Up until now the word Antares has had only one meaning in our language, the given name of a star, but not anymore. Sure, it is still the name of a giant red binary star, the brightest in the constellation Scorpio, about 424 light-years from Earth. The word Antares has its roots in ancient Greek meaning simulating Mars. It looked red to them, just like Mars.
However, things change. On Sunday, April 21, from a beach on Wallops Island Virginia, our own Orbital Sciences launched its newest horse in its extensive stable of rockets, the Antares. And for the first time in my memory, a first launch of a new rocket didn’t end prematurely in a puff of smoke or debris cloud. It went so smoothly that almost no one heard about it. That’s success in the rocket industry but a marketing failure.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has reached an agreement with NASA to build a Service Module for the Orion spacecraft based on their Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which has been a workhorse in the resupply of the International Space Station (ISS) since 2008.
Previously, NSSPhoenix reported in December 2011 on the new Stratolaunch design for air launched orbital satellite services. Stratolaunch is the brainchild of billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Allen enlisted Scaled Composites from Mojave, California to build the twin boom mothership, pictured above. The 222,000-kilogram airplane with a 117-meter wingspan would be capable of flying 2,400 kilometers before deploying a rocket capable of delivering 2,300 kilograms to geosynchronous orbit. Space Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) agreed to study the feasibility of turning their Falcon 9 rocket into an air-launched system. Dynetics Corp. of Huntsville, Alabama was chosen to build the mating and integration system.
Allen, the author of the SpaceShipOne project that won the Ansari X-Prize for two consecutive sub-orbital flights of 100 kilometers within two weeks in 2004, said that he expected to spend “at least an order of magnitude more” on Stratolaunch than he spent on SpaceShipOne.
In late November, SpaceX and Stratolaunch parted ways, agreeing that the effort to retool the SpaceX assembly line into one capable of building a four or five engine Falcon with the associated structural and engineering changes, was too great a change to the SpaceX business model in return for the financial possibilities.
Subsequently, Stratolaunch approached Orbital Sciences, a company with a long history of air launched orbital missions dating back to 1990. Orbital has agreed to study providing the launch vehicle for Stratolaunch. Currently, Orbital’s Pegasus system can put 450 kilograms of satellite into low-Earth orbit. But there has been only a single launch in the past four years, and the only remaining manifest is for a 2013 launch of NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph space telescope.
Orbital is currently working on their Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) Antares rocket, which relies on a liquid fueled first stage powered by Ukrainian built rocket engines, to fulfill a contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).
Stratolaunch has been engaged with Orbital for several months and have contracted with Orbital to evaluate configurations of Orbital systems capable of satisfying Stratolaunch requirements.
NASA announced on Monday 26 November 2012, that American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been selected by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and their international partners to conduct a 12 month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015.
The mission aboard the orbiting laboratory is designed to further our understanding of how the human body reacts and adapts to microgravity and other aspects of living in space. Work over the past several years have shown marked improvement in the ability for astronauts on a normal 5-6 month mission aboard the ISS to adapt to microgravity. The year long mission seeks to validate these findings.
Long duration missions to the Moon, Lagrange points, asteroids and Mars will require countermeasures to reduce risks associated with future exploration.
Kelly and Kornienko are veterans of space travel. Kelly served as a pilot on space shuttle mission STS-103 in 1999, commander on STS-118 in 2007, flight engineer on the International Space Station Expedition 25 in 2010 and commander of Expedition 26 in 2011. Kelly has logged more than 180 days in space.
Kornienko was selected as an Energia test cosmonaut candidate in 1998 and trained as an International Space Station Expedition 8 backup crew member. He served as a flight engineer on the station’s Expedition 23/24 crews in 2010 and has logged more than 176 days in space.
The two astronauts will launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in the Spring of 2015 and return to land in Kazakhstan in the Spring of 2016.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis has been moved to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The museum where the shuttle will be housed is scheduled to open in July 2013. Atlantis completed 33 successful missions.
Key events in the history of Atlantis include:
Maiden Voyage in October 1985
Launch of the Magellan spacecraft to map Venus in 1989
Launch of the Galileo probe to Jupiter in 1989
Supply and Docking with the Russian Space Station Mir in 1995