Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category
Down to Earth
Funeral services were held for Gemini and Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan in Houston on January 24th.
The Russian workhorse heavy-lift rocket, the Proton, is currently grounded due to a new hardware recall. The rocket may be grounded through the spring, delaying a backlog of commercial flights.
The new US presidential administration and Congress are starting to have an impact on NASA’s plans. A few notable things happened in the beltway over the past few months.
- Acting NASA administrator Robert Lightfoot is looking into whether the first SLS flight could be crewed by astronauts rather than unmanned. This would potentially move up the timeline for NASA’s exploration plans by several years.
- An authorization bill in Congress could direct NASA back to having Orion capable of supporting ISS crew flights as a backup to the Commercial Crew plan.
- The Sierra Nevada Corporation is proposing that their Dreamchaser spacecraft could be used for a sixth Hubble servicing mission.
Severe weather in Louisiana on February 7th included a tornado which struck NASA’s Michoud facility near New Orleans. NASA facilities sustained damage but all employees are safe with no major injuries.
There have been five successful orbital rocket launches since my last update on January 23rd:
- On January 24th, Japan launched a military communications satellite on an H-IIA rocket.
- On January 28th, Arianespace launched a spanish communications satellite from French Guiana on a Soyuz rocket.
- On February 14th, Arianespace launch telecommunications satellites for Indonesia and Brasil from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket.
- On February 15th, India launched a wide array of small satellites (104 in all) on their PSLV rocket.
- On February 19th, SpaceX launched an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft to the ISS on a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida.
And of course, here’s the awesome video of the Falcon 9’s first stage booster returning to Landing Zone 1 at CCAFS.
Up on the ISS, two cargo spacecraft departed. First, the Japanese HTV left ISS in late January. It stayed in orbit for another week with plans to conduct a tether experiment. However, the tether failed to deploy. HTV was followed quickly by the departure of Progress MS-03 from a nadir facing port of the space station.
Around the Solar System
NASA has decided to leave the Juno probe in it’s longer 56-day orbit around Jupiter instead of the planned closer 14-day orbit. This decision is based on anomalies seen with the probe’s main engine and worries that another burn will not go per plan.
Down to Earth
Legendary astronaut Gene Cernan has died at the age of 82. Captain Cernan had an incredible career in the Navy and then at NASA, where he flew on three important missions: Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17. Gemini 9 had Cernan’s harrowing spacewalk (the second for an American); Apollo 10 was the dress rehearsal for the moon landing, in which Cernan and Stafford got to within just miles of the lunar surface before a planned abort; Apollo 17 is of course known as the final mission to the surface of the moon. If you haven’t read Cernan’s autobiography or seen the recent biography about him (both called The Last Man on the Moon) you should put them both on your list.
NASA administrator Charlie Bolden resigned last Thursday – as is tradition for most presidential appointees – the day before inauguration of president Donald J. Trump. NASA is currently being run by acting administrator Robert Lightfoot.
Andy Weir, author of The Martian, announced on social medial that he will be working with CBS on a new show set in Houston’s mission control.
CBS picked up my TV show pilot! Working with Aditya Sood again (producer of "The Martian") again. Should be fun! https://t.co/9EqCcZGF1P
— Andy Weir (@andyweirauthor) January 17, 2017
A small Japanese rocket, which would have been the smallest ever to make orbit, failed during a launch attempt last Saturday, January 14th. The rocket was carrying a single small cubesat.
However, two rockets did make successful launches within the last week. First, SpaceX had a spectacular return to flight on Saturday, January 14th, placing 10 satellites into orbit for Iridium after a flawless launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg in California. They even stuck the landing on the first stage recovery.
Lastly, on January 20th, United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V carrying a USAF satellite, GEO 3.
Meanwhile, a failure investigation has narrowed down the loss of a Russian Soyuz rocket last month to an oxidizer pump, leading the Russian space agency to make some part replacements on both the next manned and unmanned flights. Hopefully we will see Soyuz rockets flying to the ISS again soon!
