Friday, December 27, 2013

ISS Pump Working, Russians take their turn

Astronauts work to install the new coolant pump. Credit: NASA TV.

On a Christmas Eve EVA, astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins  completed repairs to the station's cooling system by finishing installation of the new Pump on the station truss segment. During the spacewalk, designated EVA-25 by NASA, the pair of explorers managed to complete in two spacewalks all the tasks that had been planned for three! The original plan called for the first EVA to disconnect the broken equipment, then on the second EVA the pump would be removed and stored safely while the new system would be placed, and finally on the third EVA the installation of the new unit would be completed. Instead, the astronauts showed their professionalism and skill by fitting all three EVA tasks into two long EVA's. This second spacewalk lasted

Astronaut Maastrachio works on the pump.

According to, new quick-disconnect pipes on the coolant pump helped to make removal of the device much more simple than previous designs would have allowed. On the first spacewalk Saturday, the astronauts got ahead of schedule and finished the removal of the bad unit and connected the hoses back into the system so that the coolant could remain liquid inside the station. Then on Tuesday the astronauts removed the protective insulation around the new unit, which had been thoughtfully placed on a storage position on the truss ahead of time, and then moved the pump into position for final installation.

Mike Hopkins, space repairman.

After the first spacewalk, it was thought that water had again gotten inside one of the suits, but it turned out that the water had leaked during procedures once the men were back inside the station. Rick Mastracchio was actually glad to have ended EVA-24 a bit early, as there were some discomfort issues with his spacesuit near the end of the spacewalk. He used a different suit for the EVA-25.

Check out the detailed description of the spacewalk at 

The fun does not stop! Even now as I write this, the Russians are performing another spacewalk. Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy are outside the station installing scientific experiments and two special Canadian cameras which recently arrived on a Progress cargo spacecraft. Kotov also has a GoPro camera on his spacesuit arm, so we would hope to see some interesting views eventually.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Keeping Their Cool: ISS EVA removes Pump

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio works to remove the Ammonia Pump. Credit NASA TV.

This is not the first time that the ISS has had a problem with the coolant system. And this time, NASA has been prepared. A spare ammonia coolant pump was previously placed in storage outside the station just for this type of situation. On Saturday Dec. 21, astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins donned their american-designed spacewalk suits and exited the station through the Quest airlock. Both astronauts are veterans of the space program, and both have made EVAs before. For Mastracchio this was his 7th spacewalk and the 2nd for Hopkins. The EVA was the 175th spacewalk for ISS maintenance and assembly. 

Astronaut Mastracchio and the ammonia pump are moved at the end of the robotic arm.

The astronauts quickly moved ahead of schedule and after detaching the hoses and wires from the defective unit, reconnected the station coolant system hoses so that the coolant in the system could remain liquid. WIth time to spare, they moved on to the first task scheduled for the next EVA, and while attached to the robotic arm and guided by astronaut Koichi Wakata, Mastrachio attached the defective pump to a storage location on the Truss segment.

Since the recent suit malfunction in which astronaut Parmitano experienced a water leak in his EVA helmet, NASA has been concerned that the same event coould occur again. In preparation for the EVA, astronauts on the station "McGuyvered" an extra breathing tube in the helmet for the two spacewalkers. In this spacewalk, however, both suits remained dry and the astronauts returned to the station on time. Two more EVA's are planned to complete the repair to the station coolant system.

You can read an excellent detailed account of the EEVA at NASA

Friday, December 13, 2013

Attack of the Geminids

Take Cover! Space Rocks are entering the atmosphere RIGHT NOW!

It's time for the annual encounter with debris from the comet 3200 Phaethon. Each year, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, we come upon the orbital path taken by the comet, which is considered a "B-Type" asteroid, having a dark surface and still emitting dust and debris as its elliptical orbit (more like a comet than asteroid) brings it closer to the Sun. Its orbit is classed as an Apollo-type, and it orbits out from the Sun farther than the Earth's orbit but regularly crosses our path. Astronomers have linked the debris shed by 3200 Phaethon as the exact objects that encounter the Earth during the Geminid meteor shower each year. You can read more about 3200 Phaeton at: .

