Thursday, December 4, 2014

CST-100 completes first crew vehicle milestones

     NASA has announced that The Boeing Company has successfully completed the first milestone needed for the aerospace company’s work to fulfill their agreement on NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. This is the first major step in the final phase of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program that will eventually lead to Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft sending crew members  and other supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).

     “The work done now is crucial to each of the future steps in the path to certification, including a flight test to the International Space Station,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, in a statement. “This first milestone establishes an expected operating rhythm for NASA and Boeing to meet our certification goal.”

     The milestone reached for CST-100, called The Certification Baseline Review, involved Boeing’s demonstration of a comprehensive design for their planned crewed missions. This submission involved the spacecraft’s baseline design, concept of operations and management and insight plans. NASA has approved the overall path Boeing has planned with its current development of CST-100, including the total phases needed to prepare for manned mission.

     This baseline review completion signifies NASA’s signing off on the beginning of construction for test hardware, crew and service modules, and CST-100’s launch vehicle adapter, which is being built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) for eventually launch aboard an Atlas V rocket.

     With the approval of this baseline review, Boeing has a clear path to follow for reaching their goal for their first manned mission to low-Earth orbit (LEO) by 2017. But Boeing representatives are not releasing the specific number of milestones for CST-100 at this time.

     Boeing is currently building three CST-100 spacecraft’s at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The first will be used for a pad-abort test scheduled for 2016, second for an unmanned test flight in early 2017 and a third spacecraft for their first crewed mission planned for 2017.

     Boeing officials have also shared that CST-100 has completed its review board for the spacecraft’s second milestone for NASA’s CCtCap. This is the Ground System Critical Design Review (CDR), and involves support systems planned for ground operations, a mission control center, simulators and others ground-based operations.

     NASA should sign off on this second CCtCap certification for CST-100 within the next few weeks, Boeing says.

     “It’s important for us to set a robust plan for achieving certification upfront,” said Boeing Commercial Crew Program Manager John Mulholland. “It’s crucial for us to achieve our 2017 goal, and the plan we’ve put in place will get us there.”

     CST-100 will undergo another certification review board with NASA next week involving a phase two safety review. This will look at integrative systems that have been developed by different groups within Boeing and to triple check their overall compatibility.

     Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft was selected along with SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft on Sept. 16 to fully develop a spacecraft to deliver crew on missions to the ISS starting in 2017. Along the way, Boeing and SpaceX have been competing through several developmental phases along with other private companies including Sierra Nevada Corporation and Blue Origin.

By James Tutten

(Image credit: Boeing)

(Published at on Dec. 4, 2014)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Soyuz spacecraft launches Expedition 42/43 crew

     A cold and dark night in Kazakhstan was illuminated by the white-hot glow of Russian RD-108A and RD-107A rocket engines, as the Expedition 42/43 crew members aboard their Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft blasted off towards low-Earth orbit (LEO). Their prime mission once they arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) will be the continued operations and upkeep of the orbiting laboratory and working with an array of ongoing scientific missions. Liftoff took place at 4:01 p.m. EST (3:01 a.m. Baikonur time). 

     The temperature outside was a chilly 18 degrees Fahrenheit. The Soyuz-FG launch vehicle helped to warm things up a bit when it fired its four main engines and began its journey to orbit.
Kazakhstan, like its neighbor Russia, is known for its notorious winters, where the bitter cold can reach well below freezing which is a common occurrence when winter is in full force. Roscosmos engineers and technicians appear to have perfected the materials and techniques needed to conduct successful launches in these extremely cold conditions.

     Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Terry Virts and European Space Agency (ESA ) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti make up this crew who are currently in-route to join their fellow Expedition 42 crew members, NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore and cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova who are  already aboard the ISS.

     The three diverse crew members from different countries and cultural backgrounds, all felt the same crushing G-force sensation of 3.6 to 4.2 Gravity’s as the rocket left the launch pad. Despite their differences, the trio do share one thing in common, they are all members of their respective countries’ Air Forces – a fact reflected in their mission’s patch.

     The Soyuz-FG rocket used the force of it’s four booster engines, fueled by a mixture of Rocket Propellant 1 (RP-1) and Liquid Oxygen, to break the hold of Earth’s gravity on craft and crew.
NASA astronaut Terry Virts is returning to the ISS in a far different method from when he first arrived in February of 2010 as the pilot of mission STS-130 on board space shuttle Endeavour.