Around the Solar System
The Japanese probe in orbit of Venus, Akatsuki, has made observations of a massive standing wave in the planet’s atmosphere.
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
American hero and original Mercury astronaut John Glenn died on December 8th.
Former space shuttle astronaut, climate scientist, and director at Goddard Space Flight Center, died on December 23rd. He was a fierce advocate of climate science. This open letter he wrote after his cancer diagnosis is worth a read.
Virgin Galactic conducted another SpaceShipTwo glide flight on December 22, the second of the month.
Actor Ryan Gosling is to play Neil Armstrong in a new biopic to be filmed next year.
It’s been a busy month since my last post on December 4th, with 12 more successful orbital rocket launches (check out this post from Parabolic Arc for 2016 launch statistics).
- A European Vega rocket launched on December 5th placed a Turkish military satellite in orbit
- An Indian rocket launched on December 7th placed an Earth observing satellite in orbit
- A Delta IV rocket launched on December 7th placed a U.S. Air Force satellite in orbit
- A Japanese H-IIB launched on December 9th carried an ISS logistics cargo craft as well as a slew of small secondary payloads
- A Chinese rocket launched on December 10th placed a weather satellite in orbit
- An Orbital Sciences Pegasus rocket launched on December 15th (air launched from under an airplane wing) placed 8 new hurricane observing satellites in orbit
- An Atlas V rocket launched on December 18th placed a commercial communications satellite in orbit
- A Japanese Epsilon rocket launched on December 20th placed a Van Allen radiation belt research probe in orbit
- Another Chinese rocket launched on December 21st placed two Earth-observing satellites in orbit
- A European Ariane 5 rocket launched on December 21st placed both a Brazilian and Japanese communications satellite in orbit
- Another Chinese rocket launched on December 28th placed two satellites in orbit, but reportedly the wrong one
- Another Chinese rocket launched on January 5th placed a telecommunications satellite in orbit
The Japanese HTV cargo craft which launched in early December was successfully captured by the on-orbit ISS crew on December 12th.
Around the Solar System
There are some problems at Mars:
The Curiosity rover has a problem with its scientific drill. Flight controllers are troubleshooting.
The Mars Odyssey orbiter went into safe mode last week. It is expected that it will be recovered.
Down to Earth
The crew of three Chinese taikonauts finished their 30-day stay aboard the Tiangong-2 space staion and returned to Earth last month.
A planned cargo resupply flight (with no astronauts aboard) launched from Kazakhstan on December 1 on its way to the ISS, but did not make orbit and crashed somewhere in a remote part of Asia. The next ISS resupply is a Japanese HTV vehicle launching next week.
Virgin Galactic continued their flight test program for the new SpaceShipTwo vehicle (named VSS Unity) with a captive carry flight on November 30 and then a glide drop test on December 3. Powered flights should be happening soon, but no specific dates are public. Here’s a photo gallery of the flight test.
Four other rockets launched since my last post on November 16, all successfully placing their payloads in orbit:
- ESA launched an Ariane 5 rocket carrying 4 new Galileo navigation satellites.
- Three new crew launched from Kazakhstan on their way to ISS: Peggy Whitson of USA, Thomas Pesquet of France, and Oleg Novitsky of Russia.
- ULA launched an Atlas V carrying a new weather satellite for NOAA.
- China launched a Long March 3C rocket with a new geosynchronous communications satellite.
The ISS has had a very busy month, notwithstanding the loss of Progress 65. After the last three members of Expedition 50 arrived, they got quickly to work with last-minute packing of the Cygnus freighter, which they released two days later.
— Shane Kimbrough (@astro_kimbrough) November 30, 2016
Since the Cygnus departure, the crew has been furiously working on their long list of on-orbit experiments. Thomas has someone found the time to tweet every day. Some of his best are below:
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) November 24, 2016
The French flag is now floating in Columbus, my new office and the home of Europe in space! pic.twitter.com/jT9aWOO9t8
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) November 25, 2016
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) November 26, 2016
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) November 26, 2016
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) November 28, 2016
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) December 1, 2016
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) December 2, 2016
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) December 3, 2016
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) December 4, 2016
Around the Solar System
Radar measurements on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have discovered a vast deposit of frozen water under the Northern mid-latitudes of Mars.