Geminid meteors will be seen coming from the constellation Gemini. Chart view from Sky and

If you have the endurance to look for the meteors during this very cold winter blast, look toward the constellation of Gemini. Sky and Telescope Magazine has a nice chart for you at:

The Geminid shower started last night, and according to reports in, the NASA cameras have detected 23 Fireballs over the US so far, and we can expect the shower to last over the next few days. Check out the orbital paths of the debris at: while he has the images up.

Geminid Fireball from 2011. Credit Mount Washington Valley Astronomy:

From the Command Bunker: I should be safe from the bombardment here in the SpaceRubble Command Bunker. It's a very rare thing indeed for a home to be hit from a meteorite, but then again, look what just happened to the Russians in Chelyabinsk! I'm afraid I won't be spending Too Much time observing for meteor trails, as the temperature here is far below freezing at night. Yet, if the sky is clear tonight, the peak of the meteor shower is expected Dec. 12-13. Based on the report of fireballs, it seems that the outer space enemy of the Comet Empire still has some life in that old asteroid 3200 Phaeton, and these bombardments can be expected next year and many years after that. Shields Up! 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Progress 35 Docks to ISS after Glitch

Progress Capsule on approach to ISS, from a previous mission.

On late Friday November 30, the Progress M-21M (NASA designation Progress 53) robotic space cargo delivery spacecraft was finally docked to the Russian-built Zvesda module on the ISS. After it first reached rendezvous with the station, ground controllers had the ship perform a 1-mile flyby of the station to check out the Kurs automated docking system. All systems seemed ready, and the approach was initiated, but the craft suddenly went into station-keeping mode about 60 meters from the docking port.

Expedition 38 commander Oleg Kotov practicing the maneuvers for manual docking of a Progress vehicle. This practice would come in handy just a couple of days later.

Not to worry: Oleg was there. Oleg Kotov is the Expedition 38 commander, having recently taken command from Expedition 37 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin just last month. Just as recently as Nov. 22nd, he and fellow cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin practiced the techniques required to manually dock the Progress in case of a system glitch. Manually in this case means, remote-control from the station, as opposed to allowing the Progress auto-docking Kurs system to perfrom the maneuvers under supervision from Ground COntrollers. On Friday, Commander Kotov took to the laptop-controlled ISS system to pass radio controls to the Progress 53 craft, and docking was completed successfully. 

Progress capsules are launched on the Soyuz family of rockets.

This Progress mission lifted off from Baikonur on Monday November 25, and took the normally longer orbital route to the station in order to test upgrades to the automated systems. It carries about 3 tons of neeeded supplies to the station, including water, propellant, atmosphere, and parts. The docking hatches were opened Saturday and the crew will take out supplies as schedule permits. Eventually the capsule will be filled with disposables and trash and then burned up over the ocean next year.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

International Push to the Planets

India's Mangalyaan Mars mission lifts off from Sriharikota.

India and China have set their sights on missions to far off worlds. On November 5, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched a PSLV-C25 rocket carrying the Mangalyaan mission on its way to the Red Planet. Without many of the resources the US includes in NASA, India is trying to achieve it's mission at a very low cost - only about $73 million. After six orbits of the Earth, the craft launched itself on a slingshot orbit around the Sun (to gain speed from the gravity assist). The MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) is expected to arrive at Mars next September, and the challenge will be to get the craft into Mars' orbit. After arriving, it will makes studies of the ground composition and analyze elements of the atmosphere.

Long March 3B liftoff from Xichang launch facilities in Sichuan. Xinhua credit.

Early Sunday morning China sent its Yutu rover on its way to the Moon atop a Long March rocket. Lifting off from Sichuan, China, the Long March successfully placed the lunar craft on a trajectory to the Moon. Solar panels have deployed and are powering the spacecraft during its journey. The robotic rover, Yutu, has a plutonium-powered motor for its exploration of the lunar surface. The attempt to land the rover on its surface-lander craft will be made on December 14. If all goes well, it should arrive in the Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridum) and begin exploring shortly after. The Chang'e 3 mission is a testbed of topographic recognition systems, chemical analysis, and lunar dust radar penetrator instruments. By 202, China hopes to launch a sample-return mission.

