SpaceX Ties Own Record for Most Launches in Single Year With BulgariaSat-1 Mission

Bulgaria’s first national communications satellite launches atop the eighth Upgraded Falcon 9 of 2017. Photo Credit: SpaceX

For the record-tying eighth time in a single calendar year, SpaceX has successfully launched one of its Falcon 9 boosters to deliver a payload into orbit. At 3:10 p.m. EDT on Friday, 23 June—60 minutes into a two-hour “window”—the Hawthorne, Calif.-based organization transported Bulgaria’s first national communications satellite into  Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

Liftoff from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida came after several days, caused by technical and weather-related issues. Within minutes of launch, the first stage of the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Upgraded Falcon 9 returned to execute a controlled touchdown on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “Of Course I Still Love You”, positioned about 420 miles (680 km) offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. As well as representing the second “re-used” Falcon 9 first stage, today’s mission saw the first time that a SpaceX bird has landed twice on ASDS.

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New Horizons Team Successfully Observes Transit of Next KBO Target, and Clouds on Pluto!

Four members of the South African observation team, who helped to track the occultation of a star by the KBO called 2014 MU69, the next target for the New Horizons spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Henry Throop

With the Pluto flyby now well behind them, the New Horizons team has been busy preparing for the next encounter, the small Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) called 2014 MU69. New Horizons is scheduled to fly past 2014 MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019, and it will be the farthest Solar System body to ever be visited so far. From June 2-3, astronomers in Argentina and South Africa pointed their telescopes at 2014 MU69, hoping to catch its “shadow” moving across a background star as it transited the star (also known as a stellar occultation). This would help determine the object’s exact size and allow the mission team to fine-tune the planned flyby. Back at Pluto, there is more evidence, from data gathered by New Horizons during the flyby, for clouds in Pluto’s thin atmosphere.

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'To Make Life as Good as Possible': 25 Years Since STS-50 Stretched the Space Shuttle

A quarter-century ago, STS-50 set a new record for the longest Space Shuttle mission at that time. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty-five years ago, next week, the crew of Columbia roared into orbit to begin the longest shuttle mission ever attempted at that time. Equipped with the Extended Duration Orbiter (EDO) hardware—a pallet of additional hydrogen and oxygen reactant tanks in the payload bay, together with other associated upgrades—Columbia and her seven-strong crew were expected to remain in low-Earth orbit for almost 13 days, a full 48 hours longer than the next-longest mission in Space Shuttle Program (SSP) history. As circumstances transpired, the STS-50 astronauts completed a record-breaking mission, landing just a few hours shy of 14 days in space, and in doing so they set an important benchmark in preparation for the construction and operations of today’s International Space Station (ISS).

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Watch Orbital ATK Test Fire NASA's Orion Launch Abort System

The abort motor for Orion’s launch abort system fired for five seconds in a test at the Promontory, Utah facility of manufacturer Orbital ATK. Credits: Orbital ATK

As summer 2017 quickly gets underway, NASA’s Orion program is making steady progress on a series of different testing programs. In the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at Johnson Space Center in Houston, teams are evaluating Orion’s updated airbag splashdown system, while the team developing Orion’s parachute system just conducted another successful drop test of a mock crew capsule over the U.S. Army Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona.

But another critical test of the spacecraft’s ability to keep astronauts safe took place this week too, when Orbital ATK successfully test fired the abort motor for Orion’s launch abort system (LAS) on June 15, at the company’s site in Promontory, Utah.

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Grand Final Part 4: Cassini Completes Eighth Ring Crossing, and a 'Tour of Saturn's Moons'

A haunting raw image view of Saturn and its rings taken on June 7, 2017 by Cassini. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

As Cassini’s “Grand Finale” journey continues, the spacecraft has completed its eighth dive past the innermost rings of Saturn (known as a ring crossing), and there are now just under 100 days left until it plunges into the giant planet’s atmosphere, never to come back. Although time may be running out, Cassini continues to devour every drop of science data that it can, which builds upon other data that has transformed our view of the Saturnian system – a complex array of worlds like a miniature Solar System. This includes, of course, more fantastic images of Saturn and its rings and moons. The detail seen in the rings is nothing short of staggering.

