Boeing CST-100 and ULA Atlas-V Crew Access Tower Taking Shape at Cape Canaveral Launch Site

The first crew access tower tiers begin to take shape at Space Launch Complex-41 for flights aboard the Boeing CST-100. Credits: NASA/Cory Huston

The first crew access tower tiers begin to take shape at Space Launch Complex-41 for flights aboard the Boeing CST-100. Credits: NASA/Cory Huston

In 2017 the United States will once again see the return of American human spaceflight to our own shores, courtesy of SpaceX and Boeing and their Dragon and CST-100 crew capsules. Boeing, however, is NASA’s primary crew contract winner, receiving a much larger piece of the multi-billion-dollar pie to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard their CST-100 capsule ($4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX).

With two years left before an expected inaugural launch there is still a lot of work to be done, but one visible sign of progress at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is the new Boeing/ULA (United Launch Alliance) crew access tower now being built just down the road from ULA’s Atlas Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41), which is where Boeing’s flights will take place from atop the proven ULA Atlas-V rocket.

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New 'Forever Remembered' Exhibit Pays Tribute to Challenger and Columbia Crews STS-51L and STS-107

 

"Forever Remembered" at KSCVC pays tribute to the fourteen fallen astronaut heroes who sacrificed their lives during America's 30-year Space Shuttle Program. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace

“Forever Remembered” at KSCVC pays tribute to the 14 fallen astronaut heroes who sacrificed their lives during America’s 30-year space shuttle program. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace

“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave.” – President Ronald Reagan

There was not a dry eye in the house Saturday morning when Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director Bob Cabana and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden formally opened a new exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC). The exhibit titled “Forever Remembered” honors the lives of the crews on space shuttle missions STS-51L and STS-107 and the orbiters Challenger and Columbia that were both lost during America’s 30-year space shuttle program. NASA and the families of the fallen astronauts worked together to create the exhibit, which accurately displays their lives and personalities.

The memorial contains personal items from both of the crews, as well as jaw-dropping recovered remnants of both orbiters never been seen by the public. 

Continue reading New ‘Forever Remembered’ Exhibit Pays Tribute to Challenger and Columbia Crews STS-51L and STS-107

Two Weeks to Pluto: New Horizons and New Perspectives (Part 2)

Technicians working on the New Horizons spacecraft in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Photo Credit: NASA/KSC

Technicians working on the New Horizons spacecraft in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The black shape of the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) is clearly visible at left. Photo Credit: NASA/KSC

Sixteen days from now, the first robotic emissary from Earth will encounter the dwarf world Pluto, its large binary companion Charon, and a system of at least four tiny moons: Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx. In doing so, NASA’s New Horizons mission—led by Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Space Studies Dept. in Boulder, Colo.—will bring full-circle humanity’s first-time reconnaissance and exploration of each of the traditionally accepted nine planets in the Solar System; although Pluto was officially demoted to the status of dwarf planet in 2006, fierce debate continues to rage about its nature. In recent days, our resolution of this tiny world has grown clearer, from distant, monochromatic images of a body of highly contrasting albedo ranges to the first views in near-true color of the Pluto-Charon duo in motion. As our spacecraft draws closer to its target, AmericaSpace’s New Horizons Tracker and a series of articles by Mike Killian, Leonidas Papadopoulos, and myself will follow the spacecraft’s progress as it seeks to make this unknown world known.

Continue reading Two Weeks to Pluto: New Horizons and New Perspectives (Part 2)

Falcon 9 Fails, Dooming Dragon Cargo Ship and First Commercial Crew Docking Adapter