China's Yutu lunar rover. AFP credit.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Expedition 38 Begins with Torch return to Earth

Change of Command. Fyodor Yurchikhn (L) shakes hands with Oleg Kotov (R). NASA TV.

The command crew of Expedition 37 has left the station. In a Change of Command Ceremony on Sunday, Fyodor Yurchikhini handed over responsibility of the ISS to new Expedition 38 Commander Oleg Kotov, who just on Saturday completed the 5-hour EVA including the Olympic Torch ceremony. Following the command ceremony, the Expedition 37 crew entered their Soyuz spacecraft and closed hatches about 3 pm. EST. 

TMA-09M backs away from the ISS.

At about 6:30 the spacecraft undocked and maneuvered for a re-entry back to Earth.  The flight plan worked flawlessly and the crew separated the return module from the rest of the spacecraft (which would burn up in re-entry). A little more than three hours after undocking, the capsule was spotted with parachute open coming in for a landing.

Landing in Kazakhstan.

As usual the Soyuz return capsule landed after firing its last thrusters, slowing descent for a safe but jarring bump onto Kazakhstan soil. The recovery team was landed by helicopter who helped the Expedition 37 crewmembers out of the capsule and onto chairs for their first taste of gravity in over 166 days in zero-G.

The Torch is Back On Earth!
Crew of Expedition 37: Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg, Lucca Parmitano.

Although not discussed much in the media, there was another piece of equipment brought back to Earth, whcih engineers very much wanted to get their hands on. That would be part of the space EVA suit that malfunctioned, leaking water into the suit and nearly drowning Lucca Parmitano. Engineers will analyze the equipment and seek to ensure this type of accident does not happen again. No doubt astronaut Parmitano is now VERY glad to be back on Earth.

Olympic Torch part of ISS History

The new Olympic Torch . TMA-11M crew. NASA Credit.
Expedition 38 Crewmembers (L-R): FLight Engineer Koichi Wakata (Japan), Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin (Russia), Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio (USA).

In preparation for the Summer Olympic games of 2014, to be held in Russia, The Russian SPace Agency has sent a famous piece of equipment into space. The Olympic Torch, which will ignite the fires at the Games in 2014, accompanied the crew of Soyuz TMA-11M to the ISS for a magic moment.

Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov holds up the Olympic Torch during Saturday's Spacewalk.

On Saturday, cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy performed a 5-hour EVA to complete some maintenance items outside the stage. They also took the Olympic Torch outside into space for a brief ceremony outside the Russian-built Pirs module. Once completed, they placed the torch back into the airlock and began to work on the maintenance tasks. The 8th spacewalk of the year, this was the 4th EVA for Kotov and the first for Ryazanskiy. It was the 178th EVA performed on the station.

After completion of the spacewalk, the torch was placed in the Soyuz TMA-09M which would bring the torch back to Earth on the weekend.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Big Crew on ISS

Soyuz rocket lifts off from Baikonur spaceport. Credit: RiaNovosti.

The ISS just got a little crowded. There are now 9 astronauts and cosmonauts on the station, pending the departure of the Expedition 37 crew. Last night the Russian Soyuz rocket blasted spacecraft TMA-11M into a short trajectory orbit to rendezvous with the ISS. After a six hour journey, the Soyuz docked with the station and shortly after the crew joined the team on the station.

The new crew poses with the old crew. NASA TV.

The last time there were nine persons on the station was back in October of 2009. That is, without a Space Shuttle docked somewhere. In the photo above are posed the three groups of astronauts linking Expedition 36 to Expedition 38. Sometimes that gets confusing. In the front row are flight engineers Mikhail Tyurin (C), Koichi Wakata (L) and Rick Mastraccio (R), just arriving from Earth. They will be the second shift of the New Expedition 38. In the gray flight suits are Oleg Kotov, Mike Hopkins, and Sergey Ryazanskiy. They were the second half of Expedition 37 and become the lead team for Expedition 38. Behind them is the second half of Expedition 36, which became the lead team for Expedition 37: Karen Nyberg, Fyodor Yurchikhin, and Luca Parmitano. They are scheduled to leave the station on Sunday to return home to Earth in Soyuz TMA-09M.

