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AmericaSpace Launch Countdown

Next Launch MUOS-3 on a Atlas V 551 rocket from Cape Canaveral AFB, FL
scheduled for:
21 Jan 15 1:04:00 GMT
20 Jan 15 20:04:00 EST

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Gemini Planet Imager Concludes Year-Long Commissioning Phase, Begins Regular Science Observations With Impressive First Results

The circumstellar disk around the young star HR 4796A, as imaged by the Gemini Planet Imager, which is mounted on the 8.2-m Gemini South telescope in Chile. These images reveal a complex pattern of variations in brightness and polarization around the HR 4796A disk. The western side (tilted closer to the Earth) appears brighter in polarized light, while in total intensity the eastern side appears slightly brighter, particularly just to the east of the widest apparent separation points of the disk. Image Credit: Marshall Perrin (Space Telescope Science Institute), Gaspard Duchene (UC Berkeley), Max Millar-Blanchaer (University of Toronto), and the GPI Team

The circumstellar disk around the young star HR 4796A, as imaged by the Gemini Planet Imager, which is mounted on the 8.2-m Gemini South telescope in Chile. These images reveal a complex pattern of variations in brightness and polarization around the HR 4796A disk. The western side (tilted closer to the Earth) appears brighter in polarized light, while in total intensity the eastern side appears slightly brighter, particularly just to the east of the widest apparent separation points of the disk. Image Credit: Marshall Perrin (Space Telescope Science Institute), Gaspard Duchene (UC Berkeley), Max Millar-Blanchaer (University of Toronto), and the GPI Team

The field of exoplanetary research has seen a tremendous growth during the last decade, with the launch of space-based planet-hunting telescopes like the joint ESA/French Space Agency CoRoT and NASA’s Kepler telescopes, which have turned the discovery of new exoplanets around other stars from a historic occasion into a more or less routine procedure, as evidenced by the impressive tally of more than a thousand extrasolar worlds that have been confirmed by Kepler alone, as well as the thousands more that are still awaiting confirmation. Not to be outdone, a number of next-generation ground-based instruments that have also come on-line during the last couple of years promise to usher in a new era in exoplanetary science as well, allowing for the more detailed observation and characterisation of exoplanets around other stars through advanced direct imaging techniques. One such instrument, the Gemini Planet Imager, which is mounted on the 8.1-m Gemini South telescope in Cerro Pachón, Chile, has recently completed a year-long test and commissioning period, while capturing the images and spectra of previously discovered exoplanetary systems in unprecedented detail along the way, which are challenging several theoretical predictions regarding planetary formation.

Continue reading Gemini Planet Imager Concludes Year-Long Commissioning Phase, Begins Regular Science Observations With Impressive First Results

What Did NASA Learn From Orion’s First Test Flight? NASA Administrator Bolden Tells AmericaSpace

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (center) and Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin Vice President (right of center) for Orion inspect a Jacquard loom operating at Bally Ribbon Mills in Bally, Pa., on Jan. 9, 2015, that is weaving a 3-D Quartz perform material that will be used as a key component in Orion’s critical thermal protection heat shield for its next launch in 2018 atop the SLS rocket on the EM-1 mission.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/AmericaSpace

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (center) and Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin Vice President (right of center) for Orion inspect a Jacquard loom operating at Bally Ribbon Mills in Bally, Pa., on Jan. 9, 2015, that is weaving a 3-D Quartz perform material that will be used as a key component in Orion’s critical thermal protection heat shield for its next launch in 2018 atop the SLS rocket on the EM-1 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/AmericaSpace

BALLY, PA, and KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL — What did NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin learn from the maiden test flight of the agency’s next generation crew vehicle, following its recent successful launch in December 2014 and homecoming return to the Kennedy Space Center?

“Orion is in incredible shape!” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told AmericaSpace during an interview at Bally Ribbon Mills in Bally, Penn., on Jan. 9. “It gives a lot of confidence [for the future].”

