Archive for the ‘India’ Category
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
Jack Garman, who worked a support console for Apollo guidance and navigation, passed away on September 20th, at 72 years old. Garman is best known as being instrumental in the calls to proceed with landing on Apollo 11 when some guidance computer program alarms showed up at just 3,000 feet above the surface. Here’s the raw audio from that part of the landing which is always worth listening to again. Great example of flight control in action.
Neil Degrasse Tyson’s podcast StarTalk had a special episode hosted by astronaut Mike Massimino with guest interviewees, flight directors Royce Renfrew and Emily Nelson. Check it out here!
Musician and singer Grace Potter collaborated with NASA on a music video for her song Look What We’ve Become. It was filmed completely at NASA’s Johnson Space Center! Check it out below.
One of the biggest national stories of the last week was Hurricane Matthew, which came close to dolling out a devastating blow to the East coast of Florida. Fortunately, the most dangerous winds stayed offshore as it passed the Kennedy Space Center, resulting in some damage but nothing too serious.
In the battle of the New Space giants, there were two big stories in recent weeks. First, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had his much anticipated presentation at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Mexico. the speech presented a high level framework of his plans to visit Mars. Most of the details were focused on the rocket design and less on how humans would survive and thrive on Mars. Below is the full length video, but Ars Technica had a good analysis if you don’t want to watch all of it. Another good take on it from Phil Plait here.
If you are interested in just the 4-minute animation from SpaceX showing their imagined Mars mission architecture, jump to the second video below.
The other big story was Blue Origin’s successful in-flight abort test of their New Shepard rocket (personally, I am not sure if they have a separate name for the capsule or if New Shepard refers to the whole system. It was a pretty exciting launch and test. Jump to 51 minutes in the webcast replay below to watch!
Lots of good news regarding the ISS flight manifest. The next Cygnus cargo freighter, launching from Virginia for the first time in 2 years on Orbital ATK’s redesigned Antares rocket, should fly next Thursday, the 13th.
The following week, the next crew should launch on their repaired Soyuz craft. That launch is scheduled for Wednesday, the 19th.
There were two rocket launches since my last post. First, an Indian GSLV rocket launched a slew of satellites into orbit, including some from Algeria, USA, Canada, and India. Second, an ESA Ariane 5 rocket launched two communications satellites to a geosynchronous orbit on the 5th.
Around the Solar System
Check out this “video” (really an animated gif made from stills) of the Curiosity rover drilling on Mars! The rover has just officially entered its next two-year mission extension.
— Jason Major (@JPMajor) September 19, 2016
NASA announced new findings from the Hubble Space Telescope that reinforce the conclusion that not only does Europa have a subsurface ocean of liquid water, but that the water regularly exits the moon in powerful plumes (which could be theoretically sampled by a visiting probe).
In even more exciting planetary science news, NASA announced new analysis of data from the MESSENGER spacecraft (which finished its Mercury orbital mission last year). By analyzing imagery from the last part of MESSENGER’s mission, when it was at a lower altitude, scientists have concluded that the surface shows signs of recent contraction, meaning that Mercury is tectonically active.
ESA’s Rosetta mission ended on September 30th with a controlled descent into comet 67P/Churyumov/Gerasimenko.
Down to Earth
Easily the top story of the past couple of weeks (sorry, OSIRIS-REx) was the loss of a Falcon 9 rocket with its commercial satellite payload on the pad during a pre-launch static fire test (video below). The pad, Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) was damaged in the fire (pictures here) and SpaceX is currently still investigating the cause. It is impossible to speculate on what kind of setback this will cause in their launch manifest until some notion of the cause is determined. SpaceX still has one operational launch pad in California.
Just 3 days before the SpaceX pad fire, the Chinese space program suffered a failure in what is apparently the first launch failure of the year. The Long March 4C rocket was expected to put a reconnaissance satellite in orbit.
As for positive news, NASA’s troubled Mars lander InSight has been greenlit for a launch sometime in 2018.
Another goodie was Virgin Galactic conducting the first test flight of the new SpaceShipTwo (although just a captive carry flight).
Check out this blog post from one of the recent crew members of NASA’s asteroid mission simulation, HERA. Tess was on the crew of HERA 11.
The most important thing to come “down to Earth” last week was the crew of Expedition 48. Jeff Williams, Oleg Skripochka, and Aleksey Ovchinin landed in Kazakhstan last Wednesday after a flawless undocking and re-entry.
Before Expedition 48 ended, Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins conducted their second spacewalk in as many weeks, repairing and upgrading a slew of items outside the ISS.
Fortunately, there were at least two successful launches to offset the failures in early September. First, an Indian GSLV Mark II rocket lofted a weather satellite. Secondly, a ULA Atlas V rocket launched NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe on its 7-year journey to visit an asteroid and return to Earth with samples.
Around the Solar System
On Mars, the Curiosity rover is currently trundling through some incredible landscapes, snapping photos of beautiful buttes and rock layers.
Juno continues to return data from Jupiter, including a stunning image of the north pole.
