Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ariane 5 lifts-off on final space shot of 2010

Ariane heads to space with a pair of satellites today. (arianespace)

Europe's mighty Ariane rocket carried two telecommunications satellites into earth orbit this evening on the final space shot of the year.

Moments after the setting sun dropped below the South American horizon, the pride of the European Space Agency illuminated the darkening sky as the Ariane 5 soared from it's pad.

Riding on twin solid rocket boosters and a core main engine, the Ariane 5 launched on time at 4:27:07 pm EST tonight, from pad ELV-3 at the Kourou Space Center in French Guiana.

It was the sixth launch of 2010 for the heavy lifter, and will mark the fifty-fifth for the Ariane 5 program.

The 165-foot launcher shot through scattered clouds at 31,000 feet and out over the southern Atlantic Ocean in a beautiful sunset flight.

It was the second launch attempt in as many days.

As the final minutes ticked away on Tuesday's first attempt, the count was halted at T-7 minutes and eventually scrubbed due to upper level winds over Kourou.

Just over twenty-seven minutes in the flight, the Hispasat 1E - which rode to orbit at the top of the nose cone - separated.

The twin solar arrays will deploy to charge the batteries, and a series of four burns and a few maneuvers will occur over the coming weeks to position the satellite over 30-degrees West longitude.

Seven minutes later, the Koreasat 6 was then released on it's own and will head for a geostationary orbit over 116 degrees East. It will replace the Koreasat 3.

Koreasat will span 59 feet across space from one solar array tip to the second array tip, and also maneuver over the coming weeks into it's location.

The next Ariane 5 flight is scheduled for February, and will mark the 200th Ariane launch in the program's thirty-one year history.

Ariane 5 ES will carry aloft the European Automated Transfer Vehicle 2 on a resupply flight to the International Space Station.

Lift-off is planned for February 15 at 5:05 pm (22:05 GMT) from Kourou.

Europe's Ariane 5 awaits second launch try tonight

Ariane 5 on Tuesday evening after it's scrub. (arianespace)

Arianespace will try again this evening to launch the flagship of the European Space Agency on a multi-satellite delivery flight.

High upper level winds scrubbed last night's launch attempt of the Ariane at the T-7 minute mark.

The launch countdown began this morning, leading up toward fueling of the Ariane 5's main cryogenic first stage at 11:36 am EST, with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuels.

Launch is set for the opening of a 59 minute window at 4:27 pm (6:27 pm local) from the Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The current weather forecast calls for scattered clouds at 2,300 feet, and a chance of thunderstorms in the hours before launch time. The weather worsens into New Year's Day and the weekend.

The Ariane heavy lift rocket will deliver two telecommunications satellites into geostationary orbit, the HISPASAT 1E and KOREASAT 6, beginning twenty-seven minutes into the flight.

Tonight's launch will mark the 55th flight of an Ariane 5 and the sixth of the year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ariane 5 prepares for Tuesday's end of year launch

Ariane prepares for it's sixth flight of 2010 today. (arianespace)

The final rocket launch of the year is scheduled for Tuesday from the jungles of South America.

This flight will also mark the fifty-fifth Ariane 5 flight in the program's history.

Arianespace's Ariane 5 heavy lift rocket is set to deliver two communications satellites into geostationary orbit, the HISPASAT 1E and KOREASAT 6.

Earlier today, the Ariane 5 launcher was moved from it's protective housing out to launch pad ELV-3 at Europe's Spaceport located in French Guiana.

Lift-off of the rocket's sixth flight of the year is planned for 4:26:07 pm EST (6:26 pm local time), the opening of a forty-nine minute launch window.

Once the 165-foot tall Ariane clears the launch tower, the rocket will aim out into the dark skies over the southern Atlantic Ocean powered by duel solid fuel boosters and a liquid fueled core Valcain 2 engine.

The Vulcain 2 uses a fuel mixture of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen during it's nearly nine minute firing.

Just over two minutes into the climb to orbit, the spent boosters separate and fall into the Atlantic as the Ariane continues it's engine burn for another 6 1/2-minutes.

Seconds later, the first stage is jettisoned and the engine of the second stage ignites four seconds later.

The first of the satellites to be deployed will be the Hispasat at 4:53 pm, which will ride to space at the top of the stack inside the nose cone.

Over the next few weeks, Hispasat 1E will use it's thrusters to position itself in a geostationary orbit over 30 degrees West longitude.

The 11,704 pound Spanish satellite was built by Space Systems/ Loral and will carry 53 Ku-Band transponders to provide telecommunications service to western Europe and the Americas -- including high definition television.

Seven minutes later, the Koreasat 6 will be released on it's own and will head for a geostationary orbit over 116 degrees East.

Koreasat was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation and Thales Alenia Space for South Korea's Korea Telecom, and will also provide telecommunication service via 30 Ku-Band transponders.

Korea Telecom is a global communications company which supports broadband and satellite services, as well as sports teams.

Once on orbit, the satellite will span 59 feet across space from one solar array end to the second array end.

This flight will also mark the 199th flight of an Ariane rocket since arianespace was founded thirty years ago.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

India's GSLV rocket explodes after launch

India's pride soared and a minute later fell as their hopes for a successful space program fell to earth for the second time this year.

Approximately 47 seconds after the GSLV F06 rocket lifted-off at 5:34 am EST (4:04 pm local) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, and as the first stage continued to burn, the rocket exploded.

The 161-foot white rocket uses four strap-on liquid boosters and a solid fueled core engine at launch.

The core engine's burn time is about 100 seconds.

At the top of the rocket was the GSAT-5P geostationary communications satellite.

No solid information has been released as of this writing.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa Claus to approach Space Station tonight

Tracking map shows the Station in green and Santa in red.

Christmas Eve marks a special day for most Americans as they share their love and friendship with family and friends.

It will also mark a time in which jolly St. Nick flies over several NASA space centers and the International Space Station en route to the homes of children here in America.

Led by Rudolph and eight reindeer, Santa Claus is expected over the United States during a night time pass by the space station at about 9:03 pm EST, this evening.

The six person crew aboard the station are expected to train cameras on the sleigh for the brief three minute visit.

He is then expected to swoop down over the Kennedy Space Center prior to visiting the homes of children across Florida.

NORAD and Peterson AFB in Colorado will begin tracking Santa several hours earlier to assist with weather reports and air traffic, the military base stated to SpaceLaunch News.

We will have live updates tonight via our Twitter feed: @SpaceLaunchNews.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Discovery returned to assembly building for tests

The transporter is moved under Discovery on Tuesday. (NASA)

In the hopes of performing new x-ray scans on the back side of the external tank, technicians moved space shuttle Discovery from her launch pad overnight to the vehicle assembly building.

