Philae Lands on 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Today the European Space Agency and it’s partners around the world successfully landed the Philae spacecraft on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Philae Lander imaged from Rosetta
Philae Lander imaged from Rosetta

The Philae lander was launched on 2 March 2004 aboard ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft which has travelling billions of miles since then and has been in orbit around 67P since August this year (see previous post).

Following selection of a landing site based on the images gather by Rosetta while in orbit the lander detached at 08:35 UTC this morning and spent seven hours lowering itself to land.  Due to the distance from Earth confirmation of the different events took ~28 minutes, ESA confirmed that Philae touched down as expected and initially thought that the landing mechanism needed to secure the lander in place had been successful.

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Later it was confirmed that while the lander is on the surface the landing was softer then expected and the landing harpoons had not actually fired.  They are evaluating the options to ensure they can complete the landed part of the mission.  Due to the lack of gravity the lander will not stay in place without the harpoons attaching to the surface.

Image of Comet from Philae as it descended
Image of Comet from Philae as it descended
Image from Surface of 67P
Image from Surface of 67P

Update: ESA have reported that they have been getting intermittent communications from the lander once it was on the surface.  They have some data that could indicate that they may have bounced off the surface again and was moving, they are looking into this further to determine if this is the case.  About two hours after the first landing indications the movement of the lander stopped which means they could have landed again on the comet.

We will update this article we when have further news on the status of Philae.

Exciting times in Space

A lot has happened in Space or related to Space recently and the future is looking very bright.

Below is a summary of some of the recent news and upcoming events.

SpaceX and Boeing awarded CCtCap contracts – We now have two companies contracted to build manned spacecraft to deliver crew to the ISS.  Currently only two other countries have the ability to do this.  See my full article on the awards here.

ULA and Blue Origin announce BE-4 engine – Following pressure from various sources ULA have announced they are going to partner with Blue Origin to build the engine which will allow them to move away from the Russian RD-180 engine for Atlas.  Full article include specs can be found here.

Mars Orbiters arriving soon – This Sunday NASA’s Mars Maven orbiter will be arriving at the planet and next Wednesday India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is also expected to arrive.  They will join three other orbiters currently at Mars and the two active Rovers on the surface.

ESA Rosetta Lander Philae has a landing site – The European Space Agency has announced the landing site for Philae which is part of the Rosetta mission.  This will be the first time a vehicle has landed on the surface of a Comet.  For more information on the mission check out the excellent ESA Blog for Rosetta.

First 3D Printer heading to space – Early tomorrow morning SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission is scheduled to lift off, on board will be the first 3D printer to go into space.  The possibilities this opens up for the future are immeasurable.  For more information on the printer check out this page.  We will be posting an update tomorrow morning following the launch of CRS-4.

 

Rosetta arrives at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Close up image of 67P taken today by Rosetta as it arrived
Close up image of 67P taken today by Rosetta as it arrived

After a 10 year, 5 month, 4 day journey the European Space Agencies Rosetta spacecraft has arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.  Having spent the last few weeks refining it’s approach and returning amazing images (see below) of the Comet it finally arrived in it’s initial orbit earlier this morning.  Due to the small size and low gravity of the Comet the spacecraft is in a triangular orbit which is controlled by thruster firings.

The Rosetta spacecraft consists of two separate vehicles and orbiter and lander which is named Philae.

Now that the spacecraft is in orbit the mission team will now spent the next few weeks taking images to determine the best location for the lander which is expected to touchdown on the comet in November this year.  Once on the surface the lander will being it’s science mission, the two vehicles will observe the comet as it travels around the Sun over the 13 months from November 2014 to December 2015 returning unprecedented data of the processes that occur as it approaches the Sun and then moves away again.

The orbiter is carrying the following instruments

ALICE: Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer – analyses gases in the coma and tail and measures the comet’s production rates of water and carbon monoxide/dioxide. It also provides information on the surface composition of the nucleus.

CONSERT: COmet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radio wave Transmission – probes the comet’s interior by studying radio waves that are reflected and scattered by the nucleus.

COSIMA: COmetary Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer – will analyse the characteristics of dust grains emitted by the comet, including their composition and whether they are organic or inorganic.

GIADA: Grain Impact Analyser and Dust Accumulator – measures the number,mass, momentum and velocity distribution of dust grains coming from the nucleus and from other directions (reflected by solar radiation pressure).

