Flight proven Falcon 9 booster may launch the SES-11 satellite into orbit – SpaceFlight Insider

Lloyd Campbell

August 15th, 2017

Falcon 9 takes flight with SES-10; it may also launch the SES-11 satellite. Photo Credit: Michael Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

If rumors that have been circulating prove to be true, the SES-11 satellite launch, currently scheduled for no earlier than September 27, 2017, may fly on a flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 booster.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. The SES-11 satellite (sometimes referred to as EchoStar 105) will provide satellite based television to customers across North America. It is designed to replace functions currently being provided by two different satellites currently in orbit.

Accordingto a statement on the SES website: The spacecrafts Ku-band capacity will replace AMC-15 at 105 W, an orbital position where EchoStar has been our anchor customer since 2006. The spacecrafts C-band capacity will provide replacement capacity for AMC-18 at the same position.

After sending SES-10 toward space, the pre-flown first stage of the Falcon 9 made its second landing on a SpaceX drone ship. Photo Credit: SpaceX webcast

SES has already launched one satellite using a previously flown Falcon 9 booster. On March 30, 2017, the SES-10 satellite became the first geostationary satellite to be placed into orbit using a flight-proven first-stage booster.

Following the successful launch, SpaceX recovered the booster for the second time; additionally, they also were able to recover one-half of the payload fairing, a first for any launch provider.

At a news conference following the successful SES-10 launch, Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer from SES, stated: We have 3 more flights this year with SpaceX, on two of those flights we are considering now moving them to pre-flown.

So SES-11 could be one of those two flights that Halliwell was referring to.

SpaceFlight Insider reached out to SpaceX to try and get confirmation, either way, on whether a flight-proven Falcon 9 booster would be used for SES-11, but we have not received an answer from them as of this writing.

Using a flight proven booster offers substantial launch cost savings over a brand new booster. While SpaceX hasnt quoted specific pricing, it saves the customer millions of dollars for a launch.

SpaceX continues to improve the Falcon 9 booster in efforts to hopefully turn it around to fly again in a short period of time. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has a goal of a 24-hour turnaround time to fly again.

SES-11 is now third in line on the SpaceX launch manifest. Following the successful CRS-12 launch yesterday, August 14, a resupply mission to the International Space Station, SpaceX will first focus on the Formosat 5 Earth-observation satellite launch on August 24, 2017, from SLC-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Then they will tackle a very high profile launch from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The OTV-5 launch will mark the first time SpaceX has lofted the U.S. Air Forces experimental X-37B unmanned spacecraft into orbit. That launch is currently slated for September 7, 2017.

Tagged: Falcon 9 SES-11 SpaceX The Range

Lloyd Campbells first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASAs Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then hes attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agencys new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.

Excerpt from:

Flight proven Falcon 9 booster may launch the SES-11 satellite into orbit – SpaceFlight Insider

GOES-S, GOES-T satellites on track for launch – SpaceFlight Insider

Joe Latrell

August 15th, 2017

GOES-R and GOES-S side by side. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. In November 2016, the GOES-Rspacecraft, part of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system, was launched. It was the first in a new class of weather monitoring satellites built for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). After transitioning to a geostationary orbit, it gained a new name GOES-16. Now two of the follow-up spacecraft, GOES-S and GOES-T, are on track to be completed and launched as scheduled.

Next in the series, GOES-S is undergoing final testing to confirm functionality. These evaluations are designed to confirm the spacecraft can withstand the rigors of launch and operation, including mechanical stresses and the thermal extremes of space.Additional electromagnetic testing will be performed to ensure the electronics on the spacecraft will not interfere with its operation.

Artists rendering of the GOES-16 satellite in orbit. Image Credit: NOAA

Testing for GOES-S will continue through Fall 2017, after which it will be sent to Kennedy Space Center for final launch preparations. That shipment is scheduled to occur in December.

The GOES-R series of satellites is a collaborative effort between NOAA and NASA. The spacecraft are designed to monitor Earths oceans, land, and atmosphere providing weather forecasting, storm tracking, and climate information. Additionally, the satellites are used for space weather modeling and meteorological research.

GOES-S is now in its final test phase preparing it to join GOES-16 in space, giving the nation two next-generation geostationary weather satellites to watch over the Western Hemisphere, said acting GOES-R Series System Program Director Mike Stringer at the GOES-R Series Program Office located at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Designed for a 10-year operational life, the Lockheed Martin-manufactured GOES-R spacecraft are builton the A2100satellite bus, a three-axis stabilized platform. Fully fueled, the vehicles each have a mass of 11,446 pounds (5,192 kilograms) at liftoff. Instrumentation on the GOES-R series includes Earth facing and solar facing electronics packages. In total, the series will have 34 meteorological, solar, and space weather equipment packages.

GOES-T is also well into production. Five of its on board instrument packages have been delivered to Lockheed Martins facility in Littleton, Colorado. The majority of the avionics have been installed as well as the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) and the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS). Integration tests for these components are underway. Additionally, the propulsion module was delivered in July and the two spacecraft halves are scheduled to be mated together sometime in September.

This entire series of satellites boosts the capacity of weather monitoring due to the incredible advancement of environmental sensors. The spacecraft have four times the viewing resolution of previous GOES satellites. They can also scan the Earth five times faster and boast triple the number of channels for more accurate and reliable forecasts. Additionally, the GOES-R series will monitor solar and space weather activities.

GOES-S is currently scheduled for launch in spring 2018, while GOES-T is planned for launch sometime in 2020. They will be designated GOES-17 and GOES-18 once they reach orbit.

Tagged: GOES-16 GOES-R GOES-S GOES-T NASA NOAA The Range

Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.

Continued here:

GOES-S, GOES-T satellites on track for launch – SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX launches cargo capsule full of science experiments – Spaceflight Now

Credit: SpaceX

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket climbed into space Monday from NASAs Kennedy Space Center atop a column of gleaming exhaust, shooting a commercial resupply vessel toward the International Space Station with research projects looking into cosmic rays, the origin of Parkinsons disease, the utility of small satellites and an experimental radiation-tolerant supercomputer.

Crammed with more than 6,400 pounds (2,900 kilograms) of supplies, the Dragon capsule bolted on top of the Falcon 9 rocket also carried computer and camera gear, components to maintain the stations life support system and medical equipment, and provisions for the stations six-person crew, including clothing, fresh food and ice cream.

The 213-foot-tall (65-meter) rocket took off from pad 39A at the Florida spaceport at 12:31:37 p.m. EDT (1631:37 GMT), pitched toward the northeast to align with the space stations orbit, and roared through scattered clouds before disappearing into a blue summertime sky.

Nine Merlin 1D main engines at the base of the booster generated 1.7 million pounds of thrust, pushing the rocket into the stratosphere before the first stage switched off and fell away at an altitude of 40 miles (65 kilometers).

A single Merlin engine fired on the Falcon 9s upper stage to power the Dragon capsule into orbit. Glowing red-hot, the second stage engine throttled up to more than 200,000 pounds of thrust for its six-and-a-half minute firing.

Meanwhile, in a maneuver now common during SpaceX launches, the first stage flipped around with guided pulses of cold nitrogen gas to point tail first, then reignited three of its Merlin engines to boost itself back forward Cape Canaveral.

Two more braking maneuvers were needed to slow down the descending rocket, steering it back to the coast with the help of aerodynamic fins before extending four landing legs and settling on a concrete target at Landing Zone 1 less than eight minutes after liftoff, around 9 miles (15 kilometers) south of the Falcon 9s departure point at pad 39A.

From what Ive heard, its right on the bullseye and (had a) very soft touchdown, so its a great pre-flown booster ready to go for the next time, said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceXs vice president of flight reliability.

SpaceX has reused two of its recovered first stage boosters to date, and engineers are prepping another previously-flown rocket for a mission with an SES communications satellite this fall.

The rocket launched Monday was a fresh vehicle, but its landing legs were scavenged from a vehicle flown on a previous mission, Koenigsmann said.

The upper stage continued rocketing into orbit, turning off its engine just after the nine-minute point in the flight, then deploying the Dragon capsule into an on-target slightly egg-shaped orbit averaging around 175 miles (280 kilometers) above the planet.

The second stage went into a near-perfect orbit (and) deployed Dragon, Koenigsmann said in a media briefing around two hours after the launch.

Dragon primed propellant and has performed the first co-elliptic burn at this point in time, he said, referring to the first in a series of thruster firings on tap to guide the capsule toward the space station.

The supply ships power-generating solar arrays extended shortly after it arrived in space, while the Falcon 9s second stage reignited for a de-orbit maneuver to avoid the creation of space junk.

With Mondays launch, SpaceXs Falcon 9 rocket family has accomplished 39 missions since debuting in 2010, and 38 of them have succeeded in their primary objectives. Those statistics do not include a Falcon 9 rocket that exploded before takeoff during testing on the launch pad, destroying an Israeli communications satellite.

SpaceX has landed the Falcon 9s first stage intact 14 times in 19 tries since the company attempted its first rocket landing on a barge at sea in 2015. Six of those touchdowns have occurred at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.

The automated cargo freighter will reach its destination Wednesday, when astronaut Jack Fischer will take command of the space stations Canadian-built robotic arm to capture the commercial spaceship around 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT).

The robotic arm will install Dragon on the space stations Harmony module for a planned 32-day stay.

While astronauts inside the station will unpack cargo inside Dragons internal cabin, the Canadian and Japanese robotic arms will transfer a NASA-funded cosmic ray sensor to a mounting post outside the Kibo laboratory.

Derived from an instrument carried aloft on high-altitude balloons, the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass, or CREAM, payload will spend at least three years sampling particles sent speeding through the universe by cataclysmic supernova explosions, and perhaps other exotic phenomena like dark matter.

Scientists think the subatomic particles could hold the key to unlocking mysteries about the universe.

One experiment stowed inside the capsules pressurized section will investigate the origins of Parkinsons disease in a bid to find a therapy that could slow or halt its development, and another will study the affects of spaceflight on the development of bioengineered lung tissue, potentially helping scientists lessen the chance of organ rejection in transplant patients.

A supercomputer developed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise will spend at least a year on the space station, helping engineers gauge the ruggedness of commercial computer components in the harsh conditions of space.

Most computers sent into space are physically hardened to withstand radiation, cosmic rays, and other rigors of spaceflight. Hewlett Packard said its spaceborne computer experiment was hardened with software, reducing the time, money and weight of the supercomputer.

The experimental computer passed at least 146 safety tests and certifications to win NASA approval for the trip to the space station. If it works, Hewlett Packard officials said it could help future space missions, including a human expedition to Mars, have the latest computer technology.

Four small satellites inside the Dragon capsule will be moved inside the space station for deployment later this year.

The biggest of the bunch, named Kestrel Eye 2M, is a pathfinder for a potential constellation of Earth-imaging spacecraft for the U.S. military. About the size of a dorm room refrigerator, the Kestrel Eye 2M satellite was developed by the Armys Space and Missile Defense Command over the last five years.

Three CubeSats sponsored by NASA will test technologies for compact telescopes that could help astronomers observe stars and search for exoplanets, demonstrate a more reliable small satellite design, and study space weather.

Mondays Falcon 9 flight was the first of three launches scheduled from Cape Canaveral in the next 11 days.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is scheduled to roll out Wednesday to pad 41 at the Cape ahead of liftoff Friday at 8:03 a.m. EDT (1203 GMT) with a NASA satellite designed to track rockets climbing into space and relay communications between scientific spacecraft in orbit around Earth.

