Friday, January 27, 2012

Progress 46 docks at ISS

Progress 46 docking position illustrated. Two other Soyuz capsules docked for transferring crews to Earth.

Russian Progress 46 made a smooth approach and docking with the International Space Station at approximately 5:09 p.m. MST. The final approach and docking was completely computer-controlled. The robotic freighter has brought up spare parts, life support supplies, water, and fuel for the station. The Russian designation for the freighter is M-14M. It will remain attached to the station through April 24. Earlier this week, another Progress capsule, filled with trash, was jettisoned to make way for this one. The jettisoned Progress will burn up in the atmosphere over the ocean.

Progress 46 camera view of ISS.

ISS window view of Progress 46 on approach.

The spaceships are in the Earth's shadow. Progress 46 still appears in soft light from the station. Its symmetrical solar panels help visualize its orientation.

ISS Hatch in upper part of view as the spacecraft close.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

50 YA - Ranger 3 Misses the Moon

Artist idea of Ranger probe traveling through space. This replica of Ranger was used at the Parade of Progress Show in Cleveland Ohio in 1964. I would love to find out where this is today. Perhaps the Smithsonian?

Fifty years ago on January 26, 1962, NASA launched an Atlas-Agena B rocket from Cape Canaveral. Lifted beyond Earth orbit, Ranger 3 was set on course to begin our epic reconnaissance of the Moon. On board were not only experiments to test the functionality of the Ranger series of probes, but also a Seismometer capsule which would roughly land and begin studying moonquakes. The craft itself was intended to crash into the surface of the Moon, as engineers had not yet devised a way to softly land a spacecraft on the lunar surface. A camera would send images of the lunar surface back to Earth before the expected crash, and instruments would make radar reflections of the surface, measure the altitude from the surface, and study gamma rays while in space.

Side view or Ranger 3.

Power for the craft was provided by two solar panel wings providing energy to a 1000-watt capacity battery. A large communications antenna was attached to the base. In a way, Ranger 3 appeared much as most of our satellites of the period would look.

Atlas-Agena B lifts off from Cape Canaveral.

The Ranger 3 mission did not go as planned (surprise!). The booster guidance system suffered a malfunction which caused the spacecraft to speed up beyond the planned acceleration. The mid course correction failed, and the spacecraft was unable to relay data and information clearly. Ranger 3 missed the moon by about 22,000 miles. Eventually, some data was received that helped engineers fine-tune the design for the next mission. Ranger 3 itself kept on flying- it eventually began to orbit the Sun, and remains out there to this day.

Science fiction fans may remember that the TV series "Buck Rogers" used a space-shuttle derived design as Buck's spaceship, which was named "Ranger-3."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Solar Storm hits hard today

False color image of Sun. Solar flare developing in upper right section.

A massive CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) should be hitting the Earth right now. Traveling at about 1400 miles per second, the solar energetic particles are hitting the Earth's magnetosphere (our shields) and interacting with high-flying orbital satellites. A storm this strong hasn't hit the Earth since 2005. There were concerns that some aircraft traveling at high altitude over the Arctic circle would have to divert. Our main concern is that some satellites may suffer damage or loss of signal quality during the event. Skywatchers with clear skies can be looking for magnificent aurora.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Delta IV lifts SATCOM to orbit

Delta IV components. Credit:

Here we go... For the first U.S. launch of a satellite this year, United Launch Alliance (ULA) sent a Delta IV rocket into the Florida skies from Launch Complex SLC-37B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Forty minutes later, the WGS-4 satellite separated from its stage and began orbiting. The Wideband Global Satcom 4 is a military satellite, first in a series of ten that will form a Defense Satellite Communications System. Other countries included in this defense system include Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

ULA operates Delta launches from Pad B of launch complex SLC (Space Launch Complex) -37.

