More Delays Possible for Russia’s Troubled ISS Laboratory

Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module (Credit: Khrunichev)

Poor Russia.

The country keeps trying to expand its use of the International Space Station, but the centerpiece of that effort — the Multi-Purpose Laboratory Module (MLM), named Nauka — has been delayed for a decade since its planned 2007 launch.

But, with launch planned for the end of this year or during the first half of 2018, more problems have been found.

In the past few weeks, engineers found the same contamination they’ve been fighting for years inside the module’s propellant tanks. The repair team tried to wash off these contaminants, but so far all efforts to cleanse the vessels have failed.

To make matters worse, these particular tanks, originally designed in the early 90s, are no longer in production and simply can’t be replaced. Because of these tanks’ unique design, fitted neatly onto the module like the chamber of a revolver, no modern tanks will work without damaging the spacecraft.

Nauka engineers did catch one lucky break. Roscosmos originally designed the vessel with a second set of shorter tanks. But to make room on the exterior of the converted module for the attachment of a European-built robotic arm and various scientific instruments, engineers removed the them. Now, these remaining (hopefully non-contaminated) tanks could be the only chance to get this long beleaguered spacecraft attached to the ISS.

Engineers have calculated that a mix of four of these short tanks and two long tanks will give the Nauka module just enough propellant to maneuver itself to the space station after its separation from the Proton M rocket and even have some extra fuel for another attempt to rendezvous with the station if needed.

Although a thin ray of hope remains that Russia will finally get its long delayed spacecraft aloft, no one can tell right now how long this new obstacle will delay the Nauka from finally docking with the ISS.

Read the full story.

Symphonizing the Science: NASA Twins Study Team Begins Integrating Results

Identical twins, Scott and Mark Kelly, are the subjects of NASA’s Twins Study. Scott (left) spent a year in space while Mark (right) stayed on Earth as a control subject. Researchers are looking at the effects of space travel on the human body. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — It begins with one instrument. Then another joins in. Before you know it a grand symphony is playing before your eyes. NASA Twins Study researchers are eager to integrate their results and create a symphony of science.

Preliminary findings were discussed during the Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop in January, and now enthusiasm abounds as the integration process begins. The investigators are a unique group of researchers with different expertise associated with genetic and physiological areas of study. (more…)

Astronauts Deploy Experimental Exo-Brake Satellite From ISS

TechEdSat-5 is deployed from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (NASA PR) — After a two-month stay aboard the International Space Station, NASA’s Technology Educational Satellite (TechEdSat-5) that launched Dec. 9, 2016, was deployed on March 6, 2017 from the NanoRacks platform and into low-Earth orbit to demonstrate a critical technology that may allow safe return of science payloads to Earth from space.

Orbiting about 250 miles above Earth, the Exo-Brake, a tension-based, flexible braking device resembling a cross-shaped parachute, opens from the rear of the small satellite to increase the drag. This de-orbit device tests a hybrid system of mechanical struts and flexible cord with a control system that warps the Exo-Brake. This allows engineers to guide the spacecraft to a desired entry point without the use of fuel, enabling accurate landing for future payload return missions.

Two additional technologies will be demonstrated on TechEdSat-5. These include the ‘Cricket’ Wireless Sensor Module, which provides a unique wireless network for multiple wireless sensors, providing real time data for TechEdSat-5.

The project team seeks to develop building blocks for larger scale systems that might enable future small or nanosatellite missions to reach the surface of Mars and other planetary bodies in the solar system.

For more information on NASA’s small spacecraft technology missions, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/cubesats

Orbital ATK Dedicates Cygnus Spacecraft to John Glenn

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft named for Sen. John Glenn, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, stands inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida behind a sign commemorating Glenn. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

By Steven Siceloff,
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

A supply spacecraft set to carry thousands of pounds of experiments and equipment to the International Space Station will also carry the name John Glenn, Orbital ATK said Thursday during a ceremony dedicating the mission to the first American to orbit the Earth.

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Canada Continues Support for Human Spaceflight

LONGUEUILL, Quebec (CSA PR) –Space agencies from around the world are looking towards the future of deep-space exploration beyond the International Space Station (ISS). Canada is exploring how to contribute to the exciting new opportunities that will ensue as humanity takes its next steps into the solar system.

The Government commitment in Budget 2016 to extend Canada’s participation in the ISS program will provide opportunities to develop leading-edge space technologies and also to conduct research to position Canada’s space sector to take advantage of opportunities in the next phase of human space exploration.

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Tethers Unlimited Selected for 3 SBIR Phase II Awards

NASA has selected Tethers Unlimited for negotiations on three Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years.

The three projects include:

  • ERASMUS: Food Contact Safe Plastics Recycler and 3D Printer System;
  • Modular Advanced Networked Telerobotic Interface System (MANTIS); and,
  • OpenSWIFT-SDR for STRS.

ERASMUS would allow astronauts to recycle waste plastics and 3D print new items that would be safe for food and medical use.

(more…)

ISS Utilization SBIRs Include Fiber Optic Manufacturing, Plastics Recycler & Printer

NASA has selected a fiber optics manufacturing unit , a 3D metal printer, and a plastics recycling and printing system for negotiations on SBIR Phase II contracts. All three projects are designed to enhance utilization of the International Space Station.