And last but not least, one of the coolest stories of the last week, the European Space Agency finally located the lost comet lander, Philae, just weeks before the orbiter Rosetta is due to end its own mission. Check out the pictures!
Here’s your busy June update!
Down to Earth
Blue Origin launched their reusable New Shepard rocket for the fourth time, with a hosted webcast this time. Here is a video of the flight:
A Saturn V first stage, meant to be used on the Apollo 19 flight, was moved to the Stennis Space Center’s visitor center for display, along Interstate 10 in Mississippi.
During a congressional hearing last week, the issue of astronaut post-mission health care was discussed.
This is not strictly space news, but the deep winter rescue mission from the South Pole is just as harrowing and difficult as spaceflight in some ways.
A team of astronauts are going on a multi-night spelunking trip this month as a spaceflight analog training mission.
The new 3D printer aboard ISS by Made In Space has printed its first functional tool.
The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo vessel was released from the ISS on June 14th and re-entered the atmosphere on June 22nd. In the meantime, NASA conducted the SAFFIRE in-flight fire experiment. Here’s some of the video they recorded:
Also returning to Earth this month, but in a more controlled fashion, was there astronauts aboard Soyuz TMA-19M: Tim Peake, Tim Kopra, and Yuri Malenchenko.
Here are all the orbital launches since my last post on June 6th:
- A Russian Proton rocket carrying a communications satellite (June 9).
- A ULA Delta IV rocket launch from Florida carrying a spy satellite (June 11).
- A Chinese launch of one of their navigation satellite (June 12).
- A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with two communications satellites (June 15).
- A European Ariane 5 rocket carrying two communication satellites (June 18).
- An Indian PSLV rocket carrying a slew of satellites including a flock of PlanetLabs Doves (June 22).
- A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying a US military communications satellite (June 24).
The SpaceX launch, as usual, was the most exciting, with another ASDS landing attempt. They missed the landing this time. Here are some pictures of the wreckage returning to port.
Around the Solar System
New analysis of Pluto has led to the hypothesis that the dwarf planet may have a subsurface ocean… really!
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) got a new shot of the rover Curiosity on the slopes of Mount Sharp.
You’ve got to love this trailer for Jupiter Orbit Insertion (JOI) of the Juno probe, coming up on July 4th.
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
Speaking of Mars, NASA’s delayed InSight lander has been granted a mission extension for a new launch date in 2018.
Two successful orbital launches this past week: a communications satellite launched by ESA from Korou and a navigation satellite launched by ISRO from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India.
Next week, on March 18, three ISS astronauts will launch aboard Soyuz TMA-20M from Kazakhstan to join Expedition 47. Here’s the NASA TV schedule for the launch. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams has been active on Twitter during flight preparations, posting short “video blogs” like this one:
— Jeff Williams (@Astro_Jeff) March 3, 2016
Meanwhile, Scott Kelly has been video blogging his return to Earth:
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) March 8, 2016
Be sure to always follow all of NASA’s astronauts on Twitter – but especially those in space – because they are always sharing something exciting!
Around the Solar System
NASA’s New Horizons probe has discovered “methane snow” on Pluto’s mountain peaks.
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.
I am back from a little “fall break”. This post should catch you up on the big things that have happened since my last post in September.
Down to Earth
Estonia is now a full member of the European Space Agency.
A watch worn by Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott on the surface of the moon recently sold at auction for over one million US dollars. This is not one of the Omega Speedmasters which were given to all the crews (all of which are now owned by the Smithsonian). Instead this was a backup Scott wore when his Speedmaster broke.
An Israeli team called SpaceIL has secured a launch contract on a Falcon 9 rocket for their entry in the Google Lunar X Prize.
Blue Origin announced that it will center its launch operations at Cape Canaveral.
NASA dropped a large archive of photos from Project Apollo to Flickr.
It’s been a busy month of rocket launches. Since my last post on September 26th there have been nine successful launches to orbit: one by India, three by China, one by the European Space Agency, two by Russia, and two by America. Only one of those launches was in support of International Space Station operations: an unmanned Progress resupply mission from Russia. You can see a great list of all launches at “2015 in Spaceflight” on Wikipedia.
In addition to the launches, the Japanese HTV-5 cargo vehicle was successfully undocked and deorbited from the ISS during the last week of September.
Other happenings on the ISS included a debris avoidance maneuver on September 27th, some cubesat deploys, the Progress docking, Scott Kelly breaking the record for most days in space by an American, and some great imagery of Hurricane Patricia.
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) October 23, 2015
Around the Solar System
Science data from the New Horizons flyby of Pluto continue to come in, including this awesome picture showing the blue glow of the planetoids thin atmosphere.
NASA made a big announcement at the end of September about Mars research, revealing that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had imaged evidence of water flowing (intermittently) on the surface of Mars. While previous NASA missions had confirmed that water is present and had flowed in streams and rivers in the ancient past, this is the first evidence of a modern water cycle. As usual, Emily Lakdawalla has excellent coverage.
NASA is posting daily images of the Earth from the DSCOVR satellite to an interactive website.
A rather large Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) at 500 meters across will buzz the Earth-Moon system on October 31st, but is not in danger of impacting our planet.
