NASA Officials: Debris from SpaceX Rocket Explosion could be ‘Toxic, Explosive’

A lot of money and countless hours of research were lost Sunday 28 June when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule exploded shortly after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but officials are now concerned about debris washing up along Central Florida beaches.

Officials with the 45th Space Wing said the debris, which could be toxic or explosive, would most likely appear along the beaches north of Cape Canaveral (in Brevard County). According to the Brevard County Emergency Management officials, debris is not expected to wash up along the shore for three to five days. If and when debris washes ashore, it’s expected to show up in the area north of St. Augustine. “There is currently no sign of explosive or hazardous materials still intact, but for personal safety, please do not attempt to touch or pick up any debris, as it should all be considered potentially hazardous or toxic material,” Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said in a statement.

An official investigation is underway for the rocket explosion, and any debris that is found is vital to the investigation, officials said. The explosion of the rocket and capsule occurred about 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the flight. Pieces could be seen falling into the Atlantic Ocean. More than 5,200 pounds of International Space Station cargo were on board, including the first docking port designed for future commercial crew capsules. Despite the explosion, NASA officials said they have enough supplies for the three-person crew on board the space station to last until October and still plan to send three more crewmembers up in a late July launch. NASA likes to have a six-month cushion of food and water, but is now down to four months. Also destroyed in the explosion were high school students’ experiments and a water filtration system. NASA officials urge beachgoers not to pick up any debris. Also, do not use a cellphone near the debris.

Source: Bay News

Ranking Members Johnson and Edwards Statements on SpaceX CRS-7 Launch Vehicle Failure

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) released the following statements after the failed launch of the SpaceX CRS-7 resupply mission to the International Space Station:

Ranking Member Johnson said, “The loss of today’s SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station is a reminder that spaceflight is still not a routine undertaking. While the loss of the mission is disappointing, I am grateful that no one was hurt. I am confident that SpaceX and NASA will determine the cause of today’s failure and take the necessary corrective actions. In the meantime, NASA has assured us that the crew on the International Space Station is in no danger as a result of today’s accident.”

Ranking Member Edwards said, “While I am disappointed that the launch of the SpaceX CRS-7 resupply mission this morning was unsuccessful, I am thankful that no one was hurt, and that the crew currently aboard the International Space Station has enough supplies to last for several months. The launch failure this morning shows us once again that space is difficult – it requires near perfection. As SpaceX and NASA both acknowledged earlier today, accidents such as this one are an unavoidable part of the challenge of going into space. Federal support for partnerships such as Commercial Cargo and Commercial Crew is crucial to ensuring that we can apply the lessons learned from mishaps like this one and continue developing multiple methods of transporting crew & cargo to the ISS. This is why I will continue to press my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to meet the Administration’s funding requests. I am confident that SpaceX and the FAA are working to ensure a smooth and transparent investigation into the root causes, and that NASA is ensuring the continued support of our astronauts aboard the ISS.”

Source: U.S. House of Representatives, Science and Astronautics Committee

NASA Administrator Statement on the Loss of SpaceX CRS-7

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the loss Sunday of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission. “We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system. “A Progress vehicle is ready to launch July 3, followed in August by a Japanese HTV flight. Orbital ATK, our other commercial cargo partner, is moving ahead with plans for its next launch later this year. “SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with and support SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward. This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.”

Source: NASA

China’s Super “Eye” to Speed Up Space Rendezvous

Chinese space experts have developed the world’s most sensitive “eye” that enables the autonomous rendezvous and docking of two spacecraft — flying eight times faster than bullets — more efficiently and safely. The “eye” is China’s newly developed third-generation rendezvous and docking CCD optical imaging sensor. It will be used on China’s second orbiting space lab, Tiangong-2, the Chang’e-5 lunar probe and the permanent manned space station, according to China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). China plans to launch Tiangong-2 in 2016, and send Chang’e-5 to collect samples from the moon and return to earth around 2017. It also aims to put a permanent manned space station into service around 2022. “Good ‘eyesight’ is crucial for one spacecraft chasing another for hundreds of thousands of kilometers to achieve a perfect rendezvous and docking — it’s like threading the needle,” says Gong Dezhu, a CAST designer who worked on the CCD optical imaging sensor.

