Saturday, December 27, 2014

Russian rocket launches European emergency respose satellite

A spacecraft designed to improve emergency response time and boost communications between Europe and Africa lifted off high atop a Russian Proton rocket on Saturday and into the predawn skies over Kazakhstan.

The ASTRA 2G spacecraft will complete a cluster of three satellites in geostationary orbit designed to assist in satellite communications and emergency response in a broad region of the earth from the United Kingdom, across Europe and over western Africa.

"The ground processing (and) lift-off have proceeded nominally," the Khrunichev Space Center announced minutes after the launch. "The orbital unit separated nominally from the (third) stage, and continued the mission in a standalone mode."

Based from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Luxembourg, the ASTRA trio of satellites will assist the e-health platform of SATMED in the rapid response time following a natural disaster. Astra will improve high speed Internet access and voice and data relay to areas without network coverage.

The emergency alert spacecraft ran to an emergency of its own en route to it's launch site half way between Moscow and Baikonur Cosmodrome. An aircraft carrying the Astra 2G from Moscow to the launch site avoided an inflight emergency on October 29. The Russian AN-124-100 plane's number four engine suffered a temperature spike which forced the flight to perform an emergency landing in Ulyanovsk, 800 miles southeast of Moscow. The flight was completed the following day.

The launcher and it's payload were rolled out to it's historic launch pad 39, Yuri Gagrin's launch complex, at Baikonur on Wednesday in preparation for flight. The 191-foot tall Proton rocket includes three main stages and a Breeze-M boost stage to complete its mission.

Frigid temperatures at the launch site dropped to near zero as the countdown reached zero. The International Launch Services Proton-M six RD276 engines ignited illuminating the black night with yellow and orange flames. The silver rocket's combined 1.55 million pounds of weight began to climb skyward at 4:37:49 p.m. EST (3:37 a.m. local time, Sunday), riding a 300-foot golden flame.

The Proton rocket soared higher and faster as the first stage rapidly drank it's fuel. Two minutes into the flight, the now empty first stage separated and the second stage's four engines immediately ignited steering the rocket on a easterly course.

The Breeze-M upper stage will perform five separate burns over eight hours to boost ASTRA into its transfer orbit. Astra is expected to separate from Breeze nine hours after lift-off (1:49 a.m.) 22,300 miles above the equator north of Madagascar beginning a 15-year lifespan.

This launch also marked the 401st mission of Russia's Proton rocket since the program began during the cold war days of the space race in July 1965.

This launch was delayed several weeks after launch pad testing discovered undisclosed issues between the satellite and it's upper stage. The rocket's manufacture Khrunichev State Research and Production returned Proton to it's assembly building "to eliminate the identified faults".

The Proton launch occurs following a string on Proton failures over the last few years, including on May 16 in which a failure of the third stage caused its lone satellite to be lost. This launch marked the seventh Proton launch of the year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tellus Museum adds historic space artifacts, new exhibits in 2014

ATLANTA -- Science exhibits from space and a clearer view into the celestial heavens were only a few of the top events occurring at the Tellus Science Museum near Atlanta during a fast-paced 2014.

The fourteenth year of the 21st century opened at Tellus with the introduction of the largest Moon rock to go on public display in Georgia. Cut from a larger rock collected during NASA fourth manned lunar landing, the four-ounce piece of the "Great Scott" rock drew large crowds to the museum's expanding space flight exhibit. NASA listed "Great Scott" as the second largest moon rock ever recovered during the six lunar landings.

"Tellus is proud to display a lunar sample retrieved during Apollo 15," Tellus Museum's curator Julian Gray said in January. "The sample is the largest on display in Georgia and is the centerpiece of the new Apollo exhibit."

Tellus also received for display from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum a real lunar module engine which was test fired by the space agency in Mississippi in 1972. The lunar module was used to taxi two astronauts to the Moon's surface and back from the command ship soaring in lunar orbit.

The science museum received a new eye on the sky in February as the planetarium's forty-foot wide dome upgraded to the Media Globe III HD projector. The new Konica Minolta-built projector provides a stunning view of our galaxy on the museum's dome at nearly 1.9 million dome pixels -- an increase of one million pixels over the previous system.

"We are very excited about our new planetarium projector – the graphics and image quality is going to blow everyone away!", Tellus Museum's Executive Director Jose Santamaria said. The new projector has allowed Tellus to conduct daily in depth astronomy presentations and showcase movie shorts which simulate a space flight. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Europe's Ariane 5 launches satellites for DirecTV, India

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- European heavy lift launcher Ariane 5 rocketed from the edge of the Amazon Rainforest on Saturday and toward Earth orbit to deliver a pair of advanced telecommunications satellites.

The DirecTV 14 spacecraft was built for the broadcast television company, and will provide expanded high definition and ultra-HD services for customers across America's fifty United States and Puerto Rico.

The second payload deployed by Ariane is GSAT-16, built by the Indian Space Research Organization located in southern India. GSAT rode into space at the bottom of the two satellite stack and was deployed last. "From its orbital position at 55° East, its coverage zone includes the entire Indian sub-continent," ISRO confirmed today.

Inclement weather and high upper level winds over the French Guiana Spaceport scrubbed two separate launch attempts by Arianespace on Thursday and Friday. The commercial launch organization in partnership with the European Space Agency waited until Saturday morning to announce a third attempt.

As the Sun neared the scattered cloud laden western horizon, the Ariane 5 core main engine ignited as countdown clock's in launch control reached zero. Seven seconds later, the launcher's twin solid fueled boosters ignited producing 2.92 million pounds of thrust.

Friday, December 05, 2014

NASA Orion begins new era of crewed space exploration

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The future of America's manned space program received a boost on Friday with the successful lift-off of NASA's Orion spacecraft on its first orbital test flight.
Orion craft launches on test flight. (NASA)

Destined to carry four astronauts to an asteroid and the Moon during the next decade, the Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft was uncrewed as NASA aims to learn how it will perform both in space and during it's return home.

"It's the beginning of exploration It's the beginning of putting Orion in space," exclaimed NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer. "On a flight test like this if there are subtleties in how the vehicle behaves with the environments, my hope is that we find that on this test flight."

The launch occurred a few minutes after sunrise and one day late following an attempt to get the Delta IV off the ground. Problem plagued fuel valves, winds and a stray civilian boat forced launch control to scrub on Thursday.

Thousands of spectators returned to the beaches and causeways around Cape Canaveral early Friday, many who camped for three days just to secure a good place. "We arrived at our hotel on Cocoa Beach a few days ago just so that we could watch the launch," said Jennifer Hyatt of East Lancing, Michigan. "The lift-off this morning was incredible with the rumble and smoke column."

The prelaunch activities happened during the predawn hours as the United Launch Alliance launch team and the Air Force fueled the Delta IV rocket and brought the Orion spacecraft to life. The trouble free countdown neared its end as the first rays of the Sun broke above the Atlantic horizon and bathed the 250-foot tall rocket.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

NASA to launch uncrewed Orion on orbital test flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The future of NASA crewed spaceflights beyond Earth orbit will be put to the test Thursday as the space agency launches a new spacecraft to qualify it's performance in space and the capability of its heat shield during its return to earth.

Built by Lockheed Martin, the cone-shaped Orion spacecraft will fly uncrewed during this first test flight -- NASA's first step in returning Americans to the Moon in the 2020's and later an asteroid and on to Mars.

"This is special. This is our first step on that journey to Mars," exclaimed Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana on Monday. "This is a huge first step to be able to check out the vehicle on the Delta IV."

The success of this $370 million mission will weigh heavily for NASA as the space agency looks to recapture the glory days of human spaceflight. The end of the space shuttle program in 2011 marked the last time Americans soared into earth orbit from the United States. Orion will allow four astronauts to fly beyond low earth orbit beginning with the first crewed flight in 2021.

