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Perils and discoveries lie ahead for long-lived Saturn orbiter – Spaceflight Now

This view shows Saturns northern hemisphere in 2016, as that part of the planet nears its northern hemisphere summer solstice in May 2017. Saturns year is nearly 30 Earth years long, and during its long time there, Cassini has observed winter and spring in the north, and summer and fall in the south. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Scientists are bracing for a blitz of discoveries in the last six months of Cassinis mission at Saturn, when the plutonium-powered robot will repeatedly ram through an unexplored gap in the planets famous rings, then make a destructive plunge into the atmosphere in September.

The dramatic last act has been in the works since 2010, when NASA formally approved the plan, using flybys of Saturns moon Titan and periodic thruster burns to reshape Cassinis orbit around the ringed planet.

Cassinis mission will end with a Sept. 15 dive into Saturns hydrogen-helium atmosphere after a series of 22 close-in week-long orbits passing between the planets innermost icy ring and its cloud tops. The robotic spacecraft will set up for the missions last phase dubbed the grand finale with a flyby of Saturns moon Titan on April 22, followed by the first dip through the ring gap around around four days later.

In many ways, the grand finale for Cassini is like a brand new mission, said Linda Spilker, Cassinis project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Were going to probe Saturns interior, measure the magnetic field, look for the magnetic dynamo, and try and figure out why is there is so little, or perhaps no, tilt between the magnetic field axis and the spin axis of Saturn. Whats going on there?

The docket of scientific investigations planned from April through September runs deep, but Cassini first has to survive the journey inside the rings.

Just the feat of navigating and engineering our way through the gap between the rings and the planet, that in and of itself I consider an engineering triumph, said Earl Maize, Cassinis project manager at JPL.

Its a story played out in meeting rooms, memos and on presentation slides among scientists and engineers working on many space missions. Scientists hungry for new revelations push for more data, while engineers warn of risks and dangers that could overtax a spacecraft or instrument.

Cassinis daring last act has members of the missions team struggling with balancing the same dilemma: More science data or less risk?

But the calculation has changed with Cassini, which is in the last six months of a 13-year odyssey around Saturn. While managers say they want to avoid doing anything foolish with the spacecraft, the missions shortened time horizon has officials willing to take more risks.

The spacecraft will make its first passage through the 1,500-mile-wide (2,400-kilometer) gap between Saturns rings and atmosphere with its dish-shaped high-gain antenna pointing forward, blocking the orbiters sensitive electronics, computer and scientific sensors from collisions with ice and dust that may populate the region.

No spacecraft has ever passed through the gap, and although images do not show any signs of dust or ice in Cassinis path, officials cannot be sure of the threat. Cassini will be moving so fast that a smash-up with a tiny grain could cause catastrophic damage.

The innermost ring is called the D ring, and it sort of just slowly fades away into areas we cant see, Maize said. Were going into the area where we cannot see. We have really good models of the rings, and we believe were going to be safe, but nevertheless, there are going to be five instances where were going to hide behind the high-gain antenna as we go through the rings just because were kind of close.

The high-gain antenna will be in its so-called ram position, pointed in Cassinis direction of travel, on the first trip through the ring gap, giving ground controllers a chance to assess how much ice and dust is actually there.

Cassini will fly through the gap at slightly different locations on each orbit. On four passages from May through July, the spacecraft will be closer to the D ring, and engineers will pivot Cassini to again put its antenna in the ram position on those orbits.

There is a possibility, and its higher than we normally accept, of dust collision, Maize said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. Were going to try to be careful, but at the same time there is that possibility.

If we get surprised, and we have way more dust than we thought, then we will probably hide behind the high-gain antenna much more frequently, Maize said.

But officials are wary of big changes.

Cassinis flight plan is uploaded to the spacecraft in 10-week chunks, and scientific observations for this summers grand finale campaign are already planned in detail.

The science has all been carefully integrated and coordinated between all the instruments, and if we start to move when were hiding behind the high-gain (antenna) and when were not, then that can be quite disruptive, Maize said.

Another hazard awaits Cassini the other edge of the gap, where the top layers of Saturns atmosphere will tug on the orbiter. The slight aerodynamic forces could be too strong for Cassinis reaction wheels, a set of spinning masses designed to keep the craft pointed with momentum.

For the missions final five trips through the ring gap, ground controllers will activate the probes rocket thrusters, burning hydrazine to keep the aerodynamic forces from putting Cassini in a tumble.

The Cassini project, first conceived in the 1980s, has cost nearly $4 billion from start to finish. Cassini launched in October 1997 from Cape Canaveral aboard a Titan 4 rocket, flew by Venus and Jupiter, and reached Saturn in July 2004, becoming the first space probe to slip into orbit there.

The orbiter dropped a European probe named Huygens to land on the surface of Titan, Saturns largest moon, in January 2005. Since then, Cassini has circled Saturn more than 260 times, collecting detailed imagery of Saturns atmosphere and mysterious hexagonal polar vortex, explored its rings in minute detail, and observed 49 of Saturns 62 known moons with close and long-range flybys.

Cassini was originally scheduled to collect data for four years after arriving in orbit around Saturn, but NASA extended the mission as the probe discovered that the planet and its moons demanded further study.

Titan harbors several Earth-like features, like a thick atmosphere, rivers, lakes and rain, but the liquid on Titans surface is not water. Its a mix of ethane, methane and other hydrocarbons.

Saturns 313-mile-diameter (504-kilometer) moon Enceladus has a global ocean of water buried under ice a finding made by scientists using Cassini. Eruptions at Enceladuss south pole spray gas, dust, and organic material into space, and Cassini has sampled the jets in a series of flybys.

The build-up of knowledge has been incremental, with each of Cassinis hundreds of encounters with Saturns moons adding another piece of the puzzle. Meanwhile, other NASA missions like the Curiosity rover and New Horizons made headlines when they landed on Mars and unveiled the face of Pluto for the first time.

We always think we ought to be on the front page every day, Maize said of Cassinis legacy. I think that it has gotten its due in the scientific community. Its a disocvery machine.

He cited NASAs decision last year to ask for proposals for new missions to Saturn focusing on Titan and Enceladus. The space agency currently has no confirmed mission to Saturn after Cassini.

The fact that theyve actually created an Ocean Worlds program, and are allowing new missions to be proposed to Titan and Enceladus, thats on us, Maize said. Those are Cassini discoveries that opened up this whole new set of horizons, that not only are there a few ocean worlds, but there may be many, and they dont have to be big. Look at Enceladus!

The moon Dione may also have an underground ocean, and the rest of Saturns motley crew of moons have their own stories.

Theres Hyperion, which rotates unpredictably, is less dense than water, and looks like a sponge or a wasps nest. Mimas, the closest of the major moons to Saturn, likely consists almost entirely of water ice, and its surface is scarred with a giant crater, earning it the moniker of the Death Star.

Two small saucer-shaped moons, Pan and Atlas, have ridges along their equators. Scientists believe the objects, each about the width of a large city, accumulate dust and ice grains as they orbit Saturn near the planets rings.

Cassini is currently getting some of its best views of Saturns smaller moons.

The spacecraft swung into an orbit in November that grazes the outer edge of Saturns rings, setting up for the Titan encounter in April, when Cassini will cross inside the rings. The ring-grazing orbit has yielded detailed views of the ring structure, as well as Saturns numerous moons that carve out lanes between the individual rings.

NASA released images Thursday revealing the distinct shape of Pan, drawing comparisons to ravioli or a walnut. In January, Cassini captured dazzling views of the 5-mile-wide (8-kilometer-wide) Daphnis, which plows through a 26-mile (42-kilometer) gap between Saturns rings, its weak gravity making waves in the neighboring ring layers.

In the next month, Cassini will closely observe several intriguing features inside Saturns rings nicknamed propellers. Scientists believe the disturbances, named for famous aviators, are created by tiny unseen moonlets as small as 300 feet, or 100 meters, embedded in the rings. The spacecraft will collect some of the missions best images of the propellers in the coming weeks.

Saturns polar aurora, the dust environment around the rings, and long-range imaging of the moons Tethys and Enceladus are also on tap. Cassini will get its closest view ever of Atlas, the saucer-shaped twin to Pan, and take a picture from inside Saturns shadow with the planet and rings backlit by the sun, allowing scientists to produce a mosaic of the rings fainter components.

Then comes the missions last encounter with Titan on April 22. The moons gravity will slingshot Cassini closer to Saturn than any spacecraft in history, into an egg-shaped orbit with a high point outside the rings and a low point threading between the rings and Saturns cloud tops.

Researchers are eager for Saturns close-up, even if the missions end will be a poignant moment, Maize said.

He said most members of the Cassini team think that theyve landed on one of the best missions that NASA has every flown.

Its a passing and the end of an era a great era its been a great ride, and I think the the team is all deservedly very proud of their accomplishments, Maize said.Its like with any good thing that has to come to an end, you dont want it to, but we understand why.

Cassini has tripled the duration of its planned stay at Saturn, and is now running low on fuel.

Its over 19 years since launch, and weve been at Saturn over 12, Maize said. The spacecraft is showing its age, in some cases.

One instrument, the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer, stopped working in 2012, and the spacecraft is running on a backup set of rocket thrusters.

Our reaction wheels, which we use to fine tune our attitude control, are cranky but still functioning. Its kind of like my knees in the morning, Maize joked.

But most of the spacecrafts systems are still healthy.

Given its age and the amount of stress weve put it through, its performing remarkably well, Maize said.

So why send Cassini on a suicide mission?

Officials worry that if Cassini died before falling into Saturn, the spacecraft could plow into Titan or Enceladus, polluting the moons with toxic rocket fuel, metal alloys and potentially microbes carried from Earth.

In a certain sense, Cassini has been a victim of its own success, Maize said. We found these prebiotic worlds, which almost mandate that we cant contaminate them, so weve got to do something sensible with the spacecraft.

A wreck with Cassini could throw any future discovery of life on those moons into doubt.

The inside of Cassini is room temperature, Maize said. Weve got electronics in there that are running right around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. For a hardy microbe, thats just as comfortable as can be, so you really dont want to leave that around Saturn.

Navigators plotted this summers novel trajectory inside the rings nearly a decade ago, and NASA settled on the audacious plan after considering colliding Cassini with one of Saturns smaller, less habitable moons or dispatching the craft to fly by Uranus, Neptune, Jupiter, or an enigmatic Centaur object, a cross between an asteroid and a comet.

The cruise to Uranus was something like 30 years for a fast flyby, Spilker recalled.

A joint study by officials at JPL and engineers at Purdue University in 2009 identified a way to send Cassini through the rings with a push from Titans gravity.

It was really a no-brainer at that point, Spilker said. The chance to go into that gap, not only for ring scientists but for the Saturn scientists, was just too much to pass up.

Saturn still remains so compelling that we chose to use our last ounce of fuel in the spacecraft to explore that system, Maize said.

NASA considered steering the Pioneer 11 flyby probe through a gap between two parts of Saturns rings in 1979. The agency again thought about guiding the Voyager probes through the so-called Cassini Division in the rings in the 1980s, but managers opted for a farther flyby out of safety concerns.

Cassini will go even closer to Saturn than proposed on the Pioneer 11 and Voyager missions.

Maize said there is a small chance Cassini could run out of rocket fuel before Sept. 15, but its reaction wheels could keep the craft pointed to complete the bulk of this summers planned science campaign.

