Weekly Links

Down to Earth

NASA conducted a parachute test for the Orion spacecraft.

Blue Origin performed another flight test of their New Shepard rocket, complete with escape motor test. Video below (jump to 34:30).

In Orbit

The only orbital launch of the last week was a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch early on Sunday, July 22nd. The rocket carried a private communications satellite for Telstar into a geosynchronous orbit. The first stage booster of the block 5 variant was recovered on an autonomous drone ship.

Notable upcoming launches include an Ariane 5 launch on July 25th, a Falcon 9 launch from California on July 25th, and a Falcon 9 launch from Florida on August 2.

Around the Solar System

You guessed it – no new status from the Opportunity rover, still dormant under a global dust storm.

Out at Jupiter, astronomers have identified a dozen previously undiscovered moons at distant orbits around the gas giant.

Out There

If you like the intersection of science and art like I do, you might enjoy this audio “visualization” of the orbits of the planets in the Trappist-1 system.

 

July 22, 2018 9:47 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

NASA announced a new class of 6 flight directors for human spaceflight at Johnson Space Center.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) performed a pad abort test of their launch escape tower for future crewed spaceflights.

Launch towers at Launch Complex 17 at Cape Canaveral were demolished last week. These launch towers were built for the now retired Delta II rocket. Instead, Moon Express will use the site.

Launch industry newcomer Rocket Lab plans to open a second launch site somewhere in the USA.

James Morhard has been nominated to the open position of NASA deputy administrator.

Astronaut Dan Burbank has retired from NASA.

In Orbit

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has entered a hibernation mode as it nears the end of its long mission.

There were three orbital rocket launches since my last post on July 1st:

Operations have been busy on the International Space Station. The Dragon resupply ship that launched at the end of June arrived at ISS on July 2nd. Then the above mentioned Progress resupply arrived.

On Sunday morning, the latest Cygnus cargo spacecraft departed the ISS packed full of trash. Before it left, it performed a demonstration maneuver to reboost the ISS.

Upcoming notable launches include a SpaceX launch from Florida on July 20th and a SpaceX launch from California on July 22nd. Still no firm launch date on the rescheduled Rocket Lab launch.

Around the Solar System

Still no update from NASA’s Opportunity rover, which has been socked in by a dust storm on Mars.

July 15, 2018 9:35 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Russia will stop building the Proton rocket.

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been officially delayed to 2021.

Virgin Orbit has been granted an FAA launch license for its first launch from California.

In Orbit

There were two orbital rocket launches during the last week. On June 27th, China launched a Long March 2C rocket carrying two satellites into orbit. On July 29th, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida, carrying a Dragon cargo craft scheduled for arrival at ISS on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, Rocket Lab was not able to launch last week and has delayed their first commercial flight.

Around the Solar System

Out at Mars, there were no updates on the dust storm of the status of the dormant rover Opportunity.

After weeks of a slow approach, Japan’s probe Hayabusa-2 has arrived at asteroid Ryugu, with gorgeous views of the never before explored rock.

Astronomers have new evidence that the interstellar visitor ‘Omuamua was actually a comet, not an asteroid.

July 1, 2018 5:03 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will take advantage on an open seat in an upcoming Soyuz flight to ISS and fly their first homegrown astronaut into orbit.

The US Air Force has awarded a contract to SpaceX to launch a DOD satellite on a Falcon Heavy in 2020.

Last week the President of the United States signed Space Policy Directive 3, which establishes a formal National Space Traffic Management Policy.

In Orbit

There were no orbital rocket launches or major mission events at the International Space Station last week. However, the NanoRacks Remove Debris (or RemDeb) satellite was deployed from the ISS. This satellite will demonstrate techniques for reducing orbital debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The ISS crew continues to be busy with maintenance and science as always. Here’s a selection of some of their most interesting photos posted to Twitter last week.

In upcoming launches, Rocket Lab will attempt to launch their next Electron rocket on Tuesday (New Zealand time) and SpaceX will launch their next Dragon resupply to ISS next Friday.

Around the Solar System

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 continues to get closer to its destination, asteroid Ryugu. Some more detailed images of the unexplored rock were downlinked last week.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been slowly lowering its orbit around asteroid Ceres to get new unprecedented views of the dwarf planet.

The large dust storm on the surface of Mars continues, with no contact from the rover Opportunity. Rover Curiosity continues to operate in Gale Crater, sending back this recent dusty “selfie.”

Data from Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft, which orbits Venus, has returned some interesting results about the variability of the planet’s day-night cycle.

June 24, 2018 2:34 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Peggy Whitson, the American astronaut with the most day’s in space, has retired from NASA.

Orbital ATK is no officially a division of Northrop Grumman.

An interesting Pew Research Center poll was getting some media coverage last week, after it showed that the American public’s priorities for NASA do not line up with its official priorities (at least when you measure “priorities” by funding levels).

Check out the trailer for the upcoming film First Man.

The new NASA Johnson Space Center director, Mark Geyer, now has a twitter account.

The soccer ball used to kickoff the 2018 FIFA World Cup was previously flown to the ISS.

In Orbit

There were four orbital rocket launches since my last post on June 5th:

  • June 5 – China launched a Long March 3A rocket carrying a weather satellite.
  • June 6 – Russia launched a Soyuz rocket carrying three new crew members to the ISS.
  • June 12 – Japan launched an HII-A rocket carrying a reconnaissance satellite.
  • June 16 – Russian launched a Soyuz rocket carrying a GLONASS navigation satellite.

In upcoming launches, Rocket Lab will launch its first commercial flight from New Zealand on June 23rd.

The Soyuz crew arrived at the ISS a couple of days after launch, bringing the onboard crew to six withSergey Prokopyev, Serena Auñón-Chancellor, and Alex Gerst now onboard.

Astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold completed a nearly 7-hour spacewalk at the ISS last Thursday, in order to complete maintenance activities and install new cameras.

Around the Solar System

A major dust storm on Mars has caused NASA to lose contact with the solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity. The rover is in low power mode waiting out the storm. Mission controllers are waiting for sufficient battery charge to allow the rover to restore communications.

Fortunately, the nuclear powered rover Curiosity can keep on roaming through the dust storm. It captured this image of the hazy sky from Gale Crater.

Scientists with the Curiosity mission published two new papers detailing discoveries related to season methane concentrations in the atmosphere and ancient organic molecules in rock samples.

An extension to NASA’s Juno mission, currently in orbit of Jupiter, has been approved.

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is now close enough to asteroid Ryugu that it has been able to image the small rock.

Out There

Astronomers have made observation of a “tidal event” in which a star is seen falling into a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy.

June 17, 2018 12:52 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Legendary astronaut and moonwalker, Alan Bean, died at age 86.

Air Force test pilot and Shuttle astronaut, Don Peterson, died at age 84.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo had another powered test flight.

Garrett Reisman, a former astronaut who had been serving at SpaceX as the director of space operations, has taken a new faculty position at USC.

NASA obtained imagery of the volcanic eruption in Guatemala.

The President of the United States signed Space Policy Directive 2, which aims to reduce the regulatory burden on commercial spaceflight.

In Orbit

A number of orbital rocket launches since my last post on May 20th:

Notable rocket launches coming up include a Soyuz rocket with 3 astronauts launching form Kazakhstan on Wednesday morning.

The Cygnus spacecraft was successfully captured by the ISS robotic arm on May 24 and installed on a docking port, delivering tons of supplies.

NOAA’s new GOES-17 weather satellite has a serious problem that will prevent it from retrieving all the intended data.

On June 3rd, three crew members undocked from the ISS and landed back in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz after 168 days in space.

Around the Solar System

The discovery of an asteroid in a retrograde orbit (backwards) has raised questions about whether it could be a captured interstellar object.

The Curiosity rover on Mars is back to drilling samples, after that particular instrument had been held in reserve for about a year.

A new study of Pluto data from New Horizons finds that there are likely dunes made of solid methane on its surface.

June 5, 2018 7:36 am

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) have struck a deal to end a 13-day strike.

Astronaut Drew Feustel received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Purdue University, from space.

In Orbit

Last Wednesday, Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold completed a planned 6-hour and 31-minute spacewalk aboard the International Space Station.

The only orbital rocket launch since my last post on May 15th was a Chinese Long March 4C rocket carrying the Queqiao satellite. Queqiao will be a a communications relay satellite for the upcoming Chang’e 4 lunar rover mission.

China also launched a notable suborbital rocket this past week. A private Chinese company OneSpace Technology, performed the first launch of their OS-X suborbital rocket.

Next week there are some interesting launches planned. On Monday, May 21, Orbital ATK will launch a Cygnus on its way to the ISS from Wallops Island Virginia. On Tuesday, May 22, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket form Vandenberg in California.

Around the Solar System

This is a nice composite of images from Juno’s first 11 orbits of Jupiter.

NASA is planning to send a small helicopter to Mars along with the 2020 rover mission.

May 20, 2018 8:24 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

SpaceX’s second Falcon Heavy launch has been delayed until October.

Two New Space rocket companies, Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab, have both been awarded contracts to fly NASA cubesat missions.

Mark Geyer will replace Ellen Ochoa as director of the Johnson Space Center at the end of May.

Tom Wolfe, the author of The Right Stuff, has died at 88-years old.

In Orbit

There were two orbital rocket launches since my last post:

  • May 8 – China launched a Long March 4C rocket carrying an Earth-observing satellite.
  • May 11 – SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a communications satellite for Bangladesh.

The Falcon 9 rocket was the first “Block 5” version, which is the final upgrade of the design.

A collaboration between JAXA, the University of Nairobi, and the UN deployed the first Kenyan cubesat from the ISS last week.

Tomorrow morning, at roughly 8 AM Eastern, ISS astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel will be venturing out the airlock on a scheduled EVA to perform maintenance and upgrades.

Check out this picture of the erupting Hawaiian volcano, Kilauea, taken by the astronauts on ISS:

Around the Solar System

The Mars Cube One cubesats, on their way to Mars as part of the InSight mission, turned around and took this image of home this week.

A new paper in the journal Nature Astronomy includes a re-analysis of data from the Galileo spacecraft which orbiter Jupiter in the 90s. The magnetic anomalies seen during close fly-bys of the moon Europa seem to confirm the existence of water plumes, which could be sampled by the upcoming Europa Clipper mission.

May 15, 2018 10:06 pm

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The latest SpaceX resupply craft to visit the space station successfully departed and splashed down yesterday morning, returning a large supply of science to NASA scientists.

The picture below is not from the Dragon splashdown but instead an attempt to return a rocket fairing after a Falcon 9 launch earlier this year.

Falcon 9 fairing opens its parafoil after reentering the atmosphere

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

Firefly Aerospace, a young space company out of Austin, has made a deal with the USAF to use a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

United States Vice President Mike Pence visited JPL in California.

Some new issues emerged this week regarding the preparations for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) for its long-awaited launch.

Hundreds of United Launch Alliance employees are on strike as of Sunday.

In Orbit

Only two orbital launches in the last week:

  • May 3 – China launched a Long March 3 rocket carrying a communications satellite.
  • May 5 – United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg carrying NASA’s InSight Mars lander. Check out this post from Phil Plait to learn about the lander’s mission.

The astronauts on the ISS have been finding time to post many views of Earth on their Twitter feeds. Here are some of their best from the last week.

May 6, 2018 10:29 pm

Weekly Links

Down To Earth

Blue Origin flew another test flight of their New Shepard vehicle today.

An issue with the Mars 2020 rover’s heat shield will require a replacement to be build before the upcoming launch.

NASA cancelled a robotic moon mission called the Resource Prospector.

In Orbit

Two orbital rocket launches since my last post (making 40 for the year):

Upcoming launches this week include the launch of NASA’s Mars InSight lander (not a rover) as well as the undocking, re-entry, and splashdown of the latest SpaceX Dragon capsule from the ISS.

Around the Solar System

Check out this incredible animated set of images from comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Ground-based observations of Uranus’ cloud tops have revealed a composition that includes hydrogen sulfide.

The Planetary Society has a lengthy blog post up on the latest status of NASA’s Opportunity rover, which is still trundling on Mars, 14 years after landing.

April 30, 2018 7:45 am