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NASA’s Morpheus Project Successfully Completes Test Flight

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project morpheusIt won’t get astronauts to the ISS anytime soon, but NASA’s Morpheus is pretty darn cool, and it’s always good to see the agency working on new spacecraft technology. In addition to sounding like a Matrix spin-off, the Morpheus Project is NASA’s planetary lander development program. Among other goals, the space agency wants a device that can take off and land vertically, like SpaceX’s Grasshopper. A few days ago, Morpheus completed a successful test flight at the Kennedy Space Center.

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Urgent Launch Of Air Force Satellites Delays NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Flight Test

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orionNASA’s next manned spacecraft — its first new model in 40 years — is called the Orion, or “Apollo on steroids.” Presuming that it passes the various stages of unmanned flight tests, this may be the spacecraft that brings humans to Mars or to the asteroid belt for mining. To put it mildly, there are a lot of eggs in Orion’s basket, so much so that not even the government shutdown halted work on the craft. Even Universe Today dubbed 2014 “the Year of Orion.” Despite its importance, there are higher-priority matters, such as national security. Orion’s first exploration flight test, due to take place in September, has been pushed back to allow the U.S. Air Force to launch two Space Situational Awareness satellites.

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This Video Of A Soyuz Capsle Is The Closest We’ll Get To Experiencing Reentry

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If you’re anything like me, you’ve fantasized about being an astronaut. Maybe this stopped when you saw Gravity, or maybe the thought of running into George Clooney in space only deepened your desire. But if you’re anything like me, you have to content yourself with reading and watching Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson (not that those are small consolations), scouring NASA news, geeking out to incredible Hubble photos, and waiting with a mixture of hope and fear for the Mars One project to produce a spectacular success, a catastrophe, or perhaps nothing at all.

Well, today you can get one step closer to living the dream. The ESA has released a video documenting the return of astronauts from the ISS on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. You don’t just get to watch from the outside—you get to watch from the interior. The video comes from a lesson to the ESA’s 2009 astronaut class, and splices together interviews and reentry footage. At just over 20 minutes long it’s not a quick take, but if you have any interest in space whatsoever, you’ll not only watch the whole thing, you’ll likely watch it more than once.

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SpaceX Is One Step Closer To Manned Flight Capability

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DragonBack in 2009, NASA began the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), designed to promote private sector development of human spaceflight. The eventual goal is to jumpstart a spaceflight industry capable of taking tourists and government astronauts into space. The program’s focus is on crew transportation system designs, an important first step in the development of a commercial industry which is predicted to deliver cheap, reliable, and more efficient transportation of space-going folks into Low-Earth Orbit. In 2012, NASA received proposals from companies committed to working on fully developed and integrated crew transportation systems. SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada Corporation were among those that received funding after a NASA evaluation, and are now expected to meet 15 milestones on the way to realizing their privatized human spaceflight plans. SpaceX just reached, and passed, the eighth milestone—a review of its in-flight abort procedures.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft made its first manned test flight in December 2010, and a few years later became the first commercial vessel to dock with the ISS. Dragon is partially reusable, and will be sent into space by the Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The recent review focused on the craft’s SuperDraco engines, the software that controls the abort procedure, and the communication between the Dragon and the Falcon 9.

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NASA Prepares Orion For Unmanned Flight Tests

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Orion capsule mock-upDespite the government shutdown, NASA was able to continue working on the Orion, NASA’s next manned spacecraft. Before any humans step aboard the ship sometimes referred to as “Apollo on steroids,” the space agency will continue working on the ship in preparation for its debut test flight in September of next year.

Next fall, a Delta IV heavy rocket will launch the Lockheed Martin-designed Orion capsule from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Exploration Flight Test is designed to assess a number of critical functions, including the capsule’s heat shield, which will be tested as it plunges into Earth’s fiery atmosphere at speeds of 20,000 mph. Orion’s heat shield, like Apollo’s features “Avcoat,” which essentially removes the heat of reentry and stores it in a honeycomb matrix. This latest model will be the largest in the world, roughly 17 feet across. The flight will also test other structural components of the craft, as well as avionics and software. Ideally the results will allow developers to assess risks and ways to mitigate them.

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Orbital Science’s Cygnus Spacecraft Docks With The ISS

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CygnusThis morning, Orbital Sciences became the second commercial space company to dock a ship to the International Space Station (SpaceX was the first).

On September 18th, Orbital’s Antares rocket launched the spacecraft Cygnus from the Virginia Wallops Flight Facility. Cygnus attempted a first docking on September 22nd, but a software glitch involving the format of the GPS data from the ISS caused the week-long delay — apparently Cygnus’s GPS format was older than the Japanese PROX system in use on the ISS. For the past week, Cygnus has been hanging out about 2.5 miles from the station, waiting for its orbit to realign with that of the ISS, and waiting for a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to arrive at the station. The ISS’s air traffic controllers apparently aren’t used to jockeying multiple spacecraft at once.