“The last 150 meters between the two spacecraft is the most critical moment. A slight deviation during docking might lead to a disaster like the one caused by Mann, the main antagonist in the movie Interstellar,” Gong says. Compared with the CCD optical imaging sensor used in the docking of Tiangong-1 and the Shenzhou spacecraft, the new “eye” can see clearer under direct sunlight, which will greatly improve safety. The window period of the docking process will be twice the length, Gong says. “And the reaction time between the ‘eye’ capturing the first sight of its target and recognizing it has been shortened from 10 seconds to less than one second,” Gong says. The sensor’s weight and power consumption is only half that of comparable products internationally, says Gong. Such “eyes” can also be used on mechanical arms, and for refueling and repairing of spacecraft, as well as aerial refueling and docking of underwater vehicles, experts say.

Source: Xinhua News Agency

NASA Invites Media, Social Media to a Space Launch System RS-25 Engine Test

Media and social media followers are invited to watch as NASA tests an RS-25 engine like those that will power the rocket that launches astronauts on missions to an asteroid and to Mars. The test will take place Thursday, August 13, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Four RS-25 engines will power the core stage of NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS), the rocket that will launch the agency’s Orion crew capsule on deep space missions. The RS-25 engine is a modified space shuttle main engine, which powered missions into low-Earth orbit for 30 years. Remaining space shuttle main engines are being upgraded to provide the additional thrust needed for the SLS vehicle. The test will verify that the RS-25 developmental engine is performing as needed. Engineers especially are focused on verifying the performance of the new RS-25 engine controller component, or “brain.” The controller monitors and regulates engine performance during an engine firing. Testing of RS-25 engines that will be used for flight is expected to begin this fall at Stennis.

Stennis will test all of the RS-25 engines used on early SLS missions, including those that will launch the vehicle’s first uncrewed mission, Exploration Mission-1. Stennis also is preparing to test the SLS core stage, which will involve firing four RS-25 engines simultaneously. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the SLS Program for the agency.

Source: NASA

India’s Mars Mission May Last ‘Many Years,’ Says ISRO Chief

The country’s low-cost Mars mission spacecraft that is in a rendezvous with the Red planet for an extended period has enough fuel for it to last “many years”, Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman Kiran Kumar said today. “….now it will be surviving for many years,” Mr Kumar told reporters in Bengaluru on the sidelines of Indian Institute of Science Alumni Global Conference 2015 ‘Science for Society’ in Bengaluru. He said, “still about 45 kg of fuel is left; …we are hardly using the fuel, fuel requirement is very small.”

“Originally with the kind of fuel we had carried, we were not expecting that we will be able to complete the mission for more than six months,” he said. Elaborating, he said right from launch till the spacecraft was inserted into the desired orbit, many difficulties could have been encountered “in which case we would have spent more fuel….but it didn’t happen right from the beginning through the whole process.” The spacecraft’s life was extended for another six months in March due to surplus fuel. Scripting space history, India on September 24 last successfully placed the low-cost Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft in orbit around the Mars in its very first attempt, breaking into an elite club. ISRO had launched the spacecraft on its nine-month-long odyssey on a homegrown PSLV rocket from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on November 5, 2013 and it had escaped the earth’s gravitational field on December 1, 2013.

Mr Kumar said “there was no untoward incidents, no failures; ….even when you launch you have to give some margin for launch error that also was not there. So we were able to save fuel right from beginning till insertion.” “Now we have saved, almost 45 kg is there. It will last for many years,” he added. He however did not exactly specify how long the spacecraft’s life can be further extended. Asked to specify the time frame, he said “we will go one step at a time. We had told the longest duration of gap of communication was this one (June 8-22). Now this we have survived. Next similar event will be two-and-half years later.” Questioned whether it can last two-and-half years, he said “…it should.” From June 8 to 22, the MOM was in “blackout” phase snapping communication with the satellite, as the sun had blocked Mars from the Earth. MOM during this period went into an “autonomous mode”.

