observed directly by combining observations for various telescopes.
One of the most prominent features of Jupiter is slowly shrinking, the Great Red Spot – a swirling storm bigger than earth – is now smaller than ever measured before. Observations going back to the 1800s estimated the spot to be 25,500 miles on it’s long axis. When NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 flew by in 1979 they measured it to be 14,500. In 2009 Hubble measured it at 11,130 and since 2012 amateur observations have noticed it shrinking by as much as 580 miles per year.
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.
• 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.
* Would need to see further data to validate this statement.
MAVEN – Next Mission to Mars Next 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.