Wednesday, May 26, 2010

STS-132: Atlantis lands for last time.

Atlantis falls through the sky.

Shuttle Atlantis brought the crew of mission STS-132 home to Kennedy Space Center just before 7 a.m. MDT this morning. Commander Ken Ham and pilot Tony Antonelli flew the orbiter in for a picture-perfect landing on the long runway.

Easy does it... Careful, now...

Atlantis has been flying now for 25 years since 1985. This was scheduled to be Atlantis' last mission in space, but the orbiter will be prepped and stand-by as an emergency vehicle during the November launch of shuttle Endeavor.

Drogue parachute slows Atlantis down until the brakes can do their job.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

STS-132: Atlantis on her way home

ISS robot arm in foreground, Atlantis down below.

Orbiter Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station this morning at 9:22 MDT. The STS-132 crew performed a fly-around maneuver to circle the space station before firing the thrusters to put some distance between the two spacecraft.

View of ISS from Atlantis. The shuttle is about 650 feet away, looping over the top of ISS during the fly-around maneuver.

Atlantis is expected to make a landing Wednesday. Please remember that the pictures I use are NASA and NASA TV credited. Our good tax dollars at work. More later.

STS-132: Wrapping up the mission

After completing the third and final spacewalk of the mission, the batteries on the truss had been replaced and the Russian mini science module installed. On Saturday the crew of the shuttle Atlantis continued moving supplies out of the orbiter and loading items that were to return to Earth for study or refurbishment.

Farewell ceremony at the hatch in ISS.

While most of us were still sleeping this morning, the crews bade each other farewell and prepared for undocking later this morning. The hatch was closed at 6:43 a.m. MDT. Undocking is scheduled for 9:22 a.m. MDT.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

STS-132: 2 Spacewalks and an Install

Is Mission Specialist Stephen Bowen up or down? You Decide!

Monday saw mission specialists Garrett Reisman and Stephen Bowen complete the first spacewalk of the mission. The two astronauts installed some backup communications antenna equipment on the station exterior. Before completing their tasks, they also did some prep work on the station batteries which would be the object of the second spacewalk.

The next day, astronauts from STS-132 and the Expedition 23 crew worked the robotic arms to move the Russian experiments module out of Atlantis' cargo bay and install it on the station.

The second walk was completed today. Steve Bowen and Michael Good exchanged 4 of the station truss' six batteries, placing new ones in the set. In addition, they repaired a cable snag on the orbiter's robotic boom arm. They are actually now ahead of schedule with their planned activities for the fourth spacewalk in a couple of days. The next planned activity is to open the Russian Module and get it working.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

STS-132: Good Beginning for Last Mission

Atlantis soars upward on 32nd mission.

STS-132 began the last mission of the shuttle Atlantis with a perfect launch Friday. Atlantis carries a crew of six to the ISS to transfer batteries, spare parts, and the Russian Science module.

On Saturday the crew performed a visual inspection of the heat tiles under the orbiter and prepared for docking with the ISS.

Early Sunday morning, Atlantis approached ISS and performed the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver for an additional photographic inspection of the heat tiles, then began a series of maneuvers to approach the station for docking.

Mission Control in Houston.

View from Atlantis through the docking port monitor. The shuttle is flying underneath the ISS. The objective is to dock at the Pressurized Mating Adapter (the dock) on the Destiny Module, visible just left of the intersection of the "Y" crosshairs. At the intersection is the Kibo Japanese module with the science experiments "porch." To the left of the docking port is the "Columbus" European experiments module.

Positional Screen. At the crosshairs center is the ISS. The green lines display the approach "cone" that the shuttle must enter to approach the docking port. The shuttle graphic is underneath and angling a bit upwards.

Atlantis angling 45 degrees up from level, moving ahead of the iSS, and thrusting upwards.

Angle higher, moving ahead. Slow but steady progress. Atlantis must move to what is called the "V-Bar", or velocity vector approach. Which simply means move in front of the path of the ISS.

