News Article | February 28, 2017
NASA has agreed to fly at least two more astronauts on upcoming Russian Soyuz missions to the International Space Station, the space agency announced in a press release. The news comes in the wake of delays to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, an initiative where two American companies — SpaceX and Boeing — are being paid to create spacecraft that can ferry astronauts to the ISS. Those flights were originally supposed to happen this year, but are now estimated to take place no earlier than 2019. The additional seats are being worked into an existing contract with Boeing, which helps operate the ISS. The agreement extension covers two seats on Soyuz flights this year and next year, and includes options for seats on three Soyuz flights in 2019. Boeing acquired theses seats from Russian aerospace company RSC Energia, and has been trying to sell them to NASA since January. The total cost of all five seats is $373.5 million, or $74.7 million per seat — a touch short of the $81.7 million NASA has been paying Roscosmos. Flights with SpaceX and Boeing should be cheaper than Russia — when they happen The US hasn’t had the capability to send its own astronauts to space (or bring them back) since the Space Shuttle program was discontinued in 2011. Private US spaceflight companies were growing at a rapid pace then, so NASA decided to fund these companies so they could become a sort of space taxi service for American astronauts. The Commercial Crew Program was intended to give NASA a cheaper alternative to Russia, but the program has been hampered by delays and cost issues. The space agency is also planning to fly astronauts on its own Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) maybe as early as 2019, but that program has also been delayed. In 2015, NASA spent $490 million on six more Soyuz seats as a hedge against the possibility that the SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft wouldn’t be ready in time. Seats on the Soyuz are typically sorted out three years in advance when dealing directly with Roscosmos. (NASA was able to book the two new seats with less time since they had already been accounted for when they were bought by RSC Energia.) It was a prescient move because Boeing delayed — twice — the first crewed flight of its spacecraft, Starliner, in 2016. And SpaceX followed suit at the end of the year, saying in December that the human-rated version of its Dragon spacecraft wouldn’t fly with a crew until at least 2018. This is not the first time NASA has extended the contract with Russia Two weeks ago, the Government Accountability Office — a federal agency that performs audits for Congress — released a report that estimated SpaceX and Boeing won’t be ready to fly humans to space until 2019. The GAO cited concerns about a particular defect in SpaceX’s engine turbines, as well as Boeing’s reliance on Russian rocket engines as some of the reasons. NASA addressed the GAO report implicitly in the press release about the contract extension with Russia. “NASA’s Commercial crew transportation providers Boeing and SpaceX have made significant progress toward returning crew launches to the US, but external review groups have recommended an option to protect for delays or problems in certification,” the agency wrote. The contract extension with Russia was actually announced a week ago, and it was first spotted by SpaceNews, which points out the curious nature of how NASA quietly published the news. The agency is currently in a transitional phase as it waits for President Donald Trump to name a new NASA administrator. NASA is waiting for Trump to name a new administrator Robert Lightfoot, who is serving as acting administrator, recently sent a memo to NASA employees explaining his interest in accelerating NASA’s plans for human spaceflight. He asked for NASA and Lockheed Martin, which makes Orion and SLS, to evaluate whether it would be possible to put a crew on the first flight of that spaceship / rocket combination in 2018 instead of 2021. It’s a bold idea for a space agency that is known for caution, but it aligns with what we know the Trump administration wants out of NASA: an increased emphasis on human spaceflight and space exploration in general. “President Trump said in his inaugural address that we will ‘unlock the mysteries of space,’” Lightfoot wrote. “The SLS and Orion missions, coupled with those promised from record levels of private investment in space, will help put NASA and America in a position to unlock those mysteries and to ensure this nation’s world preeminence in exploring the cosmos.”
