Orbital will employ Russian RD-181 engines to replace the failed AJ-26 engines which led to the total loss of the company’s Orb-3 ISS resupply mission for NASA in Oct. 2014. Photo Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation
When an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff on the company’s third contracted NASA resupply flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on Oct. 28, 2014, the first thing that came to everyone’s mind was the 40-year-old Soviet-era Russian NK-33 engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated as the AJ-26) used to fly the rocket. Antares had flown flawlessly on all four of its missions since 2013, but the liquid kerosene and liquid oxygen-powered AJ-26’s had failed in testing, twice, since 2011, with the most recent failure having caused an engine slated to fly in 2015 to disintegrate on the test stand at Stennis Space Center last spring.
Continue reading Orbital Contracts Russian RD-181 Engines to Launch Future Antares Flights
SpaceX CRS-5 Dragon launch to ISS is now expected to fly NET Jan. 6, 2015. File Photo: John Studwell / AmericaSpace
SpaceX is NO GO to launch a Falcon-9 booster with their unmanned Dragon cargo ship on the company’s fifth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA this Friday, Dec. 19, and will not do so until at least after the new year. The company’s second CRS-5 launch delay, according to SpaceX, is being blamed on an abundance of caution, this time after a recent customary static test fire/wet dress rehearsal (also known as a practice countdown) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex-40 ended prematurely. Although the exact details of the concern have not been made available, both NASA and SpaceX have decided to push the launch back to give engineers time to review data from the test fire before proceeding with a second test fire and committing to a launch attempt.
Continue reading SpaceX Exercises Caution and Keeps CRS-5 Grounded Until At Least Jan. 6, 2015
This image illustrates possible ways methane might be added to Mars’ atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur on modern Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAM-GSFC/Univ. of Michigan
NASA’s Curiosity rover has made a double dose of exciting discoveries on Mars by detecting a short-term, tenfold spike in atmospheric methane, the simplest organic compound, and also making the first definitive detection of a more complex organic molecule in a rock-powder sample gathered by the robot’s high-speed drill at Gale Crater.
Overall, these new and “hard won” results have the potential to increase the chances that Mars had the right set of habitable conditions to “spawn life” at some time, but much more data and careful analysis is required to answer the life question in any definitive way.
Continue reading NASA Curiosity Rover Discovers Methane and Organics on Mars
A high-resolution color global map of Saturn’s moon Mimas, based on imaging data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. A set of new global maps of Saturn’s largest icy moons reveal the latters’ landscapes in unprecedented detail. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/LPI
The first 50 years of planetary exploration have seen the successful completion of humanity’s epic, first preliminary reconnaissance of almost the entire Solar System, from the scorching-hot innermost planet Mercury to the frigid ice giant Neptune in the doorstep of the vast, uncharted Kuiper Belt. During that time, various robotic spacecraft have also studied the fascinating terrestrial worlds of the inner Solar System in great detail, allowing scientists to construct very high-definition global color maps of their surfaces which have helped to reveal the unique, stark beauty of their never-before-seen planetary vistas. Yet, equally as fascinating, the large icy moons of the outer Solar System are intriguing worlds in their own right. Until recently planetary scientists lacked any similar global-scale mosaics of these distant icy bodies in the outer Solar System, even though the latter had also been visited by various robotic spacecraft in recent decades. This situation began to change in 2010, with the publishing of the first-ever high-resolution global maps of Jupiter’s four largest moons, which were based on the treasure trove of data returned by NASA’s Galileo mission while the latter explored the Jovian system during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, thanks to the Cassini mission which has been studying Saturn for over a decade, scientists have acquired their first detailed color global mosaics of some of the ringed planet’s largest satellites as well.
Continue reading Coloring the Ice: Scientist Compiles First-Ever Global Color Maps of Saturn’s Icy Moons From Cassini Data
MAVEN is observing the upper atmosphere of Mars to help understand climate change on the planet. MAVEN entered its science phase on Nov. 16, 2014. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC
NASA’s newest Mars orbiter, MAVEN, has begun its unprecedented mission to unlock the mysteries of Mars’ climate history and determine why the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere over the past four billion years.
