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GOES-R successfully launched on ULA Atlas V

The Atlas V 541 carrying GOES-R lifts off at 6:42pm EST. Credit: Curt Godwin

The Atlas V 541 carrying GOES-R lifts off at 6:42pm EST. Credit: Curt Godwin

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The launch window extended for an hour, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) needed every minute of it. After resolving multiple issues, the Atlas V rocketed into the black on a mission to send the most advanced weather satellite, GOES-R, into geostationary orbit.

The first issue that cropped up turned out to be a false-positive indicator on the launch vehicle. ULA’s frustrations didn’t end there, however. The Eastern Range also encountered an issue, which delayed the liftoff time to the very end of the window. Finally, under nearly perfect conditions, the Atlas V 541 with GOES-R lifted off at 6:42 p.m. EST (23:42 GMT) from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The workhorse of ULAs stable of launch vehicles, the Atlas V for this mission was set up in its 541 configuration: this includes a 5-meter payload fairing, four supplemental solid rocket boosters, and a single-engined Centaur stage.

It was the fourth launch of this configuration of the Atlas V, with the most notable payload being the Mars Science Laboratory – otherwise known as Curiosity – which took to the skies in November 2011.

Much more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider

Weather appears favorable for launch of GOES-R on ULA Atlas V

The ULA Atlas V carrying GOES-R makes its way to the pad. Credit: Curt Godwin

The ULA Atlas V carrying GOES-R makes its way to the pad. Credit: Curt Godwin

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — After being subjected to delays caused by weather and troublesome hardware, the next-generation GOES-R weather satellite is soon to liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41), the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), with a scheduled launch date of Saturday, November 19, 2016.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series (GOES-R) spacecraft, a collaborative project between NOAA and NASA, and based on the Lockheed Martin A2100 satellite model, will augment the current stable of three active GOES satellites and will monitor weather in the Western Hemisphere. GOES-R will be given the operational designation of GOES 16 once it reaches its orbital slot, approximately 22,300 miles (35,888 kilometers) above the equator.

GOES-R represents the fourth generation of weather monitoring satellites operated by NOAA and will eventually be joined by three more of its family, culminating with the projected launch of GOES-U in 2024.

Weather forecasters and climate scientists have been eagerly awaiting the launch of GOES-R, which promises to greatly increase the amount of weather data that can be collected from orbit. In fact, GOES-R will provide nearly real-time weather data, with a fidelity and speed unmatched by the current generation of GOES satellites.

Read much more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider

Coming soon to a small screen near you: ME!

Logo for the GOES-R mission. Credit: NOAA/NASA

Logo for the GOES-R mission. Credit: NOAA/NASA

I’ve been told that I have a face for radio, and a voice pleasing to the hard-of-hearing…and in just a few days, you lucky space fans will have the opportunity to witness the train wreck that is me in front of a camera.

That’s right – I’ll be hosting SpaceFlight Insider’s LIVE coverage of the GOES-R launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday, November 19, 2016.

Though I’ve done some live broadcasts before, this will be the first time that an established brand’s reputation is in my hands. Lord help them.

Seriously, though, I’m honored SFI is trusting me with broadcast, and I’m certain it’ll be an excellent show. Provided there’s no scrub or delay, this will be my first in-person launch, so expect a bit of excitement. I’ll post more information as it becomes available.

NASA’s GRAIL sheds light on Moon’s geology

GRAIL measured the gravity around the Orientale basin. Colors represent the measurement of gravitational acceleration in units of “gals“. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

GRAIL measured the gravity around the Orientale basin. Colors represent the measurement of gravitational acceleration in units of “gals“. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

What does a 3.8 billion-year-old crater have in common with data from a pair of spacecraft that crashed into the Moon nearly four years ago? Both are helping to provide clues about the geology of Earth’s natural satellite.

Though the Moon may be Earth’s nearest neighbor in space, that doesn’t mean it has long since given up its secrets. NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) twin spacecraft orbited the Moon for nearly a year, collecting a wealth of gravitational field data, before impacting the Moon’s surface on December 17, 2012.

Researchers have been poring over the data collected from 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) above the enormous Mare Orientale impact basin, and have published two papers in the journal Science this week – one focusing on understanding the structures of large impacts, and the other detailing how Orientale formed and applying that information to create simulations accurately portraying the formation of the basin.

Of particular interest was the structure of the crater itself. With smaller impacts, “classic” bowl-shaped craters are formed. However, larger collisions create a markedly different formation – wide, flat basins, often with multiple walls or rings. It had been theorized that the rings in Orientale were remnants of the initial impact.

Read much more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider

Elon Musk answers questions in a surprise Reddit AMA

Artist’s rendering of SpaceX’s ship on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. Credit: SpaceX

Artist’s rendering of SpaceX’s ship on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. Credit: SpaceX

In stark contrast to questions SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk encountered following his Mars architecture announcement at the 2016 International Astronautical Congress (IAC) earlier this year, the NewSpace entrepreneur entertained questions from a more informed group in a surprise Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Oct. 23, 2016.

The AMA took place in the website’s r/spacex forum and shed some light on SpaceX’s future plans. Participants were asked to refrain from asking questions about Tesla or Solar City. If fact, Musk spent little time discussing much beyond the company’s Mars-centric hardware. He did, however, talk about the company’s upcoming upgrade for the Falcon 9 rocket.

