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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
A 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), 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 jhuapl.edu
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.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now less than one AU from Pluto and moving closer by 873,000 miles per day. This week it made a slight course correction to ensure it is able to complete the scientific objectives as it flies past the planet in July.
Launched in Jan 2006 the spacecraft has traveled past Jupiter on its way to the dwarf planet and will be the second NASA spacecraft this year to explore one this year. As it continues to get closer the quality of the images that are returned will improve as we for the first time get to see detailed images of the planet.
Due to its speed the spacecraft will not be able to orbit the planet so all the experiments must be performed as the vehicle passes at more then 33,000 mph. Once it has completed its observations a second destination will then be targeted somewhere in the Kuiper belt, the region of surrounding our solar system far beyond the known planets. However while it is traveling to that destination it will spend most of 2016 transmitting all the data that was gathered during the flyby.
The science payload includes seven instruments:
Ralph: Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer; provides color, composition and thermal maps.
Alice: Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; analyzes composition and structure of Pluto’s atmosphere and looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).
When New Horizons was first launched towards Pluto the plan was for it to complete it’s mission and then fly on to another object in the Kuiper belt and perform the same observations as it does at Pluto. The second destination has not yet been choose and researchers are now utilizing the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to aid the search. While there is still plenty of time the science team will need to ensure they determined the orbit of the object so they can make any adjustments to the path of New Horizons once it leaves Pluto.
NASA’s Messenger spacecraft currently in orbit of Mercury has allowed scientists for the first time to spot a hot flow anomaly or HFA. A HFA is a classic space weather event which has been previous spotted at Venus, Earth, Mars and Saturn.
Last week a number of teams took part in the NASA Centennial Sample Return Robot Challenge that was hosted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, MA.
For this years challenge there were two levels available, the first level teams would compete for 30 minutes and had to return the designated sample to their starting platform with the robot operating complete autonomously. Fourteen teams competed for this level with a single $5000 prize being awarded to the Mountaineers, first-time competitors from West Virginia University, Morgantown.
For the second level, teams had 2 hours to complete the challenge, this time they had to autonomously collect as many samples as they could during the allotted time with the prize money based on total weigh collected within the rules which can be found here. This year there was only one team competing for this level, Team Survey who had completed level one last year, unfortunately due to a malfunction during start up of the robot they were not able to complete the challenge. They did reboot the robot and performed a demonstration run on the course allowing them to collect very valuable data on the performance of the robot.
This was the third year of the competition hosted by WPI, next year Mountaineers and Team Survey will both be eligible for level 2 if they choose to compete.
Airbus and Safran join forces in Launcher market
Love them or hate them SpaceX are clearly making waves in the satellite launcher business, this is born out by the news this week that Airbus Group and Safran are further strengthening there relationship by creating a 50-50 joint venture to combine the launcher systems from Airbus and propulsion systems from Safran.
Researchers in Chile have observed 800 celestial objects that are up to 100 times heavier than our Sun, and concluded that 90% turn out to be multiple systems. Current telescopes do not have the power to see individual objects with a multiple system however so they can only go by the oscillation of the brightness of the object while being observed.
Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) will soon be able to enjoy a freshly brewed coffee instead of the instant coffee they currently use. The ISSpresso machine is a capsule based espresso machine built by coffee retailer Lavazza and aerospace company Argotec. It is due to fly up to ISS later this year to coincide with the expedition of European Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti who will not only be the first Italian woman in space but if all goes as planned by the first to enjoy a real Italian espresso in space.
Earth’s gravity causes Lunar bulges
For the first time scientists have been able to observe the bulge on the surface of the moon that is created by the gravitational pull of the Earth on the moon, using NASA satellites. Due to the size of both the Earth and Moon they are in a gravitational tug-of-war which stretches both and causes them to have a slight oval shape.
On Earth we see the effects of this in the tides, however on the moon it is much harder as it is solid on the surface. Careful observations of the surface have shown a 20 inch bulge on each side of the moon. While the same side of the moon faces the earth this bulge does move around slightly due to the wobble of the moon during it’s orbit.
