High Winds, Technical Issues, and a Boat Delay Orion Test Flight

Wind gusts, an issue with valves on the Delta IV Heavy rocket, and an errant cruise ship all contributed to scrub the scheduled maiden test fight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

The launch team has tentatively rescheduled a new liftoff time of 7:05 a.m. EST on Friday, December 5 as the opening of a 2-hour, 39 minute window. Launch coverage will begin at 6 a.m. EST tomorrow on NASA TV. However, forecasts call for just 40% chance of acceptable weather conditions on Friday.

The test flight was scheduled from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a four-and-a-half-hour test flight of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to Earth orbit. The countdown was halted twice when wind gusts exceeded limits. The countdown was also delayed when a boat entered restricted waters off the coast near the Launchpad.

Then, during a third launch attempt an issue with propellant valves on the Delta 4 Heavy’s first stage could not be resolved before the launch window closed.

The planned two-orbit Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) flight around Earth will lift the Orion spacecraft and it’s attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years. It will test several key systems on Orion, including electronics, the heat shield and parachutes.

Universe Today’s Ken Kremer is on hand in Florida and will provide continuing coverage of the test flight. You can also follow NASA’s Orion Blog for updates.

NASA Releases Photos of Aftermath of Launchpad Explosion

NASA released images of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia following the catastrophic failure of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket shortly after liftoff on Tuesday, Oct. 28. Visible is damage to the transporter erector launcher and lightning suppression rods, as well as debris around the pad. But given the spectacular secondary explosion when the rocket fell back to the pad, the damage – as viewed from the air – looks relatively minor.

Another aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014 following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.'s Antares rocket Oct. 28, Wallops Island, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Terry Zaperach)
Another aerial view of the Wallops Island launch facilities taken by the Wallops Incident Response Team Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, following the failed launch attempt of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket Oct. 28, Wallops Island, VA. Photo Credit: (NASA/Terry Zaperach)

NASA and Orbital have begun and initial assessment of the accident, but they said it will “take many more weeks to further understand and analyze the full extent of the effects of the event.”

NASA added that a number of support buildings in the immediate area have broken windows and imploded doors. What suffered the most damage were buildings nearest to pad 0A, where the launch took place, as well as a sounding rocket launcher adjacent to pad 0A.

“I want to praise the launch team, range safety, all of our emergency responders and those who provided mutual aid and support on a highly-professional response that ensured the safety of our most important resource — our people,” said Bill Wrobel, Wallops director. “In the coming days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to assess the damage on the island and begin the process of moving forward to restore our space launch capabilities. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will rebound stronger than ever.”

NASA also said that environmental effects of the launch failure were largely contained within the southern third of Wallops Island, in the area immediately adjacent to the pad. Air sample were taken in the area and of nearby Chincoteague Island, and no hazardous substances were detected at the sampled locations.

You can see more imagery at NASA’s Flickr page.

Universe Today’s Ken Kremer was interviewed for NBC News, and you can view the feature below:

Source: NASA

BREAKING: Antares Rocket Explodes at Liftoff

Seconds after liftoff, Orbital Science’s Antares rocket exploded as it rose from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia. In video, the explosion appeared to come at the base of the rocket. The entire stack then fell back to the ground, with a second larger explosion.

According to NASA TV, there were no injuries reported at the launch site but there appears to be damage to the launch pad.

We’ll provide more information and updates as they become available. NASA and Orbital said they would be scheduling a news conference. Our Ken Kremer is on location at Wallops.

This is the first launch failure for NASA’s commercial space companies. Antares has had five successful launches. The launch was originally scheduled for Oct. 27 but was scrubbed when a boat entered restricted waters off the coast from the launch site.

The mission, was the third of eight Commercial Resupply Services missions that Orbital Sciences is under contract to NASA. The Cygnus capsule, named by Orbital the “SS Deke Slayton” after the late astronaut, was carrying 2,290 kilograms of cargo for the International Space Station.

