In 2011, the US government created the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to manage the US National Laboratory aboard the International Space Station,. With the purpose of ensuring that research opportunities provided by the ISS are used to their full potential, CASIS also seeks to inspire new generations of students to become involved in STEMs research and space exploration.
With the next generation in mind, CASIS recently announced the creation of a new mission patch that is sure to appeal to sci-fi fans and space enthusiasts! The patch features Groot and Rocket Raccoon, two characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, and was designed by Marvel Comic’s Custom Solution Group. For the remainder of 2016, it will represent all payloads that are destined for the ISS’ US National Laboratory.
The announcement came at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, where tens of thousands of fans were gathered to witness the latest from their favorite sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book franchises. In between all the trailers and fanfare, members of CASIS held a panel discussion to talk about their collaboration with Marvel, and explained why it was these two Guardians characters that were selected to promote activities aboard the ISS.
As Patrick O’Neill, a representative of CASIS, was quoted by The Verge as saying: “These are characters who have a bit of a space-based background to begin with. So both of [these] characters already embody some of the characteristics associated with what’s happening on the space station.”
The patch – which was designed by famed Marvel artist “Juan Doe” – features Groot and Rocket Racoon staring up at the ISS, which is floating overhead. In and around them, stars that are made to look like the flames from the Guardian of the Galaxy shield are positioned. In addition to being artistically creative, the symbolism could not be more clear: pop-culture icons and the ISS National Lab coming together to raise awareness about important scientific research!
During 2016, the U.S. National Lab plans to conduct over 100 science investigations aboard the ISS, with experiments involving the physical and material sciences, technological development, Earth observation and student inquiries. Thanks to its partnership with Marvel, the Guardians-inspired patch will adorn every payload that is sent to the ISS as part of these research initiatives.
Obviously, this partnership has been a good way for Marvel to promote one of the latest installments in its cinematic universe (not to mention its upcoming sequel). But for CASIS, it was also an opportunity to draw attention to the work of the U.S. National Lab. Traditionally, CASIS is responsible for providing seed money to research projects and product development. But a major aspect of their work also includes providing expertise, access, support, and educational outreach.
As Ken Shields, the CASIS Director of Operations and Educational Opportunities, said in a CASIS press release:
“A major mission for us here at CASIS is to find unique and innovative ways to bring notoriety to the ISS National Laboratory and the research that is being conducted on our orbiting laboratory. There are very few brands in the world who have as large an impact as Marvel, and we are thrilled to partner with them on this project and look forward to Rocket and Groot inspiring a new generation of researchers interested in the space station.”
Later this year, CASIS also hopes to use these characters in an upcoming educational flight contest intended to inspire children to become the next generation of scientists and engineers. News of the mission patch also came amidst announcements that Rocket and Groot will be star in their own Rocket Raccoon and Groot comic, and will be returning to the big screen next summer for Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Obviously, this is going to be a good year for a certain tree alien and hyper-raccoon! And be sure to check out this video of the creation of the new mission patch, courtesy of CASIS:
For decades, Canada has made significant contributions to the field of space exploration. These include the development of sophisticated robotics, optics, participation in important research, and sending astronauts into space as part of NASA missions. And who can forget Chris Hadfield, Mr. “Space Oddity” himself? In addition to being the first Canadian to command the ISS, he is also known worldwide as the man who made space exploration fun and accessible through social media.
And in recent statement, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has announced that it is looking for new recruits to become the next generation of Canadian astronauts. With two positions available, they are looking for applicants who embody the best qualities of astronauts, which includes a background in science and technology, exceptional physical fitness, and a desire to advance the cause of space exploration.
Over the course of the past few decades, the Canadian Space Agency has established a reputation for the development of space-related technologies. In 1962, Canada deployed the Alouette satellite, which made it the third nation – after the US and USSR – to design and build its own artificial Earth satellite. And in 1972, Canada became the first country to deploy a domestic communications satellite, known as Anik 1 A1.
Perhaps the best-known example of Canada’s achievements comes in the field of robotics, and goes by the name of the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (aka. “the Canadarm“). This robotic arm was introduced in 1981, and quickly became a regular feature within the Space Shuttle Program.
