Archive for the ‘Extrasolar planets’ Category
Down to Earth
During a media conference call on Friday, NASA managers provided some details about the potential plan to put astronauts onto the first test flight of the new SLS rockets. In particular, they stated that they would look at putting a crew of 2 onto the EM-1 mission for a 9-day loop around the moon (the baseline EM-1 mission is a 31-day mission, including a period in lunary orbit). The study should be completed in the Spring.
And then, on Monday, SpaceX held its own media conference call to announce plans to send a Dragon 2 capsule on a very similar trajectory to the revised crewed EM-1 mission. The plan would send two paying civilian astronauts on a trip around the moon next year. Welcome to the new space race?
Virgin Galactic had another glide flight of its new SpaceShipTwo spaceplane last Friday.
The popular movie Hidden Figures, which tells the story of three women mathematicians and engineers who worked at NASA in the 1950s and 1960s, had three nominations for the Academy Awards on Sunday, but did not win any. During the award show, Katherine Johnson, one of the women on which the movie is based, was invited on stage.
Speaking of movies, check out this new theatrical trailer for Mission Control, a movie based on the book Go, Flight! by Rick Houston.
And here’s one more fun video before we move on to actual news that happened in space. Check out this segment Stephen Colbert did on his visit to Boeing’s facilities at Kennedy Space Center.
There was only one orbital launch since my last post: On Thursday, February 23 Roscosmos launched a Soyuz rocket carrying a Progress cargo spacecraft headed to the International Space Station.
That Progress spacecraft arrived at the ISS a day later without issue, less than a day after the SpaceX Dragon capsule – launched on Sunday, February 19th – was captured using the Space Station’s Canadarm 2. Here’s a timelapse of what it looks like to conduct that operation from inside the Cupola module.
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) February 25, 2017
While the Dragon rendezvous on Thursday was flawless, it came a day after a previous attempt had to be aborted due to an issue with relative GPS navigation with the space station.
NASA announced on Wednesday that the Spitzer Space Telescope had confirmed the existence of 7 small rocky worlds (similar in size to Earth) around the star TRAPPIST-1, which is 40 light years away.
Part I – Exploration
Spaceflight, as a many-hundred billion-dollar sector, is a broad and complex industry. Even if we focus in on “exploration” – which is the primary focus of this blog – so that we can ignore military and commercial uses of Earth orbit, we are still left with a global list of activities, studies, missions, and companies. This means there is a lot of stuff going on. 2016 was a busy year with many exciting missions from several different countries. This diversity is great, but makes it hard to boil down the events of last year into a coherent story. Even within NASA, we have the ISS program, with its own highs and lows, and the totally separate and just as successful planetary science portfolio of missions. Those missions keep on going, regardless of whether the most recent cargo delivery has made it to our astronauts in orbit, for instance. Meanwhile, in China, the CNSA is continuing to grow as a nascent space power with new rockets, new launch sites, and a brand new space station. Then there’s Russia, Japan, Europe, India, and more. If any theme can be found at all in the events of last year it is that space exploration continues to be a diverse and global endeavor. Putting any nationalism aside, this should give us hope that despite the ups and downs of the economies or space budgets in any given country, that exciting times lie ahead.
It’s hard to start a summary of 2016 in spaceflight without acknowledging that the United States had a major election, with a new President to be inaugurated this week. Any presidential transition leads to uncertainty in the future of government programs, including NASA. Often election years leave the federal government in a continuing resolution. A continuing resolution means that Congress has yet to pass a budget for the year. This leaves NASA and other agencies working under last year’s budget levels, with no increase for inflation or otherwise. The election was a big story for the country in a lot of ways, but NASA and its programs are most likely to feel the effects in 2017, as it tries to continue with business as usual as it waits for new priorities and a new budget.
While 2017 may bring about change (or not), 2016 was another good year for NASA’s flagship space exploration missions. NASA had no major failures last year, just the usual hiccups and challenges (space is hard, after all) and even launched a new planetary exploration mission: OSIRIS-REX, which is on its way to visit an asteroid in 2023. In fact, last year showed that NASA is still a clear leader in planetary exploration, with probes in action all over the solar system. The NASA fleet at Mars remains strong, with two rovers on the surface and two probes in orbit. New Horizons received a mission extension and is on its way to a Kuiper Belt Object rendezvous in a few years. Meanwhile, the probe Juno made orbit at Jupiter and started scientific observations. Unfortunately, Juno has some sticky propellant valves and missed some of its early science orbits when it entered “safe mode.” Fortunately, the probe was brought out of safe mode and completed a Jupiter flyby in December. Most of the probe’s 20-month mission is ahead. Hopefully Juno’s worst days are in the past! Out at Saturn, NASA is still operating the Cassini probe, which has been in orbit since 2004. Sadly, 2017 will see the end of Cassini, as it destroys itself in dramatic fashion, with a dive into Saturn’s atmosphere.