News Article | February 16, 2017
The number of instruments on the International Space Station dedicated to observing Earth to increase our understanding of our home planet continues to grow. Two new instruments are scheduled to make their way to the station Feb. 18 on the SpaceX Dragon capsule. The Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III instrument will monitor the condition of the ozone layer, which covers an area in the stratosphere 10 to 30 miles above Earth and protects the planet from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation. Its predecessors, SAGE I and SAGE II, which were mounted to satellites, helped scientists understand the causes and effects of the Antarctic ozone hole. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 led to an eventual ban on ozone-destroying gases and to the ozone layer's recovery; SAGE III, designed to operate for no less than three years, will allow scientists to continue monitoring its recovery. The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), first launched as an instrument on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission in 1997, records the time, energy output and location of lightning events around the world, day and night. From its perch on the ISS, the new LIS will improve coverage of lightning events over the oceans and also in the northern hemisphere during its summer months. Because lightning is both a factor and a gauge for a number of atmospheric processes, NASA as well as other agencies will use the new LIS lightning data for many applications, from weather forecasting to climate modeling and air quality studies. While SAGE III and LIS are the latest Earth science instruments slated for operation aboard the ISS, they or not the first or the last. For two years, beginning in September 2014, the Rapid Scatterometer, or RapidScat, collected near-real-time data on ocean wind speed and direction. The instrument was designed as a low-cost replacement for the Quick Scatterometer, or QuikScat satellite, which experienced an age-related failure in 2009. In addition to addressing such questions as how changing winds affect sea surface temperatures during an El Niño season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Navy relied on RapidScat data for improved tracking of marine weather, leading to more optimal ship routing and hazard avoidance. The Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS) was mounted to the exterior of the space station in Jan. 2015 and is in the midst of a three-year mission to measure aerosols, such as dust plumes, wildfires and volcanic ash, around the world. Built to demonstrate a low-cost, streamlined approach to ISS science payloads, the laser instrument is providing data for air quality studies, climate models and hazard warning capabilities. Over the next several years, NASA is planning to send to the space station several more instruments trained toward Earth. Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) will measure total solar irradiance and spectral solar irradiance, or the total solar radiation at the top of Earth's atmosphere and the spectral distribution of that solar radiation, respectively. The data are critical for climate modeling and atmospheric studies. TSIS-1 will continue the work of NASA's Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment satellite, which has been taking those measurements since 2003. NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program is supporting the following instruments that are currently in development. The program is managed by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) instrument will monitor carbon dioxide distribution around the globe. Assembled with spare parts from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite, OCO-3 will provide insights into the greenhouse gas's role as it relates to growing urban areas and changes in fossil fuel combustion. The instrument will also measure the "glow" from growing plants (solar-induced fluorescence). Homing in on tropical and temperate forests is the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI). The lidar instrument will provide the first high-resolution observations of forest vertical structure in an effort to answer how much carbon is stored in these ecosystems and also what impacts deforestation and reforestation have on habitat diversity, the global carbon cycle and climate change. The ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment (ECOSTRESS) will also focus on vegetation by providing high-frequency, high-resolution measurements of plant temperature and plant water use. Among the data's numerous uses will be to indicate regions of plant heat and water stress and also improve drought forecasting for the benefit of farmers and water managers. Researchers will also use ECOSTRESS in concert with other data to calculate water use efficiency among plants and identify drought-resistant species and varieties. Also on the horizon is the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder comprising two instruments for measuring solar irradiance: a reflected solar spectrometer and an infrared spectrometer. CLARREO will collect highly accurate climate records to test climate projections in order to improve models. NASA collects data from space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. For more information about NASA's Earth science programs, visit: Keep up with the International Space Station at:
News Article | February 19, 2017
Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. successfully launched its second rocket in as many months on Sunday, bringing it a 10th of the way to its goal of deploying 20 to 24 rockets this year. The Falcon 9 rocket that launched SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft on Sunday separated minutes after liftoff and landed upright on Earth in its designated area. SpaceX expects to launch a “flight proven,” or reused, Falcon 9 rocket for the first time this spring. “Baby came back,” Musk tweeted on Sunday morning. The company has designed its rockets to be reused, a key part of its effort to drive down costs and make colonizing Mars possible. The launch was SpaceX’s first from historic “39A,” the storied complex at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Kennedy Space Center in Florida that was home to the famed Apollo missions. It was also the company’s second since a fireball destroyed a different rocket and its payload on a Florida launch pad in September. SpaceX, which completed just eight missions in 2016, successfully returned to the skies last month with the delivery of 10 communications satellites into orbit. The rocket is ferrying about 5,500 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies to the International Space Station, NASA said in a statement. The payload includes an experiment that will aim to better define how some bacteria become resistant to drugs, and one that will aim to help scientists understand how molecules known as monoclonal antibodies work in the body. The launch was halted Saturday about 13 seconds before its scheduled liftoff because of an issue with the second-stage engine. SpaceX has contracts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration valued at $4.2 billion to resupply the Space Station using its unmanned Dragon spacecraft and ultimately to ferry astronauts to the station from the U.S. with a version of Dragon that’s capable of carrying crews. The Government Accountability Office said Thursday in a report that SpaceX and competitor Boeing Co. won’t be certified this year to send astronauts to space and may be delayed into 2019 because of potential safety hazards. Musk, who’s also CEO of Tesla Inc., founded SpaceX 15 years ago with the goal of sending humans to Mars. The closely-held company makes rockets at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and has contracts to launch commercial satellites as well as fly missions for NASA and the U.S. military.
News Article | February 18, 2017
Elon Musk says a Donald Trump presidency is not a concern for Tesla and says eliminating ZEV credits could actually boost Tesla’s competitive advantage. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the company is investigating a leak in the rocket that is set to launch in less than 24 hours. “Investigating a (very small) leak in the upper stage,” said Musk in a Tweet Friday. “If ok, will launch tomorrow.” The rocket is scheduled to launch at 10:01 a.m. EST Saturday from launch pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The Falcon 9 rocket will launch a Dragon spacecraft towards the International Space Station (ISS) for its tenth cargo delivery, weighing 5,500 lbs. The Dragon spacecraft will carry science research, crew supplies and hardware, NASA said. Saturday’s planned launch comes after a successful Falcon 9 rocket launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California last month, in which SpaceX delivered 10 satellites to low-Earth orbit for the communications company Iridium. That launch was the first since a SpaceX rocket exploded on the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla. last September. The accident caused damage to the launch site and a $200 million AMOS-6 communications satellite from Israeli company Spacecom. If Saturday’s launch goes as planned, NASA will be gin coverage of the launch begins at 8:30 a.m. EST. If the launch is canceled, the rocket will launch 9:38 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, NASA said in a statement.
News Article | February 27, 2017
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket disappears into clouds after it lifted off on a supply mission to the International Space Station from historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Feb 9. —Two private citizens have booked a trip around the moon scheduled for 2018, according to a SpaceX announcement Monday afternoon. Yes, you read that right. The commercial spaceflight company that has yet to fly any crewed missions into space plans to send two non-astronauts beyond Earth's orbit next year. Is that really possible? "My guess is that 2020 is more realistic," Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, says in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. There's still a lot that has to be done before the space tourists can depart on their adventure. First, the equipment needs to be tested. According to SpaceX's announcement, the two space travelers will ride in the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft, or version 2 of its current Dragon capsule that carries supplies to the International Space Station. But the Crew Dragon isn't scheduled for an initial uncrewed test flight until later this year, with the goal of launching its first crewed test flight by mid-2018. And the rocket that Crew Dragon is supposed to fly atop, Falcon Heavy, hasn't been tested yet either. It's due for a test launch this summer. It's not impossible to shoot the SpaceX craft around the moon and back on that timeline, Dr. McDowell says, but one small delay could throw it all off. And there are always delays, he says. SpaceX has been criticized before for failing to leave room for such delays in its "punishing schedule," as Scott Pace, a former NASA official and director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, put it in an interview with The New York Times in September 2016. This criticism came after one of SpaceX's semi-reusable rockets exploded during a routine test. Dr. Pace expressed concern that people working for the company might be run ragged by the demands, leading to human errors. That's a significant concern when talking about sending millions of dollars of equipment up to the International Space Station, but the stakes become much higher with humans, especially non-astronaut humans, on board. The lunar mission isn't the only major SpaceX mission set for 2018. The company aims to send an uncrewed spacecraft to Mars the same year as part of its long-term goal of colonizing the Red Planet. Having a circumlunar piloted flight by 2020 would be "an impressive achievement," McDowell says. That's not to say it won't happen, he says. "SpaceX has a great record of doing exactly what they say they're going to do but always several years later than they said they were going to do it. So I have full confidence that this will happen, but on 'Elon time'," McDowell says, referring to SpaceX's chief executive officer and founder Elon Musk. The passengers' trip would take about a week and they would travel about 300,000 to 400,000 miles, The Verge reported. The spacecraft would zoom by the surface of the moon, fly out farther into deep space, and then loop back to Earth. This would be the first time ever that space tourists fly beyond Earth's orbit, McDowell says. American businessman Dennis Tito, was the first private citizen to buy a ticket to the great unknown. On April 28, 2001, he flew aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. SpaceX isn't the only spaceflight organization considering a flight to the moon. NASA, too, has been considering a next generation rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), to send a capsule on a trip around the moon. Although the path would be similar, NASA's capsule would not contain people and the goal would be for it to fly in 2019. If SpaceX can meet the goal of sending a crewed capsule around the moon in 2018, beating NASA, McDowell points out, this could change the dialogue at the space agency from whether to build their own vessels or just to pay SpaceX for a ride.
News Article | February 20, 2017
SpaceX successfully launched its latest uncrewed cargo mission to the International Space Station on Saturday, and if you haven't seen the video of its Falcon 9 first-stage rocket booster coming in for a landing yet, you need to now. While perhaps not as technically impressive nor difficult as SpaceX's previous rocket landings on drone ships out in the Atlantic Ocean, this landing is undeniably breathtaking to watch, filmed by a drone, which tracks the projectile as it smoothly descends back to Earth. And though it looks tiny and delicate in this view, the rocket is actually huge, as an older photo shows: This was SpaceX's first launch from the newly-refurbished Kennedy Space Center Complex 39A, previously the main launchpad for NASA's Apollo program. This was the first commercial usage of this launching area so far. The Falcon 9 first-stage landed about 13 miles down the coast at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Landing Zone 1. SpaceX will attempt to re-use one of its boosters for the first time as early as next month, according to Florida Today, an important milestone on the company's quest to drastically reduce the cost of space travel. Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .
News Article | February 20, 2017
NASA and SpaceX successfully launched cargo headed for the International Space Station, sending about 5,500 pounds of supplies and research equipment to the space station. The event was the first commercial launch to be carried out from the historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Originally, the launch was scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18. However, even with all systems go at liffoff, Elon Musk personally called it off because "an upper stage engine steering hydraulic piston was slightly odd." "If this is the only issue, flight would be fine, but need to make sure that it isn't symptomatic of a more significant upstream root cause," he tweeted. The launch was halted to make way for an investigation, but Musk said the situation is likely to be 99 percent fine. Still, he didn't think that the remaining 1 percent was worth taking the risk. "Better to wait a day," he added. SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft aboard the company's Falcon 9 rocket finally saw liftoff Sunday, Feb. 19 at 9:39 a.m. EST. ESA's Thomas Pesquet and NASA's Shane Kimbrough will be tasked with capturing the Dragon spacecraft when it arrives at the space station using the ISS's robotic arm. The capture can be viewed live on NASA TV on Wednesday, Feb. 22 starting 4:30 a.m. This is SpaceX's 10th resupply mission to the ISS and will support investigations carried out