Close to the end of first-stage flight, the nine Merlin 1D engines appeared to flare, ahead of vehicle disintegration. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Close to the end of first-stage flight, the nine Merlin 1D engines appeared to flare, ahead of vehicle disintegration. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Following 18 successful launches since June 2010, the heart was torn from SpaceX earlier today (Sunday, 28 June), following the disintegration of a Falcon 9 v1.1 booster during its flight to deliver the CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS). Launched on time at 10:21:00 a.m. EDT, the mission carried 4,116 pounds (1,867 kg) of pressurized cargo for the incumbent Expedition 44 crew of Commander Gennadi Padalka and One-Year crewmen Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, as well as NASA’s first International Docking Adapter (IDA-1) for Commercial Crew support. The vehicle appeared to enjoy a largely flawless first-stage flight, but at T+139 seconds—seemingly from nowhere—the plumes of the nine Merlin 1D engines flared and the vehicle disintegrated, depositing debris across a huge area on the Melbourne Weather Radar. Speaking at a press conference, hosted at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Sunday afternoon, key SpaceX, NASA and FAA officials expressed sorrow at the failure and declared their determination to identify the root cause and return to flight within months. At the same time, AmericaSpace understands that both SpaceX and NASA were aware of an issue associated with liner cracking, close to the liquid oxygen tank “dome” on the Falcon 9 v1.1’s second stage, although it remains to be seen if this was a factor in today’s accident.

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'To Work Co-operatively': 20 Years Since the First Shuttle-Mir Docking Mission (Part 4)

Mir Commander Vladimir Dezhurov (left) and STS-71 Commander Robert "Hoot" Gibson shake hands after hatch opening on 29 June 1995. Photo Credit: NASA

Mir Commander Vladimir Dezhurov (left) and STS-71 Commander Robert “Hoot” Gibson shake hands after hatch opening on 29 June 1995. Photo Credit: NASA

Two decades have passed, this week, since one of the most remarkable instances of international co-operation ever seen in human history. For 10 days, between 27 June and 7 July 1995, six U.S. astronauts and four Russian cosmonauts—and thousands of engineers, managers, scientists, families, and friends who supported them and made their mission possible—completed the first docking between a space shuttle and the Mir orbital station. Unlike the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) in July 1975, this was not a “standalone” mission of détente, but the beginning of an era which would see two former foes join forces in support of a common goal. That goal bore fruit over the following years, with the construction of the International Space Station (ISS), and as noted in a proclamation signed by the 10-strong crew: “The success of this endeavor demonstrates the desire of these two nations to work co-operatively to achieve the goal of providing tangible scientific and technical rewards that will have far-reaching effects to all people of the Planet Earth.”

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Two Weeks to Pluto: New Horizons and New Perspectives (Part 1)

A timeline (click to enlarge) detailing New Horizons long journey to Pluto. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

A timeline detailing New Horizons long journey to Pluto. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

The “Month of Pluto” is now upon us, as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft—launched atop an Atlas V 551 booster from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., way back in January 2006—enters the final two weeks before its long-anticipated rendezvous with the dwarf world Pluto, its large binary companion Charon, and a system of at least four tiny moons: Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx. In doing so, New Horizons will bring full-circle humanity’s first-time exploration of each of the traditionally accepted nine planets in the Solar System; although Pluto was officially demoted to the status of dwarf planet in 2006, fierce debate continues to rage about its nature. Over the coming days, as our resolution of Pluto grows clearer, as our first close-range maps begin to take shape and as a tidal wave of scientific data floods back to Earth across a gulf of more than 2.9 billion miles (4.8 billion km), AmericaSpace’s New Horizons Tracker and a series of articles by Mike Killian, Leonidas Papadopoulos, and myself will follow the spacecraft’s progress as it seeks to make this unknown world known.

Continue reading Two Weeks to Pluto: New Horizons and New Perspectives (Part 1)

'To Work Co-operatively': 20 Years Since the First Shuttle-Mir Docking Mission (Part 3)

Russia's space station Mir, as pictured by the crew of STS-71. Photo Credit: NASA

Russia’s space station Mir, as pictured by the crew of STS-71. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty years ago, today, on 27 June 1995, a new era began. Space Shuttle Atlantis rocketed into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, as she had done 13 times previously, over the course of almost a full decade. Since her maiden voyage, she had embarked on a chequered career, flying more classified Department of Defense assignments than any of her sister orbiters, delivering both the Magellan and Galileo planetary spacecraft on their long voyages to Venus and Jupiter, supporting multiple Extravehicular Activities (EVAs), and deploying more than a dozen discrete satellites for science, reconnaissance, intelligence-gathering, and communications. Yet on 27 June 1995, Atlantis’ mission was quite different, for STS-71 would attempt a feat for which the shuttle had always been intended: the docking and exchange of crew members aboard an Earth-circling space station. What could hardly have been anticipated, just a few years earlier, however, was that she would dock not at the U.S.-led Space Station Freedom … but at Russia’s Mir orbital outpost. The remarkable 10 days of STS-71 would cement an unlikely partnership which, despite political differences, endures to this day.

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Project Sidekick: Microsoft's HoloLens Hitching Ride on SpaceX CRS-7 to Give Astronauts Virtual Aid

NASA and Microsoft engineers test Project Sidekick on NASA’s Weightless Wonder C9 jet. Project Sidekick will use Microsoft HoloLens to provide virtual aid to astronauts working on the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

NASA and Microsoft engineers test Project Sidekick on NASA’s Weightless Wonder C9 jet. Project Sidekick will use Microsoft HoloLens to provide virtual aid to astronauts working on the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

A new project between NASA and Microsoft will be hitching a ride to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Dragon resupply ship this Sunday on the CRS-7 mission, aiming to put the first fully untethered, see-through holographic computer in action—in space—to give astronauts living and working on the ISS a virtual aid when and where they need it.

Known as Project Sidekick, the new project will employ Microsoft’s HoloLens to provide a new capability that could reduce crew training requirements and increase the efficiency at which astronauts can work in space. It is part of a larger partnership formed by NASA and Microsoft some time ago to explore applications of holographic computing in space exploration, and a pair is onboard Dragon CRS-7 for the 17,500-mph uphill ride on June 28 to the $100 billion orbiting research laboratory.

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SLS Development Engine Test Fire #4 Ignites With Longest Duration Firing Yet

RS-25 development engine test fire at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Yesterday's test fire, the fourth in the first series of seven planned test fires, ran for 650-seconds, the longest SLS RS-25 test fire yet. Four RS-25 engines will power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System. Credits: NASA/Stennis

RS-25 development engine test fire at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss. Yesterday’s test fire, the fourth in the first series of seven planned test fires, ran for 650 seconds, the longest SLS RS-25 test fire yet. Four RS-25 engines will power the core stage of NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System. Credits: NASA/Stennis

The pace of Space Launch System (SLS) development engine test firing is in full swing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, as NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne completed their longest SLS main engine test fire to date on June 25. Secured tightly on the historic A-1 test stand, SLS development engine #0525 came roaring to life for 650 seconds, a full 150 seconds longer than its previous test fire on June 11, sending a thunderous roar across Stennis as the engine successfully carried out its fourth test fire for the colossal 320-foot-tall rocket which will launch astronauts over the coming decades to destinations farther from home than any human has ever been.

“While we are using proven space shuttle hardware with these engines, SLS will have different performance requirements,” said Steve Wofford, manager of the SLS Liquid Engines Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The Marshall Center manages the SLS Program for the agency. “That’s why we are testing them again. This is a whole new ballgame — we need way more power for these engines to be able to go farther than ever before when it comes to human exploration. And we believe the modifications we’ve made to these engines can do just that.”

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SpaceX Primed for Record-Setting Third Space Station-Bound Dragon Flight of 2015

The CRS-7 mission is the seventh dedicated Dragon cargo flight under the language of SpaceX's $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. Credit: NASA

The CRS-7 mission is the seventh dedicated Dragon cargo flight under the language of SpaceX’s $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. Credit: NASA

Less than six weeks since its most recent cargo ship returned from the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX—the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services operator, headed by entrepreneur Elon Musk—will deliver another Dragon into orbit on Sunday, 28 June. Liftoff of the CRS-7 mission, which represents the seventh dedicated cargo flight under SpaceX’s $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA, is presently scheduled to occur from the storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., no sooner than 10:21 a.m. EDT. As with previous ISS-bound Dragon missions, the “launch window” will be an instantaneous one, and an on-time launch will produce a rendezvous and berthing at the space station’s Earth-facing (or “nadir”) Harmony node on Tuesday, 30 June. If SpaceX is unable to meet Sunday’s opening attempt, it carries Eastern Range clearance for a backup opportunity on Monday.

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