Soyuz TMA-19 Docking with the ISS

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft TMA-19 is on schedule to dock with the International Space Station this afternoon at 3:25 PM Phoenix time (22:25 UTC).

Key events in the automated docking time-line include:

  • 1:06 PM – Initiation of the automated rendezvous sequence
  • 1:28 PM – First key engine firing
  • 1:51 PM – Second engine firing, followed by the activation of the Kurs rendezvous equipment
  • 2:12 PM – Soyuz is within 60 miles of the ISS
  • 2:37 PM – Soyuz reaches a distance of 10 miles from the ISS
  • 2:45 PM – The television camera in the nose of the spacecraft is activated
  • 2:53 PM – Initiation of maneuvers to slow the closure rate and align the Soyuz with the Zvezda service module docking port
  • 3:16 PM – Beginning of final approach
  • 3:25 PM – Docking complete
  • 6:25 PM – Opening of the hatches between the Soyuz and the ISS

Soyuz 01
Soyuz TMA spacecraft
Image Credit: Energia

Soyuz 02
Soyuz TMA spacecraft cross section
Image Credit: Energia

At 2:12 PM Phoenix time (21:12 UTC), Soyuz TMA-19 and the ISS are separated by only 60 miles (100 km).

At 3:00 PM Phoenix time, NASA-TV should begin coverage of the arrival of the Soyuz spacecraft.

Soyuz Mission Control
Soyuz Mission Control
Image Credit: NASA TV

At 3:07 PM, the Soyuz is 400 meters from the ISS. It is closing at about 1.7 meters per second.

At 3:10 PM, the range is 300 meters, rate 0.9 meters per second. A fly around is being conducted outside the Zvezda module.

At 3:14 PM, there is a GO for final Approach.

At 3:17 PM, 80 meters.

At 3:21 PM, contact is confirmed. Four minutes ahead of schedule. These guys don’t waste any time.

The docking occurred 222 miles above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Argentina.

ISS from Soyuz
ISS from Soyuz
Image Credit: NASA TV

Soyuz 300 Meters
Soyuz Closing At 80 Meters
Image Credit: NASA TV

ISS from Soyuz
The Docking Location for the Soyuz TMA-19
Image Credit: NASA TV

Approach
Approaching the Zvezda Docking Port
Image Credit: NASA TV

NASA – The New Course – Charles Bolden at the National Press Club

The National Press Club on NASA TV.

John Holdren introduces the implications of the new course based on NASA’s 2011 budget and Charles Bolden.

Bolden is speaking. NASA’s way forward. Thanks the teams that have worked Constellation for many years.

NASA will now be on a sustainable course.

We want to increase our understanding of the Earth and the Solar System.

A new path for exploring and living in space. $6 Billion in new funds for technology and research.

We have experienced a slow erosion of science missions within NASA. Therefore, this administration needs to re-baseline the science and other missions. 30 % increase in science. 60% increase in Earth science research.

Commercial partnerships with industry to produce safe reliable redundant access to low Earth orbit.

NASA’s role is to catalyze commercial operations and markets.

Industry already launches all our military and national security satellites. They also launch the high value commercial and civilian satellites and spacecraft.

Therefore, NASA is not putting its trust in unproven companies.

Commercial access to space and our international partners. This will let NASA focus on its key role of research on cutting edge technology.

Today, we will have SpaceX and Orbital discuss their roles with NASA. We will also introduce the five companies to whom we just awarded contracts for development:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington. Robert Millman. Pusher Escape System. Composite Pressure Vessel.
  • The Boeing Company of Houston, Texas. Brewster Shaw. Partnership with Bigelow. System of cargo and crew transportation for commercial and NASA.
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona. Jane Poynter. Developing turnkey system for use on any spacecraft.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado. Mark Sirangelo. Concept based on the HL20.
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado. Mike Gass. Emergency protection system for Atlas and Delta rockets.
  • Orbital Systems. David Thompson. Private cargo systems within the next year.
  • Space X. Ken Bowersox. Cargo to ISS
Seven Commercial Partners
Credit: NASA TV
The Seven Commercial Partners

Q & A.

1. Goals? What is the timetable and the architecture?

More than a couple weeks but less than years to create the plans. The Moon, Mars, Asteroids are the logical destinations.