“Canadarm is the best-known example of the key role of Canada’s space exploration program,” said Maya Eyssen, a spokeperson for the CSA, via email. “Our robotic contribution to the shuttle program secured a mission spot for our nation’s first astronaut to fly to space –Marc Garneau. It also paved the way for Canada’s participation in the International Space Station.”
It’s successor, the Canadarm2, was mounted on the International Space Station in 2001, and has since been augmented with the addition of the Dextre robotic hand – also of Canadian design and manufacture. This arm, like its predecessor, has become a mainstay of operations aboard the ISS.
“Over the past 15 years, Canadarm2 has played a critical role in assembling and maintaining the Station,” said Eyssen. “It was used on almost every Station assembly mission. Canadarm2 and Dextre are used to capture commercial space ships, unload their cargo and operate with millimeter precision in space. They are both featured on our $5 bank notes. The technology behind these robots also benefits those on earth through technological spin-offs used for neurosurgery, pediatric surgery and breast-cancer detection.”
In terms of optics, the CSA is renowned for the creation of the Advanced Space Vision System (SVS) used aboard the ISS. This computer-vision system uses regular 2D cameras located in the Space Shuttle Bay, on the Canadarm, or on the hull of the ISS itself – along with cooperative targets – to calculate the 3D position of objects around of the station.
But arguably, Canada’s most enduring contribution to space exploration have come in the form of its astronauts. Long before Hadfield was garnering attention with his rousing rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“, or performing “Is Someone Singing (ISS)” with The Barenaked Ladies and The Wexford Gleeks choir (via a video connection from the ISS), Canadians were venturing into space as part of several NASA missions.
Consider Marc Garneau, a retired military officer and engineer who became the first Canadian astronaut to go into space, taking part in three flights aboard NASA Space shuttles in 1984, 1996 and 2000. Garneau also served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2006 before retiring for active service and beginning a career in politics.
And how about Roberta Bondar? As Canada’s first female astronaut, she had the additional honor of designated as the Payload Specialist for the first International Microgravity Laboratory Mission (IML-1) in 1992. Bondar also flew on the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery during Mission STS-42 in 1992, during which she performed experiments in the Spacelab.
And then there’s Robert Thirsk, an engineer and physician who holds the Canadian records for the longest space flight (187 days 20 hours) and the most time spent in space (204 days 18 hours). All three individuals embodied the unique combination of academic proficiency, advanced training, personal achievement, and dedication that make up an astronaut.
And just like Hadfield, Bonard, Garneau and Thirsk have all retired on gone on to have distinguished careers as chancellors of academic institutions, politicians, philanthropists, noted authors and keynote speakers. All told, eight Canadians astronauts have taken part in sixteen space missions and been deeply involved in research and experiments conducted aboard the ISS.
Alas, every generation has to retire sooner or later. And having made their contributions and moved onto other paths, the CSA is looking for two particularly bright, young, highly-motivated and highly-skilled people to step up and take their place.
The recruitment campaign was announced this past Sunday, July 17th, by the Honourable Navdeep Bains – the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Those who are selected will be based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where they will provide support for space missions in progress, and prepare for future missions.
Canadian astronauts also periodically return to Canada to participate in various activities and encourage young Canadians to pursue an education in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). As Eyssen explained, the goals of the recruitment drive is to maintain the best traditions of the Canadian space program as we move into the 21st century:
“The recruitment of new astronauts will allow Canada to maintain a robust astronaut corps and be ready to play a meaningful role in future human exploration initiatives. Canada is currently entitled to two long-duration astronaut flights to the ISS between now and 2024. The first one, scheduled for November 2018, will see David Saint-Jacqueslaunch to space for a six-month mission aboard the ISS. The second flight will launch before 2024. As nations work together to chart the next major international space exploration missions, our continued role in the ISS will ensure that Canada is well-positioned to be a trusted partner in humanity’s next steps in space.
“Canada is seeking astronauts to advance critical science and research aboard the International Space Station and pave the way for human missions beyond the Station. Our international partners are exploring options beyond the ISS. This new generation of astronauts will be part of Canada’s next chapter of space exploration. That may include future deep-space exploration missions.”
The recruitment drive will be open from June 17th to August 15th, 2016, and the selected candidates are expected to be announced by next summer. This next class of Canadian astronaut candidates will start their training in August 2017 at the Johnson Space Center. The details can be found at the Canadian Space Agency‘s website, and all potential applicants are advised to read the campaign information kit before applying.
Alongside their efforts to find the next generation of astronauts, the Canadian government’s 2016 annual budget has also provided the CSA with up to $379 million dollars over the next eight years to extend Canada’s participation in the International Space Station on through to 2024. Gotta’ keep reaching for those stars, eh?
The target date for the ‘Return to Flight’ launch of Antares on a cargo resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) is “likely to result in an updated launch schedule in the August timeframe,” Orbital ATK spokeswoman Sean Wilson told Universe Today.
The company had most recently been aiming towards an Antares launch date around July 6 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility – for its next NASA contracted mission to stock the ISS via the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter on a flight known as OA-5.
Meanwhile the firms most recently launched Cygnus OA-6 cargo ship departed the space station and completed its planned destructive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere on Wednesday, June 22.
A thorough analysis of the hot fire test results and its implications is underway.
“Our Antares team recently completed a successful stage test and is wrapping up the test data analysis,” Wilson said.
“Final trajectory shaping work is also currently underway, which is likely to result in an updated launch schedule in the August timeframe.”
In the meantime, company engineers continue to ready the rocket and payload.
“We are continuing to prepare for the upcoming launch of the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft for the OA-5 cargo logistics mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility,” Wilson noted.
It’s also clear that a decision on a launch date target is some weeks away and depends on the busy upcoming manifest of other ISS missions coming and going.
“A final decision on the mission schedule, which takes into account the space station traffic schedule and cargo requirements, will be made in conjunction with NASA in the next several weeks.”
And it also must take into account the launch of the intervening SpaceX ISS cargo flight that was just postponed two days to no earlier than July 18.
Another factor is the delayed launch of the next manned crew on a Russian Soyuz capsule from late June into July. Blastoff of the three person crew from Russia, the US and Japan is set for July 7. OA-5 will deliver some 3 tons of science experiments and crew supplies.
So the primary goal of the stage test was to confirm the effectiveness of the new engines and all the changes in the integrated rocket stage.
It’s not entirely clear at this time whether the Antares launch delay to August is due to changes in the ISS manifest scheduling or any lingering questions from the hot fire test or both.
“A final decision on the mission schedule definitely takes into account the completion of data analysis combined with the busy space station traffic schedule and NASA’s cargo requirements,” Wilson told me in a response requesting clarification.
Following a quick look immediately following the May 31 test, Orbital ATK officials initially reported that all seemed well, with the caveat that further data review is needed.
“Early indications show the upgraded propulsion system, core stage and launch complex all worked together as planned,” said Mike Pinkston, Orbital ATK General Manager and Vice President, Antares Program.
“Congratulations to the combined NASA, Orbital ATK and Virginia Space team on a successful test.”
Orbital ATK engineers will now “review test data over the next several days to confirm that all test parameters were met. ”
The test used the first stage core planned to launch the OA-7 mission from Wallops late this year.
With the engine test completed, the OA-7 stage will be rolled back to the HIF processing hanger at Wallops and a new stage fully integrated with the Cygnus cargo freighter will be rolled out to the pad for the OA-5 ‘Return to Flight’ mission in August.
The mission of the OA-6 Cygnus ended on Wednesday, with a planned destructive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere at 9:29 a.m. EDT.
Also known as the SS Rick Husband, it had spent 3 months in orbit since launching in March on a ULA Atlas V.
It departed the ISS on June 14 and continued several science experiments. Most notable was to successfully create the largest fire in space via the Spacecraft Fire Experiment-I (Saffire-I).
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have manufactured their first tool using the 3D printer on board the station. This is another step in the ongoing process of testing and using additive manufacturing in space. The ability to build tools and replacement parts at the station is something NASA has been pursuing keenly.
The first tool printed was a simple wrench. This may not sound like ground-breaking stuff, unless you’ve ever been in the middle of a project only to find you’re missing a simple tool. A missing tool can stop any project in its tracks, and change everybody’s plans.
The benefits of manufacturing needed items in space are obvious. Up until now, every single item needed on the ISS had to be sent up via re-supply ship. That’s not a quick turnaround. Now, if a tool is lost or destroyed during normal use, a replacement can be quickly manufactured on-site.
This isn’t the first item to be printed at the station. The first one was printed back in November 2014. That item was a replacement part for the printer itself. This was important because it showed that the machine can be used to keep itself running. This reliability is key if astronauts are going to be able to rely on the printer for manufacturing critical replacements for components and spare parts.
Niki Werkheiser, the project manager for the ISS 3D printer, said in a NASA YouTube video, “Since the inception of the human space program, we have been completely dependent on launching every single thing we need from Earth to space … I think we’re making history for the first time ever being able to make what we need when we need it in space.”
The 3D printer, which is more accurately called an Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) was built by a company called Made In Space. The one that was used to make the first tool is actually a different one than was used to make the replacement part for the printer itself. The first one was part of a test in 2014 to see how 3D printing would work in microgravity. It printed several items which were returned to Earth for testing. Those tests went well, which led to the second one being sent to the station.
This second machine, which was used to create the wrench, is a much more fully featured, commercial 3D printer. According to Made In Space, this newer AMF “can be accessed by any Earth-bound customer for job-specific work, like a machine shop in space. Example use cases include a medical device company prototyping space-optimized designs, or a satellite manufacturer testing new deployable geometries, or creating tools for ISS crew members.”
This is exciting news for we space enthusiasts, but even more exciting for a certain engineering student from the University of Alabama. The student, Robert Hillan, submitted a tool design to a NASA competition called the Future Engineers Space Tool design competition. The challenge was to design a tool that could be used successfully by astronauts in space. The catch was that the tool design had to upload to the ISS electronically and be printed by the AMF on the station.
In January, Hillan was announced as the winner. His design? The Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool, a kind of multi-tool that handy people are familiar with. The tool allows astronauts to tighten and loosen different sizes of nuts and bolts, and to strip wires.
NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, who is currently aboard the ISS, praised both Hillan and the 3D printing technology itself. “When you have a problem, it will drive specific requirements and solutions. 3-D printing allows you to do a quick design to meet those requirements. That’s the beauty of this tool and this technology. You can produce something you hadn’t anticipated and do it on short notice.”
The immediate and practical benefits of AMF in space are obvious and concrete. But like a lot of space technologies, it is part of a larger picture, too.
Werkheiser, NASA’s project manager for the ISS 3D printer, said “If a printer is critical for explorers, it must be capable of replicating its own parts, so that it can keep working during longer journeys to places like Mars or an asteroid. Ultimately, one day, a printer may even be able to print another printer.”
So there we have it. A journey to Mars and printers replicating themselves. Bring it on.
Have you heard of Facebook? And it’s young billionaire leader? It’s a groovy computer thing where people share pictures of what they had for breakfast, their cats, and where they argue with strangers.
Today, Facebook will actually serve some purpose other than stranger-arguing and whatnot. Today, at 12:55 PM ET (9:55 AM PT), Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s fearless leader, will conduct a live video call with astronauts aboard the ISS. The entire 20 minute event will be streamed live at NASA’s Facebook page, here.
The best part about it, is that Zuckerberg will be asking the astronauts questions submitted by people who post them on NASA’s Facebook page. So check out NASA on Facebook and submit an interesting question.
The three astronauts involved are Tim Kopra and Jeff Williams, of NASA, and the ESA’s Tim Peake. I’m sure they’re hoping for some interesting questions, so don’t disappoint them, Universe Today readers.
As a publicity stunt, this one’s a doozy. I wonder who courted who for this one? I suppose it doesn’t really matter; it’s a fun idea for everyone involved, and who knows what will come of it.
So go ahead and visit https://www.facebook.com/NASA/?fref=nf and check out other people’s questions and ask one of your own. Get their quick before the loonies and the conspiracy theorists clog it up. Seriously.
This is an example of the kind of thing being asked so far:
“The ISS is fake. NASA is fake and this Zionist puppet Zuckerberg is fake. My question: Why does NASA keep lying to the public about EVERYTHiNG since they were formed in 1958?”
So please, we’re begging you. Ask something intelligent. Just please don’t ask them to post pictures of their breakfast.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module did not fully expand today, May 26th, as planned. Engineers are meeting to try to understand why the module didn’t fully expand. They are evaluating data from the expansion to determine what has happened. If the data says its okay to resume expansion, that could happen as early as tomorrow, May 27th.
A previously scheduled teleconference has been postponed, and NASA will update when a decision on expansion is made.
People who aren’t particularly enthusiastic about space science and space exploration often accuse those of us who are, of “living in a bubble.” There are so many seemingly intractable problems here on Earth, so they say, that it’s foolish to spend so much money and time on space exploration. But if all goes well with the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) at the ISS this week, astronauts may well end up living in a sort of bubble.
Expandable, inflatable habitats could bring about a quiet revolution in space exploration, and the BEAM is leading that revolution. Because it’s much more compact and much lighter than rigid steel and aluminum structures, the cost of building them and launching them into space is much lower. The benefits of lower costs for building them and launching them are obvious.
NASA first announced plans to test the BEAM back in 2013. They awarded a $17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide the expandable module, with the idea of testing it for a two-year period.
When the contract was announced, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said, “The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that enables important discoveries that benefit humanity and vastly increase understanding of how humans can live and work in space for long periods. This partnership agreement for the use of expandable habitats represents a step forward in cutting-edge technology that can allow humans to thrive in space safely and affordably, and heralds important progress in U.S. commercial space innovation.”
Though no astronauts will be living in the module, it will be tested to see how it withstands the rigours of space. ISS astronauts will enter the module periodically, but for the most part, the module will be monitored remotely. Of particular interest to NASA is the module’s ability to withstand solar radiation, debris impact, and temperature extremes.
The BEAM was launched in April aboard a SpaceX Dragon Capsule, itself carried aloft by a SpaceX Falcon rocket. Personnel aboard the ISS used the station’s robotic arm to unpack the BEAM and attach it to the station. That procedure went well, and now the BEAM is ready for inflation.
How exactly the BEAM will behave while it’s being inflated is uncertain. The procedure will be done slowly and methodically, with the team exercising great caution during inflation.
Once inflated, the BEAM will expand to almost five times its travelling size. While packed inside the Dragon capsule, the module is 8 ft. in diameter by 7 ft. in length. After inflation, it will measure 10 ft. in diameter and 13 ft. in length, and provide 16 cubic meters (565 cubic ft.) of habitable volume. That’s about as large as a bedroom.
After inflation, the BEAM will sit for about a week before any astronauts enter it. After that, the plan is to visit the module 2 or 3 times per year to check conditions inside. During those visits, astronauts will also get sensor data from equipment inside the BEAM.
Some, including Bigelow CEO Robert Bigelow, are hopeful that after the first six months or so, the timeline can be accelerated a little. If NASA approves it, the BEAM could be used for science experiments at that time.
As for Bigelow itself, they are already working on the B330, a much larger expandable habitat that promises even greater impact durability and radiation protection than the BEAM. Bigelow hopes that the B330 could be used on the surface of the Moon and Mars, as well as in orbit.
The BEAM will never attract the attention that rocket launches and Mars rovers do. But their impact on space exploration will be hard to deny. And when naysayers accuse us of living in a bubble, we can smile and say, “We’re working on it.”
It is known as the Cupola, an observation and work area that was installed aboard the International Space Station in 2010. In addition to giving the crew ample visibility to support the control of the Station’s robotic arms, it is also the best seat in the house when it comes to viewing Earth, celestial objects and visiting vehicles. Little wonder then why sp many breathtaking pictures have been taken from inside it over the years.
So you can imagine how frustrating it must be for the crew when a tiny artificial object (aka. space debris) collides with the Cupola’s windows and causes it to chip. And thanks to astronaut Tim Peake and a recent photo he chose to share with the world, people here on Earth are able to see just how this looks from the receiving end for the first time.