Easy... easy... a little to the left... now forward... Soyuz TMA-11M prepares to dock early Thursday morning at the Russian Rassvet docking module. NASA TV.

Cosmonaut Oleg Kotov will officially begin command of Expedition 38 on Sunday when the TMA-09M undocks from the ISS. Of the new expedition crew, only Sergey Ryazanskiy and Mike Hopkins are on their first flights. Astronaut Koichi Wakata (Japan) has been on shuttle flights and a previous stay on board the ISS. COming up this week on Friday is a news conference to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the beginning of construction for ISS. On Saturday Kotov and Ryazanskiy will perform an EVA to take the Olympic Torch (just brought up) outside the station. This torch will return to Earth with the TMA-09M flight and will be used in the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Russia in 2014.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

ATV-4 undocks from ISS

ISS docking port view of the ATV-4 slowly backing away from the station. Credit: NASA TV.

The European Space Agency ATV-4 "Albert Einstein" has completed its mission to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Early Monday morning astronauts of the Expedition 37 team were on standby as mission controllers from the ground operated the spacecraft undocking.  The craft had arrived on June 15 bringing a total of 7 tons' worth of food, fuel, and life support supplies to the ISS. Now filled with garbage, it will be slowly moved away from the station until Saturday. Then, mission controllers in Europe will fire the engine and direct the craft to a fiery re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

For Expedition 37, this is a busy time of spacecraft shuffle. The Cygnus cargo ship was undocked last week, the ATV-4 removed this week, and next the astronauts will move the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft to a new port on the Zvesda module on Friday. This will clear the way for the arrival of Soyuz TMA-11M with three new crewmen on November 7. Following that arrival, crewmembers Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano will depart on Soyuz TMA-09M on November 10, ending Expedition 37.

Usually NASA posts high-resolution pictures of the comings-and-goings of spacecraft, but I haven't seen them post the pics from the ATV-4 undocking yet. I'll keep an eye out for that.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft departs ISS

Astronauts on ISS release the Cygnus spacecraft from the robotic arm, before ground engineers check out systems to move it away from the station. 

The first Orbital Sciences Cygnus mission nears its end as the Cygnus cargo spacecraft was removed from its docking port on the International Space Station. According to schedule, Cygnus will activate its engine Wednesday afternoon for a de-orbital burn that will direct the craft to burn up in the atmosphere somewhere far above the Pacific Ocean. Astronauts Parmitano and Nyberg were at the controls of the CanadArm2 robotic manipulator for the undocking.

Cygnus had been docked at the Harmony module since September 29, bringing 1,300 pounds of cargo and supplies to the ISS. After unloading the supplies, astronauts from Expedition 37 filled the empty space with trash and expendables which are no longer needed aboard the station. The Cygnus is not designed for re-entry, unlike the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft which remains the only way to bring cargo safely back to Earth.

This first demonstration mission has been a success, with engineers able to correct a computer glitch prior to docking in September. The next, operational, mission for a Cygnus cargo spacecraft is expected to take place in December as Orbital Sciences begins regular delivery service to the ISS. This mission has definitely helped propel the commercial side of space operations closer to NASA's goal of letting non-government operators handle the delivery of supplies, and eventually astronauts, to the outposts in space.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Farewell, Scott Carpenter

Astronaut Carpenter after recovery from splashdown on mission MA-7.

Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter died this week at age 88. He had recently suffered a stroke and although it was thought he would recover, his health worsened. He is most famously remembered for his Mercury space flight on May 24, 1962 in the Space capsule Aurora 7 (MA-7). The second American to orbit the Earth, he flew for just under 5 hours testing the spacecraft and helping to identify the mysterious "fireflies" reported by John Glenn on mission MA-6 (for which Carpenter was the backup pilot).

Test pilot Carpenter with the F-106B.

Carpenter became a Navy pilot after WW2, eventually flying Navy surveillance aircraft during the Korean War. After the war, he became a Navy test pilot until his appointment as one of the "Mercury Seven" original astronaut selection. 

