Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Microsoft co-founder and commercial spaceflight pioneer Paul Allen died last week.

Rocket Lab has decided it will operate a launch site from Wallops Island, Virginia.

In Orbit

There have been 9 successful orbital launches since my last post on October 14th:

A private Chinese rocket startup, LandSpace, failed to put a satellite in orbit on the first launch of their ZhuQue-1 rocket.

Roscosmos completed the accident investigation of the Soyuz abort last month and released the below onboard camera footage. The first crewed return to flight since the accident is expected in December.

Both the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have been recovered from safe mode.

In other space telescope news, NASA announced that Kepler will cease operations.

NASA released photographs from the Soyuz flyaround following the most recent crew undocking in October. This was the first detailed flyaround and photographic survey of the ISS since the end of the Shuttle program.

ISS on October 4th, 2018

Around the Solar System

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has run out of fuel and ceased communications.

Check out this amazing GIF of asteroid Bennu from the Osiris-Rex spacecraft. This is an early look at an unexplored world.

And here’s a cool video from Hayabusa-2 of a touchdown rehearsal on asteroid Ryugu.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

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

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

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

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

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

In Orbit

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

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

Around the Solar System

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

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

Out There

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

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

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

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

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

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

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

In Orbit

The following orbital launches have occurred since my last post.

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

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

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

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

Around the Solar System

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

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

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

Out There

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

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

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

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will take advantage on an open seat in an upcoming Soyuz flight to ISS and fly their first homegrown astronaut into orbit.

The US Air Force has awarded a contract to SpaceX to launch a DOD satellite on a Falcon Heavy in 2020.

Last week the President of the United States signed Space Policy Directive 3, which establishes a formal National Space Traffic Management Policy.

In Orbit

There were no orbital rocket launches or major mission events at the International Space Station last week. However, the NanoRacks Remove Debris (or RemDeb) satellite was deployed from the ISS. This satellite will demonstrate techniques for reducing orbital debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The ISS crew continues to be busy with maintenance and science as always. Here’s a selection of some of their most interesting photos posted to Twitter last week.

In upcoming launches, Rocket Lab will attempt to launch their next Electron rocket on Tuesday (New Zealand time) and SpaceX will launch their next Dragon resupply to ISS next Friday.

Around the Solar System

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 continues to get closer to its destination, asteroid Ryugu. Some more detailed images of the unexplored rock were downlinked last week.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been slowly lowering its orbit around asteroid Ceres to get new unprecedented views of the dwarf planet.

The large dust storm on the surface of Mars continues, with no contact from the rover Opportunity. Rover Curiosity continues to operate in Gale Crater, sending back this recent dusty “selfie.”

Data from Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft, which orbits Venus, has returned some interesting results about the variability of the planet’s day-night cycle.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Peggy Whitson, the American astronaut with the most day’s in space, has retired from NASA.

Orbital ATK is no officially a division of Northrop Grumman.

An interesting Pew Research Center poll was getting some media coverage last week, after it showed that the American public’s priorities for NASA do not line up with its official priorities (at least when you measure “priorities” by funding levels).

Check out the trailer for the upcoming film First Man.

The new NASA Johnson Space Center director, Mark Geyer, now has a twitter account.

The soccer ball used to kickoff the 2018 FIFA World Cup was previously flown to the ISS.

In Orbit

There were four orbital rocket launches since my last post on June 5th:

  • June 5 – China launched a Long March 3A rocket carrying a weather satellite.
  • June 6 – Russia launched a Soyuz rocket carrying three new crew members to the ISS.
  • June 12 – Japan launched an HII-A rocket carrying a reconnaissance satellite.
  • June 16 – Russian launched a Soyuz rocket carrying a GLONASS navigation satellite.

In upcoming launches, Rocket Lab will launch its first commercial flight from New Zealand on June 23rd.

The Soyuz crew arrived at the ISS a couple of days after launch, bringing the onboard crew to six withSergey Prokopyev, Serena Auñón-Chancellor, and Alex Gerst now onboard.

Astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold completed a nearly 7-hour spacewalk at the ISS last Thursday, in order to complete maintenance activities and install new cameras.

