Tag Archives: ISS

Endeavour safely splashes down

Splashdown of Endeavour

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Endeavour Dragon capsule has successfully splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, returning two humans back to Earth safely after completing the first two month long manned commercial space mission.

If you go to the live stream to watch recovery operations, note that the boats and ships and persons involved are all property and employees of SpaceX. This is entirely an operation of the private company. The government is not involved, other than NASA’s justified monitoring as SpaceX’s customer.

One cool tidbit for the future. Endeavour is scheduled to fly again, in the spring of 2021. On that flight will be Megan McArthur, the wife of astronaut Bob Behnken, and she will likely sit in the same place he did on his flight.

Russians sign deal to fly two tourists to ISS

Capitalism in space: Now that their Soyuz capsule is no longer required to fly NASA astronauts to ISS, the Russians have spare seats, and have now signed a deal with Space Adventures to fly two tourists to ISS in late 2021.

They will announce the tourist’s names later this year.

Space Adventures also has a deal with SpaceX to fly two tourists on a Dragon capsule on a week-plus long orbital mission (not docking with ISS). SpaceX also has a deal with the space station company Axiom to fly tourists to ISS. Next year could thus see two or three tourist flights to space.

Isn’t competition wonderful?

Live stream of Dragon undocking and splashdown

SpaceX is providing full coverage of the undocking of Dragon from ISS through splashdown tomorrow. I have embedded this below the fold if my readers wish to watch.

The undocking window opens at 7:34 pm (Eastern), with spashdown set for 2:41 pm (Eastern) tomorrow.

If the video is not of the live stream for the splashdown, refresh your browser.
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Manned Dragon return on August 2nd threatened by weather

Capitalism in space: The splashdown of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon capsule Endeavour on August 2nd is now threatened by weather.

Isaias officially became a named tropical storm on Wednesday night, when its wind speeds exceeded 39 mph. The storm could affect several landing areas just as Endeavour is supposed to reenter Earth’s atmosphere, deploy its parachutes, and splash into the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

Three of the seven landing zones that SpaceX and NASA prescribed for the test mission, called Demo-2, lie within the “cone of probability” for the storm’s path. Those splashdown sites are located off the coasts of Cape Canaveral, Daytona, and Jacksonville, according to NASA. A July 30 map shows NASA and SpaceX’s landing zones for the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission amid the estimated path and conditions of Tropical Storm Isaias. The outer-edge green shows a 5-10% chance of sustained tropical storm-force winds. Google Earth; NOAA; NASA; Business Insider

Depending on how large the storm grows and how nasty weather conditions become, mission managers may scrub the undocking and landing attempt. Steep waves, rain, lightning, low clouds, poor visibility (for helicopters to fly the astronauts from a SpaceX recovery boat back to land), or even winds stronger than about 10 mph can trigger a “no-go” decision.

At the moment they are go for undocking on August 1st and splashdown the next day, but that could change depending on how the weather changes.

NASA announces third Dragon flight crew

NASA today announced four-person Dragon flight crew for that spacecraft’s third flight in the spring, the second official operational flight.

NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough will join JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet on that flight, which will follow Crew-1 currently scheduled for sometime in late September after Demo-2 concludes. This is a regular mission, meaning the crew will be staffing the International Space Station for an extended period – six months for this stretch, sharing the orbital research platform with three astronauts who will be using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to make the trip.

Pesquet will be the first European to fly on Dragon. McArthur however is more interesting, in that this will be her first spaceflight in more than a decade. She had previously flown only once before, in 2009 on the last Hubble repair mission. She is also the wife of Bob Behnken, who is on ISS right now having flown on the first Dragon manned mission now preparing for its return to Earth on August 2nd.

The long gap in flights was certainly due to the shuttle’s retirement. Why she didn’t fly on a Soyuz is a question some reporter should ask her at some point.

Dragon update for the ongoing and next mission

Two stories today provide an update of the overall schedule and status of SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule, both now and into the future.

