Thursday, January 28, 2016
Today, we honor those who perished in the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia tragedies. As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster this morning, let us remember the 17 brave souls who gave their lives in our quest to explore the unknown and advance our knowledge of the cosmos. May they rest in peace... Ad astra.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
Check out the awesome video below showing Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket blasting off towards the boundary of space yesterday before safely returning to its launch site in West Texas. In the previous flight that took place on November 23 of last year, New Shepard rose to an altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers, or 62.5 miles) before heading back to Earth. This time around, the booster soared a little bit higher...reaching an apogee of 333,582 feet (101.7 kilometers, or 63.2 miles) before descending to its desert drop zone. It will be a momentous day when Blue Origin sends another New Shepard rocket beyond Earth's atmosphere—with humans riding aboard its capsule. It would be a momentous day, indeed.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
First Flower Grown in Space Station's Veggie Facility (Press Release)
On Jan. 16, 2016, Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly shared photographs of a blooming zinnia flower in the Veggie plant growth system aboard the International Space Station. Kelly wrote, "Yes, there are other life forms in space! #SpaceFlower #YearInSpace"
This flowering crop experiment began on Nov. 16, 2015, when NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren activated the Veggie system and its rooting "pillows" containing zinnia seeds. The challenging process of growing the zinnias provided an exceptional opportunity for scientists back on Earth to better understand how plants grow in microgravity, and for astronauts to practice doing what they’ll be tasked with on a deep space mission: autonomous gardening. In late December, Kelly found that the plants "weren't looking too good," and told the ground team, “You know, I think if we’re going to Mars, and we were growing stuff, we would be responsible for deciding when the stuff needed water. Kind of like in my backyard, I look at it and say ‘Oh, maybe I should water the grass today.’ I think this is how this should be handled.”
The Veggie team on Earth created what was dubbed “The Zinnia Care Guide for the On-Orbit Gardener,” and gave basic guidelines for care while putting judgment capabilities into the hands of the astronaut who had the plants right in front of him. Rather than pages and pages of detailed procedures that most science operations follow, the care guide was a one-page, streamlined resource to support Kelly as an autonomous gardener. Soon, the flowers were on the rebound, and on Jan. 12, pictures showed the first peeks of petals beginning to sprout on a few buds.
Friday, January 15, 2016
Engineers Mark Completion of Orion’s Pressure Vessel (Press Release)
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is another step closer to launching on its first mission to deep space atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. On Jan. 13, technicians at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans finished welding together the primary structure of the Orion spacecraft destined for deep space, marking another important step on the journey to Mars.
“We’ve started off the year with a key step in our process to get ready for Exploration Mission-1, when together Orion and SLS will travel farther than a spacecraft built for humans has ever traveled,” said Mike Sarafin, Exploration Mission-1 manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This brings us closer to our goal of testing our deep space exploration systems in the proving ground of lunar space before we begin sending astronauts days to weeks from Earth.”
Welding Orion’s seven large aluminum pieces, which began in September 2015, involved a meticulous process. Engineers prepared and outfitted each element with strain gauges and wiring to monitor the metal during the process. The pieces were joined using a state-of-the-art process called friction-stir welding, which produces incredibly strong bonds by transforming metals from a solid into a plastic-like state, and then using a rotating pin tool to soften, stir and forge a bond between two metal components to form a uniform welded joint, a vital requirement of next-generation space hardware.
“The team at Michoud has worked incredibly hard produce a lightweight, yet incredibly durable Orion structure ready for its mission thousands of miles beyond the moon,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion program manager. “The work to get us to this point has been essential. Orion’s pressure vessel is the foundation on which all of the spacecraft’s systems and subsystems are going to be built and integrated.”
The pressure vessel provides a sealed environment for astronaut life support in future human-rated crew modules. After final checkouts, technicians will prepare the pressure vessel for shipment to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the agency’s Super Guppy aircraft. At Kennedy, it will undergo several tests to ensure the structure is sound before being integrated with other elements of the spacecraft.
