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Commercial Exoplanets ISS Mars Missions Space

Weekly Space Blog 7/6

Another busy week in space

Cassini captures picture of Saturn Moon Janus
This week Cassini returned a picture of one of Saturn’s small lumpy moon’s named Janus, the moon doesn’t have sufficient gravity to pull itself into a round shape as seen with most other moons.  For more pictures of the moon check out the web page here.

Ad Astra VF-200 Reaches important review milestone
This week Ad Astra Rocket Company announced that they had completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for their 200kW engine design for testing in space.  After more than a year of planning the Ad Astra Engineers and Physicists as well as NASA engineers completed the review.  The PDR incorporates the knowledge gained over several years from the VX-200 test engine as well as multiple conceptual designs carried out by Ad Astra.  This is an important step towards the flight of the VF-200 engine on the International Space Station in the future.  For further information check out the press release here.

ExoPlanet News
Three articles appeared this week regarding ExoPlanets.  The first reported the findings of a study by the University of Chicago suggests that the habitable zone of ExoPlanets can be extended by cloud behavior on the planet.  The results show that the influence of cloud cover could double the number of habitable planets found around Red Dwarf starts meaning that in our galaxy alone there could be 60+ billion planets.  For more information check out the press release here.

The second report Astronomers have uncovered the hidden identity of an ExoPlanet orbiting the star HD 97658.  Based on there observations they estimate the planet HD 97658b is between 2 and 8 times the size of Earth, while the planet itself is not new the size and mass of the planet is.  For more information check out the article here.

The third article to appear relates not to actual ExoPlanet’s but instead to their moons, the search for ExoMoons.  A team led by Dr. David Kipping at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has jumped at this challenge.  For further information check out the paper here.

World Premiere of IMAX 3D Hidden Universe
This week saw the World Premiere of the new IMAX 3D movie Hidden Universe.  Check out the official web site for more information and current locations to see it.

ARKYD Funded
Following a frantic finish including a four hour live presentation and $100,000 donation from Richard Branson the Planetary Resources team raised over $1.6m for the telescope.  They are currently planning to launch an grace period to allow those who weren’t able to contribute to still be involved.  Check out the page here.

Indian PSLV Launch
This week a Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carrier the first of the Indian Regional Satellite Navigation System spacecraft into orbit.  Following a successful launch the spacecraft was placed into the expected transfer orbit.  The system will eventually consist of four spacecraft and will provide navigation accuracy to India to about 20 meters.

Proton Launch Failure
The Russian space program suffered a major setback this week when one of their unmanned Proton rockets failed 20 seconds into it’s mission.  The rocket launched as expected but very soon it was clear something was very wrong when the craft veered to the left and then right before breaking apart and exploding.  Future flights of the Proton have been suspending pending the outcome of a review to determine what caused the failure.

ISS Changes position for Solar Science
This week the International Space Station changed it’s position to accommodate Solar Science research being performed by European Scientists into what the solar activities mean for our planet.  Check out the full article here.

SpaceX completed two more milestones
SpaceX announced this week that they had completed two more milestones in their CCiCap plan towards manned spaceflight using the Dragon vehicle.  In the first milestone SpaceX outlined the steps they will take towards certifying there system for human spaceflight.  In the second they outlined the plan for their Pad Abort test which will demonstrate the ability for the Dragon Spacecraft to fly away from the Falcon Rocket should something go wrong during launch.  For more information check out the press release here and while you are there check out NASA new web site layout.

NASA lays out plans for Commercial Crew Test Flights
This week NASA announced their plans for the actual test flights utilizing Commercial Vehicles to the International Space Station.  These flights will include NASA astronauts onboard and result in a visit to the ISS.  The new test phase called CCtCap is expected to kick off next summer and will include at least one crewed test flight.  For further information check out the press release here.

Two new Pluto Moon names revealed
This week the two newest of Pluto’s five known moon were named Kerberos and Styx.  The names were actually placed second and third in an international competition to name the moons, however the winning entry Vulcan was vetoed by the International Astronomy Union.

Cluster detects elusive Solar Wind
The Cluster spacecraft has provided conclusive evidence of a space wind proposed 20 years ago.  Analysis of the data returned by the spacecraft showed a slow but steady wind releasing about 1kg of plasma from the plasmasphere around our planet.  For more information check out he article here.