Liftoff of the MA-7 Mercury-Atlas rocket from Launch Complex LC-14, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

There was a bit of controversy from Carpenter's Mercury mission. DUe to a problem with the Pitch Horizon Scanner, maneuvering the capsule required extra work and Carpenter had to cope with a manual re-entry situation. Because of the PHS problem and fuel waste, Carpenter's spacecraft overshot the selected landing point by 250 miles. Mission Control Director Chris Kraft blamed Carpenter for the problem although NASA later identified it. Carpenter was kept off flight assignments though. He took a leave of absence for a short assignment with the SEALAB underwater base station project, and before he came back to a NASA assignment he was involved in a Motorbike accident. The injury to his arm was never properly corrected and he was grounded from flying. He continued to work with NASA though, training astronauts using the underwater training simulators. He continued to be a vocal proponent of the space program until even very recently. He later founded Sea Sciences Inc., developing programs for using our oceanic resources and protecting the ocean environment.

Official NASA Portrait. 

I'm very fortunate to have Scott Carpenter's autograph. I'm proud of his commitment to human spaceflight and his willingness to be vocal when things have not gone right with our government's handling of the space program. With his passing, John Glenn now becomes the last survivor of the Mercury Space Program, more than 50 years after its completion.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

NASA Shutdown, Space Still Open

Government shutdown? Well, kind of.

Political maneuverings in our nation's capital have resulted in a "government shutdown." The mainstream media is awash in dire threats of layoffs, harm to the economy, senior citizens in danger, and essential services taken off line. NASA, as a government agency, is part of the shutdown. So what does that mean for space operations? According to NASA's information releases, "During a shutdown, most NASA operations would cease and most employees would be furloughed, with the exception of operations and personnel needed to protect life and property." Like the FAA and TSA, mission control in Houston will continue to function and assist the Expedition 37 crew aboard the ISS, and essential satellites and communications systems will continue to operate. According to Jeff Faust of SpacePolitics, several hundred employees remain on duty, though there is some worry that should the shutdown be prolonged, launch dates could be affected. He notes that the Kennedy Visitor Center in FLorida will remain open, as it is run by a private industry, although the parts of the tour that enter NASA facilities will be closed.

And that brings up an important point. It may have started small, but there is a growing effort to bring space operations out of government administration and placed into the hands of private enterprise. With that note, we can look at a couple of important milestones this week.

Falcon Improved lifts off from Vandenberg. Credit: SpaceX.

Private space ventures like SpaceX continue to operate. Just last Sunday, SpaceX launched the Falcon 9.1 rocket from the Vandenberg AFB in California. The new rocket features engines that are less expensive to manufacture and greater performance. This launch was used to place a Canadian technology test satellite into orbit. As the US military will not be affected by the government shutdown (except for private contractors), military launch facilities remain open and military space assets continue to operate. SpaceX is working on other launch facilities. They are creating a new launch pad in Texas, and are in negotiations with NASA to lease the older Pad 39 B site which was used for Apollo and Shuttle operations but is no longer needed.

Proton launch from Baikonur. Credit: RIA Novosti.

And don't forget, America is just one player in the space game. International space operations continue as normal. On Monday, Russia launched a new Proton-M rocket for the first time since July's failure. The troubled system has some worried that difficulties could endanger the launch of the new Russian module to the ISS. The July Proton failure resulted in the loss of three Glonass GPS satellites, and was quickly followed by news of a scandal in the program. It was also determined that the crash was due to the faulty upside-down placement of three sensors in the rocket. This Monday's launch placed a communications satellite.

It's not likely that the NASA shutdown will last very long, as both political parties in Washington will be searching for a way out of the mess. Let's hope all goes well and no disasters occur during the "slowdown."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cygnus spacecraft docked to ISS

CanadArm helps Cygnus dock to ISS.

Orbital Sciences' Cygnus unmanned cargo spacecraft docked with the International Space STation this morning at about 6:44 a.m. MDT. Using the CanaArm robotic arm, ISS Expedition 37 astronauts grabbed the Cygnus as it approached to within 10 meters of the station, then gradually guided the craft to the docking port on the US-built Harmony station module.

Astronaut Karen Nyberg at the docking controls in the ISS Cupola with a great view.

