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Daily archives "August 14, 2016"

2 Articles

SpaceX sticks the landing. Again.

Falcon 9 booster on the deck of the 'Of Course I Still Love You' after completing its part of launching the JCSAT-16 satellite.

Falcon 9 booster on the deck of the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ after completing its part of launching the JCSAT-16 satellite. Credit: SpaceX

In what is becoming an increasingly expected occurrence, SpaceX has successfully recovered the first stage of one of their Falcon 9 rockets. The company still considers the landing attempts to be ‘experimental’, and they do still encounter the occasional failure, but it’s undeniable that their accuracy is greatly improved.

As with several past landing attempts at sea, the video feed from the automated drone ship cut just as the stage approached the deck of the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’. While waiting for video confirmation of the stage’s fate, the official SpaceX Twitter account tweeted that the stage had, indeed, landed. This was quickly confirmed on the video feed, which showed the booster sitting nearly dead-center of the circular landing zone painted on the deck of the ship.

While many people are interested in the launch and landing attempts, the primary mission – the deployment of the JCSAT-16 satellite – was still underway at the time of the booster recovery. After a pause during the second stage’s coast phase, the hosted feed continued when the upper stage’s engine was re-ignited in order to place the satellite on the intended geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), followed by the subsequent deployment of the satellite. All appeared to go well, and SpaceX can count this as another successful mission, both in its primary and secondary goals.

Though the company has recovered several boosters – some at sea and some returning to land – they have yet to re-fly any of the recovered vehicles. But that may soon change. SpaceX has recently been testing the booster recovered from the JCSAT-14 mission at their McGregor, TX testing facility in an effort to better understand the condition a booster may be in after such a high-energy flight profile.

There have been no shortage of customers interested in having their payload fly on one of the recovered boosters, with an executive from the large satellite operator SES stating that they would be keen to be the first company to do so. There have been reports that SpaceX has found a customer for this historic launch, though there has been no independent confirmation from the company about who that may be.

More news as it becomes available.

NASA selects six companies to develop deep space habitation prototypes

Conceptual image of a deep space habitation module. Credit: NASA

Conceptual image of a deep space habitation module. Credit: NASA

NASA recently announced they have selected six companies to develop ground prototypes of deep space habitation modules as part of the agency’s ‘Journey to Mars’. Though NASA has been making steady progress on their heavy-lift rocket – the Space Launch System (SLS) – and the Orion spacecraft, a lengthy interplanetary journey will require a dedicated habitation module.

To that end, NASA has partnered with Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems, and NanoRacks to develop prototypes and concepts of habitation modules suitable for such a journey. The companies will have approximately 24 months to produce a prototype and/or a concept study.

“NASA is on an ambitious expansion of human spaceflight, including the Journey to Mars, and we’re utilizing the innovation, skill and knowledge of both the government and private sectors,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems in a press release issued by the agency. “The next human exploration capabilities needed beyond the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule are deep space, long duration habitation and in-space propulsion. We are now adding focus and specifics on the deep space habitats where humans will live and work independently for months or years at a time, without cargo supply deliveries from Earth.”

Developing ground prototypes is crucial in understanding how the habitats will integrate into an overall crewed system. Both physical and virtual models will be used to test and plan the layouts of the modules. It’s better to work through hundreds, or thousands, of iterations on the ground than to find out something doesn’t work once it’s on orbit.

Expedition 47 astronauts and cosmonauts gather for a group photo inside BEAM. Credit: Tim Peake/ESA/NASA

Expedition 47 astronauts and cosmonauts gather for a group photo inside BEAM. Credit: Tim Peake/ESA/NASA

One of the companies, Bigelow Aerospace, currently has a test module attached to the International Space Station (ISS). Their Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was launched to the ISS aboard the SpaceX CRS-8 mission on April 8, 2016, and subsequently attached to the orbiting outpost eight days later. After some initial hitches, BEAM was eventually fully expanded and pressurized. Though not nominally inhabited, astronauts will occasionally enter BEAM to recover test data to send back to Bigelow.

Bigelow expects to field their XBASE (Expandable Bigelow Advanced Station Enhancement) module for the NextSTEP initiative. The 330 cubic meter habitat is based on the company’s B-330 spacecraft, though modified to attach to the ISS as a “visiting vehicle”. By comparison, BEAM is 16 cubic meters in volume.

Orbital ATK also hopes to leverage its experience with ISS operations. Based off the company’s cargo resupply ship, Orbital ATK looks to develop a solution derived from their Cygnus spacecraft. The enlarged module would operate in cislunar space, maturing the design and systems, while the company develops a Mars-focused roadmap.

You can read more about this initiative on NASA’s site, including the proposed designs from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and NanoRacks.

Concept of Lockheed Martin's NextSTEP-2 habitat with Orion. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Concept of Lockheed Martin’s NextSTEP-2 habitat with Orion. Credit: Lockheed Martin