By Benjamin Vermette
Orion EFT-1 Success
“And lift-off! At dawn! The dawn of Orion and a new era of American space exploration!”
Friday, December 5 marked a milestone in the world of cosmos exploration. NASA’s greatest hope, Lockheed Martin’s Orion Capsule, launched from Cape Canaveral, at dawn, on top of a 243 ft. rocket. NASA’s Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) was the first mission with the Orion capsule, designed for deep space expeditions. Even though it was a short flight to test some of the controls onboard the spacecraft, it was a success, and subsequently initiated a new era of space exploration.
Scheduled to launch the previous day on December 4, EFT-1 was postponed due to an issue with the fill and drain valves onboard the rocket that appeared during the launch attempt that day. “Recommend we scrub today’s operations […]. So please set up for a 24-hour recycle.” explained the launch director. Despite that minor complication, the promising mission virtually had a textbook space flight. Orion did fly 15 times higher than the International Space Station, its controls did correctly answer all the criteria, the capsule did splashdown in the Pacific Ocean about 4 hours after launch and did indeed get picked up by the USS Anchorage, one of the U.S. Navy’s ships.
The next flight of Orion is scheduled no earlier than September 30, 2018. It will be an unmanned mission, just like EFT-1, but this time around it will consist of sending Orion in a circumlunar trajectory, around the far side of the moon and back to Earth, extending the duration of the mission to 7-10 days.
About a month ago, astronauts Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov, and Samantha Cristoforetti climbed onboard a Soyuz rocket on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) for a 6-month voyage. Expedition 42/43, as their mission is called, is the 42nd expedition and the one that is currently on the ISS. Virts, Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti docked with the station’s Rassvet module on November 23, 2014, joining the crew of expedition 41/42, who had been onboard the ISS since September 26, 2014. On the station, the crew operates multiple science experiments while staying tuned into social media via Twitter and posting amazing pictures of the Earth seen from a vantage point 415 km beyond its surface.
In light of the fact that NASA is still trying to get a future permanent rocket to send men into space again since the last shuttle mission in 2011, they have resorted to using the Russian Soyuz rocket to send their space expeditors to the ISS. With the Soyuz rocket, you can’t send more than three astronauts at a time. So the way it works, is that you send three of them to the ISS, joining three other cosmonauts already on board, then you take back the three that were previously there to send three others a few moments later. So you constantly have six bodies up there. This is why the mission’s name always carries two numbers (for example expedition 42/43), because the astronauts and cosmonauts of the 43rd expedition will join the members of the 42nd expedition in March 2015.
The International Space Station needs to be resupplied every 90 days or so. This is why SpaceX, a private company, will send its unmanned Dragon cargo spacecraft on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, for the fifth time, to resupply the ISS with basic necessities such as air and water. However, the primary motivation for this mission is to deliver science-related equipment and systems needed to perform different experiments. This mission, dubbed SpaceX CRS-5, will launch on January 6, from Cape Canaveral. Originally, it was to launch on December 16, but as NASA explains, SpaceX CRS-5 was postponed to “allow SpaceX to take extra time to ensure they do everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch.”
One interesting aspect of the SpaceX CRS-5 mission is a tiny experiment housed in the space of a 4-inch cube. Inside the tiny box may be the key to Alzheimer’s disease. Called SABOL (Self-Assembly in Biology and the Origin of Life), the experiment will be 100% automated and of course, will operate on the ISS. “We don't understand the true mechanism of the disease. If we’re lucky, then we’ll find out whether proteins will aggregate in space. Only in weightlessness can you produce an environment free of convection so you can see whether they form on their own. We expect to learn incrementally from this,” said Dan Woodard, a consultant of the ISS research team based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
New Horizons is awake! Pluto awaits!
New Horizons is a NASA space probe launched in January 2006 with the primary objective to study the dwarf planet Pluto. This spacecraft is estimated to begin its Pluto main science mission and observations in February 2015.
On December 6, 2014, New Horizons spacecraft transitioned from hibernation, when most of the spacecraft is unpowered, to active mode. To wake the space explorer up, NASA send signals to perform critical systems checks, calibrate instruments, and perform corrections, if needed. After nine years and three billion miles of flight, the radio signal, moving at speed of light, needed about four hours to make its way from the probe to Earth. December 6 turned out to be the last “waking up” of the space probe, as NASA is now waiting for Kuiper belt’s object observation in January 2015.
“Symbolically, this [the waking up of New Horizons on Dec. 6th] is a big deal. It means the start of our pre-encounter [of Pluto] operations,” said Glen Fountain, New Horizons project manager.
A cool thing about New Horizons is that in May 2015, it will be so close to the Kuiper belt that it will take incredibly high-resolution pictures of it. The quality of these images will exceed the ones taken by Hubble Space Telescope, one of NASA’s most prestigious space telescopes.
Overfilled Launch Schedule:
Due to a packed schedule, the odds of having a rocket launch at any moment in January and February are greatly in your favour.
The December 2014 launch schedule began on the 2nd with an Indian missile. It continued with another Japanese launch on the 3rd, which pre-empted Orion EFT-1. From Orion’s flight to New Year’s, there were 15 launches scheduled, forming a total of 18.
In January 2015, there were/are four major launches on the calendar; two from United Launch Alliance and the other ones from SpaceX.
You can find every major launch streamed live on the Internet or on NASA’s TV website. It’s always very impressive to see a controlled explosion boosting up a man-made rocket into space — you should check it out!