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Monday, September 30, 2013

Cygnus In All Its Beauty...

The International Space Station's (ISS) robotic arm grapples the Cygnus Orb-D1 spacecraft prior to it berthing at the outpost on September 29, 2013.
NASA

It's always great to see high-resolution photos of a new craft docking with the International Space Station (ISS) that were taken by the station crew members themselves. Check out these pics of Cygnus as it berthed with the ISS for the very first time yesterday.

Cygnus Orb-D1 floats near the ISS as its robotic arm waits to grapple the cargo freighter on September 29, 2013.
NASA

Cygnus Orb-D1 floats near the ISS as its robotic arm waits to grapple the cargo freighter on September 29, 2013.
NASA

ISS crew member Luca Parmitano observes Cygnus Orb-D1 as it floats near the ISS prior to berthing on September 29, 2013.
NASA

Cygnus Orb-D1 floats near the ISS as its robotic arm waits to grapple the cargo freighter on September 29, 2013.
NASA

The ISS' robotic arm grapples Cygnus Orb-D1 prior to it berthing at the outpost on September 29, 2013.
NASA

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cygnus Arrives at the ISS...

The International Space Station's (ISS) robotic arm grapples the Cygnus Orb-D1 spacecraft prior to it berthing at the outpost on September 29, 2013.
NASA TV

NASA Partner Orbital Sciences Completes First Flight to Space Station as Astronauts Capture Cygnus Spacecraft (Press Release)

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) used a robotic arm to capture and attach a Cygnus cargo resupply spacecraft Sunday, marking several spaceflight firsts for NASA and its partner, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

The station's Expedition 37 crew reported the spacecraft -- loaded with about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo -- berthed at 8:44 a.m. EDT, following an 11-day journey to the orbiting laboratory.

Orbital's Cygnus was launched on the company's Antares rocket on Sept. 18 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This was the first flight of a spacecraft to the space station from the state.

The maiden flight of Cygnus included a number of systems tests prior to rendezvous with the station. The cargo includes student experiments, food and clothing, which will be unloaded by the station crew following hatch opening Monday.

Future Cygnus flights will ensure a robust national capability to deliver critical science research to orbit, significantly increasing NASA's ability to conduct new science investigations to the only laboratory in microgravity.

After a series of tests designed to demonstrate Cygnus' ability to navigate, maneuver, lock on to the station and abort its approach, NASA cleared the spacecraft to approach the station Sunday morning. European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg captured Cygnus with the station's robotic arm, then attached the capsule on the bottom of the station's Harmony node, completing installation by bolting the Cygnus to Harmony.

The capsule will remain attached to Harmony until a planned unberthing on Oct. 22 sends the spacecraft toward a destructive re-entry in Earth's atmosphere.

Cygnus had been scheduled for a rendezvous with the space station on Sept. 22. Due to a data format mismatch, the first rendezvous attempt was postponed. Orbital updated and tested a software patch to fix the issue. Cygnus' arrival also was postponed pending the Sept. 25 arrival of the Expedition 37 crew. Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins of NASA and Soyuz Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) arrived at the space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft Wednesday.

Orbital built and tested its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program. The successful completion of this COTS demonstration mission will pave the way for Orbital to conduct eight planned cargo resupply flights to the space station through NASA's $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with the company.

NASA initiatives, such as COTS, are helping to develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from low-Earth orbit to meet the needs of both commercial and government customers. NASA's Commercial Crew Program also is working with commercial partners to enable the availability of U.S. commercial human spaceflight capabilities in the next few years.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has had continuous human occupation since November 2000. In that time it has been visited by more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

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The Cygnus Orb-D1 spacecraft is berthed to the ISS, on September 29, 2013.
NASA TV

Friday, September 27, 2013

Orion Update...

Astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman test a prototype cockpit display inside an Orion vehicle mockup at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA

Astronauts Practice Launching in NASA's New Orion Spacecraft (Press Release)

For the first time, NASA astronauts are practicing a launch into space aboard the agency's Orion spacecraft, and provided feedback on the new capsule's cockpit design.

In the ascent simulations, which took place over the course of two weeks at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston this month, astronauts rehearsed their roles during an eight-minute climb into space aboard Orion. The rehearsals included procedures that would be required in the event of an emergency with the agency's new heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket, which is being designed to carry Orion to low-Earth orbit on the first portion of its flights to deep space.

