Thursday, December 29, 2011

Russians ditch problem stage, launch GlobalStars

GlobalStar navigation satellites in production.

After last week's launch failure, Russia has replaced its malfunctioning third stage on the Soyuz rocket with ArianneSpace's Fregat orbital stage. On Wednesday Russia launched 6 GlobalStar navigational position satellites into orbit successfully. This is the third set of 6 launched for the system, replacing an old and failing system. The happy launch also brings relief to Russian space managers, although they still have to investigate the cause of the Russian third stage failures.

China also added to the vast assembly of satellites in orbit with the launch of a "Compass" GPS satellite. Ten of the system's satellites are already in orbit, and six more are scheduled. Their goal is to compete with the USA's GPS system.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

China plans large space program for 2012

Chinese Taikonaut in orbit of Earth. Credit: CCTV.

China continues to make ambitious plans for its space program development. There are plans to expand the Tiangong-1 space station and send a human crew to visit. There are also plans to exceed 2011's number of space launches. You can see a video of their space plans at Parabolic Arc's website :

Last year, China beat the USA in the number of space launches, 19 to 18. Each country suffered one launch failure. This was the first year China has exceeded the number of USA launches. Their space launch program has definitely improved over the old days of failures and explosions on the launch pads.

I still don't hear any mention of thanks to the USA for the technology they have improperly obtained through spying and computer espionage. I doubt we ever will.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Santa visits ISS, can't rescue Russian rocket

Santa docks at the ISS.

The secret is out: Santa has no problem dealing with world-wide travel. We knew he was able to bend time and space to deliver gifts to billions around the world in one evening, but now we have proof that the secret is in his advanced technology sled. Images are now available showing Santa docking with the International Space Station and receiving a refueling of some sort of top-secret power source. This also explains how the world was convinced to work together to build the ISS and keep it manned even during difficult times.

Santa maneuvers over the ISS after refueling.

The images come courtesy NASA and the Canadian Space Agency and a bit of computer animation magic. You can find the complete animation at Parabolic Arc:

Soyuz rockets are used both for human and satellite launches.

I'm afraid it's coal for Christmas from Santa for the Russians. On Friday, Russia suffered yet another rocket failure, this time a Soyuz rocket third stage. The communications satellite failed to achieve orbit., and apparently has crashed somewhere in Siberia. This is the fifth failure in a year and a half for the Russians, and has many space leaders concerned. The major concern from the USA is that the Soyuz rocket is also used to launch astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS.

TMA-03M 290 miles above Africa, approaching the ISS.

The satellite launch failure was tempered by the successful docking on Friday of additional crew to the ISS. Thankfully no problems with THIS Soyuz. The additional Expedition 30 crew will bring the crew total to six on the station, and full operations will begin immediately. THe crew had been limited to three temporarily, due to delays in the Russian launches caused by previous Russian rocket failures.

Without the Shuttle program, the US is totally reliant on rides to ISS with our Russian partners, who promptly began overcharging for seats on the capsule. With the dangers now inherent in Soyuz launches, I imagine our space insurance rates will be increasing as well. One can only imagine the true thoughts of our brave astronauts who have to ride the Soyuz at these times.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Expedition 30 B-Team launches to ISS

Soyuz rocket lifts off from Baikonur.

At 6:16 am MST this morning, the Russian TMA-03M spacecraft was blasted into orbit aboard a Soyuz rocket on its journey to the International Space Station. The 3-man crew on board will join the ISS Expedition 30 A-team that is patiently waiting for the rest of their crew complement. Commanded by Astronaut Dan Burbank, flight engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin will be joined on Friday by astronaut Don Petit and cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kulpers.

Docking is expected to occurr on Friday at about 8:22 am MST, with the hatches opening at about 11 am. MST. The TMA-03m craft will dock at the station's Rassvet module (Russian).

ISS Mission Control in Houston monitors the launch.

ISS crew watches the video feed of the launch while in orbit. The large interior space of the ISS modules is very evident. Another astronaut can be seen in the connecting module farther back. The crew has been busy decorating ISS with a Christmas theme, though not seen in this screenshot. We'll see more of the Christmas spirit during docking procedures and the welcome aboard ceremony on Friday.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Less Money for Commercial Space Development

Orion capsule drop-tests into water.

Once again, Congress cuts the wrong budget.

No doubt most readers are aware of the difficult economic times. Job losses are at an agonizing high level, and businesses are so worried about the current and future impact of business-strangling government regulations that they won't invest in hiring or new products. For space enthusiasts, we agonize over the poor planning of the White House over the retirement of the Space Shuttle and the lack of an American manned spacecraft. We go hat-in-hand to the Russians, who promptly raised the price of a seat on their venerable Soyuz spaceship, now the only path to carry humans to the International Space Station.

Soyuz spaceship approaches the ISS.

