AJ26 Turbo Pump most likely doomed Cygnus launch

Orbital announced today that the preliminary findings of the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) point to a Turbo pump failure in one of the two AJ26 main engines on the Antares rocket.

Because of this Orbital will no longer use the AJ26 engines and will instead accelerate the migration to a new engine on the Antares.  Due to the delay in completing the migration, and due to the design on Cygnus, Orbital will use an alternative launcher (to be announced) to fulfill Cygnus missions until such time that Antares is ready.  Orbital will assume any additional costs for using the alternate launcher .

Orbital will continue to use Wallops for the upgraded launcher once is it ready and will fulfill any remaining flights in it’s current CRS contract with the modified Antares.

The full press release can be found here.

Weekly Space News 6/27

This week in space…

SpaceX causes a stir and has another delay

Last Saturday SpaceX caused quite a stir on the Internet when they announced there would be no live web-cast of the Orbcomm OG2 launch attempt that evening.  A spokesperson for SpaceX said they had been planning to move away from web-casting because launches had become so routine.  The news of the media “snub” was soon all over social media, with a number of commentators saying the the only routine thing so far was delays.

The Saturday evening attempt was aborted due to inclement weather, they were re-scheduled for Sunday evening at which time it was announced they would have a web-cast.  However during the count down they found a which required additional analysis and scrubbed again, they then rescheduled for Tuesday but in the end needed more time.  The launch is now expected to be in July due to range maintenance work that had been delayed to allow SpaceX to launch in the first place.

We now have to ask is SpaceX moving too quickly in their manufacturing which is causing the delays due to leaks?  And how will they be able to meet there stated goal of ten more launches this year?

In separate news these delays are starting to effect Orbcomm financially as they budgeted a certain amount of revenue from the OG2 fleet and with each delay that revenue opportunity grows smaller.

Orbital Cygnus Launch delayed

To allow engineer’s more time to perform detailed analysis of the AJ26 engines on the Tauraus scheduled to launch the next Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS Orbital announced that the Orb-2 flight would not flying before July 10th.

The spacecraft was originally scheduled to launch in May but had to be rescheduled after delays to the SpaceX CRS-3 mission, then because of a AJ26 engine test failure at NASA Stennis Space Center.  Orbital elected to delay the launch to allow engineers time to investigate the failure and ensure the other engines would not be effected by the same issue.

Curiosity Rover achieves mission milestone

NASA newest rover Curiosity celebrated it’s first Martian year on the surface of the planet this year completing on of the mission milestones.  The rover has achieved much already but there is planet more to go, however engineers have noticed that the wheels have taken a lot more damage than expected, they are currently working on ways to avoid the sharp rocks that have been causing the damage.

To learn more about Curiosity, it’s achievements and future plans check out the mission page here.

Meanwhile elsewhere on Mars the Opportunity Rover still continues to operate more than 10 years after it arrived for a 90 day mission.

To learn more about Opportunity check out its mission page here.

And lets not forget that there are currently two NASA orbital spacecraft at Mars and another will be joining them in less than 100 days.  Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey are currently in orbit and MAVEN is on route.

Final ATV moves closer to launch

The final European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) named Georges Lemaître has been integrated with its Ariane 5 launcher, scheduled to launch later this summer the vehicle is due to deliver 2600kg of supplies.  The ATV vehicles utilize an automated docking process like the Progress vehicles and will attach to the Russian segment of the station.  Once unloaded the crew will store any trash they no longer need which will burn up in the atmosphere with the vehicle at the end of its mission.

Another potential habitable world found

artist-illustration-gliese-832cAstronomers announced they have found a potential habitable world in the Gliese 832 system just 16 light-years away.  The planet Gliese 832c is a “super-Earth” planet which is at least five times as massive and orbit’s the star every 36 days, however because Gliese 832 is a red-dwarf star the planet gets about as much energy from the star as we do making it a very good candidate to support liquid water on the surface.

