Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rise of the New Shepard: A HUGE Milestone for Commercial Spaceflight!

A New Shepard rocket lifts off from Blue Origin's launch site in West Texas on a flight that took it 330,000 feet above the Earth on November 23, 2015.
Blue Origin

Blue Origin Makes Historic Rocket Landing (Press Release)

Van Horn, Texas - November 24, 2015 - Blue Origin today announced that its New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas. To receive updates on Blue Origin’s continuing progress and early access to ticketing information, sign up at

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” said Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin. “Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission—soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”

High resolution video and images capturing the historic mission are available for viewing and embedding in stories at

Named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, the New Shepard vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicle will carry six astronauts to altitudes beyond 100 kilometers, the internationally-recognized boundary of space. Blue Origin astronauts will experience the thrill of launch atop a rocket, the freedom of weightlessness, and views through the largest windows to ever fly in space. An animation of the Blue Origin astronaut experience can be found at Astronaut flights will begin following completion of a methodical flight test program.

Details on the Reusable New Shepard Space Vehicle

The New Shepard space vehicle is fully reusable and operated from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site. The vehicle is comprised of two elements—a crew capsule in which the astronauts ride and a rocket booster powered by a single American-made BE-3 liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen engine. At liftoff, the BE-3 delivers 110,000 pounds of thrust. During ascent, astronauts experience 3x the force of gravity as the spacecraft accelerates through the atmosphere.

Following powered flight, the crew capsule separates from the booster and coasts into space, providing several minutes of weightlessness. As the crew capsule descends, it reenters the atmosphere with astronauts experiencing about 5x the force of gravity before deploying three main parachutes for landing. Meanwhile, the booster descends under guided flight to the landing pad. Just prior to landing, the booster re-ignites its BE-3 engine which slows the vehicle to 4.4 mph for a gentle, powered vertical landing, enabling vehicle reuse.

Flight Details

- Launched at 11:21 a.m. Central Time, November 23, 2015

- Apogee of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) for the crew capsule

- Mach 3.72

- Re-ignition of rocket booster at 4,896 feet above ground level

- Controlled vertical landing of the booster at 4.4 mph

- Deployment of crew capsule drogue parachutes at 20,045 feet above ground level

- Landing of the crew capsule under parachutes at 11:32 a.m. Central Time

- Additional remarks from Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos are available on the Blue Origin blog at

Source: Blue Origin


The New Shepard rocket stands idly on the ground in West Texas after successfully completing a flight that took it 330,000 feet above the Earth on November 23, 2015.
Blue Origin

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Immensity of the International Space Station...

A cropped version of a photo showing a spacewalking astronaut working on the exterior of the International Space Station.

Just thought I'd share original and cropped versions of a great photo I found online of a spacewalking astronaut being dwarfed by the International Space Station (ISS). The solar array wings alone appear mammoth next to the human floating near them (the spacewalker is towards the upper part of the image below)... One wonders when NASA and its global partners will venture to create another spacecraft of this sheer size in the future. And towards what planetary destination this spacecraft—assuming it won't be stuck in low-Earth orbit like the ISS—will be headed.

The original version of a photo showing a spacewalking astronaut working on the exterior of the International Space Station.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

SpaceX Is Officially on the Books to Send Astronauts to the ISS!

The Crew Dragon capsule is unveiled to the public at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California...on May 29, 2014.

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station (Press Release - November 20)

NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding research opportunities aboard the International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.

This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May.

"It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan."

Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for missions in late 2017, provided the contractors meet readiness conditions.

Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX’s crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has advanced through several development and certification phases. The company recently performed a critical design review, which demonstrated the transportation system has reached a sufficient level of design maturity to work toward fabrication, assembly, integration and test activities.

"The authority to proceed with Dragon's first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team," said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We're honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”

Commercial crew launches will reduce the cost, per seat, of transporting NASA astronauts to the space station compared to what the agency must pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service. If, however, NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap contracts in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay future milestones for both U.S. companies and continue its sole reliance on Russia to transport American astronauts to the space station.

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates in order to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.

A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

“Commercial crew launches are really important for helping us meet the demand for research on the space station because it allows us to increase the crew to seven,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “Over the long term, it also sets the foundation for scientific access to future commercial research platforms in low- Earth orbit.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions to ensure crew safety.

