Wednesday, April 28, 2010

HTV-2 Launch

Minotaur IV carrying the HTV-2

Last Thursday the US Air Force carried out another classified launch. And once again, over-sensitive journalists claimed the AF had launched a weapon into space. And once again, they were wrong!

If they had managed to look carefully at the AF briefing, they would have noticed that the HTV-2 is not a weapon itself, but rather is a delivery vehicle for a possible weapon. This test carried the test equipment from the Vandenburg AF base in southern California over 4,000 miles to the central Pacific ocean. The Air Force has not announced if the test was successful or not.

HTV-2 is a payload carrying craft that can glide hypersonically up to Mach 20 in a sub-orbital pattern- not really in space at all, just the upper reaches (or more like the edge of space) of the atmosphere. It may be capable of carrying a non-nuclear warhead to counterstrike an enemy or more likely, first strike a potential threat as it launches. Who knows.

While the HTV technology is amazing (and I am searching for illustrations) I am also impressed by the Minotaur IV. This rocket is adapted from the Peacemaker ballistic missile technology by Orbital Sciences, a civilian company which is rapidly developing a lot of success at launching small objects into space.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

X37B Launch

Atlas 5 on Pad at Kennedy

The Air Force launched its X37B recoverable test vehicle on Thursday, and started a cascade of rumors among the press. As many of you know, our AF tends to be quiet about their test activities, and some parts of this program they are keeping classified. Of course, every time they do that there are a huge number of people in our country who immediately jump to conclusions and assume the worst. In this case, the worst of the rumors is that the United States is testing an armed space plane which will be used to start wars in space.

What in the world is in these people's cereal? What makes them go so batty? The AF told people what was in it this flight - test equipment! Of course, the AF is going to have to test communications, flight systems, engines, payload equipment, etc. But they don't have to explain the details. Those of us who follow space systems and understand engineering principles know the sort of stuff that goes into making such a vehicle work.

Also, why do so many people automatically assume it's the USA that is going to be arming its spacecraft? Don't they remember we have a policy against that? In fact, it's the Russians or Chinese I'd be more concerned about. In the 1960's there was strong evidence supporting the idea that one of the Soviet Salyut space stations carried a projectile weapon for testing, although they of course denied it. Yet those two countries have a history of doing that sort of thing, whereas the USA does not. Grrr.

And for anyone paying attention, we do not need to put a weapon in space. We can do the damage from the ground! Not long ago the Navy tested a precision missile fired from a Destroyer that pinpointed and knocked out of orbit a dangerous satellite that could have crashed into a populated area. Fortunately, by shooting it down precisely we were able to bring it down into a safe area. As well as show that we can knock down a rogue missile from a country like, say, Iran.

Art of the X37B and Atlas V

Looking at the X37B, I like its design. Cool looking little robo space plane. I hope they sell one to NASA! Without a shuttle next year, how will we return valuable bulky items to the Earth from the ISS? I am certainly hoping for a successful flight this mission. I want our AF to keep space superiority.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

STS-131: DIscovery lands at Kennedy

Only when Discovery stops can the trucks catch up...

Discovery touched down on the long runway of Kennedy Space Center at 7:08 a.m. this morning, ending a mission to resupply the ISS. Landing was delayed several attempts and over a day behind schedule due to weather concerns for safety. Also back on the ground is the Leonardo resupply module, safely tucked away in the Discovery cargo bay. The next time Leonardo goes up (later this year), it will be left behind in space attached to ISS to serve as a storage module.

During it's stay at the ISS, there were 13 astronauts and cosmonauts in the station at one time, seven of which had come aboard from the Discovery. This mission was the last one to carry seven people to the ISS, so it's likely we won't see that many people in space at one time, for very long time from now.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

STS-131: DIscovery Undocks from ISS

Shuttle Discovery pulls away from the ISS hatch.

Early this morning at about 7 a.m. MDT the docking latches were released and the shuttle moved away from the station. With the robotic arm draped across the empty cargo bay, it almost appears as if Discovery is making a farewell bow as she takes her leave from the Expedition 23 crew.

The STS-131 crew will spend a day preparing the orbiter for re-entry through the Earth's atmosphere, expecting to land early Monday morning at the Kennedy Space Center.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pres. Obama at Kennedy Space Center

Vehicle Assembly Building at KSC. This 2005 picture shows damage on the side of the building from the high winds of a hurricane that year. It's one big, tough building.

President Obama will visit the Kennedy Space Center today for a couple of hours. He will not have any time to tour the facility. He will be meeting with a White-House selected group of politicians and NASA officials, followed by a 45- minute speech he will give defining his final views on the new direction the space agency will take. Following the conference, the President will fly to a Florida fundraising event.

After his departure, NASA Director Charles Bolden will kick off a short conference at around 2 pm Utah time. There will be several short panels sessions, and the conference will conclude by about 3:40 pm.

Over the last couple of months there have been huge debates among the space agency and space enthusiasts everywhere over the drastic change of direction for NASA. There have been several alternate plans put forward to replace the seemingly disastrous proposals put forward by the White House. It culminated yesterday with letters to the president from a large number of our most remembered space heroes and astronauts including, unexpectedly, even a letter from Neil Armstrong himself. These letters condemned the Obama plan and urged a redo of the strategy.

Today we will know if any of this has had any effect at all.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

STS-131 Third Spacewalk completed

Is he up, or down, or something else?

Astronauts Anderson and Mastracchio completed the scheduled third spacewalk by about 6 am this morning. They completed the unfinished steps from the second walk in order to complete the Ammonium tank assembly. Among the new tasks they finished today was to prepare a few steps for further work when shuttle Atlantis docks again later this year.

Anderson gets 'er dunn.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Where's Discovery?

215 miles up.

