This Day in Space History: Challenger Disaster

January 28, 1986

"Challenger was destroyed in the second minute of STS-51-L, the orbiter's tenth mission, on January 28, 1986 at 11:38:00 a.m. EST ("51-L".), when an O-ring seal on its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed. The O-rings failed to seal due to a variety of factors, including unusually cold temperatures. This failure allowed a plume of flame to leak out of the SRB and impinge on both the external fuel tank (ET) and SRB aft attachment strut. This caused both structural failure of the ET and the SRB pivoting into the orbiter and ET. The vehicle assembly then broke apart under aerodynamic loads."

Wikipedia Article


This Day in Space History: Apollo 1 Disaster

January 27, 1967

"Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee are killed on the launch pad when a flash fire engulfs their command module during testing for the first Apollo/Saturn mission. They are the first U.S. astronauts to die in the line of duty."

From Wired Article


Space Tech of the Week: Delta IV

What is it?:
The Delta IV is part of a family of Delta rockets that were designed for the United States Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and commercial satellite business, and are intended to reduce the cost and effort needed to launch payloads into orbit. The Delta IV is available in five versions: Medium, Medium+ (4,2), Medium+ (5,2), Medium+ (5,4), and Heavy, which are tailored to suit specific payload size and weight ranges. Delta IV launch vehicles can accommodate single or multiple payloads on the same mission. The rockets can launch payloads to polar orbits, sun-synchronous orbits, geosynchronous and geosynchronous transfer orbits (GTO), and low Earth orbit (LEO). Delta IV vehicles can launch payloads weighing from 4,300 kg to 12,980 kg to GTO, and can lift over 23,000 kg to LEO.

The first stage of a Delta IV consists of one, or in the Heavy variety three, Common Booster Cores powered by a Rocketdyne RS-68 engine. Unlike most first-stage rocket engines, which use solid fuel or kerosene, the RS-68 engines burn liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

The RS-68 is the first large, liquid-fueled rocket engine designed in the U.S. since the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) in the 1970s. The primary goal for the RS-68 was to reduce cost versus the SSME. Some sacrifices were made in its design hurting its efficiency; however, development time, part count, total cost, and assembly labor were reduced to a fraction of the SSME. The second stage is powered by a Pratt & Whitney RL-10B2 engine, which features an extendable carbon-carbon nozzle to improve specific impulse.

The Delta IV was designed by Boeing and built in Decatur, Alabama by United Launch Alliance (co-owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing) with final assembly at the launch site (LC-37B at Cape Canaveral or SLC-6 at Vandenberg AFB.) by United Launch Alliance. Each Delta IV rocket is assembled horizontally, erected vertically on the launch pad, integrated with its satellite payload, fueled and launched. This process reduces on-pad time to less than 10 days and the amount of time a vehicle is at the launch site to less than 30 days upon arrival from the factory.

The Delta IV entered the space launch market at a period when global capacity was already much higher than demand. It has had difficulty finding a market in commercial launches, and the cost to launch a Delta IV is somewhat higher than that for competing vehicles. In 2003, Boeing pulled the Delta IV from the commercial market, citing low demand and high costs. All but one of the first launches have been paid for by the U.S. Government, with a cost of between $140 million and $170 million.

NASA originally had plans to use the Delta IV Heavy for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the replacement for the Space Shuttle. But these plans changed and the only component from the Delta IV that NASA has adopted is the RS-68 engine that will be used to power part of the Ares V rocket first stage (there are now talks that the RS-68 will be replaced by the Shuttle's SSME engines for the Ares V first stage).

The first payload launched with a Delta IV was the Eutelsat W5 communications satellite. The launch vehicle was a Medium+ (4,2) variant, launched from Cape Canaveral. It carried the communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) on November 20, 2002.

Delta IV launch on January 18th (17:26):

News on this launch

Boeing's Delta IV Site


Space Tech of the Week: Chandrayaan-1

What is it?: India's first mission to the moon launched by India's national space agency the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The unmanned lunar exploration mission includes a lunar orbiter and an impactor. Chandrayaan is Hindi for Moon traveler.

Chandrayaan was launched onboard the Indian developed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle XL (PSLV-XL) Rocket on October 22, 2008 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh, India. Chandrayaan-1 was sent to the moon using a series of orbit increasing maneuvers around earth instead of a direct shot to the moon. The vehicle was successfully inserted into lunar orbit on November 8, 2008.

On November 14, 2008, the Moon Impact Probe successfully separated from the moon-orbiting Chandrayaan and descended towards the lunar south pole in a controlled manner making India the fourth country to land its flag on the Moon. The probe impacted the lunar south pole on November 14, 2008 releasing subsurface debris that could be analyzed for presence of water ice.

The stated scientific objectives of the mission are:

  • To design, develop, launch and orbit a spacecraft around the Moon using an Indian-made launch vehicle.
  • Conduct scientific experiments using instruments on-board the spacecraft which will yield the following results:
  1. Preparation of a three-dimensional atlas of both the near and far side of the moon.
  2. Chemical and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface at high spatial resolution, mapping particularly the chemical elements Magnesium, Aluminium, Silicon, Calcium, Iron, Titanium, Radon, Uranium, & Thorium.
  3. The impact of a sub-satellite on the surface on the Moon as a fore-runner to future soft-landing missions.
The lunar mission also carries five ISRO payloads and six payloads from other international space agencies including NASA, ESA, and the Bulgarian Aerospace Agency, which were carried free of cost.

ISRO is also planning a second version of Chandrayaan named Chandrayaan II. According to ISRO Chairman G. Madhavan Nair, "The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) hopes to land a motorised rover on the Moon in 2012, as a part of its second Chandrayaan mission. The rover will be designed to move on wheels on the lunar surface, pick up samples of soil or rocks, do on-site chemical analysis and send the data to the mother-spacecraft Chandrayaan II, which will be orbiting above. Chandrayaan II will transmit the data to Earth."

Interesting note: U.S. President elect Barack Obama viewed the launch of Chandrayaan as a challenge to the United States. He stated "We are reminded just how urgently we must revitalize our space program, if we are to remain the undisputed leader in space, science, and technology".

So what are the advantages of this technology?: The estimated cost for the project was US$80 million which is significantly cheaper than similar missions by other countries. Other space programs need to investigate how ISRO was able to do this mission at such low costs and then they need to apply lessons learned.

ESA profile on the Chandrayaan mission:

BBC Report on the mission:

Image of the Moon taken by the spacecraft:

Official Mission Website


Change.gov: Citizen's Briefing Book

I've been following what the Obama Transition team has been doing with their Change.gov website for some time now and saw that just recently they created something they call the Citizen's Briefing Book (http://citizensbriefingbook.change.gov/home)

The idea behind this is for people to : "
Share your ideas on any issue facing the new administration, then rate or comment on other ideas. The best rated ideas will rise to the top -- and be gathered into a Citizen's Briefing Book to be delivered to President Obama after he is sworn in."

Right now there are a few ideas on the site regarding NASA and space exploration but not enough votes to rise to the top. We need more votes so that President-elect Obama can hear our ideas on the future of our nation in space.

Go Vote!


Video from the Houston Chronicle

Falcon 9 vertical at the Pad

From SpaceX Update

Also: Time-lapse video of the Falcon 9 being raised to vertical

Reusable Falcon 9?

SpaceX plans for completely reusable Falcon 9?

"SpaceX chief Elon Musk spoke of his desire to make Falcon 9 the first fully reusable launch vehicle, which he would “love” to include a flyback first stage. Musk also noted he is aiming for Falcon 9 to launch in under 60 minutes from the moment they leave their hangers."

Why go into space?

Original article and interesting discussion at NASA Watch

From original article:
"In ending, space has one further benefit, wealth. It is the wealth of material resources that will help to fund the future. Nations, like companies and families can only prosper when the bank account is positive. We have had a national negative balance on our checking account for a very long time and it is only a matter of time before those checks start bouncing. It is far past time that we start looking at bringing wealth back to our nation and space and its benefits is the greatest single source of wealth around. Recently the World Wildlife Federation proclaimed that it would take the equivalent of two more earth's to provide for the nine billion people that will live on the earth by 2050. Fortunately, with the dozens of Moon, millions of asteroids, and the inexhaustible energy from the Sun, we have more than enough for all."

Space Tech of the Week: Falcon 9

What is it?: Rocket developed by Space Exploration Technologies Co (Space X) with the purpose of reducing the cost per kilogram to orbit. It is an Expendable Launch Vehicle and its first launch is scheduled sometime in the next few weeks.

The Falcon 9 is also the intended launch vehicle for the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. The Dragon will be first used as an unmanned cargo vehicle for the International Space Station but the company hopes to use it (in its heavy launcher format) to eventually transport humans to orbiting space stations like the ISS and the Bigelow Inflatable Space Hotel.

The Falcon 9's first stage will have nine SpaceX Merlin rocket engines (125,000 lbs-f sea level thrust per engine for a total thrust on liftoff of just over 1.1 Million lbs-f) while the second stage will have a single Merlin engine modified for vacuum operation. The second stage tank of Falcon 9 is simply a shorter version of the first stage tank and uses most of the same tooling, material and manufacturing techniques. This results in significant cost savings in vehicle production.

As with the Falcon 1, Falcon 9's launch sequence includes a hold-down feature that allows full engine ignition and systems check before liftoff. If a problem is detected, the vehicle automatically shuts down and offloads the fuel.

The Merlin engine was developed internally at SpaceX. This engine is the highest performance gas generator cycle kerosene engine ever built, exceeding the Boeing Delta II main engine, the Lockheed Atlas II main engine and the Saturn V F-1. This vehicle will be capable of sustaining an engine failure at any point in flight and still successfully completing its mission.

So what are the advantages of this technology?: According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9 will offer the lowest cost per kilogram to orbit, despite providing breakthrough improvements in reliability. SpaceX offers open and fixed pricing that is the same for all customers, including a best price guarantee. Modest discounts are available for contractually committed, multi-launch purchases.

Cost per LEO mission = $36.75M
Cost per TLI mission = $46.75M
Cost per GTO mission:
less than 3500 kg = $36.75M
between 3500-4500 kg = $47.25M
between 4500-5000 kg = $57.75M

The current launching market in the U.S. is dominated by Lockheed Martin and Boeing and therefore there has not been much incentive to find ways to lower their launch costs. With the entrance of SpaceX and their low-cost rockets this could lead to lower costs across the board and makes space based solar power one step closer to reality.

Video of a simulated Falcon 9 launch with a Dragon capsule heading to the International Space Station:

Info sources:


America's Youth not interested in Space?

"We took to the streets with our spaceman to find out if America's youth suffers total disconnect from their space program. "

"Change Not Dollars - Spaceman is on the streets again to see if kids think NASA is spending too much money."

"A Unique Generation - Spaceman is talking to Maerica's youth. Even though they're not very interested in NASA, NASA should be interested in them. "

"Tough Choices - Spaceman is exploring our colleges and he finds that the next generation of NASA scientists are having trouble making the decision to explore space."

Taken from: http://www.youtube.com/user/codysheehy

Construction History of the ISS

Follow the construction history of the ISS:


Rare view of the Space Shuttle

Space Shuttles to Mars?

Space.com Article: Mars trip proposed for Space Shuttles
From the article:
The co-founder of a
rocket launch firm has proposed an audacious plan to send astronauts on a one-way trek to Mars using a pair of tethered U.S. space shuttles that would parachute to the Martian surface.
"My thought paper is a mental exercise to encourage new ideas," Knight told SPACE.com in an e-mail interview.

Instead of mothballing NASA's aging shuttle fleet in 2010, two of the orbiters could be launched with SpaceHab's Research Double Modules in their respective cargo bays for living space.

The two shuttles would be connected in orbit - cargo bay to cargo bay - by a truss outfitted with a central rocket engine to provide the thrust necessary to leave Earth orbit. An inflatable connecting corridor between the two shuttle airlocks would provide astronaut access between the linked spacecraft.