First, they are preparing for the return of Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from ISS on August 2nd. Prior to return they will use the station’s robot arm to inspect the capsule’s heat shield to make sure it did not sustain any damage during its two months in space. Such inspections will be standard procedure on future flights, something NASA did not do on shuttle flights until after the Columbia failure.

It is unlikely there is any damage, but making this inspection is plain common sense. If the heat shield has been damaged, the astronauts can stay on board ISS until the next Dragon arrives, which can then bring them home.

Second, NASA and SpaceX have worked out a tentative schedule for that next Dragon manned launch, now set for sometime in late September. The agency wants a bit of time to review the full results of the first demo mission before flying a second.

Based on all that has happened so far, it now appears unlikely that the agency will find anything that prevents that late September flight.

Russia launches Progress freighter to ISS

Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS using its Soyuz-2 rocket.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

17 China
11 SpaceX
8 Russia
3 ULA
3 Japan

The U.S. still leads China 18 to 17 in the national rankings. Expect these numbers to change almost daily during the rest of July. A lot of launches are on tap.

NASA: Dragon crew will return to Earth August 2nd

Capitalism in space: Assuming that the weather cooperates, NASA has now set August 2nd as the date the manned Dragon capsule will return to Earth with its two man crew.

Assuming good weather and a smooth final few weeks on the International Space Station, astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are scheduled to undock from the orbiting research outpost Aug. 1 and return to Earth the next day to wrap up a 64-day test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the target dates for the Crew Dragon’s undocking and splashdown in a tweet Friday. A few hours after departing the space station, the Crew Dragon will fire its Draco thrusters for a braking burn and re-enter the atmosphere, targeting a parachute-assisted splashdown at sea. “Splashdown is targeted for Aug. 2,” he tweeted. “Weather will drive the actual date. Stay tuned.”

Note that the recovery operations, as has been the case with everything else on this flight, will be run entirely by SpaceX and its employees. NASA’s only real role is that of a customer and observer, though obviously agency officials are taking a hands-on part in determining the landing date.

Russia’s next module for ISS passes tests

At last! Russia’s long-delayed next module for ISS, dubbed Nauka, has finally passed its vacuum chamber tests and is now scheduled for shipment to the launch site on July 21 to 23.

Construction of Nauka began in 1995, a quarter of a century ago. For comparison, in the last quarter of the 20th century Russia launched Salyut 1, Salyut 3, Salyut 4, Salyut 5, Salyut 6, Salyut 7, Mir, and its first five modules for ISS. All told those launches involved building and putting into orbit 18 different modules, with 14 comparable to Nauka in size and mass, all built and launched in about the same amount of time it has taken Russia to build Nauka alone.

At this pace it will take centuries for Russia to build its next space station, no less get to the Moon or Mars.

Sierra Nevada starts installing thermal tiles on Tenacity

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has received and started to install the thermal protection tiles for its first Dream Chaser reusable mini-shuttle, dubbed Tenacity.

The Thermal Protection System (TPS) tiles are one of the major hardware components used on Dream Chaser and cover nearly the entire craft to protect it from the heat of the sun and the plasma regime during atmospheric reentry. The tiles can withstand the scorching heat of 1,650°C (3,000°F) and prevent the vehicle from being destroyed during reentry.

Dream Chaser has approximately 2,000 TPS tile compared to the 24,000 tiles used on the Space Shuttle. Dream Chaser is about 1/4 the size of a Shuttle Orbiter. The tiles on Dream Chaser utilize a room temperature vulcanizing (RTV) silicone to keep the tiles bonded to the vehicle at all times. The silicone can withstand high temperatures, making it ideal for use. Each of the tiles is tested by a mechanism that pulls on each one, helping avoid issues of the tiles falling off, which happened early in the Space Shuttle Program.

The company notes that the vehicle remains on schedule for a 2021 launch on a ULA Vulcan rocket.

