Archive for the ‘SLS’ Category
Down to Earth
Funeral services were held for Gemini and Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan in Houston on January 24th.
The Russian workhorse heavy-lift rocket, the Proton, is currently grounded due to a new hardware recall. The rocket may be grounded through the spring, delaying a backlog of commercial flights.
The new US presidential administration and Congress are starting to have an impact on NASA’s plans. A few notable things happened in the beltway over the past few months.
- Acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot is looking into whether the first SLS flight could be crewed by astronauts rather than unmanned. This would potentially move up the timeline for NASA’s exploration plans by several years.
- An authorization bill in Congress could direct NASA back to having Orion capable of supporting ISS crew flights as a backup to the Commercial Crew plan.
- The Sierra Nevada Corporation is proposing that their Dreamchaser spacecraft could be used for a sixth Hubble servicing mission.
Severe weather in Louisiana on February 7th included a tornado which struck NASA’s Michoud facility near New Orleans. NASA facilities sustained damage but all employees are safe with no major injuries.
There have been five successful orbital rocket launches since my last update on January 23rd:
- On January 24th, Japan launched a military communications satellite on an H-IIA rocket.
- On January 28th, Arianespace launched a spanish communications satellite from French Guiana on a Soyuz rocket.
- On February 14th, Arianespace launch telecommunications satellites for Indonesia and Brasil from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket.
- On February 15th, India launched a wide array of small satellites (104 in all) on their PSLV rocket.
- On February 19th, SpaceX launched an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft to the ISS on a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida.
And of course, here’s the awesome video of the Falcon 9’s first stage booster returning to Landing Zone 1 at CCAFS.
Up on the ISS, two cargo spacecraft departed. First, the Japanese HTV left ISS in late January. It stayed in orbit for another week with plans to conduct a tether experiment. However, the tether failed to deploy. HTV was followed quickly by the departure of Progress MS-03 from a nadir facing port of the space station.
Around the Solar System
NASA has decided to leave the Juno probe in it’s longer 56-day orbit around Jupiter instead of the planned closer 14-day orbit. This decision is based on anomalies seen with the probe’s main engine and worries that another burn will not go per plan.
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
Veteran astronaut Steve Swanson, who flew on the space shuttle and commanded the ISS last year, is retiring from NASA. According to his Wikipedia page, he has spent an impressive 195 days in space with almost 28 hours of spacewalk time across 5 EVAs. This leaves NASA with 45 active astronauts (which doesn’t count ESA and JAXA astronauts who are qualified to fly to ISS).
Last week an important engine test in the development of the new SLS rocket was conducted at Stennis Space Center. The RS-25 engine was run for almost a full ten minuets. Here’s a video (test starts at 31:15).
Last Monday, August 10th, two Russian Cosmonauts went outside the ISS for a spacewalk. Padalka and Kornienko spent about five and a half hours outside. It was Padalka’s tenth spacewalk, which should put him nicely on this list once it is updated.
Later in the week, on Friday morning, a Russian Progress cargo craft undocked from the aft port of the ISS. That port will be empty until Soyuz 42S does a “relocate” from the Poisk port later this fall. The relocate is needed to free up Poisk for the docking of the next Soyuz. There will be three Soyuz onboard for a direct handover this fall.
Some cool stuff happened inside the ISS this past week as well. The astronauts were able to eat some red romaine lettuce grown on the space station in the “VEGGIE” experiment.
Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui did some remote robotics experiments.
I had a experiment called "HAPTICS". I controlled an robot-arm on the ground from ISS. I did remote handshake with people on ground as well!
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) August 14, 2015
The launch of the next ISS resupply flight from Japan has been delayed to Monday, due to bad weather.
Also in ISS cargo news, Orbital Sciences announced they will launch not just one but two or more of their Cygnus cargo resupply missions on someone else’s rocket. Orbital is working hard to recertify their Antares rocket with new Russian engines, following the loss of one of their rockets last October. In the meantime, they are buying Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance in order to fulfill their NASA contract.
Around the Solar System
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has reached perihelion (closest point to the sun), which has made the comet rather “active”. Check out these images from Rosetta, in orbit about the comet.
How cool is this? There is evidence of cryovolcanism (ice volcanoes) on Pluto.
Speaking of Pluto, here’s an awesome simulation of the New Horizons flyby in real-time, based on actually imagery from the spacecraft.
If you love the ins and outs of Martian rover exploration, here’s a comprehensive update on what the Curiosity rover has been up to.
Down to Earth
A new exhibit called ‘Forever Remembered’ at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has opened, featuring artifacts from the fateful STS-51L and STS-107 missions.
NASA is offering to lease parts of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and Mobile Launch Platforms (MLP) at the Kennedy Space Center to commercial users. I guess NASA doesn’t need both high bays all the time due to the low launch rate expected for the new SLS rocket.