With the spacecraft safely secured, astronauts will perform all required safety checks and pressurizations before opening the hatch on Monday. Once all cargo is unloaded, the craft will eventually be loaded with trash and waste and undocked, deorbited to burn up in the atmosphere during re-entry.

The successful docking of Cygnus today brings the program up to two commercial enterprises, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, that can be counted on to provide additional supplies to the ISS. That of course means that any future stations or spacecraft in orbit of the Earth could be provided additional supplies on a regular basis, or in an emergency if it's ready. I don't think we're far off from the time when FedEx or UPS or some other delivery company will be using space orbits to make quick deliveries around the world or into space.

Now, if we can just get humans sent into space as cheaply!

You can see more pictures and a detailed description of the docking at NASA

Friday, September 27, 2013

Astronauts arrive at ISS, Cygnus docking Postponed

Inside the Soyuz: Astronauts in cramped capsule.

Reinforcements have arrived for Expedition 37. Blasting off from Baikonur on Wednesday, the Soyuz rocket needed only four orbits to catch up to the International Space Station and dock at 8:45 p.m. MDT. Two hours later, after systems check and air pressure equalization, the hatches were opened and the crew released from their tiny Soyuz capsule.

Soyuz spacecraft TMA-10M on approach to the docking port of ISS.

On board the Soyuz spaceship was Soyuz commander Oleg Kotov, astronaut Michael Hopkins and cosmonaut Sergei Ryazanskiy. Together they make up the second half of the Expedition 37 team. The spacecraft has been docked at the Poisk mini-module of the ISS. This part of the crew is scheduled for a five and a half month stay on the ISS.

Meanwhile, earlier software problems with the Cygnus robotic cargo spacecraft had originally caused a delay in the docking. With the imminent arrival of the Soyuz crewed vehicle, engineers decided to postpone the procedure after the fix, until this coming Sunday. We wish the best of luck to the Orbital Sciences team and hope for the best on the docking attempt.

Illustration of Cygnus near the station (Orbital Sciences).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

When things go Wrong in Space

Illustration of Cygnus near ISS.

Space Exploration is a risky business. Just talk to Orbital Sciences! It was just last Tuesday, Sep. 18, when the Antares rocket blasted off from the Virginia Wallops Island launch facility on the Atlantic coast, lifting the new Cygnus cargo pod into space. Only the second company to launch a private-industry spacecraft to the station, Orbital Sciences hoped to make docking with the space station after several days of flight testing navigational and maneuvering systems before making a final approach. 

Antares rocket lifts into a perfect sky.

The Antares rocket flew beautifully, placing the capsule into its planned orbit after a great show on NASA TV. Viewers were able to watch the company's mission control screen graphics show the departing stages and protective fairing, followed by the last stage placing the cargo ship on its correct trajectory.

MIssion Control operations screen. Antares second stage firing maneuvering thrusters.

Once in orbit, tests began on the various spacecraft systems to ensure a safe approach and docking with the station. It was on its last step of maneuvering for docking this morning when the engineers noted a flaw in the GPS programming. The GPS system ensures a fully-controlled robotic ground-controlled docking without significant risk to bumping the station, such as happened to the Russian MIR station last century when a Progress capsule smacked into a station module.

Wallops Island mission control. I need to find out if this is the launch control or Orbital Sciences' mission control.

Just recently the word came down, a delay of 48 hours while engineers work to correct the glitch before they try another docking attempt. OS is pretty confident the software problem will be repaired and the next attempt will occur on Tuesday. Our hopes go with the Cygnus team. NASA Spaceflight has a great article on the procedures used to approach and dock with the sttation here:

Meanwhile, WAY OUT in space, it appears that the Deep Impact space probe is beyond repair from the ground, and NASA has declared the mission ended. It was a valuable mission exploring comets and asteroids and managed to go beyond its planned mission parameters. Truly a successful space mission.

Tempel 1 moments after being hit by a probe from Deep Impact spacecraft.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Japan's HTV-4 prior to release by the robotic arm.

