Clarifying NASA's Budget Regarding Orion, SLS, and SpaceX / Boeing Commercial Crew

 

The launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its first spaceflight, EFT-1, last December. The capsule is intended for deep-space crewed missions starting in the next decade atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its first spaceflight, EFT-1, last December. The capsule is intended for deep-space crewed missions starting in the next decade atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

As next year’s NASA budget is being written by the House and Senate appropriations committees, a potential fight is brewing between the White House and NASA. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has, on several occasions over the past three months, publicly taken the position that proposed congressional appropriations bills will do real harm to the ability of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) before 2018. These same concerns were raised in a recent veto threat by the White House.

Some in the commercial space activist community have responded to the congressional funding bills with dismay, claiming that money is being removed from the CCP for the benefit of the Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) programs. And a few such activists have ascribed congressional funding levels as purely political.

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'Going to Spain': 30 Years Since the Unlucky Success of Mission 51F (Part 1)

After one false start, Challenger roars into orbit on 29 July 1985, to begin the Spacelab-2 science mission. It would be one of the most dramatic near-misses in the 30-year shuttle program. Photo Credit: NASA

After one false start, Challenger roars into orbit on 29 July 1985, to begin the Spacelab-2 science mission. It would be one of the most dramatic near-misses in the 30-year shuttle program. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty years ago, this week, one of the most significant Space Shuttle science missions ever undertaken hung—for the merest of minutes—in the balance, suspended on a knife-edge of success and failure, some 67 miles (108 km) above Earth. Heading towards low-Earth orbit at more than 9,300 mph (15,000 km/h) on the afternoon of 29 July 1985, Challenger was in the process of delivering her eighth human crew on the Spacelab-2 mission to explore the Sun and the cosmos in unprecedented detail, using a battery of telescopes and instruments in her payload bay. Three weeks earlier, on 12 July, the crew of Mission 51F had also suffered a hairy shutdown of their three main engines on the pad, seconds before liftoff. If the crew believed to have weathered their run of bad luck, they could not have been more mistaken. Today, with the shuttle now a figure of history, Mission 51F stands alone as arguably the most significant near-miss in the program’s 30-year operational lifespan.

Continue reading ‘Going to Spain': 30 Years Since the Unlucky Success of Mission 51F (Part 1)

New Spectacular Images of Pluto From New Horizons Reveal an Exotic, Dynamic World

A breathtaking, dramatic image of Pluto backlit by the distant Sun, taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft a few hours after its closest approach, on July 14, while at a distance of 2 million km away from the planet. Besides its unparalleled aesthetic quality, this image provided scientists with important information about the structure and dynamics of the Plutonian atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

A breathtaking, dramatic image of Pluto backlit by the distant Sun, taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft a few hours after its closest approach, on July 14, while at a distance of 2 million km away from the planet. Besides its unparalleled aesthetic quality, this image provided scientists with important information about the structure and dynamics of the Plutonian atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

For anyone wishing to place a safe bet, one could look no further than the exciting discoveries of planetary exploration. Every time a spacecraft is sent to a planetary destination for the first time, previously unimagined and fascinating discoveries are sure to follow and NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto could be no exception. Having successfully completed its historic flyby of the distant dwarf planet and its assortage of moons on July 14, the spacecraft has now began to slowly transmit its treasure trove of data back to Earth while currently on an outward trajectory from the Pluto system that will propel it farther into the Kuiper Belt. While the whole process of down linking New Horizons’ entire data collection will take the better part of the following 16 months, the preliminary science results to have come from the mission thus far have exceeded all expectations by revealing Pluto’s exotic landscapes in a spectacular manner, while also introducing new mysteries and unanswered questions about this fascinating icy world in the outer reaches of the Solar System.

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Kepler Update: Earth's 'Bigger and Older Cousin' Discovered Orbiting Distant Star

Artist's conception of Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-sized exoplanet discovered orbiting in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star. Image Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Artist’s conception of Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-sized exoplanet discovered orbiting in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star. Image Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

One of the primary goals in the search for exoplanets is to, hopefully, find an Earth analog or “Earth twin,” an alien world similar to our own. That search is still ongoing, but getting closer – today NASA announced a new exoplanetary discovery that could be described as “Earth’s bigger and older cousin” – Kepler-452b.

