Tag Archives: NASA

Russian re-supply mission success at ISS

A Russian Progress cargo ship glided to a smooth docking with the International Space Station early Sunday, bringing more than 3 tons of supplies and equipment to the lab complex.

Two days after launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the success of the mission will come as a relief after the previous two supply missions failed.

First, a Progress launched April 28 spun out of control shortly after reaching orbit and one week ago, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated during ascent, destroying a Dragon supply ship loaded with more than 4,000 pounds of supplies and equipment.

It is not yet known what caused the SpaceX failure, but Russian engineers said earlier they had identified and corrected the problem believed to be responsible for the Progress mishap and there were no problems of any significance with the M-28M/60P vehicle.

Before the launching, NASA said the station crew had enough supplies on board to continue normal operations through October. With the successful docking of the Progress M-28M/60P spacecraft, and assuming a Japanese HTV freighter arrives on schedule in August, the lab crew should be sufficiently stocked through the end of the year.

How will Space X be affected by recent rocket failure, by Leonard David


Sunday’s explosion of the commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has put a dent in the booster’s impressive track record. SpaceX must fix whatever caused the problem and return to flight in order to fulfill billions of dollars of launch orders.

The company’s Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated 139 seconds after liftoff Sunday (June 28), ending the seventh operational flight under SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.

Sitting atop the rocket was SpaceX’s uncrewed Dragon spacecraft — filled to the brim with about 2 tons of supplies, research hardware and experiments — headed for linkup with the International Space Station (ISS). [See photos of the failed Falcon 9 launch]
While NASA has stated it will rebound from the loss of ISS cargo, space analysts contacted by Space.com have flagged a number of wait-and-see ripple effects stemming from the accident.

Response to failure

“SpaceX’s response to the failure will be more important than the actual failure, in terms of future business impact,” said Carissa Bryce Christensen, a founder and managing partner of The Tauri Group in Alexandria, Virginia, a company that provides strategic planning and technology assessments for civil and government clients.

“NASA, the Air Force and commercial customers will all be watching SpaceX’s engineering and management processes at work, looking for SpaceX to demonstrate its solidity and maturity as a launch provider,” she added.

Also watching the upshot of the booster misfortune is Rand Simberg, author of the book “Safe Is Not an Option” (Interglobal Media LLC, 2013). He is an admitted “recovering aerospace engineer” with more than 30 years of experience in the space industry.

Simberg said it’s a little concerning that SpaceX has not already identified the cause of the launch failure.

“They are usually pretty fast at that,” Simberg said. “If the telemetry doesn’t tell the tale … and they have to hope they’ll find enough debris to figure it out, that’s bad news.”

“If they can’t figure out what happened, they have hard decisions to make,” he continued. “They have a $7 billion backlog [of launches], and every month of delay will cost them a lot in potential lost customers. But flying again without understanding [what happened] carries a lot of risk as well, if a customer will even chance it.” [Explosion! SpaceX CRS-7 Mission Ends In Disaster (Video)]
Uncertainty and good news

The SpaceX booster mishap also throws uncertainty into the schedule for the inaugural flight of the company’s Falcon Heavy booster that was on tap to fly later this year, “unless they fly it with an inert upper stage,” Simberg said.

The good news, Simberg said, is that any crew onboard a human-rated Dragon capsule probably would have survived, as long as the craft’s launch escape system was used. “The other good news is that the first stage still seems to be rock solid in its performance,” he said.

“I find it ironic that this happened just a month after SpaceX got Air Force certification. It makes one question the utility of that lengthy and costly process,” Simberg concluded.

Getting back in the air

Other space analysts were more forgiving about the incident.

“I kind of take it in stride, because this is not a brand-new vehicle. It has had a fair amount of success,” said Marco A. Cáceres, a senior space analyst at Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group, a team of researchers who keep an eye on the aerospace and defense industry.

“It’s not like there’s a fundamental design flaw to the vehicle,” Cáceres said. He believes that SpaceX probably will be flying again in the next two to three months.

Getting back in the air as quickly as possible “would get the public and the government to forget about the failure,” Cáceres said, adding, “I think I would reserve judgment until I see their next try.”

Modified first stage

One lingering question is whether NASA should be flying its cargo missions on a SpaceX booster that’s outfitted with landing legs and other hardware to test an experimental reusable first stage. (SpaceX attempted to land the Falcon 9’s first stage on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean during Dragon cargo launches in January and April, and had planned to try this bold maneuver again on Sunday.)

