At 3:57 pm EDT this afternoon the Soyuz TMA-13M lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European Space Agency flight engineer Alexander Gerst. Following a successful climb to orbit the spacecraft began a four orbit, six hour journey towards the International Space Station (ISS).
The spacecraft completed docking at 9:44 pm EDT slightly ahead of schedule due to a flawless flight. A series of leak check were then performed before the hatches were opened at 11:50pm EDT allowing the new crew to enter the station and being there time working and living on the station.
The accelerated docking processing has become the norm for Soyuz vehicles allowing the crews to launch, dock and enter the station within eight hours. However as was seen in the previous flight the backup plan is also available which results in it taking two days to reach the station instead.
The station is once again back at it’s full six crew member complement and has a busy schedule coming up which includes visits from Progress, Cygnus, ATV and Dragon as well as five spacewalks two from the Russian airlock and three from the US side.
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.