News From Space: The Antares Rocket Launch!

antares_launch1Commercial space flight got a shot in the arm just two days ago thanks to the flawless launch of the privately developed Antares rocket from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. On board was the first of many Cygnus craft, a commercial unmanned cargo resupply vehicle that is now making its way to the ISS in orbit. It was a day of firsts, and signaled the beginning of a new space race.

For starters, it was the first time the launchpad in Virginia was used, not to mention the maiden flight of a Cygnus craft. But perhaps most importantly, it was the first time in a long time that supplies and equipment were bound for the International Space Station from American soil. Since its cancellation in 2011, NASA’s space program has been forced to rely on the Russians and an aging fleet of Soyuz rockets to send astronauts and supplies into orbit.

spaceX_elonmuskAnd, as already noted, it was a big day for commercial space flight, since both the Antares and the Cygnus were produced by the Orbital Sciences Corporation. For some time now, SpaceX has been leading the charge to develop rockets and spacecraft for private commercial use. Now, with NASA awarding OSC contracts to restore America’s ability to mount resupply missions, it seems they might have some competition.

The “picture perfect” blastoff took place at 10:58 a.m. EDT on the morning  of Sept. 18 from Virginia and was witnessed by a large crowd of spectators. The launch was reported as being incredibly beautiful as the rockets two stage engines spewed intensely bright flames and send out reverberations that wowed the people watching and woke people who were still asleep in the nearby community of Chincoteague.

antares_deploymentAnother historic first that bears mentioning is the fact that this latest mission happens to be the heaviest cargo load ever delivered to the ISS by a commercial vehicle. And by awarding contracts for such missions to private companies, NASA hopes to be able to free more of its budget up for long-term missions. These include exploration beyond low earth orbit, getting people back to the Moon and beyond to deep space destinations including Asteroids and Mars.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke glowingly of the launch in a statement and praised OSC for their role in making it happen:

Today marks a milestone in our new era of exploration as we expand the capability for making cargo launches to the International Space Station from American shores.  Orbital’s extraordinary efforts are helping us fulfill the promise of American innovation to maintain our nation’s leadership in space.

According to ongoing mission updates, the Cygnus spacecraft successfully unfurled its solar panels starting 1.5 minutes after separation from the second stage, which took place about 10 minutes after launch. Currently, Cygnus is traveling at 28,000 km/h (17,500 mph) and will rendezvous with the space station on Sunday, Sept. 22.

antares_launch2Once there, the cargo vessel will deliver about 590 kilograms (1,300 pounds) of cargo, including food, clothing, water, science experiments, spare parts and gear to the Expedition 37 crew. The flight, known as Orb-D1 is a demonstration mission to prove that Cygnus can conduct a complex series of maneuvers in space safely bringing it to the vicinity of the ISS.

And once the mission is complete and the supplies delivered, we can expect to be hearing about more missions like this one! Between SpaceX’s Dragon module, the Cygnus, and both companies ongoing rocket tests, space will is likely to become the new frontier where private enterprises carry out their endless dance of competition.

And of course, there are some cool videos of the launch to behold. So behold!

Time-lapse video of Antares deployment:


Antares launch:


Sources:
universetoday.com, (2)

News From Space…X!

spaceX_elonmuskForgive the pun, but it was just too easy! Yes, SpaceX is once again making news with its Grasshopper reusable rocket system, which set the record for highest altitude ascended. On its sixth jump, which took place on June 14th, the rocket made it to a height of 325 meters (1066 feet) above the Earth and remained airborne for a minute and 8 seconds.

With each jump and new record set, Grasshopper and its inventors are bringing the age of affordable, commercial space flight that much closer. Seeing as how the goal is to send a rocket into orbit it and bring it back in one piece, this latest milestone might sound modest. But a quick look at each successive jump clearly shows that the Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) rocket is making serious progress, and in a short stretch of time.

spacex_grasshopperConsider the first jump which took place in September of 2012, where the rocket reached a height of 1.8 meters (6 feet) and remained aloft for three seconds. Sounds pretty meager, no? But less than two months later, the rocket was able to remain in the air for 8 seconds and reached a height of 5.4 meters (17.7 feet).

