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."

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