NSS Phoenix Space News

Posts Tagged ‘GRAIL’

December 2012

Posted by drdave on December 1, 2012

Happy New Year

31 December

  • The space Review discusses issues for 2013 including problems associated with sequestration due to the upcoming “Fiscal Bunny Slope”.
  • Engine Out” – Failures and other problems.
  • Russia is expected to spend 2.1 trillion rubles—about $70 billion—on the development of its national space industry in the next eight years, according to a statement last week by Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, which was quoted by Space Daily and RIA Novosti. He revealed that the plan is designed to satisfy three fundamental aims: ensuring that Russia maintains its position as a leading global space power, supporting its defense capability, and boosting its overall economic and social development. “The program will enable our country to effectively participate in forward-looking projects,” said Medvedev, “such as the ISS, the study of the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies in the Solar System.”

30 December

  • Ikaros, a Japanese probe launched in 2010, has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the first interplanetary solar sail spacecraft.
  • Only in America can the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology of the House of Representatives be the same congressman from Georgia who was caught on tape last summer during an “off-the-record” campaign appearance at a Baptist church saying, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.” Read more.

29 December

  • The new Japanese asteroid mission, called Hayabusa2, is scheduled for launch in 2014 and aimed at the asteroid 1999 JU3, a large space rock about 3,018 feet (920 meters) in length. It is due to arrive at the asteroid in mid-2018, loiter at the space rock and carry out a slew of challenging firsts before departing the scene at the end of 2019.

28 December

  • South Korea has retrieved what appears to be part of the engine from North Korea’s long-range rocket launched earlier this month, a finding that could provide clues to the communist nation’s rocket technologies, a military source said Friday.
  • At the top of the Curiosity rover’s to-do list next year is the first use of its rock-boring drill, allowing scientists to examine samples from inside Martian rocks with the robot’s instrument suite. The drill is designed to hammer into rocks and collect material for analysis by the rover’s chemical and mineral sensors. For the drill’s first use, the Curiosity team is looking for a rock in a shallow pit named Yellowknife Bay.

27 December

26 December

  • Russian space rocket corporation Energia has completed the technical design of a new manned spacecraft whose flight tests are due to begin in 2017. The new spaceship will be able to fly not only to the International Space Station (ISS) but also to the Moon.
  • With most of its ground control team taking time off this week, Curiosity was loaded up with operating instructions for 11 days while at “Grandmother’s House”.

25 December

  • Doomsayers disappointed by 2012’s non-apocalypse will get a sop in 2013 in the form of a rare supercomet. Once widely seen as a portent of doom, comets are seldom as spectacular as the new arrival, known as C/2012 S1 (ISON), may be. At its peak it may outshine the moon, even by day.
    First spotted in September, ISON is rushing towards the sun from the outer solar system. Its closest approach to the sun will be in November, when Timothy Spahr of the Minor Planet Center at Harvard University expects it to put on as good a show as Hale-Bopp did in 1997.

24 December

  • SpaceX’s ambitions of creating a full reusable launch vehicle have taken another step forward via the third – and most ambitious to date – test of their Grasshopper test vehicle. The 40 meter leap into the skies at their test facility in Texas – followed by a stable hover and smooth landing – was conducted without a hitch.
  • Five years ago, the idea of easing export controls on commercial satellites was politically unthinkable. That mindset has changed during the last half decade, as the idea that those restrictions are harming both national security and the U.S. industry base has gradually gained traction. And during a year in which the U.S. Congress barely passed even routine bills, lawmakers came together to shed long-standing restrictions on the export of commercial satellites.

23 December

  • This is a bit of cheery news a day after the nonsensical “Mayan Apocalypse of 2012” — the potentially hazardous asteroid 2011 AG5 will not (I repeat, will not) threaten Earth in the year 2040.
  • John Kelly, At Florida Today, weighs in on the policy drift at NASA: “This week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden appeared before yet another human space flight review committee (this is the second such panel convened over the past four years). He gave a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of Obama’s targeted mission to an asteroid. He didn’t say NASA ought not do it, but he loaded up on caveats and qualifiers.” Kelly then goes on about what purpose might be visualized for the NASA super rocket (SLS), since it will not be capable of launching a mission to an asteroid by the time the asteroid mission is currently scheduled.