Two other planetary missions of note from other countries had some action last year. ExoMars (a joint mission between ESA and Russia) launched and made it to Mars. However, its companion lander, Schiaparelli, was unable to make it safely to the Martian surface and crash-landed. Thus, NASA remains the sole space agency to have safely brought a spacecraft to the surface of Mars… having done so seven times. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that the Soviet Union is the only country to have ever landed a probe on Venus! A feat which has not been repeated since 1982, and does not appear to be repeated any time soon, as most space agencies focus on asteroids and the outer solar system in their planetary science missions. Venus is not forgotten though, as Japan was able to begin doing science with their Akatsuki orbiter at Venus last year.
Following the theme of “space is hard,” Japan had a pretty devastating failure when their new X-ray telescope Astro-H, or Hitomi, went out of contact after reaching orbit. Fortunately, Japan already has a strong space program and seems mature and professional enough to learn from their mistakes – they released a failure report very quickly after the accident. They currently have an asteroid sample return mission, Hayabusa 2, en route to its target in 2018, which we should all be very excited about. NASA has a strong relationship with JAXA, and will be curating the Hayabusa samples here at the Johnson Space Center when they return.
In human space exploration, the story continues to be the International Space Station. The ISS had an exciting year, partly because NASA and ESA continue to send charismatic astronauts who manage to make the mission feel very personal to all of us following back on Earth. It was a great year for following astronauts on Twitter, including Jeff Williams, Kate Rubins, Tim Kopra, Tim Peake, Scott Kelly, Shane Kimbrough, Thomas Pesquet, and Peggy Whitson. It’s hard to see how this trend will do anything but accelerate, as it’s a cheap and easy way for NASA to connect with the American public and share its mission. Scott Kelly of course returned from space early in the year and retired from NASA on a high note. Since the “year in space” was such a success, both operationally and as a public affairs bonanza, it seems likely NASA will want to try more longer duration expeditions in the future.
On the more nuts and bolts side of things for the ISS, all major mission events went well last year, with both the arrival and installation of the new IDA2 docking adapter and the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM). BEAM is an exciting demonstration of where human habitability in Earth orbit may be able to go in the future with inflatable structures. It is exciting to think that the technology may spinoff a private-public partnership with either or both of the companies Bigelow and Axiom to expand the ISS with new large inflatable modules in the future.
The ISS did face some minor setbacks of its own, although not quite as dramatic as in more recent years. Two rocket failures impacted ISS logistics: the SpaceX explosion on the pad in Florida in September and the loss of a Russian Progress resupply mission in December. The good news for NASA was that the SpaceX failure was not an ISS mission, but it meant a delay to the next planned resupply flight of a Dragon capsule, now scheduled for February. ISS is well stocked on supplies thanks to a Japanese resupply mission that also flew in December and the Orbital ATK Antares rocket returning to flight status in October. Even with both Japanese and American rockets able to keep ISS supplied, having the Russian Soyuz rocket family grounded must always make mission managers uneasy. After all, it is the same rocket family that failed in December that also delivers crews to the station. We are not in uncharted territory, as expedition schedules were in limbo after similar accidents in 2011 and 2015. But the ups and downs of the launch vehicle sector are a continual challenge not only for NASA’s ISS program but for dreamers who envision hundreds of people at a time into deep space for colonization. ISS truly is the foothold where we must learn first, and is a great proving ground for those dreamers.
