Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Photo of the Day #2: Crew Dragon Is Ready for Her First Flight into Space!

The Crew Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 booster that will launch her into space next month (hopefully) are on display inside SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on December 18, 2018.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE! Just thought I'd share these two pics of Crew Dragon and her Falcon 9 booster as they lie inside SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Crew Dragon is set to embark on an unmanned flight to the International Space Station on January 17, 2019 (assuming that the U.S. government shutdown had concluded by then)...on the Demo-1 mission. Can't wait!

The Crew Dragon capsule is on display inside SpaceX's HIF at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on December 18, 2018.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Photo of the Day: Celebrating the 'Earthrise' 50 Years Later...

Today marks 5 decades since Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders took this Christmas Eve snapshot of the Earth rising above the Moon. This marked the first time that humanity glimpsed its home planet from orbit above another world—forever changing the way mankind viewed the fragile beauty of Earth.

Hopefully, astronauts will be able to photograph Earth from lunar orbit again less than 5 years from now (on Exploration Mission-2 in early 2023)...or via remote cameras aboard Orion in less than two years, when the capsule is set to head to the Moon during the Space Launch System's maiden flight on Exploration Mission-1 in mid-2020. Happy Holidays!

A snapshot of Earth rising above the Moon...as seen by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968.
NASA / Bill Anders

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Dream Chaser Moves One Step Closer to Ferrying Cargo to the ISS...

An artist's concept of Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser cargo ship docked to the International Space Station (ISS).
Sierra Nevada Corporation

Dream Chaser® Spacecraft Passes Key NASA Milestone Production of Orbital Spacecraft to Begin (Press Release)

SPARKS, Nev., December 18, 2018 – Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser spacecraft passed a key milestone for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract, validating design performance and clearing the way for full spacecraft production. The milestone marks completion of Integration Review 4 (IR4) demonstrating NASA’s confidence in the safety and maturity of Dream Chaser’s design.

"NASA's acknowledgement that SNC has completed this critical milestone and its approval of full production of the first Dream Chaser spacecraft is a major indication we are on the right path toward increasing vital science return for the industry," said John Curry, program director for CRS-2 under SNC’s Space Systems business area.

Many critical parts of the orbital vehicle are already complete, built and being tested, including major structural components, thermal protection system tiles and avionics hardware. With the success of IR4, these components are now being integrated into the orbital vehicle assembly at SNC’s Space Systems facilities in Louisville, CO.

Subject matter experts from NASA and SNC thoroughly reviewed the Dream Chaser spacecraft design and its integrated performance with launch, ground and flight elements. Based on system capabilities, design maturity and the extensive data products presented, SNC and NASA jointly concluded the Dream Chaser program was ready to move to full-scale spacecraft manufacturing and testing.

SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft is slated to service the International Space Station as early as late 2020. Production includes both the uncrewed Dream Chaser winged vehicle and the cargo module, which remains attached to the winged vehicle during orbital operations.

“We are one step closer to the Dream Chaser spacecraft’s first orbital flight. This comprehensive review approved moving the Dream Chaser program into the production phase so we can get Dream Chaser to market as a critical space station resupply spacecraft as soon as possible,” said Fatih Ozmen, co-owner and CEO of SNC. “IR4 was a series of reviews, documentation, and data deliverables that are the culmination of many years of design work, analysis and development testing.”

The Dream Chaser will perform at least six missions to provide cargo resupply, disposal and return services to the International Space Station under NASA’s CRS-2 contract. The spacecraft delivers up to 5,500kg (~12,100lbs) of pressurized and unpressurized cargo and returns over 1,850 kg (~4,000lbs) of cargo with a gentle runway landing. The spacecraft also provides approximately 3,400kg (~7,400 lbs) of disposal capability each mission via the cargo module, which burns up in the atmosphere after separation from the Dream Chaser winged vehicle.

About Dream Chaser Spacecraft

Owned and operated by SNC, the Dream Chaser spacecraft is a reusable, multi-mission space utility vehicle. It is capable of transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit, where the International Space Station resides, and is the only commercial, lifting-body vehicle capable of a runway landing. The Dream Chaser Cargo System was selected by NASA to provide cargo delivery and disposal services to the space station under the Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract. All Dream Chaser CRS-2 cargo missions are planned to land at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility.

Source: Sierra Nevada Corporation

Thursday, December 13, 2018

SpaceShipTwo Update: The VSS Unity Has Finally Reached the Edge of Space!

A view of Earth's curvature as seen from inside the VSS Unity's cockpit during the vehicle's flight to space...on December 13, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson Welcomes Astronauts Home from Virgin Galactic’s Historic First Spaceflight (News Release)

History has been made and a long-anticipated dream realised in Mojave, CA, today as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, landed from her maiden spaceflight to cheers from Richard Branson and the teams from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.

Not only is this the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011, but the very first time that a crewed vehicle built for commercial, passenger service, has reached space.

The historic achievement has been recognised by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who announced today that early next year they will present pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington DC. CJ, as a four-time Space Shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings.

Today’s accomplishment has also been recognised by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which flew four space science and technology experiments on VSS Unity, making this Virgin Galactic’s first revenue generating flight.

The spectacular spaceflight, which was witnessed by a large crowd of staff and their families, as well as special guests and media, saw a 60-second planned rocket motor burn which propelled VSS Unity to almost three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles.

As VSS Unity coasted upwards through the black sky and into space, Virgin Galactic Mission Control confirmed the news and congratulated the two astronaut pilots: “Unity, Welcome to Space”.

After a Mach 2.5 supersonic re-entry into the atmosphere, which utilised Unity’s unique “feathering” configuration, Forger and CJ guided the spaceship down to a smooth runway landing and an emotional homecoming welcome.

Commenting from the flight line Richard Branson said: “Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally. Ever since I watched the Moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder. We started Virgin nearly 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge. Today, as I stood among a truly remarkable group of people with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled. It was an indescribable feeling: joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come.

“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. Today we completed our first revenue generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings. Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good. We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos. This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, said: “What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century’s defining industries. Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine. New enterprises are being created which will become hugely valuable, while enabling humanity to better manage some of its greatest future challenges. Today was a remarkable achievement brought about by the skill, dedication and support of our shareholders, staff, customers, partners and many other stakeholders. We extend our congratulations and thanks to each and every one of them.”

Source: Virgin Galactic


The Sierra Nevada Mountains are visible in this screenshot taken from a video of VSS Unity soaring to the edge of space on December 13, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity touches down at the Mojave Air & Space Port after successfully completing her first powered flight to the edge of space...on December 13, 2018.
Virgin Galactic

Sir Richard Branson poses with SpaceShipTwo pilots Mark 'Forger' Stucky and Frederick 'CJ' Sturckow after the VSS Unity safely returned to the Mojave Air & Space Port after her first powered flight to the edge of space...on December 13, 2018.
Virgin Galactic