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China's new spacecraft returns to Earth: official
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 8, 2020


China's new prototype spacecraft "successfully landed" on Friday, marking an important step in its ambitions to run a permanent space station and send astronauts to the moon.

The spacecraft -- which was launched Tuesday -- arrived safely at a predetermined site, the China Manned Space Agency said, after a hitch in an earlier part of the key test.

It said the cabin structure of the spacecraft had been confirmed on site as being intact.

The test vessel was launched with a cargo capsule aboard a new type of carrier rocket from the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan.

The space agency said the vessel was in orbit for two days and 19 hours and had completed a number of experiments.

The return has verified the spacecraft's capabilities such as its heat resistance -- vehicles re-entering Earth's atmosphere face high temperatures.

It is hoped the spaceship will one day transport astronauts to a space station that China plans to complete by 2022 -- and eventually to the Moon.

The new prototype expands the number of crew that can be sent into space to six from three in an earlier model.

Friday's safe landing follows a snag in an earlier part of the test when an unspecified "anomaly" occurred during the return of the cargo capsule, which was designed to transport equipment.

The completion of the experiment had involved the maiden flight of the Long March 5B rocket, and came after two previous failures -- the Long March 7A malfunctioned in March, while the Long March 3B failed to take off in early April.

- Catching up -
Observers said the successful mission marks a milestone for China.

Andrew Jones, who reports on China's space activities for the SpaceNews website, said the country can "move ahead with its space station plans, and the first module may now launch in early 2021."

"The successful landing of the new spacecraft from a high orbit also shows China is serious about sending astronauts beyond low Earth orbit -- something only NASA has achieved -- and eventually sending its astronauts to the Moon," he added.

Chen Lan, an independent analyst at GoTaikonauts.com, which specialises in China's space programme, added: "We can say that China has now similar manned space capability of the US and Russia."

Beijing has invested heavily in its space programme in recent years as it plays catch-up to the United States, which is the only country to have sent a man to the Moon.

Assembly of the Chinese Tiangong space station, whose name means "Heavenly Palace", is expected to begin this year and finish in 2022.

China became the first nation to land on the far side of the Moon in January 2019, deploying a lunar rover that has driven about 450 metres (1,500 feet) so far.

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Nolinor Aviation acquires three Boeing 737-400s in preparation for the economic recovery

From Nolinor Aviation

Nolinor Aviation acquires three Boeing 737-400s in preparation for the economic recovery

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, the airline is expanding its fleet

Mirabel, May 12, 2020 – Nolinor Aviation, who recently made headlines with the Antonov225 flight in Mirabel, is announcing the addition of three Boeing 737-400 aircraft to its fleet, allowing the carrier to increase its capacity and to offer more flexibility to its clients during the economic recovery. Nolinor Aviation has been proactive since the beginning of the crisis and used its fleet of Boeing 737-200s to repatriate Canadians this past March.

“The Boeing 737-400 is a major addition to our fleet. It’s a way to modernize our services and improve energy efficiency. When the crisis is over, Nolinor Aviation will be in a favourable position at the starting line,” said Marco Prud’Homme, President of Nolinor Aviation.

With this announcement, Nolinor, which has been based in Mirabel since 2005, will become the only airline in Québec to offer this type of aircraft on the market. The cabin will seat 158 in economy class configuration, so these planes can be used for larger groups of passengers. Each plane will be modified to comply with Nolinor Aviation’s service and safety standards. The airline uses SkyTrack technology to monitor its aircraft in real time around the world.

Nolinor Aviation’s fleet of Boeing 737-400s will give its clients non-stop access to more distant destinations such as the Caribbean and carry larger payloads. On-board comfort and amenities will provide travellers with excellent in-flight service. This type of aircraft is ideal for sports clubs, troupes of artists (such as orchestras), conference attendees and groups of tourists. Nolinor Aviation will also be able to offer these services to other airlines experiencing technical problems.


Features of the 737-400

The new 737-400s are equipped with the latest satellite monitoring technology, ADS-B, a satellite communication system used to contact the airplane directly during the flight. They can carry out LPV GPS approaches, which are more recent and accurate, as well as Category II ILS approaches. The cabins are equipped with new ultralight titanium seats designed to offer more legroom and wider cushions than normally used in this category of aircraft.