     During the flight, Virts and other crew members helped with some of the final assembly elements of the orbiting laboratory. During STS-130, the crew delivered the Tranquility module and the Cupola, an observatory module which provides a seven-windowed view in a dome-like configuration, to the station.

     “What I’m most looking forward to is spending time in the Cupola,” said Virts during a pre-launch news conference. “On my first flight I delivered the Cupola but we were too busy to have time in it, and on this flight I’m really looking forward to spending lots and lots of time in the Cupola.”

     NASA astronaut Reid Wisemen gained a large social media following and the public’s notoriety, not only for his science and engineering work while aboard the ISS, but for his photos and videos shared through social media sites like Twitter and Vine. Virts who is also active on Twitter will likely continue to provide striking images of the Earth’s surface taken during his time within the ISS’s Cupola module.

     Three spacewalks are scheduled for the beginning of next year, and are planned to be conducted by Virts and Willmore to attach a new docking aperture to the U.S. portion of the space station and the installation of a new Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) communications device. These extra-vehicular activities (EVAs) are being conducted to prepare the ISS for future crewed missions from commercial space companies, Boeing and SpaceX, in three to four years time.

     This was directly addressed by NASA’s International Space Station Program Manager, Mike Suffredini, who spoke to the TMA-15M crew members at a pre-launch press conference and said: “as you know, this is paving the way for commercial crew vehicles to arrive at the ISS, hopefully by late [2017] to early [2018].”

     Several experiments will also take up a good portion of Expedition 42 / 43’s time while they are in orbit. NASA recently installed the first 3D printer (provided by Made in Space as part of the International Space Station Research Competition) to be operated in space. This technology will hopefully allow for on-board manufacturing of items by the crew when repairs or replacements are required. Not only can this be vital in a serious repair or maintenance situation, but can also help cut costs for delivering specialized parts to orbit on future missions.

     Another experiment currently being done aboard the ISS is Seedling Growth-2, which focuses on growing plants in microgravity. The continued research in the field of space-based agriculture is  consider a critical aspect of long-duration mission in deep space, that are planned for the coming decades.

     After a six-hour ride to rendezvous with the ISS, the crew should be docked and aboard the $100 billion orbiting outpost late this evening.

By James Tutten

(Photo credit: NASA)

(Published at on Nov. 23, 2014.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Expedition 42/43 ready for Sunday's launch to ISS

     A team of three international crewmembers are finalizing their preparations for launch from the Biakonur Cosmodrome LC-1 in Kazakhastan which will take place on Nov. 23 at 4:01 p.m. EST (2001 GMT). This journey, which started years ago for the crew and technicians involved, will ultimately see these diverse space-bound explorers joining their fellow Expedition 42 crewmates aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

     NASA astronaut Terry Virts will be the only American aboard this launch, and will be joining his NASA counterpart Barry Wilmore who is already on the ISS. Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1967; Virts is a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and previously flew to the ISS as part of the STS-130 crew aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor. This will be Virts’ first flight on the Russian Soyuz and he expressed uncertainty as to what he will be able to see during the flight via a conversation on Twitter.

     “I’m not exactly sure what’s between my window and fairing-dark metal and cables. At separation it will still be night outside,” Virts said.

     Besides being an astronaut, Virts is a bit of a celebrity, having appeared as a technician on the TV series, Star Trek: Enterprise. Virts won’t be alone on this flight, quite the contrary, he will be joined by two other members of their country’s Air Forces (all three members of this portion of the Expedition 42 crew are in their homelands’ Air Force) a fact denoted in the crew’s mission patch.

     “It’s basically the artificial horizon which, as Anton has said, is the main instrument that you have in your cockpit. That was the basic idea that Anton himself came up with,” Cristoforetti said. “It shows actually a pitch of the aircraft if you were reading it on the artificial horizon of the T-1 to the inclination of the orbit and then it shows a bank angle of the roll of 15 – which is the TMA-15M spacecraft.”

     Roscosmos’ Anton Shkaplerov has one previous spaceflight to his record which was a long-duration mission of 165 days, and will be joining his fellow cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Yelena Serova already on board the station. Shkaplerov is a retired Colonel in the Russian Air Force and will serve as a flight engineer aboard the orbiting laboratory.

     ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is the third and final member of this crew, this will be her first launch into space. She is a Captain in the Italian Air Force and the third female astronaut for ESA. Cristoforetti is a highly-skilled mechanical engineer who also speaks five different languages.

     Final integration of the spacecraft and launch vehicle was completed this week in preparations for the Nov. 23 flight. The Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft was fueled and its on-board systems were checked late last week before it was moved to the integration facility to be matted to its Soyuz-FG launch vehicle.

     Soyuz-FG is the only current rocket used by the RSA for manned launches. Alone; It stands 162.4 feet (49.5 meters) tall and weighs 672,000 pounds (305,000 kilograms). Once the impressive array of engines fire, including the four main liquid-fueled booster rockets, the booster can deliver more than seven metric tons into low-Earth orbit (LEO).

     This flight will be the 47th launch for this rocket design, which includes 10 Soyuz-FG/Fregat variants.

     All steps from fueling checks to integration have been performed without incident and the rocket and spacecraft have been given a clean review, officials have said. After this was confirmed, ground crews began the slow process of moving the launch vehicle via rail out to the launch pad.

     “The mission that we will be doing on the station is going to be very busy. We are going to be primarily busy with maintaining the station safely, keeping it running,” Virts said. “But of course, the mission of the space station is science and we have a very aggressive science program that we are doing, roughly 170 U.S.-based experiments from NASA, U.S. companies and private educational institutions as well as over 70 international experiments.”

     The Soyuz-FG rocket, capped with the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft, was rolled out to the launch pad Friday, Nov. 21, a few days before its scheduled flight. Its placement in the launch complex marked the start of final preparations for flight.

     Crews will now spend the next two days going on all vital systems that will eventually lead up to fueling the launch vehicle and continuing to meeting critical deadlines in preparation for launch day.

     TMA-15M’s crew has spent the last few days relaxing when compared to their usual schedules which include a lot of hard-work and training in preparation for this launch over the last two years. Time was given to them to visit with their families and several traditions, including a final hair cut and health checks, were performed before they enter the spacecraft on Sunday.

     After blasting off to space, the crew members will travel for a scheduled six-hour spaceflight until they reach the ISS in orbit. During their flight the crew will orbit the Earth four times until their trajectory meets up with the space station.

     If all goes according to plan, the hatches should be open and the three new crew members will join their Expedition 42 counterparts around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 23.

     The Expedition 42/43 crewmembers will remain on the ISS, conducting science experiments and other vital tasks for station operations, until mid-May of 2015.

     “We may end up getting a few spacewalks, if not more it looks like, and, so it’s going to be a busy six months,” Virts said.

By James Tutten

(Photo Credit: Viktor Ivanov / NASA)

(Published at on Nov. 21, 2014.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Death breathes new life into 'Phantasmagoria V'

ORLANDO, Fla. — Phantasmagoria started as a slightly macabre and mysterious theater project in Orlando five years ago, and has continuously evolved over the years into something much greater.
The fifth installment of this annual production entitled “Phantasmagoria V: Death Comes for All,” packs an engrossing encapsulation of year’s past, and opens a new book to a bigger and brighter future.
“Its come to fruition. Its evolved so much over the years, and year one I never imagined this at all,” said John DiDonna, Phantasmagoria’s creator, writer and director.
This production was originally based on the concept of a traveling troupe of storytellers who brought mischievousness and a unique style to a play designed to fit in around Halloween and be part of the Orlando Puppet Festival. The characters have developed over time and new elements have been continually added to give audiences something different to enjoy each year.

Phantasmagoria IV ended on a solemn note last year, and this year’s show starts by picking up the scattered pieces. Throughout the show it becomes a family reunion of sorts as the storytellers and other performers find each other and become stronger as they reunite.

Matthew Carroll, who plays Mathias in this production, has been performing with Phantasmagoria from the beginning.

“Each year we’ve done this, its been a progression of what elements do we add, what can we create,” said Carroll. “This year was the final foundation year for this show.”

One element added this year is providing information to audience members about the back story and who these characters are. Slickly produced video introductions and a performer slideshow illustrates who the characters are and what brought them into existence.They are the spirits of imagination, and the conjures of fantasy who live and breathe in the stories all mankind has told throughout history.
Phantasmagoria’s performers bring to life several stories by telling them in a unique style. They use alternating dialogue, puppetry, dance, visual effects, instruments and a number of other performing techniques to bring life to the stories told around the campfires of history.

Stories in this year’s production includes work by well-known writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, HP Lovecraft and Lewis Carroll. There is also a dark and haunting Norse Folklore tale called “The Midnight Mass of the Dead,” that is brought to life by the focused dedication of the cast and eerie lighting effects designed to create the aura of a haunted church in the dead of winter. Classic American literature, poetic diatribes, clever musings, and much more make up the stories shared by these performers.

Another standout story from this year’s show is a twisted tale from Hindu Folklore called “The Tale of the Churel.” A woman is betrayed by her family during a moment of celebration and comes back as the spirit of death to seek her vengeance. This tale features music and movements inspired from Hindu culture and is followed by the “Dance of Kali” which creates an engrossing visual feast that defines what the Phantasmagoria experience is all about.

Of everything this show has to offer; the most visually inspiring and touching moments come midway, with an feat of aerial mastery by Mila Makarova and her daughter Gina Makarova.

“I’ve been performing with Gina since she was eight years old, and her first experience with performing she proved to me that she was totally trustworthy onstage,” said Mila Makarova, Phantasmagoria’s lead choreographer, when asked about performing with her daughter. “I’d rather be onstage with my daughter than anyone else I can think of.”

What this mother and daughter tour de force does onstage is nothing short of amazing. They are both expert performers of aerial acrobatics, which include the use of silks and an aerial hoop, also known as a lyra. For the first time, these two perform together in a single lyra and create a stunningly beautiful visual display of talent that left theatergoers a gasp.

Phantasmagoria V blends literature, dance, puppetry and poetry into a wonderful post-modern theatrical tapestry. Next year’s show is already being written and bigger things are on the horizon.

There are five performances left to see “Phantasmagoria V: Death Comes for All” at the The Mandell Theatre, in the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Loch Haven Park. Shows are performed at 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, 25, 26, 27 and 31, and more information can be found at the group’s website or Facebook page

By James Tutten

(Above photo provided by Michael Gavin /  The Paranormal Papparazi)

(All other photos by Kristen Wheeler / KHphotographics

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Arianespace readies for 75th launch of Ariane 5

     The 75th planned flight of an Arianespace Ariane 5 launch vehicle should come this Thursday, Sept. 11, from Europe’s Spaceport at the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. The launch is currently scheduled for liftoff between 5:21 p.m. and 6:23 p.m. EDT (2121 and 2323 GMT), and should deliver the MEASAT-3b and OPTUS 10 satellites into orbit.

     Arianespace has designated this flight “VA218,” and this will be the fourth Ariane 5 launch from the Space Port located in Kourou, French Guiana this year. This includes the ABS-2 and Athena-Fidus launch on Feb. 6, ASTRA 5B and Amazonas 4A launch on March 22, and Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Georges Lemaître launch on July 29. This upcoming Arianespace mission will be propelled atop the heavy-lift Ariane 5 launch vehicle, and comes after the launch of ATV Georges Lemaître back in July, which marked the 60th successful mission in a row for the Ariane 5 rocket.

     Optus 10 was installed atop Ariane 5’s core stage first, followed by the placement of MEASAT-3b, after it was encapsulated in it’s protective payload fairing, on Sept. 3. After the successful integration of both satellites was completed, engineers were able to move on past this preparation milestone to begin readying the launch complex for the rocket’s flight on Thursday.

     Next on the list for final preparation will be functional tests, launch rehearsal, and launch vehicle arming to complete the readiness review and allow officials to give confirmation for rollout to the spaceport’s launch zone.

     MEASAT-3b will be the first satellite released from the Ariane 5’s stack during the first sequence of its separation phase into orbit, and eventually reach a 91.5 degrees East orbital position. Once in position it will work together with its sister satellites, MESAT-3 and MEASAT-3a, to provide video and data service to South Asia and Australia.

     “MEASAT-3b is the largest satellite ever to have been ordered by Asian operator MEASAT,” said François Auque, Head of Space Systems in a statement  “The satellite and its co-passenger will be launched by Ariane 5, making this the third flight this year where Airbus Defence and Space has been the prime contractor for both the launcher and its payload, following the successful launches of Astra 5B and the fifth ATV space cargo vehicle.”

     MEASAT is a supplier of satellite communication services to international broadcasters, and they focus on telecommunication operations and Direct-To-Home (DTH) platforms. Their services, as stated by the company, “include 3D, high definition and standard definition video playout, video turnaround, co-location, uplinking, broadband and IP termination services.”

     MEASAT-3b is modeled on the Eurostar 300 design and built by Airbus Defence and Space. It uses a three axis stabilizer system for control in-orbit. The transponder bandwidth is delivered at 36MHz, powered by 130 watts of electricity. It’s also equipped with 48 high-power Ku-band transponders, which are designed to expand DTH broadcasting in Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Australia. It’s designed to operate for 15 years, and weighs in around 13,000 pounds (5,897 kilograms.)

     After the deployment of MEASAT-3b, Optus 10 will be placed into orbit, propelled from its lower position on the launcher’s tower.

     OPTUS 10 was built by Space System/Loral (SSL) in Palo Alto, California. Optus is the second largest telecommunications company in Australia and they currently operate five satellites over Australia and New Zealand. Optus 10 is equipped with 24 Ku-band transponders, designed to deliver direct TV broadcasts, internet connectivity, telephone and data transmissions across Australia and New Zealand.

     OPTUS 10 is designed by SSL on the 1300 LL Bus model, and weighing in around 7,209 pounds (3,270 kilograms.) It’s designed to have a 15 year lifespan and orbit at a 164 degrees East orbital position.

     The launch and trajectory of the Ariane 5 rocket will be controlled by two onboard computers, located in the launch vehicle equipment bay, when the countdown reaches T-4 seconds and the computers will take over final engine startup.

     Ariane 5’s solid rocket boosters will burn two tons of fuel per second as it escapes the gravitational pull of the Earth. A roll maneuver will begin at 17 seconds after liftoff, followed by booster separation at 2 minutes and 21 seconds.

     MEASAT-3b will separate from the rocket at 26 minutes and 54 seconds after liftoff, and OPTUS 10 at 34 minutes and 26 seconds into the launch sequence. Several ignitions and stage separations will occur between deployment of the two satellites to ensure they don’t interfere with each other.

     The Ariane 5 booster tasked with carrying the two satellites aloft is capable of carrying payloads weighing as much as 10 metric tons into a geostationary orbit – or “GTO.” In terms of what the Ariane 5 can send into low-Earth-orbit, this amount doubles to some 20 metric tons.

     The version of the Ariane 5 which will conduct tomorrow’s flight is the Ariane 5 ECA, is capable of and usually used for the deployment of two spacecraft during a single launch. The rocket stands some 171 feet (52 meters) tall and is about 18 feet (5.4 meters) in diameter. The launch vehicle leaves the pad courtesy of its cryogenic core stage and two solid rocket boosters (SRBs). Unfueled it weighs about 12.2 metric tons, that weight increases significantly when propellant is added. Fully loaded with fuel, the Ariane 5 ECA weighs some 170 metric tons.

     Ariane 5’s core stage is powered by the Vulcain main engine – it is fueled by an estimated 132 metric tons of liquid oxygen and 26 metric tons of liquid hydrogen. The Vulcain should burn for about 10 minutes, unleashing some 116 metric tons of thrust in the vacuum of space. More than half of the rocket’s height, some 100 feet (30.5 meters) are encompassed by the core stage which stretches from the Vulcain’s engine nozzle, to the rocket’s upper skirt.

     The ECA variant of the Ariane 5 uses the ESC-A cryogenic upper stage, the “muscle” of the system is provided via the HM7B rocket The HM7B was also utilized on the Ariane 4 family of launch vehicles. In the cold vacuum of space, the HM7B has the capacity to deliver some 67 kN of thrust. According to Arianespace, the engine is fed via a turbopump and is regeneratively cooled. It contains two pumps, one for the liquid hydrogen, the other for liquid oxygen.

     During ascent, yaw, pitch and attitude control is conducted through gimbaling the rocket engine’s nozzle. Roll control is managed by gaseous hydrogen thrusters on the Ariane 5. During the ballistic phase of the flight, roll, pitch, and yaw are all handled by groups of hydrogen thrusters with gaseous oxygen thrusters providing longitudinal boosts.

     Each of the rocket’s two Étages d’Accélération à Poudre or “EAPs” solid rocket boosters stands some 30 feet tall (90 meters) and each utilizing some 238 metric tons of solid propellant. The two boosters are only activated after the Vulcain engine has stabilized and is ready to get the mission underway. EAPs provide more than 90 percent of the thrust required to carry out the launch vehicle’s mission and burn for about two minutes and 10 seconds. Once depleted of propellant, they are jettisoned and left to fall back to the Atlantic Ocean.

     Each EAP is comprised of three segments, the lower or “aft” segment measures some 11 meters and is loaded with 107 metric tons of fuel, the center segment, some 10 meters long carries 107 metric tons of propellant and the forward segment is about 3.5 meters in length and is filled with 23 metric tons of fuel. The booster’s carry a 68-18-14 percent mix of ammonium percholate (which serves as the oxidizer) aluminum (fuel) polybutadiene (which binds the other two components together).

     Arianespace describes the process in which the boosters are ignited and burns as follows: The combustion process is initiated by a pyrotechnic device, and the solid propellant burns at a radial velocity (from the center outward) of approximately 7.4 mm/sec. These boosters have movable nozzles which are powered via hydraulically-controlled servo actuators.

     The rocket’s second stage employs a single engine, tasked with delivering payloads to their intended destinations. The upper stage has the capacity to carry out multiple burns, dependent on the amount needed to complete the specified mission.

     The various iterations of the Ariane 5 launch system are tapped to conduct an array of missions. In the past, the Ariane 5 ES was used to send the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle on its way to the International Space Station, whereas the main line Ariane 5 has been tapped to launch Europe’s answer to the Global Positioning System – the Galileo space-based navigation system to orbit. The ECA version’s manufacturer, Arianespace has suggested that the rocket’s payload fairing be extended an additional feet (2 meters) so as to accommodate larger payloads. This modification should also allow for the deployment of hybrid and electric propulsion satellites.

     Tomorrow’s launch is not the last planned flight of the Ariane 5 for 2014. If everything goes according to plan, another one of the rocket’s will deliver the Intelsat 30 and Arsat 1 on Oct. 16.

By James Tutten

(Photo Credit: ESA-CNES-Arianespace)

(Published at on Sept. 10, 2014.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ULA board replaces founding CEO Michael Gass

     United Launch Alliance (ULA ) announced on Tuesday, Aug. 12 that the company’s founding CEO and president, Michael Gass, will be replaced effective immediately, based on a decision made by the executive board members of ULA.

     Gass will be replaced by Tory Bruno, an executive from Lockheed Martin, who himself is a veteran from the aerospace industry.
No official reason was mentioned by ULA regarding the change in leadership for this top-level position. Recent negative publicity aimed towards ULA, by rival aerospace firm Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX ), over ethical conflicts and no-bid contracts for government satellite launches, may have played a role in this restructuring.

     ULA was founded in 2006 as a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company, focused on providing launch services for the U.S. government. This consolidated rocket company has since grown to become the largest launch service providers for U.S. defense programs.

     SpaceX filed a lawsuit in April, against the ULA and the U.S. Air Force by claiming the single-source contracts awarded to ULA for high-profile U.S. military launches are over-priced and involve ethical conflicts.

     Most of the controversy surrounded the so-called “block buy” of 35 launch vehicle booster cores for the U.S. Air Force worth an estimated $11 billion. SpaceX claimed in their lawsuit that they could launch the satellites cheaper if allowed to compete, and a U.S. federal judge recently upheld SpaceX’s demand for more details surrounding ULA’s price structure for the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV ) program.

     Political tensions between the United States and Russia have also played a factor in increasing recent negative publicity for ULA. This involved claims by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, that they will no longer provide RD-180 rocket engines to American companies for use on Department of Defense flights.

     Moreover, Rogozin stated that Russia would cease its participation on the ISS project in 2020 and would shut down GPS sites located in Russia.

     The RD-180 engine is considered essential to the prolonged availability of the Atlas V family of launch vehicles. Given that this is the primary engine of Atlas’ booster core – this decision could adversely impact national security on a long term basis if supplies are cut off.
For their part, ULA has stated that it has a store of the engines on hand as well as the designs from which to make more. These statements were made by Gass during a March hearing held in front of Congress.

     ULA has continued to defend their reliability and reassure the public and government contractors that they will continue to provide all the resources necessary to fulfill all of their contracted launches in the future.

     “Mike’s track record speaks for itself: 86 successful launches in a row, including many of our nation’s most complex and critical space missions,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and a ULA board member in a statement released by ULA. “Tory is an ideal leader to take the reins at ULA. He’ll bring the same unwavering commitment to mission success that has been ULA’s hallmark, and will apply his proven track record of driving customer focus, innovation and affordability to shape ULA’s future.”

     Before his scheduled departure in December, Gass will work with his replacement Bruno; “to ensure a smooth leadership transition and continued commitment to mission success,” claims ULA.

     “We’re grateful for Mike’s leadership and contribution to ULA’s customers and employees, as well as the space industry as a whole,” said Craig Cooning, president of Boeing Network and Space Systems and a ULA board member in a statement released by ULA. “Tory understands the launch business as well as anyone and is well-qualified to ensure ULA keeps pace with changing customer needs and launch industry dynamics.”

By James Tutten

(Photo credit: Rob Curtis/Space News)

(Published at on Aug. 13, 2014.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

SpaceX to begin launch abort tests in Florida

     Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will attempt another developmental milestone for their human-rated Dragon Spacecraft V2 by testing the vehicle’s launch escape system. The success of this launch abort system is vital to ensure the lives and safety of astronauts that could potentially ride Dragon V2 into low-Earth orbit (LEO), and further SpaceX in their pursuit of a multibillion-dollar NASA contract.

     Based on an original report by Dan Leone for Space News, SpaceX has two planned launch escape system tests, including a pad abort test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this November, and an in-flight abort test from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base in January of 2015. This announcement was reportedly made at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2014 conference on Aug. 6 by Garrett Reisman, a program manager for the SpaceX Dragon Rider.

     Eight SuperDraco engines will be used for Dragon V2’s launch escape system and are designed to provide several unique capabilities when working together. Each engine will produce 16,000 pounds of thrust and have the ability to be restarted several times if necessary. Not only will the SuperDraco engines have launch abort capabilities on the ground and in-flight, but will also serve as an advanced vehicle control thruster, which SpaceX plans to use for precise guided ground landings.

     The SuperDraco thrusters passed their qualification testing right before SpaceX unveiled their new Dragon V2 Spacecraft on May, 29. The engine chamber and other components for this rocket engine are produced in-house by SpaceX using revolutionary 3D printing technologies, designed to lower costs and help increase manufacturing speeds.

     “Through 3D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods,” said Elon Musk, Chief Designer and CEO in a statement released by SpaceX before the Dragon V2’s debut. “SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making our vehicles more efficient, reliable and robust than ever before.”

     Both of the upcoming tests of the launch escape system will demonstrate the ability of the SuperDraco engines to be used at any time before and after launch. The November test in Florida will use a V2 mockup to simulate a pad abort test, and in-flight abort test will be conducted in January, though no official word or detailed information has been released by SpaceX.

     What is known for sure is the importance of this test to prove the launch abort system for the Dragon V2 as a requirement for NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative. Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft and Sierra Nevada’s Dreamchaser spacecraft are also in direct competition with SpaceX’s Dragon to complete several complex developmental milestones, that will inevitably lead to one or more companies being selected by NASA to launch manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS) by December 2017.

     SpaceX already has three planned launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for the remainder of this year. AsiaSat 6 has a planned launch on Aug. 26, just 21 days after their latest launch of AsiaSat 8 on Aug 5. Their CRS-4 mission to the ISS for NASA will take place on Sep. 12, and provide a replacement set of batteries to make repairs for the ISS, in addition to other supplies and scientific experiments. And two months after CRS-4 on Nov. 26, SpaceX hopes to fly Dragon to the ISS again for their CRS-5 mission for NASA.

     Unless rescheduling is needed or other setbacks occur, expect SpaceX to continue to stay in the headlines, as this ambitious private spaceflight company continues to increase their presence in Earth’s orbit.

By James Tutten

(Photo credit: Robert C. Fisher/Spaceflight Insider)

(Published at on Aug. 11, 2014.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

ESA aims for an historic blaze of glory for ATV-5

     The European Space Agency (ESA) plans to transmit interior views of destruction from a de-orbiting spacecraft when it concludes its fifth and final mission for their Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) early next year. ATV-5 successfully launched atop an Arianespace heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket last night, July 29, at 8:44 p.m. GFT (23:44 GMT) from Guiana Space Centre ELA-3 located in Kourou, French Guiana.

     The unmanned pressurized vehicle, also named Georges Lemaître, is now making its way to the International Space Station (ISS). Four control centers — ATV Control Centre located in Toulouse, ISS Mission Control Center in Moscow, ISS Mission Control Center in Houston and Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich — will help monitor the progress of ATV-5 along the way. It is scheduled to dock at the aft port of the Russian Zvezda service module on August 12.

     Like the four previous ATV missions, which started with the launch of ATV-1 back on March 9, 2008, the spacecraft will deliver several tons of supplies like water, air, food, fuel, clothing and spare parts, as well as experiments. With about 14,500 pounds of cargo it is, according to ESA TV, the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by Europe. Among the experiments aboard this final ATV mission is special hardware designed to provide never-before-seen views of a spacecraft burning up as it returns to Earth.

     If all goes according to plan, ATV-5 will return in late January 2015. Engineers, led by ESA, have developed the ATV Break-Up Camera (BUC), designed to capture infrared images from within the spacecraft as it’s destroyed when its mission ends. ESA has stated that the team working on the design and testing of this device had to work “at breakneck pace” within the last nine months to finish this unique infrared camera on-time for launch.

     In conjunction with the BUC camera will be Japan’s i-Ball optical camera and NASA’s Re-Entry Break-up Recorder (REBR). All three will work together to give a comprehensive view of the violent destruction awaiting ATV-5 as it reenters Earth’s atmosphere.

     Another addition to this ferry-observation goal is ESA’s Reentry SatCom capsule, designed to store images like an aircraft’s black box, and transmit the data back to Earth after the vessel’s break-up, with the use of an Iridium satellite link.

     “These different instruments will complement each other,” said project leader, Neil Murray, in a statement released by ESA.

     The greatest challenge for this project was to design a capsule that can transmit collected data back to Earth regardless of its position during reentry, and also survive the destructive heat that the hardware will encounter: around 2,732 degrees Fahrenheit (1,500 degrees Celsius).

     There is also a known blackout issue that occurs with spacecraft upon reentry, caused by charged gas particles and friction creating a cone of plasma that surrounds an object when it contacts the atmosphere at high velocity.

     “The Reentry SatCom has an antenna, so that once ATV breaks up it begins transmitting the data to any Iridium communication satellites in line of sight,” said Murray, in the ESA statement.

     “Additionally, signaling will continue after the atmospheric drag has decelerated the SatCom to levels where a plasma is no longer formed — somewhere below 40 km — at a point where Iridium satellites should become visible to it regardless.”

     The BUC camera and other instruments will be installed on a rack at the rear of ATV-5 around five days before it is undocked from the ISS. Until then, crew members aboard ISS will unload around six tons of propellant, supplies and experiments, before loading the spacecraft with waste to be burnt up along with the vehicle when it is purposely deorbited.

     All man-made objects in Earth’s orbit, unless acted upon by elevating thrusters, will eventually meet the same ferry end as ATV-5, even the multi-billion dollar ISS. Part of this final mission for ATV is to better understand what happens to large spacecraft that enter Earth’s atmosphere.

     “The data should also hold broader value,” said Murray. “The project is proceeding under our ‘Design for Demise’ effort to design space hardware in such a way that it is less likely to survive reentry and potentially endanger the public.”

     The July 29 launch of this mission went nominally, marking the 60th successful Ariane 5 rocket launch in a row. ESA Mission Director Jean-Christophe Ronnet declared, “So far, so good,” as final checks were made, and at T-0, the Vulcain 2 engine of the Ariane 5 rocket’s main cryogenic stage ignited. Seven seconds later the solid rocket boosters did the same, and the rocket lifted off the pad.

     The launch vehicle passed Mach 1 at approximately 48 seconds mission elapsed time, passing the speed of sound at an altitude of about 22,600 feet. Just a little more than one minute later, the rocket’s two SRBs separated and were sent tumbling toward the Atlantic Ocean far below. After about another minute, the Ariane 5 was sufficiently far enough beyond Earth’s thick lower atmosphere so as to allow the payload fairing to be jettisoned as well.

     Main engine shutdown occurred at T+8 minutes and 48 seconds, after which the stages separated and the upper stage’s Aestus engine ignited.

     At 17 minutes and 12 seconds into flight, the upper stage shut down temporarily, as planned. It coasted in its “parking orbit” for 42 minutes as it climbed to apogee, performing a series of attitude maneuvers in order to distribute sunlight (and its heat) evenly across its surface.

     It wasn’t until just over 59 minutes into flight that the second and final burn began, during which the spacecraft’s orbit was circularized at an altitude of about 161 miles. With ATV-5 injected into its proper orbit, the upper stage engine shut down again, and the ATV separated from the upper stage to commence its own journey to the ISS. Georges Lemaître is now autonomous, using batteries and four large solar panels for energy along with a GPS and star sensor for guidance, in cooperation with the CNES control center in Toulouse.

     After the announcement of ATV-5 orbital insertion, Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace, said: “We are extremely proud of this successful ATV mission, a strong symbol of Europe’s role in this major international program, thanks to two flagship products from our space industry, Ariane 5 and the ATV. I would like to thank our customer, the European Space Agency, for continuing to express its trust in Arianespace, within the scope of our original mandate, namely to guarantee independent access to Space for Europe. I would also like to congratulate Airbus Defense and Space, the prime contractor for these two programs, as well as all other companies involved, for their remarkable work that has driven the success of these complex missions. This year will be decisive for the future of the European space transport industry, so this evening’s success, the 60th in a row for Ariane, is a very timely reminder of our industry’s excellence, and our proven ability for innovation and performance.”

By James Tutten

(Above photo provided by ESA)

(Published at on July 30, 2014.)

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