The three selected projects, which are eligible for contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years, include:

  • Space Facility for Orbital Remote Manufacturing (SPACEFORM) — FOMS, Inc., San Diego, Calif.;
  • Sintered Inductive Metal Printer with Laser Exposure — Techshot, Greenville, Ind.; and,
  • ERASMUS: Food Contact Safe Plastics Recycler
    and 3D Printer System — Tethers Unlimited, Bothell, Wash.

(more…)

House Passes NASA Authorization Act


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For the first time in more than six years, Congress has passed an authorization act for NASA that calls for spending $19.5 billion on NASA for fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.

The measure was approved by the House this week after getting Senate approval. The vote came five months into fiscal year 2017.

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NASA’s Commercial Cargo & Crew Spending

Dragon spacecraft in orbit. (Credit: NASA)

In announcing its plan to send two people around the moon using the Falcon Heavy and Dragon 2 in 2018 before NASA can do so using its own rocket and spaceship, SpaceX paid tribute to the space agency that has funded its rise.

“Most importantly, we would like to thank NASA, without whom this would not be possible,” SpaceX said in a statement. “NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission.”

NASA funding has been behind Elon Musk’s company every step of the way as SpaceX has developed Dragon and the Falcon 9 booster upon which the Falcon Heavy is based. So, no NASA and, in all likelihood, no SpaceX.

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A Look at Launches in 2016

Atlas V launches the NROL-61 satellite. (Credit: ULA)

Excerpt from

The Annual Compendium of
Commercial Space Transportation: 2017
Federal Aviation Administration
Office of Commercial Space
Transportation (FAA AST)

January 2017

2016 Launch Events

Space launch activity worldwide is carried out by the civil, military, and commercial sectors. This section summarizes U.S. and international orbital launch activities for calendar year 2016, including launches licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST). Countries and jurisdictions worldwide that possess functional and operating indigenous launch industries are the United States, Russia, China, European Union, India, Japan, Israel, Iran, North Korea, and South Korea. Several other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia, are developing launch vehicle technologies.

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A Look at Payloads Launched in 2016

Built by Lockheed Martin, the WorldView-4 satellite will expand DigitalGlobe’s industry-leading constellation of high-accuracy, high-resolution satellites, and double the availability of 30 cm resolution imagery for commercial and government customers around the globe. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Excerpt from

The Annual Compendium of
Commercial Space Transportation: 2017

Federal Aviation Administration
Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST)

January 2017

State of the Payload Industry

Space industry companies and organizations worldwide, sometimes the same as launch vehicle manufacturers but also those specifically dedicated to spacecraft manufacturing, produce these spacecraft. Commercially launched payloads are typically used for the following mission types:

  • Commercial communications satellites;
  • Commercial remote sensing or Earth observation satellites;
  • Commercial crew and cargo missions, including on-orbit vehicles and platforms;
  • Technology test and demonstration missions, usually new types of payloads undergoing test or used to test new launch vehicle technology; and
  • Other commercially launched payloads, usually satellites launched for various purposes by governments of countries not having indigenous orbital launch capability.

(more…)

CubeSats: Shaping Possibilities in Space

CubeSats STMSat-1, CADRE and MinXSS are deployed from the International Space Station during Expedition 47. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — For more than a decade, CubeSats, or small satellites, have paved the way to low-Earth orbit for commercial companies, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations. These small satellites offer opportunities to conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations in space in such a way that is cost-effective, timely and relatively easy to accomplish.

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NASA Purchases Additional Soyuz Seats From Boeing

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — A new agreement to purchase flights from Boeing to the International Space Station on a Soyuz spacecraft will allow NASA to maximize time dedicated to scientific research by increasing crew size on the U.S. segment from three to four. The additional flights will take place in 2017 and 2018. The agreement includes an option to be exercised by fall 2017 for additional seats in 2019. The 2019 seats could be used to smooth transition to U.S. commercial transportation services.

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Space Life Sciences Lab Sends Experiments to ISS

Launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 CRS-10 mission on Feb. 19, 2017. (Credit: SpaceX)

EXPLORATION PARK, Fla. (Space Florida PR) — Space Florida is proud to congratulate SpaceX for the successful docking of the CRS-10 mission with the ISS and to congratulate the 4 different experiments on board the Dragon capsule which were processed in the Space Life Sciences Lab (SLSL) in Exploration Park, Florida.

Those experiments were as follows:

  • Customer: CASIS/MERCK
    PI: Paul Reichert
    Protein crystal growth – pharmaceutical research (chemotherapy)
  • Customer: Edith Stein High School (agricultural high school in Ravensburg, Germany)
    PI: Maria Koch, Raphael Schilling and David Geray, German Students
    Vegetative propagation of plants on orbit
  • Customer: Intrinsyx Tech
    PI: John Freeman
    Designed to study enhanced plant growth of strong plants for astronauts on long duration Space missions
  • Customer: Space Tango
    PI: Twyman Clements

Another commercial opportunity to begin to utilize microgravity for application on Earth. The use of the SLSL for the processing of payloads for experiments and commercial operations will only grow as the flight cadence at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport increases in the years ahead.

“We’re excited to see the early investments by the State of Florida in payload processing for science and industry become a reality here at the Cape.” said Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello.