Saturday, May 29, 2010

SpaceX Targets June 4 for Falcon 9 Launch

Falcon 9's March engine test at Cape Canaveral (SpaceX)

The private sector will gain new ground in the advancement of space flight as a future rocket destined for trips to the International Space Station prepares for it's inaugural launch next week.

A private company known as SpaceX was approved by NASA in 2008 to develop their Falcon 9 rocket in support of lofting an unmanned cargo craft to the space station and human space flights in a few years.

Scheduled for launch no earlier than June 4, the Falcon 9 will carry a dummy test payload which will double for the Dragon resupply craft. An official launch announcement could come as early as Monday afternoon.

The 180-foot tall Falcon will use 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 will 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.

On March 13, the launch team performed a successful test firing of it's nine main engines for nearly four seconds.

A 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.

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 next two 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.

A second Falcon 9 launch is targeted for this Fall, and based on a successful flight in June, will deploy the Dragon C1 for a multi-hour flight in earth orbit.

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 will begin carrying as many as seven astronauts into orbit by 2013.

Former space shuttle and space station expedition astronaut Ken Bowersox will oversee the astronaut training from the Florida launch site.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

ULA Delta 4 Launches Advanced GPS Satellite

An advanced Global Positioning System satellite was carried into orbit tonight which will provide the United States military aviation and land vehicles with a greater signal accuracy.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV lifted-off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's launch complex 37 at 11:00:01 pm EDT, this evening, on a 105.28 degree flight azimuth.

It was the second Delta IV launch of the year, and the thirteenth Delta IV launch overall since 2002.

Fueled by a core engine and twin solid boosters, the Delta rocket sped away from her pad and into the cloudy dark skies over the space coast as it headed southeastward out over the Atlantic waters.

For some observers at Port Canaveral, they quickly lost sight after one minute of flight due to a cloud deck.

One hundred seconds into the flight, the spent twin solid fueled boosters separated from either side of the main stage as the liquid-fueled RS-68 engine continued to burn for a few more minutes.

The Global Positioning System 2F 1 will assist the U.S. military with both aviation and land based support giving them two times better signal accuracy than the GPS 2R series. Schriever AFB's 50th Space Wing in Colorado will take over control of the new satellite following space craft separation.

Spacecraft separation will occur in a few hours at a planned time of 2:33:03 am (0633 GMT).

The second stage seconds later will perform a brief burn to quickly have it fall away so that the two do not collide.

The new GPS will operate in an orbit 11,000 miles above earth, and will assist civil aviation with it's new L5 signals. L5 is replacing the old standard of L1 and L2 as it enhances range measurements. L5 will be the only standard used on future 2F and 3 GPS satellites.

Advanced GPS Satellite set to Lift-off Tonight

United Launch Alliance will try again tonight to launch a Delta IV rocket with an advanced GPS satellite for the U.S. Air Force.

Tonight's launch window begins at 11PM EDT and lasts for 19 minutes. The current weather outlook forecasts a 70 percent chance of good weather in support of both fueling and launch operations here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

This will be the fourth attempt in the past week to get Delta IV off the pad, following launch scrubs due to mechanical issues.

The latest scrub on Monday evening involved a countdown abort at T minus six seconds when the right hand solid rocket booster's nozzle steering vector control system relayed bad data to the control center.

The fifty-three foot long twin boosters on the Delta ignite at T-0 and burn the first 94 seconds of flight. Six seconds later they separate as the main stage RS-68 cryo-fueled engine burns for the next two and one-half minutes.

This evening's launch will mark the Delta program's golden anniversary of flight. This will be the twelfth Delta IV launch since it's first flight in 2002.

The mission's payload is the Global Positioning System 2F SV1 spacecraft for the Air Force. This enhanced tracking satellite is designed to operate for nearly twelve years as it soars high above earth in the GPS orbital plane of 11,000 miles high.

GPS 2F will assist the military with both aviation and land based support giving them two times better signal accuracy than the GPS 2R series. Schriever AFB's 50th Space Wing in Colorado will take over control of the new satellite following space craft separation.

The GPS 2F will separate from the Delta's smaller second stage at 2:33:03 am on Friday morning based on an on time launch from pad 37.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shuttle Atlantis Returns to America's Spaceport

Atlantis concluded her thirty-second mission today. (KSC)

Streaking out of the blue Florida sky, shuttle Atlantis returned home to the Kennedy Space Center today concluding twelve days and 186 orbits of the earth.

Atlantis commander Kenneth Ham and pilot Tony Antonelli fired the shuttle's breaking engines to slow the orbiter down by 220 miles to allow the craft to begin her fall out of an orbit 220 miles high.

Atlantis soared into the dawn of an orbital sunrise as she approached Central America just minutes before landing upon America's Space Coast.

A former Air Force pilot, Ham pitched the orbiter's nose up from the craft's steep glide in and Antonelli dropped the landing gear as Atlantis approached the center line of the three mile long runway.

Atlantis' main gear slammed upon runway 33 at a speed of 212 mph at 8:48:11 am EDT, this morning.

Antonelli then deployed the drag chute to help slow the orbiter down to keep the extra stress off the braking system during the rollout.