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Delta IV Using Upgraded RS-68A Engine Launches Advanced USAF WGS-7 Satcom

A spectacular sunset launch from Cape Canaveral by a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ rocket placed the U. S. Air Force/ Boeing WGS-7 Wideband Global SATCOM into super synchronous transfer orbit July 23, after a 24 hr. delay due to dangerous thunderstorms in the area. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace

A spectacular sunset launch from Cape Canaveral by a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ rocket placed the U. S. Air Force/ Boeing WGS-7 Wideband Global SATCOM into super synchronous transfer orbit July 23, after a 24 hr. delay due to dangerous thunderstorms in the area. Photo Credit: Talia Landman / AmericaSpace

A spectacular sunset launch from Cape Canaveral by a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium+ rocket placed the U.S. Air Force/ Boeing WGS-7 Wideband Global SATCOM into super synchronous transfer orbit July 23, after a 24 hr. delay due to dangerous thunderstorms in the area.

The 8:07  p.m. EDT launch came at the opening of a 39 minute launch window for the mission to place WGS-7 into a 36,107 x 238 nautical mile orbit, inclined 24 degrees to the equator. The satellite’s own propulsion system will be used to lower apogee and raise perigee to about a 19,232 nautical mile geosynchronous altitude where the satellite will remain fixed over the equator at a specific location, with the rest of the WGS fleet positioned around the planet.

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Soyuz TMA-17M Crew Rockets to Orbit, Bound for Five Months Aboard Space Station

The Soyuz TMA-17M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday, July 23, 2015 carrying Expedition 44 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) into orbit to begin their five month mission on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The Soyuz TMA-17M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday, July 23, 2015, carrying Expedition 44 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) into orbit to begin their five month mission on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Soyuz TMA-17M lit up the night sky at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan earlier this evening, delivering Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren, and Japan’s Kimiya Yui safely into orbit to begin a six-hour “fast rendezvous” profile to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Liftoff of the crew’s mammoth Soyuz-FG booster—a direct descendent of the R-7 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), conceived by the legendary Chief Designer, Sergei Korolev, in the 1950s—occurred on time from Baikonur’s historic Site 1/5 at 3:02 a.m. local time Thursday, 23 July (5:02 p.m. EDT Wednesday, 22 July). Shortly after achieving orbit, the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft successfully unfurled its electricity-generating solar arrays and communications appendages and executed a series of four maneuvers to accomplish a perfect docking at the station’s Earth-facing (or “nadir”) Rassvet module at about 8:45 a.m. Baikonur time Thursday (10:45 p.m. EDT Wednesday). After pressure and leak checks, the hatches were opened at 10:56 a.m. Baikonur time (12:56 a.m. EDT) Thursday, and Kononenko, Lindgren, and Yui were engulfed in bear-hugs from the incumbent Expedition 44 crew of record-setting Commander Gennadi Padalka and One-Year crewmen Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly, who have been aboard the ISS since March.

Continue reading Soyuz TMA-17M Crew Rockets to Orbit, Bound for Five Months Aboard Space Station – UPDATE

All-Civilian Soyuz TMA-17M Crew Ready for Wednesday Launch to Space Station (Part 2)

The Soyuz TMA-17M prime and backup crews participate in a traditional tree-planting ceremony, ahead of launch. From left are Tim Peake, Tim Kopra, Yuri Malenchenko, Oleg Kononenko, Kimiya Yui and Kjell Lindgren. Photo Credit: NASA

The Soyuz TMA-17M prime and backup crews participate in a traditional tree-planting ceremony, ahead of launch. From left are Tim Peake, Tim Kopra, Yuri Malenchenko, Oleg Kononenko, Kimiya Yui, and Kjell Lindgren. Photo Credit: NASA

Three new spacefarers will rocket toward the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow (Wednesday, 22 July), destined to spend about five months conducting research, maintenance, and reconfiguration of the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS) of the multi-national orbiting outpost. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace article, veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and “rookies” Kjell Lindgren of NASA and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, aboard Soyuz TMA-17M, at 3:02 a.m. local time Thursday (5:02 p.m. EDT Wednesday). In keeping with several previous ISS crews, they will follow a six-hour, four-orbit “fast rendezvous” profile to reach the space station and dock with its Earth-facing (or “nadir”) Rassvet module at about 8:43 a.m. Baikonur time Thursday (10:43 p.m. EDT Wednesday). Current plans call for Kononenko, Lindgren, and Yui to join the incumbent Expedition 44 crew of record-setting Commander Gennadi Padalka and One-Year crewmen Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly, all of whom have been in orbit since March.

