NRO 76 Launch To Put SpaceX Deep In ULA Territory Sunday

NROL-76 will mark the first launch by SpaceX of a classified military payload, putting the company deep into ULA territory. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The National Reconnaissance Office NRO 76 mission set for liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center early Sunday Apr. 30, could introduce a new or upgraded class of NRO intelligence spacecraft on the first classified mission flown by a SpaceX Falcon 9.

SpaceX was cleared by the Air Force to fly secret military missions in 2015; NROL-76 will be their first.

Continue reading NRO 76 Launch To Put SpaceX Deep In ULA Territory Sunday

Voyages of Endeavour: 25 Years Since NASA's Youngest Space Shuttle Took Flight (Part 1)

Endeavour makes landfall under her own power for the final time on 1 June 2011, closing out a remarkable chapter in human space exploration. Photo Credit: NASA

From the moment she left Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, on the evening of 7 May 1992, to the instant her Main Landing Gear (MLG) kissed the concrete of nearby Runway 15 of the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) for the final time on 1 June 2011, Endeavour enjoyed one of the most dramatic careers of any member of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet. From the first (and only) three-person spacewalk to the triumphant salvation of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and from the third-longest shuttle voyage ever flown to the first construction mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Endeavour’s stellar, 25-flight career did it all. As the 25th anniversary of Endeavour’s maiden voyage nears, AmericaSpace pays tribute to this remarkable vehicle; a vehicle whose origins came in the ashes of despair and shattered dreams.

Continue reading Voyages of Endeavour: 25 Years Since NASA’s Youngest Space Shuttle Took Flight (Part 1)

Cassini Sends Back Spectacular New Images From First-Ever Dive Between Saturn and its Rings

Three of the new raw images taken during Cassini’s first dive between Saturn and its innermost rings. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

After waiting with bated breath last night, everyone following Cassini’s first-ever dive through the gap between Saturn and its rings let out a collective sigh of relief – the spacecraft made it! This was the first time a probe had ever flown this close to Saturn’s atmosphere and inner rings, and while mission scientists were confident the probe would sail through unharmed, it wasn’t a 100% guarantee, either. But it did, and this is just the first of 22 such dives through this region as part of the “Grand Finale” phase of the mission.

Continue reading Cassini Sends Back Spectacular New Images From First-Ever Dive Between Saturn and its Rings

Cassini Completes Last Flyby of Titan and First Dive Between Saturn and Rings in 'Grand Finale'

Raw image from Cassini’s last-ever flyby of Titan, taken on April 21, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has now officially entered the last phase of its mission – the “Grand Finale,” with the last-ever close flyby of Titan and the first of 22 final orbits which will take the spacecraft closer to Saturn than ever before, passing between the inner rings and the planet itself. Cassini has today just completed the first of these passes (with results pending for a few hours as of this writing), which will culminate on Sept. 15 with the spacecraft plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere to meet its fiery end. It will be a sad but incredible ending to an incredible mission.

Continue reading Cassini Completes Last Flyby of Titan and First Dive Between Saturn and Rings in ‘Grand Finale’

Opportunity Rover Approaches Martian Gully After Leaving Cape Tribulation

Composite view of the grooved ridge called Rocheport; the images were taken by Opportunity as it was leaving Cape Tribulation. The view extends from the south-east to the north. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For about the past 30 months, the Opportunity rover has been exploring Cape Tribulation on Mars, a towering ridge on the rim of Endeavour crater. Now, Opportunity has finally left that location, to continue its journey southward down the western side of the crater rim. The views have been scenic from the top of Cape Tribulation, but now it is time to move on, and head to the next major target, an ancient gully not too far to the south-east, also on the crater rim. This gully is thought to have been carved by running water millions or billions of years ago, so scientists are very interested in examining it up close, and the rover is now almost there.

Continue reading Opportunity Rover Approaches Martian Gully After Leaving Cape Tribulation

Intruders in a Foreign Land: 45 Years Since Apollo 16 Almost Didn't Land on the Moon (Part 2)

Apollo 16 Commander John Young salutes the American flag on the surface of the moon. Photo Credit: NASA/Charles Duke

Apollo 16 Commander John Young salutes the American flag on the surface of the moon. Photo Credit: NASA/Charles Duke

Forty-five years ago, this week, Apollo 16 landed late on the surface of the Moon…and a carefully choreographed flight plan was instantly thrown into disarray. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, a problem had been detected with the big Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine aboard the Command and Service Module (CSM) and only after several hours of deliberations were the crew given the go-ahead to perform a Powered Descent and guide the Lunar Module (LM) down to the surface. By the late evening of 20 April 1972, Commander John Young and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Charlie Duke had touched down on an undulating plain, midway between a pair of craters, nicknamed “North Ray” and “South Ray”.

Against all the odds, humanity’s fifth manned exploration of the Moon was underway.

