For the third time in 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 streaks into the Florida sky. Sunday night’s mission successfully delivered two payloads into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Photo Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace
SpaceX has triumphantly accomplished “Three for Three,” delivering a third mission to space in as many months, as the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch operator successfully boosted the Eutelsat 115 West B and Asia Broadcasting Satellite (ABS)-3A communications satellites to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Liftoff took place on time at 10:50 p.m. EST on Sunday, 1 March. Thus continues a spectacular 2015 for SpaceX, which has already despatched the latest Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) Dragon cargo ship into low-Earth orbit, bound for the International Space Station (ISS) and the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) on a journey to the L1 Lagrange Point, more than 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) beyond Earth. Although the company has delivered three missions within three months previously—launching the AsiaSat-8, CRS-4 Dragon, and AsiaSat-6 payloads in a seven-week period, last summer—this is the first time it has boosted three back-to-back payloads into quite different orbits and onto quite different trajectories. It also marks SpaceX’s third launch in just 50 days.
Continue reading SpaceX Achieves Three-for-Three, With Nocturnal Launch of Two Communications Satellites
Barry “Butch” Wilmore now stands as the 58th most experienced spacewalker in the world, out of 211 men and women who have ventured outside their craft since March 1965. Photo Credit: NASA
NASA astronauts Terry Virts (EV1) and Barry “Butch” Wilmore (EV2) have completed the third and final spacewalk of Expedition 42, establishing and routing 400 feet (122 meters) of cables for the Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) architecture on the International Space Station (ISS). This now comprises four antennas and three laser reflectors, erected on four supporting booms on the port-side P-3 and starboard-side S-3 trusses, which will provide standardized communications between the station and future visiting vehicles, including Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon V-2 piloted craft. The two spacewalkers returned to the station’s Quest airlock at 12:30 p.m. EST, after five hours and 38 minutes of intensive activity. In keeping with their prior EVAs together, Virts and Wilmore stayed well ahead of the timeline, which enabled them to complete one “get-ahead” task in readiness for a busy 2015.
Continue reading Expedition 42 Spacewalkers ‘Wire Up’ Space Station for New Communications Infrastructure
Atlantis rockets into the night on 28 February 1990, headed for the shuttle’s first “dogleg” maneuver and the highest orbital inclination ever attained by a U.S. piloted spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
A quarter-century has now passed since one of the quietest missions in the shuttle’s 30-year operational history. On 28 February 1990, the orbiter Atlantis and her STS-36 crew—Commander John “J.O.” Creighton, Pilot John Casper, and Mission Specialists Mike Mullane, Dave Hilmers, and Pierre Thuot—rocketed into orbit for four days of activities on behalf of the Department of Defense. During that short period of time, the astronauts deployed a classified payload, known at the time as Air Force Program (AFP)-731, but more commonly known under the program name of “Misty,” whose nature even today continues to mystify. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, Atlantis performed a “dogleg” maneuver during ascent to reach the highest inclination (62 degrees) ever achieved by a U.S. human space mission.
Continue reading Now You Don’t: 25 Years Since the Mysterious Mission of STS-36 (Part 2)
A view of the Milky Way galaxy in visible wavelengths. Two recent studies have provided more evidence which indicate that our galaxy is dominated in dark matter. In the image, the blue and red dots pinpoint the rotation curve tracers that were used in one of the studies and were colour-coded according to their relative motion with respect to the Sun. Image Credit: Serge Brunier / NASA
“A cosmic mystery of immense proportions, once seemingly on the verge of solution, has deepened and left astronomers and astrophysicists more baffled than ever. The crux of the riddle is that the vast majority of the mass of the Universe seems to be missing.”
— William J. Broad, “If Theory is Right, Most of Universe is Still ‘Missing,'” New York Times (11 Sept. 1984)
Despite all the great strides that have taken place during the last century in our understanding of the Cosmos, astrophysicists are still left with a nudging scientific mystery of immense proportions: Most of the energy-mass content of the Universe seems to be unaccounted for. What makes up all the planets, stars, and galaxies, as well as all the energy and electromagnetic radiation that we can observe with our instruments, constitutes just under 5 percent of the Universe’s total—everything else, euphemismly called “dark matter” and “dark energy” respectively, is just anybody’s guess. Scientists have been on the hunt for all this missing cosmic content for decades with little success to date, which has led many members of the scientific community to question its very existence, while casting doubts on our current understanding of the way gravity works on cosmic scales. Nevertheless, the results from various astronomical surveys and theoretical studies that have been conducted through the years have indicated that even though we can’t see it, dark matter is definitely there. Two such new studies that were recently published independently by two international research teams come to give more strength to this hypothesis by presenting further indirect evidence for the existence of dark matter in the central and outer regions of the Milky Way galaxy respectively.
