SpaceX set for Station Resupply Blastoff with Crew Docking Adapter and Bold Landing Attempt on June 28 – Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon are due to blastoff on June 28, 2015 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:21 a.m. EDT on the CRS-7 mission to the International Space Station. Photo of last SpaceX launch to ISS in April 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – With launch less than a day away for SpaceX’s seventh commercial resupply mission carrying a two ton payload of critical science and cargo for the future buildup of human spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, June 28, “everything is looking great” and all systems are GO, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX VP of mission assurance announced at a media briefing for reporters at the Kennedy Space Center.

The weather outlook along the Florida Space Coast is fantastic as U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron forecasters are predicting a 90 percent chance of favorable conditions for lift off of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, slated for 10:21 a.m. EDT, Sunday, June 28, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs and grid fins to enable the landing attempt, which is a secondary objective of SpaceX. Cargo delivery to the station is the overriding primary objective and the entire reason for the CRS-7 mission.

If you are free this weekend and all continues to go well, this could well be your chance to be an eyewitness to a magnificent space launch in sunny Florida – and see a flight that signifies significant progress towards restoring America’s ability to once again launch our astronauts on American rockets from American soil.

NASA Television plans live launch coverage starting at 9 a.m EDT on June 28:

You can watch the launch live on NASA TV here: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

SpaceX also plans live launch coverage: www.spacex.com/webcast

Moon over SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for CRS-7 mission to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Moon over SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for CRS-7 mission to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that the rocket must liftoff at the precisely appointed time. Any delays like on Monday due to weather or technical factors will force a scrub.

The mission is critical for NASA in more ways than one, in addition to the science cargo, the SpaceX Dragon spaceship is loaded with the first of two International Docking Adapters (IDA’s), pictured below, that will be connected to the space station to provide a place for Commercial Crew spacecraft carrying astronauts to dock to the orbiting laboratory as soon as 2017.

The approximately 30 inch thick and ring shaped IDA is loaded in the unpressurized truck section at the rear of the Dragon.

The pressurized section of the Dragon is packed with over 4,000 pounds of research experiments, spare parts, gear, high pressure supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45.

These include critical materials for the science and research investigations for the first ever one-year crew to serve aboard the ISS – comprising NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

The science payloads will offer new insight to combustion in microgravity, perform the first space-based observations of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere, continue solving potential crew health risks and make new strides toward being able to grow food in space, says NASA.

Some three dozen student science experiments are also flying aboard. The cargo also includes the METEOR camera.

Both IDA’s were built by Boeing. They will enable docking by the new space taxis being built by Boeing and Space X – the CST-100 and crew Dragon respectively, to carry our crews to the ISS and end our sole source reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsule.

IDA 1 will be attached to the forward port on the Harmony node, where the space shuttles used to dock.

Moon over SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for CRS-7 mission to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Moon over SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for CRS-7 mission to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

If Dragon launches on Sunday as planned, it will reach the space station after a two day pursuit on Tuesday, June 30.

NASA’s Scott Kelly of NASA will use the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to reach out and capture Dragon at about 7 a.m. He will be assisted by Station commander Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) as they operate the 57 foot long arm from the station’s cupola.

NASA TV coverage of rendezvous and grapple of Dragon will begin at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Coverage of Dragon’s installation to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module will begin at 8:30 a.m.

The ship will remain berthed at the ISS for about five weeks.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of the CRS-7 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX, Boeing, Space Taxis, Europa, Rosetta, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Jun 27-28: “SpaceX launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon poised at Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida for planned April 14 launch to the International Space Station on the CRS-6 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon poised at Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida for planned April 14 launch to the International Space Station on the CRS-6 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Student Designed Radiation Experiment Chosen to Soar aboard Orion EFT-1 Test Flight In Dec. 2014

When NASA’s next generation human spaceflight vehicle Orion blasts off on its maiden unmanned test flight later this year, a radiation experiment designed by top American high school students will soar along and play a key role in investigating how best to safeguard the health of America’s future astronauts as they venture farther into deep space than ever before – past the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and Beyond!

The student designed radiation experiment was the centerpiece of a year-long Exploration Design Challenge (EDC) competition sponsored by NASA, Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin and the National Institute of Aerospace, and was open to high school teams across the US.

The winning experiment design came from a five-member team of High School students from the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va. and was announced by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the opening of the 2014 U.S.A Science and Engineering Festival held in Washington, DC on April 25.