"It was smooth as silk," Commander Ham stated of the approach into Kennedy. "We were clearly riding in the middle of a fireball, and it was spectacular. The windows, all of them, were bright, brilliant orange. One of the neatest things was when we flew right into orbital sunrise."

For most of the workers who gathered to watch the landing, it fired off a cannon of personal memories of their work with NASA's twenty-five year old spacecraft.

Some at NASA feel that her thirty-second mission will be her final mission, while a select few feel that the space agency's administrator Charles Bolden and President Obama will allow for her to fly the final space shuttle mission.

Technicians will begin today preparing Atlantis for a 'launch on need' flight in support of Endeavour's mission this February -- the final planned space shuttle flight.

As Endeavour launches toward the space station next winter, Atlantis will stand ready in high bay 3 of the vehicle assembly building stacked to her external tank and twin boosters.

If Endeavour is deemed unsafe to return back to earth due to flight damage, Atlantis will be rolled out to her seaside launch pad and launched three weeks later with a crew of four.

A safe return by Endeavour two weeks after her launch could mean one additional final flight by Atlantis a few months later, likely in July 2011, on STS-135. A decision on what direction NASA will take will be known in prior to July 1st.

Mission Specialists Garrett Reisman, Michael Good, Steven Bowen and Piers Sellers round out Atlantis' crew of six veteran astronauts.

Over the last ten days, Atlantis delivered to the International Space Station a new Russian module to the station known as Rassvet. The crew also delivered six fresh batteries for the port 6 truss solar array; a new high gain antenna; over 1,310 pounds of water; and fresh oxygen, nitrogen and supplies to the expanding space station.

Three crew members performed three spacewalks to remove the old batteries and install the new set of six; and install a new Ku-Band antenna to the station.

"We're thrilled because we accomplished the mission that was put in front of us," Ham added today. "We've been hearing stories about how folks have been having fun and enjoyed watching us have fun, and that's really important to us."

The crew is scheduled to depart Florida late on Thursday morning for their homes near Houston.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Atlantis' Crew Prepares for Wednesday Landing

The six member crew of the space shuttle Atlantis spent Tuesday checking out the orbiter's systems in preparation for their homecoming tomorrow at the Kennedy Space Center.

Atlantis' commander Kenneth Ham, pilot Tony Antonelli and flight engineer Mike Good powered up a single auxiliary power unit this morning, testing the shuttle's reaction control system jets at 4:50 am EDT, and the steering systems such as the elevon, rudder and speed brake.

The crew also took time out this morning beginning at 8:15 am to answer questions from ABC news and comedian Steven Colbert of the "Colbert Report".

Colbert, whose in "training' to become an astronaut, asked questions such is the batteries which were changed out were AA; and the retirement of the shuttle and that his decision to become an astronaut may be bad timing.

Atlantis spent seven days docked to the International Space Station in which they delivered a new Russian module; replaced six 400-pound batteries on the Port 6 truss; and delivered fresh supplies, water and fuel to the outpost.

Mission Specialists Garrett Reisman, Steven Bowen and Piers Sellers round out Atlantis' crew. The astronauts will also spend the day stowing equipment and preparing the orbiter for a morning landing upon America's Space Coast.

Landing of NASA's 132nd space shuttle flight would see the orbiter fire her braking engines at 7:41 am EDT, slowing the orbiter down by about 220 mph and begin her freefall out of orbit.

Atlantis is set to touchdown at Kennedy's runway 33 on Wednesday morning at 8:48 am.

Mission control CAPCOM astronaut Charlie Hobaugh told Atlantis' commander today that there is likely a 50-50 chance of a landing upon America's space coast tomorrow.

"They are carrying a chance of rain showers within 30 miles, they've been watching it today, and a low that's about 600 miles off shore will move a little tomorrow and hopefully keep some of those showers at bay," Hobaugh radioed the crew. "It's just something we'll have to watch tomorrow."

The below ground track would see Atlantis land on her 186th orbit of the planet, following nearly twelve days in space.

If weather precludes a Wednesday landing, then NASA will only call up Kennedy on Thursday.

Atlantis ground track to KSC on Wednesday. (NASA)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Atlantis and Space Station Crews Bid Farewell

The crew of the International Space Station said their good byes today to the crew of Atlantis as they parted ways following seven days of work to resupply earth's orbital outpost.

Over the last week, Atlantis delivered a new Russian module to the station; six fresh batteries for the port 6 truss solar array; a new high gain antenna; and fresh oxygen, nitrogen and supplies to the expanding space station.

Over 1,310 pounds of water -- a byproduct made by the electrical producing fuel cells of Atlantis -- were transferred over to station in large clear bags during the week.

In all, 28,792 pounds of mass was delivered to the space station by Atlantis' crew during the past week, according to Mission Control near Houston.

In contrast, Atlantis received 8,220 pounds of equipment and trash to return back to earth including the old six batteries and several critical experiments.

The two of the main three hatches between the station and shuttle were officially closed at 8:43 am EDT this morning, after six days and 20 hours opened.

At the helm of Atlantis is commander Kenneth Ham and pilot Tony Antonelli -- both pilots in the U.S. Navy. Mission specialists Garrett Reisman, Michael Good, Steve Bowen and Piers Sellers round out the crew of NASA's 132nd space shuttle mission.