The 3.4 mile rollback from launch pad 39-A to the massive assembly building began Tuesday night at 10:48 p.m. EST, following a one day delay due to a clearance issue with the crawler transporter.

It is the 1960's built crawler which travels underneath the space shuttle's launch platform and carries it to and from the launch pad at a speed of 1 m.p.h.

The combined stack of the space shuttle, mobile launcher platform and the crawler transporter weighs 17,501,000 pounds.

Discovery arrived back inside the building's high bay at 7:01 a.m. today, and will stay there until about January 14, the Johnson Space Center states.

This was the sixth time Discovery was hauled back to the assembly building from her launch pad, and only the 20th time in the space shuttle program.

Over the next three weeks, technicians will perform extensive x-ray inspections of the shuttle's rust-colored external fuel tank's inner tank area to check for cracks.

It is that region where several cracks were discovered following a November 5 launch scrub after cryogenic fuels began draining from the tank.

Discovery's fuel tank is loaded with 535,000 gallons of super cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen on launch day. The fuels are stored inside two inner tanks and at launch they mix together to power the orbiter's three main engines during the first eight minutes of flight.

The inner tank, or middle region, has a total of eight panels around its diameter, and two 2-inch thick aluminum panels at the section where the forward solid rocket boosters attach.

The Nov. 5 cracks were located on two of the 108 twenty-one foot long aluminum brackets known as stringers, and later were repaired at the launch pad.

Several panels could not be reached from at the launch pad to be x-rayed. Engineers will x-ray scan all 108 stringers and reapply new insulation once the tests are complete.

Crews will also remove several sensors from the external tank which were installed for a Dec. 17 fueling test.

The fueling of Discovery tank last Friday was to check if additional cracks would occur as the super cold fuels left; and to check an unrelated repaired bracket panel for leaking gaseous hydrogen which was the root cause of the launch scrub.

NASA managers are aiming to launch Discovery no earlier than February 3, however several at Kennedy have told this aerospace journalist that a slip of one week is likely.

Once underway, Discovery and her crew of six will fly up to the International Space Station for one week. The STS-133 mission is designed to add a new module for storage to the complex and deliver fresh supplies for the crew of two Americans, three Russians and one Italian.

Piloting Discovery on her 39th and final flight will be former Chamblee, Georgia resident Colonel Eric Boe.

Boe grew up in Atlanta and graduated from Henderson High School in 1983.

Boe's thoughts of growing up in metro Atlanta are many, "I remember, just getting started, being involved... very involved with sports in school and also a lot of other activities".

A veteran of a 2008 shuttle flight, Boe still keeps in touch with his connections in the area, "I still talk to friends back home in Atlanta", the Georgia Tech graduate said.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

North America treated to total lunar eclipse

The moon during Tuesday morning's eclipse in this NASA image.

Overcast skies across the Unites States forced many amateur astronomers inside to watch Tuesday morning's lunar eclipse by way of live video on the Internet.

Clouds over much of the country disappointed astronomers from watching the celestial show on this the first day of winter as the earth wedged between the Sun and the moon.

Low clouds over metro Atlanta forced many residents to give up their backyard moon parties and observations and head indoors.

Bill Sullivan of Lawrenceville, Georgia, was one resident dejected by the cloudy evening.

"My son and I had hoped to watch the eclipse, but I guess we'll just have to watch it on TV or something," he told this reported by phone.

Along the Texas Gulf Coast, residents were treated to an astronomical show as clear skies prevailed.

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the earth moves between the Sun and the moon, thus the Sun's light is blocked from reflecting off the moon's surface. The Sun's rays however do pass through the earth's atmosphere generating an orange to red light upon the moon's surface.

Just as predicted, the totality, or time when the earth's shadow fully covered the 1,060 mile wide face of the moon, began at 2:41 a.m. EST,
and lasted just over seventy minutes.

The earth's dark shadow then gave way to a redish light upon the lunar surface as the Sun's light beamed through our planet's atmosphere.

Several observers in the south described the total eclipse to this reporter as looking like a "copper penny" or "copper and red".

A camera aboard the International Space Station was able to catch several dramatic views of the eclipse from 220 miles above earth.

On a historic note, the last time a lunar eclipse occurred on the first day of the winter solstice was 372 years ago -- Dec. 21, 1638. A time when Galileo de' Galilei, the father of modern astronomy, was alive and well in Italy.

The next total lunar eclipse to be visible from North America will happen again in April 2014.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Inda's GSLV rocket launch scrubbed due to leak

India today has scrubbed Monday's launch attempt of their GSLV-F06 rocket with the GSAT-5P satellite bound for geostationary orbit.

The launch countdown was due to pickup at the T-29 hour point, however "a minor leak in one of the valves of the Russian Cryogenic stage" was discovered during checks of the vehicle prior to picking up the count, the country's Satish Dhawan Space Center stated.

The cryo stage in question is the third stage which uses a mixture of super cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to burn the stage's KVD engine.

The 161-foot white rocket uses four strap-on liquid rocket boosters and a solid fueled core engine at launch. The core engine's burn time is about 100 seconds.

A new date will be announced in the coming days, the space center adds, once the reason for the leak is discovered.

A GSLV launch last April resulted in it's satellite reaching a lower than planned orbit and being lost.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

America awaits total lunar eclipse on Tuesday

A total eclipse of the earth's moon on Tuesday will have sky watchers across North America braving cold temperatures to witness a rare celestial show.

Astronomers and space enthusiasts alike will have necks turned high and telescopes trained on earth's only natural satellite.

A total lunar eclipse is when the earth moves between the Sun and the moon, thus the Sun's direct light is blocked from reflecting off the moon's surface. Instead, the Sun's rays pass through the earth's atmosphere generating an orange to red light upon the moon's surface.

Astronomers from the east coast of the United States will begin to see the moon pass into the earth's shadow at 1:33 a.m. EST on Tuesday. Observers on the west coast will begin to see the eclipse at 10:33 p.m. local time Monday.

Even if you do not own a telescope, your own eyes or binoculars will do just fine.

As the earth flies around the Sun, and the moon orbits the earth, the totality -- or time when the earth's shadow fully covers the moon -- will last 72 minutes beginning at 2:41 a.m.

Weather permitting, thousands of amateur astronomers are expected to visit their local planetariums for the inside story on eclipse events on the first day of the winter solstice.

Cold temperatures and scattered clouds are forecast for the southeast early on Tuesday.

That's not stopping several we spoke with in north Georgia.

"I'm just planning on bundling up and letting my adrenaline fuel my observations on Tuesday morning," Jeff Weston of Alpharetta said on Friday.

At NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., a live camera feed of the eclipse is planned and can be viewed by visiting NASA's Eclipse page.

