AmericaSpace Launch Countdown

Next Launch ORB-3 on a Antares rocket from Wallops Island, VA
scheduled for:
21 Oct 14 2:29:00 GMT
20 Oct 14 22:29:00 EDT

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Dream Chaser Development Continues Despite No ‘Space Taxi’ Contract and Sierra Nevada Corp. Layoffs

SNC's Dream Chaser atop ULA Atlas V Rocket on Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

SNC’s Dream Chaser atop ULA Atlas V Rocket on Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) will “continue developing the Dream Chaser” space plane despite losing out on this month’s high stakes contract award for NASA’s commercial ‘space taxi’ program to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and the significant company workforce layoffs announced as an inevitable result of the contract loss, SNC representatives told AmericaSpace.

“SNC has made the decision to continue the development of the Dream Chaser to flight,” SNC spokesperson Krystal Scordo told me. But with a smaller program staff.

Continue reading Dream Chaser Development Continues Despite No ‘Space Taxi’ Contract and Sierra Nevada Corp. Layoffs

It's Back! 'Mystery Island' in Titan Sea Makes Unexpected Reappearance

Three radar images, taken from April 2007 to August 2014, showing how the "mystery island" in Ligeia Mare has changed in appearance over time. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Three radar images, taken from April 2007 to August 2014, showing how the “mystery island” in Ligeia Mare has changed in appearance over time. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

The mystery of an unusual feature in one of Titan’s hydrocarbon seas, dubbed the “mystery island,” has taken an interesting turn. After apparently disappearing following its initial discovery in 2013, it has now reappeared and has changed in appearance and size, as well.

Continue reading It’s Back! ‘Mystery Island’ in Titan Sea Makes Unexpected Reappearance

The Man Who Delivered Columbus: Astronaut Steve Frick Turns 50 Today

Steve Frick, who commanded STS-122, the shuttle mission which installed Europe's Columbus laboratory module onto the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: NASA

Steve Frick, who commanded STS-122, the shuttle mission which installed Europe’s Columbus laboratory module onto the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: NASA

Five hundred years after the 1506 death of navigator and explorer Christopher Columbus, in the summer of 2006, a multi-national team of astronauts were appointed to shuttle mission STS-122, which would transport his spacefaring namesake—the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Columbus laboratory module—into low-Earth orbit and its permanent berth at the International Space Station (ISS). Named to command STS-122 was another navigator and explorer, Stephen Nathaniel Frick, a veteran shuttle pilot who today (Tuesday, 30 September) celebrates his 50th birthday and has helped to chart NASA’s next steps into deep space through his position as chief of the Astronaut Office Exploration Branch.

Continue reading The Man Who Delivered Columbus: Astronaut Steve Frick Turns 50 Today

'Drill, Baby, Drill' Replaces 'Drive, Drive, Drive' as Curiosity Gets First Taste of Mount Sharp Foothills

NASA’s Curiosity rover conducts 4th drill campaign at ‘Pahrump Hills’ rock outcrop on Sol 759, Sept. 24, 2014, at the foothills of Mount Sharp seen in the distance.   Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s Curiosity rover conducts 4th drill campaign at “Pahrump Hills” rock outcrop on Sol 759, Sept. 24, 2014, at the foothills of Mount Sharp seen in the distance in this composite photo mosaic. Navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

“Drill, Baby, Drill” has replaced “Drive, Drive, Drive” as the Curiosity Mars rover team’s new mantra, ever since the six-wheeled behemoth pulled up to the foothills of Mount Sharp to begin the systematic layer-by-layer investigation of the humongous mountain that was envisioned years ago when it was selected as the landing site on the Red Planet.

Continue reading ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ Replaces ‘Drive, Drive, Drive’ as Curiosity Gets First Taste of Mount Sharp Foothills

Clear Skies Above: Astronomers Detect Water Vapor on Cloud-Free Atmosphere of a Hot-Neptune

An artist's concept of the cloud-free atmosphere of exoplanet HAT-P-11b, as revealed by the combined observations of NASA's Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Hurt (JPL-Caltech)

An artist’s concept of the cloud-free atmosphere of exoplanet HAT-P-11b, as revealed by the combined observations of NASA’s Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler space telescopes. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Hurt (JPL-Caltech)

 

Sunny and hot all year-round, with no clouds on the horizon … That’s not a weather forecast only for the Maldive Islands here on Earth, but also for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, according to the latest findings by an international team of astronomers. But don’t start packing for that holiday package just yet, for HAT-P-11b is a steamy Neptune-sized world located so close to its host star that average temperatures there reach a scortching 1,120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Continue reading Clear Skies Above: Astronomers Detect Water Vapor on Cloud-Free Atmosphere of a Hot-Neptune

'Dramatic, Down-the-Throat View': 20 Years Since STS-68 (Part 2)

Photo Credit: NASA

The vast plume of Klyuchevskaya Sopka, in Kamchatka, which erupted shortly after STS-68 reached orbit. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty years ago, on 30 September 1994, the crew of Shuttle Endeavour rocketed into orbit—six weeks later than originally planned—on an 11-day mission to support the second Space Radar Laboratory (SRL-2). As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the mission, STS-68, featured the Shuttle Imaging Radar (SIR-C) and the X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (X-SAR) and sought to perform radar imaging of most of Earth’s surface. Following on from SRL-1, which had flown earlier in the year, it was hoped that SRL-2 would allow surface changes to be monitored between the spring and the fall. However, STS-68 fell foul to the shuttle program’s last Redundant Set Launch Sequencer (RSLS) abort, a harrowing on-the-pad shutdown of Endeavour’s three main engines … just 1.9 seconds before the scheduled liftoff on 18 August.

Continue reading ‘Dramatic, Down-the-Throat View': 20 Years Since STS-68 (Part 2)

ATK Offers Solid Alternative to Replace ULA's Controversial Atlas-V Liquid RD-180 Engine

The Russian RD-180 engines which currently power the core stage of ULA's fleet of Atlas-V rockets. Photo Credit: NASA

The Russian RD-180 engines which currently power the core stage of ULA’s fleet of Atlas-V rockets. Photo Credit: NASA

Last August the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center issued a Booster Propulsion and Launch System Request for Information (or RFI) for development of a new engine to replace the controversial Russian-made RD-180 engines that currently power ULA’s workhorse Atlas-V rockets, and this week ATK announced their proposal of an American-made commercial solid rocket alternative to the liquid-fueled RD-180 for the Air Force’s consideration.

Continue reading ATK Offers Solid Alternative to Replace ULA’s Controversial Atlas-V Liquid RD-180 Engine

Sierra Nevada Legally Challenges NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Contract Award

Dream Chaser blazes to orbit and the ISS after separation from ULA Atlas V Rocket 2nd stage and liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

Dream Chaser blazes to orbit and the ISS after separation from ULA Atlas V Rocket 2nd stage and liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) declared Friday, Sept. 26, that the company has filed a “legal challenge” protesting NASA’s selection of Boeing and SpaceX for contracts to build America’s next human-rated spaceship to carry astronauts to the International Space Station under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program, while SNC’s competing vehicle proposal was denied funding despite approximately equal technical merits and competitive cost.

Continue reading Sierra Nevada Legally Challenges NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Contract Award

'Engines in Post-Shutdown Standby': 20 Years Since STS-68 (Part 1)

For the second time in less than six months, the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL) rode Endeavour into orbit in September-October 1994. However, the launch of STS-68 was delayed extensively, following the shuttle program's last Redundant Set Launch Sequencer (RSLS) abort. Photo Credit: NASA

For the second time in less than six months, the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL) rode Endeavour into orbit in September-October 1994. However, the launch of STS-68 was delayed extensively, following the shuttle program’s last Redundant Set Launch Sequencer (RSLS) abort. Photo Credit: NASA

One day in the summer of 1993, astronaut Tom Jones was made an offer that he could not refuse. More than 18 months earlier, Jones had been assigned as a mission specialist on STS-59, the first shuttle-based Space Radar Laboratory (SRL-1) flight, tasked with imaging virtually the entire Home Planet with powerful synthetic aperture radar. Repeatedly postponed, the mission eventually settled on a targeted launch date in April 1994, with a follow-up flight, STS-68 and SRL-2, manifested for four months later, in August. Summoned to the office of Chief Astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson, Jones was offered the chance to fly aboard both missions, acting as payload commander for SRL-2. The dual assignments followed typical NASA practice of “carrying over” an experienced astronaut from one payload to the next on important science missions, but Jones’ double duty also meant that he came tantalizingly close to securing a new record for the shortest time between two space missions. His crewmate, Dan Bursch, succeeded in securing another record, for entirely different and wholly unwanted reasons.

Continue reading ‘Engines in Post-Shutdown Standby': 20 Years Since STS-68 (Part 1)

Cosmic Ray Hit Causes Small Delay at Dawn's Rendezvous With Ceres Early Next Year

An artist's concept of NASA's Dawn spacecraft exploring Vesta and Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn had recently experienced an anomaly in its ion propulsion system resulting from a cosmic ray hit, which will cause a small delay to the spacecraft's rendezvous with Ceres next year. Image Credit: NASA

An artist’s concept of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft exploring Vesta and Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn had recently experienced an anomaly in its ion propulsion system resulting from a cosmic ray hit, which will cause a small delay to the spacecraft’s rendezvous with Ceres next year. Image Credit: NASA

Next year can rightfully be described as that of the dwarf planets. Having recently passed the orbit of Neptune, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly by Pluto and its ensemble of moons in July 2015, finally lifting the veil on this mystifying dwarf planet in the distant reaches of the Kuiper Belt. In another part of the Solar System, a few months prior to that historic event the space agency’s Dawn spacecraft will become the first man-made object to orbit dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, allowing scientists to shed more light to the processes that drove the formation and evolution of planets early in the Solar System’s history. Yet, despite Dawn’s ongoing progress to reach its ultimate destination, it now seems that the latter will have to wait a little longer.

Continue reading Cosmic Ray Hit Causes Small Delay at Dawn’s Rendezvous With Ceres Early Next Year