The opening salvo of four Space Launch System (SLS) flights, beginning with Exploration Mission (EM)-1 in November 2018, will contain a core stage powered by four clustered RS-25D engines. Image Credit: NASA
More than four years since three of its kind were last fired in anger, on 8 July 2011, to deliver Atlantis’ STS-135 crew towards orbit—on the poignant final flight of the Space Shuttle Program—Aerojet Rocketdyne’s famous RS-25 engine was granted a new lease of life yesterday (Monday). NASA has awarded the Sacramento, Calif.-based propulsion manufacturer a $1.16 billion, nine-year contract to restart its production, prior to the inaugural voyage of the Space Launch System (SLS) booster on Exploration Mission (EM)-1 in November 2018. Better known to history as the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME), the revival of the RS-25 production line will see Aerojet Rocketdyne modernize the oxygen-and-hydrogen-fueled powerplant to make it more affordable and expendable for the SLS, as well as implementing fewer parts and welds and certifying it to higher thrust levels.
Continue reading NASA Contracts With Aerojet Rocketdyne to Restart RS-25 Engine Production for SLS
The “Chemical Laptop” being designed by NASA to help search for evidence of alien life elsewhere in the Solar System. Photo Credit: NASA
One of NASA’s primary objectives, and the one which most excites the general public, is the search for evidence of life elsewhere, whether in our own Solar System or on some distant exoplanet. However, the best way to go about that is a subject of much debate. Now, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have come up with a new proposal: a “Chemical Laptop,” a miniaturized portable laboratory which would look for signs of materials associated with life (at least as we know it), such as amino acids.
Continue reading NASA Developing New ‘Chemical Laptop’ to Search for Evidence of Alien Life
On Friday, Nov. 20, the Orbital ATK’s Cygnus “Deke Slayton II” spacecraft for the OA-4 International Space Station cargo resupply mission was mated to its Atlas V rocket. Launch of the OA-4 mission is scheduled for Dec. 3, 2015, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex-41. Photo Credit: NASA / Dmitri Gerondidakis
With less than 10 days to launch operations at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex-41, where Orbital ATK’s new enhanced Cygnus spacecraft is now integrated to the top of its 196-foot-tall United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V booster, are moving forward rapidly for a Dec. 3 liftoff just a half-hour after sunset. Orbital ATK’s first unmanned Cygnus cargo ship since the loss of the ORB-3 mission, named the S.S. Deke Slayton II, is now bigger and better than any Cygnus before, and it’s packed with over 7,380 pounds of supplies, equipment, and experiments for the incumbent Expedition 45 crew of the International Space Station (total weight with packaging is over 7,700 lbs).
The spacecraft as a whole is an enhanced version of the original, featuring an extended Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM), a lighter Service Module (SM), and new lightweight Ultraflex solar arrays—upgrades which will enable the Deke Slayton II to fly nearly as much weight as the last three Cygnus missions combined.
Continue reading PHOTOS: New Improved Cygnus Hoisted Atop ULA’s Atlas-V for Dec. 3 Return to Space Station
Returning from lunar distance, the Thermal Protection System (TPS) of Orion’s Crew Module (CM) is expected to endure markedly higher temperatures than those experienced by returning shuttles. Image Credit: NASA
Nearly 12 months since it embarked on its long-awaited Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 mission—which accomplished the farthest distance ever attained from the Home Planet by a human-capable vehicle, since the end of the Apollo era—NASA’s Orion Program presently stands on the threshold of its next major challenge: the unpiloted Exploration Mission (EM)-1, atop the maiden voyage of the mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) booster, no sooner than November 2018. In anticipation of this feat, which will see Orion delivered Beyond Low-Earth Orbit (BLEO) and onto a week-long voyage to circumnavigate the Moon, NASA announced last Thursday that the “Back Shell” element of the spacecraft’s critical heat shield is receiving enhancements to withstand the harsh temperature and velocity conditions expected during an atmospheric re-entry from lunar distance. Recent manufacturing work on the pressure vessel of the Orion Crew Module (CM) has also required ingenious solutions on the part of the NASA and Lockheed Martin engineering workforces.
Continue reading Orion Heat Shield Receives Upgrade, Ahead of EM-1 Mission
In addition to a pair of spectacular EVAs by Jerry Ross and Woody Spring, Mission 61B deployed three satellites and carried Mexico’s first national astronaut into space. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
Thirty years ago, next week, Atlantis rocketed into orbit on her second mission, just 50 days after wrapping up her maiden voyage. In so doing, she secured a new landing-to-launch record for a single orbiter which would never again be broken for the remainder of the shuttle’s career. Rising into the night on 26 November 1985—becoming only the third U.S. piloted space mission, after Apollo 17 and STS-8, to launch in the hours of darkness—Mission 61B will forever be remembered for its two spectacular EVAs, during which spacewalkers Jerry Ross and Sherwood “Woody” Spring assembled and disassembled a framework of tubular structures in the shuttle’s payload bay. Intended as part of the effort to prepare for Space Station Freedom, few could have foreseen that, 13 years later, Ross would also lead the vanguard to build the International Space Station (ISS). Yet Mission 61B involved more than EVAs: Its crew placed three satellites into orbit, featured Mexico’s first man in space, and was commanded by Atlantis’ youngest-ever skipper.
Continue reading ‘Barn Burner’: 30 Years Since the Spacewalking Spectacular of Mission 61B (Part 2)
In the earliest EVA demonstration of building a space station, Jerry Ross and Woody Spring assemble the EASE tetrahedron in Atlantis’ payload bay. Their flight, Mission 61B, began 30 years ago, next week. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
Thirty years ago, next week, something unprecedented in the entire history of the shuttle program unfolded when Atlantis turned night into day across the Space Coast, rising into orbit on her second mission, a mere 50 days after returning from her maiden voyage. Roaring into the night from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 7:29 p.m. EST on 26 November 1985, Mission 61B thus secured a landing-to-launch record for a single orbiter which would never again be broken throughout the shuttle’s 30-year career. During their seven days aloft, the crew—astronauts Bryan O’Connor, Jerry Ross, Mary Cleave, Sherwood “Woody” Spring, Charlie Walker, and Mexico’s first man in space, Rudolfo Neri Vela, commanded by Atlantis’ youngest-ever skipper, Brewster Shaw—released three communications satellites and staged a pair of spectacular EVAs to rehearse assembly techniques for Space Station Freedom, the forerunner of today’s International Space Station (ISS). Little could the 61B crew have known that spacewalker Jerry Ross would go on to lead the EVAs which began building the ISS for real, in December 1998.
Continue reading ‘Your Big Chance’: 30 Years Since the Spacewalking Spectacular of Mission 61B (Part 1)
View inside the piloted Crew Dragon, previously known as the “Dragon V-2”. Image Credits: Robert Fisher / AmericaSpace / SpaceX
Both of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program partners—Boeing and SpaceX—now have mission orders to deliver their first long-duration crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in the coming years, thereby restoring the capability to launch U.S. astronauts aboard U.S.-built vehicles, and from U.S. soil, for the first time since the end of the Space Shuttle era in July 2011. Both companies are already tasked with staging an unpiloted demonstration flight and a crewed test flight of their Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS, no sooner than 2017, but now both have also received initial orders to fly a “dedicated” crew-rotation mission to the multi-national orbiting outpost.
With Boeing having received its order in May 2015, NASA yesterday announced a similar award to SpaceX, marking the second of four guaranteed orders for the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch provider. Between them, the two companies are expected to fly a minimum of two and a maximum of six crew-rotation missions, kicking off with the long-awaited U.S. Crew Vehicle (USCV)-1, no earlier than May 2018.
Continue reading SpaceX Receives First Order for Space Station Crew-Exchange Mission from NASA
A robotic arm lifts and lowers a golden James Webb Space Telescope flight spare primary mirror segment onto a test piece of backplane at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. In this image the JWST team practices the positioning that will be done on the actual telescope in the cleanroom. Dave Sime, an assembly crew chief, inspects the mirror placement from the underside of the backplane. Photo Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a NASA collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), continues to take shape in a 1.3 million-cubic-foot clean room as engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., continue putting together what is being billed as “Hubble’s successor” for a planned late 2018 launch.
The telescope is being primed to receive all 18 of its primary flight mirrors. In addition, the “wings” of the backplane structure, which will carry those mirrors, were deployed, while the mirrors themselves were measured with precision to ensure they will be a perfect fit. Concurrently, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM), characterized as the scientific “heart” of JWST, is undergoing its final “super cold” test inside a thermal vacuum chamber, simulating the harsh conditions it will encounter 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from the ground.
Continue reading James Webb Team Ready to Install Telescope’s 18 Gold-Coated Primary Mirror Segments
The Soyuz TMA-17M and its crew of U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Kimiya Yui will descend to the steppe of central Kazakhstan on 11 December, 2015, marking the end of their current mission aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo / AmericaSpace
The Soyuz TMA-17M crew of Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japan’s Kimiya Yui are expected to return to Earth in three weeks’ time, touching down on the desolate steppe of central Kazakhstan at 7:10 p.m. local time (8:10 a.m. EST) on Friday, 11 December. An on-time landing is expected to produce a total duration for their Expedition 44/45 increment of more than 141 days, coincidentally almost equaling that of Expedition 1, the 15th anniversary of whose pioneering mission they observed whilst in orbit.
The three men—of whom Kononenko is wrapping up his third long-duration mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and will position himself as the world’s 13th most seasoned spacefarer—will alight on terra firma almost two weeks sooner than originally manifested. According to NASA and Roscosmos, the early return is being conducted in response to increasingly busy Visiting Vehicle (VV) traffic through December, notably the maiden voyage of Russia’s new Progress-MS unpiloted cargo ship.
Continue reading Soyuz TMA-17M Crew to Return from ISS Early to Accommodate Increased Space Station Traffic
United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today it is taking CubeSat rideshares to the next level by launching a new, innovative program offering universities the chance to compete for at least six CubeSat launch slots on two Atlas V missions, with a goal to eventually add university CubeSat slots to nearly every Atlas and Vulcan launch. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace
United Launch Alliance (ULA), the most experienced and reliable launch service provider in the United States, announced today they are kicking off a new program to answer America’s increasing need for universities to have access and availability to launch Cubesats more affordably. In order to do so, the company will give accredited U.S. colleges and universities opportunities to compete for free CubeSat rides on future Atlas-V and Vulcan rocket launches, and the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), where 10% of ULA’s current engineers graduated from, has been offered the first free Cubesat ride in 2017.
Continue reading ULA Offers Universities Free CubeSat Rides on Future Launches, First Slot Goes To CU Boulder