Also, follow this reporter via Twitter (@CAtkeison) for images and updates during the sky show.

This will be the last total lunar eclipse visible to North America until April 15, 2014.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New space station crew arrives at outpost

Newly docked Soyuz craft at Space Station (NASA TV)

A manned Russian spacecraft docked to the International Space Station on Friday following it's two day chase in earth orbit.

The Soyuz TMA-20 with an American, Russian and Italian docked to the station's Rassvett module at 3:11 pm EST (2011 GMT), as the two crafts flew 224 miles high in the darkness above southwestern Africa.

Russian Dmitry Kondratyev, American Catherine "Cady" Coleman and Italian Paolo Nespoli lifted off on Wednesday afternoon from Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket bound for a six month excursion in space.

The crew of three then spent several hours completing post-docking tasks, including the opening of three select hatches prior to joining the current space station residents.

At the time of docking, the total time in which Americans have continuously lived in space is 3,697 days.

The current Expedition 26 crew of three, led by
commander Scott Kelly and flight engineers Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka, grew to six with the arrival of the craft's crew members.

Soyuz commander Kondratyev, 41 and the youngest of the three, is making his first spaceflight and will later command the space station this March as a member of the Expedition 27.

Flight engineer and NASA astronaut Coleman is making her third space flight having flown aboard space shuttle Columbia twice in 1995 and 1999. She celebrated her fiftieth birthday with friends at the launch site the day before her flight began.

Flight engineer Nespoli is a European Space Agency astronaut, and is the only member of the trio to have visited the station before having flown aboard shuttle Discovery in 2007.

On Christmas Eve, much of the world will have the opportunity to view the brightest star in the night sky as the nearly 1 million pound station flies over head.

The Johnson Space Center near Houston informed this reporter that the space station will pass over several American cities for three minutes. Sky watchers need to look after sunset as the massive complex will appear as a non-flashing star heading toward the horizon.

The newly arrived crew will also mark a milestone in spaceflight this April 12, as they help the planet celebrate humankind's first trip into space. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin departed from the same launch pad in which the Soyuz launched on Wednesday.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

SpaceX orbits and returns spacecraft today

Falcon 9 second stage engine above earth today. (SpaceX)

A private rocket company launched an unmanned spacecraft and returned it safely to earth today in a test flight for NASA to demonstrate future ferry flights to the International Space Station.

Space Exploration Technologies or Space X is a private company founded by PayPal founder Elon Musk. The company has developed their Falcon 9 rocket in support of lofting an unmanned cargo craft to the space station in 2011, and attempt human space flights over the next decade.

The 180-foot tall Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida with an active Dragon C1 craft at 10:43 am EST, following a brief delay due to a technical issue.

The white candle stick darted straight up and then out over the central Atlantic Ocean on a chilly, beautiful morning along the Space Coast.

The Falcon 9 later delivered the Dragon into an orbital inclination of 34.53 degrees, and an altitude of about 140 miles.

The active cargo craft performed two orbits of earth testing on board systems and performing several firings of it's eighteen cone-shaped thrusters.

The Dragon, loaded with patches, ID badges and not much else from the company's hundreds of employees, completed two orbits of the earth before being maneuvered for it's return to earth.

The craft made an on target splashdown at 2:04 pm about 500 miles east of the Mexican coastline, SpaceX announced.

"It was a moment of jubilant and great relief," Musk stated when asked of his thoughts as the parachutes opened and the craft approached landing.

"There's so much that can go wrong and it all went right," Musk added. "I'm sort of in semi-shock."

The ten-foot high, capsule styled module ran solely on lithium ion batteries on this brief flight. Future flights lasting several weeks will use dual solar arrays to generate power.

SpaceX is working toward launching a fully loaded supply craft to the space station as early as next November as NASA prepares to retire the space shuttle program. The Falcon 9 is rated to carry as much as 23,050 pounds to the space station.

Musk said on Wednesday he feels confident that his company can launch an empty craft to the station, fly around and return it back home. The first docking flight with the complex is scheduled for around November.

Only two planned shuttle flights are all that is left, and each will be destined to deliver supplies and equipment to earth's orbital outpost.

Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency will launch their own government ran supply crafts in January and February, each destined to bring supplies for their county's own module.

Commercial rocket delayed until 10:43 am EST

T-0 of the new Falcon 9 rocket now reset for 10:43 am EST this morning from Cape Canaveral.

The launch countdown earlier got down to just under 3 minutes before a hold was called followed by an engineer shouting, "Abort, abort, abort!".

SpaceX announced later that, ""We had a false abort on the Ordnance Interrupter (OI) ground feedback on position in our terminal count".

Adding that a false telemetry reading caused earlier abort.

The countdown has been recycled to the T-13 minute point and holding.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

SpaceX successfully tests Falcon 9 engines as launch nears

Falcon 9's engines ignite this morning in a successful test.

A private rocket destined for trips to resupply the International Space Station performed a successful engine test this morning just days before it's launch.

A private company known as SpaceX is developing their Falcon 9 rocket in support of lofting an unmanned cargo craft to the space station in 2011, and human space flights over the next decade.

The engine test occurred at 10:50 am EST, and last a few seconds before computer commands were sent to shut the engines down.

Scheduled for launch on Tuesday, the Falcon 9 will carry a dummy test payload known as the the Dragon C resupply craft.

The launch window will run from 9:00 am thru 12:22 pm EST, on December 7.

The nearly ten-foot high Dragon is a capsule styled module designed to carry several tons of supplies to station; and according to the company's founder Elon Musk, it will begin carrying as many as seven astronauts into orbit by 2014.

The 180-foot tall rocket uses nine Merlin 1C main engines as it rises from launch complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and arcs out over the Atlantic waters.

Each Merlin 1C is fueled by a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene, and burn for nearly the first three minutes of ascent.

The first stage will then separate and the second stage's single engine will begin it's five minute burn.

SpaceX reminded this reporter that both the first and second stages are reusable, and following splash down can be recovered for a future flight.

According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9 is rated to carry as much as 23,050 pounds into low earth orbit, and up to 10,000 pounds into geostationary orbit.

NASA is watching over the shoulder of SpaceX as the space agency looks at using private companies in launching their astronauts and supplies to the Space Station.

In 2008, NASA approved for the company to pick up where the space shuttle will leave off in delivering supplies to earth's orbital outpost in space.

Currently, NASA has a contract with the Russian Space Agency in which American astronauts will use their Soyuz to reach earth's orbital outpost. NASA's direction under the Obama administration is to privatize space flight so that American's can ride their own vehicle's into earth orbit in the coming years beginning with Falcon 9.

