- NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers are scheduled to undock from the space station in their Russian-built Soyuz TMA-03M capsule at 9:48 PM Phoenix time Saturday (0448 UTC Sunday). The trio is expected to land at 1:14 AM (0814 UTC) Sunday on the Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan.
- There was another glide test of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle today at the Mojave Air and Space Port. A source says that WhiteKnightTwo took off with the spacecraft beneath it at about 6:50 AM Phoenix time. SpaceShipTwo landed about an hour later and both vehicles were back in the hangar by 8 AM.
- A Delta 4 Heavy launched Friday morning carrying a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The Delta 4 Heavy lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 6:15 AM Phoenix time (1315 UTC) on mission NROL-15 for the NRO.
- B612 Debuts Its Asteroid-Seeking Sentinel: A private nonprofit group led by former astronauts, spacecraft designers, and asteroid specialists has proposed a spacecraft to find a half million asteroids in Earth-crossing orbits and provide advance warning of impact threats.
- Astronauts Liu Yang, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang have returned to Earth following a 13-day mission. The astronauts, including China’s first woman in space, carried out a successful manual docking with the Tiangong-1 laboratory module.
- Astronomers announced this week that they have used spectroscopic observations of an extrasolar planet to directly measure its mass. Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory used an infrared spectrometer to study Tau Bootis b, an exoplanet orbiting the star Tau Bootis that was originally discovered in the mid 1990s.
- Canadian space company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) will buy the satellite manufacturing arm of Loral in a billion-dollar deal, the company announced late Tuesday night. MDA will pay $775 million in cash for the equity of Space Systems/Loral (SS/L), plus $101 million in a promissory note SS/L real estate.
- SpaceX successfully fired its new Merlin 1D rocket engine at their facility in McGregor, Texas. The engine achieved a full mission duration firing and multiple restarts at target thrust and specific impulse (ISP). The engine firing was for 185 seconds with 147,000 pounds of thrust, the full duration and power required for a Falcon 9 rocket launch.
- Turbulent jet streams, regions where winds blow faster than in other places, churn east and west across Saturn. Scientists have been trying to understand for years the mechanism that drives these wavy structures in Saturn’s atmosphere and the source from which the jets derive their energy. In a new study appearing in the June edition of the journal Icarus, scientists used images collected over several years by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to discover that the heat from within the planet powers the jet streams. Condensation of water from Saturn’s internal heating led to temperature differences in the atmosphere. The temperature differences created eddies, or disturbances that move air back and forth at the same latitude, and those eddies, in turn, accelerated the jet streams like rotating gears driving a conveyor belt.
- In a new demonstration of Chinese space capabilities, a crewed Shenzhou spacecraft safely undocked with an orbiting lab module Sunday and then redocked under manual control. The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft redocked with the Tiangong-1 module at 12:48 am EDT (0448 GMT, 12:48 pm Beijing time) under manual control, about an hour and a half after undocking from the module.
- The European Space Agency (ESA) gave its approval this week for the development of a space observatory that will seek new evidence of dark matter and dark energy. ESA gave the go-ahead to begin construction of Euclid, a spacecraft slated for launch in 2020, after selecting the mission as part of its Cosmic Vision program last fall. The spacecraft features a 1.2-meter telescope with instruments to map the three-dimensional distribution of up to two billion galaxies, measuring the dark matter associated with those galaxies and how they are affected by the accelerating expansion of the universe linked to dark energy.
- Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft said Thursday they have discovered two dissimilar extrasolar planets with orbits very close to each other. The planets, designated Kepler-36b and c, orbit the same star 1,200 light-years from Earth in orbits only 1.9 million kilometers from each other. The inner planet, Kepler-36b, appears to be a “super-Earth” 4.5 times the mass and 1.5 times the radius of the Earth. The outer planer, Kepler-36c, is 3.7 times the radius and 8 times the mass of the Earth and is probably more like Neptune.
- Data from a NASA orbiter suggests that water ice is present in at least minute amounts on the floor of a crater at the Moon’s south pole, scientists reported Wednesday. In a paper published in the journal Nature, scientists using the laser altimeter on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft concluded that 22 percent of the material in a micron-think layer on the floor of Shackleton crater consists of water ice.
- The United Launch Alliance (ULA) placed a new spy satellite into orbit this morning. An Atlas V 401 left the Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral at 5:28 AM Phoenix time (1228 UTC) carrying the NROL-38 satellite. This is ULA’s 50th EELV launch and uses a Centaur upper stage to carry the satellite to Geosynchronous orbit.
- The Gruber Foundation announced today that the 2012 Cosmology Prize will be awarded to Johns Hopkins University professor Charles L. Bennett and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) space mission science team that he led. Bennett and the WMAP team are being recognized by the foundation for their transformative study of an ancient light dating back to the infant universe. So precise and accurate are the WMAP results that they form the foundation of the Standard Cosmological Model.
- The Atlas V rocket scheduled to launch the NROL-38 satellite has been rolled back to the launch pad following the repair of an environmental control system duct. Launch coverage begins Wednesday 20 June at 5:08 AM Phoenix time (1208 UTC). Weather conditions are 70 percent favorable for the morning lift off.
- China’s Shenzhou-9 spacecraft successfully docked with its Tiangong-1 lab module on Monday. Shenzhou-9 docked in automated mode with Tiangong-1 at 11:07 PM Phoenix time Sunday (0607 UTC Monday) after what Chinese officials said was a normal approach. Two of three people on board Shenzhou-9, Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang, boarded Tiangong-1 about two hours later; the third crewmember, Liu Yang, followed a short time later after the others confirmed the conditions in the module were suitable.
- Under a new agreement, privately operated spacecraft ferrying NASA astronauts to the international space station will be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but leave it to NASA to decide whether the vehicles are fit to dock with the station and carry astronauts in the first place, the heads of the two agencies said June 18 in a joint press briefing.
- The launch of a Russian Proton-M carrier rocket with the SES-5 (Sirius-5) satellite from the Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan has been postponed from 10:23 p.m. Moscow Time on June 19 to the same time on June 20.
- United Launch Alliance has postponed the launch of an Atlas V rocket from the Space Coast. After the rocket was rolled the launch pad, an issue with an environmental control system duct that failed near its connection to the Mobile Launch Platform was identified. The vehicle will be rolled back to the Vertical Integration Facility so the duct can be replaced. The launch is now set for Wednesday, June 20 from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
- View the video of the landing of the X-37B at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
- An international team of astronomers led by Fabian Walter of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has managed for the first time to determine the distance of the galaxy HDF850.1, well-known among astronomers as being one of the most productive star-forming galaxies in the observable universe. The galaxy is at a distance of 12.5 billion light years. Hence, we see it as it was 12.5 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 10% of its current age. Even more of a surprise, HDF850.1 turns out to be part of a group of around a dozen protogalaxies that formed within the first billion years of cosmic history – only one of two such primordial clusters known to date. The work is being published in the journal Nature.
- China sent into orbit on Saturday its first female astronaut, 33-year-old Liu Yang. A Long March rocket carrying Shenzhou-9 spacecraft lifted off from the Jiuquan space center on Saturday in the Gobi Desert at 3:37 Phoenix time (10:37 UTC).
- The U.S. Air Force’s second X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-2) landed successfully at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., early this morning after a record 469 days in space – more than double the time clocked up by the flight of the first vehicle, OTV-1.
- ‘The original space shuttle‘ to come out of hiding in Downey, California. The town plans to display the full-scale mock-up of the space shuttle, which Rockwell built in 1972 to pitch its design to NASA.
- Just weeks after SpaceX became the first private company to visit the International Space Station, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden toured the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne. Bolden joined SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk in thanking more than 1,000 employees who helped design, launch and recover the company’s Dragon capsule in May following its trip to the space station.
- A Pegasus rocket successfully launched a small NASA spacecraft designed to help astronomers track down black holes. An Orbital Sciences Corporation L-1011 aircraft, flying out of Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, released the Pegasus XL rocket at 12:00 pm EDT (1600 GMT). The rocket’s first stage ignited five seconds after release, and it and two other stages propelled NASA’s NuSTAR into a circular low Earth orbit.
- Project engineers have narrowed the landing site for NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover from 20 by 25 kilometers to 7 by 20 kilometers, allowing a more precise landing near the base of Mt. Sharp, the peak in the middle of Gale Crater that will be the focus of the rover’s scientific studies. The landing is scheduled for 10:31 PM Phoenix time on 5 August (0531 GMT 6 August).
- The European Southern Observatory (ESO) gave the green light Monday to plans to build a telescope nearly 40 meters across in Chile. The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will be located in northern Chile, close to ESO’s existing Paranal Observatory, and feature a primary mirror 39.3 meters in diameter. That would give the telescope over 15 times the light-gathering power of each of the twin 10-meter Keck Observatory telescopes.
- From PrivCo: “SpaceX’s last valuation on secondary markets of $10/share or $1.2 billion is dated to April 2012 before its historic mission. PrivCo estimates that given the mission’s success, new contracts the company stands to gain, and its rapid growth, SpaceX’s share price has now doubled in value to a PrivCo-estimated $20/share with a valuation of $2.4 billion. In an additional valuation data point, PrivCo confirms a recent $18.50/share ask price from secondary markets, up 85% from its last trade in April.”
- One of the two female astronauts, Liu Yang(L) and Wang Yaping (R), from the Wuhan Flight Unit, will join Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft docking mission with Tiangong-1 spacecraft in mid-June.
- Astronomers at one Florida university hope they’ve found a sweet way to help compensate for, and protest, massive budget cuts. Students, professors and scientists at the University of Central Florida will be selling super nova brownie cookies, Milky Way cupcakes and other earthly delights at a bake sale on Saturday to rally support for NASA’s space exploration budget, which is facing a nearly $300 million cut astronomers say will derail discovery.
- Chinese officials announced Saturday that it will launch its next human spaceflight mission, which will feature a docking with its experimental lab module already in orbit, around the middle of this month. The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft and its Long March 2F rocket were moved to the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Saturday in preparation for what officials said would be a “mid-June” launch.
- Citing growing costs, NASA officials announced Thursday they were canceling a small x-ray astronomy mission that was still in the early stages of development. The Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS) mission failed to pass a confirmation review by NASA last week, and the decision not to continue development of the mission was formally confirmed by the agency on Thursday.
- Virgin Galactic held an open house at its facility in the Green Offices at 166 S. Roadrunner Parkway, the building with a curved bluish-green glass exterior. George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, noted that the facilities at Spaceport America, north of Las Cruces, were not ready yet, but they expect to start flights in the second half of 2013.
- The space shuttle Enterprise arrived Wednesday at its new home, a former aircraft carrier turned museum in New York City. Enterprise was transported by barge up the Hudson from a dock in New Jersey to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York, where it was hoisted onto the deck of the carrier Intrepid
- A key member of Congress who had been critical of NASA’s commercial crew development efforts said Tuesday that he has reached an understanding with NASA about how the program should proceed. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, had inserted report language into the House version of NASA’s fiscal year 2013 budget that called on NASA to use conventional contracts, and not Space Act Agreements, in the next phase of the program, and to select only one company to receive most or all the funds in that phase. Wolf said he’s reached an understanding with NASA to allow the agency to pick “2.5” companies, two with full awards and one with a partial award, in the next phase, which can be done through Space Act Agreements. NASA agreed to use conventional contracts in later phases of the program and to vet selected companies’ financial viability before making awards in this round. Wolf also said he supported funding the program at around the level of the Senate version of the NASA spending bill, $525 million, slightly higher than the $500 million in the House version but still below the $830 million requested by the White House.
- It’s your last chance to catch one of the rarest cosmic spectacles — Venus slowly crossing the face of the sun. Weather permitting, the transit of Venus will be visible from much of Earth — Tuesday from the Western Hemisphere and Wednesday from the Eastern Hemisphere. This sight won’t come again until 105 years from now — in 2117.
- The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has given NASA two telescopes originally designed for reconnaissance satellites that the space agency believes could be repurposed for astronomy missions. The two telescopes, each with mirrors 2.4 meters in diameter, the same as Hubble, were built as spares for spy satellites not flown and are no longer needed by NRO. NASA is considering using one of the telescopes for a mission called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) to study dark energy. WFIRST is a mission identified by astronomers as their top priority large mission for the current decade, but is one that NASA lacks the funding to develop.
- The discovery of objects in the Kuiper Belt in the outer reaches of the solar system netted scientists a pair of major prizes last week. The $1-million Shaw Prize in astronomy for 2012 went to David Jewitt and Jane Luu for their discovery of the first Kuiper Belt objects in the early 1990s. The $1-million Kavli Prize in astrophysics also went to Jewitt and Luu, as well as Michael Brown, for their Kuiper Belt discoveries. Astronomers now believe there may be as many as 70,000 bodies at least 100 kilometers in diameter in the Kuiper Belt, and the discovery of some large objects there led to the reclassification by the International Astronomical Union of Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006.
- Enterprise passed the World Trade Center in New York on its barge trip toward the USS Intrepid.
- One of the two solar arrays of a newly-launched communications satellite for Intelsat failed to deploy properly, the company announced late Friday. Intelsat said that one of the arrays on its Intelsat 19 satellite did not deploy as planned shortly after launch early Friday. Intelsat and the satellite’s manufacturer, Space Systems/Loral (SS/L), are studying the problem. If the array is not deployed, the spacecraft’s operations could be seriously impaired because of the limited power available to it from the single working array.
- China’s aggressive satellite production and launch pace is threatening launch vehicle failures and the malfunction in orbit of important spacecraft, according to a largely classified Defense Department report to Congress. The report comes as China is poised for an extremely high profile mission, the launch into space of China’s first woman astronaut as early as mid June. Examples of failures stemming from the growing risk factors are cited in an unclassified summary of the 2012 Pentagon report titled “Military and Security Developments of the People’s Republic of China”.
- Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) reached another milestone last week in its efforts to become the next commercial company to venture into space and provide NASA crew transport capabilities to low-Earth orbit, or “LEO” as it is more commonly called. The NewSpace firm successfully completed a “captive carry” flight test of a full scale version of their Dream Chaser spacecraft in the skies over the Rocky Mountains of Jefferson County, Colorado last week.
- NASA’s Third Annual Lunabotics Mining Competition was held May 21-26, 2012 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
- High above Earth, astronaut Don Pettit is about to become the first human to witness and photograph a transit of Venus from space. His images and commentary will be streamed to Earth during the crossing. Follow this on NASA TV on Tuesday afternoon, 5 June.
- A Zenit-3SL rocket launched from the Pacific Ocean placed an Intelsat communications satellite into orbit early Friday. The Sea Launch Zenit-3SL rocket lifted off from a floating platform on the Equator in the Pacific Ocean at 10:23 PM Phoenix time Thursday (0523 UTC Friday) and released the Intelsat 19 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit about an hour later.
- The water plumes from Enceladus form nanograins that turn to plasma in a reaction with the magnetic fields surrounding Saturn.