Following a one day delay, due to a wayward plane during the countdown yesterday, Orbital ATK successfully launched their Cygnus spacecraft, S.S. Gene Cernan today for an International Space Station rendezvous on Tuesday.
This was the second Cygnus launch on the companies own Antares 230 vehicle, which uses the Russia RD-181 engines. This was the seventh launch of Antares with six successfully completing their missions and one failure. That failure led to the redesign of the Antares rocket which caused a two-year delay in launches, during that time Orbital made use of United Launch Alliances Atlas V to launch Cygnus to the ISS.
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.
Ten months after the failed CRS-7 launch SpaceX resumed their servicing missions to the International Space Station today with the successful launch of their Dragon spacecraft.
Following a smooth countdown the Falcon 9 lifted off at 4:43 pm EDT to begin a 10 minute climb to orbit.
As with previous launches SpaceX also attempted to land the first stage on the Drone Ship after it had completed it’s job getting the 2nd stage and Dragon on their way. Unlike previous attempts to land on the Drone Ship this time they were successful.
Dragon is now in orbit and making it’s way towards a capture on Sunday.
The Russian Progress MS-02 spacecraft launched successfully today beginning a two day journey to dock with the International Space Station.
Roscosmos elected to do the two day journey to allow time to fully test all the upgraded systems on the newer MS version of the vehicle. The first Soyuz MS crewed mission is due to launch in June and validation of the systems is required before that can occur.
This is the second of three cargo vehicles scheduled to travel to the station in less than a month.
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.
More than a year after the catastrophic failure of the Antares Launch vehicle which resulted in the lose of the Cygnus Cargo vehicle and its payload Orbital’s enhanced Cygnus vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral today with the help of an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The launch which was delayed three times due to inclement weather finally lifted off this afternoon when the Atlas V RD-180 came to life.
Orbital elected to purchase two Atlas V launches to allow it to resume its Commercial Resupply contract with NASA for the International Space Station while the enhancements to its Antares rocket continue. Orbital were also able to introduce there enhanced Cygnus vehicle which can carry an additional 1,200-1,500 kg of cargo depending on launch vehicle.
Following this mornings flyby of Pluto the New Horizons spacecraft has phoned home. And tomorrow morning it will starting returning the high priority data from its numerous observations.
The spacecraft which was launched in Jan, 2006 has traveled more than 3.2 billion miles to reach the Pluto system, during the 9.5 years of travel most of it was spent alone in deep space in hibernation, occasionally the mission team would wake it up to check out the systems.
At the end of last year the spacecraft woke up to begin checkouts in preparation for the flyby operations which begun in Jan this year. As the spacecraft approached the Pluto system the LORRI instrument took images to allow the navigation team to check its approach and make any corrections needed so that they could arrive in the target window just 90 x 60 miles in size. To put that in perspective, that is like hitting a golf ball on the east coast of the USA with the intention of getting a hole in one on the west coast.
During the flyby the spacecraft operated in autonomous mode where it focused solely on the completion of the observations that had been pre-programmed once those were complete it turned its main antenna back to Earth and started to transmit its data.
It may be many years before all the data that is returned by New Horizons is fully analyzed and the text books written on the planet.
New Horizons has completed its closest approach to Pluto with a historic flyby at 7:50am EDT today, however we will not hear back from the spacecraft for another 12 hours as it will now turn around and continue observations as it moves away from the system, this time with our Sun in the background.
The spacecraft has been operating autonomously and until we hear back later today we will not really know how successful it was, did it complete all the planned observations? Did it encounter something during flyby that we had not previously seen?
Now all we can do is wait until this evening to see just how successful the spacecraft was and begin to receive the reams of data that was collected. Due to the distance from Earth it will take almost 16 months for everything to be returned. Now the patience of the team will be tested more than during the 9.5 years it took to get to Pluto as they know the data is on the spacecraft and they can’t do anything to speed up the return of it.
Check back this evening for updates on the success of the mission.
By this time tomorrow NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will be zooming past the Dwarf Plant Pluto capturing details of the planet from just 12,500 km (7,800 mi) away closer than any spacecraft has ever been.
The spacecraft is now deep in the encounter mode of operation, this means that if anything goes wrong it will automatically repair itself and continue operating. Previously the vehicle, as it did last week, would have failed over to the backup computer, re-orient itself towards Earth and then wait for commands to be sent back. However due to the limited time of the flyby valuable data would be lost if the computer couldn’t automatically recover.
Due to the distance from Earth it will take more than a year to send all the data that is capture back to Earth. While the spacecraft will be more then 600m miles away from Pluto by the time all the data is returned to Earth new revelations about the Pluto system will still be discovered during that time.
Below are some of the latest images returned by the spacecraft