Source: NASA.Gov


Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...where SpaceX will soon launch its Falcon Heavy rocket.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Orion Update: Getting a Shiny New Makeover for 2018...

An artist's concept of the Orion capsule with silver-coated heat titles.

Engineers Refine Thermal Protection System for Orion’s Next Mission (Press Release - November 19)

When it comes to a spacecraft enduring the extremely hot and fast journey from deep space back to Earth, NASA’s Orion can withstand the heat. Engineers developing Orion’s thermal protection system have been improving the spacecraft’s heat shield design and manufacturing process since the vehicle successfully traveled to space for the first time last year. They are now enhancing the overall system in advance of the spacecraft’s next mission – a flight that will put Orion through the harshest set of conditions yet.

Orion’s thermal protection system is one of the most critical parts of the spacecraft and is responsible for protecting it and the future astronauts it will carry home from deep space destinations. It consists of the spacecraft’s main heat shield that faces into the atmosphere on reentry to slow the spaceship down and also the grid of tiles known as the back shell. During Orion’s next mission atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the spacecraft will be in space for more than three weeks and return to Earth under even faster and hotter conditions than during its last flight.

“Orion’s thermal protection system is essential to successful future missions,” said John Kowal, NASA’s thermal protection system lead for Orion. “As we move toward building the system for EM-1, we’ve been able to take advantage of what we learned from building and flying Orion to refine our processes going forward.”

During EM-1, Orion will endure a more intense re-entry environment. While the spacecraft encountered speeds of 30,000 feet per second during Exploration Flight Test-1 and temperatures of approximately 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it will experience a faster return from lunar velocity of about 36,000 feet per second. While the speed difference may seem subtle, the heating the vehicle sees increases exponentially as the speed increases. The work engineering teams across the country are doing prepares Orion’s heat shield to perform re-entry during any of missions planned near the moon or in high lunar orbit (NASA’s “Proving Ground”) in the coming years.

For these future Orion missions, a silver, metallic-based thermal control coating will also be bonded to the crew module’s thermal protection system back shell tiles. The coating, similar to what is used on the main heat shield, will reduce heat loss during phases when Orion is pointed to space and therefore experiencing cold temperatures, as well as limit the high temperatures the crew module will be subjected to when the spacecraft faces the sun. The coating will help Orion’s back shell maintain a temperature range from approximately -150 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit prior to entry and also will protect against electrical surface charges in space and during re-entry.

“You’re trying to hit this sweet spot because when you’re looking at the sun, you don’t want to get too hot, and then when you’re not looking at the sun and instead in darkness, you don’t want to lose all the heat that the spacecraft generates,” said Kowal.

Engineers have also refined the design in ways that improve the manufacturing process and reduce the mass of the spacecraft for the upcoming exploration missions. Instead of a monolithic outer layer, the heat shield will be made of approximately 180 blocks that can be made simultaneously with the other heat shield components to streamline the labor-and-time-intensive manufacturing process.

In addition, engineers have found ways to reduce the mass of the heat shield’s underlying structure, which is composed of a titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin. Teams have optimized the thickness of the skeleton and the skin based on the pressures that different areas will experience during flight and reentry, adding more fidelity to the overall structure while allowing it to be lighter.

NASA’s prime contractor for Orion, Lockheed Martin, recently completed a heat shield manufacturing development unit that engineers will use to verify the improved manufacturing process before it is used on hardware for flight. Teams have already begun building Orion’s heat shield for EM-1.

Source: NASA.Gov


Protected by silver-coated heat titles, the Orion capsule re-enters Earth's atmosphere in this artist's concept.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

On This Day: Apollo 12 Prepares to Land on the Moon...

Apollo 12's Lunar Module 'Intrepid' floats above the Moon prior to landing on the surface, on November 19, 1969.