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'Magic Carpet Ride': 40 Years Since Enterprise Took the Space Shuttle to Altitude (Part 2)

Enterprise’s Captive-Active flights, which began 40 years ago, this month, laid the groundwork for the Free Flights and eventually the maiden Space Shuttle mission. Photo Credit: NASA

The Approach and Landing Test (ALT) series of the Space Shuttle, which began 40 years ago, in the summer of 1977, were “just that”, in the words of NASA astronaut Joe Engle. Their goal was to deliver Orbiter Vehicle (OV)-101, nicknamed “Enterprise”, to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,600 meters), atop a heavily modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), above Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Engle and fellow astronauts Fred Haise, Dick Truly and Gordon Fullerton, would place Enterprise—a near-identical version of the orbiters which would someday launch 135 times from Earth—into aerodynamic flight, exercising its hydraulic, electronic, flight-control and landing systems in conditions as close as possible to those the real Space Shuttle would experience during its descent and landing.

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'In a Real Flight Environment': 40 Years Since Enterprise Took the Space Shuttle to Altitude (Part 1)

Flying Enterprise for her test flights were (from left) Gordon Fullerton, Fred Haise, Joe Engle and Dick Truly. Photo Credit: NASA

Four decades ago, this summer, a shuttle (though not a “space” shuttle) took to the skies above Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to show the world what she could do. Outwardly, Orbiter Vehicle (OV)-101, nicknamed “Enterprise”, bore all the hallmarks of her five sisters who would someday voyage into low-Earth orbit, with the notable exception that she would never fly higher than about 25,000 feet (7,600 meters). The role of Enterprise and the men who flew her—Fred Haise, Joe Engle, Dick Truly and Gordon Fullerton—enabled a more comprehensive understanding of the shuttle’s flying characteristics in the low atmosphere and laid much of the groundwork for the maiden voyage of Columbia in April 1981.

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New Findings from Curiosity Hint Ancient Mars Lake 'Favorable for Different Microbial Life'

Mudstone lakebed sedimentary deposits seen by the Curiosity rover in Gale crater. The latest findings show that the lake in the crater was stratified and could have supported a wide variety of microorganisms. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Was Mars ever habitable? Did life ever actually exist there? Those are two of the biggest questions for planetary scientists and slowly but surely, we are getting closer to answering them. Well, the first one has been, thanks to the numerous orbiters, landers and rovers which have been sent to the Red Planet over the past few decades. Mars was indeed much more habitable than it is now, in the distant past, although we still don’t know if it was actually inhabited, two different things. Much of the data confirming past habitability has come from the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring an ancient lakebed in Gale crater, and now new findings suggest that this lake offered multiple types of microbe-friendly environments simultaneously. This is good news for the possibility that some form of life, even if just microscopic, did once exist there or perhaps even still does.

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PHOTOS: SpaceX CRS-11 Launch and Landing

Falcon soars off 39A with the first reused Dragon cargo capsule on the CRS-11 resupply mission to the ISS for NASA. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

SpaceX is checking off milestones at an impressive pace lately, and yesterday’s successful launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida was no different. Following a weather scrub 48 hours earlier, the skies cooperated Saturday for a 5:07 p.m. EDT liftoff from historic pad 39A. It was the 100th flight off the former Apollo and space shuttle launch complex, and the first mission to employ a reused Dragon cargo capsule.

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‘Knight in Shining Armor': 10 Years Since STS-117 Changed the Face of the Space Station (Part 2)

John “Danny” Olivas is just barely visible at center-right, near the deploying Photovoltaic Radiator (PVR) on the S-3/S-4 truss during the first spacewalk of STS-117. Photo Credit: NASA

Ten years ago, this week, Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on what would turn out to be the longest mission of her storied career, lasting almost 14 days. Commander Rick “C.J.” Sturckow, Pilot Lee “Bru” Archambault and Mission Specialists Pat Forrester, Steve Swanson, John “Danny” Olivas and Jim “J.R.” Reilly supported four ambitious spacewalks to install and activate the S-3/S-4 truss segment at the International Space Station (ISS). The truss provided a pair of gigantic Solar Array Wings (SAWs), as well as radiators, batteries and associated electronics, to enable the addition of further pressurized modules, including European and Japanese labs. The crew also delivered Clay Anderson to the station for a multi-month tour of duty and returned fellow NASA astronaut Suni Williams to Earth after a record-setting half-year in orbit. Before the flight, Anderson light-heartedly described himself as Williams’ “knight in shining armor”.

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