Its maximum cruising speed is 908 km/h (491 knots) and its optimum cruising speed is 794 km/h (429 knots). It can fly 4,973 km (2,685 NM) with a normal load and a fuel tank filled to maximum capacity.

Vincent Dufort, Director of Business Development, is very enthusiastic about offering this new option to his clients,

“This acquisition will allow us to meet a wider range of needs. Clients will be able to reserve their flight on a 737-400 very shortly by contacting me.”

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Marshall team prepares for upcoming Commercial Crew Launch
by Janet Anderson for MSFC News
Huntsville AL (SPX) May 13, 2020
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts aboard, on the first crewed flight to the International Space Station. Launch is targeted for May 27 at 4:32 p.m. EDT.

A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program - the first time since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.?

The Commercial Crew Program was formed to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit.

The mission, known as Demo-2, is currently targeted for May 27 at 4:32 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Behnken and Hurley will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket, en route to an extended stay on the station.

"The Commercial Crew Program has challenged the traditional way of developing human spaceflight launch vehicles by shifting the way we think," said Bobby Watkins, manager of the Human Exploration Development and Operations Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

"This is a huge moment for NASA and its partners, and we are proud at Marshall to be a small part of this monumental mission."

The Human Exploration Development and Operations Office at Marshall supports the Commercial Crew Program with engineers that have helped review critical design and development documentation.

The team also helps provide oversight to safety standards for the spacecraft and verifies data. For the launch, members of the team will be present in the Huntsville Operations Support Center (HOSC) at Marshall and will work closely with teams at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida and Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to monitor launch conditions.

The team has already conducted several simulations in the HOSC, and will continue to do so in preparation for launch. During the simulations, participants use headsets and voice loops to communicate with flight control teams at Kennedy and Johnson Space Center as well as SpaceX. Marshall team members help analyze data for the simulations in real time,

"Using the HOSC for the simulations protected our employees by not having to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Steve Gaddis, launch vehicle deputy manager for the Commercial Crew Program. "This recent sim makes the excitement all the more tangible - especially for the team here at Marshall."

For almost 20 years, humans have continuously lived and worked aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies that enable us to prepare for human exploration to the Moon and Mars.

The station's design requires humans living aboard to maintain it, operate it, and upgrade it; thus, International Space Station operations, including commercial resupply and commercial crew, are essential to the mission. Marshall also supports the station by operating the Payload Operations Integration Center, which operates, plans and coordinates the science experiments onboard 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

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NASA astronauts arrive in Florida week before SpaceX flight
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 20, 2020


Two NASA astronauts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, one week before they blast off aboard a SpaceX vessel -- the first crewed space flight to leave from US soil in nine years.

US astronauts have been flying to the International Space Station (ISS) on Russian Soyuz rockets since the shuttle program ended in 2011 -- a dependence they are keen to break.

"It has been a long road," said Douglas Hurley, who will be one of the astronauts and was also on the last shuttle flight.

He and astronaut Robert Behnken will be the first humans to fly on SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, which was tested with a dummy last year.

The Crew Dragon will take off from Kennedy with help from SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and dock at the ISS, which is currently housing two Russians and one other American.

"This is an awesome time to be an astronaut, with a new spacecraft," Behnken said during a press conference in Florida.

The two arrived in Florida on a NASA jet after being in quarantine since May 13 in Houston in an effort to protect themselves and those aboard the ISS from the novel coronavirus.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine -- who refrained from shaking hands with the pair -- reiterated that it was only the fifth time in history that the United States would launch a new space flight program.

It is the first program to be carried out as a public-private partnership -- with SpaceX producing the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Boeing producing the Starliner.

To limit public spending, NASA financed development of the spacecrafts but has signed contracts with the companies to ensure six round-trip flights to the ISS.

In another difference from the previous programs, the May 27 launch will occur without the usual crowds of spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NASA is already under pressure from President Donald Trump who has instructed the space agency to return to the moon by 2024, accelerating an already risky undertaking.

The head of NASA's human spaceflight program, Doug Loverro, abruptly resigned Tuesday after only six months on the job, in a move possibly related to procurement of spacecraft for the Artemis lunar mission.

NASA chief of human spaceflight resigns ahead of launch
Washington DC (UPI) May 20, 2020 - NASA's chief of human spaceflight has resigned ahead of a launch that will send astronauts into space from U.S. soil for the first time in a decade.