Famous composer James Horner died in a plane crash this week. Here are some excerpts from my favorite work of his, the Apollo 13 soundtrack:
In orbital launch news, the Russian military launch I wrote about last week was successful on June 23rd. The rocket was a Soyuz-2.1b, which has a different third stage than the Soyuz rockets used to launch missions to ISS. Here is a good discussion of the Soyuz rocket family from Russian Space Web.
There was also a Chinese Earth-observing satellite launch on June 26 (was early in the day, so June 25 in the US).
And of course, another much-anticipated SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is still scheduled for tomorrow. The pre-launch static fire test was successful on Friday, June 26, so they are ready for launch on June 27 at around 10:20 AM Eastern.
This Falcon 9 launch is supposed to have another barge landing attempt. SpaceX recently launched this new tracking cam footage of the almost-made-it attempt in April. This should get you excited for tomorrow!
As always, here are some more great photos from ISS, posted by @StationCDRKelly
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) June 23, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) June 24, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) June 26, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) June 27, 2015
Around the Solar System
The European Space Agency has extended the Rosetta mission, in orbit of comet 67P, until late 2016. Good thing too, because Rosetta keeps finding new things about comet 67P, like the recent announcement that they have found exposed water ice on the surface.
This song about the New Horizons mission to Pluto is rather fun. If you don’t like sentimentality or kitsch, you might want to skip it.
Some cool astronomy news worth sharing this week. First, the V404 Cygni system, which is a black hole orbited by a companion star, has recently become very active and is flaring into the brightest X-ray object in the sky (so you can’t see it).
Second, astronomers have discovered that exoplanet GJ436b (which is about the size of Neptune) has a giant cloud of hydrogen following it in its orbit, like a comet tail.
Down to Earth
SpaceX officially received certification from the United States Air Force (USAF) to launch military payloads.
NASA has officially ordered the first official crew rotation flight to ISS under the contracts awarded to Boeing and SpaceX last year. Boeing is expected to make this flight (after a demo flight) in late 2017.
At NASA’s Stennis Space Center, the new RS-25 rocket engine went through a long duration test firing. The RS-25 is a modified space shuttle main engine and will be used on NASA’s new SLS rocket. Here is the full video of the 450 second (7.5 minute) test:
A new venture called MarsPolar hopes to work with SpaceX to mount the first expeditions to Mars. They have a rather shiny website (and an awesome logo). There are a lot of ambitious people promising big dreams these days, which is exciting. But it is hard to take these announcements seriously until we start seeing results. I wish them luck!
The big event on ISS last week was the relocation of the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) from the bottom of ISS to another out of the way port, so that the previous location can be used as a docking port. Here are some images and timelapses of the operation:
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) May 28, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) May 29, 2015
The now free Common Berthing Mechanism with petals open, just after PMM was moved away, then with petals closed. pic.twitter.com/WyYnJ6vtmC
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) May 30, 2015
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) May 28, 2015
The ISS is currently in perpetual twilight during a time of year we call “high beta”. This often means frequent and very bright ISS passes for much of the world. My favorite way to look up whether ISS will be flying over my location is with the website Heavens Above.
In rocket news, only one orbital rocket launched in the past week: an Ariane 5 rocket carrying a DirecTV satellite. The next ISS related launches are expected to be a SpaceX launch late in June and hopefully also the next Progress launch.
Around the solar System
As New Horizons is now less than two months from closest approach to Pluto, we are getting higher resolution images of the dwarf planet every week. Here is the latest batch. Here’s an animation of the imagery (via APOD):
These images are more than just pretty pictures. The New Horizons mission control team is watching Pluto and its moons closely throughout approach to ensure no hazards will destroy the spacecraft at the close encounter. Analysis so far is good.
If you are excited about the Pluto mission, maybe you should download the new “Pluto Safari” iPhone app. I have downloaded it, but not played with it yet.
Down to Earth
Last week, on Wednesday, March 11th, Orbital ATK conducted a successful static test fire of one of the solid propellant rocket motors that will be used for the SLS rocket.
— Gordie (@BoosterBud) March 12, 2015
The next day, on the 12th, the Soyuz carrying Butch Wilmore, Elena Serova, and Alexander Samokutyaev returned to Earth. Check out these incredible pictures of their descent and landing. Looks like it was a beautiful (cold) day in Kazakhstan.
With Butch and crew on the ground, Expedition 43 is underway with only three crew members onboard – Terry Virts, Samantha Cristoforetti, and Anton Shkaplerov. They are a good trio to have onboard together, as they are all very active on Twitter, providing us awesome views of Earth from on orbit! However, they will be joined very shortly by Scott Kelly, Gennady Padalka, and Mikhail Korniyenko who are launching next Friday, March 27th.
On March 18th, many space fans celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first ever spacewalk, conducted by Alexei Leonov on the Voskhod 2 mission.
