CCDev2 – Blue Origin

Blue Origin
Blue Origin Spacecraft
Image Credit:
NASA / Blue Origin

Third in our series on the second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program is the secretive Blue Origin company. The award of $22 million has been announced by NASA.

Funding from this round will help with development through the requirements review stage including work on the thermal protection system and an analysis of the aerodynamics of its cone shaped body.

The spacecraft is designed to carry seven astronauts to low Earth orbit.

It will carry astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station and serve as an ISS emergency escape vehicle for up to 210 days. The vehicle is designed for launch on an Atlas V rocket.

Endeavour – Scrubbed

Endeavour at T-Minus 6 Hours
Image Credit: NASA TV

The launch of Endeavour was scrubbed today due to a failed heater in the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) of the Shuttle. It looks like there are multiple failures on APU1. The Load Control Assembly appears to be the problem, although a short is possible. The next launch opportunity following repairs will be no earlier than Monday, and most likely Wednesday.

CCDev2 – Sierra Nevada

Image Credit: NASA

The second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program has been announced by NASA.

Sierra Nevada Corporation received $80 million in the second round to go with the $20 million it received in 2010. Sierra Nevada acquired the Dream Chaser project in December 2008, and won funding in round one of the CCDev program. This was the largest award in round one.

The project derives from the HL-20 program undertaken in 1990 by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The Dream Chaser is designed to carry up to seven people to the International Space Station and back.

The vehicle is designed to launch vertically on an Atlas V rocket and land horizontally on conventional runways.


Progress at ISS
Image Credit: NASA

With the extension of the lifetime of the International Space Station to 2020, and perhaps beyond, the maintenance and resupply of the station becomes critical. This is the third in a series examining the international effort to maintain a robust human mission on the ISS.

The Russian resupply vessel Progress M-09M (P41) docked with the Pirs module of the International Space Station (ISS) on 30 January 2011. It is the second of three resupply spacecraft that will arrive in close succession early in 2011.

Previously, the Japanese HTV2 cargo vessel “Kounotori” docked with the Harmony module on the International Space Station on 27 January 2011. Progress M-07M (P39) undocked from the Zvezda module on the ISS on Sunday 20th February at 1:12 PM GMT, to make way for the European Space Agency’s “Johaness Kepler” ATV-2 resupply mission, which launched on 16 February 2011, and is expected to dock on 24 February.

During the undocking, Russian thrusters were in control of the station’s attitude control. US Control Moment Gyroscopes (CMGs) resumed control of the ISS later on Sunday. Following the undocking, 39P was commanded to conduct it’s de-orbit burn for a destructive re-entry over the Pacific Ocean at 4:12 PM GMT on Sunday.

On 25 February, STS-133 Discovery is expected to launch and dock two days later with the ISS. Kounotori will be moved to the top of the Harmony module (facing away from Earth) and Discovery will dock at the port facing Earth.

Progress M
Cross Section of the Progress M Spacecraft
Image Credit: RKK Energia

Progress M-09M will supply 2,666 kilograms (5,880 lb) of cargo to the space station, including:

  • 1,444 kilograms (3,180 lb) of dry cargo
  • 752 kilograms (1,660 lb) of propellant
  • 50 kilograms (110 lb) of oxygen
  • 420 kilograms (930 lb) of water

Japan and Support of the International Space Station

Previously, we looked at the Europeans Space Agency (ESA) and their ATV program, which is preparing to send their resupply spacecraft, Johannes Kepler, to the International Space Station on 15 February.

Now, we look at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the recently completed launch and capture of the Kounotori spacecraft.

HTV-2 "Kounotori"
Image Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

The external exposed cargo includes a Flex Hose Rotary Coupler and Cargo Transport Container. These spare parts will be transferred to External Logistics Carrier 4 after it is installed during the Discovery STS-133 mission.

The pressurized cargo space is carrying 2,928 kilograms of supplies and equipment:

  • 630 kilograms of crew provisions
  • 1,626 kilograms of research equipment and supplies
  • 609 kilograms) of station hardware
  • 49 kilograms of computers and supplies
  • 14 kilograms of spacewalking equipment and supplies

Among the new research equipment will be the Japanese Kobairo gradient heating furnace for generating high-quality crystals from melting materials, an Amine Swingbed technology demonstration that will look at ways to revitalize the air on space vehicles, and the International Space Station Agricultural Camera, which will take frequent images, in visible and infrared light, of vegetated areas on the Earth.

