Spacewalk Cut Short Due to Water Found in Helmets

Space can be a scary place, the only thing keeping you alive being a highly advanced suit tethered to a spacecraft or station. When a problem is found in these suits, it risks catastrophe for the astronauts in question. This is why Friday’s ISS spacewalk was cut short by mission control after US astronaut Tim Kopra found water was building up in his helmet. Thankfully, both Tim Kopra and his partner on the spacewalk, British astronaut Tim Peake made it back inside the space station safe and sound.

The water was first discovered by Kopra at 16:56 GMT, just over 4 hours into the 6.5 hour planned spacewalk, at which point mission controllers on the ground decided to terminate the EVA as a precaution. At this point, the two astronauts had already accomplished their primary objective, repairing a faulty power module, and had set about performing secondary tasks. By 17:31, both astronauts were safely back inside the International Space Station.

“I could definitely tell the sides were swollen,” Kopra stated in reference to his helmet’s moisture-absorbing pad. “The first time I noticed it was probably just about the same time that I saw the water start to come down from the top, and it was fairly noticeable. The difference between nominal and what I initially felt was pretty small.”

This isn’t the first time that water has found its way into the helmet of an astronaut on a spacewalk, with a similar case occurring in July 2013, to Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano. In that case, the leak was determined to stem from the space suit’s water-circulating cooling system, which had sprung a leak. Kopra’s issue was far less severe, with less water being present in his helmet. The water in Kopra’s helmet was cold, which would hint at it being from the cooling system, rather than a problem with the drink bag’s bite valve, which is kept at ambient temperature. NASA have ordered those onboard the ISS to take water samples from the helmets of the two astronauts in order to determine the cause of the leak.

Image credit to astronaut Tim Peake

Second Commercial Crew Mission for Boeing Ordered by NASA

In a move hopefully stemming from NASA’s revitalized budget for the coming year, NASA has issued Boeing a second flight order as part of the Commercial Crew Program. Boeing is one of two private companies involved in the program, the other being SpaceX. The flight order guarantees a second launch for Boeing following the first order that was issued in May of this year, and a mission order for SpaceX made in November.

The Commercial Crew Program contracts dictate that NASA will order at least 4 flights from the two companies, made 2 or 3 years in advance of the mission’s expected date. With 3 of the 4 flights that NASA is contractually obliged to order now filled, it remains to be seen whether the 4th mission will go to SpaceX, splitting them equally, or whether another will be issued to Boeing. If the results are promising, however, the missions may continue.

The craft that Boeing will use to ferry astronauts into space is their CST-100 Starliner vehicle. While the craft was dropped from NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services second-phase competition, it still remains on track to fulfil its obligations to the Commercial Crew Program. In direct competition is SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which revolves around the recently reinstated Falcon 9 rocket, which, if proven to have fixed the flaws that resulted in a failed supply mission, could pave the way for SpaceX picking up more manned flights.

It is currently unannounced when this new mission will take place, with the previous two mission orders optimistically planned for 2017. The budget now allows for them to keep development on track. With NASA being guaranteed funds for the program going into 2016, new, all-American spacecraft could be making their trips to the ISS within two years.

UK Launches New Space Endeavour

The UK government has announced plans to launch a new National Space Policy in an effort make Great Britain the European hub for commercial space flight, The Independent reports. The government hopes that the initiative, which includes investment in space flight and microgravity research, will boost the country’s economy by £11.8 billion.

“For decades mankind has dreamt of space travel, and from today the UK will trigger the next scientific revolution to turn science fiction into science fact,” the UK’s Business Secretary Sajid Javid said. “Not only are we celebrating the launch of the first UK Government-backed astronaut, but our first-ever space policy will build on the inspiration he provides to grow our burgeoning space industry. Historically we haven’t been a major player in space programmes; this policy will change that.”

News of the move coincides as the UK’s first astronaut to visit the International Space Station (pictured) prepares to launch.

“I hope in future there will be more British astronauts. The International Space Station’s life will come to an end some time in the 2020s. The next project will be a lunar base. I would like us to be part of that, and also a [manned] mission to Mars looking further ahead,” former Science minister Lord Willetts said. “We were always a country that sent people out exploring, and the new frontier is space. It’s the same tradition as Captain Cook and Charles Darwin’s Beagle.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket to Return to Service this Month

Everything has been looking up for SpaceX recently, being one of the forerunners in the contest for NASA’s contest for their CSR2 contracts to resupply the ISS and NASA ordering the first mission from their new manned rockets by 2017. And now SpaceX have the chance to recover from the one blemish on their record with their Falcon 9 rocket tentatively planned to resume its regular missions to the ISS on the 19th of December.

