NASA Makes Change in Boeing Starliner Test Flight Crew

Astronaut Eric Boe examines hardware during a tour of the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California. (Credit: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronaut E. Michael “Mike” Fincke has been added to the crew of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner’s Crew Flight Test, scheduled to launch later this year.

Fincke takes the place of astronaut Eric Boe, originally assigned to the mission in August 2018. Boe is unable to fly due to medical reasons; he will replace Fincke as the assistant to the chief for commercial crew in the astronaut office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

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2018 Was Busy Year for Suborbital Flight Tests

SpaceShipTwo fires its hybrid engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 2 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.

The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.

A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.

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Suborbital Flights Stopped Being So Humdrum in 2018

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 1 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.

The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)

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SLS Liquid Hydrogen Tank Test Article Loaded into Test Stand

SLS liquid hydrogen tank (Credit: NASA/Tyler Martin)

The largest piece of structural test hardware for America’s new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System, was loaded into Test Stand 4693 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama Jan. 14, 2019. The liquid hydrogen tank is part of the rocket’s core stage that is more than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, and stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines. The liquid hydrogen tank test article is structurally identical to the flight version of the tank that will comprise two-thirds of the core stage and hold 537,000 gallons of supercooled liquid hydrogen at minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit. Dozens of hydraulic cylinders in the 215-foot-tall test stand will push and pull the tank, subjecting it to the same stresses and loads it will endure during liftoff and flight.

Aging Faster in Space to Age Better on Earth

David Saint-Jacques, of the Canadian Space Agency, completes the Bone Densitometer calibration in support of the Rodent Research-8 investigation. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — A new investigation heading to the International Space Station will provide space-flown samples to scientists from academia, industry and government agencies, who have agreed to share their data and results in an online database that is open to the public. Rodent Research-8 (RR-8) examines the physiology of aging and the effect of age on disease progression using groups of young and old mice flown in space and kept on Earth.

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ISS Crew Studies Space-Caused Eye Pressure and Cultural Differences

The official Expedition crew portrait with (from left) NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and astronaut David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency. (Credit: NASA)

January 17, 2018

The Expedition 58 crew focused again today on studying head and eye pressure changes astronauts experience while living in space. The crew then went on to more science hardware and life support maintenance aboard the International Space Station.

Flight Engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques worked throughout Thursday morning researching the upward flow of fluids that occurs inside astronauts’ bodies. The duo conducted eye scans with a variety of devices to measure eye pressure changes caused by these fluid shifts in microgravity.

McClain then spent the afternoon connecting cables and installing parts on the Multi-Purpose Small Payload Rack (MSPR) that houses small experiments in the Kibo lab module. Saint-Jacques replaced electronics gear in the Kubik incubator that enables research on seeds, cells and small animals in the Columbus lab module.

Commander Oleg Kononenko ensured the upkeep of life support gear and other station systems in the Russian segment of the orbital lab. The veteran cosmonaut of three previous Expeditions ended the day exploring how station crew members from around the world interact and learn to live together in space.

NASA’s Campaign to Return to the Moon with Global Partners

Contrasted against the stark, crater-marked lunar surface, the Earth is seen rising above the moon on Dec. 24, 1968. As Apollo 8 orbited the moon, Earth is 240,000 miles away. The sunset terminator is seen crossing Africa. (Credits: NASA/Bill Anders)

The Moon is a fundamental part of Earth’s past and future – an off-world location that may hold valuable resources to support space activity and scientific treasures that may tell us more about our own planet. Americans first walked on its surface almost 50 years ago, but the next wave of lunar exploration will be fundamentally different.

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Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to Resume Operations

Hubble Space Telescope (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has moved closer to conducting science operations again with the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, which suspended operations on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Today, Jan. 15, the instrument was brought back to its operations mode.

Shortly after noon EST on Jan. 8, software installed on the Wide Field Camera 3 detected that some voltage levels within the instrument were out of the predefined range. The instrument autonomously suspended its operations as a safety precaution. Upon further investigation, the voltage levels appeared to be within normal range, yet the engineering data within the telemetry circuits for those voltage levels were not accurate. In addition, all other telemetry within those circuits also contained erroneous values indicating that this was a telemetry issue and not a power supply issue.

After resetting the telemetry circuits and associated boards, additional engineering data were collected and the instrument was brought back to operations. All values were normal. Additional calibration and tests will be run over the next 48 to 72 hours to ensure that the instrument is operating properly. Further investigation using both the new and the previously collected engineering data will be conducted to determine why those data values were originally incorrect.

Assuming that all tests work as planned, it is expected that the Wide Field Camera 3 will start to collect science images again by the end of the week.

The Wide Field Camera 3 was installed during the last servicing mission to Hubble back in 2009.  Over 2,000 peer-reviewed published papers have been produced from its data. Hubble itself is in its 29th year of operations, well surpassing its original 15-year lifetime.

Hubble operations, like other satellite operations, are excepted activities as defined in the NASA furlough/shutdown plan. The current partial government shutdown does not affect its flight operations.

For more information about Hubble, visit:

www.nasa.gov/hubble

New Movie Shows Ultima Thule from an Approaching New Horizons


LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — This movie shows the propeller-like rotation of Ultima Thule in the seven hours between 20:00 UT (3 p.m. ET) on Dec. 31, 2018, and 05:01 UT (12:01 a.m.) on Jan. 1, 2019, as seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons as the spacecraft sped toward its close encounter with the Kuiper Belt object at 05:33 UT (12:33 a.m. ET) on Jan. 1.

