Archive for the ‘SpaceX’ Category

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The United States federal government remains partial shutdown as it has been since mid-December. This is far more than a story about NASA, of course. But since this is a space blog, here is an article from the Orlando Sentinel about how the current situation is affecting some NASA contractors in Florida.

NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Center in West Virginia has been renamed for Katherine Johnson, a native of the state.

Nancy Grace Roman, who served as NASA’s chief of astronomy in the 1970’s and is credited with ensuring the Hubble Space Telescope project moved forward, has died at 93 years of age.

The Dragon capsule for “Demo Mission 1” was rolled out to the launch pad in Florida. This test mission will be in preparation for the first flight with astronauts onboard.

NASA had to postpone a visit by the head of Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) due to political pressure.

In Orbit

It’s been a tough time for space telescopes. The Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 is currently inactive due to a malfunction. Also, Russia’s Spektr-R telescope is reportedly out of communication.

There were 10 orbital rocket launches since my last post on December 16th:

On the ISS, things have been busy with the usual ebb and flow of operations. On December 19th, the three person crew of Alex Gerst, Serena Aunon-Chancellor, and Sergey Propokyev returned to Earth in their Soyuz capsule.

Meanwhile, the remaining ISS crew was busy organizing supplies and conducting science delivered on the latest Dragon capsule. The capsule, designated Dragon-16, returned to Earth on Sunday, January 13th, splashing down for recovery in the Pacific Ocean.

Around the Solar System

NASA’s New Horizons probe – famous for its flyby of Pluto in 2015 – successfully imaged a distant Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule. This flyby was many years in the making, even though the object was discovered well after New Horizons launched in 2006.

China successfully landed their second lunar rover, Yutu 2, part of the Chang’e 4 mission, on the far side of the moon.

Weekly Links

It’s been a busy and important few weeks in spaceflight. Some major milestones linked below.

Down to Earth

NASA announced nine recipients in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

Virgin Galactic completed a successful powered flight of SpaceShipTwo, reaching over 80 km altitude (note that some organizations define space at 80 km while others define it at 100 km).

In Orbit

Among the launches listed below, the most significant is probably the Soyuz launch from Kazakhstan, which was a return to flight for the ISS program. Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques launched safely and docked to the ISS.

Meanwhile, the crew from the failed launch in October has been reassigned to a future flight.

There have been 9 orbital launches since my last post on November 25:

  • November 29 – An Indian PSLV rocket launched carrying an Earth observing satellite.
  • November 30 – A Russian Rokot rocket carrying communications satellites.
  • December 3 – A Russian Soyuz rocket launched with three crew headed for the ISS.
  • December 3 – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from California delivered a plethora of payloads.
  • December 4 – An ESA Ariane 5 rocket launched carrying satellites for India and South Korea.
  • December 5 – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched carrying a resupply flight for the ISS.
  • December 7 – A Chinese Long March 2D rocket launched carrying payloads for Saudi Arabia.
  • December 7 – A Chinese Long March 3B rocket launched carrying the Chang’e 4 mission to the moon.
  • December 16 – A Rocket Lab Electron rocket launched from New Zealand carrying a number of cubesats.

The first stage booster for the Falcon 9 rocket launch on December 5th had to abort its return to launch site landing and ditch in the ocean.

Meanwhile, the Dragon capsule successfully arrived at ISS.

The two Russian cosmonauts currently aboard the ISS conducted a lengthy spacewalk last week to inspect their Soyuz capsule from the outside.

Around the Solar System

NASA’s latest Mars lander, Insight, successfully touched down on the Martian surface last month and has already begun operations. Below is a picture from the lander.

NASA’s Osiris-Rex is now station keeping near asteroid Bennu. The probe has already discovered water-bearing minerals in the asteroid.

Voyager 2 has passed through the heliopause and into interstellar space.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

A major election took place in the USA this month, with implications for the future of NASA and space exploration, among many other policy concerns. Here is a brief summary from The Planetary Society of some of the impacts to members of congressional space and science committees.

The ISS was prominent in pop culture this last week. Check out the short Macy’s ad below and then the longer sketch scene from SNL.

In Orbit

Seven orbital launches since my last post on November 4th. With 92 successful launches as of today, 2018 is poised to have the most launches in a year since the early 1990s.

  • November 7 – An ESA Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana carrying a weather satellite.
  • November 11 – New Zealand’s Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket carrying their first commercial payloads.
  • November 14 – An Indian GSLV rocket launched carrying a communications satellite.
  • November 15 – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from California carrying a communication satellite for Qatar.
  • November 16 – A Russian Soyuz-FG rocket launched from Kazakhstan carrying a Progress resupply flight for the ISS.
  • November 17 – A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket launched a Cyngus spacecraft on its way to the ISS.
  • November 18 – A Chinese Long March 3B rocket launched carrying two Beidou navigation satellites.

The Progress robotic resupply reached the ISS and successfully docked on Sunday.

An HTV cargo vehicle departed the ISS carrying trash, but also a small return capsule. The return capsule was an experimental new way to return science from the ISS, and was retrieved successfully at sea.

