Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Well, these guys are decidedly not down to Earth, but since they haven’t gone anywhere yet, I put them here  – Golden Spike is the latest space industry startup with big dreams. They think they can make a profit flying manned missions to the moon in the 2020s. I wish them luck!

You can now purchase SpaceX mission patches from their online company store.

Look out for Geminid meteors later this week!

In Orbit

The Russians have finally finished building Nauka, or the MLM, a large module that has been slated to fly to the ISS for some time. According to the Russian press they plan to launch in early 2014. This module will add nearly 1/3 to the size of the Russian pat of ISS but has been delayed for years.

Speaking of the Russian space program, their Proton rocket had its third upper stage failure in under 18 months when the launch on December 8 was not able to place its communications satellite payload in the expected orbit. This is indeed the same class of rocket that will be needed to launch the MLM to ISS in a year or two. the Breeze-M upper stage that is causing all of these problems is not common to the Soyuz family of rockets used to launch small payloads and astronauts to ISS.

The Air Force is scheduled to launch the third flight of their X-37B tomorrow. The flight had been delayed due to a failure of a different United Launch Alliance rocket that uses the same upper stage RL-10 engine. The problem was determined to be a fuel leak that should not affect the upcoming launch.

The jumping spider Nefertiti that spent time on the ISS died in the Smithsonian last week. The spider went on display and was expected to make it a few months but only survived a few days.

Chris Hadfield is getting set to launch on a Soyuz next week with the rest of his Expedition 35 crew. The Universe Today has a nice feature on Hadfield, who will be the first Canadian commander of ISS.

Around the Solar System

The much anticipated press briefing about recent Curiosity rover results happened last week at the AGU (American Geophysical Union) meeting in San Francisco. The summary is that no, the rover did not make a big discovery, much to the disappointment of the online hype machine. Emily Lakdawalla has a great summary of what exactly happened and why the results -basically a first test of the rovers instruments that showed they work great – are exciting nonetheless.

NASA last week announced a 2020 mission to send another MSL-class rover to Mars. The rover is being jokingly called MSL 2.0 or the MSL sequel because a key part of the announcement is that the new rover will use mission architecture and even spare parts from the MSL mission. Interestingly, the science instruments and objectives for the mission have not been defined yet. Really the announcement was just to tell the public that a new rover mission is being planned, not what it will be exactly.

There have been some very mixed reactions in the planetary science community about this new 2020 rover. Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society explains how the mission does not appear to follow the Decadal Survey. Casey Dreier explains the budget details behind the mission. Lastly, I enjoyed this assessment by Andrew Symes.

This gravity map of the moon is just cool.

There will be a close flyby of Earth by two asteroids tomorrow, the 11th. One is a small rock just discovered just yesterday. The other is 4179 Toutatis, a large NEA we have known about since the early 90s. The Toutatis encounter is special because China’s Chang’E 2 orbiter will be attempting a flyby on December 13. This will be the first deep-space rendezvous by the Chinese.

Because it’s Cool

This volcanic ice cave in the Kamchatka peninsula is just amazing.

December 10, 2012 9:00 pm

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