An Orbital ATK Minotaur 4 rocket is being readied for launch at 11:15 p.m. EDT Aug. 25 (0315 GMT Aug. 26) from Cape Canaverals pad 46 with a military space surveillance mission.

The next mission on SpaceXs manifest is scheduled for Aug. 24 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A Falcon 9 rocket will haul the Taiwanese Formosat 5 Earth observation satellite into a polar orbit, and its first stage will attempt a return to a barge downrange in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceXs team at the Kennedy Space Center will prepare a Falcon 9 to deploy the U.S. Air Forces reusable X-37B spaceplane no earlier than Sept. 7.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Original post:

SpaceX launches cargo capsule full of science experiments – Spaceflight Now

NASA contracts energy firm to refine nuclear thermal propulsion concepts – SpaceFlight Insider

Collin Skocik

August 14th, 2017

Nuclear Thermal Propulsion technology test. Photo Credit: NASA

As the U.S. government continues to pursue plans for a crewed mission to Mars, NASA has contracted with BWXT Nuclear Energy Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia, to advance concepts in Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP), which could drastically reduce travel times to Mars.

This is part of NASAs Game Changing Development Program, which takes ideas from academia and industry as well as NASA and other government programs, to advance new approaches to space technologies to accommodate the changing needs of U.S. space efforts.

NTP is not a new concept, but it was abandoned in 1972 when plans for a Mars mission were shelved. NASA conducted ground tests since 1955 to determine the viability of NTP and has occasionally been revisited as a conceptual part of Mars mission feasibility studies.

The advantage of NTP is mainly in that it can provide twice the rocket thrust of the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs), which are among the most powerful chemical rockets ever developed.

Sonny Mitchell, Nuclear Thermal Propulsion project manager at Marshall, said: As we push out into the Solar System, nuclear propulsion may offer the only truly viable technology option to extend human reach to the surface of Mars and to worlds beyond. Were excited to be working on technologies that could open up deep space for human exploration.

Rex Geveden, BWX Technologies president and CEO, said: We are uniquely qualified to design, develop and manufacture the reactor and fuel for a nuclear-powered spacecraft. This is an opportune time to pivot our capabilities into the space market where we see long-term growth opportunities in nuclear propulsion and nuclear surface power.

Using conventional rockets, a mission to Mars at opposition would take six months. NTP could cut the travel time to four months. There are several advantages to cutting down travel time. One is that the astronauts would get less exposure to solar radiation something that is of greater concern, as some recent studies suggest that the Apollo lunar astronauts may have had their health more adversely affected by radiation during their journeys than previously realized.

A shorter travel time will also reduce the vehicles mass. It would need to carry less fuel and fewer consumables and could, therefore, carry more payload.

It works by expanding a propellant, such as hydrogen, by heating it in a nuclear reactor. This differs from chemical rockets, in which the fuel is the heat source. As a result, an NTR rocket can use a propellant with a low molecular weight rather than complexfuels such as kerosene or hydrazine.

Tagged: BWXT Nuclear Energy Mars NASA Nuclear Thermal Propulsion The Range

Collin R. Skocik has been captivated by space flight since the maiden flight of space shuttle Columbia in April of 1981. He frequently attends events hosted by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and has met many astronauts in his experiences at Kennedy Space Center. He is a prolific author of science fiction as well as science and space-related articles. In addition to the Voyage Into the Unknown series, he has also written the short story collection The Future Lives!, the science fiction novel Dreams of the Stars, and the disaster novel The Sunburst Fire. His first print sale was Asteroid Eternia in Encounters magazine. When he is not writing, he provides closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. He lives in Atlantic Beach, Florida.

More:

NASA contracts energy firm to refine nuclear thermal propulsion concepts – SpaceFlight Insider

Stockton student spaceflight experiment at Space Station – Shore News Today

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP Two Stockton University students will find out if the experiment they designed will work on the International Space Station.

Stockton University students Danielle Ertz of Woodlynne and Valkyrie Falciani of Hammonton and faculty mentor Tara Luke, associate professor of biology, developed an experiment that studies fungus as a potential force for improving agriculture in space.

The students want to see if astronauts can sustain their food supply in space.

The project was accepted by the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program and launched Monday from Cape Canaveral, Florida on the on SpaceX-CRS-12.

The students watched the launch in person in Florida.

Their experiment uses a mycorrhizal fungus species and flax. Flax was chosen because its seeds are edible, the plant can be used to make cloth, its extensive taproot system allows growth in limited space and it is proven to grow in space.

The experiment consists of a fluid mixing enclosure mini-lab that will hold enough water, fungi spores and flax seed to grow for 4-6 weeks on the International Space Station. The same experiment will be conducted here as a scientific ground truth for later comparison.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in the U.S. and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laborator

For more details see https://stocktonspaceflight.org/.

Read the original here:

Stockton student spaceflight experiment at Space Station – Shore News Today

Mars 160: Study evaluates crew performance, EVA procedures for future missions – SpaceFlight Insider

Paul Knightly

August 14th, 2017

Two Mars 160 crew members collect samples to analyze. Photo Credit: Paul Knightly / Mars Society

Over the last week, a break in the weather allowed the crew of the Mars Societys Mars 160 mission to conduct multiple science extravehicular activities (EVAs). The six-person crew wrapped up its last full week in simulation, capping off a shortened Mars mission at the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) in the Canadian high Arctic.

The simulation was originally planned to last for 60 days but was shortened to 30 days after three weeks of poor weather delayed the crews arrival to FMARS, which is located on Devon Island in Nunavut, a territory of Canada.

One of the primary science and operational studies of the Mars 160 mission is the Twin EVA Study, which is designed to assess science return at the Mars Societys two analog sites: FMARS in the Arctic and the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah. Four trials for the arctic portion of the EVA study were conducted over the past week.

The FMARS analog station in the Canadian high Arctic. Photo Credit: Paul Knightly / Mars Society

The study is looking at the differences between suited and unsuited EVAs as well as differences in performance between scientist and generalist crew members. The end result will be to highlight procedural and design changes that can be made on future missions.

The study is led by Mars 160 Principal Investigator Shannon Rupert, who also operates MDRS. Rupert hopes to identify ways to improve how mission simulations are conducted in order to lay the operational groundwork for planning the first missions to Mars.

We will be looking not only at how work was done on Earth vs. Mars but how well a generalist on a crew can assist a scientist in the field, Rupert said. By only having crew scientists train generalist crew, and having them work as a pair, we were able to see what gain we get with non-science crew who assist in fieldwork.

Rupert was not able to join the rest of the crew at FMARS to view EVAs in the Arctic but is excited to watch a video of them after the mission is over.

At MDRS it was interesting to see how a scientist and non-scientist explored and whatcollaboration did occur in situ and organically, Rupert said of the first half of the study. Of course this was only from my observations, its going to be fun to put the video and other parameters in a matrix and see what we have in terms of science return for each of the eight EVAs.

In addition to the Twin EVA Study, the Mars 160 crew was busy wrapping other field work. Because primary science investigations concluded toward the end of the week, the crew conducted a few extra EVAs to collect additional data to aid in its biology, geoscience, and engineering investigations. The work from field investigations will continue in laboratory settings once the mission has concluded.

A series of final science EVAs was conducted over the weekend with the simulation expected to end on Aug. 14, 2017. The Mars 160 crew will spend the next day cleaning and securing the station for the winter before being flown back to Resolute, Nunavut, around Aug. 16. After briefly going separate ways, most of the crew will reunite for a presentation about Mars 160 at the Mars Society Convention at the University of California, Irvine between Sept. 710.

The crew is expected to remain at FMARS until the middle of August.For more information and regular updates on the Mars 160 mission, visithttp://mars160.marssociety.org/. Additionally, you can follow the mission on Twitter:@MDRSUpdates.

Paul Knightly is serving as a crew geologist for Mars 160 and is alsowritingfor Spaceflight Insider.

Two crew members on the Mars 160 mission conduct an in-simulation extravehicular activity. Photo Credit: Mars Society

Tagged: Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station Mars Mars 160 Mars Society The Range

Paul is currently a graduate student in Space and Planetary Sciences at the University of Akransas in Fayetteville. He grew up in the Kansas City area and developed an interest in space at a young age at the start of the twin Mars Exploration Rover missions in 2003. He began his studies in aerospace engineering before switching over to geology at Wichita State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 2013. After working as an environmental geologist for a civil engineering firm, he began his graduate studies in 2016 and is actively working towards a PhD that will focus on the surficial processes of Mars. He also participated in a 2-week simluation at The Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station in 2014 and remains involved in analogue mission studies today. Paul has been interested in science outreach and communication over the years which in the past included maintaining a personal blog on space exploration from high school through his undergraduate career and in recent years he has given talks at schools and other organizations over the topics of geology and space. He is excited to bring his experience as a geologist and scientist to the Spaceflight Insider team writing primarily on space science topics.

View post:

Mars 160: Study evaluates crew performance, EVA procedures for future missions – SpaceFlight Insider

JPL’s Space Flight Operations Facility Prepares for Cassini Mission’s ‘Grand Finale’ – Pasadena Now

This illustration shows NASAs Cassini spacecraft above Saturn’s northern hemisphere prior to one of its 22 grand finale dives. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After almost 20 years in space, NASAs Cassini spacecraft, controlled from the Space Flight Operations Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, will enter the final chapter of its remarkable story of exploration: its Grand Finale.of 22

The Grand Finale actually began in April when the spacecraft began a series weekly dives into the space between Saturn and its icy rings. Cassini began its five final orbits around Saturn on Sunday, August 13. This will end with a final plunge into Saturns atmosphere on September 15. During this time, its instruments send back to Earth new and unique information about what will be its closest encounter with the planet, before it finally burns up like a meteor in Saturns dense atmosphere and becomes part of the planet itself.

As it makes these five dips into Saturn, followed by its final plunge, Cassini will become the first Saturn atmospheric probe, said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL. Its long been a goal in planetary exploration to send a dedicated probe into the atmosphere of Saturn, and were laying the groundwork for future exploration with this first foray.

On these final dives, the spacecraft is expected to encounter an atmosphere dense enough to require the use of its small rocket thrusters to maintain stability conditions similar to what it encountered during many of its close flybys of Saturns moon Titan, which has its own dense atmosphere.

Cassinis Titan flybys prepared us for these rapid passes through Saturns upper atmosphere, said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager. Thanks to our past experience, the team is confident that we understand how the spacecraft will behave at the atmospheric densities our models predict.

No other mission has ever explored this unique region in the planets surroundings. Scientists at JPL say what can be learned from these final orbits will help to improve mans understanding of how giant planets and planetary systems everywhere form and evolve.

On September 11, a distant encounter with the moon Titan will slow Cassinis orbit around Saturn and bend its path slightly to send the spacecraft toward its September 15 plunge into the planet.

During the half-orbit plunge, the plan is to have seven Cassini science instruments, including the ion and neutral mass spectrometer (INMS) turned on and reporting measurements in near real-time. With these, the spacecraft will be able collect some incredibly rich and valuable information that was too risky to obtain earlier in the mission.

