NASA Presses on With SLS Development as Launch Vehicle Undergoes Critical Design Review

From NASA: "Artist concept of NASA's Space Launch System wireframe design. The SLS Program is kicking off its critical design review May 11 at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama." Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

From NASA: “Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System wireframe design. The SLS Program is kicking off its critical design review May 11 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.” Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Program, designing NASA’s next heavy lift launch vehicle intended to carry spacecraft and astronauts beyond low Earth orbit, is currently undergoing a critical design review. While this major milestone is underway, engineers recently tested the launch vehicle’s hydrogen burn-off igniters, and continue to analyze results from the QM-1 booster test fire that took place on March 11th at Orbital ATK’s test facility in Promontory, Utah. In addition, work is proceeding on the B-2 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center, which is being drastically modified to support SLS.

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Record-Setting Dragon Returns to Earth, as Record-Setting Year Gathers Pace

The CRS-6 Dragon spacecraft is robotically detached from the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, 21 May, by Expedition 43 astronauts Terry Virts and Scott Kelly. Photo Credit: Terry Virts/Twitter/NASA

The CRS-6 Dragon spacecraft is robotically detached from the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, 21 May, by Expedition 43 astronauts Terry Virts and Scott Kelly. Photo Credit: Terry Virts/Twitter/NASA

SpaceX has triumphantly reached the halfway mark in its initial $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, by successfully bringing its CRS-6 Dragon cargo ship away from the International Space Station (ISS) and guiding it toward a perfect, parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 9:42 a.m. PDT (12:42 p.m. EDT) Thursday, 21 May. Aboard the Dragon—which rose to orbit on 14 April, atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 booster from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.—for the return journey was almost 3,100 pounds (1,400 kg) of NASA cargo and experiment results, including research on how spaceflight and the microgravity environment affect the aging process and bone health. Thus concludes the second of what SpaceX hopes will be a personal-best-beating total of five Dragon missions to be flown in 2015.

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Congress Seeks Significant Shift in NASA Budget Priorities

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden media briefing at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral, Florida prior to successful Orion EFT-1 launch on Dec. 5, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden media briefing at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral, Florida prior to successful Orion EFT-1 launch on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

One thing seems fairly certain about NASA’s budget in Fiscal Year 2016 – a contentious clash is afoot between Congress and the Obama Administration on the space agency’s funding priorities and direction that will result in a multitude of significant winners and losers in a wide range of programs in the years ahead.

Not surprisingly, the Republican Congress and Democratic President Barack Obama are on a collision course regarding U.S. space policy, with fundamental differences on strategies and a wide gulf on ideas of where to spend our very limited federal dollars in the waning years of the current Administration.

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'Ocean Worlds Exploration Program': New Budget Proposal Calls for Missions to Europa, Enceladus and Titan

Artist's depiction of Europa's interior. Astronomers hypothesize that chloride salts bubble up from the icy moon's global liquid ocean and reach the frozen surface where they are bombarded with sulfur from volcanoes on Jupiter's innermost large moon Io. A dedicated mission to Europa would help solve many of the long-standing mysteries regarding this fascinating moon. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of Europa’s interior, with water rising through cracks in the surface, depositing salts similar to sea salt on Earth. The ocean below may be a habitable environment for some kind of life. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The exploration of the outer Solar System has revealed a plethora of amazing worlds, the likes of which were little known or even unheard of just a decade ago. Among the most remarkable and tantalizing discoveries are the “ocean moons” such as Europa and Enceladus, which have oceans or seas of liquid water beneath their icy surfaces. Other moons like Titan, Ganymede, and Callisto may also have them, and even some asteroids. Titan also has seas and lakes of liquid methane/ethane on its surface. With all that water, these small worlds have become a primary focus in the search for possible life elsewhere in the Solar System. Now, a new NASA budget proposal wants to take that a step further and fund new missions to these watery moons.

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PHOTOS: Atlas-V Delivers Lightsail and Air Force X-37B to Orbit Packed With Cubesats and Experiments

The Air Force AFSPC-5 mission launched into clear blue skies from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today. Onboard is the secretive X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (its fourth mission) and a variety of cubists and experiments for the NAVY, NRO, USAF and NASA, including the Lightsail test article from The Planetary Society. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

The Air Force AFSPC-5 mission launched into clear blue skies from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today. Onboard is the secretive X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (its fourth mission) and a variety of cubists and experiments for the NAVY, NRO, USAF and NASA, including the Lightsail test article from The Planetary Society. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

It was an unusually busy 2.5-hour Atlas-V secret mission that carried the U.S. Air Force/Boeing X-37B spaceplane aloft today, with its payload bay likely packed with optics and a slew of National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) small satellites attached to its Centaur. An unclassified Air Force Xenon thruster and NASA materials samples are also being elevated out of the bay, along with X-37B’s secret sensors.

The mission began with liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:05 a.m. EDT, then climbing on a 61-degree azimuth. This was followed by separation of the X-37B spaceplane 15 minutes later in a 350 km (218 mi.) orbit inclined 39 deg. to the equator.

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PHOTOS: Atlas-V Ready to Launch AFSPC-5 Mission With X-37B Spaceplane and Lightsail Wednesday

A United Launch Alliance Atlas-V 501 rocket stands tall atop Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral AFS on May 19, 2015. The Air Force X-37B OTV-4 spaceplane is onboard, as well as the Planetary Society's Lightsail test article, several small satellites for the NAVY and NRO, and a NASA materials science experiment. Liftoff is scheduled for May 20 between 11:05 a.m. EDT and 1:30 p.m. EDT. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

A United Launch Alliance Atlas-V 501 rocket stands tall atop Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral AFS on May 19, 2015. The Air Force X-37B OTV-4 spaceplane is onboard, as well as the Planetary Society’s Lightsail test article, several small satellites for the NAVY and NRO, and a NASA materials science experiment. Liftoff is scheduled for May 20 between 11:05 a.m. EDT and 1:30 p.m. EDT. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The 196-foot-tall United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket tasked with launching the Air Force’s secretive X-37B spaceplane on its fourth mission arrived at its launch pad today, standing tall and counting down toward a launch attempt tomorrow, May 20. The Air Force AFSPC-5 mission will also deliver The Planetary Society’s privately funded Lightsail spacecraft test article to orbit. Several small satellites for the NAVY and NRO, as well as a NASA materials science experiment, will be hitching a ride on the X-37B.

First motion of the rocket rolling out of its seaside Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) occurred at 9:04 a.m. EDT this morning. Liftoff is scheduled to occur sometime between 10:45 a.m. EDT and 2:45 p.m. EDT. Due to the secretive nature of the X-37B the actual launch window will not be announced until the day of launch; however, the airspace closure around Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is from 11:05 a.m. till 1:30 p.m. EDT, hinting that the first launch attempt could be as early as 11:05 a.m. EDT.

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Precious Cargo: McCollister's Transportation Group Supports Orion on Journey to Mars

McCollister’s Transportation Group transported pre-flight Orion to various testing centers around the country and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for assembly. Photo Credit: McCollister’s Transportation Group

McCollister’s Transportation Group transported pre-flight Orion to various testing centers around the country and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for assembly. Photo Credit: McCollister’s Transportation Group

The “Journey to Mars” began when NASA’s Orion capsule lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex (SLC) -37B atop a roaring Delta IV heavy rocket on Dec. 5, 2014. The journey of Orion, however, began much earlier when McCollister’s Transportation Group started moving key portions of the spacecraft for testing in July 2013. McCollister’s played a critical role in transporting the multi-million dollar spacecraft to various testing locations across the country and to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for assembly before flight.

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Researchers Develop New Technique to Search for Chemical Evidence of Life on Mars

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Despite decades of searching, definitive evidence for life on Mars, past or present, has still remained elusive and controversial. Confirmation of such a finding would need to be thoroughly tested and documented, and now researchers at the University of Kansas have developed a new technique that they hope would help to do just that, should that evidence be found by future rovers or landers.

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Fourth Atlas-V Spaceplane Launch Heralds X-37B Program Shift As Centaur to Deploy Naval Satellites at Higher Inclination

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) at Vandenberg Air Force Base after completing 674 days in space. A total of three X-37B missions have been completed, totaling 1,367 days on orbit. OTV-4, launching on the AFSPC-5 mission May 20, is more focused on military spaceplane payload development instead of X-37B flight testing of its own systems, carrying a wide variety of military technology payloads for the Air Force, NAVY, and NRO, as well as an advanced NASA materials science experiment. Photo Credit: Boeing

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) at Vandenberg Air Force Base after completing 674 days in space. A total of three X-37B missions have been completed, totaling 1,367 days on orbit. OTV-4, launching on the AFSPC-5 mission May 20, is more focused on military spaceplane payload development instead of X-37B flight testing of its own systems, carrying a wide variety of military technology payloads for the Air Force, NAVY, and NRO, as well as an advanced NASA materials science experiment. Photo Credit: Boeing

The planned fourth launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket with a Boeing/U.S. Air Force X-37B spaceplane on May 20 comes as the Air Force is shifting to more military spaceplane payload development instead of X-37B flight testing of its own systems.

The upcoming flight is carrying a wide variety of military technology payloads, including secret payload bay sensors, but its manifest also includes an Air Force xenon thruster important to spacecraft longevity in geosynchronous orbit, along with three small U.S. Naval Academy satellites and two small Aerospace Corp. satellites demonstrating military technologies and several more secret National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spacecraft.

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'The Right Man': Remembering Gordon Cooper's Faith 7 Mission (Part 2)

Faith 7 descends to a splashdown on 16 May 1963, after Project Mercury's longest mission of 34 hours. Photo Credit: NASA

Faith 7 descends to a splashdown on 16 May 1963, after Project Mercury’s longest mission of 34 hours. Photo Credit: NASA

Early on 14 May 1963, a hotshot pilot lay on his back in a tiny capsule, atop a converted ballistic missile, and steeled himself to be blasted into space. On Project Mercury’s final mission, Gordon Cooper would spend 34 hours in space, circle the globe 22 times, and establish NASA’s first real baseline of long-duration experience as the space agency and the nation prepared to land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. To be fair, the flight would last barely a quarter as long as the Soviet Union’s four-day Vostok 3 mission a year earlier, but for NASA it would mark an important step forward. Yet, as described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, there were many senior managers who doubted that Cooper was the right man for the job. Two days earlier, he had buzzed the administration building at Cape Canaveral in his F-106 jet, sparking a flurry of frantic emergency calls and maddening Project Mercury Operations Director Walt Williams to the extent that he almost grounded Cooper in favor of his backup, Alan Shepard. Cooper had much ground to make up in order to restore faith in his abilities.

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