Robotic removal of the Pressurized Mating Adapter-3 from Tranquility to Harmony module aboard ISS

NASA handily provided a schematic of the move of the pressurized mating adapter during the televised broadcast.

The mating adapter was moved to allow the International Docking Adapter  to be installed early next year. The new docking port will allow commercial craft, such as SpaceX Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. Currently they are manually docked to the space station using the Canadian robotic arm, Canadarm2.

Delta 4 Launches WGS-9 SATCOM Military Satellite

A Delta IV rocket carrying the WGS-9 SATCOM US Military satellite was launched successfully from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  The Delta IV WGS-9 SATCOM satellite will provide the US Military with enhanced capability to contact troops in the field.

This mission was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium+ (5, 4) configuration. This has a 5m diameter payload fairing for larger payloads, and 4 Graphite-Epoxy Motors (GEM-60s) strap-on boosters to provide the required thrust.

This was ULA’s 3rd launch of 2017 and the 118th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

Main Delta IV Main Engine Start
Main Delta IV Main Engine Start
DELTA IV has Cleared the Tower
Close Up View of Delta IV rockets
Delta IV Burning 2,000 lbs of Fuel Every Second!!
Delta IV Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) Jettison After Just Over 2 minutes into the flight

SpaceX launches EchoStar 23 Satellite in Nighttime launch

At the 2nd time of asking, a fully-expendable Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the 5 1/2 tonne EchoStar XXIII satellite the heaviest geosynchronous payload yet launched by the Falcon 9, was launched into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

The launch occurred at 5:35 am UTC on Thursday (17th March 2017).

Here are some pictures of the launch

The initial attempt was postponed on Tuesday due to high winds at high altitude above launch site 39A, at the Kennedy Space Center.

Due to the weight of the satellite, and its proposed orbit, the Falcon 9 1st stage was NOT returned to the launch site to be reused.

Washington Politicians agree 2017 NASA budget

Politicians on Capitol Hill in Washington have agreed to provide NASA with $19,508,000,000 as part of its 2017 budget. The figure, an increase on last year, but including mandatory spending (for James Webb telescope for example),will be allocated as follows:

  • Science $5,500,000,000
    • Includes over $2 billion for Earth Science to improve climate modeling, weather prediction, and natural hazard mitigation, through Earth observation from space.
    • Over $1.5 billion  for planetary science to explore the planetary bodies of our solar system, Including funds for missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa,continued operations of the Mars Opportunity, Odyssey and Express missions, and for the next New Frontiers mission.
    • $570 million of mandatory funding to ensure “on-time” launch of the James Webb Telescope.
  • Space Operations  $5,023,000,000
    • $2.8 billion allocated to Orion Crew Vehicle, Space Launch System (SLS), and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS)
  • Exploration  $4,330,000,000
    • Includes $1.4 billion to continued funding of ISS. NASA also asked to report on feasibility of operating the ISS until 2030.

      Funds have been allocated for continued ISS operations as part of the 2017 NASA budget
    • $2.8 billion for commercial space to develop and operate safe, reliable, and affordable systems to transport crew to and from the ISS and low Earth orbit.
  • Aeronautics $640,000,000
    • $299 million is allocated for research into the next generation of ultra fuel efficient civil aircraft
    • $210 million allocated to development of new X-Planes
  • Space Technology  $686,000,000
    • $580 million to develop transformative space technologies including green space propellant and a high powered solar propulsion system
  • Education  $115,000,000
  • Safety, Security, and Mission Services $2,788,600,000
  • Construction and Environmental Compliance and Restoration $388,000,000
  • Inspector General $37,400,000
    • mainly dealing with auditing of NASA spending

The House debated the bill, the snappily titled ‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act of 2017′ , on 7th March, after a successful debate in the Senate in February.

Senator Ted Cruz – Sponsor of NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017

It was debated in the House for less than 30 minutes. Following discussion, and virtually no objections, the bill was agreed by voice vote.

The bill will now be passed to the President, to become law.


We live in interesting times…….

The Summer of 2015.

Not much to write home about weather wise in my neck of the woods (south Wales in the UK), but during the next few weeks there’s a veritable smorgasbord of space events to get our temperatures rising…….

They include:

  • The ESA probe Philae wakes up after a 7 month hibernation as Comet 67P nears the Sun


  • NASA probe Dawn orbits Ceres, the largest object in the Asteroid Belt and spots fascinating ‘bright spots’ on the surface.

