Saturday, April 30, 2016

SpaceX Officially Sets Eyes on Mars with Red Dragon...

A composite image showing the Red Dragon capsule on the surface of Mars.

Just thought I'd end this month by sharing these images that were released online when SpaceX made a major announcement last Wednesday that it was planning to send an unmanned Dragon capsule to Mars. Elon Musk's company is eyeing 2018 (which would also be when NASA's InSight robotic lander heads to the Red Planet as well) as the year a Dragon V2 (now known as Crew Dragon) vehicle launches aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket and heads to Earth's rust-colored celestial neighbor. The Falcon Heavy itself is scheduled to make its maiden flight later this year, with SpaceX (along with Boeing and its CST-100 capsule) also hoping to send a Crew Dragon vessel—with astronauts aboard—to the International Space Station in 2017.

NASA will be involved with the Red Dragon mission...providing interplanetary communications via the agency's Deep Space Network, as well as lending expertise in terms of how to navigate to the Red Planet and enter its thin atmosphere. [SpaceX is planning to land Dragon on Mars via propulsive landing—relying on SuperDraco thrusters (shown above) to bring the craft to a touchdown and not employing parachutes, at all.] NASA, in return, will receive technical and science data from the Red Dragon flight that will guide the agency as it aims to send humans to Mars about two decades from now. No money will be exchanged between SpaceX and NASA in the 2018 endeavor.

An artist's concept of the Falcon Heavy rocket, with Red Dragon aboard, lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

ISS Update: The Philippines' First Satellite Is Deployed In Earth Orbit!

The DIWATA-1 CubeSat, which was built by the Philippines, is deployed from the Japanese Kibo module aboard the International Space Station...on April 27, 2016 (Japan Standard Time).

Successful Deployment of DIWATA-1, First Microsatellite developed by the Republic of the Philippines, from ISS Kibo (Press Release)

(JAXA’s first success of 50 kg-class microsatellite deployment)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Tohoku University, Hokkaido University, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) of the Republic of the Philippines, and the University of the Philippines Diliman, successfully deployed DIWATA-1, the first Philippines microsatellite. This was also the first success for JAXA to deploy a 50 kg-class microsatellite from the ISS Japanese Experiment Module Kibo.

DIWATA-1 is a microsatellite in the 50 kg-class jointly developed by DOST, the University of the Philippines Diliman, Tohoku University, and Hokkaido University. It was launched from Florida, the United States, on March 23, 2016 (Japan Standard Time, all dates and times in this release are JST) and deployed from Kibo at 8:45 p.m. on April 27th.

Both Japan and the Philippines are surrounded by the ocean, hence satellite technology is imperative for our countries’ prosperity. The development and manufacture of the DIWATA-1, the first satellite developed by the Philippines, was led by young engineers dispatched by the Philippines’ DOST with Tohoku and Hokkaido Universities. JAXA was in charge of its launch and deployment into orbit. These four parties have successfully cooperated and contributed to each other for this epoch-making mission in the history of the Philippines’ space development, and accordingly we achieved intimate cooperative relations between Japan and the Philippines.

With this first success of deploying a 50 kg-class microsatellite, JAXA enhanced the deployment capacity in addition to that of the CubeSat-class satellite. We also plan to increase the simultaneous deployment capacity of the CubeSat-class satellites from the current 6U to 12U, then 18U, thus we expect more and more expansion of microsatellites use and operation in the Asian region and beyond, like this example of DIWATA-1, and through collaboration between overseas agencies and JAXA and Japanese universities.


DIWATA-1 development took about one year and the Republic of the Philippines was in charge of the development costs. The satellite is equipped with imaging device of four different magnifications including a fish-eye lens camera, and a telescope with a ground resolution of three meters. It is expected to be utilized for providing remote sensing information to solve social issues in the Philippines by observing meteorological disasters such as typhoons and localized heavy rains, and monitoring agriculture, fishery, forestry and the environment. Deserving special mention is the onboard liquid crystal spectrum camera, which is a renovated version of the one aboard the RISING-2 satellite launched in 2014 led by Hokkaido and Tohoku Universities. It is capable of taking images at 590 spectral bands, as many as that of cameras aboard big major satellites, thus it can break space use of the next generation with low costs and high precision.


CubeSat is a satellite with a cube of 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm as 1U, or its combination. According to the height, a CubeSat can be 2U (20 cm in height) or 3U (30 cm in height). Currently, JAXA’s deployment system can deploy six CubeSat (6U) simultaneously.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency


Waving Filipino flags, the team that developed DIWATA-1 celebrate after the CubeSat is deployed from the Japanese Kibo module aboard the International Space Station...on April 27, 2016 (Japan Standard Time).

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Photos of the Day: ET-94 Passes Through the Panama Canal!

A barge carrying space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 begins its passage through the Panama Canal...on April 25, 2016.
Photo courtesy of ThePanamaCanal -

Just thought I'd share these pics of space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 as it passed through the Panama Canal on its way to Southern California earlier today. Departing from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana on April 12, ET-94 started its transit of the Central American waterway yesterday...and spent the last two days traversing 48 miles of isthmus as it headed from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean to begin the last leg of its journey to Los Angeles.

A barge carrying space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 begins its passage through the Panama Canal...on April 25, 2016.
Photo courtesy of ThePanamaCanal -

ET-94 is scheduled to arrive at Marina del Rey in L.A. County on May 19, and will parade through the streets of west Los Angeles as it heads to the California Science Center on May 21. It will hopefully be in 2019 when the public sees the external tank mated to the orbiter Endeavour and her twin Solid Rocket Boosters in launch position...once the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center (where the shuttle stack will be displayed) opens that year. Stay tuned.

A barge carrying space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 passes through the Panama Canal on April 25, 2016.
Photo courtesy of ThePanamaCanal -

A barge carrying space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 passes through the Panama Canal on April 25, 2016.
Photo courtesy of ThePanamaCanal -

A barge carrying space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 passes through the Panama Canal on April 26, 2016.
Photo courtesy of ThePanamaCanal -

A barge carrying space shuttle fuel tank ET-94 arrives at the Miraflores Locks, the final locks before the NASA flight artifact heads out into the Pacific Ocean on April 26, 2016.
Photo courtesy of ThePanamaCanal -

Friday, April 22, 2016

EM-1 Update #3: Prepping the SLS' Solid Rocket Boosters for Flight...

The first segment that will comprise one of the Space Launch System's twin solid rocket boosters for Exploration Mission-1 is filled with propellant at the Orbital ATK facility in Promontory, Utah.
NASA / Orbital ATK

Booster Segment Answers 'Casting' Call for First Flight of SLS (Press Release)

The first of 10 flight segments for the two solid-rocket boosters of NASA’s Space Launch System has been cast at Orbital ATK’s facility in Promontory, Utah. Casting involves filling the insulated metal case with propellant and allowing it to solidify or “cure” for several days. The hardware, which is the aft segment, will eventually be integrated with four other segments to make up one of the two, five-segment solid rocket boosters for the first flight of SLS in 2018. During this flight, called Exploration Mission-1, SLS will carry an unmanned Orion spacecraft to travel thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of about a three-week mission and help NASA prepare for missions to deep space, including Mars. Orbital ATK is the prime contractor for the boosters.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

EM-1 Update #2: Kennedy Space Center Makes Progress on SLS Ground-Processing Hardware...

Work platforms that will be used to process the Space Launch System are installed inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Preparing the Vehicle Assembly Building for NASA's Next Rocket (Press Release)

A view from below in High Bay 3 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, shows three work platforms installed for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The lower platforms are the K-level work platforms. Above them are the J-level work platforms. A crane is lowering the second half of the J-level platforms for installation about 112 feet above the floor, or nearly 11 stories high.

The newly installed platform will complete the second of 10 levels of work platforms that will surround and provide access to the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission 1. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is overseeing upgrades and modifications to VAB High Bay 3, including installation of the new work platforms, to prepare for NASA’s journey to Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, April 18, 2016

EM-1 Update: SLS Continues to Take Shape...

