Proton-M orbits Russian commsat

Yamal-601 launches on a Proton-M rocket, 20 May 2019. Credit: Roscosmos

A Proton-M rocket launched from Baikonur delivered the Yamal-601 communication satellite to geostationary transfer orbit, 1742 UT 30 May 2019.

The satellite was built by ISS Reshetnev and Thales Alenia Space and will be operated by Gazprom Space Systems, the communications subdivision of the Russian energy company, at 49° E. The mainly directional C, Ku, and Ka-band transponders are pointed toward the Russian domestic market, with some additional coverage for Southeast Asia.

Howell dissertation on EVA communications [Updated]

Space Journalist Elizabeth Howell defends a dissertation in Space Studies at the University of North Dakota, 30 May 2019. The topic of the presentation is “Can You Hear Me, Major Tom? Open Issues In Extra-Vehicular Activity Communications”

Howell, who was recently elected President of the Science Writers and Communicators of Canada, presented this doctoral dissertation on evaluating leadership through communications style, a human factors problem in Aerospace Science.

The presentation focused on two researched hypotheses: 1. Do large groups correct human operational errors better than small groups? 2. Does one leadership style correct errors better than another?

Howell performed a literature review to evaluate the first hypothesis. A keyword-selected pool of 107 published studies was reduced to 31 with a 10-question evaluation method, and then just two using an additional question, which together only underscored a known issue, that the English-language literature on aerospace human factors does not include extensive information on error handling and leadership in large groups. The hypothesis could not be evaluated, as more research is needed – more relevant studies that are done on, for example, 50-member Antarctic research stations, than three-member isolation teams. Being focused on the issues of a spacecraft crew, Howell’s concept is that further studies on groups of 6 to 13 people, similar to the largest Shuttle-ISS missions, is most appropriate.

Direct data from University of North Dakota research was used to evaluate the second hypothesis against rubrics obtained from the literature, particularly a set of 11 universal human values and 3 leadership styles. Audio recordings of simulated spacewalks (extravehicular activity or EVA) performed during two ILMAH missions – the simulated Mars habitat operated by the University. Howell lead an effort to transcribe and qualitatively evaluate the data against established sets of human values, to determine the leadership style of each member of the mission. However, for a number of reasons, in particular the 5-person sample size, the study results may not necessarily be significant. It was also found that while one style of leadership was the most effective in resolving errors, it also found that individuals no not rigidly adhere to the leadership types. However, this method could be applied to existing transcripts of space missions, including Apollo, and further research may refine its applicability to a wider range of historical or cultural contexts.

As with all science, it is work that never quite seems finished. However, some promising questions Howell has received from NASA Goddard may indicate that similar strategies may be applied to NASA’s archives of human spaceflight communications in the future.

Birthday wishes for the original spacewalker

Oleg Kononenko and Aleksey Ovchinin ventured into vacuum on EVA 217 to maintain the Russian components of the International Space Station, with a touch of history lingering on their minds – Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov, who performed the first ever spacewalk in 1965, turns 85 years old tomorrow.

Today’s spacewalk featured a special birthday wish before getting underway. The pair of cosmonauts emerged from the airlock sporting golden placards on the backs of their Orlan spacesuits, reading “Leonov No 1” and “Happy Birthday Alexei Arkhipovich”, and also carried with them a classic photo of Leonov smiling in his spacesuit, lined around each edge in golden kapton tape. Depite some trouble with their cameras online, they both thanked Leonov for inspiring them and wished the elder pilot good health, which was broadcast to Leonov’s family at the opening of a new museum exhibit.

The main tasks of the walk were to collect completed experiments that were strapped to the station exterior and bring them back inside the station, including a simple towel that had been tied near the Pirs airlock exterior a few years ago. On the other hand, two ionospheric radio experiment modules were simply chucked backward off the station, sure to burn up in on reentry within several months.

The cosmonauts also installed a crawl ladder to ease external movement between two modules, and took additional samples of exterior residue from various points. The work was conducted efficiently, at least 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

Cessna jet flies off track, thought lost off Bahamas

Cessna Citation N832R drifts off the scopes, 24 May 2019. Credit: FlightAware

Air Traffic Controllers are searching for a Cessna Citation, registration number N832R, which was feared to be lost in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of the Bahamas Friday night (0000 UT 25 May 2019)

The flight, between St. Louis, Missouri and the plane’s likely home base of Fort Lauderdale, FL, went off course, veering over the Gulf of Mexico, then suddenly vectoring left across Southern Florida.

