Archive for the ‘ISS’ Category
Down To Earth
The European Space Agency published a thought-provoking video about the future of lunar exploration.
Here is some interesting PR from the aspiring asteroid mining company Planetary Resources. At the Consumer Electronics Show they revealed a prototype that they 3D printed from a meteorite.
SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 launch will be from Vandenberg in California on January 17th. The rocket will be carrying the NOAA’s Jason-3 satellite. In addition, SpaceX will attempt to recover the first stage on their autonomous drone ship.
The United States Postal Service will issue new stamps with images of the New Horizons spacecraft and Pluto.
Speaking of New Horizons, that NASA team has won the annual Goddard Memorial Trophy.
NASA has officially organized a new Planetary Defense Coordination Office for overall management of projects for detection and characterization of Near Earth Objects (NEOs).
Next Friday “the Tims” (astronauts Tim Peake and Tim Kopra) will get to do a spacewalk.
Around the Solar System
On Mars, the Curiosity rover has driven right up to a 13 foot tall sand dune and is sending us some pretty cool pictures.
Also on Mars, the long-lived Opportunity rover is celebrating 12 Earth-years on the surface.
Honestly, at the beginning of 2015, I did not think the year could possibly be as interesting as 2014 when it came to the launch sector. I thought there was a possibility SpaceX would achieve some major milestones from its list of goals for the year – maybe recover a first stage, maybe launch a Falcon 9 Heavy, maybe double their flight rate – but probably only one or two of them. I never would have guessed that 2015 could have the same roller coaster ride of ups and downs of 2014, which had rocket launches, rocket explosions, and political tension. Surprisingly, not only did 2015 have me on the edge of my seat like 2014, it surprised me and almost everyone else with some crazy twists and turns.
Part II – Rockets
Let’s recap where we were at the end of 2014: SpaceX had just wrapped up a reasonably successful year with 6 flights and no failures, which was twice the number of flights they had in 2013. The debate over the RD-180 engine was still ongoing but had calmed down somewhat with a congressional budget provision for the US to start working on a homegrown replacement. In the meantime, ULA would be allowed to continue using RD-180s to a limited extent. The biggest event of course was the spectacular explosion of an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket on its way to the ISS. Really the story had all eyes on – and are we really surprised? – SpaceX. With Orbital Sciences grounded and ULA under heat for using imported Russian engines, SpaceX was here to save the day.
And SpaceX certainly got off to a roaring start in 2015. They launched the first rocket of the year, which certainly served to make a point, and from there on averaged one Falcon 9 launch per month through June. During two of those launches in January and April they thrilled everybody with their so close rocket landing attempts. I have to repost the videos again below because they are so awesome.
Close, but no cigar. This time. https://t.co/JowUE6a1D7
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 16, 2015
Meanwhile, while all that fun was going on, the US Air Force granted SpaceX certification for military payloads and SpaceX conducted a launchpad abort test with their Dragon V2 capsule. Things were looking pretty good for the (not so) New Space company. But then this happened during their CRS-7 launch to ISS, their 6th of the year:
Suddenly, things completely changed. Adding another layer to the story, a Russian Progress resupply flight to the ISS had also been lost in late May, after which some people had been saying “good thing we have a SpaceX flight coming up.” Not only was the future of SpaceX’s manifest and Falcon 9 rocket in question, there were serious questions about the logistics chain to the ISS. Three of the vital cargo rockets were grounded, with only the Japanese HTV unaffected.
Thankfully, one of the things the Russians are really good at is rebounding from launch failures, and they flew a successful Progress mission to ISS only a few days after the SpaceX explosion. Regardless, 3 of the last 8 unmanned flights to ISS had been lost, an unprecedented statistic.
Orbital ATK (the new name of Orbital Sciences after a merger early in the year) had already announced plans for their return to flight way back in January. Surprisingly, their strategy would be to purchase launch vehicles from their competitors to fly their Cygnus freighter while they worked on a redesign of the Antares first stage. The return to flight would be on a ULA Atlas 5 sometime late in the year. The good news for all involved is that that launch went off without a hitch (after some weather delays) in mid-December. The Cygnus freighter known as “SS Deke Slayton” is happily berthed to the ISS as I write this.