The engine section for NASA's Space Launch System completes welding at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana.

Welding Wonder Completes Hardware for First Flight of NASA's SLS Rocket (Press Release)

Flight hardware for the core stage of the world's most powerful rocket, NASA's Space Launch System, finishes final welding and is moved off the 170-foot-tall Vertical Assembly Center at the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The hardware is for the engine section, and is the first major SLS flight component to finish full welding on the Vertical Assembly Center. The engine section is located at the bottom of the rocket's core stage and will house the four RS-25 engines for the first flight of SLS with NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2018.

The SLS core stage will stand at more than 200 feet tall and store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the launch vehicle’s RS-25 engines. A qualification version of the engine section, which also has completed welding on the Vertical Assembly Center at Michoud, will be shipped later this year to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to undergo structural loads testing on a 50-foot test structure currently under construction.

All welding for the core stage of the SLS Block I configuration -- including confidence, qualification and flight hardware -- will be completed this summer. Traveling to deep space requires a large vehicle that can carry huge payloads, and SLS will have the payload capacity needed to carry crew and cargo for those exploration missions, including Mars.

Source: NASA.Gov

Saturday, April 16, 2016

ISS Update: The BEAM Has Been Installed!

Earlier today, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) successfully attached the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the orbital outpost. The inflatable prototype was launched to the ISS via SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster and the Dragon capsule eight days ago...and will be fully inflated next month. BEAM will remain at the outpost for two years before being detached from the space station to re-enter Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up during re-entry.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module is about to be attached to the International Space Station...on April 16, 2016.
NASA / Tim Kopra

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Back in the Day: Columbia's Triumphant Return...

Space shuttle Columbia is about to touch down at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center (now known as Armstrong Flight Research Center) inside Edwards Air Force Base in California...on April 14, 1981.

April 14, 1981, Landing of First Space Shuttle Mission (Press Release)

On April 14, 1981, the rear wheels of the space shuttle orbiter Columbia touched down on Rogers dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base, NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center (then Dryden Flight Research Center), in southern California, to successfully complete a stay in space of more than two days. Astronauts John W. Young, STS-1 commander, and Robert L. Crippen, pilot, were aboard the vehicle. The mission marked the first NASA flight to end with a wheeled landing and represented the beginning of a new age of spaceflight that would employ the same hardware repeatedly.

An area of the air base was set aside for public viewing of the landing, and crowds numbered well over 200,000 people, with some estimates as high as 300,000 visitors who flocked to the site. Media from around the world added to the throng, as radio and TV trucks of all shapes and sizes rolled in from everywhere.

James Young, Chief Historian of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, remembered the landing well. "You just had to be there to hear, even feel, the double crack of the sonic boom," Young said. "It was such a tremendous sense of excitement to see something never seen before, to witness such a historic event."

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Photo of the Day: Welcome Back, Falcon 9!

Last night, the droneship carrying the Falcon 9 rocket that successfully launched Dragon on the CRS-8 mission to the International Space Station last Friday finally arrived at Port Canaveral in Florida. From there, the booster will be transported to Launch Complex 39A (which is now leased by SpaceX) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to undergo at least 10 test firings. If those tests are successful, then this booster will possibly be reused for another orbital launch several months from now. SpaceX is making history!

SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster undergoes processing at Port Canaveral in Florida, after being off-loaded from the drone ship the rocket successfully landed on following a successful launch on April 8, 2016.
Photo courtesy of MarekCyzio -

Friday, April 8, 2016

CRS-8 Update: A Successful Launch for Dragon, and Falcon 9 Finally Sticks a Landing at Sea!

SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster quietly rests on the deck of a droneship out in the Atlantic Ocean after successfully launching the Dragon CRS-8 capsule to the International Space Station...on April 8, 2016.

NASA Cargo Headed to Space Station Includes Habitat Prototype, Medical Research (Press Release)

Tucked in the trunk of the latest commercial cargo spacecraft to head for the International Space Station is an expandable structure that has the potential to revolutionize work and life on the space station.

