Saturday, April 26, 2014

Cubesats pack big opportunities in small packages

     KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla — On April 18, 2014 Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched one of the company’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. Perched atop was one of the NewSpace firm’s Dragon spacecraft. While much was made about the primary payload of scientific equipment, components, spare parts and crew supplies – not so much was said about the mission’s secondary payload – five cubesats contained within four four Polly Picosatellite Orbital Deployers (P-PODs). This, however, is just one step on a journey to increase capability – while reducing cost.

     CubeSats are one of the next “big things” in terms of future technology development for satellites. However, in terms of scale – they are actually quite small, typically comprising only 10 cubic centimeters or one liter in volume. Their compact size and low-cost to develop provide a valuable research vehicle to test and advance new components without spending millions of dollars to build and send as primary payload into orbit.

     The satellites ferried aloft by SpaceX is the fifth in a series of Phonesat nanosatellite technology demonstration flights. Phonesat 2.5 follows the successful Phonesat 1.0, 2.0 Beta and 2.4.

(Click above to watch video)

     Satellites and spacecraft come in a wide array of shapes, sizes and complexity ranging from the first satellite, Sputnik 1, with a 23 inch diameter, all the way up to the International Space Station (ISS), which is 356 ft long and has 29,600 cubic feet of interior pressurized volume. A single CubeSat is 10 by 10 by 11 centimeters or one cubesat unit (1U) in size or between one and 10 kilograms in weight, which classifies it as a nanosatellite.

     The concept of miniature satellites started in 1999 as a way for universities to build and test advancing components in space at reasonable costs. Several launches in the last decade have placed more than 70 CubeSats into orbit, with a majority of them built by graduate students around the world. Several large-scale satellite builders like Boeing have also designed and built CubeSats, and NASA has created the Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SST) to focus on several CubeSat demonstration missions over the coming years.

     One of the ongoing CubeSat missions led by NASA’s Ames Research Center is the Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN), which began in 2012. It is comprised of eight nanosatellites that will test cross-link communications in a loose formation in low-Earth orbit (LEO), and help advance new affordable technology for scientific, commercial, and academic research projects by lowering costs as well as the time required to develop similar systems.

     Each EDSN nanosatellite is 1.5 cubesat units, weighing in at a whopping 4 lbs (2 kilograms). Not only are they small (about the size of a tissue box) – they also are built on the cheap. One example of this what the spacecraft use as antennas – metal tap measure tips. If one were to peer inside – one can (easily) see components originating from cell phones.

     All of the EDSN CubeSats will be able to collect their own data and share with each other, along with the ability to send this data to a ground station when required. Each unit will carry a sensor designed to take multipoint space radiation measurements over the course of a mission designed to last for 60 days, but could be extended if operations go better than expected.

     If network-based CubeSats like this can be successfully developed and tested, they could potentially be mass-produced by the hundreds and provide unparalleled amounts of data gathering and communication capabilities over vast areas by the use of this swarm constellation concept.

     EDSN CubeSats are currently scheduled to be launched this year as a secondary payload within the Super Strypi launch vehicle which will depart from Kauai, Hawaii.

     Optical Communication and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) is another SST flight demonstration project currently scheduled to launch in 2015. Two CubeSats will attempt optical communication with each other in LEO using a laser beams to increase the amount of data that can be shared between satellites compared to standard radio communications. This is not only a goal for CubeSats, but also a major goal for other large-scale spacecraft that can benefit from this small-scale testing.

     Another CubeSat mission looking to test enhanced data transmissions is the Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna (ISARA) mission. This will essentially use the back of the CubeSats’ solar panel as a reflecting array to increase the effectiveness of its Ka-band radio transmitter. Using this technique in conjunction with its ultra-high frequency (UHF) telemetry antenna, this mission will hope to transmit data at 100 Megabit per second (Mbps), which is comparable to the combined rate of 20 high-speed household internet connections.

     SST also plans to launch the Cubesat Proximity Operations Demonstration (CPOD) in 2015, which will test the ability of nanosatellites to perform advanced maneuvers in LEO. Two CubeSats will demonstrate remaining at determined points relative to each other and also perform docking rendezvous, which would allow long chains of CubeSats to link up and work together in space.

     The Phonesat project a three overarching objectives. The first is to discover if low-cost (and commercially available) attitude determination and control system or “ADCS” can perform in the hostile environment of space. Next, to validate whether-or-not Google’s Android processor is capable of supporting a space-based communications system. Finally, can, within a six-week orbital life provide enough confidence in this emerging technology – in the hard radiation and vacuum of space.

By James Tutten

(All photos provided by Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider)

(Published at on April 26, 2014.)

