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Monday, June 2, 2014

Space and Science News. The Imaginarium.

Space and Science News

New Crew Joins Expedition 40 on ISS

Soyuz spacecraft faces the ISS (image from a previous mission).

Blasting off at night from Kazakhstan, Soyuz TMA-13M lifted off for a rendezvous with the ISS and the Expedition 40 crew already aboard. On the Soyuz were Soyuz Commander Max Suraev, astronaut Reid Wiseman, and ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst. The flight used the new "shortcut" orbital approach so that instead of 2 days, the capsule arrived at the station around six hours later. Docking occurred at 9:44 PM EDT and the hatches opened a couple of hours later. The new orbital approach means that it takes less time for astronauts to get to the ISS than it does for some overseas airline flights!

The full crew of Expedition 40. 

The new crew joins Expedition Commander Steve Swanson and flight engineers Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov who had arrived March 27. The Soyuz is docked at the Russian mini-research module Rassvet. The ISS is orbiting at about 290 miles above the Earth. 


50 Years Ago: Saturn 1 SA-6 Mission Success

Saturn 1 rocket mission SA-6 on pad LC-37B.

On May 28th, 1964, NASA launched the 6th test flight of a Saturn rocket from Cape Canaveral. In this case the rocket was the Saturn 1, boasting eight H-1 engines in the first stage. On this mission, the payload was not the Jupiter nose cone, but was the first "boilerplate" or test version, of the Apollo capsule.

Before the launch: Engineers prepare the "Boilerplate" capsule for the mission.

The mission for this flight was to allow over 113 sensors in the capsule to measure the stresses of flight on the spacecraft, monitoring pressures and acceleration. The capsule was not planned to separate from the stage, but would remain attached.

Dr. Werner Von Braun in front of pad LC-37B. Seeing his dream of rockets to the Moon being tested.

There had been two previous attempts to launch the rocket. The first attempt was scrubbed because of fuel contamination, the second attempt failed due to overheating the guidance system. On this third attempt, engineers discovered a flaw in the optical unit of the instrument panel, covered by liquid oxygen vapors. Engineers determined it would not impact the flight, and a go was given.

Aerial view of the Saturn stack ready for launch.

The rocket lifted off from launch complex pad 37B at seven minutes after Noon, Eastern time. The only problem in the flight occurred when one of the H-1 engines shut down early. The other motors continued to burn a bit longer to compensate. After first stage separation, the second stage ignited and ten seconds later the escape tower jettisoned.

Moment of truth: The first stage ignites.

The second stage with the Apollo test capsule entered orbit reaching up to 123 miles high. The craft managed to make 54 orbits, eventually coming down into the Pacific Ocean.

Artist's concept of the SA-6 mission. The second stage propels the rocket higher into space after dropping the expended first stage.

After examining the instrumentation records, engineers determined that a gearing piece in the H-1 engine was at fault. The gears were replaced for the next launch and no further H-1 engine failures occurred.

Sea Launch Success and Rocket News

Sea Launch mobile launch platform. Credit: Ria Novosti.

Time to get an overview of recent rocket launches from around the world. We'll start with today's successful launch of a Zenit-3SL rocket from the SeaLaunch floating pad from the Pacific Ocean. Sea Launch is a multi-national corporation owned by companies from Norway, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. DEspite the current political and military crisis occurring between Ukraine and Russia, the project has gone ahead and lifted a EutelSat 3B Communications satellite into space. This was the 36th rocket launch for the company. Its last launch on February 1st ended badly as the rocket crashed into the sea soon after take-off. The cause has been pin-pointed to a faulty hydraulic oil pump.

Proton-M rocket ready for Launch from Kazakhstan. Credit: RiaNovosti.

From today's Sea Launch success, let's turn back to May 16th and the latest Russian launch embarrassment. A Proton-M rocket carrying an Express-AM4R GPS/communications satellite failed to place its payload into orbit as the second stage failed. The satellite would have been Russia's most capable comsat in space. News reports have indicated that pieces of the craft crashed near a Chinese city. The failure comes just after Russian President Putin made jokes about NASA's problems. The Proton series has experienced a number of failures since its first launches.

Delta IV lifts into the sky from Cape Canaveral. Credit: Florida Today.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) performed a great launch of the Delta IV rocket on May 16th. Lifting off from Pad LC-37 at Cape Canaveral, the rocket placed an updated GPS satellite into orbit. The $245 million satellite will be the 31st to join the constellation of American GPS satellites. 

Atlas V on the Pad at Cape Canaveral. Credit:

A week after the Delta launch, ULA performed a launch of the Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral's LC-41. The payload was a classified military satellite. The Atlas V uses a Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines, and the current political stand-off between Russia and the US over Russia's invasion of the Crimea has caused a potential stoppage of supplies of this engine. Russian President Putin has determined that the RD-180 is not to be used by the US for any military missions and there may be further interrupting of missions to the ISS after 2020. ULA has previously used the Delta II rocket for some military applications, but it has been discontinued with one possible flight remaining. The Delta IV launch vehicle may become the military go-to launcher if the Atlas V becomes limited to commercial flights only, but no final determination has been made.

Rokot blasts off from  Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Credit: ITAR-Tass.

On the 23rd, the Russians also launched a military mission. Lifting off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, the Rokot booster lifted the Bris-M upper stage into high altitude before placing 3 Russian military satellites into their orbits. The Rokot is a lighter vehicle, and I'm not aware if it can lift satellites designed to work with the troublesome Proton-M rocket.

Rokot ascending. Credit: ITAR-Tass.

Japan's H2A lifts off from Tanegashima Space Center. Credit: KYODO/The Japan Times.

Finally we get to the Far East, where the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (also known as JAXA) launched a heavy H-2A rocket carrying the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2. This spacecraft is designed to map regions of the Earth that suffer natural disasters and emergencies. It will also be used to study tropical rain forests, ice packs and other geological features affected by natural and man-made disasters.

Perhaps it can located trouble before the next Godzilla attack (Just kidding, no offense!).

Posted by Mark Daymont

The Imaginarium

Those Old Cartoons were the best!

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