Exploration Design Challenge Winning Team   NASA’s Administrator, Charles Bolden (left), President/CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson (right), and astronaut Rex Walheim (back row) pose for a group photo with the winning high school team in the Exploration Design Challenge. Team ARES from the Governors School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va. won the challenge with their radiation shield design, which will be built and flown aboard the Orion/EFT-1. The award was announced at the USA Science and Engineering Festival on April 25, 2014 at the Washington Convention Center.  Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Orion Exploration Design Challenge Winning Team from Hampton,Va
NASA’s Administrator, Charles Bolden (left), President/CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson (right), and astronaut Rex Walheim (back row) pose for a group photo with the winning high school team in the Exploration Design Challenge. Team ARES from the Governors School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va. won the challenge with their radiation shield design, which will be built and flown aboard the Orion/EFT-1. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The goal of the EDC competition was to build and test designs for shields to minimize radiation exposure and damaging human health effects inside NASA’s new Orion spacecraft slated to launch into orbit during the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) pathfinding mission in December 2014. See experiment design photo herein.

This radiation shielding experiment designed by High School students from the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va., was chosen as the winner of the Exploration Design Challenge contest and will fly aboard NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Lockheed Martin
This radiation shielding experiment designed by High School students from the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va., was chosen as the winner of the Exploration Design Challenge contest and will fly aboard NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Lockheed Martin

During the EFT-1 flight, Orion will fly through the dense radiation field that surrounds the Earth in a protective shell of electrically charged ions – known as the Van Allen Belt – that begins 600 miles above Earth.

No humans have flown through the Van Allen Belt in more than 40 years since the Apollo era.

Team ARES from Hampton VA was chosen from a group of five finalist teams announced in March 2014.

“This is a great day for Team ARES – you have done a remarkable job,” said NASA Administrator Bolden.

“I really want to congratulate all of our finalists. You are outstanding examples of the power of American innovation. Your passion for discovery and the creative ideas you have brought forward have made us think and have helped us take a fresh look at a very challenging problem on our path to Mars.”

Since Orion EFT-1 will climb to an altitude of some 3,600 miles, the mission offers scientists the opportunity to understand how to mitigate the level of radiation exposure experienced by the astronaut crews who will be propelled to deep space destinations beginning at the end of this decade.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The student teams used a simulation tool named OLTARIS, the On- Line Tool for the Assessment of Radiation in Space, used by NASA scientists and engineers to study the effects of space radiation on shielding materials, electronics, and biological systems.

Working with mentors from NASA and Lockheed Martin, each team built prototypes and used the OLTARIS program to calculate how effective their designs – using several materials at varying thicknesses – were at shielding against radiation in the lower Van Allen belt.

“The experiment is a Tesseract Design—slightly less structurally sound than a sphere, as the stresses are located away from the cube on the phalanges. The materials and the distribution of the materials inside the tesseract were determined through research and simulation using the OLTARIS program,” Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Allison Rakes told me.

The students conducted research to determine which materials were most effective at radiation shielding to protect a dosimeter housed inside – an instrument used for measuring radiation exposure.

“The final material choices and thicknesses are (from outermost to innermost): Tantalum (.0762 cm/ .030 in), Tin (.1016 cm/ .040 in), Zirconium (.0762 cm/ .030 in), Aluminum (.0762 cm/ .030 in), and Polyethylene (9.398 cm/ 3.70 in),” according to Rakes.

At the conclusion of the EFT-1 flight, the students will use the measurement to determine how well their design protected the dosimeter.

But first Team ARES needs to get their winning proposal ready for flight. They will work with a NASA and Lockheed Martin spacecraft integration team to have the experimental design approved, assembled and installed into Orion’s crew module.

All the students hard work will pay off this December when Lockheed Martin hosts Team ARES at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the liftoff of their important experiment inside Orion atop the mammoth triple barreled Delta IV Heavy booster.

46 teams from across the country submitted engineering experiment proposals to the EDC aimed at stimulating students to work on a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) project that tackles one of the most significant dangers of human space flight — radiation exposure.

“The Exploration Design Challenge has already reached 127,000 students worldwide – engaging them in real-world engineering challenges and igniting their imaginations about the endless possibilities of space discovery,” said Lockheed Martin Chairman, President and CEO Marillyn Hewson.

The two-orbit, four- hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its 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.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Private Cygnus Freighter Berths at Space Station with Huge Science Cargo and Ant Colony

With the Moon as a spectacular backdrop, an Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo spacecraft speeding at 17500 MPH on a landmark flight and loaded with a huge treasure trove of science, belated Christmas presents and colonies of ants rendezvoued at the space station early this Sunday morning (Jan. 12), captured and then deftly parked by astronauts guiding it with the Canadian robotic arm.