Around the Solar System

A major dust storm on Mars has caused NASA to lose contact with the solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity. The rover is in low power mode waiting out the storm. Mission controllers are waiting for sufficient battery charge to allow the rover to restore communications.

Fortunately, the nuclear powered rover Curiosity can keep on roaming through the dust storm. It captured this image of the hazy sky from Gale Crater.

Scientists with the Curiosity mission published two new papers detailing discoveries related to season methane concentrations in the atmosphere and ancient organic molecules in rock samples.

An extension to NASA’s Juno mission, currently in orbit of Jupiter, has been approved.

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is now close enough to asteroid Ryugu that it has been able to image the small rock.

Out There

Astronomers have made observation of a “tidal event” in which a star is seen falling into a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy.

Weekly Links

Down to earth

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

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

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

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

In Orbit

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

Two rocket launches last week:

Around the solar system

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

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

Out There

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

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The Center for the Advancement of Science In Space (CASIS)  – the organization that manages the ISS as a national laboratory – will be looking for a new executive director after Gregory Johnson steps down.

The White House released their proposed federal budget for 2019, including details for NASA. Here’s a summary from Parabolic Arc of what the budget would include for the space agency. The Planetary Society also has a great summary up on their blog and also covered it in a recent podcast.

Kennedy Space Center’s visitor center has opened a new interactive “Astronaut Training Experience“.

In Orbit

After the launch of a Progress resupply craft to the ISS was scrubbed last Sunday, it was launch successful on Tuesday and docked to the ISS two days later.

Other than the Progress, launched on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonaur, the only other launch last week was a Chinese Long March 3B rocket carrying two global navigation satellites.

ESA celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Columbus modules launch to the ISS.

Two astronauts, Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Norishige Kanai of JAXA, completed a spacewalk on Friday to fix the SSRMS, as well as some other maintenance tasks.

Around the Solar System

The Opportunity rover has now spent more than 5,000 martian days (or “sols”) on Mars. To commemorate the occasion, the JPL rover team commanded Opportunity to take a “self-portrait” mosaic using the cameras on the end of its robotic arm. This is the first time this has been done with Opportunity.

Opportunity self-portrait

New Horizons has broken the record held by Voyager’s famous Pale Blue Dot image for farthest images taken from Earth. The probe is on its way to an encounter with 2014 MU69 next January. While it is cruising through the Kuiper Belt, it took advantage of its “near” pass to two other objects and took some low resolution images of 2012 HZ84 and 2021 HE85.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

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

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

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

In Orbit

Four successful orbital rocket launches since my last post

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

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

Around the Solar System

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

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

Out There

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

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

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

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

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

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

In Orbit

The following rocket launches occurred last week:

Out There

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

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

2017 in Review

The year of 2017 will be remembered by most of my readers for reasons totally unrelated to spaceflight. It was a tumultuous year with political turmoil, social strife, acts of violence, and devastating natural disasters. Unfortunately, it is these negative stories that tend to embed themselves in our memories as we witness the arc of history unfold. Even when we zoom out to a wide angle view of decades or centuries, it is violence and conflict we remember. What were the biggest events of the 20th century? Wars, economic collapse, threats of annihilation, and social strife. I don’t have to remind you though, as a space fan, that most of the world shares at least one bright memory of the difficult last century: Apollo 11.

In a similar way, I’m hoping that through all the difficult times we face as a society in the 21st century, that spaceflight can be one of those bright spots that is a source of optimism and hope (although, surely not the only source). As Bill Nye is fond of saying “space brings out the best in us.” Spaceflight is an outlet for positive creative energy. Spaceflight applies technology in new ways, often leading to new inventions and sometimes entire industries. Spaceflight allows us to conduct important research that applies directly to the interests and concerns of everyone on Earth – from medical studies onboard the ISS to weather and climate satellites to space telescopes looking out for Near Earth Objects (NEOs).

Spaceflight is a bipartisan endeavor universally loved by young and old alike because it taps into something innate in us. Whether it’s the love of exploration and discovery or just the appeal of astronauts as wholesome hometown heroes, space has always been an easy sell to the public. Very few other uses of time and money are as generally noncontroversial (although we like to argue over specifics). There was a chance for space to get swallowed up in the political turmoil in Washington, DC this past year. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Instead, the space industry had another great year with very few setbacks.