First space walk 50 years ago today. Congratulations Major General Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov! pic.twitter.com/zbpO0W6cVR
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) March 18, 2015
— Douglas H. Wheelock (@Astro_Wheels) March 18, 2015
Leonov is 80 years old, and did a press circuit for the occassion!
Leonov interviewed in front of Sergei Korolov's house in Moscow. The 50-yr 1st EVA celebration continues today pic.twitter.com/DCnIaVdlcE
— Christer (@CFuglesang) March 19, 2015
In less fun news, there has been a lot of talk about a couple of space-related hearings in Washington, D.C. that happened earlier this month. Let me break it down into the biggest talking points for you:
1. On March 4th, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden appeared before the “House Appropriations Committee” for a budget hearing. Some folks latched on to a discussion between Bolden and Congressman John Culbertson about whether NASA has a plan for ISS if Russia decides to no longer participate. Given that the program is a joint venture that depends on both parties, it seems to me like an unfair premise.
2. On March 12th, Bolden appeared before the “Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness”. One of the big takeaways was Bolden’s comments about why the Opportunity’s rover’s budget is being cancelled in 2016. The Planetary Society has a pretty good explanation of why that is a bad idea.
3. In the same hearing, Bolden was asked by Texas Senator Ted Cruz why NASA spends so much time on Earth science instead of exploring space. Of course, Earth science is part of NASA’s core mission. Parabolic Arc explains why Ted Cruz doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about.
4. Lastly, the senate held an “Army and Air Force hearing” on March 18th. There was some discussion about the RD-180 engine issues (see my earlier post) and whether the Air Force could provide a replacement by the 2019 deadline. USAF and ULA officials say it is not possible. Some of the senators scolded that no progress has been made. However, Aerojet recently conducted a test of their new AR1 engine, which may be a starting point for a replacement.
I will optimistically put this news in the “in orbit” section: with bids on the CRS-2 (commercial resupply services) contract due, both Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada have been promoting their ideas for how to get cargo to and from the ISS. Lockheed Martin has a unique design involving a reusable cargo ferry that stays in orbit and transfers cargo to a rocket stage with a robotic arm. Sierra Nevada is proposing an unmanned variant of their Dreamchaser spaceplane, which recently lost out on the ISS crew transfer contract (CCtCAP).
Speaking of ISS cargo, NASA has extended the contracts with SpaceX and Orbital ATK by a few additional flights in 2017 to close the gap between CRS and CRS-2.
Alright, back to the fun stuff. Up in space, the pretty pictures from the ISS crew just keep on coming:
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) March 18, 2015
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) March 17, 2015
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) March 16, 2015
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) March 13, 2015
Today there is a total solar eclipse in the Northern Atlantic and Arctic. Hopefully the astronauts can get some views from the ISS! In fact, Cristoforetti just posted the below picture just a few minutes ago, as I write this.
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) March 20, 2015
Around the Solar System
Recent observations of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede using the Hubble Space Telescope confirms the presence of a sub-surface ocean. Wicked.
Meanwhile, Cassini has discovered evidence or hydrothermal activity below the surface of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.
The MAVEN spacecraft has discovered ultraviolet aurora at Mars.
There is a new nova in the constellation Sagittarius bright enough to see with binoculars. It was too cloudy this morning in Houston to spot it but I will keep looking!
Before I get into my recap of what has happened over the past week and a half, I want to make sure to note that tomorrow, Wednesday, March 11, there will be two big events covered on NASA TV. First, Orbital ATK will conduct a test firing of a solid rocket motor in support of SLS development. The coverage will start at 11 AM Eastern with the test firing at 11:30 AM. Secondly, Soyuz TMA-14M will undock from the ISS at 6:44 PM Eastern and land at around 10:07 PM in Kazakhstan. There is NASA TV coverage throughout the day, including at 3 PM for hatch closing. Here is the change of command ceremony from earlier today:
Down to Earth
Sci-fi icon Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock on Star Trek) died on February 27th.
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) February 28, 2015
One of Chris Hadfield’s old flight suits (not worn in space) was bought at a random Toronto thrift store. Seriously.
Although SpaceX’s lawsuit against the USAF seems to have been resolved, there has been another interesting piece of space legal work going on. SpaceX is suing over Blue Origin’s patent on landing a rocket stage on a platform at sea.
United Launch Alliance plans to retire the Delta IV launch vehicle (but not the Heavy variant).
China has made some of their future manned spaceflight plans public, including the launch of a new larger space station next year.
I don’t know what to call this other than a “trailer”. Check out this video about the LHC starting up again this year:
A USAF weather satellite known as DMSP-13 broke apart at a 500 mile altitude in early February.
