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Monday, October 31, 2011

An artist's concept of Boeing's CST-100 approaching the International Space Station.
Boeing

BOEING CST-100 Update: The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle will not be the only manned spacecraft to be constructed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...

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NASA SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH SPACE FLORIDA TO REUSE KENNEDY FACILITIES (Press Release)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- In an innovative agreement that will create new jobs, NASA today announced a partnership with Space Florida to exclusively occupy, use and modify Kennedy Space Center's Orbiter Processing Facility-3, the Space Shuttle Main Engine Processing Facility and Processing Control Center.

"The next era of space exploration won't wait, and so we can't wait for Congress to do its job and give our space program the funding it needs. That's why my Administration will be pressing forward, in partnership with Space Florida and the private sector, to create jobs and make sure America continues to lead the world in exploration and discovery," President Barack Obama said.

Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency of the state of Florida, is leasing the Orbiter Processing Facility-3 to the Boeing Company to manufacture and test the company's Crew Space Transportation (CST-100) spacecraft, creating up to 550 jobs along the Space Coast. The 15-year use permit deal is the latest step Kennedy is making as the center transitions from a historically government-only launch complex to a multi-user spaceport.

"Neither NASA nor the Space Coast can afford to stand still. We must be aggressive in pursuing this next generation of space exploration -- and the jobs and innovation that will accompany it," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said.

"Kennedy continues working to bring new commercial space activities to the center," said Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana. "Partnering with Space Florida to enable commercial space operations at Kennedy will help NASA maintain facilities and assets while supporting our nation's space objectives and expanding opportunities for the U.S. economy."

In addition to the agreement Boeing is signing with Space Florida to reuse existing KSC facilities, the aerospace company announced it is locating it Commercial Crew Program headquarters at the center.

"We are extremely pleased that Boeing will locate its commercial crew headquarters here in Florida," said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida. "This positions our state well for future growth and a leadership role in NASA's next-generation human space exploration initiatives. It is also a key factor in ensuring Florida's space-related economy continues to thrive."

The goal of NASA's Commercial Crew Program is to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability by achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and future low Earth orbit destinations.

"We selected Florida for the commercial crew headquarters because of its close proximity to not only our NASA customer at Kennedy Space Center, but also because of outstanding facilities and an experienced space workforce," said John Elbon, vice president and program manager of Boeing's Commercial Crew Programs.

Boeing is developing the CST-100, a reusable capsule-shaped spacecraft that will consist of a crew module and service module for transporting up to seven people, or a combination of people and cargo to space.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Space shuttle Discovery is towed out of Orbiter Processing Facility-3 to begin preparations for her first STS-133 launch attempt, on September 9, 2010.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Soyuz-U rocket carrying the Progress M-13M spacecraft launches from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 30, 2011.
RSC Energia

SOYUZ RETURNS TO FLIGHT... At 3:11 AM, Pacific Daylight Time today, a Soyuz-U rocket carrying an unmanned Progress spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS) launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch was highly anticipated; this flight was coming on the heels of an August 24 third stage failure that prevented a previous Soyuz vehicle from sending the Progress M-12M cargo ship into low-Earth orbit. If the latest spacecraft, a Progress M-13M, hadn’t succeeded in reaching orbit as well, then next month's launch of three ISS crew members would have been jeopardized...with the ISS at risk of being de-crewed for the first time since November of 2000.

On November 14, a Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft carrying Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin and Dan Burbank, a NASA flight engineer, will lift off from Kazakhstan onboard a Soyuz-FG rocket. It won’t be till December 23, however, that the ISS crew will be back to its full capacity of six. Oleg Kononenko, NASA flight engineer Donald Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kupiers will launch onboard a Soyuz TMA-03M vehicle to the ISS on December 21...and dock with the orbiting outpost two days later.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana (center) address the media from atop the mobile launcher's tower on October 11, 2011.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

A VIEW FROM THE TOP... Earlier this month, the media was invited to take a tour of the new mobile launcher from which the Space Launch System (SLS) will hopefully lift off of as early as 2017. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director Bob Cabana were on hand to discuss the platform—which was officially completed in January of last year—to reporters who showed up at KSC in Florida for the tour on October 11.

A glimpse of the mobile launcher's base from atop its tower, on October 11, 2011.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

The mobile launcher, from the base of the platform to the top of its tower, is 355-feet-tall. In its final configuration, which would become operational by at least the mid-2020s, the SLS will be 400-feet-tall and capable of lifting 130 metric tons worth of cargo into Earth orbit. It remains to be seen if NASA’s budget for the rest of this decade will make the mammoth rocket a reality...thus putting the mobile launcher to good use.

A glimpse of the main exhaust port from below the mobile launcher's base, on October 11, 2011.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

The mobile launcher at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on October 11, 2011.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SPACEX PREPARES FOR DRAGON C2... Last weekend, the next Dragon spacecraft to soar into low-Earth orbit as early as mid-December arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This capsule will launch on SpaceX’s second demonstration flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The first COTS flight lifted off in December of 2010, and only called for Dragon to briefly orbit the Earth before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later. Dragon C2, or COTS Demo Flight 2, on the other hand, would involve the spacecraft docking with the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time. This depends, however, on NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency both approving SpaceX’s inaugural docking attempt at the ISS.

If the docking attempt is not approved by the two government space agencies for C2, then Dragon will merely fly near the ISS to test rendezvous procedures in December, while the docking itself will occur on another flight (Dragon C3) early next year.

The next Dragon spacecraft to soar into low-Earth orbit is unwrapped at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on October 23, 2011.
NASA / Charisse Nahser

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A composite image of the Space Launch System, with the Moon looming high above, lifting off from its pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

IMAGES OF THE DAY... With its full Launch Abort System shroud and Service Module simulator attached to it, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) continued to undergo testing inside the Reverberant Acoustics Laboratory at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Facility near Denver, Colorado last week. The MPCV looks huge in the photos below... Visualize the spacecraft after it’s attached to the rest of the 300-feet-tall body of the Space Launch System (above) several years from now.

After being attached to its Launch Abort System shroud and Service Module simulator, the Orion spacecraft undergoes acoustics testing at Lockheed Martin near Denver, Colorado last week.
All images courtesy of NASA

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Virgin Galactic's Sir Richard Branson pose for a photo at Spaceport America on October 17, 2011.
Mark Greenberg

READY FOR BUSINESS... Spaceport America, also known as the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, was officially opened this week by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Virgin Galactic owner Sir Richard Branson. Assuming flight tests remain on schedule, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo will begin soaring with paying customers 60 miles above the New Mexico spaceport no earlier than next year.

With SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo in the background, a crowd gathers at Spaceport America for its official opening on October 17, 2011.
Mark Greenberg

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The first of two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods is re-installed onto the orbiter Discovery at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Frankie Martin

DISCOVERY BECOMING HER OLD SELF AGAIN... Last week, engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida re-installed the first of two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods onto space shuttle Discovery. Die-hard space fans will notice that in the image directly below, the OMS pod has been stripped of its interior fuel tanks and other parts for its propulsion system. The reason for this was that NASA wanted Discovery to be rid of any equipment that may contain residue of toxic rocket fuel and other chemicals that could endanger the public after the orbiter is sent to her final resting home at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia next year. Delivery of Discovery to the museum is scheduled for April of 2012.

Stripped of its interior propulsion system, the first of two OMS pods is about to be re-installed onto the orbiter Discovery at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Frankie Martin

The first of two OMS pods is about to be re-installed onto the orbiter Discovery at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Frankie Martin

Monday, October 17, 2011

Visible in this pic are 6 of the 15 Space Shuttle Main Engines that were placed in temporary storage at Kennedy Space Center's Engine Shop.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE... Last week, all 15 Space Shuttle Main Engines (or SSMEs—9 of which are shown in the photos posted above and below) were placed inside the Engine Shop at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. From there, they will be shipped out to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where they will undergo temporary storage before being used on a future NASA rocket. That rocket will most definitely be the Space Launch System.

Visible in this pic are 9 of the 15 Space Shuttle Main Engines that were placed in temporary storage at Kennedy Space Center's Engine Shop.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Visible in this pic are 9 of the 15 Space Shuttle Main Engines that were placed in temporary storage at Kennedy Space Center's Engine Shop.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Saturday, October 15, 2011

An illustration depicting Orion's Crew & Service Modules, as well as its Launch Abort System.
NASA

IMAGES OF THE DAY... At the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, construction continues on the very first Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) that will soar into space two years from now. Known as Exploration Flight Test 1, the MPCV demonstration will be launched into Earth orbit onboard a Delta IV rocket in late 2013.