But once Cassini jumps inside the rings next month, its trajectory will naturally fall into Saturn in September, even if the spacecraft fails, runs out of fuel, or crashes into an unexpected icy debris cloud.

Theres little chance of us actually running out of gas and sputtering to a halt, Maize said. Its just how were going to get there.

Spilker said scientists will measure Saturns gravity field better than ever before by analyzing radio signals passed between Cassini and Earth to see how much they are distorted by the planets gravity.

We hope to measure the size of the rocky core in Saturn, Spilker said Feb. 22 in a presentation to NASAs Outer Planets Assessment Group. And its this rocky core that attracted material that eventually formed Saturn. Well look at the interior also to try to measure the internal rotation rate.

Cassini will be close enough to Saturn to map its gravity field with the precision to determine how deep winds penetrate inside the planets atmosphere.

They could be anywhere from 300 to 3,000 kilometers (186 to 1,860 miles) in depth, and irregularities in the gravity field will provide the depth for those winds, Spilker said.

Cassinis grand finale orbits are similar to the elliptical laps made by NASAs Juno spacecraft now exploring Jupiter. Spilker said information on Saturns interior structure learned in the coming months will be compared to data on Jupiter obtained by Juno.

Once the orbiter jumps inside the rings, scientists will be able to separate the total mass of the material inside the rings and of Saturn itself. Spilker said the uncertainty in the rings mass will be reduced to around 5 percent, yielding crucial clues about their origins.

That will tell us if the rings are less massive, Spilker said. There are some indications that might be true, (in which case) theyre young rings, formed from perhaps the breakup of a moon or a comet that came too close to Saturn.

If theyre more massive, then there is a possibility that they could have formed at the same time as Saturn its not a given but they could have been massive enough to survive the micrometeoroid bombardment to still be there until this day, Spilker said.

Cassini will also sample the plasma hiding between Saturn and its rings, probing the planets weak radiation field.

If there are any microscopic ring particles in Cassinis flight path, the spacecrafts Cosmic Dust Analyzer will scoop up ice grains and directly measure their composition.

We know the rings are 99 percent water ice, Spilker said. But whats the other 1 percent or so non-icy constituent? Iron? Silicates? Organics? Tholins? A mix? Well get a chance to measure that directly.

In the missions last five passes in August and September, Cassini will be low enough to skim the atmosphere, telling the ground team about the molecules that make up the outer rarefied layers of Saturn itself.

On the very final orbit, were deep enough that well actually be holding the high-gain antenna pointed toward the Earth for as long as we can, Spilker said.

Cassinis mass spectrometer will be gathering in situ data on the conditions inside the atmosphere and piping the readings back to Earth in real-time but with a nearly 90-minute lag due to Saturns distance rather than storing the measurements on recorders for playback later.

Cassini will be delivering science data down to its last seconds of life, Maize said.

The orbiters antenna can downlink information at about 140 kilobits per second. At that speed, it takes 10-to-20 seconds to transmit an image, Maize said, limiting the possibility for a final picture during the plunge.

The pointing isnt quite right for images anyway, although were still toying with the idea of maybe one more, Maize said. Why not? If we can rake the camera across the rings while were going in, it will be spectacular.

The spacecrafts control thrusters will be feverishly firing to keep the probe stable as long as possible as thicker streams of air tug on Cassini.

Cassini will fall into Saturn at a speed of around 78,000 mph, or 35 kilometers per second.

As were sampling Saturns atmosphere, as long as Cassini can continue to point at the Earth, we will be sending back science data, Maize said. What happens is that the atmosphere will eventually push it to the point where it cant maintain its pointing with the antenna, and itll probably be crushed a few tens of seconds later.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Perils and discoveries lie ahead for long-lived Saturn orbiter – Spaceflight Now

Are you a spaceflight company? You may want to rethink your logo … – The Verge

Now more than ever, the private spaceflight industry is filled with diverse companies looking to make their mark in the realm of space either by launching rockets, mining celestial rocks, or building space habitats. But as these companies work to distinguish themselves, theres one thing that seems to be tying them all together: their branding.

A quick glance at the logos of some of the most prominent spaceflight companies, including SpaceX and Orbital ATK, show just how similar their branding has become. There are usually dominant blues, dominant blacks, all going with this rocket swoosh and a pointed star, says Andrew Sloan, a graphic designer and specialist in brand development. Thats a problem, he says, since it makes it hard for these brands to differentiate from one another.

There are usually dominant blues, dominant blacks, all going with this rocket swoosh and a pointed star.

These are the mega lifts of the commercial space sector, but as the commercial space sector starts to mature, the need to stand out is going to become more important, Sloan tells The Verge. At least from a differentiation standpoint, these new companies have such a beautiful opportunity to stand up and try new design conventions that are a little more friendly; something that suits your core values a little bit more than defaulting to a swoosh.

Thats something that Sloan wants to help emerging space businesses with. Hes started a company called Cosma Schema, geared toward helping those in the spaceflight industry develop branding thats a bit more unique. Sloan already has an easy tip: embrace more vibrant colors. Space is vibrant, says Sloan. Look at an image from Hubble; close-ups of Jupiter are gorgeous. Space is a vibrant place and there are no reasons we should be limited to sky blue or the black of the void.

Also its time to get rid of the rocket swoosh a nod to the curved path rockets take to get to space. Sloan says all his clients to date have asked for the swoosh or a crescent moon shape. He tries to push his clients to think of something else that might be more accessible to people. In the end, their customers are people who live on Earth, who are comfortable with themes that are regularly repeated on Earth, says Sloan. So bringing these space companies down to Earth and remembering your customers are still Earthlings is going to go far in making decisions about aesthetics.

For instance, Cosma Schema has been working with World Space Week, an annual public space event that focuses on the worlds involvement in space. The advocacy group is trying to promote inclusivity, says Sloan, but he notes right now the groups logo looks like clip art. Cosma Schema is working on making an aesthetic that promotes what World Space Week is all about. If your core value is inclusivity, you better be damn sure that logo carries that message along, says Sloan.

Rebranding can be a daunting task

Of course, rebranding can be a daunting task, especially for spaceflight companies. When NASA rebranded in the 1970s, the process entailed replacing the original logo, known as the Meatball, with a completely new one known as the Worm. The Worm then had to be added to all of the the agencys documents, as well as many technologies and even various spacecraft. NASA eventually went back to its original Meatball logo, but some of the agencys vehicles still operating in space sport the Worm logo.

But now, with enthusiasm higher than ever surrounding the private space industry, Sloan says companies should seize the opportunity to take a risk with their looks. So many people are watching, and everyone is just sitting there looking at this rocket, says Sloan. Its just a cool opportunity waiting to happen.

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Are you a spaceflight company? You may want to rethink your logo … – The Verge

NASA’s Jupiter moon mission named ‘Europa Clipper’ – SpaceFlight Insider

Jim Sharkey

March 12th, 2017

This artists rendering shows NASAs Europa mission spacecraft, now called Europa Clipper, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA announced on Thursday, March 9, that the space agencys upcoming mission to study the habitability of Jupiters frozen moon Europa will be named theEuropa Clipper. The name harkens back to the wooden clipper ships that sailed Earths oceans in the 19th century. During the conceptual phase of the missions development, it was sometimes informally calledEuropa Clipper, but now NASA has made the name official.

Once Europa Clipper arrives at the Jupiter system, it will fly by Europa as frequently as once every two weeks, providing several opportunities to observe the moon close up. The main partof the mission will include 40 to 45 flybys, during which Europa Clipper will image the moons icy surface and study the composition and structure of its interior and frozen shell.

Europa has long been of interest to scientists because it has a salty ocean beneath its icy surface. The primary purpose of the Europa Clipper mission is to determine if Europa possesses all three ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and an energy source.

During each orbit, the spacecraft spends only a short time within the radiation environment near Europa. It speeds past, gathers a huge amount of science data, then sails on out of there, said Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Last month, the Europa Clipper mission completed its Key Decision Point-B review and started itsdesign phase. The mission is scheduled to launch sometime in the 2020s and reach Jupiter after a journey of several years.

This artists rendering shows a concept for a future NASA mission to Europa in which a spacecraft would make multiple close flybys of the icy Jovian moon, thought to contain a global subsurface ocean. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Tagged: Europa Europa Clipper Jet Propulsion Laboratory Jupiter NASA The Range

Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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NASA’s Jupiter moon mission named ‘Europa Clipper’ – SpaceFlight Insider

Spaceflight – Wikipedia

Spaceflight (also written space flight) is ballistic flight into or through outer space. Spaceflight can occur with spacecraft with or without humans on board. Examples of human spaceflight include the U.S. Apollo Moon landing and Space Shuttle programs and the Russian Soyuz program, as well as the ongoing International Space Station. Examples of unmanned spaceflight include space probes that leave Earth orbit, as well as satellites in orbit around Earth, such as communications satellites. These operate either by telerobotic control or are fully autonomous.

Spaceflight is used in space exploration, and also in commercial activities like space tourism and satellite telecommunications. Additional non-commercial uses of spaceflight include space observatories, reconnaissance satellites and other Earth observation satellites.

A spaceflight typically begins with a rocket launch, which provides the initial thrust to overcome the force of gravity and propels the spacecraft from the surface of the Earth. Once in space, the motion of a spacecraftboth when unpropelled and when under propulsionis covered by the area of study called astrodynamics. Some spacecraft remain in space indefinitely, some disintegrate during atmospheric reentry, and others reach a planetary or lunar surface for landing or impact.

The first theoretical proposal of space travel using rockets was published by Scottish astronomer and mathematician William Leitch, in an 1861 essay “A Journey Through Space”.[1] More well-known (though not widely outside Russia) is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s work, ” ” (The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices), published in 1903.

Spaceflight became an engineering possibility with the work of Robert H. Goddard’s publication in 1919 of his paper “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes”. His application of the de Laval nozzle to liquid fuel rockets improved efficiency enough for interplanetary travel to become possible. He also proved in the laboratory that rockets would work in the vacuum of space[specify]; nonetheless, his work was not taken seriously by the public. His attempt to secure an Army contract for a rocket-propelled weapon in the first World War was defeated by the November 11, 1918 armistice with Germany.

Nonetheless, Goddard’s paper was highly influential on Hermann Oberth, who in turn influenced Wernher von Braun. Von Braun became the first to produce modern rockets as guided weapons, employed by Adolf Hitler . Von Braun’s V-2 was the first rocket to reach space, at an altitude of 189 kilometers (102 nautical miles) on a June 1944 test flight.[2]

Tsiolkovsky’s rocketry work was not fully appreciated in his lifetime, but he influenced Sergey Korolev, who became the Soviet Union’s chief rocket designer under Joseph Stalin, to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry nuclear weapons as a counter measure to United States bomber planes. Derivatives of Korolev’s R-7 Semyorka missiles were used to launch the world’s first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957, and later the first human to orbit the Earth, Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1, on April 12, 1961.[3]

At the end of World War II, von Braun and most of his rocket team surrendered to the United States, and were expatriated to work on American missiles at what became the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. This work on missiles such as Juno I and Atlas enabled launch of the first US satellite Explorer 1 on February 1, 1958, and the first American in orbit, John Glenn in Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. As director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, Von Braun oversaw development of a larger class of rocket called Saturn, which allowed the US to send the first two humans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, to the Moon and back on Apollo 11 in July 1969. Over the same period, the Soviet Union secretly tried but failed to develop the N1 rocket to give them the capability to land one person on the Moon.

