Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Small moon discovered orbiting a near Earth asteroid

NASA astronomers studying a speeding asteroid which passed close to our planet on Monday learned it carries an orbiting moon of its own around the icy rock as it moves across our solar system.

In newly released radar images from the space agency, asteroid 2004 BL86 can be seen spinning while its unnamed moon moves closer frame by frame. The space duo flew past Earth on Monday morning (EST) from a distance of 745,000 miles or three times the distance from the Earth to our moon.

"(The) flyby was the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries," DC Agle, spokesperson at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said on Monday. "It is also the closest a known asteroid this size will come to Earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past our planet in 2027."

NASA Near Earth Objects program cooperates with universities and the private sector in studying and discovering asteroids using high gain radar antennas across the globe. "Radar is a powerful technique for studying an asteroid's size, shape, rotation state, surface features and surface roughness, and for improving the calculation of asteroid orbits. Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities often enable computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if radar observations weren't available."

"In the near-Earth population, about 16 percent of asteroids that are about 655 feet or larger are a binary or even triple systems," Agle added. The 1100-foot near-Earth asteroid was discovered in January 2004 by astronomers at White Sands, N.M.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

U.S. Navy MUOS3 spacecraft successfully launches from Cape Canaveral

A massive U.S. Navy military satellite designed to improve communications and data between troops in remote regions lifted-off on Tuesday from America's Space Coast on a planned decade long mission in geostationary orbit.

The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) spacecraft is the third in a fleet of five planned satellites designed to replace aging military communications satellites. The MUOS-3 system is expected to expand the military network by ten times the number of users than that of the existing SATCOM system, including voice, video and data.

"Five are planned, four operational and one on-orbit spare," stated Naval Commander Pete Sheehy minutes after launch. CDR Sheehy added MUOS 4 will launch this August, and the fleet of four satellites will be operational tested late this year. He likened MUOS as moving multiple cellular towers on the ground and placing them in geostationary orbit.

As the countdown entered a planned hold at 4 minutes, high upper levels winds and "command interference" with the Atlas V rocket delayed lift-off by 21 minutes. The interference left the range with the inability to send necessary destruct commands to the vehicle if an emergency occurred.

As the two issues cleared and the clock neared zero, the Atlas' RD-180 main engine ignited seconds before its five boosters.

The bronze and white Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday at 7:49 p.m. EST, with its heaviest payload to date. The Atlas V 551, powered by a core main engine and five strap on solid fuel boosters, leapt from the launch pad with 2.6 million pounds of thrust to carry its 7.4 ton payload.

As the rocket rose up and began to dart out over the Atlantic waters, night briefly turned to daylight as Atlas rode a 400-foot golden flame. Nearly two minutes later, the empty boosters were jettisoned two at a time while the lone main engine continued to burn.

Tuesday's launch occurred during President Obama's State of the Union address in which he promoted the use of military operations to stop terrorism foes in the Middle East.

MUOS 3 successfully deployed from the Centuar upper stage on time at 10:57 p.m., and into its planned orbit over an area northwest of Australia. The spacecraft will undergo several months of thruster firings to place MUOS in its proper orbit, and on orbit check outs.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Russian rocket launches European emergency respose satellite

A spacecraft designed to improve emergency response time and boost communications between Europe and Africa lifted off high atop a Russian Proton rocket on Saturday and into the predawn skies over Kazakhstan.

The ASTRA 2G spacecraft will complete a cluster of three satellites in geostationary orbit designed to assist in satellite communications and emergency response in a broad region of the earth from the United Kingdom, across Europe and over western Africa.

"The ground processing (and) lift-off have proceeded nominally," the Khrunichev Space Center announced minutes after the launch. "The orbital unit separated nominally from the (third) stage, and continued the mission in a standalone mode."

Based from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Luxembourg, the ASTRA trio of satellites will assist the e-health platform of SATMED in the rapid response time following a natural disaster. Astra will improve high speed Internet access and voice and data relay to areas without network coverage.

The emergency alert spacecraft ran to an emergency of its own en route to it's launch site half way between Moscow and Baikonur Cosmodrome. An aircraft carrying the Astra 2G from Moscow to the launch site avoided an inflight emergency on October 29. The Russian AN-124-100 plane's number four engine suffered a temperature spike which forced the flight to perform an emergency landing in Ulyanovsk, 800 miles southeast of Moscow. The flight was completed the following day.

The launcher and it's payload were rolled out to it's historic launch pad 39, Yuri Gagrin's launch complex, at Baikonur on Wednesday in preparation for flight. The 191-foot tall Proton rocket includes three main stages and a Breeze-M boost stage to complete its mission.

