Thursday, June 30, 2011

Europe's Ariane 5 to launch two broadcast satellites Friday

Europe's heavy-lift rocket heads to its launch pad. (Arianespace)

A mighty European rocket will carry aloft two high definition broadcast satellites on Friday, providing direct to home television for Europe and Japan.

The European ASTRA 1N and Japan's BSAT 3C/JCSAT 110R satellites will be carried into earth orbit by the mighty Ariane 5.

The 165-foot white rocket was rolled to it's launch pad today, where it was then connected to fuel lines and power support equipment.

Fueling of the core stage with super cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuels will begin five hours before launch.

Powered by twin solid rocket boosters and a core main engine, the fifty-ninth flight of an Ariane 5 is set for 5:43:07 p.m. EDT (6:43 p.m. local) from launch complex 3 in Kourou, French Guiana.

The rocket will soar up and out over the southern Atlantic waters on a trajectory inclined 2 degrees to the equator.

The three segment, 103-foot tall boosters create 91% of the rocket's thrust during the opening minutes of the launch.

Just over two minutes into the flight, the twin boosters will have exhausted it's solid fuel and then separate ten seconds later at an altitude of 43 miles high.

Next, the cone-shaped payload cover will split in half and separate just over three minutes into the ascent.

The 55-foot tall payload fairings acts as a protective shield as the rocket's speed acts against the think atmosphere, where pressures build in a dynamic force known as MAX-Q.

The French-built ASTRA 1N broadcast satellite will ride to space in the top position of the nose fairing section, with JCSAT 110R positioned below.

The cryogenic fueled Vulcain 2 engine will keep pushing the rocket higher before shutting down nearly nine minutes after launch at a speed of 15,395 m.p.h.

The Ariane's upper stage takes over seconds later and will boost the duel payload into a higher elliptical orbit and at a faster orbital velocity of 22,029 m.p.h.

The 11,795-pound SES ASTRA 1N will be placed into orbit at 28.2 degrees East for a short time, and slowly moved over to it's planned operating location at 19.2 degrees East.

The twenty-one foot long satellite will operate with 52 Ku-bands transponders to support most of Europe's cable and satellite broadcasts to homes and businesses.

ASTRA will be the first to separate from the upper stage and satellite stack at 6:10 p.m. at an altitude of 615 miles.

Following the separating of ASTRA's support structure nine minutes later, the second satellite will be positioned for release by a series of thruster firings.

JCSAT 110R will then separate from the upper stage thirty-eight minutes after leaving the jungles of South America.

Built jointly by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems and Sky Perfect JSAT, the 6,415-pound BSAT 3C/JCSAT 110R satellite will operate in geostationary orbit over 110-degrees East.

The duel solar array satellite measures 17 feet across and is expected to service Japan for over sixteen years with both high speed communications and cable TV service via 24 active Ku-band transponders.

This flight will mark the 203rd launch of an Ariane rocket.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Two iPhone 4's headed to space station on final shuttle flight

A pair of apple iPhone 4's will launch into earth orbit in July aboard the final space shuttle flight and will be used by astronauts during a series of experiments aboard the International Space Station.

Each iPhone 4 model will have a special application loaded to test the calibration of the smart phone in space, and uses for it's camera as the crew aims it toward the earth in a series of photography tests.

The application, a thumb-nail logo located on the front of the touch screen device, was designed in conjunction with NASA and created by Odyssey Space Research, who is paying the space agency for their application "SpaceLab for iOS" to be tested.

“The revolutionary iPhone 4 offers an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate serious functions previously reserved for more expensive, purpose-built devices,” Odyssey's Chief Executive Officer Brian Rishikof stated recently.

The application is available for download here on earth for .99 cents by iPhone owners via
apple's app store.

IPhone 4 owners at the apple retail store in Alpharetta, Georgia, spoke with surprise and excitement upon learning of the next space shuttle flight's special payload.

"I just hope it leads to improved technologies for future iPhones," said Dale Shepard, a customer who had just bought a new iPhone for his wife on Thursday. "I look forward to taking my iPhone with me into space one day."

The iPhone tests will not use cellular service nor the data services during the four multi-step experiments aboard the space station.

Each crew member will enter their name and answer a series of questions related to the experiment, as they work in either the U.S. laboratory or the Cupola module which provides a 360-degree field of view of the earth.

“The potential for using iPhone 4 to both conduct and support in-space research and operations is enormous. The opportunity to make the experience accessible to anyone via the App Store will attract a new generation of space supporters,” Rishikof added.

The twin iPhones will be housed inside a NanoRacks cube carrier when shuttle Atlantis lifts-off on July 8 from the Kennedy Space Center.

Experimental tests also include how solar radiation effects the smart phone's memory, and test how it may aide in navigation by photographing a series of locations on earth.

The duel phones are intended for tests by NASA astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum, and several of the six space station crew members following Atlantis' departure on July 18.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Russian Progress cargo craft docks to space station

Progress craft sails to a docking with space station. (NASA)

A Russian cargo craft loaded with equipment and supplies successfully docked to the International Space Station today.

The 24-foot long spacecraft spent two days traveling up to the orbiting outpost with fresh supplies for the crew of six living and working aboard.

Live video sent down by the supply craft's docking camera showed a nearly 910,000 pound space station alone in earth orbit draped with the blackness of space.

As the cargo craft passed the 3,280 foot distance point, Progress slowed down to a .5 m.p.h. closing rate and then down to .15 m.p.h. rate as the distance closed.

The craft then held a brief station-keeping position 540 feet from it's planned docking port on the Zvezda module, so that Russian ground controllers could ensure a safe docking.

Progress M-11M automatically docked to the Russian Zvezda module at 12:37 p.m. EDT (20:37 Moscow time) as the two crafts soared 235 miles above Kazakhstan.

"Once again, congratulations on the automatic docking," the Russian flight control team radioed the cosmonauts ten minutes later.

The station's Expedition 28 crew includes Russian cosmonaut and commander Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev, Sergei Volkov, NASA astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum, and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa.

A mass of 5893 pounds, including water, oxygen, propellant, medical supplies, hardware, video and photography equipment and personal crew items arrived following the relatively smooth docking.

Brief communication issues with the spacecraft, including loss of video and target information caused the station's crew to pay closer attention to Progress' approach.

As the craft neared it's arrival, Russian mission control had no data on the retraction of communications antenna on Progress.

Cosmonauts are scheduled to open the hatches leading into the Progress at 3:30 p.m., following a brief meal and leak checks between the docking port's seals.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Minuteman III ICBM launches from Vandenberg, AFB

Minuteman III lifts-off from the California coastline today. (USAF)

A Minuteman III missile with an unarmed re-entry vehicle was launched on a test flight this morning from Vandenberg, AFB in California.

Fog and low visibility combined with a communication link issue delayed the planned night time lift-off into the early dawn giving spectators along the coastline a beautiful view.

As the seconds ticked down, the launch closure door which seals the silo slid open and six seconds later, the first stage ignited sending the missile up and arcing west.

The sixty-foot tall Intercontinental Ballistic Missile departed it's silo at 6:34:59 a.m. PDT (9:34 a.m. EDT), from launch facility 10 on the northern section of Vandenberg.

The solid fueled first stage provides nearly 210,ooo pounds of thrust at launch, and burns for one minute. The solid fueled second stage burns for the next minute.

Soaring up into sub-orbital space and westward out over the Pacific Ocean, the Minuteman III's dummy warhead aimed for a trageted splashdown near the Marshall Islands.

"Minuteman III test launches demonstrate our nation's ICBM capability in a very visible way, deterring potential adversaries while reassuring allies," stated mission director Col. David Bliesner. "These launches provide valuable information on the missile's effectiveness in its intended operational environment."

The United States launched the first test flight of a Minuteman III in 1968, and the missile became operational in 1970.

