Archive for the ‘astronomy’ Category

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The big news this week was the aborted ascent of Soyuz MS-10, planned to take Nick Hague and Aleksey Ovchinin to the International Space Station. The abort occurred 2 minutes into the flight, at about the time that the first stage boosters separated from the core stage. The crew survived via the successful activation of the abort system and they were rescued after a safe landing downrange in Kazakhstan. NASA and Roscosmos will be investigating the incident in order to safely return to flight. In the meantime, three crew members of the Expedition 57 mission remain safely aboard the ISS.

Former space shuttle astronaut Rick Searfoss died last week at 62.

The US Mint has announced the design for an Apollo 11 commemorative coin.

The new Neil Armstrong biopic First Man was released this weekend, to largely positive reviews.

The US Air Force announced major funding contracts for three rocket companies to develop new boosters: Northrop Grumman, United Launch Alliance, and Blue Origin.

In Orbit

The only orbital launch since my last post a week ago was a Chinese Long March 2C carrying two reconnaissance satellites.

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory is now also in safe mode, following an anomaly last week. Hubble, which went into safe mode on October 5th, is yet to resume scientific observations.

Around the Solar System

A new study finds that there are likely blades of ice – or penitentes – around the equator of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

JAXA has delayed sample return operations at asteroid Ryugu with the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft, citing a need to study the terrain further.

Out There

Astronomers have discovered a star in our galaxy with almost no “metal” content (meaning elements other than hydrogen and helium). This likely means the star is from the very first age of the universe.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

NASA’s Marshall SpaceFlight Center has a new Director, Jody Singer.

Members of the Jet Propulsion Lab’s media relations team have won an Emmy Award for coverage of the Cassini mission.

Holly Ridings has been named the new chief of the Flight Director office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Veteran NASA astronaut Tim Kopra has left the agency. He flew to space twice, once serving as ISS commander.

SpaceX has announced that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has paid to be a passenger on a test flight around the moon.

In Orbit

The following orbital launches have occurred since my last post.

  • September 10 – SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida carrying a Canadian communications satellite.
  • September 15 – ULA launched a Delta II rocket from California carrying several research payloads.
  • September 16 – India launched a PSLV rocket carrying two Earth-observation satellites.
  • September 19 – China launched a Long March 3B rocket carrying two Beidou navigation satellites.
  • September 22 – Japan launched an H-II rocket carrying an HTV cargo freighter bound for the ISS.
  • September 25 – ESA launched an Ariane 5 rocket carrying two communications satelites.
  • September 29 – China launched a Kuaizhou rocket carrying a small technology demonstration payload.
  • October 8 – SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from California carrying an Argentinian Earth-observation satellite.

The HTV-7 cargo vehicle was captured and berthed to the ISS several days after it launched.

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying the returning ISS Expedition 56 crew has landed safely in Kazakhstan. Now that Drew Feustel, Ricky Arnold, and Oleg Artemyev are home, the next Soyuz is readying for launch. The Expedition 57 crew of Nick Hague and Aleksey Ovchinin are preparing to launch on Thursday, October 11, which will brin ghte ISS crew back up to 5 people.

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has entered safe mode due to a failed gyroscope.

Around the Solar System

Still no news from beleaguered Opportunity rover, on the surface of Mars. It has been 4 months.

And now on the other side of Mars, the Curiosity rover is having issues of its own. JPL engineers are troubleshooting an interruption in science data from the larger rover.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has successfully deployed 2 small rovers from the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft onto the surface of asteroid Ryugu.

Out There

Astronomers have detected the first evidence of an exomoon (or moon around a planet around another star) using data from the Kepler and Hubble space telescopes. The planetary system is 8,000 lightyears distant.

A bit of fun exoplanet news: astronomers have discovered a planet in orbit around 40 Eridani A, which is the star system of the fictional planet Vulcan from Star Trek.

