What a ride!!
Orion capsule seems quite unstable during the descent. NASA engineers will need to look at that.
What a ride!!
Orion capsule seems quite unstable during the descent. NASA engineers will need to look at that.
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:
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.
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.
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…….
and of course, not forgetting:
All these stories, and much more besides will be reported on these pages… STAY TUNED, its going to be one HECK of a ride
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.
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.
This was only the second flight of the military launch vehicle and smashes the previous test flight record (225 days) of the inaugural flight of the X37-B back in 2010. It was launched, in a mission designated USA-226, aboard an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on 5th March 2011. The mission was classified and described by the U.S. military as an effort to test new space technologies. In late November 2011, the U S Air Force announced that it would extend the second mission of the X37-B beyond its 270-day duration.
Total mission elasped time at “wheel stop” was 468 days, 13 hours and 2 minutes. The craft orbited the Earth more than 7,000 times.
The X37-B craft is loosely based on the larger American Space Shuttle, carries no crew, and is a fully autonomous vehicle, capable of landing itself with no human intervention. Being almost 30 ft (9 metres) long, it is sent into orbit on top of an Atlas V rocket
The project was initially conceived by NASA,in conjunction with the US Air force, but due to budgetary contraints and other factors the project became the sole responsibility of the Department of Defence in September 2004. The nature of the mission was highly classified, with very few details being made available to the public.
The first launch of the week came from the European space Agency (ESA), and marked the inaugrial launch of the new small payload rocket VEGA. This took place on Monday 13th February. The launch took place from the ESA facility in Kourou and VEGA launched successfully at 10:00 GMT.
The rocket, mainly developed by the Italians has been in development since 1998. As this was the 1st qualification flight of the rocket, dubbed VV01, ESA offered the payloads, which included 7 pico (or cube) satellites from European universities, LARES (a Laser Relativity Satellite to test various aspects of general relativity) and ALMASat-1. a free ride. The mission performed flawlessly. The VEGA rocket is 30 metres tall, and weighs 137 tonnes at lift off, which is 1/6 the weight of a fully loaded Ariane 5 rocket.
ESA hope that VEGA will allow smaller payloads to be launched into orbit at a greatly reduced cost. Time alone will tell, if this turns out to be the case.
This week saw the launch, at the third attempt, of the SES-4 communications satellite. Originally delayed since late December 2011, this finally launched on 14th February at 19:36 GMT/UTC from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The SES-4 satellite was carried on top of a Proton-M rocket standing 58 metres in height, weighing 705,000 Kg at lift off. The upper stage of the rocket was a Breeze-M upper stage.
Manufactured by Space Systems Loral, the SES-4 satellite is a hybrid satellite featuring both C and Ku-band payloads and provides enhanced coverage and capacity across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Western Africa and Latin America. The satellites estimated lifespan is expected to be around 15 years.
First spacewalk of 2012
Cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Oleg Kononenko and Anton Shkaplerov spent 6 hours in the first spacewalk of 2012. They exited the PIRS module at 14:15 GMT/UTC on February. Wearing the Russian Orlan spacesuits, the cosmonauts had issues getting out of the hatch and were 20 minutes late starting their work. The main task was moving the Strela-1 crane from the PIRS module to the POISK module. The crane needs to be relocated so that the new Russian module, Nauka, can be installed by the Russians later in 2012.
They also installed a material experiment on the exterior of the station, and took samples from the station’s insulation to access its quality in protecting the station and also to assess the damage it has sustained so far. Due to the earlier tasks over-running the cosmonauts did not have the opportunity to install new debris shields on the Zvezda module.
The launch of a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur, carrying the Sirus FM-6 satellite that was supposed to launch in early March 2012, has been delayed for several months. It has been reported that technicians found problems with the solar panels attached to the satellite and that the satellite has now been returned to the manufacturer; Space Systems Loral.
The launch of the US Navy’s Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-1 (Mobile User Objective System) was twice postponed last week. On Thursday 16th February, the pre-planned 10 minute hold that occurs at T-minus 4 minuites was held at 5 minute intervals throughout the 45 minute launch window. This was to process high level wind data being sent by high altitude weather balloons that was preventing launch.
A final poll of the launch engineers gave a “GO” for launch, and the countdown proceeded at 23:25 GMT, until 1 minute and 14 seconds prior to launch an abort was signalled, again due to high level winds. As the abort came so close to the end of the launch window, the launch was immediately scrubbed for the day.