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a post-accident news conference that the company does not think the accident was caused by a problem with the first stage.

“We saw some pressurization indications in the second stage, which we will be investigating,” she said.

Similarly, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted shortly after the failure, “Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before the first-stage shutdown. There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.”

Cáceres said those SpaceX remarks seem to clear the Falcon 9 modified first stage as the culprit in the launch malfunction. But, he added, “I would tend to agree, in general — if I were NASA, I would not be wanting to use a rocket that, at least on the way back, is going to be used for experimental purposes. I’d want a standard vehicle that gets the supplies up there to the ISS with the least amount of risk or uncertainty as possible.” [Inside SpaceX’s Epic Fly-Back Reusable Rocket Landing (Infographic)]

Faith in the system

One payload that’s slated for SpaceX booster delivery to the ISS this year is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which has been developed by Bigelow Aerospace under a contract with NASA.

“BEAM will be ready when they [SpaceX] are,” said Mike Gold, director of Washington, D.C., operations and business growth for Bigelow Aerospace LLC. “If I know SpaceX, it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”

BEAM is now ready for shipment from the firm’s plant in North Las Vegas, Nevada, to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Gold said.

Regarding the Falcon 9 problem, Gold said, “The story here to me is not that they had a failure. A failure should have been anticipated. They’ve had 18 consecutive successful launches. It’s that track record that they enjoyed prior to this time. That should give the industry great faith in the system.”

Achilles’ heel

Gold also serves as chairman of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, or COMSTAC for short. COMSTAC was established in 1984 to provide information, advice and recommendations to the FAA administrator on critical matters concerning the U.S. commercial space transportation industry.

“The Achilles’ heel of the commercial space industry remains the paucity of funding for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation,” Gold said. “This accident will only further aggravate what was already a critical situation for that FAA office relative to lack of funding and lack of personnel.”

Gold said he is hopeful that Congress will see its way to fund that FAA office at a required level to ensure stable commercial space growth.
No turning back

In taking a long look at commercial space operations, Cáceres remains bullish.

“I don’t think there’s a turning back here … going back to the way it was in the past 50 years, where NASA was by far the dominant player,” Cáceres said. “It’s going to go more the way other major industries have gone, like the way [the] railroad, automobile and aircraft industries developed very early on in their histories.”

Cáceres said that, for some reason, space became different: It was looked upon as more complicated and much more dangerous, so the government played the leading role.

“We’ve moved into this new era, this new paradigm, and we’re still at the very, very early stages,” Cáceres said. “For those that say we should turn back, I don’t see that happening.”

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and is co-author of Buzz Aldrin’s 2013 book “Mission to Mars – MyVision for Space Exploration,” published by National Geographic with a new updated paperback version released in May. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

Titan’s Magic Islands

Titan’s Magic Islands

Saturn’s moon Titan is proving to be one of the most fascinating places in the solar system. The only body other than the Earth that we know has seas, the Cassini-Huygens mission has shown us such a great deal, and left us with many new questions. One of these that captured the imagination has been the so called ‘magic islands’.

These probably aren’t islands at all, but some thing is going on that we can’t deduce exactly, with LARGE areas of land appearing and disappearing.

Kraken Mare 'Magic Islands'. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell
Kraken Mare ‘Magic Islands’. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

The Cassini team turned their attention to Titan’s mysteriously variable ‘Magic Island‘, covering an area of some 260 square kilometres in the Ligeia Mare, first seen in July 2013. Images created from Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data returned during the August 2014 flyby showed that bright features were again present at the former location, but their appearance has evolved. Waves, bubbles or floating debris may provide the best explanation for these features at the present time.

A further exciting development from the August 2014 Titan flyby provides evidence that Kraken Mare has at least two ‘Magic Islands’ of its own. The Kraken transients were captured by Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) within several hours of observations. The VIMS data show a 5-micron-bright detection at the same location as the radar transients, interpreted as being similar to specular reflections from waves, wet ground or wet floating debris.

It is possible that the appearances of these ‘magic islands’ are related to seasons, but could it be possible there’s some tidal effect at play and it’s just good old gravity affecting the liquid, or lighter elements in this dense sea? Seems like the data and images so far have whet everyone’s appetite for more missions to Titan as it has a great deal more to tell us.

Cassini HuygensTitan