AmericaSpace Launch Countdown

Next Launch TMA-15M on a Soyuz-FG rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
scheduled for:
23 Nov 14 21:01:00 GMT
24 Nov 14 3:01:00 ALMT
23 Nov 14 16:01:00 Eastern

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“Shuttleman” Scott G. Phillips Keeps Shuttle Spirit Alive with Tribute Models, New Book

Scott G. Phillips stands by his space shuttle tribute display. Phillips' new memoir, Remove Before Flight, tells the story of his own personal shuttle odyssey. Photo Credit: Scott G. Phillips

Scott G. Phillips stands by his space shuttle tribute display. Phillips’ new memoir, Remove Before Flight, tells the story of his own personal shuttle odyssey. Photo Credit: Scott G. Phillips

Since the beginning of the space shuttle era, which kicked off with STS-1’s triumphant launch in 1981, space buffs, historians, and writers chronicling the stories of spaceflight have heard tales from the astronauts who made that era ubiquitous in the form of biographies and oral histories. Many of these astronauts, while not household names, are icons in the space community – one thinks of Young, Crippen, Musgrave, and Ride, for example. However, the successes of the shuttle era were also made possible by the thousands of workers who helped process orbiters and their “stacks” during the program’s 30-plus years, and while they may not be as well-recognized, they, too, have stories to share encompassing a rich history.

Continue reading “Shuttleman” Scott G. Phillips Keeps Shuttle Spirit Alive with Tribute Models, New Book

A New Dawn: The Troubled History and Future Promise of NASA's Orion Program (Part 3)

The "business end" of the three Common Booster Cores (CBCs) for the Delta IV Heavy are readied for America's next step towards deep space. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

The “business end” of the three Common Booster Cores (CBCs) for the Delta IV Heavy are readied for America’s next step towards deep space. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/AmericaSpace

Twelve days now remain before the long-awaited launch of Orion—the first human-capable vehicle for Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) exploration in more than four decades—on its inaugural voyage. Liftoff of the Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 mission is scheduled to occur from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 7:05 a.m. EST on Thursday, 4 December. It will be boosted into the heavens by the Delta IV Heavy, the most powerful rocket currently in active operational service, anywhere in the world. The Heavy will deliver Orion to a peak altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 km), whereupon the spacecraft will complete two orbits in 4.5 hours, then plunge back to Earth in excess of 20,000 mph (32,000 km/h), testing its heat shield at near-lunar-return velocities and temperatures of close to 2,200 degrees Celsius (4,000 degrees Fahrenheit).

Continue reading A New Dawn: The Troubled History and Future Promise of NASA’s Orion Program (Part 3)

Surprisingly Bright Cloud Systems and Extreme Storms on Uranus Puzzle Astronomers

Infrared images of Uranus at wavelengths of 1.6 (left) and 2.2 microns (right), that were obtained on Aug. 6, with the Adaptive Optics system on the 10-meter Keck II telescope on  Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The white spot is an extremely large storm that was brighter than any feature ever recorded on the planet in these wavelengths. The cloud at the lower-right limb of the planet, grew into the large storm that was seen by amateur astronomers at visible wavelengths. Image Credit: Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley) & Keck Observatory images

Infrared images of Uranus at wavelengths of 1.6 (left) and 2.2 microns (right), that were obtained on Aug. 6, with the Adaptive Optics system on the 10-meter Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The white spot is an extremely large storm that was brighter than any feature ever recorded on the planet in these wavelengths. The cloud at the lower-right limb of the planet, grew into the large storm that was seen by amateur astronomers at visible wavelengths. Image Credit: Imke de Pater (UC Berkeley) & Keck Observatory images

If there’s a planet in the Solar System that could justifiably feel neglected, that would be Uranus. Famous for being unique among the rest of the planets because of its rotational axis which is almost parallel to the plane of the ecliptic, causing it to essentially“roll” on its side in its orbit around the Sun, this distant cyan-tinted ringed world has nevertheless earned the definition of the “boring” planet, largely due to the fact that its disk appeared almost featureless and ‘bland’ to the electronic eyes of NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft during the latter’s historic close fly by in January 1986. Yet, as was detailed in a previous AmericaSpace article, despite this unjust reputation, Uranus is a greatly fascinating and enchanting world full of well-kept, intriguing secrets, whose study could turn to be key towards a deeper understanding of our Solar System as well as those around other stars. Now, as if wanting to correct the ill-informed description with which it had been associated for decades, Uranus unexpectedly became increasingly active in recent months, displaying enormous and highly visible bright cloud features and extreme storms deep in its atmosphere, while leaving astronomers completely puzzled over the cause of these unusual weather phenomena.

Continue reading Surprisingly Bright Cloud Systems and Extreme Storms on Uranus Puzzle Astronomers

Orbital Sciences Awarded Contract to Launch Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) Mission

Artist's concept of the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite. Orbital Sciences will launch ICON aboard a Pegasus XL launch vehicle from their "Stargazer" L-1011 aircraft in June, 2017. Image Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation

Artist’s concept of the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite. Orbital Sciences will launch ICON aboard a Pegasus XL launch vehicle from their “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft in June, 2017. Image Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation

Orbital Sciences Corporation this week secured a $56.3 million firm-fixed price launch services contract to deliver the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission to orbit for NASA in the summer of 2017. The mission, which is led by the University of California, Berkeley, with oversight by the Explorers Program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will launch from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll (in the Republic of the Marshall Islands) aboard a 3-stage Pegasus XL rocket, which itself will fire over the Pacific Ocean towards a 575 km circular orbit from Orbital’s “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft.

Continue reading Orbital Sciences Awarded Contract to Launch Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) Mission

Hot 'Super-Earths' Provide Clues to Water in Exoplanet Atmospheres

Artist's conception of super-Earth 55 Cancri e, one of the few exoplanets so far which astronomers are able to study the atmosphere of. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of super-Earth 55 Cancri e, one of the few exoplanets so far which astronomers are able to study the atmosphere of. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Some of the most interesting exoplanets discovered so far are the “super-Earths,” rocky worlds which are significantly larger and more massive than Earth but still smaller than the ice giants such as Uranus or Neptune. Since they are not present in our own Solar System, their existence elsewhere can provide valuable information about planetary formation processes around other stars. One of the most significant aspects of this is the detection of water vapor in the atmospheres of these or other exoplanets, as this can help astronomers determine which super-Earths, or other exoplanets, may also have liquid water and be potentially habitable.

Continue reading Hot ‘Super-Earths’ Provide Clues to Water in Exoplanet Atmospheres

All-Air Force Crew From Three Nations Ready for Launch to Space Station (Part 2)

At the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, Expedition 42/43 prime crew members Terry Virts of NASA (left), Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos, center) and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (right) pose for pictures following a news conference Nov. 6. Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov will launch Nov. 24, Kazakh time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft for a 5 ½ month mission on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA/Stephanie Stoll​

At the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, Expedition 42/43 prime crew members Terry Virts of NASA (left), Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos, center), and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (right) pose for pictures following a news conference Nov. 6. Virts, Cristoforetti, and Shkaplerov will launch Nov. 24, Kazakh time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft for a 5 ½ month mission on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA/Stephanie Stoll​

Two weeks after the 9 November return to Earth of Soyuz TMA-13M, a new three-member crew will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:01 a.m. local time Monday, 24 November (4:01 p.m. EST Sunday, 23 November), bound for a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, U.S. astronaut Terry Virts, and Italy’s first female spacefarer, Samantha Cristoforetti, will embark on a now-standard six-hour, four-orbit “fast rendezvous” profile and should be in position to dock their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft at the station’s Earth-facing (or “nadir”) Rassvet module at 9:53 p.m. EST Sunday. After confirming the integrity of seals between the two vehicles, hatches will be opened at about 11:30 p.m., whereupon the new arrivals will be greeted by the incumbent Expedition 42 crew of U.S. astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Yelena Serova, who have been aboard the orbital outpost since 25 September.

