Spring into Space
NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, Mike Fincke, and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, which will be used to carry humans to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Spring into Space

01/03/2021Written by Alex Thompson

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Mock up of the finished CST-100 Starliner. Credit: Boeing

Boeing are set to launch the Starliner OFT mission, that will see the uncrewed spacecraft launch to the International Space Station (ISS). This will be the second attempt at the launch, following an anomaly with the spacecraft’s Mission Elapsed Time (MET) clock that caused the spacecraft to burn into an incorrect orbit, preventing a rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS). The mission was reduced to just two days, instead of the planned eight.

Boeing announced that it would do another Orbital Flight Test to prove and meet all of the test objectives. NASA accepted the proposal from Boeing to do another uncrewed test flight, Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2, scheduled to launch on 2 April 2021.

Components of the Long March 5B (Y2) to launch the Chinese space station core module at a facility in Tianjin. Credit: CMSA

Earlier this year the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO), the country’s human spaceflight agency, announced the beginning of its construction phase for China’s three-module space station. The core module, Tianhe (“Harmony of the heavens”), has passed a flight acceptance review.

It is expected to launch in April 2021 atop a Long March 5B launch vehicle from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.

March sees the launch window open for Rocket Lab’s 19th Electron mission ‘They Go Up So Fast’ from its New Zealand site. It will deploy a range of satellites for commercial and government satellite operators, as well as place a next-generation Rocket Lab Photon spacecraft in orbit to build spacecraft heritage ahead of Rocket Lab’s mission to the Moon for NASA later this year.

An early 2017 model of a OneWeb satellite. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Siberia on 25 March, putting a further 36 satellites into orbit for the OneWeb internet constellation. OneWeb planned monthly launches to begin in January 2020, although the first of these launches was delayed, and bankruptcy and subsequent reorganisation delayed further launches, this is part of a planned initial 650-satellite constellation to provide global satellite Internet broadband services to people everywhere.

True colours of Mercury. Credit: NASA

In March we will be joining Dr Suzie Imber to talk about the anniversary of the MESSENGER mission to the planet Mercury, but this month also provides a great opportunity to see the planet for yourself.

On 06 March the planet will reach its greatest western elongation, meaning the planet is furthest from the Sun as viewed from Earth, making it the best time to view it.

Though it will be low in the sky, viewing should still be possible on a clear morning. Mercury will rise at 05:46 GMT in the east, before the Sun follows at 06:35, giving early risers an opportunity to view the planet.

Siding Spring Observatory. Credit: Jamie Gilbert

This month we can also look forward to the arrival of Spring. The 20 March is the March equinox, bringing an end winter for those in the northern hemisphere’s and the start of spring (astronomically speaking).

This evening will also be a great time to view the Moon through a telescope or binoculars as it will be half full, giving the best view of the satellite’s craters.

Apollo 9 Command/Service Modules (CSM) nicknamed "Gumdrop" and Lunar Module (LM), nicknamed "Spider".

When astronauts James McDivitt, Russell Schweickart and Dave Scott, launched in Apollo 9 on 03 March 1969, they ensured the future of the lunar landing for Neil and Buzz. They spent ten days in low Earth orbit testing the lunar module’s ascent, descent and docking capabilities, showing that its crew could fly it independently, then rendezvous and dock again, as would be required for the first crewed lunar landing.

This was the first flight of the full Apollo spacecraft: the command and service module (CSM) with the Lunar Module (LM).

Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium. Credit: Hufton Crow

The fourth of March would have been the 98th birthday of British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, who inspired generations of astronomers and space enthusiasts as the presenter of the BBC’s ‘The Sky at Night’. He opened the Sir Patrick Moore planetarium at the National Space Centre in 2012, which has continued his legacy of education and inspiration.

View of Mir space station and Earth from Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1995. Credit: NASA

This month also saw Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov completed the first ever spacewalk on 18 March 1965 as he left his Voskhod 2 capsule for twelve minutes whilst secured by a tether, as well as the 20th anniversary of the safe deorbiting of the Mir space station.

Mir was the first continuously inhabited long-term research station in orbit and it served as a microgravity research laboratory in which crews conducted experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and spacecraft systems with a goal of developing technologies required for permanent occupation of space.

And finally… for the first time since 2008, the European Space Agency (ESA) is seeking new astronauts to join a journey of discovery for the benefit of Earth.

Obviously we are hoping that there will be successful candidates from the UK to join Tim Peake.

For the first time applications are also invited for their Parastronaut Project.

ESA is launching the parastronaut feasibility project to assess the conditions for including astronauts with disabilities to work in space. This project is a new endeavour for Europe and a global first.