The following day the launch was also scrubbed; this time due to clouds and high level winds.
Launch engineers have now scheduled the launch of the MUOS-1 satellite to occur on the 24th February at 22:15 GMT/UTC. The launch window closes 44 minutes later at 22:59.
NASA Budget 2013
NASA announced on Monday 13th February a $17.7 billion budget request for fiscal year 2013. The budget includes $4 billion for space operations and $4 billion for exploration activities in the Human Exploration Operations mission directorate, including final close-out of the Space Shuttle Program, and funding for the International Space Station. $4.9 billion is allocated for science, $669 million for space technology and $552 million for aeronautics research.
What the figures don’t really show is that certain NASA budgets have been massively cut in order to continue funding the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Expenditure on the JWST, which has been plagued by cost overruns almost since the inception of the project, is set to increase to almost $700 million in 2014. To continue to fund the JWST, some projects, namely the 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, in collaboration with the European Space Agency will now not go ahead.
The budget will inevitably be trimmed by Congress, and in future years NASA sees its budget staying fairly flat in monetary terms.
The Progress craft that left Baikonur Cosmodrome on Wednesday has successfully docked with the International Space Station.
Docking occurred at 00:09 GMT/UTC on Saturday 28th January (19:06 EST Friday 27th January) approximately 250 statue miles above the Earth over the north east coast of Brazil.
The Progress craft conducted a fly-around of the ISS, before docking. After docking a period of “station keeping” was undertaken where all systems are checked to ensure correct operation. During this station keeping phase, the ISS and Progress craft maintain a safe distance between the 2 vehicles of around 200 metres.
Over the next few hours, various leak tests will be conducted to ensure a successful docking, before any personnel are allowed onto the Progress vehicle.
For more information about this resupply mission, about the launch and what the cargo manifest is, see following stories:
The launch, atop a Soyuz-U rocket, was from Site 1/5 at Baikonur, and took place from the same launch pad that launched Yuri Gagarin into space back in 1961.
Final launch preparations started on Tuesday morning, after sunrise, when the Progress craft was taken, as is customary, by rail, lying horizontally on the rail car,from the processing hanger at the Baikonur cosmodrome.
It was then hydraulically lift into a vertical position, and the launch platform was inclined to the proper angle for launch.
It was very cold at the launch site with temperatures of around 5 degrees farenheit being recorded.
The launch of the latest Progress vehicle is the culmination of a series of carefully choreographed steps. These started on Tuesday with the undocking, from the PIRS docking module, on the Russian segment of the space station, of the previous Progress resupply ship.
After undocking from the ISS, the Progress craft was positioned in a higher orbit to deply the CHIBIS-M micro satellite. (For more details of the CHIBIS-M mission, click HERE. After successfully deploying the micro satellite, Russian controllers fired the engines for the Progress vehicle to burn up in the upper atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
The Progress M-14M craft contains almost 2.5 tonnes of supplies for the personnel aboard the ISS. The craft contains:
Main flight components (total weight – 1,259 kg) consisting of:
|Fuel in the tanks refueling system||539 kg|
|Gas in cylinders of oxygen||50 kg|
|Fuel in the tanks of the DCD for use on the ISS||250 kg|
Cargo delivered in a sealed compartment (total mass – 1,410 kg) consisting of:
|Equipment for life support (GM)||6 kg|
|Equipment for water supply (WAS)||107 kg|
|Equipment to ensure the thermal regime (Comp)||40 kg|
|Command and control equipment “Regulus-OS”||36Kg|
|TV (TVS)||8 kg|
|Traffic control and navigation (ship), telephone and telegraph communications (STTS), control onboard equipment (Suba)||2 kg|
|Means maintenance and repair (STORA)||3 kg|
|Funds sanitary services (SSGO)||156 kg|
|fire protection (DPSS)||6 kg|
|Funds intermodule ventilation (SMV)||14 kg|
|containers with food rations, fresh food||304kg|
|Medical equipment, clothes, personal hygiene, clean air controls and cleaning station||184kg|
|Equipment FGB “Zarya”||3 kg|
|Equipment SB-1 “Pirs”||7 kg|
|Equipment for MIM-1 “Dawn”||24 kg|
|Equipment for MIM-2 “Search”||5 kg|
|Equipment for scientific experiments, “Typology”, “Immune,” “Biodegradation”, “Matryoshka-R”, “Endurance”, “Test”||88 kg|
|Bortdokumentatsiya, parcels for the crew||37 kg|
|Set items for the Russian crew members||164kg|
|Equipment for the U.S. segment, including food, sanitation and hygiene facilities to ensure||199kg|
The Progress craft, lifted off, flawlessly at 23:06:40 GMT/UTC on Wednesday.
