SpaceX returned to flight operations yesterday after an almost six month break following the June CRS-7 accident. During that time SpaceX took the opportunity to upgrade the rocket the changes which included denser liquid oxygen, longer second stage allowed them to provide more thrust (approx 30%) while also keep enough fuel to attempt a landing back at Cape Canaveral.
The upgraded rocket known as the Falcon 9 Full Trust performed flawlessly delivering the 11 ORBCOMM satellites to there designated orbits as well as landing the first stage, something that they had attempted at sea several times but never actually achieved with the flight F9.
We haven’t heard if the second stage re-light test was successful or not, this wasn’t needed for this flight but will be important for the SES launch coming up soon.
An exciting new era is space launch has opened up with this landing and despite the war of words between Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (whose Blue Origin recently landed there own first stage) and SpaceX’s Elon Musk on which achievement was more technically challenging we are going to see changes in the industry because of it.
Fourth time is a charm for SpaceX as they finally launch six Orbcomm OG2 satellites to orbit. This morning’s launch which was delayed slightly to resolve a ground system issue lifted off at 11:15 am EDT when the nine Merlin 1D engine’s on the first stage roared to life. Ten minutes later the second stage completed it’s planned burn leaving the craft in it’s intended orbit.
SpaceX webcast the launch up to the point where the second stage finished firing, separation of the satellites will occur later once the spacecraft reaches the desired drop off locations.
Update 12:04 pm EDT – Marc Eisenberg CEO of Orbcomm tweeted that all six satellites were successfully deployed.
Update 1:27 pm EDT – Elon Musk tweeted updates on re-entry of first stage
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.
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
Astronomers 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.
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).
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 planned launch of six commercial communications satellites for Orbcomm has been delayed. The planned static fire test on Thursday was called off after SpaceX ran into technical trouble during the countdown. The static fire test was rescheduled for Friday but was stopped while the rocket was being fueled. SpaceX announced that the OG2 satellites and rocket was in a safe condition and would be rolled back to the integration facility.
At present a new launch date/time is not available.
Judge rules Russian engine purchases can continue
Judge Susan G. Braden has reversed the injunction she issued in the case that SpaceX filed against the ULA Block Buy. While SpaceX didn’t explicitly request action to stop ULA buying the engine’s this was the first action taken by the count after the filing of the case. This follows letters submitted to the court from the Treasury and State departments stating that NPO Energomash was not subject to the sanctions.
Curiosity drills into Martian sandstone
This week Curiosity successfully drilled into Martian sandstone. The rock dubbed “Windjana” was selected for the drill site. Over the next couple of weeks the rover will collect samples of the fine grained samples into a pair of research instruments.
This is the first time Curiosity has drilled into Sandstone, having samples Mudstone previously in 2013.
Russian spy satellite launched by Soyuz
This week a Russian Soyuz rocket successfully launched a clandestine payload from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Likely a Kobalt-class imaging satellite for the Russian Military.
Station crew members prepare to return home
Three of the station residents have entered their last week aboard the orbiting complex. Commander Koichi Wakata, Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio and Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will be returning to earth May 13th inside their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft having spent 187 days onboard.
Former Astronaut Kent Rominger answer questions on Twitter
This week Astronaut Kent Rominger who now works for ULA answered questions on Twitter during a #SpaceChat session. Among the questions asked was one from us regarding SLS
This week I signed up for an online Astronomy course which includes time controlled several robotic telescopes around the world. Below are a couple of images I have processed so far as part of the course.