MIDAS: Micro-Imaging Dust Analysis System – studies the dust environment around the asteroids and comet. It provides information on particle population, size, volume and shape.

MIRO: Microwave Spectrometer for the Rosetta Orbiter – is used to determine the abundances of major gases, the surface outgassing rate and the nucleus subsurface temperature.

OSIRIS: Optical, Spectroscopic, and InfraRed Remote Imaging System – has a wide-angle camera and narrow-angle camera that can obtain high-resolution images of the comet’s nucleus.

ROSINA: Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis – contains two sensors which will determine the composition of the comet’s atmosphere and ionosphere, the velocities of electrified gas particles, and reactions in which they take part. It will also investigate possible asteroid outgassing.

RPC Rosetta Plasma Consortium – In this instrument, five sensors measure the physical properties of the nucleus, examine the structure of the inner coma,monitor cometary activity, and study the comet’s interaction with the solar wind.

RSI: Radio Science Investigation – Frequency shifts in the spacecraft’s radio signals will be used to measure the mass and gravity of the comet nucleus in order to deduce its density and internal structure, to define the comet’s orbit, and to study its inner coma. RSI has already determined the mass and density of the asteroid Lutetia during the flyby in 2010, and studied the solar corona during the periods when the spacecraft, as seen from Earth, was passing behind the Sun (in 2006 and 2010).

VIRTIS: Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer – maps and studies the nature of the solids and the temperature on the surface of the nucleus. Also identifies comet gases, characterises the physical conditions of the coma and helps to identify the best landing sites.

The lander is carrying the following instruments

APXS: Alpha X-ray Spectrometer – is lowered to within 4 cm of the ground, it detects alpha particles and X-rays, which provide information on the elemental composition of the comet’s surface.

ÇIVA: Six identical micro-cameras take panoramic pictures of the surface. A spectrometer studies the composition, texture and albedo (reflectivity) of samples collected from the surface.

CONSERT: Comet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission – probes the internal structure of the nucleus. Radio waves from the CONSERT experiment on the orbiter travel through the nucleus and are returned by a transponder on the lander.

COSAC: Cometary Sampling and Composition experiment – is one of One of two evolved gas analysers, it detects and identifies complex organic molecules from their elemental and molecular composition.

PTOLEMY: is an evolved gas analyser, which obtains accurate measurements of isotopic ratios of light elements.

MUPUS: Multi-Purpose Sensors for Surface and Subsurface Science – uses sensors on the Lander’s anchor, probe and exterior to measure the density, thermal and mechanical properties of the surface.

ROLIS: Rosetta Lander Imaging System – is a CCD camera to obtain high-resolution images during descent and stereo panoramic images of areas sampled by other instruments.

ROMAP: Rosetta Lander Magnetometer and Plasma Monitor – is a magnetometer and plasma monitor study the local magnetic field and the comet/solar-wind interaction.

SD2: Sample and Distribution Device – drills more than 20 cm into the surface, collects samples and delivers them to different ovens or for microscope inspection.

SESAME: Surface Electrical Sounding and Acoustic Monitoring Experiments – Three instruments measure properties of the comet’s outer layers. The Cometary Acoustic Sounding Surface Experiment (CASSE) measures the way in which sound travels through the surface. The Permittivity Probe (PP) investigates its electrical characteristics, and the Dust Impact Monitor (DIM) measures dust falling back to the surface.

For more information on the spacecraft check out the mission page here, for the latest images and news check out the mission blog here.

Comet 67P Images
Combination of Comet 67P images created by Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society

Weekly Space Blog 6/13

Orbital ISS Launched Delayed again

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.

ProgressM21M

Rosetta Update

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.

For more information in the Rosetta mission check out the page here.

Two new exo-planets found around Kapteyn

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

Rover Wheel DamageThe 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.

The full article can be found here.

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.

Check out the video here.

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.

HEC_All_Distance

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.

Check out the fall article here.

In a separate article researchers suggest that if cracks are found in the surface of Pluto that could indicate that the interior was once warm enough to sustain an underground ocean.

Check out the full article here.

Dream Chaser News

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 full press release can be found here.

3D Printer heading to ISS on next SpaceX mission

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.

The full press release can be found here.

Rumor: Google and Virgin Galactic in talks

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 full article can be found here.

SpaceX’s Orbcomm Launch delayed again

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.

Check out the mission here.