Wednesday, October 22, 2008

India is going to the moon...

Everybody seems to want to go the moon these days. Russia does, China does, Europe, as usual, "says" it does (if someone else provides the ferry ship ;)) and the US, of course, will, too.

Today, India has launched a moon mission, just to tell us they, too, are serious about this topic. A rocket carrying the Chandrayaan-1 probe rocketed into the skies at India's spaceport Sriharikota. Chandrayaan-1's mission will last two years. It is tasked to create a detailed map of minerals and chemical properties of the moon surfaces, as well as general surface structures.

The moon seems to promise big business. It is also politically quite important. With the US right in front of a very important election, it will be very interesting to see which direction the new administration will take. NASA's constellation program is underfunded and has unrealistic goals if being worked on at the current (finance-dictated) pace.

Will the US be among the last folks to go back to the moon? The Russians are on a good path already and seem to have funding and a commercial vision. Or will a new moon race start, where the US demonstrates technical leadership? Interesting question, time will tell. At least we have a new player who seems to be serious inside this game...

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Hubble partly restored, Atlantis heading back...

The Hubble repairs go well, but unfortunately not too well. As NASA reports, the restoration succeeded only partly, some systems are still defunctional:

On Wednesday, October 14, engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center reconfigured six components of the Hubble Data Management System and five components in the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling (SIC &DH) system to use their redundant (or B) sides. This was done to work around a failure that occurred on September 27 in the Side A Science Data Formatter in the SIC&DH and resulted in the cessation of all science observations except for astrometry with the Fine Guidance Sensors.

The reconfiguration proceeded nominally and Hubble resumed the science timeline at Noon ET on Thursday, October 16. The first activities out of that on-board science timeline were the commanding of the science instruments from their safe to operate modes. This occurred nominally for Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi Object Spectrometer. However, an anomaly occurred during the last steps of the commanding to the Advanced Camera for Surveys. At 1:40 pm, when the low voltage power supply to the ACS Solar Blind Channel was commanded on, software running in a microprocessor in ACS detected an incorrect voltage level in the Solar Blind Channel and suspended ACS. Then at 5:14 pm, the Hubble spacecraft computer sensed the loss of a "keep alive" signal from the NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer in the SIC&DH and correctly responded by safing the NSSC-I and the science instruments. It is not yet known if these two events were related.

The investigation into both anomalies is underway. All data has been collected and is being analyzed. The science instruments will remain in safe mode until the NSSC-I issue is resolved. All other subsystems on the spacecraft are performing nominally and astrometry observations continue.

But at least some observations can be carried on.

At the same time, Space Shuttle Atlantis is heading back to the VAB to get to a save haven while the Hubble repair mission is postponed. Unfortunately, a rod struck parts of Atlantis while it was removed from the launch pad. It is now investigated whether or not repairs are necessary. From what I have read, the external tank probably needs some attention, the rest of the space shuttle stack seems to have not been damaged. Thankfully, there is enough time left until mid-February, which is considered the earliest launch date.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Carnival of Space #75 is live

While I hibernated a bit on this blog, things have evolved elsewhere. Thankfully, though, the Carnival of Space has remained. So let me re-start and old tradition today and introduce you to "Lounge of the Lab Lemming: The space carnival has the biggest tent this election" which has a very interesting selection of sites.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

NASA's Ares I Rocket Passes Review To Reach Critical Milestone

NASA has taken a major step toward building the nation's next generation launch vehicle with Wednesday's successful completion of the Ares I rocket preliminary design review.

Starting in 2015, the Ares I rocket will launch the Orion crew exploration vehicle, its crew of four to six astronauts, and small cargo payloads to the International Space Station. The rocket also will be used for missions to explore the moon and beyond in the coming decades.

The preliminary design review is the first such milestone in more than 35 years for a U.S. rocket that will carry astronauts into space. The review was conducted at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. It examined the current design for the Ares I launch vehicle to assess that the planned technical approach will meet NASA's requirements for the fully integrated vehicle. That ensures all components of the vehicle and supporting systems are designed to work together.

"This is a critical step for development of the Ares I rocket," said Rick Gilbrech, associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. "Completing the preliminary design review of the integrated vehicle demonstrates our engineering design and development are on sound footing, and the Ares I design work is taking us another step closer to building America's next mode of space transportation."

The preliminary design review included more than 1,100 reviewers from seven NASA field centers and multiple industry partners. The review is the final step of this design process. Teams representing each major part of the Ares I rocket -- the upper stage engine, first stage and upper stage -- all have conducted similar reviews during the past year.

The preliminary design review is one of a series of reviews that occurs before actual flight hardware can be built. As the review process progresses, more detailed parts of the vehicle design are assessed to ensure the overall system can meet all NASA requirements for safe and reliable flight. This process also identifies technical and management challenges and addresses ways to reduce potential risks as the project goes forward.

"Risk assessment is a very important part of the process," said Steve Cook, manager of the Ares I rocket at Marshall. "It allows us to identify issues that might impact the Ares I rocket. For example, we identified thrust oscillation - vibration in the first stage - as a risk. In response to this issue, we formed an engineering team. The team conducted detailed analyses and reviewed previous test data, and then recommended options to correct the problem."

"We intend to hold a limited follow-up review next summer to fully incorporate the thrust oscillation recommendations into the stacked vehicle design," Cook added. "Identifying risks that can impact the project and resolving them is a necessary and vital part of the development process."

With the completion of this review, each element of the Ares I rocket will move to the detailed design phase. A critical design review will mark the completion of the detailed design phase and allows for a more thorough review of each system element to ensure the vehicle design can achieve requirements of the Ares program.

This week, the J-2X engine will be the first Ares I element to kick off the critical design review process. The engine will power the Ares I upper stage to orbit after separation from the first stage.

"We're excited about getting into full system engine tests with the new J-2X engine," Cook said. "This will be one of the safest, most affordable and highest performing rocket engines ever built, and testing is critical as we begin preparation for future flights."

Marshall manages the Ares projects and is responsible for design and development of the Ares I rocket and Ares V heavy cargo launch vehicle. NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston manages the Constellation Program, which includes the Ares I rocket, the Ares V vehicle, the Orion crew capsule and the Altair lunar lander. NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for ground and launch operations. The program also includes multiple project element teams at NASA centers and contract organizations around the U.S.

For more information about the Ares rockets, visit:

For more information about NASA's Constellation Program, visit:

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hubble "Repair" looks good

It looks good for the Hubble space telescope. According to the NASA web site (quote below), the switch to a backup system looks promising. With that, hubble could operate while the ground folks prepare final repair plans. Repairs are scheduled to be carried out as part of the space shuttle's hubble servicing missing, which now tenatively has been moved to mid-February (some sources say Feb, 17th 2009).

From the NASA site:

The Hubble Space Telescope team completed switching the required hardware modules to their B-sides about 9:30 a.m. this morning and received telemetry that verified they had good data. Everything at this point looks good.

The 486 computer on Hubble was reloaded with data around noon and successfully performed a data dump back to the ground to verify all the loads were proper. At 1:10 p.m. this afternoon the team brought Hubble out of safe mode and placed the 486 computer back in control. Late this afternoon, Gyro #4 (which was needed for safe mode) will be turned off.

The team will reconfigure Side B of the Science Instrument Command & Data Handling (SIC&DH) computer later today and verify it is functioning properly.

Around 6 p.m. this evening the spacecraft will begin executing a pre-science command load, which involves sending normal commands to control the spacecraft and resume communications satellite tracking with the HST high gain antennas.

“We won’t know if we’ve been completely successful until around midnight Wednesday when we demonstrate that the SIC&DH Side B is talking to the instruments and able to pass data to the ground,” said HST Operations Deputy Project Manager Keith Kalinowski at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Expedition 18 on the Way to ISS

A new crew that will live and work aboard the International Space Station rocketed into orbit early Sunday aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. U.S. astronaut E. Michael Fincke, Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov and Richard Garriott, a U.S. computer game developer, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2:01 a.m. CDT.

Fincke, the only American to launch twice on a Soyuz, will serve as commander of the six-month Expedition 18 mission. The mission's main focus will be preparing the station to house six crew members on long-duration missions.

The Expedition 18 crew is scheduled to arrive at the station Tuesday, with docking to the Zarya module scheduled for 3:33 a.m. After the hatches are opened, Expedition 17 Commander Sergey Volkov and spaceflight participant Garriott will become the first children of previous space fliers to greet each other in orbit. Garriott is the son of former NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, who was a member of the Skylab-3 crew in 1973. Volkov is the son of veteran cosmonaut Alexander Volkov, who flew three Soyuz missions.

Garriott will spend nine days on the station under a commercial agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency. He will return to Earth on Oct. 23 with Volkov and Expedition 17 Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko, who have worked aboard the station since April 10.

Expedition 17 Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff, who arrived at the station in June, will be replaced in November by NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus. Space shuttle Endeavour will deliver Magnus and return Chamitoff to Earth.

Endeavour's November STS-126 mission also will deliver equipment to the station necessary for supporting a six-member crew, including a water recycling system, sleeping quarters, a new kitchen, a second toilet, and an advanced exercise device.

Although they will be in space on Election Day, Chamitoff and Fincke have arranged for the chance to cast their ballots from the station.

Reproduced from JSC News. To obtain it directly, follow the procedure outlined below:

NASA Johnson Space Center Mission Status Reports and other information are available automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message to In the body of the message (not the subject line) users should type "subscribe hsfnews" (no quotes). This will add the e-mail address that sent the subscribe message to the news release distribution list. The system will reply with a confirmation via e-mail of each subscription. Once you have subscribed you will receive future news releases via e-mail. To unsubscribe, send an e-mail to with the following command in the body of your e-mail message: "unsubscribe hsfnews" (no quotes) or from another account, besides the account used to subscribe: "unsubscribe hsfnews" (no quotes).

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hubble Servicing Missing Postponed

Finally, I can come back to look a bit more at my space interests. My rsyslog project kept me so busy that I couldn't follow space as much as I liked.

The first thing I see is that the Hubble Servicing missing has been postponed. There is a problem with a critical component inside HST, which, if not fixed, causes fatal problems. Thankfully, the faulty element is designed so that it can be replaced during a servicing mission. Also it was great luck that the component failed now, and not after the (final) hubble servicing mission.

The HST flight has been postponed to early 2009 (NASA tells mid-February as a "no earlier than" date) so that analysis can be completed and repair procedures be created.

As bad as it was, last year's flight delays now have helped saved Hubble! Why? Simply: if not for the delays, the hubble servicing mission would already have been flown by the time the component failed. That would have been the death of hubble. So bad luck sometimes turns into good luck again :)

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