Gemini Observatory New Optics
2013_saaa_legacy_med_945Astronomers recently got their hands on Gemini Observatory’s revolutionary new adaptive optics system, called GeMS, “and the data are truly spectacular!” says Robert Blum, Deputy Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory with funding by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

For further information check out the full article here.

Opportunity just keeps going
The Mars Rover Opportunity has reached the half way mark of it’s journey to “Solander Point.” where mission control plans for it to spend the next Martian Winter.  The rover which touched down on the red planet Jan 24, 2004 to begin a 90 sol (Martian Day) mission is rapidly approaching 10 years on the planet.

NASA readies rescue plan for Kepler
The team behind the successful Kepler mission announced this week that they will being trying to revive the spacecraft mid to late July.

And Finally
I have decided to change this section to list some of the great video(s) that I find during the week.  Enjoy

The Next-Generation Canadarn 
Karen Nyberg chat 
Next Space Station Spacewalk Brief

Categories
Commercial Exoplanets Mars Space

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.

Categories
Mars Space

The History of Mars Exploration (NASA)

To follow up the successful launch of MSL, which NASA confirmed last night was inserted into an almost perfect trajectory towards Mars, today we take a look at the history of successful Mars Exploration missions by NASA.

The History of Mars Exploration

Year Name Type Summary
1964 Mariner 4 Flyby First spacecraft to flyby of Mars and return close-up pictures of the surface.  Returned 21 images during the flyby.
1969 Mariner 6 Flyby Returned 75 images during flyby and provided data used to program Mariner 7 for it’s flyby five days later.
1969 Mariner 7 Flyby Returned 126 images during it’s flyby.
1971 Mariner 9 Orbiter First spacecraft to orbit another planet, returned 7,329 images while operational.  Still in orbit today and will remain so until about 2022.
1975 Viking 1 Orbiter/Lander First spacecraft to land on Mars, was operational for 2245 sols, contact was lost when a faulty command sequence sent from the ground overwrote the antenna pointing software. The Viking 1 Lander was named the Thomas Mutch Memorial Station in January 1982 in honor of the leader of the Viking imaging team.
1975 Viking 2 Orbiter/Lander Twin of Viking 1 and second spacecraft to land on Mars.  Viking two was operation for 1281 sols, during which time it returned over 16,000 images and a large amount of scientific data.
1996 Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter Arrived at Mars 9/12/1997, began mapping operations in 1996, lose of contact 11/2/2006
1996 Mars Pathfinder Lander/Rover Lander on Mars 7/4/1997, deployed rover Sojourner to explore the surface around the lander.  The lander sent more than 16,500 pictures and made 8.5 million measurements of the atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind speed. Lander renamed Carl Sagan Memorial Station.
2001 Mars Odyssey Orbiter Arrived at Mars 10/24/2001, began orbital operations 2/19/2002.  Still operational today.  As well as providing a large amount of images and scientific data the craft is used as a relay for MER and Phoenix.
2003 Mars Exploration Rover – Spirit Rover See MER Post
2003 Mars Exploration Rover – Opportunity Rover See MER Post
2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Orbiter Arrived at Mars 3/10/2006, began orbital operations in 11/2006.  Still operational today with a variety of scientific instruments.  Also provides relay capabilities to MER.  MRO’s telecommunications systems will transfer more data back to earth than all previous spacecraft sent to the planet combined, more than 26 terabits.
2007 Phoenix Mars Lander Lander PML arrived on Mars 5/28/2008 and was operational for 155 sols, the original mission was designed for 90 sols.  The instruments were designed to look for microbial life and water.  Returned more than 25 gigabits of scientific data for analysis.
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Mars Space

MSL – Launch Pictures

Pictures from this morning’s launch of MSL (captured from NASA TV)

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Mars Space

Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity

This morning the massive Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) launched torwards Mars.  Scheduled to land in August 2012 the rover will bring a host of scientific instruments to the planet and continue the exploration that started in 1975 with the Viking landers.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)

By far the largest rover every launched to another planet the MSL is a risky mission.  The rover is five times bigger and carriers more than ten times the mass of scientific instruments than the MER rovers.  In additional MSL will attempt the first precision landing on Mars, which will be achieved by a sky crane that will lower the rover to the surface before flying off and crashing into the surface.

Unlike it’s predecessors, which were solar powered, MSL will use an radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs).  This will allow the rover to operate day and night and also has the advantage that the heat generated by the process can be used to keep the components warm meaning more electricity will be available to the instruments.

