Archive for the ‘Mars’ Category

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

Legendary astronaut and moonwalker, Alan Bean, died at age 86.

Air Force test pilot and Shuttle astronaut, Don Peterson, died at age 84.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo had another powered test flight.

Garrett Reisman, a former astronaut who had been serving at SpaceX as the director of space operations, has taken a new faculty position at USC.

NASA obtained imagery of the volcanic eruption in Guatemala.

The President of the United States signed Space Policy Directive 2, which aims to reduce the regulatory burden on commercial spaceflight.

In Orbit

A number of orbital rocket launches since my last post on May 20th:

Notable rocket launches coming up include a Soyuz rocket with 3 astronauts launching form Kazakhstan on Wednesday morning.

The Cygnus spacecraft was successfully captured by the ISS robotic arm on May 24 and installed on a docking port, delivering tons of supplies.

NOAA’s new GOES-17 weather satellite has a serious problem that will prevent it from retrieving all the intended data.

On June 3rd, three crew members undocked from the ISS and landed back in Kazakhstan in their Soyuz after 168 days in space.

Around the Solar System

The discovery of an asteroid in a retrograde orbit (backwards) has raised questions about whether it could be a captured interstellar object.

The Curiosity rover on Mars is back to drilling samples, after that particular instrument had been held in reserve for about a year.

A new study of Pluto data from New Horizons finds that there are likely dunes made of solid methane on its surface.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) have struck a deal to end a 13-day strike.

Astronaut Drew Feustel received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Purdue University, from space.

In Orbit

Last Wednesday, Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold completed a planned 6-hour and 31-minute spacewalk aboard the International Space Station.

The only orbital rocket launch since my last post on May 15th was a Chinese Long March 4C rocket carrying the Queqiao satellite. Queqiao will be a a communications relay satellite for the upcoming Chang’e 4 lunar rover mission.

China also launched a notable suborbital rocket this past week. A private Chinese company OneSpace Technology, performed the first launch of their OS-X suborbital rocket.

Next week there are some interesting launches planned. On Monday, May 21, Orbital ATK will launch a Cygnus on its way to the ISS from Wallops Island Virginia. On Tuesday, May 22, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket form Vandenberg in California.

Around the Solar System

This is a nice composite of images from Juno’s first 11 orbits of Jupiter.

NASA is planning to send a small helicopter to Mars along with the 2020 rover mission.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The latest SpaceX resupply craft to visit the space station successfully departed and splashed down yesterday morning, returning a large supply of science to NASA scientists.

The picture below is not from the Dragon splashdown but instead an attempt to return a rocket fairing after a Falcon 9 launch earlier this year.

Falcon 9 fairing opens its parafoil after reentering the atmosphere

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

Firefly Aerospace, a young space company out of Austin, has made a deal with the USAF to use a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

United States Vice President Mike Pence visited JPL in California.

Some new issues emerged this week regarding the preparations for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) for its long-awaited launch.

Hundreds of United Launch Alliance employees are on strike as of Sunday.

In Orbit

Only two orbital launches in the last week:

  • May 3 – China launched a Long March 3 rocket carrying a communications satellite.
  • May 5 – United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg carrying NASA’s InSight Mars lander. Check out this post from Phil Plait to learn about the lander’s mission.

The astronauts on the ISS have been finding time to post many views of Earth on their Twitter feeds. Here are some of their best from the last week.

Weekly Links

Down To Earth

Blue Origin flew another test flight of their New Shepard vehicle today.

An issue with the Mars 2020 rover’s heat shield will require a replacement to be build before the upcoming launch.

NASA cancelled a robotic moon mission called the Resource Prospector.

In Orbit

Two orbital rocket launches since my last post (making 40 for the year):

Upcoming launches this week include the launch of NASA’s Mars InSight lander (not a rover) as well as the undocking, re-entry, and splashdown of the latest SpaceX Dragon capsule from the ISS.

Around the Solar System

Check out this incredible animated set of images from comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Ground-based observations of Uranus’ cloud tops have revealed a composition that includes hydrogen sulfide.

The Planetary Society has a lengthy blog post up on the latest status of NASA’s Opportunity rover, which is still trundling on Mars, 14 years after landing.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

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

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

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

In Orbit

There were only two orbital launches in the past week:

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

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

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

Around the Solar System

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

Out There

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

Weekly Links

In Orbit

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

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

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

In Orbit

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

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

Around the Solar System

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

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

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

Out There

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

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

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

The US federal government was shutdown briefly over the past weekend, and had some impacts to NASA, but ended by Tuesday morning. The federal budget decision has been moved by Congress to February 8th.

SpaceX completed the long-awaited “hot fire” test of their Falcon Heavy rocket on the launch pad in Florida. The company has reportedly set their launch date February 6th.

The flight controller consoles in NASA’s Historic Mission Control at Johnson Space Center began being removed this week as part of a longterm restoration effort.

NASA’s InSight lander, the next mission to Mars, launching this year, had its solar arrays tested at Lockheed Martin.

During the “Year of Education” onboard the ISS, astronauts will record lessons originally planned for Christa McAuliffe’s teacher-in-space flight on Challenger in 1986.

Johnson Space Center director Ellen Ochoa plans to retire this year.

The Google Lunar X Prize will end this March with no team winning the $20 million prize for sending a private rover mission to teh moon.

In Orbit

There were two rocket launches last week:

The Ariane 5 rocket had some kind of anomaly with the upper stage and placed the payloads in the wrong orbit.

ISS astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle completed a spacewalk last Tuesday to service to Canadarm-2. Unfortunately, an issue discovered after the spacewalk has caused a change of plans, and a second excusion planned for this coming Monday will be used to enact some repairs.

Around the Solar System

Some news from Mars:

  • Researchers hope to observe a global dust storm on Mars in the near future to validate a theory that dust storms contribute to the loss of the planet’s atmosphere.
  • Data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has found potential ice sheets at mid-latitudes on the red planet.