China’s First Space Station gets to flame out this year

❝ China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, is expected to fall to Earth sometime in late 2017. We’ve known for several months that the orbital demise of the 8-metric ton space station was only a matter of time. But Chinese space agency officials recently confirmed that they have lost telemetry with the space station and can no longer control its orbit. This means its re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere will be uncontrolled.

Despite sensational headlines…the risk is quite low that people on Earth will be in danger. Any remaining debris that doesn’t burn up in the atmosphere has a high chance of falling into an ocean, since two-thirds of Earth’s surface is covered by water…

❝ …throughout the entire history of the space age, there have been no reports of anybody in the world being injured or struck by any re-entering debris. Something of this size re-enters the atmosphere every few years, and many are uncontrolled entries…

Wu Ping, deputy director of China’s Manned Space Engineering office, said at a press conference before the launch of the Tiangong-2 space station last week that based on their calculations and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during its fall through the atmosphere. She added that China has always highly valued the management of space debris, and will continue to monitor Tiangong-1, and will release a forecast of its falling and report it internationally…

❝ “Although Tiangong-1 is no longer functioning, keeping track of where it is not a problem,” said Chris Peat, who developed and maintains Heavens-Above.com, a site that provides orbital information to help people observe and track satellites orbiting the Earth.

Should curiosity get the best of you – and you have moderately capable optics handy – I’d suggest staying in touch with Chris Peat’s Heavens-Above.com site and keep an eye on the critter yourself.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

China tests new rocket before launch of 2nd space station


Republican version of space exploration

China on Sunday recovered an experimental probe launched aboard a new generation rocket, marking another milestone in its increasingly ambitious space program that envisions a mission to Mars by the end of the decade.

Space program authorities said the spaceship’s landing on the vast Inner Mongolian steppe keeps China on schedule to place its second space station into orbit later this year.

The launch of the spaceship aboard the newly developed Long March 7 rocket on Saturday was hailed as a breakthrough in the use of safer, more environmentally friendly fuels. The launch also marked the first use of the massive new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on the southern island province of Hainan…

A source of enormous national pride, China’s military-backed space program plans a total of 20 space missions this year at a time when the U.S. and other countries’ programs are seeking new roles

China plans to launch a mission to land a rover on Mars by 2020, attempting to recreate the success of the U.S. Viking 1 mission that landed a rover on the planet four decades ago.

The Republican-controlled Congress has called for further United States research on SUVs weighing over 4 tons and using tractor treads instead of tires. They feel this is a cost-effective alternative to actually repairing our crappy highways.

So – no money for real space rangers.

SpaceX Dragon reaches International Space Station

A SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule overcame a potentially mission-ending technical problem to make a belated but welcome arrival at the International Space Station on Sunday.

Astronauts aboard the outpost used the station’s robotic arm to pluck the capsule from orbit at 5:31 a.m. EST as the ships sailed 250 miles over northern Ukraine.

Flight controllers at NASA’s Mission Control in Houston then stepped in to drive the capsule to its berthing port on the station’s Harmony connecting node…

The Dragon capsule, loaded with more than 2,300 pounds of science equipment, spare parts, food and supplies, blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Friday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the second of 12 planned supply runs for NASA…

Dragon was to have arrived at the station on Saturday but a problem with its thruster rocket pods developed soon after reaching orbit. Engineers sent commands for Dragon to flip valves and clear any blockage in a pressurization line in an attempt to salvage the mission.

By Friday evening, Dragon had fired its thruster rockets to raise its altitude and begin steering itself to rendezvous with the station.

As they say, it’s not where you start but where you finish that counts. You guys really finished this one on the mark,” station commander Kevin Ford radioed to Dragon’s flight control team in Hawthorne, California, and NASA’s Mission Control in Houston…

Once the capsule is unloaded, the crew will begin refilling it with 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of unneeded and broken equipment and science samples for analysis on Earth.

Bravo.

Following events as they happened, one process that was clear is the growth and evolution of computing power has added depth and capability to control systems on devices like the Dragon. Thruster problems would have made a mission like this a dead end a decade ago. Now, backups and workarounds were a matter of enabling changes in the program.

Good news.

China’s giant, quiet step in space continues


 

In May, SpaceX became the first of the new generation of commercial aerospace companies to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. The cargo delivery was part of the first flight test of the integrated Falcon-9 launch vehicle and the Dragon capsule spacecraft with rendezvous and berthing mechanism systems…

One month later, China launched its fourth crewed space mission, Shenzhou-9. This was also a history-making flight, in that China, which had in 2003 become only the third nation capable of launching astronauts into space — now only one of two, since the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle in 2011 — demonstrated crewed rendezvous and docking to their orbital module, Tiangong-1. The crew also featured China’s first female astronaut. They spent several days docked to Tiangong-1 conducting various operations, before safely returning to Earth on Thursday night.

China’s mission was widely covered in the international media, but the coverage in the United States was notably quieter than that of SpaceX. This is somewhat understandable, as SpaceX is an American company. But the sentiment of many in the United States is that the Chinese mission was a big “So what?” After all, the United States and Soviet governments had demonstrated crewed docking missions back in the 1960s, and operationally, China is still far behind.

We downplay China’s accomplishments at our own peril. That the United States and the Soviet Union demonstrated crewed rendezvous and docking operations more than 40 years ago is not the point. The point is, now the Chinese can do it, too.

China’s first crewed space docking was a giant step. It enables the Chinese to build and operate their own space station, establish the technology that is necessary to efficiently send astronauts to the moon and beyond, build and operate fuel depots, and construct vehicles and bases in space.

Russia has turned to earning income from their monster first stages used as the base for launching satellites for several companies. The United States is confining efforts almost exclusively to military tasks, turning down a significant number of NASA requests for peaceful purposes. Which puts the lie to whining from pundits and politicians who auto-deny China’s avowed tasking of peaceful purposes in space research.

Regardless of direction – and agitprop – China is the only nation growing a space program for the foreseeable future. I wish them well. I look forward to learning what they discover to add to our knowledge of science off-Earth.

Milestone: Launch of private rocket heralds new era


 
A new era in space exploration dawned Tuesday as a slender rocket shot into the dark Florida sky before sunrise, carrying the first private spacecraft bound for the International Space Station…

The unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3:44 a.m., carrying 1,300 pounds of food, clothing and scientific experiments on a demonstration mission to gauge the company’s ability to safely and efficiently deliver supplies to astronauts staffing the orbiting station…

Tuesday’s launch marks the culmination of six years of preparation to bring commercial flights to the space station following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet last year. It’s backed by entrepreneur Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal…

The rocket launched without a hitch following a flawless countdown that came three days after a faulty valve on one of the rocket’s engines forced a last-second postponement.

At 180 feet tall and 12 feet around, the Falcon 9 rocket is tiny in comparison to the football-field-long Saturn V rockets that carried Apollo spacecraft into orbit. It carries the company’s Dragon cargo capsule capable of carrying 13,228 pounds of supplies into orbit…

The capsule is scheduled to perform a series of maneuvers that should bring it within reach of the space station’s robotic arm on Friday. If NASA gives the go-ahead, the crew will use the arm to attach the capsule to the station and begin unloading supplies, according to SpaceX.

It will remain attached to the station for two weeks before it plummets back into the atmosphere and splashes into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

Bravo!

Moon Pic of the Day

The International Space Station can be seen as a small object in upper left of this image of the moon in the early evening Jan. 4 in the skies over the Houston area flying at an altitude of 390.8 kilometers (242.8 miles). The space station can occasionally be seen in the night sky with the naked eye and a pair of field binoculars.

I would love to visit either.