Source: NDTV

Iran Says Prepared to do Suborbital Satellite Tests

Iran says it is ready to launch its Tir and Mehr probes to test Iranian satellites at the suborbital level. The Science Ministry’s Development Council’s new regulation has paved the way for the Aerospace Research Center to find its legal place, Fathollah Ommi, head of the research center said. He noted that as the result of the new regulation, the launch of suborbital satellite has become possible, ISNA news agency reported June 20. Accordingly, we have designated the Mehr and Tir probes for suborbital experiments which will be carried out if there is any entrepreneur, he said. Ommi said suborbital tests reduce the costs of launching satellites. He pointed out that the council has passed a budget of 26 billion rials (about $892,000) to be given to the research center. “The money needed for launching each satellite is about 100 billion rials (about $3.4 million) whereas we can do suborbital tests with 10 billion rials,” he said. The Fajr satellite was sent into the orbit on the back of the home-made Safir-e Fajr launcher on Feb. 2. Iran said the satellite will be used in the fields of shipping, transportation, agriculture, and meteorology. Iran launched its first indigenous satellite, Omid (Hope), in 2009, and also sent its first bio-capsule containing living creatures into space in February 2010, using the indigenous Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3) carrier.

Source : Trend News Agency

OneWeb Contract A Milestone For Virgin Galactic’s Smallsat Launch Effort

Virgin Galactic’s deal for 39 launches of OneWeb satellites is the company’s first contract for its LauncherOne system, its chief executive said June 25. “This is the first contract we’ve publicly announced,” George Whitesides said in an interview. “We’re negotiating several other firm contracts right now, but this is the first one. You can see why we wanted to start big.” The contract covers 39 launches of OneWeb satellites using LauncherOne, a small air-launched vehicle the company is developing, with an option for up to 100 additional launches. Those initial 39 launches will take place “roughly over the next five years,” Whitesides said. Each LauncherOne mission will be able to carry between one and three OneWeb satellites, he said. The exact number will depend on the final satellite configuration, the launch vehicle’s capacity, and the orbits the satellites will go to.

OneWeb will launch the bulk of its constellation using Soyuz launches provided by Arianespace. LauncherOne will instead deploy individual satellites to fill gaps in the overall system. “Part of the point of our system is that we’re able to provide responsive launch to serve specific needs that they have in their constellation,” Whitesides said. Virgin Galactic announced plans to develop LauncherOne in July 2012. The two-stage vehicle, launched from the company’s WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, is designed to place payloads weighing up to 225 kilograms into low Earth orbit. While the value of the OneWeb contract was not disclosed, the company previously said the price of a LauncherOne mission would be less than $10 million. LauncherOne is currently under development, primarily at a new factory Virgin Galactic opened earlier this year in Long Beach, California, that employs 120 people. Testing of the rocket’s liquid-propellant engines is in progress at the company’s primary facility in Mojave, California. Whitesides said Virgin Galactic is targeting an early 2017 first launch for LauncherOne, but added it could take place “a little earlier.” Those initial test launches will probably carry commercial payloads, he said. “We’ve had a lot of interest about that, so I would expect we’ll have some customers on our test flights.” The LauncherOne work is largely separate from the project Virgin Galactic is best known for, the SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft.

The first SpaceShipTwo vehicle crashed during a test flight in October 2014, killing one of the two pilots on board. While the investigation into the accident continues, the company has been building a second SpaceShipTwo. “We’re making great progress, working three shifts on it,” Whitesides said of the SpaceShipTwo under construction. In May, the vehicle rested on its landing gear for the first time, and he said the company is working on the “nuts and bolts” of completing the vehicle, with flight tests of the vehicle still on schedule to begin later this year.

Source: Space News

Near Space: Balloons, Satellites, and Suborbital Rockets

The enthusiasm of the Air Force’s leadership for “near space” vehicles is undiminished. They foresee that these craft will resemble inflatable aerostats or balloons and will dwell, for months at a time, at over 20,000 meters, where they will provide a variety of functions for US forces within a given theater of operations, such as Iraq. The roles they are considering include communications relays as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR). The Air Force, in fact, has almost 50 years of experience with high altitude balloons. When used as research tools, they have played a useful but limited role in the development of escape systems for pilots and in developing the recovery capsule for the Discoverer/Corona spy satellite. Numerous space probes have been tested using the Air Force’s balloon capability, still based at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