Around the Solar System

Check out this new imagery of asteroid Bennu from the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

NASA’s Marshall SpaceFlight Center has a new Director, Jody Singer.

Members of the Jet Propulsion Lab’s media relations team have won an Emmy Award for coverage of the Cassini mission.

Holly Ridings has been named the new chief of the Flight Director office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Veteran NASA astronaut Tim Kopra has left the agency. He flew to space twice, once serving as ISS commander.

SpaceX has announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has paid to be a passenger on a test flight around the moon.

In Orbit

The following orbital launches have occurred since my last post.

  • September 10 – SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida carrying a Canadian communications satellite.
  • September 15 – ULA launched a Delta II rocket from California carrying several research payloads.
  • September 16 – India launched a PSLV rocket carrying two Earth-observation satellites.
  • September 19 – China launched a Long March 3B rocket carrying two Beidou navigation satellites.
  • September 22 – Japan launched an H-II rocket carrying an HTV cargo freighter bound for the ISS.
  • September 25 – ESA launched an Ariane 5 rocket carrying two communications satelites.
  • September 29 – China launched a Kuaizhou rocket carrying a small technology demonstration payload.
  • October 8 – SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from California carrying an Argentinian Earth-observation satellite.

The HTV-7 cargo vehicle was captured and berthed to the ISS several days after it launched.

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying the returning ISS Expedition 56 crew has landed safely in Kazakhstan. Now that Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold, and Oleg Artemyev are home, the next Soyuz is readying for launch. The Expedition 57 crew of Nick Hague and Aleksey Ovchinin are preparing to launch on Thursday, October 11, which will brin ghte ISS crew back up to 5 people.

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has entered safe mode due to a failed gyroscope.

Around the Solar System

Still no news from beleaguered Opportunity rover, on the surface of Mars. It has been 4 months.

And now on the other side of Mars, the Curiosity rover is having issues of its own. JPL engineers are troubleshooting an interruption in science data from the larger rover.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has successfully deployed 2 small rovers from the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft onto the surface of asteroid Ryugu.

Out There

Astronomers have detected the first evidence of an exomoon (or moon around a planet around another star) using data from the Kepler and Hubble space telescopes. The planetary system is 8,000 lightyears distant.

A bit of fun exoplanet news: astronomers have discovered a planet in orbit around 40 Eridani A, which is the star system of the fictional planet Vulcan from Star Trek.

And lastly in the busy period of astronomy news, a new dwarf planet has been discovered beyond Pluto.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

In late July, Virgin Galactic conducted a third powered test flight of their new SpaceShipTwo spaceplane.

In a ceremony at Johnson Space Center, NASA announced the names of the astronauts who will fly the first flights of the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Dragon, the first crewed missions from US soil since 2011.

SpaceX installed a shiny new crew access arm to launch complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

Russia has selected a new class of 8 cosmonauts.

United States Vice President Mike Pence visited the Johnson Space Center and gave a speech on future plans for exploration.

Rocket Lab’s next Electron launch has been delayed further.

In Orbit

Operations at the ISS over the past month have included two visiting vehicle departures and one spacewalk. On August 3rd, the latest SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle undocked from ISS and splashed down in the Pacific. On August 22nd, a Russian unmanned Progress freighter undocked from the ISS. On august 15th, two Russian cosmonauts, Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Propokyev, conducted a lengthy spacewalk to complete maintenance and science tasks.

There were 8 orbital rocket launches since my last post on July 23rd:

  • July 25 – ESA Ariane 5 rocket launched carrying Galileo navigation satellites.
  • July 25 – SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from California carrying communications satellites for Iridium.
  • July 29 – Chinese Long March 3B rocket launched carrying BeiDou navigation satellites.
  • July 31 – Chinese Long March 4B rocket launched carrying an Earth-observing satellite.
  • August 7 – SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Florida carrying an Indonesian communications satellite.
  • August 12 – ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket launched from Florida carrying NASA’s Parker Solar Probe.
  • August 22 – ESA Vega rocket launched carrying an Earth-observing mission.
  • August 24 – Chinese Long March 3B rocket launched carrying more BeiDou navigation satellites.

 

Around the Solar System

The Martian dust storm is waning but NASA mission teams have yet to hear from the Opportunity rover.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

NASA conducted a parachute test for the Orion spacecraft.

Blue Origin performed another flight test of their New Shepard rocket, complete with escape motor test. Video below (jump to 34:30).

In Orbit

The only orbital launch of the last week was a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch early on Sunday, July 22nd. The rocket carried a private communications satellite for Telstar into a geosynchronous orbit. The first stage booster of the block 5 variant was recovered on an autonomous drone ship.

Notable upcoming launches include an Ariane 5 launch on July 25th, a Falcon 9 launch from California on July 25th, and a Falcon 9 launch from Florida on August 2.

Around the Solar System

You guessed it – no new status from the Opportunity rover, still dormant under a global dust storm.

