Sunday, October 28, 2012

Commercial cargo craft Dragon departs space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The first operational commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station was released back on it's own on Sunday after delivering fresh supplies and hardware to a crew of six.

Built and operated by Space Exploration Technologies Inc. or SpaceX, the Dragon cargo craft was launched from Cape Canaveral on October 7 with nearly 880 pounds of supplies for the station's crew.

During the craft's nearly three weeks docked with the orbiting complex, astronauts unloaded the new supplies and then loaded 1,673 pounds of cargo and trash, including several science experiments, for the return home. One experiment headed home contains living spiders.

Operated by ground controllers, the space station's 58-foot Canada-built robotic arm slowly eased Dragon back away from it's docking port at 7:19 a.m. EDT, 263 miles above earth.

The craft anchored at the end of the arm was moved out to 30 feet away before being released upon the ocean of space at 9:29 a.m.

Dragon's current mission is the first of twelve planned resupply flight's to the orbital outpost in a commercial agreement valued at over $1.5 billion with NASA during the next four years.

The supply craft is expected to leave earth orbit at 2:28 p.m. as the spacecraft fires it's engines for ten minutes to slow it's orbital speed down.

Dragon is the only unmanned supply craft to have a heat shield and parachutes which can allow NASA to return space flown hardware and science experiments back to earth safely.

Splashdown is expected about 250 miles off the coast of Baja California at about 3:20 p.m.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An American, two Russians lift-off en route to space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts left earth on Tuesday to begin a five month stay aboard the International Space Station.

Soyuz commander Oleg Novitskiy, NASA veteran space flyer Kevin Ford, and Evgeny Tarelkin will live and work 260 miles above earth aboard the orbiting outpost until March 2013.

The white and green Soyuz FG rocket lifted-off on time at 6:51:11 a.m. EDT, today from it's desert launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan.

The Russian rocket darted into the clear blue skies and toward the eastern horizon as it pushed it's cramped crew tucked inside the space craft on a chase to rendezvous with it's port-of-call.

A minute into the flight, the crew reported an alarm sounding in the cabin, however ground controllers reported everything was fine on board.

As the rocket soared higher, boosters and stages which pushed the craft higher began to fall away as it emptied it's fuel.

Nine minutes after launch, the Soyuz TMA-06M craft arrived on orbit, and began to deploy it's solar arrays for two days of circling the earth.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Beautiful" Orionids meteor shower to peak early Sunday

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Clear skies overhead on Sunday will set the stage for some celestrial fireworks thanks in part to Halley's Comet.

The Orionid meteor shower will create nearly 25 shooting stars during the predawn hours of October 21 as Earth's orbit flies into dust particles of the tail of Halley's Comet.

NASA experts suggest the best viewing time is a few hours before sunrise.

"It is one of the most beautiful showers of the year," states NASA's meteor chief Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office. "Flakes of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us dozens of meteors per hour."

The moon will set early on Saturday night setting the stage for a dark night sky.

Cooke offers a few viewing tips to watching the celestrial show, "Go outside one to two hours before sunrise, when the sky is dark and the constellation Orion is high overhead."

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center astronomer Mitzi Adams suggests bringing a blanket or reclining chair and some hot chocolate to enjoy the show.

Cooke adds that over the last five years, "the Orionids have been one of the best meteor showers of the year, with counts in some years up to sixty or more meteors per hour."

Adams will host a live Web Chat on NASA's Ustream feed with commentary on the Orionid meteor shower beginning at 11:00 p.m. EDT, on Saturday and running through peak time at 3:00 a.m.

A live NASA camera of the night sky will also air as Adams answers viewer's questions.

Speeding at some 148,000 m.p.h., Cooke notes that the faster a meteor is the more likely it will be to explode causing a bright flash.

The space agency will also have a series of cameras trained on the night sky to capture the shooting stars.

The cameras are operated by Marshall Space Flight Center and are known as the Fireball Cameras. Several of these cameras create a network for observation, and includes one located atop the Tellus Science Museum in northwest Atlanta.

"NASA's Fireball Camera is light sensitive and will begin recording the night sky for meteors after the Sun goes down," explains Tellus' marketing director Joe Schulman. "If anything goes over, we'll capture it."