Reisman, Bowen and Good each performed two spacewalks in support of upgrading hardware and changing out those six batteries on the station.

The six crew members aboard earth's orbital outpost -- Russian commander
Oleg Kotov; American astronauts Timothy J. Creamer and Tracey Caldwell Dyson; Japanese flight engineer Soichi Noguchi; and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko -- comprise the Expedition 23 crew.

Atlantis will undock at 11:22 am this morning to begin the three day trip home to the Kennedy Space Center.

And on June 2, Expedition 23's Kotov, Creamer and Noguchi will board their Soyuz TMA 17 spacecraft for the return home with a landing later in the day in northern Kazakhstan.

Expedition 24 with a crew of three will officially begin their three month reign with the Soyuz undocking. A new crew of three will then depart Kazakhstan on June 15 with the launch of a Russian Soyuz TMA 19 at 5:35 pm EDT (2135 GMT).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Astronauts Return Cargo Carrier Back to Atlantis

Atlantis will undock from station on Sunday (NASA)

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station returned a cargo carrier back to the shuttle Atlantis' payload bay having delivered six fresh batteries and a new high gain antenna.

The eight-foot long cargo pallet was installed into Atlantis' bay at 5:50 am EDT this morning, by astronauts Piers Sellers and Garrett Reisman who used the station's robotic arm to slowly guide it over and stow it into place.

The carrier is now host to six old batteries which had been located on the station's Port 6 truss solar array for nearly ten years. On Wednesday and Friday, spacewalking astronauts replaced the old batteries with the new ones Atlantis carried to orbit on the carrier.

The crews are also transferring fresh supplies such as 10 lbs of nitrogen, nearly 20 pounds of oxygen and 1200 of 1300 pounds of water from Atlantis to the orbital complex.

During Atlantis' final full day docked with the orbital outpost, the combined crews of twelve will complete several last minute transfer of supplies to and garbage from the station.

Atlantis will also return a large number of experiments, old clothes, air and water samples for testing back on earth.

The crew's will also relax and enjoy several hours of off-duty time before going to bed at 4:50 pm.

On Sunday, the combined crews will hold a nearly one-hour traditional in-flight news conference beginning at 6:25 am.

Atlantis is scheduled to undock from the station later that morning at 11:22 am EDT, to begin her return trip back to the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fiftith Ariane 5 Successfully Launches Satellites

The European Space Agency's Ariane 5 rocket marked her fiftieth flight today successfully delivering two satellites into earth orbit.

Carrying dual satellites -- ASTRA 3B and COMSATBw-2 -- this first Ariane flight of 2010 was delayed nearly two months due to technical issues at the pad during it's first launch attempt in March.

A quality review board investigated the Ariane 5 launch campaign for this flight to learn why the issues occurred and to ensure a clean launch vehicle.

As the countdown neared zero, the core stage's Vulcain 2 engine ignited, and at 6:01:07 pm EDT (2201 GMT) the twin rocket boosters ignited launching Ariane 5 on it's golden flight into a dark sky from Kourou, South America.

Cutting through a few cloud layers, Ariane headed out over the central Atlantic waters as it headed toward the western coast of Africa.

The twin boosters then were commanded to separate 140 seconds into the ascent at an altitude of 43 miles high, followed by the release of the payload fairing a minute later as the vehicle climbed higher and traveled faster above the atmosphere.

The core booster then arrived minutes later into it's planned initial elliptical orbit of 154 x 22,350 miles high.

The ASTRA 3B traveled into space riding a top of the COMSATBw-2 inside the vertical payload fairing.

Astra was the first to leave the nest as it separated from the upper stage at 6:28 pm, followed by COMSATBw-2's release about six minutes later.

Astra 3B will operate in a geostationary orbit located at 23.5 degrees east, and will support audio and television broadcasts for 109 million homes across Europe via a collection of 52 active Ka-band transponders.

The satellite was built by Astrium, and is a product of the company's newly advanced Eurostar E3000 product line.

COMSATBw-2 is the second of a series of military defense satellites for the German Ministry of Defense.

From it's location at 13.2 degrees east above the equator, COMSATBw will cover and track other military movements from North America over toward the Middle East region, and is designed to operate through 2025. It will also provide secure military communications of it's regional military as it operates with it's twin COMSATBw-1 -- which launched last October.

The German satellite was the 34th military payload launched by an Ariane rocket, according to Arianespace.

This Ariane flight was the first of seven planned for 2010. The next Ariane 5 is scheduled for mid-June with one comsat and one weather satellite.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Second Spacewalk of Atlantis' Mission Underway

Atlantis astronauts today are performing the second of three planned spacewalks outside Earth's orbital outpost to install fresh batteries and repair a snagged cable on a sensor boom.

Mission specialists Steven Bowen and Michael Good switched their spacesuits to internal power officially beginning today's planned six and one-half hour spacewalk at 6:38 am EDT.

The first task the orbital duo began was to free a snagged cable at the camera on the orbital boom sensor.

"The cable was inhibiting a camera from maneuvering correctly. Bowen adjusted the cable and used a plastic tie to hold it in position," Mission control near Houston stated today.