Frigid temperatures at the launch site dropped to near zero as the countdown reached zero. The International Launch Services Proton-M six RD276 engines ignited illuminating the black night with yellow and orange flames. The silver rocket's combined 1.55 million pounds of weight began to climb skyward at 4:37:49 p.m. EST (3:37 a.m. local time, Sunday), riding a 300-foot golden flame.

The Proton rocket soared higher and faster as the first stage rapidly drank it's fuel. Two minutes into the flight, the now empty first stage separated and the second stage's four engines immediately ignited steering the rocket on a easterly course.

The Breeze-M upper stage will perform five separate burns over eight hours to boost ASTRA into its transfer orbit. Astra is expected to separate from Breeze nine hours after lift-off (1:49 a.m.) 22,300 miles above the equator north of Madagascar beginning a 15-year lifespan.

This launch also marked the 401st mission of Russia's Proton rocket since the program began during the cold war days of the space race in July 1965.

This launch was delayed several weeks after launch pad testing discovered undisclosed issues between the satellite and it's upper stage. The rocket's manufacture Khrunichev State Research and Production returned Proton to it's assembly building "to eliminate the identified faults".

The Proton launch occurs following a string on Proton failures over the last few years, including on May 16 in which a failure of the third stage caused its lone satellite to be lost. This launch marked the seventh Proton launch of the year.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

New expedition crew arrives at space station

Two astronauts and one cosmonaut safely arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday docking just hours after leaving Earth behind to begin a half year of science investigations and maintenance.

A Russian spacecraft carrying cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Terry W. Virts and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti docked with the orbiting lab less than six hours after their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan.
The five hour, 47 minute flight by the Soyuz from launch to docking took the same amount of time to travel by car from Houston to New Orleans, noted NASA spokesperson Kyle Herring. It tied to the minute as the fastest flight by a manned spacecraft to the space station.

"We have contact," exclaimed Shkaplerov at 9:49 p.m. EST, as the Soyuz docking mechanics began to drive the two spacecraft together during an orbital sunset 262 miles over central eastern Pacific Ocean. The hard mate was followed by hooks and latches closing and a series of leak checks to ensure that seals between the hatches were air tight.

The hatches were officially opened at 12:00 a.m. on Monday, and the new crew floated into the massive complex greeted by station commander and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore and Russian flight engineers Alexander Samoukutyaev and Elena Serova. Hugs and welcomes greeted the arriving crew as they exchanged words and smiles.

Hatch opening was delayed by the Soyuz crew an extra twenty minutes as they ensure the there was a good air pressure equalization. Samoukutyaev opened the station's hatch on time. His crew then waited patiently, even invoking some humor by taking a tool and acting like he was banging on the Soyuz closed hatch.

The new arriving crew were so starved that they broke into a meal during the traditional family and friends conference shown live on NASA TV. The crew noted they felt fine, but had not eaten since last night. They used the opportunity to play with their food in zero-G to the laughter of the those on the ground.

Shkaplerov, Virts and Cristoforeti will live and work in earth orbit until mid-May 2015, a time when they will board their Soyuz for the three hour return home.

International crew lifts-off on six month space voyage

An American, Russian and Italian lifted off atop a 400-foot golden flame into the night sky over Kazakhstan on Monday to begin a six month voyage of living and working aboard the International Space Station.

The new station crew will perform a series of thruster burns today in order to catch up with their port-of-call within six hours after launch during a quick rendezvous and docking flight.

Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Terry W. Virts and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti lifted off at 3:01:14 a.m. local time (4:01 p.m. EST, Sunday) riding high atop a Soyuz FG rocket on a nearly six hour trip to catch up with and dock to the orbiting complex.

The space trio arrived at the base of their rocket as a light snow began to fall at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, two and one-half hours before launch. They climbed a small ladder turned and posed for photographers and well wishers gathered to send them off.

As the countdown reached zero, the Soyuz engines ignited at the precise moment in which the space station soared 530 miles above and east of the launch pad. As the 151-foot tall rocket leaped skyward in a massive jolt, it's crew were all smiles as they began to slice through a few cloud layers over the launch site.

Two minutes into Soyuz climb to orbit, its four boosters had expended its fuel and separated while the core main engine continued to burn. Seven minutes later, the crew had arrived in low earth orbit and began deploying the spacecraft's twin solar arrays and their KURS tracking antenna.

Minutes later, the crew set to work to prepare their space taxi for rendezvous and fly around of the station prior to docking to Russia's Rassvet module at 9:53 p.m. EST. Ninety minutes later, hatches between the two spacecraft will open allowing Shkaplerov, Virts and Cristoforetti to float into their new home 260 miles above the planet.

The new crew of three will join the space station's current crew of NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova. Wilmore currently serves as the station's commander.