Cygnus is a commercially developed resupply freighter stocked with 1.5 tons of vital research experiments, crew provisions and student science projects that serves as an indispensible “lifeline” to keep the massive orbiting outpost alive and humming with the science for which it was designed.

Following a two day orbital chase that started with the spectacular blastoff on Jan. 9 atop Orbital’s private Antares booster from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Va., Cygnus fired its on board thrusters multiple times to approach in close proximity to the million pound International Space Station (ISS) by 3 a.m. Sunday.

ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port. Credit: NASA TV
ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port. Credit: NASA TV

When Cygnus had moved further to within 30 feet (10 meters) NASA Astronaut and station crew member Mike Hopkins – working inside the Cupola – then successfully grappled the ship with the stations 57 foot long Canadarm2 at 6:08 a.m. EST to complete the first phase of today’s operations.

“Capture confirmed,” radioed Hopkins as the complex was flying 258 miles over the Indian Ocean and Madagascar.

“Congratulations to Orbital and the Orbital-1 team and the family of C. Gordon Fullerton,” he added. The ship is named in honor of NASA shuttle astronaut G. Gordon Fullerton who passed away in 2013.

“Capturing a free flyer is one of the most critical operations on the ISS,” explained NASA astronaut and ISS alum Cady Coleman during live NASA TV coverage.

ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port. Credit: NASA TV
ISS Astronauts grapple Orbital Sciences Cygnus spacecraft with robotic arm and guide it to docking port. Credit: NASA TV

Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency then took command of the robotic arm and maneuvered Cygnus to berth it at the Earth-facing (nadir) port on the station’s Harmony Node at 8:05 a.m while soaring over Australia.

16 bolts will be driven home and 4 latches tightly hooked to firmly join the two spacecraft together and insure no leaks.

The Orbital -1 spaceship is conducting the first of 8 operational cargo logistics flights scheduled under Orbital Sciences’ multi-year $1.9 Billion Commercial Resupply Services contract (CRS) with NASA that runs through 2016.

Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS.  Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS. Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The purpose of the unmanned, private Cygnus spaceship – and the SpaceX Dragon – is to restore America’s cargo to orbit capability that was terminated following the shutdown of NASA’s space shuttles.

Cygnus and Dragon will each deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station according to the NASA CRS contracts.

“This cargo operation is the lifeline of the station,” said Coleman.

This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12   Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo.  Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
This Cygnus launched atop Antares on Jan. 9 and docked on Jan. 12
Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. ISS astronauts will open this hatch to unload 2780 pounds of cargo. Docking mechanism hooks and latches to ISS at left. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The six person crew of Expedition 38 serving aboard the ISS is due to open the hatch to Cygnus tomorrow, Monday, and begin unloading the 2,780 pounds (1,261 kilograms) of supplies packed inside.

“Our first mission under the CRS contract with NASA was flawlessly executed by our Antares and Cygnus operations team, from the picture-perfect launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility to the rendezvous, capture and berthing at the space station this morning,” said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement from Orbital.

“From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts.”

Up-close view of Orbital Sciences Cygnus service module outfitted with propulsion, power generating solar arrays and guidance during exclusive visit by  Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Service module gets attached to pressurized cargo module and flies Cygnus vehicle to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Up-close view of Orbital Sciences Cygnus service module outfitted with propulsion, power generating solar arrays and guidance during exclusive visit by Ken Kremer/Universe Today to observe prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Service module gets attached to pressurized cargo module and flies Cygnus vehicle to ISS. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Science experiments weighing 1000 pounds account for nearly 1/3 of the cargo load.

Among those are 23 student designed experiments representing over 8700 K-12 students involving life sciences topics ranging from amoeba reproduction to calcium in the bones to salamanders.

The students are part of the Student SpaceFlight Experiments Program (SSEP) sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE).

Student Space Flight team  at NASA Wallops from Washington, DC discusses their microencapsulation science experiment selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft with Ken Kremer/Universe Today.  23 student experiments launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) and have arrived at the station.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Student Space Flight team at NASA Wallops from Washington, DC discusses their microencapsulation science experiment selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft with Ken Kremer/Universe Today. 23 student experiments launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) and have arrived at the station. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Ant colonies from three US states are also aboard, living inside 8 habitats. The “ants in space” experiment will be among the first to be unloaded from Cygnus to insure the critters are well fed for their expedition on how they fare and adapt in zero gravity.

33 cubesats are also aboard that will be deployed from the Japanese Experiment Module airlock.

“One newly arrived investigation will study the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics during spaceflight. Another will examine how different fuel samples burn in microgravity, which could inform future design for spacecraft materials,” said NASA in a statement.