The NASA directed Constellation program was scaled back to a lighter version of the Orion crew module, and will likely begin flying no earlier than 2015 from Kennedy Space Center.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Air Force X-37B space plane lands in California

The Air Force's first unmanned space shuttle glided home to a night time landing in California this morning following a historic mission.

The X-37B mini-shuttle made a pinpoint touchdown at Vandenberg, AFB northeast of Los Angeles today at 4:16 am EST, following nearly 225 days in space.

X-37B program manager Lt Col Troy Giese stated moments after landing, "We are very pleased that the program completed all the on-orbit objectives for the first mission."

The craft's long flight was cloaked in military silence, with little known about the performance of the craft and if any issues arose.

The X-37B is a winged, aerodynamic spacecraft with a similar style to NASA's space shuttle.

Launched from Florida last April 22, the X-37B craft has a wing span of nearly 15 feet and a 29-foot body length.

A second flight by a second unmanned vehicle is due to launch from Cape Canaveral around May 1.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Air Force space shuttle nears California landing

A prototype of an advanced space plane by the U.S. Air Force will make it's long awaited landing in California as early as Friday morning.

In earth orbit for nearly 225 days, the space plane's exact landing time is secret and will likely be announced in the final hour of it's flight.

The 29-foot long, 11,000-pound Orbital Test Vehicle (X37-B) is a white winged craft with a similar style as the U.S. space shuttle.

Air Force Space Command informed this reporter tonight that the craft is expected back on earth overnight tonight.

"The OTV has the potential to revolutionize how the Air Force operates in space by making space operations more aircraft like and adding in the capability for returnable plug-and-play experiments," David Hamilton, Director of the Air Force Rapid Capabilities office stated last week.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted-off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 22, pushing the military spacecraft into earth orbit.

The X-37B has the ability to stay aloft for 270 days, the Air Force stated to this reporter.

During it's classified time in space, the robotic spacecraft was maneuvered around as ground controllers tested it's "advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics and high temperature structures and seals", Staff Sgt. Vanessa Young reported.

The orbital vehicle is powered via Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries.

Once the Air Force brings the reusable space plane home, it will reenter just like the space shuttle and will aim for a touchdown on runway 12 at Vandenberg, AFB, located northeast of Los Angeles.

The belly of the vehicle is protected with a black thermal protection system designed by NASA. The X37-B has a wing span of 14 feet, 11 inches from tip to tip.

Lt. Col. Troy Giese, the OTV systems program director said, "Upon being given the command to return to Earth, the X-37B will automatically descend through the atmosphere and land on the designated runway. There is no one on the ground with a joystick flying it."

If weather or technical issues arise on landing day, then Edwards, AFB will be called up with it's longer runway.

The question on the minds of most in both military and civilian uniforms are asking if this is a one time event, or the start of a second generation space shuttle.

The military was to have taken over shuttle Discovery in 1986 for DoD flights from Vandenberg. However fuel contamination issues and the Challenger break-up forced the cancellation of a military launch pad in California.

In 1999, NASA begun the X37 project, however the space agency handed it over to DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in September 2004. DARPA is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.

DARPA, originally formed in 1958 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency, is an office designed to prevent technological surprises against the United States, such as the Soviets launch of Sputnik in 1957.

The OTV project partnership between the military, DARPA and NASA was announced in October 2006.

Following a successful flight, the next OTV flight with a second craft is slated for this spring.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NASA Delays Discovery Launch to Complete Crack Tests

Crack location on the inner section of the tank. (NASA)

NASA has pushed back the target launch date of space shuttle Discovery by two weeks due to the need for more tests on the cracked section of her external fuel tank.

Four cracks were discovered on the inter tank region where the top section of the rocket boosters attach following a launch scrub on November 5.

Once the launch team drained the super cold fuels from the two tanks located inside the external tank, one crack was found followed by three more over the next day.

The inner tank region has a total of eight panels around the diameter, including and two 2-inch thick aluminum panels at the section where the forward SRB's attach.

Cracks located on two 21-foot long aluminum brackets known as stringers are being repaired.

NASA wants to learn if there are more stress cracks around the diameter of the tank.

Discovery's rust colored fuel tank is loaded with 535,000 gallons of super cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen on launch day. The fuels mix to power the orbiter's three main engines during the first eight minutes of launch.

Launch is now targeted for no earlier than December 17 at 8:51 pm EST, however due to the need for extensive tests over the coming week, a more firm launch time could move the space mission to early January or February.

NASA states that Dec. 17 is a target only date and the team is not pressured by delays now or in the future.

Technicians at the Kennedy Space Center will take Thanksgiving and Friday off before picking up testing again on Saturday. X-ray tests of several regions of the ribbed portion of the tank will be performed.

Technicians "using two forms of imagers are examining the stringers that make up the ribbed intertank section", NASA's Steven Siceloff stated recently at Kennedy.

"There are 108 of the 21-foot-long metal stringers that connect the cone-shaped liquid oxygen tank on top with the oblong liquid hydrogen tank on the bottom," Siceloff added.

The technicians need to use scanners to visually see down through the insulation covering the aluminum structure of the tank for further evidence of more cracks.

Siceloff went on to say that "the scans are reviewed by officials at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama where the tank was designed, and at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility outside New Orleans where the tank was built."

The next mission management team meeting is planned for December 3 in the hopes of learning where the space agency is in making necessary repairs and learning from the tests performed.

NASA managers state that there are several unknowns related to the tank's stress cracks.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Delta II Lifts-off with Italian Surveillance Satellite

Long range IR Camera captures Delta's booster separation. (VAFB)

After several delays this week, a Delta rocket lifted-off tonight from southern California on a satellite deployment mission for Italy.

The United Launch Alliance Delta II 7420-10 launched from Vandenberg, AFB at 10:20:03 pm EDT, with the Italian COSMO SkyMed 4 surveillance satellite.

Vandenberg is a Pacific coast military air base located three hours northwest of Los Angeles.

"This was a critical launch for completing the COSMO-SkyMed constellation and Team Vandenberg performed brilliantly," Col. Richard Boltz, commander of 30th Space Wing, stated moments after the spacecraft was safely in orbit.

This evening's launch marked the 350th Delta flight, and just the third Delta II launch of the year.

The launch control room was draped in several Italian flags as the white rocket soared out over the Pacific Ocean.

One minute into flight, the Delta II four strap on solid fuel boosters burned out having done their job through the dense atmosphere region. Twenty-five seconds later, the boosters were then separated as the core main engine continued to push the rocket upward.

The 126-foot tall white rocket uses a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-27A core engine and the four boosters to provide a combined thrust at launch at just over 700,000 pounds.

Four minutes into the ascent, the rocket was passing through fifty miles in altitude, and was located 130 miles south of the air base.

