Friday, October 29, 2010

The Supply Run to ISS

Progress spacecraft on Soyuz rocket (photo credit RIA Novosti Oleg Urusov).

A Progress supply capsule was launched on Wednesday, carrying cargo to the International Space Station. NASA calls this mission Progress 40. The Russians have been running a very successful resupply system to the ISS for some time now, and it's actually pleasing to see something run this well. The "cargo ship" will make its automated robotic docking ahead of the DIscovery Shuttle flight expected to take off on November 1st. The older Progress cargo pod, now filled with garbage and waste has already undocked from the ISS in anticipation of this new cargo pod on its way up. The older capsule will burn up in a controlled re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. THe picture above was taken by Oleg Urusov, and I thought it was a beautiful view of the rocket on the pad in Baikonur Cosmodrome. It was published on by Jeff Foust. I highly recommend that space news site.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spaceport Runway Dedicated

Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Governor Richards in front of Virign Galactic's White Knight carrier and Spaceship 2 spacecraft (photo credit Jeff Foust)

Last Friday saw the official dedication of America's new spaceport runway. Located down in New Mexico, the SpacePort America sit will host the headquarters of Virgin Galactic, a company set to bring the first tourists into sub-orbital flights that won't be on the Russian Soyuz capsules. There are hundreds of rich tourists already signed up for flights. Lat month the White Knight 2 Carrier successfully drop-tested the SpaceShip 2 vehicle which made a perfect glide in to its landing. Rocket motor tests are continuing, and we should soon see the first space flight for SS2 shortly. Mega-Bazillionaire Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines, partnered with spaceship designer Burt Rutan to develop this new space company. They have announced that once sub orbital flights begin the company will work to establish orbital flights.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Use the Company Car

Did you check the oil when you filled up?

If you've ever experienced delays at the airport, long flights, and long drives across country, you might get jealous of these guys. WHen NASA needs its astronauts to be somewhere, they don't want to waste any time. NASA assigns T-38 jet trainers to astronauts so they can zoom around the country for training, promotional, or instructional meetings. Here we see Commander Steve Lindsey and Mission Specialist Tim Kopra preparing for a special training flight. The Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test helps astronauts learn the safety checks and countdown lists that go along with the safety rules for shuttle launches. And of course they get to fly. Steve and Tim are scheduled to fly into space as part of mission STS-133, due to launch on November 1st.

Monday, October 25, 2010

STS-133 Go for Nov. 1st

The Crew poses in front of Discovery on pad.

The shuttle Discovery and its crew of mission STS-133 have been given clearance to attempt their launch on November 1st in the afternoon. The leaky fuel seals have been replaced and repairs deemed successful. The shuttle is ready for blastoff from Launch Pad 39A.

This mission will take important supplies and spare parts up to the ISS. It will also make the last trip for the Express Logistics Carrier-4, a large pod which docks to a port for transfer of supplies. This time the pod will remain attached to the station, providing important storage space for the future.

This will be Discovery's last flight to space. The shuttle program is winding down, and there will only be one or two more flights next year. After that, we start hitch-hiking.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now Arriving: TMA-01M

Soyuz capsule 40 meters from ISS.

After a two day journey, the second half of the Expedition 25 crew has docked to the ISS. Blasting off from Baikonur on Thursday night, the Soyuz capsule docked to the Polsk module hatch, and once pressures were equalized and all systems checked, the crew boarded the station. Expedition 25 ends when the first half of the crew leaves ISS in November.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blast-off to ISS; Expedition 25 part 2.

Russian TMA-01M blasts off from Baikonur.

Scott Kelly and his crew left Earth at about 5 p.m. MDT yesterday for a 10 minute ride into orbit. It will take two days to reach the ISS for docking and the beginning of their part of the Expedition 25 mission.

The crew presents itself ready for launch. And for pictures.

NASA TV is repeatedly broadcasting the launch of the mission and the crew preparations at various times today. See the NASA TV website for schedule information.

Last waves to the crowd before entering the elevator.

As usual I'm less than impressed with the Russian video quality. At least it is available, and I can get some snapshots for the blog. Thanks to everyone who makes sure we get to see this part of the mission. ANd thanks to the still image photographers who send in the better quality images.

Top of the Russian gantry. Escape tower is visible above the gantry.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reinforcements prepare for trip to ISS

The new Soyuz TMA-01 on the pad.

Currently the first three members of Expedition 25 have the ISS all to themselves. The next three are preparing for a launch tomorrow at about 7:10 p.m. EDT. Their Soyuz rocket moved out to the pad this week and is going through checklists and preparations for takeoff. Aboard the Russian-made capsule will be astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka. They are expected to dock with ISS on Saturday night.

At this time the only other spacecraft docked to ISS (not counting the Soyuz capsule acting as escape pod) is a Progress 39 cargo capsule which arrived last month. Once all the cargo has been unloaded and unwanted trash stored aboard, it will be jettisoned and will end up burning up in the atmosphere.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Constellation cancelled

Congress becomes rocket scientists.

One of the major faults of the Obama plan for space was that there was no plan. There were directives to spend money. The directives included spending money on commercial space companies to develop new technologies. There were directives for NASA to spend money on developing new rocket technologies. There were directives to spend money hitching rides to our own space station on Russian rockets at increasingly higher fees. There were directives to spend money on Global Warming policies. And there was a directive to spend money trying to make friends with Arab countries. The only solid goal-oriented directive was to extend the mission life of the ISS to 2020.

Well, the Obama administration knows how to spend money but they don't know how to develop a goal-specific program with deadlines. Now I'm all in favor of spending money on NASA. If you're a space nut you know all about spin-offs and how greatly our nation has been enriched through the use of technologies developed through the Moon programs. In fact, why can't more of that pork-filled wasted TARP money be sent NASA's way? It sure would be a better return for the dollar.

Sure, there was a vague goal for NASA to develop a new rocket to take people into low-orbit. But the "plan" was for NASA to "explore" and create technologies so we'd have a rocket plan by 2015. SO basically, the plan was to spend a lot of money to have a plan in 5 years. What a waste of resources. What was needed was some leadership.

We kind of got some. There are many Americans very upset that there will be a lack of US spaceflight capability once the shuttles retire. Well, folks, blame that one on Bush, not Obama, since the Constellation program came from the recovery from the Columbia disaster early during the first Bush term of office. Unfortunately, by not funding Constellation correctly, the delays meant nothing would be ready to fly by the time the shuttles retired.

With the gap appearing ominously, our Congress has decided at least to act. The new NASA funding plan calls for NASA to create a Heavy Lift Vehicle, using shuttle-derived technology, by the years 2015-2016. This at least gives our NASA heroes a basic deadline to build onto to create a program.

This at least gave our local space company ATK the opportunity to be involved in using it's shuttle booster technology in the design of the new HLV. Unfortunately, they must be seeing it more of a definite end to Constellation, as they've laid off another 450 people. This has got to be a disappointment as well to our government leaders, who were recently praising the new bill as a job-saver. Looks like instead it's merely the promise of jobs to come.