NSS Phoenix Space News

Archive for December, 2011

December 2011

Posted by drdave on December 1, 2011

31 December

  • NASA announced that “NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)-A spacecraft successfully completed its planned main engine burn at 2 p.m. PST (5 p.m. EST) today. As of 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST), GRAIL-A is in an orbit of 56 miles by 5,197 miles (90 kilometers by 8,363 kilometers) around the moon that takes approximately 11.5 hours to complete.”

30 December

  • Two NASA spacecraft launched in December are ready to enter lunar orbit this weekend, project officials confirmed this week. The twin Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft will fire thrusters to go into orbit around the Moon, with GRAIL-A arriving at 2:21 PM Phoenix time (2121 UTC) Saturday and GRAIL-B at 3:05 PM Phoenix time (2205 UTC) Sunday.
  • The Chinese government published on Thursday a white paper describing that country’s five-year plan for spaceflight, including development of new launch vehicles and a continued emphasis on space stations and lunar exploration.

29 December

  • Less than a week after one Soyuz rocket failed, another successfully placed six Globalstar satellites into orbit on Wednesday. The Soyuz 2-1a rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:09 pm EST (1709 GMT, 11:09 pm local time) Wednesday and released six Globalstar satellites into low Earth orbits an hour and a half later.

28 December

  • China turned on this week the first phase of its own satellite navigation system that will eventually compete with GPS and other such systems. The Beidou, or Compass, system started providing navigation services Tuesday for users in China and “surrounding areas”, although elements of the system have been in orbit for a decade.

27 December

  • Comet Lovejoy became visible again to the naked eye in the Southern Hemisphere last week—and continued to streak across predawn skies through the holiday weekend. Lovejoy lost its original tail as it skimmed the sun’s surface, the comet “reappeared almost like a point and redeveloped a tail on the way out, which I thought was quite amazing,” said astronomer Lovejoy

26 December

  • The launch of a European communications satellite scheduled for this week has been delayed until mid-January because of a problem discovered Monday with its Proton rocket. The Proton-M rocket was scheduled to launch just after midnight local time Tuesday from Baikonur, carrying the SES-4 satellite for SES of Luxembourg. However, during pre-launch preparations Monday technicians discovered a problem with the avionics of the Proton’s Briz-M upper stage. The rocket will be rolled back to complete the repairs, and International Launch Services said in a statement Monday that those repairs would postpone the launch by about 25 days.

25 December

24 December

  • NASASPaceFlight discusses the Soyuz failure with Meridian, and the redressing Russia’s internal woes.

23 December

  • A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three people docked with the International Space Station Friday morning, restoring the station to normal six-person operations. The Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft docked with the station’s Rassvet module at 10:19 am EST (1519 GMT) Friday, two days after launch from Baikonur. On board the Soyuz are the three new members of the Expedition 30 crew, Don Pettit of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, and Andre Kuipers of ESA.
  • A Russian communications satellite failed to reach orbit Friday after the failure of the upper stage of its Soyuz rocket, the latest in a string of Russian launch failures. The Soyuz 2-1b rocket lifted off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia at 7:08 am EST (1208 GMT, 4:08 pm Moscow time) carrying a Meridian communications satellite. While the launch initially appeared to go well, Russian officials later said the satellite failed to reach orbit and instead crashed in Siberia. Initial reports indicated a problem with the rocket’s third stage. The launch failure is the fifth in just over a year for Russia, including the loss of a Progress cargo spacecraft

22 December

  • An astronaut living in space has captured an unprecedented view of a comet from orbit in a jaw-dropping set of photos taken over a nighttime Earth. Comet Lovejoy is visible near Earth’s horizon in this nighttime image photographed by NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 commander, onboard the International Space Station on Dec. 21, 2011. The amazing images show comet Lovejoy, which survived a trip through the sun’s atmosphere last week.

21 December

  • NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers, part of the European Space Agency (ESA), lifted off atop the Russian Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8:16 a.m. EST (1316 GMT) on a trip to the International Space Station.
  • On Wednesday, the space agency released new images of the hummocky surface of asteroid Vesta as Dawn circled from an average altitude of 130 miles (209 kilometers) above the surface, the closest it’ll get.

20 December

  • Russian Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft set for launch to International Space Station

19 December

  • Two planets, dubbed Kepler-20e and 20f, are the smallest planets found to date by the Kepler spacecraft observatory. They have diameters of 6,900 miles and 8,200 miles — 0.87 times Earth (slightly smaller than Venus) and 1.03 times Earth. These worlds are expected to have rocky compositions, so their masses should be less than 1.7 and 3 times Earth’s. Both worlds circle Kepler-20: a G8 yellow star a little less hot than the Sun and located 950 light-years from Earth

18 December

  • Flying on its last bit of fuel, NASA’s Deep Impact probe is carefully reshaping its course toward a potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroid in hopes the spacecraft can survey the body in January 2020.