Rockets are the only means currently capable of reaching orbit or beyond. Other non-rocket spacelaunch technologies have yet to be built, or remain short of orbital speeds. A rocket launch for a spaceflight usually starts from a spaceport (cosmodrome), which may be equipped with launch complexes and launch pads for vertical rocket launches, and runways for takeoff and landing of carrier airplanes and winged spacecraft. Spaceports are situated well away from human habitation for noise and safety reasons. ICBMs have various special launching facilities.

A launch is often restricted to certain launch windows. These windows depend upon the position of celestial bodies and orbits relative to the launch site. The biggest influence is often the rotation of the Earth itself. Once launched, orbits are normally located within relatively constant flat planes at a fixed angle to the axis of the Earth, and the Earth rotates within this orbit.

A launch pad is a fixed structure designed to dispatch airborne vehicles. It generally consists of a launch tower and flame trench. It is surrounded by equipment used to erect, fuel, and maintain launch vehicles.

The most commonly used definition of outer space is everything beyond the Krmn line, which is 100 kilometers (62mi) above the Earth’s surface. The United States sometimes defines outer space as everything beyond 50 miles (80km) in altitude.

Rockets are the only currently practical means of reaching space. Conventional airplane engines cannot reach space due to the lack of oxygen. Rocket engines expel propellant to provide forward thrust that generates enough delta-v (change in velocity) to reach orbit.

For manned launch systems launch escape systems are frequently fitted to allow astronauts to escape in the case of emergency.

Achieving a closed orbit is not essential to lunar and interplanetary voyages. Early Russian space vehicles successfully achieved very high altitudes without going into orbit. NASA considered launching Apollo missions directly into lunar trajectories but adopted the strategy of first entering a temporary parking orbit and then performing a separate burn several orbits later onto a lunar trajectory. This costs additional propellant because the parking orbit perigee must be high enough to prevent reentry while direct injection can have an arbitrarily low perigee because it will never be reached.

However, the parking orbit approach greatly simplified Apollo mission planning in several important ways. It substantially widened the allowable launch windows, increasing the chance of a successful launch despite minor technical problems during the countdown. The parking orbit was a stable “mission plateau” that gave the crew and controllers several hours to thoroughly check out the spacecraft after the stresses of launch before committing it to a long lunar flight; the crew could quickly return to Earth, if necessary, or an alternate Earth-orbital mission could be conducted. The parking orbit also enabled translunar trajectories that avoided the densest parts of the Van Allen radiation belts.

Apollo missions minimized the performance penalty of the parking orbit by keeping its altitude as low as possible. For example, Apollo 15 used an unusually low parking orbit (even for Apollo) of 92.5 nmi by 91.5 nmi (171km by 169km) where there was significant atmospheric drag. But it was partially overcome by continuous venting of hydrogen from the third stage of the Saturn V, and was in any event tolerable for the short stay.

Robotic missions do not require an abort capability or radiation minimization, and because modern launchers routinely meet “instantaneous” launch windows, space probes to the Moon and other planets generally use direct injection to maximize performance. Although some might coast briefly during the launch sequence, they do not complete one or more full parking orbits before the burn that injects them onto an Earth escape trajectory.

Note that the escape velocity from a celestial body decreases with altitude above that body. However, it is more fuel-efficient for a craft to burn its fuel as close to the ground as possible; see Oberth effect and reference.[5] This is another way to explain the performance penalty associated with establishing the safe perigee of a parking orbit.

Plans for future crewed interplanetary spaceflight missions often include final vehicle assembly in Earth orbit, such as NASA’s Project Orion and Russia’s Kliper/Parom tandem.

Astrodynamics is the study of spacecraft trajectories, particularly as they relate to gravitational and propulsion effects. Astrodynamics allows for a spacecraft to arrive at its destination at the correct time without excessive propellant use. An orbital maneuvering system may be needed to maintain or change orbits.

Non-rocket orbital propulsion methods include solar sails, magnetic sails, plasma-bubble magnetic systems, and using gravitational slingshot effects.

The term “transfer energy” means the total amount of energy imparted by a rocket stage to its payload. This can be the energy imparted by a first stage of a launch vehicle to an upper stage plus payload, or by an upper stage or spacecraft kick motor to a spacecraft.[6][7]

Vehicles in orbit have large amounts of kinetic energy. This energy must be discarded if the vehicle is to land safely without vaporizing in the atmosphere. Typically this process requires special methods to protect against aerodynamic heating. The theory behind reentry was developed by Harry Julian Allen. Based on this theory, reentry vehicles present blunt shapes to the atmosphere for reentry. Blunt shapes mean that less than 1% of the kinetic energy ends up as heat that reaches the vehicle and the heat energy instead ends up in the atmosphere.

The Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules all splashed down in the sea. These capsules were designed to land at relatively low speeds with the help of a parachute. Russian capsules for Soyuz make use of a big parachute and braking rockets to touch down on land. The Space Shuttle glided to a touchdown like a plane.

After a successful landing the spacecraft, its occupants and cargo can be recovered. In some cases, recovery has occurred before landing: while a spacecraft is still descending on its parachute, it can be snagged by a specially designed aircraft. This mid-air retrieval technique was used to recover the film canisters from the Corona spy satellites.

Unmanned spaceflight is all spaceflight activity without a necessary human presence in space. This includes all space probes, satellites and robotic spacecraft and missions. Unmanned spaceflight is the opposite of manned spaceflight, which is usually called human spaceflight. Subcategories of unmanned spaceflight are robotic spacecraft (objects) and robotic space missions (activities). A robotic spacecraft is an unmanned spacecraft with no humans on board, that is usually under telerobotic control. A robotic spacecraft designed to make scientific research measurements is often called a space probe.

Unmanned space missions use remote-controlled spacecraft. The first unmanned space mission was Sputnik I, launched October 4, 1957 to orbit the Earth. Space missions where animals but no humans are on-board are considered unmanned missions.

Many space missions are more suited to telerobotic rather than crewed operation, due to lower cost and lower risk factors. In addition, some planetary destinations such as Venus or the vicinity of Jupiter are too hostile for human survival, given current technology. Outer planets such as Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are too distant to reach with current crewed spaceflight technology, so telerobotic probes are the only way to explore them. Telerobotics also allows exploration of regions that are vulnerable to contamination by Earth micro-organisms since spacecraft can be sterilized. Humans can not be sterilized in the same way as a spaceship, as they coexist with numerous micro-organisms, and these micro-organisms are also hard to contain within a spaceship or spacesuit.

Telerobotics becomes telepresence when the time delay is short enough to permit control of the spacecraft in close to real time by humans. Even the two seconds light speed delay for the Moon is too far away for telepresence exploration from Earth. The L1 and L2 positions permit 400-millisecond round trip delays, which is just close enough for telepresence operation. Telepresence has also been suggested as a way to repair satellites in Earth orbit from Earth. The Exploration Telerobotics Symposium in 2012 explored this and other topics.[8]

The first human spaceflight was Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961, on which cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin of the USSR made one orbit around the Earth. In official Soviet documents, there is no mention of the fact that Gagarin parachuted the final seven miles.[9] The international rules for aviation records stated that “The pilot remains in his craft from launch to landing”.[citation needed] This rule, if applied, would have “disqualified” Gagarin’s spaceflight. Currently, the only spacecraft regularly used for human spaceflight are the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and the Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft. The U.S. Space Shuttle fleet operated from April 1981 until July 2011. SpaceShipOne has conducted two human suborbital spaceflights.

On a sub-orbital spaceflight the spacecraft reaches space and then returns to the atmosphere after following a (primarily) ballistic trajectory. This is usually because of insufficient specific orbital energy, in which case a suborbital flight will last only a few minutes, but it is also possible for an object with enough energy for an orbit to have a trajectory that intersects the Earth’s atmosphere, sometimes after many hours. Pioneer 1 was NASA’s first space probe intended to reach the Moon. A partial failure caused it to instead follow a suborbital trajectory to an altitude of 113,854 kilometers (70,746mi) before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere 43 hours after launch.

The most generally recognized boundary of space is the Krmn line 100km above sea level. (NASA alternatively defines an astronaut as someone who has flown more than 50 miles (80km) above sea level.) It is not generally recognized by the public that the increase in potential energy required to pass the Krmn line is only about 3% of the orbital energy (potential plus kinetic energy) required by the lowest possible Earth orbit (a circular orbit just above the Krmn line.) In other words, it is far easier to reach space than to stay there. On May 17, 2004, Civilian Space eXploration Team launched the GoFast Rocket on a suborbital flight, the first amateur spaceflight. On June 21, 2004, SpaceShipOne was used for the first privately funded human spaceflight.

Point-to-point sub-orbital spaceflight is a category of spaceflight in which a spacecraft uses a sub-orbital flight for transportation. This can provide a two-hour trip from London to Sydney, which would be much faster than what is currently over a twenty-hour flight. Today, no company offers this type of spaceflight for transportation. However, Virgin Galactic has plans for a spaceplane called SpaceShipThree, which could offer this service in the future.[10] Suborbital spaceflight over an intercontinental distance requires a vehicle velocity that is only a little lower than the velocity required to reach low Earth orbit.[11] If rockets are used, the size of the rocket relative to the payload is similar to an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Any intercontinental spaceflight has to surmount problems of heating during atmosphere re-entry that are nearly as large as those faced by orbital spaceflight.

A minimal orbital spaceflight requires much higher velocities than a minimal sub-orbital flight, and so it is technologically much more challenging to achieve. To achieve orbital spaceflight, the tangential velocity around the Earth is as important as altitude. In order to perform a stable and lasting flight in space, the spacecraft must reach the minimal orbital speed required for a closed orbit.

Interplanetary travel is travel between planets within a single planetary system. In practice, the use of the term is confined to travel between the planets of our Solar System.

Five spacecraft are currently leaving the Solar System on escape trajectories, Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11 and New Horizons. The one farthest from the Sun is Voyager 1, which is more than 100 AU distant and is moving at 3.6 AU per year.[12] In comparison, Proxima Centauri, the closest star other than the Sun, is 267,000 AU distant. It will take Voyager 1 over 74,000 years to reach this distance. Vehicle designs using other techniques, such as nuclear pulse propulsion are likely to be able to reach the nearest star significantly faster. Another possibility that could allow for human interstellar spaceflight is to make use of time dilation, as this would make it possible for passengers in a fast-moving vehicle to travel further into the future while aging very little, in that their great speed slows down the rate of passage of on-board time. However, attaining such high speeds would still require the use of some new, advanced method of propulsion.

Intergalactic travel involves spaceflight between galaxies, and is considered much more technologically demanding than even interstellar travel and, by current engineering terms, is considered science fiction.

Spacecraft are vehicles capable of controlling their trajectory through space.

The first ‘true spacecraft’ is sometimes said to be Apollo Lunar Module,[13] since this was the only manned vehicle to have been designed for, and operated only in space; and is notable for its non aerodynamic shape.

Spacecraft today predominantly use rockets for propulsion, but other propulsion techniques such as ion drives are becoming more common, particularly for unmanned vehicles, and this can significantly reduce the vehicle’s mass and increase its delta-v.

Launch systems are used to carry a payload from Earth’s surface into outer space.

All launch vehicles contain a huge amount of energy that is needed for some part of it to reach orbit. There is therefore some risk that this energy can be released prematurely and suddenly, with significant effects. When a Delta II rocket exploded 13 seconds after launch on January 17, 1997, there were reports of store windows 10 miles (16km) away being broken by the blast.[15]

Space is a fairly predictable environment, but there are still risks of accidental depressurization and the potential failure of equipment, some of which may be very newly developed.