The final antenna for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observatory, high on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, has arrived. The array consists of 66 antenna’s which can work together to form a single massive radio telescope. The array has been operation since 2011 and has already returned stunning images of the universe.
The debate as to whether or not there are large planets beyond Pluto has been going on for decades and with the recent discovery of 2012 VP113 has revived interest in the subject. Observations of extreme trans-Neptunian objects seems to indicate that they are being shepherded by a distant, undiscovered planet larger than Earth.
Astronomers for the European space observatory Gaia, which was launched last December have run into a problem with stray light entering the spacecraft. This stray light will effect how well it can see the stars it is observing, the Astronomers stated that this would only effect the faintest of stars. They also announced that the optics are not transmitting as efficiently as designed but that the amount of scientific data return will still be immense.
A team of scientists utilizing supercomputers have developed a new absorption spectrum for methane that is 2000 times more comprehensive than before. This will allow Astronomers to sniff out Methane on alien planets and aid in the search for life beyond Earth.
Giant Telescopes pair up to image near-Earth Asteroid
Scientists from NASA working with a team from the Arecibo Observatory have taken radar images of Asteroid “2014 HQ124”. Captured on the 8th June they are some of the most detailed radar images of a near-Earth asteroid ever obtained.
This week United Launch Alliance (ULA) signed contracts with multiple US companies to allow them to mature next-generation rocket engine concepts. ULA would like to be able to replace the RD-180 rocket engines currently sourced from Russia with home-grown engines. The contracts call for first launch in 2019.
Boeing are preparing to send out 215 layoff notices to employee’s currently working on the Commercial Crew entry CST-100. Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) they are required to give 60 days notice of any pending layoffs.
The next round of Commercial Crew awards is due over the summer, due to the funding it seems likely only one of the three competitors Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX will be awarded a CCtCap contract to continue working on there system.
NASA Dark Energy Mission could spot 3,000 more exo-planets
A NASA mission designed to probe the nature of dark energy may also help discover thousands more exo-planets. The Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) which is due to launch in the mid-2020’s will be able to capture 300 megapixels per image and would rely on gravitational microlensing to enable it to capture the images.
NASA has issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for commercial services for the ISS.
The International Space Station (ISS) Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS2) contract, a pre-solicitation conference is currently planned for August 7th with final proposals to be submitted by November 14th 2014.
The services requested are delivery of pressurized and unpressurized cargo, return and disposal of pressurized cargo, disposal of unpressurized cargo, special tasks and studies, and ground support services for the end-to-end cargo resupply services. The supplies to be delivered by terms of the contract include air, water, food, clothing, medicine, spare parts, and scientific experiments for use in the U.S. and International Partner experimental modules.
Russian EVA completed successfully
Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev conducted an extended seven-hour 23-minute spacewalk outside the International Space Station Thursday, installing a telemetry antenna, re-positioning an experiment and jettisoning a mounting fixture after moving another experiment to a recently installed payload boom.
They ran into several issues during the spacewalk trying to remove bolts that had been in place since the Zvezda module was first launched in July 2000, however were able to overcome those issues and complete the tasks successfully.
This was the first spacewalk for both Alexander and Oleg.
NASA wants to send Quadcopter Drone to Titan
While one NASA probe whizzes by Saturn’s moon Titan on Thursday to analyze its atmosphere, the American space agency is also considering a plan to send a quadcopter drone capable of searching for life.
The ambitious idea was outlined by Larry Matthies, a research scientist and supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California, and involves a drone that would be capable of flying out of a lander or balloon. The drone would explore the moon’s landscape and seas, collect samples, and return to the “mothership” in order to recharge its batteries and submit whatever it collects for analysis.
