Jerry Ross participates in the assembly of the EASE and ACCESS structures on Mission 61B in the fall of 1985. Ross became the first person to fly Atlantis twice and three times and is the only human to have flown her on as many as five occasions. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
Thirty years ago, this week, five astronauts circled Earth on the maiden voyage of NASA’s fourth shuttle orbiter, Atlantis. However, as outlined in a previous AmericaSpace article, the crew of Mission 51J—Commander Karol “Bo” Bobko, Pilot Ron Grabe, Mission Specialists Dave Hilmers and Bob Stewart, and Air Force Manned Spaceflight Engineer (MSE) Bill Pailes—staged a four-day flight which hardly made the headlines, for it was totally dedicated to the Department of Defense and therefore cloaked in secrecy. Although it had been inferred prior to 51J’s launch that the crew would deploy a pair of Defense Satellite Communications Satellite (DSCS)-III military communications satellites, mounted atop a single, Boeing-built Inertial Upper Stage (IUS), images of the payload would not be declassified and released in the public domain for more than a decade. It was a strangely quiet start to an illustrious career which would see Atlantis visit space 33 times, visit the International Space Station (ISS) a dozen times, visit Russia’s Mir orbital outpost seven times and visit the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) on one occasion.
Continue reading On Opposing Sides of Tragedy: Remembering Atlantis on 30th Anniversary of Maiden Flight (Part 3)
During almost 26 years of operational service, Atlantis flew 33 missions, travelled an estimated 125.9 million miles (202.7 million km), circled Earth 4,848 times, and spent over 306 cumulative days in orbit. She is the second most-flown member of NASA’s shuttle fleet, after Discovery. Photo Credit: NASA
For the crew of STS-132, it was anticipated that theirs would likely be the final flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis. By the spring of 2010, almost a quarter-century had passed since the vehicle’s maiden voyage—Mission 51J in October 1985—and STS-132 represented her 32nd flight into orbit. Commander Ken Ham, Pilot Tony Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Garrett Reisman, Mike Good, Steve Bowen, and British-born Piers Sellers were tasked with installing a Russian component onto the International Space Station (ISS) and executing a trio of complex spacewalks. Although NASA had provisional plans for STS-135 as the “final” flight of Atlantis, the mission initially carried the Launch on Need (LON) classification of “STS-335” and would not become “real” until January 2011, a mere six months before it actually flew. As NASA celebrates the 30th anniversary, this week, of Atlantis’ maiden voyage, a significant indicator of the vehicle’s immense contribution to U.S. spaceflight history emerges from pre-flight comments made by the STS-132 crew, who wryly dubbed themselves “The First-Last Crew of Atlantis.”
Continue reading ‘I’m Not Worthy’: Remembering Atlantis on 30th Anniversary of Maiden Flight (Part 2)
Atlantis alights on Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 5:57 a.m. EDT on 21 July 2011, wrapping up a remarkable 33-mission career. Photo Credit: NASA/Kenny Allen
In the pre-dawn darkness of 21 July 2011, the small black-and-white dot of Atlantis glided smoothly into Florida airspace, bound for her final touchdown to close out the 30-year Space Shuttle Program. After almost 13 days in space, the four-strong STS-135 crew—Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim—were wrapping up Atlantis’ 33rd spaceflight since her inaugural voyage, way back in October 1985, and concluding a remarkable career which had seen her visit the International Space Station (ISS) 12 times, visit Russia’s Mir orbital outpost a record-setting seven times, and visit the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) once. Today (Saturday, 3 October), NASA marks exactly 30 years since Atlantis’ maiden flight and AmericaSpace will commemorate this historic event with a series of five daily articles, through Wednesday, 7 October, to remember the five days of Mission 51J and to reflect upon the orbiter’s subsequent career.
Continue reading ‘A Proud Legacy’: Remembering Atlantis on 30th Anniversary of Maiden Flight (Part 1)
A ULA Atlas-V 421 rocket successfully launched the Morelos-3 mission for Mexico’s Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes (Ministry of Communications and Transportation) this morning, securing a place in ULA’s history books as the 100th flight executed by the company since its formation in December 2006. Morelos-3 marks the 57th Atlas-V launch since its first flight in 2002 and it’s just the fifth to fly in the “421” configuration. Photo Credit: Matt Gaetjens / AmericaSpace
The darkened skies over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., were broken this morning with a rousing, pre-dawn liftoff of the ninth of 12 planned United Launch Alliance (ULA) missions of 2015, carrying Mexico’s Morelos-3 communications satellite to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). Liftoff of the 195-foot-tall (59.4-meter) Atlas V—flying for only the fifth time in its “421” configuration, equipped with a 13-foot-diameter (4-meter) Payload Fairing (PLF), two Aerojet-built, solid-fueled boosters and a single-engine Centaur upper stage—occurred at 6:28 a.m. EDT from the Cape’s storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41, at the end of a 20-minute “window”. In doing so, it kicked off ULA’s 100th mission since the formation of the Centennial, Colo.-headquartered organization, back in December 2006.
Over the course of the following three hours, the Russian-built RD-180 engine of the Atlas V’s first stage and two “burns” of the RL-10C restartable engine of the Centaur upper stage delivered Morelos-3 toward a GTO “target point” of 2,978 x 22,236 miles (4,792 x 35,785 km). When fully operational, Morelos-3 has an expected lifetime of 15 years and will provide secure communications for Mexico’s national security needs, as well as enhanced coverage for the country’s civil telecommunications.
Continue reading 100 Percent Success as ULA Delivers 100th Mission Safely to Orbit
The Morelos-3 satellite is encapsulated within its 13-foot-diameter (4-meter) Payload Fairing (PLF), ahead of integration with the Atlas V 421. Photo Credit: ULA
For the second time this year—and only the fifth occasion in its history—United Launch Alliance (ULA) will fly the venerable Atlas V booster in its sparingly-used “421” configuration on Friday, 2 October, when it aims to loft Mexico’s Morelos-3 communications satellite into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), for eventual delivery to an altitude of about 22,300 miles (35,900 km). Liftoff of the mission, which represents the ninth of 12 planned flights conducted by the Centennial, Colo.-based company’s fleet of Atlas V, Delta IV, and Delta II boosters in 2015, is scheduled to occur from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., during a 20-minute “window,” extending from 6:08 through 6:28 a.m. EDT. According to Air Force meteorologists, weather conditions are expected to be 70-percent favorable for the opening launch attempt on Friday, improving to 80 percent for the backup opportunity on Saturday, 3 October. This mission will also secure a place in ULA’s history books as the 100th flight executed by the company since its formation way back in December 2006.
Continue reading Morelos-3 Communications Satellite Destined to Fly Aboard 100th ULA Mission on Friday
Image from July 14, 2015, showing the double-lobed or “rubber duck” shape of Comet 67P and outgassing of water vapor, gas, and dust. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, or 67P, has been the focus of intense study by the Rosetta spacecraft since 2014. One of the key mysteries scientists have been trying to figure out is how the comet became the odd “rubber duck” shape that it is, with its two distinct lobes. Now they think they have the answer: Comet 67P was formed by the collision of two other, separate comets which fused together to form its distinctive shape.
Continue reading Rosetta Scientists Answer Question of How ‘Rubber Duck’ Comet 67P Got Its Shape
An X-ray view (at the bottom) of the region around Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, taken with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The analysis of archival observations from Chandra and other orbiting X-ray telescopes has revealed that Sgr A* has increased its X-ray flaring by a tenfold in the last couple of years, possibly after feeding off the G2 gas cloud which made its close passage by the black hole in 2014 (artistic renderings at the top).
Image credit: NASA/CXC/MPE/G. Ponti et al.; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss
For anyone who has been under clear skies far away from the all-obscuring artificial lights of civilisation, the view toward the direction of the Sagittarius constellation reveals the magnificent sight of the galactic center—a wide band of bright stars and dark dust clouds which to the naked eye looks entirely peaceful and serene. In reality, the central regions of the Milky Way are anything but, hosting a supermassive black hole, called Sagittarius A* or Sgr A* for short, which regularly feeds on any unsuspecting material that will happen to pass too close and giving off tremendous amounts of electromagnetic radiation in the process. Sgr A* has historically been a relatively quiet black hole, compared to the ones found at the centers of distant galaxies, like quasars. A series of recent observations by orbiting X-ray telescopes have revealed that our galaxy’s supermassive black hole has lately exhibited an unexpected increase in activity, in the form of bright X-ray flares which have been observed at random intervals at an increased rate.
Continue reading Increased X-Ray Activity From Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole Puzzles Astronomers
False-color image of RSL on slopes in Hale crater. The blue color is thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
In a finding that is sure to fuel the ongoing debate about possible life on Mars, NASA announced today the confirmation that intriguing seasonal dark streaks running down Sun-facing slopes are indeed flows of liquid water. The water is salty (briny), but just the fact that it is current liquid water, albeit transient and in relatively small amounts, is still big news.
Continue reading The Saline Slopes of Mars: NASA Confirms Evidence for Flowing Liquid Water
The performance enhancements which have enabled the Falcon 9 v1.2 (internally known as the Falcon 9 v1.1 Full Thrust) are expected to support larger payloads to orbit and will also permit the landing of the first-stage hardware on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS). Photo Credit: SpaceX
Three months after the catastrophic loss of its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)-7 Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS)—which appeared to have fallen victim to a failed helium tank strut, provided by an external supplier—SpaceX stands ready to resume launches of its workhorse Falcon 9, albeit in a heavily modified form, perhaps as soon as mid-November. Last week, a successful 15-second static firing of the upgraded “Merlin 1D+” engines, destined for the Falcon 9 v1.2 (internally known as the “Falcon 9 v1.1 Full Thrust”) variant of the vehicle, shook the ground of the new Falcon Booster Test Stand at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas, for the first time. Although SpaceX previously stressed that no provisional date had been released for the Falcon 9’s Return to Flight (RTF) mission, recent comments by CEO Elon Musk in Berlin indicate that another launch might be attempted within six to eight weeks.
Continue reading Enhanced Falcon 9 Booster Raises Excitement, Concern, As Return to Flight Date Nears