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

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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

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T-7 days and counting to New Horizons Pluto Flyby

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is just 7 days away from its closest approach to Pluto, and this week we are going to look at the amazing images that have already been returned.  As the spacecraft gets closer and closer we are going to learn much more about the Planet and its moons.

Before we take a look at the images however a quick update on the health of the vehicle.  As most of you probably now 4th July a Safe-Mode event occurred which resulted in a period of lost communications.  The vehicle quickly recovered from this by switching to the backup computer and re-establishing communications.  The Mission control team reported on Sunday that the fault was caused by a timing issue in the command sequencing planned for the final flyby and because this is the only time this sequence will be used they have resumed normal science operations already.

As the spacecraft has been closing in on the Pluto/Charon system the images it has returned have been getting better and better.  Initially the images were captured by the LORRI instrument as that was the only one capable of capturing images at distance.  However the Ralph and Alice instruments are now online and have enhanced our view.  Over the next week we can expected to see even more detailed images appear, below are a sampling of the images publicly available.

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More images are available on the New Horizons Web Site


New Horizons Suffers Safe-Mode event

Just 10 days before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto it suffered a Safe-Mode event on Saturday causing a lost of communications when the spacecraft handled the event and switched to its backup computer system.

Thankfully the backup system took over and re-established communications and begun sending data back to Mission Control to allow them to determine what caused the Safe-Mode and come up with a plan to resolve it

A New Horizons Anomaly Review Board (ARB) was convened at 4 p.m. EDT on the 4th to gather information on the problem and initiate a recovery plan. The team is now working to return New Horizons to its original flight plan. Due to the 9-hour, round trip communication delay that results from operating a spacecraft almost 3 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) from Earth, full recovery is expected to take from one to several days; New Horizons will be temporarily unable to collect science data during that time.

Status updates will be issued as new information is available.

T-14 days and counting to New Horizons Pluto Flyby

180px-New_Horizons_LogoA journey that started 3451 days ago aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V is rapidly closing in on its primary destination Pluto. The New Horizons spacecraft will be the first to visit the Pluto system and will bring the distant planet and its five moons to life.

In 14 days it will reach its closest approach to the planet before speeding on further into the Kuiper Belt and eventually another destination (to be decided later).

During the flyby a number of different instruments will be gathering data, it will take more than a year to return all the data to Earth due to how far away the spacecraft is.

The following instruments are on board the spacecraft :-

The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (“LORRI”) is a long focal length imager designed for high resolution and responsivity at visible wavelengths. The instrument is equipped with a high-resolution 1024×1024 monochromatic CCD imager with a 208.3 mm (8.20 in) aperture giving a resolution of 5 μrad (~1 asec). The CCD is chilled far below freezing by a passive radiator on the antisolar face of the spacecraft. This temperature differential requires insulation, and isolation from the rest of the structure. The Ritchey–Chretien mirrors and metering structure are made of silicon carbide, to boost stiffness, reduce weight, and prevent warping at low temperatures. The optical elements sit in a composite light shield, and mount with titanium and fibreglass for thermal isolation. Overall mass is 8.6 kg (19 lb), with the Optical tube assembly (OTA) weighing about 5.6 kg (12 lb),[29] for one of the largest silicon-carbide telescopes flown at the time (now superseded by Herschel).
Principal investigator: Andy Cheng, Applied Physics Laboratory, Data: LORRI image search at

Solar Wind At Pluto (SWAP) is a toroidal electrostatic analyzer and retarding potential analyzer (RPA), that makes up one of the two instruments comprising New Horizons‍ ’​ Plasma and high-energy particle spectrometer suite (PAM), the other being PEPSSI. SWAP measures particles of up to 6.5 keV and, because of the tenuous solar wind at Pluto’s distance, the instrument has the largest aperture of any such instrument ever flown.
Principal investigator: David McComas, Southwest Research Institute

Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI) is a time of flight ion and electron sensor that makes up one of the two instruments comprising New Horizons‍ ’​ Plasma and high-energy particle spectrometer suite (PAM), the other being SWAP. Unlike SWAP, which measures particles of up to 6.5 keV, PEPSSI goes up to 1 MeV.
Principal investigator: Ralph McNutt Jr., Applied Physics Laboratory

Alice is an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer that makes one (of two) photographic instruments comprising New Horizons‍ ’​ Pluto Exploration Remote Sensing Investigation (PERSI); the other being the Ralph telescope. It resolves 1,024 wavelength bands in the far and extreme ultraviolet (from 50–180 nm), over 32 view fields. Its goal is to determine the atmospheric composition of Pluto. This Alice instrument is derived from another Alice aboard the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft.
Principal investigator: Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute

The Ralph telescope, 6 cm (2.4 in) in aperture, is one of two photographic instruments that make up New Horizons‍ ’​ Pluto Exploration Remote Sensing Investigation (PERSI), with the other being the Alice instrument. Ralph has two separate channels: a visible-light CCD imager (MVIC- Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera) with broadband and color channels, and a near-infrared imaging spectrometer, LEISA (Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array). LEISA is derived from a similar instrument on the EO-1 mission. Ralph was named after Alice’s husband on The Honeymooners, and was designed after Alice.
Principal investigator: Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute

The Student Dust Counter (SDC), built by students at the University of Colorado Boulder, will operate continuously through the trajectory to make dust measurements. It consists of a detector panel, about 460 mm × 300 mm (18 in × 12 in), mounted on the antisolar face of the spacecraft (the ram direction), and an electronics box within the spacecraft. The detector contains fourteen polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) panels, twelve science and two reference, which generate voltage when impacted. Effective collecting area is 0.125 m2 (1.35 sq ft). No dust counter has operated past the orbit of Uranus; models of dust in the outer Solar System, especially the Kuiper belt, are speculative. VBSDC is always turned on measuring the masses of the interplanetary and interstellar dust particles (in the range of nano- and picograms) as they collide with the PVDF panels mounted on the New Horizons spacecraft. The measured data is expected to greatly contribute to the understanding of the dust spectra of the Solar System. The dust spectra can then be compared with those observed via telescope of other stars, giving new clues as to where Earth-like planets can be found in the universe. The dust counter is named for Venetia Burney, who first suggested the name “Pluto” at the age of 11. A thirteen-minute short film about VBSDC garnered an Emmy award for student achievement in 2006.
Principal investigator: Mihaly Horanyi, University of Colorado Boulder

The Radio Science Experiment (REX) will use an ultrastable crystal oscillator (essentially a calibrated crystal in a miniature oven) and some additional electronics to conduct radio science investigations using the communications channels. These are small enough to fit on a single card. Since there are two redundant communications subsystems, there are two, identical REX circuit boards.
Principal investigators: Len Tyler and Ivan Linscott, Stanford University

Next week we will take a look at some of the images that have already been returned as New Horizons approaches Pluto.

LightSail deployment planned for Wednesday

Following the successful resumption of communications with the LightSail spacecraft the mission team are planning to deploy the Solar Sails on Wednesday this week.

They were looking to deploy on Tuesday but to ensure everything is working as needed they added an extra day to the plan.

To ensure they don’t run into another issue with the spacecraft they are also planning a reboot event each day as highlighted by Jason Davis via Twitter

We will post an article once confirmation of Sail deployment which should also include images of the deployment.

LightSail is back

Following a week of silence caused by a software fault on the LightSail spacecraft it started communicating with Earth earlier today.

As the tweet above shows something caused the spacecraft to reboot, at present they don’t know exactly why the reboot happened. The next priority is to attempt two way communication, and also refine it’s orbit to allow better communications.

They will now prioritize the deployment of the Solar Sails in case another issue happens.