Continue reading What Did NASA Learn From Orion’s First Test Flight? NASA Administrator Bolden Tells AmericaSpace

IMAX Filming, Research, and Dragon Arrival Highlight First Full Week of New Year on ISS

Member of the Expedition 42 crew onboard the International Space Station celebrating Russian Christmas with a video call to friends and family and an Orthodox choir in Moscow. Photo Credit: NASA

Member of the Expedition 42 crew onboard the International Space Station celebrating Russian Christmas with a video call to friends and family and an Orthodox choir in Moscow. Photo Credit: NASA

The first full week of the new year was busy on the International Space Station (ISS), aside from Wednesday, when the entire Expedition 42 crew was given a much-deserved day off in observance of the Russian Christmas holiday. As the crew waited for the SpaceX Falcon 9 to launch with their CRS-5 Dragon capsule full of goodies, work continued for ongoing science experiments and research.

Continue reading IMAX Filming, Research, and Dragon Arrival Highlight First Full Week of New Year on ISS

Expedition 42 Crew Captures CRS-5 Dragon and Critical ISS Payloads - UPDATE

Canadarm2 grappled the CRS-5 Dragon spacecraft at 5:44 a.m. EST Monday, 12 January. Photo Credit: NASA, with thanks to Mike Barrett

Canadarm2 grappled the CRS-5 Dragon spacecraft at 5:44 a.m. EST Monday, 12 January. Photo Credit: NASA, with thanks to Mike Barrett

Two days after departing Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in a blazing light show, SpaceX has successfully delivered its fifth dedicated Dragon cargo mission (CRS-5) to the International Space Station (ISS). Capture of the spacecraft by Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti took place at 5:54 a.m. EST Monday, 12 January, as Dragon and the station flew high above the Mediterranean, just to the southeast of Barcelona.  The progress of this latest visitor to the ISS had gone so smoothly that the capture occurred a full 18 minutes ahead of schedule, prompting Capcom Randy Bresnik in the Mission Control Center (MCC) at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, to jokingly advise Wilmore: “Not bad … for a Navy guy!” Exactly three hours after the initial grapple of the spacecraft, a perfect berthing at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Harmony node was completed and Dragon is now a part of the ISS until 10 February.

Continue reading Expedition 42 Crew Captures CRS-5 Dragon and Critical ISS Payloads – UPDATE

Through the Lens: SpaceX's Fifth Dragon Resupply Launch to ISS in Stunning Imagery

LIFTOFF of SpaceX's Falcon-9 booster Saturday morning, Jan. 10, 2014, kicking off the first U.S. launch of 2015 and the company's fifth NASA-contracted Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

LIFTOFF of SpaceX’s Falcon-9 booster Saturday morning, Jan. 10, 2015, kicking off the first U.S. launch of 2015 and the company’s fifth NASA-contracted Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

In the early morning hours of Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, SpaceX kicked off the United States’ busy 2015 space launch manifest with their fifth NASA-contracted Dragon resupply flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Onboard the $100 billion orbiting science research outpost is over 5,000 pounds of supplies, cargo, and experiments for the Expedition 42 crew (and later Expedition 43), including critical materials to support 256 science and research investigations, and the AmericaSpace imagery team set out to capture some up-close views of the launch. 

Continue reading Through the Lens: SpaceX’s Fifth Dragon Resupply Launch to ISS in Stunning Imagery

How Adaptable Humans Are: Looking Back at STS-72 (Part 2)

 

Grappled by Endeavour's Remote Manipulator System (RMS) mechanical arm, the Japanese Space Flyer Unit (SFU) satellite is readied for installation in the payload bay. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Grappled by Endeavour’s Remote Manipulator System (RMS) mechanical arm, the Japanese Space Flyer Unit (SFU) satellite is readied for installation in the payload bay. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Nineteen years ago, today, on 11 January 1996, Shuttle Endeavour and a six-man crew—Commander Brian Duffy, Pilot Brent Jett, and Mission Specialists Leroy Chiao, Winston Scott, Dan Barry, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata—rocketed into orbit in pursuit of Japan’s Space Flyer Unit (SFU). Launched 10 months earlier, the octagonal satellite carried a mixture of biological, technological, and astronomical experiments, and it was the task of STS-72 to recover it from orbit and bring it back to Earth. Additionally, as described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the crew was expected to deploy and retrieve another satellite, support several experiments, and perform two EVAs to support critical hardware tests for the International Space Station (ISS).  