Position data from the plane was lost after the flight drifted past ground stations.

Experts suggest the plane may have lost cabin pressure during its climb, not quite reaching its planned cruising altitude of 12.5 km. While pilots are trained to reduce their flight level during oxygen failures, the effects of hypoxia may not always be noticed in time to achieve recovery.

Pressurization failures are a hazard for high flying jet aircraft, especially those like the Cessna Citation, which are regularly commissioned for business travel and may not necessarily have a dedicated ground crew, especially away from home.

Starlink brings the Internet to the sky

SpaceX launched its first 60 Starlink satellites to orbit from a Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral, just after 0230 UT 24 May 2019. Once turned up, the satellites will form the test platform for a 4349 more to follow, in a constellation designed to provide broadband Internet to the entire surface of the Earth.

The satellites deployed from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket at about 0333 UT. Unlike most multi-satellite launches, that use complex (and heavy) deployment mechanisms with clear time and space separation between each payload, instead the entire group was released all at once – into a loose clump that will slowly drift apart.

The scale of SpaceX’s network deployment is the most ambitious of all the players in the coming satellite Internet field. Recent approval from the FCC allows for about third of the Starlink constellation to operate at about 550 km instead of earlier plans to operate at 1100+ km, which will reduce latency and the difficulty of lifting all the of satellites to altitude. However, it is also a gamble that the system will pay off sooner, as the lower orbit will require more frequent launches of replacement commsats.

PSLV-C46 delivers RISAT-2B to orbit

RISAT-2B departs Sriharikota on an ISRO Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, 22 May 2019.

India launched a radar satellite from Sriharikota on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, 0000UT 22 May 2019.

RISAT-2B is a synthetic aperture radar earth observation satellite, which will assist India with geological, hydrographical, and other earth observation needs. The main radio will operate in the X-band, and is based on the Israeli TECSAR series of electronic beam-steering radarsats; TECSAR-1 was also launched on a PSLV, in 2008.

The 615 kg payload will orbit at 555 km and an inclination of 37 degrees. RISAT-2B was successfully inserted at 001530 UT.

Cargo Dragon CRS-17 mission reaches orbit

SpaceX CRS-17 launched from Cape Canaveral on an all-new Falcon 9 rocket 4 May 2019 0248 UT. The reused Cargo Dragon capsule previously flown on CRS-12 in 2017 is bound once more for the International Space Station, where it is due to arrive 6 May 2019 1100 UT.

The 2500 kg cargo manifest includes over 20 science payloads, including the experiment selected by the “Genes in Space” competition, proposed by students from Woodbury High School and Mounds View High School in Minnesota. The experiment will use CRISPR-Cas9 to damage yeast cells and test their ability to self-repair DNA; the payload will also perform an on-orbit PCR. CRS-17 is also carrying an Iowa algae study, a Montana yeast pathogen study (among other human cell flex-chips), and the ingredients for cancer drug crystals and drug-delivery nanoparticles, which will be fabricated on-orbit.

Launch coverage included a high-quality infrared view of the Falcon 9 first stage descent and stunning continuous video of its landing on Of Course I Still Love You, which is a pleasant change from the usual interruption that often happens to the video feed right around when the booster reaches the deck.

In the end, CRS-17 was delayed from yesterday’s scheduled departure not by weather, but due to a faulty generator on the recovery ship. SpaceX repaired the vessel onshore and returned it to the landing zone off the Jacksonville coast. A minor helium leak at the pad (not from the rocket) was also repaired.

Minnesota Space Grant short talks now on YouTube

The Minnesota Space Grant Consortium (MnSGC) posted April’s short talks on a new YouTube channel. The three talks run for about 1 hour in total.

Tonnis ter Veldhuis, Macalester College – Teaching physics with rocketry

Richard Barker, University of Wisconsin – Studying plant genetics in space

James Flaten, University of Minnesota – Astronaut training with hoverboards

Cargo Dragon clear to fly CRS-17; delay to 4 May likely

Hans Koenigsmann of SpaceX answers questions on the Crew Dragon test, during the CRS-17 press conference, 2 May 2019. (Credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX is moving forward with its flight of Cargo Dragon mission CRS-17, with a first launch window at 3 May 2019 at 071133 UT – though due to the weather around Cape Canaveral, the flight is likely to be delayed to 4 May 2019 0648 UT, or failing that, possibly the week of 13 May. While little has changed from the Cargo Dragon perspective, the recent energetic deconstruction of the larger, newer Crew Dragon capsule has attracted additional attention to the routine cargo launch.

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