The ISS accounts for over 2,000 person days of space experience a year. The day-in and day-out slog of operating an aging orbital laboratory and learning to live there is slowly but surely preparing us for what comes next. This experience is shared by a partnership of 15 nations (USA, Canada, Russia, Japan, and 11 countries from ESA). However, the rising nation of China finds itself on the outside. Just like in many other sectors, China is finding its own way in space. Last year was a good one for the China National Space Agency (CNSA). Not only did they launch a brand new space station, Tiangong-2 and send a crew of 2 on a 30-day mission to the outpost, they also debuted a brand new Long March 5 heavy lift launcher while matching the US in successful launches on the year – twenty-two. A new medium-lift rocket, Long March 7, also debuted from a new coastal spaceport on Hainan Island, which should give CNSA more flexibility. CNSA’s recent white paper publically published outlining their five-year plan shows ambition but also should be a douse of cold water on people expecting a space race between China and the USA. China certainly has a lot to be proud of as only the third independent nation to place humans in space. But they have a long way to go to put themselves on par with the modern space programs in America and elsewhere. I look forward to their planned lunar sample return mission in 2017, which will give them a lot of “street cred” if they pull it off!
Obviously these are not the only happenings in space exploration and related science areas. I could go on about the exciting developments in exoplanet astronomy, a field that may provide worlds to explore decades or centuries from now, for example. We continue to live in a golden age of space exploration that started with the Galileo probe to Jupiter in the early 90s. For me, 2016 was a testament to the true diversity of the state of space exploration and should serve as a reminder to avoid tunnel vision. There are many facets to how we explore. It’s not just about shiny new rockets and capsules and astronauts, but its also not just about gathering science through a space telescope or a distant robotic probe. All these pieces fit together to move forward the state of our knowledge about the universe together. One of my favorite examples of this from last year was astronaut Kate Rubins’ work on gene sequencing while aboard the ISS. Talk about two sectors that do not traditionally intersect, at least not in the minds of the general public. Diversity – both in the space agencies doing the exploration as well as the type of exploration – will keep the dream alive. I can’t wait to see what we do on ISS this year but I also look forward to news out of China and India as they learn what it takes to fly in space.
The biggest problem with keeping up this steady cadence of exploration is how all these space agencies will pay for it, as the world faces challenging fiscal and security issues. Space is exciting – and important – but it is far from the first priority when it comes to setting budgets in most parts of the world. Fortunately, we have disruptive new players in the launch sector that can help us keep costs down. More on that in my next post.
Down to Earth
Here is video of the Starliner crew access arm being installed earlier this month:
SpaceX recently erected their first flown and recovered Falcon 9 rocket first stage’s as a display piece at their factory in California.
Veteran NASA astronaut Terry Virts has retired from NASA. Virts flew on one space shuttle mission (STS-130) and one ISS expedition (42/43) for a total of 213 days in space including 3 EVAs.
On August 19th, ISS astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins exited the ISS airlock for a 6-hour EVA to attach the new International Docking Adapter (IDA) to the front of the station (along with a few other tasks). The spacewalk went well so Williams and Rubins will conduct their second as planned on September 1st. Below are two videos, a 3-minute summary of the August 19th EVA and then a long press conference discussing the upcoming EVA. Jump to 8 minutes into the press conference for a narrated overview of the EVA.
Jeff Williams recently broke the American record for total time in space, besting Scott Kelly’s 520 days. Williams has launched to space four separate times. Kelly visiting mission control last week to congratulate Williams:
There were three more successful rocket launches since my last post on August 15th. First was a Chinese rocket with a main payload of an experimental quantum navigation satellite. Second was a Delta IV rocket carrying payloads for the U.S. Air Force. Last was a European Ariane 5 rocket with two telecommunication satellites.
Around the Solar System
NASA recently recovered contact with the STEREO-B satellite, which is one of a pair of Sun-observing probes that was lost a couple of years ago.
NASA’s Jupiter orbiter, Juno, completed close approach during its first orbit. This will be Juno’s closest approach to Jupiter during the nominal mission. We should get some great shots from the onboard JunoCam soon!
You should check out the work of Sean Duran, who is inserting accurately scaled astronauts into Mars rover Curiosity’s pictures to help us get a better feel for what Mars would really look like.
In what may very well be the biggest science story of the year, The European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile announced their findings that a small terrestrial world orbits in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star which orbits Alpha Centauri at a distance of 0.1 light years, and is the closest star to Earth at about 4.2 light years away.
Lots to catch up on since my last post on July 23rd. The great summer for spaceflight continues.
Down to Earth
After Eileen Collins spoke at the RNC, another Space Shuttle commander, Mark Kelly, spoke at the DNC.
Sierra Nevada is getting ready to start test flights of their Dream Chaser spaceplane in California, once their full-scale vehicle is shipped their from Colorado.