SLC-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Historically, SLC-37 (originally LC-37) was used to test the first Saturn 1 and thereafter launched over a half dozen Saturn 1 and Saturn 1B rockets during the Apollo program. All of these Saturn rockets were unmanned, but were part of the testing required to make sure the equipment was ready to put astronauts into space and on their way to the Moon. Later, during the 1970's the complex was demolished. The complex was later rebuilt to launch DElta and Atlas advanced rockets for government missions. The Delta IV and Atlas V are in consideration as launch vehicles for the upcoming Orion space capsule.

Closer view of SLC-37B. I took this photo while standing at Launch Pad 34, location of the infamous fire onboard Apollo 1. Inside the tower can be seen a Delta rocket being readied. Photo taken in May 2011.

Last Apollo mission to lift off from LC-37B, was Apollo 5. This was an unmanned mission on a Saturn 1B rocket, designed to lift a test version of the Lunar Module into orbit without a crew.

Apollo 5 test mission patch.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Space Junk News- The Fall of Phobos-Grunt

Phobos-Grunt in assembly phase.

It's the end of another sad tale of Russia's attempts to investigate the planet Mars. Phobos-Grunt was launched on November 9, 2011 on a mission to explore Mars' moon Phobos and bring back samples to Earth. Instead, rocket failures on the probe left it in a perilous orbit around the Earth. Repeated attempts to correct the problem from Russian mission control were useless.

The orbit of Phobos-Grunt was unstable. Scientists hurried to predict where the probe would eventually crash back to Earth. Last night the answer was discovered as the craft entered the atmosphere and crashed to the surface somewhere in the Southern Pacific, about 1200 kilometers from Wellington Island. Chile is the owner of the island. No reports of the crash or any damage have been reported. There were worries that the toxic fuels on board the probe and some of the heavier instruments would survive enough of the burn-up to pose a threat to anyone near the crash site.

According to NASA records, this is the most recent of 17 failures by the Russians to explore Mars. They seem to have better success probing Venus. I think Mars hates them. Actually, it just shows how incredibly complicated and difficult it really is to send probes to other planets. We often take these explorations for granted.

ISS during Expedition 27. That's shuttle Endeavor docked at the top.

Meanwhile, up in space the ISS crew performed a maneuver to change the station's orbit slightly. They had two good reasons. Firstly, they needed to prepare for an upcoming rendezvous with a supply craft delivery of cargo. Second, and of slightly more urgency, they needed to dodge some junk.

Back in 2009, one of the Iridium satellites collided with a derelict Russian satellite. The resulting fragments scattered around the Earth. This particular fragment, about the size of a grapefruit, would pass uncomfortably close to the ISS. By performing the rendezvous maneuver now, the ISS has completely dodged the space junk.

Friday, January 13, 2012

50 YA -Discoverer XXXVII - FAIL

Ah, Yes. Thor-Agena sits on the pad at Vandenberg AFB.

Fifty years ago, the Air Force launched Discoverer 37 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It was to be the last attempt to launch the KeyHole-3 camera spy system, which included a lower-resolution surveillance camera. The rocket used was the venerable Thor-Agena B rocket. It failed to reach orbit.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Orion Makes a Splash

Somewhere in that wall of water is the Orion test capsule.

This was the last splash test in the series for the Orion test capsule. And it was the worst case scenario. Just like NASA did with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft, engineers are learning what happens to the Orion capsule when it makes its water landings. In the case of this test, the Orion was dropped to simulate both parachutes open, angling down at the wrong attitude, at a speed of about 47 mph, and rolling over.

The flying capsule will be equipped with a self-righting system. It isn't expected that the capsule will ever really experience this drastic a splashdown, but it was a test they had to make. In this test, the capsule did well, although it remained upside down after the splash.

After the splash.

Before the Test.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Meanwhile, out in space...

ISS astronauts do the interview thing.

As the world turns...

Up in the International Space Station, six astronauts and cosmonauts continue to work in zero gravity, performing maintenance and science experiments in their orbital home. While space-faring nations busy themselves with rocket launches, space politics, and capsule testing, the ISS Expedition 30 crew keeps working on the frontier of space adventure.

Comet Lovejoy as seen from the ISS.

