by Alex Autin


Over The Weekend…

This past weekend saw a dragon lift off to resupply the ISS, and a craft enter the orbit of Mars….


In a beautiful nighttime launch, with 9 Merlin 1D rocket engines roaring to life on the Falcon launch vehicle, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft lifts off  from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 1:52am EDT Sunday, Sept 21. Image Credit: NASA/Sandy Joseph and Kevin O’Connell

The resupply mission, SpaceX’s 4th cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station, is carrying about 5,000 pounds of NASA investigations and cargo, including the first-ever 3-D printer in space, a troop of 20 mice which will be used for microgravity research into bone density, and NASA’s ISS-Rapid Scatterometer, or ISS-RapidScat, which will monitor ocean winds from the vantage point of the orbiting laboratory, and which made the trip bolted inside the unpressurized trunk of the Dragon.

Dragon is scheduled to be grappled at 7:04 am on Tuesday, Sept. 23, by Expedition 41 Flight Engineer Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, using the space station’s robotic arm to take hold of the spacecraft. Dragon is scheduled to depart the space station in mid-October for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean bringing back with it almost 3,200 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies.

Meanwhile, at Mars…


At 7:24 pm PDT Sunday, Sept. 21, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit where it now will prepare to study the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, the first spacecraft dedicated to doing so. (The above image shows an artist concept of MAVEN at Mars. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Following a 10-month journey, confirmation of successful orbit insertion was received from MAVEN data observed at the Lockheed Martin operations center in Littleton, Colorado, as well as from tracking data monitored at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory navigation facility in Pasadena, California. MAVEN’s telemetry and tracking data were received by NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna station in Canberra, Australia.

MAVEN will now begin a six week commissioning phase which includes maneuvering into its final science orbit and testing the instruments and science-mapping commands. The spacecraft will then begin its one Earth-year primary mission, taking measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere and its interaction with the sun and solar wind.


Il mio Pianeta dallo Spazio

My Planet from Space: Fragility and Beauty

A_southern_summer_bloom_fullwidthA phytoplankton bloom swirls in the South Atlantic Ocean about 600 km east of the Falkland Islands in this image from the European Space Agency (ESA) Envisat satelllite. Image Credit: ESA

Il mio Pianeta dallo Spazio: Fragilità e Bellezza, or My Planet from Space: Fragility and Beauty, is a exhibition of satellite images demonstrating the fragility of our planet and the challenges posed by climate change. The exhibit, which will run September 30 through November 2 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, Italy, has been coordinated and produced by the European Space Agency, to celebrate fifty years of European collaboration in space. It has been realized in close partnership with the Italian Space Agency, the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and Roma Capitale.

Here are a few more of the images which will be on display:

Rainforest_river_Brazil_fullwidthThe above image from the ESA’s Envisat satellite shows the Juruá River snaking through the Amazon rainforest in western Brazil. Along the river’s main course are free-standing ‘oxbow lakes’, or ‘U’ shaped bodies of water, formed when a river changes course. Image Credit: ESA


Swirling_cloud_art_in_the_Atlantic_Ocean_fullwidthThis false-color Envisat image features a very unique cloud formation created by ‘Von Karman vortices’. The image was taken south of the Canary Island archipelago, some 95 km from the northwest coast of Africa (seen on the right) in the Atlantic Ocean. Image Credit: ESA


Golden_curves_fullwidthThe curving sands in central northern Iran’s salt desert, Dasht-e Kavir, as imaged from the Ikonos-2 satellite. Due to summer evaporation, clays and sand soils here have a high surface salt content. Image Credit: European Space Imaging


Terminos_Lagoon_Mexico_fullwidthTérminos Lagoon, in Campeche, Mexico, is series of lagoons and tidal estuaries fed by freshwater rivers and connected to the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico by two channels. About half of the lagoon’s water is renewed every nine days mainly through changing tides. Image Credit: USGS/ESA


Antarctica_Peninsula_from_Sentinel-1A_fullwidthAcquired by Sentinel-1A, this image shows a transect over the northern part of the Antarctica Peninsula. The colors indicate how the land, ice and water reflect the radar signal differently. Image Credit: ESA


Mojave_Desert_fullwidthNumerous mountain ranges create valleys, salt pans, seasonal lakes and endorheic basins throughout the United State’s Mojave Desert. Agriculture, which appears bright green in the image, has been hindered in recent years due to a severe drought throughout the region. Image Credit: USGS/ESA

To view more images from the exhibit, and to learn more about how satellite technology, in addition to providing us with images of an ever-changing Earth, also play a major role in the management and protection of natural resources and the global environment, visit ESA’s My Planet from Space.

Launch America

NASA Chooses American Companies to Transport U.S. Astronauts to International Space Station


On yesterday, Sept 17, in a long awaited announcement, NASA unveiled its selection of Boeing and Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) to transport U.S. crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS) with a stated goal of ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017.

The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts are designed to complete the NASA certification for human space transportation systems capable of carrying people into orbit. The maximum potential value of the FAR-based firm fixed-price contracts are 4.2 billion for Texas-based Boeing, and 2.6 billion for California-based SpaceX.

Boeing CST-100


The reusable Boeing CST-100, designed at the company’s Houston Product Support Center, is able to transport up to seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, to low-Earth orbit.

SpaceX Crew Dragon


The SpaceX Crew Dragon will be capable of carrying up to seven crewmembers, landing propulsively, and refueling and flying again for rapid reusability.

Both Boeing and SpaceX will conduct at least one crewed test flight, with at least one NASA astronaut aboard, to verify that the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the ISS. Once the test programs has been completed successfully, and its system achieves NASA certification, each contractor will conduct between two and six crewed missions to the station. These spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the ISS.

U.S. based missions to the ISS will also allow the station’s current crew of six to grow, enabling the crew to conduct more research aboard the orbiting microgravity laboratory. In engaging  private companies to handle launches to low-Earth orbit it’s expected that  NASA can focus on getting the most research and experience out of America’s investment in the ISS, as well as allowing the nation’s space agency to focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions, including flights to Mars.


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