Private American companies are moving forward under NASA's leadership to prepare in launching astronauts to the space station a few years earlier, while NASA focuses on launching beyond earth orbit.

"We are going to test the riskier parts of the mission with ascent and entry," said NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer. "Things like the faring separation, heat shield, parachutes, guidance... those kinds of things. As well as flying into deep space and examining the radiation effects on the avionics."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

New expedition crew arrives at space station

Two astronauts and one cosmonaut safely arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday docking just hours after leaving Earth behind to begin a half year of science investigations and maintenance.

A Russian spacecraft carrying cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Terry W. Virts and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti docked with the orbiting lab less than six hours after their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in western Kazakhstan.
The five hour, 47 minute flight by the Soyuz from launch to docking took the same amount of time to travel by car from Houston to New Orleans, noted NASA spokesperson Kyle Herring. It tied to the minute as the fastest flight by a manned spacecraft to the space station.

"We have contact," exclaimed Shkaplerov at 9:49 p.m. EST, as the Soyuz docking mechanics began to drive the two spacecraft together during an orbital sunset 262 miles over central eastern Pacific Ocean. The hard mate was followed by hooks and latches closing and a series of leak checks to ensure that seals between the hatches were air tight.

The hatches were officially opened at 12:00 a.m. on Monday, and the new crew floated into the massive complex greeted by station commander and NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore and Russian flight engineers Alexander Samoukutyaev and Elena Serova. Hugs and welcomes greeted the arriving crew as they exchanged words and smiles.

Hatch opening was delayed by the Soyuz crew an extra twenty minutes as they ensure the there was a good air pressure equalization. Samoukutyaev opened the station's hatch on time. His crew then waited patiently, even invoking some humor by taking a tool and acting like he was banging on the Soyuz closed hatch.

The new arriving crew were so starved that they broke into a meal during the traditional family and friends conference shown live on NASA TV. The crew noted they felt fine, but had not eaten since last night. They used the opportunity to play with their food in zero-G to the laughter of the those on the ground.

Shkaplerov, Virts and Cristoforeti will live and work in earth orbit until mid-May 2015, a time when they will board their Soyuz for the three hour return home.

International crew lifts-off on six month space voyage

An American, Russian and Italian lifted off atop a 400-foot golden flame into the night sky over Kazakhstan on Monday to begin a six month voyage of living and working aboard the International Space Station.

The new station crew will perform a series of thruster burns today in order to catch up with their port-of-call within six hours after launch during a quick rendezvous and docking flight.

Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Terry W. Virts and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti lifted off at 3:01:14 a.m. local time (4:01 p.m. EST, Sunday) riding high atop a Soyuz FG rocket on a nearly six hour trip to catch up with and dock to the orbiting complex.

The space trio arrived at the base of their rocket as a light snow began to fall at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, two and one-half hours before launch. They climbed a small ladder turned and posed for photographers and well wishers gathered to send them off.

As the countdown reached zero, the Soyuz engines ignited at the precise moment in which the space station soared 530 miles above and east of the launch pad. As the 151-foot tall rocket leaped skyward in a massive jolt, it's crew were all smiles as they began to slice through a few cloud layers over the launch site.

Two minutes into Soyuz climb to orbit, its four boosters had expended its fuel and separated while the core main engine continued to burn. Seven minutes later, the crew had arrived in low earth orbit and began deploying the spacecraft's twin solar arrays and their KURS tracking antenna.

Minutes later, the crew set to work to prepare their space taxi for rendezvous and fly around of the station prior to docking to Russia's Rassvet module at 9:53 p.m. EST. Ninety minutes later, hatches between the two spacecraft will open allowing Shkaplerov, Virts and Cristoforetti to float into their new home 260 miles above the planet.

The new crew of three will join the space station's current crew of NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova. Wilmore currently serves as the station's commander.

Flight engineer Virts is no stranger to life aboard the space station. In 2010, the NASA astronaut served as pilot aboard space shuttle Endeavour spending ten days docked to the orbital outpost. His crew delivered two key station elements, the crew-popular Cupola and the Italian-built Tranquility module.

The Italian-born Cristoforetti is making her first trip into space. An astronaut with the European Space Agency, Cristoforetti is a captain and fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force. During a two-year academic stay in the United States in 1996, Cristoforetti attended SpaceCamp in Huntsville.

Eight hours prior to launch, Cristoforetti noted, "Just had what was probably my longest shower ever. Good Russian wisdom to leave plenty of time for it on the schedule!"

"I have prepared all my life for this space mission," Cristoforetti, Italy's first female astronaut said. "Everything I have done on this journey of life and personal growth will help me be a good crew member aboard the International Space Station."

Cristoforetti will soon serve as barista as she becomes the first astronaut to brew a fresh cup of espresso coffee in space in true Italian style. Using a small metal glove box, steamed water will allow her to mix up clear pouch of espresso as she begins a new day of science.

Cosmonaut Shkaplerov spent 165 days in space in 2012 as he lived and worked aboard the space station, including a six hour spacewalk outside the complex.

Sunday's lift-off occurred just three days following the sixteenth anniversary of the station's first component launch, Russia's Zarya core module.

On popular social media sites, this crew will be sharing their moments in space. Follow ,  and via Twitter and @Space_Station on Instgram for exclusive coverage of their flight.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Soaring on falcons wings with Air Force Thunderbirds

ATLANTA -- Climbing aboard a sleek Air Force fighter jet and launching into the deep blue sky can make one either grin or become ill -- for this aerospace journalist punching that sky in an aerobatic jet was an incredible feeling.

To soar with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds was a dream come true as I welcomed the chance to chase the sound barrier and pull nearly 8G's in a Lockheed Martin-built F-16D Fighting Falcon.

The Thunderbirds are known as America's Ambassadors in Blue and they live up to the title inspiring young men and women across the country to reach for their goals in education and technical training by serving in the Air Force. They perform to support recruitment in the Air Force; to represent the U.S. armed forces to the nations across the globe; and give American citizens a self fulfilled confidence in their military.

In his third year with the team, Thunderbird 8 is Major Michael Fisher, a native of Vancouver, Washington. He has logged 432 combat hours in the F-16 and over 2000 hours as a pilot. During the 2014 season, he serves as the Thunderbirds' air show narrator announcing the aerobatic demos as the teams soars over the crowds.

My flight day began at dawn at Dobbins Air Reserve Base located northwest of metro Atlanta. Dobbins is home to the Airmen of the 94th Air Wing division and supports military operations such as aircraft fueling and logistics. On this cool October morning, Dobbins is where my jet stood poised for flight.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Telescopes stand poised for Wednesday's total lunar eclipse

Backyard astronomers and public observatories across America will have telescopes trained on a total lunar eclipse Wednesday as the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon in a rare celestial event.

The Sun, Earth and Moon will align forcing our home planet to block the Sun's rays from reaching our lunar neighbor. The full Moon will take on an eerie reddish glow as the light is scattered through our atmosphere giving it the name Blood Moon.

Along the eastern coast of the U.S., the Moon will begin to set just after 7:10 a.m. EDT, providing three hours of lunar observation prior to Moon set in many areas. Clear to partly cloudy skies are also in the forecast for much of the United States.

"Look towards the west and you will see the full moon with a bite taken out of it - this is the lunar eclipse in progress," Atlanta's Tellus Science Museum astronomer David Dundee said on Monday. "Wednesday morning the Moon will enter the shadow of the Earth. By 6:24 a.m., the Moon will be totally in the shadow of the Earth it may turn a copper or reddish color.“

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center released an astronomers information sheet in support of times and locations to best view the second lunar eclipse of 2014. The space agency will host an online discussion and provide live video of the eclipse beginning at 3:00 a.m. and continuing until sunrise. NASA lunar experts will reach out to chat on social media as they seek reports from the public and lunar photography.

Several observatory's and museums will open before dawn to mark the occasion. Children waiting in line at the bus stop may have the chance to view the astronomical show.

“Since the eclipse begins a little after 4 a.m., we are hoping guests will join us at the museum before work or school for this magnificent opportunity to see a Total Lunar Eclipse in a fun and unique way," Tellus spokesperson Shelly Redd said on Monday. "The museum opens at 5:00 a.m. and will remain open after the eclipse is complete."

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

Sunday, September 21, 2014

MAVEN arrives around Mars to study upper atmosphere

 CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A NASA spacecraft designed to investigate the properties and history of the upper atmosphere of Mars successfully arrived in orbit around the Red Planet on Sunday.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, will begin a one Earth year science mission to learn why the planet has lost much of it's atmosphere over the past few billion years. Controllers will perform six maneuvers over the next six weeks to lower it's elliptical orbit of one revolution every 35 hours down to four-and-one-half hours.

"The MAVEN science mission focuses on answering questions about where did the water that was present on early Mars go, about where did the carbon dioxide go,” MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky stated on Friday. “These are important questions for understanding the history of Mars, its climate and its potential to support at least microbial life.”

Soaring across space at over 8,200 m.p.h., MAVEN turned to face it's six small engines in the direction of travel and begin a 33 minute burn at 9:50 p.m. EDT on Sunday. The burn slowed down the spacecraft sending it into the beginning of a planned orbit 235 miles over the north pole.

As the first signals took over 12 minutes later to reach Earth that the craft had safely arrived in Martian orbit, cheers and applause by project scientists broke the crisp silence of the the mission control facility at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado.

"MAVEN will begin a six week commissioning phase that includes maneuvering the spacecraft into it's final orbit and testing it's instruments and science mapping commands," NASA spokesperson Dwayne Brown explained on Friday.

MAVEN's science orbit is planned with a low point of 90 miles to allow the craft to fly through the planet's upper atmosphere, and a high point of 3,900 miles to collect data on the entire planet's atmosphere.

“MAVEN is another NASA robotic scientific explorer that is paving the way for our journey to Mars,” stated Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. “Together, robotics and humans will pioneer the Red Planet and the solar system to help answer some of humanity’s fundamental questions about life beyond Earth.”

Among the observatory's three main science instruments is the University of California at Berkley's Solar Wind Ion Analyzer or SWIA. NASA explains that SWIA will study the ion particles across the planet's atmosphere to discover why Mars "has gradually lost much of it's atmosphere" to become "a frozen, barren planet".

"We want to know where the atmosphere, especially water, went, how it left and what Mars has looked like over its entire history,” SWIA instrument lead Jasper Halekas of Berkley's Space Sciences Laboratory said. SWIA will measure the solar wind speed and density.

The Lockheed Martin-built MAVEN was launched from Cape Canaveral AFS atop an Atlas V rocket last November, beginning a ten month interplanetary voyage covering 442 million miles.

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Atlas 5 launches U.S. government's secret CLIO satellite

An Atlas 5 lifts-off from Cape Canaveral AFS on September 16. (ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A secret U.S. government spacecraft known as CLIO was successfully launched from America's Space Coast Tuesday to begin a multi-year mission based on global security in earth orbit.

As lightning and rain showers closed in on the launch pad, controllers with United Launch Alliance elected to delay the lift-off. Reports of lightning strikes four miles from the fully fueled rocket and thick clouds overhead forced launch control to extend the delay as they checked launch pad electronics.
As the two and one-half hour launch window neared the end, controllers saw the weather turn favorable and restarted the countdown during the window's final minute.
The forty-ninth Atlas V mission began at 8:10 p.m. EDT, as it thundered into Florida's cloudy night sky on a southeastward trajectory out over the Atlantic waters. Ninety seconds later, the white and bronze rocket was moving faster than the speed of sound powered by the core first stage's RD-180 engine.
The first stage fell away following engine shutdown four minutes into it's launch profile. The rocket's centaur engine's first of two burns began immediately propelling the spacecraft higher towards it's intended orbit.
"It is an honor to work with Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company and all of our mission partners to launch this very important satellite,” ULA vice president Jim Sponnick stated on Tuesday evening. “The teams seamlessly integrated to ensure accurate delivery of the CLIO mission to orbit.”
CLIO, a golden modular satellite featuring twin solar panels, deployed from the Atlas' centaur upper stage nearly three hours after launch high above the eastern Indian Ocean. The spacecraft's successful 11:01 p.m. separation will be followed over the next few weeks by maneuvering CLIO to it's home in geostationary orbit.
The Lockheed Martin-built CLIO craft is expected to advance "global security" according the company's recent press release. "We're proud to support the CLIO system and looking forward to the launch," said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president with Lockheed's Space Systems.
The ULA company's next launch is an Atlas V on October 29, poised to deliver a Global Positioning System satellite for military and civilian use.
(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

U.S.-Russian space flight lands safely in Kazakhstan

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American and two Russians returned to Earth on Thursday completing their 167 day stay aboard the International Space Station with a pinpoint landing on the desert region of central Kazakhstan.

NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsuv and Oleg Artemyev guided their Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft to a touchdown at 10:23 p.m. EDT (8:23 a.m. Thursday, local time) on Wednesday.

The smooth landing concluded a spaceflight which began with a Soyuz thruster failure minutes after arriving in orbit forcing the crew to limp into a higher orbit over a two day period which trailed the space station.

Out going station commander Swanson, Skvortsuv and Artemyev said their farewells to fellow crew mates American Reid Wiseman, German Alexander Gerst and Expedition 41 commander Russian Max Suraev before entering their Soyuz and closing the hatches a few hours prior to undocking.

As an orbital sun rise began, the Soyuz craft separated from the station's Poisk module at 7:01 p.m., and slowly began moving out to a distance of a few hundred feet before circling around the station and departing.

"Goodbye ISS and so long station," radioed Soyuz commander Skvortsuv to his former home in space five minutes following the undocking.

Two Earth orbits later, Skvortsuv then maneuvered the Soyuz to a proper attitude to allow a section of the Soyuz to separate prior to leaving orbit with an engine firing at 9:31 p.m.

The crew made 2,704 trips around the Earth and traveled 71.7 million miles since their launch in March.

A new space trio is scheduled to launch to the orbiting laboratory in two weeks. NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova will lift-off inside their TMA-14M from Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 25 at 4:25 p.m., and will arrive at the station five and one-half hours later for docking.

Serova will become only the fourth Russian female to travel into space and the first to spend a long duration stay aboard the space station.

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

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Asteroid 2014RC to speed past Earth Sunday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A newly discovered asteroid the size of a house will pass close to earth on Sunday bringing the space rock to within 25,000 miles above New Zealand during it's closest approach. NASA confirmed on Wednesday that Asteroid 2014RC will "safely pass" by our planet.

Astronomers discovered the asteroid during an astronomical scan of the evening skies from Tucson, Arizona on August 31 and quickly reported their findings to lead astronomers at Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts.

The fast moving space rock is scheduled to pass over the southern Pacific Ocean at 2:18 p.m. EDT (18:18 GMT) on September 7, less than 3,000 miles from earth's ring of communications and weather satellites located in geostationary orbit.

"While this celestial object does not appear to pose any threat to Earth or satellites, its close approach creates a unique opportunity for researchers to observe and learn more about asteroids," stated NASA spokesperson DC Agle on Tuesday from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Backyard stargazers may have an opportunity to view 2014 RC this weekend using a telescope with a good magnification. However, the Earth's moon will be nearly full proving light pollution for the approaching celestial object.