The spacecraft will make detailed maps of Saturns gravity and magnetic fields, revealing how the planet is arranged internally, and possibly helping to solve the irksome mystery of just how fast Saturn is rotating. The final dives will also vastly improve mans knowledge of how much material is in the rings and how they were formed.

Cassinis particle detectors will also sample icy ring particles being funneled into the atmosphere by Saturns magnetic field.

Its cameras will take amazing, ultra-close images of Saturns rings and clouds and send those back to earth, almost in real-time. Other instruments will make detailed, high-resolution observations of Saturns auroras, temperature, and the vortexes at the planets poles. Its radar will peer deep into the atmosphere to reveal small-scale features that the spacecraft could not observe prior to the Grand Finale.

At this final plunge, the spacecraft is expected to reach an altitude where atmospheric density is about twice what it encountered during its final five passes. Once Cassini reaches that point, its thrusters will no longer be able to work against the push of Saturns atmosphere to keep the spacecrafts antenna pointed toward Earth, and contact will permanently be lost. The spacecraft will break up like a meteor moments later, ending its long and rewarding journey.

While its always sad when a mission comes to an end, Cassinis finale plunge is a truly spectacular end for one of the most scientifically rich voyages yet undertaken in the solar system. From its launch in 1997 to the unique Grand Finale science of 2017, the Cassini-Huygens mission (Huygens is the European probe that the spacecraft launched in 2005 into the moon Titan) has racked up a remarkable list of achievements.

This Grand Finale is still a controlled dive until its final seconds when it burns up and loses contact. After spending 13 years in orbit around Saturn following a seven-year journey from Earth, the spacecraft is running low on fuel, and mission operators are afraid the situation will prevent them from controlling Cassinis course.

To avoid the remote possibility of Cassini colliding with the moons Titan and Enceladus and contaminating them, NASA has chosen to safely dispose of the spacecraft in the atmosphere of Saturn, thereby ensuring future missions could still continue studying the habitability and potential life scientists have observed for years on those moons, courtesy of Cassini.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASAs Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL also designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

Go here to see the original:

JPL’s Space Flight Operations Facility Prepares for Cassini Mission’s ‘Grand Finale’ – Pasadena Now

SpaceX rocket readied for space station resupply run – Spaceflight Now

File photo of a Dragon spacecraft on top of a Falcon 9 rocket before a previous mission. Credit: SpaceX

Ground teams at the Kennedy Space Center were packing last-minute cargo into a commercial Dragon supply ship Sunday, a day before the automated freighter is set for liftoff on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a two-day trek to the International Space Station.

The final biological research experiments, including a habitat with 20 mice, were to be installed inside the crafts pressurized cabin before technicians close the ships hatch and raise the Falcon 9 vertical on launch pad 39A.

Working under contract to NASA, SpaceX is set to launch its 12th cargo delivery flight to the space station at 12:31:37 p.m. EDT (1631:37 GMT), roughly the time the research labs ground track intersects Floridas Space Coast.

The 213-foot-tall (65-meter) Falcon 9 rocket will turn to the northeast to align with the stations orbit, kicking off a 42-hour pursuit with 6,415 pounds (2,910 kilograms) of experiments, food, supplies and spare parts to replenish the space labs research backlog and stockpiles.

That figure includes the weight of packaging needed to secure items stowed inside the Dragon spacecraft.

Weve loaded Dragon with 6,400 pounds of cargo, and Im happy to say 75 percent of that total mass is headed toward our research community, and our continued expansion of the research envelope on-board the International Space Station, said Dan Hartman, NASAs deputy space station program manager. So with the internal and external payloads going up, it sets a new bar for the amount of research that we were able to get on this flight.

SpaceX plans to recover the Falcon 9s first stage booster a few minutes after the launch. After detaching from the Falcon 9 second stage around two-and-a-half minutes into the mission, the 14-story booster stage will flip around and reignite a subset of its nine Merlin engines twice to return to Landing Zone 1 at at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

A final braking burn by the first stages center engine will slow the rocket just before touchdown. A four-legged landing gear will unfurl at the base of the booster as it settles on the concrete landing zone, located approximately 9 miles (14 kilometers) south of the rockets departure point at pad 39A.

If successful, Mondays landing will mark the 14th time SpaceX has recovered one of its Falcon 9 boosters intact, either at sea or on land. SpaceX aims to refit and reuse the rockets in a bid to make spaceflight less expensive, and two of the companys flown rockets have made second flights to date.

The rocket flying Monday is a new vehicle, but the first stages landing legs were previously-flown, according to Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of flight reliability at SpaceX.

The boosters touchdown will come moments before the Falcon 9s second stage engine delivers the Dragon cargo capsule to orbit. The freighter is scheduled to separate from the rocket around 10 minutes after blastoff, and the Dragons two power-generating solar panels will extended a couple of minutes later.

Multiple thruster firings by Dragons on-board rocket jets will begin steering the capsule toward the space station.

The automated rendezvous will conclude Wednesday, when the ship will approach the station from below, using lasers and a thermal imager for the in-orbit linkup.

Astronauts Jack Fischer and Paolo Nespoli will unlimber the stations Canadian-built robotic arm to grapple the free-flying spacecraft around 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) Wednesday.

The robot arm will maneuver the Dragon to a berthing location on the space stations Harmony module for a month-long stay.

SpaceX and NASA have just one try to launch the station cargo freighter, or else face a delay that could stretch a week or longer.

Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy will release five small satellites during a spacewalk Thursday, and station managers want to ensure all of the spacecraft are well away from the complex when Dragon nears.

We do require good tracking on those, so we know where to help SpaceX fly Dragon when its approaching the ISS, Hartman said. Thats a big deal for us.

NASA does not want to launch the resupply mission and have the spacecraft loiter away from the space station until it is safe to approach. Some of the biological experiments inside Dragon are time-critical, including a nest of mice with limited food inside the capsule.

Could we loiter? Yes, at the expense of losing research because their samples have X amount of hours before they need to be offloaded and brought onto the station, Hartman said.

If the mission took off Tuesday, it would arrive at the space station Thursday, the same day as the spacewalk. Officials expect it to take several days to estimate the orbits of the five satellites released during the excursion, meaning the Dragon could not begin its two-day chase of the station until around Saturday, Aug. 19, Hartman said.

But there are other factors at play.

A NASA communications satellite is slated to launch from Cape Canaveral aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket Friday. ULA has reserved a backup launch opportunity Saturday, and it takes a couple of days to reconfigure the U.S. Air Forces Eastern Range between rocket flights.

An Orbital ATK Minotaur 4 rocket is being prepped for launch Aug. 25 from Cape Canaveral. The range is required for the Minotaur flight, set to loft a military space surveillance satellite, and for a comprehensive launch rehearsal scheduled early next week, a few days after the Atlas 5 flight.

Whether SpaceX could find a hole in the jam-packed range schedule remains unclear.

Im cautiously optimistic for this launch opportunity, Koenigsmann said. Better one than none, I would say, so well see how it goes.

Forecasters predict a 70 percent chance of good weather for Mondays one-second launch window. Meteorologists will watch for rain and cumulus clouds in the rockets flight path.

Once Dragon arrives, the stations six-person crew will enter the capsule and unload the payloads inside, overseeing a multitude of biological experiments before the ships departure and return to Earth next month.

Twenty mice heading into space Monday will be examined after their return to the ground to aid researchers studying how spaceflight affects vision and movement.

Were looking at two different biomedical issues, said Michael Delp, principal investigator for the rodent research experiment from Florida State University. The first is visual impairment that occurs in some of the astronauts. To date, it only occurs in male astronauts, so were looking at a couple of different aspects of how visual impairment may occur.

The mice will come back to Earth inside the Dragon capsule alive, and SpaceX will hand over their transporters to scientists upon return to port in Southern California.

Researchers will examine the blood vessels inside animals eyes and the blood-brain barrier that regulates fluid movement inside the skull.

The second thing that well be doing is really looking at the brain circulation, and how that affects blood pressure within the skull, Delp said.

Part of the rodent research team will look at how an extended stay in the space stations weightless environment affects movement.

In microgravity, you have a fairly severe physical inactivity, and that can affect a number of the organ systems, such as muscle and bone loss, Delp said.

One focus of the study will be on how much cartilage in joints degrade after spending time in microgravity. Mice have an accelerated metabolism and undergo changes faster than humans, so a month on the space station is roughly equivalent to a three-year expedition by an astronaut, according to Delp.

The space station cargo mission will also help biologists investigating Parkinsons disease, a chronic neurological disorder that affects a million people in the United States, and about five million worldwide.

Although there are medications that ammeliorate the symptoms, we dont have any therapies that reverse or slow down the progression of the disease, said Marco Baptista, director of research and grants at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which funded the station-bound experiment.

Scientists are sending a protein that causes Parkinsons to the station to measure how it grows without the influence of gravity. The protein, named LRRK2, could be targeted with drugs and therapies in Parkinsons patients if doctors understand it better.

The next breakthrough we need is the solving of the crystal structure of LRRK2, Baptista said. This is important for two reasons. First, it will allow us a better understanding of the biology of LRRK2 and secondly may help industry optimizing LRRK2 kinase inhibitors or develop novel ways to target LRRK2.

Growing the protein in microgravity will lead to bigger crystals, more regular crystallization and crystals with higher intrinsic order, said Sebastian Mathea, the lead scientist on the LRRK2 experiment from the University of Oxford.

With those crystals, we hopefully will be able to collect data that allow us to solve the three-dimensional structure of LRRK2, which hopefully will push forward the understanding of the onset of Parkinsons, Mathea said.

Another science team awaits results from an experiment probing how microgravity affects the growth of new lung tissue, specifically bio-engineered material tailored to repair damaged organs or reduce the chance of organ rejection in transplant patients.

Scientists have trouble managing the expansion of bio-engineered lung tissue on Earth. The tissue has trouble moving through structures designed to help shape it, and stem cells used to produce the tissue are slow to replicate, according to Joan Nichols, professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases and associate director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Nichols said microgravity offers a more benign environment, aiding in cell dispersal to help form more uniform tissues.

Were getting two things out of this, she said. Were getting a better plan and a better strategy for how to manage production of tissues using microgravity environment, and were getting a model thats going to tell us what would happen in terms of lung repair on long-term spaceflight.

While astronauts get to work in experiments inside the stations lab facilities, the Canadian and Japanese robotic arms will remove a cosmic ray detector carried inside the Dragons external payload bay for mounting on a facility outside the stations Japanese Kibo module.

Derived from an instrument carried aloft on high-altitude balloons, the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass, or CREAM, payload will spend at least three years sampling particles sent speeding through the universe by cataclysmic supernova explosions, and perhaps other exotic phenomena like dark matter.

Scientists think the subatomic particles could hold the key to unlocking mysteries about the universe.

Four small satellites inside the Dragon capsule will be transferred inside the space station for deployment later this year.

The biggest of the bunch, named Kestrel Eye 2M, is a pathfinder for a potential constellation of Earth-imaging spacecraft for the U.S. military. About the size of a dorm room refrigerator, the Kestrel Eye 2M satellite was developed by the Armys Space and Missile Defense Command over the last five years.

While satellites the size of Kestrel Eye lack the fine imaging capability of large commercial and military spy satellites, they cost significantly less and could be spread around the planet in fleets of dozens or more.

Battlefield troops could connect with one of the satellites as it soars a few hundred miles overhead, ask it to take a picture of a nearby target, then receive the image, all within a few minutes.

The concept is to have warfighters to task and receie data directly from the satellite during the same overhead pass, said Wheeler Chip Hardy, the Armys Kestrel Eye program manager. The objective Kestrel Eye imagery data can be downlinked directly to provide rapid situational awareness to our Army brigade combat teams in theater without the need for continental United States relays.

From the space stations altitude around 250 miles (400 kilometers) up, Kestrel Eye 2Ms optical camera will be able to spot objects on Earths surface about the size of a car.

The Army has not approved development of further Kestrel Eye satellites. The demo craft set to launch Monday will be employed in military exercises with Pacific Command over the next few years, and Pentagon officials will evaluate its usefulness before deciding whether to press on with the program.

Three CubeSats will also be ferried to the space station for release from a ground-commanded deployer in the coming months.

The ASTERIA mission, developed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, seeks to test miniature telescope components that could be used in future small satellites to observe stars and search for exoplanets. ASTERIA is about the size of a big shoebox and weighs around 26 pounds (12 kilograms).

Astronomers and engineers want to know if a CubeSat like ASTERIA can hold pointing to the precision necessary for stellar observations, and designers will also measure the performance of the focal plane inside an on-board telescope.

The Dellingr project spearheaded by NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland aims to prove out a new type of microsatellite design that is more reliable than conventional CubeSats.

Around the same size as ASTERIA, the Dellingr CubeSat, named for the mythological Norse god for the dawn, took around three years to design, build and test. Officials said the effort was not always easy, and managers had to define a balance between affordability and reliability.

Engineers tried using commercially-available components and software, but testing revealed many of the parts were inadequate for the level of reliability sought for Dellingr, which carries a sensor suite to study the suns influence on Earths atmosphere.

Its a new way of doing things, said Chuck Clagett, Dellingr project manager at Goddard. We were applying old ways to doing things to an emerging capability and it didnt work very well.

But officials said the extra testing paid off, and Dellingr is now ready to fly after helping reduce the risk of unforeseen problems on future missions NASA has approved work on a follow-up CubeSat incorporating Dellingrs design and lessons to make measurements of Earths ionosphere.

Another CubeSat named OSIRIS-3U from Penn State University launching Monday will study space weather.

Working in coordination with the Arecibo Observatory, a giant radar antenna in Puerto Rico, OSIRIS-3U will fly into a region ionosphere heated to simulate the conditions caused by solar storms.

OSIRIS-3U will collect data on the electron density, temperature, and content in the region of space stimulated by radar emissions, according to a fact sheet released by NASA.

The Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to depart the space station Sept. 17, bringing home more than a ton of research specimens and other gear for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Los Angeles.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Link:

SpaceX rocket readied for space station resupply run – Spaceflight Now

H-2A rocket grounded by problem in propulsion system … – Spaceflight Now

The H-2A rocket topped with the Michibiki 3 navigation satellite awaits liftoff from a launch pad at the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. Credit: JAXA

A Japanese launch crew filled an H-2A rocket with cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants in time for a planned liftoff Saturday with a geostationary navigation satellite, but a problem inside the launchers propulsion system prompted officials to postpone the mission.

Officials announced a hold less than two hours before the 174-foot-tall (53-meter) H-2A rocket was set to blast off at 0440 GMT (12:40 a.m. EDT; 1:40 p.m. Japan Standard Time). The H-2A launch team called off the launch attempt several hours later, after the opening of an unusually-long launch window stretching nearly nine hours long.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the launch was scrubbed to ensure the readiness of the H-2A rockets propulsion systems. Officials said in a press conference Saturday that engineers were studying possible leak in the rockets helium pressurization system.

The H-2A rocket was still on its launch pad as the sun rose Sunday at theTanegashima Space Center, a spaceport overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the coast of southern Japan.

Fitted with four solid-fueled boosters and a 16.7-foot (5.1-meter) diameter payload shroud, the souped-up H-2A rocket is set to make its 35th flight, and its fourth launch this year.

The Michibiki 3 navigation craft mounted atop the H-2A rocket will join two similar satellites already in orbit designed to aid security forces and civilians users in Japan find their position. With the addition of a fourth navigation craft later this year, the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System will supplement positioning services over Japan provided by the U.S. militarys Global Positioning System satellites.

The GPS satellites circle Earth in orbits 12,550 miles (20,200 kilometers) above Earth. Although there are at least 30 operational GPS spacecraft, only a small fraction of the fleet is visible from a single point on Earth at one time.

It takes four GPS satellites to calculate a precise position on Earth, but a Michibiki satellite broadcasting the same four L-band signals will give a receiver an estimate if there are not enough GPS satellites visible, or it can help produce a more accurate position calculation even with full GPS service.

The navigation aids are particularly useful in regions like central Tokyo and other urban centers, where high-rise buildings can block GPS signals from satellites near the horizon. Travelers in rugged terrain can also benefit from the additional coverage, where mountains and steep ridges can interrupt satellite signals.

The two Michibiki satellites launched to date fly in inclined orbits, tracing figure-eight patterns as they oscillate north and south of the equator, while their longitudinal, or east-west, position remains over the Asia-Pacific at an average altitude of around 22,300 miles (nearly 35,800 kilometers) above Earth.

Michibiki 3 will head into an orbit at the same altitude, but will eventually settle into a parking slot over the equator, where it will remain in a fixed geostationary position in the sky.

The fourth in the current series of Japanese navigation satellites will go up later this year on another H-2A rocket, taking up a post in an inclined high-altitude orbit like the first two.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

See more here:

H-2A rocket grounded by problem in propulsion system … – Spaceflight Now

Rocket Lab finishes test flight inquiry, plans second launch later this year – Spaceflight Now

The first Electron rocket took off May 25 from a launch base in New Zealand. Credit: Rocket Lab

The inaugural test flight of Rocket Labs commercial small satellite booster in May fell short of orbit because a software programming error on a piece of ground equipment led a safety officer to send a premature termination command, and the company is planning to deliver the next Electron vehicle to its New Zealand launch pad in October.

Engineers identified no significant problems with the Electron rockets performance on the May 25 test launch, raising confidence in the chances the second flight could attain the velocity needed to reach an orbit around Earth, said Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab.

Were very happy with the performance of the vehicle, Beck said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. The flight was a heavily instrumented flight. It had something like 25,000 channels of data and instruments on-board, and the data that we were able to obtain was exceptionally good, and it enabled us to validate all the engineering decisions and performances of the vehicle, the thermal environment, the structural environment.

The collection of vibration, structural and environmental measurements was the primary goal of the May test flight, which lifted off from Rocket Labs privately-operated launch pad on Mahia Peninsula, a piece of land on the east cost of New Zealands North Island.

We captured all the data we needed, Beck said.

The Electron rocket soared to an altitude of 139 miles (224 kilometers) before a piece of ground tracking equipment faltered, erroneously leading a range safety officer to terminate the launch to ensure the launcher did not stray from its pre-approved flight path.

Beck said the tracking system was provided by an independent contractor, but he declined to identify the owner of the equipment. Alaska Aerospace Corp. provided range safety services for the Electron launch, but it was not clear whether they supplied and programmed the suspect tracking device.

The ground hardware was incorrectly programmed, according to Rocket Lab, causing position data it received from the Electron booster to be corrupted. The equipment was designed to translate radio signals into data for safety officials to track the rocket, the company said in a statement.

The contractor failed to enable forward error correction on the tracking device, Rocket Lab said.

The tracking hiccup occurred around four minutes after liftoff as the rocket climbed into space on a southerly trajectory from Mahia Peninsula. By that point in the flight, the Electrons nine Rutherford main engines, which generated more than 40,000 pounds of combined thrust at full power, had switched off and the first stage had jettisoned to fall into the Pacific Ocean.

The second stages single Rutherford engine ignited and the rockets payload fairing separated as expected before the tracking error led to the premature end of the mission.

Investigators determined that Rocket Labs own equipment did not suffer the same data loss during the mission, officials said. Engineers also replayed flight data recorded on launch day through the third-party tracking system when it was correctly configured, and the problem disappeared.

The flight safety officer inside Rocket Labs launch control center followed established procedures and sent the command to shut down the Electrons second stage engine after the data dropout.

Basically what happened is the contractor misconfigured the software, which resulted in the antennas losing track of the vehicle, Beck said. Of course, when that happens, the flight safety officers who are looking at a computer screen at their console, the rocket disappears off their console, so they had no other option than to terminate the vehicle.

Rocket Lab said it will deliver the results of its inquiry to the Federal Aviation Administration, the regulatory authority responsible for licensing commercial Electron launches.

With a launch base, control center and factory in New Zealand, Rocket Lab also has a headquarters in Southern California, where it is outfitting a second rocket assembly plant. Eventually aiming to launch as often as once per week, the U.S.-New Zealand operates under the regulatory umbrella of the FAA.

Even though the engine stopped (after the termination command), the vehicle didnt stop, Beck said. It went on and continued to do all its normal things as it would on orbit. We were able to test absolutely everything, even though we didnt make it to orbit. We tested all the RCS (Reaction Control System) and all the orbital systems, and unfortunately, we also tested the flight termination system, so we can say that we tested absolutely everything on the vehicle.

Some outside observers noticed the rocket develop a steady roll in video replays of the launch. That was intended, according to Beck.

The bottom line on that one is the guidance team didnt want to over-constrain the roll, Beck said. The roll is the least damped axis. When youve got nine engines on the bottom, theres a lot of plume-plume interaction. The nine engines sort of interact with each other, and its very easy to cause roll torques.

Rocket Labs guidance team opted to let the launcher roll to a pre-programmed rate, giving engineers a chance to study the torques generated by the interplay of the Electrons nine first stage engines.

On the next flight, we probably wont run that same algorithm, or well keep the vehicle in one attitude, but for us, it was all part of the test program to learn and to characterize all those weird torques that are impossible to try and learn on the ground, Beck said.

The Electron rocket was designed to deliver small satellites weighing up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) to a circular sun-synchronous orbit around 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth. Standing 55 feet (17 meters) tall, the two-stage launcher burns a mixture of kerosene and cryogenic liquid oxygen propellants.

The company says it will charge $4.9 million per Electron flight, significantly less than any other launch provider flying today, and offer a dedicated ride for payloads that currently must ride piggyback with a larger payload.

With money from venture capital funds in Silicon Valley and New Zealand, along with a strategic investment from Lockheed Martin and the government of New Zealand, Rocket Lab completed the design and qualification of the Electron rocket with less than $100 million since the company was established in 2006, according to Beck.

A further round of venture capital financing early this year brought the total investment in Rocket Lab to $148 million, valuing the company at more than $1 billion.

Rocket Lab is one of several companies alongside start-ups and spinoffs like Virgin Orbit and the now-defunct Texas-based rocket developer Firefly that have been established in recent years to meet demand for launches in the small satellite market.

The second of Rocket Labs three planned test flights is scheduled later this year. If that launch goes well, the company will likely delete the third demonstration mission, and the first commercial Electron flight could be ready for takeoff by the end of December, Beck said last week.

Weve got the next test flight rolling out out to the pad in about eight weeks time, Beck said. If its a really good clean flight, well probably accelerate into commercial operations.

Once Rocket Lab delivers the next Electron rocket to the launch pad, ground crews will spend several weeks readying the booster, rehearsing countdown procedures, and verifying all of the vehicles sensors and instruments are functioning.

