Posts tagged spacecraft

NASA extends life of Chandra X-ray mission, funding until 2013

After a decade of scanning the universe, NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory has a new lease on life – one that could extend its mission through 2013, and possibly longer.

NASA officially extended the 10-year-old Chandra mission by extending its science support contract by $172 million, which will fund the effort through 2013 and bring its total base cost up to $545 million. Options for two more life extensions for the healthy space telescope could increase its value to $913 million, NASA officials said.

“I think it’s very good news,” said astronomer Roger Brissenden, manager and flight director of the Chandra X-ray Center overseeing the space telescope’s science operations. “It shows they really do have confidence that the spacecraft is healthy and able to do good science.”

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NASA’s Shuttle, Satellite, and Space Telescope fleet triumph in 2009

For NASA, 2009 proved to be a stellar year, one filled with five extremely successful Space Shuttle missions (one of which repaired the Hubble Space Telescope), the test flight of the Ares I-X rocket, the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope, the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and companion spacecraft the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and the launch of the WISE spacecraft earlier this month.

In all, the first half of 2009 proved an extremely challenging and rewarding time for NASA. Form January to June, NASA completed a complicated analysis of the Space Shuttle fleets Flow Control Valves, launched the Kepler Space Telescope to search for extra-solar Earth-like planets, conducted the STS-119 Shuttle mission, performed a dual-pad flow for STS-125 and STS-400 and the subsequent and highly successful STS-125 mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, and launched LRO/LCROSS.

In a recent interview with NASASpaceFlight.com, Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses talked extensively about the incredible year the Shuttle processing teams had and their ability to accomplish everything they did in 2009.

“It was all about the teams and their ability to create triple and quadruple redundancies in schedules,” Moses said.

“On the surface, it didn’t appear that we had all that challenging of a year. But if you take it month by month you can really see the issues the teams worked through and the amazing jobs those teams did to get us into a launch posture six times this year.”

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What is that cloud of interstellar material? Mystery at the edge of our Solar System solved

Voyager Monster artist rendering

Artist’s rendering of the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it studies the outer limits of the heliosphere — a magnetic ‘bubble’ around the Solar System that is created by the solar wind. Scientists observed the magnetic bubble is not spherical, but pressed inward in the southern hemisphere. Credit: NASA/JPL

Our solar system is passing through a cloud of interstellar material that shouldn’t be there, astronomers say. And now the decades-old Voyager spacecraft has helped solved the mystery.

The cloud is called the “Local Fluff.” It’s about 30 light-years wide and holds a wispy mix of hydrogen and helium atoms, according to a NASA statement released today. Stars that exploded nearby, about 10 million years ago, should have crushed the Fluff or blown it away.

So what’s holding the Fluff in place?

“Using data from Voyager, we have discovered a strong magnetic field just outside the solar system,” explained Merav Opher, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from George Mason University. “This magnetic field holds the interstellar cloud together ["The Fluff"] and solves the long-standing puzzle of how it can exist at all.”

The Fluff is much more strongly magnetized than anyone had previously suspected,” Opher said. “This magnetic field can provide the extra pressure required to resist destruction.”

Opher and colleagues detail the discovery in the Dec. 24 issue of the journal Nature.

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MSNBC +++ Cosmic Log +++ The year in space

The highest highlight of 2009 was clearly the revival of the Hubble Space Telescope, a mission that blended moments of beauty and brute force 350 miles above the earth.

Or was it?

Maybe the top story was the reassessment of NASA’s plans for human spaceflight. After all, tens of billions of dollars could be at stake. Or maybe it was the series of victories in NASA-backed competitions that had gone unwon for years.

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Trio of NASA missions in 2010 will probe answers to secrets of the Earth, sun

Earth view from space

Taken by astronaut William Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft, this December 1968 photo of Earth rising over the lunar surface would become one of the most famous images of the 20th century. Credit: NASA

NASA heads into 2010 with the bittersweet assignment of retiring the space shuttle after nearly three decades. But that’s not all the agency has planned: There are also launches of three new satellites aimed at better understanding the Earth’s climate and oceans, and the sun.

Two of the probes will examine Earth — specifically the concentration of salt in the world’s oceans and the presence of aerosol particles, such as soot, in the atmosphere. A third mission will study the sun and its effect on space weather including solar flares that can disrupt communication on Earth.

All three come at a critical time for NASA. Data from the two Earth probes will likely influence global-warming research, and the trio of launches could serve as bright spots in a year otherwise dominated by debate over the future of the agency’s manned space program.

“They are extraordinary timely,” said Michael Freilich, head of NASA’s Earth-science division, of the two Earth probes. “It is a quest for understanding of the Earth system and [to improve] our ability to predict how our wonderful environment and our planet is going to change in the future.”

Combined, the three missions will cost more than $1.5 billion.

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Astronauts geared for yuletide space adventure

Astronauts from the United States, Russia and Japan are poised for their holiday season space mission Monday, when they are to blast off to the International Space Station from Russia’s remote space complex in southern Kazakhstan.

