Archive for April, 2015

Progress M-27M -- was launched April 28 from Area 31 of the Baikonur launch site. Credit: OAO RSC Energia

Progress M-27M — was launched April 28 from Area 31 of the Baikonur launch site.
Credit: OAO RSC Energia

 

Word is that Russian ground controllers have had “no joy” in attempting to establish control of the tumbling Russian Progress 59 supply ship.

The logistics spacecraft — Progress M-27M — was launched April 28 from Area 31 of the Baikonur launch site at 10:09:50 Moscow Time.

Progress M-27M being readied for launch. Credit: OAO RSC Energia

Progress M-27M being readied for launch.
Credit: OAO RSC Energia

 

 

The spacecraft was to use a “quick” 4-orbit flight profile of 6 hours duration to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS).

After launch, however, the Progress suffered a control problem, with this onboard video showing the spin-rate of the spacecraft.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMiNjHjpunU

No word as yet on any solid prediction of a possible reentry of the Progress – if indeed the craft remains out-of-control.

There are reports of dozens of pieces of spacecraft debris associated with the Progress now in orbit – a meaningful suggestion that adds to the view the spacecraft is surely headed for an early, destructive reentry – negating its intended mission.

Onboard supplies

According to OAO RSC Energia, onboard the supply craft are propellant components, compressed oxygen, additional equipment needed to maintain the station in good working order, equipment for science experiments, medical supplies, personal belongings and food for the crew.

Altogether, more than 5,200 pounds (2,359 kg) of cargo is inside the Progress, including 3,075 pounds (1,395 kg) of dry cargo, 1,089 pounds (494 kg) of propellant, 925 pounds (420 kg) of water and 110 pounds (50 kg) of compressed gases.

The logistics spacecraft of the new series — Progress M-M — developed and built by RSC Energia is an upgraded version of the Progress M spacecraft.

OAO RSC Energia notes that the Progress is equipped with new devices for the motion control and navigation system and an improved onboard measurement system. All the devices are built around state-of-the-art electronic components and run the latest software. The upgrade made it possible to reduce the mass of the onboard equipment and thus enhance the capability to deliver payload to orbit.

Here is a video of the Progress launch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYy19APPj_c#t=19

 

Photo of the first X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle waits in the encapsulation cell of the Evolved Expendable Launch vehicle April 5, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Fla. Half of the Atlas V five-meter fairing is visible in the background.  On the upcoming May flight of the space plane, a Hall thruster will be tested to provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel economy, and may lead to increased payload carrying capacity and a greater number of on-orbit maneuvers. Courtesy photo via US Air Force

Photo of the first X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle waits in the encapsulation cell of the Evolved Expendable Launch vehicle April 5, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Fla. Half of the Atlas V five-meter fairing is visible in the background.
On the upcoming May flight of the space plane, a Hall thruster will be tested to provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel economy, and may lead to increased payload carrying capacity and a greater number of on-orbit maneuvers.
Courtesy photo via US Air Force

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has announced that the Atlas V launch of the AFSPC-5 mission – the X-37B — has been confirmed on the Eastern Range for May 20, 2015.

The U.S. Air Force has confirmed the spacecraft is on track to meet this launch date.

Meanwhile, new details about an experiment onboard the 4th mission of the space plane program have been outlined by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Space and Missile Systems Center, and Rapid Capabilities Office.

Electric propulsion

Among other payloads, a Hall thruster experiment will fly on the X-37B.

The device is a modified version of the units that have propelled the Space and Missile Systems Center’s ( SMC) first three Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications spacecraft.

What’s a Hall thruster?

It is a type of electric propulsion device that produces thrust by ionizing and accelerating a noble gas, usually xenon. While producing comparatively low thrust relative to conventional rocket engines, Hall thrusters provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel economy.

This results in increased payload carrying capacity and a greater number of on-orbit maneuvers for a spacecraft using Hall thrusters rather than traditional rocket engines, according to an update from the Air Force Materiel Command Wright-Patterson Air Force Base update.

Less fuel burn

Once in orbit, the X-37B toted experiment will include collection of telemetry from the Hall thruster operating in the space environment as well as measurement of the thrust imparted on the vehicle.