Supporters of the space program have known for a long time that one of the best investments of American tax dollars has been NASA. The spin-off technology derived from human and robotic space exploration has transformed the world over the last 50 years. Private businesses developing new products from this technology have produced millions, if not billions, of jobs worldwide and especially here in America. So it should be a no-brainer to our leaders in Washington as to which budget to keep, and if possible, expand. Apparently Not.

For several years NASA has been budgeting money to invest in companies who are also investing their own money in creating the first man-rated commercial-(as opposed to NASA-) made spaceships to reach low orbit and the ISS. The poor planning of the Bush and Obama administrations has resulted in a gap of time where America does not lead the world in manned spaceflight. This is unacceptable to the pride of our country.

This year, NASA had planned to invest $850 million spread amongst four companies in an effort to advance the development of new human-rated spaceships, aimed at getting a new system by 2015 or 2016. At the same time, NASA has been ordered by Congress to revive the Obama-cancelled Orion capsule design, even though a rocket has not yet been designed for it (Ares-1 was also cancelled, but not revived).

Although Congress praised the efforts of the commercial companies and urged them to hurry, Congress has instead cut the budget. NASA will receive only a budget $1 billion less than it needs, and in fact is $648 million smaller than last year. Therefore, NASA has announced it will only have $406 million to share amongst the competitors. The result is that the programs will be slowed down, and we will have to wait even longer to close the human spaceflight gap.

SpaceX's Dragon supply capsule will reach ISS in February 2012.

The worst part of this frustration is the waste of money by the Obama administration. WHile screaming in front of the cameras about the importance of creating jobs and investing in technologies for tomorrow, they have spent billions of dollars on failing solar-power companies which are now going into bankruptcy. The failed Solyndra company alone received over $500 million dollars, all sucked down a hole of a collapsing company. What's offensive to me, and anyone following this scandal, is that it is known that the White House knew the companies were failing and STILL SPENT THE MONEY.

Imagine what that wasted money could have done if instead invested in the companies that are attempting to build new rockets and capsules for astronauts to get to low orbit. Imagine how much shorter the spacecraft gap would be if the companies had the funds and support necessary to speed development. Imagine the jobs created as these companies ramp up production and sell seats to space. Well, it's gonna take longer now.

Funny thing, though. NASA has not cut the budget for the continued development of its own Orion capsule. Of course, Orion doesn't yet even have a rocket to get up into space. Things that make you go hmmmmm.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

50 YA: Titan 1 Test Series Concluded

Titan 1A at launch.

Fifty Years ago the Air Force concluded its series of launches of the Titan 1 rocket from the Atlantic Test Range at Cape Canaveral. There had been 40 launches, out of which 4 had been failures. The Titan 1 was an important development in the design of multi-stage InterContinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) for America's strategic rocket forces. The launches had taken place from launch complexes LC15, LC16, LC19, and LC20.

Titan-1 had a range of 5500 miles. As an ICBM, it could carry a nuclear weapon of 3.75 megatons of TNT. It became operational in our Strategic Missile Defense System in 1962 and was active until 1964. It was the first of our ICBMs to be launched from underground silos hidden in the western USA. There were difficulties with the first silo designs, needing an elevator to lift the rocket for launch, too long a time for fueling, and the command necessity of grouping them in threes, possibly making them vulnerable to a nuclear attack. During deployment, there were about 60 missiles available for launch at any given time. In 1965, as the new Titan 2 and Minuteman 1 missiles came on line, the Titan 1's were retired.

For NASA, the tests enabled engineers to prepare for the successful Titan 2 missiles, which would be used to launch astronauts later in the Gemini series.

There were 33 Titan 1s given to museums, Air Force bases, and government installations as memorials. You can see one at the Cape Canaveral US Air Force Museum in Florida, on one of the bus tours that you can board from the Kennedy Space Center. Sorry, I didn't get a picture of it when I was there earlier this year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

50 YA: Discoverer 36 Launch Success

Thor-Agena rocket at Vandenberg AFB.

Fifty Years ago on December 12, 1961, the U.S. Air Force Space Division launched Discoverer 36 from a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The orbit of the 300+ pound capsule reached as high as 280 miles. The main experiments included testing space equipment, researching radiation in space, and detecting nuclear explosions. All the experiments were successful.

On this flight, the Air Force allowed a hitch-hiker. A 10 pound satellite named OSCAR (Orbital Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) was lifted aloft on the rocket to test beaming signals to HAM radio operators back on Earth. This was also a success. Even today, HAM radio operators often have opportunities through NASA programs to use amateur radios to contact astronauts on space missions such as the International Space Station.

Discoverer 36 would re-enter the Earth's atmosphere four days later after 64 orbits. The rocket itself burned up on March 8, 1962. The mission was one of the most successful launches of the Discoverer series.