Maximum dynamic pressure (or MAX-Q) occurred around 65 seconds into the flight. This is the point at where the pressures on the space ship, from the speed traveled and the density of the atmosphere is at its greatest.
The 4 strap on boosters and first stage were separated as the craft attained 3,500 miles an hour, 2 minutes and 6 seconds after lift off. The first stage is 68 feet in length and 24 feet in diameter and burns liquid fuel.
Most of the recent issues with the Soyuz launchers have revolved around problems with the third stage of the rocket. I imagine therefore, that during this phase, Russian flight engineers were holding their breath. They needn’t have worried, as the stage burned perfectly and confirmation that a successful preliminary orbit had been reached was relayed just over 10 minutes after launch.
Once Progress attained its preliminary orbit, the solar arrays and navigational attenna were successfully deployed. At this point, flight control was passed to the Russian mission control headquaters in Korolov near Moscow.
The Progress now begins a 2 day catch-up to the ISS. 2 rendezvous burns are planned for Tuesday, 1 for Thursday before the final automated rendezvous process starts on Friday.
The Progress vehicle is due to dock at the PIRS module of the ISS at 00:08 GMT/UTC on Saturday morning (04:08 Moscow Time. 19:08 EST on Friday)
At the time of launch, the ISS was orbiting 240 statue miles above the central African country of Chad, moving in a South West to North Easterly direction. The 6 astronauts (a full complement) were asleep during the launch.
After the Progress M-14M craft docks to the ISS, it will remain their until April 24th, when it will make way for the next Progress vehicle.
There are 3 unmanned resupply ships that ferry supplies the ISS. Progress, the Russian craft makes 4 visits a year. ESA provide the Automated Transfer Vehicle, the 3rd of which is due to launch from Kourou on March 9th.
The third resupply vehicle is provided by the Japanese space Agency. It is called the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) and the third one is due to dock with the ISS later in 2012.
Today, 26th January 2012, marks the day when NASA pays tribute to its fallen heroes. Men and woman who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, so that the human race can move forward in space.
APOLLO 1 January 27th 1967
Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom
Edward H. White II
Roger B. Chaffee
Space Shuttle Challenger January 28th 1986
Michael J. Smith
Space Shuttle Columbia – February 1st 2003
Rick D. Husband
William C. McCool
Michael P. Anderson
David M. Brown
On a recent trip to the Kennedy Space Centre I took a picture of the plinth showing the names of the fallen. A very moving and sombre place.
Here are the bare facts:
In terms of planetary exploration:
Summary by Country
The Americans conducted 3 manned launches during 2011. Some people may take issue with this but, the Space Shuttle Discovery is MY space shuttle.. Yes, the American government provided the funds, NASA and its contractors built and maintained the vehicle, and now, sadly, NASA is taking her apart, but in my own mind DISCOVERY IS MINE.
It was the 1st manned launch of 2011, and I was there to witness it. I witnessed the excitement,the sights,the SOUNDS. IT WAS AMAZING. HOW I got there is the story for another day.
STS-133 was the LAST flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Originally scheduled for launch in late 2010, the launch was delayed for a number of reasons including:
Sounds like a long list, and it was. Total turnaround time was more than 111 days in total. Discovery finally launched on February 24th 2011 (and that almost didn’t happen as 5 minutes before the launch the down range computer froze and needed to be rebooted), and after a 14 day mission, that included 2 spacewalks, the installation of the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module to the ISS, and the sending of a humanoid robot called Robonaut into space, Discovery landed safely on 9th March 2011.
It was followed by the final flights of Endeavour (STS-134), which carried the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-2), a device mounted on the outside of the ISS,designed to search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. For more information, on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer click HERE
The final EVER launch of a Space Shuttle; Atlantis launched on 8th July 2011 (STS-135). It was mainly a International space station (ISS) resupply mission, and carried the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) named Raffaello and a Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier (LMC). As an interesting aside, the mission also took the first iphone into space. Atlantis flew with only 4 astronauts; the lowest number of astronauts to fly aboard any Space Shuttle since STS-6 back in 1983. When the wheels of STS-135 slowed to a stop, on 21st July 2011, commander Chris Ferguson’s final words (see note below), brought an end to a 30 year program. It also usehered in an insecure future for NASA’s manned spaceflight program.
