Back In The Soyuz Again?

The good news is that we probably won’t have to abandon the International Space Station after all. The bad news is that we’re still dependent on the Russians to get our astronauts there.

NASA Confirms Russian Soyuz Failure Findings

An independent NASA panel reviewing data related to the Aug. 24 failure of the Russian Soyuz rocket transporting cargo to the International Space Station has confirmed that the Russian space agency correctly identified the cause of the problem and is taking appropriate steps to resolve it before the rocket’s next launch scheduled for Oct. 30, said William H. Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, determined that the most likely cause of the failure was contamination in the rocket’s fuel lines or stabilizer valve, which caused low fuel supply to the gas generator, Gerstenmaier told lawmakers Oct. 12 during a hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s space and aeronautics panel.

See also:
NASA review clears way for manned Soyuz flights
Russian Soyuz Recovery Strategy Endorsed
NASA ‘confident’ Russia’s Soyuz rocket safe
NASA says Soyuz rockets safe for American astronauts
Russian Rocket Failure Shouldn’t Force Space Station Evacuation, NASA Tells Lawmakers
NASA Gives Blessing for Soyuz Rocket, Which is Ready for Takeoff [PHOTOS]
August’s Russian rocket failure is unlikely to force evacuation of the International Space Station
NASA Says Russian Soyuz Flight Risk Low
NASA offers Congress assurances over space station

Hopefully, the Russians have come to the correct conclusion as to what the glitch was on last August’s failed resupply flight and have taken the proper actions to fix the problem.

/although I’d feel a whole lot better if the next Soyuz flight, the first since the August crash, wasn’t manned, just in case the Russians still have it wrong

Picking Up Where We Left Off

NASA may be grounded, but the Chinese are just getting warmed up.

Rocket launches Chinese space lab

A rocket carrying China’s first space laboratory, Tiangong-1, has launched from the north of the country.

The Long March vehicle lifted clear from the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert at 21:16 local time (13:16 GMT).

The rocket’s ascent took the lab out over the Pacific, and on a path to an orbit some 350km above the Earth.

The 10.5m-long, cylindrical module will be unmanned for the time being, but the country’s astronauts, or yuhangyuans, are expected to visit it next year.

Tiangong means “heavenly palace” in Chinese.

See also:
“Heavenly Palace:” China’s dream home in space
Space flight in service of science
Tiangong-1 blasts off
China’s Space Launch Closes Gap With U.S.
China launches Heavenly Palace space station module
China launches module for space station
China launches 1st space station module
China Launches Spacecraft, Eyes Space Station
China Launches ‘Heavenly Palace-1’ Into Space; Takes Step Toward Station
China Set to Launch Its Own Space Station; Mission: Unknown
China Launches Space Lab; An Insider Look Into China Space Program
Rocket’s red glaring error: China sets space launch to America the Beautiful
Tiangong 1

Okay, so the Chinese are still quite a ways behind the U.S. space program.

/but hey, at least they have an active space program

Abandon Ship!

What’s I say? This is what happens when you put all your eggs in the Russian technology basket and the basket falls apart.

Space station could be abandoned in November

Astronauts may need to temporarily withdraw from the International Space Station before the end of this year if Russia is unable to resume manned flights of its Soyuz rocket after a failed cargo launch last week, according to the NASA official in charge of the outpost.

Despite a delivery of important logistics by the final space shuttle mission in July, safety concerns with landing Soyuz capsules in the middle of winter could force the space station to fly unmanned beginning in November, according to Michael Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager.

“Logistically, we can support [operations] almost forever, but eventually if we don’t see the Soyuz spacecraft, we’ll probably going to unmanned ops before the end of the year,” Suffredini said in an interview Thursday, one day after Russia lost a Soyuz rocket with an automated Progress resupply ship bound for the space station.

See also:
Will the Space Station be Abandoned?
International Space Station might be abandoned in November
Cargo Craft Loss Prompts ISS Concerns
NASA Sets Space Station Status Update Briefing for Monday
Roscosmos smarting after Progress loss
ISS crew safe despite supply failure: Russia, US
Matt Reed: After Russian crash, turn to the F-150 of American rockets
Progress Fails To Make Progress

Okay, so the Russian rockets are turning out to be piles of junk. Why can’t we launch the Progress cargo ship or the manned Soyuz capsule on top of the highly successful, dependable workhorse, Delta IV or Atlas V rockets? Where’s that old fashioned American ingenuity?

/and what about SpaceX, they’re already planning a rendezvous mission to dock with the ISS later this year, why can’t resources be poured into that and the schedule moved up?

Progress Fails To Make Progress

It’s been a really bad week for the Russians with two rocket failures in the last seven days and four failures total in less than a year.

Russian Progress space freighter lost

An unmanned freighter launched to the International Space Station (ISS) has been lost.

The Russian space agency said the Progress M-12M cargo ship was not placed in the correct orbit by its rocket and fell back to Earth.

The vessel was carrying three tonnes of supplies for the ISS astronauts.

. . .

It appears the Soyuz rocket’s third and final propulsion stage shut down early. As a result, the Russian federal space agency (Roskosmos) said, the Progress vessel “was not placed in the correct orbit”.

. . .

Officials reported the ship coming down in Russia’s Altai province, some 1,500km northeast of the launch site. A loud explosion was heard in the region and there were reports of windows being blown out, but it is not thought there were any injuries on the ground as a result of wreckage coming out of the sky.

See also:
Russia’s Progress M-12M launches toward ISS – fails to achieve orbit
Russian supply spacecraft crashes after launch
Russian cargo rocket lost in rare launch mishap
Technology.ISS supplies strained as Russian Progress freighter crashes to Earth
Space station manager: We can weather the Russian crash
Rocket headed for space station crashes
Russian Progress unmanned ISS resupply vehicle lost during launch
Russian Progress space truck crashes in Siberia
Unmanned Russian Supply Ship for Space Station Crashes
Search Underway for Remains of Russian Spacecraft
Debris from Russian space freighter falls in south Siberia
Spaceship crash ‘exposes Russia’s systemic failures’
Russia likely to suspend space deliveries over loss of Progress freighter
Roscosmos to tighten control of space industry after rocket lost
Russia grounds rocket, orders probe
Russian spacecraft lost to apparent engine failure uninsured
Will cargo crash leave ISS crew high and dry?

It’s not that I was a big fan of the space shuttle, but if the Russians can’t get these recurrent rocket failure problems under control, there’s a possibility that the International Space Station might eventually have to be abandoned, because there’s currently no available alternative to supply the ISS. The ISS managers are putting on a brave face that they can manage the cargo loss, but losing three tons of scheduled resupply has just got to hurt.

/what is it they say about putting all your eggs in one basket?

It Is Heavy And Obama Can’t Cancel It

Obama may have killed the Constellation program, but he can’t stop SpaceX.

Huge Private Rocket Could Send Astronauts to the Moon or Mars

A massive new private rocket envisioned by the commercial spaceflight company SpaceX could do more than just ferry big satellites and spacecraft into orbit. It could even help return astronauts to the moon, the rocket’s builder says.

SpaceX announced plans to build the huge rocket, called the Falcon Heavy, yesterday (April 5). To make the new booster, SpaceX will upgrade its Falcon 9 rockets with twin strap-on boosters and other systems to make them capable of launching larger payloads into space than any other rocket operating today.

But the Falcon Heavy’s increased power could also be put toward traveling beyond low-Earth orbit and out into the solar system, said SpaceX’s founder and CEO Elon Musk during a Tuesday press conference.

See also:
SpaceX Unveils Plans for Falcon Heavy, World’s Largest Rocket
SpaceX announces Falcon Heavy: a low-cost, heavy-lifting, 22-story rocket
SpaceX unveils plans for Falcon heavy lift rocket
Space privateers to launch biggest rocket since 70s
SpaceX preps world’s largest rocket. It’s low cost, too
The Tech Behind the New SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket
SpaceX’s ‘Falcon Heavy’ Most Powerful Private Rocket Ever
SpaceX shoots for ‘next big thing’
SpaceX unveils heavy launcher
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation
SpaceX
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation – Falcon Heavy
Falcon Heavy

If the Falcon Heavy becomes operational and performs as expected, this rocket will be able to lift a heavier payload into space than any other rocket ever built, other than the Saturn V behemoth.

/Wernher von Braun would be proud

You Can’t Go Home Again

Do we really need to put a man on Mars this badly?

Scientists Propose One-Way Mars Spaceflights

Two U.S. scientists have proposed a unique and somewhat controversial solution to the challenges presented by a potential mission to Mars–they suggest making it a one-way trip.

In their article “To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission To Mars,” which has been published in the latest edition of the Journal of Cosmology, authors Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University and Paul Davies of Arizona State University propose that nixing a return flight “would cut the costs several fold but ensure at the same time a continuous commitment to the exploration of Mars in particular and space in general.”