Cygnus is currently scheduled to remain berthed at the ISS for 37 days until February 18.

The crew will reload it with all manner of no longer need trash and then send it off to a fiery and destructive atmospheric reentry so it will burn up high over the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 19.

Cygnus departure is required to make way for the next cargo freighter – the SpaceX Dragon, slated to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Feb. 22 atop the company’s upgraded Falcon 9.

Watch for my ongoing Antares/Cygnus reports.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Cygnus berthed at Harmony node on ISS. Credit: NASA TV
Cygnus berthed at Harmony node on ISS. Credit: NASA TV

Antares Private Rocket Thunders off Virginia Coast bound for Space Station – Marks 2nd US Commercial Launch This Week

Birds take flight as Antares lifts off for Space Station from Virginia Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9, 2014 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station and loaded with science experiments.
Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer
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WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – A private Antares rocket thundered off a Virginia launch pad today (Jan. 9) bound for the International Space Station on a breakthrough mission that marks the second successful commercial rocket launch by an American aerospace company this week – a feat that’s sure to send shock waves reverberating around the globe as well as providing an absolutely crucial life line to the station.

The majestic blastoff of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket took place from a beach side pad at NASA’s Wallop’s Flight Facility along the eastern shore of Virginia, Thursday, at 1:07 p.m. EST.

A flock of birds flew by just as Antares soared off the pad – see my lucky shot above.

The milestone flight was conducted under Orbital’s $1.9 Billion contract to NASA as the firm’s first operational cargo delivery flight to the ISS using their own developed Cygnus resupply vehicle.

“Today’s launch gives the cargo capability to keep the station going,” said Frank Culbertson, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital’s advanced spaceflight programs group, and former Space Shuttle commander.

“Everything was right on the money.”

And with the ISS lifetime in Earth orbit now newly extended by the Obama Administration to 2024, the resupply freighters pioneered by Orbital Sciences and SpaceX – in partnership with NASA – are even more important than ever before to keep the station well stocked and humming with an ever increasing array of research projects.

Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS.  Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops on Virginia coast on the Orb-1 mission to the ISS. Photo taken by remote camera at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The goal was to restore America’s cargo and crew capabilities to low Earth orbit and the ISS that was totally lost following the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles.

Cygnus is packed chock full with a myriad of science experiments for dozens of new NASA science investigations as well as two dozen student science experiments from school across the country.

Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Blastoff of Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences on Jan. 9 from Launch Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA on a mission for NASA bound for the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Both the terrestrial and space weather forecasts improved dramatically in the final hours of the countdown and cooperated to allow today’s magnificent Antares launch.

The launch of the two stage, 133 foot tall Antares put on a spectacular sky show that may – because of crystal clear skies – have been visible to millions of spectators spread across the US east coast from the Carolina’s to Connecticut.

Antares beautiful liftoff on Thursday comes on the heels of Monday’s (Jan. 6) SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff .

Furthermore, it marks a grand success for the innovative US strategy of forging low cost, reliable and effective access to space by handing the task of building the rockets and cargo vehicles to US commercial companies for routine jobs in Earth orbit while NASA focuses on investing in deep space exploration.

“Today’s launch demonstrates how our strategic investments in the American commercial spaceflight industry are helping create new jobs here at home and keep the United States the world leader in space exploration,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a NASA statement.

“American astronauts have been living and working continuously in space for the past 13 years on board the International Space Station, and we’re once again sending them supplies launched from U.S. soil.”

“In addition to the supplies, the passion and hard work of many researchers and students are being carried by Cygnus today. I congratulate Orbital and the NASA teams that made this resupply mission possible.”

Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares soars to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The fourth launch attempt was finally the charm after a trio of postponements since mid- December 2013 to fix the malfunctioning cooling system on the station, unprecedented frigid weather and then an unexpected blast of solar radiation from the Sun on Tuesday (Jan. 7) that could have fried the delicate electronics controlling the rockets ascent with disastrous consequences.

Gorgeous Wallops Sunrise greets Antares rocket poised at Launch Pad 0A on Virginia shoreline.  A blast of solar radiation on Jan. 7 postponed Antares blastoff from Jan 8 to Jan 9, 2014. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com
Gorgeous Wallops Sunrise greets Antares rocket poised at Launch Pad 0A on Virginia shoreline. A blast of solar radiation on Jan. 7 postponed Antares blastoff from Jan. 8 to Jan. 9, 2014. Credit: Mike Killian/mikekillianphotography.com

Both the Antares and Cygnus are private vehicles built by Orbital Sciences under a $1.9 Billion supply contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kilograms of research experiments, crew provisions, spare parts and hardware to the ISS.

Orbital Sciences commercial competitor, SpaceX, is likewise under contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg of supplies to the ISS with the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon architecture.

Antares majestic contrail soaring to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares majestic contrail as it experiences maximum dynamic pressure (MAX-Q) and flies down range over Atlantic ocean soaring to space on Jan. 9, 2014 from Virginia coast. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Both the Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus and SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon vehicles were developed from the start with seed money from NASA in a public-private partnership.

The flight is designated the Orbital-1, or Orb-1 mission.

A total of eight Antares/Cygnus missions to the space station are scheduled over the next two to three years by Orbital under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

Two additional Antares/Cygnus flight are slated for this year.

They are slated to lift off around May 1 and early October, said Culbertson.

This launch follows a pair of successful launches in 2013, including the initial test launch in April and the 1st demonstration launch to the ISS in September.

Cygnus is loaded with approximately 2,780 pounds / 1,261 kilograms of cargo for the ISS crew for NASA including science experiments, computer supplies, spacewalk tools, food, water, clothing and experimental hardware.

33 cubesats are also on board that will be deployed over time by the 6 person crew living aboard the ISS.

Among the research items packed aboard the Antares/Cygnus flight are an experiment to study the effectiveness of antibiotics in space and a batch of 23 student experiments involving life sciences topics ranging from amoeba reproduction to calcium in the bones to salamanders.

The student experiments selected are from middle school and high school teams from Michigan, Texas, Colorado, and Washington, DC.

Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops Science experiments from these students representing six schools across  America were selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft which launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP).  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Student Space Flight teams at NASA Wallops
Science experiments from these students representing six schools across America were selected to fly aboard the Cygnus spacecraft which launched to the ISS from NASA Wallops, VA, on Jan . 9, 2014, as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP). Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

There is also an ant farm aboard with ant colonies from Colorado, North Carolina and of course host state Virginia too. The goal is to study ant behavior in space in zero gravity and compare that to ants on Earth living under normal gravity.

Cygnus will rendezvous with the station on Sunday, Jan 12.

Expedition 38 crew members aboard the station will grapple Cygnus with the stations robotic arm Sunday at 6:02 a.m. EDT.

NASA TV will provide live coverage of Sunday’s docking.

Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. glistens at dusk on Jan. 7 amidst bone chilling cold ahead of blastoff scheduled for Jan. 8, 2014 from NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Antares commercial rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. glistens at dusk on Jan. 7 amidst bone chilling cold ahead of blastoff on Jan. 9, 2014 from NASA Wallops Island, Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch for my ongoing Antares launch reports from on site at NASA Wallops.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Chang’e-3, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Cygnus pressurized cargo module - side view - during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Cygnus pressurized cargo module – side view – during prelaunch processing by Orbital Sciences at NASA Wallops, VA. Cygnus is loaded with 2780 pounds of cargo and 23 student experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Aerospace Students Shoot for the Stars and Space Flight Dreams

Rocket science university students from Puerto Rico pose for photo op with the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that will launch their own developed RockSat-X science experiments to space on Aug. 13 at 6 a.m. from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA.
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – How many of you have dreamed of flying yourselves or your breakthrough experiments to the High Frontier? Well if you are a talented student, NASA may have a ticket for you.

A diverse group of highly motivated aerospace students from seven universities spread across the United States have descended on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility along the Eastern Shore of Virginia to fulfill the dream of their lifetimes – launching their very own science experiments aboard a rocket bound for space.

I met the thrilled students and professors today beside their rocket at the Wallops Island launch pad.

On Aug 13, after years of hard work, an impressive array of research experiments developed by more than 40 university students will soar to space on the RockSat-X payload atop a 44-foot tall Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket at 6 a.m. EDT.

Students from Northwest Nazarene University observe the pre-integration of their experiment into the RockSat-X payload at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in June. Students from seven universities are participating in the program and will attend the launch on August 13.  Credit: NASA/K. Koehler
Students from Northwest Nazarene University observe the pre-integration of their experiment into the RockSat-X payload at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in June. Students from seven universities are participating in the program and will attend the launch on August 13. Credit: NASA/K. Koehler

The two stage rocket will rapidly ascend on a southeasterly trajectory to an altitude of some 97 miles and transmit valuable data in-flight during the 12-minute mission.

The launch will be visible to spectators in parts of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, and perhaps a bit beyond. Check out the visibility map below.