Doug Loverro resigned on Monday and told The Washington Post his departure has to do with NASA's Artemis project, which aims to return astronauts to the moon.

"It had nothing to do with commercial crew," he said. "It had to do with moving fast on Artemis, and I don't want to characterize it in any more detail than that."

Loverro's resignation came as a surprise to many, especially its timing. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are scheduled to take a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into space May 27 on a test flight from the Kennedy Space Center.

Former astronaut Ken Bowersox will replace Loverro as associate administrator of the agency's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, on an interim basis.

NASA said it is proceeding as scheduled with next week's launch, which will be its first to send astronauts into space since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

Behnken and Hurley were scheduled to arrive Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft faces its biggest test
by Paul Brinkmann
Washington DC (UPI) May 21, 2020

The Crew Dragon space capsule made by Elon Musk's SpaceX faces a final big test when two astronauts get on board to fly to the International Space Station next week.

The United States hasn't had the capability to launch astronauts from U.S. soil since the last space shuttle mission in 2011. Since then, astronauts have flown to the space station only on Russian rockets launched from Kazakhstan.

A successful mission for Crew Dragon, which is to lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday, will restore that capability and continue the nation's dominance in space, along with making scientific advances from space exploration.

The flight, called Demo 2, is designed to certify the Crew Dragon for regular ferry service of astronauts to the space station.

"I think it's an outstanding flying machine," astronaut Doug Hurley said upon arrival at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday. He will be flight commander for the mission. He and Bob Behnken, the other astronaut on the flight, each have two space shuttle missions on their résumés.

"It is definitely not the space shuttle, in many ways," Hurley said of the capsule. "It's much smaller, but it's a capsule. It's state of the art from a technology standpoint."

Hurley and Behnken had trained in simulators at SpaceX's headquarters for months. Among the completely new features of the spacecraft are a touchscreen control panel, rather than a traditional hand controller like the shuttles had.

The Falcon 9 is to lift off at 4:33 p.m. EDT from Kennedy Space Center's Complex 39A. That site, from which many previous Apollo and space shuttle missions were launched, is being leased by SpaceX.

"This will be the first time humans have ridden on the Falcon 9, even though it has flown many times," Hurley said in previous NASA interviews.

"And so just taking in that experience and the sounds, and all those things that we can relay to future crews, and how the vehicle reacts during the launch process -- is going to be something important to do, too."

NASA's urgent need is to stop relying on Russian Soyuz rockets to carry U.S. astronauts to the space station -- at a cost of more than $70 million per seat.

SpaceX is over two years behind schedule for the launch. NASA awarded two finalist contracts in 2014 to certify new spacecraft to carry people by 2017 -- Boeing got $4.2 billion for its Starliner capsule and SpaceX got $2.6 billion for Crew Dragon.

A sobering report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office in June noted that both programs were making progress, but also said continued delays create "continued uncertainty about when either contractor will be certified to begin conducting operational missions to the ISS."

SpaceX said Crew Dragon is capable of carrying up to seven passengers to and from Earth orbit, and beyond. The capsule is about 13 feet around and 26.7 feet high, and can carry 13,228 pounds at launch. Flight suits include a 3D-printed helmet and touchscreen-compatible gloves.

To prepare for this mission, SpaceX blew up a rocket in January in a final uncrewed test launch of the capsule, proving it could carry astronauts to safety in a launch emergency.

At the time, Musk said sensors aboard the capsule showed astronauts would have experienced a maximum of 3.5 times Earth's gravity. That compares to nearly seven Gs endured by people on a Russian Soyuz capsule that aborted in October 2018.

SpaceX already has sent uncrewed cargo Dragons on resupply missions to the space station several times.

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SpaceX rocket prepared for Demo-2 Mission
by Staff Writers
Kennedy Space Center FL (SPX) May 22, 2020

Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen as it is raised into a vertical position on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-2 mission, Thursday, May 21, 2020, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program.

The flight test will serve as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceX's crew transportation system. Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to launch at 4:33 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 27, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

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Nasa SpaceX launch: What's the mission plan?

By Jonathan AmosBBC Science Correspondent
Bob Behnken and Doug HurleyImage copyrightNASA Image captionBob Behnken (L) and Doug Hurley (R) are beginning a new era in human spaceflight

On Wednesday, the California company SpaceX will launch a mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It's something the firm has done many times before, taking cargo to the sky-high laboratory. But on this occasion, the firm will be transporting people.

