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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Above the Mojave Desert in California, SpaceShipTwo fires its engine for the first time on April 29, 2013.
MarsScientific.com and Clay Center Observatory

SpaceShipTwo Comes Alive! At 7:50 AM, Pacific Daylight Time yesterday, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites finally hit a historic milestone when the RocketMotorTwo (RM2) hybrid engine came alive aboard SpaceShipTwo (SS2), a.k.a. the VSS Enterprise. 55,000 feet above the Mojave Desert in California, SS2 rocketed across the sky at a maximum speed of Mach 1.2...cruising beyond the sound barrier before RM2 shut down 16 seconds after its first-ever in-flight ignition. Virgin Galactic's goal of sending the (high-paying) public about 62 miles above the Earth's surface is obviously now in sight, with the highly probable chance that the Enterprise will finally taste the vacuum of space by the end of this year.

Above the Mojave Desert in California, SpaceShipTwo fires its engine for the first time on April 29, 2013.
Virgin Galactic

Above the Mojave Desert in California, SpaceShipTwo fires its engine for the first time on April 29, 2013.
Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo glides in the sky after firing its engine for the first time on April 29, 2013.
Virgin Galactic



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Video of the Day... I'll be out of town till next Wednesday (May 1), so in the meantime, check out this awesome video depicting NASA's proposed Asteroid Initiative mission. Cool animation...though what's up with The Lord of the Rings/Aliens-type music here? Considering the budget cuts that NASA has to endure due to the sequester, I highly doubt the agency could hire a film composer like Hans Zimmer or John Williams to score this piece. It's all good, though... The music nicely fits with this Youtube clip. Epic stuff.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Atlantis Unwrapped... At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) in Florida, construction workers have begun removing the shrink-wrap that enshrouded NASA's second-oldest retired orbiter since last fall. Atlantis is on-track to officially be revealed to the public on June 29...when her new $100 million exhibit, titled Space Shuttle Atlantis, is scheduled to open at KSCVC.

A construction worker watches as shrink-wrap is removed from around the orbiter Atlantis inside her new exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida...on April 25, 2013.
NASA / KSC

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Falcon 9's first stage motor is about to hover 820 feet (250 meters) above the ground in McGregor, Texas...on April 19, 2013.
SpaceX

The Grasshopper reaches new heights... Marking an obvious improvement over the 262.8-foot (80.1 meters) altitude that the vehicle attained on March 7, SpaceX's Grasshopper rocket reached an astonishing height of 820 feet (250 meters) last Friday—with an added touch of landing precisely on the (burnt) spot where it lifted off from more than a minute earlier. Check out these screenshots from the Youtube video...and then view the actual clip itself, which is posted at the very bottom of this entry.

The Falcon 9's first stage motor hovers 820 feet (250 meters) above the ground in McGregor, Texas...on April 19, 2013.
SpaceX

The Falcon 9's first stage motor heads back down to the ground after hovering 820 feet (250 meters) in the air on April 19, 2013.
SpaceX

The Falcon 9's first stage motor heads back down to the ground after hovering 820 feet (250 meters) in the air on April 19, 2013.
SpaceX

The Falcon 9's first stage motor is about to touch back down on the ground after hovering 820 feet (250 meters) in the air on April 19, 2013.
SpaceX

The Falcon 9's first stage motor shuts down upon successfully landing after hovering 820 feet (250 meters) in the air, on April 19, 2013.
SpaceX



Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Antares rocket launches on its maiden flight from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on April 21, 2013.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Rise of the Antares... After two launch scrubs last week (April 17's delay due to an umbilical cord prematurely disconnecting from the rocket just moments before lift-off, and yesterday's postponement caused by bad weather), Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket flawlessly rose from its seaside pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 2:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time today. Considering how smooth the ascent to orbit was this afternoon, Antares should be on-track to begin ferrying Orbital Sciences' Cygnus freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as this June. Assuming that goes without a hitch, NASA's bid to outsource ISS cargo flights to private space companies other than SpaceX will become ever more fruitful...with Boeing's CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser two of the last commercially-made craft (primarily designed to carry astronauts, that is) to come online.

The Antares rocket is about to launch on its maiden flight from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on April 21, 2013.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

The Antares rocket launches on its maiden flight from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on April 21, 2013.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

The Antares rocket heads for space after launching on its maiden flight from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on April 21, 2013.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Monday, April 15, 2013

"A somber Spring night in Boston." So were the words of Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, who took this night photograph of Boston and posted it on Twitter several hours after today's tragic events in the city. My condolences to those who were affected by this afternoon's senseless attacks.

An image of the city of Boston, taken at night by Expedition 35 crew member Chris Hadfield aboard the International Space Station.
NASA / Canadian Space Agency / Chris Hadfield

Friday, April 12, 2013

Oxidizer shoots out from SpaceShipTwo's rocket nozzle during another glide test above California's Mojave Desert on April 12, 2013.
MarsScientific.com

Photos of the Day... Contrary to what I said in this previous post, it appears that SpaceShipTwo will be undergoing her first powered flight much sooner than the end of this year. Awesome!

Nitrous oxide is loaded into SpaceShipTwo the night before another glide test is conducted above California's Mojave Desert, on April 12, 2013.
Virgin Galactic / Mark Greenberg

With SpaceShipTwo attached beneath her, White Knight II takes off for another glide test above California's Mojave Desert on April 12, 2013.
Virgin Galactic

Photographed from afar, oxidizer shoots out from SpaceShipTwo's rocket nozzle after she is released from White Knight II for another glide test on April 12, 2013.
Scaled Composites / Michael Fuchs

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle propelling the asteroid retrieval spacecraft.
NASA / Advanced Concepts Laboratory

Paving The Way for the Future...