17 December

  • A Soyuz rocket lifted off from Kourou Friday night, placing six French and Chilean satellites into orbit. The Soyuz STA rocket lifted off from Kourou, French Guiana, at 9:03 pm EST Friday (11:03 pm local time Friday, 0203 GMT Saturday) and placed its payload of six satellites into Sun-synchronous orbit over the next three and a half hours.

16 December

  • Citing uncertain budgets, NASA announced Thursday it was switching from a fixed-price contract back to Space Act Agreements (SAAs) for the next phase of its commercial crew development program. NASA had planned to issue an RFP next week for the “Integrated Design Phase” of the program, designed to mature several potential vehicles to the critical design review level of development. However, NASA officials said a “dynamic budget environment”, including uncertainty about how much money the program will get in future years, led it to go back to the more flexible SAAs used in the first two phases of the effort. A formal request for proposals for this program will go out in early 2012. The overall commercial crew program seeks to support the commercial development of spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the ISS, as well as for other commercial applications. The program received less than half of the requested funding for 2012, and as a result NASA officials say they don’t expect vehicles to be ready to enter service until 2017.

15 December

  • A cloud of gas is being pulled closer to the supermassive black hole* lurking in the center of our galaxy, 27,000 light-years away. This unprecedented discovery is being monitored by an international team of scientists using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). The cool cloud, composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, with a mass three-times that of Earth, has been picking up speed, and by 2013, astronomers will hopefully see some fireworks. By then, the first wisps of gas should be sucked into the black hole’s event horizon causing the black hole to flare brightly.

14 December

  • Boris Chertok, supporter of the founder of cosmonautics Sergei Korolyov, passed away in Moscow on Wednesday. “The last of the Mohicans” in Russian cosmonautics, Chertok was one of the first to make an endeavor to conquer space. He passed away barely 2.5 months before his hundredth birthday. He was closely involved in putting the world’s first satellite in orbit on Oct. 4, 1957, and preparing the first human flight to space by Yuri Gagarin on April, 12 1961.
  • The ill-fated Phobos-Grunt probe that got stuck in the orbit after an unsuccessful launch will fall to Earth on January 11, probably affecting four continents, the US Strategic Command shared its latest forecast. ­The current orbit of the vehicle suggests that it could collide with the surface on a vast part of the globe, from latitude 51.4°N to latitude 51.4°S. anywhere in Africa, Australia, Japan, North America or southern part of Western Europe, but definitely not on the larger part of the Russian territory.

13 December

  • A Japanese rocket launched the latest in a series of reconnaissance satellites for the country on Monday. The H-2A lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan at 8:21 pm EST Sunday (0121 GMT, 10:21 am local time Monday) and placed an Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) into orbit. Japanese officials released few details about the mission, although this IGS is believed to have a radar imaging payload.
  • Funded as a Paul G. Allen project under the banner of Stratolaunch, Burt Rutan is taking his space tourism concept a step further, by developing an air-launch system for payloads in the 10,000lbm class into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The system will be able to launch from several possible operational sites and eventually aims to provide crewed services.

12 December

  • NASA’s Cassini spacecraft successfully completed its closest-ever pass over Saturn’s moon Dione on Monday, Dec. 12, slaloming its way through the Saturn system on its way to tomorrow’s close flyby of Titan. Cassini is expected to glide about 2,200 miles (3,600 kilometers) over the Titan surface on Dec. 13.
  • NASA’s Dawn spacecraft successfully maneuvered into its closest orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta today, beginning a new phase of science observations. The spacecraft is now circling Vesta at an altitude averaging about 130 miles (210 kilometers) in the phase of the mission known as low altitude mapping orbit.

11 December

  • ESA astronaut André Kuipers is now officially ready for liftoff on 21 December: he and his crewmates have passed their final exams and left for the launch site yesterday. Every crew destined for the International Space Station must endure two days of final exams in the simulators at Star City near Moscow before they are cleared for flight.
  • A Proton-M carrier rocket with two telecommunications satellites onboard blasted off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan on Sunday. The separation of Russia’s Luch-5A spacecraft is scheduled for 20:11 UTC Sunday, while Israel’s Amos-5 satellite will separate at 20.52 UTC.

10 December

  • NASA announced Friday that the next commercial cargo demonstration mission to the ISS by SpaceX will launch on February 7. On that date SpaceX plans to launch its Dragon cargo spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. The spacecraft will approach the station and perform a flyby at a distance of two miles to demonstrate its ability to safely operate close to the station. If successful, the spacecraft will then more closely approach the station, whose robotic arm will grapple the spacecraft and berth it to the station’s Harmony node.