Construction continues on the Orion spacecraft that will launch on Exploration Flight Test 1 in late 2013.
NASA

Below is a music video chronicling the progress made on the Orion spacecraft over the last few years.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

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

ENDEAVOUR NOW BELONGS TO THE CITY OF ANGELS... Today, NASA officially transferred ownership of space shuttle Endeavour to the California Science Center (CSC) in downtown Los Angeles. Endeavour will be delivered to L.A.—via a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (a modified Boeing 747)—from Florida's Kennedy Space Center in the latter half of 2012. This is assuming her decommissioning process will not be prolonged by NASA’s effort to remove Endeavour’s main propulsion system from the orbiter, and be used on the space agency’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System.

Space shuttle Endeavour is currently in storage inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

Delaying Endeavour’s delivery to the City of Angels will actually be a good thing for the CSC, as it is still in the midst of planning a new $170 million building that will be the permanent home for the orbiter at the museum. The new Air and Space Center probably will not be opened till 2015 or 2016. Until then, Endeavour will be placed inside a temporary structure at CSC where millions of visitors can marvel at her technological beauty over the next few years.

STS-134 commander Mark Kelly (left) signs a document transferring ownership of space shuttle Endeavour from NASA to the California Science Center, on October 11, 2011.
Gene Blevins / LA Daily News

Friday, October 7, 2011

PHOTO OF THE DAY... This awesome pic of two Russian Soyuz spacecraft with auroras glowing in the background was recently taken by current International Space Station (ISS) commander, Mike Fossum. Considering the fact the ISS is intended to stay in Earth orbit till at least 2020, we can expect more majestic images like this downloaded to the ground from 200 miles above throughout this decade.

Two Russian Soyuz spacecraft are backlit by auroras in this image taken by ISS commander Mike Fossum.
NASA / Mike Fossum - Twitter.com

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pod is transported to Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF)-1, where Discovery is located, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

DISCOVERY MOVES ONE STEP CLOSER TO THE SMITHSONIAN... Earlier this week, the Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) and Forward Reaction Control System pods for Discovery were returned to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida after spending a couple of months at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico undergoing cleaning and deservicing. The left OMS pod will be reinstalled onto the orbiter next week. Discovery is targeted for an April, 2012 delivery to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia...though Endeavour and Atlantis’ trips to the California Science Center and KSC Visitor Complex (targeted for mid-2012 for Endeavour and early 2013 for Atlantis), respectively, may be delayed up to 6 months.

The OMS pod arrives inside OPF-1 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Jim Grossmann

As a way to speed up the development process and save money while preparing its new Space Launch System (SLS) for a maiden flight in 2017, NASA is planning to remove the Main Propulsion Systems (MPS) from Endeavour and Atlantis...and use them on the SLS. This will prolong the orbiters’ decommissioning process. Along with the MPS, all the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) that flew with Discovery and her two sister ships on their final flights this year will also be utilized by the SLS program. In all, around 15 SSMEs (the 12 used by the three orbiters, plus 3 spare engines) will fly onboard NASA’s new heavy-lift launch vehicle in its first couple of flights. However, the SSMEs will be destroyed as the SLS’ core stages burn up upon re-entry after liftoff in those early flights. The SSMEs will obviously not return safely to Earth like they did onboard the historic shuttles at the end of their missions.

The orbiter Discovery undergoes decommissioning inside OPF-1 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A SpaceX video screenshot showing the Falcon 9's first stage motor touching down on the ground using retro-rockets.
SpaceX

VIDEO OF THE DAY... SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently revealed plans to make the Falcon 9 launch vehicle completely reusable...using retro-rockets to help guide spent motor stages back to Earth following liftoff and allowing them to touch down at designated landing zones near the launch site. Very interesting idea—but pretty darn ambitious. Is there a reason why parachutes wouldn’t be used to assist the Falcon segments in their descent to terra firma? Is there a reason why the Dragon capsule itself would totally rely on thrusters after re-entry? If I was an astronaut returning to Earth from the International Space Station onboard this thing, I’d ask Mr. Musk to leave the Dragon with its three chutes as-is; leaving the retro-rockets and every other risky attempt at innovation to the parts of the vehicle that don’t have human lives on them. That is all.