The RockSat-X flight profile and visibility map. RockSat-X is scheduled to launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, VA on Aug. 13 at 6.a.m. EDT  Credit: NASA
The RockSat-X flight profile and visibility map. RockSat-X is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA on Aug. 13 at 6.a.m. EDT Credit: NASA

If you’re available, try venturing out to watch it. The available window lasts until 10 a.m. EDT if needed.

The students will put their classroom learning to the test with experiments and instruments built by their own hands and installed on the 20 foot long RockSat-X payload. The integrated payload accounts for nearly half the length of the Terrier Malamute suborbital rocket. It’s an out of this world application of the scientific method.

Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket erected for launch of student experiments  on RockSat-X payload on Aug. 13 at 6 a.m. from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket erected for launch of student experiments on RockSat-X payload on Aug. 13 at 6 a.m. from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Included among the dozens of custom built student experiments are HD cameras, investigations into crystal growth and ferro fluids in microgravity, measuring the electron density in the E region (90-120km), aerogel dust collection on an exposed telescoping arm from the rockets side, effects of radiation damage on various electrical components, determining the durability of flexible electronics in the cryogenic environment of space and creating a despun video of the flight.

At the conclusion of the flight, the payload will descend to Earth via a parachute and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 86 miles offshore from Wallops.

Commercial fishing ships under contract to NASA will then recover the RockSat-X payload and return it to the students a few hours later, NASA spokesman Keith Koehler told Universe Today.

They will tear apart the payload, disengage their experiments and begin analyzing the data to see how well their instruments performed compared to the preflight hypotheses’.

RockSat-X is a joint educational activity between NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. It is the third of three practical STEM educational programs where the students must master increasingly difficult skill level requirements leading to a series of sounding rocket liftoffs.

In mid-June, some 50 new students participated in the successful ‘RockOn’ introductory level payload launch from Wallops using a smaller Terrier-Improved Orion rocket.

“The goal of the RockSat-X program is to provide students a hands-on experience in developing experiments for space flight,” said Chris Koehler, Director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

“This experience allows these students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to a real world hands-on project.”

The students participating in this year’s RockSat-X launch program hail from the University of Colorado at Boulder; the University of Puerto Rico at San Juan; the University of Maryland, College Park; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.; West Virginia University, Morgantown; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho.

Panoramic view of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility launch range at Virginia’s Eastern Shore during prior launch of two suborbital sounding rockets as part of the Daytime Dynamo mission. RockSat-X payload will launch on a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Panoramic view of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility launch range at Virginia’s Eastern Shore during prior launch of two suborbital sounding rockets as part of the Daytime Dynamo mission. RockSat-X payload will launch on a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Some of these students today could well become the pioneering aerospace industry leaders of tomorrow!

In the event of a delay forced by weather or technical glitches, August 14 is the backup launch day.

A great place to witness the blastoff is from the NASA Wallops Visitor Center, offering a clear view to the NASA launch range.

It opens at 5 a.m. on launch day and is a wonderful place to learn about NASA missions – especially the pair of exciting and unprecedented upcoming launches of the LADEE lunar science probe to the moon and the Cygnus cargo carrier to the ISS in September.

Both LADEE and Cygnus are historic first of their kind flights from NASA Wallops.

Live coverage of the launch is available via UStream beginning at 5 a.m. on launch day at:
http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-tv-wallops

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Suborbital Science, Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, MAVEN and Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Aug 12/13: “RockSat-X Suborbital Launch, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Sep 5/6/16/17: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

More than 40 University students participating in the Aug. 13 RockSat-X science payload pose for photo op with the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that will launch their own experiments to space from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
More than 40 University students participating in the Aug. 13 RockSat-X science payload pose for photo op with the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that will launch their own experiments to space from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

1st Student Selected MoonKAM Pictures Look Inspiringly Home to Earth

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The first student selected photos of the Moon’s surface snapped by NASA’s new pair of student named Lunar Mapping orbiters – Ebb & Flow – have just been beamed back and show an eerie view looking back to the Home Planet – and all of Humanity – barely rising above the pockmarked terrain of the mysterious far side of our nearest neighbor in space.

Congratulations to Americas’ Youth on an outstanding and inspiring choice !!

The student photo is reminiscent of one of the iconic images of Space Exploration – the first full view of the Earth from the Moon taken by NASA’s Lunar Orbiter 1 back in August 1966 (see below).

The images were taken in the past few days by the MoonKAM camera system aboard NASA’s twin GRAIL spacecraft currently circling overhead in polar lunar orbit, and previously known as GRAIL A and B. The formation-flying probes are soaring over the Moon’s north and south poles.