Virgin Galactic was awarded an operations license from the FAA as they are preparing to resume flight tests with their new SpaceShipTwo vehicle.
A small sample bag from the Apollo 11 mission is at the center of two lawsuits. I’m sure Dr. Jones would agree that it belongs in a museum.
One of the Orbiter Access Arm’s from the Space Shuttle program is now on display at Houston’s Space Center Houston.
Meanwhile, the next generation of crew access arms, for Boeing’ Starliner capsule, was delivered to the Atlas V pad in Florida.
SpaceX conducted a full duration test fire of one of their recovered first stage boosters. Here’s the video:
Google Lunar X Prize competitor, Moon Express, has received approval from the United States government for their private mission to land a rover on the moon.
Vector Space Systems completed their first successful sub-orbital launch.
Speaking of launches, there were four successful orbital flights since my last post. This brings the year’s total to 50 for 50 on orbital launches. For comparison, 2015 had 87 total with 5 failures.
First was an Atlas V launch from Cape Canaveral carrying a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Lastly was the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch early in the morning ofAugust 14. The rocket successfully delivered the Japanese JCSAT communications satellite to orbit and recovered the first stage booster on the ASDS at sea. Very impressive. This brings SpaceX’s year up to 8 successful launches for 8 attempts – a yearly record already in August – and 5 for 8 on booster recovery.
Coming up next week is a spacewalk on ISS by NASA astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins to install the new International Docking Adapter.
Around the Solar System
The Chinese Yutu rover is still communicating with the ground from the lunar surface, although it has long since stopped roving. Despite some reports that it is “dead” it is still expected to wake up from hibernation after the current lunar night.
Follow this link for an update on the Curiosity rover mission on Mars, including some nice pictures.
Here is a full year of observations of the Earth NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite. The cyclones in the Pacific are quite obvious.
Apparently claims of a discover of an Earth-like planet around Proxima Centauri (our nearest neighboring star) are exciting, but it is worth waiting for more reputable news sources to pick it up than just a small German newspaper… or a peer-reviewed journal paper?
Down to Earth
Former astronaut and Space Shuttle commander, Eileen Collins, spoke at the Republican National Convention:
Aboard the New Horizons probe that visited Pluto was a US postage stamp with a picture of Pluto and the phrase “not yet explored”. Last week the Guinness Book of World Records recognized this stamp as the farthest traveled postage stamp in history.
CASIS has partnered with Marvel to create this Guardians of the Galaxy inspired ISS National Lab emblem.
The 21st of NASA’s undersea NEEMO missions has started off the coast of Florida. The crew, made up of astronauts and other explorers, will spend 16 days in a habitat under the ocean simulating a deep space mission.
The only two rocket launches since my last post on July 7th were two cargo launches to the International Space Station. First, a Progress resupply freighter launched from Kazakhstan last Saturday and was docked on Monday evening.
Second, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched on Monday morning, arriving at the ISS early Wednesday morning. In addition, SpaceX successfully recovered the first stage of their booster at their landing facility in Florida. Here’s what that looked like to fans watching from miles away:
Around the Solar System
A new distant Kuiper Belt Object has been discovered. 2015 RR245 is on a 700-year eccentric orbit.
The Curiosity rover on Mars has been back in “full operations” following the safe mode event earlier this month.
The K2 space telescope has discovered another 100 extrasolar planets.
Down To Earth
Some new videos from Blue Origin and SpaceX of their recent rocket successes were released this past week:
The astronaut Kelly brothers, Mark and Scott, had their childhood elementary school named after them this past week.
Two astronauts, Scott Parazynski and Brian Duffy, were inducted into the astronaut hall of fame.
The amazing Thierry Legault has done it again, this time taking a video of the ISS transiting the sun at the same time as the Mercury transit on May 9th.
An unusual parade happened in Los Angeles on May 21st when the last Space Shuttle External Tank was towed from the coast to the California Science Center.
The Indian Space Research Organization launched their new experimental space plane on May 23rd. The uncrewed vehicle actually didn’t make it to orbit, or even to space, reaching only a peak altitude of 65 km. Still, reaching Mach 5 on re-entry is no joke.
The only other notable rocket launch since my last post on May 9th was a Chinese low earth orbit (LEO) reconnaissance satellite launched on May 15.