In 2004 the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety was established in the Netherlands to further international cooperation and scientific advancement in space systems safety.[16]

In a microgravity environment such as that provided by a spacecraft in orbit around the Earth, humans experience a sense of “weightlessness.” Short-term exposure to microgravity causes space adaptation syndrome, a self-limiting nausea caused by derangement of the vestibular system. Long-term exposure causes multiple health issues. The most significant is bone loss, some of which is permanent, but microgravity also leads to significant deconditioning of muscular and cardiovascular tissues.

Once above the atmosphere, radiation due to the Van Allen belts, solar radiation and cosmic radiation issues occur and increase. Further away from the Earth, solar flares can give a fatal radiation dose in minutes, and the health threat from cosmic radiation significantly increases the chances of cancer over a decade exposure or more.[17]

In human spaceflight, the life support system is a group of devices that allow a human being to survive in outer space. NASA often uses the phrase Environmental Control and Life Support System or the acronym ECLSS when describing these systems for its human spaceflight missions.[18] The life support system may supply: air, water and food. It must also maintain the correct body temperature, an acceptable pressure on the body and deal with the body’s waste products. Shielding against harmful external influences such as radiation and micro-meteorites may also be necessary. Components of the life support system are life-critical, and are designed and constructed using safety engineering techniques.

Space weather is the concept of changing environmental conditions in outer space. It is distinct from the concept of weather within a planetary atmosphere, and deals with phenomena involving ambient plasma, magnetic fields, radiation and other matter in space (generally close to Earth but also in interplanetary, and occasionally interstellar medium). “Space weather describes the conditions in space that affect Earth and its technological systems. Our space weather is a consequence of the behavior of the Sun, the nature of Earth’s magnetic field, and our location in the Solar System.”[19]

Space weather exerts a profound influence in several areas related to space exploration and development. Changing geomagnetic conditions can induce changes in atmospheric density causing the rapid degradation of spacecraft altitude in Low Earth orbit. Geomagnetic storms due to increased solar activity can potentially blind sensors aboard spacecraft, or interfere with on-board electronics. An understanding of space environmental conditions is also important in designing shielding and life support systems for manned spacecraft.

Rockets as a class are not inherently grossly polluting. However, some rockets use toxic propellants, and most vehicles use propellants that are not carbon neutral. Many solid rockets have chlorine in the form of perchlorate or other chemicals, and this can cause temporary local holes in the ozone layer. Re-entering spacecraft generate nitrates which also can temporarily impact the ozone layer. Most rockets are made of metals that can have an environmental impact during their construction.

In addition to the atmospheric effects there are effects on the near-Earth space environment. There is the possibility that orbit could become inaccessible for generations due to exponentially increasing space debris caused by spalling of satellites and vehicles (Kessler syndrome). Many launched vehicles today are therefore designed to be re-entered after use.

Current and proposed applications for spaceflight include:

Most early spaceflight development was paid for by governments. However, today major launch markets such as Communication satellites and Satellite television are purely commercial, though many of the launchers were originally funded by governments.

Private spaceflight is a rapidly developing area: space flight that is not only paid for by corporations or even private individuals, but often provided by private spaceflight companies. These companies often assert that much of the previous high cost of access to space was caused by governmental inefficiencies they can avoid. This assertion can be supported by much lower published launch costs for private space launch vehicles such as Falcon 9 developed with private financing. Lower launch costs and excellent safety will be required for the applications such as Space tourism and especially Space colonization to become successful.

Media related to Spaceflight at Wikimedia Commons

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Spaceflight – Wikipedia

NASA’s Kepler provides new data on TRAPPIST-1 – SpaceFlight Insider

Jim Sharkey

March 11th, 2017

This illustration shows the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets as they might look as viewed from Earth using a fictional, incredibly powerful telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Last month, researchers announced that TRAPPIST-1, an ultra-cool dwarf star approximately 40 light-years from Earth, hosts seven planets that are probably rocky, including three in the habitable zone. The discovery was made by NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope in combination with ground-based telescopes. TRAPPIST-1 has also been under observation by NASAs Kepler Space Telescope since December 2016. On Wednesday, March 8, NASA released new data from Keplersinvestigations of the dwarf star to the scientific community.

The Kepler spacecraft, now operating as the K2 mission, collected data on the stars small changes in brightness due to transiting planets during the period between December 15, 2016, and March 4, 2017. These new observations are expected to help scientists to refine previous measurements of six of the planets, pin down the orbital period and mass of TRAPPIST-h the seventh and farthest planet and learn more about the host stars magnetic activity.

The location of TRAPPIST-1 in Keplers field of view. Image Credit: W. Stenzel / NASA Ames

Scientists and enthusiasts around the world are invested in learning everything they can about these Earth-size worlds, said Geert Barentsen,the K2 research scientist at NASAs Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. Providing the K2 raw data as quickly as possible was a priority to give investigators an early look so they could best define their follow-up research plans. Were thrilled that this will also allow the public to witness the process of discovery.

The raw, uncalibrated data that was recently released will help scientists in preparing proposals due this month to use Earth-based telescopes this winter to further study TRAPPIST-1. The fully processed and calibrated will be available in the public archive by late May.

The observation period, known as K2 Campaign 12, provided 73 days of monitoring the longest, nearly continuous set of observations of TRAPPIST-1 ever collected. Campaign 12 will provide scientists with an opportunity to further investigate gravitational interactions between the seven planets and to search for possible undiscovered planets in the system.

Observations of TRAPPIST-1 werent always planned for Campaign 12. The initial coordinates of the patch of sky to be observed during Campaign 12 were set during October 2015 before the planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 were known to exist.

When the discovery of three of TRAPPIST-1s planets was announcedin May 2016, teams at NASA and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. reworked the calculations and rewrote and tested commands that would be programmed into the spacecrafts operating system to make a slight pointing adjustment for Campaign 12. By October 2016, Kepler was ready to observe TRAPPIST-1.

We were lucky that the K2 mission was able to observe TRAPPIST-1, said Michael Haas, science office director for the Kepler and K2 missions at Ames. The observing field for Campaign 12 was set when the discovery of the first planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 was announced, and the science community had already submitted proposals for specific targets of interest in that field. The unexpected opportunity to further study the TRAPPIST-1 system was quickly recognized and the agility of the K2 team and science community prevailed once again.

The additional refinements to the previous measurement of the known planets and any additional planets discovered in the K2 data will aid scientists in planningfollow-up studies of TRAPPIST-1s planets by NASAs upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

This artists concept shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets diameters, masses, and distances from the host star. Image & Caption Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

Tagged: K2 Mission Kepler Space Telescope NASA The Range TRAPPIST-1

Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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NASA’s Kepler provides new data on TRAPPIST-1 – SpaceFlight Insider

Next Cygnus commercial space freighter christened the S.S. John … – Spaceflight Now

CAPE CANAVERAL Orbital ATKs next commercial resupply freighter going to the International Space Station will be named the S.S. John Glenn, paying tribute to the legendary first American to orbit the Earth.

Glenn died Dec. 8 at age 95.

The company has made it tradition to give each of its autonomous Cygnus cargo ships launched under NASAs privatized logistics delivery program to the space station a name to honor a former astronaut who has passed away.

Previous Cygnus vehicles have been named for G. David Low, C. Gordon Fullerton, Janice Voss, Deke Slayton, Rick Husband and Alan Poindexter.

John H. Glenn Jr., a decorated combat veteran and test pilot, was one of the original Mercury 7 the pioneering cadre of NASA astronauts at the dawn of the space age.

He rocketed into human history on Feb. 20, 1962, strapped in the Friendship 7 capsule atop an Atlas rocket, to become the first American to orbit the planet.

While lasting only five hours before splashing down near Bermuda, the trail-blazing flight achieved a critical step in the pursuit to live and work in space.

After serving for a quarter-century as a senator from his beloved home state of Ohio, Glenn left the U.S. Congress and returned to NASA to train as a payload specialist and serve as the oldest human subject in biological tests conducted in the microgravity environment of space.

His triumphant return to space, at age 77, came aboard shuttle Discoverys STS-95 mission in 1998, spending 9 days being poked and prodded in the name of medical research.

Glenn always remained a steadfast advocate for space and the promise that experiments aboard the International Space Station could lead to breakthroughs to improve life on Earth.

The S.S. John Glenn, launching atop an Atlas 5 rocket, will carry about 7,500 pounds of crew provisions and fresh science investigations to the space station this month.

Experiments include studies with lung cancer cells, chemotherapy drugs, improving radiological detectors for homeland security, a plant-growing chamber for harvesting food in space and a technology demonstration for science sample return capsules.

Cygnus has been fully loaded and its hatch sealed for flight at Kennedy Space Centers Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. It will be encapsulated within the launch vehicles nose cone tomorrow.

United Launch Alliance is responsible for getting John Glenn back into space, using the Atlas 5 to propel the 16,000-pound ship into low-Earth orbit from Cape Canaveral on March 19.

The 30-minute launch window opens at 10:56 p.m. EDT (0256 GMT).

Cygnus will be moved to the Atlas 5 rockets vertical assembly building on Monday for attachment to the launcher.

The mission is otherwise known in the space station scheduling matrix as OA-7.

After an automated rendezvous with the station, the Cygnus will pause its approach within reach of the Canadarm2 robotic arm. The arm will grab a capture device on the ships exterior around 6:05 a.m. on March 23 and maneuver it to a berthing port on the underside of the Unity module for attachment and unloading.

It is scheduled to spend about three months attached to the station, allowing the resident astronauts to empty the cargo and fill the vessel with trash and disposables.

After departing the station, Cygnus will climb to a higher altitude to deploy cubesats and conduct another in a series of contained fire experiments to better understand how flames behave in microgravity.

The S.S. John Glenn concludes its mission this summer in a blaze of glory, re-entering harmlessly over the South Pacific.

See earlier OA-7 Cygnus coverage.

Our Atlas archive.

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Next Cygnus commercial space freighter christened the S.S. John … – Spaceflight Now

Falcon 9 for Echostar 23 conducts static fire test – SpaceFlight Insider

Jason Rhian

March 10th, 2017

The Falcon 9 that will take EchoStar 23 into orbit conducts a static fire test at LC-39A. Photo Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. On March 9, 2017, SpaceX successfully conducted a static fire test of the Hawthorne, California-based companys Full Thrust Falcon 9 rocket. This is the final milestone in advance of a planned launch set to take place Tuesday, March 14.

If everything goes as planned, the launch window will open at 1:34 a.m. EDT (05:34 GMT). The window closes two and a half hours later at4:04 a.m. EDT (08:04 GMT).

This flight will mark the first time Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center will be used by a commercial launch service provider to send a commercial satelliteto space. Echostar 23is set to be sent intoa geostationary transfer orbit.

Built bySpace Systems/Loral, Gunters Space Page describes the spacecraft as: a very flexible Ku-band satellite capable of providing service from any of eight different orbital slots. Planned for launch in 2016 it is designed to provide service for 15 years or longer. It will utilize SS/Ls flight-proven SSL-1300 spacecraft bus.