Continue reading Intruders in a Foreign Land: 45 Years Since Apollo 16 Almost Didn’t Land on the Moon (Part 2)

Billy Rubin and Typhoid Mary: 45 Years Since Apollo 16 Almost Didn't Land on the Moon (Part 1)

Apollo 16 Commander John Young gazes across the rugged terrain during humanity’s fifth piloted lunar landing. Two days before this photograph was taken, the chances of Young and Charlie Duke landing on the Moon at all quite literally hung by a thread. Photo Credit: NASA

For anyone born within the last five decades, it is difficult to remember or understand a time when we were landing humans on the surface of the Moon. It is difficult to imagine that the technology was operationally available to deliver our kind across the 240,000-mile (370,000 km) gulf betwixt Earth and our closest celestial neighbor and achieved a controlled landing and on-foot scientific explorations of the hostile lunar terrain. Yet 45 years ago, this weekend, Apollo 16 Commander John Young and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Charlie Duke did just that, as their crewmate, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Ken Mattingly, orbited overhead. On 22 April 1972, Young and Duke wrapped up the second of their three Moonwalks at a mountainous place called Descartes.

It was a moment of triumph, indeed, for their mission came within a whisker of never landing on the Moon at all.

Continue reading Billy Rubin and Typhoid Mary: 45 Years Since Apollo 16 Almost Didn’t Land on the Moon (Part 1)

Soyuz MS-04 Launches, Begins 4.5-Month Space Station Increment

The Soyuz-FG booster delivers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer smoothly into orbit on Thursday, 20 April. Photo Credit: NASA/Twitter

Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and U.S. astronaut Jack Fischer have launched safely into orbit aboard their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft, bound for a 4.5-month occupancy of the International Space Station (ISS). The duo—who represent the smallest Soyuz crew to be launched over a decade—rocketed away from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:13:43 p.m. local time (3:13:43 a.m EDT) Thursday, 20 April. Within nine minutes, Yurchikhin and Fischer achieved orbit and began a six-hour and four-orbit “fast rendezvous” to reach the space station.

At the time of writing, the crew are in the process of executing up to five Delta-Velocity (DV) “burns” of their spacecraft’s maneuvering thrusters to align their orbital parameters with that of the ISS. Docking with the station’s space-facing (or “zenith”) Poisk module is targeted for 9:23 a.m. EDT. After a couple of hours of pressurization and leak checks, hatches will be opened and Yurchikhin and Fischer will join Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineers Oleg Novitsky and Thomas Pesquet to round out Expedition 51.

Continue reading Soyuz MS-04 Launches, Begins 4.5-Month Space Station Increment

Cassini Enters 'Grand Finale' Phase of Mission and Solves a 'Bubbling Mystery' on Titan's Seas

Artist’s conception of Cassini’s final flyby of Titan on April 21. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This week marks another important milestone in the Cassini mission at Saturn – as of today, the spacecraft is conducting the last Ring-Grazing Orbit of its mission as it prepares for the Grand Finale, which will culminate in the death of the probe on Sept. 15. On April 21, Cassini will do its very last close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Speaking of Titan, Cassini has also apparently solved a perplexing mystery; the unusual “magic island” formations seen in one of the moon’s methane/ethane seas are now thought to be caused by nitrogen bubbles fizzing periodically on the sea’s surface.

Continue reading Cassini Enters ‘Grand Finale’ Phase of Mission and Solves a ‘Bubbling Mystery’ on Titan’s Seas

'Godspeed, John Glenn': Cygnus Soars Atop Atlas-V on Voyage to Space Station

The OA-7 Cygnus ‘John Glenn’ taking flight atop a ULA Atlas-V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS at 11:11am EDT April 18, 2017, headed to the ISS with tons of fresh cargo, supplies and experiments. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

Despite being the “barebones” member of the fleet, the pencil-like Atlas V 401 today cemented its credentials as the most-flown vehicle in United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V inventory. With the spectacular launch of Orbital ATK’s OA-7 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the “401”—so named because it carries a 13-foot-diameter (4-meter) payload fairing, no strap-on rockets and a single-engine Centaur upper stage—has now completed more than 50 percent of all Atlas V launches. Flying its third ISS-bound mission on behalf of Orbital ATK and NASA in only 16 months, the vehicle enjoyed a smooth countdown, punctuated only by a couple of ground anomalies.

Liftoff occurred on-time at 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, right on the opening of a 30-minute “window” and took place under beautiful April skies on the Florida coast. Rising from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Atlas V successfully injected Cygnus—nicknamed “Space Ship (S.S.) John Glenn”, honoring the former Project Mercury and shuttle astronaut, who died last year—into low-Earth orbit, where it will perform a rendezvous and berthing at the ISS on Saturday morning. It is fitting the the Atlas V is a modern incarnation of the Atlas-D booster which Glenn himself rode on 20 February 1962 to become the first American citizen to orbit the globe.

Continue reading ‘Godspeed, John Glenn’: Cygnus Soars Atop Atlas-V on Voyage to Space Station