It's one of those seminal moments in the history of spaceflight.

When Nasa astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken lift off atop their Falcon-9 rocket, inside their Crew Dragon capsule, it will mark the first time humans have left US territory to reach low-Earth orbit in almost nine years.

But more than that, it sees a shift to the commercialisation of human space transportation - of companies selling "taxi" rides to government and anyone else who wants to purchase the service.

This page details the key phases in the mission sequence.

Launch will occur from the Kennedy Space Center's Complex 39A. This is the famous Florida pad from where the Apollo 11 moonwalkers and the very first shuttle, Columbia, also began their missions.

The ascent Presentational white space

Timing is precise. The Falcon must leave the ground at 16:33 EDT (20:33 GMT / 21:33 BST), or the astronauts won't be able to catch the ISS which passes overhead at 27,000km/h (17,000mph).

Falcon-9 is a two-stage rocket. Its lower-segment will fire for 2.5 minutes before shutting down and separating. This will leave the second stage to burn for a further six minutes to get Dragon into orbit. Once detached, the capsule will then make the rest of the journey to the ISS using its own thrusters.

The second stage of the rocket will be commanded to burn up in the atmosphere. The lower-segment of the booster aims to touch down on a drone ship in the Atlantic. This is a SpaceX speciality that sets its Falcon apart from all other orbital rockets in use today.

It seems remarkable but Nasa astronauts have not had the use of a brand new spaceship design for 39 years. Not since John Young and Bob Crippen climbed aboard the Columbia orbiter. Their shuttle had dials, switches and a control stick. Dragon is all touchscreen.

It's an automated vessel so it plots a path to ISS by itself, but Hurley and Behnken must practise manual flying in case there is some sort of anomaly.

The capsule Presentational white space

Dragon Capsule was conceived to handle every imagined scenario, including a failure of the rocket on the pad or in flight. If this happens, the ship will use a powerful in-built propulsion system to push itself to a safe distance. SpaceX has rehearsed this possibility both on the ground and in mid-air.

This mission should see Dragon reach the ISS after about 19 hours of flight. The capsule will line itself up with the bow of the space station and approach at a relative speed of just a few centimetres per second. Once attached, hooks make an airtight seal.

The length of Hurley's and Behnken's stay aboard the 420km-high ISS is not yet fixed.

The return Presentational white space

It should be more than a couple of months but is unlikely to be longer than 120 days. Engineers say the solar cells on the Dragon degrade in orbit and so Nasa is sure to bring the crewmen home well before the hardware's performance is compromised.

The descent to Earth won't be rushed. The astronauts plan a two-day free flight to further test onboard systems and procedures. When the de-orbit burn is eventually called, Dragon will be protected in its fall through the atmosphere by a heat shield. Four big parachutes will slow the spacecraft to a gentle splashdown in the Atlantic, just off the American coastline.

SpaceX teams have gone over the process of retrieving the capsule many times.

SplashdownImage copyrightNASA Presentational white space

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter:

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Weather threatens U.S. astronauts' SpaceX launch from Florida
by Glenn Singer
Washington DC (UPI) May 24, 2020

Weather has become a major concern for the planned launch of two American astronauts Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the first crewed mission from U.S. soil in nine years.

The projected liftoff has a 60 percent of violating weather constraints because of a thick cloud cover and the likelihood that their SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket would fly through rain, Air Force meteorologists at nearly Patrick Air Force Base said Sunday.

"On launch day, remnant moisture" from a tropical wave will remain in the area, according to the Launch Mission Execution Forecast. "The primary launch weather concerns remain flight through precipitation, the thick cloud layer rule and the cumulus cloud rule associated with the remnant tropical moisture and proximity of [a] developing low."

A launch cannot occur if precipitation is occurring at the launch pad or within the flight path. Similarly a launch generally cannot occur if any part of the planned flight path is through a layer of clouds within 5 nautical miles and is 4,500 feet thick or thicker. Other parameters have to be met, as well.

If the launch is scrubbed, NASA has said, the next attempt to send the Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station would come Saturday. Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have announced they would attend the launch Wednesday, and it was not clear whether a postponement would change those plans to attend.

Despite the dire weather forecast, astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken -- and the mission team -- participated in a "dry dress' rehearsal Saturday in which they donned their black and white spacesuits and made a 20-minute drive in a Tesla Model X to Launch Complex 39A.

Elon Musk, who operates SpaceX, also is the chief executive officer of Tesla.

Hurley and Behnken then took a service tower elevator to the spacecraft access arm gantry and climbed into the capsule. They checked out communication systems, and the hatch was closed. They then went through a run-through with all launch personnel.

According to the space agency, "the rehearsal concluded with the go/no-go poll for Falcon 9 propellant loading, which normally occurs 45 minutes before launch."

A day before the rehearsal, engineers successfully fired the rocket's nine Merlin first-stage engines for seven seconds in what NASA describes as a "critical but routine test."

The liftoff, should it occur Wednesday, is planned for 4:33 p.m. EDT. The Dragon capsule would dock with the International Space Station on Thursday at 11:29 a.m. EDT.


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Sir Richard Branson: Virgin Orbit rocket fails on debut flight

By Jonathan AmosBBC Science Correspondent
The company has done practice runs but this was supposed to be the first time that the rocket would igniteImage copyrightVIRGIN ORBIT Image captionThe company had done practice runs but this was the first rocket ignition in flight

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit company has tried unsuccessfully to launch a rocket over the Pacific Ocean.

The booster was released from under the wing of one of the UK entrepreneur's old jumbos which had been specially converted for the task.

The rocket ignited its engine seconds later but engineers had to terminate the flight shortly after.

Virgin Orbit's goal is to try to capture a share of the emerging market for the launch of small satellites.

It's not clear at this stage precisely what went wrong but the firm had warned beforehand that the chances of success might be in the region of 50:50.

The history of rocketry shows that maiden outings very often encounter technical problems.

"As we said before the flight, our goals today were to work through the process of conducting a launch, learn as much as we could, and achieve ignition," Orbit's Twitter feed said.

"We hoped we could have done more, but we accomplished those key objectives today."

The company is sure to be back for another attempt pretty soon - depending on the outcome of the post-mission analysis.

Engineers already have a second rocket built at the company's Long Beach factory in California.

Skip Twitter post by @Virgin_Orbit

End of Twitter post by @Virgin_Orbit

Most publicity about Sir Richard space activities has focussed on the tourist plane he is developing to take fare-paying passengers on joy rides above the atmosphere.

His satellite-launch venture, however, is entirely separate.

Orbit is chasing the growing interest in small spacecraft that are being designed for telecommunications and Earth observation.

New manufacturing techniques, often involving "off-the-shelf" components from the consumer electronics industry, mean these satellites can now be turned out for a fraction of their historic cost. But they need matching inexpensive means of getting into space - and the air-launched system from Virgin Orbit is intended to meet this demand.

Sunday's flight illustrated the basic launch concept.

The 747, known as Cosmic Girl, left Mojave Air and Space Port to the north of Los Angeles shortly before midday Pacific time (19:00 GMT / 20:00 BST), carrying the rocket, dubbed LauncherOne, under its left wing.

At 35,000ft (10km), just west of the Channel Islands, the jet unlatched the liquid-fuelled booster to let it go into freefall.

LauncherOne ignited its NewtonThree engine four seconds later to start the climb to orbit. But it didn't get very far.

"LauncherOne maintained stability after release, and we ignited our first-stage engine, NewtonThree. An anomaly then occurred early in first-stage flight. We'll learn more as our engineers analyse the mountain of data we collected today," the company said.

Map Presentational white space Rocket profile  
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Elon Musk's company is scheduled to launch its first crewed mission, a test flight called Demo-2 that will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station aboard a Crew Dragon capsule. Liftoff is set for 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT) from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

You can watch the SpaceX launch live here and on Space.com's homepage, courtesy of NASA TV, beginning at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT). Space.com has been covering the lead-up to this epic mission extensively. See videos, photos and stories here.




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Bad weather delays historic SpaceX rocket launch

It would be the first time ever that a privately developed spacecraft launches humans into Earth's orbit.

But fears of a lightning strike forced SpaceX to call off its Falcon 9 mission on Wednesday.