Canadarm2 Captures HTV2
Image Credit: NASA

Hatch Open
Removing cargo through the hatch on HTV2
Image Credit: JAXA

The Garden on The International Space Station

The latest crop harvested from the Garden on the International Space Station is Mizuna lettuce. The lettuce was returned to Earth for scientific research, aboard the Discovery shuttle in April 2010.

The greenhouse, first sent up in 2002, has been used for 20 plant growth experiments so far. Now, a second unit has been added, and the lettuce crop was the first experiment to test different conditions side by side.

For many years, the experiments have sought to confirm Earth side results which show that minimizing water usage and salt accumulation would lead to healthier crops. During this experiment, two different root growth mediums were used. One was the traditional root pack used on all the previous tests. The second was the new and improved root pack, with slow release fertilizer. The hypothesis was that the slow release would help reduce salt intake.

Science is sometimes best when things go wrong.

Mizuna Lettuce
Mizuna Lettuce On ISS
Image Credit: NASA

For some reason, the sensor controlling the watering in the first (traditional) module failed. This resulted in “over-watering” the plants. The results were surprising, but microgravity has held many surprises for scientists. First, the seeds that got “too much” water sprouted quicker and developed leaves twice as fast as the second (improved) module. The second surprise was that the plants grown in the slow release fertilizer in the second module had more salt accumulation than the plants in the first module.

The results suggest that plants in space need a larger volume of water and a faster rate of fertilizer than they do under normal gravity. Shane Topham, an engineer with Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University in Logan, said that “the conservative water level we have been using for all our previous experiments may be below optimal for plant growth in microgravity”.

Overall, the garden experiments have four objectives:

  • Can the crops grown in space be consumed safely
  • What microorganisms grow on the plants, and how do you prevent or minimize microorganisms in the modules prior to launch
  • How do you clean and sanitize the crops after they are harvested
  • What conditions optimize the production of crops in microgravity

One additional objective of the experiments is to measure the non-nutritional benefits (stress relief, etc.) that crew members experience working with plants in space. Growing and tending to the crops provides comfort and relaxation to the crew. On a long voyage, this activity may contribute to the success of the mission.

Lada Module
A view of the Russian BIO-5 Rasteniya-2/Lada-2 (Plants-2)
plant growth experiment located in the Zvezda Service Module
on the International Space Station (ISS).
Image Credit: NASA

A close up view of sprouts on the Russian Lada-2 experiment.
Image Credit: NASA

A view of peas growing in the Russian Lada-2 plant growth experiment.
Image Credit: NASA

A close up view of a bloom on the Russian Lada-2 plant growth experiment.
Image Credit: NASA

NSS Competitions for 2010 -2011


For all of you space enthusiasts out there, listen to this podcast by National Space Society member Lynne Zielinski as she discusses contests for students. Lynne teaches at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook Illinois, and the podcast provides details on competitions sponsored by the National Space Society.

1. NASA/NSS Space Settlement Student Design Contest (for grades 6-12)

NASA Ames Research Center in conjunction with the National Space Society sponsors an annual space settlement design contest for 6-12th grade students. Each spring students send their designs for homes in space for judging by NASA engineers and scientists. The contest has inspired thousands of students and helped hundreds of teachers bring the excitement of space settlement to the youth of America and the world.

2. International Space Settlement Design Competition (for high school)

This contest puts high school students in the shoes of aerospace industry engineers designing a city in space that will be a home for over 10,000 people. Student engineers demonstrate creativity, technical competence, management skills, space environment knowledge, teamwork, and presentation techniques to conquer the problems inherent in siting and designing a Space Settlement (aka Space Colony).

3. Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards (for high school)

The Spirit of Innovation Awards program challenges teams of high school students to create innovative products using science, technology, and entrepreneurship to solve 21st century, real-world problems. Eligible students may compete on teams in any of three Challenge Categories.

4. Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest (any age)

Since its early days, science fiction has played a unique role in human civilization. It removes the limits of what “is” and shows us a boundless vista of what “might be.” Its fearless heroes, spectacular technologies and wondrous futures have inspired many people to make science, technology and space flight a real part of their lives and in doing so, have often transformed these fictions into reality. The National Space Society and Baen Books applaud the role that science fiction plays in advancing real science and have teamed up to sponsor this short fiction contest in memory of Jim Baen.

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe

Completed Microwave Map of the Universe
Image Credit: NASA

Scientists announced this week that the mission of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) has been completed. The last set of observations were downloaded on 20 August 2010, and researchers are compiling the final results. The satellite was placed in a permanent parking orbit around the sun on 8 September 2010.

