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First Recovered Falcon 9 Stage on Display at SpaceX Headquarters

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How to Dock CubeSats

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The ability to autonomously rendezvous and dock CubeSats could enable in-orbit assembly of larger structures that simply would not be possible in any other way. (Credit: EPFL/Jamani Caillet)

The ability to autonomously rendezvous and dock CubeSats could enable in-orbit assembly of larger structures that simply would not be possible in any other way. (Credit: EPFL/Jamani Caillet)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The miniature satellites known as CubeSats already play a variety of roles in space. In future they could also serve as the building blocks of other, larger missions by being docked together in orbit.

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Alaska Officials Re-dedicate Pacific Spaceport Complex

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Craig Campbell, Lindsay Knight, Jenith Flynn, Dr. Robert McCoy, Sen. Gary Stevens and Rep. Louise Stutes re-dedicate the Pacific Spaceport Complex -- Alaska. (Credit: AAC)

Craig Campbell, Lindsay Knight, Jenith Flynn, Dr. Robert McCoy, Sen. Gary Stevens and Rep. Louise Stutes re-dedicate the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska. (Credit: AAC)

KODIAK, AK. (AAC PR) — On Saturday, August 13th, Alaska Aerospace Corporation and the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) commemorating completion of the rebuilding of damaged facilities caused by the launch failure in August 2014.

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Soyuz Mission to the Moon Surfaces — Again

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Space Adventures vehicle for circumlunar flights. (Credit: Space Adventures)

Space Adventures vehicle for circumlunar flights. (Credit: Space Adventures)

Like the elusive Loch Ness Monster, a plan to send a cosmonaut and two tourists looping around the moon in a modified Soyuz transport has once again surfaced in the Russian media.

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RL-10 Engine Tested for Boeing CST-100 Starliner Flight

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Steam billows from the engine test stand as the RL10 engine fires. (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

Steam billows from the engine test stand as the RL10 engine fires.
(Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

By Steven Siceloff
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

A trio of NASA astronauts watched last Friday as engineers and technicians from Aerojet Rocketdyne fired one of the RL10 engines that will help power the first crewed flight test of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner as it flies into orbit on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

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Astronauts Install International Docking Adapter on Space Station

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Spacewalker Kate Rubins works outside the International Space Station with the SpaceX Dragon space freighter just below her. (Credit: NASA TV)

Spacewalker Kate Rubins works outside the International Space Station with the SpaceX Dragon space freighter just below her. (Credit: NASA TV)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Expedition 48 Commander Jeff Williams and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins concluded their spacewalk at 2:02 EDT. During the five-hour and 58-minute spacewalk, the two NASA astronauts successfully installed the first of two international docking adapters (IDAs).

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Delta IV Orbits Two USAF Satellites

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A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying AFSPC-6 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37. (Credit: ULA)

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying AFSPC-6 mission lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37. (Credit: ULA)

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Aug.19, 2016 (ULA) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the AFSPC-6 mission for the United States Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-37 Aug. 19 at 12:52 a.m. EDT. This is ULA’s seventh launch in 2016 and the 110th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

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Astrobotic Appoints Senior Research Scientist

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Peregrine lunar lander (Credit: Astrobotic)

Peregrine lunar lander (Credit: Astrobotic)

PITTSBURGH, Pa., August 18, 2016 (Astrobotic PR) – Astrobotic, a lunar delivery service, NASA contractor, and an official partner with NASA in the Lunar CATALYST program, selected Andrew D. Horchler, PhD as the Senior Research Scientist on their Future Missions and Technology Team.

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Dextre to Assist Astronauts in Installing New Docking Port on Friday

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Dextre at the end of Canadarm2 preparing to remove cargo from Dragon. (Credit: NASA)

Dextre at the end of Canadarm2 preparing to remove cargo from Dragon. (Credit: NASA)

LONGEUIL, QC (CSA PR) — Dextre, the Canadian robotic handyman on board the International Space Station (ISS), will have a very important job to do from August 17 to 19, 2016. Dextre will convert an existing docking port on the ISS into a spaceport able to welcome the upcoming new US commercial crew vehicles. This means that crew vehicles other than the Russian Soyuz will be able to dock to the ISS. An International Docking Adapter (IDA) was designed to convert the port and was shipped to the ISS on board SpaceX’s latest Dragon cargo ship. Next, Canada’s robots are being called in to do the heavy lifting.
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Pickens Innovations Expands R&D, Testing Capabilities

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Hot fire cells 1 and 2 (Credit: Pickens Innovations)

Hot fire cells 1 and 2 (Credit: Pickens Innovations)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Aug. 17, 2016 (PI PR) – Tim Pickens, a Huntsville aerospace professional and serial entrepreneur, announced today that the most recent company he founded, Pickens Innovations (PI), has expanded its research and development (R&D) and test capabilities for aerospace and commercial product markets.

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Vector Space Launches New Software Platform and Satellite Design Division

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P20 rocket (Credit: Vector Space Systems)

P20 rocket (Credit: Vector Space Systems)

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 17, 2016 (Vector Space Systems PR) — Vector Space Systems, a space systems company focused on micro launches and micro space platforms and comprised of new-space and enterprise software industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas and VMware, today announced the launch of its Software Defined Satellites business unit named Galactic Sky.

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Trailer for New Commercial Space Documentary

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Trailer BeyondEarth EN 720p from DLI Productions on Vimeo.

Editor’s Note: I was interviewed for this documentary.

NAS: Many Goals Outlined in Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey Are Met, Others Delayed

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NASA LOGOWASHINGTON (NAS PR) – While scientists have made remarkable advancements in astronomy and astrophysics since the beginning of this decade – notably the first detection of gravitational waves and the discovery of distant Earth-like planets – unforeseen constraints have slowed progress toward reaching some of the priorities and goals outlined in the Academies’ 2010 decadal survey of these disciplines, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report calls for NASA, National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) – the federal agencies largely responsible for funding and implementing these research activities – to maintain, and in some cases adjust, their programs in order to meet the survey’s scientific objectives.

The 2010 survey, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NWNH), identified an array of scientific and technical projects for the next decade that would trace back the formation of the first stars and galaxies, seek out black holes, reveal nearby habitable planets, and advance understanding of the fundamental physics of the universe.  The new report is an assessment of the progress made thus far by NASA, NSF, and DOE on the suite of large-, medium-, and small-scale programs given priority in the survey, including NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) and the NSF/DOE’s Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).

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Report: SpaceX Makes Large Carbon Fiber Purchase From Japan

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Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

Some news from Japan about SpaceX:

Japanese materials maker Toray Industries has agreed to supply carbon fiber to U.S. startup SpaceX for use in the bodies of rockets and space vehicles.

The multiyear deal with Tesla founder Elon Musk’s 14-year-old venture is estimated to be worth 200 billion yen to 300 billion yen ($1.99 billion to $2.98 billion) in total. The two sides are aiming to finalize the agreement this fall after hammering out prices, time frames and other terms.

SpaceX aims to hold down expenses by re-using rockets and spacecraft. Originally, the company made rockets mostly out of aluminum to keep costs low, using carbon fiber only for a few parts, such as connecting joints.

The U.S. company said in a statement, “Toray is one of a number of suppliers we work with to meet our carbon fiber needs for Falcon rocket and Dragon spacecraft production, and we haven’t announced any new agreements at this time. As our business continues to grow, the amount of carbon fiber we use may continue to grow.”

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Russia Looking to Reduce ISS Crew Size

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ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Timothy Peake, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (front) are set to depart the International Space Station and return to Earth June 18, 2016. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (back) will be joined in July by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Credit: NASA)

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Timothy Peake, NASA astronaut Timothy Kopra and Roscosmos cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (front) are set to depart the International Space Station and return to Earth June 18, 2016. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (back) will be joined in July by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. (Credit: NASA)

Roscosmos is looking to reduce the size of Russian crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from three to two, Izvestiya reports.

“We sent a letter to the participants of the ISS program – we want to hear their views on how we reduce the crew and when, there are nuances,” Sergei Krikalev, director of manned programs of the state corporation Roscosmos told Izvestia. “We are interested in the opinion of the Mission Control Center, the Institute of Biomedical Problems (RAS lead agency on the subject of Human Spaceflight — Izvestiya), our ISS partners. The intention to reduce the crew due to the fact that we have reduced the number of cargo ships sent to the ISS, as well as awareness of the need to increase the effectiveness of the program.”

The story says Roscosmos’ budget for space station operations was reduced as part of a severe cut in the space program’s funding. Russia’s national budget has been under severe pressure due to a reduction in oil revenues and Western sanctions over its annexation of Crimea.

Another factor is that the three cosmonauts aboard the station apparently don’t have enough to do. This problem is a result of the severe quality control problems that  have bedeviled the Russian space program in recent years.

Russia had planned to expand its part of the station by adding the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) and two related modules to support it between 2013 and 2015. However, Khrunichev botched the job manufacturing the MLM. An inspection of the module after it was completed found debris in pipes and other flaws. Now, the launches are planned for 2018 and 2019.

“If you look at the original plan, we have assumed the launch multipurpose laboratory module for the International Space Station, and only then increase the crew,” Krikalev explained in an interview with Izvestiya. But MLM launch postponed several times, and the crew nevertheless increased. From my point of view, three people in the Russian segment, taking into account a set of equipment, which is now – it’s a bust.”

Reducing the crew size will free up seats on the Soyuz transport to carry space tourists, which would bring in funding for the hard-pressed space program. Russia has not been able to fly tourists since the American space shuttle retired in 2011, forcing the Soyuz to shoulder the entire burden of taking crews to the space station.

At a press conference earlier this week, NASA officials acknowledged they had received Russia’s proposal for the crew reduction.

“At this point it’s strictly a proposal they put on the table, and we’ll look at it,” said Kenny Todd, NASA’s space station operations integration manager. “As we do with all these kinds of things, we’ll trade it against whatever risk it might put into the program. First and foremost, the risk to our crew on board and the station itself. And then from there we start looking at the options and see what we can do as a partnership to try to either accommodate it, or help them realize why that’s a bad thing.”