Sierra Nevada Corporation to Acquire Orbital Technologies Corporation
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), headquartered in Sparks, Nevada, announces that it has signed a definitive purchase agreement to acquire the Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) as a wholly-owned subsidiary of SNC. ORBITEC is a leading subsystems integrator and high technology development company based in Madison, Wisconsin. ORBITEC’s strong liquid rocket propulsion, life science and support, and fire suppression technology portfolio will enhance both SNC Space Systems’ Propulsion and Spacecraft Systems’ product lines.
The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) groundbreaking took place this week with a live Webcast of the first blast designed to flatten the mountaintop that the telescope will be built on.
The E-ELT will be the biggest optical/near-infrared telescope built so far with a 39m primary mirror made up of 768 hexagonal segments each 1.4m widfe and 5cm thick. It will collect more light than all of the existing 8–10-metre class telescopes on the planet combined, and 100 million times more light than the human eye.
Russian Dnepr rocket lofts record haul of 37 satellites
A Russian Dnepr rocket launched a record-breaking thirty-seven satellites on Friday morning local time, deploying a cluster of spacecraft for scientific research and commercial operation. The mission departed on schedule from Dombarovsky in Southern Russia at 01:11 local time (19:11 UTC on Thursday).
This launch saw the record for most spacecraft launched by a single rocket broken for the fourth time in less than a year.
NASA Announces Latest Progress, Upcoming Milestones in Hunt for Asteroids
NASA is on the hunt for an asteroid to capture with a robotic spacecraft, redirect to a stable orbit around the moon, and send astronauts to study in the 2020s — all on the agency’s human Path to Mars. Agency officials announced on Thursday recent progress to identify candidate asteroids for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), increase public participation in the search for asteroids, and advance the mission’s design.
NASA plans to launch the ARM robotic spacecraft in 2019 and will make a final choice of the asteroid for the mission about a year before the spacecraft launches. NASA is working on two concepts for the mission: the first is to fully capture a very small asteroid in open space, and the second is to collect a boulder-sized sample off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts would require redirecting an asteroid less than 32 feet (10 meters) in size into the moon’s orbit. The agency will choose between these two concepts in late 2014 and further refine the mission’s design.
This week SpaceX conducted another test flight of it’s F9R rocket, this time with deployable fins on the side of the rocket, these are designed to give the rocket more control during descent and is another step towards Elon Musk’s goal of having a fully re-usable Falcon 9 first stage.
No word yet when/if these will be flown on an actual Falcon 9 vehicle.
There may also be a possibility of testing the controlled descent on the Orbcomm flight scheduled for tonight.
SpaceX Launch later today (hopefully)
The Orbcomm OG2 launch has been rescheduled for later today, last Sunday’s attempt to scrapped to allow Orbcomm more time to verify their satellites were in a good configuration for launch. The launch window starts of 6:08pm EDT and extends for 53 minutes.
At time of publishing the forecast shows only a 30% change that weather would co-operate, with a slightly better 60% tomorrow. However the last launch had a low change of launching and they plugged away and got off the ground on time so there is a chance it will still go.
The ORB-2 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed again due to the on-going investigation into an AJ26 engine failure last month during testing. The Antares rocket which launches the Cygnus spacecraft uses two of the AJ26 engines on the first stage to orbit.
The new No Earlier Than (NET) date is July 1st, we will prove additional news when available on the launch date/time.
SLS design change could delay first crewed mission
NASA has decided to change the version of the second stage that will be used on the EM-2 crewed mission. Originally slated to be the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) stage that will be used on EM-1 they have now elected to use the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) stage that was originally scheduled to debut on EM-3. Due to this and the NASA Safety Office and Astronaut Office’s requirement that the upper stage complete at least one mission before any crew and be carried on it could mean that EM-3 becomes the first crewed mission for SLS in 2023.
An alternate option may be to add an additional flight between EM-1 and EM-2 which would be used to prove the EUS therefore allowing EM-2 to be the first crewed flight, however additional funding would be needed to achieve that. At present there are no future details as to the overall impact of the SLS schedule with primary focus on the EM-1 flight in 2017.
Progress M-21M undocks
This week the Progress M-21M spacecraft completed it’s mission to the ISS with a successful undocking and later burn up in the atmosphere. The cargo vehicle spent 144 days at the station having delivered almost 2,400 pounds of supplies it was then loaded with trash that was no longer needed. European Astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted the picture below of the Progress burning up in the atmosphere to conclude it’s orbital mission.
The ESA Rosetta spacecraft completed two big burns this week as it entered the final phase of its approach to the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after almost a decade journey. Unlike when it a spacecraft approaches a planet Rosetta will not be able to use the gravity of the comet to get into orbit but instead will need to execute a series of burns to precisely match the orbit.
It is currently approaching at a speed of 17,000 kpd (kilometers per day) and is currently less than 300,000 kilometers away. Over the next month and half it will continue to refine the orbit.
A team of Astronomers have discovered two new planets around a nearby red dwarf star Kapteyn, which is about 13 light years away in the southern constellation of Pictor. One of the planets Kapteyn c is considered to be too cold for life because of it’s distance from the star. However Kapteyn b is within the habitable zone and therefore could have liquid water on the surface. The planet is estimated to be 5 times the mass of earth, and has an orbital period of 48 days.
Boeing CST-100 News
This week Boeing showcased their CST-100 spacecraft which is one of the spacecraft that is competing for the Commercial Crew contract to deliver astronauts to the ISS.
The spacecraft will be launched by an Atlas 5 rocket and once in orbit will dock to the space station to deliver up to seven people to the station. During the return the spacecraft will utilize airbags when it lands.
Boeing also indicated that further progress on the CST-100 would depend on them getting a contract from NASA in the CCtCap process which is currently on-going.
AAA Needed on Mars for Curiosity Rover
The Mars Curiosity Rover which has been roaming around on Mars for almost a year is starting show ware and tare from the journey so far.
Originally expected to take a year to get to the base of Mt. Sharp the rover is currently half way there and clearly showing signs of damage from the un-yielding rocks as it moves over the surface.
Hmm wonder what the call out charge would be for AAA to replace the wheel, sign me up for that trip.
Russia plans Biggest Rocket since 1960s
The chief of the Federal Space Agency in Russia, Oleg Ostapenko said this week, while visiting Crimea, that they would need to build a super-heavy rocket capable of lifting between 80 to 85 tons to earth orbit in order to realize it’s lunar ambitions.
100 Million Planets may Harbor Complex Life in Milky Way
Scientists from the University of Texas have released findings based on the “first plausible assessment of complex life in the universe using empirical data.” The findings estimate that there could be as many as 100 million planets in our galaxy that may harbor some form of complex alien life. The article also says that our galaxy is one of approximately 500 billion in the universe.
Author Note: The estimate of galaxies in this article seems to be very high a factor of 2.5-5 times higher than most other articles or current estimates.
Trillion Dollar Market
This week Planetary Resources released a video, explaining why they believe fuel from asteroids will create a Trillion Dollar market in the future. Currently satellite operators have to pay for total weight of the spacecraft, including any fuel needed for the life of vehicle.
Smoke detected on ISS Tuesday, crew were not in danger
This week smoke was detected on the ISS, in the Zvezda Service Module, requiring flight controllers to initiate emergency procedures to isolate the modules ventilation system while the source of the some was identified. The crew were never in any danger and the problem was quickly determined to be a heater that was used for water reclamation. The heater was deactivated, a fan and filter was then setup to clear the smoke.
Kepler Candidate List updated
The NASA Kepler project updated the number of Kepler candidates and confirmed planets from 3,845 to 4,254. There are now up to one hundred potentially habitable worlds in the Kepler candidates, 30 matching the conservative definition of a potentially habitable.
Pluto and Charon news
Pluto has often been considered a binary planet with its largest moon Charon, it now seems that they may both also share a thin atmosphere. While it is impossible to detect the atmosphere using ground based technology the New Horizon’s spacecraft that is current racing towards Pluto will have the ability to detect it.
We will know more in 2015 after the flyby has been completed and the data is back on earth.
Sierra Nevada Corporation who are building the Dream Chaser spacecraft that is competing for the contract to fly astronauts to the ISS this week announced a new partnership with Craig Technologies, a Cape Canaveral based company. The company will be responsible for the design engineering and manufacture of Dream Chaser.
The 3D Printer developed by Made In Space has passed the final certification by NASA and will now be launched to the ISS on the next SpaceX mission in August. The printer was originally planned to launch on the SpaceX 5 mission but having completed all the milestones needed ahead of schedule they will now only need to wait until then to see the printer in action.
Once on the station a series of tests will be run to verify the ability to created printed parts in a micro-gravity environment.
England’s Sky News has reported that Google and Virgin Galactic have been in talks for months regarding a potential investment by Google. While no deal has been finalized it is believe to be a part of Google plans to launch a fleet of satellites to provide Internet access to the whole planet.
The launch of six Orbcomm satellites on a Falcon 9 has been delayed again, originally scheduled for Thursday this week after previous delays the date was changed to Sunday after a problem was found with one of the satellites.
While the problem with the satellite appears to have been resolved Orbcomm have decided to perform additional testing to verify the issue has been fully addressed. In order to complete the analysis the June 15 launch date is no longer achievable and they are working with SpaceX to identify a new launch date.
NASA’s Maven spacecraft is 100 days away from Mars
The NASA Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft which launched last November is now 100 days away from arriving at Mars.
Last Sunday at 3:05pm the SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully completed it’s CRS-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with a splashdown in the Pacific ocean.
Launched on April 18th aboard a Falcon 9 rocket the Dragon spacecraft, carrying nearly 5,000 lbs of supplies and payloads including two in the un-pressurized trunk, the craft was deployed to orbit following the successful launch. On April 20th the craft was captured by the station’s robot arm and berthed allowing access to the cargo. On Sunday the craft was unberthed from the station carrying 3,500 lbs or cargo. After successfully backing away from the station, later in the day the craft was commanded executed de-orbit burn which concluded with the splashdown.
This was the longest orbital mission so far for Dragon at 29 days, 23 hours and 40 minutes.
On Tuesday the spacecraft arrived at the Port of Long Beach in Southern California where time-sensitive cargo was off-loaded and handed over to NASA, the spacecraft will now travel to the test facility in McGregor, Texas where the rest of the cargo will be off-loaded and handed over to NASA.
On Wednesday it was reported that during the landing there was some water seepage into the spacecraft after the landing, however it doesn’t appear that this caused any issues with the experiments on board. However due to this event NASA will require resulting from an investigation by SpaceX and any changes needed to avoid this happening again before the next Dragon flight will be approved.
Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide upper-stage propulsion for RELS
Aerojet Rocketdyne announced on Monday they had received a contract to supply six RL10C-1 engines, with an option for six additional engines. These engines will by used by the third stage of the revolutionary air-launch system being build by Stratolaunch Systems Corporation (SSC).
The three stage rocket being developed will be dropped from a carrier aircraft when it reaches the desired altitude, once released the rocket will begin it’s power flight into orbit.
The Government Accountability Office report on the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft indicates that NASA has masked the true cost of being the pair by neglecting to say what the system will cost to build for each flight.
So far there are only two missions slated for the combined vehicle and the estimated cost through 2021 is $22 billion.
While I believe NASA needs to have a crewed vehicle for deep space missions it would be interesting to see what SpaceX or another commercial company could create for $22 billion.
New Cameras to Probe Planets beyond our Solar System
Two new camera’s designed to image Jupiter class planets orbiting other stars and their atmospheres have been brought online. The European Southern Observatories Very Large Telescope camera Sphere saw first light on May 4, and the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South Observatory has reported back on data gathered from it’s first light.
Japanese researchers announced the discovery of a site of planet formation around a young star in the Lupus Constellation in the southern sky, it’s name is Latin for wolf.