Dragon capsule on ISS doing better than expected

Capitalism in space: The first manned Dragon capsule, presently docked to ISS, is doing better than expected according to NASA officials, who have also now set August 2nd as their target date for the return to Earth.

Tests of the solar panels and the capsule’s power systems have so far been “better than expected.” Besides these tests, they still have one other major in-orbit test.

On July 4, the space station crew will perform a habitability test with the craft, with four astronauts climbing into the capsule and practicing everyday activities like sleeping, hygiene tasks, as well as emergency procedures to see what it will be like for future crewed missions. On Demo-2, only two astronauts were on board for the trip but regular flights will carry at least four people, so this test will help inform astronauts on those future trips.

Axiom hires European company to help build private ISS module

Capitalism in space: Axiom has hired the European company Thales Alenia, to build the habitation module of its commercial space station that will initially attach to ISS.

Axiom’s station modules will form a new section of ISS that will be able to operate independently, so that when ISS is decommissioned it can detach and remain operational in space.

That Axiom did not choose either Boeing (which I think built most of NASA’s ISS modules) or Northrop Grumman (which has been pushing an upgraded version of its Cygnus capsule as future station modules) is intriguing. I suspect with Boeing cost was the major reason, as Boeing’s modules are generally far too expensive. There also might be questions about that company’s quality control.

Why Northrop Grumman lost out however is unclear. Its Cygnus design is relatively inexpensive, and has clearly demonstrated that it works very reliably. obvious. Thales Alenia makes that Cygnus module for Northrop Grumman, so why buy it from the U.S. company when you can get it from the builder. (Thanks to reader Doug Booker for pointing out this obvious fact, one I had forgotten.)

Either way, this contract award gets us one step closer to truly private operations in space. Eventually competing private stations such as Axiom’s will replace government stations like ISS. That will in turn certainly lower costs and and increase innovation, which in turn will accelerate the development of the engineering required to build practical interplanetary spaceships.

This of course assumes we remain a free nation. Right now I have strong doubts.

NASA aiming for late July/early August Dragon crew return

According to statements made by NASA officials today, the agency is now targeting a late July to early August return date for the first manned Dragon.

Bob Behnken, one of the two Dragon astronauts, will likely do two spacewalks while on ISS to replace batteries on the stations main truss. In addition, they will do a number of tests of Dragon to check out its in-space long term operation.

Mission controllers planned to place the Dragon capsule into a hibernation mode, then wake up the ship’s systems to verify the spacecraft can perform its role as a quick-response lifeboat to scurry astronauts back to Earth in the event of an emergency. Mission managers are also checking data to monitor the status of the solar arrays.

It appears however that the biggest factor for determining the launch date will be weather conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. If they are good in late July mission managers might decide to return the astronauts earlier to take advantage of those conditions.

The next Dragon manned flight, carrying four astronauts, is planned in late August, thus giving NASA time to do a full assessment of this first demo flight before its launch.

Dragon docks with ISS; astronauts reveal its name is Endeavour

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s first manned Dragon capsule successfully docked today with ISS.

A few hours after launch the two American astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, also revealed that they had named the capsule “Endeavour.”

I know this is really old news from late last night and early this morning, but I was out on a cave trip (taking a work break to have some fun underground for the first time in three months). I post it for completion. I also know that the live stream of these events was active here all day for my readers to follow things, as they happened.

Prepare for even more increasing space excitement in the coming years. The Trump administration increasingly is shifting NASA’s gears to have private companies build its spaceships and rockets and science instruments. The more they do this, the less expensive and the more capabilities we shall have as a nation. This success will be a challenge for other nations to match, which in turn will raise the stakes and increase the competition, the excitement, and the action in space.

Yes, the 20s I hope are going to roar, at least in space.

SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch scrubbed due to weather

UPDATE: They were forced to scrub at T-16:54 because of weather. They will try again in three days on May 30th, at 3:22 pm (Eastern). I will post the live stream here on Behind the Black late Friday night.