9 December

  • About 3,700 years ago, people on Earth would have seen a brand-new bright star in the sky. It slowly dimmed out of sight and was eventually forgotten, until modern astronomers later found its remains, called Puppis A. In this new image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), Puppis A looks less like the remains of a supernova explosion and more like a red rose.
  • Russia’s troubled Phobos-Grunt spacecraft will fall back to Earth on January 9, the United States Strategic Command said.

8 December

  • NASA announced that the Mars rover Opportunity has found veins of Gypsum (calcium sulfate) on the crater wall of Endeavour Crater. “This tells a slam-dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for Opportunity. “This stuff is a fairly pure chemical deposit that formed in place right where we see it.”

7 December

  • The Large Hadron Collider at CERN apparently has a signal for the Higgs boson. Both the ATLAS and CMS experiments are independently seeing a Higgs signal, and the predicted mass of the particle agrees with the experimental results. The Higgs appears to have a mass of 125 GeV (giga­electronvolts), and the signal has a 4.2 sigma, just short of the 5.0 value deemed to be conclusive.
  • New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) officials announced Tuesday a successful launch over the weekend of an advanced sounding rocket designed and built by Armadillo Aerospace. The launch took place from Spaceport America’s vertical launch complex on Sunday.

6 December

  • Astronomers announced Monday the first discovery in data from NASA’s Kepler mission of a planet in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star. The planet, designated Kepler-22b, is about 2.4 times the radius of the Earth and would have an average surface temperature of 22 degrees Celsius, but astronomers said they did not have information about the planet’s mass or potential composition, thus making them unable to say just how much this planet may be like the Earth.
  • SpaceX’s Dragon demonstration flight to the International Space Station (ISS) is understood to be moving into the February/March timeframe, while approval for the combination of the C2/C3 (D2/D3) missions – which would result in Dragon arriving at the orbital outpost – is still pending official approval from NASA and the ISS partners.
  • New views of giant asteroid Vesta revealed

5 December

  • Despite a small period of time where it was hoped communications and commanding might be established with the stricken Fobos-Grunt spacecraft, it now appears the Russian probe’s future is one which will see it head towards a fiery end, as its orbit continues decay over time. The likely scenario now points to a destructive re-entry sometime in January.
  • The Baikonur launch site is being prepared for the takeoff of the Soyuz TMA-03M manned spacecraft. The Soyuz-FG rocket and spacecraft will be positioned on 19 December, with take off at 7:17 AM Phoenix time (1417 UTC – 5:17 PM Moscow time) on 21 December. The spacecraft will carry the 30TH/31ST crew to the International Space Station (ISS), and their stay will last for six months. Oleg Kononenko, Andrei Kuipers and Donald Pettit are the crew members.

4 December

  • NASA’s New Horizons mission reached a special milestone today on its way to reconnoiter the Pluto system, coming closer to Pluto than any other spacecraft. It’s taken New Horizons 2,143 days of high-speed flight, covering more than a million kilometers per day for nearly six years, to break the closest-approach mark set by NASA’s Voyager 1 in January 1986.
  • NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured unprecedented radar imagery of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus last month, uncovering new details of the moon’s highly reflective frozen surface.

3 December

  • Following the launch by the Atlas V 541 and two precise burns by the Centaur second stage, Curiosity was placed in such an accurate orbit to Mars that the first scheduled course correction has been postponed. Engineers tentatively plan to execute a maneuver in late December or early January to begin the process of steering the spacecraft toward Mars. A burn in early June will start zeroing in on the precise landing site.
  • The European Space Agency announced Friday it was ending efforts to establish communications with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft after failing to restore control of the Mars probe. An ESA antenna in Australia had received signals from the spacecraft on November 22, but subsequent efforts from ESA facilities to establish two-way communications with and control of the spacecraft had failed.
  • In a potential marriage of the Space Launch System (SLS) with a central exploration plan, a Boeing-authored presentation has proposed an Exploration Gateway Platform architecture that not only returns man to the lunar surface – via the use of only one SLS launch to a reusable Lunar Lander – but provides a baseline for pathfinders towards an eventual crewed mission to Mars.

2 December

  • A Long March rocket launched the latest in a series of navigation satellites on Friday, in the process breaking a record for launch activity. The Long March 3A rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 4:07 pm EST Thursday (2107 GMT Thursday, 5:07 am Beijing time Friday), carrying a Beidou-2 inclined geosynchronous orbit (IGSO) satellite.
  • New images from Mars Express show the Phlegra Montes mountain range, in a region where radar probing indicates large volumes of water ice are hiding below. This could be a source of water for future astronauts.

1 December

  • Burdened by the cut from $850 Million to $406 Million for Commercial Crew Development (CCDev), NASA is weighing whether to reduce funding to all four participants (SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Blue Origin. ), or cease funding one or more.
  • In a bid to save the next Mars rover from budgetary oblivion, representatives from NASA, Europe and Russia will meet in Paris next week to hash out what each space agency can contribute to a pair of life-hunting Mars missions due to begin launching in four years.
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