AmericaSpace Launch Countdown

Next Launch SMAP on a Delta II 7320 rocket from Vandenberg AFB, CA
scheduled for:
31 Jan 15 14:22:00 GMT
31 Jan 15 6:22:00 PST
31 Jan 15 9:22:00 Eastern

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Dazzling Delta II Delivers SMAP to Orbit in Stunning Pre-Dawn Ascent

With the flare of its RS-27A first-stage engine and trio of Solid Rocket Motors (SRMs), the Delta II takes flight at 6:22 a.m. PST Saturday, 31 January. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

With the flare of its RS-27A first-stage engine and trio of Solid Rocket Motors (SRMs), the Delta II takes flight at 6:22 a.m. PST Saturday, 31 January. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

Continuing a proud heritage of near-perfect mission success, which stretches back across more than a quarter-century, the 153rd Delta II booster broke the shackles of Earth early today (Saturday, 31 January) and successfully delivered NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite into a near-circular orbit of about 425 miles (685 km), inclined 98.116 degrees to the equator. Launch was originally planned for Thursday, but was scrubbed during the final hold at T-4 minutes, due to an unacceptable situation with upper-level winds, which violated Launch Commit Criteria (LCC). A 24-hour turnaround was set in motion, but was called off, following the discovery of minor debonds to booster insulation during routine inspections, which required repair. When fully operational, SMAP will utilize a 19-foot-diameter (6-meter) ultra-lightweight mesh antenna to support an active Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and a passive radiometer, which are tasked with observing clouds and moderate vegetation to measure the presence of water in the topmost 2 inches (5 cm) of soil. It is expected that SMAP will provide global coverage of soil moisture every three days in equatorial regions and every two days at boreal latitudes, above 50 degrees North.

Continue reading Dazzling Delta II Delivers SMAP to Orbit in Stunning Pre-Dawn Ascent

'Not By a Single Centimeter': 20 Years Since STS-63 (Part 1)

Valeri Polyakov, pictured at Mir's windows during the STS-63 shuttle rendezvous mission in February 1995, is the incumbent record-holder for the longest single spaceflight. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Valeri Polyakov, pictured at Mir’s windows during the STS-63 shuttle rendezvous mission in February 1995, is the incumbent record-holder for the longest single spaceflight. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty years ago, next week, in February 1995, the crew of Shuttle Discovery roared into the night on a mission which featured the first rendezvous with Russia’s Mir space station. During their eight days in space, the six-member STS-63 drew as close as 33 feet (10 meters) from the outpost which would shortly host several long-duration U.S. residents and support no fewer than nine shuttle dockings between June 1995 and June 1998. Yet the mission encompassed far more than that: scientific research within a pressurized laboratory in the orbiter’s payload bay, deployment and retrieval of a free-flying satellite, a lengthy EVA featuring the first African-American and British-born spacewalkers … and the first female pilot of the shuttle era.

Continue reading ‘Not By a Single Centimeter': 20 Years Since STS-63 (Part 1)

PHOTOS: Delta-II Ready for SMAP Launch Attempt #2 From California Saturday Morning

The ULA Delta-II tasked with launching NASA's SMAP Earth Science satellite / mission. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The ULA Delta-II tasked with launching NASA’s SMAP Earth Science satellite / mission. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Mother Nature and a relatively minor technical issue forced ULA to keep their Delta-II rocket, and NASA’s SMAP satellite, grounded at Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California the last few days, but as of this evening it’s all systems GO for launch attempt number two early Saturday morning. Strong upper level winds forced a scrub on Jan. 29, followed by the discovery of minor debonds to the booster insulation during routine inspections after the scrub, which forced ULA to stand down an additional day for repairs.

Continue reading PHOTOS: Delta-II Ready for SMAP Launch Attempt #2 From California Saturday Morning

NASA Observes Annual Remembrance Day, Pays Tribute to Lost US Crews

An honor guard pays tribute to lost U.S. astronauts (flanked by NASA's Suzy Cunningham). Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace

An honor guard pays tribute to lost U.S. astronauts, flanked by NASA’s Suzy Cunningham, at the Space Mirror Memorial on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 28. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace

This week in spaceflight history is a somber and difficult one, as the anniversaries of three major U.S. spaceflight tragedies occur within days of one another. This week, NASA paid its respects to its explorers who perished in the conquest of space with ceremonies taking place on Wednesday, Jan. 28, the 29th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Another ceremony paying tribute to these heroes was held Thursday, Jan. 29, at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Continue reading NASA Observes Annual Remembrance Day, Pays Tribute to Lost US Crews

Venus Express Spacecraft Goes Out With a Shout, Ends Triumphant Mission Around Earth's 'Twisted Sister'

An artist's concept of ESA's Venus Express spacecraft, while diving into the atmosphere of Venus during its aerobraking manoeuvres in 2014. Having already depleted its onboard fuel reserves, the spacecraft finally went silent earlier this month, indicating that it had probably taken its last, fateful plunge into Venus' infernal atmosphere. Image Credit: Image Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

An artist’s concept of ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft, while diving into the atmosphere of Venus during its aerobraking manoeuvres in 2014. Having already depleted its onboard fuel reserves, the spacecraft finally went silent earlier this month, indicating that it had probably taken its last, fateful plunge into Venus’ infernal atmosphere. Image Credit: Image Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

After more than eight years of extensive study of our nearest planetary neighbor, the mission of the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft was declared officially over in December 2014, following the depletion of its onboard fuel which allowed it to maintain the orbital altitude needed for scientific observations and dooming it to an eventual fiery demise into Venus’ infernal atmosphere. Now the spacecraft seems to have finally met its fate, as indicated by the last carrier signal that it managed to transmit to Earth earlier this month before going radio silent, while writing the last chapter for its highly successful mission of exploration and discovery around the second planet from the Sun.

Continue reading Venus Express Spacecraft Goes Out With a Shout, Ends Triumphant Mission Around Earth’s ‘Twisted Sister’

Massive Alien Ring System Is Much Larger Than Saturn's—And May Contain Exomoons

Artist’s conception of the ring system circling the young giant planet (or brown dwarf) J1407b. Image Credit: Ron Miller/University of Rochester

Artist’s conception of the ring system circling the young giant planet (or brown dwarf) J1407b. Image Credit: Ron Miller

Astronomers today announced yet another mind-boggling finding: a ring system which orbits a distant giant planet has been found to be much larger and more massive than Saturn’s ring system, the best known example in our own Solar System. There may also be exomoons hiding within it. The findings come from astronomers at the University of Rochester in the U.S. and Leiden Observatory in The Netherlands.

Continue reading Massive Alien Ring System Is Much Larger Than Saturn’s—And May Contain Exomoons

Three Days to 'Fight for Space': An Interview With Documentary Filmmaker Paul Hildebrandt

Fight for Space is a documentary film that explores the history of the US Space Program, the NASA budget, and the future. (Photo credit: Fight for Space)

Fight for Space is a documentary film that explores the history of the U.S. Space Program, the NASA budget, and the future. (Photo credit: Fight for Space)

Last week, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket soared into the clear night sky above Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The grumbling rocket carrying the U.S. Navy’s MUOS-3 satellite was watched by hundreds of thousands worldwide via social media and live stream, and while many watched in awe as the massive fireball made its way into the night, a generous amount of viewers probably did not know what the rocket was carrying or where the rocket launched from. Some viewers may have even called it a “NASA rocket” or even a “space shuttle,” which is actually a far, far cry from the truth.

Continue reading Three Days to ‘Fight for Space': An Interview With Documentary Filmmaker Paul Hildebrandt

Moon Bound Google Lunar XPRIZE Awards $5.25 Million in Milestone Prizes

The $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE is a competition designed to inspire young scientists and engineers to build a robot and safely land it on the lunar surface while on a strict budget. (Photo credit: Google Lunar XPRIZE)

The $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE is a competition designed to inspire young scientists and engineers to build a robot and safely land it on the lunar surface while on a strict budget. (Photo credit: Google Lunar XPRIZE)

A total of $5.25 million in Milestone Prizes was awarded to five teams this week, on Monday, Jan. 26, after successfully demonstrating their robots in three categories necessary to completing a Google Lunar XPRIZE Mission. Teams were to test and analyze essential software and hardware of each robot, in the categories of imaging mobility and lander systems, and overcome key technical risks.

Continue reading Moon Bound Google Lunar XPRIZE Awards $5.25 Million in Milestone Prizes

Mars Science Treasure Dead Ahead as Opportunity Celebrates 11th Year Alive Roving Martian Mountain

11 Years on Mars! New mountain top view from NASA’s Opportunity rover taken on the day of her 11th anniversary exploring the Red Planet on Sol 3911, Jan. 24, 2015 since Martian touchdown on Jan. 24, 2004. The view from atop Cape Tribulation was taken just after departing the summit and shows the down slope road ahead to next science destination at Marathon Valley some 200 meters away.  This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3911 and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

11 Years on Mars!
New mountain top view from NASA’s Opportunity rover taken on the day of her 11th anniversary exploring the Red Planet on Sol 3911, Jan. 24, 2015, since Martian touchdown on Jan. 24, 2004. The view from atop Cape Tribulation was taken just after departing the summit and shows the down slope road ahead to next science destination at Marathon Valley some 200 meters away. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3911 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Magnificent science treasures lie dead ahead for NASA’s world-famous Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover, as she celebrates an astonishing 11th year alive on the Red Planet atop a Martian mountain named Cape Tribulation on Jan. 24, 2015.

Just how unfathomable is that astounding accomplishment?

“It’s about 10.5 more years on Mars than I ever thought we’d get!” Prof. Steve Squyres, the rover’s Science Principal Investigator of Cornell University, said exclusively to AmericaSpace.

Continue reading Mars Science Treasure Dead Ahead as Opportunity Celebrates 11th Year Alive Roving Martian Mountain

'Major Malfunction': The Final Launch of Challenger, 28 Years Ago Today

The Challenger STS 51-L crew, as it should be remembered: Positive and brilliant individuals, happily striving to explore space and further humanity's reach into the Universe. In the back row (left to right) Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis and Judy Resnik. In the front row (left to right) Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair. Image Credit: NASA

Challenger’s final crew, as they should be remembered: positive and brilliant individuals, happily striving to explore space and further humanity’s reach into the Universe. In the back row (left to right) are Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row (left to right) are Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair. Image Credit: NASA

On this day, 28 January, in 1986, one of the worst and most public disasters in U.S. space history unfolded with horrifying suddenness in the skies above Cape Canaveral. The sight of Challenger exploding, just 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crew members, is so harrowing that for all of us who witnessed it live—including myself—it still carries the power to haunt. Over the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years to come, it would be played out again and again via television and later the Internet. The ramifications of the Challenger accident were so profound that they entirely reshaped the subsequent history of the shuttle program. An innocence, astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson once said, was lost on 28 January 1986, and never again would words such as “safe” or “routine” or “easy” be employed to describe the fleet of reusable orbiters, the brave souls who flew them, or the work they did. The loss of Challenger served as a stark reminder of the sheer dangers involved in space exploration and the unforgiving nature of high technology.

Continue reading ‘Major Malfunction': Remembering the Final Launch of Challenger