Some readers may take issue with that statement and want to argue that it was not a great year for space. After all, NASA still has no confirmed administrator, XCOR went out of business, several programs slipped their launch dates (JWST, SLS, Orion), and Cassini ended its mission at Saturn (leaving us with a dearth of outer solar system probes). But if we look at those space programs or missions that are active and flying, we see lots of success in 2017 with few failures. The loss of Cassini should probably be spun as a positive story anyway – the planned retirement of a historic program of exploration – 13 years in Saturn orbit.

Other than the few things I listed above, the only other major setbacks of 2017 would be the five complete launch failures shown below (there were one or two other partial failures). Both Japan and New Zealand (Rocket Lab) lost rockets on their maiden launch. India, China, and Russia all lost one rocket each. The two remaining major space powers – ESA and USA – did not have any launch failures.

Country Vehicle Payload Maiden launch?
Japan SS-520 nanosat Yes
New Zealand Electron none Yes
China Long March 5 Comm sat No
India PSLV Nav sat No
Russia Soyuz Various No

2017 actually had the lowest launch success rate since 2011 and yet overall it felt like a very successful year (launch success was about 93% instead of the usual 95%). A few things contribute to this being a good year for rockets. First of course, is that 2 of the failures were test launches. If you remove them from the accounting, we are back at 95%. The second big reason is that none of the other failures led to an interruption in logistical support for the ISS. From 2014 to 2016, ISS operations lost four uncrewed logistical support rockets. After a string that bad, the last 13 months of successful flights (ten missions in all) feels positively blissful.

The third, and maybe most important reason this was a great year for rockets, was that SpaceX had no failures this year. In 2015 they lost an ISS resupply mission on ascent. In 2016 their year was cut short at 8 missions when a rocket blew up on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral. The backlog of customers was looming for a long 6 months while SpaceX worked on recovering from that latest failure. Then, last January they returned to flight with a launch for Iridium and haven’t let up since. Their accomplishments include: no launch failures, a record 18 launches, a record 15 first stage recoveries, and first reuse of a first stage. The other American providers, ULA and Orbital ATK, also had good years with 8 and 3 successful launches each with no failures.

As long as we get to space with chemically propelled rockets, everything hinges on how well our rockets are flying. We can’t really do a retrospective on the year without looking at these numbers. This has always been true, but what is particularly poignant from 2017 are those 18 launches from SpaceX. That’s fully 20% of all launches. Not only that, but they flew a lot of important missions. In 2017 alone they launched four times to the ISS and at least twice for the US military. In 2018 they plan to launch several times for NASA, including to the ISS as well as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). At this point, it’s pretty clear that when SpaceX has a good year, the space industry has a good year.

In addition to the 10 successful cargo launches to the ISS this year, there were also 4 flawless crew launches to keep the record of 17 straight years of crewed operations going. NASA stepped up to 4 full-time USOS crew (which includes Japanese, Canadian, and European flyers), enabling even more research. NASA is now in full utilization mode of the ISS. Hundreds of experiments are being conducted each year – from physical science to medicine to biology to botany to astronomy – and each SpaceX Dragon brings up more externally mounted autonomous payloads such as last year’s aerosol monitoring payload (SAGE III) and a neutron star telescope (NICER), among others. The ISS has become an important platform for efficiently deploying small satellites, with dozens launched from the Japanese robotic arm last year.

The ISS looks well positioned for the future, with a healthy manifest of crew and payloads coming up as well as the exciting prospect of even larger crews, once Boeing and SpaceX successfully demonstrate flight of their new crew transportation systems. In the meantime, important maintenance has been ongoing to ensure that ISS can operate well into the 2020s. Early in the year a Japanese cargo vehicle, an HTV, brought up a new set of lithium ion batteries, the first in a series of battery replacements over the next few years that will keep the solar power flowing. The batteries were replaced in a series of 3 spacewalks last January. Ultimately, ISS astronauts would complete 10 successful spacewalks last year with no major issues.

