Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category
Down to Earth
Earlier this month, the White House released their proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2014. Which includes an allocation of $17.7 billion for NASA. Much has been said about the budget already – but the focuses seem to be on the $200 million cut from planetary science and the proposal to start planning an asteroid retrieval mission. Yes, you read that right, the idea is that NASA will send a robotic mission to find a worthy asteroid to drag back to cislunar space (that’s fancy space talk for bringing it as close to Earth as the moon). This may be the direction, focus, and “mission” that many have been saying was lacking from NASA’s portfolio since the cancellation of Constellation and the Space Shuttle. It is far too early to know what will come of it, at least until the mission starts being paid for in 2014. Personally, I think the idea makes sense and is exciting… more thoughts on this in a later post.
In truly down to Earth news, the ambitious Thirty Meter Telescope project received a permit to begin construction atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. They project plans to begin construction in early 2014. the Thirty Meter Telescope (or TMT) will have almost 10 times the light gathering area of the Keck telescopes, also on Mauna Kea. TMT is going to be an amazing tool for astronomers. It should be able to look “further back in time” and see aspects of the beginning of the universe as well as be an awesome exoplanet finding tool, among many other science applications.
The Navy has announced they will be naming a new research vessel after Sally Ride (first American woman in space).
Virgin Galactic has been busy doing glide flights of SpaceShipTwo, getting ready for their first powered flight this year. In their most recent flight last week, the engine had a “cold flow” test – they flowed some propellant through the engine but did not ignite it.
Boston.com’s “The Big Picture” blog has a nice photo essay of two different Mars analog missions going on here on Earth.
After a planned launch this past Tuesday was delayed, today Orbital Sciences is going to attempt the maiden flight of the Antares rocket, which is planned to take the Cygnus freighter on resupply flights to the ISS. The launch is planned for 5 PM Eastern today (Saturday, April 20). If you read this in time, you can follow along at Spaceflight Now’s mission status center.
Around the Solar System
The Mars rover Curiosity went into hibernation starting on April 4 for the “solar conjunction”. This is the period when Mars is behind the sun as seen from Earth, making it difficult to communicate with probes at the red planet.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to spot the fresh craters left by the GRAIL missions two probes that crashed into the moon last year (on purpose).
Some Mars enthusiasts from Russia have been scouring Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images to look for the lost Mars 3 lander that the USSR sent to Mars in 1971. They seem to have found it!
NASA has announced two new missions in the agencies Astrophysics Explorer Program. Two space telescopes, TESS and NICER, are being developed for launch later this decade. TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Sattelite) is somewhat of a successor to Kepler, and will be an Earth-orbiting satellite that hunts for exoplanets. NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer) will be attached to the International Space Station and will look at x-ray wavelengths from neutron stars.
As I wrote about in my last post a week ago, ISS ops have been very busy lately. We were able to unberth and release the SpaceX Dragon capsule last Tuesday morning, as planned. It splashed down a few orbits later in the Pacific, while I was asleep, and was successfully picked up by SpaceX’s contracted recovery ship. I only got a bit of a rest after the Tuesday morning night shift as I had to work the day shift back in the control room Wednesday through Friday. More on what I got to do and see those days in the “In Orbit” section below. Anyway, that’s my excuse for the delay in posts lately. But you don’t really care – on with the space news!
Down to Earth
In a bit of grim space politics news – unless you are all about commercial only, I suppose – last week NASA’s 2013 budget finally became clear after the US Congress passed a big spending bill. The bill is better than the continuing resolutions* that a lot of the US government has been dealing with for a while – but it does nothing about the “sequestration” cuts across all Federal departments. This means that NASA ends up with greater than a 7% cut on the 2011 and 2012 funding levels. Ouch.
*A continuing resolution is simply an agreement to fund agencies or programs at the previous years levels because no agreement can be made on a new budget.
Masten Space Systems’ Xombie vertical-take-off-and-landing vehicle recently made its longest and highest flight to date, soaring over 500 meters according to their press release (no video yet available that I can find). Masten is using a guidance system developed by Draper Labs (of MIT) in order to build a testbed type craft on which NASA or other customer’s can test planetary landing instruments “without leaving home”, so to speak. I wrote about a similar test of the Xombie systems over a year ago, so this project has been in development for a while. This flight was ten times higher than the test last year.
