'Copy and Concur': 20 Years Since Shuttle Columbia's Heads-Up Ride to Space

Columbia launches on STS-87, 20 years ago today. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty years ago today, on 19 November 1997, a shuttle mission with a difference rose from Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. It was the first flight from the 39B complex since January, and on STS-87 the orbiter Columbia was tasked with spending 16 days in space, deploying and retrieving satellites, conducting an expansive plate of scientific research and supporting spacewalks. Although STS-87 would prove bittersweet—following the failed deployment of its Spartan-201 solar physics satellite—it also broke new ground in several areas. It marked the first time that a Japanese citizen had performed a spacewalk and, during Columbia’s rise to orbit, it saw the first roll to a heads-up orientation in order to effect better communications with ground stations.

Continue reading ‘Copy and Concur’: 20 Years Since Shuttle Columbia’s Heads-Up Ride to Space

Polar-Orbiting Environment Watcher Launches Atop Second-to-Last Delta II

After two foiled launch attempts on Tuesday and Wednesday, the second-to-last Delta II took flight at 1:47:36 a.m. PST on Saturday, 18 November. Photo Credit: ULA/Walter Scriptunas III

Today’s crackling growl of a Delta II taking flight is expected to be repeated only once more, before this impeccably reliable launch vehicle retires from operational service in the fall of 2018. For almost three decades, Delta IIs have risen from Earth 154 times and lofted payloads for communications, national security, science and planetary and deep-space exploration. At 1:47:03 a.m. PST on Saturday, 18 November, a Delta II successfully delivered the first of four Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) spacecraft into polar orbit, on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Continue reading Polar-Orbiting Environment Watcher Launches Atop Second-to-Last Delta II

From Jupiter to the Universe: First Science Targets Chosen For James Webb Space Telescope

Artist’s conception of the James Webb Space Telescope in space. Image Credit: Northrop Grumman

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) may not be launching until 2019, but the first targets for the powerful new observatory have already been chosen, including Jupiter, organic molecules in star-forming clouds and baby galaxies in the distant Universe. JWST is the long-awaited “successor” to the Hubble Space Telescope and will provide unprecedented new views of the Universe.

Continue reading From Jupiter to the Universe: First Science Targets Chosen For James Webb Space Telescope

Second-to-Last Delta II Launch with JPSS-1 Satellite Rescheduled for Saturday

The soon to be extinct Delta-II rocket awaiting launch with the JPSS-1 satellite for NASA and NOAA. Credit: ULA

UPDATED Nov 17:  Statement from ULA, “confirmed on the Western Range for Saturday, Nov. 18. The launch time is 1:47 a.m. PT.”

UPDATED Nov 15:  Statement from ULA, “scrubbed due to a range safety hold and high upper level winds. The team is working to establish a new launch opportunity.”

Continue reading Second-to-Last Delta II Launch with JPSS-1 Satellite Rescheduled for Saturday

Pad 39A, America's Moonport, Celebrates Over 100 Launches in 50 Years of Service

The launch of Apollo 11 on 16 July 1969 was arguably Pad 39A’s finest hour. Photo Credit: NASA

In a strange twist of irony, Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida was not originally meant to be named “39A” at all. Having supported its first launch, 50 years ago, last week, the iconic pad—which saw the first teams of human explorers leave Planet Earth, bound for the Moon, together with America’s first space station and dozens of Space Shuttle missions—occupies a roughly octagonal footprint on the marshy landscape of Florida’s Merritt Island. More than a half-century ago, blueprints called for the construction of up to five launch pads, potentially labeled 39A through 39E, which might have run sequentially from north to south. As circumstances transpired and planning changed, only two pads were brought to operational service. The original 39A complex was never built and in 1963 the site which would have been 39C was renamed the “new” 39A. Today, after recently seeing off the 106th launch in its illustrious history, for Pad 39A an exciting future lies ahead.

Continue reading Pad 39A, America’s Moonport, Celebrates Over 100 Launches in 50 Years of Service

Dream Chaser Flies Long-Awaited Second Free-Flight Test

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser engineering test vehicle at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. Photo Credit: NASA / Ken Ulbrich

The engineering test article for Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser ‘spaceplane’ flew its long-awaited second free flight test this weekend (Nov 11, 2017) over NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, CA. 