This job only lasted only fifteen minutes, but when they finished it was fifty-one minutes into the spacewalk.

The second task the astronauts went to work on outside the space station is the replacement of at least three of six batteries at the Port 6 truss solar array.

The astronauts will replace each 375 pound battery at the array's integrated electrical assembly by releasing two hold down bolts. Once the battery is free, the two astronauts will hand-off the battery back and forth as they transition down the truss segment to store the battery.

The first new battery, battery A, will then be removed from the Intergrated cargo carrier which Atlantis brought up to orbit and houses all six fresh batteries.

In support of the spacewalk, Atlantis astronauts Garrett Reisman and Piers Sellers operated the station's fifty-foot robotic arm with the portable foot restraint attached.

A Friday spacewalk will install the final three batteries in the same region of the station.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Japanese Spacecraft to Study Venus Atmosphere

Akatsuki will arrive in Venus' orbit in November. (JAXA)

(UPDATED from May 5, 2010) -- A Japanese space observatory will depart Earth on Friday bound for Venus as it begins a multi-year mission to study the planet's mysterious atmosphere.

The Venusian atmosphere as a whole is one of the great mysteries in our solar system -- from it's make up and fast rotating upper atmosphere to why it differs so much from it's twin planet, Earth.

Launch of the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) H-2A-200 rocket with the Venus Climate Orbiter "Akatsuki" spacecraft is scheduled for May 20 at 5:58:22 pm EDT (2158 GMT), or 6:58 am local time on May 21, from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.

The Akatsuki observatory, also known as PLANET-C, will spend nearly five years investigating the make-up of Venus' high carbon dioxide atmosphere with high resolution mapping.

The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Venus this November.

"Akatsuki is the world's first planetary probe that deserves to be called a meteorological satellite," JAXA project scientist Dr. Takeshi Imamura explained. "The unique feature of this mission is that it will map the movement of the Venusian atmosphere in three dimensions, by taking continuous images of a broad swath all at once, using different wavelengths ranging from infrared to ultraviolet."

The planet's atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide creates surface temperatures which average 860 degrees Fahrenheit. Venus' heavy atmosphere, which includes nearly 4% nitrogen, is ninety-two times heavier than that here on Earth.

The box-shaped spacecraft will orbit the planet once every 30 hours as it flies an elliptical orbit of 186 x 49,710 miles above.

Earth's sister planet orbits the Sun from a mean distance of 67 million miles, and has no natural satellites of it's own.

Akatsuki will carry several science instruments and cameras, including an ultraviolet imager and a Longwave infrared camera.

"Akatsuki is equipped with five cameras," Imamura explained in a recent interview. "One of them, a near-infrared camera, will be able to peer through the thick clouds of sulfuric acid and observe the surface of Venus, which is normally completely obscured by these clouds. In addition to studying meteorological phenomena, we might be able to see whether Venus has any active volcanoes."

Venus does have over 160 volcanoes which have added a vast amount of sulfuric acid to the planet's atmosphere.

A secondary payload which will become a test bed for future solar sail spacecrafts will accompany the planetary probe as they leave earth orbit.

A small Japanese solar power sail experiment known as IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-Craft Accelerated by Radiation of the Sun) will depart Earth and speed toward Venus as well.

A circular core will begin moving out into outer space and begin to rotate at 20 rotations per minute. Then two weeks later, it will deploy a 20-meter (66 feet) diagonal square solar array blanket which will surround the rotating core.

The solar sail is only .0075 mm or .0003 of an inch thick, according to JAXA.

The solar array blanket is supported by four masts, and it will be these masts which will support the very thin polyimide solar cells.

The IKAROS demonstration will pave the way for a larger platform which will span 50 meters (164 feet) across as JAXA launches a solar sail probe toward Jupiter late this year.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Japanese Rocket Launch Scrubbed Due to Rain

A Japanese rocket set to carry a planetary observation satellite into space and toward Venus was scrubbed today due to inclement weather at the Tanegashima Space Center.

The Japanese Space Agency scrubbed the launch at T-5 minutes, due to rainy weather, high winds and low clouds over and around launch pad 1. The launch team will try again on Tuesday afternoon.

The H-2A rocket was to have lifted-off at 5:44 pm EDT.

Atlantis Astronauts Begin Station Spacewalk

Two of shuttle Atlantis' astronauts began an orbital walk in space this morning to install a new high gain antenna and perform several chores in support of the International Space Station.

Spacewalkers Garrett Reisman and Steven Bowen began the first of three planned 'walks at 7:54 am EDT today, as they switched their suits to internal power while in the Quest airlock of the station.

Running under the call sign nicknames of Big-G for Reisman and Steve-O for Bowen, the pair spent a few minutes getting accustomed prior to their planned six and one-half hour extra vehicular activity.

Today's spacewalk is the 144th devoted to space station construction and maintenance. At the start of today's spacewalk, astronauts and cosmonauts have logged a total time of 893 hours and 93 minutes outside the orbital complex.

First up saw Reisman began to transition over to the station's port 1 truss to the Ceta cart to pick up a portable foot restraint in which he will stand upon as he rides the station's robotic arm this morning. He completed installation of the PFR at 8:39 am.