2. In orbit fueling? Primary or from Earth?

Being able to launch with a lighter vehicle. The problem is getting out of the gravity well. However, game changing technology: ion engines, VASIMR. Facilitate public discussion on goals and methods.

3. We are abandoning human space flight to the Chinese and others?

We are still the nation with whom everyone wants to partner. We are not abandoning human space flight. We will likely get there quicker than most people think.

4. Columbia accident board. NASA was stretched to thin? Lack of a National mandate?

Apollo 1. Challenger. Columbia. Continuing reminders. Take advantage of technology for destinations as it becomes available.

5. How to keep on budget?

Be a realistic dreamer. But plan to the budget, not try and budget for the plan. We have sufficient funds for what we want to do.

6. Astronauts on commercial vehicles? 60% of astronauts against commercial?

Stick with us if you can. If its not exciting enough, we will help you find your passion. And bear with them.

7. Involvement of Russian companies in partnerships?

Conversation yesterday with Anatoliy Permanov head of the Russian Space Agency Russia will remain a firm partner. Soyuz is excellent. But we will be without redundancy. Retirement of shuttle is the correct thing to do.

8. Job creation in commercial industry?

The more money our new partners receive, the more jobs. But there will be jobs lost and jobs gained. $6 Billion in new funds will translate to jobs.

END.

NASA – The New Course – Liveblog Gen. Charles Bolden (ret.) Press Conference

The Budget

The complete 2011 Federal Budget was released at 8:00 AM Phoenix (10:00 AM EST), including the NASA budget. Highlights from the NASA section:

  • Adds $6 billion to NASA’s budget over five years and draws upon American ingenuity to enable us to embark on an ambitious 21st Century program of human space exploration.
  • Initiates flagship exploration technology development and demonstration programs of “gamechanging” technologies that will increase the reach and reduce the costs of future human space exploration as well as other NASA, government, and commercial space activities.
  • Embraces the commercial space industry and the thousands of new jobs that it can create by contracting with American companies to provide astronaut transportation to the Space Station—thus reducing the risk of relying exclusively on foreign crew transport capabilities.
  • Ends NASA’s Constellation program, which was planning to use an approach similar to the Apollo program to return astronauts back to the Moon 50 years after that program’s triumphs. An independent panel found that Constellation was years behind schedule and would require large budget increases to land even a handful of astronauts back on the Moon before 2030. Instead, we are launching a bold new effort that invests in American ingenuity for developing more capable and innovative technologies for future space exploration.
  • Extends the International Space Station and enhances its utilization, bringing nations together in a common pursuit of knowledge and excellence in space.
  • Enhances the Nation’s global climate change research and monitoring system, including reflight of a satellite that will help identify global carbon sources and sinks.
  • Provides for a robust program of robotic solar system exploration and new astronomical observatories, including a probe that will fly through the Sun’s atmosphere and an expanded effort to detect potentially hazardous asteroids.
  • Revitalizes and realigns NASA to put in place the right workforce and facilities to function as an efficient 21st Century research and development agency.

The NASA Overview (pdf) specifically states that:

Research and development to support future heavy-lift rocket systems that will increase the capability of future exploration architectures with significantly lower operations costs than current systems—potentially taking us farther and faster into space.

In the full budget, under Terminations, Reductions and Savings (p. 18):

The Administration proposes to cancel the Constellation Systems program intended to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and replaces it with a bold new approach that embraces the commercial space industry, forges international partnerships, and develops the game-changing technologies needed to set the stage for a revitalized human space flight program and embark on a 21st Century program of space exploration.

Now the question is how this actually translates into programs. Does the HLV quote mean a Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle ready to give American astronauts access to the ISS by 2014/2015? Or, does the “set the stage for a revitalized human space flight program” quote mean that Human Space Flight by America has been kicked down the road for a decade while Research and Development figure out if we can do it?

In reports from other sources:

  • The Business Standard of India quotes Obama’s budget chief Peter Orszag as telling reporters “We are cancelling the program, not delaying it”, with regard to the Constellation program and a return to the Moon. The report states that “the administration will instead direct NASA to turn to long-range research and development which could eventually lead to a manned space program to Mars, a senior US official said.”

The Press Conference

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson will brief reporters about the agency’s fiscal year 2011 budget during a teleconference at 10:30 PM Phoenix (12:30 PM EST), which will carried in audio only at http://www.nasa.gov/news/media/newsaudio/index.html.