As for SpaceX, all plans for a Falcon Heavy launch, a rocket landing, or a new record flight rate, were taking backseat to the job of figuring out why their rocket had disintegrated on them. Second priority was getting a return to flight scheduled ASAP to pick up their deep manifest (which was already stacked pretty deep coming into 2015). It came out very quickly that the mishap was caused by the failure of a strut, or a structural beam, holding a high pressure helium tank in place. Unfortunately, just because you know the cause of a failure doesn’t mean you know how long it will take to sort out the problem and get back to regular launches. For the next few months it was unclear to the public outside SpaceX if they could even return to flight within the calendar year.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world kept launching rockets. ULA in particular had a pretty good year with 12 launches and no failures. Even though ULA’s Atlas and Delta rockets are extremely successful and don’t really need replacing, they responded to pressures both from the government (which was saying stop using Russian engines) and SpaceX (who is threatening to change the launch industry entirely with reusability) and revealed plans for their new Vulcan rocket. The Vulcan is an ambitious new project which will take at least 5 years to complete. It will use a new American built liquid stage engine and aim to save money by recovering those engines after every launch. Their plan is kind of crazy, as it involves a helicopter. Here it is graphically:
Then in November ULA made space news headlines by not bidding on a GPS satellite contract from the DoD, essentially ceding the launch to SpaceX. ULA listed a couple of reasons they felt that it was not really worth their time to bid, including the Congressional mandate against them to not buy any more RD-180s from Russia. ULA was basically saying, we don’t have enough engines. John McCain in particular was not amused. McCain, who is strongly against the import of Russian rocket engines, feels that ULA has more than enough RD-180 engines already in stock without buying new ones from Russia. They simply need to allocate less engines for commercial and NASA launches and more to DoD payloads. The move was basically a bluff from ULA to get people talking, and it has yet to be seen if it will work.
Which brings us to the tail end of the year, with two of the biggest surprises still left. While everyone was busy talking about SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and ULA, Blue Origin came out of nowhere with a pretty spectacular flight demonstration of their New Shepard rocket. The secret launch occurred in their West Texas facility, reaching the edge of space before the capsule safely came back to Earth under parachute and the first stage touched down vertically under power.
On the face of it, it appears Blue Origin had swooped in and accomplished the first real first stage recovery after a functional rocket launch, right from under SpaceX’s nose. In reality, the technical challenge involved with Blue Origin’s feat is somewhat different than what SpaceX had been trying to do, as the below graphic illustrates. Blue Origin’s launch – while impressive – was suborbital. Meanwhile, SpaceX had been trying to bring back a first stage from a rocket that was actually putting payloads into orbit, which requires much higher velocity.
Regardless, Blue Origin is clearly the quiet dark horse in this story. They almost stole the limelight this year, at least that’s the way it looked before SpaceX stole it back just 9 days before the end of the year. Less than 6 months after their failure, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 on December 22nd, placing a fleet of Orbcomm satellites into orbit and, to everyone’s amazement, successfully landing the first stage back at “Landing Zone 1″ at Cape Canaveral.
This made the mishap back in June look like small potatoes. SpaceX had just achieved one of those three big goals for the year. While there is still a lot of work for them to do to checkout the rocket and determine how much refurbishment would be needed for reflight, this was a major step towards their goal of reuse. Not only that, but being back on flight status puts them in a great posture going into 2016 ready to fly out a big part of their deep manifest. They also likely now have the focus and resources to get that first Falcon Heavy in the air this year.
2016 looks good for Orbital ATK too – with a second Cygnus flight on an Atlas 5 coming up quickly in March and then the maiden flight of their upgraded Antares rocket in May. Overall, the year ended on a high note for the launch industry, with many space fans pretty optimistic. Given how things were looking back in the summer, this year could have turned out quite differently. Losing a Progress cargo craft, which is the only source of fuel resupply and propulsive support for ISS, is always a big deal at NASA and it spins up contingency planning. Fortunately, we ended the year with not just Russia but everyone having returned to flight. Not only do we have a solid reliable supply chain re-established to ISS, lots to look forward to from SpaceX, and resumed orbital flights from Virginia, we are also getting tantalizingly close to the first test flights of the Dragon V2 and Boeing CST-100 manned spacecraft.