Pilot Ken Ham moves Atlantis into a near-perfect approach. Hmm. Maybe it is perfect.

Atlantis graphic reaches position. The dotted line indicates the path it would have taken if it had continued it's approach arc. Instead it will now move toward the docking port.

Docking complete. Earth in background. Piece of cake.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Meanwhile, up at the ISS...

Two Soyuz Capsules at ISS. Bottom capsule is docked at ISS, top is repositioning to another docking port.

Now that's an impressive lens flare! Repositioning Soyuz can be made out halfway between the Sun and the docked Soyuz.

Here she comes. Soyuz, left of center, moving towards new docking position.

The crew of Expedition 23 aboard ISS moved one of the two docked Soyuz space capsules. They have opened a space for the STS-132 crew to position the new Russian Mini-Module when they arrive this weekend. I always enjoy watching NASA's broadcasts of ISS operations. And of course, whenever we get lots of EVA or out-of-ship activity it's fun to sit back, watch, and play space music as the finest explorers on Earth do their thing.

ISS moves into shadow. The Soyuz emits a navigation light as it moves closer.

Russian docking camera view as the docking is completed.

Magnificent view down the length of the station truss segments.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

STS-132: Stand by for Action!

Atlantis at Pad 39A, KSC

The space shuttle Atlantis prepares for its last mission in space. STS-132 will deliver the Integrated Cargo Carrier and a Russian Science Mini-Module to the ISS. Liftoff is scheduled for shortly after noon MDT on Friday the 14th. The countdown has already begun.

STS-132, last crew of the orbiter Atlantis.

The commander of the flight is Ken Ham, and the pilot is Tony Antonelli. Mission specialists include Michael Good, Garrett Reisman, Piers Sellers and Steve Bowen. Activities will include three spacewalks, installation of the modules, and transfer of backup batteries for the space station truss segments.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Constellation cancelled, but let's spend 220 mil anyways

Capsule and Escape Tower Launch Prep
(credit US Army)

Yesterday NASA and the US Army conducted a nearly faultless test of the new Constellation Escape Tower system. Launched from the White Sands testing facility, the Tower lifted the capsule replica nearly a mile high and over a mile downrange. The motors actually were a bit more powerful than some of the testers expected, reaching a 16-G acceleration (they want to eventually get it down to 10Gs- a bit more survivable).

Tower maneuvers capsule at apogee.

The project has cost $220 million so far. One wonders how something like this could cost so much, but actually it's quite reasonable when you compare it to developing a new jet ejection system from nearly scratch which absolutely CANNOT be allowed to fail.

The funny part is, the program it's designed for has been cancelled by the White House. The continuing fight between some of Congress, some Constellation supporters, and the President's supporters seems resolved but awaits Congress' fight in the budget domain. What is clear is that according to law passed by Congress, the COnstellation program keeps testing for a year from cancellation. So the tests go on.

A few observations:

1) This tower system was supposed to save the Orion capsule in case of danger during launch; however, Orion has now been downgraded from a crew vehicle to an escape pod for the ISS (if it actually gets built). So the tower will never but used with Orion - the astronauts are not expected to launch up to the ISS in the darn thing.

2) This shows there was still good progress being made on the Constellation programs despite the denials of the Obama plan supporters. However, the cost overrun combined with the lack of sufficient funding from Congress doomed the project in the eyes of the Obama team.

3) This was a very necessary test program anyway- the results learned here will help private industry prepare the escape towers necessary for the devlopement of new crew-capable capsules for SpaceX, Boeing, or whoever DOES build the crew transfer vehicle.

4) The news media and NASA still refer to Orion as the Crew Exploration Vehicle, and refer to it as though it is still being developed for its original intentions. Haven't they been paying attention? There ain't gonna be NO exploring with this capsule, friends-- no crew will ride the capsule to orbit, and if they ride it down to Earth it's because of a major problem with the ISS.

Hoping for better planning...