Wednesday, May 27, 2015

European Ariane 5 launcher delivers satellites to orbit

The 79th flight of Europe's Ariane 5 lifts-off on May 27 from Kourou. (arianespace)

A massive European rocket lifted off from the edge of the Amazon Forest on Wednesday to deliver a pair of commercial broadcast satellites for DirecTV and SKY Mexico.

The direct-to-home telecommunications satellites, DirecTV 15 and Sky Mexico 1, were successfully placed into special transfer orbits. The two spacecraft will be maneuvered over the next week into its proper orbit.

"DIRECTV 15 will provide additional digital television entertainment services for more than 20 million DIRECTV customers in the United States," Astrid Emerit, spokesperson for Airbus Defense and Space said.

SKYM-1 will add a larger coverage map for Mexico's pay-TV provider, Sky, a sister company to DirecTV. The spacecraft will expand HD broadcast channels for customers in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

The Ariane 5 heavy lift launcher thundered into the cloudy skies from its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana at 5:16:07 p.m. EDT (6:16 p.m. local time), and seconds later began to dart out over the Atlantic waters.

Two minutes later, the rocket's twin boosters separated on time, meanwhile Ariane's core Vulcain engine continued to push the rocket higher.

DirecTV 15, which rode to orbit in the top of the two satellite stack, was deployed at 5:43:54 pm high over eastern coast of central Africa. Ten minutes later, SKYM-1 separated from the Ariane's upper stage -- both satellites beginning an expected 15-year life on orbit.

“DIRECTV 15 is not just the 100th telecommunications satellite we have built for geostationary orbit it is also the most powerful television broadcasting satellite ever built in Europe, the most powerful used in the USA and our 8th satellite to use electric propulsion for station-keeping,” François Auque, Head of Space Systems, stated on Monday. “This launch once more highlights the expertise and competitiveness of Airbus Defence and Space as the prime contractor for both the DIRECTV 15 satellite and the Ariane 5 launcher.”

Thursday, May 21, 2015

American resupply craft returns space station science home

A commercial resupply craft departed the International Space Station on Thursday and wrapped up a historic month in orbit with a successful splashdown of the coast of California.

Loaded with 3,120 pounds of science equipment and biological samples, the Dragon supply ship was undocked by astronauts using the space station's robotic arm and then released at 7:04 a.m. EDT. The craft then maneuvered away with a series of burns to guide the craft into position to leave Earth orbit.

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) completed its sixth resupply mission for NASA as the Dragon capsule performed an on time landing at 12:42 p.m., upon the Pacific waters 155 miles southwest of Long Beach. SpaceX released an observation report that the craft made a pinpoint splashdown.

Dragon is the world's only uncrewed spacecraft able to both deliver scientific experiments and return them safely to earth. Only hours following splashdown, Dragon had been plucked out of the water and placed on the deck of the boat for its trip home. The multiple experiments had also been removed for their return to Texas.

"The returning Space Aging study examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, widely used as a model for larger organisms," NASA spokesperson Kathryn Hambleton said on Thursday. "By growing millimeter-long roundworms on the space station, researchers can observe physiological changes that may affect the rate at which organisms age. This can be applied to changes observed in astronauts, as well, particularly in developing countermeasures before long-duration missions."

The successful flight keeps the company on track for both it's future supply missions to deliver fresh cargo to the orbiting outpost, and the first crewed launches beginning in 2017. The flight marked the sixth of 15 planned flights designed to ferry supplies to the station.

The next Dragon resupply mission is planned for June 26 at 11:09 a.m. a top a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The launch team will try again to attempt an on target landing of the Falcon's first stage aboard a floating platform of the Florida coastline.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Air Force X37B space plane begins fourth mission

An unmanned U.S. Air Force space plane lifted off from America's Space Coast on Wednesday a top a United Launch Alliance Atlas rocket beginning the programs fourth experimental flight.

This new mission is the second flight of the second autonomous Boeing-built X-37B spacecraft which will spend at least a year soaring around the planet approximately 400 miles above. Today's launch also marks the fourth X-37B mission to test new technologies and spacecraft systems in orbit.

Under an blue skies , the Atlas 5 rocket's core engine ignited as the countdown clock reached zero, lifting off on time at 11:05 a.m. EDT. A second later, nearly 870,000 pounds of thrust pushed the rocket and it's historic military payload off it's seaside launch pad and out over the Atlantic waters.

The delta winged spacecraft later separated from the Atlas' Centaur upper stage nearly twenty minutes into the flight. As the X-37B navigated away  the upper stage, The belly of the vehicle is protected with a black thermal protection system designed by NASA. Aligned with protective black and white thermal tiles, the mini space shuttle has a wing span of 14 feet, 11 inches from tip to tip.

“ULA is honored to launch this unique spacecraft for the U.S Air Force,"said ULA Vice President for Atlas Jim Sponnick on Wednesday. "Congratulations to the Air Force and all of our mission partners on today’s successful launch! The seamless integration between the Air Force, Boeing, and the entire mission team culminated in today’s successful launch of the AFSPC-5 mission."
Riding into Earth orbit with the X-37B was a payload consisting of ten science investigative CubeSats designed by both NASA, U.S. Naval Academy and the California Polytechnic State University. The mini satellite payloads were stored in chambers and attached to the lower section of the Centuar stage near its engine nozzle.

The payloads will look into many fields including the first satellite designed as a UNIX Web server in space using "common TCP/IP Internet protocol accessible to any Internet user," according to the National Reconnaissance Office  "The U.S. Naval Academy will also be comparing the Internet speed of the space-based network versus terrestrial networks."

Following an undisclosed flight time, the space plane is expected to touchdown in late-2016 at its prime landing site in California. Once the Air Force brings the reusable space plane home, it will reenter just like the space shuttle and aim for a touchdown on runway 12 at Vandenberg, AFB, located northeast of Los Angeles.

Lt. Col. Troy Giese, the OTV systems program director said, "Upon being given the command to return to Earth, the X-37B will automatically descend through the atmosphere and land on the designated runway. There is no one on the ground with a joystick flying it." If weather or technical issues arise on landing day, then Edwards, AFB will be called up with it's longer runway.
copyright 1998 - 2010 Charles Atkeison, All rights reserved.