Atlanta's Tellus Science Museum's chief astronomer David Dundee said that the asteroid's small size "is way too faint to observe at magnitude 15.26. That’s about 4000 times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye, and at best it might be a speck when photographed".

Dundee adds, "This object is about the same size as the object that hit over Russia about a year ago. With improved technology these near miss asteroids are becoming almost an everyday discovery."

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

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

NASA observatory lifts-off to measure earth's climate change

NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory2 mission lifts-off on July 2. (NASA)

ATLANTA -- A NASA spacecraft designed to study the build up of carbon dioxide within earth's atmosphere was successfully launched into orbit on Tuesday beginning a two year mission to understand climate change.

The $468 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 mission will become the space agency's eye in the sky to understand how much carbon dioxide is being emitted daily, map from exactly where and learn where it is going.

NASA scientists are eager to discover not only carbon dioxide origination points, but where CO2 is being absorbed here on earth such as in our lands and oceans.

Although earth as a planet produces carbon dioxide such as the respiration of animals and volcanic activity, humans are responsible for a significant portion of the greenhouse gas, according to NASA scientists.

"There's a steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations with time," states Dr. Mike Gunson, a NASA project scientist for the mission. " Human beings have released hundreds of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere."

The observatory will collect nearly one million precise measurements every day during it's planned two year life on orbit.

Measurements will be performed only during the sunlight orbital passes over earth as OCO-2's three high resolution sensors collect data as the craft flies from pole to pole every 49 minutes.

"So today, with the modernization of the developing world, we are releasing something like 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year and this is increasing," Dr. Gunson added.

A Delta II rocket lifted-off from a foggy Vandenberg, AFB, California on time Tuesday at 5:56 a.m. EDT, and darted into the night sky.

The OCO-2 spacecraft was then placed into a near polar orbit of the planet at an altitude of 438 miles above where it will synchronize data with other science satellite to form exact CO2 findings.

The seven-foot long spacecraft will replace the ill-fated first Orbiting Carbon Observatory which was lost during it's 2009 launch.

"With the complete loss of the original OCO mission, it was heartbreak," OCO-2 project manager Dr. Ralph Basilio said prior to launch. "The entire mission was lost... we're excited about this opportunity to finally be able to complete some unfinished business."

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

International crew lifts-off to begin space station voyage

Russian Soyuz lifts off carrying an international crew to space station. (NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American, Russian and German astronaut lifted-off into the midnight sky over western Kazakhstan today beginning a six month voyage aboard the International Space Station.

The crew will have one of the busiest work schedules through November as they perform science investigations, welcome several resupply crafts and oversee five spacewalks.

As U.S. and Russian ties remain strained here on earth, aboard the orbiting laboratory 260 miles above, astronauts and cosmonauts continue to work as good friends for several months at a time.

Veteran space station astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger commented to this aerospace journalist recently her feelings on America's working relationship with Russia in space.

"The Russians are our friends when we are on orbit," Lindenburger stated. "Our countries make political decisions we don't agree with, but when we are on orbit, we are colleges and we are friends and we work together."

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, Russian cosmonaut Maksim V. Surayev and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst boarded their Soyuz TMA-13M a few hours prior to lift-off.

Strapped in a top a Soyuz FG booster, the international crew of three launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 3:57:40 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, beginning a six hour chase to dock with the orbiting outpost.

As flashes of lightning illuminated the horizon, the rocket's golden flame pushed the Soyuz skyward with 930,000 pounds of thrust as it began an eastward flight.

Nine minutes after launch, the Soyuz craft was safely on orbit in an initial orbit of 143 x 118 miles, and 1,677 statue miles below and behind the space station.

Wednesday's launch is an expedited voyage to the complex in which Russian flight controllers began using last year. A thruster failure in March on the last crew's trip forced controllers to extend the flight to ISS back to the old two day trip plan.

Surayev is scheduled to dock Soyuz to the station's Russian segment known as the Rassvet service module at 9:48 p.m.

The international crew marks the first all-Twitter space crew (, & ) to travel into orbit.

Wiseman and Gerst, who were both selected as astronauts in separate countries in 2009, are each making their first spaceflight.

Baltimore native Gregory Reid Wiseman is a former U.S. Navy test pilot who grew up with an interest in exploration.

From camping at the lake and attending the Navy's Blue Angels airshows as a child, he grew up to become a test pilot for a few of today's latest military aircraft including the F-35.

Wiseman considers his flight to the space station as the ultimate exploration trip.

"We are explorers by our very nature, and right now, the biggest exploration that a human can go on is 250 miles up on the space station," Wiseman said with a sense of excitement in his voice. "Of course it's worth the risk, to go out there and push humanity further than we've ever been that's a no brainer."

German astronaut Gerst spent his pre-astronaut years in a career as a volcanologist, researching volcanoes across the Eastern Hemisphere and designing scientific instruments to help predict their eruptions.

Gerst became a member of Europe's astronaut class of 2009 only after some urging by NASA astronaut Cady Coleman while the pair were trapped by weather at Antarctic McMurdo.

"Being the first wave of explorers on the way out exploring the universe -- the Moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond -- that is for me such an important thing to do for humankind and for science," Gerst noted.

Soyuz commander Surayev logged 169 days in space during his first expedition to the space station in 2009 and 2010.

A Russian fighter pilot with a law degree, Surayev is scheduled to perform his second career spacewalk this October with a fellow cosmonaut.

Wiseman, Surayev and Gerst are due to return back to earth in mid-November.

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Delta rocket launches Air Force GPS navigation satellite

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A next-generation navigational satellite for the U.S. Air Force received a ride into orbit on Friday during a twilight lift-off from America's Space Coast.

The Global Positioning System IIF-6 satellite will be placed 11,040 nautical miles above in a location where it will operate in synch with twenty-three fellow GPS satellites located in six different orbital planes.

The Air Force expects the Navstar spacecraft to operate through 2026.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV launched into a setting sun over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:03 p.m. EDT, leaving a brilliant smoke trail as it arced out over the Atlantic waters.

Powered by an RS-68 core engine and two solid rocket boosters, the Delta was soaring faster than the speed of sound one minute later as it raced northeasterly up the United States coastline.

Friday's launch marked the 26th flight of a Delta IV since it's first mission in 2002.

Monday, April 28, 2014

NASA visitors center looks to donations to display shuttle aircraft

A NASA Shuttle Training Aircraft will go on display at Alabama space center. (NASA)
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- An aircraft used to train space shuttle pilots is the subject of a public fundraiser by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to assist in its installation at the Alabama space museum.

NASA gave a Gulfstream II shuttle training aircraft over to the Marshall Space Flight Center's visitor's center in 2012, and since that time the museum has been preparing a site located near a full scale mock-up of the space shuttle stack and a T-38 jet.

''It's a 'flying flight simulator', the highest fidelity simulated experience you could have for flight training without being in the actual air or space craft itself," John Ramsey, Chairman of the Space Camp Advancement Alumni Board, said of the shuttle training aircraft. "It's pretty unique in that regard."

The space center is over the halfway mark in meeting it's goal of $70,000, however it's deadline is fast approaching.

NASA astronauts, engineers and Space Camp alumni have even stepped in to assist with the fundraiser as the May 3 deadline nears.

"The Land the STA Indiegogo campaign has been an amazing experience," Trevor Daniels, STA project manager, said on Thursday. "We have seen outstanding support from Space Camp and Aviation Challenge alumni, friends of the Center, and space and aviation enthusiasts from around the world."

Daniels mentioned contributions toward the STA project have been received from across five countries.