According to the 1997 Air Force report, “The Roswell Report: Case Closed”, it was these balloons that set off the notorious UFO incident. The same report also notes that “Polyethylene balloons flown by the US Air Force reached altitudes of 170,000 feet [51,800 meters] and lifted payloads of 15,000 pounds [6,800 kilograms].” The report explains that recovering the payloads from these operations is uncertain and difficult under the best of circumstances. The possibility of a near space craft making an uncontrolled landing in a hostile or neutral country adjacent to a war zone is one of the drawbacks identified in recent studies. Another problem, mentioned by the NRO’s Peter Rustan, in a recent Aviation Week note, is that these systems, like RLVs, have a mass fraction problem of their own. Above about 23,000 meters, it seems, their payload is seriously limited. Lighter-than-air vehicles floating far above the battlefield and controlled by a theater commander, rather than by the good folks in Colorado Springs or Chantilly, must appeal to generals who’ve probably had some less-than-favorable experiences of their own waiting for their urgent requests to be fulfilled by forces thousands of kilometers away and completely outside their chains of command.

To deal with the same problem from space, rather than from near space, the Air Force and the Navy are planning to launch the TacSat 1 experimental satellite. The program cost for this 110-kilogram spacecraft looks is about 15–20 million dollars. This launch has gotten a lot of attention because it will ride into orbit on top of one of the first Falcon 1 rockets built by Elon Musk’s startup, SpaceX. Less attention, though, has been paid to the concept of operations that this spacecraft will use. As part of the Operationally Responsive Space concept under development by the Defense Department, TacSat 1 will be controlled by operators in the field rather than by a control center in the US. Later versions could fulfill the same ISR role as a near space vehicle.

Assuming that the Defense Department needs a constellation of 40 satellites to do the job of one or two near space vehicles, and that a future production TacSat-type craft would cost no more than $20 million each, procurement costs would be no more than $800 million. How confident is the Air Force and other DoD space leaders that a near space craft developed under the current acquisition system would cost less than a billion dollars? An alternative approach features the use the suborbital RLVs now being designed and built for the emerging space tourism market and other private sector purposes. Such vehicles, optimized to travel safely and reliably into near space several times a week with a payload of two or more human passengers, could be modified to carry an array of sensors up and back at times and places of a theater commander’s choosing. Scaled Composites’ new vehicle, as well as the one now being designed by TGV Rockets, should be included in any near space analysis of alternatives. Before they reach that level of detail, senior leaders should examine the assumptions on which this requirement is based.

The natural desire of theater commanders to have their own assets could be weighed against the future ability of the troops in the combat zone to have constant access to multi-source ISR information via the Defense Information Systems Agency’s planned Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) program. Over the years, forces at the tip of the spear have often been promised quick, secure, and reliable intelligence information from national assets. These Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities Programs (TENCAP) have, according to many sources, not lived up to expectations. If the Defense Department and the new National Intelligence Directorate are going to keep faith with America’s men and women on far-flung battlefields, they should take a careful look at why past programs have failed to deliver. Spending a billion to solve a problem that could be solved quicker and better with less money by adjusting bureaucratic regulations or by buying a system that is already being developed could be a far better alternative, at least for the ISR part of the problem.

Source: The Space Review

NASA’s Interest in Removal of Orbital Debris Limited to Tech Demos

NASA’s policy of paying companies to develop technology designed to eliminate orbital debris but not to pay for in-flight demonstrations has space companies searching for new backers. NASA adopted a policy in June 2014 to support development of orbital debris removal technology but not of operational systems. Specifically, the space agency backs projects with Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 1 through 4, which means NASA’s support for projects ends once components or prototypes work in a laboratory setting. “At present, there is no viable technological or economically affordable approach that is sufficiently mature to justify technology demonstration,” NASA spokesman Joshua Buck said June 8 in an emailed response to a question about the policy. Some space industry officials counter that assessment. “The challenge of active debris removal requires capabilities for orbital rendezvous, capture of noncooperative objects and affordable disposal,” said Robert Hoyt, chief executive and chief scientist for Tethers Unlimited of Bothell, Washington. “The required propulsion and control technologies for orbital rendezvous capability have been demonstrated by many prior missions.” To capture spent rocket boosters or defunct satellites, Tethers Unlimited developed a deployable net technology called Grapple, Retrieve and Secure Payload, or GRASP. Through microgravity testing on commercial parabolic aircraft flights, GRASP is now at TRL-5, Hoyt said. TRL-5 means components or prototypes work in the appropriate environment. Busek Co. has another debris-capturing technology it calls Satellite on an Umbilical Line, or SOUL. Natick, Massachusetts-based Busek won a grant in April under NASA’s Small Business Innovative Research program to take SOUL, a 10-kilogram satellite equipped with a tool and linked by a 100-meter cord to a larger spacecraft, from TRL-4 to TRL-5.