This video was shot by journalist Matthew Travis at the press site at Wallops:

Every Falcon 9 Launch in One Image

If you’re a fan of SpaceX, you’ll love the website SpaceXStats. Writ large on the site are real-time countdowns to upcoming launches, all sorts of SpaceX statistics, launch manifest info, and fun trivia (there’s a countdown to how many days until Elon Musk’s bet about getting to Mars by 2020 or 2025 expires.)

The owner of the site, Lukas Davia, recently created a fantastic Falcon 9 launch collage, which was originally posted on imgur and discussed on Reddit (where there’s a 16,000-strong SpaceX community).

Lukas told Universe Today that one r/SpaceX user recently inquired if anyone had come across SpaceX montages. “While I don’t have the time for any serious video editing, I did have enough time spare to create a photo montage,” Lukas said via email. “Since I’m the owner of spacexstats.com, I already had all the launch images and assets necessary to produce it, stored locally on my computer. Using Adobe Photoshop, the whole process took just over an hour, from a blank canvas to the final image – and didn’t require much more than layer masks and guides to create. I then submitted it to /r/SpaceX & /r/space on Reddit, where it (quite surprisingly) managed to generate over 1,300,000 views in less than 24 hours.”

He added that he does plan on producing similar SpaceX graphics and perhaps updating this one in the future, “although I fear at SpaceX’s recent launch cadence, it’ll become unsuitably wide at some point!” he said.

Be sure to click on the image above to see the full resolution size.

Thanks to Lukas for sharing his montage with Universe Today.

Awesome Video of a Satellite in Orbit

Here’s a great video from a camera mounted on the exterior of the TechDemoSat-1, an in-orbit technology demonstration mission from the UK. It launched on July 8, 2014 on a Soyuz-2, and the video shows the satellite moments after separation from the upper stage. The satellite even took a selfie, below.

The video shows the satellite’s rotation and reveals a spectacular vista of “blue marble” Earth (visible is cloudy skies over the Pacific, south of French Polynesia).

It’s interesting to note that some identified flying objects zip past the field of view: At :25 seconds, the Fregat upper stage of the Soyuz-2 rocket appears as a gold object passing away from the satellite left to right at a distance of approximately 60 meters. At :34 seconds a white “dot” crosses the frame left to right – which has been identified as one of the other satellites that shared the ride into orbit with TechDemoSat-1.

“It is very rare to see actual footage of our satellites in orbit,” said Sir Martin Sweeting, Executive Chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), the company behind the mission, “and so viewing the video taken from TechDemoSat-1 moments after separation from the rocket has been a hugely rewarding and exciting experience for everyone at SSTL. We are delighted with the progress of commissioning the TechDemoSat-1 platform, and are looking forward to the next phase – the demonstration of a range of new technologies being flown on this innovative mission.”

The satellite is roughly the size of a refrigerator but wieghs just 150kg. TechDemoSat (TDS-1) carries eight separate payloads from UK academia and industry plus other payloads from SSTL for product development. Find out more here from SSTL.

45 Years Ago Today: Relive the Historic Apollo 11 Launch

45 years ago today — on July 16th, 1969 — the Apollo 11 crew left Earth for the first human mission to land on the Moon. Launching on at Saturn V rocket from Cape Kennedy, the mission sent Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin into an initial Earth-orbit, and then two hours and 44 minutes after launch, another burn of the engines put Apollo 11 into a translunar orbit.

If you want to re-live the launch and the mission, there are several ways you can participate. We’ve included here a few different replays of the launch, varying from a quick recap to a detailed look at the launch itself. Above is the newscast of the launch from CBS news with Walter Cronkite, and we’ve got more below.

Also below is information on several webcasts and other events that NASA has planned to commemorate the anniversary.

Here’s a detailed look at the launch in ultra-slow motion, with narration:

Here is some remastered high definition footage from NASA of the Apollo 11 launch, but there’s no audio.

And here’s a quick look at the entire Apollo 11 mission, all in just 100 seconds from Spacecraft Films:

Here are some ways to participate in the anniversary:

On Twitter, @ReliveApollo11 from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is reliving the highlights from Apollo 11 mission to the Moon in “real time” 45 years later.

Also @NASAHistory is tweeting images and events from the mission, and journalist Amy Shira Teitel (@astVintageSpace ) is tweeting out some interesting pictures, facts and quotes from the mission, in “real time” (again 45 years later).

To join the ongoing conversation on social media about the anniversary and NASA’s deep space exploration plans, use the hashtags #NextGiantLeap and #Apollo45.

On Friday, July 18 at 10:30 a.m. PDT (1:30 p.m. EDT), NASA TV will air a live conversation about the future of space exploration with actor, director and narrator Morgan Freeman. He will speak at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, about his personal vision for space. The event also will include NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman participating from the International Space Station.

If you don’t have NASA TV on your cable or satellite feeds, you can watch online here.

Also on Friday at 3:30 p.m. EDT, NASA will host a discussion with Buzz Aldrin and astronaut Mike Massimino at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York during the Intrepid Space and Science Festival. NASA also will have exhibits and activities at the festival Thursday, July 17 through Saturday, July 19. There’s more information about the festival here.

On Sunday, July 20 at 7:39 p.m. PDT (10:39 p.m. EDT), when Armstrong opened the spacecraft hatch to begin the first spacewalk on the moon, NASA TV will replay the restored footage of Armstrong and Aldrin’s historic steps on the lunar surface.

On Monday, July 21 at 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT) from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA TV will air live coverage of the renaming of the center’s Operations and Checkout Building in honor of Armstrong, who passed away in 2012. The renaming ceremony will include NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Kennedy Center Director Robert Cabana, Apollo 11’s Collins, Aldrin and astronaut Jim Lovell, who was the mission’s back-up commander. International Space Station NASA astronauts Wiseman and Steve Swanson, who is the current station commander, also will take part in the ceremony from their orbiting laboratory 260 miles above Earth.

Kennedy’s Operations and Checkout Building has played a vital role in NASA’s spaceflight history. It was used during the Apollo program to process and test the command, service and lunar modules. Today, the facility is being used to process and assemble NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which the agency will use to send astronauts to an asteroid in the 2020s and Mars in the 2030s.

On Thursday, July 24 at 3 p.m. PDT (6 p.m. EDT), which is the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11’s return to Earth, the agency will host a panel discussion — called NASA’s Next Giant Leap — from Comic-Con International in San Diego. Moderated by actor Seth Green, the panel includes Aldrin, NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green, JPL systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, and NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, who will talk about Orion and the Space Launch System rocket, which will carry humans on America’s next great adventure in space.

The NASA.gov website will host features, videos, and historic images and audio clips that highlight the Apollo 11 anniversary, as well as the future of human spaceflight. Find it all here.

Also, the Slooh telescope team will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing with a high-definition broadcast of the lunar surface on Sunday, July 20th starting at 5:30 PM PDT / 8:30 PM EDT / 00:30 UTC (7/21) – (check International Times here) Slooh will broadcast the event live from a special feed located in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Viewers can watch the event unfold free on Slooh.com, or in the webcast below. The image stream will be accompanied by discussions led by Slooh host, Geoff Fox, Slooh astronomer, Bob Berman, Slooh Observatory Engineer, Paul Cox, along with numerous special guests, including documentary filmmaker, Duncan Copp, and science journalist, Andrew Chaikin. Viewers can follow updates on the show by using the hashtag #SloohApollo11.

SpaceX Launches Six Commercial Satellites on Falcon 9; Landing Test Ends in “Kaboom”

SpaceX successfully launched six ORBCOMM advanced telecommunications satellites into orbit on Monday, July 14, to significantly upgrade the speed and capacity of their existing data relay network. The launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida had been delayed or scrubbed several times since the original launch date in May due to varying problems from payload integration issues, weather conditions and issues with the Falcon 9 rocket. But the launch went off without a hitch today and ORBCOMM reports that all six satellites have been successfully deployed in orbit.