The NASA 945 Gulfstream II was flown by NASA astronauts at both the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Edwards, AFB in California during the shuttle program.

"A Shuttle Training Aircraft plunges 28,000 feet in a little more than a minute when astronauts use it to practice a space shuttle approach," explained NASA's Steve Siceloff at the Kennedy Space Center. "It’s as close as anyone can get to experiencing a shuttle landing without becoming an astronaut -- and what a ride it is."

The shuttle trainer was also flown by astronauts to perform weather observations for the space shuttle on launch day to ensure winds or rain would not threaten its flight.

Once in place at the space center, visitors and camp attendees will have a chance to go inside the aircraft and view the cockpit's interior, a treat for any aviation or space buff.

The STA project is also handing out dozens of space-related gifts to those who donate.

Three special donations will allow someone and their guest to fly with NASA astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson as he pilots his Beechcraft Bonanza over the Huntsville area.

To donate, the Space and Rocket Center has established a web safe donation site.

The NASA visitor's center is home to hundreds of rare artifacts from the early days of the space program through the shuttle years.

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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

SpaceX resupply craft docked to space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A commercial cargo craft made an Easter Sunday arrival at the International Space Station delivering several tons of fresh supplies for it's crew of six.

Filled with 3,500 pounds of equipment, including over 150 science experiments, the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) Dragon spacecraft was docked to the orbiting laboratory for the next four weeks.

Station commander and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata operated the Canadian-built robotic arm to capture Dragon at 7:14 a.m. EDT, on April 20, as the two spacecraft soared 260 miles above Egypt.

Wakata and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio then moved over to the Destiny module for the actual docking of the supply craft to the earth facing port of the Harmony node.

Mastracchio then began driving sixteen bolts into place which was completed at 10:06 a.m. to firmly attach Dragon to Harmony.

This Dragon resupply flight is the third of twelve planned flights by SpaceX in a contract deal with NASA worth nearly $1.4 billion. Three more Dragon resupply flights are scheduled for 2014.

Astronauts will open the hatch way into Dragon on Monday morning and begin unloading the craft.

Friday, April 18, 2014

SpaceX Dragon launches on resupply flight to space station

Falcon 9 lifts-off Friday from Cape Canaveral to resupply space station. (SpaceX)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A commercial spacecraft loaded with supplies departed America's Space Coast on Friday en route to the International Space Station and it's six person crew.

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) Dragon cargo craft is loaded with nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies including water, oxygen, food and equipment for the earth orbiting laboratory.

"Everything looks great with the ascent phase of the mission," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk confirmed from his company's mission control in Hawthorne, California after launch. "Everything is good on the Dragon front."

The Dragon capsule, riding a top the company's Falcon 9 rocket, lifted-off from it's ocean side launch pad and into an overcast Florida sky at 3:25:22 p.m. EDT, the opening of a one second launch window.

The Falcon's 855,000 pounds of thrust created a 300-foot golden flame pushing the rocket higher as it moved out over the Atlantic waters.

The space station's crew watched the SpaceX television feed of the lift-off as it happened 260 miles above.

Monday's launch marked the third of twelve planned flights by SpaceX in a nearly $1.5 billion contract deal with NASA.

The successful SpaceX launch comes four days after the commercial company signed a twenty-year land lease with NASA for use of the historic launch pad 39-A. SpaceX plans to launch manned spacecraft to the space station from the formed Apollo and space shuttle pad as early as 2017.

On Easter Sunday, the Dragon craft will rendezvous and close to within 20 feet of the orbiting outpost before being grappled by the station's 57-foot long Canadian robotic arm at 7:14 a.m.

Station commander and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio will operate the robotic arm from the station's pressurized 360-degree field of view inside the cupola module.

Just over two hours after the capture, the station's crew will dock Dragon to the earth facing port of the station's Harmony module.

Over the next month, astronauts will unload the resupply craft's 2.3 tons of supplies, and later load Dragon with completed science experiments and trash for it's return to earth sometime in late-May.

Falcon's launch occurred after a five week delay caused by a contamination problem with the payloads section aboard Dragon, and the failure of an Cape Canaveral radar designed to track the rocket in flight.

A launch attempt last Monday was also scrubbed due a hydrogen leak on the rocket's first stage.

NASA is preparing for a spacewalk on Wednesday by astronauts Mastracchio and Steve Swanson to replace a failed station back-up computer known as a multiplexer/ demultiplexer with a spare now located in the station's airlock.

The spacewalk is expected to begin at 9:20 a.m. and last nearly three hours.

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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

American-Russian crew safely dock to space station

Soyuz closes in for a successful docking with space station. (NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American and two Russians docked their spacecraft to the International Space Station on Thursday beginning a six month voyage aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The Russian Soyuz TMA-12M craft arrived at it's port-of-call two days later than planned after a thruster firing failed to work hours after lift-off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 26 (Moscow time).

Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsuv and Oleg Artemyev, and NASA astronaut Steven Swanson docked with the station's Poisk module at 7:58 p.m. EDT, as they flew over southern Brazil.

"A flawless approach, a flawless docking... the trio has arrived at the International Space Station," said NASA spokesperson Rob Navis from inside Mission Control near Houston.

The space trio now join Japan's first space station commander Koichi Wakata, and flight engineers American Rick Mastracchio and Russian Mikhail Tyurin as the complete Expedition 39 crew.

The delayed docking has been attributed to a failed Soyuz thruster firing which kept the spacecraft from moving closer to it's target at an exact time during it's orbit.

Russian Mission Control remains unsure as to why they received a failure message at the time of the thruster jet firing.

The two space crews began chatting an hour prior to docking as the Soyuz approached from 23 km below the space station.

"We have a visual on the station!" exclaimed Soyuz commander Skvortsuv as they soared 260 miles above the western Pacific Ocean.

The orbital ballet saw the Soyuz fire it's thrusters in a series of burns which brought the craft to the proper alignment for the slow approach.

"You can see the thrusters did some work here," Skvortsuv commented moments after a successful burn brought their Soyuz even closer a few minutes later.

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kenesaw State, NASA team to promote STEM education

ATLANTA -- The growth of women entering highly competitive fields in science and technology are forcing some colleges and universities to look to the preteens of today for the jobs of the next decade.

A group of sixth graders on Monday attend a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) educational workshop hosted by Kennesaw State University as the school looks to inspire girls interested in STEM-related fields.

"We are encouraging girls to think about a STEM career, and so we want to start with our middle school girls," said Gilda Lyon, STEM coordinator at the Georgia Department of Education. "We have lots of workshops that encourage girls to go into STEM careers and it's all very hands on so that girls can see that it's a lot of fun to build and create and produce things."

One of NASA's educator-astronauts was in attendance to help motivate and give advice to over two-hundred students from across north Georgia.

Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger flew aboard space shuttle Discovery for a one week visit aboard the International Space Station in 2010, and offered words of encouragement and inspiration to the students.

"We have real issues that we are dealing with in our society that have an answer in the STEM fields, and we need talented men and women to answer these question," Lindenburger pointed out to this aerospace journalist.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Soyuz thruster problem delays space station docking to Thursday

New space crew fight a thruster problem en route to space station. (NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An issue with a spacecraft thruster firing has kept an American and two Russians from docking to the International Space Station on Wednesday as planned.

NASA astronaut Steven Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsuv and Oleg Artemyev aboard a Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft were supposed to dock with their new home in space just six hours after launch.

They will now stay aloft on orbit for another two days before attempting a docking to the station the March 28.

"Everything is scrapped! We are done for the day," Russian mission control exclaimed to the crew of three aboard the space station prior to the start of their sleep. "It's a chaotic situation now."