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) has started a crowdfunding project at IndieGoGo to try to pay for NASA’s video “We Are the Explorers” to be run in American theaters before the movie Star Trek Into Darkness this spring (no, I don’t want to discuss if I capitalized that title correctly).
This is a clever, and apparently legal, way to get around the advertising ban that NASA is under. I donated!
Speaking of space cinema, a new IMAX movie was announced that will feature Earth photography from space. The film is being co-produced by Disney, and no release date or title has been announced.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com – who seems to be trying to compete – sponsored an expedition that has raised an F-1 rocket engine straight off the sea floor in the Atlantic. They do not know for sure which rocket the engine(s) came from, but they do intend to restore and display them. It seems they would likely be displayed at the Smithsonian; partly because the engines are still technically NASA’s property.
After Dragon left, the biggest event aboard ISS in the past two weeks was the docking of Soyuz 34 (or 34S to us) last Thursday only 5 hours and 45 minutes after launch. This was a new quick rendezvous profile that had previously only been used on flights of the unmanned Progress resupply spacecraft.
The Soyuz brought two cosmonauts – Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin – and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. The speed of the launch-to-docking timeline was impressive even to those of us tied into ISS operations. As I was on the day shift Thursday, I had the privilege of giving a “Go” for launch at the end of my shift – and the colleague who I handed over to started prepping ISS systems for Soyuz arrival right after I left! I heard that the Soyuz reached ISS before the NASA personnel who were in Kazakhstan for the launch made it back to Moscow…
Amazingly, ISS Commander Chris Hadfield got this shot of Baikonaur at the moment of Soyuz ignition (by the laws of orbital mechanics, ISS often passes right over the location of launch for many ISS supply missions).
Speaking of which, if you haven’t been following ISS Commander Chris Hadfield (@cmdr_hadfield) on Twitter, you are seriously missing out on some stunning high resolution Earth photography posted nearly in real-time.
Also, the epic timelapse photography from the ISS Cupola… (via APOD).
Or if you want the more practical, here’s how to brush your teeth (I wasn’t originally going to share this until I heard the music kick in halfway through and started laughing).
Around the Solar System
Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon (or just Lemmon for short) is set to start being a target for skywatchers this week (depending on your latitude). From the finder charts, it looks like Lemmon will still be too close to the sun at sunrise for most observers to have a chance at. Later in the month, Lemmon will move higher in the sky at dawn and may turn out to be as bright or better than Comet PanSTARRS which some of us enjoyed last month. Of course, the catch is that Lemmon will be a morning object rather than an evening object, so is likely to attract fewer hunters. You can bet I will try to see it!
The European Space Agency and Roscosmos (of Russia) formally signed an agreement last month to move forward with their Exomars mission, which will consist of orbiters and a rover to be flown to Mars later this decade. This is the big mission that NASA had to pull out of due to budget reasons.
New research using the Keck Telescopes in Hawaii has revealed compelling evidence for the nature and composition of undersea ocean’s on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Read a great summary of the research at Phil Plait’s blog.
Wow, it’s been a busy week and a half! Ten days is the longest I’ve gone without posting some links since I started my blog over a year ago. Not only has space news been busy, with asteroids galore, but I have been busy too, with a weekend getaway last weekend and then 3 nights of ISS mission ops this week. Hopefully the news I share below will get us all back up to speed!
Down to Earth
The first thing I have to talk about is the asteroid impact in the Chelyabinsk area of Russia in the Ural mountains. The short story is that just hours before the much anticipated fly-by of large asteroid 2012 DA14 last Friday, February 15, an asteroid about 15 meters across entered the Earth’s atmosphere above Russia and exploded without warning over a relatively large city in Russia. The airburst was the equivalent of may kilotons of TNT and it managed to cause widespread injury and property damage (no reports of deaths that I am aware of).
Here is a pretty good video of the meteor.
And this one has the sound of the meteor exploding. Scary.
Experts are sure, based on tracing the Chelyabinsk meteor’s orbit back the way it came, that 2012 DA14 and Chelyabinsk are unrelated. It is what you might call a “cosmic coincidince”. Phil Plait talks about the chances of such a coincidence and also the sober reality that we need to take asteroid threats more seriously.
