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Heyman’s Focus — 2011: The Year In Space
by Jos Heyman, Contributing Editor + Managing Director of Tiros Space Information

2011 was an interesting year for space. At the time of this writing, it is predicted that there will be 131 spacecraft launched, with 83 launches (This statistic may vary depending upon the launch forecast selected). As to their purpose, Figures 1 and 2 on the in the following article provide some insight. Three launch vehicles failed to place their payloads in orbit. The year also witnessed the retirement of the Space Shuttle after slightly more than 30 years of operations.

heymanFig1 Since the launch of STS-1 on April 12, 1981, the 135 flights carried 355 astronauts, with most of them flying more than one mission. The astronauts came from 16 countries: Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United States.

Fourteen astronauts died in the two accidents: STS-51L on January 28, 1986, and STS-107 on February 1, 2003.

The five orbiters have flown 872,719,795 km and spent 1,322 days, 19 hours, 27 minutes in space making 21,152 orbits.

While all launches occurred at the Kennedy Space Center, the Space Shuttle landed there 78 times, with 54 landings completed at Edwards Air Force Base, and one at the White Sands Test Facility.

The total number of payloads deployed (satellites, ISS components, and so on) was 180. One hundred sixteen were satellites, while 53 payloads were returned to Earth.

A total of 160 EVAs, with two astronauts each, were performed. The total EVA time was 44 days, 4 hours, 8 minutes or double that time if expressed in ‘astronaut hours in space’.

Nine missions docked with the Mir space station — 37 docked with ISS. The former dockings amounted to 52 days, 11 hours and 54 minutes in total, while the latter 37 dockings amounted to 276 days, 11 hours and 23 minutes.

The Canadarm, which debuted on STS-2, grappled 72 payloads, helped maneuver 30 pieces of the International Space Station into position, and supported 115 spacewalks.

In April 2011, NASA announced the allocation of the three Space Shuttle orbiters to museums. The selection was made after more than 20- museums had indicated interest in securing one of the orbiters.

HeymanTb1 The orbiter Discovery went to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Washington, DC. The Atlantis remained at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with the Endeavour being placed on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California. Several other shuttle related items were assigned to other museums.

With the termination of the Space Shuttle program, and until the introduction of the vehicle for the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, the U.S. is now forced to use the services of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. These come at what seem to be a highly over inflated price (up to $60 million a flight) when compared to the fare that will be charged for a space tourist.

Even this service seemed to be under threat after the Russian launch failure of Progress M-12M on August 24, 2011. This exposed the potential that there would be no crewed access to space at all, and that the International Space Station (ISS) would be unmanned.

The cause of the launch failure was eventually found to be contamination inside a supply line leading to the gas generator of the booster’s third stage RD-0110 engine. The defect was considered ‘random’ and more stringent quality control procedures have been implemented.

It was subsequently announced that the use of the Soyuz launch vehicle would be resumed by the end of October 2011 and that there would be just minor delays in the crewing program for ISS.

Activities at the International Space Station continued throughout 2011 with (at the time of writing this review) two Soyuz spacecraft, three Space Shuttles, one Japanese HTV, one ESA ATV, and three Progress cargo vehicles docking with the outpost, with another two Soyuz spacecraft and one Progress spacecraft scheduled for the remainder of the year.

HeymanTb2 NASA also announced the details of the design of its new heavy lift rocket, designated as Space Launch System (SLS). The launch vehicle will be the most powerful rocket ever built and will dwarf the capabilities of the space shuttle and will exceed that of the Saturn V.

The initial version will have a first stage powered by three Pratt & Whitney/Rocketdyne RS-25D/E engines with two five segment solid fuel boosters developed by Alliant Technologies (ATK) strapped to it. On top of this will be a second stage powered by a Pratt & Whitney/Rocketdyne J-2X engine. Of the first stage engines, the RD-25D will be the remaining Shuttle’s main engines, while the RD-25E will be newly built engines that can be discarded after use.

The boosters and the first stage engines are derived from the Space Shuttle’s propulsion units. The second stage engine is based on Saturn technology. In this configuration, the SLS will be capable to place a 70 ton payload into orbit. Upgraded versions could have five first stage engines.

The first of two test launches is planned for 2017. However, as the SLS was forced upon NASA by Congress after the cancellation of the Constellation program, it is debatable if this launch date will be met.

Meanwhile, congressional members from the state of Texas have suggested that the SLS launch vehicle proposal be dropped and that the funds be provided to companies already developing innovative crew and cargo transport vehicles: SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin.

The Chinese completed their first cautious step towards a crewed space station of their own when, on September 29, 2011, the country launched the Tiangong-1 ‘mini’ space station with a CZ 2FT1 launch vehicle. The name Tiangong (meaning Palace in Heaven) has been connected to a series of space station missions.

AVL_ad_SM1211.jpg Tiangong-1 is an 8,500kg docking target and was used in the development of test docking techniques with the uncrewed Shenzhou-8 spacecraft that was launched in November. Shenzhou-8 successfully docked and remained attached for 12 days, after which it backed away and re-docked with the Tiangong-1 module before its return to Earth. Later, Shenzhou-9 and -10, with a crew of as many as three, will dock with the module. This will provide a safe room for Chinese astronauts to live in and conduct research in zero gravity.

