Friday, January 2, 2015

Upcoming NASA events for 2015

Dragon cargo spacecraft approaches the ISS in a computer rendition.

Looking ahead to the events in 2015, we can find definite progress to that happy day when the USA finally gets its own manned rockets to orbit. We still have a couple of years wait, though. For now, we look forward to a launch of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft on January 6, which will rendezvous with the International Space Station and the current members of Expedition 42. Scheduled times for launch and TV coverage found at NASA's site:

Space explorer DAWN approaches the minor planet Ceres. NASA computer illustration.

With the agency's current White House mandate to prepare for a trip to send humans to rendezvous with an asteroid (whether that actually happens still is up in the air), it's interesting to find NASA's DAWN spacecraft just about to rendezvous with the asteroid-now-minor-planet Ceres. The spacecraft had just recently been on the other side of the Sun from Earth, but has now cleared the blocking solar disk and NASA can prepare the craft for its final approach to the Texas-sized dwarf planet. Zooming towards Ceres at 450 mph, the craft will arrive on schedule on March 6th. You can read more about the mission at NASA's site:

SMAP images soil moisture. NASA image.

NASA will continue it's White House mandated efforts to study carbon dioxide, Earth global warming, and support Earth-oriented missions. On January 29, NASA will launch SMAP, the Soil Moisture Active Passive instrument designed to study the amount of moisture in the Earth's soil. This will be the 5th Earth Science mission launch within the last 12 months. You can read about SMAP's mission here:

Computer art of Cygnus craft at ISS.

Since the explosion of the Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft at Wallops Island last October, parent company Orbital has been busy making repairs to the launch pad and working to clean up environmental contaminants on the beach. It's estimated that Orbital will be ready to launch Cygnus again, perhaps this time on an Atlas V rocket, by end of December 2015. A new version of the Antares rocket will be testing by then.

Dragon V2 on left, CST-100 on right. combined image.

With NASA"s approval last month for Dragon to proceed with it's manned capsule testing, the Commercial Crewed Vehicle program continues through 2015 between both SpaceX and Boeing. Boeing continues testing it's CST100 capsule and SpaceX will now start testing the actual Dragon2 articles and escape systems. 2015 will be an important year for testing. For now though, we continue to spend millions and missions of dollars on rides with the Russians.

Russian spacecraft docked at ISS. Older picture from 2009. Doesn't look a whole lot different now.

Up in space, Expedition 42 continues to perform experiments, do science, maintain the ISS, and this year they will continue preparations to move some modules around to accommodate the future docking of the commercial spaceships. We can also look forward to a year-long experiment when astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko  join the ISS team later in 2015 to spend an entire year aboard the station. 

And of course, space activities will be plentiful each month. We can look forward to monthly launches from Russia, China, European Space Agency, India, Japan, and of course the USA.

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