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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Space shuttle Endeavour lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the final time on June 1, 2011 (Eastern Time).
NASA / Chuck Tintera

NEXT STOP: LOS ANGELES! Congratulations to the 6-member crew of mission STS-134 for completing a successful 16-day flight to the International Space Station, as well as bringing to an end space shuttle Endeavour's final voyage into low-Earth orbit. For the rest of the year, Endeavour will undergo decommissioning at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida before the orbiter is transported to her last destination sometime in 2012: the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles. I totally can’t wait to see the 'jewel' of the space shuttle fleet [which is what Endeavour was called when she was unveiled to the public at her assembly facility (in Palmdale, California) 20 years ago] in person once she finally goes on display at the museum.

The International Space Station (ISS) with space shuttle Endeavour docked to it, as seen from a Russian Soyuz vehicle after it undocked from the ISS on May 23, 2011.
Roscosmos / ESA / NASA

Up next for her own finale: space shuttle Atlantis...which was slowly making her way to KSC’s Launch Complex 39A around the time Endeavour touched down in Florida. In the next hour or so, Atlantis will be situated on the pad to begin preparations for STS-135, the final flight of the space shuttle program. Within two months, a momentous 30-year era in human spaceflight will come to a close. Let’s hope it ends safely and triumphantly.

Space shuttle Atlantis rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 31, 2011.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An artist's concept of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) in orbit above Mars.
NASA

ORION (or Whatever-You-Now-Call-It) Update...

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NASA Announces Key Decision For Next Deep Space Transportation System (Press Release)

WASHINGTON -- NASA has reached an important milestone for the next U.S. transportation system that will carry humans into deep space. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced today that the system will be based on designs originally planned for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Those plans now will be used to develop a new spacecraft known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).

"We are committed to human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and look forward to developing the next generation of systems to take us there," Bolden said. "The NASA Authorization Act lays out a clear path forward for us by handing off transportation to the International Space Station to our private sector partners, so we can focus on deep space exploration. As we aggressively continue our work on a heavy lift launch vehicle, we are moving forward with an existing contract to keep development of our new crew vehicle on track."

Lockheed Martin Corp. will continue working to develop the MPCV. The spacecraft will carry four astronauts for 21-day missions and be able to land in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. The spacecraft will have a pressurized volume of 690 cubic feet, with 316 cubic feet of habitable space. It is designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and entry than its predecessor, the space shuttle.

"This selection does not indicate a business as usual mentality for NASA programs," said Douglas Cooke, associate administrator for the agency's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. "The Orion government and industry team has shown exceptional creativity in finding ways to keep costs down through management techniques, technical solutions and innovation."

Source: NASA.Gov

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Work being done on the MPCV at Lockheed Martin's Vertical Testing Facility in Colorado.
Lockheed Martin

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In preparation for being transported to the VAB to undergo STS-135 launch preparations, Atlantis emerges from her OPF at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on May 17, 2011.
NASA / Jack Pfaller

IMAGES OF THE DAY... Earlier this morning, Atlantis was brought out of her Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) to be transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...where she will be mated with her external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters for flight STS-135. Launch is targeted for mid-July. Atlantis' return to Earth 12 days later will mark the end of the 30-year-old space shuttle program.

Kennedy Space Center workers take a group photo with space shuttle Atlantis during her rollover to the VAB, on May 17, 2011.
NASA / Jack Pfaller

Space shuttle Atlantis is about to enter the VAB to begin STS-135 launch preparations on May 17, 2011.
NASA / Jack Pfaller

Monday, May 16, 2011

Space shuttle Endeavour launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on her final voyage to the International Space Station, on May 16, 2011.
NASA

ENDEAVOUR’S FINAL ACT... Earlier this morning, NASA’s youngest space shuttle orbiter took off on her final mission to install a large physics experiment known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station (ISS). Endeavour will dock with the ISS this Wednesday...and the crew of STS-134 will embark on its main objectives for this flight before heading back home on June 1st. Here’s hoping that the mission is extremely successful, and that Endeavour safely returns to Earth more than 2 weeks from now. ‘Cause after that, she will be prepped at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for her trip to Los Angeles next year...where Endeavour will find her final retirement home at the California Science Center. Can’t wait to pay a visit after she gets there.

As seen onboard a passing airliner, space shuttle Endeavour emerges from a cloud deck after launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on her final voyage to the International Space Station, on May 16, 2011.
Stefanie Gordon

Below are construction photos of Endeavour, courtesy of Space.com. Visit that website for more pics.

Construction photos of space shuttle Endeavour.
Boeing

Construction photos of space shuttle Endeavour.
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Construction photos of space shuttle Endeavour.
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Construction photos of space shuttle Endeavour.
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Construction photos of space shuttle Endeavour.
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Space shuttle Endeavour is unveiled to the public in Palmdale, California, on April 25, 1991.
Boeing

Space shuttle Endeavour is unveiled to the public in Palmdale, California, on April 25, 1991.
Boeing

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The VSS Enterprise undergoes a test flight on the morning of May 4, 2011.
Virgin Galactic / Clay Center Observatory

SPACESHIPTWO Update...

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SpaceShipTwo's First "Feathered" Flight Marks Latest Milestone for Virgin Galactic (Press Release)

Early on Wednesday 4th May 2011, in the skies above Mojave Air and Spaceport CA, SpaceShipTwo, the world’s first commercial spaceship, demonstrated its unique reentry ‘feather’ configuration for the first time. This test flight, the third in less than two weeks, marks another major milestone on the path to powered test flights and commercial operations.

SpaceShipTwo (SS2), named VSS Enterprise, has now flown solo seven times since its public roll-out in December 2009 and since the completion of its ground and captive-carry test program.

This latest flight saw a 6:43 AM (local) runway take off for VSS Enterprise, attached to its WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft, VMS Eve. At the controls of the of the spaceship were Scaled Composites’ test pilots Pete Siebold and Clint Nichols whilst Mark Stucky, Brian Maisler and Brandon Inks crewed the purpose built, all composite, twin fuselage WK2.

After a 45 minute climb to the desired altitude of 51,500 feet, SS2 was released cleanly from VMS Eve and established a stable glide profile before deploying, for the first time, its re-entry or "feathered" configuration by rotating the tail section of the vehicle upwards to a 65 degree angle to the fuselage. It remained in this configuration with the vehicle’s body at a level pitch for approximately 1 minute and 15 seconds whilst descending, almost vertically, at around 15,500 feet per minute, slowed by the powerful shuttlecock-like drag created by the raised tail section. At around 33,500 feet the pilots reconfigured the spaceship to its normal glide mode and executed a smooth runway touch down, approximately 11 minutes and 5 seconds after its release from VMS Eve.

All objectives for the flight were met and detailed flight data is now being analysed by the engineers at Scaled Composites, designers and builders of Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital spacecraft.

George Whitesides, CEO and President of Virgin Galactic, said: "This morning’s spectacular flight by VSS Enterprise was its third in 12 days, reinforcing the fast turnaround and frequent flight-rate potential of Virgin Galactic’s new vehicles. We have also shown this morning that the unique feathering re-entry mechanism, probably the single most important safety innovation within the whole system, works perfectly. This is yet another important milestone successfully passed for Virgin Galactic, and brings us ever closer to the start of commercial operations. Credit is due to the whole Scaled team, whose meticulous planning and great skill are changing the course of history."

Pete Siebold, who along with Clint Nichols piloted the spaceship added: "In all test flight programs, after the training, planning and rehearsing, there comes the moment when you have to go up there and fly it for real. This morning’s flight was a test pilot’s dream. The spaceship is a joy to fly and the feathered descent portion added a new, unusual but wonderful dynamic to the ride. The fact that it all went to plan, that there were no surprises and that we brought VSS Enterprise back to Mojave safe and sound is a great testament to the whole team."

Wing Feathering for Re-Entry

Perhaps the most innovative safety feature employed by SpaceshipOne and now SpaceShipTwo is the unique way it returns into the dense atmosphere from the vacuum of space. This part of space flight has always been considered as one of the most technically challenging and dangerous and Burt Rutan was determined to find a failsafe solution which remained true to Scaled Composite’s philosophy of safety through simplicity. His inspiration for what is known as the feathered re-entry was the humble shuttlecock, which like SpaceShipTwo relies on aerodynamic design and laws of physics to control speed and attitude.

Once out of the atmosphere the entire tail structure of the spaceship can be rotated upwards to about 65ยบ. The feathered configuration allows an automatic control of attitude with the fuselage parallel to the horizon. This creates very high drag as the spacecraft descends through the upper regions of the atmosphere. The feather configuration is also highly stable, effectively giving the pilot a hands-free re-entry capability, something that has not been possible on spacecraft before, without resorting to computer controlled fly-by-wire systems. The combination of high drag and low weight (due to the very light materials used to construct the vehicle) mean that the skin temperature during re-entry stays very low compared to previous manned spacecraft and thermal protection systems such as heat shields or tiles are not needed. During a full sub-orbital spaceflight, at around 70,000ft following re-entry, the feather lowers to its original configuration and the spaceship becomes a glider for the flight back to the spaceport runway.

Source: Virgin Galactic

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