Commander Dan Burbank was in the observation cupola at the right moment on December 22. Carefully aiming his camera, he managed to take a beautiful shot of Comet Lovejoy as it appears just above the Earth's atmosphere. Actually many millions of miles away, the comet's tail seems to float leisurely above our planet. This picture will undoubtedly become one of the iconic memorable moments of ISS history.

Astronaut Shannon Walker works on the SAME.

When the crew of Expedition 30 isn't studying the Earth, they are busy maintaining the station's life support systems, working on experiments, or exercising to keep up their health. The SAME (Smoke Aerosol Measurement Experiment) experiment is located in the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox. Using the SAME helps our scientists develop new ways to detect the difference between smoke and dust particles. This technology will help our engineers build effective detectors for spacecraft and aircraft in the future.

SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule is being prepared for a launch to the ISS.

During today's interview with and Fox News Radio, the astronauts mentioned they were looking forward to the upcoming visit of the Dragon cargo resupply spacecraft. Built by SpaceX, the Dragon will give the ISS program a new way to return valuable equipment and materials back to Earth-bound scientists. The Dragon launch is set for February 7.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Twin GRAIL probes orbit the Moon

Second GRAIL probe above lunar surface.

Launched last September, the GRAIL lunar probes have finally arrived at the Moon and successfully entered orbit. GRAIL-A fired its thruster on Sunday, and 24 hours later, GRAIL-B joined its partner to circle the Moon. Over the next coupe of months, the two spacecraft will use minute bursts of thrust to align themselves into a stable orbit of 55 kilometers above the surface.

Once in their stable orbit, the two probes will maintain a communications link with each other, and measure the disturbances in altitude and separation of spacecraft to help probe the gravity field of the Moon, helping scientists to understand more about the Moon's interior.

Students in 5th through 8th grades are participating in this exploration. Each probe includes a GRAIL MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students). The cameras will receive requests from students across the country, and the returned images will be studied by students in their science classes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quadrantid Meteor Shower Tonight!

Yes, more rocks from space. Duck and Cover!

Tonight marks the appearance of the Quadrantid meteor shower. For some time, it was not known what the source was for this small but sometimes spectacular show of rocky debris burning up in the atmosphere. Eventually it was determined that the meteors might be remnants of a rocky fragment of "2003 EH-1," a rocky Near-Earth-Orbit object which in turn may be broken off from comet C/1490 Y1. The breakup may have occurred only 500 years ago, so the Quadrantids are a fairly new meteor shower.

The meteors will most likely appear coming from the constellation of Bootes, near Polaris, at about 2:20 am January 4 (Wednesday morning) EST. It's supposedly a short-event shower, which means tit may peak quickly at about 60-80 streaks per hour. This indicates the debris lies in a narrow band as the Earth passes through. Checking weather forecasts indicate hazy skies and very cold tonight.

Here at the SpaceRubble Command Bunker, work has started this week after the holiday vacation so it's doubtful I'll be willing to witness this shower. It may depend as well on the fickle weather here in Utah. Still, the relatively brief intensity of this shower is interesting and some fireballs have been seen in past showers, so it may be worth it. Working against this is also the freezing temperatures, so if you decide to brave the danger, dress warm and be prepared to duck!

50 YA: Getting ready for Glenn's flight

Glenn in the cockpit of an F-106 trainer.

NASA passed the near year of 1962 preparing for the first flight of an American in orbit of the Earth. Astronaut and Marine John Glenn continued his training in aircraft, simulators, and laboratories as the Mercury capsule he would fly was mated to the Atlas rocket at Cape Canaveral. The flight of the mission was designated MA-6, and was scheduled for January 23rd 1962. The Atlas rocket for the flight had been designated as Atlas 109D, and the capsule was Mercury capsule number 13 (ominous?) which had been built at McDonnell Aircraft's space craft assembly plant in St. Louis, Missouri.

Training with Glenn were astronauts Scott Carpenter, who would be Glenn's backup pilot, and astronauts Deke Slayton and Wally Schirra who were training for the second Mercury-Atlas spaceflight. Glenn's flight would be launched from Launch Complex 14.