October 29, 2014

Russia Launches First Soyuz-2.1a Rocket (Source: Xinhua)
A Soyuz-2.1a space rocket carrying a Progress M-25M resupplying ship was launched and placed on a transitional orbit on Wednesday. The rocket blasted off from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. "Six hours after the blast-off the cargo ship is to dock with the International Space Station (ISS)," Roscosmos said. This is the first launch of the Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket which has substituted the Soyuz-U-PVB rockets. First test of the new rocket was carried out in November 2004.

The Progress carries over 2.5 tons of cargo, including fuel, foods, water and oxygen as well as various scientific equipment. The resupplying ship is to dock ISS Russian segment at the height of about 400 km. Earlier Wednesday, a U.S. carrier rocket Antares driven by a Ukrainian engine exploded immediately over the launching pad in the state of Virginia. The Antares was supposed to deliver Cygnus cargo craft to the ISS U.S. segment.

Editor's Note: Interesting how the engines are described here (probably by Russian sources) as "Ukrainian." They were originally built by the Soviet Union's Kuznetsov Design Bureau (now Kuznetsov UEC, of Samara, Russia), which no longer produces them. They were exported from Russia under an agreement with Aerojet Rocketdyne. (10/29)

The Question of Using Decades-Old Soviet Engines (Source: Washington Post)
The tale of the engines that propelled the Antares rocket, which exploded in a spectacular ball of flame in Virginia Tuesday night, begins four decades ago, thousands of miles away, in the land of communism and Sputnik. There, in the Soviet Union, rocket scientists conceived and built dozens of rocket engines meant to power Russian astronauts into the cosmos. But it didn’t work out that way.

The unused engines were snapped up by Orbital Sciences, which built the rocket that exploded. It uses two modified versions of those Russian engines to propel missions to the International Space Station, according to the company’s user’s guide. To be clear, investigators say they do not know what caused Tuesday’s explosion, which destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment. But some observers are questioning those Soviet-era engines. (10/29)

America Has a New Spaceport: Midland, Texas (Source: Examiner)
After the Mojave Air & Space Port got its spaceport license, the Midland International Airport, Midland Development Corp., XCOR Aerospace and Orbital Outfitters announced the FAA's approval of a Commercial Space Launch Site License (Spaceport) for the Midland International Airport (MAF). Midland International Airport is the first primary commercial service airport to be certified by the FAA under the Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 420 as a spaceport and will furthermore be referred to as the Midland International Air & Space Port. (10/28)

Space-Aged Whisky Returned to Earth (Source: Cheers)
On Oct. 23 at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, NanoRacks Managing Director Jeffrey Manber officially returned vials of Ardbeg whisky that spent 3 years in space to Ardbeg’s Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation Dr. Bill Lumsden. White paper findings from this bold and dynamic experiment will be revealed sometime in 2015.

The vials will then commence a tour of the United States and other countries around the world before one lucky buyer will have the chance to bid and purchase at auction. The night concluded with a toast of Ardbeg's newest expression; Supernova 2014- the limited edition malt that was released to commemorate the return of the Ardbeg vial from space. (10/28)

Russia Offers to Help with ISS Deliveries After Antares Failure (Source: Raw Story)
Russia on Wednesday offered to help the United States with deliveries to the International Space Station after an unmanned American supply rocket exploded on lift-off. “If a request is made for the urgent delivery of any American supplies to the ISS with the help of our vessels then we will fulfill the request,” Russian space agency official Alexei Krasnov said, adding that NASA had not yet asked for assistance. (10/29)

Range Safety Initiates Termination of Antares Launch After Vehicle Failure (Source: Space News)
An Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the space station exploded seconds after liftoff Oct. 28. The Antares rocket lifted off on schedule at 6:22 pm EDT from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia. Approximately ten seconds after liftoff, however, an explosion took place at the base of the rocket’s first stage. The rocket fell back to the ground near the launch pad, triggering a second, larger explosion.