The more interesting coincidence to me is that asteroid impacts of this size are only expected to happen about once a century. The last large impact (that is known) happened in 1908, also in Russia.
Maybe not surprisingly, a weather satellite got some brief images of the smoke trail from the Chelyabinsk meteor. I don’t want to leave poor 2012 DA14 out to dry, so here’s a timelapse of its flyby of Earth.
In some non-asteroid news, the new Space Shuttle display at KSC in Florida is officially opening on June 29. This date was announced at an unveiling of the facility’s new logo.
The test firing of Orbital Science’s Antares rocket was completed successfully earlier this evening. This is good news for their program, which needs to catch up with SpaceX. SpaceX is getting ready for their third cargo flight to ISS next week.
The mayor of Brownsville, Texas met with Elon Musk of SpaceX last week to discuss further the possibility of SpaceX building their next launch site on Boca Chica Beach in South Texas.
NASA astronauts aboard ISS had their first public Google+ hangout. Cool!
There was a bit of excitement in ISS mission ops earlier this week when the first day of ISS computer software upgrades did not go as planned. A computer restart did not execute properly and it resulted in a temporary loss of communications between ISS and mission control. You may have heard about it, since it was all over the news when it happened on Tuesday. Fortunately, flight controllers, with the help of the crew, were able to resolve the problem and the software upgrades were completed. All is well in space!
Around the Solar System
Mercury had its longest “Eastern elongation” last week – meaning it was at its highest point above the horizon at sunset, as seen from Eearth.
The new company “Inspiration Mars Foundation” – founded by space tourist Dennis Tito – claims to be planning a 500 day Mars trip to be launched in 2018. I wish them luck.
This week it was announced that the smallest exoplanet ever discovered was found 200 light years away. The planet is Kepler-37b (meaning it was found by the Kepler mission) and is only 2,400 miles in diameter, which makes it smaller than Mercury. As usual, the planet is far too close to its parent star to be habitable in any way.
Down to Earth
Monday night had a stunning Moon and Jupiter conjunction in the sky that I hope you saw if you had clear skies! I was able to view the Moon and Jupiter together on a clear night here in Texas through my binoculars. In case you missed it, here is a collection of images from the conjunction.
Another company that claims it will make billions mining asteroids in a few short years? Yes. Enter, Deep Space Industries.
The ten year anniversary of the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia is coming up. On January 31, a documentary about Israeli Columbia astronaut Ilan Ramon will air on PBS.
In the realm of space law (yes, I know, exciting!) a compromise has been reached regarding liability for space tourism flights out of New Mexico. The new law is intended to appease Virgin Galactic so that they don’t consider leaving the New Mexico spaceport as their home base.
Kazakhstan has not approved all of Russia’s launches from their Baikonaur spaceport for this year (if you need a history refresher – Kazakhstan used to be part of the USSR and that is where the Soviets built their launch facility. Russia continues to use the existing infrastructure in Kazakhstan even now, long after the fall of the USSR). This is unfortunate for the Russian program and a good reason not to have such an important facility in a foreign country. Fortunately for Russia, they are already building a new native facility in the far Eastern reaches of the nation. NASA should pay attention and make sure Texas and Florida don’t secede!
As I wrote about last week, the European planet hunting space telescope CoRoT may be a lost mission. Well, it seems luck is not with astronomers this month; NASA’s Kepler space telescope has had an issue with one of its momentum wheels (excess friction) and is spending a week or so in safe mode, suspending all science, in hopes the situation will improve. Kepler is already down one of 4 reaction wheels, which failed in July. It needs at least 3 to be able to control attitude precisely to do science.
To lighten the mood, here’s a quick NASA bit from The Onion (you have to watch a commercial for their fake Joe Biden book first).
Here is an official statement from NASA about the new Bigelow inflatable module that will be tested on ISS. It seems the module will be scheduled to launch on a SpaceX cargo mission in 2015.
More on future NASA plans: here’s an update on the four companies that are developing vehicles for NASA’s commercial crew program.
And here’s a quick update on Orbital Sciences’ launch schedule for ISS commercial cargo resupply missions.
The Robotic Refueling Mission has continued in earnest this week. I have had the pleasure of working the day shifts in ISS mission control this week, being tangentially involved in these operations by disabling thruster firings to protect the robotics hardware.
I wouldn’t say that 2012 either came in or went out with a bang (unless the last minute federal budget politiking* strikes you as “a bang”). Nevertheless, 2012 was a busy year for space enthusiasts. The last twelve months held much to wonder, celebrate, contemplate, mourn, debate, and of course explore. Here I will try to sum up the space related events, deaths, discoveries, and anniversaries that I find interesting. If you are interested in a full recap of worldwide events in 2012, I’d suggest starting with the “Year in Pictures” at Boston.com’s “Big Picture” blog – Part I, Part II, and Part III.
In order to try to honor some fallen heroes, I will start out with the saddest part of my recap.
In 2012 we lost three American astronauts – Alan Poindexter, Sally Ride, and Neil Armstrong.
Captain Poindexter was 50 years old when he died in July 2012. He was a veteran of 2 space shuttle flights, having been selected in the 1998 group of astronauts. Coming from a Navy test pilot background, he was the pilot for STS-122 and then Commander of STS-131. 131 was the last night launch of the shuttle program and helped set the record for most women in space at one time – with 3 women on the crew of Discovery plus one on the space station. During his military career Poindexter flew F-14s on carriers – very cool.
Sally Ride needs no explanation. More important people than me provided lots of memories about Sally Ride after her death back in July. She certainly left us too soon – but she left a legacy. Sally Ride Science will continue to do great things, and you should consider supporting them if you can.
And of course, everyone heard when Neil Armstrong died in August at the age of 82. Like Sally Ride, I can provide no words here better than what has already been written. Armstrong was in many ways the model of a public hero and should not have left us so soon.
There would be no astronauts without first someone to inspire us to dream. Thus, we should also remember legendary author Ray Bradbury who died aged 91.
Lastly, engineer Roger Boisjoly died at the age of 73. Mr. Boisjoly is known for being the SRB (Solid Rocket Booster) project manager at Thiokol who warned not to launch mission STS-51L during a meeting the day before the flight. His warnings were ignored and the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost.
Major Events or Discoveries
Whether your interest lies more in planetary exploration, new technology, or manned spaceflight, there were many milestones and missions in 2012.
NASA achieved what I will subjectively dub their triumph of the decade (so far) when the Mars rover Curiosity touched down at Bradbury landing in Gale Crater on August 6th. You have got to love this video…
Curiosity could easily explore Mars for a decade, with its RTG that should keep it powered long enough that something else will wear out first. The vistas we have seen of Gale crater from MSL are stunning and I think she will be a huge source of inspiration – and of course science – for many years ahead.
Curiosity isn’t alone on Mars. Another huge milestone of 2012 is the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity continuing to quietly do its job at Endeavour Crater on the other side of the planet. In fact, Opportunity and Curiosity are now racing each other to find clay minerals known as “phylosillicates”.
SpaceX impressed the world with their first successful (test) flight to the International Space Station in May which was followed up by the first official contracted resupply mission in October.
The Chinese performed their first in orbital rendezvous of a manned spacecraft when Shenzhou 9 docked with the Tiangong 1 space station on June 18.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft continued to explore asteroid Vesta (where it arrived in 2011) and finally departed in September 2012 to start the long interplanetary flight to larger asteroid Ceres, where it will arrive in 2015.
NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft found evidence of water ice in polar craters of Mercury.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft continued to to perform well at Saturn, more than 8 years after arriving (15 years since launch) and discovered a vast river system of methane and ethane on the moon Titan. Time to send the riverboat robots to explore.
Anniversaries: 50 years since Kennedy’s famous “Moon speech” in Texas, 50 years since John Glenn’s orbital flight, and 40 years since the last flight to the moon – Apollo 17.
Back in June many people around the world – including those who are not even space geeks – enjoyed the rare passing of Venus across the face of the sun. The next Venus transit will not be until 2117.
One of my absolute favorite events of 2012 was the discovery of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, the nearest star system to Earth. And only a few weeks later, a “super earth” was found in the habitable zone of HD 40307 only 40 light years away. The discovery of exoplanets is turning into the science story of the 21st century…
Unless you are a physics geek. Then the science story of the 21st century will be the ongoing unlocking of secrets of the quantum world, which continued in 2012 with the announcement that the Large Hadron Collider in Europe has discovered the “Higgs Boson”.