Tiny spacecrafts like this will swarm together in order tom study space. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

All Phonesats are constructed from inexpensive components. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Love turns dark with 'The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?'

     ORLANDO — Edward Albee’s dark comedy “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?,” is an award-winning play, currently being performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Center, which invokes harsh concepts of strange love and questionable morality on anyone that observes this twisted tragedy.

     “They say that tragedy is cathartic, you can watch it happen to another person and just be glad it isn’t happening to you,” said Julia Gagne the play’s director. “But if this play makes people think about the nature of love and his dilemma, and people want to have coffee afterwards and talk about it, that’s always good.”

     “The Goat” starts out with a tone and setting as innocent and normal as “Leave It To Beaver.” The main protagonist Martin Gray and his loving wife Stevie talk about their daily life and dealing with entering their middle-aged years together. The family is intelligent and seemingly normal on the surface, even coming to terms positively with their young son Billy, who is openly homosexual.

     The first scene of this play is light and funny, but things don’t stay that way for long. Martin confides in his life-long friend Ross about the hidden desire he has for a goat named Sylvia and what brought them together, which leads to a downward spiral that threatens to destroy Martin and his family.

     John DiDonna who produced this play stars as the protagonist Martin. He brilliantly portrays this conflicted yet accomplished man, whose self destructive desire and midlife crisis threaten to destroy everything he’s worked so hard to create.

     DiDonna has directed around 300 plays in his career and acts in a few plays each year, and he feels that simple independent productions like this pose more of a challenge than grand musicals where things tend to fall into place.

     “A show like this does not rely on spectacle, it relies only on truth,” said DiDonna. “It relies only on the actors and their interaction with each other.”

     This is the seconded direct collaboration between Gagne, the former theatre department head at Valencia College, and DiDonna, the current theatre department head at Valencia College. The first production they worked on together around six years ago was another play written by Albee called “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

     Both Gagne and DiDonna have taught “The Goat” as part of their script analysis classes at Valencia, and Gagne felt like a driving force in bringing this play to life because she really wanted to direct it but felt it was inappropriate to do at Valencia College.

     This play turns from a comedy to a tragedy thanks to the heart-wrenching performance by Marty Stonerock who plays Martin’s wife Stevie. She wonderfully conveys all the raw emotions needed to transition the tone of this play, as the dark matter in the heart of this story becomes known.

     Stephen Lima, who plays Martin’s friend Ross, also shows great range in his performance from generating the biggest laughs with his raunchy humor in the first scene, to later where he drives home the hard truth to Martin that his actions threaten his future, his family, and his freedom.

     Steven Fox shows another refined performance as Martin’s son Billy. He deals with his father’s actions with strength and the only one who offers a measurable level of forgiveness. He also tries to keep the peace between his parents as they tear each other apart emotionally.

     Dedication and sincerity can be felt in every line of "The Goat," even when themes become the most disturbing. The Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration) and DiDonna Productions prove once again with this play that no subject is too extreme for them to approach with unbridled artistic devotion.

     There are six performances left of "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Loch Haven Park. Shows will run until Saturday, May 3 with evening performances on Friday through Sunday at 8 p.m., and a special industry night performance on Monday, April 28 at 8 p.m.

     Ticket are available by pre-order or cash at door with $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors, and group rates are available for groups of 10 or more. For reservations call 407.328.9005, or for credit card pre-orders visit or

     “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” also contains the use of strong language and adult situations, so parental discretion is advised.

By James Tutten

(All photos by Kristen Wheeler / )

Martin (John DiDonna) tries to explain his bizarre feelings for Sylvia to his horrified wife Stevie ( Marty Stonerock.)

DiDonna shows a devastated and broken Martin after fighting with his wife.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Boeing gives control of GPS IIF-5 to U.S. Air Force

     The Boeing Company has finalized the deployment of the GPS IIF-5 satellite to the U.S. Air Force. With the ongoing mission to increase the accuracy and dependability of the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS); Boeing continues to build on their technological legacy in space, stretching back to the origins of the GPS program in 1974.

     “As each GPS IIF joins the fleet, we are sustaining and modernizing the constellation for years to come,” said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Space and Intelligence Systems, in a statement released by Boeing. “With this latest successful handover, Boeing is maintaining a robust operating rhythm this year to support the GPS program.”

     Boeing’s work with the U.S. Air Force stretches back nearly 40 years to the beginning of the GPS program. Operating as the prime contractor over the years, Boeing has built 42 of the 64 GPS satellites that have entered service since 1978 as part of Block I, Block II, Block IIA and Block IIF. This space-based constellation of satellites work together as an advanced navigation system providing a location mapping service to an ever-growing number of military, civilian, and commercial users around the world.

     GPS IIF-5 is the fifth of 12 satellites being developed by Boeing and originally launched by United Launch Alliance (ULA) atop a Delta IV Medium + 4.2 rocket from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) back on Feb. 20. Each satellite costs around $125 million to produce, and designed to have a 12-year operational life span in orbit.

     GPS IIF-1 which was the first in this interim class of GPS satellites, was launched on May 27, 2010, with a subsequent GPS IIF launch every eight to 12 months since. The next scheduled launch of GPS IIF-6 is set for May 15, which would be the fastest turnover launch for this current satellite group with just under three months between flights.

     GPS satellites are utilized in a vast array of modern industries including smart phones; navigation on land sea and air, ATM banking transactions, and assist with search and rescue efforts after any disasters occur around the world. But the satellites that make up this vital system will eventually run their course and need to be replaced.

     The future of GPS known as GPS III is already contracted by the U.S. Air Force and currently being designed, developed and produced by Lockheed Martin. These next-gen GPS satellites will possess faster and more accurate location systems, longer life spans of operation, and enhanced ability to handle an increasing need to provide positioning and tracking services.

     The first flight-ready GPS III satellite is expected to arrive at Cape Canaveral some time in 2014, with an eventual launch in 2015 by the Air Force. It has also been estimated that the entire GPS III system should be operational by 2020.

By James Tutten

(Above photo provided by Boeing)

(Published at on April 10, 2014.)

GPS IIF-5 launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station this past February. (Photo Credit: United Launch Alliance)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

SpaceX reschedules CRS-3 launch for April 14

     CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has confirmed the rescheduled launch for their third contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX CRS-3, is now set for Monday, April 14 at 4:58 p.m. EDT. This launch will come after nearly a month of delays concerning multiple issues with both range equipment at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) as well as last minute concerns with SpaceX over their originally scheduled launch attempt on March 16.

     SpaceX President and Chief Operations Officer (COO), Gwynne Shotwell, spoke about multiple concerns leading to the original launch delay during an interview that appeared on The Space Show on March 21. The most widely-reported issue being oil contamination of thermal blankets in the Dragon spacecraft’s trunk, but more issues came about in addition to this primary one.

     Shotwell also cited delayed buffering between data transfer issues with Houston, a need for more time to work on range trajectory, and a “time crunch” with SpaceX’s operation crew because of the upgraded Dragon set to fly this mission. The up-rated Falcon 9 v1.1 has flown a total of three missions to date – all of which have been launched to deliver private satellites to their destinations.

     “So it was really a combination of those four things so we said ‘you know what, we need to step back, we need to make sure we do everything we can to make this mission successful and go work these issues,’” Shotwell said.

     The second attempted launch day for SpaceX CRS-3 was planned for Sunday, March 30, but this was scrapped due to fire damage to the ground tracking station at CCAFS. This also caused the delay for United Launch Alliance (ULA) of an Atlas V 541 rocket at nearby Space Space Launch Complex 41. ULA has set a tentative launch date of April 10.

     This upgraded Falcon 9 rocket made its debut in September 29, 2013 with the flight of the CASSIOPE spacecraft.

     In terms of this flight – there is one, notable difference however – this Falcon has legs. SpaceX plans to attempt a controlled landing of the lower stage of this rocket for eventual refurbishment and reuse. SpaceX hopes to perfect this over their coming launches and have reusability available on future missions starting as early as next year. They openly admit that it’s a challenging goal, but well worth the efforts due to cost saving factors in the long run.

     In addition to the modifications made to make the Falcon 9 a reusable rocket, Shotwell stated this flight also required a new avionics system and redesigned interior racks to handle the scientific experiments and other equipment associated with this mission.

     “NASA really wanted the ability to carry more of those freezers, the Glacier and the Merlin freezers, so they needed more power, and the cargo racks needed to be redesigned,” said Shotwell. “So in order to accommodate more power for these payloads, these are the critical science payloads, so obviously packing as many as you can on the Dragon is important.”

     If all goes according to plan the Dragon spacecraft should deliver an estimated 4,600 pounds worth of crew supplies and payload to the space station including science material that will support more than 150 investigations set to be worked on by the Expeditions 39 and 40 crew members.

By James Tutten

(Above photo provided by SpaceX)

(Published at on April 5, 2014.)

SpaceX's CRS-3 mission readied for launch at KSC. (Photo Credit: NASA / Glenn Benson)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ULA readies DMSP-19 for flight on Atlas V rocket

     The U.S. Air Force is scheduled to launch their Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Flight 19 on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket, on Thursday, April 3, from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s (VAFB) Space Launch Complex 3. The ULA launch team has a 10-minute flight window that opens at 7:46 a.m. PDT. This launch will mark the 80th mission for ULA since the company was founded as a joint venture between Lockheed-Martin and Boeing in December of 2006.

     “The ULA team is focused on attaining Perfect Product Delivery for the DMSP-19 mission, which includes a relentless focus on mission success (the perfect product) and also excellence and continues improvements in meeting all of the needs of our customers (the perfect delivery),” said Vice President of Atlas and Delta Programs, Jim Sponnick, in a statement released by ULA.

     DMSP-19’s mission will be to track global environmental, meteorological, and oceanographic conditions, and relay that information in conjunction with a large array of other DMSP satellites and ground-based observatories to the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies.

     Satellites with the DMSP program gather images in the visible and infrared wavelengths that can determine variation in cloud formation, currents in bodies of water, surface temperatures of land and water, and study ice and snow. This data is primarily used during the planning and support of war efforts for worldwide U.S military operations.

     “DMSP satellites provide the only high-resolution, strike quality, guaranteed meteorological data to the DOD,” said Lt. Colonel Dan Daniels. “It’s one of the most critical, cross-cutting capabilities needed to ensure mission success across the spectrum of DOD operations.”

     This program originally started as a classified military operation back in the 1960s and was declassified in March 1973. The Air Force Space Command manages this program with additional orbit operational support provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Payload:

     Instruments used by DMSP-19 are located within the satellite’s three primary sections known as the space segment, the command, control, and communications segment (C3S), and the user segment. Sensors continually record data within the space segment, which stores and transmits information to the C3S for eventual broadcast to ground receivers for review. The user segment also aids in transmitting raw data from the space segment’s sensors that can be in the forum of stored data downlinks and real-time streams.

     This complex system of satellites should be able to provide nearly complete coverage of global cloud formations and activity, because of heliosynchronous orbits that cross any point on the Earth twice a day and orbital periods around 101 minutes.

The Launch Vehicle:

     There are two distinct stages to the Atlas V 401 in this configuration. The rocket is approximately 189 ft tall when fully assembled and sitting on the launch pad. This includes the main Atlas V booster, which is 12.5 ft in diameter, and 106.5 ft in length, constructed from spun-formed aluminum domes and isogrid aluminum barrels that form it’s fuel tank. Propelling this booster upon launch is a Russian-made RD-180 engine, which will deliver 860,200 pounds of thrust fueled by liquid oxygen and controlled in-flight by a Centaur avionics system.

     The RD-180, produced by NPO Energomash, has been at the center of controversy since Russia’s military actions in the Ukraine.

     A cryogenic-fueled Centaur vehicle, which is powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant, makes up the second stage of this rocket. A RL10A Centaur engine produced by Aerojet Rocketdyne in West Palm Beach, Fla., will fire after the Atlas’ fuel is spent and continue the spacecraft into orbit with 22,300 pounds of thrust.

     Soon after the second stage takes over the 4-m, 14 foot diameter large payload fairing (LPF) will separate into its two separate components which encapsulates and protects the DMSP spacecraft during launch through Earth’s atmosphere.

The Launch:

     DMSP-19 will fly at a near-south trajectory on its way to reaching a nearly-polar Sun-synchronous orbit. Tracking stations at the Western Range (VAFB), AFSCN Station on Diego Garcia (REEF), Thule (POGO), and RAF Oakhanger (LION) will assist with the launch vehicle’s telemetry in flight, along with the help of orbiting Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) constellation satellites in space.

     A standard pitch/yaw/roll maneuver will occur after liftoff sending the rocket on a 186.4-degree flight path. Main booster cutoff and separation should happen around 4 minutes into the flight with final DMSP-19 separation happening at 18 minutes after liftoff.

     “We’ve delivered more than 40 DMSP satellites over 50 years, so this launch represents a long partnership in monitoring and predicting weather,” said Lockheed-Martin’s DMSP Program Manager, Sue Stretch. “I congratulate the entire Air Force-industry team that designed, built and tested this satellite, which is ready to serve our military and civil users.”

     This is the first of four scheduled United Launch Alliance flights which will take place out of Vandenberg for 2014. The most recent DMSP launch, DMSP-18, occurred back on October 18, 2009, also using a ULA Atlas V 401 launch vehicle. This is slated to be a busy year for the Colorado-based company – with 15 launches currently on its manifest for 2014. However, a recent issue with the Eastern Range (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station) has seen one launch, that of the National Reconnaissance Office’s, NROL-67 mission be pushed back to mid-April at the earliest. It is likely that these delays will cause a “ripple-effect” with the other planned 2014 launches – causing them to be delayed.

By James Tutten

(Above photo provided by USAF / ULA.)

(Published at on April 2, 2014.)

DMSP-19 being sealed into the payload fairing before launch. (Photo Credit: ULA)

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