Nov. 19, 1969, Apollo 12 Lunar Module Intrepid (Press Release)

The Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM), in a lunar landing configuration, is photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Modules (CSM) on Nov. 19, 1969. The coordinates of the center of the lunar surface shown in picture are 4.5 degrees west longitude and 7 degrees south latitude. The largest crater in the foreground is Ptolemaeus; and the second largest is Herschel. Aboard the LM were astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander; and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot. Astronaut Richard R. Gordon Jr., command module pilot, remained with the CSM in lunar orbit while Conrad and Bean descended in the LM to explore the surface of the moon.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, November 6, 2015

Orion Update: Test Version of European-Built Component About to be Delivered to NASA...

The holding stand for the Orion spacecraft's service module stacking assembly interface ring are about to be loaded into NASA's Super Guppy aircraft at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Orion Service Module Stacking Assembly Secured For Flight (Press Release)

The Orion spacecraft service module stacking assembly interface ring and stack holding stand are secured on a special transportation platform and are being loaded into NASA's Super Guppy aircraft at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On Nov. 3, the Guppy flew from Kennedy to NASA Glenn Research Center's Plum Brook Station facility in Sandusky, Ohio.

A full-size test version of the Orion service module, provided by ESA (European Space Agency), for Orion will arrive at Plum Brook Station this month, where it will be evaluated in the Space Power Facility during a multi-month test campaign to ensure it can withstand the trip to space. The service module is a critical piece of Orion and provides air, water, in-space propulsion and power for the spacecraft. Testing on the crew module adapter test article for the service module began in July 2015. Engineers are using a “building block” approach to testing, in which they evaluate each piece as the elements composing the service module are stacked atop each other to validate the module.

Orion is the spacecraft that will launch atop NASA's Space Launch System rocket on Exploration Mission-1 in 2018. ESA, along with its contractor Airbus, is providing the service module for Orion’s next mission, a partnership that will bring international cooperation to the journey to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

NASA Is Looking for the Next Generation of Astronauts!

A computer-generated image depicting the Orion spacecraft as its flies past the Moon several days after the launch of Exploration late 2018.

Be an Astronaut: NASA Seeks Explorers for Future Space Missions (Press Release)

In anticipation of returning human spaceflight launches to American soil, and in preparation for the agency’s journey to Mars, NASA announced it will soon begin accepting applications for the next class of astronaut candidates. With more human spacecraft in development in the United States today than at any other time in history, future astronauts will launch once again from the Space Coast of Florida on American-made commercial spacecraft, and carry out deep-space exploration missions that will advance a future human mission to Mars.

The agency will accept applications from Dec. 14 through mid-February and expects to announce candidates selected in mid-2017. Applications for consideration as a NASA Astronaut will be accepted at:

The next class of astronauts may fly on any of four different U.S. vessels during their careers: the International Space Station, two commercial crew spacecraft currently in development by U.S. companies, and NASA’s Orion deep-space exploration vehicle.

From pilots and engineers, to scientists and medical doctors, NASA selects qualified astronaut candidates from a diverse pool of U.S. citizens with a wide variety of backgrounds.

“This next group of American space explorers will inspire the Mars generation to reach for new heights, and help us realize the goal of putting boot prints on the Red Planet,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Those selected for this service will fly on U.S. made spacecraft from American soil, advance critical science and research aboard the International Space Station, and help push the boundaries of technology in the proving ground of deep space.”

The space agency is guiding an unprecedented transition to commercial spacecraft for crew and cargo transport to the space station. Flights in Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon will facilitate adding a seventh crew member to each station mission, effectively doubling the amount of time astronauts will be able to devote to research in space.

Future station crew members will continue the vital work advanced during the last 15 years of continuous human habitation aboard the orbiting laboratory, expanding scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies. This work will include building on the regular six-month missions and this year's one-year mission, currently underway aboard the station, which is striving for research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space.

In addition, NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, now in development, will launch astronauts on missions to the proving ground of lunar orbit where NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment before moving on to longer duration missions on its journey to Mars.

“This is an exciting time to be a part of America’s human space flight program,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “NASA has taken the next step in the evolution of our nation’s human spaceflight program – and our U.S. astronauts will be at the forefront of these new and challenging space flight missions. We encourage all qualified applicants to learn more about the opportunities for astronauts at NASA and apply to join our flight operations team.”

To date, NASA has selected more than 300 astronauts to fly on its increasingly challenging missions to explore space and benefit life on Earth. There are 47 astronauts in the active astronaut corps, and more will be needed to crew future missions to the space station and destinations in deep space.

Astronaut candidates must have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. An advanced degree is desirable. Candidates also must have at least three years of related, progressively responsible professional experience, or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Astronaut candidates must pass the NASA long-duration spaceflight physical.

Source: NASA.Gov


Monday, November 2, 2015

ISS Update: A Significant Day for Human Spaceflight...

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson gazes through the Cupola window at Earth in late September of 2010.
NASA - Douglas Wheelock /

White House, NASA Administrator Statements on 15 Years of Human Habitation Aboard International Space Station (Press Release)

The following is a statement from Dr. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy:

“The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that has enabled groundbreaking research in the life and physical sciences and has provided a test bed for the technologies that will allow NASA to once again send astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit. The international partnership that built and maintains the Station is a shining example, moreover, of what humanity can accomplish when we work together in peace.

“I congratulate all of the men and women at NASA and around the world who have worked so hard to keep the International Space Station operational these past 15 years. Everyone involved can be proud of this incredible achievement.”

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden:

“Over the weekend, I called NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is currently halfway through his one-year mission aboard the International Space Station, to congratulate him on setting the American records for both cumulative and continuous days in space.

“I also took the opportunity to congratulate Commander Kelly -- and the rest of the space station crew -- for being part of a remarkable moment 5,478 days in the making: the 15th anniversary of continuous human presence aboard the space station.

“I believe the station should be considered the blueprint for peaceful global cooperation. For more than a decade and a half, it has taught us about what’s possible when tens of thousands of people across 15 countries collaborate to advance shared goals.

“The International Space Station, which President Obama has extended through 2024, is a testament to the ingenuity and boundless imagination of the human spirit. The work being done on board is an essential part of NASA’s journey to Mars, which will bring American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.

“For 15 years, humanity’s reach has extended beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Since 2000, human beings have been living continuously aboard the space station, where they have been working off-the-Earth for the benefit of Earth, advancing scientific knowledge, demonstrating new technologies, and making research breakthroughs that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space.”

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, October 29, 2015

ISS Update #2: Another Spacewalk Complete...

Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly takes a selfie during a spacewalk that was successfully conducted outside the International Space Station on October 28, 2015.

Spacewalk Selfie (Press Release)

Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly took this photograph during a spacewalk on Oct. 28, 2015. Sharing the image on social media, Kelly wrote, "#SpaceWalkSelfie Back on the grid! Great first spacewalk yesterday. Now on to the next one next week. #YearInSpace"

This was the first spacewalk for both Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren; the two will venture outside the International Space Station for the second time on Friday, Nov. 6. The two spacewalks were scheduled around milestones in space. Today, Oct. 29, Kelly becomes the U.S. astronaut who has lived in space the longest during a single U.S. spaceflight, and on Monday, Nov. 2, the crew celebrates the 15th year of a continuous human presence in space aboard the station.

During the 7-hour and 16-minute spacewalk, Kelly and Lindgren applied a thermal cover on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer; applied grease to a number of components in one of the latching ends of the Canadarm2 robotic arm; and began work to rig power and data system cables for the future installation of a docking port to the station that will be used for the arrival of the Boeing Starliner CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

ISS Update: Prepping for Another Extra-Vehicular Activity...

Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly prepares for a spacewalk that he and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren will conduct outside the International Space Station on October 28, 2015.

Scott Kelly Prepares For a Spacewalk (Press Release)

Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly tries on his spacesuit inside the U.S. Quest airlock of the International Space Station. Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren will venture outside the station for a pair of spacewalks, the first of their careers, on Wednesday, Oct. 28 and Friday, Nov. 6.

The Oct. 28 spacewalk is set to last six hours and 30 minutes after Kelly and Lindgren set their spacesuits to battery power. It will be the 32nd U.S. spacewalk, and will focus on station upgrades and maintenance tasks, including installing a thermal cover on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector that has been attached to the station since 2011. NASA TV coverage will begin at 6:30 a.m. EDT.

Sharing this photograph of the spacesuit fit check with his social media followers, Kelly wrote, "Day 212 Getting my game face on for #spacewalk Thanks for sticking w me #GoodNight from @space_station! #YearInSpace"

Source: NASA.Gov