This vehicle, again, has on the order of 25,000 or 30,000 sensors, so for us these flights are all about gathering data, so theres a lot of go-no go criteria around those sensors, Beck said. Usually, it takes us a good couple of weeks to get all that buttoned up, and then well be ready to launch.

One of Rocket Labs first commercial missions is set to send a robotic lunar lander into space for Moon Express, a Florida-based aerospace developer vying to win the Google Lunar X-Prize, which requires a successful landing on the moon by the end of 2017.

Beck told Spaceflight Now that Rocket Lab will be able to support the launch for Moon Express this year, assuming the lunar payload is ready, but the company will not rush into the second test flight.

Im conscious that these are still test flights, and we operate in a very cautious manner, Beck said. So if something is looking a bit weird, then we just wont go.

Some changes are in store for the second Electron flight, which Rocket Lab has christened Still Testing. The maiden Electron launch was named Its a Test.

While the May 25 launch carried only an inert payload, the next mission will have satellites on-board, Beck said.

Its mainly instrumented, but we are flying some payloads up, and we developed our own CubeSat deployer, Beck said.

Rocket Labs CubeSat canister has completed ground testing, and engineers will evaluate how they work on the next test flight.

It just gives us a good oppportunity to qualify more components and more systems, Beck said.

Beck said Rocket Lab will reveal which small satellites will fly on the next test flight closer to launch.

No major changes to the Electron rockets basic designed are planned, but Rocket Lab will introduce several tweaks to components on the launcher.

We had lots of margins on some areas, so weve reduced some thermal insulation in some areas, and reduced some mass and complexity and optimized some things for production, but there are no major hardware changes, Beck said. Were not pulling out any subsystems or reworking any subsystems. There are some software tweaks, of course, as there always are, but its not like we had to go back and redesign anything for the next flight.

Rocket Lab has confirmed at least six commercial Electron flights in its backlog once the test campaign is completed.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Read the rest here:

Rocket Lab finishes test flight inquiry, plans second launch later this year – Spaceflight Now

Large, distant comets more common than previously thought – SpaceFlight Insider

Ocean McIntyre

August 13th, 2017

An artists rendering of the NASAs WISE mission, renamed NEOWISE in 2013, observing comets and other deep space objects. Image Credit: NASA

Data from NASAs Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has shown that large, distant comets are more common than previously thought. This is according to research published in the Astronomical Journal. These long-period comets originate from the distant Oort Cloud, and the information provided by the NASAs spacecraft is contributing to a better understanding of how common these icy worldlets might be.

While most people are likely familiar with icy objects such famous comets as Halley and Shoemaker-Levy 9, the latter of which broke up and impacted the gas giant Jupiter in July 1994. These, along with nearly all of those most of us have heard about (or seen) are from the family of short-period comets. Short-period refers to the length and distance of the period, or the time it takes to make one full orbit, of the object.

Short-period comets take less than 200 years to make a full orbit around the Sun. These are generally separated into two families: Jupiter familyand inclined-period comets. Jupiter family comets, of which Shoemaker-Levy 9 was one, have orbital periods of less than 20 years. Inclined-period comets, like Halleys Comet, have orbital periods between 20 and 200 years in length.

This illustration shows how scientists used data from NASAs WISE spacecraft to determine the nucleus sizes of comets. They subtracted a model of how dust and gas behave in comets in order to obtain the core size. Image and Caption Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

A short-period comet tends to orbit within the ecliptic the plane of space where the planets orbit around the Sun. This is likely due to where they originate from, which is suspected to be the Kuiper Belt the icy band of objects at the edge of the Solar System where Pluto, the majority of dwarf planets, and about a thousand other Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) roam. The Kuiper Belt exists at a distance of some 2.7 billion to 5.1 billion miles (4.4 billion to 8.2 billion kilometers).

Unlike short-period comets, long-period comets originate from much further away in the Oort Cloud, an area of the Solar System believed to be a vast a spherical bubble of icy material thought to extend approximately 186 billion miles (300 billion kilometers) out to as far as 4.45 trillion miles (7.5 trillion kilometers). Objects originating from this area have periods greater than 200 years, with some taking thousand or even millions of years to make a single orbit.

In the paper published about long-period comets, researchers looked at data from theWISEmission that did a full sky survey from 2009 to 2011. Data from an eight-month span of time was reviewed and a total of 95 Jupiter family comets along with 56 long-period comets were identified.

Our study is a rare look at objects perturbed out of the Oort Cloud, said Amy Mainzer, study co-author based at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and principal investigator of the NEOWISE mission. They are the most pristine examples of what the Solar System was like when it formed.

The study also found that there were seven times more long-period comets measuring at least 0.6 miles (1.0 kilometer) across than previously predicted, with the average width measuring 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers), about twice as large as the average diameter of Jupiter family and inclined-period comets. Additionally, over that eight month period, the number of long-period comets that passed by the Sun was 35 times more than previously anticipated.

The suspected reasons for the differences in the size between Jupiter family comets and long-period comets are believed to be due to two main possibilities; the first being that because Jupiter family comets make far more frequent trips nearer to the Sun, they are subjected to more sublimation (ice changing directly to a gas) and thus loss of total mass.

Another possible cause for the size difference is due to evolutionary differences. Because the Oort Cloud is so large, and the objects within it are so widely distributed, the likelihood of objects impacting one another is reduced, giving bodies in this area a better chance of keeping their large sizes rather than suffering impacts that could break them down.

When scientists reviewed the movement of these bodies, they found that there was an inclination (the angle to the ecliptic plane that the planets are aligned on) clustering at 110 degrees with an average perihelion (closest approach to the Sun in its elliptical orbit) of 2.9 astronomical units (270 million miles / 434 million kilometers), putting their closest approach to the Sun at just past the orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres in the main asteroid belt. This could indicate that there were larger bodies that broke up over time leaving behind these icy objects.

As if being big and coming at us from all different angles wasnt bad enough, comets are fast really fast.

Comets travel much faster than asteroids, and some of them are very big, Mainzer said. Studies like this will help us define what kind of hazard long-period comets may pose.

NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratorymanaged and operated WISE for NASAs Science Mission Directorate located in Washington. The NEOWISE project is funded by the Near Earth Object Observation Program, now part of NASAs Planetary Defense Coordination Office. The spacecraft was put into hibernation mode in 2011 after twice scanned the entire sky, thereby completing its main objectives. In September 2013, WISE was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission to assist NASAs efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.

Video courtesy of NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Tagged: Comets NASA NEOWISE The Range WISE

A native of the Greater Los Angeles area, Ocean McIntyre’s writing is focused primarily on science (STEM and STEAM) education and public outreach. McIntyre is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador as well as holding memberships with The Planetary Society, Los Angeles Astronomical Society, and is a founding member of SafePlaceForSpace.org. McIntyre is currently studying astrophysics and planetary science with additional interests in astrobiology, cosmology and directed energy propulsion technology. With SpaceFlight Insider seeking to expand the amount of science articles it produces, McIntyre was a welcomed addition to our growing team.

Read more:

Large, distant comets more common than previously thought – SpaceFlight Insider

Live coverage: H-2A rocket launch scrubbed – Spaceflight Now


Spaceflight Now
Live coverage: H-2A rocket launch scrubbed
Spaceflight Now
2 has been used for six flights of the H-2B rocket with the H-2 Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned cargo ship for the International Space Station. In all, 47 rockets have departed Earth from the Yoshinobu complex since 1994. The most recent flight was an H
Japanese H-IIA launch with QZS-3 scrubbedNASASpaceflight.com

all 2 news articles »

View post:

Live coverage: H-2A rocket launch scrubbed – Spaceflight Now

JAXA H-IIA launch of GPS satellite canceled – SpaceFlight Insider

Bart Leahy

August 12th, 2017

H-IIA (204) F35 on the launch pad. Photo Credit: shinnosuke0113 on Twitter

In a brief media statement, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that it has canceled todays planned launch of an H-IIA rocket, which is carrying a navigation satellite that is designed to augment the Global Positioning System (GPS) for the Japanese region.

According to the statement, JAXA and its lead contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., jointly decided to cancel the launch, which is expected to be the 35th flight of the H-IIA launch vehicle. JAXA indicated that the flight was canceled due to the necessity of additional examinations around [sic] rocket propulsion system. However, the statement did not indicate whether the problems were with the H-IIA launch vehicle or the satellites R-4D engine. JAXA said that a new launch date would be announced as soon as it is determined.

The payload, MICHIBIKI Quasi-Zenith Satellite #3, is part of a Japanese-built satellite-based augmentation system for the GPS; the system is designed to supporthighly precise and stable location services in Japan as well as those counties in the Asia-Oceania region with similar longitudes, such as Indonesia and Australia.

Tagged: H-IIA Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA Lead Stories Michibiki-3

Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy’s diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

See the original post here:

JAXA H-IIA launch of GPS satellite canceled – SpaceFlight Insider

Space station crew looks forward to eclipse – Spaceflight Now

STORY WRITTEN FORCBS NEWS& USED WITH PERMISSION

The International Space Stations crew will enjoy views of the Aug. 21 solar eclipse during three successive orbits, giving the astronauts a unique opportunity to take in the celestial show from 250 miles up as the moons shadow races across from the Pacific Ocean and the continental United States before moving out over the Atlantic.

Because were going around the Earth every 90 minutes, about the time it takes the sun to cross the U.S., well get to see it three times, Randy Bresnik said Friday during a NASA Facebook session. The first time will be just off the West Coast, well actually cross the path of the sun, and well have (a partial) eclipse looking up from the space station.

For the station crew, the first viewing opportunity will begin at 12:33 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) and end 13 minutes later.

Floating in the European Columbus laboratory module, Bresnik showed off a solar filter shipped up to the station earlier, saying weve got specially equipped cameras thatll have these solar filters on them that allow us to take pictures of the sun. Thats going to be pretty neat, well have a couple of us shooting that.

One orbit later, the station will cross the path of the eclipse in the extreme northwest following a trajectory that will carry the lab over central Canada on the way to the North Atlantic. From the stations perspective, 44 percent of the sun will be blocked in a partial eclipse. But the crew will be able to see the umbra, where the eclipse is total, near the southern horizon.

Well be north of Lake Huron in Canada when well be able to see the umbra, or the shadow of the eclipse, actually on the Earth, right around the Tennessee-Kentucky (area), the western side of both those states, Bresnik said. Thatll be an opportunity for us to take video, and take still pictures and kind of show you from the human perspective what thats going to look like.

The umbra, defining the 70-mile-wide shadow where the suns disk will be completely blocked out, will be at its closest to the space station at 2:23 p.m. The moons shadow will be about 1,100 miles away from the lab complex, but from their perch 250 miles up, the astronauts should be able to photograph the dark patch as they race along in their orbit.

And then the third pass is actually just off the East Coast, Bresnik said. Well come around one more time and from the station side well see about an 85 percent eclipse of the sun looking up (at 4:17 p.m.). So we should be able to get really neat photos, with our filters, of the sun being occluded by the moon.

NASA plans to provide four hours of eclipse coverage, starting at noon EDT, on the agencys satellite television channel, in web streams and via social media, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

We have a lot of options to share all this, Bresnik told a Facebook questioner. Its U.S. taxpayer dollars. Youre paying us to take these pictures, and they go to you. Theyre free to everybody, and you can access them from the NASA website.

More here:

Space station crew looks forward to eclipse – Spaceflight Now

Science and technology to get boost from CRS-12 mission – SpaceFlight Insider

Jim Siegel

August 12th, 2017

A SpaceX Dragon capsule is grappled by the space stations roboticCanadarm2 onApril 10, 2016. (Click for full view) Photo Credit: NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. The cargo aboard NASAs scheduled Aug. 14, 2017, commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) could help more people than just the six astronauts and cosmonauts currently living there. With more than three tons of experiments and materials being ferried, SpaceXs Dragon capsule promises to benefit people ranging from those suffering from Parkinsons disease, to those seeking bio-engineered organs, to soldiers on the battlefield.

NASA Astronaut Jack Fischer works within the Japanese Experiment Module on CASIS PCG 6. CASIS PCG 7 will utilize the orbiting laboratorys microgravity environment to grow larger versions of Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2), implicated in Parkinsons disease. Photo & Caption Credit: NASA

In 2008, NASA awarded two contracts one to Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK) and one to SpaceX for commercial resupply services to the orbiting lab. At the time of the award, NASA ordered eight flights from Orbital, valued at about $1.9 billion, and 12 flights from SpaceX, valued at approximately $1.6 billion. SpaceX flew its first mission under the contract in October 2012 (Orbital flew its first mission a little over a year later in January of 2014).

The CRS-12 missionis currentlytargeted to launch at 12:31 p.m. EDT (16:31 GMT) on Aug. 14. When it flies, it will mark the 12th ISS resupply mission that SpaceX has carried out (one Commercial Orbital Transportation Services mission and 11 Commercial Resupply Services missions have successfully traveled to the Space Station).

The companys Dragon spacecraft will ride a Full Thrust Falcon 9 rocket, roaring away from Kennedy Space Centers Launch Complex 39A. Assuming an on-schedule launch, the spacecraft should arrive at the ISS on Aug. 16 with some 6,415 pounds (2,910 kilograms) of cargo. Only about a quarter of the manifest will be crew supplies, vehicle hardware, spacewalk equipment, and computer resources.

The remainder of the spacecrafts manifest is comprised of hardware and supplies to support dozens of the approximately 250 science and research investigations that will occur on current and upcoming ISS missions.NASA hosted an Aug. 8 pre-flight science briefing featuring the principal investigators of five of these experiments.

About a third of the CRS-12 cargo mass will be a refrigerator-size package designed to measure dangerous, life-threatening cosmic rays. This project, called the Cosmic-Ray Energetics and Mass investigation (CREAM), features instruments to measure the charges of cosmic rays ranging from hydrogen nuclei up through iron nuclei, over a broad energy range. According to principal investigator Eun-Suk Seo of the University of Maryland Institute for Physical Science and Technology, once the ISS astronauts unpack it, the modified balloon-borne device will be placed on the Japanese Exposed Facility for a period of at least three years.

According to NASA, humans aboard long-duration, deep-space explorations such as those to the planet Mars are thought to likely face serious health consequences from exposure to high-energy galactic cosmic rays, including direct damage to DNA and changes in the biochemistry of cells and tissues.Seo said that people on Earth are protected from these rays by the Earths atmosphere and magnetic field; to the extent that some solar radiation does get through, it is roughly the same as that of starlight.

Mice for NASAs Rodent Research 9 experiment will reside in a Rodent Habitat module while aboard Dragon and the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Dominic Hart / NASA

Even astronauts aboard the ISS are somewhat protected by the Earths magnetic field. However, beyond the outer zone of the Van Allen radiation belt extending 8,100 to 37,300 miles (13,000 to 60,000 kilometers) from Earth long-term exposure is thought to be very serious, according to the space agency.

CREAM experiments conducted in six balloon flights at 25-mile (40-kilometer) altitudes over Antarctica have yielded a limited understanding of galactic cosmic rays. The three-year CREAM mission aboard the space station will significantly expand knowledge of cosmic radiation and what it might take to protect interplanetary travelers in the future.

As many as 1 million Americans live with Parkinsons disease, with a worldwide total thought to exceed 10 million. One of the experiments aboard CRS-12 is aimed at helping to find a cure for this affliction.

One aspect of Parkinsons under investigation involves a protein called LRRK2. Defining the shape and morphology of this protein would help scientists better understand the pathology of the disease and aid in the development of effective therapies that might slow or stop the progression of this neurodegenerative disorder. Unfortunately, according to Marco Baptista, director of research and grants for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Earth-grown versions of the LRRK2 protein are too small and too compact to study.

However, Baptista and other principal investigators from the University of Oxford, Goethe-University (Frankfort), and the University of San Diegobelieve that versions of the protein grown in microgravity may be larger and better-defined, lending themselves to detailed analysis. Aboard the ISS, a CASIS PCG 7 automated biotechnology device will produce samples of the LRRK2 protein.

The project hardware includes a Microlytic Crystal Former Optimization Chip (16 Channel) plate. It will be launched frozen and then transitioned to ambient temperature on the ISS to start the nucleation and crystallization process. Following a growth period of up to 21 days, the hardware will be moved to refrigerated storage for the return flight to Earth for detailed laboratory analysis.

Another experiment aboard CRS-12 is focused on helping solve health problems, this one relates to the use of stem cells to grow replacement lung tissue in patients with lung diseases or conditions.

Joan Nichols, a professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases and Associate Director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston), provided a brief explanation. According to Nichols, the cells will be flown live in tissue culture bags to the ISS via conditioned stowage assets at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) within BioCell Habitat containers. Once on board, the BioCell habitats will be placed inside chambers that should provide temperature and carbon dioxide control for the cell cultures.

Kestrel Eye will test the possibility of building and launching clusters of small, relatively inexpensive satellites that have sufficient optical capability to provide useful, real-time information over an extended period of time. Photo Credit: U.S. Army

The cells will be cultured for approximately five weeks with periodic sampling. Once the cultures have grown for a predetermined amount of time, a 4.5-milliliter sample will be pulled from the bag and frozen at minus 176 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 80 degrees Celsius) for the remainder of the flight and then minus 68 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius) or colder for return. The cells remaining within the bags will also be stored for the return flight.

The stem cells wont be the only live cargo aboard CRS-12. As was explained by Michael Delp, principal investigator for Rodent Research-9 from the Florida State University, 20 mice will be the focus of an investigation related to musculoskeletal and neurovascular systems of astronauts in long-term interplanetary travel. Delp noted how this experiment is aimed at three particular biomedical aspects: visual impairment caused by lack of sufficient movement of fluids in the brain; fluid movement into and out of the brain; and biomechanical movement, especially in cartilage tissue.

Delp said that rather than collecting data from the mice, the plan will be to observe their behavior with video monitoring. Further, he said the mice would be brought back alive for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean and then rushed for observation and evaluation to the office of Xiao Wen Mao, one of the co-investigators, at Loma Linda University.

One final project covered during the Aug. 8 science briefing involves space-based support for the military.

Chip Hardy, Kestrel Eye program manager for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Army Forces Strategic Command, presented an overview of providing real-time information to ground troops regarding enemy location and movement. Currently, there are military satellites that can provide fairly detailed visual images or video. However, these satellites are very expensive, relatively few in number, and provide useful information only if in the proper orbital attitude.

The NanoRacks-SMDC-Kestrel Eye IIM project will test the possibility of building and launching clusters of small, relatively inexpensive satellites that have sufficient optical capability to provide useful, real-time information over an extended period of time. According to the NASA media briefing release, it is a monolithic design, with dimensions of 15 inches 15 inches 38 inches (38 centimeters 38 centimeters 96.5 centimeters) with integrated command data and handling system, attitude controls and solar arrays for power. The primary payload is a medium resolution electro-optical imaging system, an element of which is a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) telescope.

Following an anticipated October 2017 deployment using the ISS NanoRacks Kaber deployer, the NanoRacks-KE IIM will begin its nominal mission operations limited by its expected six-month orbital lifetime.

There may also be civilian applications for this potential optical platform, such as to monitor the weather or natural disasters.If this test is successful, Hardy noted that the next step might be one of a number of alternatives, including a low-volume production run or the substitution of a different optical technology.

Many organizations and teams of students have seen their experiments fly to the International Space Station, one of them, DASA, is looking forward to having their experiment travel to the International Space Station as part of CRS-12s payload.

To see an idea that started a few months ago as a sketch on a piece of paper actually takeshape and fly to space is a rare opportunity, DASA team member KatherineStecher said via a release. The anticipation has definitely built, and I cant wait to see what answers ourexperiment brings back.

Video courtesy of the Center for the Advancement of Science In Space

Tagged: CRS-12 Dragon International Space Station Lead Stories NASA SpaceX

Jim Siegel comes from a business and engineering background, as well as a journalistic one. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, an MBA from the University of Michigan, and executive certificates from Northwestern University and Duke University. Jim got interested in journalism in 2002. As a resident of Celebration, FL, Disneys planned community outside Orlando, he has written and performed photography extensively for the Celebration Independent and the Celebration News. He has also written for the Detroit News, the Indianapolis Star, and the Northwest Indiana Times (where he started his newspaper career at age 11 as a paperboy). Jim is well known around Celebration for his photography, and he recently published a book of his favorite Celebration scenes. Jim has covered the Kennedy Space Center since 2006. His experience has brought a unique perspective to his coverage of first, the space shuttle Program, and now the post-shuttle era, as US space exploration accelerates its dependence on commercial companies. He specializes in converting the often highly technical aspects of the space program into contexts that can be understood and appreciated by average Americans.

View original post here:

Science and technology to get boost from CRS-12 mission – SpaceFlight Insider

International Lunar Observatory to offer a new astrophysical perspective – SpaceFlight Insider

Tomasz Nowakowski

August 12th, 2017

Artists illustration of the International Lunar Observatory on the south pole of the Moon. Image Credit: Michael Carroll / ILOA

Scheduled to be sent to the south pole of the Moon sometime in 2019, the International Lunar Observatory is expected to conduct the first astrophysical observations from the lunar surface. The mission managers hope that it will offer a brand new astrophysical perspective for scientists worldwide.

The International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and Moon Express have recently inked a deal for the delivery of the first International Lunar Observatory to the Moon. Under this contract, the mission named ILO-1 would land on the Malapert Mountain a 3.1-mile tall peak in the Aitken Basin region that is bathed in sunshine most of the time and has an uninterrupted direct line of sight to Earth.

ILOA states that the main goal of the mission is to expand human understanding of the Galaxy and Cosmos through observation and communication from [the] Moon. To achieve this, ILO-1 will be equipped with a set of instruments for radio and optical astronomy purposes.

Artists rendition of ILO-1 on the Moon. Image Credit: Canadensys Aerospace

The observatory payload includes the possible primary instrument, a two-meter dish antenna for observation and communications functions as well as potential secondary instruments such as an optical telescope, star finder, ultra-violet camera or others. The ILO-1 can be scaled to fit final project budget and is designed to be adaptable to various launch vehicle providers and spacecraft platforms, Steve Durst, Founding Director of ILOA, told Astrowatch.net.

The payload of the ILO-1 mission will be provided by Toronto-based Canadensys Aerospace Corporation. The instruments will allow the observatory to image our Milky Way galaxy and to conduct international astrophysical observations and communications from the lunar surface.