“It would also obviate the need for years of rehabilitation for returning astronauts, which would not be an issue if the astronauts were to remain in the low-gravity environment of Mars,” they added, arguing that equipment from the Constellation project–a scrapped return mission to the moon–could be used to send two spacecraft, each containing two astronauts, a landing unit, and enough supplies to establish an outpost, to Mars.

See also:
To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars
Scientists Propose One-Way Trips to Mars
Mars Exploration Should be Done in a One-Way Trip, 2 Scientists Say
How to make boots on Mars affordable – One way trips
The fastest way to send humans to Mars is to not worry about bringing them back
Dirk Schulze-Makuch, WSU Professor, Proposes One-Way-Trips to Mars
Will the First Mars Explorers Be the First Mars Settlers?
Scientists propose one-way trips to Mars
Scientists propose one-way trips to Mars
Wanted: Pioneers to take a one-way trip to Mars
A One-Way Trip to Mars

In some ways, this plan appears to have some merit, although it just doesn’t seem to fit with America’s history of space exploration, always planning for the safe return of our astronauts.

/I suppose though, if we plan on continuing manned space exploration to ever more distant destinations, eventually the distances and time involved will make a return trip impractical, if not impossible

The Most Powerful Solid Rocket Motor Ever Canceled

You don’t really think that Obama will actually let the most powerful solid-fuel rocket engine ever produced ever become part of the U.S. space program, do you?

Ares I Five-Segment SRB Lights Up

NASA and Alliant Techsystems (ATK) conducted the second test of the fully developed Ares five-segment solid rocket motor, known as Development Motor-2 (DM-2), on Aug. 31 at ATK’s test facility in Promontory, Utah.

With a roar that reverberated across the surrounding countryside and a blowtorch-bright light, the DM-2 came to life on schedule at 9:27 a.m. MDT. The 2-min. 5-sec. test checked out key design elements of the Ares rocket, which the Obama administration wants to cancel in favor of nurturing commercial means of carrying crew and cargo to low Earth orbit.

The firing of the motor was conducted to collect data on 53 different test objectives. Some of the elements tested include the new insulation, the redesigned rocket nozzle and the motor casing’s liner. When activated, the DM-2 produced about 3.6 million lb. of thrust, equaling 22 million hp. The motor was instrumented with 760 sensors to collect performance data.

At T-0, the engine was ignited and the propellant from the nozzle of the DM-2 sent out a jet of flame. The eruption that followed produced a visible shock wave.

See also:
ATK tests solid rocket motor near Promontory
NASA Tests Rocket Engine Formerly Known as Ares
NASA’s Record-Setting Solid Rocket Enjoys Successful Test-Fire
NASA tests new solid rocket motor, but will it have a rocket to use it?
NASA Tests Engine With an Uncertain Future
Big rocket booster in second test
Nasa booster rocket passes test
NASA’s Biggest-Ever Solid Rocket Shakes Utah
NASA’s booster rocket passes test in Utah

Remember, the DM-2 is part of the Constellation program that Obama cut from the NASA budget when he scrapped U.S. plans to send astronauts back to the Moon.

/Obama doesn’t like space exploration, it wastes money he could be spending bailing out all his union buddies or otherwise buying Democrat votes with massive, “spread the wealth around”, social welfare programs

Better Luck This Time

After failing to remove a broken coolant pump last Sunday, NASA and two American spacewalkers regrouped, tried again, and were successful this time.

Space station spacewalk saga: faulty pump removed, more work ahead

Two crew members from the International Space Station took a major step toward replacing a critical piece of the orbiting laboratory’s cooling system today, following a failed attempt Sunday.

During a 7 hour, 26 minute spacewalk, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Army Col. Douglas Wheelock removed a coolant pump on the outside of the station, clearing the way for another spacewalk Monday to install an on-board spare.

The pump failed unexpectedly on July 31, cutting in half the station’s capacity to shed heat generated by its electrical systems, laboratory experiments, as well as six active astronauts.

The six crew members aboard the station were never in danger, NASA officials have emphasized. But the outage forced mission managers to significantly curtail research activities on the orbiting lab.

“Lots of smiles down here guys,” came the word from mission control as Dr. Caldwell Dyson and Colonel Wheelock sat in the air lock after the spacewalk.

A major fix-it project

Swapping the coolant pumps represents one of the 14 most difficult maintenance jobs station crews face. Spacewalks ordinarily take weeks to plan because they require detailed choreography. But the urgency of returning the station’s cooling system to full capacity prompted planners to accelerate the process for a repair job astronauts had trained for with only the broadest of brush strokes.

For instance, last night, engineers were still working on procedures governing the use of the station’s robotic arm for today’s effort. The broad-brush plan for removal of the pump that astronauts used in training had assumed that the arm wouldn’t be available.

Clamping an astronaut to the end of the robotic arm, then having him hold a 780-pound pump steady while a crew member inside the station moves the two to the spot where planners want to deposit the pump – that’s a procedure planners would rather not develop at the last minute, mission officials said.

But they did.

“There are so many facets to a major change out that you just don’t really get to tackle” in the planning stage “unless you train for it at a very detailed level, which we hadn’t done yet,” said Michael Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager, during a post-spacewalk briefing.

See also:
Spacewalkers make space station coolant repairs
Space Station Repair Job Makes Headway
Astronauts remove cooling pump from space station
Astronauts Successfully Remove Failed Pump on International Space Station
Astronauts successfully remove faulty pump outside ISS
Astronauts progress in mission
Spacewalkers remove railed ammonia pump on space station
Spacewalk Fail

Chalk one up for NASA ingenuity and our adaptable, seat of the pants spacewalking astronauts.

/let’s just hope installing the replacement pump goes more smoothly than removing the old one

Spacewalk Fail

This is not good.

Longest spacewalk in International Space Station’s history fails to fix fault

Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson, two American astronauts, spent just over eight hours in the void outside the space station in an effort to repair the orbiting lab’s faulty cooling system, NASA said.

It was the longest spacewalk in the International Space Station’s history and the sixth longest ever.

“It was a tough one as spacewalks go,” an announcer from NASA’s mission control in Houston, Texas, conceded on a live video feed.

The pair had slept in an airlock beforehand to allow their bodies to adjust to different pressure conditions.

The walk was slightly delayed because of what NASA officials described as a “communication problem” inside Caldwell Dyson’s helmet, but the issue was resolved.

Experts had warned ahead of the spacewalk that the operation was challenging because the astronauts would be handling ammonia lines at full operating pressure, which makes them stiff.

A second spacewalk is planned for Wednesday when the astronauts will once again attempt to repair the system, which shut down on July 31.

See also:
Wrench Thrown Into Repair Work on Spacewalk
Stubborn Fitting Holds up Space Station Repair Job
Astronauts fail to remove broken cooling pump
Spacewalk fails to remove broken cooling pump
3rd spacewalk needed to restore cooling system
Astronauts fail to remove broken cooling pump at ISS
Space station astronauts to make another attempt to mend cooling system

I sure hope they can figure out a way to fix this problem. it’d be a shame to have to abandon the ISS.

/on the bright side however, at least the astronauts didn’t lose an tools in space

A Bad Idea

The Space Shuttle is by far the most dangerous spaceflight program in U.S. history. Is it really a good idea to keep pushing our luck?

NASA: Space Shuttles Could Fly Longer With Extra Funds

The chief of NASA’s space shuttle program said Tuesday that the agency could technically continue to fly its three aging orbiters beyond their planned 2010 retirement if ordered to do so by President Barack Obama and lawmakers. All it would take would be the extra funding needed to pay for it.

Space shuttle program manager John Shannon said NASA spends about $200 million a month on its space shuttle program. That’s about $2.4 billion a year that would be required to keep the shuttle flying beyond their 2010 retirement date, he said.

NASA currently plans to retire the space shuttle fleet in the fall after flying the last of four final shuttle missions remaining for this year. The next shuttle to fly is Discovery, which is poised to blast off on April 5 to deliver vital supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station.

The fleet’s retirement would end more than 29 years of U.S. space shuttle flights and leave NASA without a dedicated American spacecraft for launching astronauts into orbit.

Some U.S. senators and members of Congress have expressed support for extending the shuttle program, with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) filing a bill last week formally seeking a reprieve for NASA’s space shuttle fleet.

See also:
Congress tries to alter Obama’s plans for NASA
NASA: Money key to more space shuttle flights
Senate Bill Proposes Extending The Shuttle Program By Another Two Years
Senator’s Bill Would Expand Shuttle Program
After 50 years of NASA, we must not leave space
Senator Proposes Shuttle-Extension Hail Mary
NASA space shuttle gearing up for big phase out
Criticism mounts against Obama’s plans to change NASA strategy
President to Defend NASA Aim
Space Shuttle

It’s a shame that Obama wants to cancel the follow on Constellation/Orion program, but extending the life of the Space Shuttle program is not an acceptable alternative.

/the orbiters are past their design life, we’ve already lost 40% of the fleet and 14 astronauts, retire them before we lose another one