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Space station crew to spend a full year in orbit

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A NASA astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut will expand the knowledge base on the effects of long term space travel on the human body beginning in 2015.

Space flight veterans American Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko will begin a full year in space in March 2015, as they live and work aboard the International Space Station.

The flight will also mark the longest space flight by an American.

"The one year increment will expand the bounds of how we live and work in space," NASA's head for human exploration Bill Gerstenmaier said on Monday. "(it) will increase our knowledge regarding the effects of microgravity on humans as we prepare for future missions beyond low earth orbit."

Kelly has spent 180 days in space during two space shuttle flights and aboard the space station, including as station commander in 2011.

Kelly and Kornienko will launch from western Kazakhstan atop a Russian Soyuz rocket, docking six hours later to the orbital outpost 260 miles high. The duo will be visited by four expedition crews arriving and departing during their stay.

The typical time in space for a station crew is five months. NASA and the Russian Space Agency are looking for data on the human body extending out another seven months as the two nations look toward long voyages to the moon or even an asteroid.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Commercial cargo craft launches toward Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A commercial cargo craft loaded with fresh supplies and equipment lifted-off tonight on a voyage to resupply earth's orbital outpost in space.

This first operational resupply flight by a private company, Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX), is designed to repeat the company's test flight last May which saw their Dragon unmanned craft approach the International Space Station to be grappled by the station's robotic arm for docking.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket departed America's Space Coast on-time at 8:35:07 p.m. EDT, to begin a nearly three day voyage to catch up with the space station.

"We still have a lot of work to do, of course, as we guide Dragon's approach to the space station," Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, said from his company's control room in California following the craft's arrival on orbit. "The launch was an unqualified success."

The rocket's Merlin engines light up the night time Florida sky as it rose up and then darted out over the Atlantic waters as the space station soared 250 miles high above the southern Pacific Ocean.

Ten minutes after lift-off, the Dragon resupply spacecraft separated from the Falcon's upper stage to begin it's voyage to the space station.

"We are ready to grab Dragon!", NASA astronaut and station commander Suni Williams radioed down to mission control as Dragon arrived on orbit.

Dragon is loaded with nearly 900 pounds of food, oxygen, fuel and experiments which it will deliver following docking on Wednesday.

Dragon's launch is the first of twelve planned resupply flight's to the orbital outpost in a commercial agreement valued at over $1.5 billion with NASA over the next four years.

"Today's launch is a huge milestone for us; we have roughly 700 pounds of equipment coming home when Dragon returns," Julie Robinson, NASA program head with the space station program stated moments after launch. "It's a really important flight for us."

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will maneuver the station's 58-foot robotic arm out to grapple the appraching supply craft on Wednesday at 7:22 a.m.

The craft will then be berthed by Williams two hours later to the American Harmony port which faces toward earth.

There it will stay for three weeks while the current space station crew of three unload the new supplies and later begin storing experiments, used equipment and garbage for the craft's return to earth.

Dragon is the only unmanned supply craft to have a heat shield and parachutes which allows NASA to return space flown hardware and real time science experiments back to earth safely.

Dragon is expected to make a splashdown off the United States Pacific coastline around October 29.

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

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Delta IV launches replacement GPS satellite

 An advanced GPS satellite soars toward orbit from Cape Canaveral. (ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A white and bronze rocket lifted-off from America's Space Coast on Thursday to deliver a new GPS satellite to a network in which commuters in the air and on the ground relay upon.

The enhanced NAVSTAR GPS IIF-3 will become a replacement satellite for one of the twenty-four aging GPS IIF's.

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV-Medium launched into the blue skies of Cape Canaveral at 8:10 a.m. EDT on October 4, and then began it's arc out over the Atlantic waters.

The Boeing-built spacecraft is designed to improve network coverage for both civilian and military networks, including a new L5 signal for improved commercial and civil aviation users.

The spacecraft is scheduled to separate from the rocket's upper stage at 11:43 a.m. over an area off the coast of Hong Kong, China.

Thursday's launch came on the fifty-fifth anniversary of the dawn of the space age and the launch of the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1.

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

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