Continue reading Dream Chaser Flies Long-Awaited Second Free-Flight Test

Orbital ATK Honors Veterans With Rousing Launch of OA-8 Cygnus to Space Station

Orbital ATK Antares rocket launching the OA-8 Cygnus spacecraft. Photo: Cole Ippoliti / AmericaSpace

Fittingly for a veteran rocket and a veteran spacecraft, traveling to visit a group of veteran astronauts and cosmonauts aboard a veteran space station—including the first Marine Corps skipper of the multi-national orbiting outpost—it was hoped that the OA-8 Cygnus cargo mission would coincide with Veterans Day, by launching on Saturday, 11 November. As well as honoring the fallen from World War I, and marking 99 years to the date since the official end of hostilities on 11 November 1918, Veterans Day reminds us of the respect owed to our military service personnel.

Alas, it was not to be. In spite of a near-perfect countdown, yesterday’s opening launch attempt was scrubbed in the final minutes, when an aircraft strayed into the launch danger zone. Liftoff was correspondingly rescheduled for 7:14 a.m. EST on Sunday, 12 November, and proceeded without incident.  Orbital ATK’s 133-foot-tall (40.5-meter) Antares 230 booster rose from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va., delivering Cygnus perfectly into low-Earth orbit. Rendezvous and berthing with the International Space Station (ISS) is currently scheduled for Monday morning.

Continue reading Orbital ATK Honors Veterans With Rousing Launch of OA-8 Cygnus to Space Station

OA-8 Cygnus Mission to Honor Gene Cernan, 45 Years After Last Moonwalks

The OA-8 Cygnus, pictured in the clean room, with an image of its astronaut namesake, veteran Moonwalker Gene Cernan. Photo Credit: Elliot Severn/AmericaSpace

Only months before its purchase by Northrop Grumman is expected to be finalized, Orbital ATK plans to launch its next Cygnus cargo freighter (OA-8) to the International Space Station (ISS), no sooner than Saturday, 11 November, during a five-minute “window”, which opens at 7:37 a.m. EST. The mission will mark the return of the Dulles, Va.-based company’s Antares booster, flying out of Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va. Loaded with over 7,000 pounds (3,100 pounds) of equipment, supplies and research hardware for the incumbent Expedition 53 crew, OA-8 is expected to arrive at the space station early Monday, berthing at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Unity node, where it will remain for three weeks.

Continue reading OA-8 Cygnus Mission to Honor Gene Cernan, 45 Years After Last Moonwalks

NASA Designs Advanced New SELFI Instrument to Help Search For Life on Enceladus

The plumes of Enceladus: SELFI would study their composition in more detail than ever before. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Is there life on Enceladus? Are there any Enceladan bacteria or other little critters swimming in that alien ocean on this tiny moon of Saturn? We don’t know yet, but there is compelling evidence from the Cassini mission for at least a habitable environment in the dark waters below the icy crust. What’s needed now is to return to Enceladus with new and better instruments, designed especially to search for signs of active biology, which Cassini couldn’t do. Now, a new instrument has been designed by NASA which would further study the water vapor plumes erupting from the moon’s south pole and analyze what’s in them in more detail than previously possible. Those plumes are tantalizingly connected to the salty subsurface ocean below the surface ice.

Continue reading NASA Designs Advanced New SELFI Instrument to Help Search For Life on Enceladus

Dick Gordon, Gemini High-Flyer and Solo Lunar Orbiter, Dies Aged 88

Dick Gordon (left) and Pete Conrad await the start of an emergency water egress training exercise in the Gulf of Mexico in July 1966. Photo Credit: NASA

Veteran astronaut Dick Gordon, who passed away on Monday, aged 88, brings to just 14 the number of remaining spacefarers who have traveled to the Moon and back. Gordon’s impressive career saw him fly to the highest altitude ever reached by a human being on his first mission in September 1966, before traveling even further, to the Moon itself, on his second in November 1969. By the time he retired from NASA in early 1972, after more than eight years with the agency, Gordon had attained the rank of a Captain in the U.S. Navy and had spent over 315 hours in space, including 38 minutes of Extravehicular Activity (EVA). He remains one of only 24 sons of Earth to have voyaged to the Moon.

Continue reading Dick Gordon, Gemini High-Flyer and Solo Lunar Orbiter, Dies Aged 88