Once on the surface the rover will wake up and begin it’s mission, designed to operate for at least a martian year (668 Martian sols/686 Earth days) MSL will using it’s various scientific instruments to determine the habitability of Mars for microbial life.

MSL is carrying an impressive array of instruments which will enable it to take samples of Martian rocks and analyze them.  Rather than repeat the information I have included a link to the Mars Science Laboratory site.

The plan is to land MSL at Gale Crater which spans 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter and holds a mountain rising higher from the crater floor than Mount Rainier rises above Seattle. Gale is about the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Layering in the mound suggests it is the surviving remnant of an extensive sequence of deposits. The crater is named for Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale.[1]

Now all we have to do is wait until next August when Curiosity lands.

Sources
1 – http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-222#1

Categories
Mars Space

Mars Exploration Rovers

Tomorrow NASA will be launching the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) to begin an eight month journey to the red planet.  Today we take a look at it’s predecessors the highly successful Mars Exploration Rovers.

Mars Exploration Rovers (MER)

Launched in 2003 the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity were sent to explore the surface and geology of Mars.  The two rovers were launching within a month of each other and used an airbag landing to arrive on the surface of Mars eight months later in early 2004.

Each rover was designed to operate for 90 sols (Sol is a day on Mars, which is almost 40m longer than a day on earth).  The rovers far exceeded there designed life with Spirit finally giving up after ~2208 sols.  Opportunity is still operational today over 2777 sols after arriving on the planet.

The rovers have provided a wealth of information from the surface of Mars and have demonstrated that we can operate in distant environments for extended periods of time.

While the rovers have been active for a long time they certainly have had some luck along the way and have to rest during the winter months due to not having enough solar energy to charge the battery.

Several times during the mission NASA noticed that the power levels on the rovers suddenly increased having declined due to the buildup of dust on the solar panels.  They determine later that these were because of wind gusts called dust devil’s that had hit the rover cleaning off the dust, this was confirmed in 2010 when Opportunity spotted a wind gust (dust devil).

Since arriving on the planet each of the rovers has sent back a large amount of pictures,  including panoramic views of the environment around the rover.  These images are available on NASA’s Mars Rover web site.

We don’t know how much longer Opportunity will operate for, soon it will enter it’s next winter hibernation period.  However as long as it has power, is communicating and NASA has funding we can expect more from the amazing rover.

Opportunity's View Approaching Rim of Endeavour Crater
Categories
Mars Space

Risky Business

As I said yesterday we could learn a lot from Russia and how they handled the Progress accident in August, however it would be remiss of me not to talk about the Phobos-Grunt mission that is currently stuck in low earth orbit (LEO) and not communicating.

There can be no doubt that space missions are dangerous business, the fact that you strap spacecraft and people to the bottom of a large cylinder and then mix dangerous chemicals together to produce thrust to launch them from 0 to 17,000+ mph in 8 minutes is going to be risky for some time.

For those who don’t know Russia launched the Phobos-Grunt mission last week which was supposed to travel to Mars’ moon Phobos and return with samples taken from the surface. However after launch they were not able to communicate with the spacecraft and it never left LEO. All attempts to contact the craft since have failed and now it could potentially crash back to ever in early December. Most of the toxic fuel on board should burn up on re-entry but that is not ALL therefore there is still potential for it to cause damage.

Later this month NASA will be launching the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) from Cape Canaveral and hopefully everything goes well. However the mission is not cheap at well over two billion US dollars to build there is a lot that could go wrong.

So why do I care?
I think the future for space missions is to build cheaper machines but more of them, if we launched six smaller rovers to Mars that could work together to achieve the ultimate goal then even if we lost one or two we could still complete the mission even if it took longer.

How would you get them all there?
SpaceX (www.spacex.com) have published their rocket prices, my proposal for the first mission would be to fit within the weight structure of the Falcon Heavy launchers and send the craft two at a time during a 6 week launch window. Once they arrive at Mars they would land in close proximity to each other. The landers would then serve as the communication relay back to earth, giving redundancy to the system.  While this does cost more it again reduces the risk to the mission by not putting everything on a single Launcher or Lander.

How would they work together?
One of the rovers would serve as the Master rover issuing commands to all the others to complete the tasks required. Should the Master fail at any point another will take over the responsibility.

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