OrbitalHub

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Archive for December, 2008

 

Credits: NASA

 

If you want free lecture notes, exams, and videos from MIT, without any registration required, you can find them at MIT Open Courseware.

 

MIT Open Courseware reflects most of the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT. One of the courses that caught my eye was an engineering course called Aircraft Systems Engineering.

 

 

Even if the formal title of the course is Aircraft Systems Engineering, the lectures are focused on Space Shuttle design. If you are a space enthusiast and have a technical background, you will probably enjoy these lectures.

 

The course was taught by Professor Jeff Hoffman and Professor Aaron Cohen.

 

Jeff Hoffman is a former Space Shuttle astronaut. He was a NASA astronaut from 1978 to 1997, having made five space flights and becoming the first astronaut to log 1,000 hours of flight time aboard the Space Shuttle. In 2001, Jeff Hoffman joined the MIT faculty, where he teaches courses on space operations and design and space policy. His principal areas of research are advanced EVA systems, space radiation protection, management of space science projects, and space systems architecture.

 

Aaron Cohen served as Director of NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He was Manager of the Command and Service Module in the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office. In 1972, he was appointed Space Shuttle Orbiter Project Manager, responsible for design, development, production, and test flights. He also served for a year as the Acting Deputy Administrator for NASA.

 

One of the guest lecturers is Dale D. Myers. He was NASA Deputy Administrator between October 6, 1986 and May 13, 1989. In the first lecture of the course, Dale D. Myers gives a presentation on the beginning of the Space Shuttle program and describes how the external environment generated the requirements that forced the configuration of the Space Shuttle. This is a must-see, like any other lecture given by someone who has many years of experience under his/her belt. Watching this lecture reminded me of one of my professors back in university, who used to say that the must-have organ for a good engineer is the nose.

 

The course covers the subsystems of the Space Shuttle, including the requirements that shaped the design, the testing of each subsystem, and how they were operated. The structure of the orbiter, the thermal protection subsystem, the Space Shuttle main engines, landing and mechanical systems, the power systems, accident investigation, etc. are all covered by guest lecturers that were directly involved in the design and construction of the Space Shuttle.

 

I hope you enjoy the videos as much as I have. Happy New Year and all the best for 2009!

 

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Credits: SpaceX

 

NASA has awarded two International Space Station (ISS) Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orbital).

 

NASA has ordered eight flights valued at about $1.9 billion from Orbital and twelve flights valued at about $1.6 billion from SpaceX.

 

The maximum potential value of each contract is roughly $3.1 billion. Based on known requirements, the value of both contracts combined is projected at $3.5 billion.

 

Credits: Orbital

 

The awarded contracts are fixed-price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts. They will begin January 1, 2009, and are effective through December 31, 2016. SpaceX and Orbital each will have to deliver a minimum of twenty metric tons of cargo to the space station, and they will also have to deliver non-standard services in support of the cargo resupply, including analysis and special tasks as the government deems necessary.

 

SpaceX will service the ISS with its Falcon9/Dragon system.

 

“The SpaceX team is honored to have been selected by NASA as the winner of the Cargo Resupply Services contract,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO, SpaceX. “This is a tremendous responsibility, given the swiftly approaching retirement of the Space Shuttle and the significant future needs of the Space Station. This also demonstrates the success of the NASA COTS program, which has opened a new era for NASA in US Commercial spaceflight.”

 

Orbital will employ the Taurus IITM medium-lift launch vehicle and the CygnusTM maneuvering space vehicle.

 

“We are very appreciative of the trust NASA has placed with us to provide commercial cargo transportation services to and from the International Space Station, beginning with our demonstration flight scheduled in late 2010,” said Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “The CRS program will serve as a showcase for the types of commercial services U.S. space companies can offer NASA, allowing the space agency to devote a greater proportion of its resources for the challenges of human spaceflight, deep space exploration and scientific investigations of our planet and the universe in which we live.”

 

Both Orbital and SpaceX have issued press releases with more details about the CRS contracts.

 

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12-21-08

Carnival of Space #84

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Credits: NASA/JPL

 

Carnival of Space #84 is hosted by Next Big Future.

 

This week you can read about space solar power, oceans on Venus, Mars rovers, the top ten astronomy pictures of 2008, the AGU Conference, and many more interesting topics.

 

OrbitalHub has submitted an update on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter science mission.

 

 

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Credits: SpaceX

 

Another critical milestone has been reached by SpaceX with the arrival of Falcon 9 hardware at Cape Canaveral.

 

After the full mission-length firing test of the Falcon 9 first stage engines and the firing test of the Dragon maneuvering thruster, the arrival of the Falcon 9 first stage fuel tank fulfills SpaceX’s commitment to having Falcon 9 hardware at Cape Canaveral by year-end.

 

 

“Christmas has arrived a few days early for our team at the Cape,” said Brian Mosdell, Director of Florida Launch Operations for SpaceX. “The packages measure extra large this year, and they will keep everyone busy in the coming weeks.”

 

All of the Falcon 9 elements and the ground support hardware have already left the SpaceX manufacturing facility in Hawthorne, California. The hardware will make its way to the launch site at Cape Canaveral over the next two weeks. The Falcon 9 will then be assembled on horizontal and raised to vertical on the custom built erector.

 

Credits: SpaceX

 

There are four Falcon 9 launches scheduled for 2009. Two of these launches are demonstration flights with the Dragon spacecraft as part of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) competition. A total of three flights of the Falcon 9/Dragon launch system will be conducted under the agreement, in order to demonstrate cargo delivery capability to the International Space Station (ISS).

 

NASA’s agreement with SpaceX can be extended to include demonstrating transport of crew to and from the ISS.

 

“2008 has been a year of rapid progress for SpaceX,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. “The delivery of the Falcon 9 to the Cape is a major milestone in designing and deploying the most reliable, cost-efficient fleet of launch vehicles in the world. I applaud our SpaceX team who has worked 24/7 to make this happen.”

 

 

SpaceX has made available a video of Elon Musk giving a tour of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch site at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida.

 

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Credits: XCOR Aerospace

 

XCOR completed the first test fire of the rocket engine that will power the Lynx suborbital launch vehicle. The test was performed on Monday, December 15, 2008, at XCOR’s rocket test facility located at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

 

The rocket engine is designated as 5K18. The engine is powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene and can produce up to 2900 lbf of thrust.

 

 

The 5K18 is the eleventh in a series of rocket engines that XCOR has designed and fired during its nine years of existence.

 

“Today’s successful hot fire marks an important step forward in building the Lynx,” said XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. “The 5K18 builds on our previous experience in designing and building reliable, durable and fully reusable rocket engines from 15 lbf thrust up to 7500 lbf, that will make it possible to provide affordable access to space.”

 

The Lynx will use four 5K18 engines and it will be able to perform suborbital flights. Space tourists can buy tickets to fly on the Lynx for $95,000 through RocketShip Tours. The full press release is available on the XCOR Aerospace web site.

 

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Credits: NASA/JPL

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has completed the first phase of its science mission. During this phase, the orbiter returned seventy-three terabits of science data to Earth, which is more than all earlier Mars missions combined. The next phase of the MRO mission will take two years.

 

The list of scientific discoveries and observations made by MRO is stunning. We know now that Mars has a long history of climate change and that water was present in liquid form on its surface for hundreds of millions of years.

 

 

Signatures of a variety of watery environments have been observed, so future missions will be aware of locations that might reveal evidence of past life on Mars, if it ever existed.

 

MRO has imaged nearly forty percent of the Martian surface at such a high resolution that house-sized objects can be seen in detail. MRO has also conducted a mineral survey of the planet, covering sixty percent of its surface. Global weather maps were assembled using the data returned by MRO, and profiles of the subsurface and the polar caps have been put together using the radar mounted on MRO.

 

Credits: NASA/KSC

“These observations are now at the level of detail necessary to test hypotheses about when and where water has changed Mars and where future missions will be most productive as they search for habitable regions on Mars,” said Richard Zurek, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist.

 

The images returned by MRO have been used by the Phoenix team to change the spacecraft’s landing site, and will help the NASA scientists select landing sites for future missions, like the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

 

 

Another role played by MRO was to relay commands to and to return data from the Phoenix lander during the five months the lander was operational on the Martian surface. MRO shared this task with the Mars Odyssey Orbiter.

 

MRO lifted off on August 12, 2005, from launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The cruise phase of the mission lasted seven months, the spacecraft reaching Mars orbit on March 10, 2006, after traveling on an outbound arc intercept trajectory.

 

MRO entered the final low orbit suited for science-data collection on November 2006, after slowing down in the Martian atmosphere by using aerobraking for five months. The first phase of the mission consisted in gathering information about Mars, and the remaining time left of its operational life will be dedicated mainly to using the spacecraft as a communication relay.

 

Credits: NASA/KSC

The declared goals of the MRO mission are: to determine whether life ever arose on Mars, to characterize the climate of Mars, to characterize the geology of Mars, and to prepare for human exploration.

 

The launcher of choice for the MRO mission was the Atlas V-401 launch vehicle, the smallest of the Atlas V family. This was the first launch of an Atlas V on an interplanetary mission.

 

 

The Atlas V-401 is a two-stage launch vehicle that does not use solid rocket boosters. The Atlas V-401 is fifty-seven meters tall and has a total mass at liftoff of 333,000 kg. Out of this, about 305,000 kg is fuel. In order to reach Mars orbit, MRO was accelerated to 11 km per second.

 

The first stage of the Atlas V, the Common Core Booster, is powered by liquid oxygen and RP-1. For the MRO mission, the first stage used a RD-180 engine. The RD-180 engine has an interesting story. It is a Russian-developed rocket engine, derived from the RD-170 used for the Zenit rockets.

 

Credits: NASA/JPL/KSC/Lockheed Martin Space Systems

Rights to use the RD-180 engine were acquired by General Dynamics Space Systems Division (later purchased by Lockheed Martin) in the early 1990s. The engine is co-produced by Pratt & Whitney and all production to date has been in Russia. According to Pratt & Whitney, RD-180 delivers a ten percent performance increase over current operational U.S. booster engines.

 

The stage weighs approximately 305,000 kg at launch and it provides about four million Newton of thrust for four minutes.

 

The upper stage of the Atlas V is the Centaur Upper Stage Booster. The Centaur is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. In the case of the MRO mission, it provided the remaining energy necessary to send the spacecraft to Mars.

 

The payload fairing used for the MRO mission was four meters in diameter. The role of the payload fairing was to protect the spacecraft from the weather on the ground as well as from the dynamic pressure during the atmospheric phase of the launch.

 

 

Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services developed the Atlas V as part of the US Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.

 

There are six science instruments, three engineering instruments, and two science-facility experiments carried by the MRO. The low orbit on which MRO is operating allowed the observation of the surface, atmosphere, and subsurface of Mars in unprecedented detail.

 

The science instruments are the HiRISE camera (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment), the CTX camera (Context Camera), the MARCI camera (Mars Color Imager), the CRISM spectrometer (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars), the MCS radiometer (Mars Climate Sounder), and the SHARAD radar (SHAllow RADar).

 

Credits: HiRISE/MRO/LPL/NASA

 

The HiRISE camera provided the highest-resolution images from orbit to date, while the SHARAD can probe the subsurface using radar waves in the 15-25 MHz frequency band (these waves can penetrate the Martian crust up to one kilometer).

 

The engineering instruments assist the spacecraft navigation and communication. The Electra UHF Communications and Navigation Package is used as a communication relay between the Earth and landed crafts on Mars. The Optical Navigation Camera serves as a high-precision camera to guide incoming spacecrafts as they approach Mars. The Ka-band Telecommunications Experiment Package demonstrated the use of the Ka-band for power effective communications.

 

 

The science facility experiments are the Gravity Field Investigation Package, used for mapping the gravity field of Mars, and the Atmospheric Structure Investigation Accelerometers, which helped scientists understand the structure of the Martian atmosphere.

 

For more details on the MRO scientific payload, you can check out the dedicated page on the MRO mission web site.

 

The MRO was built by Lockheed Martin for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Fully loaded, the spacecraft had a mass of almost two tons. The spacecraft carried 1,149 kg of propellant for trajectory correction maneuvers and for the burns needed for the Mars capture.

 

Credits: NASA/JPL

 

The main bus of the spacecraft presents two massive solar arrays that can generate 2,000 W of power. On top, the high-gain antenna is the main means of communication with both Earth and other spacecrafts. The SHARAD antenna is the long pole behind the bus.

 

Other visible features are the HiRISE camera, the Electra telecommunications package, and the Context Imager (CTX).

 

You can visit the home page of the MRO mission on the NASA web site.

 

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