The year in ISS was underscored by Peggy Whitson’s amazing flight. At 57 years old, Whitson now holds the record for most days in space of any American astronaut in history (665) as well as an impressive 60 hours of EVA time that puts her number 3 all time behind Anatoly Solovyev and Michael Lopez-Alegria. Peggy’s 289 day mission was almost entirely unprecedented. Not only was Whitson praised as a “space ninja” by her crew mates for her work onboard the ISS, but even made a wide impression outside of NASA and received a Woman of the Year award from Glamour Magazine. The crews aboard the ISS continue to bring the wonder of spaceflight home to us through their social media engagement and excellent educational outreach events. If you aren’t checking this link for the latest pictures from space every morning, you are missing out on a little bit of daily wonder.

The ISS is of course not the only game in town. NASA has very active planetary science and astronomy programs, not to mention similar missions from ESA, JAXA, and other agencies. 2017 saw no new launches of solar system probes (that’s right, zero) but many active missions made progress and the only “failure” being the end of Cassini. Mars is incredibly active with 8 missions. Two NASA rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity, are providing a wealth of insights into the wet history of Mars. The most exciting discoveries from those robots are likely yet to come. Two asteroid sample return missions, OSIRIS-Rex from NASA and Hayabusa 2 from JAXA, remain in interplanetary cruise phase. New Horizons is on its way to visit a Kuiper Belt Object next year, Juno remains in orbit at Jupiter, and Dawn continues to explore the largest asteroid, Ceres.

Some of these missions we heard big news from this year, such as Cassini’s analysis of the ocean plumes from icy Enceladus. We also gained a new understanding of the winds and storms of Jupiter from Juno. Not to mention the absolutely stunning images we have been treated to from JunoCam.

But overall, space exploration, especially planetary exploration, is a long game. Spacecraft take years to reach their targets and then spend sometimes months or years (at least for orbiters and rovers) slowly collecting the data they need to learn something new from our mysterious solar system neighbors. So there were no splashy launches or touchdowns in 2017. Instead, the hard work from years past continued to pay off with well built spacecraft going about their daily business. 2017 was a great year in this respect. Years like this lay the foundation for big discoveries to come; it’s just that we have to wait a bit for the papers to be published. The only real downer this year is probably that Curiosity’s drill is still out of commission.

There is of course, a lot more to cover. Spaceflight is a big industry that goes far beyond just the ISS or big planetary exploration missions. New Space, for instance, had a lot of interesting updates this year. In addition to Rocket Lab making their first launch attempt, Blue Origin demonstrated further progress on their New Shepard vehicle as well as their BE-4 engine, Virgin Orbit moved a few steps closer to their first test launch with several engine tests, and Sierra Nevada conducted their first free glide flight in several years.

Then there’s astronomy. So much is happening in astronomy these days that it deserves a lengthy retrospective all its own. Here are some highlights of last year in a quick paragraph. Many interesting exoplanets were discovered, such as the fascinating Trappist-1 system with three potentially habitable planets. But Ross 128b is my favorite potentially habitable planet, because it is less than 11 light years from Earth. Let’s go! Other exciting developments in astronomy included more neutron star collisions discovered via gravitational waves and also the fascinating cigar shaped something known as ‘Omuamua which flew through our solar system from somewhere this past October (more to come on this we hope).

As we look to the future, we can see that there is a lot to learn. The ISS has years of science to conduct – managers are furiously looking for more ways to maximize timelines and target the most likely breakthroughs. Meanwhile there are dozens of worlds here at home in our solar system yet to explore, not just with probes already launched but many to come (launches to Mars, Mercury, and the Moon in 2018). And most intriguing of all, there are thousands upon thousands of worlds to explore out there, beyond our own star.

The more we look, the more we find. And the more we find, the more questions we think to ask. This is the optimistic and worldview expanding impact of science. We are losing the explorers of the last century – Apollo legends Gene Cernan, Dick Gordon, and John Young all passed away in their 80s in the past year. But it’s hard not to see the vast opportunity available to the current generation of explorers in this century. Perhaps some day we will look back at this time period as a changing of the guard. It is hard to say without the benefit of hindsight. If nothing else, for those of us that are inspired by scientific discovery and exploration, 2017 showed us that spaceflight can be – and probably always will be – a candle in the dark.

 Previous year in review posts

2015 year in review: Part I and Part II.

2014 year in review: Part I and Part II.

2013 year in review: Part I and Part II.