Ten pairs of astronauts participated in two normal launch simulations and two launch-abort simulations inside an Orion mockup fitted with instrument panels and other equipment being designed for the actual capsule. As the two-person crews made their way through a series of tasks, engineers took careful notes of every comment and question from the crew. Their feedback will be considered in the process of fine-tuning the design and build requirements for the displays and controls.

"Simulations like these provide valuable experience by giving astronauts and the operations team an early look at what going to deep space in Orion will be like," said astronaut Lee Morin, who has been working on the Orion displays as supervisor of Johnson's rapid prototyping laboratory. "Rehearsing launch and ascent -- two of the most challenging parts of Orion's mission -- also gives us an opportunity to work toward optimizing how the crew interacts with the spacecraft."

Designing a spacecraft's cockpit to maximize simplicity and efficiency is not easy. Each of NASA's space shuttles had 10 display screens, more than 1,200 switches, dials and gauges, and pages of procedures weighing hundreds of pounds on paper.

By comparison, Orion, which is designed for deep-space exploration and autonomous or piloted rendezvous and docking, will have just three computer screens, each the size of a sheet of paper, which take advantage of information technology advancements made since the space shuttles were designed in the early 1970s.

"It's very rewarding work, knowing the displays we are creating and testing now will be what future astronauts will be looking at as they rendezvous with an asteroid, orbit the moon, and even travel to Mars," Morin said. "Getting this right is key to making Orion and other future vehicles safer and easier to use."

Orion's first crewed launch, Exploration Mission-2, is scheduled for 2021, when NASA plans to send two astronauts to an asteroid in lunar orbit. Orion ultimately will allow us to go farther into space than ever before, including destinations such as Mars.

NASA plans to make Orion's data and software available to the agency's commercial partners, who may adapt it for use in spacecraft that could transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman work with simulation instructor Juan Garriga (center) to prepare for their first ascent simulation inside a mockup of the Orion vehicle at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Another Successful Journey for Soyuz

Photo of the Day: The Soyuz TMA-10M spacecraft prepares to dock with the International Space Station (ISS), carrying aboard the capsule Expedition 37 Commander Oleg Kotov, NASA Flight Engineer Michael Hopkins and Russian Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy. The Soyuz docked to the Poisk Mini-Research Module 2 on the Russian segment of the ISS at 7:45 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, on September 25...about six hours after the spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan that same day.

The Soyuz TMA-10M capsule is about to dock with the International Space Station only six hours after launch...on September 25, 2013.
NASA

Friday, September 20, 2013

CST-100 Update

At NASA's White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a thruster glows red during a hot-fire test for the Boeing CST-100's orbital maneuvering and attitude control system.
Boeing

NASA Commercial Partner Boeing Tests CST-100 Spacecraft Thrusters (Press Release)

Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft is one step closer to liftoff after a gauntlet of test firings of its steering jets at White Sands Space Harbor in Las Cruces, N.M.

Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne recently completed the tests, which simulated the demanding environment of space. The tests assessed how the thrusters -- which fire with 1,500 pounds of force -- will speed up, slow down and move the spacecraft while carrying NASA astronauts in Earth's orbit.

Boeing is developing a fully integrated crew transportation system, which includes the CST-100 spacecraft and the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, in partnership with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP). New commercial spaceflight capabilities being developed by NASA partners through commercial crew initiatives eventually could provide services to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station, launching from American soil. Boeing is working on development milestones that are part of NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative.

"Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne continue to show a path forward for NASA's low-Earth orbit crew transportation needs by implementing cutting-edge technologies and showcasing decades of human spaceflight experience," said Ed Mango, CCP manager.

The CST-100's orbital maneuvering and attitude control (OMAC) system has 24 thrusters, giving it the ability to perform critical maneuvers in space such as those required to refine the CST-100's orbit, as well as the braking maneuver near the end of a mission that slows the spacecraft down before re-entry. The OMAC thrusters will be jettisoned when the service module is released from the capsule just before re-entry. Positioned in four clusters of six on the service module of the spacecraft, the thrusters could steer the spacecraft in case an emergency calls for it to separate from its rocket during launch or ascent.

During the tests, the OMAC thrusters were fired in a vacuum chamber that simulated the space-like environment at an altitude of 100,000 feet. These evaluations put the thrusters through the burns and stresses they would encounter during a real flight. Engineers equipped the jets with a host of instruments to measure changes in the smallest components.

"The CST-100 OMAC thrusters are an example of leveraging proven flight hardware solutions to ensure mission supportability," said John Mulholland, Boeing vice president and manager for commercial programs. "We are very pleased with the data collected during this second series of tests and with our overall team performance as we continue to progress through CCiCap milestones on time and on budget."

Previous tests of the OMAC thrusters verified their durability in extreme heat, evaluated the opening and closing of their valves and confirmed continuous combustion and performance. Designers are using the results of these tests to validate or adjust their complex computer models that predict how a thruster and spacecraft will work during a mission.

"The OMAC engines met CCiCap test objectives," said Terry Lorier, Aerojet Rocketdyne's CST-100 Service Module Propulsion Program manager. "Aerojet Rocketdyne and Boeing are both pleased with the results and look forward to continuing our partnership."

With the completion of its ninth milestone, Boeing is on track to meet all 20 of its CCiCap milestones by summer 2014. All of NASA's industry partners, including Boeing, continue to meet their established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities.

Source: NASA.Gov

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Antares Takes Flight!

An Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft launches from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on September 18, 2013...beginning the Orb-D1 mission.
Orbital Sciences

Godspeed, Cygnus! Orbital Sciences' newest cargo ship successfully launched aboard the company's Antares rocket on a multi-day trip to the International Space Station (ISS) this morning. Lift-off took place at 7:58 AM, Pacific Daylight Time, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. With Cygnus' twin solar arrays unfurled and its propulsion system now activated before I typed this, the freighter is on track to become the second class of privately-made spacecraft (behind SpaceX's Dragon capsule) to bring supplies to the ISS. Today has marked another milestone for NASA and commercial aerospace companies in general.

Cygnus is set to arrive at the ISS this Sunday, September 22.

An artist's concept of the Cygnus freighter with the International Space Station in the background.
Orbital Sciences

Monday, September 16, 2013

Preparing for Cygnus' First Flight...

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is poised in launch position on its pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on September 13, 2013.
Orbital Sciences

Now standing in launch position at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia is Orbital Sciences' Antares vehicle...with the company's Cygnus freighter tucked safely within the payload fairing of the 133-foot-tall rocket. Lift-off is scheduled for this Wednesday, September 18...with Cygnus transporting 1,200 pounds of cargo up to the International Space Station (ISS) on the freighter's inaugural flight to low-Earth orbit. Like Russia's Progress and Japan's HTV supply ships, Cygnus will end its mission in a destructive re-entry into Earth's atmosphere once its mission is complete.

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus freighter is about to be encapsulated inside the Antares rocket's payload fairing at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on September 9, 2013.
Orbital Sciences / Dan Wiles

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus freighter is encapsulated inside the Antares rocket's payload fairing at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on September 9, 2013.
Orbital Sciences / Dan Wiles

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is about to be rolled out to its launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on September 13, 2013.
Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is rolled out to its launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on September 13, 2013.
Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is about to be poised into launch position on its pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on September 13, 2013.
Orbital Sciences

Saturday, September 7, 2013

KOUNOTORI 4 Clears the Way for Cygnus' Arrival...

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus freighter is mated to the company's Antares launch vehicle...in preparation for Cygnus' debut flight to the International Space Station on September 17, 2013.
Orbital Sciences / Dan Wiles

Last Wednesday, Japan's H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-4) departed from the International Space Station (ISS) after being berthed at the outpost for almost a month. With HTV-4's mission now concluded (with KOUNOTORI 4's fiery re-entry into our planet's atmosphere set for today), the next privately-made cargo freighter to venture to the ISS will be Orbital Sciences' Cygnus spacecraft—which will be berthed to the same (nadir) port on the station's Harmony module that HTV-4 was connected to. Cygnus is set to make its debut flight to low-Earth orbit on September 17...aboard an Antares rocket that will launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus freighter is mated to the company's Antares launch vehicle...in preparation for Cygnus' debut flight to the International Space Station on September 17, 2013.
Orbital Sciences / Dan Wiles

KOUNOTORI 4 is grappled by the space station's robotic arm prior to being unberthed from the orbital outpost on September 4, 2013.
NASA

KOUNOTORI 4 floats above the Earth after being unberthed from the International Space Station on September 4, 2013.
NASA

Friday, September 6, 2013

SpaceShipTwo's Second Powered Flight in Photos...

An onboard camera shot of SpaceShipTwo (SS2) as it soared 69,000 feet above California's Mojave Desert during SS2's second powered flight on September 5, 2013.
Virgin Galactic

I also posted a cool video taken from aboard the VSS Enterprise as she soared 69,000 feet, at a speed of Mach 1.43, above California's Mojave Desert yesterday.

SS2 and its mothership White Knight II are prepped for lift-off at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California, on September 5, 2013.
Scaled Composites / Jason DiVenere

White Knight II takes off from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California for SS2's second powered flight, on September 5, 2013.
Virgin Galactic

SS2 glides back toward the Mojave Air & Space Port in California following a successful second powered flight, on September 5, 2013.
Scaled Composites / Yvonne Fuchs


Thursday, September 5, 2013

SpaceShipTwo Rockets Into the Sky Once More...

I'll post more photos and a video once Virgin Galactic officially releases them online, but check out this image as the VSS Enterprise once again ignited her engine and soared 69,000 feet into the air...at a speed of Mach 1.4-plus. Today's successful test firing lasted 20 seconds, and paves the way for the big moment this December—when the Enterprise is once again set to fire RocketMotorTwo and finally soar into space. If I had $200,000 to spend on my own flight aboard SpaceShipTwo, I'd be even more stoked than I am now!

Above the Mojave Desert in California, SpaceShipTwo fires its engine for the second time on September 5, 2013.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

More News on the Asteroid Retrieval Mission...

Computer animation depicting an Orion vehicle about to dock with the asteroid retrieval spacecraft.
NASA

NASA Selects Top 96 Asteroid Initiative Ideas (Press Release)

NASA has chosen 96 ideas it regards as most promising from more than 400 submitted in response to its June request for information (RFI) about protecting Earth from asteroids and finding an asteroid humans can explore.

The ideas provide the agency with fresh insight into how best to identify, capture and relocate a near-Earth asteroid for closer study and respond to asteroid threats. They include pointers on how to decrease an asteroid's spin, nudge it away from a path toward Earth, take samples to return to Earth and create activities to heighten public awareness of not only the threat asteroids pose, but the valuable resources and scientific benefits they may offer.

"This rich set of innovative ideas gathered from all over the world provides us with a great deal of information to factor into our plans moving forward," said Robert Lightfoot, Associate Administrator for NASA. "We're making great progress on formulating this mission, and we look forward to discussing further the responses we received to the RFI."

These ideas were submitted by industry, universities, international organizations, and the public. NASA's selection process involved agency scientists, engineers and mission planners who are formulating details of the asteroid initiative. NASA's request for information was the first opportunity for industry and other potential partners to offer ideas for the asteroid initiative.

NASA plans a public workshop Sept. 30 - Oct. 2 to examine and synthesize the 96 highly rated ideas. The workshop will feature discussions by experts from inside and outside NASA. The other approximately 300 ideas, which were not selected for examination, may be fed into planning for the asteroid initiative.

NASA's asteroid initiative has two parts: the mission by astronauts to explore an asteroid and a grand challenge to protect the planet. It is included in President Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget request for NASA, and leverages the agency's progress on its Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft and cutting-edge technology development. The mission is a key step in NASA's plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Computer animation depicting two spacewalking astronauts about to extract samples from the captured asteroid.
NASA

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Orion EFT-1: T-Minus 12 Months and Counting...

This month marks one year till the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is set to make its debut flight into space aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket. The MPCV's maiden voyage, or Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, will take Orion to an altitude of 3,600 miles above the Earth before the capsule splashes down into the Pacific Ocean a few hours later...capping what will hopefully be a successful demonstration of a spacecraft designed to bring us beyond Earth orbit once more.

An artist's concept of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle soaring in Earth orbit atop a Delta IV upper stage motor...during EFT-1 in September of 2014.
NASA