Just about a year ago, the Orbital ATK Antares rocket on its way to resupply the International Space Station blew up shortly after launch. While Orbital ATK is responsible for their own accident investigation, NASA established an independent review team, and they released their findings earlier this week.
In a nutshell, the LOX turbopump Hydraulic Balance Assembly and thrust bearing designs were not sufficiently robust for the Antares mission, and they found foreign object debris (FOD) and workmanship defects in the LOX turbopump. One or more of those could have brought the vehicle down. Several recommendations were made to Orbital ATK for more sensors, more acceptance and qualification testing, more thorough inspections, and better contamination control.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was aligned just right to see first the Earth, then the Moon block its view of the sun. In this picture (courtesy of “jhon henry osorio orozco” on September 13, 2015 @ Medellín-Colombia), the Moon is the black circle to the left, and the Earth is the fuzzy object at the top. The Earth is fuzzy because of the atmosphere.
The SDO blog has a nifty artist’s concept of what happened yesterday and also informs us that on September 28, a total lunar eclipse will be visible from most of the United States, Europe, South America and Africa.
H/t to http://spaceweather.com/. Check ’em out for pictures from Earth of the partial lunar eclipse and last week’s auroras.
In other space news, they announced a new target for New Horizons, a Kuiper Belt Object called 2014 MU69. It will look (distantly) at 20 other Kuiper Belt Objects en route. Loads of data are still coming back from the Pluto flyby.
So, yesterday I heard that a new startup in Texas was looking to build a launcher for small satellites. The company is named Firefly, and of course, a quick google search found mostly pics of Serenity and Mal Reynolds. But one thing caught my eye, was a reference to aerospike engines, which the company plans to use. That lead to the question, what the hell is an aerospike engine?
You’re familiar with a liquid fueled rocket engine, right? Let’s look at a typical engine. The is the RS-25, a derivative of the Shuttle Main Engine intended for the future SLS platform.
Pumps mix fuel and oxidizer in a combustion chamber that then flows out the bell. Simple enough.
Aerospike engines kinda turn the bell idea upside down. The flame exhaust goes outside of a wedge, and uses ambient air pressure to shape the plume.
Confused? So was I.
In spite of extensive testing and several developmental models, the aerospike has never flown to space. Whether Firefly Systems changes that remains to be seen.
Nice clickbait to have “Star Trek Actress to Fly on NASA Mission“, but it seems that Nichelle Nichols, Uhura from the original Star Trek, will be riding on NASA’s Boeing 747 on the next SOFIA mission. SOFIA’s recent mission included observations of Pluto’s atmosphere as it was backlit by a star.
Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of Rosetta orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. On August 13, the comet will make its closest approach to the sun. Some of the discoveries so far include a different ratio between normal hydrogen and the hydrogen isotope deuterium than found on Earth. Comet 67P also seems to be more homogenous than expected.
The Curiosity rover celebrated its third anniversary on Mars. It has crossed Gale Crater to start ascending Mount Sharp, analyzing the rocks along the way. As of August 4, the rover has driven 6.8 miles and taken over a quarter-million photographs. So this falls under #LetsDoaScience (@SarcasticRover on Twitter) and #ILookLikeAnEngineer.
The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) captured “a view impossible to see from Earth: the far side of the moon as it passed between the Earth and the sun.” Almost looks like a photoshop. There’s a video, but it does crashy things to my computer.
And that is the roundup for today.
Tomorrow is the close encounter between the New Horizons spacecraft and the ninth planet. I read that this mission was inspired by the 1991 space exploration stamp series.
Stamps were 29 cents back then. Nice to know this is outdated in more ways than one.
This is a flyby like the Voyager missions, not an orbiting mission. A computer glitch a few days ago has been resolved, and more pictures are being sent back to Earth.
This is the far side of Pluto, from 2.5 million miles away.
What we know so far:
New Horizons was launched in 2006 and is moving at an Earth-relative speed of 36,373 mph. It is 31.9 AU or approximately 3 billion miles away from home, and it takes the signal four and a half hours to reach Earth.
Pluto’s newly estimated size [1,473 miles (2,370 kilometers) in diameter] means that its density is slightly lower than previously thought, and the fraction of ice in its interior is slightly higher. Also, the lowest layer of Pluto’s atmosphere, called the troposphere, is shallower than previously believed…
Nix and Hydra were discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005. Even to Hubble, they appeared as points of light, and that’s how they looked to New Horizons until the final week of its approach to Pluto…Nix is estimated to be about 20 miles (about 35 kilometers) across, while Hydra is roughly 30 miles (roughly 45 kilometers) across. These sizes lead mission scientists to conclude that their surfaces are quite bright, possibly due to the presence of ice.
Other NASA craft are supporting this mission, including Cassini, Kepler, the SOFIA airborne observatory, and the Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes.
Because of the sheer amount of data and the number of spacecraft using the Deep Space Network, it will take a year for all of the data from the flyby to reach Earth.
New Horizons will continue on to the Kuiper Belt, heading in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius.
Join Roamy, Spill and me, your host, XBrad for a discussion of space exploration, the F-35 vs. the F-16, and Cyberwarfare.
Other than for some reason the recording dropping the last 10 minutes of Roamy’s segment, it mostly went well. No animals were harmed in the making of this podcast.
You can stream the podcast here.
This week is the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Boston. Some interesting tidbits here and there – if you want to follow on Twitter, try #ISSRDC or follow @ISS_CASIS and @Space_Station.
Elon Musk talked about the recent SpaceX accident. Nothing I hadn’t heard before, except that he also mentioned a new ISS IMAX movie. (Oooooh!)
Made In Space received the Innovation Award for Technology Development for their 3D printer in space.
And last but not least, earlier this year the Water Recovery System on ISS passed the milestone of 50,000 lbs. of recycled water. Some of that was recovered from astronaut urine, some was recovered from condensate from the air, and some was from the Oxygen Recovery System, but that’s 25 tons that didn’t have to be brought up from Earth and that much closer to the technology for sustaining an exploration crew for long periods of time.