Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket to deliver the company’s sixth dedicated Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station on April 14, 2015 at 4:10 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Today, it was announced that SpaceX is certified to compete for U.S. military and spy satellite missions. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace
Today it was announced by Lt. Gen Samuel Greaves, Commander of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space, that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the privately-held aerospace company that forced United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop a new rocket to stay competitive, is now certified to use its Falcon-9 rocket to launch sensitive national security space missions, such as U.S. military satellites or the X-37B which launched just days ago.
Continue reading Air Force Certifies SpaceX to Fly National Security Missions, Ending ULA Monopoly as DOD Launch Provider
The cracked icy surface of Europa. Could the ocean below support life? The Europa Clipper mission will try to answer that question. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk
An exciting new development in planetary exploration was announced today: NASA has chosen the science instruments which will be included in a new mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. For those advocating and supporting such a mission, this is welcome news indeed. Europa’s subsurface ocean has become a prime target in the search for possible life elsewhere in the Solar System, and this mission may finally help to answer long-standing questions about this fascinating moon.
Continue reading To Europa! NASA Announces Science Instruments for New Mission to Ocean Moon
An artist’s concept of Kepler-47, which was the first-ever planetary system to be discovered orbiting a binary star. A new research that was based on data taken with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope provides stringest limits to the potential habitablity of exoplanets in several such systems. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
One defining scientific revolution of our generation is the discovery of thousands of exoplanets around other stars, which has transformed our view of the Solar System from being the only one in existence in a vast and immense Universe, to being just one between millions or even billions in our home galaxy alone. This plurality of worlds has forced scientists and non-scientists alike to ask the next big question: How many of them harbor planets that could sustain life? In the absence of hard evidence, this topic has been the subject of a multitude of theoretical studies throughout the years, with many of them often reaching a variety of different conclusions. A new research based on data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope offers a new insight into this fascinating subject, by presenting evidence that many of the extrasolar worlds that have been previously deemed as being potentially habitable, might actually not fit the bill.
Continue reading New Study Reassesses Habitability of Exoplanets Around Multiple Star Systems
Scott Carpenter, America’s fourth man in space and second to orbit the Earth. Photo Credit: NASA
Fifty years ago, this week, Scott Carpenter became America’s second man in orbit. He was one of the most accomplished members of the “Mercury Seven.” In fact, at a December 1960 peer vote, his contemporary John Glenn had placed Carpenter at the top of his personal list for who he thought should be the first into space. When he finally flew into orbit, Carpenter was tasked with the most comprehensive program of scientific research yet seen on a manned mission: astronomical observations, Earth observations, studies of visibility and flying abilities, and medical checks. Sadly, as described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, Carpenter’s voyage aboard Aurora 7 also suffered from severe technical problems, including a faulty pitch horizon scanner and a worrisome decline in fuel quantities in both his manual and automatic tanks. The consequence would be a mission that remains controversial to this very day.
Continue reading Flight of the Aurora: Remembering the Mission of Scott Carpenter (Part 2)
An artist’s rendering of the possible weather and atmospheric circulation patterns on hot Jupiters. A new research by a team of astronomers that was based on data taken with NASA’s Kepler space telescope, studied the phase variations that occur as different portions of these planets are illuminated by their host stars as seen from our vantage point here on Earth, providing detailed insights the daily weather patterns on these distant alien worlds. Image Credit: Lisa Esteves/University of Toronto.
Daily weather forecasts are an integral part of modern life in every part of the world. Besides informing us for upcoming short-term weather conditions, these forecasts provide an essential understanding of the Earth’s overall climate over longer timescales. But what about the weather on extrasolar worlds? Out of the more than a thousand exoplanets that have been discovered to date, scientists only managed to create crude and rudimentary weather maps for just a handful of them. A new study, based on data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope and recently published by an international research team, comes to substantially increase our understanding of exoplanet atmospheres by presenting evidence of the daily weather cycles for more than a dozen planets around other stars.
Continue reading Cloudy With a Chance of Sunshine: Astronomers Study Weather on Distant Exoplanets
NASA image, detailing the removal (blue) of the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) from the Unity nadir interface and its installation (green) onto the forward port of the Tranquility node. The relocation maneuver is planned for Wednesday, 27 May. Image Credit: NASA
Continuing an ambitious year which will see the most significant reconfiguration of International Space Station (ISS) hardware since the twilight of the Space Shuttle era, NASA will robotically detach the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) on Wednesday, 27 May, from its present position at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) interface of the Unity node to a new place at the forward-facing port of the Tranquility node. As described in a previous AmericaSpace article, this is an initial step to reconfigure Unity nadir as a backup location for the berthing of unpiloted cargo craft—including SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus—as NASA works to transform the forward and space-facing (or “zenith”) interfaces of the Harmony node from berthing locations into docking ports for future Commercial Crew vehicles. According to NASA, the multi-hour Leonardo PMM relocation task will be aired on NASA TV, beginning at 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday. At the same time, Roscosmos yesterday (Friday) issued preliminary details for the cause of last month’s Progress M-27M failure, and an overview of the realigned ISS manifest for the remainder of 2015 is steadily taking shape.
Continue reading As Progress M-27M Investigation Nears Conclusion, NASA Ready for Realigned 2015 Space Station Manifest
Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter lifts off from Cape Canaveral on 24 May 1962 in his Aurora 7 capsule. The fourth American in space and second American to orbit Earth, Carpenter spent nearly five hours testing equipment and taking photographs before splashing down. Photo Credit: NASA
More than a half-century has now passed since America launched its second man into orbit around the Earth. That man should have been Deke Slayton, but a heart murmur had left him grounded, not in favor of his backup, Wally Schirra, but in favor of John Glenn’s backup, Scott Carpenter. The theory was that the second orbital voyage would essentially repeat Glenn’s achievement—five hours and three orbits—and it made sense to fly Carpenter and keep Schirra for a subsequent mission. Schirra learned of the change in assignment during an impromptu gathering at the Carpenters’ home, and what should have been the most exhilarating moment of Scott Carpenter’s life turned into an ordeal. Slayton was angry at having lost his mission and Schirra was indignant at having been skipped in the pecking order, to such an extent that Carpenter felt he was spending more time apologizing than training. One evening, Carpenter told his wife, Rene: “Damn it! I’m tired of apologizing. This is my flight now!” The flight would prove highly successful in many ways, highly controversial in others, and, it is said, would deny Carpenter the chance of ever flying into space again.
Continue reading Flight of the Aurora: Remembering the Mission of Scott Carpenter (Part 1)
Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye addresses the media at a LightSail press conference on May 19 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s History Museum. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace
The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft soared into the sky aboard Wednesday’s (May 20) Atlas-V launch from Cape Canaveral. The solar-sailing prototype is testing out an extraordinary method of propulsion that involves using the Sun’s energy to move through space. This means of space travel is called “solar sailing” and was envisioned by the Society’s late founder, Carl Sagan, nearly 40 years ago. Bill Nye, Planetary Society CEO, arrived at Cape Canaveral a day before launch to discuss the dream his team is now pushing to become a reality.
Continue reading The Planetary Society and LightSail Inspire Public Engagement in Space Exploration
From NASA: “Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System wireframe design. The SLS Program is kicking off its critical design review May 11 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.” Image Credit: NASA/MSFC
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Program, designing NASA’s next heavy lift launch vehicle intended to carry spacecraft and astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, is currently undergoing a critical design review. While this major milestone is underway, engineers recently tested the launch vehicle’s hydrogen burn-off igniters, and continue to analyze results from the QM-1 booster test fire that took place on March 11th at Orbital ATK’s test facility in Promontory, Utah. In addition, work is proceeding on the B-2 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center, which is being drastically modified to support SLS.
Continue reading NASA Presses on With SLS Development as Launch Vehicle Undergoes Critical Design Review
The CRS-6 Dragon spacecraft is robotically detached from the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, 21 May, by Expedition 43 astronauts Terry Virts and Scott Kelly. Photo Credit: Terry Virts/Twitter/NASA
SpaceX has triumphantly reached the halfway mark in its initial $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, by successfully bringing its CRS-6 Dragon cargo ship away from the International Space Station (ISS) and guiding it toward a perfect, parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 9:42 a.m. PDT (12:42 p.m. EDT) Thursday, 21 May. Aboard the Dragon—which rose to orbit on 14 April, atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 booster from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.—for the return journey was almost 3,100 pounds (1,400 kg) of NASA cargo and experiment results, including research on how spaceflight and the microgravity environment affect the aging process and bone health. Thus concludes the second of what SpaceX hopes will be a personal-best-beating total of five Dragon missions to be flown in 2015.
Continue reading Record-Setting Dragon Returns to Earth, as Record-Setting Year Gathers Pace