Flight engineer Virts is no stranger to life aboard the space station. In 2010, the NASA astronaut served as pilot aboard space shuttle Endeavour spending ten days docked to the orbital outpost. His crew delivered two key station elements, the crew-popular Cupola and the Italian-built Tranquility module.

The Italian-born Cristoforetti is making her first trip into space. An astronaut with the European Space Agency, Cristoforetti is a captain and fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force. During a two-year academic stay in the United States in 1996, Cristoforetti attended SpaceCamp in Huntsville.

Eight hours prior to launch, Cristoforetti noted, "Just had what was probably my longest shower ever. Good Russian wisdom to leave plenty of time for it on the schedule!"

"I have prepared all my life for this space mission," Cristoforetti, Italy's first female astronaut said. "Everything I have done on this journey of life and personal growth will help me be a good crew member aboard the International Space Station."

Cristoforetti will soon serve as barista as she becomes the first astronaut to brew a fresh cup of espresso coffee in space in true Italian style. Using a small metal glove box, steamed water will allow her to mix up clear pouch of espresso as she begins a new day of science.

Cosmonaut Shkaplerov spent 165 days in space in 2012 as he lived and worked aboard the space station, including a six hour spacewalk outside the complex.

Sunday's lift-off occurred just three days following the sixteenth anniversary of the station's first component launch, Russia's Zarya core module.

On popular social media sites, this crew will be sharing their moments in space. Follow ,  and via Twitter and @Space_Station on Instgram for exclusive coverage of their flight.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Soaring on falcons wings with Air Force Thunderbirds

ATLANTA -- Climbing aboard a sleek Air Force fighter jet and launching into the deep blue sky can make one either grin or become ill -- for this aerospace journalist punching that sky in an aerobatic jet was an incredible feeling.

To soar with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds was a dream come true as I welcomed the chance to chase the sound barrier and pull nearly 8G's in a Lockheed Martin-built F-16D Fighting Falcon.

The Thunderbirds are known as America's Ambassadors in Blue and they live up to the title inspiring young men and women across the country to reach for their goals in education and technical training by serving in the Air Force. They perform to support recruitment in the Air Force; to represent the U.S. armed forces to the nations across the globe; and give American citizens a self fulfilled confidence in their military.

In his third year with the team, Thunderbird 8 is Major Michael Fisher, a native of Vancouver, Washington. He has logged 432 combat hours in the F-16 and over 2000 hours as a pilot. During the 2014 season, he serves as the Thunderbirds' air show narrator announcing the aerobatic demos as the teams soars over the crowds.

My flight day began at dawn at Dobbins Air Reserve Base located northwest of metro Atlanta. Dobbins is home to the Airmen of the 94th Air Wing division and supports military operations such as aircraft fueling and logistics. On this cool October morning, Dobbins is where my jet stood poised for flight.

The Thunderbirds support staff assisted me as I received a final preflight medical check by the team's flight surgeon Major Michael "Doc" Carletti, and tried on my flight uniform and partial pressure G-Suit. I'll be counting on the G-Suit to keep the blood flow in my upper body toward my heart and brain. The team checked my flight helmet for comfort and I was ready to fly.

The Thunderbirds fly with the newer F-16C/D which support the lighter Block 52 Pratt and Whitney F-100 engine providing an additional 3,600 pounds of thrust over the previous version. The nearly fifty foot long aircraft has a wingspan of 31 feet across and a thrust of up to 29,100 pounds. The pilots call the F-16 a rocket.

Major Fisher gave me a final briefing on what to expect preflight thru landing. Touch this and do not touch this in the cockpit rules were given and I hurriedly took it all in as he spoke with comfort. This Air Force team was superb as they both educated and relaxed me as launch time neared.

Fisher and I walked out to our aircraft, Thunderbird 8, which was parked next to the six flight demonstration F-16C's. As I approached the red, white and blue high gloss painted aircraft, I looked up at the opened glass canopy and read Major Fisher's name identifying his aircraft. A grin then ran across my face as my eyes laid witness to a second name next to Fisher's below where the canopy closes shut. It read "Charles Atkeison".

After pausing to reflect on my black stenciled name, Fisher and I greeted the aircraft's support team with a firm handshake for each, and I then began to climb the ten foot tall blue slender ladder hung from the edge of the jet's cockpit to ingress my seat. The seat supports a multi-point harness and can be used as an ejection seat if an in flight emergency arises.

Major Fisher ascended the ladder and pointed out my cockpit displays, including my oxygen settings, the safe and arm device for my ejection seat and the fact that this flight included drinkable water in a bottle.

I inserted ear plugs followed by donning my flight helmet which sports the letters "USAF" in white. My oxygen mask was next and I placed it over my nose and mouth and locked it's strap to my helmet. A long grey hose extended down to the life-support controls on my starboard side.

