Tag Archives: spaceflight

NASA scientists in a battle with astronomers over who gets to name things on Vesta and Mars.

A rose by any other name: NASA scientists are in a battle with astronomers over who gets to name things on Vesta and Mars.

This is not a new problem. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has maintained its power over naming everything in space since the 1960s, even though the IAU has sometimes ignored the wishes of the actual discoverers and explorers and given names to things that no one likes. For example, even though the Apollo 8 astronauts wanted to give certain unnamed features on the Moon specific names, the IAU refused to accept their choices, even though those astronauts were the first human beings to reach another world and see these features up close.

Eventually, the spacefarers of the future are going to tell the IAU where to go. And that will begin to happen when those spacefarers simply refuse to use the names the IAU assigns.

Share

What do you do with a giant space station when its lifespan is over?

What do you do with a giant space station when its lifespan is over?

The article notes that no date has been set for deorbit, and that it likely will not happen before 2028. The article also includes information about some of medical and engineering problems of long term weightlessness that have been discovered on ISS, and how engineers have attempted to address them.

Unfortunately, some of these problems, such as the recently discovered vision problems, remain unsolved. It is a shame that while Russia wants to do multi-year missions on the station to study these issues, NASA continues to resist.

Share

One of Curiosity’s two wind sensors has been found to be damaged and is inoperable.

One of Curiosity’s two wind sensors was apparently damaged in landing and is inoperable.

The Rems team first noticed there was something wrong when readings from the side-facing boom were being returned saturated at high and low values. Further investigation suggested small wires exposed on the sensor circuits were open, probably severed. It is permanent damage. No-one can say for sure how this happened, but engineers are working on the theory that grit thrown on to the rover by the descent crane’s exhaust plume cut the small wires. The wind sensor on the forward-facing mini-boom is unaffected. With just the one sensor, it makes it difficult to fully understand wind behaviour.

Share

Monday’s successful spacewalk by two Russian astronauts preps ISS for the arrival of a new Russian module.

Monday’s successful spacewalk by two Russian astronauts has prepared ISS for the arrival of a new Russian module.

I should have posted a link about this spacewalk earlier. What is important however is that the Russians continue to move forward, though slowly. And they continue to come up with simple solutions to problems, such as the extra layer of shielding for the living quarters on ISS, installed during this spacewalk.

Share

NASA has announced its next planetary mission, a lander to Mars that will drill down thirty feet into the planet’s surface

NASA has announced its next planetary mission, a lander to Mars that will drill down thirty feet into the planet’s surface.

Though exciting in its own right, this mission is far less ambitious than the two missions which competed against it, a boat that would have floated on the lakes of Titan and a probe that would have bounced repeatedly off the surface of a comet. I suspect the reason this mission was chosen is the tight budgets at NASA, combined with Curiosity’s success which makes it politically advantageous to approve another Mars mission. As the NASA press release emphasized,
» Read more

Share

Scaled Composites has posted the results of its latest test firing of the rocket motor for SpaceShipTwo.

The competition heats up: Scaled Composites has posted the results of its latest test firing of the rocket motor for SpaceShipTwo.

Though the test is dated August 9, more than a week ago, I expect the number of engine tests to go up in the coming months as the company works toward the first powered flights of SpaceShipTwo.

Share

On August 13, 2012, Voyager 2 became the longest-operating spacecraft in history, finally topping Pioneer 6, which was launched on Dec. 16, 1965, and sent its last signal back on Dec. 8, 2000.

On August 13, 2012, Voyager 2 became the longest-operating spacecraft in history, finally topping Pioneer 6, which was launched on Dec. 16, 1965, and sent its last signal back to Earth on Dec. 8, 2000.

And Voyager 2, along with its partner Voyager 1, are still working, and engineers hope they will still be working for another eight to twelve years, enough time for them to leave the solar system and enter interstellar space.

Share

Earth spacecraft on Mars fires its laser for the first time.

War of the Worlds! The Earth invading spacecraft on Mars has fired its laser for the first time!

Forgive me the hyperbole. I have this childhood vision from that moment when I first read H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, when the Martian tripod first rose up and fired its death ray at a crowd of curious humans. And here we are, a century after Wells penned that classic science fiction novel, and humans have put a spacecraft on Mars, Curiosity, capable of firing lasers! The laser isn’t a death ray but a scientific tool, but nonetheless the ironies remain delicious.

Share

NASA has granted $45 million to Ball Aerospace to develop a “green” propellent to hydrazine, the toxic fuel used in by rockets, satellites, and even manned spacecraft.

NASA has granted $45 million to Ball Aerospace to develop a “green” propellent to replace hydrazine, the toxic fuel used in by rockets, satellites, and even manned spacecraft.

Today’s use of hydrazine fuel for rockets, satellites and spacecraft is pervasive. Hydrazine is an efficient propellant and can be stored for long periods of time, but it also is highly corrosive and toxic. NASA is seeking new, non-toxic high performance green propellants that could be safely and widely used by rocketeers, ranging from government to industry and academia. Green propellants include liquid, solid, mono- propellant, which use one fuel source, or bi-propellants, which use two, and hybrids that offer safer handling conditions and lower environmental impact than current fuels.

The “green” terminology is meaningless in this context and is probably a politically-correct gesture to higher ups in the Obama administration. Nonetheless, finding a financially viable replacement for hydrazine would be quite helpful, as its toxic nature adds a great deal of cost to the production of any space vehicle that uses it.

Share

The Russian Prime Minister has given the Russian launch industry until September to figure out how to improve its quality control.

The Russian Prime Minister has given the Russian launch industry until September to figure out how to improve its quality control.

It also appears from the above article that there is some confusion about whether the head of the company that built the failed upper stage to the Proton rocket has resigned, as reported here and here.

Share

A test flight of an Air Force hypersonic aircraft failed yesterday when it went out of control before its experimental scramjet engine could be started

A test flight of an Air Force hypersonic aircraft failed yesterday when it went out of control before its experimental scramjet engine could be started.

Though failures during engineering tests are not really failures, as the goal is to find out if the engineering works or doesn’t, this particular failure is a bit more like a real failure. They never got to test the scramjet engine, which was the point of the entire flight. Instead, they had a failure of a control fin on the aircraft, and it appears that this fin was “faulty.” Not a good sign, especially as the previous flight in June 2011 also failed prematurely.

Share

The test of Coperhagen Suborbital’s capsule launch abort system failed spectacularly on Sunday.

The test of Coperhagen Suborbital’s capsule launch abort system failed spectacularly on Sunday. With pictures.

“We had perfect launch, but quickly the entire configuration began to tumble,” said Kristian von Bengtson, co-founder of Copenhagen Suborbitals. “The main chutes clearly did not have complete deployment and the capsule hit water in high speed, buckling the bottom shield.”

Share

An update on Dawn’s reaction wheel failure.

An update on Dawn’s reaction wheel failure.

Essentially, this will delay the journey to Ceres for about nine days. The spacecraft is left with two working reaction wheels, with which it can complete all its science work. However, if they cannot get the failed wheel working again, Dawn will be left with no backup should another wheel fail.

Share

One of Dawn’s reaction wheels, used to orient the spacecraft, shut down last week.

Uh-oh: One of Dawn’s reaction wheels, used to orient the spacecraft, shut down last week.

During a planned communications pass on Aug. 9, the team learned that the reaction wheel had been powered off. Telemetry data from the spacecraft suggest the wheel developed excessive friction, similar to the experience with another Dawn reaction wheel in June 2010. The Dawn team demonstrated during the cruise to Vesta in 2011 that, if necessary, they could complete the cruise to Ceres without the use of reaction wheels.

That the spacecraft can get to Ceres without reaction wheels is good. However, can it be oriented precisely to do science without these wheels? The JPL press release does not say.

Share

With its most recent glide test on Saturday it appears SpaceShipTwo has successfully fulfilled its glide engineering goals.

The competition heats up: With its most recent glide test on Saturday it appears SpaceShipTwo has successfully fulfilled its glide engineering goals. Hat tip Clark Lindsay at NewSpace Watch. To quote their flight summary:

With this latest round of six flights we have cleared the full glide-flight envelope for airspeed, angle-of-attack, CG, and structural loads!

Share

Watch the first test flight live this weekend of Copenhagen Suborbitals manned capsule.

Watch the first test flight live this weekend of Copenhagen Suborbitals’ manned capsule launch abort system.

If all goes as planned, the Launch Escape System will rocket [the capsule dubbed Beautiful] Betty and Randy [the crash dummy] from a seafaring launch platform, loft them to a height between 2,620 and 3,280 feet and then splash down in the Baltic Sea. At that point self-inflating bags will emerge from Betty and right the floating spacecraft.

Share

Dawn has begun its slow departure from Vesta in anticipation of its journey to the solar system’s largest asteroid, Ceres.

Dawn has begun its slow departure from Vesta in anticipation of its journey to the solar system’s largest asteroid, Ceres.

The departure was actually announced two weeks ago, but since this is a very slow process it isn’t like we have missed anything. Dawn’s ion engines are very efficient, but they work at a very leisurely pace. It will take a month for the engine’s thrusters to push Dawn out of its orbit around Vesta.

Share

The leading team in the Google Lunar X-Price contest last week successfully tested by remote control the astronomical telescope they intend to include with their lunar lander.

The leading team in the Google Lunar X-Price contest last week successfully tested by remote control the astronomical telescope they intend to include with their lunar lander.

[The Google Lunar X Prize] requires the participants to successfully land a lunar rover on the surface, drive it a minimum of 500 meters (about a third of a mile), and send back high definition video and imagery. Moon Express intends to land this first lunar lander near the Moon’s equator.

Moon Express is planning to send its first robotic lander to the Moon in late 2014. It will be launched atop either SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket or another commercial launch vehicle. It intends to fly ILOA’s shoebox-sized test telescope, called ILO-X, as part of its [X prize] entry. There are additional prizes available which might be won by an educational lunar telescope, such US$1 million prize for the entry which adds the most to diversity within space studies.

Share

Curiosity views its surroundings.

Curiosity views its surroundings. More images here.

In another story, there is speculation that Curiosity’s first image actually captured the dust cloud produced when the spacecraft’s Sky Crane/rockets crashed after placing the rover on the ground and then flying away.

Compare this image, taken right after landing, with this image, taken later. The splotch on the horizon has disappeared.

Share
1 146 147 148 149 150 191