If it is as carefully scripted as the Budget, we may know little more than what is apparent so far. We will see if there are questions from reporters, and if so, whether any of the questions are meaningful.

Bolden has begun speaking. His first significant note is that over the next five (5) years the NASA budget will be increased by $6 Billion.

The ISS will continue to 2020 and beyond in cooperation with our International Partners.

Collaboration with our partners to build the technology for missions to Mars that takes weeks, rather than months.

Commitment to green aeronautical research.

The Constellation program would not get us back to the Moon. So this budget cancels Ares I, Ares V and Orion. We were neglecting investments in key tech to get beyond moon.

The Augustine Commission has given us significant goals which this administration seeks to achieve.

Through an open competition, NASA has awarded Space Act Agreements for the development of crew concepts, technology demonstrations, and investigations for future commercial support of human spaceflight to:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington
  • The Boeing Company of Houston, Texas
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado

We will be discussing these awards in more detail, and introducing you to the space pioneers behind them tomorrow at our event at the National Press Club.

We intend to make full use of the International Space Station. There is so much to know before we move out of Low Earth Orbit.

NASA will fly out the remaining five flights of the Shuttle. NASA will have funds for 2011 if the shuttle schedule slips.

Lori Garver is now speaking.

Heavy Lift Vehicle R&D budget is very robust. It is not for a restacking of existing technologies. Constellation provided no real development funding for HLV until 2016, only research until that time. Now, beyond LEO with HLV on a timetable faster than Ares V.

Looking at flagship missions, that they are going to design over the next couple of months. Don’t want to relive the mistakes of the past.

Commercial competition will see industry define the vehicles and time lines for crew and cargo. They will tell us what they can provide. Expects bids on previous investments. Orion may come back as part of a commercial bid. Propellant Depots are in the mix.

[Ed] Reading between the lines, it may well be that Boeing / ULA or others will bid a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Vehicle using existing Shuttle Assets. In any case, the budget goes to Congress, and there will be much blood on the sand before this is over.[/Ed].

NASA – The New Course

Monday we will know for sure.

In February 2009, Popular Mechanics published “Frustrated Engineers Battle with NASA over the Future of Spaceflight“. The Rebel Alliance and their plan to kill Ares I and bring down the Evil Emperor had a peculiar beginning back in 2006. According to PM:

Tierney wondered whether the Ares I is really the best way to keep the U.S. in the spaceflight business. What if, instead of building a largely new rocket, NASA created a new configuration of proven space shuttle components and placed a crew capsule on top? Sitting on his living room couch, hunched over a laptop computer, he posted the question to the chat room. A dozen replies came back supporting the idea. “I was shocked,” Tierney recalls. “Here I was, just a nobody enthusiast asking a dumb question, and a bunch of NASA engineers are telling me I was absolutely right. They said they’d been pushing the same thing for years and that they’d been threatened with their jobs if they kept talking about it.”

It was crazy in 2006. Is it crazy now? DIRECT advocates the resurrection of the National Launch System (NLS). You can play their animation showing the transition from Shuttle Parts to Jupiter Parts.

The NLS proposed to use the shuttle External Tank (ET), the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) and the two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) as a cargo rocket with three times the capacity of the Shuttle itself, but was abandoned by Congress because the cost to operate two rocket systems was too high. Following the loss of Columbia, and the determination that the aging Shuttle fleet should be retired, NASA set about planning for the future. NASA engineers resurrected the NLS concept of reusing the existing Shuttle components, but were overruled by then Administrator Griffin. Instead, NASA was set on a course to develop two brand new rockets: Ares I and Ares V.

Now, Popular Mechanics may well have scooped the “regurgitation media”, the ghosts of investigative journalism of long past years, who now only copy each others rumors about bad news, hoping to sell advertising. On Friday, 29 January 2010, Popular Mechanics published “Rebel Engineers Sit With NASA to Chart Future of Manned Space“.

The sub-title is:

Moonlighting engineers get their say at a secret NASA meeting—and dish hints of what NASA’s future rockets might look like after the massive shake-up of manned spaceflight programs.