Top scientists leading NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission discussed the early results Monday, Dec. 15, at a briefing held at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, Calif.
Continue reading Early Results From NASA’s MAVEN Mars Orbiter Provide Clues Pointing to Atmospheric Loss
Spectacular view of the CRS-4 Dragon cargo ship, pictured berthed at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Harmony node in September 2014. Photo Credit: NASA
Almost three months since its last flight and since winning a $2.6 billion slice of NASA’s Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) “pie,” SpaceX—the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services company, headed by entrepreneur Elon Musk—stands primed to launch its seventh Falcon 9 v1.1 booster of 2014. Liftoff of the two-stage rocket from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is currently scheduled to occur no sooner than 1:20 p.m. EST on Friday, 19 December, whereupon the fifth dedicated Dragon cargo ship will embark on a two-day rendezvous profile to reach the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft will deliver more than 3,700 pounds (1,680 kg) of experiments, technology demonstrations, and supplies for the incumbent Expedition 42 crew and will remain berthed at the station for about four weeks.
Continue reading SpaceX to Launch Next Dragon Mission to Space Station on Friday
Roughly the size of a refrigerator, CATS will use the same two laser wavelengths on NASA’s CALIPSO mission, 1,064 and 532 nanometers, and it will incorporate a third laser wavelength, 355 nanometers. This may provide more detailed information about the particles in Earth’s atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA
Take a good look up at the sky. It may be gray with ominous clouds, or dark and starry with scattered white puffs. While clouds may not mean much to the average person, but for the scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., these clouds hold the answers to a mystery they have been working on since 2011. The Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote sensing instrument known as a lidar, will provide critical information pertaining to the effect clouds have on Earth’s environment.
Continue reading NASA’s CATS Instrument Ready to Study Effects of Clouds and Aerosols on Earth
Orbital sunrise causes the solar arrays of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to glisten in this spectacular view from STS-103. Photo Credit: NASA
Fifteen years ago, next week, seven men with ancestries in four sovereign nations—the United States, France, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom—embarked on one of the most difficult flights of the entire shuttle era. Astronauts Curt Brown, Scott Kelly, Steve Smith, John Grunsfeld, British-born Mike Foale, Frenchman Jean-Francois Clervoy, and Switzerland’s Claude Nicollier roared into the darkened Florida sky aboard Discovery, in pursuit of the malfunctioning Hubble Space Telescope (HST). During their eight days in orbit, they performed three spacewalks, each lasting in excess of eight hours, and became the only shuttle crew to spend Christmas off the planet. However, as described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, STS-103’s own fortunes had been changed by the need to implement fleetwide wiring inspections of all three orbiters and by problems and failures with the iconic Hubble itself.
Continue reading ‘For a Deeper Understanding': 15 Years Since the Third Hubble Servicing Mission (Part 2)
A composite image of the gravitationally interacting galaxies NGC 3226 (at the top) and NGC 3227 (bottom), which clearly shows the tidally generated large structures that surround them as a result of a past collision with a third galaxy. Optical wavelengths in the image are shown in gray scale. The infrared glow of dust is displayed in red, while blue depicts the glow of hydrogen gas in radio wavelengths. Image Credit: NASA/CFHT/NRAO/JPL-Caltech/Duc/Cuillandre
Galaxy collisions can be described as the cosmic equivalents of train wrecks, often changing the shapes and morphologies of the galaxies that are involved in these violent cosmic events, in spectacular fashion. Yet, contrary to train accidents which often result in significant destruction of rail transportation systems and their associated infrastructure, the stars inside colliding galaxies remain largely unaffected as the latter interact under the force of gravity, often causing them to pass right through each other or even merge, creating new and fascinating galaxy formations in the process. A new study by an international team of astronomers, which was recently published in the online edition of the Astrophysical Journal, adds an important dimension to the study of these cosmic smash-ups by showing that the latter can greatly inhibit star formation in the galaxies involved.
Continue reading Of Warm Gas and Galaxy Mergers: Collisions Between Galaxies Can Halt Star Formation, According to New Study