Around the Solar System
Some recent experiments in a Martian atmosphere simulator have given us an update on the Recurring Slope Linae (RSL), which were announced last year as evidence of flowing liquid water on Mars. It may be that ice boiling directly to a gas may be causing the features.
NASA’s flying telescope, SOFIA, has detected atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars. Atomic oxygen is highly reactive and thus can tell us a lot about what is going on at Mars, potentially even the chance for life.
Speaking of Mars, check out this new image from Hubble. Mars is at opposition this week – or the closest approach to Earth – making it a great target for Earth-based astronomers.
You probably didn’t miss this story: NASA announced the confirmation of more than 1,200 new exoplanets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope. This brings the total planets discovered outside our solar system to over 3,300 worlds.
Down to Earth
Caltech has announced that Michael Watkins will replace Charles Elachi as director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.
New legislation in the US Senate, if passed, would put fallen astronaut Christa McAuliffe on a dollar coin for the 30th anniversary of the loss of Challenger.
Don’t miss today’s (Monday, May 9) transit of the sun by Mercury. If you don’t have the skill, equipment, or location to view it yourself, you can follow online with a live feed from various sources.
The joint European-Russian Mars rover project ExoMars has been delayed from the 2018 to 2020 launch window.
Early on the morning of May 6, SpaceX launched a commercial communications satellite on a Geostationary Transfer Orbit. The launch was a beautiful and nominal night launch. After Main Engine Cut Off (MECO) the Falcon 9 first stage flew back to the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) for another successful landing at sea. Are you not entertained?
Speaking of SpaceX, don’t forget to tune into NASA TV on May 11 for coverage of their Dragon spacecraft departing the International Space Station.
And as usual, the ISS crew has been busy sharing their view on high with us. Here are some stunning recent posts from their Twitter accounts:
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) May 7, 2016
— Tim Kopra (@astro_tim) May 7, 2016
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) May 6, 2016
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) May 6, 2016
Belize City and its extensive coral reefs. pic.twitter.com/eH1pSBbE7a
— Jeff Williams (@Astro_Jeff) May 7, 2016
Amazing beauty in every direction. Cerf/Providence islands and coral reefs Seychelles archipelago NE of Madagascar. pic.twitter.com/Sme0Y4RZSY
— Jeff Williams (@Astro_Jeff) May 5, 2016
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) May 4, 2016
Cassini did some recent observations of Enceladus by watching a the moon transit in front of a star, revealing new clues about the ice world’s geology.
The TRAPPIST observatory in Chile has discovered a solar system of three small planets about 40 light years from Earth.
It’s been a busy two weeks since my last news post. Among other things, my wife started her “space mission” (not a real space mission) and I won’t see her again for another 26 days. See my last post before this one for some details on what she is doing. I also travelled to Huntsville, Alabama for a work meeting at Marshall Spaceflight Center this week. Now that I am back home and it is just me and the dog, it’s time to figure out what’s been going on out there in the world of spaceflight during the second half of January.
Down to Earth
Probably the biggest news was the successful reflight of the New Shepard rocket by Blue Origin. The same booster that flew suborbital and returned safely back in November was flown again on a similar mission profile on January 22nd. Here’s their shiny video:
SpaceX had some videos too, but not as shiny as exciting. First was this hover test of the new Dragon capsule:
Second was a parachute test:
There were 3 launches since the SpaceX Faclon 9 launch back on January 17th. First was an Indian PSLV rocket, launched on the 20th with one of their own navigation satellites. Second, a European Ariane 5 rocket launched on the 27nd with an Intelsat communications satellite. Lastly, a Proton rocket launched from Kazakhstan earlier today with an Eutelsat communications satellite.
Meanwhile in the category of fluff pieces, someone at Gizmodo has dubbed the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft the “cutest” cargo hauler to the space station.
Aboard the ISS, the Tims are really getting into the swing of things with their Earth photography. Along with Scott Kelly, the stream of pictures on Twitter from the three of them has been quite good, including some good shots of the snow covered East Coast last weekend. Here are some of my favorites.
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) January 18, 2016
— Tim Kopra (@astro_tim) January 19, 2016
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) January 19, 2016
— Tim Kopra (@astro_tim) January 23, 2016
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) January 19, 2016
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) January 23, 2016
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) January 24, 2016
Oh and this was a cool thing from Scott Kelly also:
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) January 21, 2016
Around the Solar System
Check out this incredible picture of a Martian sand dune from the Curiosity rover:
Unfortunately, there may not actually be a planet orbiting in the Alpha Centauri system… or at least, the previous research that hinted at one may be wrong (but who knows, there may be one there anyway).