Tagged: EchoStar-23 Falcon 9 Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A SpaceX The Range

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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Falcon 9 for Echostar 23 conducts static fire test – SpaceFlight Insider

Atlas V technical issue delays OA-7 Cygnus flight to NET March 21 – SpaceFlight Insider

Derek Richardson

March 10th, 2017

Cygnus OA-7 / S.S. John Glenn. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. The launch of Orbital ATKs S.S. John Glenn OA-7 Cygnus spacecraft has been postponed by two days to March 21, 2017, due to a technical issue discovered on the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V set to send the freighter toward the International Space Station (ISS).

According to ULA, a booster hydraulic issue was discovered during pre-launch testing. The additional time will allow engineers to replace a component and continue with mission preparations.

While an exact liftoff time has not be specified, opportunities for ISSmissions typically shift about 20 minutes earlier for each day postponed. The mission was originally targeting the beginning of a 30-minute window that opened at 10:56 p.m. EDT March 19 (02:56 GMT March 20) from Space Launch Complex 41.

S.S. John Glenn is poised to send some 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms) of supplies and experiments to the orbiting laboratory. Once in orbit, it will take about three days for the craft to rendezvous with the ISS before being captured by the stations robotic Canadarm2.

Cygnus will spend about 90 days attached to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module. Afterward, it will be unberthed to spend about a week at a safe distance from the outpost in order to perform a remote fire experiment called Saffire-III.

After the experiment is performed, the results will be downloaded via telemetry before the spacecraft is deorbited to safely burn up in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

Tagged: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Cygnus International Space Station Lead Stories OA-7 Orbital ATK Space Launch Complex 41 United Launch Alliance

Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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Atlas V technical issue delays OA-7 Cygnus flight to NET March 21 – SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX science Dragon delivers experiments for busy science period – NASASpaceflight.com

March 10, 2017 by Chris Gebhardt

SpaceXs CRS-10 resupply mission has enjoyed a smooth period following its somewhat eventful berthing to the Station last month. In the two weeks since the cargo craft arrived at the orbital outpost, the Expedition 50 crew has unloaded all experiments and cargo from the internal and external compartments of Dragon and is now busy reloading the vehicle with experiments and equipment that will return to Earth for recovery later this month.

CRS-10 delivers multitude of experiments:

Given the unexpectedly fun start to Dragons time at the Station for CRS-10, which saw a flawless launch from the Kennedy Space Center followed by a rendezvous abort the first ever for Dragon during approach to the ISS, the Expedition 50 crew has made quick work of unloading the vehicle of all of its supplies from both inside and outside the spacecraft.

In all, this marks the start of a particularly busy science period for the ISS, with over 300 individual experiments scheduled to be conducted over the next six months.

Moreover, the vast majority of these experiments are slated to be brought to the Station over the course of the CRS-10, -11, and -12 missions (with -11 and -12 launching in April and June, respectively) from SpaceX and the Orbital ATK OA-7 mission later this month.

With the first of these supplies arriving on CRS-10, the Expedition 50 crew got right to work following the Dragons berthing on 23 February.

STP-H5 SpaceCube Mini:

On 26 February, the ISS crew removed the Space Test Program Houston 5 (STP-H5) experiment package from Dragons external trunk using the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRSM) more commonly known as Canada Arm 2 or the Stations robotic arm.

On 27 February, the crew used the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM, or Dextre) to remove the Optical PAyload for Lasercom Science (OPALS) experiment from the Express Logistics Carrier 1 (ELC 1) and move it to the Enhanced ORU Temporary (EOTP) platform.

This was done to make room for STP-H5 installation on ELC 1, which was accomplished on 27 February.

Overall, STP-H5 includes numerous payloads for NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Navy: including: the Raven autonomous space navigation demonstration, Lightning Imaging Sensor, and SpaceCube Mini for NASA; the Spacecraft Structural Health Monitoring payload and the Radiation Hardened Electronic Memory Experiment for the U.S Air Force; and two Naval Research Laboratory payloads.

The U.S. Navy experiments will examine the structure, composition, and density of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere while the Air Forces Spacecraft Structural Health Monitoring payload will examine the effects of space on fasteners and mechanical components of spacecraft.

For NASA, the SpaceCube Mini experiment is a miniaturized version of the SpaceCube 2.0 system a hybrid computer processor that can provide a 10- to 100-fold improvement in computing power while lowering power consumption and cost.

The SpaceCube Mini experiment will remain attached to the ISS through at least September 2017 (with the goal of remaining on Station for a full year or longer), will validate the advanced onboard processing capabilities for Earth Science/atmospheric chemistry, and will increase the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of this technology from TRL 6 to TRL 8 while reducing overall programmatic risk of using such technology on future missions.

Previous versions of this experiment have already flown three times the first aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis on the STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope in May 2009, as a SpaceCube on MISSE (Materials on International Space Station Experiment) 7/8, and as a SpaceCube on STP-H4.

Running in conjunction with STP-H4, the -H5 SpaceCube Mini will validate the miniaturized version of the SpaceCube 2.0 system as well as perform real-time onboard Earth science product generation algorithms for atmospheric methane.

Earth- and Space-based applications for this technology included use on future small satellite missions to study and generate a better understanding of climate change, natural disasters, weather, land use, and ecosystem changes.

SAGE-III:

Continuing with robotic operations within Dragons trunk, the Expedition 50 crew removed the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) instrument payload (IP) on 2 March and installed it onto the EOTP.

This was followed on 3 March by the removal of the SAGE Nadir Viewing Platform (NVP) from Dragon and the subsequent installation into the trunk of the OPALS experiment which will be discarded into Earths atmosphere when Dragon returns to Earth later this month.

The following day, the SSRMS was commanded through a choreographed sequence that involved stowage of Dextre, with SAGE NVP firmly grasped in Dextres Arm 1, on the Power and Data Grapple Fixture 2 (PDGF 2) on the Mobile Base System (MBS) before the SSRMS walked itself from the Node 2 PDGF to the MBS PDGF 1.

The entire Mobile Transporter (MT) was then translated from WS6 (Workstation 6) to WS2.

On 5 March, the SPDM Dextre removed the Robotics Refueling Mission (RRM) payload from ELC4 with Arm 2 before using Arm 1 to place the SAGE NVP experiment on to ELC4.

This was then followed on 7 March by the use of Dextre to remove the SAGE IP from its temporary storage location on EOTP and install the IP onto the SAGE NVP.

SAGE III is a key part of NASAs mission to provide crucial, long-term measurements that will help humans understand and care for Earths atmosphere and is part of NASAs mission to measure the composition of the middle and lower atmosphere.

Specifically, SAGE III will measure Earths ozone layer along with other gases and aerosols by scanning the limb, or thin profile, of Earths atmosphere.

In all, SAGE IIIs role is to provide global, long-term measurements of key components of the Earths atmosphere, the most important of which is the vertical distribution of aerosols and ozone from the upper troposphere through the stratosphere.

SAGE III also provides unique measurements of temperatures in the stratosphere and mesosphere and profiles of trace gases such as water vapor and nitrogen dioxide that play significant roles in atmospheric radiative and chemical processes.

Earth-based benefits of SAGE III include enhancement of our understanding of Earths atmosphere and enabling informed policy decisions regarding climate.

Of particular interest for the various science teams that study Earths ozone layer and the damage that has been inflicted to it by aerosoles is SAGE IIIs ability to confirm just how much progress has been made in reversing ozone layer damage.

Internal experiments:

Impressively, prior to the start of robotics operations to remove the external elements of Dragons payload, the Expedition 50 crew completed the removal of all 1,530 kg (3,373.1 lbs) of internal cargo and supplies within three days of the vehicles arrival at the Station.

As stated by the 27 February 2017 ISS daily summary report, Crew completed unloading the Dragon vehicle on Saturday. Instructions for loading cargo for return will be uplinked to the crew later this week.

Of the 1,530 kg of internal cargo, 732 kg (1,613.8 lbs) comprises science experiments/hardware for 35 separate investigations sponsored by the ISS U.S. National Laboratory project.

Some of these experiments include: the Merck Microgravity Crystallization Projects (CASIS PCG-5), CASIS Stem Cell Mayo, the Effect of Macromolecular Transport On Microgravity PCG (Protein Crystal Growth), NANOBIOSYM Predictive Pathogen Mutation Study, and Rodent Research-4.

The Merck Microgravity Crystallization Projects, a CASSIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space) sponsored PCG experiment, aims to gather information on the impact of the microgravity environment on the structure, delivery method, and purification of KEYTRUDA (pembrolizumab), Mercks anti-PD-1 therapy.

KEYTRUDA is a humanized monoclonal antibody that works by increasing the ability of the bodys immune system to help detect and fight tumor cells.

Meanwhile, the CASIS Stem Cell Mayo will investigate the microgravity environment of the Station to cultivate clinical-grade stem cells for therapeutic applications in humans.

Currently, there is no safe, reliable, and effective method to rapidly grow certain types of human stem cells on Earth for use in the treatment of disease, and this experiments results will help support clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of microgravity-expanded stem cells as well as support subsequent studies for large-scale expansion of clinical-grade stem cells for the treatment of stroke patients.

The Effect of Macromolecular Transport On Microgravity PCG will test the idea that the improved quality of microgravity-grown biological crystals or proteins is the result of a buoyancy free, diffusion-dominated solution environment.

Specifically, the experiment will examine if slower crystal growth rates are due to slower protein transport to the growing crystal surface as well as if the proclivity of growing crystals to incorporate protein monomers versus higher protein aggregates is due to differences in transport rates.

This project seeks to improve the understanding of fluid dynamics and reaction kinetics in microgravity to enhance models of protein crystal growth that will promote utilization of the ISS for drug discovery.

Moreover, the NANOBIOSYM Predictive Pathogen Mutation Study will explore the ability of computational algorithms to predict mutations in the genes of pathogenic bacteria grown in microgravity.

As numerous species of bacteria have evolved resistance to one or more antibiotics used to treat common infections, there is now concern that some bacteria may develop resistance to multiple antibiotics that would make infections by them difficult to eradicate.

Thus, the NANOBIOSYM Predictive Pathogen Mutation Study is a proof-of-concept experiment that will provide data regarding the evolution of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, which will be of significant value to antibiotic drug development.

Lastly, the Rodent Research-4 experiment is part of a broader effort to understand the effects of spaceflight on tissue healing.

Microgravity impairs the wound healing process and has been shown to have negative effects on skin health in astronauts.

Thus, the Rodent Research-4 experiment will attempt to identify the molecular foundations of skin wound healing that are vulnerable to spaceflight-induced stress, potentially unlocking treatment methods for the next generation of wound healing therapies.

Additionally, the experiment could yield new treatment approaches for more than 30% of the patient population that do not respond to current therapeutic options for chronic, non-healing wounds.

Rodent Research-4 will be the first time a comprehensive systems biology approach is used to understand the impact of spaceflight on wound healing.

CRS-10 coming home:

Currently, the Expedition 50 crew is in the process of loading the CRS-10 Dragon with thousands of pounds of now unneeded cargo, supplies, and trash as well as various experiments and hardware that will be returned to Earth for recovery.

Under the current plan, the CRS-10 Dragon will be unberthed from the Station on 19 March, at which point the vehicle will begin a choreographed sequence to dispose of its trunk before reentering the atmosphere for splashdown and recovery in the Pacific Ocean.

Presently, the next resupply mission to the ISS is Orbital ATKS OA-7 Cygnus spacecraft, which has been named for former NASA astronaut and the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn.

OA-7 is as of Friday, 10 March, now set to launch on 21March aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral Air Force Station within a 30min launch window.

After OA-7, the next resupply flight is slated to be the CRS-11 mission from SpaceX which is currently targeting liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on 9 April.

