Space Update Episode 4: Shuttle Sadness

“supposedly regular” eh? In any case…

Shuttle

Discovery has been retired. It’s last mission it seem is a trip to the Smithsonian Institute. It’s a logical call since she’s the oldest and has been the most active orbiter, but it’s sad news just the same. As much as I am opposed to the retirement of the shuttles, the fact is Discovery and Atlantis are in need of major refurbishments. Personally I think they should get them, but at this time it seems to not be an option. Atlantis is due for one more mission prior to being sent to a museum (no decision yet as to which one). Endeavour also has one mission left (the now second last one), but she was refitted in 2005 so there’s no hurry to retire her.

My preference is to make two+ new orbiters with minimal upgrades (new computers, chairs… the kind of stuff that doesn’t require too much testing) and keep the fleet active for another 10+ years as is. During that time a new booster and launch method could be developed to reduce costs. (Electromagnetic rail boosters for example.) That tech could then be used on the next new shuttle and then we’d at last have a good system. To retire the shuttle now when it’s been so useful and has taught the world so much would be rather insane.

Dreaming I might be, but it’s not impossible; there are some proposals to extend the program for another five years to fill the gap. I’m not convinced five years would be enough, nor am I convinced that Atlantis will last that long without a major refit, but it could be a good start. The fact is Soyuz is the only other active vehicle, and it’s due for a replacement as well, and… it’s a lot smaller.

Space Shuttle vs Soyuz

As a final point, it’s important to note that even after being donated, NASA still can (and has) taken back things on display for use again.

…and in old news

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Returned on the 3rd of December last year after over six months in orbit. No released details of her mission due, but there’s been plenty of speculations. My favorite is testing the ability to track from orbit hypersonic craft; the Hypersonic Test Vehicle 2 (also funded by DARPA) was launched with similar timing. A second X-37B launch occurred on the 5th of March using the second prototype. No details on this one either…

IKAROS Passed Venus on 8th of December last year, and thus its primary mission is now over. There is a similar mission in progress now called NanoSail-D2.

COTS Falcon 9 is making good progress; a second launch with the Dragon orbital capsule was a success. The next flight will involve a ISS approach, and possibly even a docking. This should be around the mid year mark. Taurus II has still yet to launch; it’s due to do so in the next few months.

Hayabusa Samples have been confirmed but not much analysis has been done at this stage as they are still working out the best way to transfer and test the particles.

Space Update Episode 2: Hypersonic Voyager

Hypersonic

While it’s progressing at a crawl, hypersonic flight research does continue. The X-51 WaveRider had a test flight on the 26th, flying at over 5,500 km/h (3500 mph) for about 200 seconds. (This was short of the planned 300.) This isn’t a practical demonstration by a long shot; it’s a one off and disposable (not even a parachute) missile that has to be launched while in flight (via a B-52), and it needs a booster to then get it to Mach 4.5 prior to the scramjet working. But it’s still great news, and a huge step towards a single stage to orbit craft.

Interestingly this project has DARPA funding as well…

Voyager 2

Surprising Voyager 2 made news recently with an interesting glitch; it seemed to be talking differently than expected. Trekkies around the world we probably fearing a V’ger like occurance, but it all turned out being a single bit that was fixed with a simple reset. Darn?

…and in old news

X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Still in orbit, believed to be on a test reconnaissance mission.

IKAROS In orbit preparing for sail deployment prior to a Venus transit.

COTS The Falcon 9 is still going nowhere. June 2?