SpaceX also used this launch opportunity to try and test the reusability of the Falcon 9’s first stage and its landing system while splashing down in the ocean. However, the booster did not survive the splashdown. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported that the rocket booster reentry, landing burn and leg deployment worked well, the hull of the first stage “lost integrity right after splashdown (aka kaboom),” Musk tweeted. “Detailed review of rocket telemetry needed to tell if due to initial splashdown or subsequent tip over and body slam.”

SpaceX wanted to test the “flyback” ability to the rocket, slowing down the descent of the rocket with thrusters and deploying the landing legs for future launches so the first stage can be re-used. These tests have the booster “landing” in the ocean. The previous test of the landing system was successful, but the choppy seas destroyed the stage and prevented recovery. Today’s “kaboom” makes recovery of even pieces of this booster unlikely.

As far as the ORBCOMM satellites, the six satellites launched today are the first part of what the company hopes will be a 17-satellite constellation. They hope to have all 17 satellites in orbit by the end of the 2014.

Timelapse: Watch the Antares Rocket Go Vertical on the Launch Pad

Now standing at attention, ready for duty! At about 3:30 p.m. on July 10, Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket was raised to its vertical position at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Launch Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Antares is carrying the Cygnus spacecraft loaded with 3,293 pounds (1,494 kg) of supplies for the International Space Station. The craft is scheduled to launch Saturday, July 12 at 1:14 p.m. EDT. UPDATE: Orbital Sciences Corp. has postponed the launch of its Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station until 12:52 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 13, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Severe weather in the Wallops area has repeatedly interrupted Orbital’s operations schedule leading up to the launch.

If you live in the Eastern seaboard area, you might be able to see the launch. Find out how in our detailed article about the launch. This is the second flight to the ISS for the Antares/Cygnus duo.

Original Drawing of MAVEN Launch is a Throwback to the Early Days of Space Exploration

We’ve seen some great images from the launch of the MAVEN spacecraft earlier this week, but this original drawing of the moment of liftoff of the Atlas V carrying MAVEN is remarkable. This pencil illustration is reminiscent of the early days of spaceflight – or perhaps even the pre-spaceflight days, before we had actual images of launches, only our dreams of spaceflight.

“Everyone takes great photos of the launches and I thought a drawing would be something different,” said artist and photographer Wendy Clark from the UK. “True inspiration comes from the things you love most and I think this is why I especially enjoy drawing space related things.”

Like most of us, Wendy watched the launch online and she started her sketches after NASA started receiving telemetry from MAVEN, and said she worked on the drawing for about 24 hours total since Monday. This final version was done with graphite on A3 paper.

“Don’t let anyone tell you drawing a rocket is easy,” she told Universe Today. “This is only the 2nd drawing I have fully completed of a rocket launch. The special missions always interest me and I’m a fan of Atlas V rocket shapes, although they are not easy subjects to draw!”

Wendy said she’s an avid launch fan, although she’s never witnessed a mission launch in person. “One day would be nice to stand and watch this in person,” she said.

The other launch drawing she completed was of the final launch of the space shuttle program, STS-135, and she said she felt like she got to know the shuttle Atlantis like an old friend.

“When you spend 72 hours drawing a momentous event like this you get kind of attached to the subject in a way you can’t immediately understand,” she said. “I got to know every curve by putting what I saw on paper with graphite.”

An original graphite drawing of the final launch of the space shuttle program, STS-135. Credit and copyright: Wendy Clark.
An original graphite drawing of the final launch of the space shuttle program, STS-135. Credit and copyright: Wendy Clark.

See more of Wendy’s drawings and photographs on her Flickr page.