We more and more powerful telescopes coming on line over the next decade the number of planets found is likely to increase significantly and we will also be able to learn a lot more about these planets.

CoRoT Planet Hunter goes offline

The French COnvection, ROtation & planetary Transits (CoRoT) satellite which has been operational for seven years and helped discover 32 confirmed planets with at least 100 more waiting for confirmation.

For more news on the CoRoT mission check out its mission page here.

Opportunity Rover News

With its solar panels their cleanest in years, NASA’s decade-old Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is inspecting a section of crater-rim ridgeline chosen as a priority target due to evidence of a water-related mineral.

Orbital observations of the site by another NASA spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, found a spectrum with the signature of aluminum bound to oxygen and hydrogen. Researchers regard that signature as a marker for a mineral called montmorillonite, which is in a class of clay minerals called smectites. Montmorillonite forms when basalt is altered under wet and slightly acidic conditions. The exposure of it extends about 800 feet (about 240 meters) north to south on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, as mapped by the orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

Weekly Space Blog 5/2

We are back with our weekly blog, and what an interesting week it has been.

SpaceX announce suit against ULA Block Buy

On Friday 4/25, SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk announced that SpaceX had filed a suit protesting the bulk buy of Rocket Core’s from ULA.  SpaceX made several arguments against the block buy, including the fact that each launch was four times more expensive than then equivalent SpaceX rocket, the fact that ULA’s main engine’s were sourced from Russia.

“In light of international events, this seems like the wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin,” said Elon Musk. “Yet, this is what the Air Force’s arrangement with ULA does, despite the fact that there are domestic alternatives available that do not rely on components from countries that pose a national security risk.”

Elon stated also that they just want the chance to compete in a fair competition, at the end of the day if they compete and lose then they would except this decision.

Here is the full article regarding the suit.

On Thursday 5/1 SpaceX won a preliminary injunction prohibiting any purchases of Russian rockets engines by the US Air Force.

The full text of the preliminary injunction can be found here.

SpaceX confirm successful soft landing of CRS-3 first Stage

During the above Press Conference Elon Musk also announced that they had confirmed successful soft landing of the first stage from the CRS-3 launch.  However due to the rough seas in the area the rocket didn’t survive long in the water.

On Tuesday this week 4/29 SpaceX posted video from the first stage, unfortunately it is badly damaged and they are asking for assistance in cleaning it up further.  Several images have been posted that show the stage as it approaches the water.

The video can be seen here.

CRS Stage1 - 1 CRS Stage1 - 2

This week SpaceX also completed another test of there F9R test rocket to 1000m, these tests bring closer the day when re-usable rockets will be viable.

ATK & Orbital announce merger

This week Orbital Sciences Corporation and ATK announced that they were merging to form Orbital ATK Inc.  As part of the process ATK will split off the Outdoor Sports business into a separate entity and the Aerospace & Defense business will be merged with Orbital.

Classed as a merger of equal’s the new company valued at approximately $5 billion will be lead by current Orbital President and CEO Mr. David W. Thompson, with ATK’s President Mr. Blake E. Larson will become COO.

The transaction is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Full details of the merger can be found here.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister suggests US Astronauts use Trampoline to get to ISS

Due to the sanctions that been placed on several key members of the Russian government following the events in the Ukraine, Russian Deputy Prime Minister proposed an alternate solution to America’s dependency on Soyuz to get to ISS.

“I propose that the United States delivers its astronauts to the ISS with the help of a trampoline,” he said.

In response to this SpaceX’s Elon Musk tweeted the following

ElonMuskTweet3

Unfortunately he then followed up with another tweet.

ElonMuskTweet4

So we will have to wait until the end of this month to see the Crewed version of Dragon.

Length of ExoPlanet Day measured for the first time

Astronmers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have determined the rotation rate of an exoplanet.  Beta Pictoris b has been found to have a day that lasts only eight hours, much faster than any planet in our solar system.  The equator is travelling at almost 100,000 kph.

