Arianespace successfully launches BepiColumbo

Arianespace successfully launched the European Space Agency (ESA) & Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) BepiColumbo spacecraft toward Mercury.

The mission comprises two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

This is the first European spacecraft to head to Mercury and will spend 7+ years traveling to the planet before entering orbit in 2025.  Once it arrives the two spacecraft will separate from the transport system and begin scientific exploration of the planet in 2026.

Following the successful launch the spacecraft was deployed to orbit xx minutes later, this was a short mission for Ariane 5 which typically takes 45+ minutes to deploy.

More information can be found here.

ULA launches NASA’s ICESat2

Early this morning United Launch Alliance successfully launched NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satelite 2 (ICESat2).

The launch was slightly delayed due to an issue with the bottle temperatures during the countdown. This issue was quickly resolved and the mission completed successfully.

This was the final launch of the venerable Delta II which has been launching since 1989 and completed 154 missions, 1 failure, and 1 partial failure.  With this launch, Delta II also achieved an important milestone of 100 consecutive launch successes.

More information on ICESat2 can be found here.

ULA launches NASA’s Solar Parker Probe

Delta IV Heavy launching

United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched NASA’s Solar Parker Probe on their Delta IV Heavy rocket.  Today was the second attempt to liftoff proceeded smoothly for an on-time lifted off at 3:31 am EDT.

The first attempt yesterday was delayed twice before a scrub was called when a new issue occurred at T-1:55m and counting with no time left in the window to try again.

Due to the extremely high energy required for this mission, the Delta IV Heavy’s capability was augmented by a powerful third stage provided by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.  This allowed the vehicle to get up to 45,000 mph by the time the Solar Parker Probe separated.

Confirmation of the 3rd stage events was delayed due to a signal dropout issue, however, the information was received at one of the ground stations and was relayed manually.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to “touch” the Sun. The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere about 4 million miles from our star’s surface.   

More details can be found here.

This was the 6th launch for ULA this year

ULA launches Mars InSight

United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched NASA’s Mars InSight lander today aboard their Atlas V rocket in the 401 configuration from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Following a smooth countdown, the rocket lifted off at 7:05 AM EDT and approximately 94 minutes later the spacecraft separated from the upper stage to begin its six-month journey to the red planet.

After separation of the main payload, two CubeSats MarCO-A and MarCO-B were also successfully deployed and will accompany InSight on its journey.  They will be used to relay information from InSight during it’s landing on Mars in November.

This was the first time that a spacecraft destined for another planet had been launched from the west coast.

SpaceX Launches TESS

This evening SpaceX successfully launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) telescope this evening.

SpaceX’s eighth launch of the year and 53rd overall for Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Launch Complex (LC)-40 following a smooth countdown.  The TESS telescope was delivered to orbit approximately 48 minutes later to begin on-orbit operations.

The first stage of the rocket successfully landed on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) “Of Course I Still Love You” marking the fifth landing of the year and 24th overall.

The launch was originally scheduled for Monday 16th but was delayed 48 hours to allow SpaceX more time to perform Guidance Navigation and Control analysis to ensure a successful mission today.

For more information on TESS check out their web page here.

First British Astronaut arrives at the #ISS

European Space Agency Astronaut Tim Peake of the UK arrived at the International Space Station today following a smooth launch and four orbit accelerated rendezvous.  Tim and fellow travelers NASA’s Tim Kopra and RSA’s Yuri Malenchenko lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 6:03 AM EST today and once in orbit begun there four orbit, six hour journey to the station.

The crew had to perform a manual docking after the KURS automated docking was aborted when the craft was just 20 metres away from the station.

Tim’s mission called Principia will see him stay at the station for six months during which time he will perform numerous experiments including interacting with two Raspberry PI’s that were recently launched to the station aboard the Cygnus spacecraft.  The PI’s will be executing programs created by school children around the UK which were selected during a competition.

Tim is the second UK astronaut to travel into space and the first to the ISS, the previous traveler Helen Sharman visited the Mir station.

Current station commander Scott Kelly posted the following picture of the launch captured from the station today.

Video of launch

Video of arrival and docking

Video of the hatch opening

ULA launches WGS 7 satellite

This evening United Launch Alliance launched the seventh Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) military communications satellite aboard its Delta IV rocket. The launch, which was delayed yesterday due to stormy weather, proceeded with a smooth countdown this afternoon resulting in the Delta IV lifting off at 8:07 pm EDT.

Once in orbit the 2nd stage will burn twice to deploy the satellite to its desired orbit.  Once deployed the satellite deployed its solar arrays to begin on-orbit operations.

Below are images of the launch

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New Horizons Phones Home

Following this mornings flyby of Pluto the New Horizons spacecraft has phoned home. And tomorrow morning it will starting returning the high priority data from its numerous observations.

Atlas_V_551_roars_into_blue_skyThe spacecraft which was launched in Jan, 2006 has traveled more than 3.2 billion miles to reach the Pluto system, during the 9.5 years of travel most of it was spent alone in deep space in hibernation, occasionally the mission team would wake it up to check out the systems.

At the end of last year the spacecraft woke up to begin checkouts in preparation for the flyby operations which begun in Jan this year. As the spacecraft approached the Pluto system the LORRI instrument took images to allow the navigation team to check its approach and make any corrections needed so that they could arrive in the target window just 90 x 60 miles in size. To put that in perspective, that is like hitting a golf ball on the east coast of the USA with the intention of getting a hole in one on the west coast.

During the flyby the spacecraft operated in autonomous mode where it focused solely on the completion of the observations that had been pre-programmed once those were complete it turned its main antenna back to Earth and started to transmit its data.

It may be many years before all the data that is returned by New Horizons is fully analyzed and the text books written on the planet.

And now we wait #PlutoFlyby

Latest image of Pluto released during the Flyby
Latest image of Pluto released during the Flyby

New Horizons has completed its closest approach to Pluto with a historic flyby at 7:50am EDT today, however we will not hear back from the spacecraft for another 12 hours as it will now turn around and continue observations as it moves away from the system, this time with our Sun in the background.

The spacecraft has been operating autonomously and until we hear back later today we will not really know how successful it was, did it complete all the planned observations? Did it encounter something during flyby that we had not previously seen?

Now all we can do is wait until this evening to see just how successful the spacecraft was and begin to receive the reams of data that was collected.  Due to the distance from Earth it will take almost 16 months for everything to be returned.  Now the patience of the team will be tested more than during the 9.5 years it took to get to Pluto as they know the data is on the spacecraft and they can’t do anything to speed up the return of it.

Check back this evening for updates on the success of the mission.

T-1 days until #PlutoFlyby

By this time tomorrow NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will be zooming past the Dwarf Plant Pluto capturing details of the planet from just 12,500 km (7,800 mi) away closer than any spacecraft has ever been.

New Horizons team members react to latest images from spacecraft
New Horizons team members react to latest images from spacecraft

The spacecraft is now deep in the encounter mode of operation, this means that if anything goes wrong it will automatically repair itself and continue operating.  Previously the vehicle, as it did last week, would have failed over to the backup computer, re-orient itself towards Earth and then wait for commands to be sent back.  However due to the limited time of the flyby valuable data would be lost if the computer couldn’t automatically recover.

Due to the distance from Earth it will take more than a year to send all the data that is capture back to Earth.  While the spacecraft will be more then 600m miles away from Pluto by the time all the data is returned to Earth new revelations about the Pluto system will still be discovered during that time.

Below are some of the latest images returned by the spacecraft

This slideshow requires JavaScript.