Their Soyuz TMA-17 rocket is primed at the Baikonur launch pad — where Yuri Gagarin made the first human trip into orbit in 1961 — for a mission that will boost the number of crew at the orbital laboratory to five members.

American Timothy J. Creamer of NASA, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and Soichi Noguchi of Japan are to blast off Monday at 3:52 a.m. local time (4:52 p.m. EST Sunday, 2152 GMT) in the first-ever launch of a Soyuz spaceship on a winter night.

After the liftoff in central Asia, the Soyuz will travel for about two days before docking with the space station 350 kilometers (220 miles) above Earth.

Striking a festive mood, the space station this week beamed a video Christmas greeting to Earth.

On its Web site, NASA has created a series of virtual postcards for members of the public to send to the space station with their holiday greetings.

The three astronauts will be joining Jeff Williams, another American NASA astronaut, and Russia’s Maxim Surayev, who have been alone on the space station since the start of the month.

The first space station crew arrived in 2000, two years after the first part was launched. Until the May launch, no more than three people lived up there at a time. Prior to that, there were as many as six people aboard for several periods when a space tourist would go up with one crew, spend a week or so aboard and come back with another crew.

With the U.S. shuttle fleet set to be grounded soon, NASA and other international partners will have to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft alone to ferry their astronauts to the space station and back.

Credit: The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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ESA to launch Mars mission in partnership with NASA

ESA NASA project mars

The ExoMars programme will be launched in partnership with NASA. Credit: ESA

The European Space Agency, in collaboration with NASA, will launch two Mars exploration
missions in 2016 and 2018.

The ExoMars mission will be undertaken to probe the Martian atmosphere, especially astrobiological issues and to develop and demonstrate new technologies for planetary exploration with a long-term view of a future Mars sample return mission in the 2020s, ESA said.

The project, for which around $1.2 billion (850 million euro) has been sanctioned, will include an Orbiter plus an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator, to be launched in 2016, and two rovers which would be sent in 2018.

“This marks an important moment for Europe in its steps towards space exploration on the world scale,” David Southwood, Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, said.

“We have been to the planets before, sure. But now we have a plan for exploration ahead to build our technical capability and explore Mars in a long-term partnership,” he said.

Eleven of ESA’s 17 member states are participating in the project.

Source: BNS (Paris)

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Weather Iffy for NASA’s Sky Mapper Launch

NASA is hoping to launch a new infrared space observatory on Friday, but cloudy weather could delay the flight.

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is slated to lift off atop a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Dec. 11 between 9:09:33 a.m. and 9:23:51 a.m. EST (1409 and 1423 GMT).

Unfortunately, thick clouds and rain are forecasted, prompting NASA to give the weather an 80 percent chance of preventing the launch. Even if liftoff is delayed for 24 hours, the forecast looks to be similar.

“We’ve got some challenging weather ahead of us,” said launch director Chuck Dovale during a Wednesday briefing.

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What will happen when astronauts no longer fly on the space shuttle?

Dragon spacecraft SpaceX owns this picture

Dragon Spacecraft Credit: SpaceX

There are only five Space Shuttle flights left on NASA’s schedule. Since 1982, astronauts have traveled into low-Earth orbit aboard the workhorse of NASA’s space program. With the exception of the Hubble repair mission earlier this year, the remaining flights have all been focused on adding to and upgrading the International Space Station. However, as it stands, after 2010 the United States will need to look for a new way to push humans up Earth’s gravity well.

NASA’s Constellation program is hard at work with development of the Orion. Designed to serve as a vehicle for the trip to the ISS and to lunar orbit, Orion and the entire Constellation is currently under review by the Obama administration. In October of this year, the Augustine commission delivered a set of options to the President that will help shape the future of American human space flight. By the commission’s estimate, Orion will at best be ready in 2016, leaving the US with a six year gap in operations.

Six years is a long drought. So what alternate options are available?

In addition to the shuttle, the Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft have been regular visitors to the ISS. And in the coming US space flight gap, NASA is looking at $51 million USD per person for any trips on Soyuz. In the past two years, the Europeans and the Japanese have developed remotely-operated transfer vehicles. However, the new ships are currently only cargo-rated.

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Atlantis Undocks from Station, Scheduled for Friday Landing

Atlantis undocked from the International Space Station at 4:53 a.m. EST Wednesday, ending a successful resupply visit that included three spacewalks. The total docked time was 6 days, 17 hours and 2 minutes.

Atlantis brought to the station about 14 tons of cargo in its payload bay, including two large carriers with heavy spare parts that were installed on the station. The shuttle also carried about a ton of cargo in its crew cabin. It is bringing home about the same weight of cabin cargo from the orbiting laboratory.

Atlantis Commander Charles Hobaugh, Pilot Barry Wilmore and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman, Robert Satcher Jr. and Nicole Stott are scheduled to land at 9:44 a.m. Friday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Tuesday at 10 a.m., European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne handed over command of the station to NASA astronaut Jeff Williams. De Winne and Expedition 21 Flight Engineers Roman Romanenko and Robert Thirsk are scheduled to leave the station for return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule on Nov. 30.

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