Popular Mechanics reports that NASA administrator Charles Bolden ordered NASA human spaceflight boss Bill Gerstenmaier and other NASA directors to meet with the DIRECT Team, which took place on 19 January 2010. This is confirmed by the meeting participants at the on going Forum conversation at NASASpaceFlight. The NASA participants are:

  • William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Space Operations
  • Douglas R. Cooke, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
  • Phil Sumrall, Exploration Launch Projects Advanced Planning Manager, MSFC
  • Geoff Yoder, Director, Constellation Systems Division, NASA HQ

That is a lot of firepower to be meeting with a group of people dismissed by the “regurgitation media” as “PowerPoint Rocketeers”.

Further, Popular Mechanics confirms much about what has been written recently about the coming changes here and here at NSS Phoenix. Finally, Chris Bergin just published “MAF provide positive ET hardware overview for early SD HLV test flight” at NASAspaceflight.com.

NASA press release concerning Monday’s press conference by Gen. Charles Bolden at 1:00 PM Phoenix time (3:00 PM EST) and the budget (which will be available at 10:30 AM Phoenix (12:30 PM EST).

NASA – Flexible Path and the Rocket to Get Us there

It seems pretty clear that sometime in February (watch for the release of the 2011 Budget), the Obama Administration will task NASA with the Flexible Path architecture (see Flexible Path 5D from The Augustine Commission Wrapped Up post). This is likely to involve taking aim at Phobos in a series of increasingly difficult tasks.

In the past several days, it has become increasing clear that a political compromise is being crafted concerning NASA’s rocket program. It has become obvious that NASA’s budget is not likely to increase very much, and therefore, the development of two brand new rockets is impossible (The Ares I, underpowered and over budget, and Ares V, a paper rocket that is so large we would need to rebuild half the Kennedy Space Center infrastructure). On the other hand, a true Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV) using the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME), The External Tank (ET), and the ATK Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) would be affordable (40% of a rocket development is engine design, and we skip that step), and ready to launch large payloads to re-supply the aging International; Space Station (ISS) by 2014.

If one looks at throw weight from the Summary Report of the Augustine Commission: the Ares I + Ares V can put 185 mt into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) while two (2) SDLV vehicles can put 200 – 220mt into LEO. Its no contest.

All this is from the technical point of view. To craft a solution, one must factor in the politics of the pork. A lot of jobs are at stake. And apparently Senator Shelby has joined the compromise (see Ross Tierney’s comments). Further, Alliance Technology (ATK), which has a contract to develop a five (5) segment version of the Shuttle SRB for the Ares I rocket, is willing to settle for the 5 segment over the 4 segment SRB, and has joined the compromise.

Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle Capable of Diverse Missions

Image Credit:
DIRECT Team

So what does the most likely SDLV look like? As discussed here, and reviewed at NSS Phoenix, the rocket will use four (4) SSMEs, a stretched External Tank to increase the fuel load to accommodate the four engines, and two (2) five segment SRBs.

And where can we go from here? A video of Manned NEO Mission concept from the Constellation program gives some idea of what to expect (ignore the launch vehicles).

And what are the missions along the “Flexible Path”? A preliminary list is given below from one of the threads on the Forum at NASASpaceFlight.com.

The List

  1. First launch of SDLV (2014):
    • the biggest launch vehicle in the world (by far)
    • the vehicle that will take mankind to the moon, Mars and beyond
    • the dawn of the next space age
  2. First crewed launch of Orion (2015):
    • the rebirth of American human spaceflight
    • the first flight of the spacecraft that will take us out into deep space
    • the beginning of a new era of exploration for all of mankind
  3. First circumlunar flight (2018):
    • returning to the moon for the first time in half a century
    • shake-down flight of the spacecraft that will take us into the solar system
  4. First visit to EML2 (2020):
    • the farthest out into space that any human being has ever gone
    • going beyond the moon for the first time
    • visiting the staging ground for all future deep-space missions
  5. First L2 base (2022):
    • building humanity’s first deep-space outpost
    • the first step in man’s expansion into the solar system
    • the gateway to the moon, the asteroids and the planets
  6. First NEO mission (2024):
    • first human visit to an asteroid
    • first trip out into the solar system
    • farthest into space that any human being has ever gone (by far)
    • longest deep-space mission ever
    • preparation for future trips to the moons of Mars
    • learning more about possible future threats to human civilization
    • developing techniques to prevent future disasters
  7. Lunar landing mission (2028):
    • mankind’s triumphant return to the moon
    • studying how to live on the moon so we can move on to Mars
    • finding ways of using the moon’s resources for future missions
  8. Phobos visit (2032):
    • first mission to Mars
    • first landing on the moon of another world
    • preparation for an eventual human landing on Mars

You can disagree over the timetable, you can quibble about the missions, you can wince at Bernie Roehl’s hyperbole, but it is an exciting list of missions that increasingly build infrastructure for the exploration of the Solar System.