On its third run, performed in December of 2012, the rocket got 40 meters (131 feet) into the air, remained there for 29 seconds, and happened to be the first test flight where a cowboy mannequin was strapped to the rocket. On the fourth and fifth try, which were performed in March and April of this year, the rocket reached a height of 80 and then 250 meters (262 and 820 feet), remaining airborne for 34 and then 61 seconds.

Grasshopper-rocketThis not only confirms that the rocket’s progress is exponential when it comes to height, but that its thrust-to-weight ratio has been improving vastly. Another big milestone here was the fact that for the first time, the rocket made use of its full navigation sensor suite with the F9-R closed loop control flight algorithms.

In previous tests, the rocket relied on other rocket sensors which were not as accurate, but this time around, SpaceX was directly controlling the rocket based on these new sensor readings, a move which has increased the level of accuracy in sensing the distance between Grasshopper and the ground.

To quote Nietzsche: “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk.” At this rate, averaging for the total rate of increase, I’d say the Grasshopper should be reaching Low-Earth Orbit (2000 km above sea level) by its 11th or 12th jump. And using the same figures, I figure the jump will be taking place sometime in May 2014. Somebody ought to be organizing a pool!

Source: IO9.com, SpaceX.com

News From Space: China’s Launches Shenzou 10 Manned Spaceship

shenzou_10Yesterday, at approximately 5:38 am ET, China took yet another step towards establishing itself as a major player in space. It’s latest manned spacecraft, known as the Shenzhou 10, departed the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at the edge of the Gobi Desert, carrying three astronauts on what is planned to be a fifteen day mission that will see them rendezvousing with the prototype Tiangong-1 space lab in Earth’s orbit.

This is China’s fifth manned mission into space and will be its longest to date. The purpose of the mission is to educate young people about science, but for the Chinese state, it also presents an opportunity to flex its muscles as one of the new leaders in space exploration. Much of this has to do with the Tiangong-1, which is intended to serve as an experimental prototype for a much larger Chinese space station that will be launched in 2020.

shenzhou-10-crewIn this respect, China is hoping to reach beyond its membership as on the three nations to send manned craft into space and join the United States and Russia by being able to send independently maintained space stations into orbit as well. If all goes well, China’s space station will join the likes of Mir and the ISS in Earth’s lower orbit. And with this kind of infrastructure in place, China will be well suited to play a role in future missions to Mars and the outer Solar System.

The craft carried two men, mission commander Nie Haisheng and Zhang Xiaoguang, and China’s second female astronaut, Wang Yaping. After rendezvousing with the space lab, the crew will spend a total of 12 days living in zero-gravity and conducting scientific experiments, the results of which will be shared with people on Earth.

shenzou_10_dockBorrowing a page from astronaut Chris Hadfield and his many popular Youtube videos that cataloged his crew’s mission aboard the ISS, the Chinese crew plans to deliver a series of talks to students while aboard the Tiangong. This development of “space classrooms” marks the boldest step so far for the Chinese space program, turning what was a military-backed program into something that will impact on the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens.

Here too, China is following in the footsteps of NASA, which uses student outreach to inspire interest in space exploration and sustain support for its budgets. At a news conference on Monday, Wang said she was “eager to explore and feel the magic and splendor of space with young friends.” Her fellow astronaut Zhang told reporters they would conduct dozens of space science experiments and would “enjoy personalized space foods especially designed by our nutritionists.

China_launchcenterOn the day of the launch, President Xi Jinping was shown live on television at the launch center. State television showed Xi watching the launch, as well as Premier Li Keqiang who was at the space command center in Beijing. Prior to the launch, Xi delivered a statement to the astronauts, commending them on their efforts and wishing them luck on their journey:

You have made [the] Chinese people feel proud of ourselves. You have trained and prepared yourselves carefully and thoroughly, so I am confident in your completing the mission successfully. I wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return.

The space program is a source of enormous national pride for China, reflecting its rapid economic and technological progress and ambition to rank among the world’s leading nations. Little wonder then why the launch was met with such fanfare and overseen by both the President and Premier. The mission comes at the height of ten years of Chinese space exploration and if successful, will mark China as a true superpower in the space race of the 21st century.

And be sure to check out the video of the launch of the Shenzou 10:


Source:
cbc.ca, news.xinhuanet.com