Artist’s conception of the star system HD 131399, with the planet HD 131399Ab in the foreground. Image Credit:
ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser
Over the past couple decades, astronomers have been discovering a seemingly endless variety of exoplanets orbiting other stars. Some are rather similar to planets in our own Solar System, while others are more like ones depicted in science fiction, ranging from rocky worlds about the size of Earth and larger, to massive, searing hot planets larger than Jupiter orbiting very close to their stars. Tatooine is another well-known example—the desert planet orbiting two suns in the Star Wars films. Now astronomers have found a similar world, using direct imaging, but which orbits within a system of three stars.
Continue reading Astronomers Image Massive Exoplanet in Triple-Star System
Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly departs the Quest airlock on 28 October 2015 to begin an EVA with crewmate Kjell Lindgren. Photo Credit: NASA
Fifteen years ago, this week, the crew of STS-104—Commander Steve Lindsey, Pilot Charlie Hobaugh, and Mission Specialists Mike Gernhardt, Janet Kavandi, and Jim Reilly—rocketed into the pre-dawn darkness to effect a major change to the fledgling International Space Station (ISS). Over the next 12 days, they worked to install and activate the Quest airlock, which would provide nothing less than a doorway to space; and a means, in NASA’s words, of enabling “a higher degree of station independence in its own construction and maintenance.” Before STS-104, all station-building spacewalks had been performed via the airlocks of resident shuttles. After STS-104, the option was available for EVAs to be performed directly from the station itself and, for the first time, could be executed without a shuttle being present.
Continue reading Doorway to the Future: 15 Years Since STS-104 (Part 2)
The Quest airlock, showing its wide equipment lock and its narrow crew lock, is maneuvered into position during STS-104. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
On 116 occasions in the past 15 years, white-suited spacewalkers from the United States, France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom have departed a stubby, two-chambered module on the starboard side of the International Space Station (ISS) and made important contributions to its assembly, maintenance, and repair. From the inaugural departure of STS-104 astronauts Mike Gernhardt and Jim Reilly for four hours and two minutes on the night of 20/21 July 2001 to the return of Expedition 46 crewmen Tim Kopra and Tim Peake after four hours and 43 minutes on 15 January 2016, dozens of spacewalkers have entered and exited the Quest airlock. And when Quest arrived at the space station all those years ago, it could hardly have been anticipated how pivotal a role it would play in the future.
Continue reading Doorway to the Future: 15 Years Since STS-104 (Part 1)
Standing in the same configuration that they will occupy in the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft are (from left) Flight Engineer-2 Shane Kimbrough, Commander Sergei Ryzhikov, and Flight Engineer-1 Andrei Borisenko. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace
Five weeks shy of the 16th anniversary since the first long-duration crew took up residence aboard the International Space Station (ISS), a pair of Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut are primed to launch on 23/24 September for the 50th expedition to the orbital outpost. Veteran spacefarer Andrei Borisenko and “rookie” Sergei Ryzhikov will join seasoned shuttle flier and spacewalker Shane Kimbrough when they fly from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard Soyuz MS-02. They will initially form the second half of Expedition 49, under Anatoli Ivanishin—who launched yesterday on Soyuz MS-01 with Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi and NASA’s Kate Rubins—before Kimbrough rotates into the command of Expedition 50 in late October.
Yesterday (Thursday), Kimbrough, Ryzhikov, and Borisenko took a break from training to gather at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, to discuss their forthcoming mission. According to provisional plans, they will remain in orbit for about five months, through the end of February 2017, and may welcome as many as six Visiting Vehicles (VVs) from Russia, the United States, and Japan and perhaps stage up to four U.S. EVAs. After Ivanishin’s crew departs the station, Soyuz MS-03 will arrive in early November, carrying Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, France’s Thomas Pesquet, and former NASA Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson to round out Expedition 50 at its full, six-person strength.
Continue reading 50th Space Station Expedition Crew Discusses September Mission
Soyuz MS-01 roars away from Site 1/5 at Baikonur at 7:36 a.m. local time Thursday, 7 July (9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, 6 July). The mission carried Russian cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin, Japan’s Takuya Onishi, and U.S. astronaut Kate Rubins to the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: NASA
Three new residents for the International Space Station (ISS) are en-route to the orbital outpost tonight, following the rousing liftoff of Soyuz MS-01 from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Veteran Russian cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin and his “rookie” crewmates Kate Rubins of NASA and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) thundered into the warm, sunny Baikonur sky at 7:36 a.m. local time Thursday, 7 July (9:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday, 6 July). Their trek to the ISS—and their union with the incumbent Expedition 48 crew—will last somewhat longer than most Soyuz crews, for Ivanishin, Onishi, and Rubins are following a “standard” two-day rendezvous profile. This profile has been adopted to extensively test the systems on the first orbital voyage of the new Soyuz-MS transport spacecraft, and the crew are due to dock at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the station’s Rassvet module around midnight Friday/Saturday.