Following several burns to place the Delta's upper stage in a proper orbit and location, the satellite separated at 11:18 pm as the craft passed over Africa's central east coast.

"COSMO-SkyMed is a constellation composed of four satellites equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) operating at X-band," the satellite's Italian operator states. The COSMO-Skymed 4 will operate for Mediterranean basin observation for six or more years.

GLH2 Leak and Foam Crack Delays Shuttle Launch

Sunrise at the Kennedy Space Center today. (NASA)

A cracked piece of foam insulation and a leaking fuel region -- both on the external tank of the space shuttle Discovery -- has forced a three week delay in the start of her final flight.

Today's launch attempt began with the on time start of the fueling of the ship's rust colored external fuel tank at 6AM EDT.

However, nearly two hours into fueling, the launch team discovered a small gaseous hydrogen leak at the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) on the back side of the large tank.

The GUCP carries the gaseous hydrogen away from the space shuttle to a huge fire burning stand a hundred yards away where it is burned off.

Similar GLH2 leaks occurred twice last year and required several days to remove the plate located on the opposite side of where the shuttle is attached and repair the seal.

Launch pad workers will also investigate "a crack in the external tank foam that developed as super cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen were being drained from the tank," a NASA spokesperson stated today. "The crack did not develop until after the launch attempt was called off."

Work to repair the huge U-shaped foam crack (above image) will be discussed over the next few days.

Following the discovery of the crack during detanking this morning, NASA's Mission Management team elected to delay launch until no earlier than November 30.

NASA had until Sunday and maybe Monday as the last days to launch the spacecraft or face a launch delay until November 30 due to sun angels at Discovery's planned port-of-call -- the International Space Station.

The Sun angels issue, known as beta cutout, will warm the station too much with a shuttle docked due to the orientation the pair would fly. Once docked, the space station turns itself with the help of the orbiter's thrusters so that Discovery's belly is in the direction of travel.

This helps minimize micrometeorites from striking the orbiter's payload bay, glass windows and engine nozzels.

On Monday, NASA hopes to be able to discuss what direction the launch team will move towards as the month decreases in time.

Small LH2 Leak Discovered during Discovery Fueling

The space shuttle Discovery is in the final hours of her launch countdown this morning as NASA prepares to begin the oft-delayed 11 day mission.

NASA's launch team began filling Discovery's fuel tank with 535,000 gallons of super cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen this morning at 6:09 am EDT, after first chilling down the fuel lines which feed the fuel to the rust colored tank.

As the Sun began to shed light on the darkness of the Kennedy Space Center and the liquid hydrogen begin filling up the shuttle's external tank, the launch team detected a small leak at the location where it enters the tank.

Known as the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate on the backside of the fuel tank, a small leak is now giving the launch team concern as they continue their countdown toward launch this afternoon at 3:04:01 pm.

Stay tune for updates via Twitter: @SpaceLaunchNews.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Rain Showers push Discovery's Launch to Friday

Discovery waits out rain showers this morning. (NASA)

The much delayed launch of the space shuttle Discovery will have to wait again until Friday as rain showers are forecast to fall through launch time here on America's Space Coast.

NASA Mission Managers met this morning at 5:30 am EDT to access the weather. Rain and a low cloud ceiling will cover the Kennedy Space Center through the entire day today. It is forecast to clear over night tonight bringing cooler, drier weather for Friday.

Launch of Discovery on her 39th and final voyage upon the ocean of space is set now for Friday afternoon at 3:04:00 pm -- the launch window is five minutes.

Technical issues with fuel and gas leaks in the orbiter's right OMS pod and a bad fuse for a main engine back up controller has delayed lift-off from Nov. 1.

Last evening, mission managers elected to proceed with a launch attempt for today knowing that their meeting to access the weather would ultimately scrub launch for 24 hours.

At 8PM on Thursday, space center technicians began the thirty minute job to rollback the protective service structure from around the space craft and into the launch position.

Air Force meteorologist Kathy Winters is currently giving an 60% favorable forecast leading toward launch time tomorrow.

A cloud ceiling and upper level winds could be of concern within 30 miles of the launch pad.
Head winds in the event of an RTLS (Return to Launch Site Abort) will also be looked at tomorrow.

Saturday's forecast shows higher winds being more of a concern, with Sunday looking better weather wise.

NASA needs to launch the 26 year-old spacecraft before November 7 or risk keeping her on earth until the opening days of December. This is due to sun angles on the station through out November which can cause instruments to over heat.

Once launched, Discovery's all veteran crew of commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Timothy Kopra, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and Alvin Drew will spend two days performing rendezvous maneuvers to catch up with and dock with the International Space Station.

Two days after her launch, Discovery will arrive at the Space Station to begin eight days of docked operations to resupply with food, fuel and hardware; and add the final U.S. segment to the growing city in space.

Discovery will deliver the final American segment known as the Permanent Multipurpose Module, a bus sized cylindrical segment which will be used for storage. It will help free up more space inside the station's working and living segments for the crew of six.

Formally known as the Leonardo logistics module, the PMM has actually flown to station several times most recently two flights ago.

Inside the PMM will be 6500 pounds of cargo, spare parts, R2 - a robo-naut which will be used outside the outpost; and personal crew supplies to help resupply earth's orbiting outpost in space. Discovery's middeck will carry another 1500 pounds of supplies, too.

Robonaut will remain in the PMM through Discovery's flight, and will later be moved so that it's two halves can be mated together and placed outside the station in the weeks to come.

Kopra and Drew will also perform two spacewalks during this 35th shuttle flight to earth's orbital outpost, on flight days 5 and 7.

This will mark Discovery's final space flight. NASA only has only two more space shuttle flights left after Discovery, with Endeavour flying her final scheduled flight on February 27, and Atlantis by next autumn.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Discovery's Launch Delayed until Thursday

The launch of space shuttle Discovery's final flight was delayed another day so that engineers could troubleshoot a faulty backup controller on one of her three main engines.

NASA announced the countdown delay at 5:30 pm EDT today, after a backup computer which controls the activity of engine 3 did not come online during routine power checks.

This reporter announced the delay thirty minutes earlier via Twitter (@SpaceLaunchNews).

Mission Management's chairman Mike Moses stated late on Tuesday that the "main engine controller gave us a funny signature" when the launch team tested the computers.

Engines 1, 2 and 3 each have a primary and secondary computer which controls the engines thrust levels and movement during the ascent.

When the launch team went through the power checks, the backup controller on engine three "did not come on," Moses stated. Engineers then power cycled the circuit breaker on Discovery's flight deck for the computer several times to try to get it to come online.

Ninety minutes "later the controller came on, and it started working. It healed its self in time," Moses added.