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is delivering almost 7,000 pounds of cargo, including the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), to the orbital laboratory following its launch on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The mission is SpaceX’s eighth cargo delivery through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations taking place on the space station during Expeditions 47 and 48.

“The cargo will allow investigators to use microgravity conditions to test the viability of expandable space habitats, assess the impact of antibodies on muscle wasting, use protein crystal growth to aid the design of new disease-fighting drugs and investigate how microbes could affect the health of the crew and their equipment over a long duration mission,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman.

Dragon will be grappled at 7 a.m. Sunday, April 10, by ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake, using the station's Candarm2 robotic arm, with help from NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.

BEAM will arrive in Dragon’s unpressurized trunk and, after about five days, will be removed and attached to the station. Expansion is targeted for the end of May. The module will expand to roughly 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet long. During its two-year test mission, astronauts will enter the module for a few hours several times a year to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions. Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a rocket, but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. This first in situ test of the module will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat protects against solar radiation, space debris and contamination.

Crew members experience significant decreases in bone density and muscle mass during long-duration spaceflight without appropriate nutrition and exercise. One life science investigation on its way to the orbiting laboratory will assess myostatin inhibition as a means of preventing skeletal muscle atrophy and weakness in mice exposed to long-duration spaceflight. Drugs tested on the space station could progress to human clinical trials back on Earth to validate their effectiveness for future space missions.

Dragon also will deliver Microchannel Diffusion, a study of fluids at the nanoscale, or atomic, level. Nanofluidic sensors could measure the air in the space station, or be used to deliver drugs to specific places in the body. The laws that govern flow through nanoscale channels are not well understood, and this investigation simulates those interactions by studying them at the larger microscopic level. This type of research is possible only on the space station, where Earth’s gravity is not strong enough to interact with the molecules in a sample, so they behave more like they would at the nanoscale. Knowledge gleaned from the investigation may have implications for drug delivery and particle filtration, as well as future technological applications for space exploration.

Another experiment onboard Dragon is a protein crystal growth investigation focused on drug design and development. Growing protein crystals in microgravity can help researchers avoid some of the obstacles inherent to protein crystallization on Earth, such as sedimentation. One investigation will study the effect of microgravity on the co-crystallization of a membrane protein to determine its three-dimensional structure. This will enable scientists to chemically target and inhibit, with “designer” compounds, an important human biological pathway thought to be responsible for several types of cancer.

The spacecraft is scheduled to depart the space station May 11 for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, bringing almost 3,500 pounds of science, hardware and spacewalking tools back to Earth for further study, including biological samples from NASA’s one-year mission.

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 been continuously occupied 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


SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster quietly rests on the deck of a droneship out in the Atlantic Ocean after successfully launching the Dragon CRS-8 capsule to the International Space Station...on April 8, 2016.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

25 Years Ago Today: A Great Observatory Is Deployed In Space...

NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory is deployed from space shuttle Atlantis...on April 7, 1991.

April 7, 1991, Deployment of Breakthrough Gamma-ray Observatory (Press Release)

Twenty-five years ago, NASA launched the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, an astronomical satellite that transformed our knowledge of the high-energy sky. Over its nine-year lifetime, Compton produced the first-ever all-sky survey in gamma rays, the most energetic and penetrating form of light, discovered hundreds of new sources and unveiled a universe that was unexpectedly dynamic and diverse.

In this view, taken on April 7, 1991, from the aft flight deck window of space shuttle Atlantis, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory is released by the shuttle's remote manipulator system. Visible on the observatory as it drifts away are the four complement instruments: the Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment (bottom); Imaging Compton Telescope (COMPTEL) (center); Oriented Scintillation Spectrometer Experiment (OSSE) (top); and Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) (at four corners).

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

ISS Update: Getting Ready for the Arrival of BEAM...

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module is about to be installed inside the trunk of SpaceX's Dragon preparation for the upcoming CRS-8 mission to the International Space Station.

NASA Progresses Toward SpaceX Resupply Mission to Space Station (Press Release)

NASA provider SpaceX is scheduled to launch its eighth Commercial Resupply Services mission to the International Space Station on Friday, April 8. NASA Television coverage of the launch begins at 3:30 p.m. EDT.