Read much more in my full piece for SpaceFlight Insider

Orbital ATK’s S.S. Alan Poindexter arrives at the ISS

Orbital ATK's S.S. Alan Poindexter, designated OA-5, arrives at the International Space Station on Sept. 23, 2016. Credit: NASA

Orbital ATK’s S.S. Alan Poindexter, designated OA-5, arrives at the International Space Station on Sept. 23, 2016. Credit: NASA

Nearly a week after its launch, Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, October 23, 2016, at 10:53 a.m. EDT (14:53 GMT), 250 miles (402 kilometers) above the Indian Ocean, and is attached to the nadir (Earth-facing) port on the station’s Unity module.

The S.S. Alan Poindexter, designated OA-5 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 1 (CRS-1) contract, delivered 5,300 pounds (2,400 kilograms) of cargo to the orbiting outpost and marks the third flight of the enhanced iteration of the uncrewed cargo vessel, and the first on the redesigned Antares medium-class launch vehicle.

Read more in my full piece on SpaceFlight Insider.

NASA’s JPL hopes to improve nuclear batteries used on spacecraft

DOE contractor guides the removal of the cask protecting Curiosity's MMRTG. Credit: NASA

DOE contractor guides the removal of the cask protecting Curiosity’s MMRTG. Credit: NASA

Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) have been the power source for many of the most ambitious exploration missions in NASA’s history, powering spacecraft in areas too remote, or too impractical, for solar panels to provide sufficient electricity. A new development to this power-generating workhorse may soon substantially improve the capabilities of the RTG, possibly benefiting both interplanetary missions and daily life here on Earth.

In an Oct. 13, 2016, releaseNASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) outlined the potential to increase the efficiency of the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), and make it hardier in the process.

“NASA needs reliable long-term power systems to advance exploration of the Solar System,” said Jean-Pierre Fleurial, supervisor for the thermal energy conversion research and advancement group at JPL.

To that end, JPL engineers look to make use of a class of materials known as skutterudites. These minerals…

Read more in my full article at SpaceFlight Insider –>

Damage from Hurricane Matthew is far less than feared at Kennedy Space Center

NASA's Kennedy Space Center sustained less damage than feared. The new headquarters building fared well, as the the VAB (background). Credit: NASA

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center sustained less damage than feared. The new headquarters building fared well, as the the VAB (background). Credit: NASA

Many feared the worst for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2016, as Hurricane Matthew lashed the Cape Canaveral area with wind speeds up to 135.8 mph (218.5 km/h). Though expected to make landfall as a Category 4 storm, Matthew remained offshore slightly weakened to Category 3, sparing KSC from the full fury of the Atlantic basin storm.

On Oct. 12, 2016, KSC Director Bob Cabana and Damage Assessment and Recovery Team (DART) Chief Bob Holl briefed the media about how the center fared after its brush with the storm.

Both Cabana and Holl described winds of 75 knots (86.31 mph / 138.9 km/h) at ground level, and 118 knots (135.8 mph / 218.5 km/h) above 100 feet (30.48 meters). The eye of Hurricane Matthew wobbled more than 20 miles (32.2 kilometers) offshore on its journey up the Florida coast and did not make landfall at the Cape, as was feared.

Read more in my piece for SpaceFlight Insider –>

President Obama maintains Mars as NASA’s focus

NASA's Journey to Mars was reaffirmed in an op/ed piece issued by President Obama on Oct. 11, 2016. Image credit: NASA

NASA’s Journey to Mars was reaffirmed in an op/ed piece issued by President Obama on Oct. 11, 2016. Image credit: NASA

In an opinion piece written for CNN Oct. 11, 2016, President Barack Obama reiterated his support for NASA’s Journey to Mars. Under current plans, the U.S. space agency hopes to send astronauts to the Red Planet in the next 15–20 years.

“We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.”

Indeed, the President had initially outlined a plan for the space agency in 2010, directing NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket, designed to carry crew to Mars in the mid-2030s. As such, today’s announcement from Obama wasn’t particularly noteworthy in its content; however, it did serve to reaffirm the President’s vision for the nation’s space program.

Read more in my full piece at SpaceFlight Insider.

Musk teases world with images of Raptor test ahead of historic announcement

Elon Musk shared this picture of the first firing of the company's methalox-powered Raptor engine.

Elon Musk shared this picture of the first firing of the company’s methalox-powered Raptor engine. Credit: SpaceX

While much of the Western Hemisphere was still sound asleep on Sept. 26, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk conducted the first firing of the company’s Raptor engine. On the eve of what is expected to be a defining announcement from Musk as he outlines the NewSpace firm’s goals for Mars at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), the CEO shared a couple photos and provided a few insights into the engine’s capabilities.

Although short on deep details of the engine’s performance numbers, Musk did provide enough to whet observers’ appetite.

“Production Raptor goal is specific impulse of 382 seconds and thrust of 3 MN (∼310 metric tons) at 300 bar,” Musk tweeted. “Chamber pressure is almost 3X Merlin, so engine is about the same size for a given ratio.”

Read more in my full article at SpaceFlight Insider.