New Improved Antares Preparing for Test Fire Ahead of July 6 Return to Flight

Orbital ATK’s Antares first stage with the new engines is rolled from NASA Wallops Flight Facility’s Horizontal Integration Facility to Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A on May 12, 2016, in preparation for the upcoming stage test in the next few weeks. The team will continue to work meticulously as they begin final integration and check outs on the pad and several readiness reviews prior to the test. The window for the stage test will be over multiple days to ensure technical and weather conditions are acceptable. Photo Credit: NASA/Allison Stancil

Orbital ATK’s Antares first stage with the new engines is rolled from NASA Wallops Flight Facility’s Horizontal Integration Facility to Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A on May 12, 2016, in preparation for the upcoming stage test in the next few weeks. The team will continue to work meticulously as they begin final integration and check outs on the pad and several readiness reviews prior to the test. The window for the stage test will be over multiple days to ensure technical and weather conditions are acceptable. Photo Credit: NASA/Allison Stancil

Nineteen months after suffering a spectacular explosion just seconds after liftoff, Orbital ATK is on the verge of returning their Antares rocket to flight at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) this summer, located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The loss of the ORB-3 mission in October 2014 was blamed on an engine turbopump employed by the rocket’s 40-year-old Soviet-era Russian NK-33 engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated as the AJ-26), and forced Orbital ATK to make changes to their rocket’s design.

Now, the new and improved version of the booster is at its launch pad sporting new RD-181 engines, which is the biggest change made to Antares after the original AJ-26 engines proved unreliable (Orbital ATK also had AJ-26 engines fail on a test stand, twice, the latest in May 2014).

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Boeing's Starliner Test Article Comes Together as First Crewed Flight Slips to 2018

The first CST-100 Starliner hull stands in one piece inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after engineers bolted together the upper and lower domes May 2 as completion nears of the Structural Test Article. Photo Credit: Boeing

The first CST-100 Starliner hull stands in one piece inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center after engineers bolted together the upper and lower domes May 2 as completion nears of the Structural Test Article. Photo Credit: Boeing

Boeing’s first CST-100 Starliner has come together in an old space shuttle orbiter processing hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Known as a pathfinder test article, the vehicle will be used to certify the Starliner’s design and prove the manufacturing methods and overall ability of the spacecraft to handle the demands of spaceflight before putting astronauts onboard for flights to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in the next couple years.

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First SLS Orion Completes Pressure Tests, Prepares for Install of Secondary Structures

The Orion crew module pressure vessel for NASA’s Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is moved by crane along the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew module was transferred to a proof pressure cell in the high bay for pressure checks. Photo Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The Orion crew module pressure vessel for NASA’s Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) is moved by crane along the high bay inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew module was transferred to a proof pressure cell in the high bay for pressure checks. Photo Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA’s first SLS Orion crew capsule has successfully passed a series of proof-pressure tests carried out by engineers with Lockheed Martin at the space agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch site in Florida.

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After Month-Long Delivery Mission, SpaceX's Dragon Returns to Earth

SpaceX's eighth dedicated Dragon splashes smoothly into the Eastern Pacific Ocean at 2:54 p.m. EDT (11:54 a.m. PDT) on Wednesday, 11 May. Photo Credit: NASA

SpaceX’s eighth dedicated Dragon splashes smoothly into the Eastern Pacific Ocean at 2:54 p.m. EDT (11:54 a.m. PDT) on Wednesday, 11 May. Photo Credit: NASA

The last month has seen spectacular success for SpaceX, as the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services provider flawlessly conducted a pair of missions to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) and brought a pair of Upgraded Falcon 9 first stages back through the furnace heat of re-entry to safely land on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean. And the last month has also seen SpaceX resume operations of its Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS) after a year-long hiatus.

At 9:19 a.m. EDT Wednesday, the CRS-8 Dragon—the eighth dedicated cargo mission flown under the initial $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract between NASA and SpaceX—was detached from the orbital outpost to head back to Earth. At 2:54 p.m. EDT (11:54 a.m. PDT), it parachuted into the waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, bearing around 3,700 pounds (1,700 kg) of hardware and experiment samples. The successful splashdown brought to an end the third-longest Dragon mission to date. In total, CRS-8 spent 32 days, 22 hours, and 11 minutes in flight. This is slightly eclipsed by the 34.5-day mission of CRS-4 in the fall of 2014 and the 37-day voyage of last year’s CRS-6

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New Worlds Galore: Kepler Space Telescope Confirms 1,284 More Exoplanets

Artist's conception of the many different exoplanets which have been discovered by Kepler so far. Image Credit: NASA/W. Stenzel

Artist’s conception of the many different exoplanets that have been discovered by Kepler so far. Image Credit: NASA/W. Stenzel

For several years now the Kepler Space Telescope, as well as other telescopes, has been discovering an increasing number of exoplanets, with over 2,000 such confirmed worlds found so far (and nearly 5,000 candidates). Today, NASA announced that the Kepler mission has added 1,284 newly confirmed exoplanets to that list, vastly increasing the number of known planets orbiting other stars. This is the largest number of new planets ever announced at one time. The new results were announced during a NASA teleconference briefing.

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Sprint to the Finish: 30 Years Since the 'Death Star' Missions (Part 2)

By the time Galileo eventually left Earth in October 1989, it was boosted towards Jupiter by a less powerful Inertial Upper Stage (IUS). Photo Credit: NASA

By the time Galileo eventually left Earth in October 1989, it was boosted toward Jupiter by a less powerful Inertial Upper Stage (IUS). Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty years ago, this month—had the hands of fate showed greater kindness—two shuttles might have rocketed into orbit within days of each other to deliver a pair of robotic spacecraft toward Jupiter. The first spacecraft, Ulysses, was destined to pick up a gravitational “slingshot” from the Solar System’s largest planet, allowing it to depart the ecliptic plane and explore the poles of the Sun, whilst the second, Galileo, was slated to become the first machine made by human hands to enter orbit around Jupiter. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace article, Missions 61F and 61G would have launched their payloads atop powerful Centaur-G Prime boosters, built by General Dynamics, whose enormous impulse was precariously balanced against a structural fragility and which had already left lingering worries in the minds of the eight astronauts who might have flown the missions.

Continue reading Sprint to the Finish: 30 Years Since the ‘Death Star’ Missions (Part 2)

Willing to Compromise: 30 Years Since the 'Death Star' Missions (Part 1)

The Centaur-G Prime, mounted in its Centaur Integrated Support Structure (CISS), is readied for launch in the Shuttle Payload Integration Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

The Centaur-G Prime, mounted in its Centaur Integrated Support Structure (CISS), is readied for launch in the Shuttle Payload Integration Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA

When Challenger was lost in the skies of Cape Canaveral on 28 January 1986, it brought to an end the space shuttle’s “age of innocence” and exposed the deep flaws which plagued the fleet of reusable orbiters. In addition to the tragic loss of seven lives—Commander Dick Scobee, Pilot Mike Smith, Mission Specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, and Ron McNair and Payload Specialists Greg Jarvis and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe—the world also lost an orbiter which might, a few months hence, have deployed the shuttle’s first payload to another planet. In fact, had 1986 panned out as intended, Challenger and her sister ship, Atlantis, might have flown no fewer than two missions, just a week apart, to send robotic explorers deep into the Solar System. Those two missions, fraught with risk, were targeted to launch in May 1986, 30 years ago, this month.

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SpaceX Successfully Delivers 'High-Jump' JCSAT-14 Payload to Orbit

A SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket pulled off a picture-perfect launch at 1:21 a.m. EDT May 6, 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Fla SLC-40, successfully delivering the JCSAT-14 satellite to GTO. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

A SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket pulled off a picture-perfect launch at 1:21 a.m. EDT May 6, 2016, from Cape Canaveral, Fla. SLC-40, successfully delivering the JCSAT-14 satellite to GTO. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Twenty-four hours later than originally planned, SpaceX has successfully conducted its fourth launch of 2016, delivering the heavyweight JCSAT-14 communications satellite into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) on behalf of the Tokyo-based SKY Perfect JSAT Group. Liftoff of the Falcon 9—flying for the fourth time in its Upgraded variant, with an enhanced suite of nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines, producing 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kg) of thrust at T-0—took place on time at 1:21 a.m. EDT Friday, 6 May, right on the opening of a two-hour “window.” A little more than 32 minutes after leaving the storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., JCSAT-14 separated from the Upgraded Falcon 9’s second stage, heading for at least 15 years of operations, providing communications services across Asia, Russia, Oceania, and the Pacific Islands.

Tonight’s launch also saw the successful landing of the Upgraded Falcon 9 first stage on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean, marking SpaceX’s second back-to-back on-target oceanic touchdown. Counting last December’s triumphant “land” landing, following the OG-2 mission, SpaceX has now successfully brought three Falcon 9 first stages back from the edge of space, through the high-velocity and high-energy environment of re-entry and safely back to Earth.

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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. 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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