The spacecraft has a length of 10.40m and consists of an experiment module with a diameter of 3.35m and a resource module with a diameter of 2.80m. It is the current belief that Tiangong-1 is not a core module to which future space station modules will be docked.

The United States launched the Juno mission on August 5, 2011. Juno’s primary objective is to collect data to study the formation and evolution of the planet Jupiter. To be placed in an elliptical polar orbit, Juno will use proven technologies to observe Jupiter’s gravity and magnetic fields, atmospheric dynamics and composition, and the coupling between the interior, atmosphere and magnetosphere that determines the planet’s properties and drives its evolution.

Juno will fly through the solar system for approximately five years and will then use a “push-off” for acceleration by flying past Earth in October of 2013. It will reach Jupiter in July of 2016 and will then be placed in an 11 day elliptical orbit over the planet’s poles, with the closest approach being about 5,000km. From this orbit, the eight instruments will study Jupiter for at least 30 orbits lasting for almost one Earth year. At the end of the mission, in October 2017, the spacecraft will be crashed into Jupiter to protect the planet’s moons.

Of interest is also the latest U.S. lunar mission that was launched on September 20, 2011. The objective of the two Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) satellites was to measure the lunar gravity field and thereby improve the knowledge of the Moon’s near-side gravity and determine the structure of the lunar interior and advance the understanding of the thermal evolution of the Moon.

After the launch, the two spacecraft entered into a slow trans-lunar cruise and will arrive at the Moon by the end of December 2011, when they will enter a circular polar lunar orbit with an altitude of 50km and with spacecraft separation of 175km.

The science program will require 90 days, after which the spacecraft will be ordered to impact the Moon’s surface.

HeymanTb3 From Russia came the Spektr R astronomical satellite which was launched on July 18, 2011. First conceived some 30 years ago, Spektr Radioastron (Spektr R) is an orbital radio astronomy observatory used for interferometric investigations as part of the international Radio Astron project. One of the primary targets of this project is the observation of galaxy M87 that features a massive black hole.

Using interferometry, the 10m diameter dish antenna on board the spacecraft, combined with ground based and other space based telescopes, forms an artificial telescope that is larger than the Earth.

On October 21, 2011, the inaugural Soyuz launch from Kourou placed the first two of four Galileo In-Orbit Validation (IOV) satellites into orbit. The European Space Agency’s Galileo satellite navigational system will eventually consist of 30 spacecraft in three planes in medium Earth orbit. Each plane will be occupied by nine satellites, with three spars satellites distributed on the three orbital planes. The system will provide accurate positioning data to users as far north as 75 degrees longitude.

The 67kg satellites carried two rubidium frequency standards atomic clocks and two passive hydrogen maser atomic clocks. The four Galileo IOV satellites were constructed by Astrium and Thales Alenia, and the next 14 satellites will be constructed by OHB System and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). The remaining 12 satellites will be ordered at a later date.

GigaSat_ad_SM1211 The satellites will be named after winners in a children’s drawing competition is held in the ESA membership states. The first satellite was named after 11-year-old Tiis from Belgium — the second satellite was named after nine-year-old Natalia from Bulgaria.

The Dawn spacecraft, which was launched on September 27, 2007, as the ninth mission in NASA’s Discovery program, reached Vesta on July 15, 2011, when it was placed in an orbit of 16,000km around the asteroid. This orbit was reduced to about 2,700km and, in August of 2011, the spacecraft completed seven orbits around the asteroid, each orbit lasting 69 hours.

Data was collected on the southern hemisphere of Vesta, which was facing the Sun. The data was transmitted to Earth when the spacecraft flew over the dark side of the asteroid — 63 percent of the surface was surveyed during this period of time. In July of 2012, Dawn will leave the Vesta orbit to travel to Ceres, with an arrival scheduled for February of 2015.

2011 was to see the launch of two missions to the Martian system. The Russian Phobos-Grunt mission will land on the Martian moon Phobos in February 2013 and will then collect 200 grams of soil and return that to Earth by August 2014.

The U.S. Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), also known as the Curiosity Rover, will be a Mars rover vehicle that carries the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the Martian surface. The rover will collect soil samples that will be studied on board of the rover vehicle in order to detect chemical building blocks of life, such as forms of carbon, on Mars and assess what the Martian environment was like in the past. The spacecraft is expected to arrive at Mars in August of 2012.

If, for whatever reason, either or both of these spacecraft cannot be launched in November of 2011, their missions will have to wait for another 26 months when the next launch window for a mission to Mars opens.

About the author
Jos Heyman is the Managing Director of Tiros Space Information, a Western Australian consultancy specializing in the dissemination of information on the scientific exploration and commercial application of space for use by educational as well as commercial organisations. An accountant by profession, Jos is the editor of the TSI News Bulletin and is also a regular contributor to the British Interplanetary Society’s Spaceflight journal. Jos is also a Contributing Editor for SatNews Publishers’ SatMagazine and MilsatMagazine.