After a critical failure that caused one of their Falcon 9 rockets to explode shortly after launch while making a routine supply run, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets and their accompanying Dragon cargo pods have been grounded for the last 6 months. At the time, SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk believed that the explosion was caused by an “overpressure event” in the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank of the rocket. Failed launches are far from an anomaly in recent times, with two other ISS supply missions by other companies also failing to launch.

Additionally, the launch should be followed by a ground landing on a pre-leased site at Cape Canaveral, after the last attempt to land at sea on a barge ended in failure. If this launch goes well, it should put SpaceX back on track, which could be just what it needs to win the next round of supply contracts and continue their supply runs for the foreseeable future.

NASA Celebrates 15 Years of the ISS With a Song

Today, the International Space Station turns 15 years old. And to mark this occasion, NASA have released a lighthearted and rather educational song and video.

The song itself is delightfully upbeat and played in a country-style, perhaps inspired by NASA’s home in Houston, Texas, full of twangy banjos and low, rhyming vocals that fail to lapse throughout. Accompanying the song is a charming, family-friendly animated video, helping to visualize the details of the lyrics and come complete with a little banjo-playing astronaut.

It is also a great way to learn more about the ISS, for both adults and children too, being packed full of interesting facts and trivia about the space station, from simple facts such as the station taking around an hour and a half to orbit the Earth at an altitude of over 200 miles all the while weighing around 1 million pounds and, more important facts, such as that it only has two toilets and no bath! Yet despite this, over 200 astronauts have lived on board since 2000.

This wouldn’t be the first musical number to be associated with the ISS either, with astronaut Chris Hadfield releasing a video of him covering David Bowie’s Space Oddity, recorded on the ISS itself, back in 2013.

Now the real question is whether the ISS will manage reach 30, as its operational time currently gives it until 2024, and NASA having stated it could even last to 2028.

NASA Plays with Water and Effervescent in Latest 4K Space Video

NASA recently upgraded their equipment with an amazing 4K camera that is able to capture higher resolution and higher frame rates than prior, allowing the astronauts to record their experiments in a whole new way. But work doesn’t always have to be so series and who doesn’t enjoy playing with water.

The latest 4K video coming from NASA and presented on YouTube shows them playing with a weightless water bubble and then adding an effervescent tablet. The higher resolution images and higher frame rate videos can reveal more information when used on science investigations, giving researchers a valuable new tool aboard the space station. This footage is one of the first of its kind. The cameras are being evaluated for capturing science data and vehicle operations by engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Even such a simple and kind of playful video shows clearly how this technology can help the astronauts and cosmonauts do their job. You can easily see even small particles that bounce out of the water ball due to the reaction happening.

First they showed us their food, now they’re playing with water. It looks like they’re having a lot of fun up there on the International Space Station, it isn’t just work.

SpaceX Falcon Explodes on ISS Resupply Mission

Space industry upstart SpaceX has suffered an explosive set back on its latest mission. Setting out to resupply the International Space Station, the Falcon 9 rocket suffered an unrecoverable failure and ended up exploding shortly after launch.  At this point, the exact cause of the failure is not known yet with both SpaceX and NASA working to determine the fault. A preliminary report suggests that an overpressure event compromised the second stage liquid oxygen tank which makes sense as the first stage appeared to keep firing properly until the end.

While not critical, the ISS supply situation is sub-optimal with two other failures already this year from other launchers. Orbital Sciences and Roscosmos both had failures earlier that either destroyed the payload or made it impossible to properly deliver it. Some of the items set to be delivered today were already replacements for those lost on earlier missions.

In a disappointment for Elon Musk fans, the third try at landing the rocket will have to wait. Earlier attempts had failed explosively but many had been hoping the third time would be the charm. Even with this failure though, SpaceX still has a relatively good track record and is already pretty cost effective. Hopefully, SpaceX can take this experience and prepare for the day they launch manned missions.

The International Space Station Got the 4K Upgrade

Last week we brought you the news that NASA now also was uploading 4K 60fps videos to YouTube, but initially only shared a 20 seconds clip. That has since been followed up with more 4K footage as the international space station got the full 4K upgrade.

Not all their 4K videos are 60fps, and they don’t need to be in order to look stunning. The video below shows some amazing views both inside and outside the space station. The view of life in space got a major boost with the introduction of 4K Ultra High-Definition (UHD) video, providing an unprecedented look at what it is like to live and work aboard the International Space Station.

While these cameras mainly should be used for experiments and increase the amount of things the astronauts can do onboard of the space station, that doesn’t mean that it should be used exclusively for experiments. It also bestows the most breathtaking views of planet Earth that haven’t been seen like that before.

We also get to see what they eat up there, and it might be a bit surprising for some of you; it isn’t all dehydrated instant food.

NASA promised to release a lot more videos in the future and I for once can’t wait to see more. I might be too much of a coward to want to go into space myself, but I do enjoy the breathtaking views of our planet with an outside perspective.

Out of Control Russian Spacecraft Hurtling to Earth

The Russian cargo spacecraft Progress M-27M is currently out of control after delivering supplies to the International Space Station and is plummeting to Earth. NASA footage shows the unmanned craft descending towards Earth’s atmosphere with little hope of regaining control over it.

“It has started descending. It has nowhere else to go,” an insider told news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP). “It is clear that absolutely uncontrollable reactions have begun.” The insider also revealed that the Russian space agency will attempt to contact the craft again to ensure that it every effort is made to avert its uncontrolled fall to Earth, saying, “We have scheduled two more communication sessions to soothe our conscience.”

The Russians lost communications with the craft, launched by a Soyuz rocket on Tuesday, soon after becoming spaceborne. Spokesperson for the Russian space agency, Mikhail Fedeyev, has refused to comment, rendering him utterly redundant.

The crew of the ISS, who were due to receive a cargo shipment from the Progress on 30th April before control of it was lost, have been watching the spacecraft fall away. Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut and former Commander of the ISS, says that the Progress should burn up as it hits the Earth’s atmosphere, so there should be no concerns about falling debris impacting the surface of the planet.

Thank you for providing us with this information.

Astronauts Might Be Able to Play with Lasers from the International Space Station Soon

According to ScienceDirect, a few researchers have come up with a plan to turn the International Space Station into a defence system against asteroids or other ‘orbiting debris’.

How cool is that? Get a paid vacation in space… float around the room… and have some lasers to play around with! Of course, it is not that simple. However, the general idea sounds great. Look at what the researchers have highlighted in their paper:

  • A debris remediation system with a wide angle telescope and a laser transmitter.
  • A step-by-step approach using the International Space Station (ISS).
  • Proof of principle demonstration of the detection with an ISS based prototype.
  • Technical demonstrator with an EUSO telescope and a space CAN laser.
  • A free-flyer mission dedicated to debris remediation with the altitude ~800 km.

So what we know so far is that they are looking to build an ‘orbital debris remediation system’ as they call it, which is made out of a super-wide field-of-view telescope named ‘EUSO’ and a novel high-efficiency fibre-based laser system called ‘CAN’.

The telescope features a 2.5 meter optics and a FOV of ±30 degrees. Together with the CAN laser, the project hopes to blow up stuff at a range of 100 km. Not bad at all! It shows a lot of potential, but let’s not get too excited.

Though the idea is filed, there is still the building part that usually kills and keeps ideas on paper. I mean, a project such as this requires a LOT of money and manpower.

Until more information on who is going to build it and how (or if we’ll ever see it in action at all) surfaces, what do you think? Are you feeling a bit more relieved that you won’t get hit by an asteroid in the future?

Image courtesy of Deagle

Girl Writes Giant Message in Desert for Her Astronaut Father

What do you do when you want to message a member of your family? You call them, text them, perhaps drop them a message on Facebook. This is of course quite simple and thanks to modern technology, it’s still possible to send your father any of those, even when he’s on the International Space Station, but it’s not as epic as what one 13-year-old girl did.

Stephanie, with a lot of help from car manufacturer Hyundai and their fleet of 13 sat-nav guided cars, decided to set a new world record. They wrote an enormous message in the sand of Nevada’s Delamar Dry Lake, so big, that it could be seen from the ISS, where Stephanie’s father was working.

The stunt was genuine, setting a new record for ‘The largest tire track image’ and was verified by Guinness World Records, oh and by her dad, who snapped a picture of it from space (see above).

This is pretty incredible and while the message was primarily done as a marketing campaign for Hyundai, we have to admit, it was a bloody good one and it’s certainly a lot bigger than the average billboard.

If you could write anything that big on the Earth, what would it be, and dare I ask, why? Let us know in the comments section below.

SpaceX Successfully Launches Dragon Rocket, Fails to Make Landing

Elon Musk’s astronautics outfit SpaceX conducted a successful rocket launch on Saturday, but the landing left a little to be desired. The Dragon capsule was launched early on Saturday morning, and the rocket made it into orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station. However, the return journey – the landing of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle on an out-to-sea barge – was not as successful.

According to Musk, the force of the impact of the module on the barge caused significant damage to the support equipment onboard. He then speculated that the landing failure may have been caused by a hydraulic fluid leak from one of the module’s fins, affecting its stability.

Source: Ars Technica

European Space Agency Studying Potential Benefit of 3D Printing in Space

The lure of 3D printing technology in space is appealing, and the European Space Agency (ESA) is now studying implementing 3D-printed technology.

The use of 3D printing could help reduce waste, so the ESA Clean Space initiative wants to see how effective it would be on the International Space Station (ISS).  Although the current generation of 3D printing is still in its infancy, research to create needed parts on the ISS does have great potential.

Furthermore, a new ESA project will investigate different manufacturing techniques using laser and electron beam melting, while also looking at sandblasting, etching, nickel coating and painting as surface treatments.  Of specific note, the ESA wants to see if aluminum, titanium and stainless steel on satellites can be repaired by parts printed in space.

In the future, scientists hope to be able to make items that are currently impossible to create easily in space.  Space is a low-volume area where product design and storage considerations are analyzed – being able to 3D manufacture some technologies to avoid ferrying them to the ISS would be helpful.

Meanwhile, NASA is testing a Made in Space 3D printer that will eventually find its way to the ISS, after undergoing strict federal testing.

Thank you to the ESA for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of ESA

NASA Clears 3D Printer For International Space Station

NASA will send a 3D printer to the International Space Station (ISS) in August, utilizing the printer manufactured by Made In Space.  The custom unit was completed and finished testing ahead of schedule, which is why it will head into space three months earlier than initially expected.

As part of the “3D Print” project, NASA tested the 3D printer to ensure it would be able to survive being transported into space – and for day-to-day use by astronauts stationed aboard the ISS.  The new 3D printer will be installed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), a custom dedicated space science facility.

Once installed, astronauts will print 21 different demonstration objects, including tools and ISS parts, with NASA and Made In Space monitoring progress.

Here is what Niki Werkheiser, NASA 3D Print Project Manager said in a press statement:

“NASA was able to provide key guidance on how to best comply with strenuous space certification, safety and operational requirements and Made In Space excelled at incorporating that insight into the design.  As a result, the hardware passed testing with flying colors.  Made In Space now has first-hand experience of the full ‘A-to-Z’ process for designing, building, and testing hardware for spaceflight.”

If everything goes according to plan, Made In Space hopes to add an Additive Manufacturing Facility in space, so 3D-printed objects can be made in larger quantities.  There is great potential to be able to custom print necessary items layer-by-layer, using plastic, metals, and other materials in space.

Source: Time
Image courtesy of Made in Space

Tim Peake Uploads Images Of International Space Station Toolbox

Everyone loves a good tool, no matter who we are, there is a tool that we prefer or can’t live without. Many people can’t live without WD-40 and Duct tape, this combination will help you do a quick repair on just about anything. For the International Space Station or ISS you will need a little bit more to do repairs.

European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake, photographed and uploaded several photographs of the toolbox located on the ISS to share this interesting toolbox to us civilians.

When you look in a mechanics personal tool box sometimes they are organized, sometimes they are not, this toolbox is very well organized and labeled. Another thing you might notice when you look in a mechanics toolbox, you are likely to one brand of tools. With the toolbox on the ISS you will notice that they use multiple brands, Craftsman, DMC and Snap-on tools.

Tim Peake uploaded these images to his personal account, and are not the greatest quality, but they give us the opportunity to see the tools that are used and trusted by astronauts.

Personally I would have loved to see a full list of the tools that they use, unfortunately there was not a list of tools uploaded with the photographs, so I will ask you, the readers; What tools do you see?

Images courtesy of Flickr

International Space Station Starts Using Linux, Not Windows

Good bye Windows XP and hello Linux says the International Space Station as the United Space Alliance, who manage the computers on the ISS state that “We migrated key functions from Windows to Linux because we needed an operating system that was stable and reliable.”

There are dozens of laptops used on the ISS, all of which will now be running a Debian 6 distro of Linux. This is more suitable over Windows XP given that various other systems on the ISS already run a variety of Linux formats such as RedHat. Although if they’ve still be running Windows XP, I’d say they were likely overdue an update anyway.

XP was fantastic, I know that, but it is 11 years old now and as we reported yesterday, even AMD are starting to drop support for the OS with the launch of Kabini CPUs. Linux is of course, for the most part, free! It’s easier to update and it’s completely open source, which makes it extremely flexible in terms of usage, performance and even power management, something that no doubt tipped it in NASA’s favour.

Keith Chuvala of the United Space Alliance says they “want an operating system that would give us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust or adapt, we could.”

This is no easy transition of course since all laptop will have custom software on their for operating systems and scientific experiments, all of this will have had to have been rewritten in Linux and all astronauts and cosmonauts will now be trained (if they haven’t already) by the Linux Foundation.

It’s amazing NASA has stuck it out this long with Windows XP, although the old motto of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” likely applied for a long time. CERN, NASA and SpaceX ground station have been using Linux for a long time, infact most scientific institutions have.

Either way, this is another big step for Linux and the OS just keeps gaining traction and exposure year on year, but the big question is, have you ever tried Linux?