Second SLS Qualification Booster Test Fire Scheduled for June 28

A full-scale, test version of the booster for NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System, will fire up for the second of two qualification ground tests June 28 at prime contractor Orbital ATK's test facility in Promontory, Utah. File photo after the QM-1 test fire in 2015. Photo Credit: Orbital ATK

A full-scale, test version of the booster for NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System, will fire up for the second of two qualification ground tests June 28 at prime contractor Orbital ATK’s test facility in Promontory, Utah. File photo after the QM-1 test fire in 2015. Photo Credit: Orbital ATK

The solid rocket booster that will propel NASA’s skyscraper-size, 300-plus-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and its Orion spacecraft in the coming years marked off a significant development milestone in March 2015, unleashing its fury on a barren mountainside at Orbital ATK’s test stand in Promontory, Utah, for the Qualification Motor-1 test fire (QM-1). The 154-foot-long booster, the largest of its kind in the world, ignited to verify its performance at 90 degrees, the highest end of the booster’s accepted propellant temperature range and the temperature the SLS can expect to encounter at its Florida launch site on Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39B.

Detailed inspections of the now disassembled booster took place over the course of 2015, with all the data collected confirming the QM-1 test as a resounding success. More than 500 instrumentation channels were used to help evaluate over 100 defined test objectives, and now work is underway at the test stand preparing the second booster for another test fire, Qualification Motor-2 (QM-2), which is scheduled to take place June 28, 2016.

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SpaceX Primed for JCSAT-14 Launch to GTO, Challenging Drone Ship Landing Attempt

Thursday's mission will be the fourth flight of an Upgraded Falcon 9 and its second with a payload bound for Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Thursday’s mission will be the fourth flight of an Upgraded Falcon 9 and its second with a payload bound for Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Three weeks after the spectacular landing of its Upgraded Falcon 9 first-stage hardware onto the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS)—affectionately dubbed “Of Course I Still Love You”—in the Atlantic Ocean, SpaceX plans to push the capability envelope on its next launch, targeted for no sooner than Thursday, 5 May. Not only does the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services provider aim to repeat the feat of bringing the core of the Upgraded Falcon 9 back to a soft landing on the ASDS, but it will do so with a markedly diminished propellant load, having boosted the JCSAT-14 communications satellite toward Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Launch is expected from the storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., during a two-hour “window,” which opens at 1:21 a.m. EDT Thursday.

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Expedition 47 Return Extended to 18 June to Support 'Heavy Scientific Research Work'

Commander Tim Kopra (front right) has led Expedition 47 since March. He and his crewmates Tim Peake and Yuri Malenchenko will now depart the International Space Station (ISS) on 18 June. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Commander Tim Kopra (front right) has led Expedition 47 since March. He and his crewmates Tim Peake and Yuri Malenchenko will now depart the International Space Station (ISS) on 18 June. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The incumbent Expedition 47 core crew of the International Space Station (ISS)—Commander Tim Kopra of NASA, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, and Britain’s first “official” astronaut, Tim Peake—will remain aboard the orbiting laboratory for longer than planned. On Friday, 29 April, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that the trio will return to Earth aboard their Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft on 18 June, almost two weeks later than the original 5 June target. It was noted by ESA that the extension will help to “keep the space station operating at full capacity with six astronauts,” whilst NASA’s Rob Navias added that it allows the International Partners (IPs) to “create efficiencies during a period of heavy scientific research work.” The launch of the next crew, aboard the maiden Soyuz-MS spacecraft, has correspondingly moved from 21 to 24 June.