NASA has now said that docking will now take place at 7:58 p.m. EDT, on Thursday.
Ninety minutes later, the two space crews will open the hatches and shake hands.
"We don't exactly know what has happened," Moscow radioed the Soyuz crew an hour later. "You will have to be in flight for two days."

What Moscow does know is as the Soyuz began it's DV3 (Delta/Velocity #3) burn maneuver at 7:48 p.m., Russian Mission Control received a failure message. The burn would have increased it's speed by 10.1 meters per second.

Another burn planned for a half-hour later never occurred.

A two day docking schedule had been the normal routine by both NASA space shuttles and Russian Soyuz vehicles until last year. This flight would have been only the fifth planned fast-trek docking to the station.

NASA controllers are now working with Moscow's flight control team to share several ground stations across the Western Hemisphere to allow the Soyuz crew to communicate with Moscow.

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

Joint American-Russian crew begin space station voyage

A Russian Soyuz lifts-off with a crew of three to space station. (NASA)
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American and two Russians lifted-off into the predawn night sky over Kazakhstan on Wednesday beginning a fast voyage to arrive at their new home on the ocean of space.

The crew is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station nearly six hours after launch.

NASA astronaut Steven Swanson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsuv and Oleg Artemyev will spend nearly six months living and working aboard the orbiting laboratory before returning to earth in September.

Stacked fifty meters high a top their Soyuz FG rocket, the crew awaited the jolt of launch by exchanging comments with Russian mission control and listening to both classical and current music which echoed inside their craft during the final hour.

As the countdown clock reached zero, the Soyuz core engine ignited followed by it's four rocket boosters at 5:17:23 p.m. EDT (3:17 a.m. local time on Wednesday), accelerating the spacecraft on an easterly track.

The co-operative mission begins amid growing tensions between the two countries over the annexation of Crimea by Russia. The United States and Russia have both placed sanctions on the others leaders.

Western allies, including space station partners Canada and England, charge that the annexation is illegal, however Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed last Tuesday the Black Sea region is under Russian control and no longer apart of the Ukraine.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden confirmed recently that political tensions between the U.S. and Russia will not have an ill-will effect as the crew works 260 miles above the planet.

NASA astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger expressed to this aerospace journalist on Monday her thoughts on how the turbulent situation on the ground plays out aboard the station.

"Quite frankly, the Russians are our friends when we are on orbit," Lindenburger said. "Our countries make political decisions we don't agree with, but when we (the international partners) are on orbit, we are colleges and we are friends and we work together, and that is how we are dealing with it right now."

As the rocket rose from it's launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome, a 300-foot golden flame illuminated the black night if only for a few seconds.

Nine minutes later, the Soyuz craft arrived on orbit as it separated from the rocket's upper stage to start a nearly four earth orbit chase of the station.

The Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft is expected to dock to the space station's Poisk module at about 11:05 p.m. EDT, as the two crafts pass over Russian ground stations.

Watching from inside the orbiting laboratory will be Japan's first space station commander Koichi Wakata, and flight engineers American Rick Mastracchio and Russian Mikhail Tyurin.

The hatches are expected to open an hour later after the two crews establish that the Soyuz is completely docked with a good seal.

The newly united crew of six will begin a busy week on Monday as they prepare for Wednesday's grapple and docking of the commercial SpaceX cargo craft known as Dragon.

Loaded with 4,600 pounds of fresh supplies and hardware, Dragon is poised atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral for it's planned Sunday evening launch. Dragon's five second launch window is targeted for 10:50 p.m.

Swanson, a father of three and a four time spacewalker, will serve as the space station's commander beginning on May 13, as Wakata and his crew depart the outpost in their own Soyuz for the trip home.

A two time space shuttle astronaut, Swanson's last trip to station was exactly five years ago as his crew delivered the starboard truss segment, a set of solar arrays and batteries to increase the lab's power.

"Steve's been training for two and a half years for this mission," Metcalf-Lindenburger said. "He has also had some shuttle flights so this should really be a good experience to have Steve on orbit. He's a great space walker and he'll lead with great confidence."

During Swanson's tenure as commander, the International Space Station will mark a milestone on July 11 as it celebrates the 5000th consecutive day in which it has been manned by a crew.

The occasion will be marked by the station's crew in a brief ceremony recognizing the special milestone.

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Blue Angels airshow attendees to number 15M across America

The Blue Angels arrive at their jets on March 15 in El Centro, CA.

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- The U.S. Navy expects nearly fifteen million visitors will attend airshows across America to witness the aerobatic performances of the Blue Angels during 2014.

The Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron began their new season in storied fashion as the team's six pilots arrived dressed in their throwback gold flight uniforms and boarded their FA-18C Hornets in El Centro, California on Saturday.

The inaugural demonstration saw an estimated 35,000 witness the Blues' forty minute performance over the city which hosts the team for six weeks during their intensive winter training.

The squadron will perform their next shows in California, Texas and Florida.

"By publicly demonstrating the skills and abilities of naval aviators, the team's goal is to inspire young men and women not just to purse a career in naval aviation or the military, but to aspire to excellence in all areas of their lives," said Blue Angels spokesperson Chief Russell Tafuri.

Angel 6 opposing solo pilot Lt. Mark Tedrow is excitied about the new season.

"It's pretty incredible being part of the solo routine for the Blue Angels," Lt. Tedrow said to this aerospace reporter. "Number five and number six pilots demonstrate the maximum performance capabilities of the FA-18. We're the ones that wow the crowd with some of the amazing maneuvers."

Tedrow added, "We fly our jets at just below the speed of sound, and pull between 7 and 8 G's during the demonstration. It's hard to describe to the person who has never felt G-forces before, but actually they're pretty painful but good at the same time."

This year will mark the Blue Angels 68th year performing to public crowds.

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

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Tellus Museum to display space shuttle Columbia's nose cap

Shuttle Columbia's nose cap prepares for it's display near Atlanta. (Atkeison)

ATLANTA -- The nose cap of America's first space shuttle will go on public display next week at the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville.

The gray nose section was flown as part of Columbia during eleven of her twenty-eight missions, and was removed only a few years before her ill-fated 2003 flight which saw the spacecraft break apart during atmospheric re-entry.

The four-foot wide oval nose cap will become the only reflown section of Columbia to be placed on public display.

"It's pretty even grey in color except it does have some black scorch marks on the top of the nose cap as evidence of its re-entry," Tellus Museum's Curator Julian Gray said on Monday during a behind-the-scenes visit of the space flown artifact.

"We are working on the graphics and the base is already made for it as we put it behind acrylic because we want to protect it," Gray added as he peered over the turtle shell-like nose.

The nose cap's light green bulkhead assembly which was attached to the shuttle body is also included in the display.

The NASA Historical Artifacts Program donated Columbia's nose to Tellus, and the museum plans to have it on display in it's expanding space flight section on March 14.

"To have such an important piece of Columbia from her flying days on display is a fitting tribute to this vehicle and all the men and women who worked on her during her illustrious career," said Dr. Don Thomas, a four time shuttle astronaut and author of the new book Orbit of Discovery.

Manufactured by the Vought Corporation in Dallas, the nose cap was installed on Columbia in 1984 during her 18-month long maintenance period in Palmdale, California.

The specially flown nose was part of a NASA experiment known as Shuttle Entry Air Data System (SEADS), and was based out of Langley Research Center. SEADS looked at the air pressure surrounding a space shuttle's nose section from an altitude of 300,000 feet through touchdown.

Fourteen sensor holes in the reinforced carbon carbon coated nose cap lined up in a cross and recorded measurements of Columbia as she plunged through the earth's atmosphere. The NASA experiment was activated minutes prior to the shuttle's deorbit burn.