The full release can be found here.

Morpheus Lander completes another Free Flight Test

This week the Morpheus Lander completed it’s 12th free flight test as KSC, for the first time the test vehicle used the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) to divert to a safe landing spot instead of the previously programmed landing spot..

Video of the test can be found here.

High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment attached to ISS

Once of the science experiments that was transported in the trunk of the Dragon last week was removed on Wednesday and attached to the space station.  The HDEV experiment will beam back live pictures from the station, and contains four HD camera’s which are housed in a enclosed, pressurized, temperate controlled housing.  While on station the effect of the space environment on these camera’s will be monitored.

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Image from HDEV
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Image from HDEV

The Live Stream from the Camera can be found here.

Boeing Showcases CST-100 Interior

This week Boeing released several new images showcasing the interior of there CST-100 Commercial Crew vehicle.  The CST-100 is competing with Dragon, and DreamChaser to become the vehicle of choice for crewed missions to the ISS.

Bigelow Aerospace reveals full scale model of BA330

As part of the CST-100 unveil Bigelow Aerospace also unveiled a full scale model of their BA-330 inflatable module which they aim to launch by 2016.  Because the module is inflatable four of these modules would provide more space than currently available on the International Space Station and would require significantly less launches to complete.

NASA Deputy Administrator Tours Bigelow Aerospace

NASA Selects new Flight Directors

This week NASA announced the selection of three new Flight Directors to lead Mission Control.  The directors will manage the International Space Station (ISS) operations and are Amit Kshatriya, Jeffery Radigan and Zebulon Scoville.

The full article and bio’s on each can be found here.

British Astronaut Tim Peake launches meal competition

British Astronaut Tim Peake who will be launching to the International Space Station next year has launched a competition in the UK for school children to create a meal that will fly with him to the station.

The winner will work with Celebrity Chef Heston Blumenthal to develop the idea further.

Full details of the competition can be found here

Images used in this post are copyright of their owners.

Weekly Space Blog 9/28

This week in space…

Soyuz Launched to ISS
This week saw another Soyuz launch to the space station on board the Soyuz TMA-10M were Russian Cosmonaut’s Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy as well as NASA Astronaut Michael Hopkins.

Following a flawless countdown the three launched at 4:58:50 pm EDT, eight minutes later they were in orbit and heading towards a four orbit, six hour rendezvous with the station.  The crew docked a few minutes earlier than scheduled at 10:45 pm EDT and once all the leak checks were completed entered the space station at 12:34 am EDT to begin there extended stay aboard the station.

Due to their involvement in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games ceremonies the crew will leave after the TMA-12M has docked, this will be the first time since the Space Shuttle retired that there will be more than 6 crew members on the station at one time.

Cygnus berthing delayed
The berthing of the Cygnus spacecraft was delayed last Sunday due to a technical glitch with how the spacecraft interpreted GPS data received from the station.  Initially the plan was to back off from the station while Orbital worked on the problem and then attempt again on Tuesday.  However after further discussions with NASA it was decided to wait until after the Launch and Docking of the Expedition 37 crew members.  The berthing has been rescheduled to this Sunday 9/29, assuming everything goes to plan the Cygnus spacecraft will be captured by the Expedition 37 crew and berthed to the station.

SpaceX launch scheduled

Falcon 9 v1.1 on  Vandenburg Launch Pad at Sunset
Falcon 9 v1.1 on Vandenburg Launch Pad at Sunset

Elon Musk CEO and CTO of SpaceX confirmed that the first launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 has now been scheduled for Sunday 9/29 assuming no further problems are found and the weather co-operates.  This will be the first time the longer version of the rocket, the Merlin 1D engines and a fairing will be used.  In addition this is the first launch from the Vandenburg launch site for SpaceX and the first to dedicated to deploying a satellite.