Continue reading New Studies Give More Boost to Search for Dark Matter in Milky Way
The Sun peeks above the limb of Earth, illuminating Expedition 42 spacewalker Terry Virts during last week’s EVA-29. Photo Credit: NASA
After a spectacular run of two EVAs, lasting a cumulative 13 hours and 24 minutes, over the last week, Expedition 42 astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts will venture outside the International Space Station (ISS) for the third and final time tomorrow (Sunday). Scheduled to run for six hours and 45 minutes, EVA-31 will install the expansive Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) infrastructure, providing standardized communications between the ISS and future visiting vehicles—including Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon V-2 piloted craft—with a common data link for exchanging audio, video, and telemetry at varying rates and communications ranges. For unpiloted visiting vehicles, this will include trajectory and spacecraft health data, whilst for the piloted craft it will also feature a two-way audio capability. When the C2V2 hardware is fully operational, it will operate for up to 13 years, throughout the expected remainder of the station’s lifetime, and consolidate ISS-based communications, save weight and volume, and greatly simplify logistics for co-ordinating the arrival and departure of all visiting vehicles.
Continue reading Despite Water in Helmet Incident, EVA-31 Remains ‘Go’ for Sunday
The official crew patch for shuttle mission STS-36, which launched 25 years ago today, on 28 February 1990. Image Credit: NASA
Something strange happened in March 1990. Ground-based observers were busy tracking the orbital progress of a classified Department of Defense payload, recently deployed by the crew of Shuttle Atlantis on STS-36—Commander John “J.O.” Creighton, Pilot John Casper, and Mission Specialists Mike Mullane, Dave Hilmers, and Pierre Thuot—when they spotted something they did not expect. The massive satellite had proven an extremely bright object to follow in the night sky, but on 16 March the Soviet Union’s Novosti news agency reported that it appeared to have broken up into several large fragments. Thus began the strange and enigmatic story of Air Force Program (AFP)-731, the first satellite of the “Misty” series, and as with so much in the “deep black” world of Department of Defense space operations, all was not what it seemed.
Continue reading Now You See It: 25 Years Since the Mysterious Mission of STS-36 (Part 1)
This image was taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft of dwarf planet Ceres on Feb. 19 from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers). It shows that the brightest spot on Ceres has a dimmer companion, which apparently lies in the same basin. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
A scientific mystery on dwarf planet Ceres—worthy of investigation by 21st century scientists and Star Trek’s 23rd century Science Officer Mr. Spock—is deepening, even as the Dawn spacecraft journeys ever closer to orbital capture one week from today!
Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed the character Mr. Spock aboard the fictional Starship USS Enterprise on TV and film, passed away today, Feb. 27, at age 83. He was a friend of Dawn and NASA.
Continue reading Ceres Reveals Eye-Like Bright Spots, Mr. Spock Explains Dawn
The ABS-3A and Eutelsat 115 West B satellites being readied for a March 1, 2015 launch attempt atop a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Photo Credit: Boeing
Having completed a successful Static Fire Test of the nine Merlin 1D first-stage engines on its Falcon 9 v1.1 booster on Wednesday, 25 February, SpaceX stands ready to deliver its first dual-satellite mission toward Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), no sooner than Sunday, 1 March. Originally scheduled to fly Friday night, liftoff was realigned by 48 hours and is presently expected to occur within a 45-minute “window,” which extends from 10:49-11:34 p.m. EST. In the event of a scrub on Sunday night, SpaceX has Eastern Range approval for a backup opportunity Monday, with the window opening at the slightly earlier time of 10:45 p.m. and extending until 11:30 p.m. Flying from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., the mission will be SpaceX’s third flight of 2015 and its payload—the Eutelsat 115 West B and Asia Broadcasting Satellite (ABS)-3A communications satellites—marks the company’s fifth cargo bound for geostationary orbit.
Continue reading SpaceX Ready for First Dual-Satellite Mission to Geostationary Orbit on Sunday
This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the “Mojave” site, where its drill collected the mission’s second taste of Mount Sharp. The scene combines dozens of images taken during January 2015 by the MAHLI camera at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
See drill site photomosaics below
The car-sized Curiosity rover has snapped a sweeping selfie encompassing the spectacular alien terrain of the Red Planet, where she has spent the past five months wandering, exploring, and working to unravel the mysteries of the planet’s past and assess ancient habitable environments.
This latest selfie from Curiosity was just released by NASA on Feb. 24 and taken during the last half of January at the majestic “Pahrump Hills” outcrop area on Mars. It shows a super wide-angle view around the “Mojave” site where she just conducted a second local area drilling operation for sample analysis by the rover’s duo of on-board chemistry laboratories.
Continue reading Curiosity Snaps Expansive Selfie, Sets Next Drill Campaign
Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa hides a water ocean beneath its surface. A return mission is now planned to help search for evidence of life there. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL
Jupiter’s moon Europa, with its subsurface ocean, is considered by many to be the best place in the Solar System to search for extraterrestrial life. With NASA now committing itself to a new mission sometime in the 2020s, the focus is turning to what would be the best strategy for looking for any life which may be there. Over 200 scientists and engineers met at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., last week for a workshop called the The Potential for Finding Life in a Europa Plume to do just that.
Continue reading Scientists Debate How to Search for Life on Europa in New Mission