Down to Earth
United Launch Alliance has narrowed down the anomaly in their last Atlas V flight – which resulted in an early shutdown of the main stage – to a particular valve.
Check out this 360-degree view of the SpaceX ASDS landing (best viewed on mobile for easy panning).
The next Falcon 9 launch and attempted ASDS landing on May 5th at about 1:22 AM. They are launching a Japanese commercial satellite.
The James Webb Space Telescope had the protective covers removed from its primary mirror last week. Here’s a link to the webcam at Goddard where the multi-billion dollar observatory is being assembled: http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/webcam.html
The next spaceflight analog crew to spend 30 days inside a mockup spacecraft at NASA’s Johnson Space Center will start their mission tomorrow. You can follow along on Twitter:
— HERA Crew X (@HERA_Crew_X) April 30, 2016
The first launch of Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport took place on April 28th. Here are some great pictures via Spaceflight Now. The rocket was carrying two “technology” satellites and one gamma-ray observatory.
In other launch news, India launched a big rocket carrying one navigation satellite, to complete their domestic navigation constellation. And thirdly, ESA was finally able to launch their Sentinel-1B Earth-observing satellite, which was delayed last weekend.
Up on ISS, the Soyuz TMA-19M crew has learned that they will get about an extra two weeks in orbit, as Expedition 47 has been extended to June 18th.
In sad news, JAXA has given up their attempts to recover the stricken Hitomi x-ray observatory which has been out of contact for some weeks. They now suspect that the spacecraft spun out of control due to an attitude control malfunction and lost its solar arrays.
Tim Peake got to do a unique experiment from the ISS last week when he controlled an ESA rover on the ground via remote control.
Around the Solar System
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has discovered a small moon orbiting the distant Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) known as Makemake.
Down to Earth
NASA’s Dawn mission was awarded the prestigious Collier Trophy.
Former NASA astronaut Janet Kavandi is the new director of Glenn Research Center in Ohio.
WIRED sent a guy to spend a day at JSC learning what it’s like to be an astronaut. The short video is fun and probably fairly informative for non-space geeks.
Lots of launch activity in the past two weeks. Of the five total launches, I’ll get the two less interesting ones out of the way first: on March 13, a Russian Earth observation mission launched from Baikonaur and then on March 24, a Russian military mission launched from Plesetsk. Both were on Soyuz rockets.
The other three launches are much more interesting. First, on March 14 the much anticipated ExoMars mission launched on a Proton rocket from Baikonaur. The Mars exploration mission is currently safely in solar orbit on its way to an October rendezvous.
On March 18, another Soyuz rocket launched from Baikonaur, but this time carrying 3 people. Aleksey Ovchinin, Oleg Skripochka, and Jeff Williams had an uneventful launch, rendezvous, and docking with the ISS. Or at least, as uneventful as those sorts of things go!
Lastly, an Atlas V rocket launched from Florida on March 23 carrying a Cygnus cargo freighter. Cygnus, named the S.S. Rick Husband by Orbital ATK, arrived (also uneventfully) at ISS on Saturday morning.
— Tim Kopra (@astro_tim) March 26, 2016
— Tim Kopra (@astro_tim) March 27, 2016
Unfortunately, it sounds like Japan’s Astro-H X-ray observatory may have been lost only weeks after it launched in February.
Around the Solar System
Check out this picture of the tallest mountains on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Here’s some awesome new close-up imagery of the “bright spots” on Ceres.
Newly released analysis of New Horizons data indicates that Pluto may have had periods of high atmospheric pressure in the past, which allowed liquid nitrogen to flow in rivers on its surface.
Down to Earth
Former NASA mathematician Katharine Johnson was recently awarded the presidential medal of freedom. She is currently 97 years old.
Hungary is a new full member of the European Space Agency.
Virgin Galactic announced that they now plan to launch their LauncherOne rocket from a modified 747 instead of from the belly of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. WhiteKnightTwo will then be free to fly more dedicated flights of SpaceShipOne for paying tourist-o-nauts.
The Apollo Saturn V rockets that Jeff Bezos pulled up from the seafloor in the Atlantic are headed to museums. Some of them have already been delivered to the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
The first of 18 primary mirror segments for the James Webb Space Telescope was installed into the spacecraft last month.
Blue Origin had a suborbital flight of their New Shepard vehicle. The unmanned capsule landed back on Earth under parachute and the rocket itself landed under its own power on two legs. Here’s the video.
And here’s an awesome video of Blue Origin employees celebrating the flight. Almost as good as JPL celebrating a rover landing on Mars. Way to go guys!
Lots of rocket launches since my last post. Here’s a quick run down. I use the Wikipedia page 2015 in spaceflight as a general source (with other references):
Three launches by China of various reconnaissance or communications payloads.
Two launches by Russia, seemingly military in nature. However, the recent launch last night may have had a mishap and part of the payload did not make orbit.
And then Japan, ESA, and America round out the crowd with one more launch each. Japan launched a commercial telecommunications satellite, ESA launched the LISA Pathfinder gravity wave physics probe, and United Launch Alliance sent a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on the way to the ISS for Orbital ATK.
Meanwhile on the ISS, the crew has been posting awesome pictures in whatever free they have. Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui will be coming home this week, on December 11th. I will miss their Twitter posts! You really should be following them on Twitter yourself, but here are some of their best (it may look like a lot but this is really a small selection from just the last three weeks):
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) November 16, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) November 17, 2015
Honolulu and Diamond Head Crater. I can hear the waves and feel the sun from here. pic.twitter.com/sZPioOgBmc
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) November 17, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) November 19, 2015
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) November 19, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) November 20, 2015
Northern CA Bay Area. I spent the summer of 1996 doing research at NASA Ames Research Center. Great memories! pic.twitter.com/PjAHfnsHzz
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) November 21, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) November 24, 2015
Boats sheltering in an atoll. pic.twitter.com/546lttQR8s
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) November 29, 2015
Pictures of west coast, east coast of U.S. or small villages in Canada at night. Which do you like? 米国西海岸、東海岸、カナダの村） pic.twitter.com/j4KnI2dTSb
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) November 27, 2015
Полярное сияние, в середине сверкает Москва, а слева вверху – Санкт-Петербург. Снимок сделал Олег Кононенко. pic.twitter.com/0NWBbpLMAJ
— Sergey Volkov (@Volkov_ISS) November 29, 2015
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) December 1, 2015
Beautiful dunes. Arrakis? pic.twitter.com/WAsQpWAJfX
— Kjell Lindgren (@astro_kjell) December 2, 2015
View from JEM window) 宇宙での最後の週末。きぼうの窓から、景色を楽しんでいます。オーロラが綺麗です。この星々をみて、星座が分かる人は凄いです！ヒントは、太陽電池パネルの上の２つの明るめの星。右はりょうけん座。 pic.twitter.com/2U6Ea4SVjF
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) December 6, 2015
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) December 6, 2015
Around the Solar System
The Japanese probe Akatsuki has entered orbit around Venus, several years after it missed its original orbit insertion due ot a thruster failure. Way to go JAXA!
Down to Earth
Veteran astronaut Steve Swanson, who flew on the space shuttle and commanded the ISS last year, is retiring from NASA. According to his Wikipedia page, he has spent an impressive 195 days in space with almost 28 hours of spacewalk time across 5 EVAs. This leaves NASA with 45 active astronauts (which doesn’t count ESA and JAXA astronauts who are qualified to fly to ISS).
Last week an important engine test in the development of the new SLS rocket was conducted at Stennis Space Center. The RS-25 engine was run for almost a full ten minuets. Here’s a video (test starts at 31:15).