The launch of the mission is currently scheduled for no earlier than 2019. While the spacecraft and its payload will be built by commercial companies, the mission itself will be launched into space by Indiasstate-owned Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), most likely atop its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Durst underlines that the ILO-1 mission is indeed a real international effort.

Right now the ILO-1 project includes a globally distinguished board of directors, day to day functioning executive committee, spacecraft contractor (Moon Express), a payload contractor (Canadensys Aerospace), a launch provider (Indias PSLV), cooperative memorandum of understanding with the CanadaFranceHawaii Telescope (CFHT) and the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC), and an operating partnership comprised of international organizations, agencies, and institutions who are participating in the mission, he noted.

Durst revealed that ILO-1 is being designed to be able to sustain itself through the lunar night. Therefore, it could potentially continue to operate for multiple Earth months or even years independently on the lunar surface. Moreover, it could be also potentially serviced and upgraded by subsequent human missions to the Moon.

Tagged: International Lunar Observatory Moon Moon Express The Range

Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski’s generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

Continued here:

International Lunar Observatory to offer a new astrophysical perspective – SpaceFlight Insider

Q&A with Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab – Spaceflight Now

Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab. Credit: Rocket Lab

Peter Beck, the founder and chief executive of Rocket Lab, recently discussed the outcome of the companys first attempted orbital test flight and plans for future missions.

Rocket Labs Electron rocket made its first test flight May 25, soaring higher than an altitude of 139 miles (224 kilometers) before a piece of ground tracking equipment faltered, erroneously leading a range safety officer to terminate the launch for safety reasons. Designed to deliver small satellites weighing up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) to a circular sun-synchronous orbit around 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth, the two-stage Electron will make its second test flight some time late this year.

Beck said the inaugural Electron rocket performed according to plan until the flight ended, demonstrating virtually all the major events during a climb into orbit. The liquid-fueled Electrons nine first stage engines and single upper stage engine all worked as expected until the command to terminate the flight.

The U.S.-New Zealand company developed a launch facility on Mahia Peninsula on theeastern coast of New Zealands North Island. While its current control center and manufacturing plant are located in New Zealand, the company has a headquarters in Southern California and operates under the regulatory umbrella of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Rocket Labs progress was marked with test launches of more than 80 sounding rockets since the companys formation.The total money invested in Rocket Lab to date is $148 million, and the company was valued at more than $1 billion during a Series D financing round closed in March.

The companysays it will charge $4.9 million per Electron flight, significantly less than any other launch provider flying today, and offer a dedicated ride for payloads that currently must ride piggyback with a larger payload.

With money from venture capital funds in Silicon Valley and New Zealand, along with a strategic investment from Lockheed Martin, Rocket Lab completed the design and qualification of the Electron rocket with less than $100 million since the company was established in 2006, according to Beck.

Rocket Lab is one of several companies alongside start-ups and spinoffs like Virgin Orbit and the now-defunct Texas-based rocket developer Firefly that have been established in recent years to meet demand for launches in the small satellite market.

Becks interview with Spaceflight Now is posted below.

Q:How happy are you with the way the Electron vehicle performed on the inaugural flight?

A: Were very happy with the performance of the vehicle. The flight was a heavily insrumented flight. It had something like 25,000 channels of data and instruments on-board, and the data that we were able to obtain was exceptionally good, and it enabled us to validate all the engineering decisions and performances of the vehicle, the thermal environment, the structural environment. We captured all the data we needed. Were feeling really good about the vehicle, and weve accelerated our commercial program. Weve committed to six commercial vehicles, so it put us in a really good position. Before the first flight, you never know what youve got, so being able to instrument the vehicle and get the quality and quantity of data we did puts us in a very strong position to move forward. Cutting a long story short, were feeling very good and very confident about the vehicles performance and the beginning of commercial operations.

Q:Are those six commercial flights all sold to customers?

A:Theyre all sold.

Q:Are you still planning two more test flights before starting commercial operations?

A:Weve got the next test flight rolling out out to the pad in about eight weeks time. If its a really good clean flight, well probably accelerate into commercial operations. If Test Flight 2 goes really well, then Test Flight 3, theres not really a whole lot of point in doing it. Its just gathering more statistics at that point. (If that test flight goes well), well probably accelerate commercial operations and not do a Test Flight 3, but its early days yet, and weve been in this business long enough to know that theres always potentially something lurking there that you didnt see. So at the moment, were still planning a full three-flight program, but there is a possibility of accelerating the commercial debut of the vehicle.

Q: So the next launch would be some time shortly after that rollout in eight weeks?

A: Yeah, absolutely. Theres a few weeks on the pad doing all the integration. This vehicle, again, has on the order of 25,000 or 30,000 sensors, so for us these flights are all about gathering data, so theres a lot of go-no go criteria around those sensors. Usually, it takes us a good ocuple of weeks to get all that buttoned up, and then well be ready to launch.

Q:Do you expect a smoother campaign leading up to the second test flight now that you have some experience?

A:That would be great if we could, but Im conscious that these are still test flights, and we operate in a very cautious manner. So if something is looking a bit weird, then we just wont go. Its more important at this point in time to take the time to get everything perfect. I certainly hope we can turn it a little bit faster, but once again, its a heavily instrumented flight, and every one of those sensors is really important to us. So well probaly take our time once again, but youd think it might be faster the second time, right?

Q:Rocket Labs press release said youre not making any major changes to the vehicle for the second flight. Are there any minor changes?

A:Of course. We had lots of margins on some areas, so weve reduced some thermal insulation in some areas, and reduced some mass and complexity and optimized some things for production, but there are no major hardware changes. Were not pulling out any subsystems or reworking any subsystems. There are some software tweaks, of course, as there always are, but its not like we had to go back and redesign anything for the next flight.

Q:Are there any payloads on the next flight, or will it be a purely instrumented payload as with the first test flight?

A: Itsmainly instrumented, but we are flying some payloads up, and we developed our own CubeSat deployers. We have a 3U, 6U and 1U CubeSat deployer of our own thats gone through all the ground qualification, and were flight qualifying those. Well do that on that flight as well. It just gives us a good oppportunity to qualify more components and more systems.

Q:Will the Outernet CubeSats be on the next launch?

A: Theyre not the Outernet guys. Well identify them later and make an announcement closer to the time. We want to make sure that they get the most out of it.

Q:Do you think you can stil begin commercial service by the end of the year?

A: If we have good test flights, then I think were in a really good position. Of course, if we have some anomalies we have to work through them. As long as the veicle performed like it did on Test Flight 1, without the ground issue, of course, then I think well be in a very good position.

Q:Is therestill a chance to launch the Moon Express lunar mission by end of the year?

A:For the moon flight the construction of that vehicle is largely complete, and well be able to support that missoin at the end of the year.

Q:Going back to the issue from the May test flight, what exactly was the piece of equipment responsible for the premature termination of the launch?

A:There are two independent telemetry systems. Theres the Rocket Lab telemetry system, where we are downlinking all the vehicle flight data, and then theres a second telemetry system ,which is standalone thats run by our contractors for flight safety. That system is responsible for the termination of the vehicle. Basically what happened is the contractor misconfigured the software, which resulted in the antennas losing track of the vehicle. Of course, when that happens, the flight safety officers who are looking at a computer screen at their console, the rocket disappears off their console, so they had no other option than to terminate the vehicle.

Q:Who was the contractor?

A:We all have a bad day, and its just not our style to name and shame contractors.

Q: Is the flight termination system for Electron using thrust termination, or is there a pyro charge on-board?

A: Itsjust thrust termination. Youll see from the videos, the vehicle is running and the engine stops. Thats just the thrust being terminated. Even though the engine stopped, the vehicle didnt stop. It went on and continued to do all its normal things as it would on orbit. We were able to test absolutely everything, even though we didnt make it to orbit. We tested all the RCS (Reaction Control System) and all the orbital systems, and unfortunately, we also tested the flight termination system, so we can say that we tested absolutely everything on the vehicle.

Q:Some of video from the first test launch showed the vehicle rolling when it climbed off the pad. Was that an issue or expected?

A: The bottom line on that one is the guidance team didnt want to over-constrain the roll. The roll is the least damped axis. When youve got nine engines on the bottom, theres a lot of plume-plume interaction. The nine engines sort of interact with each other, and its very easy to cause roll torques. What the GNC (Guidance, Navigation and Control) team decided to do is we would let the vehicle roll, but we would control it to a rate. So the vehicle rolled to the pre-programmed rate, and that gave us the ability to characterize all of the engines and the roll characteristics of the vehicle. On the next flight, we probably wont run that same algorithm, or well keep the vehicle in one attitude, but for us, it was all part of the test program to learn and to characterize all those weird torques that are impossible to try and learn on the ground.

Q:What do you use for roll control?

A: All of the nine engines on the bottom are gimballed. Its a simple gimbal command that controls the roll. On the second stage, its a Reaction Control System which controls the roll. If you notice, on the second stage because theres only one engine and we dont have all that plume-plume interaction funkiness, youll see in the videos the second stage didnt roll at all. It was rock solid and rigid because there was no external influencing to create the roll.

If you watch the first Falcon 9 launch, I think they did the same thing as us. They had a roll on the first Falcon 9 launch. They probably did the exact thing as us trying to characterize all those weird conditions.

Q:Do you plan to provide live publicwebcast for your next launch?

A:Ithink we probably will. Its a resource issue for us at the moment, standing all that up and doing it in a way thats a good enough job. I think well take a crack at it.

See original here:

Q&A with Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab – Spaceflight Now

Final five ‘Grand Finale’ orbits will explore Saturn’s upper atmosphere – SpaceFlight Insider

Laurel Kornfeld

August 11th, 2017

This artists rendering shows Cassini as the spacecraft makes one of its final five dives through Saturns upper atmosphere in August and September 2017. Image & Caption Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Set to begin the final five of its Grand Finale orbits next week, NASAs Cassini spacecraft will conduct unprecedented close-up studies of Saturns upper atmosphere.

The probe began its 22 Grand Finale orbits on April 22, diving between Saturns innermost rings and the planet. Each orbit lasts about six-and-a-half days, always through uncharted territory.

At 9:22 p.m. PDT on Sunday, August 13 (12:22 a.m. EDT / 04:22 GMT on Monday, August 14), Cassini will begin its last fiveorbits around Saturn, which will take it as close as 1,010 and 1,060 miles (1,630 and 1,710 kilometers) above the planets cloud tops.

While the exact density of Saturns upper atmosphere remains unknown, mission engineers expect the region to be dense enough that the spacecraft needs to use its small rocket thrusters to stay stable during the approach.

Current expectations are that the thrusters will need to operate at a level between 10 and 60 percent of their capacity during the August 1314 flyby.

Depending on actual atmospheric conditions in the first three orbits, mission scientists and engineers have plans to adjust the spacecrafts altitude for its last two.

If the atmosphere is denser than predicted by computer models, engineers will conduct what is known as a pop-up maneuver using the thrusters to raise the probes altitude approximately 120 miles (200 kilometers).

Conversely, if that atmosphere is less dense than predicted, they might conduct a reverse move known as a pop-down maneuver lowering the spacecraft to a lower altitude of about 120 miles (200 kilometers).

At a lower altitude, science instruments such as Cassinis ion and neutral mass spectrometer (INMS) will be able to collect atmospheric data even closer to the cloud tops.