Launch of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 Rescheduled for Saturday, May 30


NASA and SpaceX scrubbed Wednesday’s launch attempt of the Demo-2 flight test to the International Space Station due to unfavorable weather conditions around Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Launch has been rescheduled to Saturday, May 30, at 3:22 p.m. EDT.



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NASA will provide live coverage of prelaunch and launch activities for the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station.

NASA and SpaceX now are targeting 3:22 p.m. EDT Saturday, May 30, for the launch of the first commercially built and operated American rocket and spacecraft carrying astronauts to the space station. The first launch attempt, on May 27, was scrubbed due to unfavorable weather conditions.

Full mission coverage begins at 11 a.m., and will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website, as well as numerous other platforms. The launch broadcast commentators are: Marie Lewis, Dan Huot, Gary Jordan, Derrol Nail, and Tahira Allen from NASA; and Lauren Lyons, John Insprucker, and Jessie Anderson from SpaceX; with special guest host and former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin. Postlaunch coverage commentators are Leah Cheshier, Courtney Beasley, Gary Jordan and Dan Huot from NASA; and Kate Tice, Siva Bharadvaj, and Michael Andrews from SpaceX.

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Main Engine Cutoff; Second Stage Continues the Flight


MECO! Main engine cutoff. The nine Merlin engines powering the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage shut down as expected, followed by separation of the first stage from the second stage. The second stage’s single Merlin engine has taken over the task of delivering the Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, …
2 minutes ago

LIFTOFF! NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 Launches the Commercial Crew Era


Liftoff! The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launched from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Pad 39A at 3:22 p.m. EDT, kicking off a critical final flight test of the SpaceX crew transportation system. The commercial crew era has officially begun with this …
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Awesome to see the technology that is being put to use in this endeavor!  Elon Musk is brilliant in how he has put together these companies to build the ideas that he had.  Will be fascinating to see what his next brainstorm will bring us!

On a lighter note, had to giggle just a bit every time the commentators on TV said it was 'Bob and Doug' going into space.

Edited to add this picture which popped up moments ago....


Bob and Doug.jpg

Edited by deicer
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For Russia, SpaceX success is 'wakeup call'
By Romain COLAS
Moscow (AFP) May 31, 2020

'Trampoline is working': Musk taunts Russia
Moscow (AFP) May 31, 2020 - Russian space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin once ridiculed the lack of a US manned flight programme, saying it might as well "deliver its astronauts to the ISS by using a trampoline".

Six years later Elon Musk and NASA had the last laugh.

"The trampoline is working," quipped the 48-year-old US entrepreneur at a post-flight news conference alongside NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Both men laughed. "It's an inside joke," Musk added.

On Saturday, his SpaceX made history by becoming the first commercial company to send humans into orbit.

The US feat and Musk's joke set Russian social media alight, with wits ridiculing Rogozin, and the Russian space chief's name began trending on Twitter.

"How do you like this, Dmitry Rogozin?" one critic prodded.

Russia still prides itself on sending the first human into orbit in 1961 and other achievements of the Soviet-era space programme.

Rogozin has remained conspicuously silent but his spokesman was forced to react.

"We don't really understand the hysteria sparked by the successful launch of a Crew Dragon spacecraft," spokesman Vladimir Ustimenko said on Twitter.

"What should have happened a long time ago happened," he added.

While cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, Roscosmos executive director for crewed space programmes, saluted the US achievement in a brief video address, not everyone was in such a gracious mood.

Alexey Pushkov, a member of the upper house of parliament, declared Saturday's flight was not a big deal.

"This is a flight to the International Space Station, not to Mars," he said on messaging app Telegram.

He pronounced it time to stop ferrying Americans to the orbiting lab.

"Russia needs spaces for its own young cosmonauts."

Russian space agency congratulates SpaceX on launch
Moscow (AFP) May 31, 2020 - Russia's space agency, until now the only one able to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, on Sunday congratulated the US SpaceX company over its successful launch of a manned rocket.

Saturday's launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was the first of American astronauts from US soil in nine years, and the first ever by a private company.

"I would like to greet our American colleagues," cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, Roscosmos executive director for crewed space programmes, said in a brief video address on the agency's Twitter page.

"The success of the mission will provide us with additional opportunities that will benefit the whole international programme".

Since the mothballing of the US shuttle programme in 2011 Russia's more basic and reliable Soyuz spacecraft has been solely responsible for transporting crews to the ISS from its Baikonur launchpad in Kazakhstan.