The failure will likely raise new questions about the AJ-26 engines that currently power the first stage of the vehicle. In May, an AJ-26 engine was destroyed during a ground test at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Aerojet Rocketdyne, which provides the AJ-26 — a refurbished version of the Soviet-era NK-33 engine — took $17.5 million loss in its latest fiscal quarter because of issues with the AJ-26 rocket engine.

The cause of the May failure has not been disclosed by Aerojet or Orbital. An investigation into that failure was wrapping up as of a month ago. Editor's Note: It is unclear whether the rocket could have advanced over the Atlantic before the command-destruct signal was sent, potentially preventing extensive damage to the launch pad. (10/28)

House Republicans Clamor for Commercial Crew Selection Info (Source: Space News)
More than a month after NASA awarded Boeing and SpaceX contracts to build the first U.S. crewed spacecraft since the space shuttle, the Republican leaders of the House Science Committee are fuming that they have yet to be briefed on the logic behind NASA’s selections.

“To date, the Committee has not been briefed on the source selection, nor has it received the source selection statement, despite the fact that the offerors have been briefed, details were released to the press, the GAO is now involved; and NASA has decided to proceed with the contracts,” Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Steven Palazzo (R-MS) wrote in a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Smith and Palazzo chair the House Science Committee and House Science space subcommittee, respectively.

NASA has not publicly released the 29-page source selection document for the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability procurement, in which Bill Gerstenmaier detailed his reasons for giving Boeing and SpaceX contracts respectively worth $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion while rejecting Sierra Nevada’s $3.3 billion proposal to build a lifting-body spacecraft called Dream Chaser. Gerstenmaier was the source selection authority on the program. (10/27)

What Does the Future Hold for Atlas V Rocket? (Source: Florida Today)
Since first taking flight 12 years ago, Atlas V rockets have sent NASA spacecraft soaring throughout the solar system and lofted nearly 30 military missions supporting communications, weather forecasting, missile warnings, surveillance and research. The United Launch Alliance rocket could be the next to boost astronauts from the Space Coast within a few years.

However, ULA is actively preparing for a future without the Atlas V, its most frequently flown rocket. Mounting political and economic pressures point to the rocket's eventual discontinuation, at least in its current form. Congress has proposed spending as much as $220 million in 2015 to start developing an engine that could replace the rocket's Russian-made main engine, which has become a liability for geopolitical reasons, and ULA is pursuing another replacement option on its own.

"The writing's on the wall for Atlas V as a launcher," said Marco Caceres, senior analyst and director of space studies at Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia., a firm specializing in aerospace and defense market research. "We cannot rely on the Russians over the long term. And from an economical standpoint, Atlas V is still too expensive the way it is to compete against emerging companies like SpaceX, and certainly to compete successfully in the commercial markets." (10/28)

Astronomers Capture Images of a Star Going Nova (Source: LA Times)
You don’t see this every day. For the first time, astronomers have captured images of a nova very soon after the stellar explosion flared into existence and have tracked the fireball's dramatic expansion into space. The discovery offers a unique look at a nova in action, and could give us a much more complex picture of how these explosions occur. Click here. (10/28)

ORBCOMM Wins 16,000-Unit Order (Source: SpaceRef)
ORBCOMM announced that the one of nations largest retail fleets has selected ORBCOMM to deliver 16,000 dual-mode tracking and monitoring solutions across its mixed fleet of dry and refrigerated trailers. ORBCOMM expects to ship the majority of the order in the fourth quarter of this year. ORBCOMM will provide its award-winning, dual-mode GT 1100 solution for the customers dry van assets utilizing its new, more advanced OG2 satellites and Verizons CDMA cellular network. (10/28)

Spaceport America May Get Near-Space Balloon Flights (Source: Albuquerque Journal)
Paying passengers may soon fly to the edge of space in massive balloons launched from Spaceport America. World View Enterprises plans to send customers on balloon flights that climb 20 miles into the stratosphere, allowing passengers to view the earth’s curvature and the dark of space while wining and dining in a luxurious cabin with 360-degree views.