On March 1st, SpaceX launched its third Falcon 9 launch of the year. Quite a good pace so far in 2015…
Also on March 1st, astronauts Terry Virts and Butch Wilmore completed the third of their trilogy of spacewalks outside the ISS to “wire up” the US segment for the new docking ports to be delivered starting later this year.
ISS Commander Butch has been posting some excellent Vine’s in his last few weeks aboard. Here is a sample (follow @space_station on Twitter or Vine):
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) March 5, 2015
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) March 8, 2015
Of course, Samantha Cristoforetti has been just as busy on social media. Here is a shot she got of some cubesats recently launched from the Japanese robotic arm on the ISS.
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) February 27, 2015
Around the Solar System
The Dawn spacecraft has reached Ceres! However, as you can see in the animation below, the spacecraft is in a bit of an odd “orbit” above the dark side of the asteroid until early April. That is why we won’t get better sunlit images of the asteroid for several weeks.
Check out this awesome shot of Mars’ moon Phobos in silhoutte, by India’s MOM.
Check out this picture that the Rosetta spacecraft took of its own shadow.
Some scary news from Mars at the end of last month – a short circuit in the instruments at the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm caused the missions’s flight control team to halt operations for troubleshooting. It sounds like as of this week, they have determined it is safe to continue operations. Excellent!
Down to Earth
Elon Musk released photos on his Twitter feed of the moment that the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket first stage hit their “autonomous spaceport drone ship” (see, barge) and blew up. This occurred a few minutes after the launch of the latest Dragon resupply craft last Saturday. It seems like they hit their target but came in too hard. Maybe better luck on their next flight in a couple of weeks.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2015
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 16, 2015
Update: Just a little while after I wrote this post, the SpaceX twitter account posted this amazing Vine video.
Close, but no cigar. This time. https://t.co/JowUE6a1D7
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 16, 2015
NASA completed a “hot fire” test of the new RS-25 liquid fueled engine at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The RS-25 is a modified Space Shuttle main engine which will power the SLS.
Much noise has been made about Ted Cruz (R-TX) being assigned to a US Senate subcommittee that oversees the budget of NASA. The main concern is that Cruz is considered anti-science. At the very least, he is anti-science when it comes to climate research, which NASA supports with a fleet of Earth-observering satellites. Houston Chronicle has the best analysis I have seen of what impact Cruz may actually have on the NASA budget. If you are concerned about this topic, you should read Eric Berger’s post. Here’s a longer more technical analysis at Space Policy Online.
Virgin Galactic is teaming up with a small satellite company known as OneWeb to launch a large constellation of satellites to bring broadband internet to the entire world. Replacement satellites will be launched by the LauncherOne rocket dropped from Virgin’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
There is an idea floating of a new reality show which would be a competition between inventors and scientists to get their research flown to ISS. Sounds cool!
Two big things happened on the ISS this week. on Monday, the latest SpaceX Dragon resupply craft arrived. This was the first cargo delivery to ISS from the US since the loss of an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket in October. There was one Russian Progress resupply flight back in November.
Opening the Dragon hatch for the first time- it has that "new spaceship smell"- very nice! pic.twitter.com/OSe66Ygzsu
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) January 13, 2015
The SpaceX flight was quickly overshadowed by an emergency alarm onboard the ISS on Wednesday morning. The alarm was for a toxic leak of ammonia, which cools the space station avionics hardware in fluid loops on the outside of ISS. In certain failure cases (for which there is multiple layers of redundancy to prevent) the ammonia can break into the internal fluid lines (which carry water) and endanger the astronauts.
Ground teams and the astronauts took immediate safety actions, as we train for hours and hours for, and evacuated to the Russian side of the space station, which does not have ammonia coolant lines. The emergency alarm was eventually determined to be false, caused by a computer glitch, and the astronauts were allowed to open the hatch to the rest of the station late in the day on Wednesday.
While the astronauts are safe, cleanup from such a major (potential) failure takes some time because of all of the automatic safing software that shut down ISS systems on Wednesday. The Flight Control Team will still be diligently working towards bringing the ISS back to “nominal” during my evening shifts this weekend.
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) January 16, 2015
Around the Solar System
NASA’s New Horizons probe has technically begun science operations for its Pluto encounter, although it is still more than 100 million miles from Pluto.
The long-lost Beagle 2 lander has been found on Mars by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The lander was lost during EDL phase (Entry, Descent, and Landing) back in 2003, which was a huge disappointment to the United Kingdom’s space agency. Incredibly, although the world had assumed that Beagle 2 crashed into the surface – hence the loss of communication – the MRO images show the lander safely on the surface, partially deployed. In honor of deceased mission designer John Pillinger, I think this image deserves an update to show that Beagle 2 made it to the surface.
Check out this colorized view from Opportunity on the summit of Cape Tribulation. Image processing done by @mars_stu at his blog The Road to Endeavour (click to embiggen, of course).