Fisher's Air Force pilot call sign is "Drago", and prior to joining the Thunderbirds he served as an F-16 flight instructor. My flight was in good hands.

Five minutes to go, and I was comfortable in the cockpit breathing at 95% oxygen flow through my mask as we sat poised for flight. It was white knuckle time as I awaited a go from flight control. Air control between Dobbins ARB and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport gave Drago the "go" for departure and approval for steep ascent. Seconds later, our Fighting Falcon began moving toward take-off velocity.

At 10:27 a.m. EDT, our F-16D was wheels up from Runway 29 and we flew low and level for ten seconds as we neared 400 knots (460 m.p.h.), Drago exclaimed over his headset mic, "Ready to go?". And I replied, "Rock and roll, Thunderbirds are go!"

Lift-off! Major Fisher and I were pointed nose up, and in a rush with an acceleration of five times earth's gravity, we were launching into that deep blue sky. I radioed back, "Alllright!". Straight up we climbed for twelve seconds before performing a 360-degree roll to place us wings level nearly at 7,050 feet above. Our flight was on a northeasterly heading aimed toward our "flight box" over Snowbird MOA, an imaginary region where we would perform intense aerobatics devoid of other aircraft.

As I soared on the wings of a Falcon, I looked around at the earth below me. A cockpit alarm sounded and I turned to focus on the displays as we thundered across northwestern Georgia.

We began our aerobatics with the Clover Loop and right into a 5G-pull. Drago stated that the flight maneuvers we would be performing are the same in which the T-Bird solos fly during an air show. The only difference is the solos will be 150 feet above the airfield while our flight soared between 15,000 to 17,600 feet high.

"Pretty insane, isn't it... number 5 is doing that 150 to 200 feet above the ground," Major Fisher exclaimed following an inverted flat pass. "Pretty amazing. Lots of precision, lots of concentration."

During a Thunderbirds air show, it is the job of the two solos to give the crowds a true demonstration of the handling characteristics of the F-16. Lead Solo is #5 Major Blaine Jones and he is accompanied by #6 Major Jason Curtis, and they will excite an air show crowd every time as they speed low over the runway and perform a split maneuver which will make you wonder how do they do that?

Lead by Thunderbird 1 "Boss" Lt. Col. Greg Mosely, the team's diamond formation includes Major Joshua Boudreaux, Major Caroline Jensen and Major Curtis Dougherty. The diamond team trades performances with the solos during their forty minute show.

As Major Fisher and I began a nearly 7G maneuver high over the Smokey Mountains, I could again feel my G-suit inflate several bladders with air to help push the blood back up into my upper torso. And, with every turn and vertical motion we flew, I never felt uneasy and my stomach never twitched.

As we performed one of several inverted maneuvers, Fisher pointed out the beauty of the autumn leaves as he held us upside down 17,500 feet above eastern Tennessee for twenty seconds. During that brief time, I reflected on the landscape and cloud cover from my personal cupola high above.

The negative 1G of wings level inverted flight grew to be my favorite maneuver while we were aloft. The knife edge maneuver gave us the sensation of weightlessness as Drago rolled the F-16 on it's left side as we flew at a high rate of speed. We next touched the speed of sound as our majestic aircraft darted up to 575 m.p.h.

The F-16 remains a front line fighter around the globe with Airmen performing bombing runs during a time in need. Drago wanted to show me the handling of the F-16 and so we maneuvered into a simulated bombing run.

"This is something we would do in a close air support scenario over a low air or surface threat environment. We can orbit around a target," Drago began. "Once we have our eyes on the target, and we are ready, we would begin to roll in on the target and we get clearance to deploy a weapon." We then executed a 45-degree pass as we simulated the maneuver, "weapons away," Drago announced.

We concluded the late morning flight with a main gear touchdown upon the same runway at Dobbins exactly 61 minutes after we last touched the earth. Drago then slowly lowered the nose gear and we rolled out several thousand feet as we expended the aircraft's energy. A perfect ending to an incredible flight.

I learned more about what the hundreds of thousands of men and women of our United States military, and especially the Air Force, do each day. They live and work far away from home to perform a job they are good at as they defend and preserve our freedoms.

The Thunderbirds' crews from Nellis AFB near Las Vegas and the 94th Air Wing Division near Atlanta are great examples of how our military's Air Force is a well oiled machine demonstrating professionalism, both on the front lines across the globe and in our own communities with emergency assistance.

The Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron celebrated their 61st year in 2014, and the 31st year performing with the front-line fighter, the F-16. The team will perform at their final three air show sites as November approaches and the season wraps up over America's southwest.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Monday, October 06, 2014

Telescopes stand poised for Wednesday's total lunar eclipse

Backyard astronomers and public observatories across America will have telescopes trained on a total lunar eclipse Wednesday as the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon in a rare celestial event.