by crew members of Expeditions 50 and 51. Several researches are headed for the ISS in this resupply mission, including a crystal growth experiment for crystallizing a monoclonal antibody undergoing clinical trials as an immunological disease treatment. Growing crystals in space is seen as a next step in the research because it will allow for the antibodies to be better preserved in the crystal as there won't be gravity that causes the crystals to collapse on themselves. Once in the crystal, the antibody's biological molecules will be more readily observed. Another experiment will be focusing on how to better define how superbugs become drug-resistant. Aimed at countering bacterial resistance, it will explore the use of stem cells in the fight against drug-resistant bacteria. At 2,200 pounds, the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment takes up nearly half of the resupply mission's total cargo weight. Once installed on the ISS, the instrument will be used for surveying Earth's upper atmosphere to continue one of the space agency's longest-running programs for observing the planet. Launch Complexes 39A and 39B were built by NASA during the Apollo program. Except for Apollo 10, most space shuttle missions and every moon landing launch were done on 39A. The space agency decided it didn't need two launching pads after the last space shuttle took flight in 2011 so 39A was leased to SpaceX. The company had intended to use 39A for commercial crew missions and launches for the new Falcon Heavy rocket but a static fire test accident put Launch Complex 40 out of commission, which pushed SpaceX to expedite refurbishments for 39A so all East Coat launches can be accommodated. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 16, 2017
Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives. Senior business figures seem unsure how to react to the president and, specifically, his order temporarily suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. While the order itself has been suspended by a court and protested by many tech CEOs, the whole issue of whether to support the president -- and how to show it or not -- has proved thorny. On Wednesday, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk seemed to have decided to offer definitive comment. In three tweets, spotted by Business Insider among others, Musk offered his updated views. First he said: "Regarding govt. policy, there are often things that happen that most people don't agree with. This is normal for a functional democracy." To which he added, using interesting words: "The Muslim immigration ban is not right." He ended this stream of Twittered thought with: "They rarely warrant a public statement. However, the ban on Muslim immigrants from certain countries rises to this level. It is not right." Within minutes, these tweets were all deleted. A Tesla spokesman wouldn't go beyond a further comment from Musk on Twitter. He replied to astrophotographer Sam Cornwell who asked why he'd deleted the tweets: "they were earlier drafts that I accidentally published. I said the same thing a week already." I failed to find quite such forceful public statements by Musk in the recent past. He did say that the ban was "not the best way to confront the country's challenges." Tesla, moreover, did join the many tech companies fighting the order in court. Of all the tech CEOs, Musk's position on Trump has been one of the most complex. In November, he declared that the president doesn't reflect well on the US. By January, he'd agreed to sit on the president's economic advisory council and insisted that engaging in important economic issues with the president serves "the greater good." The deleted tweets seem to add another layer of complexity. Life, disrupted: In Europe, millions of refugees are still searching for a safe place to settle. Tech should be part of the solution. But is it? Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.
News Article | February 24, 2017
SpaceX has made good on a 250-mile-high delivery at the International Space Station, just a little late
News Article | February 20, 2017
SpaceX on Sunday launched a Falcon 9 rocket from the same historic launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center where NASA sent astronauts to the moon and hosted the beginning and end of the shuttle program. A few minutes later at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station the first stage of that rocket did something NASA never even attempted: it came back in for a soft landing on Earth. The first launch from 39A since the last Shuttle launch in 2011 is certainly a milestone, but the landing that followed is nothing less than the continued normalization of science fiction into science reality. The successful rocket recovery was the third at Cape Canaveral, in addition to five more landed at sea on unmanned drone barge landing pads. The weather was cloudy with low visibility for the launch and landing Sunday, but SpaceX parked a drone in the air near the landing pad to capture the above video that Musk shared on Instagram. The rocket stage descends from the clouds, deploying its landing tripod and nails its target near dead center. It's hard not to watch the looping video and dream of where else we could soon be landing rockets or other spacecraft. No wonder Las Vegas has odds on SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk to be the first to take us to Mars.