Fortunately, there is good news to counteract the bad: new mathematical models indicate there may be a new large planet orbiting far beyond Pluto. Astronomers are busy turning on various search campaigns to see if they can find the theoretical world.
The last year was full of spacey goodness. Some things were expected – even long anticipated – like space probes Dawn and New Horizons arriving at their targets. Other things were a complete surprise, like the loss of SpaceX’s seventh commercial flight to ISS and the discovery of flowing water on the surface of Mars. All-in-all, there was a lot to follow and talk about. Thus, I am putting together one or more “year in review” blog posts to give my perspective on what has happened and what’s to come. In the meantime, you can enjoy other people’s thoughts of 2015 in spaceflight through the links I have gathered below. Happy new year!
As usual, I love to lean on the “year in spaceflight” pages on Wikipedia. The folks that put these together do a thorough job. If we look at the 2015 in spaceflight page, we see that the human race is maintaining our high flight rate, with 82 successful orbital launches out of 87 attempts. These numbers have been steadily growing for years. Here is the last decade’s successful launches numbers, starting with 2005: 52, 62, 63, 66, 73, 70, 78, 72, 77, 88, 82. As I wrote in last week’s Weekly Links post, Russia had the most launches with 26 and their Soyuz rocket is by far the most dominant, at 17 launches. However, their two failures this year make it hard to call Soyuz both the most dominant and most reliable. China launches 19 of their Long March family of rockets with no failures.
Using the “list of spaceflight records” we can see some changes in the list for total time in space. Most notably, Gennady Padalka spent 167 days on ISS during Expedition 43/44, his 5th spaceflight, to put him at the top spot for most spaceflown human ever. He has spent 879 days of his life in space. Also notable is Anton Shkaplerov, who returned to Earth during Expedition 43 and is at the 32 spot, Oleg Kononenko, who returned during Expedition 45 and holds the 13 spot with 533 days, and Yuri Malenchenko and Sergey Volkov who are currently in space and hold the 7 and 31 spots respectively.
The other notable record that was broken this year is “longest single flight by a woman” (which is on the list of spaceflight records page), broken this year by Samantha Cristoforetti, partly because her crew got stuck on ISS a little bit longer after the loss of a Progress resupply flight in May.
AmericaSpace, but on planetary science.
AmericaSpace’s compilation video of launches:
And here’s a series of four year in review posts from NASA Spaceflight:
Government Agency PR
NASA’s summary of 2015. With video below.
NASA’s top 15 images of Earth from ISS (if you are a real photography or geography nut, you will want to click “read more” on each picture).
Top Space Stories of 2015
Down To Earth
Last week the US Senate passed a bill named the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act”. One of the most talked about provisions in the bill allows private citizens or companies to lay claim to asteroid resources.
Virgin Galactic announced that they have hired their first female test pilot: Kelly Latimer, who has flown for the USAF and NASA.
An object known as WT1190F re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and broke up over the Indian Ocean on November 13th. The object was thought to be a rocket stage from an Apollo mission. Astronomers onboard an airplane caught some pictures of the event.
This is pretty cool:
Slow-mo footage of our pad abort test in May, a critical test in preparation for our first human missions. pic.twitter.com/vvZTlf5sH1
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 30, 2015
In the past week, only one rocket blasted into orbit: an ESA Ariane 5 rocket with communications satellites for India and Saudi Arabia. The next launch in support of the ISS is still a few weeks away: an Atlas V carrying a Cygnus freighter for Orbital ATK.
Around the Solar System
I love this animated mission update on the Rosetta/Philae mission from ESA.
New analysis indicates that Mars’ small moon Phobos may only have millions of years to live. Due to its low orbit, it is getting torn apart by tidal forces, which cause the strange “grooves” on its surface.
New images of large mountains on Pluto may be evidence for “ice volcanoes” (or “cryovolcanoes”).
Check out this animation which shows the different spin rates of Pluto’s 5 moons.
Astronomers have discovered a new distant solar system object which may be the most distant rocky body known. V774104 is about half the size of Pluto and orbits several times further away.
Newly discovered planet , GJ 1132b, is the closest planet of about Earth’s size yet discovered, at only 39 light years distant. Unfortunately, the planet is tidally locked and very close to its star, making it not a fun place.