The next test flight of a Minuteman III is targeted for July 27.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Russia launches supply craft to space station

Russia's Soyuz U rocket lifts a cargo craft to space today. (RSA)

An unmanned spacecraft filled with fresh supplies, fuel and hardware lifted off a top a Russian rocket today bound for the International Space Station.

Clear skies and warm temperatures favored the rocket's departure from western Kazakhstan.

The Progress M-11M supply craft -- loaded with nearly 2.6 tons of food, water and equipment, including supplies for NASA and Japan's astronauts -- lifted-off on time at 10:38 a.m. EDT (1438 GMT) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Launch occurred from the same traditional launch pad #1 which has supported most of the Russian Space Agency's manned and unmanned flights, including the first human space flight fifty years ago and the expedition crew's trip's to the space station.

The Progress craft, according to the Russian Space Agency, settled into an initial orbit of 120 x 149 miles.

The Progress M will orbit earth for two days as ground controllers steer the craft toward a docking, the first space craft docking to the space station at it's new altitude of 230 miles.

Progress will slowly guide itself in and dock to the Russian Zvezda module on Thursday at 12:37 p.m. (1637 GMT).

Aboard the orbiting lab are Russian cosmonauts commander Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev, Sergei Volkov, NASA astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum, and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa.

During the docking phase, Samokutyaev and Volkov will monitor the Progress' progress with a computer program called Russian telerobotically operated rendezvous system or TORU.

The duo will use TORU to help pilot the craft in to dock if Progress' on board computer fails.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

NASA spacecraft begins trek out of our solar system

A NASA spacecraft is speeding out and away from our solar system and will make the first leap into interstellar space at any moment according to scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Voyager 1's exit will begin giving astrophysicists new data accounts of life outside the solar system.

The planetary satellite was launched nearly 34 years ago and continues to transmit data back to earth about the space around the craft powered by nuclear batteries.

It is this data sent back since last December and into February which began informing scientists at JPL that the spacecraft is no longer registering any solar wind activity and has moved into the outermost region of our solar system where there is no solar wind at the edge of the heliopause.

Our Sun emits solar wind which are super charged particles that soar out to the edge of the heliosphere estimated at some 9.3 billion miles or greater from the Sun.

"These calculations show we're getting close, but how close?" asks Ed Stone, a Voyager project scientist based at Pasadena's California Institute of Technology. "That's what we don't know, but Voyager 1 speeds outward a billion miles every three years, so we may not have long to wait."

NASA suggests that the spacecraft will become the first human built object to arrive outside the solar system before 2013.

Voyager 1 travels through space at a rate of 320 million miles a year, or the distance of 3.5 astronomical units.

Our solar system is made up of our Sun and planets located in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Launched from Cape Canaveral on September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 passed by the great planet of Jupiter in 1979, and took closeup images of Saturn in 1980, pictures which redefined what scientists knew about the make up of the planet's rings.

As of 9:00 a.m. EDT today, Voyager was located 10,837,307,002 miles from earth.

Voyager is expected to operate through 2020 according to JPL.

As Voyager 1 becomes the first man made object to leave our heliospere, it's sister craft Voyager 2 is located two billion miles away and should leave the solar system two years later.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Georgia Tech graduate to return to space station in July

Sandy Magnus will fly aboard the final space shuttle flight. (NASA)

Veteran space flier Sandy Magnus is no stranger to the city of Atlanta, nor is she to living in space, and is preparing this week for her flight aboard the final space shuttle mission in July.

The former aircraft engineer carried with her aspirations of becoming an astronaut, however she did not feel she was ready to apply just yet.

Magnus needed one more educational milestone before applying at NASA, and she looked to Atlanta to lead her into an astronaut career.

The Illinois native began attending the Georgia Institute of Technology located in downtown Atlanta in 1994. Two years later, she graduated with a Ph.D. from the School of Material Science and Engineering.

"I wandered off to Georgia Tech and did my Ph.D. in materials," Magnus said of her time in Atlanta. "At that point, I think my resume looks all right so I can apply to NASA and see what happens. And what happened was I got selected."

Weeks following her graduation, Magnus was accepted by NASA's Johnson Space Center near Houston for their astronaut program.

Dr. Magnus added, "I just didn’t feel ready to apply (at NASA) until I was nearing the completion of my Ph.D."

Today, she is a two-time shuttle astronaut and space station crew member and is just days away from her historic next spaceflight.

Magnus' first voyage upon the ocean of space was aboard space shuttle Atlantis in 2002, delivering a Starboard truss segment and fresh supplies for the crew aboard the International Space Station.

Her eleven day flight included her using the station's robotic arm during three days to assist fellow crew members spacewalking outside the complex.

Dr. Magnus' second spaceflight began with her launch from the Kennedy Space Center aboard Endeavour, to begin a nearly five month stay aboard the space station.

During Endeavour's two day trip to the outpost, she was joined by fellow Georgia Tech graduate, pilot Eric Boe.

The soccer enthusiast worked aboard the outpost by helping install new sleeping quarters, a new toilet and several new experiment and storage racks as the station was prepared to support crews of six.

Commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, mission specialists Rex Walheim and Dr. Magnus are due to lift-off aboard shuttle Atlantis on July 8 to begin the final flight of the space shuttle program.

The crew of four will spend eight days docked to the space station, as they deliver new hardware and supplies inside a cargo module tucked in the shuttle's payload bay.

Twelve days later Atlantis is due to land back at the Kennedy Space Center.

"I certainly feel honored to be part of the last crew," Magnus said. "And the thing I think that I feel the most honored about is it requires a special skill set to operate with a crew of four and I’m very flattered that it’s felt that I have that skill set that is needed to do that."

Magnus has traveled nearly 55,000,000 miles during her two spaceflights, logging 145 days in earth orbit.

Atlantis final orbit of the earth will be a busy time as the crew prepares to land. She hopes to reflect on the moment as the shuttle makes her victory lap around the planet.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

New crew ready for exciting time aboard space station

New space station residents prepare for busy space flight. (NASA)

The next crew members bound for the International Space Station are in their final hours before launch to begin nearly six busy months of living and working in earth orbit.

Two space station veterans and a first time space flier will link up with the orbiting complex 222 miles above earth to begin a marathon mission.

Russia's Soyuz commander Sergei Volkov, along with NASA astronaut Mike Fossum and Japan's Satoshi Furukawaare are due to lift-off aboard a Soyuz FG rocket on Tuesday at 4:12:45 p.m. EDT (2012 GMT) from launch pad 1 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan.

Launch will occur from the very same launch pad which sent Yuri Gagarin aloft on mankind's first voyage into space fifty years earlier.

The boyish looking Volkov was born in 1973, and has logged nearly 200 days in space in 2008 as he flew his first spaceflight as commander of the 17th space station crew. He will perform his third spacewalk seven weeks after launching to the outpost.

His father is cosmonaut Alexander Volkov who spent 391 days in space on three spaceflights, including being aboard the Mir space station the months leading up to and after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The younger Volkov states that it was not his dream of being a cosmonaut as a child, as he sat and watched his father study all the time for exams associated with his flights and training.

"When I was a kid it was more minuses than pluses (to being a cosmonaut). Always busy, studying all day long, exams," Volkov explained.

He did want to become a pilot since an early age graduating from Tambov Air Force Pilot School in 1995, and that led him to cosmonaut training two years later.

Two time shuttle flier Mike Fossum has logged nearly 27 days in space, and has made six spacewalks outside the space station. He will perform his seventh orbital walk one month into his stay aboard the complex.

Japanese astronaut Furukawaare will serve as the Soyuz craft's co-pilot, and will be the only rookie riding into space this week.

A medical doctor from the University of Tokyo, Furukawaare began training to learn the Soyuz spacecraft in 2003 at Star City near Moscow; and the following year moved to Houston to begin Astronaut Candidate Training at the Johnson Space Center.

"My crew’s just awesome," Fossum stated recently as he spoke of his crew mates. "I’ve know Sergey Volkov for 11 years... he’s one of my best friends in the cosmonaut corps. I’ve known and worked with Satoshi since he showed up here to begin training."

"We’re three guys from three different countries and three different corners of the globe, but we get along great. We have a lot of fun working together," Fossum added.

Powered by a central core engine and four booster engines, the Soyuz FG will launch to the east, inclined 51.6 degrees to the earth's equator.

The space trio will ride inside their Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft, a new version of the older Soyuz crafts in which Russia will consider this flight a test flight.

Two days later, the Soyuz will slowly glide in and dock to the Russian Rassvet Module at about 5:00 p.m.

The new crew will join the three existing residents of station commander Andrey Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyaev and NASA astronaut Ron Garan two hours after arriving.

It will be the start of a busy second half of 2011 aboard the orbiting complex.

On June 23, a Russian resupply craft Progress M-11M is due to arrive and dock to the Zvezda service module, loaded with over two tons of fuel, water, fresh food and items for the crew of six.

NASA will launch the final space shuttle to the space station on July 8 to deliver supplies and help with stowage of new equipment brought up by Atlantis.

Fossum and Garan will perform a single six hour spacewalk on July 12 beginning at 8:00 a.m. during Atlantis' eight day stay.

The pair will remove a 1,400 pond failed ammonia pump module tank for storage inside the back section of the shuttle's payload bay.

NASA wants to learn why the pump failed very early in it's life for possible redesign.

"We’re going to the pump module right now is sitting on a stowage platform very close to the space station’s airlock, and Ron’s going to be getting onto the space station’s robot arm and we’re going to get this pump module ready to go," Fossum said of his single spacewalk's start.

Garin will ride the station's arm while holding on to the tank, while Fossum traverses over to a storage platform in Atlantis' bay.

Once latched down, the spacewalkers will switch places to begin the next task.

"I’ll jump on the arm, Ronnie will take the pedestrian route and then we’re going to pick up the RRM (Robotics Refueling Mission)," Fossum explained. "It’s a new kind of science payload that the shuttle’s bringing up, and we’ll put that onto a temporary stowage location on the station for a later install out at its permanent location."

The Goddard Space Flight Center's RRM will demonstrate the refueling of a spacecraft with a robot, likely DEXTRE. It will use fluids and not actual fuel for this experiment.

Two weeks later, Russian cosmonauts Borisenko and Volkov will venture outside to relocate a cargo platform from a Russian docking compartment to the Poisk module; and will they will deploy a mini transmitter containing messages of congratulations related to the golden anniversary of human kinds first voyage into space.

The docking compartment known as Pirs will be unlatched from the station and sent to a destructive reentry in Autumn of 2012.

The space duo will also install several experiments on Pirs to study how biological materials react to being exposed to space, and install a laser-based communications device to the Russian Zvezda module.

Russia's twenty-ninth space station-based spacewalk is planned for July 26.

Two more resupply Progress crafts are scheduled to arrive at the station on September 1 and October 28, stepping up from their traditional launch of every three months to two months following the July retirement of the space shuttle.

Borisenko, Samokutyaev and Garan will depart their home in space for their return to earth aboard their Soyuz TMA-21 craft on September 16. The trio left earth on April 5, arriving in time for the Gagarin anniversary one week later.

On the day prior to Soyuz undocking, Fossum will become the new space station commander. As the spacecraft undocks, Fossum will then become the commander of the new Expedition 29 crew.

Two weeks later, a new crew of three will replace the departed crew as they lift-off to earth's orbital outpost on Sept. 30 to begin their nearly six month stay.

Volkov, Fossum and Furukawaare will conclude their expedition aboard the space station on November 16 and land three hours later in a cold central Kazakhstan desert.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Endeavour lands upon the Space Coast concluding her storied career

Endeavour lands in the blackness of the Florida wildlife. (NASA)

Gliding out of earth orbit and into the blackness of a Florida night sky, shuttle Endeavour returned home to the Kennedy Space Center today completing her twenty-fifth and final space flight.

Endeavour's all veteran crew of commander Mark Kelly, pilot Greg Johnson and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and Italian Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency, dropped out orbit after traveling 6,510,000 miles during nearly sixteen days.

As Endeavour soared high over the space center, her sister ship was on the move toward her launch pad in preparation for the final space shuttle flight.

Endeavour touched down on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center at 2:34:51 a.m. EDT, as her main gear hit the three mile strip at 210 m.p.h.

Johnson then released the drag chute to help slow the space craft down as Kelly gently lowered the nose gear.

Endeavour rolled to a stop at 2:35:36 a.m., completing 248 orbits of the earth on this her final flight.

"Welcome home, Endeavour," Mission Control radioed Endeavour's crew as she stopped.

"You know, the space shuttle is an amazing vehicle," commander Kelly radioed Mission Control. "To fly through the atmosphere, hit it at Mach 25. I mean steer through the atmosphere like an airplane, land on a runway like an airplane it is really, really an incredible ship."

"On behalf of my entire crew, I want to thank every person who's worked to get this mission going and every person that's worked on Endeavour. It's sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy,"
Kelly added.

In normal dramatic style, NASA's infrared television showed normal exhaust from venting power units at the base of the vertical stabilizer.

NASA's fifth operational shuttle and the replacement for Challenger, Endeavour was the craft used on the first repair flight of the Hubble Space Telescope; and was the first to visit the new International Space Station as she brought up the first American segment and connected it with the first Russian module in 1998.

It was the completion of a sixteen day mission to the International Space Station which saw the delivery of an experiment sixteen nations will use to study the dark matter and solar wind in our solar system, four spacewalks to hook of cooling lines from American modules to a Russian module; and the resupply and the outpost with fresh goods for the crew and extra spare parts and equipment.

Astronauts outside the station handed over Endeavour's extension boom to the station to extend the outpost's reach another fifty feet giving the robotic arm a 100-foot reach for robotics work.

Prior to leaving orbit, Kelly called down to Mission Control asking about an earlier issue with right nose landing gear #2 tire pressure sensor which cropped up on launch day.

Mission control waved off the issue and "masked" that sensor so that an alarm would not sound before landing.

The shuttle's twin engines were fired for nearly three minutes prior to landing at 1:29:44 a.m. to slow the spacecraft down by 295 feet per second, and begin her free fall out of orbit and toward the earth's atmosphere.

As the shuttle's orbit decayed, Kelly flipped Endeavour's nose forward 138-degrees to bring the belly down toward earth with the nose pitched up for re-entry minutes later.

The orbiter then began to hit the atmosphere nearly 400,000 feet above the southern Pacific Ocean and 5,100 miles from her runway at 2:03 a.m.

The nineteen year old spacecraft flew high over southern Mexico at a speed of Mach 18, and out over the southern Gulf of Mexico at Mach 12 before making landfall over Fort Myers, Florida.

As Endeavour flew over the Gulf, her speed continued to slow down as she performed a second roll turn to bleed off energy.

With a pitch black horizon, Kelly and Johnson guided Endeavour toward the Atlantic Coastline for one final turn into the runway.

Sonic booms at 2:31 a.m. then sounded heralding Endeavour's homecoming as the powerless orbiter dropped from an altitude of seven miles high.

Endeavour's last flight also marked a milestone on human space duration.

Fincke became the American with the most time spent in space with 382 days now spent in space upon Endeavour's return today.

In all, Endeavour traveled 122,853,151 miles during her twenty-five missions, and made 4,671 revolutions of the earth during her storied career. Endeavour's time in space ended at 299 days as well.

This morning's landing means only one final space shuttle flight remains for NASA, who completed sending Atlantis to her launch pad an hour following Endeavour's return.

Lift-off of NASA's 135th and final space shuttle flight is targeted for June 8 at 11:38 a.m.

copyright 1998 - 2010 Charles Atkeison, All rights reserved.