The Sun, Earth and Moon will align forcing our home planet to block the Sun's rays from reaching our lunar neighbor. The full Moon will take on an eerie reddish glow as the light is scattered through our atmosphere giving it the name Blood Moon.

Along the eastern coast of the U.S., the Moon will begin to set just after 7:10 a.m. EDT, providing three hours of lunar observation prior to Moon set in many areas. Clear to partly cloudy skies are also in the forecast for much of the United States.

"Look towards the west and you will see the full moon with a bite taken out of it - this is the lunar eclipse in progress," Atlanta's Tellus Science Museum astronomer David Dundee said on Monday. "Wednesday morning the Moon will enter the shadow of the Earth. By 6:24 a.m., the Moon will be totally in the shadow of the Earth it may turn a copper or reddish color.“

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center released an astronomers information sheet in support of times and locations to best view the second lunar eclipse of 2014. The space agency will host an online discussion and provide live video of the eclipse beginning at 3:00 a.m. and continuing until sunrise. NASA lunar experts will reach out to chat on social media as they seek reports from the public and lunar photography.

Several observatory's and museums will open before dawn to mark the occasion. Children waiting in line at the bus stop may have the chance to view the astronomical show.

“Since the eclipse begins a little after 4 a.m., we are hoping guests will join us at the museum before work or school for this magnificent opportunity to see a Total Lunar Eclipse in a fun and unique way," Tellus spokesperson Shelly Redd said on Monday. "The museum opens at 5:00 a.m. and will remain open after the eclipse is complete."

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

MAVEN arrives around Mars to study upper atmosphere

 CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A NASA spacecraft designed to investigate the properties and history of the upper atmosphere of Mars successfully arrived in orbit around the Red Planet on Sunday.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, will begin a one Earth year science mission to learn why the planet has lost much of it's atmosphere over the past few billion years. Controllers will perform six maneuvers over the next six weeks to lower it's elliptical orbit of one revolution every 35 hours down to four-and-one-half hours.

"The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where did the water that was present on early Mars go, about where did the carbon dioxide go,” MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky stated on Friday. “These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate and its potential to support at least microbial life.”

Soaring across space at over 8,200 m.p.h., MAVEN turned to face it's six small engines in the direction of travel and begin a 33 minute burn at 9:50 p.m. EDT on Sunday. The burn slowed down the spacecraft sending it into the beginning of a planned orbit 235 miles over the north pole.

As the first signals took over 12 minutes later to reach Earth that the craft had safely arrived in Martian orbit, cheers and applause by project scientists broke the crisp silence of the the mission control facility at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado.

"MAVEN will begin a six week commissioning phase that includes maneuvering the spacecraft into it's final orbit and testing it's instruments and science mapping commands," NASA spokesperson Dwayne Brown explained on Friday.

MAVEN's science orbit is planned with a low point of 90 miles to allow the craft to fly through the planet's upper atmosphere, and a high point of 3,900 miles to collect data on the entire planet's atmosphere.

“MAVEN is another NASA robotic scientific explorer that is paving the way for our journey to Mars,” stated Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. “Together, robotics and humans will pioneer the Red Planet and the solar system to help answer some of humanity’s fundamental questions about life beyond Earth.”

Among the observatory's three main science instruments is the University of California at Berkley's Solar Wind Ion Analyzer or SWIA. NASA explains that SWIA will study the ion particles across the planet's atmosphere to discover why Mars "has gradually lost much of it's atmosphere" to become "a frozen, barren planet".

"We want to know where the atmosphere, especially water, went, how it left and what Mars has looked like over its entire history,” SWIA instrument lead Jasper Halekas of Berkley's Space Sciences Laboratory said. SWIA will measure the solar wind speed and density.

The Lockheed Martin-built MAVEN was launched from Cape Canaveral AFS atop an Atlas V rocket last November, beginning a ten month interplanetary voyage covering 442 million miles.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Atlas 5 launches U.S. government's secret CLIO satellite

An Atlas 5 lifts-off from Cape Canaveral AFS on September 16. (ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A secret U.S. government spacecraft known as CLIO was successfully launched from America's Space Coast Tuesday to begin a multi-year mission based on global security in earth orbit.