Meanwhile, Bowen began removing several bolts at 8:36 am, removing the Ku-Band antenna dish which was mounted to the
intergrated cargo carrier -- an eight foot long cargo support structure which Atlantis delivered to station on Sunday.

Operating the space station's fifty-foot robotic arm is Atlantis' Piers Sellers.

"There's a spectacular light show underneath us", Big-Garrett stated as he viewed lightning storms over Taiwan during the nighttime pass at 8:45 am.

At the helm of Atlantis is commander Ken Ham and pilot Tony Antonelli. Mission specialists Reisman, Michael Good, Bowen and Sellers round out the crew of NASA's 132nd space shuttle mission.

Orbiting high above earth in an orbit of 220 x 212 statue miles, the largest complex ever to fly in space with Atlantis docked now weighs in at 1.06 million pounds.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cargo Carrier Attached to Space Station

The multiple hatches between the International Space Station and the newly docked shuttle Atlantis were opened today kicking off a task filled week in space.

After Atlantis docked this morning at 10:28 am EDT, the region between the hatches of the two spacecraft was pressurized to 14.7 psi - the normal atmospheric pressure felt at sea level here on earth.

Atlantis also spent thirty minutes reorienting the space station's attitude 180-degrees so that the belly of the orbiter would be in the direction of travel. This is typically performed so that orbital debris and micrometeorites do not impact delicate scientific experiments in the payload bay or the orbiter.

Mission control near Houston then gave the go ahead for the two crews to open their respective hatches.

Hatch opening occurred at 12:18 pm, as the station-shuttle complex flew 212 miles high above the Pacific coastline of Ecuador.

Atlantis' commander Kenneth Ham first floated into the station's Destiny module after being welcomed by the station's commander Oleg Kotov. Ham then darted in the microgravity environment right toward the two lone Americans living on the space station -- Tracy Caldwell-Dyson and Tim J. Creamer -- and all three embraced in a big hug.

The joint crew of twelve all passed out hugs and handshakes of greetings followed by a traditional safety briefing conducted by Kotov.

The first big task of the crew's busy day is the unstowage of the massive Intergrated Cargo Carrier from the bay of Atlantis.

The ICC was slowly lifted from the payload bay by the space station's fifty-foot robotic arm and placed onto the station's mobile transport.

The eight-foot long ICC is loaded with nearly six thousand pounds of hardware such as six huge batteries and a new high gain space-to-ground antenna.

The new items will be removed from the carrier during a planned six and one-half hour spacewalk beginning on Monday morning by Atlantis astronauts Garrett Reisman and Steven Bowman.

Shuttle Atlantis Docks with Space Station

Atlantis approaches the Space Station today. (NASA)

The International Space Station and her crew welcomed the shuttle Atlantis to their home today, as the combined crew of twelve embark on eight days of joint docked operations.

Speeding around earth at 17,250 mph, Atlantis moved in with a slow approach to the space station and docked at 10:28:25 am EDT today, as the pair flew 220 miles above the southern Pacific Ocean.

One hour prior to docking, Atlantis' commander Kenneth Ham performed the post-Columbia standard Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver so that the station's crew could take several hundred images of the orbiter's belly.

Station and Expedition 23 commander Oleg Kotov using a 400 mm camera, and flight engineers Timothy J. Creamer, Tracey Caldwell Dyson and Soichi Noguchi using 800 mm lens began photographing select sections of the orbiter's belly as the duo flew 221 miles above southern Europe at 9:30 am.

After the backflip concluded the station and shuttle flew 600-feet apart for a half-hour as they configured for the slow-in approach by Atlantis. Then mission control near Houston gave Ham the go to move in and dock.

"Atlantis copies, Go for docking", Ham radioed back to the control center at the Johnson Space Center at 9:54 am.

The 800,000 pound mass of the space station added 263,100 pounds of the orbiter and her cargo upon docking.

The duo crews will spend a busy week ahead as they deliver a new Russian module from the aft section of Atlantis' bay; and deliver new supplies, batteries, a highgain antenna and fuel to the station.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Atlantis Closes in on the Space Station

Atlantis' arm grappled to the Boom Sensor this morning (NASA)

The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis will spend today inspecting the outside of their spaceship for possible damage as they close in on the International Space Station.

Atlantis' commander Kenneth Ham and pilot Tony Antonelli, along with mission specialists Garrett Reisman and Piers Sellers used the orbiter boom sensor attached to the spacecraft's fifty-foot robotic arm today to take radar images and video of the wing leading edges and nose cap.

The boom sensor is also fifty-feet long. The shuttle's arm grappled it's end at 8AM EDT, and then used the extension to slowly scan the thermal tiles for any damage which may have occurred at launch.

Mission control have blocked off six hours of today's time line to perform the laser scans.

Earlier, at 7:33 am, the orbiter performed one of several burns to assist in catching up with the space station. The ship's right hand orbital maneuvering system engine performed a ten second burn with raised Atlantis' orbit by one mile to 145 x 124 high orbit.

The burn also changed the shuttle's velocity by 8 feet per second as the orbiter closes in on for docking tomorrow morning at 10:27 am. Another OMS burn is planned for 5:35 pm today.

Meanwhile, on the middeck, Antonelli, Steve Bowen and Michael Good prepared their spacesuits for two the three planned spacewalks planned on this flight.

The three spacewalks are planned for Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Mission control is also tracking a piece of space debris today which could fly close in the path of the station and shuttle on Sunday. A possible avoidance maneuver may be performed by Atlantis' if the debris get's to close for comfort.

NASA's Johnson Space Center near Houston informed this reported that a plan

The six member crew were awoken earlier at 4:20 am EDT, to “You’re My Home” performed by Billy Joel. The song was played for commander Ham.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Shuttle Atlantis Lifts-off on Space Station Flight

The space shuttle Atlantis lifted-off today to begin a twelve day flight to deliver a new Russian module and fresh supplies to the International Space Station.

NASA's fourth space worthy orbiter began her thirty-second and what will likely be her final planned mission of her twenty-five year storied history.

At the helm of Atlantis is commander Kenneth Ham and pilot Tony Antonelli -- both pilots in the U.S. Navy. Mission specialists Garrett Reisman, Michael Good, Steve Bowen and Piers Sellers round out the crew of NASA's 132nd space shuttle mission.

"We're going to take her on her thirty-second flight, and if you don't mind, we'll take her out of the barn and make a few more laps around the planet," Ham radioed to the launch team minutes for resuming the countdown at T-9 minutes.

Atlantis' rocket boosters ignited on time at 2:20:09 pm EDT today, propelling 4.51 million pounds of hardware skyward and toward space.

Atlantis darted into the blue skies of the Florida coastline embarking on the third to final planned mission in the space shuttle program.

At the moment Atlantis launched, it's port-of-call flew 220 miles high over the southern Pacific Ocean.

The launch countdown was mostly trouble free as the weather improved in the final hour from 70% to 90% favorable for launch.

A 3-inch thin crack on the external tank's foam insulation was discovered by the "Ice Team" hours prior to launch. However, the launch team issued a waiver and discounted it as an issue to fly.

Any crack discovered on tank insulation created concern for the launch team following the Columbia damage incurred in 2003 due to loss foam at launch.

A 1/8th-inch ball bearing which is used on a pit pin which holds a payload bay camera in place was discovered loose on the aft bulk head on Monday. The bearing was then traced to the pit pin connector the following day.

For thirty minutes, the launch team and the mission management team discussed the issue, and with just seventeen minutes until the launch time, the teams cleared the technical issue IPR-045 with a waiver. Atlantis was then number one on the runway.

Atlantis has traveled now nearly 116 million miles since her first flight in October 1985 on a classified military satellite deployment mission. At 2:37 pm today, Atlantis was making her 4,463 revolution of the earth as she begun her 283 day in space.

Atlantis will spend two days in a lower orbit than that of the space station as her crew prepares the craft for a Sunday morning docking and eight days of docked operations.

This mission's prime payload is the Mini-Research Module 1, also known in Russia as Rassvet or 'dawn'. It will be attached to the station's Zarya module's earth-facing port, and will provide an extra docking port for future manned Soyuz TMA crafts and Progress M unmanned cargo vessels.

The module will be attached on the mission's fifth day with the station robotic arm.

A shuttle mission in September will deliver the final segment by a space shuttle; and a Russian rocket in December 2011 will deliver the final planned segment of the space station.

Once Atlantis returns back to earth on May 26, she will be prepared for a standby flight this December to assist Endeavour's final mission if an emergency rescue flight is needed.

If Atlantis is not required to launch on a rescue flight, NASA could decide next month to launch her on what will be the final space shuttle mission with a crew of four in June 2011.

Atlantis separates from her fuel tank on orbit. (NASA)

Long Range Cameras Record Atlantis' Launch

The space shuttle Atlantis' afternoon launch was captured on long range tracking cameras on the beach coastline of Cape Canaveral.

Over 5.5 million million pounds of thrust at launch carried the entire space shuttle stack into the upper atmosphere.

Fueling of Shuttle Atlantis Continues

The space shuttle Atlantis' huge center fuel tank is being loaded with some 535,000 gallons of fuel this hour in preparation for her launch this afternoon to begin a twelve day mission to Earth's orbital outpost.

Super cold liquid oxygen followed by liquid hydrogen fuels began loading into the rust colored external fuel tank at 4:55 am EDT this morning.

It is the mixture of the two hypergolic fuels which power the orbiter's three main engines for eight and one-half minutes.

Lift-off of Atlantis on her final planned space voyage is targeted for 2:20:09 pm today, from launch pad 39-A here at the Kennedy Space Center.

The six crew members awoke earlier to begin their launch day activities which will see them depart for the launch pad at 10:30 am.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Final Planned Launch of Atlantis set for Friday

The final planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis remains scheduled for tomorrow from America's Space Coast.

"From a Space Shuttle Program and ISS Program standpoint, we're ready to launch Atlantis and get this mission under way," the chairman of the prelaunch mission management team, Mike Moses, stated yesterday.

Lift-off remains set for Friday afternoon at 2:20:07 pm EDT, from launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Once Atlantis arrives on orbit, the crew will focus on steering their ship toward their port of call -- the International Space Station.

"Twelve days, three EVA's (or spacewalk), tons of robotics... We're putting on spares that make us feel good about the long-term sustainability of the ISS, replacing batteries that have been up there for a while, and docking a Russian-built ISS module," Space Shuttle program manager John Shannon stated a few days ago. "This flight has a little bit of everything, and it's been a great preparation for the team."

The new module Shannon refers to is Russia's new key to adding an extra docking port to their side of the station. The mini-Reseach Module 1 is a while bullet-shaped section which will be added to allow for an extra cargo ship to dock and to create a large storage facility for needed supplies.

The 17, 147 pound MRM-1 will head into orbit in the aft section of the shuttle's payload bay filled to the roof with supplies for the current Expedition 23 crew aboard the space station. On Tuesday, it will be docked to the Russian Zarya module's earth-facing port with the use of the station's robotic arm.

On Wednesday, Mission commander Kenneth Ham and pilot Tony Antonelli performed several touch-and-go landings at Kennedy's shuttle landing facility's runway in a modified Gulfstream II jet which handles just like the orbiter.

With one day until launch, several key items will happen today at pad 39-A.

A series of communications checks between Atlantis and Kennedy's launch control center in Firing Room 4, and checks with the Johnson Space Center near Houston will occur this morning.

Final crew items and experiments destined for the station will be loaded into the middeck of Atlantis today.

At about 5:30 pm, the massive protective rotating service structure which surrounds the orbiter will be moved away exposing the entire space shuttle stack as she nears launch.

Ground crews spent yesterday afternoon filling the orbiter's fuel cells with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for the twelve day flight. The fuel cells produce electricity for the space shuttle and in turn their byproduct is water use for the crew while on orbit.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Atlantis' Crew Arrives for Friday's Launch

Atlantis' crew arrives in Florida for launch. (NASA-KSC)

The six member crew of the next space shuttle flight arrived upon America's Space Coast to prepare for their launch aboard Atlantis on Friday.

"The spaceship is ready to go, and we're ready to fly. Look for a good show on Friday," Atlantis' commander Kenneth Ham stated after arriving.

The flight crew arrived in a complement of four T-38A jets touching down at 6:49 pm EDT this evening, one after another here at the Shuttle Landing Facility, adjacent from the massive Vehicle Assembly Building.

"We are ready to launch," Ham added.

The crew will head to bed at about 9PM tonight, followed by a wake up call just after 5 AM on Tuesday morning.

The crew are in a specific sleep cycle which is aligned with their flight's time line and that of the six crew members aboard the International Space Station.

Lift-off of NASA's 132nd space shuttle flight is planned for 2:00:07 pm this Friday afternoon from launch pad 39-A.

The twelve day mission will see Atlantis approach and dock to the space station's Harmony PMA-2 port on Sunday at 10:27 am.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Atlantis Mission to Deliver Russian Module

The space shuttle Atlantis will embark on what will likely be her final mission next week as a crew of six deliver a Russian module and perform three spacewalks in support of the International Space Station.

"The six of us are calling this the 'first to last flight' of Atlantis," mission commander Kenneth Ham stated on Monday.

At the helm of Atlantis will be commander Ham and pilot Tony Antonelli. Mission specialists Garrett Reisman, Michael Good, Steve Bowen and Piers Sellers round out the crew of NASA's 132nd space shuttle mission.

Atlantis thirty-second space flight is set to begin at 2:20:07 pm EDT, on May 14 from launch pad 39-A here at the Kennedy Space Center.

Atlantis will fly a 12 day flight of which eight days will be spent docked to the space station.

Based on an on time launch, Atlantis will slowly move in and dock two days later to the American Harmony node.

This may very well be the final flight of Atlantis, which first flew twenty-five years ago on a classified Department of Defense flight, STS-51J.

"Atlantis really is a great flying bird," astronaut Jerry Ross, who flew aboard Atlantis on several flights, stated on the retiring of NASA's fourth space-worthy orbiter. "I personally feel it's the best one of the fleet."

Commander Ham is a captain in the U.S. Navy and a veteran of the STS-124 mission to station in 2008. His pilot on this flight made his first space flight a few missions later on STS-119 in March 2009. That mission brought up the final truss segment of solar arrays for the orbital laboratory.

New Jersey native Reisman will serve as mission specialist one on this flight. He served aboard the station as a member of the Expedition 16 and 17 crews, and returned home as a member of Ham's 124 flight. He will perform two of the three planned spacewalks on days four and eight of this flight.

The flight engineer and MS-2 for Atlantis is Michael Good. A retired Colonel in the Air Force, Good's only space flight was aboard the STS-125 flight last May which saw the final refurbishment of the Hubble Space Telescope. He performed two spacewalks to service the astronomical observatory.

Bowen, a veteran of the STS-126 flight to the orbital complex, will serve as MS-4. He performed two spacewalks outside the station on 126, and will perform two spacewalks on days four and six of this mission.

The final member of this all-veteran crew includes two-time shuttle flyer Piers Sellers of Sussex in the United Kingdom. Sellers first flew to a younger station in October 2002 aboard Atlantis on STS-112. He returned back on Discovery's STS-121 flight which began with the space shuttle program's only Independence Day launch in 2006.