Last Monday, August 10th, two Russian Cosmonauts went outside the ISS for a spacewalk. Padalka and Kornienko spent about five and a half hours outside. It was Padalka’s tenth spacewalk, which should put him nicely on this list once it is updated.
Later in the week, on Friday morning, a Russian Progress cargo craft undocked from the aft port of the ISS. That port will be empty until Soyuz 42S does a “relocate” from the Poisk port later this fall. The relocate is needed to free up Poisk for the docking of the next Soyuz. There will be three Soyuz onboard for a direct handover this fall.
Some cool stuff happened inside the ISS this past week as well. The astronauts were able to eat some red romaine lettuce grown on the space station in the “VEGGIE” experiment.
Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui did some remote robotics experiments.
I had a experiment called "HAPTICS". I controlled an robot-arm on the ground from ISS. I did remote handshake with people on ground as well!
— 油井 亀美也 Kimiya.Yui (@Astro_Kimiya) August 14, 2015
The launch of the next ISS resupply flight from Japan has been delayed to Monday, due to bad weather.
Also in ISS cargo news, Orbital Sciences announced they will launch not just one but two or more of their Cygnus cargo resupply missions on someone else’s rocket. Orbital is working hard to recertify their Antares rocket with new Russian engines, following the loss of one of their rockets last October. In the meantime, they are buying Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance in order to fulfill their NASA contract.
Around the Solar System
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has reached perihelion (closest point to the sun), which has made the comet rather “active”. Check out these images from Rosetta, in orbit about the comet.
How cool is this? There is evidence of cryovolcanism (ice volcanoes) on Pluto.
Speaking of Pluto, here’s an awesome simulation of the New Horizons flyby in real-time, based on actually imagery from the spacecraft.
If you love the ins and outs of Martian rover exploration, here’s a comprehensive update on what the Curiosity rover has been up to.
Down To Earth
Last Monday, SpaceX announced preliminary findings related to the loss of a Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon cargo mission last month. Here’s the companies official statement on their investigation so far. They have found that a structural support (or “strut”) holding up a pressurant tank in the second stage failed. Elon Musk hopes a delay of only a few months to their manifest.
Tony Antonelli, who piloted two space shuttle missions, has retired from the astronaut office.
The Smithsonian Institution has started a new Kickstarter campaign called “Reboot the Suit” to raise money to restore Neil Armstrong’s moonsuit. The restoration is planned to be completed in time for a new exhibit for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2019. I pledged!
Three launches from the Earth’s three spacefaring nation’s this past week: first, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched from Kazakhstan on July 22nd, followed a few hours later by a successful docking to ISS. The crew is now back up to full strength of 6, with the addition of Oleg Kononenko, Kimiya Yui, and Kjell Lindgren. Lindgren and Yui are on Twitter, so you should follow my “people in space” Twitter list.
Second, a Delta IV rocket launched from Florida on July 23rd. The mission delivered a new military communications satellite to orbit.
China also had a successful orbital launch last week. A Long March 3B delivered two navigation satellites to orbit on July 25th.
Around the Solar System
New pictures from the New Horizons’ Pluto flyby! Check out the new views of small moons Nix and Hydra.
Also, check out this view of the dark side of Pluto, with the sun lighting up its thin nitrogen atmosphere!
Not to mention they discovered nitrogen glaciers!
Closer to home, at Ceres, the Dawn spacecraft has discovered evidence of a “haze” in Occator crater. This is the large crater with several “bright spots” in its center.
JAXA is accepting applications to choose a name for asteroid 1999 JU3 which will be visited by their Hayabusa-2 spacecraft.
NASA announced the discovery of Kepler-452b, a small planet around a Sun-like star about 1,400 light years distant. This is the most similar planet in size and circumstance to Earth that we have yet found, but it still has 1.6 times Earth’s diameter (mass, and thus surface gravity, unknown). However, the fact that it is so small and in the habitable zone, makes it an awesome discovery.