Continue reading All-Air Force Crew From Three Nations Ready for Launch to Space Station (Part 2)

MAVEN Starts Astrobiology Science Mission Orbiting the Red Planet

Artist’s concept of Maven in orbit around the planet Mars. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC

Artist’s concept of Maven in orbit around the planet Mars. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC

After a decade of hard work and intricate preparations and an interplanetary voyage of over 700 million kilometers (400 million miles), NASA’s newest Mars orbiter, MAVEN, has completed its commissioning phase and transitioned over to start its full on science mission to investigate the planet’s astrobiological potential over the eons.

Continue reading MAVEN Starts Astrobiology Science Mission Orbiting the Red Planet

New Research Suggests Potential Link Between Neutrinos and the Supermassive Black Hole at Milky Way's Center

An unprecedented view of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, known as Sagittarius A*, that was obtained with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. A new study has provided evidence that Sagittarius A* is a source of high-energy neutrinos. Image Credit: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Wisconsin/Y.Bai. et al.

An unprecedented view of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, known as Sagittarius A*, that was obtained with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. A new study has provided evidence that Sagittarius A* is a source of high-energy neutrinos. Image Credit: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Wisconsin/Y.Bai. et al.

In the new Hollywood sci-fi epic “Interstellar,” black holes hold the key to humanity’s deeper understanding of the Universe and to our own species’ ultimate, transcendental development to fifth-dimensional beings. In the real world, black holes may hold the key to answering some more mundane but nonetheless fascinating astrophysical mysteries, like the origins of cosmic rays and neutrinos that have baffled scientists for decades, according to a new study by a U.S. research team.

Continue reading New Research Suggests Potential Link Between Neutrinos and the Supermassive Black Hole at Milky Way’s Center

All-Air Force Crew From Three Nations Ready for Launch to Space Station (Part 1)

The Expedition 42 crew, from left, consists of Yelena Serova, Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Soyuz TMA-15M new arrivals Anton Shkaplerov, Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti. Photo Credit: NASA

The Expedition 42 crew, from left, consists of Yelena Serova, Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Soyuz TMA-15M new arrivals Anton Shkaplerov, Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti. Photo Credit: NASA

Two weeks after the 9 November return to Earth of Soyuz TMA-13M, a new three-member crew will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:01 a.m. local time Monday, 24 November (4:01 p.m. EST Sunday, 23 November), bound for a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, U.S. astronaut Terry Virts, and Italy’s first female spacefarer, Samantha Cristoforetti, will embark on a now-standard six-hour, four-orbit “fast rendezvous” profile and should be in position to dock their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft at the station’s Earth-facing (or “nadir”) Rassvet module at 9:53 p.m. EST Sunday. After confirming the integrity of seals between the two vehicles, hatches will be opened at about 11:30 p.m., whereupon the new arrivals will be greeted by the incumbent Expedition 42 crew of U.S. astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Yelena Serova, who have been aboard the orbital outpost since 25 September.

Continue reading All-Air Force Crew From Three Nations Ready for Launch to Space Station (Part 1)

Final Assembly Begins for NASA’s Next Mars Lander: InSight

Technicians in a Lockheed Martin clean room prepare NASA’s InSight Mars lander for propulsion proof and leak testing on Oct. 31, 2014. Following the test, the lander was moved to another clean room where it will undergo the assembly phase of ATLO during the next six months.  Credit: Lockheed Martin

Technicians in a Lockheed Martin clean room prepare NASA’s InSight Mars lander for propulsion proof and leak testing on Oct. 31, 2014. Following the test, the lander was moved to another clean room where it will undergo the assembly phase of ATLO during the next six months. Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA’s next Mars lander—the InSight spacecraft—has reached the start of its critical final assembly operations phase known as ATLO, or assembly, test, and launch operations.

InSight’s construction is on track for its scheduled departure from Earth to the Red Planet in March 2016.

Continue reading Final Assembly Begins for NASA’s Next Mars Lander: InSight