Down to Earth
Check out this innovative moving ISS tracker someone built.
Chris Hadfield is releasing an album of songs he recorded while on ISS. Here’s a music video of Feet Up off the album.
All of the big events last week up at the ISS went fine. First, on Monday, HTV5 rendezvoused with the station on time and was captured with Canadarm-2. Later in the week, the crew of Soyuz TMA-16M strapped into their re-entry couches for a quick 30 minute fly around to change docking ports. Here’s an awesome time lapse of the “relocate”.
A few orbital rocket launches this past week, but none related to the ISS program. Here’s a rundown of the three launches from three different nations: India launched a communications satellite on a GSLV rocket, China launched a military satellite on a Long March 4C rocket, and Russia launched a commercial communications satellite on a Proton rocket. An Atlas V was supposed to launch from Florida with a military satellite but was delayed due to tropical storm Erika.
Here’s a nice animation by ESA about astronaut Andreas Mogensen’s flight to ISS next week. Soyuz TMA-18M is slated to launch with the next ISS crew on Wednesday, September 2.
As usual, lots of good photos from the ISS were posted to Twitter by the current crew, including some great shots of active tropical storms and hurricanes. Here’s a selection.
Canadian Robot Arm and I are standing by for the tomorrow's big task "HTV capture" Arm and I saw an aurora together;) pic.twitter.com/bSVTcvmkte
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) August 23, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) August 24, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) August 26, 2015
Hurricane JIMENA. It's really scary to see the eye of the hurricane closely… pic.twitter.com/EDr6X5vvuo
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) August 29, 2015
Hello London! Lived in the outskirts for several years as a child. Fond memories! pic.twitter.com/YzkXe6LV2f
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) August 30, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) August 30, 2015
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) August 30, 2015
Around the Solar System
NASA’s New Horizons probe will flyby a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 in 2019. The final selection of the Pluto probes next target was announced last week.
Sorry for the delayed post this week. It has been a busy month, as I prepare for my trip to the 31st Space Symposium in just over a week. Plus, I recently got a new Amazon Kindle and have been diving into the world of spaceflight historical fiction (I know, I was surprised too!). I recently finished reading both Zero Phase and Public Loneliness by Gerald Brennan. Check them out!
The most exciting space news since my last post on March 20th of course was the launch of Soyuz TMA-16M last Friday. Here’s a video of the launch. More on what’s been going on ISS under “In Orbit”, below.
Down to Earth
Speaking of naming contests, the SETI Institute has launched the “Our Pluto” campaign for the public to help suggest names for features on Pluto, which will soon be discovered by the New Horizons spacecraft. From what I can tell, NASA and the IAU are onboard, so the names may actually become official.
Ellington Airport, just a few miles from the Johnson Space Center, has a new agreement with Sierra Nevada Corporation to land unmanned Dream Chaser spaceplanes here in Houston. If Sierra Nevada is awarded the CRS-2 contract, this could provide a nice logistical advantage for the ISS program.
The next SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, which is another cargo resupply flight to ISS, has been delayed to April 13 (a 3-day slip).
NASA has selected “Option B” for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The mission will involve an unmanned robotic mission retrieving a small boulder from the surface of a Near Earth Object (NEO) which will be visited later by astronauts in lunar orbit.
Lots of rocket launches in late March, in addition to the Soyuz launch that sent Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka to ISS. The list of launches includes: an Atlas V with a new GPS satellite, A Japanese reconnaissance satellite on an H-II rocket, two European Galileo navigation satellites on a Soyuz rocket, and at least one other Indian, Russian, and Chinese rocket. The Chinese launch reportedly included a test flight of a new mini-space plane. The number of rocket launches this year now stands at 21 to orbit, with no failures.
As for that Soyuz flight to the ISS, it was a picture perfect launch, rendezvous, and docking, with Kelly and crewmates arriving at ISS only 6 hours after departing Kazakhstan. The number of humans off-world is now back up to 6, and the number of people tweeting from space is now at 4, with Kelly joining Cristoforetti, Virts, and Shkaplerov. Here’s a sample of their recent posts:
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) March 31, 2015
Emergency training today with the full 6 person Expedition 43 crew. pic.twitter.com/3zZFMnDqUH
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) March 30, 2015
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) March 30, 2015
— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) March 27, 2015
— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) March 31, 2015
Around the Solar System
The annual Lunar and Planetary Science conference took place in March, which usually means interesting news from spacecraft exploring the solar system. Some of the best stories from this year’s LPSC are:
- The possibility that the bright spots seen by Dawn on Ceres are in fact plumes of some kind.
- Awesome high resolution images of Mercury, as MESSENGER moves into the last month of its mission.
- New evidence for past hydrothermal activity on Mars, which may lead to key sites to search for life.
I was excited to learn that there are still astronomers diligently watching the Alpha Centauri system, with HST even, to try to confirm the potential worlds detected orbiting there several years ago. The latest data indicates that perhaps there are two worlds, not just one, orbiting Alpha Centauri B. Unfortunately, the data is not strong enough to say they are there for sure… yet.