Thursday, April 30, 2015

Russian Progress Spaceship Loses Control

Earlier Progress spaceship in orbit.
Just a few days earlier, on Sunday, Progress M-25M deorbited and burned up in the atmosphere. The Pirs docking module was cleared for the upcoming docking of Progress M-27M. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen.  On Tuesday April 28, the spacecraft was lifted up into orbit on a Soyuz 2-1A rocket on a path to get the robotic cargo ship to the ISS in a short six hour flight. According to Russian mission controllers, the spacecraft separated from the rocket OK and engineers prepared for a series of thruster burns that would move the Progress toward the station. 

Earlier Progress on approach to the ISS. Good view of the docking hatch.
Apparently engineers detected glitches in the communications with the craft. It seems that the solar panels did deploy, but some of the communications antennas suffered problems or were not deployed. Confirmation was made that the craft was spinning out of control, and several attempts to regain control over the last two days did not work. Russian Mission Control has declared a Loss of Mission. Their next task will be to try to deorbit the craft safely and burn it up in the atmosphere.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bus-Sized Asteroid to Pass Earth Tomorrow

Zip! A small asteroid scoots past the Earth. NASA image.

Asteroid 2015 HD1will make a quick flypast of our planet on Tuesday April 21, just a little under 37,000 miles from the atmosphere. Discovered just recently on April 18, the 12-meter wide rock will hurtle by without crashing (sigh of relief). You can read more information, and watch a live broadcast starting this afternoon, at

Saturday, April 18, 2015

SpaceX CRS-6: Good and Bad News

Dragon CRS-6 approaches the ISS.

On Friday, SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft on mission CRS-6 arrived at the International Space Station. After docking with the station's HArmony module early in the morning, the crew began the procedures that would eventually equalize the cabin air pressure and allow unloading to begin on Saturday. The Dragon brings over 2 tons of supplies and science equipment to the station. One of the new items is a space-adapted Expresso coffee-making machine, which brings just that much more civilization to our outpost in space.

Falcon attempts a vertical landing on the SpaceX barge in the Atlantic.

With the Dragon spacecraft safely on its way to the ISS on launch day (Tuesday) the rocket that propelled Dragon into orbit was involved in another experimental landing. SpaceX has been working hard to develop new technology for the Falcon rocket that would allow for a powered, vertical landing. A successful landing system would enable SpaceX to reuse most components of the rocket, thus lowering the cost of delivering payloads to space. In this test, the Falcon 9 rocket descended as planned to a floating landing pad built on a barge placed out in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket thrusters fired as planned, and the rocket slowed and began orienting itself for an upright touchdown. At the last moment, however, the rocket tipped over, and the resulting explosion is obvious. 

The rocket explodes after crashing on the pad.

SpaceX will begin repairs to the barge and further tests on the Falcon 9 landing system will continue.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

SpaceX launches Dragon Resupply Craft to ISS

Liftoff! Dragon soars aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from LC-40.

After a one day delay caused by encroaching thunderstorms, SpaceX tried again and successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft to the ISS. Liftoff occurred at 4:10 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral facility in Florida. The mission designation is CRS-6, as it is the sixth SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station. The robotic craft carries about two tons of supplies and experiments, many of which support the mission of astronaut Scott Kelly who is spending an entire year in space. Scientists are using his trip as a grand study of trying to understand what will happen to astronauts undertaking a long trip to Mars one day.

CRS-6 will reach the station in two days, and will spend about five weeks docked to the station.

Monday, April 6, 2015

50 Years Ago: First Commercial Communications Satellite

INTELSAT 1, nicknamed "Early Bird."

On April 6, 1965, NASA launched a Delta D rocket from Cape Canaveral carrying the world's first communications satellite developed for geosynchronous orbit. INTELSAT 1 was built by Hughes Aircraft Company for COMSAT. Although it was designed to be in service for 18 months, it actually kept working for 4 years. Although it was shut down after it was used in broadcasts of the Apollo 11 coverage, the satellite is still in orbit. 

Launch of the Delta D with INTELSAT 1.

INTELSAT 1 was the first communications satellite to use almost immediate contact between Europe and America and included television, telephone, and fax transmissions. 

Technicians working on INTELSAT 1.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

50 Years Ago: SNAPSHOT Goes Nuclear in Space

Atlas-Agena-D lifts off with SNAPSHOT satellite.

Fifty years ago on April 3, 1965, NASA launched an Atlas rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California that lifted the SNAPSHOT nuclear reactor test satellite into orbit. The Agena booster carried the satellite into a polar orbit, where four hours later the reactor was remotely triggered to life. Within a half-day of starting, the reactor was producing almost 600 watts of electricity.

NASA illustration of the SNAPSHOT satellite still attached to the Agena booster stage.

It was planned to have the reactor generate electricity for one year, but in 43 days the voltage regulator failed, causing the need for ground engineers to shut down the experiment. Scientists expected that the radioactive elements in the reactor would decay to a safe level within 100 years, but the orbit of the craft was so solid that engineers calculated it would remain in orbit for 3000-4000 years!

SNAPSHOT during ground testing.

It is thought that in 1979, the craft may have collided with space debris in its orbit. Ground radars have tracked pieces of the satellite that would account for 50 pounds of the satellite's mass. It's not certain if any radioactive elements have been released, but certainly none of that would survive re-entry onto the ground.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

One Week, Eight Rockets!

Delta IV launches from Cape Canaveral. NASA/ULA.

In one week, all the major space-faring nations managed to launch payloads into Earth orbit. It started off on March 25th with the United Launch Alliance (US) conducting the launch of a Delta IV rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 37B. On board was the GPS-IIF-9 navigational satellite. From that point, the blast-offs just kept on coming.

On Thursday, a Russian Dnepr rocket lifted off from Dombarovsky in South-west Russia near Kazakhstan. It carried a Kompsat-3A research satellite for the South Korean Research Institute. The Dnepr is a repurposed ICBM missile.

On Friday, Japan launched an H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center. It placed an information-gathering satellite into orbit.

On Friday night, Soyuz TMA-16M lifted off from the Baikonur astrodome with crewmembers for Expedition 43 on the International SPace Station. Inside the SOyuz capsule, the picture caught astronaut Scott Kelly giving a thumbs-up as the spacecraft heads towards a rendezvous. Six hours later the spacecraft arrived safely. Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will be staying on board the station for an entire year, studying the effects of long-duration spaceflight. The commander of the Soyuz mission was Gennady Pedalka, making a return to the space station. He will be the first commander of four separate crews on the ISS.

Also on Friday, European agency Arianespace conducted a launch from French Guiana, firing a Soyuz rocket carrying twin Galileo satellites as part of the GNSS Navigation System.

On Saturday, a launch occurred at India's Satish Dhawan Space Center in India. The satellite is another navigation link in the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System.

The next launch took place on Monday, when China launched a Long March 3C to place a first in a new series of navigational satellites in orbit.

Back to Russia. From the Plestsk space center, Russia launched 3 Gonets-M communication satellites into orbit on board a Rokot missile. It is speculated that a 4th satellite, a secret military craft, was launched from the same flight.

Space activities have been very busy lately!