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Failed Strut Doomed CRS-7 Mission; No Falcon 9 Launches Before September, Says Elon Musk

The nine plumes of the Merlin 1D engines flare as the vehicle disintegrates. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

The nine plumes of the Merlin 1D engines flare as the vehicle disintegrates. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Three weeks after the catastrophic loss of a Falcon 9 v1.1 booster, which exploded just 139 seconds after leaving Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.—dooming the seventh dedicated Dragon cargo ship, bound for the International Space Station (ISS)—SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described the status of his company’s ongoing investigation on Monday, 20 July, and revealed that a failed helium tank strut appeared to be the root cause. Over the past weeks, engineering teams have spent thousands of hours matching up data across Falcon 9 v1.1 systems down to the millisecond, in order to properly understand the event which befell their vehicle, within a period of just 0.893 seconds, prior to loss of telemetry. In summarizing the developments, Mr. Musk noted that the accident occurred rapidly, that software modifications might have saved its precious Dragon payload, and that the failure is not expected to impair SpaceX’s goal of launching its first Commercial Crew missions from 2017 onward. At the same time, he added that the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services company does not expect to fly another Falcon 9 v1.1 until September 2015, at the soonest.

Continue reading Failed Strut Doomed CRS-7 Mission; No Falcon 9 Launches Before September, Says Elon Musk

Sleeping On Alien Shores: The Unquiet Slumbers of the Apollo Moonwalkers

Covered in lunar grime, and clad only in his water-cooled underwear, Gene Cernan manages a grin for Jack Schmitt's camera, aboard the Lunar Module (LM) Challenger during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. The astronauts' space suits can be seen, stashed at the back of the cramped cabin. Above the helmets can be seen the hatch leading to the Command and Service Module (CSM) docking tunnel. Photo Credit: NASA, with thanks to Ed Hengeveld

Covered in lunar grime, and clad only in his water-cooled underwear, Gene Cernan manages a grin for Jack Schmitt’s camera, aboard the Lunar Module (LM) Challenger during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. The astronauts’ space suits can be seen, stashed at the back of the cramped cabin. Above the helmets can be seen the hatch leading to the Command and Service Module (CSM) docking tunnel. Photo Credit: NASA, with thanks to Ed Hengeveld

More than four decades ago, humanity first made landfall on the Moon and Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Buzz Aldrin left their footprints on the dusty regolith of the Sea of Tranquility. Over the span of those decades, we have grown familiar with the sights and sounds and experiences of six pairs of intrepid explorers who touched down in areas as diverse as the flat “seas” (or mare) of Tranquility and the Ocean of Storms, the hummocky foothills of Fra Mauro and the mountainous regions of Hadley-Apennine, the Descartes highland plains, and the tiny valley of Taurus-Littrow. To commemorate the anniversary of Apollo 11—which reached the Moon 46 years ago, this week—AmericaSpace will focus not upon the well-documented experiences of the astronauts on the lunar surface, but upon one of the less well-known experiences of life on an alien world: how they managed to rest and sleep aboard the cramped confines of their Lunar Module (LM), surrounded by the ethereal stillness, the silence of ages, and the realization that as they slumbered they were the only living beings on this lifeless, airless world. 

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All-Civilian Soyuz TMA-17M Crew Ready for Wednesday Launch to Space Station (Part 1)

Soyuz TMA-17M Commander Oleg Kononenko (center) will be embarking on his third long-duration voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). By contrast, Flight Engineer-1 Kimiya Yui (right) and Flight Engineer-2 Kjell Lindgren are making their first flights. Photo Credit: NASA

Soyuz TMA-17M Commander Oleg Kononenko (center) will be embarking on his third long-duration voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). By contrast, Flight Engineer-1 Kimiya Yui (right) and Flight Engineer-2 Kjell Lindgren are making their first flights. Photo Credit: NASA

Clad in dark civilian suits, three soon-to-be spacefarers descended the aircraft steps at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 10 July, primed to become the latest—and somewhat belated—crew members bound for the International Space Station (ISS). Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, making his third orbital mission, will be joined by NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), for a five-month expedition whose very character has morphed significantly in recent weeks. Originally targeted to launch aboard Soyuz TMA-17M on 26/27 May, their flight was postponed in the aftermath of the Progress M-27M launch vehicle failure and in recent weeks has also been overshadowed by the catastrophic 28 June loss of SpaceX’s CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship, which was carrying the first International Docking Adapter (IDA-1) in support of future Commercial Crew operations.

Continue reading All-Civilian Soyuz TMA-17M Crew Ready for Wednesday Launch to Space Station (Part 1)