Spaceships come and spaceships go.  The last week saw a couple of spaceships leave the ISS while a space probe lost contact. On September 4, the HTV-4 space cargo module was undocked and released into orbit using the station's robotic arm. Japan's 4th cargo module had been unloaded of supplies and filled with trash and other disposables. Since the craft was not designed to return to Earth safely, it was guided to a de-orbit burn-up over the ocean.

The glow from HTV-4's re-entry lights up the night sky.

Ground controllers timed the re-entry so that the ISS would be overhead while it occurred, thus providing a great light show over the Pacific that could be pictured from space. Check Sp
aceflight Now for more pictures:

Expedition 36 comes to a bumpy end in 3, 2, 1...

Expedition 36 has completed with the safe landing of Soyuz TMA-08M. Touchdown in Kazakhstan took place on Tuesday the 10th, and the crewmembers Pavel Vinogradov, Alexander Misurkin, and Christopher Cassidy were quickly surrounded by support crew who helped them out of their cramped capsule and into comfy warm seats. After their 5 month stay on the ISS, it will take a while to readjust to the Earth's gravity (and normal life).

Change of Command ceremony. Farewell, Expedition 36!

On Monday September 9, Expedition 36 commander Pavel Vinogradov officially turned over command of the station to Fyoder Yurchikhin who becomes the commander of Expedition 37. Expedition 36 will be remembered for several spacewalks in preparation for the upcoming arrival of a new Russian module. One of those EVA's saw a near disaster as astronaut Luca Parmitano suffered from a leak of water into his space helmet. The next reinforcements for the ISS will launch on September 25.

Lost in space: Deep Impact. (NASA illustration)

Gone for good? JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) controllers indicate that they may have permanently lost contact with the Deep Impact space probe. Apparently a software problem began to continually reboot the system, which cut off commands to use the thrusters to maintain attitude control. Without that control, the spacecraft cannot reorient itself to maintain radio contact with Earth. More importantly, power will run down as the craft's solar panels will not be pointed in the right direction for recharging.

During its 4.7 billion mile journey so far, Deep Impact has deployed an impact probe into comet Tempel 1, completed a close flyby of comet Hartley 2, and imaged comets C/2009 P1 and comet ISON.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rocket launch updates

Long March 4C rocket blasts off from Jiuquan, China.

The last couple of weeks have seen the usual flurry of rocket launches from around the world. These satellite launches rarely make TV coverage, but are an important sign of the strength of space programs around the world. They demonstrate how reliant we are upon the space technology that lies behind our way of life in the 21st century.

Launch of  a Long March rocket from Jiuquan.

Yesterday China launched a Long MArch 4C rocket from its Jiuquan Satellite launch center. Three satellites, expected to be secret spy satellites, were placed into orbit.  The Jiquan Center is the same facility from where the Chinese Manned Missions take place. NASA has a great article on this launch at :

Russian Zenit S2B rocket. Credit: Ria Novosti.

On Sunday September 1st, the Russian Zenit rocket returned to duty, placing an Israeli communications satellite into space. This rocket is the land-based version of the Zenit Sea-launched version. The last Zenit launch from its sea-based space center failed, destroying an Intelsat satellite. This launch took place from Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan.

The heavy-lift Ariane 5 blasts off. Credit: Ariannespace.

Last Thursday the European Space Agency launched an Ariane 5  heavy lift rocket from its space center in French Guiana on the coast of South America. The two satellites were successfully placed into orbit. One was a European communications satellite, the other a military satellite for India.

The powerful Delta-4 rocket on the pad at Vandenberg AFB, California. 
Credit: ULA & Spaceflight Now.

Last Wednesday morning saw the launch of the Delta-4 rocket under the direction of the United Launch Alliance. Launch site was the Vandenberg Air Force Base pad in California. The mission placed a National Reconnaissance spy satellite into space. 

Japanese Epsilon rocket on the pad at Uchinoura facility. Credit: JAXA.

Things didn't work out very well for the expected launch of the Japanese Epsilon rocket on August 27. The Epsilon is a new rocket, expected to place the SPRINT-A satellite into orbit. The SPRINT-A is an observatory which will study the planets in our solar system. An unexpected malfunction caused the countdown to terminate with 19 seconds left. Engineers are working on the problem. Keep an eye on Space.Com for updates: