Tag Archives: spaceflight

A new Arianespace rocket

A new Arianespace rocket starts its journey to French Guiana.

This first launch, the Vega qualification flight, is planned for January 2012 and will pave the way for five missions that aim to demonstrate the system’s flexibility. . . . Vega is compatible with payload masses ranging from 300 kg to 2500 kg, depending on the type and altitude of the orbit required by the customers. The benchmark is for 1500 kg into a 700 km-altitude polar orbit.

This rocket is comparable to SpaceX’s now discontinued Falcon 1, though it can put more payload into orbit.


An update on the ongoing X-37B mission

An update on the ongoing X-37B mission.

I like this quote from the article:

Meanwhile, Boeing has begun to look at derivatives of their X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle — including flying cargo and crew to the International Space Station. Speaking this week at the Space 2011 conference —organized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and held in Long Beach, Calif. — Arthur Grantz of Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems sketched out a host of future uses for the space plane design. For one, the X-37B, as is, can be flown to the space station and dock to the facility’s common berthing mechanism. No new technology is required for X-37B to supply cargo services to the ISS, Grantz said. Also, an X-37C winged vehicle has been scoped out, a craft that would ride atop an Atlas 5 in un-shrouded mode.

The Boeing roadmap, Grantz added, also envisions a larger derivative of the X-37B space plane, one that can carry up to seven astronauts, as well as tote into Earth orbit a mix of pressurized and unpressurized cargo.


Test flights of SpaceShipTwo resume

After a summer break, the flight tests of SpaceShipTwo have resumed. Thursday’s test appeared to a bit more exciting that previous flights:

Test card called for releasing the Spaceship from WhiteKnightTwo and immediately entering a rapid descent. Upon release, the Spaceship experienced a downward pitch rate that caused a stall of the tails. The crew followed procedure, selecting the feather mode to revert to a benign condition. The crew then defeathered and had a nominal return to base. Great flying by the team and good demo of feather system.


Five myths about China’s space effort

Five myths about China’s space effort. Key recommendation:

Recognize the significance of space as a field of competition. Beijing is not engaged in a space race with Washington. But China is engaged in a great power competition with the U.S. in which space is one arena. American decision makers should come to terms with this duality. In this regard, the Chinese are unlikely to be manipulated by American proposals on “codes of conduct” or meetings with the head of NASA. As long as Beijing and Washington are in competition, space will be one of the major venues.

And competition is not a bad thing. It is going to be the fuel that gets the human race into space.


Orbital Sciences restarts engine testing for its Taurus 2 rocket

Orbital Sciences has resumed engine testing for its Taurus 2 rocket.

While many have doubts about SpaceX, SpaceX has at least flown two successful flights of its Falcon 9 rocket. Orbital needs the Taurus 2 to supply ISS, and this rocket remains untested and as yet incomplete, with the schedule bearing down on them.


Reality always wins

Elon Musk’s talk yesterday at the National Press Club revealed several interesting things, about SpaceX’s rocket effort, about the state of the American commercial space industry, and about Elon Musk himself.

First, the company’s rocket design effort. Musk centered his talk on SpaceX’s new effort to make its Falcon 9 rocket completely reusable. Though he produced little specific details, and the moderator at the event asked no questions about it, it seems the engineering centers around these three concepts:
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NASA has identified ninety percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids

Data from the infrared telescope WISE has now identified ninety percent of the largest near-Earth asteroids.

NASA researchers also downgraded their estimate of the number of medium-sized asteroids, saying there are 44 percent fewer than previously believed. The downside is that scientists have yet to find many of these mid-sized asteroids, which could destroy a metropolitan city.


SpaceX suspends production of its Falcon 1 rocket

SpaceX suspends production of its Falcon 1 rocket.

As much as I am a fan of Elon Musk and SpaceX, and though I realize that they have been focusing on getting Falcon 9 and Dragon off the ground — the payoff there is greater and a failure of Falcon 1 during this time could be very politically painful — this action contradicts SpaceX’s years of claims that they had a slew of signed contracts to launch Falcon 1.

I will be attending Elon Musk’s luncheon speech today at the National Press Club, and hope to ask him about this and other things.


The coming blindness of astronomy

Fried Egg Nebula

The European Southern Observatory today released this infrared image today of what astronomers have named the Fried Egg Nebula. Taken by the Very Large Telescope in Chile, the picture shows the concentric dust shells surrounding a post-red supergiant star, thought to be transitioning to the next stage of stellar evolution called a yellow hypergiant. As the press release explains,

The monster star, known to astronomers as IRAS 17163-3907, has a diameter about a thousand times bigger than our Sun. At a distance of about 13 000 light-years from Earth, it is the closest yellow hypergiant found to date and new observations show it shines some 500 000 times more brightly than the Sun. . . . If the Fried Egg Nebula were placed in the centre of the Solar System the Earth would lie deep within the star itself and the planet Jupiter would be orbiting just above its surface. The much larger surrounding nebula would engulf all the planets and dwarf planets and even some of the comets that orbit far beyond the orbit of Neptune. The outer shell has a radius of 10 000 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

Yellow hypergiants are in an extremely active phase of their evolution, undergoing a series of explosive events — this star has ejected four times the mass of the Sun in just a few hundred years. The material flung out during these bursts has formed the extensive double shell of the nebula, which is made of dust rich in silicates and mixed with gas.

According to the science paper [pdf] describing this research, the stage of yellow hypergiants is a preliminary to the star evolving into a luminous blue variable, of which Eta Carinae is the most famous. In this next stage a star is thought to have a good chance of going supernova.

Though this image is truely spectacular, taken by a ground-based telescope of a star 13,000 light years away, what I find most significant about this image is its fuzziness. It reminds me of the kind of images astronomers and the public routinely accepted as the best possible, before the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.
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Orbital Sciences has launch success

Orbital Sciences has a launch success, putting an Air Force reconnaissance satellite into orbit from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska.

For Orbital, this success cleans off some of the stain left on the company from the recent launch failures of its Taurus 1 rocket. What would leave the company stainless, however, will be a successful first launch of its new Taurus 2 rocket, needed to carry its Cygnus capsule to ISS and scheduled for late this year.


A second large satellite will rain debris down in October

Even if UARS misses you today, don’t relax! A second large satellite, the 2.4 ton ROSAT X-Ray space telescope, is going to rain debris down late in October or early November.

On its ROSAT website, DLR estimates that “up to 30 individual debris items with a total mass of up to 1.6 tonnes might reach the surface of the Earth. The X-ray optical system, with its mirrors and a mechanical support structure made of carbon-fibre reinforced composite – or at least a part of it – could be the heaviest single component to reach the ground.”

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