The uncrewed Exploration Mission-1 will pave the way for future missions with astronauts. During the flight, in which SLS and Orion will launch from NASA’s modernized spaceport at Kennedy, the spacecraft will venture to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon. This first exploration mission will allow NASA to use the lunar vicinity as a proving ground to test technologies farther from Earth, and demonstrate it can get to a stable orbit near the moon in order to support sending humans to deep space.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
Sierra Nevada Corporation
NASA Awards International Space Station Cargo Transport Contracts (Press Release)
NASA has awarded three cargo contracts to ensure the critical science, research and technology demonstrations that are informing the agency’s journey to Mars are delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) from 2019 through 2024. The agency unveiled its selection of Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia; Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada; and SpaceX of Hawthorne, California to continue building on the initial resupply partnerships with two American companies.
These Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) contracts are designed to obtain cargo delivery services to the space station, disposal of unneeded cargo, and the return of research samples and other cargo from the station back to NASA.
“Few would have imagined back in 2010 when President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work ‘with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,’ that less than six years later we’d be able to say commercial carriers have transported 35,000 pounds of space cargo (and counting!) to the International Space Station -- or that we’d be so firmly on track to return launches of American astronauts to the ISS from American soil on American commercial carriers. But that is exactly what is happening,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Today's announcement is a big deal that will move the president’s vision further into the future.”
The contracts, which begin upon award, guarantee a minimum of six cargo resupply missions from each provider. The contracts also include funding ISS integration, flight support equipment, special tasks and studies, and NASA requirement changes.
“The second generation of commercial cargo services to low-Earth orbit begins today,” said Kirk Shireman, ISS Program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “By engaging American companies for cargo transportation, we can focus our attention on using this one-of-a-kind laboratory in the sky to continue advancing scientific knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.”
Selecting multiple providers assures access to ISS so crew members can continue to conduct the vital research of the National Lab. Awarding multiple contracts provides more options and reduces risk through a variety of launch options and mission types, providing the ISS program a robust portfolio of cargo services that will be necessary to maximize the utility of the station.
NASA has not yet ordered any missions, but will make a total of six selections from each menu of mission options at fixed prices, as needed. Each task order has milestones with specified amounts and performance dates. Each mission requires complex preparation and several years of lead time. Discussions and engineering assessments will begin soon, leading to integration activities later this year to ensure all space station requirements are met, with the first missions beginning in late 2019.
“These resupply flights will be conducted in parallel with our Commercial Crew Program providers’ flights that enable addition of a seventh astronaut to the International Space Station. This will double the amount of crew time to conduct research,” said Julie Robinson, chief scientist for the ISS Program. “These missions will be vital for delivering the experiments and investigations that will enable NASA and our partners to continue this important research.”
The agency applied knowledge gained from the first commercial resupply contracts with Orbital ATK and SpaceX and required a number of key enhancements for these contracts. This includes starting with a requirement for a minimum of six missions as opposed to delivery of metric tons; a variety of delivery, return and disposal capabilities for both pressurized and unpressurized cargo, as well as an optional accelerated return; and the addition of an insurance requirement to cover damage to government property during launch services, reentry services or transportation to, from, in proximity of, or docking with the space station.
While the maximum potential value of all contracts is $14 billion from 2016 through 2024, NASA will order missions, as needed, and the total prices paid under the contract will depend on which mission types are ordered.
“We plan to order services based on our current estimates of station needs, which provides NASA important flexibility to maximize the use of the space station,” said Shireman. “We look forward to beginning work with these new contractors to understand the details of the services that they have proposed and understand the details of how these services will benefit ISS. The indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract enables us to adjust as necessary for additional missions or contingencies so we can provide the greatest benefits possible from this great international asset.”
NASA’s service contracts to resupply the space station have changed the way the agency does business in low-Earth orbit. With these contracts, NASA continues to advance commercial spaceflight and the American jobs it creates.
For 15 years, humans have been living continuously aboard the space station to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that also will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A truly global endeavor, more than 200 people from 15 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,700 research investigations from researchers in more than 83 countries.
Scott Kelly / NASA and Sergey Volkov / Roscosmos
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
NASA Completes Orion Parachute Development Tests (Press Release)
A dart-shaped test vehicle descended from the skies above the Arizona desert under Orion’s parachutes Wednesday, Jan. 13, successfully completing the final development test of the parachute system. NASA engineers evaluated modifications to the system for the last time before the start of qualification testing for Orion missions with astronauts.
During the test, engineers demonstrated that when the spacecraft is traveling faster during descent than in previous tests, Orion’s parachutes can properly deploy and withstand high-inflation loads. The dart-shaped vehicle allows engineers to simulate faster descent conditions than the capsule-shaped test article that has been used in many previous evaluations. The test also evaluated new, lighter-weight suspension line material for the parachutes saving a significant amount of mass.
“The completion of this last development test of the parachute system gives us a high degree of confidence that we’ll be successful in certifying the system with the remaining qualification tests for flights with astronauts,” said CJ Johnson, project manager for Orion’s parachute system. “During our development series, we’ve tested all kinds of failure scenarios and extreme descent conditions to refine the design and ensure Orion’s parachutes will work in a variety of circumstances. We’ll verify the system is sound during our qualification tests.”
During Wednesday’s test, a C-17 aircraft dropped the test vehicle from its cargo bay while flying 30,000 feet over the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. NASA conducts the tests at the proving ground because of the capabilities of airdrop testing that exists there, and the ability for engineers to gather detailed video and photo imagery from chase aircraft to analyze how all of the parachute system’s mechanisms work, including how mortars fire and the parachutes unfurl and descend.
Orion’s parachute system is a critical part of returning future crews who will travel to deep space on the journey to Mars and return to Earth in the spacecraft. The first parachutes deploy when the crew module is traveling more than 300 mph, and in a matter of minutes, the remaining parachute system slows the vehicle and enables it to splash down in the ocean at about 20 mph.
The system is composed of 11 total parachutes that deploy in a precise sequence. Three parachutes pull off Orion’s forward bay cover, which protects the top of the crew module -- where the packed parachutes reside -- from the heat of reentry through Earth’s atmosphere. Two drogues then deploy to slow the capsule and steady it. Three pilot parachutes then pull out the three orange and white mains, on which Orion rides for the final 8,000 feet of its descent. Orion’s main parachutes are packed to the density of oak wood to fit in the top part of the spacecraft, but once fully inflated cover almost an entire football field.
The test was the seventh in the developmental series. In July, engineers will begin qualifying Orion’s parachute system for flights with astronauts. The series will encompass eight drop tests over a three year-period.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
ESA / NASA
Tim Peake Prepares For Friday's Spacewalk (Press Release)
European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) shared this photo taken aboard the International Space Station on Jan. 11, 2015, during preparations for a spacewalk, or extra-vehicular activity (EVA). Peake wrote, "Final suit fit check prior to Friday's EVA – feels just great! #Principia #spacewalk"
On Friday, Jan. 15, Expedition 46 flight engineers Tim Kopra of NASA and Tim Peake of ESA will venture outside the space station’s Quest airlock to replace a failed voltage regulator that compromised one of the station’s eight power channels last November. The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 7:55 a.m. EST and will be the third in Kopra’s career and the first for Peake, and the 192nd for maintenance of the space station. It will be the 35th spacewalk using the U.S. Quest airlock. Additional tasks include deploying cables for the future installation of an International Docking Adapter that will accommodate U.S. commercial crew vehicles, and retrieving a broken light from a truss camera.
Friday, January 1, 2016
Just thought I'd share these new photos that I took of several albums that I created over 25 years (from 1990 to 2015). 2015 marked the final year that I collected space-related articles from various newspapers (mostly the Los Angeles Times) and compiled them in Acco plastic binders. If you click on the photo above to enlarge it, you'd see that there's a 2-year gap between the 2012 album and the one for last year. That's because 1.) I only had one more binder left and didn't feel like buying more, and 2.) I wanted to save the final binder for a year in which very significant space events took place. Those events originally were Dawn's arrival at dwarf planet Ceres last March and New Horizons' flyby of fellow dwarf planet Pluto last July...but I didn't know that 2015 would also mark the Planetary Society's successful test flight of its LightSail solar sail prototype last May, Blue Origin and SpaceX's triumph in safely landing rocket boosters back on the ground after launch last November and December, respectively, Japan finally inserting its Akatsuki spacecraft into orbit around Venus on December 6 (Pacific Time) following a 5-year delay due to a propulsion problem, and the historic discovery that water still flows on Mars last September.
The coming years will also mark historic moments for spaceflight (especially in 2018...when the Space Launch System hopefully lifts off for the first time, Europe's second ExoMars mission heads to the Red Planet, and the James Webb Space Telescope is finally sent into the heavens)—but constantly browsing through every single page of a newspaper (except the sports section, obviously) to find a space article is time-consuming. It is time to move on... But don't worry; this blog will always be here for me to post press releases and personal news and pics in regards to the awesome events that take place in space exploration almost every day. Other than that, carry on— And have a great year!