Ulysses drifts serenely above Earth in the moments after deployment on 6 October 1990, 25 years ago, this week. Shortly after this image was taken, the attached Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) and Payload Assist Module (PAM)-S boosters would propel the craft faster than any previous man-made object out of Earth’s gravitational clutches. Photo Credit: NASA
A quarter-century ago, this week, in October 1990, the crew of STS-41—Commander Dick Richards, Pilot Bob Cabana, and Mission Specialists Bruce Melnick, Bill Shepherd, and Tom Akers—successfully launched the shuttle’s fastest-ever Earth-departing payload, the joint U.S./European Ulysses spacecraft, bound for an extended period of exploration of the Sun’s poles. Over the following 19 years, until the end of its life in June 2009, Ulysses would successfully perform passages over the north and south poles of the Sun on no fewer than three occasions, as well as serendipitously passing through the coma tails of three comets and repeatedly observing Jupiter from afar. As for Discovery’s crew on STS-41, their mission came after six frustrating months of delay, following a series of hydrogen leaks, involving her sister shuttles Columbia and Atlantis.
Continue reading Many Twists and Turns: 25 Years Since STS-41 Sent Ulysses to the Sun (Part 1)
Sedimentary strata at the base of Mount Sharp as seen at the Kimberly location. The strata in the foreground dip toward Mount Sharp, providing evidence of the former lake-filled depression that used to exist before most of the mountain formed. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Last week there was the exciting news that Mars still has flows of briny water occurring now, and this week there is more water-related news: additional findings from the Curiosity rover that the huge Gale crater was once a lake or series of lakes a long time ago. Curiosity had already found evidence that there used to be shallow lakes and streams in this area, but the new data confirms this and suggests that the lake(s) once filled Gale crater and were long-lasting, explaining the formation of Mount Sharp in the middle of the crater and also providing a potentially habitable environment for life.
Continue reading Curiosity Rover Confirms Ancient Lake(s) in Gale Crater on Mars
Virgin Galactic’s CEO, George Whitesides, in front of the second SpaceShipTwo as he congratulates the team in Mojave after completing another important milestone in the process of assembling and integrating the second SpaceShipTwo – Weight on Wheels. Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo, a reusable suborbital “spaceplane” for flying tourists and other paying customers to the edge of space and back, is coming together in Mojave, Calif. The major build of the spaceship itself, which is being led by The Spaceship Company, a subsidiary of Virgin Galactic, is expected to be complete “soon, within months,” according to Virgin Galactic’s CEO George Whitesides, speaking at the 2015 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) this week in Las Cruces, N.M.
“We’re now working to integrate all the systems into the vehicle: the plumbing, the electrical, the pneumatics and other systems,” said Whitesides, stressing that Virgin Galactic is working toward internal schedules but not willing to commit publicly to a firm Return-to-Flight (RTF) test date just yet.
Continue reading Virgin Galactic’s New SpaceshipTwo Nearing Completion as Return to Flight Tests Push to 2016
Hubble and VLT images of the “ripples” within the debris disk surrounding the young star AU Microscopii. Image Credit: ESO/NASA/ESA
Planetary debris disks, or protoplanetary disks, are some of the most interesting phenomena in astronomy – these giant clouds of dust and gas surrounding young stars are the birthplaces of new planets. Now, astronomers studying one of these disks have found structures never seen before, giant “ripples” which are arch-like or wave-like in appearance.
Continue reading Unusual Fast-Moving ‘Ripples’ Discovered in Planetary Debris Disk Surrounding Nearby Star
The blue skies of Pluto, as seen in this image from New Horizons. Pluto is backlit by the Sun, revealing the multilayered hazes in the atmosphere. Soot-like particles in the atmosphere scatter sunlight in a way that the atmosphere appears blue, similar to what happens on Earth. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
As new images and data continue to be sent back from the New Horizons spacecraft, scientists have quickly learned that Pluto is a world full of surprises. Today, the mission team revealed that Pluto indeed is a weirdly colorful place – the latest images show blue skies and red water ice. Almost like home, although not quite.
Continue reading A Colorful World: New Images of Pluto Show Blue Skies and Red Water Ice
Engineers in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, recently tested the mechanisms that will connect future commercial crew spacecraft with the second International Docking Adapter. IDA-2, as it’s called, will be taken to the space station on a future cargo resupply mission. It will be one of two connection points for commercial crew spacecraft visiting the orbiting laboratory. The systems and targets for IDA-2 are set to be put through extensive tests with both Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon before the adapter is loaded for launch.
Caption and Credit: NASA/Charles Babir
A manned American spacecraft has not docked with the International Space Station (ISS) in over four years, but that is bound to change. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon are the future spacecraft that will transport NASA astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit (LEO). These private companies are busy developing their spacecraft for future manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program; meanwhile, engineers are testing the unit responsible for connecting the next generation spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory. Once installed, the International Docking Adapter (IDA) will serve as an entryway to a new future in America’s space program aboard the ISS, and there will be two of these adapters on the ISS to dock visiting spacecraft.