The Mini Research Module or MRM-1 will be the prime payload of this 34th shuttle visit to the space station.

The MRM -- also known in Russia as Rassvet or 'dawn' -- will be attached to the station's Zarya module's earth-facing port, and will provide an extra docking port for future manned Soyuz TMA crafts and Progress M unmanned cargo vessels.

Astronaut Reisman will use the station's robotic arm to pluck the module from the orbiter's bay and slowly move it over to Zarya.

The 23-foot long Rassvet module will also provide extra storage space for the Russian Space Agency, and support the upcoming Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module scheduled for launch by a Proton-M rocket in December 2011.

The module was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in December for final prelaunch checks. The entire STS-132 payload was then installed into Atlantis' payload bay out at the launch pad on April 15.

Also tucked in the shuttle's payload bay is the integrated cargo carrier filled six spare batteries; spare equipment for the station's Canadian Dextre robotic arm; and a high gain Ku-Band antenna for video and high speed data flow to the ground.

This month's flight of Atlantis will be the first of three final space shuttle missions in the program's storied twenty-nine year history.

STS-132 will also mark the second time in which NASA's public affairs at Kennedy will host a space tweet-up for a select 100 people who enjoy the social media.

The space guests will enjoy a special behind-the-scenes tour of the space center, and then view the launch from the press site located just three miles from the launch pad. A very enjoyable experience and chance of a lifetime for most who type 140 characters or less with each tweet.

A few days following the launch, the Johnson Space Center will host a special tweet-up of their own south of Houston for one day for separate select group.

This journalist was chosen to be on the STS-132 JSC NASA Tweetup for May 19th. Follow my Tweets: @CAtkeison.

Landing is currently targeted for the Kennedy Space Center just after sunrise on May 26.

Rassvet is moved at Kennedy Space Center in April (NASA)

Future NASA Launch Escape System Tested

The Launch Escape System separates from Orion today. (NASA)

A new version of a launch escape system for the upcoming Orion manned spacecraft was successfully tested this morning at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility.

The new escape system is designed to pull the Orion craft away from a troubled or exploding core rocket from prelaunch or up thru the initial launch phase.

The Pad Abort 1 test ignited and launched at 9:00:01 am EDT this morning, near Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Watch the NASA Video)

NASA's first fully integrated test of the multiple motors associated with the launch escape system went very smoothly while mounted a top a mock Orion module. The system is designed for future Orion manned launches beginning no earlier than 2014.

The craft was sent one mile in altitude and landed about one mile north of the test site, landing some 97 seconds later.

The launch team stated an hour after the test concluded that they saw no anomalies and that it was outstanding.

The abort motor begins the escape launch process as it produces 500,000 pounds of thrust or 15 G's to launch the Orion upward.

The Attitude Control System Motor which uses 8 solid motor thruster valves then reorients the craft and swings it 180 degrees to prepare for the drag chutes to deploy. The ACS motors pitch Orion from the six o'clock position up to the 9 o'clock and around to the 4 o'clock position to begin the landing sequence.

The jettison motor then ejects the launch escape tower away from the Orion so that a series of parachutes can begin to deploy and slow the craft down.

The craft landed at a speed of 23 miles per hour.

This was the United States' first abort system test since the early Apollo days in 1966.

The Orion craft parachutes down this morning (NASA)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Russian Resupply Craft Docks with Space Station

Progress 37 moves in for Docking to Station Today. (NASA)

A Russian cargo craft filled to the top with supplies was docked successfully today by the commander of the International Space Station after an automatic system failed on it's approach.

As the Progress M-05M spacecraft begin it's rendezvous sequence, the Kurs automated rendezvous system failed at a range of 3,280 feet from it's docking port.

The system failure forced the station's commander Oleg Kotov to take over and manually bring the 24-foot craft in the rest of the way.

According to the Johnson Space Center's Mission Control, "The Kurs shut down and defaulted to the TORU system after the craft failed to recognize its attitude orientation through its sensors following one of its thruster firings to fine-tune its path to the station".

Progress was docked at 2:30 pm EDT (18:30 GMT) to the Piers docking port as the two spacecraft orbited 220 miles over the Kazakh border of southern Russia.

On board Progress are 2.6 tonnes of supplies for the current Expedition 23 crew and for the upcoming 24 crew.

The international crew of six includes
Kotov and flight engineers T.J. Creamer, Soichi Noguchi, Mikhail Kornienko, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Alexander Skvortsov.

A few of the supplies carried inside the cargo craft is 117 pounds of equipment for the Mini Research Module 2; a
water supply system which is 161 pounds; food and food containers equal 717 pounds; and medical equipment plus personal hygien weighed in at 342 pounds, according to the Russian Space Agency.

The unmanned spacecraft was launch on Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan.

The craft's arrival increases the number of Russian spacecraft docked to the station to four -- two Soyuz TMA's and two Progress.

The older, trash filled Progress 36 is scheduled to undock from earth's orbital outpost on May 10.

Six days later, the space shuttle Atlantis will move in and dock to begin eight days of work, including three spacewalks.

copyright 1998 - 2010 Charles Atkeison, All rights reserved.