OrbitalHub

The place where space exploration, science, and engineering meet

 

Credits: NASA

 

 

The adventure started on October 4, 1957, when the former Soviet Union successfully launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1, using a rocket that was a modified Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICMB). Even if the political implications at that time were very important, as the launch ignited the Space Race within the Cold War, we can argue that the scientific accomplishments were more significant.

 

These accomplishments relied upon the theoretical work of scientists like Hermann Oberth and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

 

What followed this event, as mentioned above, was a race.

 

 

Explorer-1, the first American artificial satellite, was launched on January 31, 1958. Yuri Gagarin was the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth on April 21, 1961. He was followed closely by Alan Shepard, who became the first American to travel into space onboard the Freedom-7 capsule, on May 5, 1961.

 

On August 19, 1964, the first geostationary communication satellite, Syncomm-3, was placed in orbit over the International Date Line. Syncomm-3 was used to relay the television coverage of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, to the United States. The first to propose the concept of a communication satellite was Arthur C. Clarke, who in October 1945 published an article in the British magazine Wireless World that described the fundamental concepts behind the development of artificial satellites used to relay radio signals.

 

The first space station, Salyut-1, was launched on April 19, 1971. Even if the space station had a short operational life, as it re-entered the Earth atmosphere on October 11, 1971, it tested elements of the systems required on a space station and conducted scientific research and experiments. The construction of the first international research facility in Earth orbit, the International Space Station (ISS), began in 1998. The station is still under construction and it will be operational until at least 2015.

 

Where are we now, after 53 years of exploration of the space in the proximity of Earth? Since the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, some 4,600 launches have orbited more than 6,000 satellites. All of these activities have created a cloud of orbiting particles around Earth. This new environment is referred to as space debris or orbital debris. Even if most of these particles are small in size (less than 1 cm), they are a source of great concern as the kinetic energies associated with impacts at orbital velocities, which are in the range 8-10 km/s or 28,800-36,000 km/h, are very high. It has been estimated that the total mass in orbit is 5,800 tons.

 

 

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12-16-10

Orbital’s Space Plane

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Credits: Orbital Sciences Corporation

 

Orbital Sciences Corporation is proposing a blended lifting body vehicle that will launch atop an expendable launch vehicle in response to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development-2 contract solicitation. The proposed configuration will provide safe and affordable transportation services to and from the International Space Station. The vehicle will carry a crew of four astronauts, and will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and land on a conventional runway similar to a Space Shuttle.

 

The launch vehicle proposed for the launch stack is the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Orbital’s press release mentions that the whole configuration is flexible enough to accommodate other launch vehicles as well.

 

Orbital is leading a team of world-class space system manufacturers. The pressurized crew compartment will be provided by Thales Alenia Space, the human-rated avionics will be the responsibility of Honeywell and Draper Laboratory, and the United Launch Alliance will supply the launch vehicle. Northrop Grumman will be the airframe structures designer.

 

 

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Credits: NASA/CSA

 

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will take command of the station during the second half of his third space mission. Hadfield will launch aboard a Soyuz rocket in December 2012, and spend six months on the station as part of the crew of Expedition 34/35. He will return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule in June 2013.

 

Hadfield is the only Canadian to board the Russian Mir space station, in 1995, during his first space flight, while he served as Mission Specialist 1 on STS-74. He is also the first Canadian mission specialist and the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm in orbit.

 

 

His second space flight was onboard STS-100, where he served as Mission Specialist 1. STS-100 was the International Space Station assembly flight 6A, which delivered and installed the Canadarm-2 on the station. During this mission, Hadfield performed two spacewalks.

 

Chris Hadfield also served as Director of Operations for NASA at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City, Russia; as Chief of Robotics for the NASA Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas; as Chief of International Space Station Operations; and as the Commander of NEEMO 14, a NASA undersea mission to test exploration concepts living in an underwater facility off the Florida coast.

 

The official announcement was made by the Canadian Space Agency. Chris Hadfield’s biography is also available here.

 

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06-14-09

Node 3 Welcomed At KSC

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Credits: ESA

 

The Kennedy Space Center has officially welcomed Node 3. Node 3 is a European-built module for the International Space Station (ISS). The prime contractor chosen for the job was Thales Alenia Space, in Turin, Italy.

 

Node 3 was transported from Italy by an Airbus Beluga aircraft. The aircraft left Turin on May 17, and arrived in Florida on May 20.

 

 

Node 3 is now being prepared for the journey to the ISS in the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at KSC.

 

Node 3 is a connecting module. With a length of 6.7 m and 4.4 m in diameter, Node 3 will have a total mass of 19,000 kg once berthed to the ISS. Node 3 will eventually house the life support system necessary for the permanent crew of six on the space station. On one of its berthing ports, Node 3 will accommodate the Cupola. Node 3 also provides room for eight refrigerator-size racks. Two of these racks will be used by avionics systems controlling the node.

 

Credits: ESA

 

Cupola is an observation module. Once attached to Node 3, it will provide a pressurized observation and work area for two ISS crew members. Cupola will allow the crew to control the space station remote manipulator system through the robotic workstation. Cupola has a mass of 1,880 kg, a height of 1.5 m, and it has a maximum diameter of 2.9 m. The windows are protected by a Micro-meteorid and orbital Debris Protection System (MDPS), which consists of shutters made out of aluminum coated with Kevlar.

 

Node 3 will be launched inside the Orbiter cargo bay, mounted on a pallet via a Manual Berthing Mechanism, and transferred to the Node location using the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System.

 

 

“Node 3 represents a turning point for the International Space Station,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight. “By having accomplished the development of the ISS modules and by completing its assembly in the months to come we open a new avenue of cooperation and exploration that will take humankind back to the Moon and beyond to other destinations while continuing to exploit the enormous possibilities in low Earth orbit.”

 

Credits: ESA

 

NASA has chosen the name Tranquility for Node 3, after the Sea of Tranquility, landing site of Apollo 11 in 1969. Colbert had to settle for having one of the treadmills onboard ISS named after him.

 

Node 3 and Cupola are scheduled to be delivered to the ISS by STS-130 Space Shuttle Endeavour in early 2010.

 

 

You can find out more about Node 3 and Cupola on the page dedicated to the ISS on ESA’s web site.

 

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Credits: SpaceX

 

The Draco thruster and the Draco propulsion tank completed qualification tests at the SpaceX Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.

 

The certification test included 42 firings with over 4,600 pulses of varying lengths. The tests are performed in a vacuum test chamber in order to simulate the space environment. The total firing time on a single thruster was over 50 minutes.

 

“The Draco thrusters allow Dragon to maneuver in close proximity to the ISS in preparation for berthing or docking,” said Tom Mueller VP Propulsion, SpaceX. “Maximum control during these procedures is critical for the safety of the station and its inhabitants.”

 

The Dragon spacecraft utilizes 18 Draco thrusters for maneuvering, attitude control, and to initiate the return to Earth. One important characteristic of the thrusters is that they are powered by storable propellants with long on-orbit lifetimes. This will allow the Dragon spacecraft to remain berthed at the International Space Station for up to a year.

 

The inaugural flight of Falcon 9 is scheduled for late 2009 from SpaceX’s launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

 

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Credits: SpaceX

 

SpaceX recently reached two major milestones towards the goal of servicing the International Space Station (ISS) after the retirement of the Space Shuttle in September 2010.

 

The milestones are the successful testing of the heat shield material used for the thermal protective system of the Dragon spacecraft, and a mission-length firing of the Merlin Vacuum engine that powers the second stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

 

 

On February 23, 2009, SpaceX announced that the PICA-X high performance heat shield material passed an arc jet testing. During the test that recreates the conditions experienced during an atmospheric reentry, the material was subjected to temperatures as high as 1850 degrees Celsius.

 

PICA is short for Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator. It is a material used for thermal protection, which was initially developed by NASA. PICA-X is an improved variation of the original PICA and was developed by SpaceX with the assistance of NASA. SpaceX becomes the second commercial source for this high-performance carbon-based material.

 

“We tested three different variants developed by SpaceX,” said Tom Mueller, VP of Propulsion, SpaceX. “Compared to the PICA heat shield flown successfully on NASA’s Stardust sample return capsule, our SpaceX versions equaled or improved the performance of the heritage material in all cases.”

 

Credits: SpaceX

 

The arc jet tests were performed at the Arc Jet Complex at NASA Ames Research Center, as the test center is capable of creating the reentry conditions. The Arc Jet Complex has a long history in the development of thermal protective systems.

 

PICA-X will protect the Dragon spacecraft and the crew during the reentry in the atmosphere from low Earth orbit (LEO).

 

 

One remarkable detail that I discovered when reading the press release is that PICA-X will also be used to coat the second stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, as SpaceX plans to reuse the second stage of the launch vehicle as well.

 

On March 7, 2009, the Merlin Vacuum engine completed a full mission duration firing at the SpaceX Test Facility in McGregor, Texas. During the test that lasted 6 minutes, the engine consumed more than 100,000 pounds of liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene.

 

The Merlin Vacuum engine is a variation of the Merlin 1C engine that powers the Falcon 1 launch vehicle, and it accommodates changes that make it more efficient to fire in the vacuum of space (most notably the shape of the nozzle).

 

Credits: SpaceX

 

“Specific impulse, or Isp, indicates how efficiently a rocket engine converts propellant into thrust,” said Tom Mueller. “With a vacuum Isp of 342 seconds, the new Merlin Vacuum engine has exceeded our requirements, setting a new standard for American hydrocarbon engine performance in space.”

 

The engine uses a regeneratively cooled combustion chamber, which means that the propellant is injected into the walls of the combustion chamber and prevents them from melting.

 

 

The nozzle is radiatively cooled and much larger, and also has a larger exhaust section than the Merlin 1C. This results in an improved performance of the engine. The engine is capable of multiple restarts and can operate at reduced thrust, which will enable the upper stage to deliver payloads matching a broad range of orbital profiles.

 

“Falcon 9 was designed from the ground up to provide our customers with breakthrough advances in reliability,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. “In successfully adapting our flight tested first stage engine for use on the second stage, this recent test further validates the architecture of Falcon 9, designed to provide customers with high reliability at a fraction of traditional costs.”

 

The first flight of the Falcon 9 /Dragon launch system is scheduled for late 2009 from Launch Pad SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. For more information about SpaceX and the Falcon 9 /Dragon launch system, you can visit the SpaceX website.

 

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