Category Archives: Space Flight

18 February 1977

Space Shuttle Enterprise captive flight test, 18 February 197718 February 1977: The prototype space shuttle orbiter Enterprise (OV-101) made its first captive flight aboard NASA 905, the Boeing 747-123 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. On this flight, no one was aboard Enterprise. NASA 905 was flown by Aircraft Commander Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., Pilot Thomas C. McMurty, and Flight Engineers Louis E. Guidry, Jr. and Victor W. Horton.

This photograph shows the crew of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905, in 1981: From left, they are, Tom McMurty, pilot; Vic Horton, flight engineer; Fitz Fulton, command pilot; and Ray Young, flight engineer (replacing Guidry). The Space Shuttle Columbia is attached to NASA 905. (NASA)
This photograph shows the crew of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905, in 1981: From left, they are, Tom McMurty, pilot; Vic Horton, flight engineer; Fitz Fulton, command pilot; and Ray Young, flight engineer (replacing Guidry). The Space Shuttle Columbia is attached to NASA 905. (NASA)

The duration of the first captive flight was 2 hours, 5 minutes. The Enterprise/SCA combination reached a maximum speed of 287 miles per hour (462 kilometers per hour) and altitude of 16,000 feet (94,877 meters).

NASA describes the photograph above:

The Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise rides smoothly atop NASA’s first Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), NASA 905, during the first of the shuttle program’s Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, in 1977. During the nearly one year-long series of tests, Enterprise was taken aloft on the SCA to study the aerodynamics of the mated vehicles and, in a series of five free flights, tested the glide and landing characteristics of the orbiter prototype.

In this photo, the main engine area on the aft end of Enterprise is covered with a tail cone to reduce aerodynamic drag that affects the horizontal tail of the SCA, on which tip fins have been installed to increase stability when the aircraft carries an orbiter.

Boeing 747-123, N905NA, during wake vortex studies, 20 September 1974. The other aircraft in the photograph are a Cessna T-37B, N807NA and a Learjet 24, N701NA. (NASA)
Boeing 747-123, N905NA, during wake vortex studies, 20 September 1974. The other aircraft in the photograph are a Cessna T-37B, N807NA, and a Learjet 24, N701NA. (NASA)

NASA 905 (the airplane’s call sign is based on its FAA registration, N905NA) was originally built by Boeing for American Airlines as a 747-123 airliner, serial number 20107. It was delivered to American 29 October 1970 with the registration N9668. NASA acquired the airliner 18 July 1974 for use in wake vortex studies.

Modification to the SCA configuration began in 1976. Most of the interior was stripped and the fuselage was strengthened. Mounting struts for the space shuttle were added and end plates for additional stability were attached to the horizontal tail plane. The 747 retained the red, white and blue horizontal stripes of American Airlines’ livery until the early 1980s.

The standard Pratt & Whitney JT95-3A high bypass ratio turbofan engines were upgraded to JT9D-7J turbofans. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (222.41 kilonewtons) each. The JT9D-7J is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor section and 4-stage turbine. This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

This image shows NASA 905 as configured for wake vortex studies and as a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Artwork courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging.
This image shows NASA 905 as configured for wake vortex studies and as a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Artwork courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging.

NASA 905 is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 318,053 pounds (144,266 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).

While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (443 miles per hour, or 695  kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).

NASA 905 is displayed at Independence Park at Space Center Houston, a science and space learning center in Houston, Texas.

35 years, 2 months, 10 days after their first combination flight, the prototype Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise (OV-101) and Shuttle Carrier Aircraft NASA 905, touch down together for the last time, at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 11;23 a.m., EST, 27 April 2012. (AP)
35 years, 2 months, 10 days after their first combination flight, the prototype Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise (OV-101) and Shuttle Carrier Aircraft NASA 905, touch down together for the last time, at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 11:23 a.m., EST, 27 April 2012. (AP)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 February 1996, 20:43:27 UTC, T minus Zero

NEAR/Delta II lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 17 at 3:30 a.m., EST, 17 February 1996. (NASA)
NEAR/Delta II D232 lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 17 at 3:43 a.m., EST, 17 February 1996. (NASA)

17 February 1996, 20:43:27 UTC, T minus Zero: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory space probe NEAR—Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous—was launched aboard a three-stage McDonnell Douglas Delta II rocket from Launch Complex 17 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The purpose of the 5-year-long mission was to study several near-Earth asteroids, including 253 Mathilde and 433 Eros.

The space probe was renamed NEAR Shoemaker in honor of Eugene Merle (“Gene”) Shoemaker, Ph.D., a well-known planetary scientist who dies in a vehicle collision in Australia, 18 July 1997.

Near-Earth Asteroid 253 Mathilde photographed from a distance of 1,200 kilometers, 27 June 1997. (NASA)

NEAR Shoemaker made its closest approach to 253 Mathilde on 27 June 1997, passing the asteroid at a distance of approximately 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) at 35,748 kilometers per hour (22,213 miles per hour). More than 500 photographic images, along with sensor data, were transmitted to Earth. The space probe’s main engine was then ignited to send it on a new trajectory to 433 Eros.

NEAR Shoemaker was placed into an orbit around 433 Eros on 14 February 2000. NEAR Shoemaker photographed and studied the asteroid for nearly a year, and then on 12 February 2001, after completing 230 orbits, made a soft landing on its surface.

Near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros photographed by the NEAR-Shoemaker space probe. (NASA)

The McDonnell Douglas Delta II 7925-8 Orbital Launch Vehicle is a three-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. It is 125 feet, 4 inches (38.201 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs approximately 480,000 pounds (217,724 kilograms). At the time, the Delta II was the smallest rocket used to launch a planetary mission.

The first stage is a Thor/Delta XLT-C (“long-tank Thor”), which is 85 feet, 5½ inches (26.048 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs 224,600 pounds (101,877 kilograms) when fully fueled. The stage is powered by one liquid-fueled Rocketdyne RS-27A rocket engine, rated at 236,992 pounds of thrust (1,054.193 kilonewtons). Fueled with 10,000 gallons (37,854 liters) of RP-1/LOX propellant and oxidizer, the engine has 4 minutes, 25 second burn time.

Surrounding the Thor are nine Alliant Techsytems (ATK) GEM-40 (Graphite-Epoxy Motor) solid fuel boosters. They are 42 feet, 6 inches (12.957 meters) long, and 3 feet, 4 inches (1.018 meters) in diameter, and weigh 28,671 pounds ( kilograms). Each booster produces 110,800 pounds of thrust (492.863 kilonewtons), and have 1 minute, 4 second burn time. Six of the nine GEM-40s are ignited at launch, and the remaining three ignite after the first six burn out.

The second stage is a McDonnell Douglas Delta K, which is 19 feet, 3 inches (5.867 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs 15,331 pounds ( kilograms). The Delta K is powered by one Aerojet AJ10-118K liquid-fueled rocket engine which produces 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.593 kilonewtons). It has a 7 minute, 11 second burn time.

The third stage is a McDonnell Douglas PAM-D (Payload Assist Module), powered by a Thiokol Propulsion Star 48B solid rocket motor, which produces 15,000 pounds of thrust (66.723 kilonewtons), and has a burn time of 1 minute, 27 second burn time.

NEAR space probe inside a protective cover. A man at the lower left of the image provides scale. (NASA)
NEAR space probe inside a protective payload fairing. A man at the lower left of the image provides scale. (NASA)

The NEAR space probe was designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The probe was equipped with an X-ray/gamma ray spectrometer, near-infrared imaging spectrometer and a multi-spectral CCD imaging camera, laser rangefinder and magnetometer. NEAR was 9 feet, ¼-inch (2.749 meters) long and weighed 1,803 pounds (817.8 kilograms). Power was supplied by four solar panels, capable of generating 400 watts.The main engine produced 450 Newtons (101 pounds) of thrust using hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. A system of 11 hydrazine thrusters and 4 reaction wheels  were used attitude control.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 February 2009, 16:55:59.806 UTC

2009 Satellite Collision. Cosmos 2251, represented by the orange line, is orbiting from the upper left to lower right. Iridium 33, the blue line, is moving from the lower left to upper right. (Thomas S. Kelso, Ph.D., Analytical Graphics, Inc.)

10 February 2009, 16:55:59.806 UTC: Two artificial satellites orbiting Earth, Cosmos 2251 and Iridium 33, collided with each other at a closing speed of 26,170 miles per hour (42,117 kilometers per hour, 490 miles (789 kilometers) above Siberia. Because of the relative speeds of the satellites, this was termed a “hypervelocity collision.”

These satellites had been routinely tracked and estimates were that they would pass at a distance of 584 meters (1,916 feet).

Cosmos 2251 (Космос-2251) was a Strela 2M military communications satellite. It had been launched from Plesetsk, Russia, at 04:20:00 UTC, 16 July 1993, but was no longer active and was not controlled. The satellite weighed approximately 900 kilograms (1,984 pounds). It was in a 783 × 821 kilometers (486.5 × 510.1 miles) orbit, with an inclination, relative to Earth’s axis, of 74.0°.  It completed one orbit every 1 hour, 41 minutes.