Once underway, the spent rocket engine and its support truss could be jettisoned, and the connecting corridor and a cable tether linking the two space shuttles to extended outward a few hundred feet. The shuttles would then fire their thrusters in concert to enter a gentle spin that could provide slight gravity for the months-long flight through interplanetary space.

Crazy? or... Crazy?


Space Tech of the Week: Solar Power Satellite

What is it?: Large assemblage of solar cells in space that collect sunlight, convert it into electricity, then beam the electricity to receiving stations on Earth using microwave beams.

This technology was first invented by Peter Glaser in 1968 (for which he received a patent).
Today, all the technology needed to make this invention a reality already exists. The greatest challenge in building these mile long satellites is comparable to the challenge of constructing the International Space Station (i.e. lots of launches to haul the parts up and lots of spacewalks putting the pieces together). The microwave receiving stations on Earth could be built in unpopulated areas like deserts or on sea platforms (although they really could be built anywhere because the microwaves being sent down are not at dangerous levels. Read here for more info on this topic) . According to an opinion piece by
Ben Bova (president emeritus of the National Space Society and fiction/non-fiction author) the cost for building a full size satellite would be on the order of $1 billion. One of the main reasons for this high cost is the current cost of space launches. A technology demonstrator (such as the launch of just one operating piece) would be significantly cheaper. According to Bova a single full-size SPS could deliver 5 to 10 Gigawatts of energy to the ground continually (compare this to the total generation capacity of the state of California which today is 4.4 Gigawatts).

So what are the advantages of this technology?: From the extensive wikipedia article:

"The SPS concept is attractive because space has several major advantages over the Earth's surface for the collection of solar power. There is no air in space, so the collecting surfaces would receive much more intense sunlight, unaffected by weather. In geostationary orbit, an SPS would be illuminated over 99% of the time. The SPS would be in Earth's shadow on only a few days at the spring and fall equinoxes; and even then for a maximum of 75 minutes late at night when power demands are at their lowest. This characteristic of SPS based power generation systems to avoid the expensive storage facilities (eg, lakes behind dams, oil storage tanks, coal dumps, etc) necessary in many Earth-based power generation systems. Additionally, an SPS will have none of the polluting consequences of fossil fuel systems, nor the ecological problems resulting from many renewable or low impact power generation systems (eg, dam retention lakes).

Economically, an SPS deployment project would create many new jobs and contract opportunities for industry, which may have political implications in the country or region which undertakes the project. Certainly the energy from an SPS would reduce political tension resulting from unequal distribution of energy supplies (eg, oil, gas, etc). For nations on the equator, SPS provides an incentive to stabilise and a sustained opportunity to lease land for launch sites.

Developing the industrial capacity needed to construct and maintain one or more SPS systems would significantly reduce the cost of other space endeavours. For example, a manned Mars mission might only cost hundreds of millions, instead of tens of billions, if it can rely on an already existing capability."

Animation showing how it works (1:03):

Ad promoting this technology (4:29):

European Space Agency video discussing the technology (4:53):

1975 NASA Demonstration of high power long distance wireless power transmission (2:15):
Recently, a former NASA researcher was able to wirelessly transfer electricity 92 miles from one Hawaiian island to another (Read Wired article here). This distance is 100 times larger than the NASA demonstration seen above.


News: SpaceX's Falcon 9 fully integrated at Cape Canaveral, FL

"Tuesday, December 30th, 2008
Falcon 9 is now fully integrated at the Cape! Today we mated the 5.2 m payload fairing to the Falcon 9 first stage (see below). This was the final step in the integration process—one day ahead of schedule.

With Falcon 9 integrated, our focus shifts to the big launch mount and erector. All the pieces have been delivered, and the coming days will see a tremendous amount of welding to join them all together.

The long hours put in by the SpaceX team over the last several weeks, particularly the folks on the ground at the Cape, are certainly paying off. Once the launch mount and erector are complete, we'll transfer Falcon 9 on to the erector and raise it to vertical early in 2009. Happy New Year!"

From: Space X Updates