Down to Earth
SpaceX posted an update to their accident investigation regarding the rocket that was lost on a launch pad in September. Here’s a direct link to their anomaly updates page. They hope to return to flight this year.
In launches, it has been a slow couple of weeks, with only two orbital launches since my last post on October 16th. It was quality over quantity though, as both launches were important and anticipated missions for ISS operations.
First, Orbital ATK was able to finally launch their upgraded Antares rocket with a Cygnus cargo craft on its way to ISS. The rocket launched on Monday October 17th and was captured at the ISS almost a week later on Sunday the 23rd. The delay was necessary due a higher priority launch and docking of three crew aboard a Soyuz (see below).
On Wednesday, October 19, the Soyuz rocket carrying the second half of Expedition 50 finally launched (after a spacecraft problem delayed them several weeks). The launch, rendezvous, and docking were flawless. The new crew of Shane Kimbrough Andrei Borisenko, and Sergey Ryzhikov arrived at ISS on the 21st.
There were 8 people in space only briefly (recall that two Chinese taikonauts are hanging out on their own space station right now). Expedition 49 had to hand over command to new Expedition 50 commander Kimbrough on the 28th before Anatoli Ivanishin, Kate Rubins, and Takuya Onishi undocked on Saturday night and landed safely a few hours later.
Speaking of the Chinese taikonauts, they docked successfully to the Tiangong-2 space station on October 20th and plan to stay for several weeks.
Around the Solar System
The ExoMars mission arrived at Mars on October 19th. The orbiter (known as TGO – Trace Gas Orbiter) made a successful orbital insertion burn but unfortunately, contact with the Schiaparelli lander was lost at the planned time of touchdown. The lander is suspected to be lost, but NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was able to image the lander’s crash site, which should help with investigations. Below is an animated GIF showing the recent appearance of the lander in MRO imagery:
And here’s a closeup from the MRO’s HiRise camera.
In other bad news, the Juno spacecraft went into safe mode during its closest approach to Jupiter on October 18 and was not able to obtain scientific data. This came only a few days after an engine burn had been cancelled. Fortunately, mission controllers were able to command Juno out of safe mode on October 24 and perform at least one “trim” maneuver. The mission timeline will be impacted by the problem but there are still dozens of orbits left in the primary mission to gather data.
Here is a nice post with images about the preliminary results from Juno so far.
Speaking of spacecraft beaming data back to Earth, the data downlink from the New Horizons probe of its Pluto flyby last July has finally completed, 15 months later!