Original post:
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I have embedded below SpaceX’s live stream of the first manned Dragon mission, set to launch at 4:33 pm (Eastern). The stream begins at about 12:15 pm (Eastern). Feel free to watch as the day unfolds. Sadly, it is being managed by NASA, not SpaceX, and thus is filled with a lot of the agency’s fake hype.

I have also set it to remain at the top of the page until after the launch, or if it is scrubbed.

On a side note, NASA is now aiming for an August 30 launch of SpaceX’s next manned Dragon mission, the first official operational flight.

Below the fold I am also posting images captured, with some commentary.


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SpaceX successfully completes static fire dress rehearsal of manned Dragon Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its standard static fire dress rehearsal prior to launch of the Falcon 9 rocket that will place the first manned Dragon capsule, carrying two astronauts, into space on May 27th.

Today NASA also gave its final okay for the launch. It is now set to happen.

Almost lost: The flag that SpaceX astronauts will claim on ISS

The American flag that flew on the first and last shuttle mission and was left on ISS for the next crew flown on an American spacecraft to claim apparently went missing during the decade since the last American shuttle flight, and took several weeks of searching in 2018 for astronauts to find it.

“We looked and looked and looked,” said Tingle. “I talked to my fellow astronauts that were on board the ISS and everybody had a little bit of a different memory on where it could be or where it might be. So we spent probably three or four weeks just kind of scouring in our spare time, trying to find it.”

They did find it, and now it awaits the arrival of the two-person crew of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, set to launch on May 27th, the first Americans to launch from American soil on an American rocket in an American spacecraft in almost a decade.

More important: This will be the first flight of any Americans on a private rocket and spacecraft, built and owned by a private commercial company instead of the government. For the capitalistic and free United States, it marks the end of a half century of a government-run Soviet-style space program and a return to capitalism and freedom.

Japan launches HTV cargo ship to ISS

Japan today successfully launched to ISS the last of its first generation HTV cargo ships.

This was the ninth such cargo ship launched by Japan. The mission was also the last launch of Mitsubishi’s H-2B rocket, Japan’s most powerful. It is being replaced with the H-3 rocket, which they hope to fly for the first time before the end of this year. They also hope that the H3 will be cheaper to operate, and will allow Mitsubishi to garner some commercial business with it, something they failed entirely to do with the H-2B.

This was also Japan’s second launch in 2020, which means they remain outside the leaders in the 2020 launch race:

8 China
6 SpaceX
6 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. continues to lead China 11 to 8 in the national rankings.

NASA signs deal with Russians for one Soyuz seat to ISS

Citing a need to provide some back-up in case there are more delays getting the American manned capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing into operation, NASA yesterday announced that it has signed a deal with Roscosmos to buy one seat on the October Soyuz launch to ISS.

The statement did not disclose the value of the deal, but NASA spokesman Josh Finch told SpaceNews the agreement is valued at $90.25 million. That includes the seat on the Soyuz spacecraft and various training, pre-launch and post-landing services. In addition, Finch said that NASA will compensate Roscosmos for bumping a Russian cosmonaut off that Soyuz mission by flying an unspecified amount of Russian cargo to the station on NASA commercial cargo spacecraft.

I wonder if there are other political reasons behind this deal, besides insuring American access to ISS. $90 million is a lot of money to the Russians, and considering their impending loss of income from NASA (with us no longer buying Soyuz seats in the future) as well as their loss of most of their commercial launch business, it could be that NASA managers wanted to shore up Roscosmos’s financial situation. Remember, at NASA there are many who swear a greater loyalty to space operations from all countries, even at the expense of the United States.

SpaceX successfully completes Dragon parachute tests

Capitalism in space: SpaceX successfully completed the last planned parachute test yesterday for its manned Dragon spacecraft, clearing the way for its first manned launch on May 27th.

NASA also said that it has closed its investigation into the Merlin engine issue from a March Falcon 9 launch, leaving nothing but the weather in the way for that May manned flight.

Russia launches Progress freighter to ISS

Russia tonight successfully launched a new Progress freighter to ISS using its Soyuz-2 rocket.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
6 SpaceX
6 Russia

The U.S. now leads both China and Russia 10 to 6 in the national rankings. This is the first time that Russia has been able to keep up with China in launches in several years. Since China had expected to launch more times than Russia in 2020, this suggests that China’s launch rate has been reduced because of the Wuhan flu. It at least appears that many of their smaller launch rockets have suspended launches.

We have also heard nothing recently about China’s planned mid- to late-April first launch of its Long March 5B. With only six days left in the month, one wonders if this launch too has been delayed.

First manned Dragon flight scheduled for May 27th

Capitalism in space: NASA today officially announced May 27, 2020 as the scheduled launch date for the first manned Dragon flight to ISS, the first time American astronauts will fly from American soil on an American rocket in an American spacecraft since the shuttle was retired almost a decade ago.

The launch is set for 4:32 pm (Eastern), and I am sure will be live streams by both NASA and SpaceX.

New changes to the brain found from long space missions

Scientists have discovered a “significant increase” in the brain’s white matter that occurs after astronauts have completed long missions in weightlessness.

The team conducted brain MRIs of 11 astronauts before they traveled to the ISS, and then again one day after they returned. Scans were then performed at several interval across the following year. “What we identified that no one has really identified before is that there is a significant increase of volume in the brain’s white matter from preflight to postflight,” Kramer says. “White matter expansion in fact is responsible for the largest increase in combined brain and cerebrospinal fluid volumes postflight.”

These changes remained visible one year after spaceflight, which the researchers say indicates they could be permanent alterations. Past research has suggested that changes in the volume of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) specifically could be a key driver of Visual Impairment Intracranial Pressure in astronauts. The authors of the new study also observed an increase in the velocity of CSF through the cerebral aqueduct, along with deformation of the pituitary gland, which they believe is related to higher intracranial pressure in microgravity.

The uncertainties for this work remain very large. For one thing, the sample (11 astronauts) is very small. For another, the permanence of this change is only suggested and remains unproven.

Nonetheless, this research adds to the growing body of research that suggests that long term weightlessness is generally not good for the human body. It also reinforces the desperate need for research into the effects of even a small amount of artificial gravity. To most efficiently design spacecraft that provide some form of centrifugal force as artificial gravity, we need to find out the minimum required. It could be providing only 10% or 30% Earth gravity could be sufficient. Or not. We just don’t know.

The engineering challenges however go up significantly the more gravity you need to create. For future interplanetary travel this information is critical.

First manned Dragon mission slips to end of May

Capitalism in space: According to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, the first manned flight of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule will now occur at the end of May, not mid-May, and will last two or three months.

“I think we’re really good shape,” Bridenstine said in an interview Thursday. “I’m fairly confident that we can launch at the end of May. If we do slip, it’ll probably be into June. It won’t be much.”

The article at the link also reveals that the two astronauts will spend between two to three months on board ISS, not two weeks as originally planned.

Soyuz successfully launches three astronauts to ISS

The Russians early today successfully launched three astronauts into orbit, using their Soyuz-2 rocket and Soyuz capsule.

The crew, heading to ISS, is two Russians and one American, with the American the last purchased seat bought by NASA on a Soyuz. Unless they sign a new deal with Russia, the next Americans to go to ISS must fly on American capsules.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
5 Russia
2 Europe
2 ULA

The U.S. continues to lead China 9 to 6 in the national rankings.

Russia confirms launch delay to 2021 of Nauka module to ISS

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscomos, confirmed yesterday that the launch of its Nauka module for ISS will not occur in 2020.

In January they had hinted that the mission would be delayed to early 2021.