The astronauts were awakened a little more than an hour ago, and Astronauts Rick and Clay are suiting up for their third spacewalk of the mission. They'll need to finish off some leftover tasks regarding the Ammonia Tank before completing the rest of their assignments.

In the meantime, Discovery is pictured above, docked to the station, with the aft section pointed down toward planet Earth. That little piece of terrain in the picture is fairly well known. Can any of you identify the large body of water at the bottom of the photo?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

STS-131 Second spacewalk hits a snag

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio dangles high above the Earth.

During a seven hour spacewalk, astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Clay Anderson worked to finish the installation of the station's new Ammonia Tank Assembly. However, a sticky bolt prevented them from finishing the job, as well as failing to retrieve a couple of meteorite shields. These items will be left for the third spacewalk.

View of ISS robotic arms awaiting commands.

Friday, April 9, 2010

STS-131 sees first spacewalk completed

Astronaut Mastracchio exits the Quest Airlock. Photo credits: NASA.

Astronauts Mastrachio and Anderson spent 6.5 hours out on the ISS and shuttle exterior, preparing equipment for installation and retrieving an experiment from the equipment "porch" of the Japanese Kibo module. Two more spacewalks remain for this mission.

Down on Earth, arguing continues between those in favor of the White House NASA budget plan, and those against it. President Obama is scheduled to make a speech to a select group of politicians and NASA administrators on April 15th down in Florida. Some people have speculated he will make a statement that his plan is to get us to Mars, not the Moon. Others complain that his plan throws away American leadership in the space program and leaves us without a viable human spaceflight agenda.

There have been some rumors that a modified plan is possible for Congress to approve, which will keep most of the White House plan, but will extend shuttle flights to the ISS beyond 2011 and build a "shuttle C" heavy lift vehicle. Where the money will come for such a plan is not yet identified...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Discovery docks w/ISS despite malfunction

View of Discovery's cockpit from ISS.

I think they do this just to spite me. The shuttle crew's day occurs while most of us are sleeping, therefore we miss some of the video of the activities. Thank goodness for NASA TV and replays!

While we slept, the shuttle made a very good approach to the station and docked after midnight. Discovery's KU-band radar was non-functional, so the crew had to rely on their simulator training for just such an event. All went well, however, and the crew has entered the station and began operations to deliver all the supplies.

Tonight the crew will use the shuttle's arm to move the Leonardo module from the shuttle cargo bay and attach it to the station. Leonardo is a module the size of a moving van is carrying many supplies and experiments for the ISS. Opening of the hatch for Leonardo is scheduled for 5 am tomorrow.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Discovery Blasts Off!

Sure looks like a night launch...

Did NASA lie? The last mission to ISS was billed as the last night launch of the shuttle. Hmmmm. Blastoff at 6:21 a.m. Eastern time is still pretty dark, looking at the picture above. Oh, well... maybe there was a hint of a dawn sky that I don't see there.

Like most Americans, I was too tired to schedule my clock to wake me up a couple of hours before dawn to watch the blast off live. Thankfully, NASA has been replaying the launch during the day and I got to watch that. The shuttle Discovery is on its way to the ISS and should dock there on Wednesday. Tuesday will be spent inspecting the thermal protection tiles and preparing for the docking.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Soyuz docks w/ISS; Discovery ready

Expedition 23 gathered together.

The hatch to the ISS opened at a little after 1 am Utah time yesterday, allowing the three space travelers to exit the Russian capsule and enter the recently expanded space station. The crew has little time to prepare the ISS for the docking of another spacecraft! Shuttle Discovery is set to visit the iSS this week.

Discovery set for launch from Pad 39A.

STS 131 is go for launch from the Kennedy Space Center tomorrow, Monday April 5th at about 4:21 a.m. Utah time. You can watch the blast-off on the news, but full coverage is of course found on NASA TV at www.nasa,gov.ntv. Commander Alan Poindexter will lead the mission to bring supplies for the ISS's many experiment racks. There are expected to be three spacewalks during this mission. There will only be three shuttle flights to the station after this mission.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

50 YA - Tiros 1: First Weather Satellite

Tiros 1 as it would appear in orbit.

On April 1, 1960, NASA launched a Thor-Able rocket carrying the world's first weather satellite, Tiros 1. Tiros stands for Television InfraRed Observation Satellite. It wasn't known yet if satellites could play an important role in Earth observations. One of the main questions to answer would be if photos from space could save lives on the ground. Tiros proved itself successfully. With photos and data from space, weather forecasting took a giant leap forward.

Tiros 1 photo of a hurricane.

For the first time, observations from space of hurricanes out at sea gave weather forecasters enough time to warn people to evacuate and protect property in time. Analysis of weather fronts helped farmers save crops. Ships at sea could be radioed to go around dangerous weather.

For 50 years now, we've benefited from those friendly watchful eyes in space. Every time you watch a weather report on TV, you benefit from the technology developed from this first Tiros satellite.

Tiros 1 continued broadcasting pictures and data until June 15, 1960 when an electrical problem shut down the satellite. It's still up there in orbit, though, slowly rotating, preserved in the vacuum of space.

Rocket Ready for Expedition 23

Russian Soyuz TMA-18

Reinforcements for the current Expedition 23 on the ISS are preparing for liftoff at around 10 a.m. (Kazakhstan time). Engineers Alexander Skvortsov, Tracy Dyson, and Mikhail Kornienko will join the original 3 Expedition members: Oleg Kotov (commander), TJ Creamer, and Soichi Noguchi.

I had originally thought of doing an April Fool's joke on the blog, when I realized I was too late: the joke is on us, the American space-program supporters. With the cancelation of an actual planned space program, the Obama administration is forcing us to buy rides from the Russians for many years until we (hopefully) get our engineering brains in gear. Enjoy the ride, folks.