If all goes to plan SpaceX will also try to re-light one of the Merlin 1D engines as the first stage approaches the ocean to test out some of the re-usable technologies that are planned for later flights and would allow the first stage to land back on earth and be used again for a future flight.

Elon himself stated that there is a high chance that something could go wrong with all the changes in this mission.

Dragon Launch Delayed
The next CRS launch to the ISS has been delayed to February 2014 to allow SpaceX time to complete modifications to the Dragon spacecraft to increase the cold storage cargo capacity.  This will almost triple the amount of scientific cargo that can be carried up to and back from the space station.

Space Dino – Nyberg creates Dino on ISS

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg's stuffed toy dinosaur floats on the International Space Station. She made the doll for her son using materials she found on the orbiting outpost. (NASA)
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg’s stuffed toy dinosaur floats on the International Space Station. She made the doll for her son using materials she found on the orbiting outpost. (NASA)

This week Karen Nyberg a US Astronaut currently serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS) released a picture of a Dinosaur she created while in space.

Among the personal items she took to the station were needles, thread and some material, however The Dinosaur was created mainly from a velcro like material found in Russian food containers on the station.

She created the Dinosaur for her son, however he will have to wait a little longer before receiving the gift as Karen will remain on the station until November 11, and UPS/FedEx don’t currently offer delivery services to/from the ISS.

Water on Mars – Curiosity
This week NASA announced that the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument on it’s Mars Rover Curiosity had discovered water in soil samples that it had analyzed.  During the analysis for the soil it was determined that about 2% of the sample contained water.

Laurie Leshin, Dean of Science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institiute said “About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically.”

The SAM instrument takes samples of soil scooped up by the Rover’s arm and then heats it to 835C, SAM then uses several different processes to identify the chemicals found in the sample.

For further information about the discovery check out the full article here.

And Finally
Well that’s all for this week, for more Space News check out the Deep Astronomy YouTube channel.

Have fun and as Tony Darnell says “Keep looking up”

Weekly Space Blog 9/14

We are back again with our weekly blog and what a week it has been for space news.

Voyager has left the Solar System
This week the Voyager Science Team announced that the long serving Voyager 1 spacecraft had left the solar system, making it the first human made object to achieve the feat.  As one of the team said this is a milestone as significant as Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon.

36 years in the making and 12 billion miles from home the Voyager 1 spacecraft has already provided us with a wealthy of information from it’s flyby’s of Jupiter and Saturn and from it’s journey through several layers of the outer solar system.

So what is next for Voyager 1, the spacecraft itself has enough power to keep the current science instruments running for a few more years, at that point the science team will begin to power down different instruments until they are all silent.  The spacecraft will still have enough power to operate for a number of years after that but will only be able to return engineering data on the health of the craft.  Once the spacecraft has run out of power it will continue it’s journey towards AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis in about 40,000 years from now.

For more information on the Voyager spacecraft check out there mission page here.

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 News
This week SpaceX performed the first Static Fire of the new Falcon 9 v1.1 at their Vandenberg launch pad.  SpaceX CEO tweeted later in the day that they had achieved full thrust for 2 seconds during the test, however due to some anomalies found during the test they will be performing another test on Saturday 9/14 and will announce a new launch date once the data has been analyzed.

Orbital Approaches Launch
The first operational Cygnus spacecraft rolled out to the launch pad this week for a 9/17 launch to the International Space Station, this will be the final test launch of the Antares and Cygnus vehicles under the COTS program for NASA.  Assuming nothing goes wrong Orbital will then begin commercial resupply missions to the station to augment those provided by SpaceX currently.

Japan’s Epsilon Launched Successfully
Following an aborted countdown recently, Japan successfully launched there new Epsilon rocket this week.  The new rocket which has been designed to make launches cheaper and more efficient completed it’s first launch by placing a compact telescope into orbit.

Well that is all for this week, a short post but more to come next week