The Little Rover that could

270px-Nasa_mer_daffyThis week the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity broke the off-world driving record previously held by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover. Opportunity which has been operating on the surface of Mars for 10 years, 6 months has now traveled more than 25.01 miles.

Opportunity and it’s twin Spirit were originally expected to last 90 sol’s (Martian days), and while Spirit is no longer operating both far exceeded that goal.  Spirit eventually stopped communicating after 2623 sols having traveled 4.8 miles.

123624main_dust_devil_mars_webBoth rovers are solar powered and have benefited multiple times by dust devils on the surface of Mars which have cleaned off the solar panels from the Martian dust that accumulates on them.  The image to the right show one of the dust devils captured by the rover as it passed nearby.

At this point we don’t know how long Opportunity will last, however each day it does brings us more scientific knowledge of Mars and also shows just how robust well designed robot’s can be.

Detailed maps of where the rovers have been during their time on Mars can be found here.

For more on Opportunity and to see the latest status report check out the mission page here.

 

Weekly Space Blog 5/30

Sea Launch successfully launches Eutelsat Satellite

The Zenit 3SL rocket lifts off from the Odyssey launch platform at 2110 GMT (5:10 p.m. EDT) Monday. Photo credit: Sea Launch
The Zenit 3SL rocket lifts off from the Odyssey launch platform at 2110 GMT (5:10 p.m. EDT) Monday. Photo credit: Sea Launch

Following a 15 month gap between mission’s Sea Launch returned on Monday to successfully launch a 6.6 ton Eutelsat 3B satellite.  The Zenit 3SL rocket lifted off successfully and following a nominal flight successfully deployed the satellite to orbit.

The communication’s satellite will now use it’s engine’s to transfer to it’s final operation orbit at 22,300 miles where it will serve markets in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America.

Built by Airbus Defence and Space it carries 30 Ku-band, 12 C-band and nine Ka-band transponders which will allow it to broadcast television, internet and data services.

 

Mars Opportunity Update

Opportunity Explores Region of Aluminum Clay Minerals  – sols 3657-3662, May 08, 2014-May 13, 2014:

Opportunity is exploring south of ‘Solander Point’ on the west rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover is exploring the region of aluminum-hydroxyl clay minerals seen from orbit.

On Sol 3657 (May 8, 2014), Opportunity collected a Microscopic Imager (MI) mosaic of the surface outcrop, called ‘Ash Meadows,’ then placed the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) for a multi-sol integration. On Sol 3659 (May 10, 2014), the rover drove just under 85 feet (26 meters) to the east, approaching a region of extended outcrop as a possible site for clay minerals. Also, Opportunity tested the new two-second spacecraft clock correction sequence. Over the next two sols, the rover collected an atmospheric argon measurement with the APXS and performed two more one-second-clock corrections.

On Sol 3662 (May 13, 2014), Opportunity bumped 7 feet (2 meters) forward to approach an exposed rock outcrop for further in-situ (contact) investigation.

As of Sol 3662, the solar array energy production was 761 watt-hours with an atmospheric opacity (Tau) of 0.621, and an improved solar array dust factor of 0.964. Perfectly clean solar arrays would have a dust factor of 1.0, so the larger the dust factor, the cleaner the arrays.

Total odometry is 24.49 miles (39.41 kilometers).

NASA Releases book on Communicating with Aliens

Addressing a field that has been dominated by astronomers, physicists, engineers, and computer scientists, the contributors to this collection raise questions that may have been overlooked by physical scientists about the ease of establishing meaningful communication with an extraterrestrial intelligence.

More information and links to the books can be found here.

SpaceX complete’s qualification of SuperDraco Thruster

SpaceX have completed qualification of their SuperDraco thruster after completing a series of hot fire tests.  The thruster will be incorporated in the second version of Dragon which was unveiled on Thursday this week, see my previous post on the unveiling.

Next Orbital Cygnus flight delayed

To allow Aerojet Rocketdyne more time to investigate the recent AJ26 engine failure during testing Orbital has announced that their next mission to ISS has been delayed to No Earlier Than (NET) June 17th.  A final launch date and time will be announced once the investigation has concluded and depending if there are any changes needed because of the investigation.

New Station Crew successfully launched

On Wednesday the next International Space Station (ISS) crew were successfully launched and six hours later docked to the station.  See my previous post for more details including images of the liftoff, docking and hatch opening.

Weekly Space Blog 6/15

This week SpaceX sign military agreement, Chinese Astronauts, Chris Hadfield, Opportunity and Kepler keep giving, and much more.

SpaceX

This week SpaceX signed a framework agreement for potential Military launches in the future.  Under the agreement the air force will evaluate the Falcon v1.1 rocket over at least three launches as well as all the processes, procedures etc involved in create the vehicles.  Once the evaluation period is complete SpaceX may have the chance to compete for future launches.

Chinese Launch and Docking

On Tuesday this week three Chinese Astronauts successfully launched to Orbit aboard a Long March 2F rocket, once in orbit the spacecraft made it’s way to the Tiangong 1 space station arriving on Thursday.  Following a successful automated docking the three Astronauts made there way into the station to begin 15 days of work.  During their stay at the station they will perform a manual undock and redock as well as numerous scientific experiments before heading back to earth.

Opportunity News

This week the Mars Opportunity Rover team announced that they believe they have found clay minerals in a rock recently examined by the rover.  The team explained that their presence is an indication that the rock had been altered by long term exposure to water.  Although they have found indications of water since arriving on the planet they explained that this was different because it indicated a neutral pH balance where as previous examples had higher pH balances.

The Rover has been operating on Mars for 9+ years, over 35 times longer than originally designed and recently broke the US distance record on another planetary object.

Image

In this panorama, Solander Point is the near peak on the left of the horizon. It is more than a kilometre away from Opportunity’s current position and the rover would hope to arrive by August

More Kepler planet candidate announced

The Kepler team announced another 503 planet candidates this week, some which may be the right size and distance from their star to support life.

The Kepler team continue to analyze the vast amounts of data they have already received from the four+ years of operations.

The Kepler spacecraft is currently operating in a Point Rest State due to the failure of a second gyroscope that is used to stabilize the craft, and a team has been formed to determine what course of action can be taken to restore some if not all the scientific operations of the Vehicle.

Chris Hadfield announces resignation

This week Chris Hadfield announced his resignation from the Canadian Space Agency after 21 years at the agency.  Chris who recently returned from a six month mission to the space station the last part which was served as Commander, became well known for the amazing pictures that he tweeted from space.

Chris and his family have spent many years in Houston working with NASA and will be returning to his native Canada to enjoy his retirement.

Planetary Resources announce stretch goal

Planetary Resources announced via their Kickstarter ARKYD page an ambitious stretch goal for the campaign.  If they are able to raise $2 million by the 30th June they then will add ExoPlanet detection capabilities to the spacecraft.  Check out the project here.

And Finally

That’s all for this week, will be plenty more next week.