America has effectively ‘privatised’ low Earth orbit. No NASA launches will now take astronauts or supplies to low Earth orbit or the ISS.
NASA has issued funds to various private companies to supply craft that will do this. America is currently paying Russia around $60 million to transport its astronauts to and from the ISS.
A company called SPACEX was the first commercial provider to launch a rocket and retrieve a return capsule successfully in 2011.
It will, in February, launch a mission to indirectly ‘dock’ with the American segment of the ISS to provide supplies. America does not realistically expect to have a man rated craft (a capsule capable of safely transporting an astronaut to low Earth orbit) until around 2015-16.
Notable non manned missions, included the September 10th launch of the twin GRAIL probes to the Moon. These will map the Moon with incredible accuracy and hope to discover its origin. The first probe, (GRAIL A), successfully entered lunar orbit on 31st December. For more details of the GRAIL mission click Here
The other notable mission launched in 2011 was Mars Curiousity Laboratory(MSL), launched from Cape Canaveral on 26th November, atop a Atlas V rocket. It will test Mars’ habitability and whether or not life HAS or STILL exists on ‘The Red Planet’. To find this out, the rover will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the martian surface. It’s method of landing is truly revolutionary, and this will be tested when the probe is due to land on the Martian surface during August 2012.
China were VERY active in launches during 2011, surpassing America in the NUMBER of launches undertaken, to slip into second place in the annual table.
The majority of Chinese launches were either communication satellite deployments (for China and other countries), Earth observation (including environmental monitoring, oceanography), COMPASS satellite deployments (COMPASS is the Chinese answer to the American Global positioning satellite (GPS) system) or military satellites.
Without doubt, their most ambitious mission was the launch of China’s first space station module, Tiangong-1, on September 29th, followed by the launch of the unmanned module,Shenzhou 8, on 31st October. Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou 8 then docked twice in early November before Shenzhou 8 was returned to Earth on the 17th November. While, NOT a manned mission, all preparations for this mission, assumed it was manned, even to the point of putting food into the Shenzhou 8 module. The launch of Shenzhou 8, was broadcast live over the internet and satellite TV channels to much fanfare. The dockings were also shown live, on state television.
While China, still labours well behind Russia and America in terms of orbital accomplishments, they are catching up fast. They are certainly a country to look out for in 2012.
Russia launched, by far, the largest number of launches; 35, but also had by far the largest number of mission failures (5 if you include Phobos Grunt). They conducted 4 manned flights to the International Space Station (ISS) and carried 12 passengers (6 Russian cosmonauts, 4 American, 1 Japanese and 1 astronaut from the European Space Agency)
Even taking into consideration the launch failures during 2011, the Soyuz rocket is still by FAR, the most reliable rocket ever developed with more than 1,700 launches under its belt, going back as far as 1957, with the launch of Sputnik.
The 1st ambitious Russian science endeavour, of 2011, was the Spektr-R mission. Spektr-R is free flying satellite carrying a 10-meter radio telescope, and is an international collaborative mission consisting of Russia, Australia, Canada, Europe, India, Ukraine and USA. It will be used in conjunction with ground based radio telescopes to obtain high quality radio images of radio objects in the Universe. This was launched on 18th July 2011 from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Zenit-3F rocket. Currently the probe is undergoing final checks, before it becomes fully operational. Russian radio astronomers are very excited about this mission, and have in fact dubbed the 10m telescope, the “Russian Hubble”. Time will tell if this is the case.
In a 7 day period in August it appeared that the ‘wheels did come off’ the Russian space program. The failures started on 17th August with the launch of the Express AM4 satellite into orbit. Although the initial launch was a success , one of the subsequent burns to take the satellite into a higher orbit failed. AM4 Failure
This was followed by the more significant failure of the Progress 44P mission to ferry supplies to the ISS. The third stage rocket failed to fire correctly, and the rocket and supplies crashed into a Siberian mountainside.
This failure caused a temporary suspension of ALL Soyuz flights while a board of inquiry was formed to discover the reason for the failures. After a few weeks, it was determined that the Progress third stage that failed had clogged tubes supplying fuel to the engines, and that the failure of the AM4 satellite was due to a software error.
These failures caused the temporary, partial, de-manning of the ISS during the later part of the year.
The launch of the next manned Soyuz TMA-22 did not take place until 14th November and was a nervy affair. Thankfully, the launch proceeded without a hitch (although it occurred in a virtual blizzard) and the 3 man crew of Anton Shkaplerov,Anatoli Ivanishin and American astronaut Daniel C. Burbank entered the ISS on the 16 November 2011 for what is to be a 5 month mission.
The biggest blow, from a scientific standpoint, occurred the previous week (8th November) when a Zenit-2M carrying the Phobos-Grunt probe (a smaller probe from China and a microbe experiment from the Planetary Society) failed to leave Earth’s orbit.
Along with the Spektr-R mission, Phobos-Grunt was being seen as a renaissance of Russian interest in space sciences. The probe marked a return to planetary exploration for the Russians, after a gap of 15 years. The objective of Phobos Grunt was to land on Phobos (a Martian Moon), collect surface material and return this to Earth. After initially making it successfully into low Earth orbit, its rockets failed to fire to send it on its way to Mars. After exhaustive attempts by many agencies to contact the probe, defeat has been admitted by the Russians and the probe will return to Earth in early 2012. To find out more about the Phobos Grunt mission click Phobos Grunt stories
The final Russian launch failure occurred on 23rd Decmeber, when a Soyuz 2.1b rocket carrying a Russian communications satellite (Meridan 5) failed and parts crashed into the Siberian Town of Novosibirsk Oblast. Meridan 5 failure. Again, it was suggested the third stage engine had failed. This failure prompted Vladimir Popovkin,the head of the Russian Space Agency, to say the Russian Spacce Industry was “in-crisis” and required route and branch reform.
The very final launch of 2011 (scheduled for 27th December) was postponed when engineers spotted an anomaly in the Breeze M upper stage of the Proton rocket during preflight testing.
ESA (European Space Agency) consolidated its position with 5 flawless launches of the powerful Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou in French Guinea.
2011 also saw the first launch of a Soyuz rocket from Kourou, as well as Arianspace’s continued involvement launching Soyuz 2.1a/Fregat launches from Baikonur with its collaboration in Starsem.
Notable payloads carried by ESA in 2011 included the Automated Transfer vehicle (ATV), Johannes Kepler, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in February. This was an unmanned cargo craft designed to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). Johannes Kepler carried propellant (to boost the orbit of the ISS), air & dry cargo weighing over 7,000 kgs (15,000 lbs). It had a total mass of over 20,000 kgs (44,000 lbs),making it, at the time, the heaviest payload launched by the ESA. Once the ATV had been emptied, Johannes Kepler undocked from the ISS on 20th June, and burnt up on re-entry (by design) the following day over the Pacific Ocean.
ESA also launched the first two Galileo satellites aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kourou. The Galileo satellites will give Europe a global positioning system to rival the American GPS, and Russian GLONASS systems). ESA also launched a variety of communication satellites for Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, India and the United Arab Emirates.
Iran’s only launch in 2011, was on March 15th when the ISA (Iranian Space Agency) launched the Kavoshgar-4 (Explorer-4) rocket. The rocket carried a capsule designed to hold a live monkey, though no monkey was actually present. Since this launch, plans by the ISA to send a monkey into space seem to have been suspended.
The ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) had 3 successful launches in 2011. All occurred from the Sriharikota space centre, North of Chennai, on the East coast of India. PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle)-C16 successfully launched 3 Satellites on April 20th. This was followed by PSLV-C17, which successfully launched GSAT-12 on July 15. Finally, PSLV-C18 successfully launched 4 satellites on October 12th 2011. India launchers carried more than 3800 Kg into orbit in 2011.
I’m sure there are launches i’ve forgotten, or missions I’ve missed. But there you are. This is a list of the 2011 missions that made me tweet. Follow me on twitter
I’m VERY excited about what 2012 could bring. MSL, GRAIL, DAWN, Spektr-R, Hubble to name but a few. “Let’s see what’s out there, TOGETHER.”
NOTE: A few moments after final wheel stop of Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson’s final words were: “Mission complete, Houston, After serving the world for over 30 years, the shuttle has earned its place in history, and it has come to a final stop.”