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Stratolaunch – a new way to get into space!

A HIGH-POWER TEAM of space and industry experts has come together to propose a radical new way of getting into orbit. Radical in size, that is, if not in overall concept.

The Stratolaunch project would see a huge carrier aircraft twice the size of a Boeing 747, carry a large rocket slung under its mid-section. The whole “stack” would take off like a normal aircraft and climb to altitude, whereupon the rocket would drop away, ignite its engines and shoot into orbit.

The carrier aircraft will be largest aircraft ever flown.

It’s a scaled up version of the system to be used by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

The Stratolaunch team is led by four famous individuals, prime among them being entrepreneur Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. There’s also Mike Griffin, former head of NASA; Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and founder of the SpaceX rocket company; and Burt Rutan, the famed aeronautical designer who designed and built SpaceShipOne and the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo.

More information: Stratolaunch web site

Story by Jonathan Nally. Graphics courtesy Stratolaunch.

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Mars mission on its way!

A HISTORIC VOYAGE to Mars has begun with the launch of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity.

The mission will pioneer precision landing technology and a sky-crane touchdown to place Curiosity near the foot of a mountain inside Gale Crater on August 6, 2012.

During a nearly two-year prime mission after landing, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favourable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.

The Atlas V rocket initially lofted the spacecraft into Earth orbit and then, with a second burst from the vehicle’s upper stage, pushed it out of Earth orbit into a 567-million-kilometre journey to Mars.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Ride a rocket into space

THIS IS A GREAT VIDEO showing what it’s like to fly into space and back aboard a rocket.

On March 23, 2011, two on-board cameras followed a “sounding rocket” on its journey up to 285 kilometres altitude and back down again.

A sounding rocket is small, unmanned rocket that generally is shot straight up through the atmosphere. They’re often used to conduct measurements of conditions in the upper atmosphere and in space just above. They’re also sometimes used to make observations of astronomical objects out in space.

The main panel on the right shows the view looking backwards down the length of the rocket. The smaller panel on the left shows the view looking upward along the rocket. And in the upper left corner is a diagram showing the trajectory of the rocket.

Note also how the rocket spins during ascent. This is deliberate, and is done to keep it on course. It’s a gyroscopic effect.

Another thing to take note of is the sound. The sound of launch can be heard, as well as the rush as the rocket gains altitude. But the noise dies away after about a minute—this is because the air has become too thin for sounds to propagate easily.

Sounding rockets travel very fast and their flights are correspondingly brief.

In this case, the rocket was launched to measure solar energy output and make measurements that were used to calibrate an instrument on the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a Sun-monitoring spacecraft.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / GSFC.

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Glory launch fails

NASA’S GLORY MISSION ended Friday after the spacecraft failed to reach orbit following its launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NASA has begun the process of creating a Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure. Telemetry indicated the fairing, a protective shell atop the satellite’s Taurus XL rocket, did not separate as expected.

The launch proceeded as planned from its lift-off at 9:09pm Sydney time (5:09am US EST) through the ignition of the Taurus XL’s second stage. However, the fairing failure occurred during the second stage engine burn. It is likely the spacecraft fell into the South Pacific, although the exact location is not yet known.

In the following video, scientists and engineers brief media on the failure of the mission:

NASA’s previous launch attempt of an Earth science spacecraft, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory onboard a Taurus XL on February 24, 2009, also failed to reach orbit when the fairing did not separate.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory Mishap Investigation Board reviewed launch data and the fairing separation system design, and developed a corrective action plan. The plan was implemented by Taurus XL manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corporation. In October 2010, NASA’s Flight Planning Board confirmed the successful closure of the corrective actions.

The Glory Earth-observing satellite was intended to improve our understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth’s climate.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Rocket launch seen from space

Launch of ATV-2 seen from the ISS

Expedition 26 crewmember Paolo Nespoli aboard the International Space Station took this photograph of the Ariane 5 rocket (squiggly vertical line), just after if lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

THESE REMARKABLE PHOTOS were taken by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli from the International Space Station (ISS) on 16 February 2011, just minutes after Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Johannes Kepler lifted off aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana.

The images show the rising exhaust trail of Ariane, still in its initial vertical trajectory phase. The trail can be seen in the image above as a thin streak just beneath the Station’s robot arm.

The unmanned supply ship will deliver critical supplies and re-boost the ISS during its almost four-month mission. It is due to dock with the ISS on Friday, February 25, Sydney time.

Launch of ATV-2 seen from the ISS

An enlarged view of the Ariane 5 launch. The rocket's exhaust plume has been blown into a squiggly shape by different winds at different altitudes.

Adapted from information issued by ESA/ NASA.

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Rocket launch video

Arianespace stepped up its 2010 launch pace with the successful lift-off of a “dual-passenger” Ariane 5 rocket mission on Saturday, which lofted payloads for the Middle East and South Korea.

Launching from the ELA-3 launch facility in French Guiana, the Ariane 5 ECA placed Arabsat-5A and COMS into geostationary transfer orbits—providing a payload delivery performance of approximately 7,400 kg.

“This launch is the 37th consecutive success for our Ariane 5 launcher, and it clearly demonstrates our policy of quality—which is exactly what you—our customers expect, and I thank you for the confidence you have always shown for us,” Arianespace Chairman & CEO Jean-Yves Le Gall said in comments from the Spaceport’s Jupiter mission control room.

During Saturday’s launch, the Arabsat-5A satellite was deployed first during the flight sequence, being released from atop Ariane 5’s payload “stack” at 26 minutes into the mission.  Produced by Astrium and Thales Alenia Space for the Arabsat telecommunications operator, the satellite had a mass at lift-off of about 4,940 kg.

Launch of the Ariane 5 V195 mission

Launch of the Ariane 5 V195 mission

Arabsat-5A carries transponders for telecommunications and TV broadcasting services over the Middle East and Africa.  Astrium provided the Eurostar 3000 spacecraft platform and was responsible for satellite integration, while Thales Alenia Space supplied the payload.

The COMS satellite was separated from Ariane 5 at 32 minutes into the flight.  The multi-purpose COMS spacecraft for South Korea’s KARI (Korea Aerospace Research Institute) is fitted with three payloads for meteorological observation, ocean surveillance and experimental broadband multimedia communications services.

Following the launch, Le Gall announced that the next Ariane 5 mission will be another dual-passenger flight, which is scheduled for August 3 with RASCOM-QAF 1R and NILESAT 201.

“Since the creation of our company 30 years ago, we have successfully launched 281 satellites,” Le Gall said. “And this will continue, as our order book today has 34 satellites for launch to geostationary orbit, along with six Ariane 5 missions with the Automated Transfer Vehicle, and 17 launches to be performed by Soyuz. And since the beginning of 2010, we already have signed nine new contracts—the latest of which is with the Argentinean operator Arsat, which I am announcing today as a new contract.”

Adapted from information issued by Arianespace.