China De-orbits Tiangong-2, Looks Ahead to Permanent Space Station

China de-orbited its Tiangong-2 space station on Friday, ending a precursor mission to the establishment of a large, multi-module station beginning in 2020.

Launched on Sept. 15, 2016, Tiangong-2 hosted a 30-day visit by astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong beginning the following month. The Shenzhou 11 crew tested out the station’s life support and other systems, performed experiments, released a satellite, and grew rice and vegetables before returning to Earth after 33 days in space.

In April 2017, the Tianzhou-1 cargo ship docked with the space station. The automated ship refueled Tiangong-1 and un-docked and re-docked with the station twice in the months that followed. Tianzhou-1 subsequently separated from the station and was de-orbited on Sept. 22, 2017.

Tiangong-2 was 10.4 m (34 ft) long and weighed 8,600 kg (18,960 lb). That is about half the size of the Salyut 1 space station the Soviet Union launched in 1971.

The station’s predecessor, Tiangong-1, hosted six Chinese astronauts during two crew visits in 2012 and 2013.

China plans to launch the Tianhe-1 core module for a permanent space station in 2020. Two laboratory modules would be subsequently attached to the station over the next two to three years. The facility will be roughly the size of the Mir space station built by the Soviet Union beginning in 1986 and about one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station.

China has opened up its human spaceflight program to other nations. European astronauts have been training for flights to the new space station aboard Shenzhou vehicles. And China has offered to fly foreign experiments to the facility.

Building a Toolkit for the Moon Underwater

Testing ESA prototypes for geological sampling tools underwater. (Credit ESA/NASA-H.Stevenin)

COLOGNE, Germany (ESA PR) — As the world celebrates 50 years since the first lunar landing, the team at ESA’s astronaut centre is looking to the future of lunar exploration. This includes developing prototypes for rock and soil sampling equipment to be used on the Moon.

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Testing the Value of Artificial Gravity for Astronaut Health

Control room of DLR’s short-arm centrifuge (Credit: ESA)

COLOGNE, Germany, 21 March 2019 (EXSA PR) — Test subjects in Cologne, Germany will take to their beds for 60 days from 25 March as part of a groundbreaking study, funded by European Space Agency ESA and US space agency NASA, into how artificial gravity could help astronauts stay healthy in space.

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National Space Council to Meet Next Tuesday

Vice President Mike Pence addresses NASA employees, Thursday, July 6, 2017, at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Fifth Meeting of the National Space Council

Date: Tuesday, March 26, 2019, at 12:00 p.m. CDT
Location: Saturn V Hall, Davidson Center for Space Exploration, U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Panel 1: “Ready to Fly”

  • Gen. Les Lyles, USAF (ret.), former Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force
  • Col. Eileen Collins, USAF (ret.), former Shuttle commander
  • Dr. Sandy Magnus, former Shuttle astronaut

Panel 2: “Ready to Explore”

  • Dan Dumbacher, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • Dr. Jack Burns, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Wanda Sigur, independent consultant











Former NASA Astronaut & Armstrong Research Pilot Rick Searfoss Passes Away

Rick Searfoss

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Former NASA research pilot and astronaut Richard “Rick” Searfoss died Sept. 29 at his home in Bear Valley Springs, California. He was 62.

Searfoss, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, served as a research pilot in the flight crew branch at NASA Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center in California from July 2001 to February 2003, having brought with him over 5,000 hours of military flying and 939 hours in space.

He flew on three space flights, onboard space shuttles Columbia and Atlantis, logging 39 days in space. Searfoss was the pilot for his first two space missions, STS-58 and STS-76, landing both times at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Once at Dryden, medical staff was standing by for the astronauts as well as personnel who supported the NASA convoy team in preparing the shuttle for its return ferry flight to Florida.

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UAE Names International Space Station Astronauts











NASA, Commercial Partners Progress to Human Spaceflight Home Stretch

The upper and lower domes of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft 2 Crew Flight Test Vehicle were mated June 19, 2018, inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. On the right, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be used for the company’s uncrewed flight test, known as Demonstration Mission 1, arrived to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 10, 2018. (Credits: Photo on the left, Boeing, on the right: NASA/SpaceX)

By Madison Tuttle
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA and commercial industry partners Boeing and SpaceX are making significant advances in preparing to launch astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. As part of the Commercial Crew Program’s public-private partnership, both companies are fine-tuning their designs, integrating hardware, and testing their crew spacecraft and rockets to prepare for test flights

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Boeing Suffers Setback During CST-100 Starliner Abort Test

CST-100 Starliner with Atlas V booster. (Credit: Boeing)

Media are reporting that Boeing suffered a setback recently when testing CST-100 Starliner’s emergency abort system at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Here’s an account from The Washington Post:

The spacecraft Boeing plans to use to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station suffered a significant setback when, during a test of its emergency abort system in June, officials discovered a propellant leak, the company confirmed.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Boeing said it has “been conducting a thorough investigation with assistance from our NASA and industry partners. We are confident we found the cause and are moving forward with corrective action.”

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Video: NASA Remembers Moonwalker, Shuttle Commander John Young

Video Caption: Astronaut John Young, who walked on the Moon during Apollo 16 and commanded the first space shuttle mission, has passed away at the age of 87.

He is the only person to go into space as part of the Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs and was the first to fly into space six times — or seven times, when counting his liftoff from the Moon during Apollo 16.











We’re Losing Our Apollo Astronauts

Astronaut Richard “Dick” Gordon with Charles “Pete” Conrad before their Gemini 10 mission. (Credit: NASA)

NASA astronaut Richard “Dick” Gordon, who died on Monday at the age of 88, was the third Apollo-era astronaut to pass away this year and the second who was involved in a lunar mission.

Gordon was command module pilot for Apollo 12, which saw Pete Conrad and Alan Bean walk on the moon in November 1969. Gordon stayed in orbit aboard aboard the command service module Yankee Clipper while his colleagues explored the lunar surface. It was the second and final spaceflight for Gordon, who flew aboard Gemini 10 with Conrad three years earlier.

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Apollo 12 Astronaut Dick Gordon Passes Away at 88

Astronaut Richard “Dick” Gordon in his Apollo spacesuit. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — Former NASA astronaut Richard Gordon, command module pilot on Apollo 12, the second lunar landing mission, passed away on Nov. 6, 2017.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement on Gordon’s passing: “NASA and the nation have lost one of our early space pioneers. We send our condolences to the family and loved ones of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Richard Gordon, a hero from NASA’s third class of astronauts.”
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NASA Astronaut Paul Weitz Passes Away at 85

In this June 1973 photograph, Skylab 2 pilot Paul J. Weitz operates the control and display console of the Apollo Telescope Mount solar observatory. (Credit: NASA)

Skylab and space shuttle astronaut Paul J. Weitz has passed away from cancer. He was 85.

Weitz, who served in the United States Navy and retired as a captain in 1976, was one of the 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966. His NASA career lasted 28 years and included two space flights.

Weitz was part of the first Skylab crew along with commander Pete Conrad and science-pilot Joe Kerwin in 1973. The crew saved the station, which suffered damage after a solar wing deployed during launch. The wing was ripped away along with a heat shield; the other solar wing was pinned to the station by debris.

The crew deployed a solar shade to bring down temperatures inside the laboratory and freed the remaining solar wing during a space walk. Weitz and his crew mates splashed down on June 22, 1973 after a record 28 days in space.

Weitz commanded STS-6, the first flight of Space Shuttle Challenger, which launched on April 4, 1983, and landed on April 9. The mission’s primary payload was the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, a new NASA satellite that would revolutionize low-Earth orbit communications forever.

Mr. Weitz also served as Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center. He retired from NASA in 1994.











UAE to Form Astronaut Corps

The UAE has announced it is forming its own astronaut corps in time for the 50th anniversary of the nation’s founding in 2021.

In a panel discussion at the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) here Sept. 28, officials with the country’s new space agency said that the country sought to develop a “sustainable” human spaceflight program with scientific applications, rather than simply the prestige of flying humans in space.

“This is an initiative from the UAE government to have a sustainable human spaceflight program,” said Salem Humaid Al Marri, assistant director general at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. “When we talk about sustainable, that means that we are not looking at launching an astronaut for a week or launching a tourist flight, but we’re looking at a program that is based on science.”

Al Marri said later that the government will formally request applications from astronauts by the end of this year or the first quarter of 2018. He didn’t disclose what criteria the space agency had developed for its astronaut program.

That will be followed by a selection process that he estimated will last from six to ten months before choosing between four and six astronauts. “Probably towards the lower end,” he said of that range of four to six, “because obviously all of the astronauts that we train we would also look to fly them at some point.”

Officials have not announced with vehicles UAE astronauts would fly on.

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China to Recruit More Astronauts

The crew of Shenzhou-10 after 15 days in space. (Credit: CNSA)

China plans to recruit additional astronauts for its growing human spaceflight program.

China has provided an update to its human spaceflight plans, announcing that a third selection round of 10-12 astronauts – including two women – will take place this year, while outlines of crewed missions to the future Chinese Space Station (CSS) are taking shape.

While the two previous rounds drew on air force pilots, the third astronaut selection will seek candidates with more diverse backgrounds, reflecting the changing requirements for CSS objectives.

“Scientific experiments are going to be a major part of the new space station, so we’re going to need astronauts who have the right backgrounds,” said Yang Liwei, deputy director of China’s manned space engineering office.

China has sent 11 astronauts into space, most recently on the Shenzhou-11 mission last October, the country’s longest by far at 33 days.

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New Crew Arrives at International Space Station

Expedition 52 flight engineers Paolo Nespoli of ESA, left, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, and Randy Bresnik of NASA pose for a photograph outside the Soyuz simulator. (Credits: NASA/ Bill Ingalls)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — After a six-hour spaceflight, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) arrived at the International Space Station at 5:54 p.m. EDT Friday to continue important scientific research in the orbiting laboratory.

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