A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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SpaceX Ruled Roost in 2017, Boosting U.S. to No. 1 in Global Launches

Falcon 9 carries the Dragon cargo ship into orbit. (Credit: NASA TV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX had a banner year in 2017, launching a record 18 times and helping to propel the United States to the top of the global launch table with a perfect 29-0 record. The U.S. total made up 32.2 percent of 90 orbital launches worldwide, which was an increase over the 85 flights conducted in 2016.

The 29 American launches were a leap of seven over the 22 flights conducted the previous year. This is the highest number of American orbital launches since the 31 flights undertaken in 1999. However, that year the nation’s launch providers suffered four failures whereas they were perfect in 2017.

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Chinese Supply Ship Refuels Tiangong-2 Space Station

The Tianzhou-1 cargo ship has completed its second refueling test of the Tiangong-2 space station, Chinese media report.

The second refueling, lasting about two days, further tested the country’s refueling technology and cemented technical results from the first refueling.

Tianzhou-1, China’s first cargo spacecraft, was launched on April 20 from south China’s Hainan Province, and it completed automated docking with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab on April 22.

The two spacecraft completed their first in-orbit refueling on April 27, at an orbit of 393 kilometers above the earth….

According to the flight plan, Tianzhou-1 will fly around Tiangong-2 and then carry out a second docking.

Read the full story.

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Tianzhou-1 Cargo Ship Docks with Chinese Space Station

The Tianzhou-1 cargo ship successfully docked with the unoccupied Tiangong-2 space station on Saturday, Chinese media report.

Launched on Tuesday, the cargo vessel will dock twice more with the station to test different rendezvous and docking techniques. One will involve approaching Tiangong-2 from a different direction. Another will shrinking the docking time from two days to six hours.

Tianzhou-1 will later conduct China’s first refueling of a vehicle in orbit.

The success of the mission is a crucial step in China’s plan to launch a permanent space station. The core module is scheduled to launch next year, with additional modules to follow through the completion of construction in 2022.

Tianzhou-1 is carrying a number of scientific experiments during its five-month stay in orbit. The experiments include:

  • stem cell research to investigate human reproduction in space;
  • how bone cells are affected by microgravity;
  • germ cell differentiation research;
  • fluid evaporation and condensation; and,
  • high-precision electrostatic accelerometer research.

China Launches Supply Ship to Tiangong-2 Space Station

China launched its Tianzhou-1 cargo ship aboard a Long March 7 booster on Thursday.

The supply ship is headed for an automated docking with the Tiangong-2 space station, which does not have a crew on board. Two Chinese astronauts occupied the station for 30 days last fall.

Tianzhou-1 will rendezvous and dock with the space station three times. The supply ship, which is larger than the space station, will also test out refueling procedures crucial for a permanent, multi-module space station China plans to begin launching in 2018.

The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Part 2 of 2

There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

Part 1 of 2

The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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China Space Program White Paper Outlines Lunar & Mars Missions

china_flagA white paper outlining China’s space policy for the next five years calls for a sample return mission to the moon, a landing on the far side of Earth’s closest neighbor, and the launch of an orbiter and lander to Mars by 2020.

China will also begin constructing a permanent space station and research and development work on a heavy-lift launcher, reusable boosters and satellite servicing systems.

The nation also wants to expand international cooperation in areas that include remote sensing, space applications, lunar and planetary exploration, and human spaceflight.

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China Claims Testing of EmDrive in Space

EmDrive (Credit: Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd.)
EmDrive (Credit: Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd.)

China claims it is testing an EmDrive propulsion system in space.

Dr. Chen Yue, Director of Commercial Satellite Technology for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) announced on December 10, 2016 that not only has China successfully tested EmDrives technology in its laboratories, but that a proof-of-concept is currently undergoing zero-g testing in orbit (according to the International Business Times, this test is taking place on the Tiangong 2 space station).

Unlike traditional engines (such as combustion and ion engines) that expel mass from the system to produce thrust, reactionless engines like the EmDrive use only electricity to generate movement. In the EmDrive, first proposed by Roger Shawyer, the microwave cavity is an asymmetric container, such as a truncated cone, with one end much larger than the other. At the narrower end, a source of electromagnetic energy (such as a magnetron) bombards the cavity with microwaves. These waves are contained and bounce off the cavity’s walls, creating electromagnetic resonance. Due to the imbalanced resonance from the complex geometry of a truncated cone, the electromagnetic field in the EmDrive becomes directionally dependent (anisotropic). In this case, the anisotropic electromagnetic field ‘pushes’ the EmDrive away from the direction of the cavity’s larger area end.

Read the full story.

Chinese Astronauts Return From Tiangong-2 Space Station

china_flagTwo Chinese astronauts returned to Earth safely on Friday after a 30-day stay aboard the Tiangong-2 space station.

Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong were reported to be in good condition after their Shenzhou 11 spacecraft touched down in Inner Mongolia. Their mission, which lasted just over 32 days, was China’s longest human spaceflight.

The two astronauts carried out a series of experiments while on board the space station and tested technologies for use aboard a permanent, multi-module facility that China plans to begin launching around 2018. The station is set to be completed around 2022.

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China Launches Astronauts to Tiangong-2 Space Station

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)
Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

China successfully launched two astronauts into space on Monday morning for a 30-day stay aboard the Tiangong-2 space station.

Veteran Chinese astronaut Jing Haipeng and rookie Chen Dong lifted off aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft from Jiunquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. The Long March 2F booster appeared to perform flawlessly in a launch shown live around the world.

Shenzhou-11 spacecraft in orbit. (Credit: CCTV)
Shenzhou-11 spacecraft in orbit. (Credit: CCTV)

Shenzhou-11 is now in orbit and has deployed its two solar arrays as planned. Chinese officials said the spacecraft is performing as planned. The astronauts will dock with the space station two days from now.

Haipeng, 50, previously flew aboard Shenzhou 7, which was a three-day mission conducted in 2008, and commanded Shenzhou-9 on a 13-day flight to the Tiangong-1 space station in 20012. This is the first flight for Dong, 37.

Tiangong-2 is similar to its predecessor in size and design. It is about half the size of the 20-meter long Salyut 1 space station flown by the Soviet Union in the early 1970’s.

China plans to launch the core of a multi-module space station around 2018. Construction of the facility is expected to be complete four years later.

This mission is the sixth Shenzhou flight with a crew aboard for the three-seat spacecraft, which resembles the Russian Soyuz transport in design. It is the first mission with a crew aboard since Shenzhou-10 in June 2013.

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China Launches Tiangong-2 Space Station

china_flagThe Chinese successfully launched the Tiangong-2 space station into orbit from aboard a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

A two-man crew is scheduled to launch to the station in October aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft. The crew will carry out a 30-day mission aboard the space station before returning to Earth.

Tiangong-2 is a precursor to a multi-module station that China will be assembling later this decade. Officials had previously said they would begin launching the new facility around 2018. However, media reports today say the first launch could occur next year.

 

China Plans Launch of Permanent Space Station Around 2018

Artist's conception of China's Tianhe-1 space station. (Credit: China Manned Space Engineering)
Artist’s conception of China’s Tianhe-1 space station. (Credit: China Manned Space Engineering)

China plans to launch the core of its permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018, with full assembling of the multi-module facility due to be complete about four years later, officials said last week.

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