This view from Cassini shows the narrow band of Saturns atmosphere, which Cassini will dive through five times before making its final plunge into the planet on Sept. 15, 2017. Image & Caption Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Having flown through the thick atmosphere of Saturns largest moon Titan on many occasions, mission scientists consider themselves prepared for the more daunting dip into the giant planets atmosphere.

Cassinis Titan flybys prepared us for these rapid passes through Saturns upper atmosphere. Thanks to our past experience, the team is confident that we understand how the spacecraft will behave at the atmospheric densities our models predict, noted Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

These final five orbits will accomplish the longtime goal of flying a spacecraft into Saturns upper atmosphere, explained project scientist Linda Spilker, also of JPL.

During these closest flybys, the probes science instruments will capture high-resolution images of Saturns auroras and study temperatures and vortexes at both poles.

At this range, Cassinis radar will be able to detect atmospheric features as small as 16 miles (25 kilometers) in diameter. This is almost 100 times smaller than features the probes radar could detect before the Grand Finale orbits.

The mission will end on September 15 with a final plunge into Saturns atmosphere. Scientists chose this option to avoid any contamination of potentially habitable Saturn moons Titan and Enceladus by microbes from Earth that inadvertently made their way onto the spacecraft.

A gravitational assist from distant Titan on September 11 will slow the probes orbit and put it on course for its final dive.

During that dive, Cassinis science instruments will be operational and will send back data in real time until the probe reaches an altitude where atmospheric density doubles, resulting in loss of contact with Earth as the thrusters become unable to keep the antenna pointed our way.

As it makes these five dips into Saturn, followed by its final plunge, Cassini will become the first Saturn atmospheric probe, Spilker said.

Video courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Tagged: Cassini Grand Finale Jet Propulsion Laboratory NASA Saturn 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.

See the original post:

Final five ‘Grand Finale’ orbits will explore Saturn’s upper atmosphere – SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX performs static fire, preps for Monday launch from Florida – Spaceflight Now

A plume of exhaust and steam erupts from pad 39A as SpaceXs Falcon 9 rocket fires its nine Merlin main engines during Thursdays static fire test. Credit: Spaceflight Now

Set to resume a brisk pace of launch activity after a nearly six-week respite, SpaceX test-fired its next Falcon 9 rocket Thursday at NASAs Kennedy Space Center in Florida ahead of a planned liftoff Monday with several tons of experiments and supplies for the International Space Station.

The Falcon 9 launcher rolled out to pad 39A at the Florida space base Wednesday evening and was raised vertical overnight. SpaceXs launch team, stationed in a control center about 13 miles (21 kilometers) to the south, initiated a computer-controlled countdown sequence Thursday morning that loaded super-chilled kerosene and liquid oxygen into the two-stage rocket.

After sailing through final preflight health checks, the Falcon 9s nine Merlin 1D main engines ignited at 9:10 a.m. EDT (1310 GMT) for several seconds, throttling up to around 1.7 million pounds of thrust as hold-down restraints kept the rocket firmly grounded.

Ground crews will lower the Falcon 9 rocket and return it to SpaceXs hangar at the southern edge of pad 39A, where technicians will mate a cargo-carrying Dragon capsule to the launcher. The robotic supply ship will deliver more than 6,200 pounds (about 2,800 kilograms) of experiments, food and spare parts to the space stations six-person crew.

The fully-assembled rocket will return to pad 39A some time Sunday, when workers will pack final time-sensitive equipment into the cargo capsule, including a habitat with mice to study the affects of long-term spaceflight on vision, a plant growth experiment, and several more biological research investigations.

Liftoff of SpaceXs 12th resupply flight to the space station is scheduled for 12:31 p.m. EDT (1631 GMT) Monday. If the launch takes off on time, the Dragon cargo freighter should complete its automated rendezvous with the orbiting outpost Wednesday.

Astronauts Jack Fischer and Paolo Nespoli will monitor Dragons final approach and grapple the commercial supply ship with the stations Canadian-built robotic arm around 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) Wednesday.

The spaceship will spend about a month attached to the stations Harmony module, allowing astronauts to unpack its pressurized cabin, conduct experiments, and return specimens and other hardware to the capsule for return to Earth in September.

A NASA cosmic ray detector will be robotically transferred from the Dragon spacecrafts external cargo bay to a mounting plate outside the stations Japanese Kibo laboratory module. The instrument is designed to look into the origins of cosmic rays, tiny particles propelled across the universe at high speed by violent phenomena like supernova explosions.

The Dragon spacecraft set for launch next week is the final first-generation version of the cargo ship built by SpaceX. The company plans to deliver supplies to the station with reused capsules on future missions, until a new-generation vehicle is ready.

Mondays launch will be the 11th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket this year, but the first since July 5, the longest gap between SpaceX missions since the start of 2017.

The rapid-fire pace of Falcon 9 flights has allowed SpaceX to catch up on its launch manifest after groundings in 2015 and 2016 in the wake of two rocket failures, which combined to delay the companys schedule nearly one year.

Upgrades at the U.S. Air Forces Eastern Range led to the lull in launch activity in the last few weeks at Cape Canaveral, and no missions were ready for liftoff once the military range re-opened in mid-July. SpaceX took advantage of the downtime to accelerate demolition of disused shuttle-era structures at pad 39A, which the company leased from NASA in 2014 in a 20-year agreement.

The launch rate should ramp up again in the coming weeks if schedules hold.

A separate SpaceX crew at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is preparing for a Falcon 9 launch Aug. 24 with Formosat 5, a Taiwanese Earth-imaging satellite.

Up to three Falcon 9 flights are on tap in September, beginning Sept. 7 with the launch from Florida of the Air Forces reusable X-37B spaceplane, an unpiloted winged spacecraft that has previously flown into low Earth orbit on United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets and returned for landings on a runway.

Another Falcon 9 mission from Floridas Space Coast is scheduled for no earlier than Sept. 27 with the SES 11 communications satellite, also known as EchoStar 105. It will fly on a previously-launched Falcon 9 booster, marking the third time SpaceX will reuse one of its first stages.

And the next batch of 10 next-generation Iridium voice and data relay satellites will fire into orbit from Vandenberg no sooner than Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, ULAs next Atlas 5 launch is on track for Aug. 18 from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral with NASAs TDRS-M communications craft to provide links with the space station and other orbiting scientific satellites when they are out of range of ground stations.

An Orbital ATK Minotaur 4 rocket is being stacked at Cape Canaverals pad 46 for an Aug. 25 blastoff with a military space surveillance mission.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Go here to see the original:

SpaceX performs static fire, preps for Monday launch from Florida – Spaceflight Now

Human Spaceflight Fast Facts – KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News … – KTVQ Billings News

CNN Library

(CNN) — Here’s a look at human spaceflight programs in the United States and around the world.

Facts: The United States ended its human spaceflight program with the launch of Atlantis on July 8, 2011, and landing on July 21, 2011.

China and Russia are the only other countries to have independent spaceflight capabilities.

India and Iran have both announced their plans to send a manned spacecraft into space.

Timeline: October 4, 1957 – The Soviet Union launches Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite, which starts the “space race” between the Soviets and the United States.

October 1, 1958 – The official start of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

May 25, 1961 – President John F. Kennedy addresses Congress: “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

1958-1963 – NASA’s Project Mercury. Its objectives are: – to orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth. – to investigate man’s ability to function in space. – to recover both man and spacecraft safely.

April 12, 1961 – Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is the first human in space aboard Vostok 1. He spends 108 minutes in space and makes one orbit around the earth.

May 5, 1961 – Project Mercury astronaut Alan B. Shepard is the first American in space aboard Freedom 7. He spends 15 minutes in sub-orbital flight.

February 20, 1962 – Project Mercury astronaut John Glenn is the first American to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7. He spends four hours and 55 minutes in space and orbits the earth three times.

1962-1966 – NASA’s Gemini program. Its objectives are: – to subject man and equipment to space flight up to two weeks in duration. – to rendezvous and dock with orbiting vehicles and to maneuver the docked combination by using the target vehicle’s propulsion system. – to perfect methods of entering the atmosphere and landing at a preselected point on land. – to gain additional information concerning the effects of weightlessness on crew members and to record the physiological reactions of crew members during long duration flights.

June 16, 1963 – Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova is the first woman in space, aboard Vostok 6. She spends 70 hours in space and orbits the earth 48 times.

1963 -1972 – NASA’s Apollo program. Its objectives are: – to establish the technology to meet other national interests in space – to achieve preeminence in space for the United States – to carry out a program of scientific exploration of the Moon – to develop man’s capability to work in the lunar environment

March 18, 1965 – Soviet Alexei Leonov is the first man to walk in space.

June 3, 1965 – Ed White becomes the first American to walk in space, during Gemini 4.

July 20, 1969 – Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins are the first humans to land on the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin are the first to walk on the moon.

April 1971 – Salyut, a manned orbiting space lab, is launched by the Soviet Union.

1972 – NASA’s Space Shuttle program formally begins in 1972, under President Richard Nixon.

1973-1974 – NASA’s Skylab program. Three missions are completed, with astronauts spending a total of 171 days in space. Its objectives are: – to prove that humans could live and work in space for extended periods – to extend our knowledge of solar astronomy well beyond Earth-based observations

April 12, 1981 – The Space Shuttle Columbia is the first to go to space and the first space shuttle to orbit the earth (STS-1).

June 18-24, 1983 – Sally Ride is first American woman in space aboard mission STS-7.

January 28, 1986 – The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes, killing the seven astronauts onboard, including Christa McAuliffe, chosen as the first teacher in space.

October 29, 1998 – A 77-year old John Glenn becomes the oldest human ever to go into space, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

April 28, 2001 – Dennis Tito becomes the first “space tourist,” paying $20 million to ride on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station.

February 1, 2003 – The Columbia breaks up upon re-entry during mission STS-107, killing all seven crew members. It is the second loss of a shuttle in 113 shuttle flights.

October 15, 2003 – Yang Liwei is first Chinese man in space aboard Shenzhou 5.

July 21, 2011 – With the landing of the 135th and final space shuttle mission, the US space shuttle program ends.

June 2012 – China plans to launch the Shenzhou 9, carrying three taikonauts/astronauts, on course to rendezvous with Tiangong-1, a mini-space station, in their first manned space docking venture. Two crews prepare for the mission, each with a female crewman; Major Liu Wang and Captain Wang Yaping, both Air Force fighter pilots.

June 16, 2012 – China launches Shenzhou 9 with a crew of three, Liu Wang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Yang, from the launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in western Gansu province. Liu Wang is the first female taikonaut to go into space.

June 11, 2013 – The Chinese launch the Shenzhou 10 mission, their fifth and longest crewed space mission, with three crew members: Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping.

July 29, 2016 – NASA places an order with SpaceX for a crewed mission to the International Space Station. It’s the fourth and final order under a government-funded program that contracts with private companies with the goal of launching astronauts from US soil again. SpaceX has received two of those orders, and Boeing won the other two. The two companies are expected to launch astronauts within the next one or two years.

September 1, 2016 – A SpaceX rocket explodes at its Cape Canaveral launch pad during a test firing. The explosion destroys the rocket and the satellite it was due to launch September 3, 2016.

TM & 2017 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Read the original post:

Human Spaceflight Fast Facts – KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News … – KTVQ Billings News