I had my heart in my throat for a bit this year, but ended up jumping up and down and cheering with everyone else on December 22nd. It was exciting and all, but after the last two years I’m ready for less drama, and more launches. Ad astra.
The last year was full of spacey goodness. Some things were expected – even long anticipated – like space probes Dawn and New Horizons arriving at their targets. Other things were a complete surprise, like the loss of SpaceX’s seventh commercial flight to ISS and the discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars. All-in-all, there was a lot to follow and talk about. Thus, I am putting together one or more “year in review” blog posts to give my perspective on what has happened and what’s to come. In the meantime, you can enjoy other people’s thoughts of 2015 in spaceflight through the links I have gathered below. Happy new year!
As usual, I love to lean on the “year in spaceflight” pages on Wikipedia. The folks that put these together do a thorough job. If we look at the 2015 in spaceflight page, we see that the human race is maintaining our high flight rate, with 82 successful orbital launches out of 87 attempts. These numbers have been steadily growing for years. Here is the last decade’s successful launches numbers, starting with 2005: 52, 62, 63, 66, 73, 70, 78, 72, 77, 88, 82. As I wrote in last week’s Weekly Links post, Russia had the most launches with 26 and their Soyuz rocket is by far the most dominant, at 17 launches. However, their two failures this year make it hard to call Soyuz both the most dominant and most reliable. China launches 19 of their Long March family of rockets with no failures.
Using the “list of spaceflight records” we can see some changes in the list for total time in space. Most notably, Gennady Padalka spent 167 days on ISS during Expedition 43/44, his 5th spaceflight, to put him at the top spot for most spaceflown human ever. He has spent 879 days of his life in space. Also notable is Anton Shkaplerov, who returned to Earth during Expedition 43 and is at the 32 spot, Oleg Kononenko, who returned during Expedition 45 and holds the 13 spot with 533 days, and Yuri Malenchenko and Sergey Volkov who are currently in space and hold the 7 and 31 spots respectively.
The other notable record that was broken this year is “longest single flight by a woman” (which is on the list of spaceflight records page), broken this year by Samantha Cristoforetti, partly because her crew got stuck on ISS a little bit longer after the loss of a Progress resupply flight in May.
AmericaSpace, but on planetary science.
AmericaSpace’s compilation video of launches:
And here’s a series of four year in review posts from NASA Spaceflight:
Government Agency PR
NASA’s summary of 2015. With video below.
NASA’s top 15 images of Earth from ISS (if you are a real photography or geography nut, you will want to click “read more” on each picture).
Top Space Stories of 2015
Down to Earth
The US federal budget bill for 2016 (referred to as the “omnibus bill”), which has been signed into law by the President, is good news for NASA, with over a $1 billion budget increase for next year.
NASA has confirmed with ESA that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will launch to space aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in 2018. Basically, they signed the contract to pay for the launch. Meanwhile, the JWST mirror installation has been ongoing at Goddard Spaceflight Center (GSFC) in Maryland.
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebbTelescp) December 22, 2015
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebbTelescp) December 22, 2015
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebbTelescp) December 21, 2015
NASA’s next mission to Mars, the InSight lander (not a rover), was delivered to the launch site in California. However, the launch will be delayed, probably about two years, due to an issue with the spacecraft. Here’s the press release from NASA.
NASA ordered a second Boeing CST-100 Starliner flight to ISS. The first crewed mission is expected sometime in 2017.
Other than the InSight delay, the year is wrapping up nicely with some successes. Since my last post on the 13th, there were 6 orbital launches, all successful. The launches included the arrival of the rest of the Expedition 46 crew on ISS, with Malenchenko, Kopra, and Peake aboard. Also an Indian commercial launch, a Chinese dark matter telescope, and a European launch of two Galileo satellites, which is their equivalent to the GPS system.