Ceres has its 'bright spots'

  • NASA’s New Horizon probe, and its close fly by of the (minor) planet Pluto



and of course, not forgetting:

  • The return of the crew of Exhibition 43 aboard the space station, including our very own ESA astronaut  Samantha Cristoforetti


  • By financial ‘gutting’,to the tune of $330 million, of a plan to allow NASA to send its own astronauts into space aboard their OWN rockets


All these stories, and much more besides will be reported on these pages… STAY TUNED, its going to be one HECK of a ride

More astronomy without a telescope

Well, January is well amoung us, and here in Wales, January is something of a double edged sword.
Yes,the sun sets comparatively early here, at around 4pm, but along with the early sunset, comes clouds, LOTS of clouds. Now if these clouds were beautifully dainty wispy affairs then this wouldn’t effect my erstwhile hobby of astrophotography. But no, these are grey, heavy thugs, choked FULL of moisture. Added to that, after a long trip across the Atlantic Ocean, these clouds see the lush greenery of the Welsh coast, like a driver sees a rest room after a 300 mile drive.

Suffice to say, there aren’t that many clear evening in Wales that are worth getting my camera out for. But yesterday was one of those evenings.

I own a Nikon D90 with 2 lenses. The standard 18-105mm lens and the slightly more powerful 70-300mm. I used the 18-105mm lens, when I want to take pictures of ‘regions of sky’ or constellations. The other one is employed when I want to take images of specific objects. I’d call myself an enthusiastic, ‘but poorly executing’ amateur…

Yesterday evening, Jupiter lay low in the eastern sky, by far the brightest ‘star’ currently in the night sky. With a suitable exposure, as well as capturing Jupiter you can also capture its larger satellites (moons), the ones Galileo spotted when he looked through the ‘first’ telescope in early 17th Century. Nice to see, that I’m on a technical par with a genius from 400 years ago!! 🙂

Manual focus is a MUST as the sensor in my camera spends an inordinate length of time trying and failing to focus on virtually nothing. Open the lens as wide as it will go, (F number as low as it will go) and “up” the ISO, so it captures more photons of light.

Your rig (camera and tripod) must also be stable. Any wobble or vibration will ruin the picture, so a timer delay or remote control to activate the shutter is a MUST. I normally employ the timer delay.

Jupiter plus Moons

This is what I captured. Even with a 2 second exposure, you can see the items in the image are already starting to trail. The solution, to decrease the exposure time, and “up” the ISO again.

Long exposures are a slightly more complicated due mainly to 2 unrelated, but equally annoying things.

The first, and easier issue to deal with is ‘star trail’ Any exposure of longer than around 20 seconds starts to show ‘star trail’. This is where the stars in the image no longer appear as point of light, but as ‘trails’. This is fine when you want to capture star trails, but somewhat inconvenient when you don’t. This ‘trailing’ is caused by the Earth rotating on its axis, which is a good thing, as it helped make life of this planet possible, and is an aftermath of the formation of the Solar System. But no worries, there’s a way around it. To maintain stars as ‘points of light’, means taking shorter exposures, and ‘upping’ the ISO, or tracking the object. This is a simple rig, so i’ll start by trying the first option.

‘Upping’ the ISO means making the sensor inside the camera more sensitive to light, so you need a less time to capture the same amount of light. Unfortunately, this is where another problem comes in. Light Pollution! This is the ‘glow’ you see from a city. Unwanted light, streaming upwards into the night sky, rather than downwards towards the ground, where (council) planners intended. Its the scourge of astronomers and wastes millions of pounds a year.

Orion and Taurus and light pollution
Orion and Taurus and light pollution

With a bit of suitable adjustment, you can remove ‘some’ of the light pollution. Here are pictures of Orion and Taurus, and if you know where you’re looking you’ll see a faint fussy blob that is Comet Lovejoy.

NightSky with Lovejoy

For those that can’t spot it, i’ve shown its location and its (very rough) track for the next few days in the picture below.

Nighsky with Lovejoy circled

International Space Station passes over UK

The International Space Station (ISS) is the largest man-made structure in space. The size of a football field, it circles the Earth every 90 minutes, at an altitude of around 230 miles (370 km) and is currently visible in the UK around sunset. It appears, normally from the West, moving towards the East, as a bright, slow moving star (normally the brightest) in the sky. Passes can vary from a few seconds, to around 6 minutes.

International Space Station
The International Space Station in May 2010.

The international Space Station project is an collaboration between the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. It’s current price tag stands at an enormous $100 BILLION.
It is permanently manned usually by between 3 and 6 occupants. To find out who’s aboard the ISS, visit Who’s in space?

I used to take many photographs of the Space Station, as it past, even had one published, but haven’t taken an image of an ISS flyby for MONTHS. Here are my latest attempts, as it passed overhead on Saturday June 14th 2014.

Most of these images are multiple exposures, each around 10 seconds long and stitched together using Photoshop.

International Space Station pass over UK 140614

The ISS passing over Pontypridd.

ISS pass over UK 2

International Space Station pass over UK 3

International Space Station pass over UK 4

International Space Station pass over UK 5

To find out when the International Space Station passes over your area, consult Heavens above, NASA Spot the Station, or type ‘iss flyover’ into google.