The nearly identical ships were rechristened as Ebb and Flow after Fourth grade students from the Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont., won the honor to rename both spacecraft by submitting the winning entries in a nationwide essay competition sponsored by NASA.

“The Bozeman 4th graders had the opportunity to target the first images soon after our science operations began,” said Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., to Universe Today.

“It is impossible to overstate how thrilled and excited we are !”

The initial packet of some 66 student-requested digital images from the Bozeman kids were taken by the Ebb spacecraft from March 15-17 and downlinked to Earth March 20. They sure have lots of exciting classwork ahead analyzing all those lunar features !

“GRAIL’s science mapping phase officially began on March 6 and we are collecting science data,” Zuber stated.

Far Side of Moon Imaged by MoonKAM
This image of the lunar surface was taken by the MoonKAM system onboard NASA’s Ebb spacecraft on March 15, 2012. The 42.3-mile-wide (68-kilometer-wide) crater in the middle of the image (with the smaller crater inside) is Poinsot. Crater Poinsot, named for the French mathematician Louis Poinsot, is located on the northern part of the moon's far side. The target was selected by 4th grade students at Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Montana who had the honor of choosing the first MoonKAM images after winning a nationwide contest. NASA/Caltech-JPL/MIT/SRS

GRAIL’s science goal is to map our Moon’s gravity field to the highest precision ever. This will help deduce the deep interior composition, formation and evolution of the Moon and other rocky bodies such as Earth and also determine the nature of the Moon’s hidden core.

Engaging students and the public in science and space exploration plays a premier role in the GRAIL project. GRAIL is NASA’s first planetary mission to carry instruments – in the form of cameras – fully dedicated to education and public outreach.

Over 2,700 schools in 52 countries have signed up to participate in MoonKAM.

Ebb and Flow - New Names for the GRAIL Twins in Lunar Orbit
4th Grade Students from Bozeman, Montana (inset) won NASA’s contest to rename the GRAIL A and GRAIL B spacecraft and also chose the first lunar targets to be photographed by the onboard MoonKAM camera system. Artist concept of twin GRAIL spacecraft flying in tandem orbits around the Moon to measure its gravity field Credit: NASA/JPL -M ontage: Ken Kremer

5th to 8th grade students can send suggestions for lunar surface targets to the GRAIL MoonKAM Mission Operations Center at UC San Diego, Calif. Students will use the images to study lunar features such as craters, highlands, and maria while also learning about future landing sites.

NASA calls MoonKAM – “The Universe’s First Student-Run Planetary Camera”. MoonKAM means Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students.

The MoonKAM project is managed by Dr Sally Ride, America’s first female astronaut.

“What might seem like just a cool activity for these kids may very well have a profound impact on their futures,” Ride said in a NASA statement. “The students really are excited about MoonKAM, and that translates into an excitement about science and engineering.”

“MoonKAM is based on the premise that if your average picture is worth a thousand words, then a picture from lunar orbit may be worth a classroom full of engineering and science degrees,” says Zuber. “Through MoonKAM, we have an opportunity to reach out to the next generation of scientists and engineers. It is great to see things off to such a positive start.”

MoonKAM image from NASA’s Ebb Lunar Mapping orbiter. This lunar target was selected by the 4th graders at Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Montana who won the contest to rename the GRAIL probes in a nationwide essay contest. NASA/Caltech-JPL/MIT/SRS

Altogether there are eight MoonKAM cameras aboard Ebb and Flow – one 50 mm lens and three 6 mm lenses. Each probe is the size of a washing machine and measures just over 3 feet in diameter and height.

Snapping the first images was delayed a few days by the recent series of powerful solar storms.

“Due to the extraordinary intensity of the storms we took the precaution of turning off the MoonKAMs until the solar flux dissipates a bit,” Zuber told me.

“GRAIL weathered the storm well. The spacecraft and instrument are healthy and we are continuing to collect science data.”

The washing-machine sized probes have been flying in tandem around the Moon since entering lunar orbit in back to back maneuvers over the New Year’s weekend. Engineers spent the past two months navigating the spaceship duo into lower, near-polar and near-circular orbits with an average altitude of 34 miles (55 kilometers) that are optimized for science data collection and simultaneously checking out the spacecraft systems.

Ebb and Flow were launched to the Moon on September 10, 2011 aboard a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida and took a circuitous 3.5 month low energy path to the moon to minimize the overall costs.

The Apollo astronauts reached the Moon in just 3 days. NASA’s next generation Orion space capsule currently under development will send American astronauts back to lunar orbit by 2021 or sooner.

NASA has just granted an extension to the GRAIL mission. Watch for my follow-up report detailing the expanded science goals of GRAIL’s extended lunar journey.