December 21st was a big day with the last two of those six launches as well as an emergency ISS spacewalk to fix the stuck Mobile Transporter. The spacewalk went fine. Meanwhile, Russia launched a Progress resupply mission to the ISS, which docks on the 23rd, and SpaceX made their return to flight launch of the Falcon 9 rocket with a commercial launch for Orbcomm. In addition to successfully returning to flight and launching the first of their upgraded version 1.2 Falcon 9, the first stage was successfully landed back at the landing site for the first time. Here’s a video:
Landing from helo https://t.co/dYomRtG0Xs
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 22, 2015
And here’s some photos of the booster on the landing pad the morning after.
Sunrise this morning at Cape Canaveral pic.twitter.com/c6i2Wn2JtL
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 22, 2015
The most viewed video of the International Space Station is certainly Chris Hadfield’s rendition of the David Bowie song Space Oddity, filmed while he was aboard the station in 2013. That music video was a surprise and a revelation for both the public and many within the space industry. Hadfield showed that it is possible to both be a stoic no-nonsense fighter pilot astronaut and also a creative, thoughtful and emotional artist. Other astronauts have tried to travel that road, such as Alan Bean, who is an accomplished painter, but never before with the kind of public attention Hadfield’s music video garnered. Hadfield’s personality combined with the video’s novelty and production value is captivating. The music video, which was taken down for a time until some copyright issues were resolved, now has 27 million views on YouTube.
What most of us didn’t realize at the time was that Hadfield is far from a one-trick pony. While he was busy commanding the ISS during his last spaceflight, he was quietly writing and recording music in his spare time. A collection of 12 songs, all recorded in space, has now been released as the aptly named Space Sessions: Songs from a Tin Can. All but the familiar Space Oddity track are original songs. If you are hoping that the first musical album recorded in space will be a window into the soul of an experienced and mature explorer, then you should just go order Space Sessions now without reading any further. Hadfield delivers in spades.
The album starts out strong and upbeat with three tracks very clearly about the experience of launching into space and seeing the Earth from orbit for the first time. The opening track, Big Smoke, was actually written by Hadfield in 1994, two years after his selection as a CSA astronaut, but before his first spaceflight, STS-74. The joy and anticipation of a young astronaut looking forward to his first flight comes through clearly in all of the songs lyrics, such as
“Big Smoke/ Carry precious cargo/ Show us how to live and how to dream”
Tracks 2 and 3 have similar upbeat themes about spaceflight but are unique in their own way. Beyond the Terra is about reaching orbit and looking back at the Earth, while Feet Up is more of a cheerful expression of the adventure of spaceflight with simple but honest lyrics:
“Can’t put my feet up/ Can’t hold my lunch down/ Turning the sound up/ I start to spin round/ Can’t stand on my own two feet/ I just float away/ I took a ride on the hot hot seat/ Now I’m ready to play/ Far away”
From there the album slows down and gets somewhat more thoughtful through the middle section. Songs such as I Wonder If She and Space Lullaby cut to the core of the emotions of being an explorer far from home thinking of loved ones. There are even songs not about spaceflight at all, such as Window on my Mind, which tells a story of a cross country road trip. This variety is one of the strengths of the album that makes it much more than its novelty might suggest. Space Sessions is first an autobiographical expression through music. It would not have the impact it does if it was 12 straight tracks about what it feels like to fly in a rocket.
One of my favorite tracks is Daughter of My Sins, which, according to the booklet, was conceived, written, and recorded all during a single day of work aboard the space station. Hadfield recorded the songs for the album in a makeshift “studio” which was really just his tiny sleep station in Node 2 with an acoustic guitar and a microphone hooked up to his iPad. The day he wrote Daughter of My Sins he kept sneaking off to his sleep station during breaks in his work day to jot down lyrics and then recorded it in the evening. It is fun to imagine than maybe the song was written on a day that I was on console quietly watching over the station’s guidance systems while he worked.
After reading my description of how the album was made, you may think that maybe the production value is low. While the vocal and acoustic guitar tracks are genuinely recorded in space, Hadfield has added professional production and full instrumentation to most tracks, giving his writing a chance to fully shine, and it works great. I found that on most of the tracks the added instrumentation highlights rather than drowns Hadfield’s performance. My favorite example of this is on the second to last track, Ride That Lightning, which uses piano and choir vocals to create a great gospel inspired feel.
