Archive for the ‘Planetary science’ Category

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

The United States federal government remains partial shutdown as it has been since mid-December. This is far more than a story about NASA, of course. But since this is a space blog, here is an article from the Orlando Sentinel about how the current situation is affecting some NASA contractors in Florida.

NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Center in West Virginia has been renamed for Katherine Johnson, a native of the state.

Nancy Grace Roman, who served as NASA’s chief of astronomy in the 1970’s and is credited with ensuring the Hubble Space Telescope project moved forward, has died at 93 years of age.

The Dragon capsule for “Demo Mission 1” was rolled out to the launch pad in Florida. This test mission will be in preparation for the first flight with astronauts onboard.

NASA had to postpone a visit by the head of Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) due to political pressure.

In Orbit

It’s been a tough time for space telescopes. The Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 is currently inactive due to a malfunction. Also, Russia’s Spektr-R telescope is reportedly out of communication.

There were 10 orbital rocket launches since my last post on December 16th:

On the ISS, things have been busy with the usual ebb and flow of operations. On December 19th, the three person crew of Alex Gerst, Serena Aunon-Chancellor, and Sergey Propokyev returned to Earth in their Soyuz capsule.

Meanwhile, the remaining ISS crew was busy organizing supplies and conducting science delivered on the latest Dragon capsule. The capsule, designated Dragon-16, returned to Earth on Sunday, January 13th, splashing down for recovery in the Pacific Ocean.

Around the Solar System

NASA’s New Horizons probe – famous for its flyby of Pluto in 2015 – successfully imaged a distant Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69, or Ultima Thule. This flyby was many years in the making, even though the object was discovered well after New Horizons launched in 2006.

China successfully landed their second lunar rover, Yutu 2, part of the Chang’e 4 mission, on the far side of the moon.

Weekly Links

It’s been a busy and important few weeks in spaceflight. Some major milestones linked below.

Down to Earth

NASA announced nine recipients in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

Virgin Galactic completed a successful powered flight of SpaceShipTwo, reaching over 80 km altitude (note that some organizations define space at 80 km while others define it at 100 km).

In Orbit

Among the launches listed below, the most significant is probably the Soyuz launch from Kazakhstan, which was a return to flight for the ISS program. Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques launched safely and docked to the ISS.

Meanwhile, the crew from the failed launch in October has been reassigned to a future flight.

There have been 9 orbital launches since my last post on November 25:

  • November 29 – An Indian PSLV rocket launched carrying an Earth observing satellite.
  • November 30 – A Russian Rokot rocket carrying communications satellites.
  • December 3 – A Russian Soyuz rocket launched with three crew headed for the ISS.
  • December 3 – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from California delivered a plethora of payloads.
  • December 4 – An ESA Ariane 5 rocket launched carrying satellites for India and South Korea.
  • December 5 – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched carrying a resupply flight for the ISS.
  • December 7 – A Chinese Long March 2D rocket launched carrying payloads for Saudi Arabia.
  • December 7 – A Chinese Long March 3B rocket launched carrying the Chang’e 4 mission to the moon.
  • December 16 – A Rocket Lab Electron rocket launched from New Zealand carrying a number of cubesats.

The first stage booster for the Falcon 9 rocket launch on December 5th had to abort its return to launch site landing and ditch in the ocean.

Meanwhile, the Dragon capsule successfully arrived at ISS.

The two Russian cosmonauts currently aboard the ISS conducted a lengthy spacewalk last week to inspect their Soyuz capsule from the outside.

Around the Solar System

NASA’s latest Mars lander, Insight, successfully touched down on the Martian surface last month and has already begun operations. Below is a picture from the lander.

NASA’s Osiris-Rex is now station keeping near asteroid Bennu. The probe has already discovered water-bearing minerals in the asteroid.

Voyager 2 has passed through the heliopause and into interstellar space.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

NASA has announced the chosen landing site of the upcoming 2020 Mars rover: Jezero Crater.

The European Space Agency (ESA) delivered the service module that will be used by NASA’s Orion capsule for the EM-1 test mission.

NASA released this new promotional video:

In Orbit

Two orbital rocket launches since my last post:

  • November 19 – A Chinese Long March 2D rocket carrying a communications satellite as well as other payloads.
  • November 21 – An ESA Vega rocket launched an earth-observing satellite for Morocco.

Check out this amazing time lapse footage taken by astronauts aboard the ISS of a Soyuz rocket launch on November 16th.

NASA celebrated the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first ISS module in 1998.

Around the Solar System

NASA’s InSight Mars lander will land on the red planet tomorrow.

Check out this animation which translates the orbits of the 8 major planets in our solar system into musical notes:

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

A major election took place in the USA this month, with implications for the future of NASA and space exploration, among many other policy concerns. Here is a brief summary from The Planetary Society of some of the impacts to members of congressional space and science committees.

The ISS was prominent in pop culture this last week. Check out the short Macy’s ad below and then the longer sketch scene from SNL.

In Orbit

Seven orbital launches since my last post on November 4th. With 92 successful launches as of today, 2018 is poised to have the most launches in a year since the early 1990s.

  • November 7 – An ESA Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana carrying a weather satellite.
  • November 11 – New Zealand’s Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket carrying their first commercial payloads.
  • November 14 – An Indian GSLV rocket launched carrying a communications satellite.
  • November 15 – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from California carrying a communication satellite for Qatar.
  • November 16 – A Russian Soyuz-FG rocket launched from Kazakhstan carrying a Progress resupply flight for the ISS.
  • November 17 – A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket launched a Cyngus spacecraft on its way to the ISS.
  • November 18 – A Chinese Long March 3B rocket launched carrying two Beidou navigation satellites.

The Progress robotic resupply reached the ISS and successfully docked on Sunday.

An HTV cargo vehicle departed the ISS carrying trash, but also a small return capsule. The return capsule was an experimental new way to return science from the ISS, and was retrieved successfully at sea.

Around the Solar System

Check out this new imagery of asteroid Bennu from the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft.

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

Russia will stop building the Proton rocket.

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been officially delayed to 2021.

Virgin Orbit has been granted an FAA launch license for its first launch from California.

In Orbit

There were two orbital rocket launches during the last week. On June 27th, China launched a Long March 2C rocket carrying two satellites into orbit. On July 29th, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida, carrying a Dragon cargo craft scheduled for arrival at ISS on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, Rocket Lab was not able to launch last week and has delayed their first commercial flight.

Around the Solar System

Out at Mars, there were no updates on the dust storm of the status of the dormant rover Opportunity.

After weeks of a slow approach, Japan’s probe Hayabusa-2 has arrived at asteroid Ryugu, with gorgeous views of the never before explored rock.

Astronomers have new evidence that the interstellar visitor ‘Omuamua was actually a comet, not an asteroid.

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

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.