Construction of Nauka had begun in 1995, twenty-five years ago, which in a sense puts it in the lead for the most dismal government space project, beating out the James Webb Space Telescope (about 21 years since first proposed) and the Space Launch System (16 years since Bush proposed it). All three now say they will launch in 2021 but no one should be criticized if they doubt this.

NASA selects full crew for first operational Dragon mission

Even though SpaceX’s first demonstration manned mission to ISS has not yet occurred, NASA yesterday announced the selection of the full four person crew for the second flight, set for later this year and intended as the first operational mission to ISS, lasting six months.

This announcement tells us several things, all good. First, it appears NASA has now definitely decided that the demo mission, presently scheduled for mid-May, will be a short-term mission. They had considered making it a six-month mission, but it now appears they have concluded doing so will delay the demo launch too much.

Second, that NASA is solidifying its plans for that operational flight, the second for Dragon, including a tentative launch date later in 2020, is further evidence that they intend to go through with the demo mission in mid-May.

Finally, it appears that NASA has decided that it will not buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules, something that they had previously hinted they needed to do because the agency was worried the American capsules would not be ready this year. The article describes the negotiations on-going with the Russians about the use of Dragon, as well as the future use by Americans of Soyuz. NASA wishes to have astronauts from both countries fly on both spacecraft (Starliner too, once operational), but Russia is as yet reluctant to fly its astronauts on Dragon. They want to see that spacecraft complete more missions successfully.

Regardless, future flights of Americans on Soyuz will cost NASA nothing, as the agency wishes to trade the seats on the U.S. capsules one-for-one for the seats on Soyuz. It also means that NASA has decided it doesn’t need to buy Soyuz flights anymore, as it now expects Dragon to become operational this year.

NASA confirms May target date for first manned Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: In announcing today it is beginning media accreditation for SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight to ISS, the agency confirmed earlier reports from SpaceX that they are now aiming for a mid-to-late May launch.

Much can change before then. COVID-19 could get worse, shutting down all launches. The engine failure on yesterday’s successful Falcon 9 launch could require delays.

However, right now, things look good for May, which will be the first time since 2011 that Americans will launch from American soil on an American-built rocket, an almost ten year gap that has been downright disgraceful. Thank you Congress and presidents Bush and Obama! It was how you planned it, and is also another reason we got Trump.

Manned Dragon mission targeted for May

Capitalism in space: According to one SpaceX official, they are now aiming for a May target date for their first manned Dragon mission to ISS, even as they will maintain a launch pace of one to two launches per month.

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell [said] that she expects at least one to two launches per month in the near future, whether they be for customers or for SpaceX’s own internet-satellite constellation, Starlink. “And we are looking at a May timeframe to launch crew for the first time,” Shotwell continued. That launch, called Demo-2, will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.

At that pace SpaceX will complete between 12 to 24 launches for the year. They had predicted they would complete 21, so this is in line with that prediction.

The last cargo Dragon to berth with ISS using robot arm

Astronauts yesterday used the robot arm on ISS to berth SpaceX’s cargo Dragon freighter, the last time a Dragon capsule will be berthed to the station in this manner.

The successful supply deliver marked the 20th time a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule has arrived at the space station since May 2012. The mission, known as CRS-20 or SpaceX-20, also the final flight of SpaceX’s first-generation Dragon spacecraft, which the company is retiring in favor of a new Dragon capsule designed to dock directly with the space station without needing to be captured by the robotic arm.

I could put this another way that is more embarrassing to NASA. After twenty flights, the agency has finally admitted that SpaceX can design a spacecraft that can do automatic dockings, and is now willing to allow it.

That of course is a gross simplification. Nonetheless, the successful unmanned demo flight last year of SpaceX’s crew Dragon, docking directly with ISS, has proven SpaceX can do it. And since that crew Dragon is essentially the same design for SpaceX’s future cargo Dragons, it makes sense to shift from robot-arm-berthing to direct docking for all future Dragon flights.

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