NASA – The Rumor Mill

Following on the Tuesday meeting at NASA headquarters concerning revamping the governance structure, and Wednesday’s meeting between NASA administrator Charles Bolden and President Barack Obama, the rumor mill has been if full fury.

Wayne Hale offered this tweet: “Wondering if reports on Obama-Bolden meeting are accurate or just blather. No hard news has appeared.” To which Bob Jacobs, NASA’s deputy assistant administrator of Public Affairs responded: “Inaccurate. The meeting was informational, not decisional…”. Of course, that’s NASA’s spokesperson. Amy Klamper at Spacenews.com thinks “New Direction for NASA Could Wait Until February.”

Now comes Science magazine’s (AAAS) Insider report concerning the outcome of the meeting:

President Barack Obama will ask Congress next year to fund a new heavy-lift launcher to take humans to the moon, asteroids, and the moons of Mars, ScienceInsider has learned. The president chose the new direction for the U.S. human space flight program Wednesday at a White House meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, according to officials familiar with the discussion. NASA would receive an additional $1 billion in 2011 both to get the new launcher on track and to bolster the agency’s fleet of robotic Earth-monitoring spacecraft.

The major elements include:

  • Elimination of the Ares I rocket
  • Recommend Commercial development of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) launch capability for cargo and then crew.
  • Development of a smaller heavy lift rocket along the lines proposed by the old NLS (National Launch System) NASA investigated in the early 1990’s and revived by the Direct Team between 2005 and today.
  • Addition of $1 Billion to the Budget for NASA
  • European countries, Japan, and Canada would be asked to work on a lunar lander and modules for a moon base.
  • Focus on being able to perform a variety of missions including Near Earth Objects, Lagrange points, the Moon, the moons of Mars (Phobos and Deimos). See Option “5D”
  • Additional probes to the Moon, Mars and and the moons of Mars.

Immediate blow back is expected from Senator Richard Shelby, who has asked the Inspector General at NASA to investigate “corruption” within the Augustine Commission. Shelby stated that several Augustine panel members were registered lobbyists who took “direct advantage of their temporary roles on the Commission to further their personal business.” This has been interpreted as a shot across the bow in the fight over Ares I and the jobs it creates at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Shelby’s state of Alabama. Whose bow it was aimed at is in question, and it looks like an act of desperation.

However, as noted in our Wrap Up report on the Augustine Commission, time is of the essence with regard to jobs and the retention of skills associated with building the 8.4 meter External Tank used by the space shuttle and the proposed heavy launch vehicle derived from the shuttle. If the politicians resist the change that’s coming to NASA, they may lose everything.

Denials to the Science Insider article came immediately from NASA and the White House. NASA spokesman Morrie Goodman said the article was “speculation.” White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro echoed that characterization.

NASA – Change Is Coming

Considering the conclusions of the Final Report of the Augustine Commission (see our Wrap Up), change at NASA is inevitable. Can NASA change? Will NASA change?

Two items of interest.

First, Obama will be meeting with Gen. Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, today. The President’s schedule has the following entry:

3:05PM THE PRESIDENT meets with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
Oval Office
Closed Press

Second, Keith Cowling at NASAWatch, reports that on Tuesday, 15 December:

All of NASA’s field center directors met today in a closed door session in one of the Administrator’s Conference Rooms on the 9th floor of NASA HQ. In addition to all of the center directors who were seated around the table, a dozen or so staffers stood around the periphery of the room. Their collective task was to work out and then agree upon a new governance structure for the agency – one that would best implement the new (revised) direction that the White House is providing to NASA. There are apparently 5 or so specific areas that the agency will be re-organizing itself to implement. As such, there may be a recasting of the “directorate” model in favor of “divisions”. All of the participants were sworn to secrecy and were not going to be leaving the room until a new governance model was agreed to.

What did they decide upon? Stay tuned.