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is targeted to lift off on the company's Falcon 9 rocket at 4:43 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida, carrying science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

NASA TV also will air two briefings on Thursday, April 7. At 1 p.m., scientists and researchers will discuss some of the investigations to be delivered to the station, followed by a briefing by mission managers at 3:30 p.m. The briefings also will stream live on the agency’s website.

About 10 minutes after launch, Dragon will reach its preliminary orbit, deploy its solar arrays and begin a carefully choreographed series of thruster firings to reach the space station.

The spacecraft will arrive at the station Sunday, April 10, at which time NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Tim Peake will use the station’s robotic arm to capture the Dragon spacecraft. Ground commands will be sent from Houston to the station’s arm to install Dragon on the bottom side of the Harmony module for its stay at the space station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will begin at 5:30 a.m. on NASA TV, with installation set to begin at 9:30 a.m.

The following day, the crew will pressurize the space between the station and Dragon and open the hatch between the two spacecraft.

The Dragon spacecraft will deliver almost 7,000 pounds of supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital outpost and its crew. The cargo includes the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which will be attached to the space station to test the use of an expandable space habitat in microgravity. Scheduled to return to Earth in May, the Dragon spacecraft will bring back biological samples from astronauts, including those collected during NASA’s one-year mission.

The new experiments arriving to the station will help investigators study muscle atrophy and bone loss in space, use microgravity to seek insight into the interactions of particle flows at the nanoscale level and use protein crystal growth in microgravity to help in the design of new drugs to fight disease.

Dragon is scheduled to return to Earth on May 11. About five-and-a-half hours after it leaves the station, it will splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California.

Media at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will have the opportunity to participate in special tours and briefings on April 7 and 8, as well as view the launch. The deadline for media to apply for accreditation for this launch has passed. For more information about media accreditation, contact Jennifer Horner at 321-867-6598 or

If the launch does not occur on Friday, April 8, the next launch opportunity is 4:20 p.m. Saturday, April 9, with NASA TV coverage starting at 3:15 p.m.

Source: NASA.Gov


Monday, April 4, 2016

Earth's Closest Celestial Neighbor As Seen from the ISS...

The Moon as seen by European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake aboard the International Space Station...on March 28, 2016.

Moonset Viewed From the International Space Station (Press Release)

Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency took this striking photograph of the moon from his vantage point aboard the International Space Station on March 28, 2016. Peake (@astro_timpeake) shared the image on March 30 and wrote to his social media followers, "I was looking for #Antarctica – hard to spot from our orbit. Settled for a moonset instead."

Source: NASA.Gov

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Blue Origin's New Shepard Rocket Does It Again!

A New Shepard rocket is about to touch down at Blue Origin's launch site in West Texas after a successful flight 103 kilometers (64 miles) into space, on April 2, 2016.
Blue Origin

Pushing the Envelope (News Release)

New Shepard flew again on April 2, 2016 reaching an apogee of 339,178 feet or 103 kilometers. It was the third flight with the same hardware. We pushed the envelope on this flight, restarting the engine for the propulsive landing only 3,600 feet above the ground, requiring the BE-3 engine to start fast and ramp to high thrust fast.

Source: Blue Origin


Friday, April 1, 2016

Photo of the Day: Testing Flight Controls Inside the Orion Capsule...

Engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas test how astronauts interact with flight controls inside an Orion capsule mockup while wearing their spacesuits.

Orion Spacecraft Suited Crew Testing (Press Release)

Engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston are evaluating how crews inside a mockup of the Orion spacecraft interact with the rotational hand controller and cursor control device while inside their Modified Advanced Crew Escape spacesuits. The controllers are used to operate Orion’s displays and control system, which the crew will use to maneuver and interact with the spacecraft during missions to deep space destinations.

The testing aims to provide data that teams need to make sure astronauts who ride to space in Orion can appropriately interact with the control system while in their suits.

Source: NASA.Gov