The only exception is that I think his Christmas carol, Jewel in the Night, would have been even more hauntingly beautiful if it was left just with Hadfield’s own vocals and guitar track, allowing the subtle echo of sounds on the space station throughout the song.
I guess if you don’t like acoustic guitar folk music, you might not enjoy this album. Most of these songs are best listened to carefully, not simply played as background music. The booklet that comes with the CD adds important insight into each song – including who wrote it (some are cowritten with Hadfield’s brother), when it was written, and for most a brief discussion of the inspiration or idea behind the song.
This album is automatically an answer to an obscure trivia question “who was the first person to record an album in space?” but I think the longterm impact of Space Sessions will be much more than that. When the histories are written about the ISS program, an important piece will be how the astronauts living in orbit day in and day out shared their experiences with the public openly and in real-time, something no spacefarers had done before. Hadfield’s music blends the technical and emotional in a way that challenges our preconceptions of what an astronaut should be. If people ever do live on Mars, they will take Hadfield’s music with them.
If you’re not convinced, you can listen to many of the songs from the album on YouTube at Hadfield’s official channel. A few examples are below. The CD is produced in Canada so it is an import for US buyers, but can be easily ordered on Amazon for about $14.
Down to Earth
A “topping off” ceremony was held at Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida, which will be the launchpad for the Boeing “commercial crew” capsule that will send astronauts to the ISS.
The crew of Soyuz TMA-17M undocked from the ISS and landed back on Earth this past Friday. Here’s a cool shot of the landing site after the recovery team had arrived (click to see larger on Flickr).
The crew of Oleg Kononenko, Kimiya Yui, and Kjell Lindgren were in good spirits upon extraction from their capsule, despite the subfreezing temperatures on the Kazakh steppe. Here are some shots of them smiling just after touchdown (yes, I’m calling that a “smile” from Oleg).
Over the weekend, the new Soyuz rocket for the next ISS crew to launch was raised on the launch pad in Kazakhstan in anticipation for a Tuesday launch.
(All photos in the section above from the NASA Flickr stream)
Before the TMA-17M crew left ISS, they helped out Commander Scott Kelly with the capture and berthing of the new Cygnus cargo craft, also known as the SS Deke Slayton. It is a beautiful spacecraft.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) December 9, 2015
— Sergey Volkov (@Volkov_ISS) December 9, 2015
In launch news, there were three launches this past week: one Chinese and two Russian. All communication or Earth-observing satellites. One of the Russian launches was a Zenit rocket carrying a weather satellite. This is reportedly going to be the last launch of the Ukranian built Zenit. The other launches were a Russian Proton rocket with a communications satellite and a Chinese Long March 3B/E carrying a communications satellite.
In the coming week, it looks like there may be several more launches, but he most exciting should be the Soyuz crewed launch and then hopefully the Falcon 9 return-to-flight by SpaceX next Saturday. It looks like Russia, USA, and China may be in a race for “most launches in 2015″ as we head into the last two weeks of the year, at least according to this running count from Wikipedia:
Around the Solar System
Researchers with the Dawn mission, in orbit of dwarf planet Ceres, believe that the “bright spots” on the asteroids surface could be caused by salty water which makes its way to the surface and then sublimates.
Because it’s just so darn beautiful, check out this picture of Saturn’s Moon Prometheus taken by Cassini last week during a close flyby:
Down to Earth
Former NASA mathematician Katharine Johnson was recently awarded the presidential medal of freedom. She is currently 97 years old.
Hungary is a new full member of the European Space Agency.
Virgin Galactic announced that they now plan to launch their LauncherOne rocket from a modified 747 instead of from the belly of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. WhiteKnightTwo will then be free to fly more dedicated flights of SpaceShipOne for paying tourist-o-nauts.
The Apollo Saturn V rockets that Jeff Bezos pulled up from the seafloor in the Atlantic are headed to museums. Some of them have already been delivered to the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
The first of 18 primary mirror segments for the James Webb Space Telescope was installed into the spacecraft last month.
Blue Origin had a suborbital flight of their New Shepard vehicle. The unmanned capsule landed back on Earth under parachute and the rocket itself landed under its own power on two legs. Here’s the video.
And here’s an awesome video of Blue Origin employees celebrating the flight. Almost as good as JPL celebrating a rover landing on Mars. Way to go guys!
Lots of rocket launches since my last post. Here’s a quick run down. I use the Wikipedia page 2015 in spaceflight as a general source (with other references):
Three launches by China of various reconnaissance or communications payloads.
Two launches by Russia, seemingly military in nature. However, the recent launch last night may have had a mishap and part of the payload did not make orbit.
And then Japan, ESA, and America round out the crowd with one more launch each. Japan launched a commercial telecommunications satellite, ESA launched the LISA Pathfinder gravity wave physics probe, and United Launch Alliance sent a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on the way to the ISS for Orbital ATK.
Meanwhile on the ISS, the crew has been posting awesome pictures in whatever free they have. Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui will be coming home this week, on December 11th. I will miss their Twitter posts! You really should be following them on Twitter yourself, but here are some of their best (it may look like a lot but this is really a small selection from just the last three weeks):
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) November 16, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) November 17, 2015
Honolulu and Diamond Head Crater. I can hear the waves and feel the sun from here. pic.twitter.com/sZPioOgBmc
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) November 17, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) November 19, 2015
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) November 19, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) November 20, 2015
Northern CA Bay Area. I spent the summer of 1996 doing research at NASA Ames Research Center. Great memories! pic.twitter.com/PjAHfnsHzz
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) November 21, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) November 24, 2015
Boats sheltering in an atoll. pic.twitter.com/546lttQR8s
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) November 29, 2015
Pictures of west coast, east coast of U.S. or small villages in Canada at night. Which do you like? 米国西海岸、東海岸、カナダの村） pic.twitter.com/j4KnI2dTSb
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) November 27, 2015
Полярное сияние, в середине сверкает Москва, а слева вверху – Санкт-Петербург. Снимок сделал Олег Кононенко. pic.twitter.com/0NWBbpLMAJ
— Sergey Volkov (@Volkov_ISS) November 29, 2015
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) December 1, 2015
Beautiful dunes. Arrakis? pic.twitter.com/WAsQpWAJfX
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) December 2, 2015
View from JEM window) 宇宙での最後の週末。きぼうの窓から、景色を楽しんでいます。オーロラが綺麗です。この星々をみて、星座が分かる人は凄いです！ヒントは、太陽電池パネルの上の２つの明るめの星。右はりょうけん座。 pic.twitter.com/2U6Ea4SVjF
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) December 6, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) December 6, 2015
Around the Solar System
The Japanese probe Akatsuki has entered orbit around Venus, several years after it missed its original orbit insertion due ot a thruster failure. Way to go JAXA!
Down to Earth
The current head of JPL for 15 years, Charles Elachi, is retiring. Here’s a brief but good interview with him from Pasadena Star News.
NASA has delayed its decision to award ISS cargo flight contracts starting in 2018 until next year. The current contracts being fulfilled by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences run out in a few years and 5 companies have submitted proposals for the new award (SpaceX, Orbital, Sierra Nevada, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin).
NASA will be accepting applications for a new class of astronauts starting December 14th.
Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren completed their second of two planned spacewalks during their ISS mission this past Friday.
In orbital rocket news, China had two launches last week: first, a communication satellite on November 3rd and a military reconnaissance satellite on November 8th, bringing their total on the year to 14 with no failures. For comparison, the USA is 16 for 18, Russia is 19 for 21, and ESA is 7 for 7.
A new US Air Force rocket, intended for small payloads, was supposed to reach orbit from the Hawaiian Island of Kauai last week, but had an anomaly on ascent and was lost.
Speaking of rockets, a submarine-launched missile test was seen by many residents on the US west coast on Saturday evening, November 7th.
Around the Solar System
Newly-announced findings from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft are helping scientists determine what happened to Mars’ atmosphere. Mars has no powerful magnetic field like Earth, so it is suspected that the solar wind has been blasting Mars’ atmosphere away into space over the eons.
The New Horizons spacecraft has now completed all four course correction burns needed (assuming they are all on target) to get to object 2014 MU69 in 2019.