Continue reading Space Station International Docking Adapter Undergoes Tests for Starliner and Crew Dragon
A successful pre-dawn launch for NRO-55 atop ULA’s 58th Atlas-V rocket from Vandenberg AFB, CA this morning at 5:48 a.m. PDT. A pair of 4-ton NRO ocean surveillance satellites are onboard, along with several NRO and NASA Cubesats. Photo Credit: Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace
Critical U.S. military situational awareness in space and on the high seas is being bolstered tremendously with the apparent successful launch from Vandenberg AFB, Ca. of two new National Reconnaisssance Office (NRO) ocean surveillance spacecraft on the Atlas-V NRO-55 mission this morning, and a declaration by Air Force Space Command that the first two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral last July on the AFSPC-4 mission are now operational.
It was a busy secret mission today for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V that carried the two NOSS spacecraft and 13 advanced NRO and NASA CubeSats into a high inclination orbit following liftoff from Vandenberg Space Launch Complex-3 East at 5:59 a.m. PDT. (8:59 a.m. EDT).
Continue reading Atlas-V Flies NROL-55’s Twin Ocean Surveillance Satellites as Air Force Declares Situational Awareness Spacecraft Operational
The final launch, Atlantis STS-135. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
A string of “Go” calls—interspersed with an occasional poignant remark about the contributions of the Space Shuttle program over three decades of operational service—reached the ears of Launch Director Mike Leinbach, seated at his console in the Launch Control Center (LCC) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on the morning of 8 July 2011. All stations, from the Orbiter Test Conductor (OTC) to the Superintendent of Range Operations (SRO) and from the Safety Console to STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson, seated on the shuttle’s flight deck, confirmed to NASA Test Director (NTD) Jeff Spaulding that they were ready to launch Atlantis on her 33rd and final mission.
The ship which sat out at Pad 39A that morning, attached to its bulbous External Tank (ET) and twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) was almost indistinguishable, visually, from the Atlantis which first rocketed into orbit on Mission 51J, three decades ago this week, in October 1985. However, across a lengthy career of orbital flight, Atlantis had secured her reputation as the second most-flown shuttle and had cemented her credentials as the “heavy-lifter” of the fleet. Single-handedly, between 2000 and 2011, she had lofted more than half of the massive Integrated Truss Structure (ITS) of the International Space Station (ISS), as well as delivering three key pressurized facilities. Now long-retired, her legacy circles the globe at this very moment, home to six spacefarers and forerunner to humanity’s future explorations in low-Earth orbit and beyond.
Continue reading ‘This True American Icon’: Remembering Atlantis on 30th Anniversary of Maiden Flight (Part 5)
SNC technicians inspect the Dream Chaser engineering test article (ETA). A second advanced composite orbital vehicle is also being worked, which when tested will undergo a suborbital and orbital flight regimen, respectively. Flight testing is scheduled to resume sometime in 2016. Photo Credit: SNC
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) may not have been awarded a multi-billion dollar commercial crew contract by NASA, but that isn’t stopping the company from moving forward with plans for their Dream Chaser “spaceplane”. Preparations are underway for the Louisville, Colorado-based company to launch the second phase of their Dream Chaser flight test program, significantly upgrading their Engineering Test Article (ETA) and simultaneously building an advanced composite orbital vehicle for an “upcoming suborbital and orbital flight regimen” beginning in 2016.
“The SNC team is readying the ETA in order to begin the second phase of atmospheric flight testing early next year and our strategic partner, Lockheed Martin, is leveraging best practices in tooling and composites to manufacture the first orbital Dream Chaser spacecraft,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president, SNC’s Space Systems, at the International Symposium for Commercial and Personal Spaceflight (ISPCS) in New Mexico. “Both efforts have been ongoing simultaneously and we are very pleased with the progress to date.”
Continue reading Dream Chaser Readies to Spread Its Wings Again, SNC Looks Toward First Orbital Flight Test
An Illustration of SpaceIL’s New Spacecraft Design on the Moon. Image Credit: SpaceIL
Teams from around the world have been competing to win the global Google Lunar XPRIZE race to the moon for close to a decade, each building a privately-funded robotic spacecraft and mission to be the first to land on the lunar surface – with little or no government assistance (90% of the funding must be private). The challenge aims “to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in space through low-cost, efficient access to the moon”, with each of the 16 teams from the United States, Italy, Malaysia and elsewhere having to secure launch contracts by the end of this year, with the deadline for the moon being December 31, 2017.
Today, the non-profit Israeli team SpaceIL announced they have secured their launch contract to fly, and land, the world’s first private lunar mission. SpaceX will provide the rocket with their Falcon-9, and the mission aims to launch sometime in the second half of 2017 as a secondary payload.
Continue reading Israeli Team Secures First Google Lunar XPRIZE Launch Contract for 2017 Moonshot on Falcon-9