(Images: NASA, SpaceX, CASIS, JAXA)

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SpaceX science Dragon delivers experiments for busy science period – NASASpaceflight.com

Orbital ATK names next Cygnus after John Glenn – SpaceFlight Insider

Derek Richardson

March 10th, 2017

Cygnus OA-7 / S.S. John Glenn. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Orbital ATK announced that it has named the next Cygnus spacecraft to be sent to the International Space Station after former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn, who died on Dec. 8, 2016, at the age of 95.

The S.S. John Glenn will be launched during a 30-minute window that starts at 10:56 p.m. EDT March 19 (02:56 GMT March 20), 2017, atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. It will take about three days for the spacecraft to reach the ISS, where it will be captured by the stations robotic Canadarm2 to be berthed to the Earth-facing port of the Unity module.

S.S. John Glenn / Cygnus OA-7. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

Orbital ATK names all of their ISS cargo freighters after former astronauts. The OA-7 mission is the second Cygnus to be named after a member of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, the previous was after Deke Slayton.

Other Cygnus have been named for George Low, Charles Fullerton, Janice Voss, Rick Husband, and Alan Poindexter, all of whom flew during the Space Shuttle program.

Glenn was born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio. He was a decorated combat veteran of both World War II and the Korean War; in 1959, he was selected by NASA as part of the U.S. first set of astronauts.

Rocketing into the history books on Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Riding a Mercury-Atlas rocket, his one-man Friendship 7 capsule orbited the planet three times before splashing down in the North Atlantic Ocean.

After resigning from NASA in 1964, he went on to run for a U.S. Senate seat from Ohio. However, an injury that year forced an early withdraw. He lost a close election for the same seat in 1970.

In 1974 he won his first election and served for 24 years. Glenn even had an unsuccessful bid for president in 1984.

While he was a Senator, he became the oldest person to fly in space at the age of 77 during Space Shuttle Discoverys STS-95 mission, a record that has yet to be broken. In October 1998, he spent just over nine days orbiting Earth. He was also the only member of the original Mercury astronauts to fly on the Space Shuttle.

Having an internal volume of 950 cubic feet (27 cubic meters), the 21-foot (6.4-meter) long, 10-foot (3.1-meter) wide craft will carry some 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms) of supplies and experiments for Expedition 50 and future ISS crews.

Among the experiments on board is the third Saffire payload. This flame experiment is part of an ongoing series to study the effects of fire in microgravity. It is the largest flame-experiment in the history of space exploration.

Saffire-III will be remotely activated after the cargo portion of the mission concludes, some 90-days after arriving at the ISS. Once Cygnus is unberthed and moved a safe distance away from the outpost, the experiment will be performed and results downloaded via telemetry before re-entering Earths atmosphere.

Also on boardthe S.S. John Glenn is the Reentry Data Collection (RED-Data-2) flight recorder. It will provide data about the conditions the spacecraft will encounter during its destructive re-entry.

Finally, a NanoRacks deployer on the exterior of the spacecraft will release a number of CubeSats.

When it launches, the OA-7 Cygnus will be the third to use a ULA Atlas V. It will fly out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Stations Space Launch Complex 41.

Cygnus OA-7 / S.S. John Glenn. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

Tagged: Cygnus International Space Station Lead Stories NASA OA-7 Orbital ATK S.S. John Glenn

Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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Orbital ATK names next Cygnus after John Glenn – SpaceFlight Insider

Orion’s parachutes tested under launch abort conditions – Spaceflight Now

Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News

A model of NASAs Orion spacecraft, in development to loft astronaut crews into deep space, was dropped from a U.S. Air Force cargo plane over Arizona on Wednesday in the latest in a series of tests to verify the capsules parachutes are up to the job of safely landing with humans on-board.

The instrumented test module, shaped like the real Orion capsule with a foam shell, was deployed from the cargo bay of the C-17 transport plane at an altitude of 25,000 feet about 7,600 meters Wednesday morning over theU.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

Two drogue parachutes unfurled to steady the descending capsule, then three 116-foot-diameter (35-meter) orange and white main parachutes inflated to slow down for landing. The descent profile mimicked the conditions an Orion spacecraft would see in the event of an abort during launch, beginning at a relatively slow speed of 130 mph (209 kilometers per hour) instead of the 310 mph (499 kilometers per hour) at which the parachutes would deploy at the end of a normal mission.

Engineers were expected to analyze the performance of the two drogue parachutes at low speeds, and the inflation of the three main parachutes, which were suspended 265 feet (80 meters) above the capsule before touchdown in the desert in southwest Arizona.

The test was the second of eight drops designed to qualify the parachute system for human spaceflight. Instead of landing in the desert, Orion capsules returning from space or a launch abort will splash down at sea.

The Orion spacecraft has performed one space mission to date an unpiloted test flight in Earth orbit in December 2014 and the next mission is scheduled for no earlier than late 2018 on a trip into lunar orbit and back, also without astronauts.

Following a request from the Trump administration, NASA is studying whether to add a two-person crew to the next Orion mission, which will lift off on the first flight of the agencys Space Launch System rocket, for a round-trip voyage around the moon. A decision to fly astronauts on the next Orion flight, named Exploration Mission-1, would delay the launch past next year to complete development and testing of the capsules abort and life support systems, and add to the programs cost, officials said last month.

The on this page show the capsules drop from the C-17, its descent under parachutes, and the recovery team swarming around the engineering test craft after landing.

NASA and its Orion contractor, Lockheed Martin, plan to reuse the test parachutes flown Wednesday. The capsule will also be refurbished, have new foam added, and reused on four of the remaining six drop tests. A dart-shaped mass simulator will be dropped on the other two qualification tests in the coming months.

The foam damage seen in the images is expected. The outer foam shell is sacrificial and designed to protect the capsules primary structure and avionics, according to Jared Daum, ahardware and parachute engineer working on Orions Capsule Parachute Assembly System.

None of the 11 parachutes used on a real Orion mission will be reused, Daum said.

Engineers will review video and data recorded during Wednesdays drop test as they prepare for the next in the qualification series. Technicians will also inspect the parachutes and capsule for tears and dings.

Were one step closer, Daum told reporters at the landing site. Weve got six more in our qualification series still a lot of work to do.

More images of the drop test are posted below, including views of astronauts Stan Love and Victor Glover observing the test, assisting in the recovery and discussing the event with news media.

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Orion’s parachutes tested under launch abort conditions – Spaceflight Now

Photos: The S.S. John Glenn freighter readied to launch … – Spaceflight Now

March 9, 2017 Justin Ray

The two structural elements of Orbital ATKs OA-7 Cygnus space freighter were delivered to Kennedy Space Center for final assembly, the packing of cargo and launch to the International Space Station.

Named in tribute to the first American to orbit Earth, this Cygnus is the S.S. John Glenn.

It will be the seventh commercial resupply mission undertaken by Orbital ATK. The Cygnus will be propelled into orbit by the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket on March 19.

The pressurized cargo module for Cygnus arrived at Kennedy Space Centers Space Station Processing Facility on Jan. 9. The crafts propulsion section arrived Feb. 1.

After the initial loading of cargo into the PCM, the two pieces were mated together at the SSPF before the Cygnus was moved to the nearby Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility for propellant loading and the stowage of late-load cargo items.

NASA took the following photos of the Cygnus sections arriving and subsequent mating and move to the PHSF.

Credit: NASA-KSC

See earlier OA-7 Cygnus coverage.

Our Atlas archive.

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Photos: The S.S. John Glenn freighter readied to launch … – Spaceflight Now

Ceres’ bright spots significantly younger than crater they inhabit – SpaceFlight Insider

Laurel Kornfeld

March 9th, 2017

The bright spots of Occator Crater are shown in enhanced color in this view from NASAs Dawn spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI/LPI

Researchers who studied images of Ceres Occator Crater captured by the Dawn spacecrafts scientific imaging system have determined that its bright spots, composed largely of carbonate salts, are significantly younger than the crater in which they sit.

The bright spots are also evidence that Ceres has experienced cryovolcanic outbursts over long periods of time, making Ceres the closest world to the Sun to have experienced cryovolcanism.

A science team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), which operates Dawns imaging instruments, analyzed images taken by the spacecraft between December 2015 and September 2016, the time period when it orbited just 233 miles (375 kilometers) above the dwarf planets surface.

Occator Crater, home of Ceres intriguing brightest areas, is prominently featured in this image from NASAs Dawn spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

At that close orbit, Dawns cameras were able to capture images with a resolution of just 115 feet (35 meters) per pixel. Detailed photos of Occator Crater, first observed when Dawn entered Ceres orbit in March 2015, show complex geological structures such as fractures, avalanches, and smaller craters within the large one.

Led by Andreas Nathues, Dawn Framing Camera lead investigator, researchers also studied measurements of the area taken by Dawns infrared VIR spectrometer.

Using the data, they determined the bright spots are approximately 4 million years old, making them 30 million years younger than Occator Crater.

The most reflective materials on Ceres surface, the bright spots initially puzzled astronomers who were uncertain about their composition.

With a diameter of 57 miles (92 kilometers), Occator Crater, located in Ceres northern hemisphere, contains a seven-mile (11-kilometer) wide pit in its center as well as steep slopes and jagged mountains at its edges that rise as high as 2,461 feet (750 meters).

A bright dome-shaped structure within the central pit rises 1,312 feet (400 meters). Fractures are visible along the structure of the 1.87-mile (three-km) wide dome.

In these data, the origin and evolution of the crater as it presents itself today can be read more clearly than ever before, Nathues said.

Based on the presence of the pit and the jagged ridges, researchers believe Occator Crater was created when an asteroid or comet impacted Ceres 34 million years ago.

The impact produced a central mountain within the crater that later collapsed and triggered cryovolcanic activity. Disruption caused by the impact allowed water as well as other dissolved gases, including methane and carbon dioxide, to form a vent system.

Surface fractures were created by eruptions of briny liquids through the vents, bringing with them the carbonate-rich materials that eventually formed the dome.

Scientists believe the dome formed over a long period of time and not as the result of a single event.

The deposits in Occator Crater are composed of carbonate-rich salts. In contrast, other bright spots scattered around the craters edges, thinner and less bright, are a mixture of carbonates and other, darker materials.

By counting and measuring the smaller craters within Occator Crater produced by later impacts scientists were able to determine the ages of both the bright spots and of Occator.

The age and the appearance of the material surrounding the bright dome indicate that Cerealia Facula (the bright spots) was formed by a recurring, eruptive process, which also hurled material into more outward regions of the central pit, Nathues said, noting that similar dome structures have been found on Jupiters moons Ganymede and Callisto.

The surface of the dome was likely created in the most recent eruptions within the crater.

Cryovolcanic activity may still be occurring in Occator Crater, though at a far less intense level than in the past. Images of the crater taken at specific angles reveal a haze scientists view as coming from the sublimation of water.

Earlier images captured by Dawn from higher orbits show regular changes in the craters brightness.

The nature of the light scattering at the bottom of Occator differs fundamentally from that at other parts of the Ceres surface, said MPS scientist Guneshwar Singh Thangjam.The most likely explanation is that near the crater floor, an optically thin, semi-transparent haze is formed.

Researchers think the haze formed by water coming from fractures in the crater floor sublimating in the presence of sunlight.

Dawn is now headed to a different orbital plane and a higher altitude of 12,400 miles (20,000 kilometers).

