Saturday, August 27, 2011

50 YA - Explorer XIII studies Micrometeorites

Scout rocket blasts off.

On August 25, 1961 NASA launched Explorer 13 on a short mission to study the tiny rocks we could find in space between the Earth and the Moon. The space probe was launched aboard a Scout rocket from the Wallops Island launch facilities. Because of the shape of the counting device, it was nicknamed the "beer-can satellite". Impacts with the detector were reported by radio to tracking facilities. It was last heard from on August 27th, and NASA announced on August 29th that the probe had re-entered the atmosphere and burned up.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

International Launch Failures

Progress M-12M at launch.

The Russian space program has taken a turn for the worse. Five minutes after blastoff, the Progress M-12M resupply spacecraft suddenly lost contact with ground controllers. There was an unknown problem with the second stage, and the craft failed to reach orbit. It crashed into a remote and sparsely-populated area in East Russia.

Proton-M lifting off.

The Proton disaster occurs within weeks of another one. On August 17th, Russian attempted to launch a Proton-M rocket carrying the Express AM4 communications satellite. In this case also, the second stage suffered a malfunction. Instead of crashing though, the failure of the second stage resulted in the satellite being placed into the wrong orbit, where it cannot function as intended. Russia placed all future Proton launches on hold, while scientists attempt to resolve the problem.

Long March rocket blastoff.

This month, trouble came in three's. On Thursday the 18th, the Chinese space agency tried to launch the Shijian satellite from its facilities in Northwest China. Again, a failure in the rocket cause the satellite to fail to reach its intended orbit. While China claims the Shijian to be a scientific payload, other scientists from outside China claim it may have been part of a military spy system. China's last rocket disaster occurred in 2009.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

50 YA - Ranger 1 Test launch Failure

Ranger 1 on display before launch day.

Fifty years ago, America began its first true attempts to explore the Moon. The Ranger series of space probes was designed to reach the moon, orbit, and take photos and sensor readings of the surface. Ranger 1 itself was designed to go into a large Earth orbit to test the equipment and features of the spacecraft, and to examine the properties of space between the Earth and the Moon.

Schematic of Ranger 1.

On board the Ranger 1 were several telescopes, radiation detectors, particle detectors and a magnetometer. Of course the craft was also provided with a solar panel power supply and communications system.

Agena second stage being connected to an Atlas rocket.

To place Ranger 1 in its orbit, NASA decided to use the Agena second stage motor placed on an Atlas D rocket. Atlas D is the same rocket which would be used to launch the next manned mission. In the actual launch however, problems developed. In fact, before launch on August 23rd there were eight prior attempts which were cancelled due to equipment problems. When it finally did take off, the Atlas rocket performed well, but the Agena second stage failed to ignite, placing the Ranger 1 in a low Earth orbit and the spacecraft began to tumble. Its decaying orbit ensured that Ranger 1 would burn up in the atmosphere on August 30. Although the mission orbital goal was not achieved, scientists did have enough time to test out the equipment in the environment of space, which would help them prepare for the next Ranger mission.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

50 YA - Tiros 3 finds some storms

Tiros- class satellite.

Fifty years ago, detecting weather from Earth orbit was still in its infancy, but progress was being made. Tiros 3, launched into space aboard a Thor-Delta rocket on November 23, 1960, used its only working television camera to spot two storm cells developing south-southwest of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. These cells had not yet been discovered by ground, air, or sea reconnaissance.

Tiros 3 had originally been equipped with 2 wide-angle cameras but the first failed after 12 days in space. the remaining camera did excellent work, and discovered many storms during the 1961 hurricane season.

We'll be coming back to Tiros 3 on September 10. Stand by for action!

50 YA - Blue Scout goes missing

Scout launch from Cape Canaveral.

On this day back in 1961 NASA launched a Blue Scout rocket mission down the Atlantic Missile Range, only to lose radio contact with the payload. It was intended to place the package some 140,000 miles in orbit. I'm still researching to find out exactly what satellite was on board. The Scout rocket program lasted over 30 years and was generally very successful.

50 YA - Explorer 12 Goes into weird orbit

Thor Delta rocket.

On August 15th, 1961 NASA managed to launch Explorer 12 into a highly eliptical orbit around the Earth. When we think of orbiting the Earth, we usually think of a circular pattern, but this craft followed a more egg-shaped path around the planet. The orbit ranged from 50,000 miles to 170,000 miles from the Earth, studying a number of physical properties of energetic particles found in space.

The rocket was launched from the Atlantic Missile Range at Cape Canaveral on a Thor-Delta rocket. Blast-off occurred from Launch Complex 17, where Delta rocket launches are made even to this day.

Because of the strange orbit, it took several days for scientists to confirm that Explorer 12 had reached its intended path. Data for the experiment stopped arriving in December of 1961, and the satellite re-entered the atmosphere in 1963.

Friday, August 12, 2011

50 YA - Vostok-2 leads manned spaceflight

Gherman Titov.

Fifty years ago, Americans were still feeling the pressure from the Soviet lead in manned spaceflight. The Russians were making full use of their propaganda, proclaiming the superiority of the Communist Man over their Western counterparts. On August 6, 1961 cosmonaut Gherman Titov ascended into Earth orbit aboard Vostok 2.

Vostok 1 in a museum. Vostok 2 would have been very similar.

Titov remained in space for a shocking 17 orbits. He was the fourth man to fly in space, after Gagarin, Shepard, and Grissom. His flight was noted for many firsts: First to spend a day in space, first to sleep in space and get space sick (!), first to pilot a spacecraft personally, and first to manually take pictures from space. Amazingly, he was only 25 years old at the time.

Vostok-2 mission patch.

For his feat, Titov was named a Hero of the Soviet Union (and awarded other medals as well). Perhaps more lasting than that, his name was given to a very large crater discovered on the far side of the Moon!

Titov Crater in false color imaging.

Soviet postcard commemorating Gagarin and Titov, Russia's first two cosmonauts.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

ISS Happenings

Progress supply ship docked at ISS. Cosmonaut seen above docking port.

On August 4th two cosmonauts from the Expedition 28 ISS crew performed a maintenance spacewalk. They successfully removed a communications antenna no longer being used, and installed a materials experiment. However, they took longer than expected to install a laser communications device which impacted their deployment of a satellite. The satellite was an experiment in amateur radio communications, and the antenna deployment was not completed. This may impact the functionality of the experiment.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Juno Lifts Off for Jupiter

Juno / Atlas V on pad LC-41.

On Friday August 5, NASA launched a new space probe towards Jupiter. Juno's mission is to continue our exploration of the gas giant with an aim towards understand Jupiter's possible origins and evolution.

Liftoff! Juno is on its way!

Juno is not intended to be a long-term observer of Jupiter. It's journey is expected to be five years, after which it will orbit the giant planet 33 times in a circumpolar orbit. Its instruments will probe the cloud structure and weather patterns, as well as probe the planet core and magnetic fields.

Headed towards space.

The blastoff was delayed for some time due to a ground equipment helium leak, and the inadvertent straying of a civilian boat into the restricted waters near the launch site. Once the all-clear was given, the Atlas V performed well and lifted the payload into space. The Juno craft separated from the second stage 53 minutes after blastoff.

View of the launch site from the second stage camera.

Solid Rocket boosters separate.

NASA animation of second stage propelling Juno into a trajectory to Jupiter.

Another interesting look at the Atlas V (top picture) helps us visualize a possible future for NASA. Boeing has decided to use the Atlas V launch vehicle for its tests of its CST-100 crew capsule, now in development. We'll have more coverage on this development shortly.

Friday, August 5, 2011

50 YA - More Problems for Discoverer Series

Thor Agena (B model sown).

Fifty years ago on August 3, 1961, the US Air Force launched Discoverer XXVIII with a Corona spy satellite on board. Unfortunately, the system guidance computer failed, and the satellite failed to achieve orbit. I am assuming the launch was made from Vandenburg AF Base in California, but I may be mistaken.