As lightning and rain showers closed in on the launch pad, controllers with United Launch Alliance elected to delay the lift-off. Reports of lightning strikes four miles from the fully fueled rocket and thick clouds overhead forced launch control to extend the delay as they checked launch pad electronics.
As the two and one-half hour launch window neared the end, controllers saw the weather turn favorable and restarted the countdown during the window's final minute.
The forty-ninth Atlas V mission began at 8:10 p.m. EDT, as it thundered into Florida's cloudy night sky on a southeastward trajectory out over the Atlantic waters. Ninety seconds later, the white and bronze rocket was moving faster than the speed of sound powered by the core first stage's RD-180 engine.
The first stage fell away following engine shutdown four minutes into it's launch profile. The rocket's centaur engine's first of two burns began immediately propelling the spacecraft higher towards it's intended orbit.
"It is an honor to work with Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company and all of our mission partners to launch this very important satellite,” ULA vice president Jim Sponnick stated on Tuesday evening. “The teams seamlessly integrated to ensure accurate delivery of the CLIO mission to orbit.”
CLIO, a golden modular satellite featuring twin solar panels, deployed from the Atlas' centaur upper stage nearly three hours after launch high above the eastern Indian Ocean. The spacecraft's successful 11:01 p.m. separation will be followed over the next few weeks by maneuvering CLIO to it's home in geostationary orbit.
The Lockheed Martin-built CLIO craft is expected to advance "global security" according the company's recent press release. "We're proud to support the CLIO system and looking forward to the launch," said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president with Lockheed's Space Systems.
The ULA company's next launch is an Atlas V on October 29, poised to deliver a Global Positioning System satellite for military and civilian use.
(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

U.S.-Russian space flight lands safely in Kazakhstan

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American and two Russians returned to Earth on Thursday completing their 167 day stay aboard the International Space Station with a pinpoint landing on the desert region of central Kazakhstan.

NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsuv and Oleg Artemyev guided their Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft to a touchdown at 10:23 p.m. EDT (8:23 a.m. Thursday, local time) on Wednesday.

The smooth landing concluded a spaceflight which began with a Soyuz thruster failure minutes after arriving in orbit forcing the crew to limp into a higher orbit over a two day period which trailed the space station.

Out going station commander Swanson, Skvortsuv and Artemyev said their farewells to fellow crew mates American Reid Wiseman, German Alexander Gerst and Expedition 41 commander Russian Max Suraev before entering their Soyuz and closing the hatches a few hours prior to undocking.

As an orbital sun rise began, the Soyuz craft separated from the station's Poisk module at 7:01 p.m., and slowly began moving out to a distance of a few hundred feet before circling around the station and departing.

"Goodbye ISS and so long station," radioed Soyuz commander Skvortsuv to his former home in space five minutes following the undocking.

Two Earth orbits later, Skvortsuv then maneuvered the Soyuz to a proper attitude to allow a section of the Soyuz to separate prior to leaving orbit with an engine firing at 9:31 p.m.

The crew made 2,704 trips around the Earth and traveled 71.7 million miles since their launch in March.

A new space trio is scheduled to launch to the orbiting laboratory in two weeks. NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova will lift-off inside their TMA-14M from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 25 at 4:25 p.m., and will arrive at the station five and one-half hours later for docking.

Serova will become only the fourth Russian female to travel into space and the first to spend a long duration stay aboard the space station.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Asteroid 2014RC to speed past Earth Sunday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A newly discovered asteroid the size of a house will pass close to earth on Sunday bringing the space rock to within 25,000 miles above New Zealand during it's closest approach. NASA confirmed on Wednesday that Asteroid 2014RC will "safely pass" by our planet.

Astronomers discovered the asteroid during an astronomical scan of the evening skies from Tucson, Arizona on August 31 and quickly reported their findings to lead astronomers at Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts.

The fast moving space rock is scheduled to pass over the southern Pacific Ocean at 2:18 p.m. EDT (18:18 GMT) on September 7, less than 3,000 miles from earth's ring of communications and weather satellites located in geostationary orbit.

"While this celestial object does not appear to pose any threat to Earth or satellites, its close approach creates a unique opportunity for researchers to observe and learn more about asteroids," stated NASA spokesperson DC Agle on Tuesday from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Backyard stargazers may have an opportunity to view 2014 RC this weekend using a telescope with a good magnification. However, the Earth's moon will be nearly full proving light pollution for the approaching celestial object.

Atlanta's Tellus Science Museum's chief astronomer David Dundee said that the asteroid's small size "is way too faint to observe at magnitude 15.26. That’s about 4000 times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye, and at best it might be a speck when photographed".

Dundee adds, "This object is about the same size as the object that hit over Russia about a year ago. With improved technology these near miss asteroids are becoming almost an everyday discovery."

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

NASA observatory lifts-off to measure earth's climate change

NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory2 mission lifts-off on July 2. (NASA)

ATLANTA -- A NASA spacecraft designed to study the build up of carbon dioxide within earth's atmosphere was successfully launched into orbit on Tuesday beginning a two year mission to understand climate change.

The $468 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 mission will become the space agency's eye in the sky to understand how much carbon dioxide is being emitted daily, map from exactly where and learn where it is going.

NASA scientists are eager to discover not only carbon dioxide origination points, but where CO2 is being absorbed here on earth such as in our lands and oceans.

Although earth as a planet produces carbon dioxide such as the respiration of animals and volcanic activity, humans are responsible for a significant portion of the greenhouse gas, according to NASA scientists.

"There's a steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations with time," states Dr. Mike Gunson, a NASA project scientist for the mission. " Human beings have released hundreds of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere."

The observatory will collect nearly one million precise measurements every day during it's planned two year life on orbit.

Measurements will be performed only during the sunlight orbital passes over earth as OCO-2's three high resolution sensors collect data as the craft flies from pole to pole every 49 minutes.

"So today, with the modernization of the developing world, we are releasing something like 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year and this is increasing," Dr. Gunson added.

A Delta II rocket lifted-off from a foggy Vandenberg, AFB, California on time Tuesday at 5:56 a.m. EDT, and darted into the night sky.

The OCO-2 spacecraft was then placed into a near polar orbit of the planet at an altitude of 438 miles above where it will synchronize data with other science satellite to form exact CO2 findings.

The seven-foot long spacecraft will replace the ill-fated first Orbiting Carbon Observatory which was lost during it's 2009 launch.

"With the complete loss of the original OCO mission, it was heartbreak," OCO-2 project manager Dr. Ralph Basilio said prior to launch. "The entire mission was lost... we're excited about this opportunity to finally be able to complete some unfinished business."

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

International crew lifts-off to begin space station voyage

Russian Soyuz lifts off carrying an international crew to space station. (NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American, Russian and German astronaut lifted-off into the midnight sky over western Kazakhstan today beginning a six month voyage aboard the International Space Station.

The crew will have one of the busiest work schedules through November as they perform science investigations, welcome several resupply crafts and oversee five spacewalks.

As U.S. and Russian ties remain strained here on earth, aboard the orbiting laboratory 260 miles above, astronauts and cosmonauts continue to work as good friends for several months at a time.

Veteran space station astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger commented to this aerospace journalist recently her feelings on America's working relationship with Russia in space.

"The Russians are our friends when we are on orbit," Lindenburger stated. "Our countries make political decisions we don't agree with, but when we are on orbit, we are colleges and we are friends and we work together."

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, Russian cosmonaut Maksim V. Surayev and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst boarded their Soyuz TMA-13M a few hours prior to lift-off.

Strapped in a top a Soyuz FG booster, the international crew of three launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 3:57:40 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, beginning a six hour chase to dock with the orbiting outpost.

As flashes of lightning illuminated the horizon, the rocket's golden flame pushed the Soyuz skyward with 930,000 pounds of thrust as it began an eastward flight.

Nine minutes after launch, the Soyuz craft was safely on orbit in an initial orbit of 143 x 118 miles, and 1,677 statue miles below and behind the space station.

Wednesday's launch is an expedited voyage to the complex in which Russian flight controllers began using last year. A thruster failure in March on the last crew's trip forced controllers to extend the flight to ISS back to the old two day trip plan.

Surayev is scheduled to dock Soyuz to the station's Russian segment known as the Rassvet service module at 9:48 p.m.

The international crew marks the first all-Twitter space crew (, & ) to travel into orbit.

Wiseman and Gerst, who were both selected as astronauts in separate countries in 2009, are each making their first spaceflight.

Baltimore native Gregory Reid Wiseman is a former U.S. Navy test pilot who grew up with an interest in exploration.

From camping at the lake and attending the Navy's Blue Angels airshows as a child, he grew up to become a test pilot for a few of today's latest military aircraft including the F-35.

Wiseman considers his flight to the space station as the ultimate exploration trip.

"We are explorers by our very nature, and right now, the biggest exploration that a human can go on is 250 miles up on the space station," Wiseman said with a sense of excitement in his voice. "Of course it's worth the risk, to go out there and push humanity further than we've ever been that's a no brainer."

German astronaut Gerst spent his pre-astronaut years in a career as a volcanologist, researching volcanoes across the Eastern Hemisphere and designing scientific instruments to help predict their eruptions.

Gerst became a member of Europe's astronaut class of 2009 only after some urging by NASA astronaut Cady Coleman while the pair were trapped by weather at Antarctic McMurdo.

"Being the first wave of explorers on the way out exploring the universe -- the Moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond -- that is for me such an important thing to do for humankind and for science," Gerst noted.

Soyuz commander Surayev logged 169 days in space during his first expedition to the space station in 2009 and 2010.

A Russian fighter pilot with a law degree, Surayev is scheduled to perform his second career spacewalk this October with a fellow cosmonaut.

