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Friday, July 10, 2015

This Week in Satellite News! (Jul 3 – Jul 10 2015)

 

NASA Selects Astronauts For Commercial Crew Test Flights

BOSTON — NASA announced July 9 it has selected four veteran astronauts to train for test flights on commercial crew vehicles under development by Boeing and SpaceX.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement that astronauts Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams will start training for the initial test flights of Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon crew spacecraft, currently scheduled for 2017.

All four astronauts are veterans of the shuttle program, serving as mission specialists or pilots. Williams flew two long-duration missions on the International Space Station, including one where she traveled to and from the station on Soyuz vehicles. Behnken was, until recently, chief of NASA’s astronaut office.

NASA commercial crew astronauts

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Musk Says Communications Satellite Constellation Still in Early Stages

BOSTON — Despite a wave of funding and contract announcements by competitor OneWeb, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said July 7 that his company is still taking a “careful” approach to plans for a communications satellite constellation.

“A lot of companies have tried it and broken their pick on it,” Musk said in response to an audience question during an appearance at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference here. “We want to be really careful about how we make this thing work, and not overextend ourselves.”

Musk revealed SpaceX’s interest in a communications satellite constellation in January, saying the company planned to develop a system of 4,000 satellites in low Earth orbit to provide broadband Internet access. Those satellites would be designed, and perhaps built, at a commercial satellite development center the company established in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, Washington.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, speaking July 7, 2015 at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference. Credit: CASIS video still

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Space Station Crosses Moon's Face in Stunning New Photo

An amazing new photograph shows the International Space Station (ISS) crossing in front of the bright and seemingly enormous moon.

We're used to seeing images taken from the space station — astronauts often post them on social media — but photos of the orbiting lab from Earth are rarer and take much more preparation. 

Amateur astrophotographer Dylan O'Donnell took the stunning photo on June 30 from Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia, using a Canon 70D camera attached to the rear cell of a Celestron 9.25-inch (235-millimeter) telescope. 

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SpaceX Looms Large as ESA Readies Ariane 6 Contract

PARIS—The head of the European Space Agency’s launcher directorate on July 7 issued a surprising endorsement of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during a French parliamentary hearing that was ostensibly about the status of Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 vehicle.

Gaele Winters, who is expected to ask ESA’s check-writing body on July 16 to approve a nearly $3 billion contract with Airbus Safran Launchers to develop Ariane 6, said the June 28 Falcon 9 failure in no way changes ESA’s assessment of SpaceX.

“We have seen the outstanding success of Falcon 9,” Winters said. “Despite the issue of about a week ago, it is a fantastic track record for this launcher.”

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Musk: No Clear Explanation Yet for Falcon 9 Failure

BOSTON — The ongoing investigation into the June 28 Falcon 9 launch failure has yet to find a cause for the accident based on the available data, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said July 7.

Musk, speaking at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference here, said that the destruction of the vehicle nearly two and a half minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral did not appear to have a straightforward cause, and that the data the company had was difficult to interpret.

“Whatever happened is clearly not a sort of simple, straightforward thing,” he said in his most extensive public comments to date on the launch failure. “There’s still no clear theory that fits with all the data.”

Musk and Suffredini

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Mars Rover Curiosity Dealing with Wheel Damage

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity faces ongoing wheel wear and tear as it continues its trek across the rock-strewn red planet.

The car-size Curiosity rover has been on duty since landing on Mars in August 2012. Curiosity has six aluminum wheels, each with its own individual motor. The rover has a top speed on flat, hard ground of a little over 4 centimeters per second.

But dealing with the rocky Martian landscape has become somewhat of an unanticipated wheel of misfortune for the Curiosity crew. Back here on Earth, mission engineers are watching the wheels turn, keeping an eye on the dings and cracks that have begun to appear.

Curiosity rover made use of its Mastcam: Left camera on April 21, 2015 to photograph the rover's damaged wheel. Curiosity has six independently driven wheels. Credit: NASA

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New Horizons Back on Track for Pluto Flyby

WASHINGTON — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has exited a protective safe mode that project officials said July 6 was triggered when the spacecraft’s primary computer became overloaded.

New Horizons, which entered safe mode July 4, briefly cutting off communications with the Earth, will resume normal science observations on July 7, and the project’s leadership said they remain confident the spacecraft will operate normally through its July 14 flyby of Pluto.

“The spacecraft is in excellent health and is back in operation,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division, during a conference call with reporters July 6.

new horizons

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Progress Arrives At Space Station, Easing Supply Concerns

WASHINGTON — A Russian Progress cargo spacecraft docked with the International Space Station early July 5, easing concerns about supplying the station after a string of recent cargo mission failures.

The Progress M-28M, on a mission designated Progress 60 by NASA, docked with the Pirs module of the ISS at 3:11 a.m. Eastern time July 5. The spacecraft launched on a Soyuz rocket early July 3 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The spacecraft brought to the station a total of 2,769 kilograms of cargo for the station. That total includes 1,421 kilograms of supplies and equipment, 880 kilograms of propellant, 420 kilograms of water, and 48 kilograms of oxygen.

progress

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Ariane 5 Launch Rescheduled for July 15

PARIS — Officials with the Arianespace launch consortium said July 6 that oil contamination concerns that postponed the launch of a European weather satellite and a Brazilian telecommunications satellite aboard an Ariane 5 rocket had been resolved and that the mission is now scheduled for July 15.

The launch of the MSG-4 and Star One C4 satellites had been scheduled for July 8 but was postponed after oil was spotted on the rocket’s fairing.

Evry, France-based Arianespace initially declined to specify the cause of the delay, saying only that “additional checks as part of the preparation of [the] mission” were needed before proceeding with the launch.

A 2011 file photo of an Ariane 5 rocket rolling out to the launch pad. Credit: Arianespace

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