Overnight tonight and into Thursday midday, the launch team will continue to trouble shoot why the engine controller's electrical signature gave them a hiccup.

NASA also added that the one day delay gives the launch team a much needed rest, having been on console since Sunday afternoon.

The MMT will meet again on Wednesday at 2PM to determine whether or not to pick up the countdown and go fly on Thursday.

If launch is confirmed for Thursday, the launch team will resume the countdown at the T minus 11 hour mark at 5:30 pm on Wednesday.

Lift-off of Discovery's 39th and final space flight will begin at 3:29:43 pm, as the twin solid rocket boosters ignite.

The weather outlook for Thursday is iffy with Air Force meteorologist Kathy Winters giving an 80% unfavorable forecast leading toward launch time. Clouds and moisture within 30 miles of the launch pad will be of concern mid afternoon.

Delta II Launch to Try Again Tonight

A Delta rocket in California suffered a last minute scrub on Monday evening and technicians hope to have the vehicle ready for another try tonight.

As the countdown neared two minutes, a cutoff was ordered when engineers saw "an insufficient flow of gaseous nitrogen (GN2) in the Delta II engine compartment," United Launch Alliance stated moments after the scrub.

The GN2 flow is used to keep areas near the super cold fuel lines warm at launch.

Do to this flight's one-second launch window, the scrub occurred immediately and the launch team went into a 24-hour turn around.

The ULA Delta II 7420-10 with the COSMO-Skymed 4 satellite is set for a third launch attempt tonight at 10:20 pm EDT (7:20 pm Pacific) from complex 2 at Vandenberg, AFB in California.

This evening's launch will mark the 350th Delta flight; and just the third Delta II launch of the year.

The 126-foot tall white rocket will lift-off with a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-27A core engine and four strap on solid boosters to provide the initial thrust for it's climb to orbit. The combined thrust at launch is just over 700,000 pounds.

The launch path will carry the vehicle almost due south out over the Pacific Ocean to align it for an intended Polar orbit.

Spacecraft separation over Africa's east coast should occur at 11:18 pm EDT.

"COSMO-SkyMed is a constellation composed of four satellites equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) operating at X-band," the satellite's Italian operator states. The COSMO-Skymed 4 will operate for Mediterranean basin observation.

Tonight's launch will place the fourth environmental monitoring and surveillance spacecraft in a specialized orbit for use by both military and civilian use.

The new earth imaging satellite's six year mission "is financed by the Ministry for Education, Universities and Scientific Research, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Ministry of Defense", according to Telespazio which is the control center for the satellite constellation.

Meanwhile, on the south side of Vandenberg, a brush fire has been burning since Thursday on the dry fields of the military base. Over 500 acres have been burned since a suspect power line caused the fire days ago in the Bear Creek region.

Although this fire will not effect the Delta's flight, Vandenberg officials told me that "the area involved is known to contain unexploded ordnance".

Friday, October 29, 2010

NASA Technians Repairing Fuel Leaks Today

Discovery awaits technicians repairs on Friday. (NASA)

NASA has delayed the final flight of the space shuttle Discovery by at least one day to allow technicians to repair two leaks at the tail section of the orbiter.

"Managers are meeting to discuss the plan to repair helium and nitrogen leaks in the pressurization portion of Discovery’s right-hand Orbital Maneuvering System pod," NASA's Kennedy Space Center stated this morning. "The leaks must be fixed before launch and the decision was made to delay picking up the launch countdown by at least a day".

The leaks on the OMS pod were discovered during prelaunch checks last night. The launch team performed several tests to trouble shoot the two leaks before deciding to delay the start of the launch countdown.

If the leak fixes are successful, NASA on Saturday will start the countdown for the 133rd space shuttle flight at 2 PM EDT on Saturday.

Discovery's one day delay will target launch for Tuesday afternoon at 4:17:56 pm -- the opening of a five minute launch window.

Jeff Spaulding, NASA test director for STS-133, states that the work to make the repairs will take around 16 hours.

Air Force meteorologist Kath Winters stated this morning that "moisture from the south" due to a strong low pressure trough will influence the Space Coast's weather on Tuesday.

Due to a low cloud ceiling and and rain showers off shore, there is a 70% chance for favorable weather at launch time on Tuesday.

Launch Delayed One Day due to Leaks

Launch delayed at least one day until this Tuesday due to two leaks in the space shuttle Discovery's right OMS pod. New information upcoming via a NASA TV news conference.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Russia Launches Fresh Supplies to Space Station

A Russian rocket today sent aloft a spacecraft full of food and supplies bound for the six person crew of the International Space Station.

As a grocery store might deliver goods to your home, Russia launched 2.5 tons of multiple supplies up to the orbiting outpost 221 miles in space.

The night time lift-off occurred on time today at 11:11:49 am EDT (1511 GMT) from Pad 1 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

As the Soyuz lept from her pad, the space station flew high overhead just east of the launch site.

Two minutes after lift-off the first stage of the Soyuz separated on time as the craft speed eastward.

Space station flight engineer Shannon Walker confirmed minutes after lift-off that her Russian crew mates watched the launch from 221 miles above but that, "We (American side of station) didn't know to look for it at that time".

Mission Control near Houston expressed that a loss of signal prevented word from reaching the Americans in the Destiny module.

Progress is currently in an orbit 51.64 degrees to the equator. It's orbital time is 88 minutes, 57 seconds per revolution of the earth.

It's elliptical orbit will be adjusted by a series of burns over the next two days as it closes in on station.

On board the unmanned craft is, according to the space station's flight control room, "1,918 pounds of propellant; 1,100 pounds of oxygen; 498 pounds of water and 2,804 pounds of food, spare parts and supplies.

In total, Progress is carrying 5,670 pounds and five ounces of supplies.

The automated docking by Progress is planned for Saturday at 12:39 pm EDT (1639 GMT).

Four days later, the space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to dock with the orbiting outpost as she begins eight days of docked operations to deliver additional supplies and a storage module.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Russian Cargo Ship set for Wednesday Launch

Russian Soyuz U prepares for tomorrow's launch. (Energia)

A Russian cargo craft loaded with tons of food and supplies is ready to begin a three day trip to resupply the growing International Space Station on Wednesday.

Loaded with fuel, experiment hardware, water, air and requested personal items, the arriving craft will keep the crew of six happy and healthy for weeks to come.

The Soyuz U was transported horizontally to it's launch pad on Monday morning by way of rail car, and then moved into its vertical launch position. Crews then began the tasks of connecting both fuel and electrical connections to the rocket.

Launch of the Soyuz U rocket with the Progress M-08M supply ship is set to lift-off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan tomorrow at 11:11:53 am EDT (1511 GMT).

After a three day orbital chase, the Progress craft will fly in and dock to the Russian Zevezda service module on Saturday at 12:40 pm (1640 GMT).

The Progress docking begins a busy six weeks aboard the space station.

Three days after the supply ship docks, the space shuttle Discovery is scheduled to dock to begin an eight day visit to resupply the station and deliver a permanent storage module.

A Russian spacewalk was added on Tuesday. Cosmoanuts Fiodor Yurchikin and Oleg Skipochka will begin a six hour EVA on Nov. 15 starting at 9:25 am EST.

On Nov. 30, three of the current station crew members will undock and return to earth aboard their Soyuz TMA19 craft. Two weeks later, a fresh crew of three will launch and then dock their Soyuz TMA20 to begin their six month tour of duty.

Looking ahead into 2011, January and February will also be a busy time for the Expedition 26 crew. Three unmanned cargo crafts from the European, Russian and Japanese space programs, and the American space shuttle Endeavour will head to the orbiting outpost 221 miles above to bring fresh supplies and equipment.

To the crews living aboard the station, food has always been a form of leisure and most try out their own orbiting gourmet food styles while in micro-gravity.

The space station is a very multicultural location. An astronaut or cosmonaut from one country will always enjoy a taste from a special menu prepared by the crew of a visiting country.

The Russian Space Agency stated today, "Food boxes will contain not only standard rations, but also fresh fruits and vegetables – lemons, apples, onions, tomatoes, and a kilogram of garlic".

"(Progress) will also carry high-speed data transmission equipment to be installed on the outer surface of the station during EVA (spacewalk) by Oleg Skripochka and Dmitry Kondratiev in January," the space agency added earlier today.

Monday, October 25, 2010

NASA Officially sets Discovery's Launch Date

Discovery sits a top launch pad 39A this afternoon. (NASA)

NASA's space shuttle managers met today and selected November 1 as the official launch date for to begin Discovery's twelve day flight to earth's orbital outpost in space.

The routine meeting allowed officials to review any issues related to both the spacecraft and the payloads tucked inside NASA's oldest orbiter.

"We're in great shape out at the pad," NASA Launch Director Mike Leinbach stated this afternoon.

One such issue was fixed over the weekend as technicians at the Kennedy Space Center changed out two seals to help fix a fuel leak in the tail section of Discovery.

A very hazardous fuel known as Mono methyl hydrazine, which powers the shuttle's small maneuvering engines, was discovered leaking from a seal on the fuel line in the ship right side pod which sits under the vertical stabilizer. The primary and secondary seals were changed out on Saturday, and the fuel was reloaded on Sunday. Leak tests were then ran later in the day.

Meanwhile, at the Johnson Space Center south of Houston, the six member flight crew went into quarantine today as they prepare to live in a clean enviroment to lessen the chances of becoming sick.

On Thursday,
Discovery's all veteran crew of commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Timothy Kopra, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and Alvin Drew will arrive in Florida for launch.

An unofficial seventh member of the crew known as R2, a robo-naut which will be attached to the space station to perform tasks, is already inside Discovery awaiting it's multiyear stay aboard the outpost.

The launch countdown will begin at 3PM EDT on Friday, counting down to the target launch time of 4:40:26 pm.

If Discovery cannot launch on time, her launch window is short -- one week.

NASA needs to launch the 26 year-old spacecraft before November 7 or risk keeping her on earth until the opening days of December. This is due to sun angles on the station through out November which can cause instruments to over heat.

Two days after launch, Discovery will arrive at the station to begin eight days of docked operations to resupply with food, fuel and hardware; and add the final U.S. segment to the growing city in space.

Discovery will deliver the final American segment known as the Permanent Multipurpose Module, a bus sized cylindrical segment which will be used for storage. It will help free up more space inside the station's working and living segments for the crew of six.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ariane to Launch Dual Television Satellites Thursday

An Arianespace heavy lift rocket is set to carry dual satellites which will offer direct to home television service for Europe over to central Asia and Japan.

Lift-off is targeted for Thursday at 5:51:07 pm EDT (21.51 GMT) -- the opening of a seventy minute launch window -- from complex 3 in Kourou, French Guiana.

Today the launch team will perform a launch rehearsal as they ready the entire launch system for Thursday. The launch vehicle will then be rolled out to its launch pad early on Wednesday and connected to fuel and power lines.

Riding a top the Ariane 5 in the payload cone will be the W3B satellite for Eutelsat at the top, and stacked below it will be Japan's BSAT-3b.

The W3B television satellite will offer broadcasting service to multiple countries from it's perch at 16 degrees East longitude in geostationary orbit. Countries in Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East and in central Asia will receive service from the 53 Ku-band and three Ka-band transponders.

The satellite on orbit will measure nearly 112 feet from its six panel t-shaped solar array to array, and nineteen feet wide.

W3B will also offer high speed Internet, data and telephone service during it's planned fifteen year life.

In contrast, the Lockheed Martin built BSAT-3b for Japan's direct to home broadcast satellite will be used for high speed programming. Supporting only 12 Ku-band transponders, the satellite will operate over 110 degrees east.

BSAT-3b measures 48 feet from solar array tip to array tip by 6.23 feet wide as it sails through space.

This will be the Ariane 5's fourth mission of 2010 and only the 53rd since it first flew in 1996.

The 165 1/2-foot Ariane 5 is fueled during ascent by a core liquid fueled engine and two strap on soild fuel boosters.

The single Vulcain 2 main engine ignites at T-0 in the count followed by the 104-foot twin boosters igniting seven seconds later.

During the rocket's climb to space, it will steer out from it's launch pad in northeastern South America and eastward out over the southern Atlantic Ocean.

Just over two minutes into the launch, the boosters will have spent their fuel at will then jettison at 5:53:22 pm EDT.

After a brief ride to orbit, the first of the satellites to be deployed will be W3B at 6:19:11 pm, as the rocket's upper stage passes through 737 miles altitude.

Nearly ten minutes later, Japan's BSAT-3b will be released at an altitude of 2084 miles high.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Engineers Prepare Discovery for November Launch

Discovery's final crew during training last week. (NASA)

Engineers at the Kennedy Space Center are spending the next few days repairing a small leak on the space shuttle Discovery's fuel line which leads to a small engine that allows the orbiter to translate while in orbit.

Workers tell this reporter that the work will likely take about five days to fully perform, from draining the 1,500 gallons of propellant today; replacing the two seals on the fuel line; and then refilling the fuel of mono methyl hydrazine -- a very hazardous fuel.

"Crews will replace the primary and secondary seals at a flange located at the interface where two propellant lines meet in the shuttle’s aft compartment", NASA's Johnson Space Center stated earlier today.

The leak is inside Discovery's right hand pod next to the vertical stabilizer, and it allows fuel flow to one of two OMS engines. Discovery's crew will use the engines to raise and lower her orbital altitude.

"The Cape and the techs who work on the vehicle are miracle workers... the guys do an unbelievable, professional job", mission manager John Shannon stated this morning.

The small leak was discovered days ago and after performing a leak check it had stopped. NASA then decided to make the go ahead to replace the seals.

NASA's Mission Management Team remains confident that Discovery will meet her target launch date of November 1st. The space shuttle must launch by November 6 or stand down until December 1 due to other rocket launches on Florida's Space Coast.

Mission planners state that a launch between Nov. 1 thru 6 will support a twelve day flight. In Discovery launches after that, it will fly an eleven day mission.

Once launched, Discovery's all veteran crew of commander Steven Lindsey, pilot Eric Boe and mission specialists Timothy Kopra, Michael Barratt, Nicole Stott and Alvin Drew will spend two days performing rendezvous maneuvers to catch up with and dock with the International Space Station.

Once at station, Discovery will deliver the final American segment known as the Permanent Multipurpose Module, a bus sized cylindrical segment which will be used for storage. It will begin to free up more space inside the station's working and living segments.

Formally known as the Leonardo logistics module, the PMM has actually flown to station several times most recently two flights ago.

Inside the PMM will be 6500 pounds of cargo, spare parts, R2 - a robo-naut which will be used outside the outpost; and personal crew supplies to help resupply earth's orbiting outpost in space. Discovery's middeck will carry another 1500 pounds of supplies, too.

Robonaut will remain in the PMM through Discovery's flight, and will later be moved so that it's two halfs can be mated together and placed outside the station in the weeks to come.

Kopra and Drew will perform two spacewalks during this 35th shuttle flight to the ISS, on flight days 5 and 7.

The duo will install a alternative power cable between the Tranquility and Unity modules on the first spacewalk; relocate a failed ammonia pump module to another part of the station; and perform work on a camera and the railway system on the truss segment.

The second orbital excursion will focus on the change out of a bracket on the European Columbus module; and a Japanese glass bottle which the space walkers will fill up with the vacuum of space for a museum display back on earth.

After 170 revolutions of the planet, Discovery will head home to Florida on Nov. 12 (based on a Nov. 1 launch) for a mid-morning landing at about 10:39 am EST.

This will also mark Discovery's final space flight. NASA only has three more planned space shuttle flights left, with Endeavour flying her final scheduled flight on February 26, and Atlantis by next autumn.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Space Station Crew Safely Returns Home

Two Russians and one American returned back to earth this morning after spending 177 days in earth orbit, living and working aboard the International Space Station.

Soyuz TMA18 spacecraft commander and outgoing leader of the Expedition 24 crew, Alexander Skvortsov and flight engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko touched down upon the desert of Kazakhstan, near the town of Arkalyk today at 1:23 am EDT (0523 GMT).

In space, the orbital outpost flew high off the coast of Japan and over the western Pacific Ocean as the parachutes of the Soyuz lowered the craft to the desert floor.

Earlier in the day, the departing crew of three said farewell to the ongoing crew of Expedition 25 of Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin, and entered their Soyuz one last time for the trip home.

Hatches were officially closed at 6:35 pm and the trio went to work powering up the crafts systems for undocking.

It was the second try in as many days to undock from the complex.

Docked to the Russian Poisk module, ground controllers in Moscow had to scrub the first undocking attempt 24 hours earlier due to an electrical issue with the sealing of the module's hatch leading to the Soyuz.

As controllers counted down the final seconds to undocking, the separation bolts were released on time and the small spacecraft sailed away from it's port-of-call for the last 174 days at 10:02 pm.

As the two spacecraft flew 222 miles high over the Russia - Mongolia boarder, Skvortsov slowly guided his ship back away from the station to prepare for a separation burn which will carry the crew swiftly away.

Firing it's engines on time, the Soyuz performed a four minute deorbit burn at 12:31 am today to slow the craft by 259 miles per hour, and allow for it to drop out of earth orbit during a precise keyhole in space.

Twenty-five minutes later, the support module attached to the Soyuz crew module was then jettisoned, exposing the heat shield and setting up the craft's change in it's attitude for reentry.

The crew's plunge into the atmosphere gave them their first effects of gravity since their April 2 launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Recovery crews aboard ground transports and Russian helicopters were on station as the module landed with a thud under a huge main chute -- kicking up dirt from it's impact on a cool late-morning Saturday.

Their stay aboard the station witnessed two space shuttle visits by Discovery and Atlantis; one Soyuz crew departure for earth and weeks later an arrival of the current Soyuz TMA 19 crew; and Caldwell-Dyson and Wheelock performed three spacewalks in August to replace and install a needed backup cooling unit for the space station.

The next crew to launch from Baikonur to the station will be aboard an upgraded Soyuz TMA 01M on October 7, docking 49 hours later to the orbital complex.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Soyuz Undocking from Space Station Delayed

A Russian spacecraft with a crew of three failed to undock from the International Space Station on Thursday night due to mechanical issues which could not be fixed between the craft and it's docking port.

"The planned undocking was prevented when commands being sent to disengage the hooks and latches holding the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft failed", NASA Mission Control told this reporter this morning. "The spacecraft remains securely docked to the Poisk module."

The Russian Poisk module is home to the docking port in which the Soyuz craft is docked.

At this time, engineers both in Moscow and at the Johnson Space Center south of Houston, are working to uncover the issue.

Several I spoke with at the American space agency feel that the issue is electrical, however more time is needed to understand exactly where the problem lies.

On Thursday evening, as the hatch from the station to the Poisk was being closed, controlers did not receive the proper indication early on that the small switches latched to seal the compartment for undocking. They later received good confirmation following several leak checks.

The departing expedition 24 of commander Alexander Skvortsov, and flight engineersTracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko returned from their Soyuz and reentered the space station at about 12:30 am following the undocking scrub.

The trio then spent time exercising and discussing the issue at hand with their fellow crew members Doug Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin for a meal and then began their sleep period at about 3 am.

Moscow has now rescheduled undocking for 10:02 pm EDT tonight (0202 GMT). The daytime landing would then occur two orbits later at 1:21 am Saturday morning on the desert floor of Kazakhstan near the town of Arkalyk (11:21 am local time).

Today marks the expedition 24 crew's 176th day in space since their launch on April 2; and their 174th day living aboard the space station.

Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin complete the current 25th expedition crew, and following the Soyuz undocking tonight, will be alone for two weeks until a new crew arrives.
copyright 1998 - 2010 Charles Atkeison, All rights reserved.