Down to Earth
There was a workshop in Houston last week for technical discussion about selecting future landings sites for missions to Mars. It may seem a bit premature, with NASA saying missions to Mars won’t occur for 20 years, but engineers would like to take advantage of the excellent capabilities of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to get early high resolution imagery of potential targets.
The US Congress passed a federal budget bill that avoids “continuing resolution” levels of funding for the rest of Fiscal Year 2016. The appropriations negotiations for specifics, like how much money NASA will receive, is not yet decided, but generally a budget provides more flexibility than a continuing resolution. Bottom line is that space policy fans have to wait to see how their favorite NASA programs are affected, but this is hopefully good news.
Check out this article at The Atlantic that does a good job of explaining the complexities and nuances in the political battle over the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea in Hawai’i.
In rocket news, only one Chinese launch along with the launch of a new GPS satellite from Florida this past week. The next launch to the ISS will be a Cygnus resupply on top of an Atlas V rocket in early December. Later today, the first orbital launch from Hawai’i’s island of Kauai will take off from USAF’s Pacific Missile Range Facility.
Up on the ISS, astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren got to go on their first EVA ever! The EVA had a variety of tasks (it was in fact referred to here at mission control ambiguously as simply the “ISS Upgrades EVA”). The guys get a second walk outside later this week on Friday, November 2nd.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) October 29, 2015
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) November 1, 2015
Meanwhile, on November 2nd, NASA marked 15 continuous years of habitation onboard the ISS.
Around the Solar System
The Cassini spacecraft conducted one of its closest flybys of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, passing within 30 miles of the surface and flying right through the “plumes” of water ice flowing out from the subsurface ocean.
A recent astronomical study of Europa – an icy moon of Jupiter with an ocean, much like Enceladus – revealed areas on the surface that appear to have a unique composition, probably caused by the sea water mixing with the surface ice.
A very large asteroid (2,000 feet) called 2015 TB145 flew past Earth this past weekend at a distance of about half a million kilometers. Heres a radar image of the rock; here’s some videos of the flyby.
The New Horizons spacecraft has conducted the first of its course correction thruster firings needed to reach its next target – a small Kuiper Belt object flyby in 2019.
I am back from a little “fall break”. This post should catch you up on the big things that have happened since my last post in September.
Down to Earth
Estonia is now a full member of the European Space Agency.
A watch worn by Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott on the surface of the moon recently sold at auction for over one million US dollars. This is not one of the Omega Speedmasters which were given to all the crews (all of which are now owned by the Smithsonian). Instead this was a backup Scott wore when his Speedmaster broke.
An Israeli team called SpaceIL has secured a launch contract on a Falcon 9 rocket for their entry in the Google Lunar X Prize.
Blue Origin announced that it will center its launch operations at Cape Canaveral.
NASA dropped a large archive of photos from Project Apollo to Flickr.
It’s been a busy month of rocket launches. Since my last post on September 26th there have been nine successful launches to orbit: one by India, three by China, one by the European Space Agency, two by Russia, and two by America. Only one of those launches was in support of International Space Station operations: an unmanned Progress resupply mission from Russia. You can see a great list of all launches at “2015 in Spaceflight” on Wikipedia.
In addition to the launches, the Japanese HTV-5 cargo vehicle was successfully undocked and deorbited from the ISS during the last week of September.
Other happenings on the ISS included a debris avoidance maneuver on September 27th, some cubesat deploys, the Progress docking, Scott Kelly breaking the record for most days in space by an American, and some great imagery of Hurricane Patricia.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) October 23, 2015
Around the Solar System
Science data from the New Horizons flyby of Pluto continue to come in, including this awesome picture showing the blue glow of the planetoids thin atmosphere.
NASA made a big announcement at the end of September about Mars research, revealing that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had imaged evidence of water flowing (intermittently) on the surface of Mars. While previous NASA missions had confirmed that water is present and had flowed in streams and rivers in the ancient past, this is the first evidence of a modern water cycle. As usual, Emily Lakdawalla has excellent coverage.
NASA is posting daily images of the Earth from the DSCOVR satellite to an interactive website.
A rather large Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) at 500 meters across will buzz the Earth-Moon system on October 31st, but is not in danger of impacting our planet.