GAO: NASA Moving Ahead on Defining Europa Clipper Mission

The Europa Clipper spacecraft flies over the surface of Europa in this artist’s rendering. NASA is currently studying this reduced-cost mission which would use at least 48 flybys to explore the moon instead of entering into orbit. (Credit: NASA / JPL / Michael Carroll)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is working through technical issues with scientific instruments, solar arrays and power requirements as the space agency defines its ambitious Europa Clipper orbiter, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

Europa Clipper, which is set for launch in 2022, will be the space agency’s first dedicated mission to study Jupiter’s ice covered moon. Scientists believe the ice could hide a vast ocean teeming with extraterrestrial life.

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Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.
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China Launches Heavy-Lift Long March 5 Booster

China successfully launched its heavy-lift Long March 5 booster on Thursday, giving the nation a launch vehicle with a lifting capacity on par with America’s Delta IV rocket.

The new rocket blasted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center at 8:43 p.m. Beijing time.  Chinese media are describing the flight as a success.

China’s most powerful launch vehicle, the Long March 5 is capable of placing 25,000 kg (55,116 lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO) and 14,000 kg (30,865 lb) into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). The Delta IV Heavy can lift 25,980 kg (57,276 lb) to LEO and 14,220 kg (31,350 lb) to GTO.

Long March 5 stands 62 meters (203 ft) and is 5 meters (16 ft) in diameter. The booster’s first and second stages are powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Four booster rockets are fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen.

China Rolls Out Long March 5 Booster

The Chinese have rolled out its new Long March 5 booster, which is scheduled for its maiden flight from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Nov. 3. China’s most powerful launch vehicle, the Long March 5 is capable of placing 25,000 kg (55,116 lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO) and 14,000 kg (30,865 lb) into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).

Long March 5 is comparable to the most powerful U.S. launcher. The Delta IV Heavy can lift 25,980 kg (57,276 lb) to LEO and 14,220 kg (31,350 lb) to GTO.

Long March 5 stands 62 meters (203 ft) and is 5 meters (16 ft) in diameter. The booster’s first and second stages are powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Four booster rockets are fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen.

ULA to Launch NASA Solar Probe Plus Mission

Delta IV Heavy lifts off with Orion capsule. (Credit: Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance)
Delta IV Heavy lifts off with Orion capsule. (Credit: Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance)

CENTENNIAL, Colo., March 18, 2015 (ULA PR) –  NASA’s Launch Services Program announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) proven Delta IV Heavy vehicle to launch the Solar Probe Plus (SPP) mission to study the Sun’s outer atmosphere. This award resulted from a competitive procurement that considered multiple launch providers.

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NASA Learned Many Lessons From Orion Flight

Orion splashed down safely in the Pacific after its first test flight. (Credit: NASA)
Orion splashed down safely in the Pacific after its first test flight. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Orion spacecraft continues on the agency’s journey to Mars as engineers analyze data from the spacecraft’s December flight test and make progress developing and building the spacecraft for its first mission atop NASA Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket. On future missions, Orion will send astronauts to an asteroid and onward toward the Red Planet.

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NASA Takes Big Step Toward Deep Space Exploration

Orion splashed down safely in the Pacific after its first test flight. (Credit: NASA)
Orion splashed down safely in the Pacific after its first test flight. (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA marked a major milestone Friday on its journey to Mars as the Orion spacecraft completed its first voyage to space, traveling farther than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has been in more than 40 years.

“Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.”

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Orion Launch Weather Forecast Improves

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

NASA MISSION UPDATE

Meteorologists upgraded their outlook for Orion’s launch tomorrow morning to give it a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions. The forecast says drier conditions are expected and the chance of coastal showers has diminished during the 2-hour, 39-minute launch window. The primary rules concerns remain flight through precipitation and high winds.

With less than 23 hours remaining before Orion begins its first flight test with a launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket, everything remains on track for liftoff at 7:05 a.m. EST. The Mobile Service Tower enclosing the rocket and spacecraft will be rolled back to its launch position late tonight, revealing the Orion stack on the launch stand at Space Launch Complex 37.

Launch and mission control teams will report to their consoles in Florida and Houston at about 3:30 a.m. EST. Our continuous countdown, launch and mission coverage will begin at 4:30 a.m. here on the Orion Blog and on NASA TV which is available on air and streaming at www.nasa.gov/nasatv

Managers Give Go for Delta IV Heavy Orion Launch

Credit: NASA
The Orion and Delta IV Heavy rocket stacked for launch at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA Mission Update

Managers from United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Lockheed Martin gave a “go” to proceed toward launch pending completion of open work during the Launch Readiness Review for Orion’s flight test. The weather is forecast to be 60 percent “go” for a scheduled liftoff at 7:05 a.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 4.

NASA TV will air an Orion Flight Test Status and Overview briefing at 1 p.m. today. On Dec. 3, a prelaunch status briefing will be held at 11 a.m. A NASA overview event with participation from social media followers will air at 1 p.m.

Meteorologists have not changed their prediction for Thursday morning’s weather and they continue to call for a 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions for Orion’s lift off on its first flight test. The launch window opens at 7:05 a.m. EST and closes 2 hours, 39 minutes later at about 9:44 a.m. The concern remains early morning precipitation at or near the Florida spaceport. NASA reserved the Eastern Range for Friday and Saturday as well, in case Thursday’s launch opportunity is not made.

Orion Test Flight Set for Thursday

NASA's Orion spacecraft passes into Space Launch Complex-37 SLC-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to complete its move from the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. (Credit:  NASA/Kim Shiflett)
NASA’s Orion spacecraft passes into Space Launch Complex-37 SLC-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to complete its move from the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. (Credit:
NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA MISSION INFORMATION

Overview

Orion is NASA’s new spacecraft built to carry humans, designed to allow us to journey to destinations never before visited by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. On this uncrewed test flight, Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion will test systems critical to crew safety as it travels farther into space than any spacecraft built for humans has traveled in more than 40 years.

During the 4.5-hour flight, Orion will orbit Earth twice, covering more than 60,000 miles (96,600 kilometers) and reaching an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) on the second orbit. (The International Space Station orbits Earth at an altitude of approximately 260 miles, or 420 kilometers.) That altitude will allow the spacecraft to return through the atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph (32,000 kph), which will generate temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,200 degrees Celsius) on Orion’s heat shield. Those temperatures – about 80 percent as hot as Orion would experience returning from lunar orbit – will provide the most challenging test currently possible.

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