The resulting data will be used to validate and improve Hall thruster and environmental modeling capabilities. The in-space test will provide data to contrast ground test results to actual on-orbit performance.

Maj. Gen. Tom Masiello, AFRL commander said: “A more efficient on-orbit thruster capability is huge. Less fuel burn lowers the cost to get up there, plus it enhances spacecraft operational flexibility, survivability and longevity.”

The on-orbit test plans are being developed by AFRL and administered by the Rapid Capabilities Office.

 

NASA's Orion spacecraft en route to Mars - what's the radiation risk? Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA’s Orion spacecraft en route to Mars – what’s the radiation risk?
Credit: Lockheed Martin

One of the outcomes from a recent NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meeting is taking a hard look at radiation levels for those humans shipping out from Earth on a Mars mission.

The NAC held its discussions regarding a wide variety of issues on April 9-10 in Washington, D.C. The NAC advises NASA’s senior leadership on challenges and solutions facing the agency as it attempts to pioneer a new era of human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

A NAC letter to NASA’s Bolden, dated April 16, issued by NAC chair, Steven Squyres, made a recommendation regarding radiation impact on astronauts headed outbound to Mars.

Open communications

First of all, the Council recommended that NASA “openly communicate the radiation risks while proceeding with preparations to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.”

NASA should continue its work to mitigate radiation risks through improved knowledge and technology, the Council observed.

The Council encouraged NASA to “initiate a long-term medical care program for astronauts which includes long-term astronaut health monitoring to mitigate long duration exposure health consequences, and build a baseline for future long-term health and engineering decisions.”

Serious issue

The Council underscored the fact that radiation for deep space flight “is indeed a serious issue to be addressed as technology and understanding evolve.”

It is also clear, the Council added, “that it is not likely we can mitigate all radiation risks to fully meet current radiation health standards.”

The Council concluded, in writing their recommendation on radiation risk — “Consequences of No Action on the Proposed Recommendation” — that accurate information regarding NASA’s planned approach to the critically important issue of radiation safety “will not be adequately provided to all the relevant stakeholders.”

Read the complete NAC statement on this issue:

Picture1 rad effects nac

Credit: CBS News

Credit: CBS News

This Sunday, April 26, there is a CBS News 60 Minutes segment on Air Force Space Command set to air…or take to space.

Titled “The Battle Above” the program will review U.S. and China locked in a high stakes contest over satellites that are critical to national security and everyday life.

The U.S. Air Force’s Space Command is tasked with defending the satellites upon which our daily life and national security have come to depend. Now, says a general — USAF Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command –Chinese weapons could pose a threat to those satellites.

Correspondent David Martin anchors the report on Sunday April 26 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Defending spacecraft

USAF laser-guided telescope in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Credit: CBS News

USAF laser-guided telescope in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Credit: CBS News

According to a CBS News statement on the show:

“Martin provides a rare look at Space Command, the branch of the U.S. Air Force charged with launching and protecting U.S. satellites. The report includes stunning images of a massive, laser-guided telescope in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that can be used to surveil the satellites of potential adversaries like China.”

USAF Gen. Hyten explains that he believes China will soon be able to threaten U.S. satellites in “every orbital regime that we operate in,” from low Earth orbit a few hundred miles above the Earth, to geosynchronous orbit more than 20,000 miles up – where some of the military’s most important satellites circle the Earth.

“Now we have to figure out how to defend those satellites, and we’re going to,” Hyten says.

USAF Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command, at 31st National Space Symposium held earlier this month in Colorado Springs. Credit: The Space Foundation

USAF Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command, at 31st National Space Symposium held earlier this month in Colorado Springs.
Credit: The Space Foundation

Dealing with anti-satellites

General Hyten is asked whether a U.S. military satellite can maneuver itself out of the way of an upcoming anti-satellite weapon?

“The answer is maybe,” Hyten says. “It depends on the satellite…when it was built… how old it is…when we know the threat is coming.’”

Martin reports that the U.S. has tested anti-satellite weapons in the past and, by most accounts, spends 10 times more on space than the Chinese.

A White House document obtained by 60 Minutes estimates the Pentagon spends about $25 billion a year on space – more than NASA or any other space agency in the world. The estimate includes spy satellites and other classified spending.