The researchers found a proto-planetary disk around the star HD142527 and the dust appears to be concentrated in the upper part of the ring. The observations where made using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA).
This week Elon Musk received the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award during the 22rd annual International Space Development Conference, after receiving the aware he talked further about the progress that SpaceX was making towards a permanent base on Mars and also more on the re-usable rocket tests.
The FAA have issued regulations establishing requirements for crew and space flight participants involved in private human space flight. The new rules maintain the FAA’s commitment to protect the safety of the public.
NASA and ATK moved a step closer to the 2017 launch of the first SLS this week with the completion of a significant structural test of the booster’s main attachment mechanism. The article tested was a major load-bearing structure known as the skirt.
The Mars Opportunity Rover has returned this Martian Vista from the ridge line of Endeavour Crater
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover spent several months exploring portions of Murray Ridge. Since reaching the local high point on the ridge line from which this panorama was taken, the rover has proceeded southward to reach an exposure of aluminum-rich clay detected from orbit.
Construction has begun on the new Mars lander Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) is scheduled to launch March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from California. The mission will provide NASA with information toward their goal of sending a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Meet Quaoar, the Planetoid Beyond Pluto
Most people know of Pluto which for a long time was the 9th planet before being demoted, however there are many more objects beyond the last planet Neptune that many may not be aware off.
The following article introduces one of those objects a planetoid in the outer edges of our solar system called Quaoar. Discovered in 2002 it heralded a new age in Astronomy, this and a few other worlds being discovered caused the International Astronomical Union to form a new classification system for planets, planetoids and dwarf planets.
SpaceX launch of Orbcomm Satellites targeted for June 11th
SpaceX has re-aligned the next launch to No Earlier Than (NET) June 11th. The delay were caused by a Helium leak in the first stage that was found during fueling for the Static Fire Test.
This leak was a different location to a leak that delayed the CRS-3 mission, although further details were not available it seems likely that it was around the Composite Overwrap Pressure Vessels (COPV) which are used to pressurize the vehicle.
It is not clear yet if the issue has been repaired but SpaceX are working towards this date and a new Static Fire will be performed at some point before then.
The Planetary Society responds to coverage of ISS statements by Russia
The Planetary Societies Blogger Casey Dreier posted this week a response to all the coverage of the ISS suitation since Russia made statements regarding the status of the station.
Firstly there were two issues in the statements, one relating to the RD-180 engines which has been covered previously and the second relating to the station.
In summary the current operation plan for the station runs until 2020, NASA with the approval of the White House proposed to extend this until 2024, however as of yet none of the other partners had actually signed onto this new plan. However it was originally thought that Russia were interested in the extension however since the tensions over Ukraine that no longer seems to be be case.
However given that there are over six years left in the current operational plan there is nothing to say the situation won’t change again.
Space station’s Sphere’s use Google smartphone tech
The free-flying Spheres modules on the International Space Station will now be aided by Google’s Project Tango to assist the crew in mundane tasks. Project Tango is a smartphone project by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group which tracks the 3D motion of the device and create a 3D model of the environment around it.
The Spheres modules short for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites has been tested on the station since 2003 and with this latest upgrade will be able to perform more functions.
The Spheres project was originally inspired by Star Wars.
SpaceX DragonFly test vehicle revealed
In further SpaceX news this week details of the DragonFly test vehicle became available. The vehicle will be tested at SpaceX’s McGregor facility and consists of a 7 ton Dragon capsule equipped with eight SuperDraco thrusters, an integrated trunk and up to four landing legs. The vehicle will be put through a series propulsive landing tests to validate the design and to enable future Dragon vehicles to perform a land based landing.
One of the Aerojet AJ-26 main engines for the Antares rocket suffered extensive damage during a test firing at the Stennis Space Center this week. Before the engine’s can be used for an actual launch they are test fired to verify everything is working correctly.
At present it is not known if this failure will have any impact on the June 10th launch of an Antares carrying the Cygnus spacecraft on it’s next visit to the ISS.