Celebrating MAVEN’s Launch, Planetary Style

MAVEN Launch Planetary Radio

If you can’t attend a rocket launch live, the next best thing might be watching it on a big screen, surrounded by fellow space fans. Today, as the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft sat atop an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral, space lovers from southern California collected at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena California to watch the launch together.

Our friends at the Planetary Society, along with Southern California Public Radio, hosted the free event, and an excited crowd of space enthusiasts of all ages attended the “launch party.”

Mat Kaplan Bruce Betts KPCC MAVEN
Mat Kaplan and Bruce Betts converse on the upcoming launch of MAVEN from the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, CA

Mat Kaplan and Bruce Betts brought the witty banter that listeners of Planetary Radio are familiar with, while Emily Lakdawalla kept the entire forum current with up-to-the-minute updates of MAVEN in her pre-launch.

Portions of Planetary Radio were recorded during the live broadcast, which gave the audience a treat, actually seeing how the radio program is created for special events such as the launch of a spacecraft.

As the timer counted down to 20 minutes before launch, Casey Dreier called in over the big-screen.

Casey, who’s the Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator of the Planetary Society, was on location at Cape Canaveral with the society’s president, Jim Bell. They both shared their experience leading up to the launch and stressed the need to continue planetary exploration in all of its forms.

Moments after Bell ended the call, Bill Nye, The Science Guy himself, called in to the Crawford Family Forum.

Bill Nye in Florida for MAVEN Launch
Bill Nye The Science Guy called in with FaceTime minutes before the launch, pointing to the Atlas V rocket in the distance that would give MAVEN the boost it needs to be on her way to Mars.

Replying to Kaplan’s question about excitement of ‘yet another’ Mars mission, Nye exclaimed, “What? How could there be such a thing as just another Mars mission?!” Nye continued on with a fever pitch about just how amazing it is that humans are able to have a presence on another planet, leaving any mission to Mars being nothing short of extraordinary.

As the clock ticked down and the conversation with The Science Guy ended, the official NASA video feed was brought up on the large projection screen for the excited viewers inside the forum.

Even with seconds remaining on the countdown to ignition, Emily — a seasoned Twitter user — remained dedicated to her Twitter followers while up on stage, keeping everyone in the loop about MAVEN’s upcoming explosive boost from the surface of Earth in the direction of the red planet.

At the Atlas V rocket lifts off, starting MAVEN’s journey to Mars, the room erupted in applause. Mat Kaplan commented “Always exciting. Always scary as hell,” as nearly all eyes were fixed on the video footage of the rocket soaring through the sky or their digital devices, getting new information on the rocket’s fate.

While waiting for official word on how the launch was going, the audience was treated to a live version of a Planetary Radio regular segment: Random Space Facts.

Amazingly enough, Bruce wasn’t able to find anything that happened this week in spaceflight history.

Bruce: “In this week in space history… nothing happened.”
Mat: “I don’t believe that.”
Bruce: “Well, this week MAVEN launched.”

The floor was opened to questions and comments from the audience, allowing children to ask their many questions about the rockets, the spacecraft and what else can be done in Universe. Jim Burke, who worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Mariner missions commented, “You’re never bored when when you watch a big rocket take off!

MAVEN Launch by David Dickenson
Atlas V “big rocket” launching MAVEN — Photo Credit: David Dickenson (@AstroGuyz)

While MAVEN has her scientific and communication mission ahead of her, it’s easy to conclude that her launch, just like the many that came before her, will inspire people of all ages to at least be more curious as to what’s going on in the Cosmos.

What better way to ensure a better future than to host “launch parties” like this one? The technology is available to allow people from nearly every location on the planet to gather and watch something leave it.

Coming together as a species and residents of this pale blue dot, we can send off our latest mechanical representatives into the Solar System while simultaneously inspiring the youth to embrace their curiosity, creating the future engineers and scientists that bring humanity further into the Universe.

If you missed the live coverage of the launch, here’s the recording, provided by Southern California Public Radio and The Planetary Society: