Weekly Space Blog 5/16

Soyuz TMA-11M crew lands safely

The three crew members of TMA-11M landed safely after spending 188 days in space, See full article here

Russia fires back over US Sanctions

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.

Bigelow Aerospace BA-330As 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

Image of SpaceX Dragon at the station taken by Astronaut Rick Mastracchio during spacewalk.
Image of SpaceX Dragon at the station taken by Astronaut Rick Mastracchio during spacewalk.

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.

For further information check out the article here.

SpaceIL launch Indiegogo campaign for Moon Rover

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.

Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, Soyuz Commander and Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA will join the current Expedition 40 crew onboard the ISS later this month.

Astronomers find Sun’s first sibling

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.

For more information check out the article here.

Astronomers find odd gas giant Exoplanet

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.

For more information check out the article here.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot shrinking

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.

Check out the full article here.

Weekly Space Blog 12/14

A lot has been happening this week in Space

ISS Coolant Failure
This week one of the two coolant systems on the station shutdown when a component reached a preset temperature limit.  While not posing an immediate danger to the crew on-board the shutdown did require that NASA shutdown non-critical systems on the station to ensure that nothing overheated.  Engineers are still determining what needs to be done to resolve the problem which may include a spacewalk.

Proton Launches Mobile Broadband Satellite
Last Sunday a Proton rocket lifted off from Kazakhstan carrying a powerful broadband communication satellite for London based Inmarsat, this launch marks the beginning of a next-generation fleet for the company.

Brazilian Satellite lost
A joint Chinese/Brazilian satellite was lost this week when the Long March 4B rocket failed to deploy it to the correct orbit, initial reports heralded the launch as a success but were quickly replaced with the launch failure notification.  The $250m earth observation satellite was the fourth in a series of joint adventures between the Chinese and Brazilian governments.

NASA Curiosity News
The Curiosity Rover continues to return fascinating news from the red planet.  Recent results from the ancient lakebed that it is exploring show that Mars could have been habitable in the past.  The rover is now looking for areas where erosion could have uncovered layers of martian soil that could contain organic components.

In related news NASA announced that the rover had fired it’s laser more then 100,000 times while on the planet surface.

Mars One sending Lander to Mars
Mars One who made news last year when they announced they planned to settle people on Mars by 2023 were in the news again this week.  They announced plans with Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd to develop and launch a privately funded lander to explore Mars.  Check out the full press release here.

Gaia Spacecraft enclosed in Soyuz fairing
The European Space Agencies Gaia spacecraft moved a step closed to it’s 12/19 launch this week as it was enclosed in it’s Soyuz launch fairing.  For more information on the mission check out the mission page here, we will post more information on the mission next week assuming a successful launch.

Launch pad 39A news
The commercial leasing of launch pad 39A moved a step closer following a decision by the Government Accounting Office regarding a protest by Blue Origin about the agencies fairness in the search for a long term tenant.  The launch pad currently costs NASA approximately $100,000 a month to maintain, as they no longer need the pad for future NASA missions and 39B will be used for SLS this money can be better used within the agency.

Following the GAO decision NASA announced on Friday that it has selected the SpaceX proposal and will now begin negotiations with the company regarding the lease of the launch complex. During the negotiation process NASA are not allowed to released any further information. Once the deal has been finalized we will post any additional information that is made available.

Jupiter Moon Water Geysers

An artist's illustration of Jupiter's icy moon Europa, with a water geyser erupting in the foreground while Jupiter appears as a backdrop. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest Europa may have water plumes like Saturn's moon Enceladus. Image released Dec. 12, 2013. Credit: K. Retherford, Southwest Research Institute
An artist’s illustration of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, with a water geyser erupting in the foreground while Jupiter appears as a backdrop. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest Europa may have water plumes like Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Image released Dec. 12, 2013.
Credit: K. Retherford, Southwest Research Institute

This week scientists announced that Jupiter’s moon Europa may erupt with fleeting water plumes that are more then 20 times the height of Mount Everest.

If confirmed scientists believe these could provide a way of detecting signs of life in the underground ocean that is believed to be under the thick ice of the moon.  Due to it’s proximity to Jupiter scientists believe that the core of the moon is hot enough to maintain a liquid ocean via thermal vents just like in the depth’s of earth’s oceans that surprised scientists when they discovered a vast variety of life.

To learn more about the Jovian moon, scientists analyzed ultraviolet images of Europa taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in November and December of 2012 as well as older images taken by Hubble in 1999. They concentrated on finding hydrogen and oxygen, the elements that make up water.

First Orbital Cargo Mission to launch
Orbital’s first mission under there Commercial Cargo resupply contract is preparing to launch next week 12/18.  Roll out to the launch pad is expected on Monday once any last minute items have been loaded into the Cygnus spacecraft.  Orbital are currently contracted for eight flights to the station.

Morpheus Lander first free flight successful
A prototype lander that could be used for future missions to an asteroid or other planetary object completed it’s first free flight test this week.  Following a number of tether tests to ensure all systems worked the vehicles was shipped to Kennedy Space Center so that it could begin free flight tests.  The first test occurred this week and accomplished it’s goals, check out the video of the flight here.

Titan Flyover
This week NASA released a new video based on data from the Cassini spacecraft that shows a flyover of the lakes on Titan.  Check out the full release and video here.

China’s Lunar Rover scheduled to land today
The Chang’e-3 Lunar Rover is scheduled to land on the moon today, we will post more information next week once it is available on the success or failure of the landing and any other news from the event.

Interesting Articles in the News
Elon Musk on Colonizing Mars
Understanding Mars’ Past and Current Environments
Opportunity Ascending Solander Point at Endeavour Crater

Weekly Space Blog 10/5

This week has been another busy week in space.

Cygnus berths to station
Following a week delay, due to a data glitch, Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft successfully berthed with the International Space Station last Sunday.  See my previous post here.

Falcon 9 v1.1 Successfully Launched
On Sunday SpaceX successfully launched there modified Falcon 9 rocket.   See my previous post here.

Since the launch there have been rumors that the second stage exploded after dropping off the satellites, Elon Musk has stated that this didn’t happen, however there was an issue after deployment where the stage didn’t relight due to a sensor reading the craft didn’t like. They are aware of the issue and after full review of the data will make a fix before the SES flight that needs to relight the stage before deployment because of the geosynchronous transfer orbit needed.

Additional SpaceX reported that the tests to recover the first stage where successfully in that the engines relite as expected however because the first stage didn’t have the stabilizing legs that will eventually be in flown the stage span to much at the end causing the fuel to centrifuge and the engines to shutdown early. However they were still able to recover parts of the stage but more importantly believe they have everything in place to recover the stages in the future. The next attempt to recover will be the CRS-3 flight in February.

Proton Launched
In what turned out to be a busy day in space,  the Russian Proton rocket returned to flight last Sunday.  This was the first Proton launch since an explosion during a July launch that caused the lose of three GLONASS navigation satellites and caused significant damage near the launch pad.

The cause of the crash was determined to be due to the incorrect installation of angular velocity sensors which caused the vehicle to receive invalid information and automatically abort the launch.

NASA celebrates 55th birthday with shutdown
This week NASA celebrated it’s 55th birthday, however most employees didn’t get to enjoy it as much as they should have done because of the first government shutdown in 17 years. As a result of the shut down a large percentage of the workforce, with the exception of essential personnel needed to operate the space station, were not able to work. There were some others who could work but not many, this could also cause delays to the upcoming MAVEN mission to Mars if the shutdown goes on to long.

MAVEN processing restarted
Earlier this week processing of the MAVEN spacecraft was halted due to the government shutdown, however this only last a couple of days as the craft was deemed critical for communicationing with the two active rovers on Mars and future vehicles as well.

Currently communication is relayed through the craft orbiting Mars, however these are getting old and lose of these would have a significant impact on the ability to get back science data from the rovers.

Weekly Space Blog 7/6

Another busy week in space

Cassini captures picture of Saturn Moon Janus
This week Cassini returned a picture of one of Saturn’s small lumpy moon’s named Janus, the moon doesn’t have sufficient gravity to pull itself into a round shape as seen with most other moons.  For more pictures of the moon check out the web page here.

Ad Astra VF-200 Reaches important review milestone
This week Ad Astra Rocket Company announced that they had completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for their 200kW engine design for testing in space.  After more than a year of planning the Ad Astra Engineers and Physicists as well as NASA engineers completed the review.  The PDR incorporates the knowledge gained over several years from the VX-200 test engine as well as multiple conceptual designs carried out by Ad Astra.  This is an important step towards the flight of the VF-200 engine on the International Space Station in the future.  For further information check out the press release here.

ExoPlanet News
Three articles appeared this week regarding ExoPlanets.  The first reported the findings of a study by the University of Chicago suggests that the habitable zone of ExoPlanets can be extended by cloud behavior on the planet.  The results show that the influence of cloud cover could double the number of habitable planets found around Red Dwarf starts meaning that in our galaxy alone there could be 60+ billion planets.  For more information check out the press release here.

The second report Astronomers have uncovered the hidden identity of an ExoPlanet orbiting the star HD 97658.  Based on there observations they estimate the planet HD 97658b is between 2 and 8 times the size of Earth, while the planet itself is not new the size and mass of the planet is.  For more information check out the article here.

The third article to appear relates not to actual ExoPlanet’s but instead to their moons, the search for ExoMoons.  A team led by Dr. David Kipping at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has jumped at this challenge.  For further information check out the paper here.

World Premiere of IMAX 3D Hidden Universe
This week saw the World Premiere of the new IMAX 3D movie Hidden Universe.  Check out the official web site for more information and current locations to see it.

ARKYD Funded
Following a frantic finish including a four hour live presentation and $100,000 donation from Richard Branson the Planetary Resources team raised over $1.6m for the telescope.  They are currently planning to launch an grace period to allow those who weren’t able to contribute to still be involved.  Check out the page here.

Indian PSLV Launch
This week a Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carrier the first of the Indian Regional Satellite Navigation System spacecraft into orbit.  Following a successful launch the spacecraft was placed into the expected transfer orbit.  The system will eventually consist of four spacecraft and will provide navigation accuracy to India to about 20 meters.

Proton Launch Failure
The Russian space program suffered a major setback this week when one of their unmanned Proton rockets failed 20 seconds into it’s mission.  The rocket launched as expected but very soon it was clear something was very wrong when the craft veered to the left and then right before breaking apart and exploding.  Future flights of the Proton have been suspending pending the outcome of a review to determine what caused the failure.

ISS Changes position for Solar Science
This week the International Space Station changed it’s position to accommodate Solar Science research being performed by European Scientists into what the solar activities mean for our planet.  Check out the full article here.

SpaceX completed two more milestones
SpaceX announced this week that they had completed two more milestones in their CCiCap plan towards manned spaceflight using the Dragon vehicle.  In the first milestone SpaceX outlined the steps they will take towards certifying there system for human spaceflight.  In the second they outlined the plan for their Pad Abort test which will demonstrate the ability for the Dragon Spacecraft to fly away from the Falcon Rocket should something go wrong during launch.  For more information check out the press release here and while you are there check out NASA new web site layout.

NASA lays out plans for Commercial Crew Test Flights
This week NASA announced their plans for the actual test flights utilizing Commercial Vehicles to the International Space Station.  These flights will include NASA astronauts onboard and result in a visit to the ISS.  The new test phase called CCtCap is expected to kick off next summer and will include at least one crewed test flight.  For further information check out the press release here.

Two new Pluto Moon names revealed
This week the two newest of Pluto’s five known moon were named Kerberos and Styx.  The names were actually placed second and third in an international competition to name the moons, however the winning entry Vulcan was vetoed by the International Astronomy Union.

Cluster detects elusive Solar Wind
The Cluster spacecraft has provided conclusive evidence of a space wind proposed 20 years ago.  Analysis of the data returned by the spacecraft showed a slow but steady wind releasing about 1kg of plasma from the plasmasphere around our planet.  For more information check out he article here.

Gemini Observatory New Optics
2013_saaa_legacy_med_945Astronomers recently got their hands on Gemini Observatory’s revolutionary new adaptive optics system, called GeMS, “and the data are truly spectacular!” says Robert Blum, Deputy Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory with funding by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

For further information check out the full article here.

Opportunity just keeps going
The Mars Rover Opportunity has reached the half way mark of it’s journey to “Solander Point.” where mission control plans for it to spend the next Martian Winter.  The rover which touched down on the red planet Jan 24, 2004 to begin a 90 sol (Martian Day) mission is rapidly approaching 10 years on the planet.

NASA readies rescue plan for Kepler
The team behind the successful Kepler mission announced this week that they will being trying to revive the spacecraft mid to late July.

And Finally
I have decided to change this section to list some of the great video(s) that I find during the week.  Enjoy

The Next-Generation Canadarn 
Karen Nyberg chat 
Next Space Station Spacewalk Brief