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NASA's Asteroid Initiative Benefits From Rich History (Press Release)

NASA's FY2014 budget proposal includes a plan to robotically capture a small near-Earth asteroid and redirect it safely to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system where astronauts can visit and explore it.

Performing these elements for the proposed asteroid initiative integrates the best of NASA's science, technology and human exploration capabilities and draws on the innovation of America's brightest scientists and engineers. It uses current and developing capabilities to find both large asteroids that pose a hazard to Earth and small asteroids that could be candidates for the initiative, accelerates our technology development activities in high-powered solar electric propulsion and takes advantage of our hard work on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, helping to keep NASA on target to reach the President's goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

When astronauts don their spacesuits and venture out for a spacewalk on the surface of an asteroid, how they move and take samples of it will be based on years of knowledge built by NASA scientists and engineers who have assembled and operated the International Space Station, evaluated exploration mission concepts, sent scientific spacecraft to characterize near-Earth objects and performed ground-based analog missions.

As early as the 1970s, NASA examined potential ways to use existing hardware to visit an asteroid to understand better its characteristics. On the International Space Station, scientific investigations and technology demonstrations are improving knowledge of how humans can live and work in space. The agency also has examined many possible mission concepts to help define what capabilities are needed to push the boundaries of space exploration.

During the early space shuttle flights and through assembly of the space station, NASA has relied on testing both in space and on Earth to try out ideas through a host of analog missions, or field tests, that simulate the complexity of endeavors in space.

Through 16 missions in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's underwater Aquarius Reef Base off the coast of Key Largo, Fla., aquanauts have tested techniques for human space exploration. These underwater tests have been built upon the experience gained by training astronauts in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to assemble and maintain the space station. The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 15 and 16 missions in 2011 and 2012, respectively, simulated several challenges explorers will face when visiting an asteroid, including how to anchor to and move around the surface of a near-Earth object and how to collect samples of it.

NASA also has simulated an asteroid mission as part of its 2012 Research and Technology Studies ground test at Johnson. During the simulation, a team evaluated how astronauts might do a spacewalk on an asteroid and accomplish other goals. While performing a spacewalk on a captured asteroid will involve different techniques than the activities performed during recent analog exercises, decisions made about ways to best sample an asteroid will be informed by the agency’s on-going concept development and past work.

Scientific missions also have investigated the nature of asteroids to provide a glimpse of the origins of the solar system. From the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, which in 1972 was the first to venture into the Main Asteroid Belt, to the Dawn mission, which recently concluded its investigations of asteroid Vesta and is on its way to the dwarf planet Ceres, NASA's forays help us understand the origins of the solar system and inform decisions about how to conduct missions to distant planetary bodies. Scientists both at NASA and across the world also continue to study asteroids to shed light on their unique characteristics.

As NASA ventures farther into the solar system, the agency continues to simulate and evaluate operations and technical concepts for visiting an asteroid.

Source: NASA.Gov

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An artist's concept of NASA's asteroid retrieval spacecraft approaching a Near-Earth Object.
NASA / Advanced Concepts Laboratory

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is rolled out to its launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on April 6, 2013.
NASA / Chris Perry and Brea Reeves, Range Optics

Antares Ready for Launch... The maiden flight of Orbital Sciences newest launch vehicle—which will eventually ferry the company's Cygnus freighter on cargo missions to the International Space Station—is set to begin (from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia) at 2:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, on April 17.

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is about to be raised into launch position on its pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on April 6, 2013.
NASA / Brea Reeves

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is close to being raised into launch position on its pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on April 6, 2013.
NASA / Brea Reeves

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is raised into launch position on its pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on April 6, 2013.
NASA / Jeremy Eggers

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Moon glows in the backdrop during SpaceShipTwo's 24th glide test above the Mojave Desert in California, on April 3, 2013.
Virgin Galactic

More Milestones for SpaceShipTwo... Several days after posting that significant progress is being made on prepping RocketMotorTwo (RM2) for its maiden flight aboard SpaceShipTwo (SS2), Virgin Galactic revealed that the vehicle itself is moving ever so closer to soaring into space for the first time. Two days ago, the VSS Enterprise achieved its 24th successful glide test and 6th in-flight demonstration of her patented feathered re-entry system above the Mojave Desert in California. Wednesday's test also validated the Enterprise's nitrous loading and venting system...which is crucial in clearing the craft and RM2 for their first powered journey beyond Earth's atmosphere. Considering the way that Virgin Galactic is moving along with the SS2's development program, this journey will hopefully happen before the end of this year.

SpaceShipTwo prior to it being released from White Knight II for a 24th glide test above the Mojave Desert in California, on April 3, 2013.
Scaled Composites / Niki Dugué

SpaceShipTwo is released from White Knight II for its 24th glide test above the Mojave Desert in California, on April 3, 2013.
Scaled Composites / Michael Fuchs

SpaceShipTwo is released from White Knight II for its 24th glide test above the Mojave Desert in California, on April 3, 2013.
Virgin Galactic

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Big Apple from 200 Miles Above... On March 23 of this year, an Expedition 35 crew member took this photograph (using 400-millimeter camera lens) of New York City from aboard the International Space Station. The brightness of this image has been readjusted to show details of Manhattan...such as Central Park, the black rectangular square (that is almost horizontal) slightly to the left of frame center.

A night shot of New York City as seen from aboard the International Space Station, on March 23, 2013.
NASA