Continue reading How Adaptable Humans Are: Looking Back at STS-72 (Part 2)

Has Curiosity Found Evidence for Ancient Microbial Life on Mars? Maybe, Says Noted Geobiologist

Curiosity image from Yellowknife Bay, where the potential microbial mat features were first seen in sandstone rocks. Gillespie Lake Member is the series of flat rocks in the central-left area of the image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity image from Yellowknife Bay, where the potential microbial mat features were first seen in sandstone rocks. Gillespie Lake Member is the series of flat rocks in the central-left area of the image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

There is a report about Mars which has been getting a lot of attention the past few weeks (in addition to the methane and organics found): that the Curiosity rover may have found evidence for ancient microbial life itself. Specifically, microbial mats, which are common on Earth; the report comes from noted geobiologist Nora Noffke, who has been studying images sent back by the rover since it landed in 2012.

Continue reading Has Curiosity Found Evidence for Ancient Microbial Life on Mars? Maybe, Says Noted Geobiologist

Stennis Space Center Roars to Life With First NASA SLS Development Engine Test Fire

The first of eight tests for the SLS development engine, which will provide NASA engineers with critical data on the engine controller unit and inlet pressure conditions. Four RS-25 engines will power SLS on future missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Photo Credit: NASA

The first of eight tests for the SLS development engine, which will provide NASA engineers with critical data on the engine controller unit and inlet pressure conditions. Four RS-25 engines will power SLS on future missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. Photo Credit: NASA

The new year has kicked off nicely for NASA thus far, not just because of a successful fifth SpaceX Dragon resupply launch to the International Space Station (ISS), but also because the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., has ushered in a new era with the first static test fire of a development engine for the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA’s massive rocket which will launch astronauts on missions of exploration farther into space than any humans have ever been, starting next decade.

Continue reading Stennis Space Center Roars to Life With First NASA SLS Development Engine Test Fire

Mission for Japan: Looking Back at STS-72 (Part 1)

Leroy Chiao (foreground) works in Endeavour's payload bay during one of the STS-72 EVAs. Photo Credit: NASA

Leroy Chiao (foreground) works in Endeavour’s payload bay during one of the STS-72 EVAs. Photo Credit: NASA

Almost two decades ago, six astronauts rocketed into the night on a mission which put virtually all of the shuttle’s capabilities—satellite deployment and retrieval, rendezvous and proximity operations, research, and spacewalking—to the test, as well as providing a great insight into the work that NASA would require to build the International Space Station (ISS). STS-72, launched aboard Endeavour on 11 January 1996, was tasked with capturing a Japanese spacecraft, after 10 months in orbit, as well as deploying and retrieving a small free-flying satellite and evaluating tools for ISS assembly and maintenance.

Continue reading Mission for Japan: Looking Back at STS-72 (Part 1)

Fiery Falcon and Hissing Dragon Blaze Trail to Space Station, Booster Landing Attempt Unsuccessful

Liftoff of SpaceX's fifth NASA-contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station at 4:47 a.m. EST on Jan. 10, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

Liftoff of SpaceX’s fifth NASA-contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station at 4:47 a.m. EST on Jan. 10, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

The ground of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., shook under 1.3 million pounds (590,000 kg) of thrust this morning (Saturday, 10 January), as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 booster—laden with the fifth dedicated Dragon cargo mission (CRS-5) to the International Space Station (ISS)—roared away from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 precisely at 4:47:10 a.m. EST. It was notable that the company which last September won contracts to possibly launch the first U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil since the end of the shuttle era has now achieved the first launch of a U.S. vehicle from U.S. soil in 2015. At the time that this article was being prepared, the Dragon spacecraft had successfully separated from the second stage of the booster and had successfully deployed its electricity-generating solar arrays, its Guidance and Navigation Control (GNC) Bay Door, and critical rendezvous sensors, ahead of a scheduled capture and berthing at the space station by Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti on Monday morning.

Continue reading Fiery Falcon and Hissing Dragon Blaze Trail to Space Station, Booster Landing Attempt Unsuccessful