In a statement, the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, told 60 Minutes that China is “committed to the peaceful use of outer space.”

Right of self-defense

Gen. Hyten says the U.S. wants peace but must be prepared for conflict.

“It’s a competition that I wish wasn’t occurring, but it is,” says Hyten. “If we’re threatened in space…we have the right of self-defense… and we’ll make sure we can execute that right.”

A preview of the show can be viewed at:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/preview-the-battle-above/

Note: Check your local listings for the broadcast on your CBS affiliate. If you miss the broadcast, 60Minutes will normally post their stories on-line soon after they air at:

http://www.cbsnews.com/60-minutes/

NASA Advisory Council members have reviewed the space agency's plans for human exploration of space, providing some surprising viewpoints. Credit: NASA

NASA Advisory Council members have reviewed the space agency’s plans for human exploration of space, providing some surprising viewpoints.
Credit: NASA

As a result of a NASA Advisory Council meeting held on April 9-10 in Washington, D.C., several Council “findings” have been forwarded to NASA chief, Charles Bolden, regarding the space agency’s future agenda.

Findings concern NASA’s outward push to Mars, an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and solar electric propulsion, along with a “recommendation” on astronaut radiation risks, as well as other recommendations.

The NAC advises NASA’s senior leadership on challenges and solutions facing the agency as it unfolds a new era of exploration.

Here are selected details as noted in the NAC letter to NASA’s Bolden, dated April 16, from NAC chair, Steven Squyres:

Go to:

NAC FINAL

 

 

 

Credit: Project Aldrin-Purdue study

Credit: Project Aldrin-Purdue study

A Purdue University study has laid out a plan for human settlement of the Red Planet.

The School of Aeronautics and Astronautics AAE 450 Senior Spacecraft Design class at Purdue University held its final presentation on this plan, Thursday, April 23, 2015.

The study itself – over a 1,000 pages long – puts facts and figures to the vision as outlined by Buzz Aldrin in the book: Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration.

The mission concept includes all of the steps that must be taken to reach Mars and establish the first permanent colony by 2040.

 

Dr. Buzz Aldrin meets with Purdue students before the Aldrin-Purdue Cycler Feasibility Study Presentation on April 23, 2015.  Photo by Christina Korp

Dr. Buzz Aldrin meets with Purdue students before the Aldrin-Purdue Cycler
Feasibility Study Presentation on April 23, 2015.
Photo by Christina
Korp

 

Feasibility study

Aldrin worked with Purdue professor James Longuski — along with a dedicated university research group of over 50 students — for nearly three months to blueprint a set of requirements that can be used to realize human settlement of the Red Planet.

“I believe this design team rose to Dr. Aldrin’s challenge to produce an important feasibility study,” said Purdue’s James Longuski, instructor and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Peter Edelman served as a teaching assistant for the work.

The final study report – the Aldrin-Purdue project – Mission to Mars – can be found here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/lwxfbweuvsdwq3q/project%20aldrin-purdue%20final%20report.pdf?dl=0

An informative video that details the report findings can be found at:

http://youtu.be/AUrXRKmzxzo

Note: To take a hard look at Mars Exploration, check out the new Buzz Aldrin book in softcover — with a new special essay — available May 5th from National Geographic.

More information on the new release is available at:

http://www.leonarddavid.com/hard-look-at-mars-exploration-new-buzz-aldrin-book-in-softcover/

Rice University students, in collaboration with NASA, have designed prototypes of a simple and flexible set of furniture for future space habitats.  Standing from left: Laura Blumenschein, Alex Schmidt, Archit Chaba and Rey Amendola. Seated, Daniel Peera.  Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Rice University students, in collaboration with NASA, have designed prototypes of a simple and flexible set of furniture for future space habitats.
Standing from left: Laura Blumenschein, Alex Schmidt, Archit Chaba and Rey Amendola. Seated, Daniel Peera.
Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Attention IKEA!

A team of Rice University students have designed a prototype chair and table – but not your ordinary home furniture.

These items have been fabricated to give maximum flexibility to astronauts in space or for habitats in places other than Earth.

The furniture could serve many functions in environments where maximum flexibility with a minimum of fuss is a plus, explains a Rice University press statement.