Video courtesy of JPL

Tagged: Ceres cryovolcanism Dawn Occator Crater The Range

Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne Universitys Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazines guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

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Ceres’ bright spots significantly younger than crater they inhabit – SpaceFlight Insider

OneWeb becomes second customer for Blue Origin’s New Glenn booster – SpaceFlight Insider

Jose Flores

March 8th, 2017

Greg Wyler of OneWeb and Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin. Photo Credit: Jeff Bezos / Blue Origin

On Wednesday, March 8, 2017, Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos announced on Twitter that OneWeb, an organization committed to making the Internet available and affordableto everyone by 2027, has reached an initial agreement for five launches on Blue Origins New Glennrocket.

Greg Wyler, chairman of OneWeb, also tweeted shortly thereafter to confirm the agreement and state that they will be hard at work creating jobs and satellites at their facility in Exploration Park, Florida, which is across the street from Blue Origins new facility currently under construction.

First BE-4 engine fully assembled. (Click to enlarge) Photo Credit: Jeff Bezos / Blue Origin

This news comes on the heels of yesterdays announcementwhen French-based satellite provider Eutelsat Communications,became the first company to sign a contract with Blue Origin for a launch on the New Glenn rocket.

Frank DiBello, President and CEO of Space Florida, also lauded the announcement which comes during the week of the annual Florida Space Day in Tallahassee. Florida Space Day is when the aerospace industry meets with the Florida Legislature and Governors Office to thank the state of Florida for their continued support.

That support is not unappreciated, and with their continued support, Florida will remain the global leader in enabling space commerce, said Dibello.Space Florida congratulates both Blue Origin and the OneWeb Airbus Satellite partnership on their announcement. Space Florida and its partners are proud to be a part of this transformation.

The New Glennwill be a 23-feet (7-meter) diameter, two-stage orbital launch vehicle with a reusable first stage and an optional third stage.The rockets first stage will be powered by seven BE-4 engines, also being developed and manufactured by Blue Origin.

The BE-4 engine is an oxidizer-rich staged-combustion engine, being developed to end U.S. reliance on Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines. It will be ableto produce 550,000 pounds (249,476 kilograms) of thrust, and a vacuum-optimized variant of the engine, developed for the second stage of the New Glennrocket, will include a longer nozzle.

In addition to powering the New Glenn rocket, United Launch Alliance is also considering theuse of the BE-4 on their next generation Vulcan launcher. Establishing independence from the Russian engineis becoming increasingly important as relations between the two countriesremain strained.

On Monday, March 6, Jeff Bezos unveiled the first fully assembled BE-4 engine on Twitter.

The New Glenn launch vehicles will be manufactured in Florida at a facility currentlyunder constructionin Exploration Park on Kennedy Space Center property. Blue Origin has leased Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to conduct orbital launches of New Glenn,which are slated to begin in 2020.

Tagged: BE-4 Blue Origin Jeff Bezos New Glenn OneWeb The Range

College student and long time space enthusiast, Jose has been a constant visitor to Cape Canaveral since he moved to central Florida. He joined the SFI team in the hopes of becoming more involved in the coverage of spaceflight and space exploration.

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OneWeb becomes second customer for Blue Origin’s New Glenn booster – SpaceFlight Insider

NASA authorization bill passes Congress – SpaceFlight Insider

Derek Richardson

March 8th, 2017

Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

The first NASA authorization act in more than six years has cleared Congress and is on its way to President Donald Trumps desk for his signature. The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 7, 2017.

Having originated in the Senate, S.442 was passed there on Feb. 17, 2017. Once it made it to the House floor, there was some discussion, but nobody spoke out against it and it was passed by a voice vote.

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 directs the space agency to, among other things, study the possibility of using Orion as a means to send astronauts to the International Space Station should the Commercial Crew Program incur delays beyond 2019. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider

S.442 was sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and had seven cosponsors in the Senate from six states, including the two Florida senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, a Democrat and Republican, respectively.

Once signed by the president, it recommends (not authorizes) $19.5 billion in spending for the U.S. space agency for thefiscal year 2017. Currently, NASA is operating under a continuing resolution that sets its 2017 funding at 2016 levels, which was $19.2 billion.

Additionally, the authorization act sets policy directing NASAs activities. This includes creating a detailed plan for long-term human space exploration, such as the agencys Journey to Mars, and language directing a study to use Orion as a crew transfer vehicle for the International Space Station should the Commercial Crew Program incur delays beyond 2019.

Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, the Coalition for Deep Space Explorations Executive Director, said in a March 7 statement: Todays approval of the NASA Transition Authorization Act by Congress sends a clear message to the American people and our international partners that our nation remains committed to NASAs space exploration program.

Since the 2010 Authorization Act, NASA and its industry partners have made significant progress towards returning American astronauts to deep space and deploying the next generation of space telescopes and planetary spacecraft to reaffirm U.S. leadership in space.

Dittmar also said that the new authorization will provide the framework for continued progress toward these national commitments.

We appreciate the hard work of both the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee over the last two years that have led to approval of this bipartisan legislation, Dittmar said.

The NASA Authorization act of 2010 passed in September 2010, some two months after the Senates version. Since then, a number of authorization bills have made their way through the House. None passed the Senate, however.

According to Space News, congressional sources say S.442 has the support of the White House.

While the 2018 funding level for NASA has not been announced, there have been some worries regarding whether the space agencys budget will increase or decrease as it was leaked that the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was due to be slashed by 17 percent.

The president announced recently that the department of defense would be seeing an increase of $54 billion while discretionary spending, which includes NASA, would decrease by the same amount.

Despite this, according to Space Policy Online, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot remains confident in NASA support. He released a memo titled Update on Budget Process in which he explained that the process of formulating the 2018 budget is later than usual because of the presidential transition.

Once the president submits his 2018 budget request, it will then be up to Congress to decide how much money NASA and other discretionary items actually get.

Tagged: Congress FY 2017 FY 2018 Lead Stories NASA NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 Orion S. 442

Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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NASA authorization bill passes Congress – SpaceFlight Insider

Lightning mapper beams back first views from space – Spaceflight Now

A sensitive infrared camera mounted on NOAAs new GOES-16 weather satellite has captured its first astounding images of lightning flashes from a perch more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) out in space.

The first-of-its-kind imager can detect in-cloud, cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, giving weather forecasters an inventory of the location, frequency and intensity of lightning activity that could help warn the public of severe storms.

A video released Monday by NOAA shows a 30-second view of lightning activity in a severe storm complex Feb. 14 over southeast Texas. The green cross indicates the location of Houston, and the green lines illustrate the Gulf Coast.

The lightning flashes are overlaid on an image from GOES-16s primary camera, the Advanced Baseline Imager, which produces high-resolution infrared and visible pictures of cloud movements, storm tracks, tropical cyclones and smoke plumes.

GOES-16 is the first geostationary weather satellite to carry such an instrument, which is sensitive to lightning flashes day and night. Research satellites in lower orbits have flown with lightning cameras, and a lightning sensor launched to the International Space Station last month, but those detectors do not have the wide coverage of a high-altitude geostationary observatory.

NOAA says the lightning mapper on GOES-16, and aboard follow-on GOES satellites, will deliver data to weather forecasters within 20 seconds, offering near real-time snapshots of severe storm activity, often outpacing the availability of conventional satellite and radar imagery. The lightning instrument collects observations at 500 frames per second,distinguishing the location, intensity and horizontal propagation of individual strokes within each lightning flash, according to NOAA.

Lightning data currently incorporated into weather imagery and forecasts usually comes from ground-based detection networks.

GOES-16 launched on Nov. 19 from Cape Canaveral on-board a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. Lockheed Martin manufactured the weather satellite the first in a new generation of NOAA weather sentinels and the Geostationary Lightning Mapper.

NOAA says GOES-16 will enter service by November after completing calibration and commissioning. The weather agency will announce in May whether GOES-16 will be stationed over the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean.

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Lightning mapper beams back first views from space – Spaceflight Now

Environmental sentinel launched from French Guiana – Spaceflight Now

The Vega rocket took off from the Guiana Space Center at 10:49 p.m. French Guiana time Monday. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace Photo Optique Video du CSG G. Barbaste

A European environmental satellite rode a solid-fueled Vega launcher from a tropical spaceport at the edge of the Amazon jungle into polar orbit Monday night, adding a new eye in the sky to check on the health of crops and forests from space.

The Sentinel 2B Earth observation spacecraft, packaged inside the nose cone of the 98-foot-tall (30-meter) Vega booster, blasted off at 0149:24 GMT Tuesday (8:49:24 p.m. EST Monday) from the Guiana Space Center on the northern shore of South America.

Moments after clearing the launch pads four lightning towers, the Vegas first stage motor swiveled to steer the rocket on a trajectory north from the European-run space base, soaring over the Atlantic Ocean and passing east of the Lesser Antilles as its three Italian-made lower stages fired in quick succession.

A liquid-fueled fourth stage engine built in Ukraine fired two times to maneuver the 2,491-pound (1,130-kilogram) Sentinel 2B satellite into an on-target orbit around 488 miles (786 kilometers) above Earth.

The Vega rockets navigation computer aimed for a ground track tilted at approximately 98.5 degrees to the equator, a sun-synchronous orbit that will allow Sentinel 2B to image strips of territory at the same time each day.

Sentinel 2B separated from the Vega rockets upper stage around 58 minutes after liftoff.

Arianespace, the French company which manages Vega launch operations, declared the launch a success, making the Vega rocket nine-for-nine since its debut flight in February 2012.

Controllers at the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, established communications with Sentinel 2B as planned through a series of ground antennas in Australia, Antarctica and Alaska. The ground team verified the satellites health, and confirmed the crafts power-generating solar panel unfurled and began tracking the sun, a key step in stabilizing the observatory and readying it for tests and commissioning.

Built by Airbus Defense and Space, Sentinel 2B joins an identical twin satellite launched in June 2015 for the European Commissions Copernicus program, a multibillion-dollar network that will eventually consist of at least 15 spacecraft scanning the planet with radar, optical, infrared, microwave and laser instruments.

The comprehensive satellite fleet, coupled with sophisticated data processing equipment on the ground, will keep track of changes in Earths land surfaces, oceans, ice sheets and atmosphere.

The Sentinel 2 satellites provide the Copernicus programs optical component, specializing in mapping land surfaces, monitoring crops and forests, and detecting pollution in lakes, streams and coastal waters. Sentinel 2A and 2B are roughly analogous to the U.S. governments Landsat satellite series, but with the ability to image the entire planet at faster tempos, a characteristic known as revisit time.

Sentinel 2 is very unique, said Philippe Goudy, head of Earth observation projects at the European Space Agency. As we are changing the environment, we need to have more and more data about these changes we are putting on the environment. There is no similar mission that would give us the revisit, the coverage and the precision that Sentinel 2 will give us.

Sentinel 2Bs orbit is positioned 180 degrees away from Sentinel 2A, and the satellites together will see every point on the planet at least once every five days. The revisit time will be cut to around three days at Europes latitude, and as short as one day in parts of Scandinavia and Canada, according to Bianca Hoersch, ESAs Sentinel 2 mission manager.

The Sentinel 2B mission valued at more than $150 million when combining the cost of the satellite and the launch is the fifth Copernicus satellite to launch since deployments began in 2014.

With this launch we are taking another step toward advancing the Copernicus program, which is the most sophisticated Earth observation system in the world, said Jan Woerner, ESAs director general. And we are planning to add two more satellites to the constellation in the next months: with Sentinel 5P and Sentinel 3B.

Sentinel 2B will be fully operational in three or four months, according to ESA, which manages the Copernicus satellites for the European Commission, the European Unions executive body.

The observatorys camera can see in 13 colors, giving it the sensitivity to distinguish between plant types, vegetation health, leaf area and chlorophyl and water content. During each orbit, the camera will take images in swaths 180 miles (290 kilometers) wide, resolving blocks of land as small as around 30 feet (10 meters).

The main motivation behind this, obviously, is to keep track of how the landscape changes over time on a continental scale, said Mtys Rada, a scientist at the European Environment Information and Observation Network, part of the European Environment Agency, based in Budapest, Hungary. For example, urban sprawl at the expense of agricultural land, deforestation, things like that.

Thanks to the Sentinel missions, now we have the capacity to build entirely on European data inputs, and these maps can drive policies, function as a policy feedback, help spatial planning and decision-making, Rada said.

Like other Sentinel satellites, Sentinel 2B carries a high-speed laser communications terminal to link up with relay satellites in geostationary orbit, hastening the delivery of data to end users.

Anne Schucknecht, a scientist at the European Commissions Joint Research Center in Ispra, Italy, uses Sentinel satellite data in her work.

We monitor agriculture resources with satellite data aiming for early warning of droughts and crop failure, so that the responsible authorities can take action to prevent potential famine, Shucknecht said in an ESA interview. Just as were talking here, there is a severe drought ongoing in Somalia, and the most recent drought was just four years ago and cost the lives of 2,500 people. We use the satellite data to see where the cropland is, how the vegetation is developing, and then compare it to the long-term average so we can see if this season is going well or are there some problems.

For Somalia, we saw the first signs of the drought in October, and now as the season is finished, we know that there was crop failure in many parts of the country, she said. At the moment, we use moderate resolution data, so we can have a regional assessment, but if you wanted more higher-resolution data or information, you can use the Sentinel 2 data to even have field information.

We provide the maps and outlook for the future, and then the governments or other authorites can take action, Shucknecht said. With this timely information, in the end, lots of lives can be saved.

Next up for the Copernicus program is the launch of the Sentinel 5P satellite designed to monitor air quality and the ozone layer. It is currently scheduled to take off in June aboard a Russian Rockot vehicle.

More satellites will launch in the coming years to fill out the Copernicus constellation, and officials have already ordered replacements for some of the first-generation Sentinel observatories. For example, the Sentinel 2C and 2D satellites to take the place of Sentinel 2A and 2B will launch starting in 2021.

This goes far beyond admiring technological prowess because, after all, its not just art for arts sake, said Philippe Brunet, director of space policy, Copernicus and defense at the European Commission. Its not just to put stuff out into orbit, its in order to allow society to enjoy benefits, and if we take a look at the different challenges facing Europe climate change, security challenges, and perhaps in the future border monitoring issues I think that programs such as Copernicus will provide far more than just technical prowess.

Monday nights launch of Sentinel 2B was the third of up to 12 Arianespace missions planned this year.

Arianespaces next flight is scheduled for March 21, when a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket will loft a Brazilian government communications satellite and the Koreasat 7 video and television broadcasting station.

The next Vega launch is set for no earlier than August with a French-Israeli vegetation mapping satellite and an Israeli-built surveillance craft for the Italian military.

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Environmental sentinel launched from French Guiana – Spaceflight Now

Blue Origin details new rocket’s capabilities, signs first orbital customer – Spaceflight Now

Artists concept of the New Glenn rocket. Credit: Blue Origin

Amazon.coms Jeff Bezos revealed new details of his space companys reusable orbital-class booster Tuesday, releasing an animation illustrating the rockets liftoff from Cape Canaveral and announcing a contract with Eutelsat to put a commercial communications satellite on one of the launchers first missions.

Speaking at the Satellite 2017 industry conference in Washington, Bezos said Blue Origins towering New Glenn rocket, named for pioneering astronaut John Glenn, could launch by 2020 and be reused up to 100 times.

Paris-based Eutelsat, one of the largest satellite telecom operators in the world, has signed up as the first paying customer for a New Glenn launch in 2021 or 2022.

Eutelsat is one of the worlds most experienced and innovative satellite operators, and we are honored that they chose Blue Origin and ourNew Glennorbital launch vehicle, Bezos said in a statement.

Eutelsat has launched satellites on many new vehicles and shares both our methodical approach to engineering and our passion for driving down the cost of access to space, Bezos said. Welcome to the launch manifest, Eutelsat, cant wait to fly together.

The New Glenns primary base will be at Cape Canaveral, where Blue Origin is constructing a cavernous rocket factory just outside the gates of NASAs Kennedy Space Center. Blue Origin has started preliminary earthmoving work for a launch pad at Complex 36, a former Atlas rocket facility at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and plans to install an engine test stand at neighboring Complex 11.

The animation released by Blue Origin on Tuesday shows the New Glenn rocket taking off from Complex 36 on the power of seven BE-4 main engines, burning a mixture of liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen. The engines each produce about 550,000 pounds of thrust at full throttle, combining to generate 3.85 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

The first stage engines will give way to a single modified BE-4 engine on the New Glenns second stage to deliver satellites, and eventually crews, into orbit, while the booster flips around and reignites to slow its descent toward a barge positioned offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, according to Blue Origin.

The New Glenn first stage will have aerodynamic fins, or strakes, for improved steering and extend six landing legs just before touchdown.

The recovery maneuver is familiar to industry officials and space enthusiasts, bearing similarity to the landings pioneered by rival SpaceX.

Blue Origin held a patent on its plans to land rocket boosters on ships in the ocean using rocket thrust to slow the vehicles down for landing, but SpaceX disputed the validity of the patent claims by pointing to academic papers and proposals dating back decades outlining concepts to recover rockets on ocean-going vessels for refurbishment and reuse.

Blue Origin in 2015 canceled the claims disputed by SpaceX, which achieved its first rocket landing at sea in April 2016.

The two-stage New Glenn variant, shown in the animation, will stand270 feet (82 meters) tall and haul nearly 29,000 pounds, or 13 metric tons, to geostationary transfer orbit, the drop-off point for most communications satellites, like the platforms owned and operated by Eutelsat. The rockets payload capacity to low Earth orbit, a few hundred miles in altitude, will be nearly 100,000 pounds, or 45 metric tons, Bezos said.

With the addition of an optional third stage for deep space missions, the New Glenns height will increase to 313 feet (95 meters).

Blue Origins BE-4 engine in development to power the New Glenn rocket is scheduled to perform its full-scale hotfire test later this year at the companys remote West Texas test site.

Bezos tweeted two pictures of the first fully-assembled BE-4 engine Monday, adding that the second and third copies are following close behind.

United Launch Alliance has tapped the BE-4 engine as its preferred powerplant for the next-generation Vulcan rocket scheduled for a maiden launch in 2019. ULA is paying Aerojet Rocketdyne, a traditional engine-builder, to continue developing its kerosene-fueled AR1 engine as a backup option.

We are very close to selecting, said Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA, in a Feb. 16 presentation at the University of Texas at El Paso. And if the testing that happens in the next couple of months is successful, well probably end up on that Blue Origin (engine).

The BE-4 and AR1 will employ astaged combustion cycle, a more efficient engine cycle than currently available on other U.S. liquid hydrocarbon rocket engines. Staged combustion engines currently flying include the Russian RD-180 on ULAs Atlas 5, which the Vulcan will replace.

Itll be very exciting because itll bring that advanced Russian engine cycle technology to America, and it will make it much much better because this engine will be additively manufactured, Bruno said. It will be much more produceable. It will be much lighter, and it will be much much more affordable.

Blue Origins first production engine, the BE-3, burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen and flies on the companys suborbital New Shepard rocket. The New Shepard has launched successfully six times, including five straight vertical liftoffs and landings with the same reusable single-stage booster in 2015 and 2016.

Eutelsat has taken chances on new rockets before, placing its satellites on the inaugural launches of the Atlas 3, Atlas 5, Delta 4 and Ariane 5 ECA boosters in the early 2000s.

In a statement Tuesday, Eutelsat said the contract with Blue Origin reflects Eutelsats longstanding strategy to source launch services from multiple agencies in order to secure access to space.

Eutelsat said the New Glenn launcher will be compatible with virtually all of its satellites, allowing the company to assign a spacecraft to the mission 12 months ahead of time.

Blue Origin has been forthcoming with Eutelsat on its strategy and convinced us they have the right mindset to compete in the launch service industry, said Rodolphe Belmer, CEO of Eutelsat. Their solid engineering approach, and their policy to develop technologies that will form the base of a broad generation of launchers, corresponds to what we expect from our industrial partners.

In includingNew Glennin our manifest, we are pursuing our longstanding strategy of innovation that drives down the cost of access to space and drives up performance, Belmer said in a statement. This can only be good news for the profitability and sustainability of our industry.

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Blue Origin details new rocket’s capabilities, signs first orbital customer – Spaceflight Now

To your brain, spaceflight seems to be a lot like bed rest | Ars Technica – Ars Technica

Enlarge / The top row shows brain changes with long duration bed rest, the bottom row shows changes with spaceflight. Orange shows regions of increase, blue a decrease.

When it comes to human health and spaceflight, there are a lotof concerns as NASA casts its eye toward deep space. Among the more familiar problems are muscle and bone mass loss due to the lack of gravity. But more recently, scientists have grown increasingly concerned about astronauts returning to Earth withblurred vision, flattened eyeballs, and inflamed optic nerves after long-duration missions.

The eyesight problems appear to be caused by changes incerebrospinal fluid, a clear fluid that helps cushion the brain from pressure changes during bodily movements. Now scientists are probing what other kinds of health issues might be caused by a redistribution of this spinal fluid, and this has led to studying the changes in brain size during spaceflight.

A new study in Nature Microgravity provides some of the first data on the changes in brain structure during spaceflight. Led by University of Michigan researcherRachael Seidler, the study reviewedMRI scans from27 astronauts, 13 of whom flew space shuttle missions and 14 who had flown approximately six month increments on board the International Space Station. The data wasobtained fromthe NASA Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health.

In their analysis, the scientists found “extensive” decreases in some gray matter areas, includingthecovering of the temporal and frontal poles and around the orbits. The effect was more pronounced for astronauts who had spent more time in space, and it’s likely these changes were caused partially by shifting cerebrospinal fluid. The study also found increases in gray matter volume for regions of the brain that control leg movement. It’s possible that these areas of the brain grew as the brain “worked” to learn how to move in microgravity.

These findings are preliminary and from a relatively small sample sizeas is often the case with astronaut studies. But there is enough data here for some basic conclusions. First of all, the brain clearly retains itsplasticity in space, learning and adapting to new motor skills in microgravity. Second, the space-based brain reaction is similar to patients observed ina long-term bed rest study intended to mimic microgravity, in which volunteers spent up to three months in downward tilted position.

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To your brain, spaceflight seems to be a lot like bed rest | Ars Technica – Ars Technica

Live coverage: SpaceX readies rocket to loft TV broadcast satellite – Spaceflight Now

March 6, 2017 Stephen Clark

Live coverage of SpaceXs preparations for the second Falcon 9 rocket launch from pad 39A at NASAs Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission will launch the EchoStar 23 television broadcast satellite. Text updates will appear automatically below;there is no need to reload the page. Follow us onTwitter.

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Live coverage: SpaceX readies rocket to loft TV broadcast satellite – Spaceflight Now


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