Iridium 33 was commercial communications satellite which was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 01:36:54 UTC, 14 September 1997. It was built by Lockheed Martin for Iridium Satellites LLC. weighed 1,234 pounds (560 kilograms). Iridium 33’s orbit was 522 × 541 kilometers (324.4 × 336.2 miles). It had an orbital inclination of 86.6° and orbited the Earth in 1 hour, 34.9 minutes.

According to a report by Thoman S. Kelso, Ph.D.,  of the Center for Space Standards & Innovation, light flashes captured on video “suggest that at least two MMAs (Main Mission Antennas. . . at the bottom of the satellite) on that object survived the collision relatively intact.”

Subsequently 406 pieces of Iridium 33 and 960 pieces of Cosmos 2251 were tracked as they spread in orbit. While some of the debris has re-entered the atmosphere, perhaps 50% of the total remains in Earth orbit.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 February 2012

Boeing 747-100SR, N911NA, NASA 911, Space Shuttle Carrier makes its last landing, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 8 February 2012. (NASA)
NASA 911, a modified Boeing 747-100SR transport, FAA registration N911NA, one of two NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, makes its final landing at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 8 February 2012. (NASA)

8 February 2012: End of an era. NASA 911, the Boeing 747-100SR that has been used as a space shuttle carrier, made its last flight on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, a 20-minute hop from Edwards Air Force Base to Palmdale Plant 42. In 38 years, this airplane accumulated 33,004.1 flight hours, which is relatively low time for an airliner. It will be cannibalized for parts to keep another NASA 747 flying.

NASA 911 (Boeing serial number 20781) made its first flight 31 August 1973, registered as JA8817, and flew in commercial service for fifteen years. It was obtained by NASA in 1989 and turned over to Boeing for modification as the second Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

NASA's fleet of Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905 (foreground) and NASA 911, (background). NASA)
NASA’s fleet of Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905 (foreground) and NASA 911. (NASA)

The 747-100SR is a short-range, high-capacity airliner variant produced by Boeing for Japan Air Lines. It was strengthened to handle the additional takeoffs and landings of short-duration flights. Additional structural support was built into the fuselage, wings and landing gear, while the fuel capacity was reduced 20% from that of the standard 747-100. Seven were built between 1973 and 1975.

It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 323,034 pounds (146,526 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).

NASA 911 was equipped with more powerful JT9D-7J engines in place of the standard airplane’s JT9D-7A engines. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (222.41 kilonewtons) each. The JT9D-7J is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor section and 4-stage turbine. This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (432 miles per hour, or 695  kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).

A NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour. (NASA)
A NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour. (NASA)

NASA 911 is on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 February 1973, 02:33:12 UTC

Skylab in Earth orbit, as seen by the departing Skylab 4 mission crew, 8 February 1974. (NASA)
Skylab in Earth orbit, as seen by the departing Skylab 4 mission crew, 8 February 1974. (NASA)

8 February 1973: At 02:33:12 UTC, the Skylab 4/Apollo command module undocked from the Skylab space station in Earth orbit, after 83 days, 4 hours, 38 minutes, 12 seconds. After several orbits, the Apollo capsule reentered the atmosphere and landed in the Pacific Ocean southwest of San Diego California, at 15:16:53 UTC. The crew was recovered by USS Okinawa (LPH-3), a helicopter carrier. Today, the Apollo capsule is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Skylab was an orbital laboratory built from a Saturn S-IVB third stage. It was launched from Cape Canaveral 14 May 1973 as part of a modified Saturn V rocket. The Skylab 4 crew was the third and final group of astronauts to live and the space station. Skylab’s orbit gradually decayed and it re-entered the atmosphere near Perth, Australia, 11 July 1979.

The Skylab 4 mission crew, left to right, Mission Commander Gerald P. Carr, Mission Scientist Edward G. Gibson and Pilot William R. Pogue. Pogue and Carr had joined NASA during the Apollo Program and were scheduled for Apollo 19, which was cancelled. This was the only space flight for these three astronauts. (NASA)
The Skylab 4 mission crew, left to right, Mission Commander Gerald P. Carr, Mission Scientist Edward G. Gibson and Pilot William R. Pogue. Pogue and Carr had joined NASA during the Apollo Program and were scheduled for Apollo 19, which was cancelled. This was the only space flight for these three astronauts. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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