Wiseman, Surayev and Gerst are due to return back to earth in mid-November.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Monday, April 28, 2014

NASA visitors center looks to donations to display shuttle aircraft

A NASA Shuttle Training Aircraft will go on display at Alabama space center. (NASA)
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- An aircraft used to train space shuttle pilots is the subject of a public fundraiser by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to assist in its installation at the Alabama space museum.

NASA gave a Gulfstream II shuttle training aircraft over to the Marshall Space Flight Center's visitor's center in 2012, and since that time the museum has been preparing a site located near a full scale mock-up of the space shuttle stack and a T-38 jet.

''It's a 'flying flight simulator', the highest fidelity simulated experience you could have for flight training without being in the actual air or space craft itself," John Ramsey, Chairman of the Space Camp Advancement Alumni Board, said of the shuttle training aircraft. "It's pretty unique in that regard."

The space center is over the halfway mark in meeting it's goal of $70,000, however it's deadline is fast approaching.

NASA astronauts, engineers and Space Camp alumni have even stepped in to assist with the fundraiser as the May 3 deadline nears.

"The Land the STA Indiegogo campaign has been an amazing experience," Trevor Daniels, STA project manager, said on Thursday. "We have seen outstanding support from Space Camp and Aviation Challenge alumni, friends of the Center, and space and aviation enthusiasts from around the world."

Daniels mentioned contributions toward the STA project have been received from across five countries.

The NASA 945 Gulfstream II was flown by NASA astronauts at both the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Edwards, AFB in California during the shuttle program.

"A Shuttle Training Aircraft plunges 28,000 feet in a little more than a minute when astronauts use it to practice a space shuttle approach," explained NASA's Steve Siceloff at the Kennedy Space Center. "It’s as close as anyone can get to experiencing a shuttle landing without becoming an astronaut -- and what a ride it is."

The shuttle trainer was also flown by astronauts to perform weather observations for the space shuttle on launch day to ensure winds or rain would not threaten its flight.

Once in place at the space center, visitors and camp attendees will have a chance to go inside the aircraft and view the cockpit's interior, a treat for any aviation or space buff.

The STA project is also handing out dozens of space-related gifts to those who donate.

Three special donations will allow someone and their guest to fly with NASA astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson as he pilots his Beechcraft Bonanza over the Huntsville area.

To donate, the Space and Rocket Center has established a web safe donation site.

The NASA visitor's center is home to hundreds of rare artifacts from the early days of the space program through the shuttle years.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

SpaceX Dragon launches on resupply flight to space station

Falcon 9 lifts-off Friday from Cape Canaveral to resupply space station. (SpaceX)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A commercial spacecraft loaded with supplies departed America's Space Coast on Friday en route to the International Space Station and it's six person crew.

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) Dragon cargo craft is loaded with nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies including water, oxygen, food and equipment for the earth orbiting laboratory.

"Everything looks great with the ascent phase of the mission," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk confirmed from his company's mission control in Hawthorne, California after launch. "Everything is good on the Dragon front."

The Dragon capsule, riding a top the company's Falcon 9 rocket, lifted-off from it's ocean side launch pad and into an overcast Florida sky at 3:25:22 p.m. EDT, the opening of a one second launch window.

The Falcon's 855,000 pounds of thrust created a 300-foot golden flame pushing the rocket higher as it moved out over the Atlantic waters.

The space station's crew watched the SpaceX television feed of the lift-off as it happened 260 miles above.

Monday's launch marked the third of twelve planned flights by SpaceX in a nearly $1.5 billion contract deal with NASA.

The successful SpaceX launch comes four days after the commercial company signed a twenty-year land lease with NASA for use of the historic launch pad 39-A. SpaceX plans to launch manned spacecraft to the space station from the formed Apollo and space shuttle pad as early as 2017.

On Easter Sunday, the Dragon craft will rendezvous and close to within 20 feet of the orbiting outpost before being grappled by the station's 57-foot long Canadian robotic arm at 7:14 a.m.

Station commander and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio will operate the robotic arm from the station's pressurized 360-degree field of view inside the cupola module.

Just over two hours after the capture, the station's crew will dock Dragon to the earth facing port of the station's Harmony module.

Over the next month, astronauts will unload the resupply craft's 2.3 tons of supplies, and later load Dragon with completed science experiments and trash for it's return to earth sometime in late-May.

Falcon's launch occurred after a five week delay caused by a contamination problem with the payloads section aboard Dragon, and the failure of an Cape Canaveral radar designed to track the rocket in flight.

A launch attempt last Monday was also scrubbed due a hydrogen leak on the rocket's first stage.

NASA is preparing for a spacewalk on Wednesday by astronauts Mastracchio and Steve Swanson to replace a failed station back-up computer known as a multiplexer/ demultiplexer with a spare now located in the station's airlock.

The spacewalk is expected to begin at 9:20 a.m. and last nearly three hours.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)
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