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'What a Beautiful View': 55 Years Since Freedom 7 Began America's Adventure in Space (Part 2)

Shepard's 15-minute flight offered him a few minutes of weightlessness and a few minutes to glimpse the grandeur of Earth from space. He was only the second human being to leave the Home Planet. Photo Credit: NASA

Shepard’s 15-minute flight offered him a few minutes of weightlessness and a few minutes to glimpse the grandeur of Earth from space. He was only the second human being to leave the Home Planet. Photo Credit: NASA

In the half-hour between 9:30 and 10 a.m. EDT on 5 May 1961, the United States came to a standstill. A Philadelphia appeals court judge interrupted all proceedings to make an announcement, whilst free champagne—even at this hour—flowed freely in taverns, traffic slowed on Californian freeways, and people danced and sang in Times Square. Even the new president, John F. Kennedy, barely four months into his new job, could only watch, dumbstruck, as he beheld the view on a TV screen. Fifty-five years ago, this coming week, America launched its first astronaut into space. Standing in his secretary’s office, after having just broken up a meeting of the National Security Council, Kennedy’s hands were deep in his pockets as he witnessed history in the making. On the screen, the camera panned upward to trace the trajectory of a rocket, heading into space, bearing the first American ever to break the bonds of Earth and venture into the ethereal blackness of space beyond.

Continue reading ‘What a Beautiful View’: 55 Years Since Freedom 7 Began America’s Adventure in Space (Part 2)

'Man, I Gotta Pee': 55 Years Since Freedom 7 Began America's Adventure in Space (Part 1)

Alan Shepard (left) and John Glenn were assigned as prime and backup pilots for America's first mission into space. Photo Credit: NASA

Alan Shepard (left) and John Glenn were assigned as prime and backup pilots for America’s first mission into space. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifty-five years ago, in the early hours of 5 May 1961, America prepared to launch its first man into space. Navy Cmdr. Alan Shepard would fly a suborbital flight—rising from Pad 5 at Cape Canaveral in the Mercury capsule he had named “Freedom 7” and splashing down, just 15 minutes later, in the Atlantic Ocean, about 100 miles (160 km) north of the Bahamas—and the entire nation would be holding its breath. Three weeks earlier, the Soviet Union had sent Yuri Gagarin on an Earth-orbital mission and, although the United States was several months away from repeating that feat, Shepard’s flight would alleviate much pressure on the young administration of President John F. Kennedy.  

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All Good Things: Countdown Begins Toward Cassini's 'Grand Finale' Around Saturn

Artist's concept of Cassini's final orbits between the Saturn's innermost rings and the planet's cloud tops. This set of orbits will consist the last leg of Cassini's mission, called 'The Grand Finale', which will culminate with a plunge on Saturn's atmosphere on September 2017. Image Credit: Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Artist’s concept of Cassini’s final orbits between the Saturn’s innermost rings and the planet’s cloud tops. This set of orbits will consist the last leg of Cassini’s mission, called “The Grand Finale,” which will culminate with a plunge on Saturn’s atmosphere in September 2017. Image Credit: Image Credit: NASA/JPL

It has become something of a hackneyed phrase, but in the case of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft it is rather fitting: an epic mission of exploration of Saturn that has single-handedly changed our view of the ringed planet, its moons, and their potential habitability, yet like all good things it must come to an end. Having nearly completed two full decades in space, Cassini has now entered its final 18 months around Saturn on what has been a tremendously successful and productive mission, full of unexpected and ground-breaking discoveries. Last week the mission’s science team officially began the one-year countdown toward the start of Cassini’s “Grand Finale,” which will culminate with an end-of-mission daring plunge on Saturn’s cloud tops on Sept. 15, 2017.

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Evidence from Curiosity Rover Shows Mars Once Had Oxygen-Rich Atmosphere

Mars' atmosphere is thin, dry and cold now, but it used to be thicker and contained a lot more oxygen. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Mars’ atmosphere is thin, dry, and cold now, but it used to be thicker and contained a lot more oxygen. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Mars’ atmosphere is thin and cold, composed primarily of carbon dioxide along with other trace gases and some water vapor. Evidence has continued to mount, however, that the rarified atmosphere we see today once used to be much thicker and possibly warmer, making it potentially more life-friendly early on. Just how thick and how warm is still a subject of much debate, but there is also another interesting aspect to all of this: New evidence from the Curiosity rover has shown that the Martian atmosphere also used to have a lot more oxygen in it than it does now. Today, only very small traces of oxygen can be found, as opposed to Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere. So what does this mean? Could there be biological implications?

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Malarkey Milkshakes: 25 Years Since STS-39 (Part 2)

After almost two months of delays, Discovery roars into orbit on 28 April 1991, 25 years ago, this week. Her STS-39 mission marked the longest shuttle flight ever conducted for the Department of Defense. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

After almost two months of delays, Discovery roars into orbit on 28 April 1991, 25 years ago, this week. Her STS-39 mission marked the longest shuttle flight ever conducted for the Department of Defense. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty-five years ago, next week, one of the most complex space shuttle missions in history got underway with a spectacular liftoff from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the eight-day STS-39 was the longest shuttle mission ever conducted for the Department of Defense, whilst its seven-man crew—Commander Mike Coats, Pilot Blaine Hammond, and Mission Specialists Lacy Veach, Rick Hieb, Greg Harbaugh, Don McMonagle, and the first African-American spacefarer, veteran astronaut Guy Bluford—was the largest ever flown on a military flight. Theirs would involve the deployment and retrieval of a free-flying satellite, laden with infrared sensors for atmospheric and other research, as well as a multitude of experiments mounted inside Shuttle Discovery’s cavernous payload bay.

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'What Did You Tell My Wife?': 25 Years Since STS-39 (Part 1)

The Infrared Background Signature Survey (IBSS), attached to a deployable Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS), was one of the principal payloads aboard STS-39. The eight-day flight was the longest shuttle mission ever conducted in support of the Department of Defense. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The Infrared Background Signature Survey (IBSS), attached to a deployable Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS), was one of the principal payloads aboard STS-39. The eight-day flight was the longest shuttle mission ever conducted in support of the Department of Defense. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Thirty years ago, the loss of Challenger, on 28 January 1986, brought a healthy dose of reality about the perceived safety of the space shuttle for many of NASA’s astronauts. Among them was Air Force Col. Guy Bluford—the first African-American spacefarer—who had recently returned from his second shuttle mission. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Bluford took preparatory courses at the University of Houston at Clear Lake for a master’s in business administration, which he received in 1987, but his astronaut career was not yet over. Before he hung up his spacefaring helmet for good, Bluford would have flown one of the most ambitious shuttle missions ever attempted: a mission which not only included the first all-NASA crew of seven astronauts, but which turned out to be the longest piloted spaceflight ever conducted for the Department of Defense. That mission, STS-39, launched exactly a quarter-century ago, this month, in April 1991.

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Orbital ATK Negotiating to Use VAB for Potential Next Gen EELV Rocket for USAF

NASA and Orbital ATK are in negotiations for the Dulles, VA-based company to make use of the agency's VAB High Bay 2 to process a potential next generation EELV rocket that Orbital ATK received Air Force funding to begin development on earlier this year. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

NASA and Orbital ATK are in negotiations for the Dulles, Va.-based company to make use of the agency’s VAB High Bay 2 to process a potential next generation EELV rocket that Orbital ATK received Air Force funding to begin development on earlier this year. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

This week NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) announced they are in negotiations with Dulles, Va.-based Orbital ATK for use of facilities at the Florida spaceport—facilities which exist to process rockets and integrate them with spacecraft (such as capsules and space shuttles) for flight.

Little details were released other than the fact that negotiations are underway on a “prospective property use agreement, which also will include a mobile launcher platform,” to use High Bay 2 in the famed Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The enormous 525-foot-tall facility houses four high bays and was used previously to ready NASA’s Apollo Saturn V moon rockets and space shuttles for flight, before being driven atop giant crawlers to their seaside launch pads 39A and 39B a few miles east.

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