During reentry, the orbiter's nose reached temperatures of near 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Columbia first flew with her scientific nose in January 1986 during mission STS-61C. Eleven flights later, it was used for the final time during STS-65 in July 1994.

In fact, the 61C mission emblem design was based in part on the SEADS experiment. "It may be the only shuttle patch based on aerodynamics," Columbia's pilot Charles Bolden stated in 2011.

 Thomas, a member of Columbia's crew on that 1994 flight, says he looks forward to visiting Tellus soon to view the display.

"As the first shuttle to fly, and the first on which I rode to space, Columbia will be remembered for all the incredible missions she and her crews successfully accomplished," Thomas stated to this aerospace reporter on Monday.

In all, the displayed shuttle nose section traveled 48.4 million miles through space during it's combined 117 days in earth orbit.

The shuttle program came to an end in 2011, and Columbia's sister ships Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour were placed on public display at museums across the United States.

For many space flight insiders, the artifact will serve as a tribute to her memory.

Columbia, in one small way, has a found a home in a museum.

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

Twenty-fifth Delta IV launches Block IIF GPS satellite

A Delta IV rocket lifts-off from Cape Canaveral on February 20. (ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Updated) -- A new Global Positing System satellite was placed into orbit on Thursday evening to expand location services for both the Air Force and commercial users.

Concerns over solar radiation trends at the opening of the 19 minute launch window forced the launch team to extend the countdown's hold until the final minutes of the window.

Loaded with a platform of new technologies, GPS-IIF-5 satellite will replace an aging GPS spacecraft launched in 1997 and includes the recently upgraded L5 signal for commercial and civil aircraft.

America's GPS operates with twenty-four satellites in six different regions of the globe, with four each plotting exact locations. The new block IIF satellites use the newer L5 civil signal in the Aeronautical Radio Navigation Services frequency of 1176.45 MHz.

The United Launch Alliance's Delta IV-Medium lifted-off at 8:59:00 p.m. EST, at the close of the launch window, beginning the Delta IV program's 25th flight.

The Delta's core booster engine ignited a few seconds prior to T-zero, followed by the ignition of it's twin solid rocket boosters at the moment of lift-off.

"I am pleased with the outcome of today's launch," stated the director of the Space and Missile Systems Center's Global Positioning Systems Directorate Col. Bill Cooley. "The new capabilities provided by the IIF satellites will improve operations, sustainment and overall GPS service for the warfighter, international, commercial and civil communities."

Darkness briefly turned to day as the 206-foot rocket arose from it's seaside launch pad a top 1.25 million pounds of thrust and into the night skies over Cape Canaveral.

Nearly 100 seconds into it's silver flight, the Delta IV twin SRB's had exhausted it's fuel and cleanly separated.

It's cryo fueled first stage's core engine then shut down minutes later and separated as the rocket soared southeasterly toward the central Atlantic Ocean.

The GPS-IIF-5 satellite will also offer the U.S. military's M-code service during it's planned 12 year life.

"The modernized capabilities that are coming on board with the successful launch of GPS IIF-5 will support the worldwide GPS community for years to come," Cooley added following the satellite's deployment.

Spacecraft separation from the Delta's upper stage occurred at 12:32:05 a.m. on Friday, as it arrived in a planned operational altitude of 12,712.6 miles over the Sea of Japan.
The spacecraft will undergo several weeks of testing prior to becoming operational, the Air Force stated.

The Air Force will continue to add replacement GPS satellites as IIF-6 is scheduled to lift-off in May, followed by IIF-7 this summer.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Georgia's Museum of Aviation showcases history of flight

A USAF Thunderbird stands poised in a hanger at Museum of Aviation. (Atkeison)

WARNER ROBINS, Ga -- A massive museum of aviation featuring aircraft and artifacts from the early days of flight through today are on display on the grounds of Robins, AFB in central Georgia.

History echoes through the museum's halls featuring aircraft flown during World War II, Korea and the Vietnam War, and includes related historic artifacts and exhibits located in four aircraft hanger buildings and on static display outdoors.

"It's Fantastic!" states Museum of Aviation guest Gene Milton, who along with his family, visited last week on their way home to Tampa. "There is so much here to see... we've been here for nearly three hours."

The U.S. Air Force museum is home to popular static displays of military aircraft including the Thunderbirds F-16A "Fighting Falcon", and artifacts representing Georgia's active role in aviation spanning nine decades.

The museum is also home to the NASA Regional Educator Resource Center in which teachers work in a classroom session to discover new areas of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) education. The NASA office is also a gateway to briefing materials for Georgia teachers.

Several static displays located upon the 51 acre aviation museum feature the P-40N Warhawk and an SR-71 Blackbird on the museum's list of stunning aircraft.

Several departments offer visitors an insiders glance of American soldiers in mock-ups of select operations during World War II.

"There's an eerie feeling as you watch and listen to the paratroopers as they prepare to take part in the D-Day invasion," Milton added. "My son and I enjoyed the historic enactment aboard the plane."

Only one aircraft from a country other than the United States sits inside one hanger of the museum.

A 1950's built MiG-17 which soared for the Bulgarian Air Force has called Georgia home for two decades. As the Vietnam War raged, American fighter pilots downed sixty-one MiG-17's between 1965 to 1968.

The museum is also home to the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame.

On display in the museum's Century of Flight Hanger, the Hall of Fame was created in 1989 "to promote and encourage the growth and public support of aviation within the state of Georgia by honoring aviation leaders," the GAHoF states.

The Tuskegee Airman exhibit located in the Scott Exhibit Hanger recently expanded to allow one to take a trip back to 1942 to witness America's first black pilots squadron train for combat missions.

The Tuskegee pilots trained at Morton Field in Alabama during World War II, and eventually saw combat in the air as their planes arrived in the European theater.

As they fought discrimination in the barracks, these Red Tail pilots eventually rose to the occasion to shoot down over 100 axis aircraft before the war's conclusion.

The museum also features an aviation themed cafe high above in the observation deck and a gift shop souvenirs .

Georgia's largest aviation museum is free to the public and open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday thru Sunday and closed for major holidays. The center is located at GA Hwy 247 and Russell Parkway, in Warner Robins.

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

Saturday, February 08, 2014

'Meteorite Men' Geoff Notkin discusses Perseids meteor shower

ATLANTA -- As the annual Perseid meteor shower reaches it's peek this week, a true meteorite hunter explains what the average backyard astronomer can expect from this celestial light show.

Geoffrey Notkin, host of the award-winning television series Meteorite Men and science author, discussed with this aerospace journalist on Saturday the incredible behind the scenes interest in the Perseids.

I asked Geoff, who recently published his latest book Meteorite Hunting, "Why the strong interest in this particular meteor shower?"

"When the skies are clear and the moon cooperates, the Perseid meteor shower is often the most delightful celestial event of the year," Notkin began in his hallmark British accent. "The Perseids are typically the most active meteor shower on the calendar and can provide a never-to-be-forgotten encounter with other travelers in our solar system."

Geoff adds that for this sky show, no telescope is needed, "Find a place away from electric lights, make yourself comfy and enjoy the amazing spectacle of cometary debris burning up in front of your eyes -- sometimes at more than 100,000 miles per hour!"

The meteorite specialist owns Aerolite Meteorites in Tucson, Arizona, a store which sells the special space rocks which he has recovered from around the globe.

NASA LADEE spacecraft lifts-off to study earth's moon

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A low cost NASA spacecraft designed to study the moon's thin atmosphere darted into a midnight sky over Virginia on Friday to begin a science gathering mission in lunar orbit.

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft is a $280 million mission to help scientists learn more about the moon's atmosphere and the conditions near and on the lunar surface.

One question the space agency would like to know is if lunar dust is being kicked up into the very thin lunar exosphere.

