Archive for the ‘Planetary science’ Category

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.

Weekly Links

Down to Earth

Dr. Stephen Hawking died on March 14th, at age 76. The New York Times published a thorough review of his life and accomplishments.

NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot is retiring.

The startup rocket company Rocket Lab plans to launch their first commercial flight this spring. The rocket will be named It’s Business Time which follows in the naming tradition of their first two test rockets: It’s a Test and Still Testing.

Speaking of small rocket startups, Firefly Aerospace used the popular South by Southwest conference to publicly demonstrate an engine test (video below). The engine would power the upper stage of their planned Firefly Alpha rocket.

If you like rocket engine tests, then watch this new video of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine, posted by Jeff Bezos last week.

The US federal government passed a new funding bill for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2018 last week. The large omnibus bill includes $20.7 for NASA. If you’d like a comparison of NASA’s budget over the years, check out this Wikipdia page.

In Orbit

Over the past two weeks there have been only two orbital rocket launches. The first was a Chinese Long March 2D rocket carrying an Earth-observing satellite. The second was a Soyuz rocket launched from Kazakhstan carrying 3 crew members on their way to the International Space Station.

Oleg Artemyev, Drew Feustel, and Ricky Arnold docked to the ISS successfully this past Friday, two days after launch. They join Anton Shkaplerov, Norishige Kanai, and Scott Tingle for the ongoing Expedition 55 mission.

Swarm Technologies launched four very small satellites in January without license from the FCC. In fact, the FCC had specifically asked them not to launch because they were too small to track. Now Swarm may not be able to receive future licenses.

Around the Solar System

Mission managers on the New Horizons project have chosen the name Ultima Thule for the small Kuiper Belt object which will be visited by the probe next year. The name would not become official until the International Astronomical Union (IAU) can weigh in.

Recent observations from the Dawn spacecraft reveal that the surface of the asteroid Ceres is dynamic, with changing amounts of visible ice and other materials.

The Kepler space telescope, launched in 2009, will likely run out of fuel this year.

Out There

A couple of interesting new exoplanet systems were announced recently:

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

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.