Human Spaceflight News Roundup: Soyuz TMA-13M return, Orion EFT-1 preps, Cygnus seeks a new ride, and Rosetta’s about to drop its payload

Yesterday, Soyuz TMA-13M landed in Kazakhstan.  It was gusty and icy and cold (actually, pretty close to the temperature here in Minnesota, which is an unseasonable but not totally unreasonable 26F at the moment), so it looks from stills as if the vehicle was tipped over and dragged a bit by the parachute, but they nevertheless made it down fine and are in great condition.  And of course someone has posted the entire, unedited two-hour video from NASA TV on YouTube:

Also, Orion is being prepped for EFT-1!  Unfortunately, windy weather in Florida prevented its trip to the pad this morning.  They’ll try again tomorrow.  The vehicle is scheduled to blast off December 4 aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket that is already assembled and erected on the pad.  (Delta IV and Atlas V both adopt the Russian philosophy of horizontal integration, except when it comes to the payload; the American philosophy of hoisting it up on the pad is still followed there.)

Back to ISS, Orbital Sciences is still on the hook for lifting all that cargo to the ISS, but Antares is definitely grounded pending the outcome of the investigation (which currently is pointing towards the turbopumps, though that doesn’t tell us whether or not the turbopumps are bad — if there was debris in the fuel lines or something like that, you could get a turbopump failure as a result).  So now Orbital is shopping around for a new ride capable of lifting the four-ton fully loaded Cygnus.  There is a fairly short list internationally, and at present they’re not ruling anything out.  Even the Falcon 9 would (somewhat ironically) be an option, and ultimately it will likely depend more on vehicle availability than anything else — they want a vehicle that will help them fulfill obligations in 2015, but most rockets are booked well into 2016 or even beyond.  It will be interesting to see what they come up with.  Simultaneously, they’re accelerating their efforts to replace the AR-26 (former NK-33) engines; current rumor is that they’re looking at Energomash’s RD-193, cousin to the RD-180 that powers Atlas V.

And lastly, Rosetta is just about ready to release Philae!  At long last!  The many steps required to get Philae ready will start tomorrow, with the actual release following on Wednesday.  Touchdown is expected around 16:02 UTC on Wednesday, November 12, which is around noon for us in Central Standard Time.  And why yes, of course there’s a spacecraft animation for that.  😉

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