The U.S. Air Force and Navy funded early development of SOUL to retrieve space debris weighing approximately 1,000 kilograms and tow it to another orbit. NASA also is interested in SOUL’s ability to gather asteroid samples, inspect spacecraft and repair orbiting satellites. In addition, many companies are developing devices designed to be launched on small satellites or attached in orbit to debris to increase drag and speed its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Tethers Unlimited sells the Terminator Tape, a $7,000 deorbit module for cubesats that includes a 250-meter-long conductive tape designed to unfurl at the conclusion of the mission and produce enough drag to lower the satellite’s orbit. Two orbiting cubesats are equipped with Terminator Tapes. When those cubesats complete their missions and deploy Terminator Tapes next year, the technology will be at TRL-8, meaning the system has been tested, demonstrated and qualified for flight, Hoyt said. Similarly, two dragNET De-orbit Systems, produced by MMA Designs of Boulder, Colorado, are currently flying. In 2013, the U.S. Air Force launched two inflatable dragNET sails on the Space Test Program Satellite-3 and on the Minotaur 1 rocket upper stage that launched that satellite. The 14-square-meter dragNET on the Minotaur upper stage, the first to deploy, is expected to bring the rocket body into Earth’s upper atmosphere later this year. “We have demonstrated on-orbit success (TRL 9) so our technology is certainly viable and economically feasible to implement on every space vehicle immediately,” Mitchell Wiens, MMA’s president and chief operating officer, said by email.

Given those examples of ongoing technology demonstrations, many NASA observers in industry and academia say a key reason the space agency is limiting its orbital debris removal work to research and development is concern among senior officials that successful flight demonstrations would push NASA into the role of space garbage collector. “No one wants to get saddled with the responsibility without the budget to back it up,” said Raymond Sedwick, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research. NASA’s Orbital Debris Remediation guidelines allude to those concerns. “NASA’s recognition of the importance of Orbital Debris Remediation technology coupled with limited resources provides the basis for guidance on Orbital Debris Remediation technology investments and activities,” reads a memo signed June 19, 2014, by Associate Administrator Robert M. Lightfoot. U.S. President Barack Obama’s National Space Policy published in 2010 does not specify which U.S. agency should take the lead in cleaning up orbital debris. It simply directs NASA and the Defense Department to “perform research and development of technologies and techniques … to mitigate and remove on-orbit debris, reduce hazards, and increase understanding of the current and future debris environment.” NASA has a robust strategy to perform those activities in coordination with other U.S. government agencies, international partners and international organizations, Buck said. “The problem of orbital debris is too large for any single agency or nation to solve alone,” he added. International organizations are preparing to demonstrate their ability to clean up space debris. Astroscale, a startup based in Singapore, is preparing to launch a dual-satellite Active Debris Removal System in 2017.

The German Aerospace Center, DLR, plans to begin servicing spacecraft in orbit and removing debris through its Deutsche Orbital Servicing Mission scheduled to launch in 2018. In Switzerland, engineers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne are designing Clean Space One, a spacecraft to catch a cubesat and move it to Earth’s atmosphere. International coordination would be required for any sustained effort to capture and remove debris because many nations have contributed to the problem and the United Nations 1967 Outer Space Treaty states that space-based objects, including spent rocket boosters and satellite fragments, belong to the nation or nations that launched them. Still, that should not be a deterrent to debris removal activities because U.S. agencies could begin testing new technology by capturing garbage left behind by U.S. government missions, Sedwick said. “We could spend years cleaning up our own stuff,” he said. “If we did that and the technology advanced, I think we would be permitted to bring down the junk of other countries.”

Source: Space News