WMAP was launched on 30 June 2001 and placed into an orbit around SEL-2, the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point. SEL-2 lies 1,500,000 kilometers beyond the Earth on a line from the Sun to the Earth. WMAP was the first spacecraft to occupy this location. SEL-2 is extremely cold, shaded from the Sun’s activity by the Earth’s shadow and ideal as an astronomical location in space. In 2009, the Herschel Space Observatory and Planck space observatory took up residence at SEL-2. They will be joined in 2014 or 2015 by the James Webb Space Telescope.

First detected in 1964, the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation (television “snow” – before cable), is the remnants of the extremely hot radiation from the big-bang, now cooled to almost absolute zero after 13.73 billions years of the expansion of the universe. It is a pattern frozen in place when the cosmos was only 380,000 years old.

WMAP COBE was the successor to NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), which was launched on 18 November 1989 and produced the first map of the microwave radiation. Note the great increase in resolution between the COBE map at the right, and the WMAP result above.

The Planck observatory is currently making high resolution measurements of both the total intensity and polarization of the primordial CMB anisotropies that were first observed by COBE and WMAP.

The observations made by WMAP are the most accurate to date and have allowed scientists to rule out several “inflation” models about what happened in the first trillionths of a second during the birth of the cosmos, while supplying support for several other models:

  • The age of the universe is 13.73 billion years old to within 1% (0.12 billion years)
  • Ordinary matter (atoms) makes up only 4.6% of the universe (to within 0.1%)
  • Dark matter (not made up of atoms) makes up 23.3% (to within 1.3%)
  • Dark energy makes up 72.1% of the universe (to within 1.5%)

Dark energy is the force driving the galaxies in the universe apart at an ever increasing rate. At some point in the future, inhabitants of the Milky Way will not be able to see any other objects in the sky. These entities will conclude that they are at the center of the universe, and will have no information about the big bang and the creation of the cosmos as we know it today.

The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey – 2012 to 2021

by Dave Fischer

The National Research Council has released Its sixth decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics. The plan focuses on three science objectives:

  • The exploration of the origins of the universe
  • The search for habitable planets outside our solar system
  • The use of astronomical observations to investigate fundamental physics.

The report addresses large, medium, and small activities in these fields. It surveys the existing facilities and the new facilities that would be needed, both ground based and space based. It looks at the known science objectives and where new discoveries might be made. And it looks at the promise of the proposals and the risks associated with each.

The large scale space-based projects are:

  • 1. Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST)
  • 2. Explorer Program Augmentation
  • 3. Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA)
  • 4. International X-ray Observatory (IXO)

WFIRST, the near infrared wide-field telescope, is intended to explore Dark Energy and Exoplanet statistics as well as support guest survey investigations.

The Explorer Program is ongoing and funds rapid, targeted projects that deliver a high science return. Past projects include WMAP, Swift, GALEX and WISE.

LISA will exploit the new field of astronomy using long wavelength gravitational radiation measured by three spacecraft 5 million kilometers apart.

IXO is a large area, high spectral resolution x-ray observatory to explore hottest regions in the universe, including clusters of galaxies, the intergalactic medium, and black hole accretion disks.

The medium scale space-based projects are:

  • 1. New Worlds Technology Development Program
  • 2. Inflation Technology Development Program

The New Worlds technology development program is a research program to obtain preliminary observations in order to study nearby habitable planets. Included is technology development in order to make an informed decision in the second half of this decade on a flagship mission.

The Inflation Technology development program will use ground based microwave background telescopes to examine “B-mode polarization.” This is a sensitive signature of processes thought to have occurred during the earliest moments of the universe. If a signal is seen, then a space-based mission with at least ten times greater sensitivity is warranted and associated technology development would be needed.

There are four large scale ground-based projects recommended, and prioritized as follows:

  • 1. Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)
  • 2. Mid-Scale Innovations Program
  • 3. Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope (GSMT)
  • 4. Atmospheric Cerenkov Telescope Array (ACTA)

The LSST project would address research such as dark energy using gravitational lensing, dark matter, Near-Earth Kuiper-belt objects, the Solar neighborhood, and transient phenomena such as gamma-ray bursts, variable stars, and supernova.

The mid-scale program would fund annual proposals to compete for funding, of which around 7 proposals would be chosen during the decade.

The Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope project suggests that NSF chose one of the two current 30 meter telescope projects (The Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile or the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii) and invest in a quarter share in order to provide access for the entire US community.

The report proposes that the team responsible for the proposed US Advanced Gamma-ray Imaging System (AGIS) collaborate as a minor partner with the European Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA).

There is one medium scale ground-based program that was recommended by the NRC Decadal Survey:

  • 1. Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope (CCAT)

This 25 meter wide-field sub-millimeter telescope would work in conjunction with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

The small scale investment recommendations are:

  • Target work-force development (TSIP, Sub-orbital, AAG, ATP)
  • Address changing role of computation and theory (TCN)
  • Support current/upcoming facilities (Gemini, Lab Astro, TCN)
  • Develop technology for the future (NSF ATI, NASA Tech. Dev.)

Other documentation:

NASA press release

Preliminary Report

NRC committee reports.

Town Hall Slides (pdf).

JWST – The James Webb Space Telescope

by Dave Fischer

James Webb Space Telescope
James Webb Space Telescope – Deployed
Credit: NASA Video

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is an infrared observatory, and a partial successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. JWST does not view visible light because light from the earliest universe has shifted toward the infrared (red shift).

Infrared sensitivity is required in order to see further back in time toward the beginning of the universe than either Hubble or ground based observatories.The James Webb Space Telescope is a joint venture between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). In all, fifteen countries are making contributions to JWST.

The are four main components to the scientific mission:

  • Search for the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang
  • Study galaxies and their formation and evolution
  • Understand the formation of stars and planetary systems
  • Study the origins of life on planetary systems

JWST is scheduled for launch in 2014 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. It will take up residence at the Sun-Earth Lagrange point 2 (SEL-2). SEL-2 is 1,500,000 km beyond the Earth from the Sun (the Earth-Moon L2 is only 61,500 km beyond the Moon). The location was chosen in order to be able to shield the telescope from the infrared radiation of the Sun and the Earth.

Currently, SEL-2 is occupied by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which was launched 30 June 2001, and the Herschel and Planck observatories, which were launched together on an Ariane 5 on 14 May 2009.

The image at left is a cutaway diagram the the Ariane 5 rocket, illustrating how the JWST will fold up inside the payload fairing. With the large screen behind it, the JWST will be about 21 m in width. It will stand about three stories high. The main telescope mirror, which measures 6.5 m in diameter, is too large to launch in one piece. Instead, it consists of 17 individual mirror segments mounted on a frame which will be folded inside the fairing of the Ariane 5 at launch.

Once it arrives at SEL-2, it will unfold, as this animation shows.

There are four instruments in the Integrated Science Instrument Module designed to conduct the investigations on board the James Webb Space Telescope:

Cutaway: JWST inside Ariane 5
Image Credit: European Space Agency

Four Instruments
Image Credit: NASA

  • Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI – provided by the European Consortium with the European Space Agency (ESA), and by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
  • Near-Infrared Camera, or NIRCam – provided by the University of Arizona
  • Near-Infrared Spectrograph, or NIRSpec – provided by ESA, with components provided by NASA/GSFC.
  • Fine Guidance Sensor, or FGS – provided by the Canadian Space Agency. The FGS contains a dedicated Guider and a Tunable Filter Camera.

The image below shows the locations of the four instruments in the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM). Below, the image shows the location of the instrument package within the JWST.

Image Credit: NASA

The Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) is an imager/spectrograph that covers the wavelength range of 5 to 27 micrometers. The camera provides wide-field broadband imagery, and the spectrograph module provides medium-resolution spectroscopy over a smaller field of view compared to the imager. The nominal operating temperature for the MIRI is 7K. Additional information can be found at the MIRI website, Space Telescope Science Institute.

The Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) is an imager with a large field of view and high angular resolution. The NIRCam covers a wavelength range of 0.6 to 5 micrometers. More on NIRCam.

The Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) measures the simultaneous spectra of more than 100 objects in a 9-square-arcminute field of view. This instrument provides medium-resolution spectroscopy over a wavelength range of 1 to 5 micrometers and lower-resolution spectroscopy from 0.6 to 5 micrometers. See the Space Telescope Science Institute information on NIRSpec.

The Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) sensor is used for both “guide star” acquisition and fine pointing. See information from the Space Telescope Science Institute about NIRSpec.

See also:

The Wikipedia article on JWST.
NASA home page for JWST.
ESA home page for JWST.
CSA home page for JWST.
Make your own Paper Model of the JWST.
YouTube and JWST.

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