The LADEE mission will be one of the first by the space agency to launch and operate a low cost exploration mission.

"(LADEE) is really designed to try to lower the cost and speed up the ability to put together a spacecraft," Dr. Pete Worden, Director of NASA Ames Research Facility, explained on Thursday. " We are very, very excited about (LADEE) and we're looking forward to a great mission."

Dr. Worden and Ames added they are serious about performing "a number of low cost, rapidly producible space missions" over the next decade.

Ames will manage the spacecraft's entire six month mission.

A brief flash of daylight heralded the maiden launch of Orbital Sciences Corp. Minotaur 5 rocket as it lept into the black sky late Friday from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at 11:27 p.m. EDT.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Europe's mighty Ariane rocket launches two satellites

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A European Ariane 5 thundered off it's seaside launch pad at the edge of the Amazon jungle on Thursday to deliver a direct-to-home broadcast satellite and a defense spacecraft to orbit.

The launcher soared into the rainy skies of Kourou, French Guiana following a one hour delay due to thunderstorms in the area.

Ariane's two satellites, one designed for Italy and France's homeland security and one which will expand the use of high definition broadcasts to homes across most of the eastern hemisphere, successfully separated from it's launcher thirty minutes after launch.

The Asia Broadcast Satellite or ABS-2, which rode to orbit at the top of the two satellite stack, separated first from the launcher to begin a planned 15 year life providing video and telecommunication for Asia, North Africa and Middle East.

Built by Space Systems Loral, ABS-2 will operate in geostationary orbit using a combined 89 Ka-Band, Ku-Band and C-Band transponders.

“ABS-2 is a very advanced satellite that has the capability to improve the human experience by providing services for 60 percent of the world’s population,” John Celli, president of SS/L stated recently.

Minutes later, the Athena-Fidus advanced relay platform was released, and over the next week will be positioned into a fixed geostationary orbit. Athena-Fidus will provide global coverage as a communications relay between the Homeland Securities of both Italy and France and their armed forces.

The development of the Access on THeaters for European allied forces NAtions -- French Italian Dual Use Satellite, or Athena-Fidus, is sponsored by both the French and Italian space agencies.

Rain showers, which fell upon the launch site in the hours leading up to lift-off, did not delay the rocket's super cold fuel loading as the launch team remained in a go condition.

The countdown reached zero at the start of a two hour launch window as the Ariane's core engine ignited followed seconds later by it's twin solid rocket boosters at 4:30:07 p.m. EST, pushing 10,200 kg of payload toward orbit.

Half a minute later, the massive rocket disappeared into a low cloud layer.

The 166-foot-tall Ariane arced out over the mid Atlantic Ocean and into sunset as it's rate of speed and altitude increased above the light rain and clouds.

Just over two minutes into the 72nd Ariane 5 mission, the twin solid rocket boosters separated on time as the main center engine continued to burn.

The launch contrail was captured in dramatic fashion by NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, one of six crew members, working and living 260 miles above earth aboard the International Space Station.
Mastracchio had posted unique launch image on his Twitter feed even before the two satellites were released.

Ariane's upper stage engine then burned for several minutes pushing the two spacecraft into a higher orbit. ABS-2 was then released at 4:57 p.m. followed by Athena-Fidus five minutes later.

The next Ariane 5 launch, the second of fourteen planned in 2014, is currently planned for March 7 on a mission to deploy two communications satellites.

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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blue Angels maintenance teams prepare for 2014 season

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- As the U.S. Navy Blue Angels gear up for this year's air shows, a group of unsung heroes will place their job dedication and professionalism on the line prior to each aircraft's departure.

The pilots of the U.S. Navy's elite Flight Demonstration Squadron are the first to say that the aerobatic jets they fly really belong to the mechanics and technicians who keep them operational each day.

They maintain the existing aircraft with new parts at their home at Naval Air Station Pensacola, while testing new aircraft systems prior to and during an air show to keep the high performance aircraft reliable.

The maintenance and supply teams are made up of nearly a hundred enlisted men and women of the Navy and Marines who bring special job qualities to maintain the aircraft.

Seven F/A-18 Hornet jets, each painted with a high gloss blue and yellow paint job, and a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, affectionately known as "Fat Albert", will take to the skies for each air show during the 2014 season.

As the Gulf breeze blew across on the flight line, this aerospace reporter spoke with two of the Navy's most experienced engineers about the demands of their jobs -- both at home and away.
"I take care of that aircraft, making sure that everything is good for it's pilot," Aviation Ordinance First Class Eli Lang, the crew chief for the Angel 7 jet, said with a smile of pride. "My job details engine tune-up operations, check the flight control instruments and check though the pre- and post-flight inspections of the aircraft on a day-to-day basis."

Blue Angels Aviation Electrician Tyler Nuhfer said, "When you pull an all nighter to get the plane ready for the next day, it's a very big sense of accomplishment. When you get that jet off for an air show it's a really great feeling."

As the Hornets are put through the routines above, on the ground, the maintenance crews observe with binoculars and later record post-flight analysis to ensure the jets are performing as expected.
AE1 Nuhfer explained, "No air show has been cancelled due to a maintenance issue since the Blue Angels began in 1946. That's a huge bragging right we have on the enlisted side, keeping the aircraft in the air."

The Blue Angels will return to the air show circuit March 15 following a year off due to the government's 2013 sequestration. Today, the maintenance crews are preparing for the eight month season by working long hours as the Hornets are put through a strict practice schedule at their winter home at the Naval Air Facility at El Centro in southern California.

During this time, the Blue Angels team will work as one as the pilots practice for their first air show of 2014 at El Centro. The six Hornets will practice the speeds and maneuvers of each demonstration timed by the tick of the clock.

It's this dedication to detail which keeps the entire team ready during performance week.
"This is a good experience for anybody to have to come together from across the naval fleet to work together," AO1 Lang said.

The maintenance team are veterans who served aboard aircraft carriers for multiple years before volunteering to serve with the Blues.

2014 will see the team travel to show sites in Hawaii, California, Tennessee and Washington to name a few. The team will also perform a traditional fly over during the Naval Academy graduation ceremony in May.

"When we go to an air show, we take about forty team members with us," Nuhfer explained. "We arrive a day early to get everything set up as far as support equipment, and learn what hanger will we work out of and then the pilots fly in. We are there to support them until the air show starts."

Each 56-foot long Hornet carries 11,000 pounds of fuel to stay aloft for a nearly 45 minute performance.

The aircraft also endures untold stress during parts of the aerobatic performance as they pull up to 7G's (seven times one gravity). One demonstration has the jets soar upside down at over 400 m.p.h while only eighteen inches apart from another Hornet.

Although the jets can soar past the speed of sound, the Blue Angels keep their aircraft from going super sonic over land as not to crack windows of homes or cars on the ground.

A long time aviation electrician, Nuhfer discussed his role with the Blues, "The whole F/A-18 is practically fly by wire. Anything that has a wire going to it, we fix."

"Flight controls are not cables going to your surfaces but it's wires that go to a sensor that tells a computer to move a surface. Anything from the fuel, to flight controls, air speed, everything is wired and keeps us busy," Nuhfer continued. "We have the oldest jets in the Navy, some are 20 to 30 year old jets, that makes the wires that much older and that much easier to break."

As you listen to both Lang and Nuhfer talk about their jobs, one can hear the pride in their voices as they discuss just how they prepare each jet to go dazzle the crowds.

Nuhfer calls it an honor to work with the Blue Angels, and one of the last traditions still around in the Navy.

Lang echoed the sentiments of the team by saying, "We did our job to make these aircraft get in the air for the American public see what we have here, and it's satisfying to see the smiles on the children's faces as they utter 'Ooh and Aah's' during each show."

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