During this deep-space photo shoot – part of the farthest planetary flyby in history – New Horizons’ range to Ultima Thule decreased from 310,000 miles (500,000 kilometers, farther than the distance from the Earth to the Moon) to just 17,100 miles (28,000 kilometers), during which the images became steadily larger and more detailed. The team processed two different image sequences; the bottom sequence shows the images at their original relative sizes, while the top corrects for the changing distance, so that Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) appears at constant size but becomes more detailed as the approach progresses.


All the images have been sharpened using scientific techniques that enhance detail. The original image scale is 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) per pixel in the first frame, and 0.08 miles (0.14 kilometers) per pixel in the last frame. The rotation period of Ultima Thule is about 16 hours, so the movie covers a little under half a rotation. Among other things, the New Horizons science team will use these images to help determine the three-dimensional shape of Ultima Thule, in order to better understand its nature and origin.

The raw images included in the movie are available on the New Horizons LORRI website. New Horizons downlinked the two highest-resolution images in this movie immediately after the Jan. 1 flyby, but the more distant images were sent home on Jan. 12-14, after a week when New Horizons was too close to the Sun (from Earth’s point of view) for reliable communications. New Horizons will continue to transmit images – including its closest views of Ultima Thule – and data for the next many months.

Image credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory

Latest Updates From NASA on OSIRIS-REx’s Mission to Asteroid Bennu

This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2, 2018, by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km). (Credits: NASA/University of Arizona)

January 14, 2019

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft continues to orbit Bennu at an altitude ranging from 1.6 to 2.1 km, with an orbital period of 61 hours. The spacecraft has completed 5.5 orbits of Bennu to date. The one-way communication time from the spacecraft back to Earth is around 5.5 minutes.

On the ground, the mission held its 14th Science Team Meeting at the University of Arizona last week. This was the first science team meeting since the spacecraft’s arrival at the asteroid, which means it was also the first gathering where the entire science team was able to work with detailed Bennu data from the spacecraft.

January 07, 2019

On Dec. 29 and 31, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully completed the two maneuvers required to enter orbit about Bennu. The accurate performance of these orbit insertion maneuvers, as well as the continued accurate navigation performance since orbit insertion, allowed for the wave-off of several planned updates to the spacecraft’s orbit determination (OD). The mission’s navigation team will continue to study OD performance over the first few weeks of spacecraft orbits to further refine and predict orbital operations – which will eventually allow the team to reduce the trim burn schedule.

The first orbit of Bennu, which started on Dec. 31, ended 61.4 hours later on Jan. 3. The spacecraft will continue orbiting the asteroid through mid-February.

China, U.S. Exchanged Data on Chang’e-4 Moon Landing

A view of the moon from the Chang’e-4 lander. (Credit: CNSA)

The Associated Press reports that China and the United States exchanged data about the landing of the former’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the moon earlier this month despite severe limits placed on space cooperation between the two nations by the U.S. Congress.

The space agency’s deputy director, Wu Yanhua, said NASA shared information about its lunar orbiter satellite in hopes of monitoring the landing of the Chang’e 4 spacecraft, which made China the first country to land on the far side of the moon earlier this month.

China in turn shared the time and coordinates of Chang’e 4’s scheduled landing, Wu told reporters during a briefing on the lunar mission. He added that while NASA’s satellite did not catch the precise moment of landing, it took photographs of the area afterward.

The state-run China Daily said that was the first such form of cooperation since the 2011 U.S. law was enacted.

Steam-Powered Asteroid Hoppers Developed through UCF Collaboration

By using steam rather than fuel, the World Is Not Enough (WINE) spacecraft prototype can theoretically explore “forever,” as long as water and sufficiently low gravity is present. (Credit: UCF)

By using steam rather than fuel, the microwave-size spacecraft prototype
can theoretically explore celestial objects “forever.”

By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
University of Central Florida News

Using steam to propel a spacecraft from asteroid to asteroid is now possible, thanks to a collaboration between a private space company and the University of Central Florida.

UCF planetary research scientist Phil Metzger worked with Honeybee Robotics of Pasadena, California, which developed the World Is Not Enough spacecraft prototype that extracts water from asteroids or other planetary bodies to generate steam and propel itself to its next mining target.

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SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo 1 Flight Slips to February

Crew Dragon for DM-1 mission with Falcon 9 booster. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA and SpaceX are continuing to work on the activities leading toward the Demo-1, uncrewed flight test to the International Space Station. NASA and SpaceX are now targeting no earlier than February for the launch of Demo-1 to complete hardware testing and joint reviews. NASA and SpaceX will confirm a new target date after coordination with the Eastern Range and the International Space Station Program.

National Space Club Honors Robert Lightfoot with Goddard Trophy

Robert Lightfoot

WASHINGTON, DC, January 8, 2019 (National Space Club PR) — The National Space Club and Foundation is pleased to announce that Robert M. Lightfoot, Jr. has won the 2019 Dr. Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy in recognition of his exceptional service to this country and its space program.

The trophy is the Club’s highest honor and is presented annually to the team or individual who has provided leadership in groundbreaking space and aeronautics capability for the United States of America. The award will be presented at the 62nd Annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner, taking place at the Washington Hilton Hotel on Friday, March 22, 2019.

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NASA’s TESS Rounds Up its First Planets, Snares Far-flung Supernovae

Credit: NASA

By Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has found three confirmed exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system, in its first three months of observations.

The mission’s sensitive cameras also captured 100 short-lived changes — most of them likely stellar outbursts — in the same region of the sky. They include six supernova explosions whose brightening light was recorded by TESS even before the outbursts were discovered by ground-based telescopes.

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