But in any case, the idea of people living on a planet at Alpha Centauri is the inspiration for my blog’s name, so I have a bias for the planets.
This year was nostalgic for us Millenials – who grew up watching space shuttle launches – as the three remaining space shuttle orbiters reached their final homes in California, Virginia, and Florida.
NASA and the astronaut office finally caught on to 21st century communications and media in earnest. More astronauts than ever are actively interacting with the general public on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Reddit, and elsewhere on the ‘net. NASA astronauts have made this communication a part of their mission while on ISS, with many of them writing blogs or maintaining exciting Twitter and Flickr streams from space. This will certainly continue in 2013 as the “Net Generation” begins to come of age and will have real influence on the personality of America, and whether we stay committed to space exploration. My guess is that this video helped.
What will 2013 bring? Well, probably most importantly – but least excitingly – are the pending federal budget decisions in Washington, DC. Congress still needs to decide on a 2013 budget and then a 2014 budget. Some of their choices will shape the future of space exploration, especially for planetary science missions.
Here is my list of the more cheery things to look for in 2013:
- Finally the first powered flight tests of tourist space vehicles. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo should be hopping into space this year.
- SpaceX should continue to demonstrate reliability of their rockets as they fly two more missions to the ISS as well as a fairly packed launch schedule for other customers.
- SpaceX’s competitor for ISS commercial flights, Orbital Sciences**, will attempt to make good on their contract with NASA.
- Russia will fly the 50th Progress resupply mission to ISS, this being the 15th year since the launch of the first ISS module.
- Late in 2013, the next Mars launch window will see two missions: NASA’s MAVEN orbiter and India’s first interplanetary mission.
- NASA will launch the LADEE lunar probe.
- Continued excellence in the field of extrasolar planet astronomy – smaller and more numerous rocky planets will be discovered further out from main sequence stars.
Round ups from other blogs
For some other summaries of 2012 in space and science see:
Houston Chronicle’s top 10 skywatching events of 2013 (one is the Quadrantic meteor shower tonight!)
Parabolic Arc’s “NewSpace” year in review (that one’s a quick read)
*yes, Congress did pass a bill to avert the “fiscal cliff” at the very last minute on Tuesday, January 1, 2013
**the author has a small shareholding in Orbital Sciences
Down to Earth
Before we proceed, let’s get one thing out of the way: please don’t expect anything to change this Friday.
In some less than cheery news that is actually based in reality, some estimates indicate that Johnson Space Center (where I work) would not do well if the pending “sequestration” of US federal spending were to occur.
Yet another lost moon rock display has been located – this one belonging to the State of Alaska. This CollectSpace account of the finding is rather long, but well worth a read if you like shady intrigue…
Early Wednesday morning, a Soyuz launched from Kazakhstan that will bring the Expedition 34 crew on ISS to its full complement of six. The latest flight includes Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, American Tom Marshburn, and first time Soyuz commander Roman Romanenko. The Soyuz mission is numbered TMA-07M, which I point out because their patch is so creative. See if you can spot the cleverness below.
The crew will dock to ISS on Friday.
In anticipation of the launch, Universe Today ran a feature about the legacy of the Soyuz launch vehicle, which has been flying since 1966. I found this discussion of the Soyuz from Chris Hadfield’s perspective more interesting still. Hadfield has done a great job sharing his pre-flight activity via social media and there are some videos worth watching in that last article.
Hadfield’s son, Evan, wrote an article about growing up as an astronaut’s son that is pretty sobering and worth a read. Surely he and his family are happy that Commander Hadfield made it to orbit, but I suspect their fear and stress does not end until he returns to Earth.
NASA is planning to test color-changing lights on ISS that should help with astronauts sleep cycles.
Even the mainstream news media was talking about this bit of space news: the North Korean rocket launch that supposedly put a satellite in orbit. According to Hyperbola Blog, independent experts claim to be tracking the object but it appears to be tumbling in its 100 km orbit and not operating. Unfortunately, Hyperbola does not often cite sources so I’m not sure about the veracity of their post…
Around the Solar System
As planned, China’s Chang’E 2 probe was able to make a close fly-by of NEA Toutatis. Very impressive.
Here’s a sequence of radar observations of Toutatis (via Universe Today).
Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society updated her nifty graphic showing all asteroids and comets visited by humanity’s spacecraft – it now included Toutatis. Toutatis is near the upper right. Emily does not included Vesta, which was visited by the Dawn spacecraft, because it is so much more massive than the others. You can buy a poster print of the graphic at the Planetary Society’s store.
The two lunar gravity probes that make up NASA’s GRAIL mission were deliberately slammed into a mountain on the Moon this past Monday. The impact site was named for Sally Ride, who died this year. Sally Ride helped get the probes to carry the MoonKAMs which were designed only for educational outreach.
If you’re wondering why NASA would blow up a space mission that had only been in operation for about a year, there is a reason! Ebb and Flow orbited the moon at the extremely low 50 km. This required significant amounts of propellant to maintain, but allowed extremely detailed gravity mapping of the moon. This fall, the fuel had all but run out and the science was all but done. Thus, end of GRAIL. You can read more about it on the NASA mission page or on Wikipedia (which has many more source links).
An “international team of astronomers” (the A team?) announced this week (with a published paper and a press release) that they believe they have found a five-planet system around the Sun-like star Tau Ceti. Tau Ceti is only 12 light years from us and initial data indicates one or more of the planets is in the habitable zone of the star. All of the stars are between 2 and 6 Earth-mass. The discovery used new techniques looking at existing data. Thus, sober voices are saying that additional follow-up is needed before the planet(s) can be confirmed. Surely, that followup will come quickly for such an important discovery.
Down To Earth
Lots of news about future launches and missions to write about today:
First off, the first test launch of Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket – which will be used for missions to ISS – has been delayed into 2013.
Also, SpaceX may not reach ISS again until at least March – a delay of about 2 months – due to investigations into the Falcon 9 engine failure that occurred during their mission this past summer.
The third flight of the U.S. Air Force’s classified X-37B program has been delayed slightly - into December. The delay is presumably due to concerns with reliability of a specific component of the launch vehicle provided by ULA (United Launch Alliance).
The first orbital test article of the Orion spacecraft from Lockheed was discovered to have structural cracks in the shell during pressure testing. This is of course why we do this kind of testing, but it will take some time until we know how much this will delay the program.
In news not related to delays:
SpaceX has purchased more land near Brownsville. The company has been considering Southern Texas a site for a future spaceport – presumably once they begin launching bigger rockets like the Falcon 9 Heavy.
Boeing, which won a large commercial crew award from NASA for its CST-100 capsule – is publically talking about investing more money in the program. Boeing received $460 million to SpaceX’s $440 million in the latest awards from NASA.
The ISS astronaut’s enjoyed some smoked turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner this past Thursday.
News of Sarah Brightman’s (singer) potential trip to ISS in a couple of years only came out a bit over a month ago but there is already rumor from Russia that she might not fly after all. Is it a publicity stunt? A negotiating tactic? Is Russia getting outside pressure to not fly tourists again? Who knows. As a reader at Parabolic Arc points out, when the “New Space” companies start flying in earnest no one will want to spend the dozens of millions of dollars to fly on a Soyuz anyway, so the days of ISS tourists may be up.
Before Expedition 33 returned on Soyuz TMA-05M last weekend, Commander Sunita Williams recorded a nice long tour of ISS. NASA posted an edited version on YouTube. My favorite moment is at 12:45 when Commander Williams points out a view of her Soyuz from the Cupola windows (via Universe Today).
Around the Solar System
Curiosity recently did her first touch-and-go operation. This basically involves doing a scientific reading with her robotic arm on the same day as a long drive, which you can see in the animation below.
Curiosity may be joined by a European Mars lander later in the decade after all. ESA (European Space Agency) has officially reached an agreement with Roscosmos (Russia) to jointly fund and develop the ExoMars orbiter and lander.
There hasn’t been much big news about Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) recently, so I was excited to see new science about Makemake – discovered in the mid-aughts by Dr. Mike Brown’s successful dwarf planet hunting team.
Down to Earth
Atlantis was rolled from the VAB to the KSC visitor center last week. NASA no longer has the “title” to the last orbiter to fly in space.
Roscosmos has announched their latest Cosmonaut candidates. NASA’s class of 2013 still pending.
SpaceX had another test flight of their Grasshopper rocket (via Parabolic Arc).
Interesting stat: China launches more rockets to space in 2011 than the United States.
Expedition 33 astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide completed an EVA to help save the thermal control system for a crucial power channel. You can read about the work they did here (via Space Cadet Gets Moving). The fun part of the spacewalk was the deployment of a radiator that had been stowed for about 6 years. Here are my action shots of the radiator partially and then fully deployed.
It was a busy week on ISS. The day before the spacewalk we also docked a new Progress freighter.
Here’s a NASA TV weekly recap of all that went on at ISS last week, if you are interested.
Around the Solar System
You’ve got to love this full self-shot by the Curiosity rover.
Speaking of Curiosity, results are coming back from the first in situ soil analysis of the mission. They are finding the soil to be similar to Hawaiian volcanic basalt (which is not unexpected).
The fragmentation of Comet Hergenrother was discovered last week.
I blogged back in February that the planet imaged around Fomalhaut is probably not a planet after all. But it looks like further study of the system has led some astronomers to change their conclusions yet again. Fomalhaut b may yet get to hold the title of first imaged exoplanet.
Speaking of exoplanets, this shirt is cool but likely to become outdated quickly.
A computer model of the Orion Nebula has led some scientists to conclude that there is a moderately sized black hole at the heart of the nebula, in the Trapezium. They will need to redo the Orion fly-through sequence from Hubble 3D.
Down To Earth
I can’t write a blog today without mentioning the storm that millions of people on the East Coast of the United States are going through right now. Hurricane Sandy is a mean one. It felt weird sitting at work doing what I normally do knowing that so many fellow Americans were in for a tough week.
Speaking of work, here is a picture I got of Sandy as the ISS flew right over her eye this afternoon. The left side of the screen is over exposed but if you load the bigger version you can see the center of circulation (off the NJ coast) on the right side.
And Universe Today has a video captured from NASA TV of the same flyover – probably a better capture than my amateur photography.
This eerie satellite timelapse of Sandy developing is also worth a look (also from Universe Today).
But Americans weren’t the only ones affected. Sandy hit Cuba and the Bahamas last week. Here’s a great satellite shot of Sandy over Cuba.
In less scary news, someone recovered a meteor from that bright fireball over California last week.
In commercial space news, Blue Origin had a successful test of their crew launch abort “pusher” rocket system. Watch the video at that link – very cool!
Some important vehicle traffic happened at the ISS since my last post. Last week Soyuz TMA-05M launched with two rookie astronauts and former Space Shuttle pilot Kevin Ford.
They arrived at ISS on Thursday morning Houston time. I was operating the HawkI console in MCC. HawkI is the support position for ADCO.
The fun keeps going this week with the docking of Progress 49 on Wednesday – to be followed quickly by a contingency EVA on ISS conducted by Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide. The spacewalk will put Williams firmly in the top 10 – probably top 5 – of most time on EVA ever.
The explosion of a fuel filled Russian rocket has created a new debris cloud in low earth orbit.
Curiosity is on Mars!
It’s only been 5 days, hopefully the rest of the world hasn’t already forgotten.
The landing was awesome. If you weren’t watching live, you missed out. Here’s how it looked from onboard the spacecraft.
If you weren’t just watching for the engineering feat of EDL and want to actually follow Curiosity on Mars, two highly recommended blogs are by Ryan Anderson (who works on the MSL mission) and Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society.
Down to Earth
Russian’s space program had another launch failure. Fortunately, this launch was not related to human spaceflight or exploration. The rocket was a modified Proton – the same kind of rocket that launches unmanned heavy pieces of ISS in to orbit. Another Proton launch to ISS was scheduled within the next two years, but I’m not sure if it uses the same version of the rocket that failed last week.
Neil Armstrong had to get heart surgery and is reportedly doing fine now.
NASA JSC’s Morpheus lander had a disastrous freeflight test in KSC. I suspect this is a big setback for the project. It also highlights the difficulty of autonomous rocket-powered VTL (vertical take-off and landing) – which of course we just did on Mars (go JPL!). Unfortunately, I can’t find any public statements from NASA putting the failure into the context of the purpose of Morpheus. I believe Morpheus is testing both a new fuel combination as well as new guidance techniques. It appears the guidance is what caused this particular crash.
Mission Control had an unorthodox visitor…