Team member Laura Blumenschein adds: “You’re going to have very limited space, so you can’t just send any furniture up…and then you’ve got the partial gravity.”

For the Moon, that’s roughly one-sixth of Earth’s gravity; one-third on Mars. The Rice team had to take into account off-Earth gravity conditions while balancing weight and strength requirements.

Maximum adjustability

The chair and table pack flat for shipping into space and are designed for maximum adjustability.

For example, the table sits on gas springs for easy height adjustment, and connection ports allow it to be paired with other tables.

According to the team, both the chair and table are meant to be floor-mounted to keep them stable in low gravity and the chair has pin-and-hole mechanisms to adjust it for use as a traditional seat or a back chair with a knee rest. Restraining footrests allow for use in zero-gravity environments.

The Rice design group received extensive help from NASA representatives, including Nancy Currie, an astronaut and engineer with four space shuttle missions to her credit.

NASA and ConocoPhillips sponsored the project.

Watch a video about the project at:

http://youtu.be/cTT3n8N-jPQ

 

 

Curiosity rover made use of its Mastcam: Left camera on April 21,2015, Sol 962, to take this wheel image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity rover made use of its Mastcam: Left camera on April 21,2015, Sol 962, to take this wheel image.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has been passing through a valley called “Artist’s Drive” on the lower slope of Mount Sharp.

The machinery on Mars is showing wheel wear and tear as it steers through Artist’s Drive on its way toward higher layers on Mount Sharp after examining exposures of the mountain’s basal geological unit at “Pahrump Hills.”

Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, on April 22, 2015, Sol 963. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, on April 22, 2015, Sol 963.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

 

NASA’s overhead asset, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), continues to catch sight of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. Newly issued image was taken on April 8, 2015 as the robot passes through a valley called “Artist’s Drive” on the lower slope of Mount Sharp.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

 

The image at left is from MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. It shows the rover’s position after a drive of about 75 feet (23 meters) during the 949th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars.

North is toward the top. The rover’s location, with its shadow extending toward the right, is indicated with an inscribed rectangle. The view in this image covers an area about 550 yards (500 meters) across.

Curiosity used a route through Artist’s Drive on its way toward higher layers on Mount Sharp after examining exposures of the mountain’s basal geological unit at “Pahrump Hills.” The rover’s “Logan Pass” science destination is at the bottom left of this image.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, snapped this image on April 17, 2015, Sol 958.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, snapped this image on April 17, 2015, Sol 958.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A green star marks the location of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover after a drive on the mission's 957th Martian day, or sol, (April 16, 2015). The map covers an area about 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) wide. The base map uses imagery from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A green star marks the location of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover after a drive on the mission’s 957th Martian day, or sol, (April 16, 2015). The map covers an area about 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) wide.
The base map uses imagery from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Credit: Project Aldrin-Purdue study

Credit: Project Aldrin-Purdue study

In the book Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, Apollo 11 moonwalker, Buzz Aldrin, laid out a plan for human colonization of the Red Planet.

The mission concept includes all of the steps that must be taken to reach Mars and establish the first permanent colony by 2040.

Purdue professor James Longuski (left) with Mars-bound Buzz Aldrin. Credit: Project Aldrin-Purdue study

Purdue professor James Longuski (left) with Mars-bound Buzz Aldrin.
Credit: Project Aldrin-Purdue study

Aldrin worked with Purdue professor James Longuski — along with a dedicated university research group of over 50 students — for nearly three months to blueprint a set of requirements that can be used to realize human settlement of the Red Planet.

Step-by-step

To start, key technologies are tested in low earth orbit, at Lagrange points, and on the lunar surface. The next step is to establish cycler vehicles which will loop between Earth and Mars, supporting humans on the 5-6 month treks to Mars.

A smaller base would be built on the Mars moon, Phobos, where astronauts can remotely operate rovers and cranes on the surface of the Red Planet without long time delay.

Finally, after the first Martian base has been robotically constructed, the first humans will land, then step onto the surface of Mars to plant their place in history.

Tune in!

The School of Aeronautics and Astronautics AAE 450 Senior Spacecraft Design class at Purdue will hold its final presentation on this plan, Thursday, April 23, 2015.

Project Aldrin-Purdue study group blueprints future Red Planet settlement. Credit: Project Aldrin-Purdue study

Project Aldrin-Purdue study group blueprints future Red Planet settlement.
Credit: Project Aldrin-Purdue study

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The presentations can be viewed via live streaming beginning at 11:00 a.m. EDT (3:00 p.m. GMT) on Thursday, April 23, 2015, at:

http://www.kaltura.com/tiny/l06si

Additionally, after the presentation, a limited number of questions from online attendees will be answered.

Please post your questions followed by your name and affiliation at:

https://www.facebook.com/PurdueAeroAstro

To learn more about the Project Aldrin-Purdue study to establish and sustain a permanent human presence on Mars by 2040, go to:

https://engineering.purdue.edu/AAE/Academics/Courses/aae450/2015/spring

Note: To take a hard look at Mars Exploration, check out the new Buzz Aldrin book in softcover — with a new special essay — available May 5th from National Geographic.

More information on the new release is available at:

http://www.leonarddavid.com/hard-look-at-mars-exploration-new-buzz-aldrin-book-in-softcover/

Credit: ULA

Credit: ULA

The X-37B Air Force space plane is being readied for launch next month.

According to the United Launch Alliance (ULA), an Atlas V 501 booster will loft the “AFSPC-5” mission for the U.S. Air Force no earlier than Wednesday, May 20, 2015. AFSPC stands for Air Force Space Command.

The reusable and unpiloted winged craft will be launched from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

This flight marks the fourth flight of an X-37B – also in the past labeled as Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) missions.

 

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle in the encapsulation cell at the Astrotech facility in April 2010, in Titusville, Fla.  Courtesy photo/USAF

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle in the encapsulation cell at the Astrotech facility in April 2010, in Titusville, Fla.
Courtesy photo/USAF

 

 

The reusable X-37B looks like a mini version of NASA’s now mothballed space shuttle fleet. This military space plane is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.5 feet (2.9 m) tall, and has a wingspan of nearly 15 feet (4.6 m).

The X-37B’s payload bay is the size of a pickup truck bed.

What is carried inside that payload bay is classified, as are the overall mission goals of the space plane.

As for the upcoming flight, its mission description, according to ULA: “This mission will be launched in support of the national defense.”

Track record

The first OTV mission began April 22, 2010, and concluded on Dec. 3, 2010, after 224 days in orbit. The second OTV mission began March 5, 2011, and concluded on June 16, 2012, after 468 days on orbit.

Launched on December 11, 2012, the third X-37B space plane mission (using the same craft that flew on the first flight) undertook the longest space trek so far of the program – 674 days. The X-37B soared its way back to Earth on Oct. 17, 2014.

All three missions landed on autopilot at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

In the past, all three X-37B missions landed at Vandenberg AFB in California. Credit: USAF

In the past, all three X-37B missions landed at Vandenberg AFB in California.
Credit: USAF

But that may change for the forthcoming X-37B flight, perhaps landing in Florida.

Florida touchdown?

The X-37B is built by Boeing Network & Space Systems, the same unit that designs and delivers satellites used for communications, navigation, intelligence, and weather monitoring.

Only two X-37B vehicles have been confirmed as being built.

While details of the X-37B effort, the contract value, and the number of Boeing employees assigned to the program are classified, work on this program is performed in California at Boeing’s Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, and El Segundo sites.

Early in 2014, it was announced that Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems has consolidated its space plane operations by using NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a landing site for the X-37B.

Recovery crew members process the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base last year after completing 674 days in space. A total of three X-37B missions have been completed, totaling 1,367 days on orbit. Credit: Boeing

Recovery crew members process the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base last year after completing 674 days in space. A total of three X-37B missions have been completed, totaling 1,367 days on orbit.
Credit: Boeing

Boeing has expanded its presence in Florida by adding technology, engineering and support jobs at the space center. As part of that Boeing plan, investments were made to convert the former space shuttle facility, Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF-1), to a structure that would enable the U.S. Air Force “to efficiently land, recover, refurbish, and re-launch the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV),” according to Boeing representatives.

At the time of the announcement in 2014, this construction was to be completed by the second quarter of 2015, Boeing representatives said.

Griffith Observatory Event