Laden with tools and equipment, Jeff Hoffman waves from the end of the RMS arm during Hubble repair operations. Photo Credit: NASA
Twenty years ago this week, the singular space shuttle mission which marked the demarcation between past and future took place. Since the resumption of flights in September 1988, following the horrific loss of Challenger, NASA had steadily rebuilt the nation’s confidence in the capabilities of the reusable spacecraft, but the failure of Mars Observer to reach the Red Planet in August 1993 and the much-publicized problems with the Hubble Space Telescope in the aftermath of its 1990 launch left the space agency in an unenviable position. By the middle of the decade, NASA hoped to begin construction of Space Station Freedom—a project whose future still hung under the axe of possible cancellation—and a spectacularly successful Hubble repair mission was acutely needed to reinvigorate public and political enthusiasm. From 2-13 December 1993, that success was accomplished, when the crew of Endeavour on STS-61 broke virtually every record in the book and restored Hubble to its rightful place as the United States’ dazzling icon of science.
Continue reading ‘You and the Rest’: Twenty Years Since NASA’s Dramatic Hubble Repair Mission (Part 1)
Powered by its single RD-180 engine, the Atlas V 501 soars aloft from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on 5 December 2013, carrying the NROL-13 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. Photo Credit: Robert C. Fisher/AmericaSpace
Cloaked in secrecy and shrouded by the hours of darkness, United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully launched a payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), describing the NROL-39 mission as being “in support of national defense.” The Atlas V rocket, which flew in its “501″ configuration—equipped with a 17.7-foot-diameter (5.4-meter) payload fairing, no strap-on boosters, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage—lifted off at 11:14:30 p.m. PST Thursday, 5 December (2:14:30 a.m. EST Friday, 6 December) from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Although the precise nature of NROL-39 remains classified, it is widely believed to be the third member of the Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) constellation of radar-reconnaissance satellites, located in circular, 680-mile-high (1,100-km) orbits.
Continue reading Atlas V Successfully Launches Classified NROL-39 Payload Into Orbit for National Reconnaissance Office
An artist’s concept of two colliding black holes, in the process of merging. Image Credit: Credit: NASA / CXC / A. Hobart.
“Dancing: A series of movements involving two partners, where speed and rhythm match harmoniously with music.”
— The Computer, explaining the meaning of ‘Dancing’ to the Ship’s Captain – ‘Wall-E’ (2008).
Although music isn’t something to be found in the airless void of space, astronomers using data from NASA’s WISE infrared space telescope and other ground-based observatories have found evidence of two black holes caught in a gravitational dance around each other.
Continue reading It Takes Two to Tango: Astronomers Find Evidence of Possible Black Hole Duo
The three-stage Proton-M booster rolls out, ahead of Sunday’s planned Inmarsat 5-F1 launch. Photo Credit: ILS
Less than a month since it successfully delivered a military communications satellite into orbit on behalf of the Russian Government, another venerable Proton-M booster stands ready at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, tracking a liftoff at 6:12 p.m. local time (7:12 a.m. EST) Sunday, 8 December. Rollout of the vehicle to the pad took place earlier today (Thursday, 5 December). The mission is being conducted under the auspices of International Launch Services (ILS), a joint U.S.-Russian organization, based in Reston, Va., which operates all Proton-M flights out of Baikonur. It will transport the 13,000-pound (5,900-kg) Inmarsat 5-F1 satellite into geostationary transfer orbit for the U.K.-headquartered International Maritime Satellite Organisation to provide up to 15 years of global mobile broadband communications for deep-sea vessels, in-flight connectivity for airline passengers, and high-resolution streaming of video, voice, and data.
Continue reading Proton-M Rolls Out to Baikonur Pad Ahead of Sunday Launch
Like February’s flight of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), the NROL-39 payload will be launched atop an Atlas V in its “501″ configuration. Photo Credit: ULA / Pat Corkery
For only the fifth time in its history, United Launch Alliance (ULA) is primed to fly an Atlas V in its “501″ configuration Thursday, 5 December, to deliver the classified NROL-39 payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. This variant of the workhorse launcher—equipped with a 17.7-foot-diameter (5.4-meter) payload fairing, a single-engine Centaur upper stage, and no strap-on rocket boosters—has the capacity to inject payloads weighing up to 17,900 pounds (8,120 kg) into low-Earth orbit and up to 8,320 pounds (3,775 kg) into geostationary transfer orbit, thereby hinting at the substantial nature of NROL-39. Liftoff is scheduled to occur from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Continue reading ULA Prepares for Fifth Atlas V 501 Mission to Deliver Classified NROL-39 Payload to Orbit
The second Falcon 9 v1.1, and SpaceX’s first mission to geostationary transfer orbit, launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday, 3 December. Photo Credit: SpaceX, via Mike Barrett
After two false starts, it was third time lucky for SpaceX—the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services organization, headed by entrepreneur Elon Musk—as the second Falcon 9 v1.1 rocketed aloft from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, precisely on time at 5:41 p.m. EST Tuesday. Powered by nine uprated Merlin-1D engines on its first stage and a single Merlin-1D Vacuum engine on its second stage, the Falcon successfully lofted the SES-8 communications satellite and at the time of writing was midway through its first mission to geostationary transfer orbit. In accomplishing this remarkable achievement, SpaceX has further cemented its credentials as a key player in the commercial launch services market.
Continue reading Third Time Lucky for SpaceX as Falcon 9 Completes First GEO Transfer Mission
A comparison of planetary system KOI-351 with our own Solar System. Image Credit: German Aerospace Center.
“Second star to the right, and straight on ’till morning.”
— Captain James T. Kirk, ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’ (1991).
It is unclear which types of planets did the fictional Enterprise crew discover around the star that their captain was referring to. But in real life, a new research being published by European astronomers, using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, points toward a star that is home to a planetary system very similar in architecture to our own.
Continue reading Solar System 2.0: Planetary System Discovered With Architecture Similar to Our Own
Liftoff of China’s Chang’e 3 and their “Jade Rabbit” Yutu rover to the surface of the Moon from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China. Image Credit: CCTV
Today, under cover of darkness, China successfully launched their first robotic lunar rover atop a powerful Long March-3B rocket from the country’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China. The mission, which is named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon in ancient myth, would make China the third country (after the United States and Soviet Union) to land on the Moon. The last lunar landing was performed by the Soviet Union on the Luna 24 sample return mission in 1976, and the United States remains the only country to have ever landed humans on the lunar surface (last human mission to the Moon was NASA’s Apollo 17 in December 1972).
China, however, has ambitious plans to join America as having landed humans on the lunar surface within the next decade.
Continue reading China Launches Chang’e 3 on Country’s First Mission to Land on the Moon
Spectacular view of Skylab, as seen from the departing crew of Gerry Carr, Ed Gibson, and Bill Pogue on 8 February 1974. This would be the last occasion that Skylab was ever seen, up close, by human eyes. Photo Credit: NASA
Forty years ago this week, in November 1973, NASA launched its third and final crew to the Skylab space station. As recounted in last weekend’s history articles, Commander Gerry Carr, Science Pilot Ed Gibson,and Pilot Bill Pogue were tasked to complete a mission of at least 60 days, open-ended to 84 days, either of which would produce a new world endurance record. The enormous success of Skylab’s first and second crews—who repaired and revived the crippled station, then went on to accomplish 150 percent of their science goals—imbued NASA with a false sense of confidence that it could fully load the final crew with an excessive amount of work. As circumstances would transpire, the experience of Carr, Gibson, and Pogue would teach the agency to regard long-duration spaceflight in a quite different manner to its earlier, shorter-duration missions.
Continue reading All the King’s Horses: The Final Mission to Skylab (Part 4)
Although the first hurdle for the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has been overcome, the next 10 months are fraught with difficulty. Image Credit: ISRO
In a historic event, India has become only the fourth discrete nation or group of nations—after the United States, Russia, and the European Space Agency (ESA)—to successfully despatch a homegrown spacecraft en-route to the Red Planet. Its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also known as “Mangalyaan” (Hindi for “Mars Craft”), completed its critical Trans-Mars Injection (TMI) maneuver early Sunday, 1 December, India Standard Time (IST), burning its 440-Newton-thrust Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) for 1,328.89 seconds—more than 22 minutes—to increase the spacecraft’s velocity by 2,125.85 feet per second (647.96 meters per second) to depart Earth’s gravitational influence and begin its 10-month journey.
Continue reading India Enters Fourth Place By Setting Spacecraft En-Route to Mars