Amid tensions between Russia and Western countries in recent years, the ISS has been a rare example of international cooperation that has not been suspended.


Russia has lost its long-held monopoly as the only country able to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station following the flawless manned launch by US company SpaceX.

The Russian space agency congratulated the United States and Elon Musk's SpaceX on the first crewed flight ever by a private company, but experts said the launch should be a wakeup call for Roscosmos.

"The success of the mission will provide us with additional opportunities that will benefit the whole international programme," cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, Roscosmos executive director for crewed space programmes, said in a brief video address.

Saturday's launch was the first of American astronauts from US soil since the mothballing of the US shuttle programme in 2011 that left Russia's more basic and reliable Soyuz spacecraft solely responsible for transporting crews.

Astronauts since then have all trained at Star City outside Moscow and studied Russian before blasting off from Baikonur launchpad in Kazakhstan.

"These flights have been an unexpected chance for Moscow to keep producing Soyuz and retain a significant voice in negotiations over the ISS," said Isabelle Sourbes-Verger, a specialist in space policy at the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

The Russian space agency has also earned large sums by ferrying astronauts: a seat in the Soyuz costs NASA around $80 million.

If SpaceX starts taking up all US astronauts, "the annual losses could be more than $200 million, a significant loss for Roscosmos's budget of around $2 billion," said Andrei Ionin, an expert at the Tsiolkovsky Space Academy in Moscow.

While Musk, the ambitious entrepreneur behind SpaceX, has named the price of a seat on his spacecraft as $60 million, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has announced Russia is working to cut its price by 30 percent.

Ionin voiced scepticism over the plan.

"SpaceX is saving money by using cheap engines and manufacturing almost all its own parts," he said. "To do this, Russia would have to change its production process."

Another option is a barter system proposed by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine: for every Russian riding in a US spaceship, one American would take a Soyuz.

- 'Wakeup call' -

In a broader sense, the appearance of a rival such as SpaceX should be a "wakeup call" for the Russian space industry, which is "in far worse shape than those in charge admit," said Ionin.

A decade ago Russia was behind a large proportion of the world's launches, but that is no longer the case today due to competition from China and SpaceX.

"When we were losing the launches market, Roscosmos said everything was fine because we were the only ones sending people up to the ISS. Now that fig leaf has fallen off."

Russia's space sector is marred by corruption, with multiple scandals over the construction of the new Vostochny launchpad in the Far East.

The country's space industry has also failed to innovate, concentrating on modifying "Soviet technology without any major evolution," Ionin said.

The Russian space programme is renowned for having sent the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier, and its achievements remain a major source of national pride.

But more recently it has endured a series of setbacks, notably losing expensive spacecraft and satellites in recent years.

The rise of private companies like SpaceX, which has ambitions to conquer Mars, risks leaving Russia irrecoverably far behind, experts said.

- Mars next? -

For Russia to keep up, a government body independent of the space sector's main players needs to develop a new strategy, Ionin said.

"US President (Donald) Trump reestablished a body -- the National Space Council -- to set policy goals. We need to do the same thing."

Some observers sense a lack of political will from President Vladimir Putin who appears to be more focused on using rocket science to develop military capabilities, particularly hypersonic missiles.

"For Putin, space exploration isn't a priority when it comes to showing off the might of the state," said independent space expert Vitaly Yegorov.

For Ionin, reinvigorating the Russian space programme requires international cooperation, too.

Sourbes-Verger suggested any manned international mission to Mars "could be an opportunity for Russia to regain its standing by sharing its skills."

But, she said, the costs of any such mission would be so high that China -- now the world's second space power in terms of launches -- would need to be included.

Yet that prospect seems unlikely, she added, given that "the US Congress refuses any space cooperation with China."


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NASA Awards Northrop Grumman Artemis Contract for Gateway Crew Cabin

Artist's concept of the Gateway power and propulsion and HALO.
Artist's concept of the Gateway power and propulsion and Habitation and Logistics Outpost, or HALO, in orbit around the Moon.
Credits: NASA

NASA has finalized the contract for the initial crew module of the agency’s Gateway lunar orbiting outpost.

Orbital Science Corporation of Dulles, Virginia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Space, has been awarded $187 million to design the habitation and logistics outpost (HALO) for the Gateway, which is part of NASA’s Artemis program and will help the agency build a sustainable presence at the Moon. This award funds HALO’s design through its preliminary design review, expected by the end of 2020.

“This contract award is another significant milestone in our plan to build robust and sustainable lunar operations,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The Gateway is a key component of NASA’s long-term Artemis architecture and the HALO capability furthers our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for future human missions to Mars.”

The HALO will be the pressurized living quarters where astronauts will spend their time while visiting the Gateway. About the size of a small studio apartment, it will provide augmented life support in tandem with NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

The preliminary design review is one of a series of checkpoints in the design life cycle of a complex engineering project before hardware manufacturing can begin. As the review process progresses, details of the vehicle’s design are assessed to ensure the overall system is safe and reliable for flight and meets all NASA mission requirements.

This cost plus incentive fee contract allows Northrop Grumman to finalize the design of all systems and subsystems. It also provides for the company to award initial subcontracts for long-lead hardware elements. A second contract action is expected to be definitized by the end of the year for Northrop Grumman to fabricate and assemble HALO for integration with the Gateway’s power and propulsion element (PPE) by the end of 2023.

These first two elements of the Gateway – HALO and PPE – will launch together in 2023. This is a recent update to the agency’s plans to build a sustainable presence at the Moon as part of the Artemis program. The decision to integrate the elements on the ground prior to launch – an outcome of the agency’s program status assessment – reduces both cost and technical risks while enhancing the likelihood of mission success by eliminating the need for the two elements to dock in the orbit around the Moon where the Gateway will operate.

“We’re making significant progress on these first two elements, including incorporation of components from ESA (European Space Agency), the Canadian Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and payloads from our research communities,” said Dan Hartman, Gateway program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The new plan to integrate the two elements of Gateway demonstrates the capabilities of the agency and our partners to be flexible and reassess plans as needed. By launching the elements together, we’re able to significantly reduce Gateway’s risk profile and increase cost effectiveness.” 

The PPE, being designed and built by Maxar Technologies, is equipped with high-power, 60-kilowatt solar electric propulsion. In addition to providing power and communications, its substantial maneuvering capabilities will allow the Gateway to change orbits and enable crews to reach any part of the Moon’s surface.

Northrop Grumman’s habitation module, developed through NASA’s NextSTEP initiative, is based on its Cygnus spacecraft currently being used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. The company’s existing production capability and manufacturing assets allow it to build the HALO with limited schedule risk. NASA’s Launch Services Program will select a launch provider for PPE and HALO by late fall 2020.

Charged with returning to the Moon in the next four years, NASA’s Artemis program  will reveal new knowledge about the Moon, Earth, and our origins in the solar system. The Gateway is a vital part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and the human landing system that will carry astronauts to the surface of the Moon in preparation for NASA to sending humans on a historic first journey to Mars.

For more information about NASA’s Gateway program, visit:


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  • 3 weeks later...
Virgin Galactic's Unity completes final test before adding rocket power
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (Sputnik) Jun 26, 2020
illustration only

According to a Thursday statement by Virgin Galactic, the space company's second gliding test of its Unity spacecraft appears to have been a success. Now, the air-deployed spaceplane will move on to rocket engine tests, preparing for when it will one day fly into space.

Flying out of its new Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert, space exploration company Virgin Galactic conducted its second successful gliding test of Unity, a SpaceShipTwo-class spaceplane on Thursday. The first flight for Unity was on May 1.

According to the company, the test involved the huge carrier plane Eve taking off with Unity in tow and releasing it at an altitude of 51,000 feet, after which it glided home, attaining a speed of 650 miles per hour.

"I am thrilled with the team's hard work to complete today's test flight successfully," Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in a Thursday statement. "It was an important test that, pending data review, means we can now start preparing the vehicles for powered flight. Our focus for this year remains unchanged on ensuring the vehicles and our operations are prepared for long-term, regular commercial spaceflight service."

If the test stands up to "an extensive data review," then the company will move on to live rocket tests.

Eventually, Virgin Galactic aims to offer 90-minute trips to the edge of space in craft like Unity, which can carry six space tourists. The company has told its shareholders it expects to be profitable next year. Last month, founder Richard Branson announced he would sell off $500 million of his own stock in the company in an effort to salvage its financial solvency.

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