Continue reading New Crew Begins Two-Day Voyage to Space Station
Commanded by veteran cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin (center), the Soyuz MS-01 crew is rounded out by “rookie” spacefarers Kate Rubins (left) of NASA and Takuya Onishi (right) of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Photo Credit: NASA
A retired Russian Air Force fighter pilot, a former Boeing 767 copilot, and a civilian microbiologist who describes herself as a “former virus hunter” will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:36 a.m. local time on Thursday, 7 July (9:36 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, 6 July), bound for almost four months aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Russia’s Anatoli Ivanishin, Japan’s Takuya Onishi, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will fly the maiden voyage of the new “Soyuz-MS” spacecraft and, as such, will embark on a standard two-day rendezvous profile, arriving at the orbital outpost late Thursday. The trio will form the second half of Expedition 48, under the command of Jeff Williams, then rotate into the “core” of Expedition 49, through their return to Earth in late October.
Continue reading Multi-National Crew to Launch to Space Station Aboard First Soyuz-MS Spacecraft
Artist’s conception of Juno approaching Jupiter. Image Credit: NASA
Jupiter has often been referred to as the King of Planets, and for good reason, as it is a massive gas giant, much larger than Earth and the largest planet in our Solar System. It is more than 2.5 times as massive as all the other planets combined, and is a mesmerizing world of colorful bands of clouds wrapping around the globe, which can be seen even in a small telescope, but exhibit incredible detail when seen by spacecraft. Jupiter is also itself the center of a sort of miniature solar system, with dozens of moons orbiting around it. We’ve seen this world up close before by spacecraft such as Voyager and Galileo, but now a new visitor has arrived in the Jovian system: NASA’s spacecraft Juno.
Continue reading NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Jupiter, the ‘King of Planets’
Commander Ken Mattingly and Pilot Hank Hartsfield salute President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan on Edwards’ concrete Runway 22 on Independence Day in 1982. Columbia is clearly visible in the background. Photo Credit: NASA
“Eight, seven, six … Go for Main Engine Start … ”
It was a familiar preamble from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch commentator which closely mirrored the final seconds before each of the previous 114 space shuttle missions. Ever since the maiden voyage of the first of this reusable fleet of orbiters in April 1981, the trio of Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) roared to life, producing a noticeable “twang” effect, as the vehicle structurally flexed upward, before the ignition of the twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) at T-0. “And liftoff of the Space Shuttle Discovery,” came the call, as six American astronauts and one German spacefarer speared into a crystal clear Florida sky, “returning to the space station, paving the way for future missions beyond.” It was 2:37:55 p.m. EDT. It was also 4 July 2006, and particular poignancy accompanied the launch of STS-121, which became the first—and so far only—occasion on which U.S. astronauts have rocketed into space on Independence Day.
Continue reading ‘Some Serious Fireworks’: Celebrating Independence Day in Space (Part 2)
On 4 July 1982, the crew of STS-4 became the first U.S. astronauts to spend Independence Day in space. It also marked the date of their spectacular return to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Photo Credit: NASA
On the morning of 4 July 1982, a rapidly moving, black and white speck appeared on the horizon at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., bringing a pair of U.S. space explorers back to Earth after a week in orbit. Minutes later, at 12:09 p.m. EDT (9:09 a.m. PDT), Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew of Commander Ken Mattingly and Pilot Hank Hartsfield alighted on the 15,000-foot-long (4,600-meter) concrete expanse of Runway 22, becoming the first American piloted space mission to be in progress on Independence Day. It was true that several key voyages of U.S. space endeavor—not least humanity’s first manned lunar landing and the joint Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP)—had occurred in July, but until STS-4 and the flight of Mattingly and Hartsfield, no American had ever been in space on this quintessentially “American” holiday.
Continue reading ‘Those Are Beautiful Shoes’: Celebrating Independence Day in Space (Part 1)
Booster for the most powerful rocket in the world, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), successfully fired up Tuesday for its second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah. This was the last full-scale test for the booster before SLS’s first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in late 2018, a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace
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, and again today (June 28, 2016), unleashing its fury on a barren mountainside at Orbital ATK’s test stand in Promontory, Utah, for the Qualification Motor-2 test fire (QM-2). The 154-foot-long booster, the largest of its kind in the world, ignited to verify its performance at a cold motor conditioning target of 40 degrees Fahrenheit—the colder end of its accepted propellant temperature range. When ignited, temperatures inside the booster reached nearly 6,000 degrees.
More than 530 instrumentation channels were used to help evaluate 82 defined test objectives that will support certification of the booster for flight.
Continue reading Mammoth SLS Booster Test Fired in Utah One Final Time Before Inaugural Orion EM-1 Launch