And lastly in the busy period of astronomy news, a new dwarf planet has been discovered beyond Pluto.

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.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

VSS Unity, the latest spacecraft from Virgin Galactic, made its first powered flight test yesterday. Video below.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has a new executive director: Ellen Stofan, former NASA chief scientist.

Ars Technica interviewed Peggy Whitson. Check out the video below.

In Orbit

There were only two orbital launches in the past week:

  • April 2 – SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon resupply capsule to the ISS.
  • April 6 – ESA launched an Ariane 5 rocket carrying a pair of communications satellites.

The Dragon spacecraft arrived at the ISS two days later where the station astronauts grappled it with the robotic arm. A busy month of operations now begins as the astronauts unpack the Dragon and begin new science experiments.

The Indian space agency (ISRO) lost contact with a communications satellite they launched last week.

Around the Solar System

In case you forgot we have robotic rovers exploring other planets, here are some fresh photos from the surface of Mars.

Out There

Hubble has taken an image of the most distant star ever discovered. The star, which is billions of light years away, was found through gravitational lensing.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

NASA announced last week that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launch date is slipping about a year to May 2020.

Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell celebrated their 90th birthdays.

Ars Technica got Chris Hadfield to open up on some details of his viral Space Oddity video, shot on the ISS.

The Chinese Tiangong-1 space station completed its long-anticipated uncontrolled re-entry today, somewhere over the South Pacific.

In Orbit

Last Thursday, March 29, astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold exited the ISS airlock for a full six-hour spacewalk to conduct repairs and maintenance.

There were five orbital rocket launches since my last post a week ago:

Tomorrow, Monday, April 2, SpaceX will be launching a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule to the ISS. Below is a video from CASIS with an overview of the science launching on the mission.

Out There

Astronomers have discovered a galaxy which has no dark matter – the first galaxy discovered of this kind.

Weekly Links

Down to earth

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) may see another launch slip.

The world’s largest airplane, built by Stratolaunch in Mojave, California, was rolled out for runway tests.

NASA’s next Mars lander, InSight, was delivered to the launch site in California.

The Orion crew access arm was installed on the SLS mobile launcher at KSC.

In Orbit

Alexander Misurkin, Joe Acaba, and Mark Vande Hei returned to Earth safely in their Soyuz last week. There are only three crew onboard the ISS until a new crew launches in two weeks.

Two rocket launches last week:

Around the solar system

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is still operating normally after its safe mode scare in February.

The amazing engineer’s at NASA’s JPL have figured out how to use the Mar rover Curiosity’s drill, despite the failure of the device in December 2016. The rover should resume scientific drill operations now that the technique has been demonstrated on Mars.

Out There

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered a distant water-rich planet, Wasp-39b. The planet is not Earth-like – it is a large planet like Saturn. However, the technique used to detect the atmospheric make-up of Wasp-39b is the best spectrum yet taken of an exoplanet.

Weekly Links

In Orbit

The new National Space Council hosted their second meeting, this time at Kennedy Space Center.

Bigelow Aerospace has announced a new sister company, Bigelow Space Operations, who will market their future goals of launching and operating independent space stations.

The latest HI-SEAS space analog mission in Hawaii was put on hold due to some kind of medical emergency.

In Orbit

The only launch of the week was a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg in Californial. The rocket carried three satellites – a payload for the Spanish military and two technology demonstration satellites for SpaceX. The company also tried to “catch” one of the rocket’s discarded payload fairings at sea, but missed slightly. Here is a photo from Instagram of the fairing floating near the SpaceX’s recovery ship.

A Soyuz carrying three space station residents will undock from the ISS on Tuesday morning and return to Earth. Recovery crews are already getting ready out in Kazakhstan.

Around the Solar System

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had a bit of a scare last week, entering safe mode for about 3 days after a battery malfunction. MRO came out of safe mode on the 23rd and NASA reported that it was being returned to nominal service. MRO is a key asset, as it relays all communications from the two rovers on the surface.

Meanwhile, down on the surface, Opportunity continues to trundle along in Endeavour crater. JPL even announced some new observations this past week.

The Osiris-Rex spacecraft took an image of Earth from 63 million km away. The probe is currently on its way to the asteroid belt.

Out There

I am in love with this unique interpretation of the Hubble Deep Field from the new website Astronomy Sound of the Month. Follow the link and then, with your sound on, move your cursor over the image to hear different notes correlated to the age of each galaxy.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Another government shutdown on Thursday night nearly impacted US federal government operations again (including NASA) but was ended in the middle of the night with a budget deal, before facilities could open for work on Friday.

Sierra Nevada Corporation has received their official launch window from NASA for their first uncrewed resupply mission to the ISS, using their DreamChaser space plane.

A SpaceX booster that survived an ocean crash-landing from the GovSat-1 launch on January 31, was demolished at sea as it as deemed a safety hazard.

In Orbit

The only rocket launch since my last post was a big one: the demo flight of the Falcon Heavy. The rocket launched successfully during its first launch window last Tuesday, to the delight of crowds on the ground in Florida and millions of space fans who watched the livestream online. The next Falcon Heavy is scheduled tentatively a few months out, and will carry more official payloads.

Around the Solar System

Not exactly breaking news, but I love this newly released image of Saturn’s moons Titan and Rhea, from the now ended Cassini mission.

Rhea eclipses Titan

Out There

Two new studies of the planets in the Trappist-1 system reveal their atmospheric compositions and densities. It is very possible some of these planets may be habitable with liquid water.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

A new Kickstarter campaign seeks to build replicas of the Apollo guidance computer DSKY (Display and Keyboard) interface.

NASA’s 15th Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) mission started last week at Johnson Space Center. Four crew members will spend 45 days isolated on a simulated deep space mission.

The much anticipated Falcon Heavy launch is now less than 48 hours away. Eric Berger of Ars Technica has an excellent discussion about the new rocket and what it could mean for the industry (if successful).

In Orbit

Four successful orbital rocket launches since my last post

A spacewalk conducted by Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov on the International Space Station broke the Russian record for longest spacewalk, at 8 hours and 13 minutes.

An amateur astronomy discovered a NASA satellite that had been missing for over 10 years.

Around the Solar System

NASA published a beautiful composite panorama from the Curiosity rover looking back down the slopes of Mt. Sharp.

Curiosity also took a new selfie, looking the other direction.

Out There

Astronomers have announced that using gravitational microlensing they have discovered evidence of planets in another galaxy for the firs time.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Some recent crew assignment changes for the ISS have been receiving a lot of press, including the replacement of Jeanette Epps with Serena Aunon-Chancellor for a launch this summer. NASA has not provided specific details on the reason for the change.

As of Saturday morning, the US federal government has no official funding and must shutdown many services. This shutdown affects NASA and its field centers. The specific impacts to NASA operations will become more clear if the shutdown extends into the work week on Monday morning. In the meantime, NASA will press forward with the ISS spacewalk on Tuesday.

There was a lot of talk last week about an update on the schedule for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has slipped according to a report from the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP). There was also a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the same topic.. The reports outline a few issues that the commercial providers – SpaceX and Boeing – both need to work through before their rockets and capsules can be certified to flight NASA astronauts to the ISS. Both companies answered questions at a congressional hearing following the report on Wednesday.

SpaceX still has not conducted a static fire of the Falcon Heavy rocket on Pad 39A. They are expected to try again this coming week with a potential launch before the end of the month.

In Orbit

The following rocket launches occurred last week:

Out There

A detailed study of Fast Radio Burst (FRB) 121102, one of the few repeating signals, has yielded a new hypothesis that these highly energetic events are caused by massive black holes.

NASA has demonstrated the concept of deep space navigation using neutron stars with the NICER payload onboard the ISS.