Out at Jupiter, astronomers have identified a dozen previously undiscovered moons at distant orbits around the gas giant.

Out There

If you like the intersection of science and art like I do, you might enjoy this audio “visualization” of the orbits of the planets in the Trappist-1 system.

 

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

NASA announced a new class of 6 flight directors for human spaceflight at Johnson Space Center.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) performed a pad abort test of their launch escape tower for future crewed spaceflights.

Launch towers at Launch Complex 17 at Cape Canaveral were demolished last week. These launch towers were built for the now retired Delta II rocket. Instead, Moon Express will use the site.

Launch industry newcomer Rocket Lab plans to open a second launch site somewhere in the USA.

James Morhard has been nominated to the open position of NASA deputy administrator.

Astronaut Dan Burbank has retired from NASA.

In Orbit

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has entered a hibernation mode as it nears the end of its long mission.

There were three orbital rocket launches since my last post on July 1st:

Operations have been busy on the International Space Station. The Dragon resupply ship that launched at the end of June arrived at ISS on July 2nd. Then the above mentioned Progress resupply arrived.

On Sunday morning, the latest Cygnus cargo spacecraft departed the ISS packed full of trash. Before it left, it performed a demonstration maneuver to reboost the ISS.

Upcoming notable launches include a SpaceX launch from Florida on July 20th and a SpaceX launch from California on July 22nd. Still no firm launch date on the rescheduled Rocket Lab launch.

Around the Solar System

Still no update from NASA’s Opportunity rover, which has been socked in by a dust storm on Mars.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Russia will stop building the Proton rocket.

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been officially delayed to 2021.

Virgin Orbit has been granted an FAA launch license for its first launch from California.

In Orbit

There were two orbital rocket launches during the last week. On June 27th, China launched a Long March 2C rocket carrying two satellites into orbit. On July 29th, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida, carrying a Dragon cargo craft scheduled for arrival at ISS on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, Rocket Lab was not able to launch last week and has delayed their first commercial flight.

Around the Solar System

Out at Mars, there were no updates on the dust storm of the status of the dormant rover Opportunity.

After weeks of a slow approach, Japan’s probe Hayabusa-2 has arrived at asteroid Ryugu, with gorgeous views of the never before explored rock.

Astronomers have new evidence that the interstellar visitor ‘Omuamua was actually a comet, not an asteroid.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will take advantage on an open seat in an upcoming Soyuz flight to ISS and fly their first homegrown astronaut into orbit.

The US Air Force has awarded a contract to SpaceX to launch a DOD satellite on a Falcon Heavy in 2020.

Last week the President of the United States signed Space Policy Directive 3, which establishes a formal National Space Traffic Management Policy.

In Orbit

There were no orbital rocket launches or major mission events at the International Space Station last week. However, the NanoRacks Remove Debris (or RemDeb) satellite was deployed from the ISS. This satellite will demonstrate techniques for reducing orbital debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The ISS crew continues to be busy with maintenance and science as always. Here’s a selection of some of their most interesting photos posted to Twitter last week.

In upcoming launches, Rocket Lab will attempt to launch their next Electron rocket on Tuesday (New Zealand time) and SpaceX will launch their next Dragon resupply to ISS next Friday.

Around the Solar System

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 continues to get closer to its destination, asteroid Ryugu. Some more detailed images of the unexplored rock were downlinked last week.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been slowly lowering its orbit around asteroid Ceres to get new unprecedented views of the dwarf planet.

The large dust storm on the surface of Mars continues, with no contact from the rover Opportunity. Rover Curiosity continues to operate in Gale Crater, sending back this recent dusty “selfie.”

Data from Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft, which orbits Venus, has returned some interesting results about the variability of the planet’s day-night cycle.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Legendary astronaut and moonwalker, Alan Bean, died at age 86.

Air Force test pilot and Shuttle astronaut, Don Peterson, died at age 84.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo had another powered test flight.

Garrett Reisman, a former astronaut who had been serving at SpaceX as the director of space operations, has taken a new faculty position at USC.

NASA obtained imagery of the volcanic eruption in Guatemala.

The President of the United States signed Space Policy Directive 2, which aims to reduce the regulatory burden on commercial spaceflight.

In Orbit

A number of orbital rocket launches since my last post on May 20th:

Notable rocket launches coming up include a Soyuz rocket with 3 astronauts launching form Kazakhstan on Wednesday morning.

The Cygnus spacecraft was successfully captured by the ISS robotic arm on May 24 and installed on a docking port, delivering tons of supplies.

NOAA’s new GOES-17 weather satellite has a serious problem that will prevent it from retrieving all the intended data.

On June 3rd, three crew members undocked from the ISS and landed back in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz after 168 days in space.

Around the Solar System

The discovery of an asteroid in a retrograde orbit (backwards) has raised questions about whether it could be a captured interstellar object.

The Curiosity rover on Mars is back to drilling samples, after that particular instrument had been held in reserve for about a year.

A new study of Pluto data from New Horizons finds that there are likely dunes made of solid methane on its surface.