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.

copyright 1998 - 2010 Charles Atkeison, All rights reserved.