Russia’s Soyuz Spacecraft: 46 Years and Still Soaring High

In just a couple of days a Soyuz rocket will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko within the TMA-07M capsule on a two-day trip to the ISS. While many improvements have been made to the Soyuz rockets and spacecraft since the first launch in 1966, the bottom line is that the Soyuz have become the world’s most used launch vehicles due to their consistent performance and relatively low cost.

Here, CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield talks about the Soyuz, briefly describing the strengths of the Russian technology that will once again take him and fellow Expedition 34/35 crew members to the ISS, where in March of next year he will become the first Canadian to take command of the Station.

“This is a safe and reliable and proven way to leave the Earth, and each successive Soyuz is different; each one has small changes. The role of the astronaut is to learn those small changes… and learn to apply them.”

– Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield

The T version of the Soyuz craft began flying manned missions in 1980 and in 1986 the TM versions were transporting crews to Mir. The TMA upgrade addressed previous astronaut/cosmonaut height restrictions and permits the Soyuz to be used as a lifeboat for ISS crews, if necessary.

Find out more about the long history of the Soyuz spacecraft here, and read more about today’s Soyuz rollout here.

Video: CSA. Inset image: NASA/Carla Cioffi

Expedition 34’s Ride to Space Rolls to the Launchpad

The Soyuz rocket is erected into position after being rolled out to the launch pad by train on Monday, December 17, 2012, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: (NASA/Carla Cioffi)

Early today the Soyuz rocket and Soyuz TMA-07M capsule were rolled out to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in preparation for the December 19 launch of the Expedition 34/35 crew. On board will be Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn of NASA, Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko and Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency who will spend five months aboard the International Space Station.

We’ve been highlighting some of the training Hadfield has been through the past two and a half years, and per tradition, Hadfield and his crewmates were not present at the rollout today. Instead they were getting their hair cut. “I’m not superstitious,” Hadfield said, “but I’m all for traditions, especially ones that serve a good purpose. I’ll need short hair while I’m on the space station.”

The launch is scheduled for 12:12 UTC (7:12 a.m. EST) on Wednesday, beginning a two-day journey to the station.

See more images and a video of the rollout below:

The flags representing Kazakhstan and the nations of the three crewmembers who will launch in the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft are shown at the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. From left to right are the flags of Russia, the United States, Canada and Kazakhstan. Credit: (NASA/Carla Cioffi)

During a call with the media last week, Hadfield also discussed another tradition, started by Yuri Gagarin in 1961 on the first human space flight. Gagarin stopped to urinate on the right rear tire of the transport bus that brought him to the launchpad, and since then all cosmonauts and astronauts, (reportedly both male and female) have urinated on the right rear tire of their transport buses before boarding their spacecraft.

“It’s a good idea because you are about to get into a rocket ship with a long time until you get to the next toilet,” Hadfield said. “So, it’s just a good idea — just like anyone going on a long trip — making sure everyone goes to the bathroom first. I’m all for traditions that help get people ready for doing things that are demanding, and which lend a sense of significance to them.”

Chris Hadfield, Roman Romanenko and Tom Marshburn At the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Dec. 14, 2012. Credit: Roscosmos.

The Soyuz rocket is rolled out to the launch pad by train on Monday, December 17, 2012, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: (NASA/Carla Cioffi).

The Soyuz rocket preparing to leave the hanger, to be rolled out to the launch pad by train on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA

Hadfield getting a haircut before launch. Via Twitter.

You can see more images from the rollout at NASA HQ’s Expedition 34 Flickr page.

Soyuz Launches New Crew to Space Station

The Soyuz rocket with three Expedition 33/34 crew members launched to the International Space Station on Tuesday, October 23, 2012, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Three new crew members — and a stuffed hippo — are on their way to the International Space Station. Expedition 33/34 NASA Flight Engineer Kevin Ford, Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy and Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin launched aboard the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft at 10:51 UTC (6:51 a.m. EDT, 5:51 p.m. Baikonur time) Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The trio is now safely in orbit, and on Thursday they will hook up with the ISS and join their Expedition 33 crewmates — Commander Suni Williams, ISS veteran Yuri Malenchenko, and Akihiko Hoshide — onboard the Space Station.

It was a beautiful daytime launch from the Site 31 launchpad, a different pad than usual. The pad that is normally used for human launches is undergoing renovations.

The stuffed hippo was given to the crew by Novitskiy’s daughter. Soyuz crews have had a history of having a mascot hanging in view of the cameras and when it starts floating is the visual confirmation of when the crew reaches orbit. The hippo isn’t the only animal on board. 32 medaka fish are stowed along for the ride, as they will be part of a new aquarium on the ISS called the Aquatic Habitat that will study how the fish adapt to microgravity.

Watch the video of the launch, below:

Ford, Novitskiy and Tarelkin will be on the ISS for about five months, until March 2013. Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide, who have been on the station since July, will return to Earth Nov. 19.

The next launch to the ISS will be on Dec. 21 when cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn head to the Station on board the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft.

Gallery: The Next ISS Soyuz Rolls Out to the Launchpad

The Soyuz rocket is rolled out to the launch pad by train, on Sunday, October 21, 2012, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Expedition 33/34 NASA Flight Engineer Kevin Ford, Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy and Flight Engineer Evgeny Tarelkin are scheduled to launch in their Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft at 10:51 UTC (6:51 a.m. EDT) on Tuesday, Oct. 23, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Also on board will be 32 medaka fish, which will become space station residents in a zero-gravity research aquarium. Yesterday the Soyuz was rolled out the launchpad, and this launch will take place from a different launch pad than usual, site 31. This will be the first manned launch from Site 31 since July 1984 when the Soyuz T-12 spacecraft carried three cosmonauts to the Russian Salyut 7 space station. The launchpad that is normally used is being upgraded.

See a gallery of images from the rollout, below.

The Soyuz rocket is rolled out to the launch pad by train. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

No smoking! Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Soyuz is raised to the upright position on the launchpad. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The train engineer hangs out the window. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Pad workers install a safety railing at the launch pad. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Expedition 33 backup crew, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy (left), Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, right, are photographed in front of the Soyuz rocket shortly after it arrived at the launch pad. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Workers climb up to the Soyuz rocket after it was erected at the launch pad. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

See more images at NASA’s Flickr page.

Liftoff! Delta IV Launches Next Generation GPS Satellite

A Delta IV rocket launched from Florida today, sending a next-generation Global Positioning System satellite into orbit. The rocket lifted off at 12:10 UTC with the GPS IIF-3 satellite that will be part of the GPS system that is used by both civilians and the military. The new satellite will replace a 19-year-old navigation satellite in the global system that includes 31 operational satellites on-orbit which broadcast position, navigation and timing information to people around the world.

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV stands ready for launch at Space Launch complex 37 with the GPS IIF-3 satellite. Credit: ULA

The satellite, built by Boeing, is the third of 12 planned launches to provide improved GPS signals, featuring improved anti-jam technology, more precise atomic clocks, an upgraded civilian channel for commercial aviation and on-board processors that can be reprogrammed in flight, according to CBS News.

The new satellite should be operational by November.

How Much Would it Cost to Launch Your House into Space?

House in Space, from a NASA Remix Challenge. Credit: Cookieater2009 on Flickr.

Some people like an adventure, but don’t want to leave their home behind — like old Carl in the movie “Up.” So, if you wanted to go to space and take your domicile with you, what would it take? Certainly more than thousands of balloons; it would likely take millions of dollars. The folks at the housing blog Movoto Real Estate wanted to know just how much, saying they were inspired by the upcoming commercial launch by SpaceX to the International Space Station. Using launch costs for the Falcon Heavy, they computed an approximate weight-to-square-foot ratio of 200 pounds per square foot for a single story house and put in other variables. They built a “Home Blastoff Calculator” — an interactive infographic that allows anyone to figure out how much it cost to launch their house into space — noting that they computed weight, not volume. While certainly not feasible, it’s an interesting and fun concept, and the infographic also provides comparisons of launching other things into space, like dogs or chimps, or what it takes to put people on the Moon.

Compute your costs below:

Real Estate’s Final Frontier By Movoto Real Estate

Hangout with Elon Musk

SpaceX’s Elon Musk with the Falcon rocket. Credit: SpaceX

You can now tell everyone that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is a close personal friend and that you are going to hang out with him on Friday. A Google+ Hangout, that is. Musk and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will be part of a G+ Hangout, and will answer questions submitted by viewers. They will also discuss the upcoming launch of SpaceX’s first contracted cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station. The Hangout will take place on Friday, October 5, 2012 from 17:00-17:30 UTC (1-1:30 p.m. EDT). SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon cargo spacecraft are scheduled to lift off at 00:35 UTC on Monday, October 8 (8:35 p.m. EDT, Sunday, Oct. 7) from at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Bolden and Musk will talk about the flight, which will be the first of 12 contracted for NASA by SpaceX to resupply the space station. Followers on Twitter may ask a question in advance of or during the event using the hashtag #askNASA. On NASA Facebook and Google+, a comment thread will open for questions on the morning of the event. To join the hangout, visit the NASA’s Google+ page.

NASA Launches Twin Probes to Study Earth’s Radiation Belts

After nearly a week of weather and technical delays, NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) launched in the early morning skies from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 4:05a.m. EDT (08:05 GMT) on Thursday, August 30, 2012. This will be the first twin-spacecraft mission designed to explore our planet’s radiation belts.

“Scientists will learn in unprecedented detail how the radiation belts are populated with charged particles, what causes them to change and how these processes affect the upper reaches of the atmosphere around Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “The information collected from these probes will benefit the public by allowing us to better protect our satellites and understand how space weather affects communications and technology on Earth.”

The two satellites, launched from an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41, each weigh just under 680 kg (1,500 pounds) and comprise the first dual-spacecraft mission specifically created to investigate this hazardous regions of near-Earth space, known as the radiation belts. These two belts, named for their discoverer, James Van Allen, encircle the planet like donuts and are filled with highly charged particles. The belts are affected by solar storms and coronal mass ejections and sometimes swell dramatically. When this occurs, they can pose dangers to communications, GPS satellites and human spaceflight

Artist’s conception of RBSP satellite. Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

“We have never before sent such comprehensive and high-quality instruments to study high radiation regions of space,” said Barry Mauk, RBSP project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. “RBSP was crafted to help us learn more about, and ultimately predict, the response of the radiation belts to solar inputs.”

The hardy RBSP satellites will spend the next 2 years looping through every part of both Van Allen belts. By having two spacecraft in different regions of the belts at the same time, scientists finally will be able to gather data from within the belts themselves, learning how they change over space and time. Designers fortified RBSP with special protective plating and rugged electronics to operate and survive within this punishing region of space that other spacecraft avoid. In addition, a space weather broadcast will transmit selected data from those instruments around the clock, giving researchers a check on current conditions near Earth.

“The excitement of seeing the spacecraft in orbit and beginning to perform science measurements is like no other thrill,” said Richard Fitzgerald, RBSP project manager at APL. “The entire RBSP team, from across every organization, worked together to produce an amazing pair of spacecraft.”

The first RBSP spacecraft separated from the Atlas rocket’s Centaur booster 1 hour, 18 minutes, 52 seconds after launch. The second RBSP spacecraft followed 12 minutes, 14 seconds later.

During the next 60 days, operators will power up all flight systems and science instruments and deploy long antenna booms, two of which are more than 54 yards long. Data about the particles that swirl through the belts, and the fields and waves that transport them, will be gathered by five instrument suites designed and operated by teams at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark; the University of Iowa in Iowa City; University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; and the University of New Hampshire in Durham; and the National Reconnaissance Office in Chantilly, Va. The data will be analyzed by scientists across the nation almost immediately.

Hypersonic Inflatable Heat Shield Tested Successfully

Caption: IRVE-3 was launched by a sounding rocket at 7:01 a.m. Mon., July 23, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: NASA.

A prototype for a large inflatable heat shield that could one day be used for landing large payloads on Mars was tested successfully on July 23, 2012, surviving a hypersonic speeds through Earth’s atmosphere. The Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3) traveled at speeds up to 12,231 km/h (7,600 mph) after launching on a sounding rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.

“We had a really great flight today,” said James Reuther, deputy director of NASA’s Space Technology Program, after the test flight. “Initial indications are we got good data. Everything performed as well, or better, than expected.

Watch the video from the flight below.

IRVE-3 is a cone of uninflated high-tech rings covered by a thermal blanket of layers of heat resistant materials. NASA said the purpose of the IRVE-3 test was to show that a space capsule can use an inflatable outer shell to slow and protect itself as it enters an atmosphere at hypersonic speed during planetary entry and descent, or as it returns to Earth with cargo from the International Space Station. A larger version has been proposed for landing larger payloads on Mars, such as future human missions.

About 6 minutes into today’s flight, as planned, the 680-pound inflatable aeroshell, or heat shield, and its payload separated from the launch vehicle’s 55 cm (22-inch)-diameter nose cone about 450 km (280 miles) over the Atlantic Ocean.

An inflation system pumped nitrogen into the IRVE-3 aeroshell until it expanded to a mushroom shape almost 3 meters (10 feet) in diameter. Then the aeroshell plummeted at hypersonic speeds through Earth’s atmosphere. Engineers in the Wallops control room watched as four onboard cameras confirmed the inflatable shield held its shape despite the force and high heat of reentry. Onboard instruments provided temperature and pressure data. Researchers will study that information to help develop future inflatable heat shield designs.

Caption: Technicians prepare the Inflatable Reentry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3). Credit: NASA

A Navy crew will attempt to retrieve the aeroshell.

“It’s great to see the initial results indicate we had a successful test of the hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator,” said James Reuther, deputy director of NASA’s Space Technology Program. “This demonstration flight goes a long way toward showing the value of these technologies to serve as atmospheric entry heat shields for future space missions.”

IRVE-3 is part of the Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) Project within the Game Changing Development Program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Program.

Source: NASA

All 135 Space Shuttle Launches at Once

We’re not sure how we missed this when it came out last year, but this incredible video shows all 135 launches of the space shuttle program at once. Creator McLean Fahnestock calls it “The Grand Finale” and rightly so. A great display of “fireworks” and a wonderful homage to the legacy of the space shuttles.

The one launch failure, Challenger on STS-51-L does stand out in this video and the words “obviously a major malfunction” will always linger. But the drive to keep striving for the heavens will always be there.