No decisions have been made, but the company is in negotiations with Spaceport executives to launch its balloons from southern New Mexico, starting in late 2016, said Chief Technology Officer Taber MacCallum. World View flew its first balloon test flight from Roswell last June. The balloon, which was about one-third the size of the one planned for passenger flights, reached 120,000 feet.

“Roswell offers several strategic advantages, such as open landing areas to the east and west,” MacCallum said. “The airport has great facilities with lots of space and privacy.” With the Eustice skydive done, World View executives will now focus full time on developing their technology and the business strategy for outer-Earth flights, including negotiations with Spaceport America, MacCallum said. (10/27)

Space Station Dodging Junk from Old Satellite (Source: AP)
The International Space Station sidestepped a piece of treacherous junk Monday just hours before the planned launch of a supply ship from Virginia. NASA said debris from an old, wrecked Russian satellite would have come dangerously close to the orbiting lab — just two-tenths of a mile — if not for the move.

The space station was maneuvered well out of harm's way to keep the outpost and its six inhabitants safe. Mission Control was informed of the space junk over the weekend. It is wreckage from a Kosmos satellite that was launched in 1993 and collided with an Iridium spacecraft in 2009. Mission Control said the space station's relocation would not affect Monday evening's scheduled launch of a commercial supply ship. (10/27)

China Launches Experimental Satellite (Source: Xinhua)
China successfully launched an experimental satellite into preset orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in its northwestern gobi desert on Monday. The Shijian-11-08 was boosted by a Long March-2C carrier rocket at 2:59 p.m. Beijing Time. The satellite, which was developed by China Spacesat Co. Ltd under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, will be used to conduct scientific experiments in space. (10/27)

First Hasselblad Camera Flown in Space Up for Auction (Source: CollectSpace)
A more than 50-year-old space-flown camera with connections to two of the original Mercury 7 astronauts is hitting the auction block in Boston. RR Auction has scheduled Nov. 13 for its special live sale of the Hasselblad 500C camera, which includes components used aboard the fifth and sixth U.S. space flights in 1962 and 1963. As the first Hasselblad to be flown into space, the camera led to NASA adopting the Swedish brand's equipment for the lunar landings later that decade. (10/28)

Looks Like We Won't Be Populating Mars Any Time Soon (Source: Mirror)
We've got the technology to get us to other planets - but once astronauts get there the human race has a problem. Colonizing other planets could save the human race, said Stephen Hawking. But though we now have the technology to reach them, there's one big problem... The astronauts could be infertile by the time they get there. That means they wouldn't be able to start a new human colony on Mars, or anywhere else. Click here. (10/28)

Vostochny Cosmodrome Construction Safe for Environment (Source: RIA Novosti)
Fuel that is supposed to be used for rocket launch at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Trans-Amur Territory is safe for the environment, the government of the Amur Region said. "Taking into account the experience gained while working at the Baikonur cosmodrome, the most secure and environmentally friendly technology is used here." (10/28)

SpaceX Closing in on Certification for Military Launches (Source: Space News)
Rocket maker SpaceX is expected to begin a series of review boards with the U.S. government’s chief engineer the week of Oct. 27 as it enters the “final phase” of  its quest to earn the Air Force certification necessary to launch national security missions. The Air Force requires SpaceX — and any other so-called new entrants in the national security launch marketplace — to provide data from three successful launches for analysis and to pass 19 engineering review boards, among other tasks, to earn certification. (10/28)

Scotland’s Clyde Space Reports Strong Annual Growth, New Contracts (Source: Space News)
Small-satellite builder Clyde Space of Scotland said it sharply increased revenue and operating profit in the past year and booked two contracts with European and U.S. customers equivalent to more than its full-year sales. Clyde Space said it is moving into larger quarters to accommodate what it said is likely to be continued strong growth in its business. (10/28)

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