One of the first two remote images of Earth taken from the distance of the Moon on August 23, 1966 by NASA’s Lunar Orbiter 1 spacecraft. Credit: NASA

…….

March 24 (Sat): Free Lecture by Ken Kremer at the New Jersey Astronomical Association, Voorhees State Park, NJ at 830 PM. Topic: Atlantis, the End of Americas Shuttle Program, Orion, SpaceX, CST-100, Moon and the Future of NASA Human & Robotic Spaceflight

Toronto Teens Launch “Lego Man in Space”

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Updated:Jan. 30

Two teens from Toronto,Canada have launched “Lego Man in Space” using a helium filled weather balloon and captured stunning video of the miniature toy figure back dropped by the beautiful curvature of Earth and the desolate blackness of space that’s become a worldwide YouTube sensation – over 2 million hits !

17 year olds Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad lofted the tiny 2 inch tall Lego figure from a local Toronto soccer field up to a height of about 85,000 feet, or 16 miles (25 kilometers), where the 22 foot (7 m) diameter helium balloon burst in what is technically known as the stratosphere. The homemade styrofoam capsule – equipped with two video cameras and two digital cameras (Canon) – then parachuted back to Earth.

“We launched the project on January 7,” Mathew Ho told Universe Today.

“Altogether, we used 4 cameras, two cameras taking stills, and two taking video – Canon, Sony, GoPro – in the 1 cubic foot capsule,” Ho explained.

“After endless hours of hard work, we managed to capture stunning views of our atmosphere and put a ‘Lego’ man into near space!” said the ambitious teens who are 12th graders at the Agincourt Collegiate Institute.

The pair posted a YouTube video (below) documenting the entire voyage and some camera snapshots on their website on January 25.

Lego Man even snapped cool Moon shots – look closely at the video and photo below.

“Lego Man in Space” – The Video

The duo recounted the details of their sensational space tale of science on a shoestring for Canadian TV and newspapers.

“Upon launch we were very relieved. But we had a lot of anxiety on launch day because there were high winds when we were going up after all the hard work,” said Ho in a studio interview on Canadian TV (CTV).

“We were also scared because now we would have to retrieve it back after it came down,” Asad chimed in.

“We had no idea it would capture photos like that and would be so good,” said Ho. “We were blown away when we saw them back home.”

The toy Lego astronaut is seen standing atop a thin runway protruding precariously from one end of the small, box shaped capsule as though he was walking the plank and about to plunge into the ocean of space. All the while, cameras were aimed directly out towards him recording the entire rollicking journey from liftoff to the stratosphere to landing, with a constantly changing Earth in the background.

Altogether they netted two videos and 1500 photos.

Lego Man in Space shoots the Moon !
Credit: Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad

Coincidentally, several Lego toys are constantly flying even higher above the Earth at this very moment aboard the International Space Station as part of an educational outreach effort by NASA and Lego. And 3 more Lego figurines are speeding to Jupiter aboard NASA’s Juno orbiter.

Legoman’s spectacular journey lasted some 97 minutes. He’s beaming proudly throughout the video while holding the Canadian National flag – the Red Maple Leaf. The rollercoaster-like scenery may well challenge the stomachs of those with fear of heights.

The tumbling Lego Man in Space capsule upon the violent descent captured the moment before the parachute was activated. Credit: Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad

Mathew and Asad worked over about four months one day a week on Saturdays to assemble the rig in Mathew’s kitchen and successfully accomplished the feat on a shoestring budget of merely 400 dollars. They used GPS trackers to locate “Lego Man in Space” and recover the intact capsule holding the imagery.

After the balloon burst at 85,000 feet, the parachute assisted descent back to Earth took about 32 minutes. Winds aloft caused the capsule to drift some 76 miles (122 kilometers) away from the launch site before landing at Rice Lake in one piece.

Lego Man in Space capsule after landing 76 miles (122 kilometers) away from the Toronto soccor field launch site. Credit: Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad

“We were jumping for joy when we saw the capsule and the parachute. We were ecstatic when we found it,” said Ho.

“We have a long history of passionate building and working together,” Ho told CTV.

The project began after they saw that MIT students had sent a camera to the edge of space with a balloon and captured stunning views.

“We were inspired by videos and pictures we had seen online two years ago and we began working on this in the Fall of 2011. In total the project cost about $400 Canadian,” Ho told me.

“We hope to publish more pictures and video to our Facebook page and website soon,” Ho added.

And now we know another truth about Lego’s – Not only can they withstand the destructive forces of kids, but outer space too !