22 December

  • The US Geological Survey (USGS) announced Friday that it plans to decommission the aging Landsat 5 spacecraft in the coming months as Landsat 8 is prepared for launch. Landsat 5 launched in 1984 with a planned design life of three years, but has continued operations after the loss of Landsat 6 in a launch failure in 1993 and technical problems with Landsat 7, launched in 1999. Landsat 8, (Landsat Data Continuity Mission), is scheduled for launch in February andrecently arrived at its launch site, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, from the Orbital Sciences Corporation facility in Arizona where it was assembled.

21 December

  • A meteorite that fell where California’s gold rush began has triggered a similar gold rush for scientists: to study one of the freshest, most unusual space rocks around. The Sutter’s Mill meteorite turns out to be a rare, carbon-rich type known as a carbonaceous chondrite. Its insides are a jumble of different primitive space materials mashed together in a single rock.
  • A Soyuz capsule packed with three astronauts has successfully docked with the International Space Station, taking the size of the full crew at the orbiting laboratory to six. American Tom Marshburn, Russian Roman Romanenko and Canadian Chris Hadfield traveled two days in the capsule before linking up with the space station’s Russian Rassvet research module.
  • The U.S. military is committing to average at least seven rocket purchases a year from United Launch Alliance for five years, a cost-saving move by the government that’s worth billions to the Centennial-based company in Colorado.

20 December

  • SpaceShipTwo completed its first glide test with the rocket motor and tanks installed. The flight was the 23rd in a series of unpowered tests and took place on 19 December. Last Friday, 15 December, SpaceShipTwo completed a test in this configuration, but remained attached to its mother ship, WhiteKnightTwo.
  • An Ariane 5 rocket launched communication satellites for the British military and for a Mexican government agency on Wednesday evening. The Ariane 5 ECA lifted off from the spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana, at 4:49 pm EST (2149 GMT) and placed the Skynet 5D and Mexsat Bicentenario spacecraft into geosynchronous transfer orbit about a half-hour later. Skynet 5D is an EADS Astrium Eurostar E3000 model spacecraft, weighing 4,800 kilograms at launch. Astrium Services will operate the spacecraft at 53 degrees east in GEO to provide communications services for the British Ministry of Defence and allies. Mexsat Bicentenario is an Orbital Sciences GEOStar-3 model spacecraft, weighing approximately 3,000 kilograms at launch. It will be operated by the Mexican Secretariat of Communications and Transport to provide C- and Ku-band communications services from 114.9 degrees west in GEO. The launch was the seventh and final Ariane 5 mission of the year, and the last scheduled orbital launch worldwide in 2012.

19 December

  • A Russian Soyuz FG rocket successfully launched the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft carrying three astronauts to the International Space Station. Roman Romanenko from Roscosmos, NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn and the Canadian Space Agency’s Chris Hadfield lifted off at 5:12 AM Phoenix time (1212 UTC)
  • A Chinese Long March rocket successfully launched a Turkish remote sensing satellite on Wednesday. The Long March 2D rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 9:13 AM Phoenix time Tuesday (1613 UTC Tuesday, 12:13 am Beijing time Wednesday) and placed the Gokturk-2 satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit.

18 December

  • NASA’s twin GRAIL spacecraft crashed into a mountain on the Moon Monday afternoon, completing their nearly year-long mission there as planned. The two spacecraft, dubbed “Ebb” and “Flow”, crashed into a mountain near the crater Goldschmidt in the Moon’s north polar regions. Ebb crashed into the mountain at 5:28:51 pm EST (2228:51 GMT) and Flow crashed nearby 30 seconds later. NASA announced the impact sites would be named after Sally Ride, the first American woman in space who passed away earlier this year; she led the development of cameras on the spacecraft used exclusively for educational purposes.

17 December

  • Jeff Foust at the Space Review, discusses at length the role NASA should play in the exploration of space.

16 December

  • South Korean authorities on Friday moved to analyse the debris of a North Korean long-range rocket, launched earlier this week in defiance of repeated international warnings.
  • The Union of Concerned Scientists discusses the North Korean satellite, its functional parts and its current orbit. Apparently, based on American observations, the satellite achieved a circular around 500 kilometers above the Earth, but the satellite is tumbling, and not under North Korean control.

15 December

  • The Chinese spacecraft Chang’E 2 has captured stunning images of the asteroid Toutatis as it tumbled past the Earth on 13 December 2012.
  • Thales Alenia Space (Cannes, France), the manufacturer of the Yamal-402 satellite for Gazprom Space Systems, has carried out the fourth and the final maneuver to place the satellite into a planned geostationary orbit. Thales Alenia Space earlier devised a plan for transferring the satellite from a geostationary transfer orbit to the planned geostationary orbit by firing the satellite’s apogee kick motor four times instead of the previously planned three firings. The orbit placement sequence had to be adjusted after the Briz-M upper stage manufactured by the Khrunichev Space Center failed to place the satellite into the planned orbit. During the fourth firing, its sustainer engine stopped 4 minutes earlier than was planned.

14 December

  • The powerpack assembly for the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) J-2X engine has completed its year of testing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The engine is set to provide the Earth Departure Stage (EDS) role for astronauts and hardware heading to destinations in deep space, should NASA opt to evolve SLS to the Block II configuration.

13 December

  • Ebb and Flow, the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission probes, are being sent purposely into the lunar surface because their low orbit and low fuel levels preclude further scientific operations. The twin lunar-orbiting NASA spacecraft that have allowed scientists to learn more about the internal structure and composition of the moon are being prepared for their controlled descent and impact on a mountain near the moon’s north pole at about 2:28 p.m. PST (5:28 p.m. EST) Monday, Dec. 17.
  • Astronomers have found a population of galaxies more than 13 billion years old in a new “deep field” image set from the Hubble Space Telescope. The galaxies, found in Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field 2012 (UDF12) near-infrared images, date back to between 350 and 600 million years after the Big Bang.

12 December

  • Scientists with NASA’s Cassini mission have spotted what appears to be a miniature, extraterrestrial likeness of Earth’s Nile River: a river valley on Saturn’s moon Titan that stretches more than 200 miles (400 kilometers) from its “headwaters” to a large sea.
  • An Atlas V successfully launched on Tuesday a classified military spaceplane. The Atlas 5 501 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 1:03 pm EST (1803 GMT) carrying an X-37B on the Orbital Test Vehicle 3 (OTV-3) mission. The launch, which took place despite forecasts that called for only a 30 percent chance of acceptable weather at launch time, was declared a success by the Air Force, although it released few other details about the mission.
  • North Korea launched a rocket early Wednesday that appeared to place a small satellite into orbit, a move that took many by surprise. The Unha-3 rocket lifted off from its North Korean launch site at approximately 5:50 PM Phoenix time Tuesday (0050 UTC). Official government media announced that the launch was a success, and NORAD reported it was tracking what appeared to be the rocket’s satellite and upper stage in orbit.

11 December

  • Aviation Week: Launch market upstart Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) won the first two competitions out for bid under the Air Force’s new Orbital/Suborbital Program-3 (OSP-3) contract last week. These are the first Air Force-funded opportunities for would-be competitors to ULA to earn government money to prove out their young designs and march forward on the path to certification for launches in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) class, which is used for the most valuable Pentagon and intelligence satellites.

10 December

  • NASA announced Monday the selection of three companies to conduct activities under contracts that will enable future certification of commercial spacecraft as safe to carry humans to the International Space Station. Advances made by Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX during the first contract phase known as the certification products contracts (CPC) will begin the process of ensuring integrated crew transportation systems will meet agency safety requirements and standards to launch American astronauts to the International Space Station from the United States, ending the agency’s reliance on Russia for these transportation services. The second phase of certification will result in a separately competed contract.

9 December

  • Yamal-402 satellite launched from Baikonur on Saturday was not placed in the planned orbit. When the propulsion engine of Briz-M upper stage was fired for the fourth time, it operated for a shorter time than it was supposed to. Hence, the satellite was not placed in the required orbit.

8 December

7 December

  • The United Launch Alliance (ULA) are clear to resume launches of their Atlas V rocket, after a review into an anomaly with their Delta IV Upper Stage, during the launch of the GPS IIF-3 satellite, reached a key stage. The green light allows for launches of the Atlas V – which shares commonality via the RL-10 engine on its Centaur Upper Stage – to resume, starting with the next X-37B mission on December 11.

6 December

  • The Washington Post: “It had to happen: A start-up company is offering rides to the moon. Book your seat now — though it’s going to set you back $750 million (it’s unclear if that includes baggage fees). Led by heavy-hitter former NASA executives, the Golden Spike Co. would boldly go where humankind went 40 years ago, this time commercially, hawking tickets to foreign governments or space tourists.”
  • Aviation Week: “NASA’s 2011 strategic plan is no longer viable, according to the Space Foundation’s report, which takes a long, hard look at NASA’s role more than five decades after its creation. Principal author G. Ryan Faith notes that the 2011 plan doesn’t even mention the word “space” in its vision and mission statements. It is time, the Foundation says, to find a job for NASA and stick to it. And the job for a “healthy national civil space enterprise,” the report says, is pioneering.”

5 December

    NASA announced Tuesday it plans to develop a Mars rover based on the Mars Science Laboratory mission for launch in 2020. The rover wil take advantage of spare parts built for the original MSL rover, Curiosity, including a backup RTG power source. A science definition team will select a new suite of instruments for the rover, as well as decide whether the rover should have the ability to collect and cache samples for later return to Earth on a future mission. NASA estimates the rover misson will cost $1.5 billion and will fit within the reduced funding profile for NASA’s Mars program in its 2013 budget request. NASA said it will also extend the lives of current Mars missions, including Curiosity.
  • The United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center has awarded SpaceX two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class missions: DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) and STP-2 (Space Test Program 2). To be launched on SpaceX’s Falcon launch vehicles in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the awards mark the first EELV-class missions awarded to the company to date.

4 December

  • NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has detected evidence for simple organic compounds in a Martian soil sample, but scientists cautioned Monday they do not know yet if those compounds are of Martian or terrestrial origin.
  • A Zenit-3SL rocket successfully placed a communications satelite into orbit for Eutelsat on Monday. The Zenit-3SL, operated by Sea Launch, lifted off from its floating launch platform on the Equator in the Pacific Ocean at 3:44 pm EST (2044 GMT), and released the Eutelsat-70B satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit 66 minutes later. The satellite, built by EADS Astrium, weighed 5,210 kilograms at launch, and carries a payload of 48 Ku-band transponders.
  • NASA’s first Atlas 5 rocket on the West Coast underwent a practice launch day and fueling exercise Tuesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The United Launch Alliance booster is scheduled for blastoff in February carrying a remote sensing spacecraft known as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, or LDCM.

3 December

  • The team of scientists operating NASA’s Curiosity rover has found organic materials on Mars — but isn’t sure whether the carbon-containing compounds are indigenous to the planet.

2 December

  • Arianespace launched their Soyuz ST-A rocket from the European Spaceport “Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG)” in Kourou, French Guiana on Sunday morning, tasking the veteran launch with lofting the Pleiades 1B satellite into a Sun synchronous orbit. Following its 02:02 GMT lift-off, the satellite was successfully deployed 55 minutes later. This was the second launch attempt, following Saturday morning’s scrub.

1 December

  • An anomaly occurred during the final chronology for Flight VS04 – Pléiades 1B, thus halting the count-down. A new launch attempt is slated on the night of Saturday 1st to Sunday 2nd of December.

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September 2012

Posted by drdave on September 12, 2012

21 September

  • SpaceX will begin its first official resupply flight to International Space Station on October 7, NASA announced Thursday.
  • The Space Shuttle Endeavour made two close passes over Runway 8-26 at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

20 September

  • M51 — also known as the Whirlpool galaxy—is a classic spiral galaxy that scientists have studied for centuries. But this mesmerizing new image of the galaxy has nabbed Australian photographer Martin Pugh the top prize in the fourth annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards, announced this week.
  • In a surprise finding, astronomers using instruments on NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have discovered the protoplanet Vesta is rich in hydrogen, which most likely was delivered by water-bearing meteorites striking the body.

19 September

  • The space shuttle Endeavor began what will be its final trip, departing the Kennedy Space Center Wednesday atop a 747 bound for California. Endeavour and its 747 carrier left KSC shortly after 7 am EDT (1100 GMT) Wednesday. After making passes over the Space Coast, it flew east, flying over the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans before arriving in the Houston area.
  • NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has driven up to a football-size rock that will be the first for the rover’s arm to examine. Curiosity is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) from the rock. It lies about halfway from Curiosity’s landing site, Bradbury Landing, to a location called Glenelg. In coming days, the team plans to touch the rock with a spectrometer to determine its elemental composition and use an arm-mounted camera to take close-up photographs. Both the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the mast-mounted, laser-zapping Chemistry and Camera Instrument will be used for identifying elements in the rock. This will allow cross-checking of the two instruments.

18 September

  • With the combined power of NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes as well as a cosmic magnification effect, a team of astronomers led by Wei Zheng of The Johns Hopkins University has spotted what could be the most distant galaxy ever seen. Light of the young galaxy captured by the orbiting observatories shone forth when the 13.7-billion-year-old universe was just 500 million years old.

17 September

  • Doug Messier discusses the challenges facing NASA’s Budget: “NASA’s budget is facing deep cuts in January from two sources: sequestration and Mitt Romney. If President Obama and Congress cannot work out a deal, sequestration will cut NASA’s budget by 8 percent or $1.458 billion in early January, according to a new report issued by the White House. Meanwhile, Romney has promised if elected to send a bill to Congress on his first day in office, Jan. 20, that would slash non-security discretionary spending across the board. If the measure approved, it would result in a reduction of nearly $900 million from the space agency’s budget.”
  • The Russian Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft, also known by its US designation of 30S, undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) early Monday night ahead of a successful return to Earth with a landing in the Kazakh Steppe a few hours later. The landing brought to an end the four-month voyage of Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba.
  • The launch of the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft with the next expedition to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed for about a week, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) Vladimir Popovkin said at a press conference on Monday after the successful landing of the Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft. “Some malfunctions have appeared in one of the devices of the decent module, we will replace it and carry out second tests.”

16 September

  • The Russo-American ISS mission crew members are set to travel back to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-04M spaceship. Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, and NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba have already transferred to the Soyuz TMA-04M and battened down the hatches.
  • A Soyuz-2 modernized carrier rocket is to blast off from the Baikonur space launch center on Monday to deploy a European MetOp-B weather satellite into orbit.

15 September

  • For the last time in space shuttle history, a NASA orbiter has been mounted to the top of a jumbo jet to be flown to its next destination. For shuttle Endeavour, now sitting piggyback atop the space agency’s modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), its next and final mission is to become a museum exhibit. The spacecraft, flying aboard the aircraft, will leave at sunrise on Monday (Sept. 17) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Los Angeles, where it is destined for display at the California Science Center (CSC).

14 September

  • Neil Armstrong was buried at sea.
  • The H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI3” (HTV3) re-entered the atmosphere after the third de-orbit maneuver at 2:00 p.m. on September 14, 2012 (Japanese Standard Time, JST). The spacecraft has successfully accomplished the main objective of shipping cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), and completed its 56-day mission.

13 September

  • NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is wrapping up tests of its robotic arm and will soon begin driving to perform its first detailed examination of a Martian rock. Curiosity has been parked since September 5 as engineers check out the arm and the instruments mounted on it. With those tests nearly complete, Curiosity will begin driving again in the direction of a site called Glenelg several hundred meters away, where three different landforms meet.
  • Six weeks later than planned, following Range instrumentation issues at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-36 classified payload was successfully launched by an Atlas V rocket. The satellite is believed to be a pair of $1.3 billion NRO Ocean Surveillance Satellites (NOSS), dedicated to monitoring worldwide civilian and military shipping.
  • NASA on Wednesday released a request for proposals for the first of two contract phases to certify commercially developed space systems in support of crewed missions to the International Space Station. Through these certification products contracts, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) will ensure commercial missions are held to the agency’s safety requirements and standards for human space transportation system missions to the space station.

12 September

  • Early Monday morning U.S. amateur astronomers spotted a bright light squiggling across the upper cloud deck of Jupiter. Both assumed they’d witnessed a large meteor or comet impact, and so far, professional astronomers seem to agree. NASA’s Amy Simon Miller, though, cautioned that, “at this point, we can only confirm based on the fact that there were two independent reports.” Official observations will have to wait. Such a strike would be the fourth impact seen on Jupiter in just the last three years. And the fact that the explosion was visible via backyard telescopes more than 454 million miles (730 million kilometers) away—indicates it was probably a significant event.
  • An experimental unmanned rocket has crashed in the Mojave Desert as it descended from a test flight to an altitude of 3,281 feet. Masten Space Systems says its reusable Xaero rocket was lost Tuesday during final approach to landing at Mojave Air and Space Port.
  • A New View of The Pencil Nebula

11 September

  • An Indian rocket placed a commercial remote sensing satellite into orbit on Sunday. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) lifted off from India’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre at 12:23 am EDT (0423 GMT, 9:53 am local time) Sunday and placed the SPOT 6 satellite into orbit.

10 September

  • NASA cited SpaceX’s flight experience with the Dragon spacecraft and Boeing’s methodical approach to designing a crew capsule in its decision to award the companies $900 million to develop a human-rated commercial spaceship, according to a document released last week.

9 September

  • A new study presents an alternative explanation for the prevalence of Mars’ ancient clay minerals, which on Earth most often result from water chemically reacting with rock over long periods of time. The process is believed to be a starting point for life.
  • For 35 years, the twin Voyager missions – traveling in opposite directions – have pushed toward deep space staying in touch with mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The spacecraft are plutonium-powered messages in a bottle tossed into space by a civilization seeking contact with extraterrestrials all the while taking advantage of a rare opportunity to learn about its own solar system.

8 September

  • NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, having already driven more than 100 meters from its landing site, is stopping for several days to check out its robotic arm, project officials said this week. The rover extended its 2.1-meter arm on Wednesday for the first time since landing as engineers test out the arm and its instruments.
  • This Sunday, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is set to make another mark in its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launcher business when it flies French earth observation satellite SPOT 6.

7 September

  • Rocket motor company ATK has made the final required burn test to qualify a new nozzle for the GEM-60 solid rocket motor, which powers the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Medium+ configuration.
  • After orbiting the giant asteroid Vesta for slightly more than 13 months, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft left the space rock this week, headed for the dwarf planet Ceres.
  • Space shuttle Endeavour, mounted atop NASA’s modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), will make the final ferry flight of the Space Shuttle Program era when it departs Monday, Sept. 17, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida headed to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

6 September

  • Wired Magazine discusses the new images of Curiosity’s wheel tracks on Mars.
  • Two International Space Station crew members successfully completed a spacewalk to install a new power switching unit. American Sunita Williams and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide had to contend with a sticky bolt that prevented them from completing the installation in a previous spacewalk last week.

5 September

  • Scaled Composites is in final preparations for powered flight tests of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2), following completion of the glide-flight envelope at Mojave, California. The milestone means the suborbital spacecraft remains on track for the start of rocket-powered flights in the last quarter of this year, with passenger flights provisionally planned to begin by the end of 2013.

4 September

  • The Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft was supposed to have completed the second of two critical engine firings Tuesday to aim for a gravity sling shot past Earth next year, but managers put off the burn to analyze pressure readings aboard the probe.
  • A design by Alliant Techsystems (ATK) was dropped from NASA’s shortlist of potential space station crew taxis because the company did not present a technically sound plan for combining existing rocket and spacecraft designs into a single transportation system, according to a NASA source selection document released 4 September.

3 September

  • Russian Ruler-for-Life Vladimir Putin has dismissed Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center General Director Vladimir Nesterov in the wake of last month’s failed launch of a Proton rocket, which stranded two communications satellites in useless orbits.

2 September

  • The Martian rover is already sending back dramatic images that are changing our view of the Red Planet. Now it is inching forward on its most crucial and perilous mission.

1 September

  • NASA’s twin, lunar-orbiting Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft began data collection for the start of the mission’s extended operations. At 9:28 a.m. PDT (12:28 p.m. EDT) yesterday, while the two spacecraft were 19 miles (30 kilometers) above the moon’s Ocean of Storms, the Lunar Gravity Ranging System — the mission’s sole science instrument aboard both GRAIL twins — was energized.

Posted in Asteroid, China, Commercial Space, Earth, European Space Agency, India, International Space Station, JAXA, Jupiter, Mars, Moon, NASA, Roscosmos, Russian Space Agency, Solar System, Space Shuttle | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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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September 2011

Posted by drdave on September 3, 2011

30 September

  • Ian O’Neill at Discovery.Com discusses the SpaceX plan to use rocket power to recover the Dragon spacecraft, as well as both the first and second stages of the Falcon 9 rocket.

29 September

  • China successfully launched the TianGong-1 Space Laboratory module on live television today.
  • International Launch Services (ILS) have launched their Proton-M rocket on Thursday, on a mission which is marking their first ILS launch since the Russian workhorse returned to flight. Launch was on schedule at 18:32 GMT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with the Proton tasked with deploying the QuetzSat-1 telecommunications satellite for SES, after what will be nine hours of flight.
  • Planetary scientists at Brown University and participating institutions have discovered vast, smooth plains around Mercury’s north pole that were created by volcanic activity more than 3.5 billion years ago.
  • Aerojet announced today that along with NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation, the team conducted a successful ground test firing of an AJ26-62 flight engine that will power Orbital’s Taurus II medium-class space launch vehicle.
  • Scientists have released most accurate and detailed large cosmological simulation run to date. The Bolshoi simulation focused on a representative section of the universe, computing the evolution of a cubic volume measuring about one billion light-years on a side and following the interactions of 8.6 billion particles of dark matter. It took 6 million CPU-hours to run the full computation on the Pleiades supercomputer

28 September

  • China’s first space lab module Tiangong-1 is scheduled to be launched between 9:16 p.m. and 9:31 p.m. Thursday, a spokesman for China’s manned space flight project said on Wednesday.
  • A Minotaur 4 rocket successfully launched a small military communications satellite on Tuesday. The Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur 4+ lifted off from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska at 8:49 AM Phoenix time (1549 UTC).
  • Feast your Eyes on the Fried Egg Nebula

27 September

26 September

  • A Zenit-3SL successfully launched a communications satellite Saturday on the first mission for the Sea Launch company since it completed bankruptcy reorganization. The Zenit-3SL lifted off at 4:18 pm EDT (2018 GMT) Saturday from Sea Launch’s mobile launch platform on the Equator at 154 degrees west in the Pacific Ocean.

25 September

  • Super Earth exo-planets are the subject of both the Kepler mission and the Swiss-led HARPS mission.

24 September

  • A NASA spacecraft launched 20 years ago reentered late Friday night, although the exact reentry locations was unknown as of Saturday morning. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) reentered some time between 8:23 PM Phoenix time Friday and 10:09 PM (0323 and 0509 UTC Saturday).

23 September

  • After years of delays, fledgling rocket company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is ready to launch NASA’s first commercial cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) this fall. But that opportunity may continue to elude SpaceX for a while longer, as a recent Soyuz launch failure could prompt yet another schedule slip.
  • Rand Simberg takes apart Rory Cooper’s criticism of NASA. The blame really lies with Congress and Pork.

22 September

  • Japan has launched a new Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) known as Optical-4, via their H-2A (H-IIA) launch vehicle. Given the military nature of the payload, only amateur footage of the launch was available, although it did show the vehicle successfully lifted off from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center (TNSC) at 04:36 UTC on Friday.
  • Europe’s Ariane 5 ECA heavy-lift rocket successfully placed two telecommunications satellites — one carrying the first commercially hosted payload for the U.S. Air Force — into geostationary transfer orbit Sept. 21. The satellites’ owners reported that both spacecraft were healthy in orbit.

21 September

  • Place your bets on where the UARS satellite will fall.
  • A Proton-M rocket carrying a military satellite was successfully launched from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome early Wednesday.

20 September

19 September

18 September

  • The Orlando Sentinel discusses the dangers facing NASA and the new Heavy Lift rocket mandated by the Senate. Severe doubts exist that NASA can meet their own 2017 first flight deadline, and few think the Congress will provide enough funds.
  • As NASA’s defunct Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (UARS) continues to head towards its death – which will result in re-entry around September 23 – NASA managers have discussed ways of improving their fragmentation models for future returning spacecraft, with the aim of reducing the the debris footprint for hardware which may threaten to survive entry.

17 September

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee this week approved a $17.9-billion budget for NASA that includes funding for exploration programs, commercial crew development, and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
  • Eric Burger interviews Norm Augustine in Houston about NASA’s new Heavy Lift rocket program.

16 September

  • JPL has released new images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft map the giant asteroid’s varied landscape in unprecedented detail, closing in on equatorial grooves, a deep depression on the south pole and its colossal mountain.
  • NASA Rover finds a rare Mars rock with clues of ancient water.
  • The Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft carrying ISS crewmembers Andrei Borisenko, Alexander Samokutyayev and Ron Garan landed at a designated area in Kazakhstan approximately at 08:00 AM Moscow time (0400 UTC).

15 September

  • The Space Frontier Foundation called Wednesday’s announcement by NASA that it will attempt to build Congress’s giant monster rocket a disaster that will devour our dreams for moving humanity into space. Rather than breathing life into a dying space program, it may well kill new initiatives to greatly expand US space exploration and settlement efforts.

14 September

  • NASA announced details of its new Heavy Lift rocket, which has been mandated by the Senate. What is lacking in this whole story is exactly what NASA will do with this big rocket. Missions to asteroids, Mars etc. are often tossed out by NASA representatives – but no timeline whatosever has yet to be presented – not even a “notional” one. Nor has an overall strategy or architecture been issued or any idea what the cost would be for the things that would actually fly on these rockets.

13 September

  • U.S. satellite television provider DirecTV will launch two satellites aboard Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket, with the first launch in 2014, and has booked options for two other launches with the European company for satellites yet to be named.

12 September

  • The existence of Methane in the Martian atmosphere has been the subject of much controversy over the past decade. Astrobiology magazine reports on the various observations made from Earth and spacecraft orbiting Mars.

11 September

  • If all tests go according to plans, Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) ‘Megha-Tropiques’, an Indo-French advanced tropical climate monitoring satellite will be launched on October 12 at 11.00 am from Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh

10 September

  • A Delta 2 rocket successfully launched a pair of NASA spacecraft that will study the Moon’s interior. The Delta 2 7920H lifted off from Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1308 GMT during the second of two one-second launch windows available Saturday. The rocket’s upper stage deployed the twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft a little over an hour after liftoff. The two spacecraft will enter orbit around the Moon in four months, where they will map the Moon’s gravity field.
  • Alliant Techsystems (ATK) successfully carried out Thursday the third test of a five-segment solid rocket motor that could be used for NASA’s Space Launch System and a commercial rocket.

9 September

  • Russian officials said Thursday that a one-time “production fault” caused the failure last month of a Soyuz rocket carrying a Progress cargo spacecraft to the ISS. The Soyuz rocket’s upper stage engine shut down during the August 24 launch, causing the Progress M-12M spacecraft to fall to Earth, crashing in a remote region of Siberia. Officials said that a fuel line became clogged because of a unspecified accidental production fault, which led to the engine shutdown. The Russian space agency Roskosmos has not indicated when it expects the launch vehicle to return to flight, although NASA officials said this week they were optimistic it would be able to launch a crewed Soyuz spacecraft before the ISS has to be decrewed in mid-November.
  • Gusty upper-level winds forced NASA to postpone Thursday’s scheduled launch of a lunar orbiter mission by a day, and technical concerns will delay it at least an additional day. NASA had planned to launch the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft on a Delta 2 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday morning, but high winds in the upper atmosphere scrubbed the launch.

8 September

  • Operators of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are resuming use of the mission’s highest resolution camera following a second precautionary shutdown in two weeks. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument powered off on Aug. 27 and again on Sept. 6. In each case, commanding for an observation was not properly received by the memory module controlling one of the instrument’s 14 electronic detectors (CCDs, or charge-coupled devices).
  • Key senators accused the Obama administration Thursday of artificially inflating the cost of a heavy-lift rocket designed to reach asteroids and Mars. The heavy-lift rocket, the capsule it will carry and the launch facilities to send it into space are forecast to cost $26 billion by 2017.
  • The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Wednesday it successfully conducted a test ignition of the space probe Akatsuki’s main engine to prepare for a reattempt to send it into orbit around Venus in 2015 after its failure to do so last December.

7 September

  • Amateur astronomers: Grab a pair of binoculars and look skyward. With a little luck, you might be able to see a supernova or exploding star in the sky tonight. No fancy, inaccessible, high-tech, NASA-type telescopes needed. The supernova in question, known in the astronomy world as SN 2011fe, was discovered in the Pinwheel Galaxy about two weeks ago by astronomer Peter Nugent, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
  • A stellar newborn has turned up on Earth’s doorstep. Named AP Columbae, the star is so young it has yet to spark its main nuclear flame, and it’s so nearby—a mere 27 light-years from Earth—that scientists might be able to glimpse the glow of orbiting planets still cooling off from their formation.

6 September

  • The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Monday it will ignite the engine of the space probe Akatsuki twice this month to check if it can enter orbit around Venus, after its failure to do so late last year.
  • China rescheduled the launch of its first prototype space station module in the wake of last month’s launch failure. Named Tiangong 1, which means heavenly palace, the 19,000-pound module will be launched on a Long March 2F rocket. The launch will be delayed because the Long March 2F rocket belongs to the same series as the vehicle that malfunctioned on 18 August.

5 September

  • Like its sister probe Voyager 2, the Voyager 1 spacecraft has been an instrumental force in our continued push to gain a better understanding of our solar system. From its encounters with Jupiter and Saturn, to its ongoing mission to explore the outer boundaries of the solar system, Voyager 1 stands as the farthest man-made object in our solar system and will eventually gain the distinction of being the first man-made object to enter interstellar.

4 September

  • With less than one week to go before the launch of the twin GRAIL lunar satellites from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, NASA has completed the pre-launch flight readiness reviews for both GRAIL and the veteran Delta II rocket which will propel the spacecrafts into their cruise to Earth’s only natural satellite. The launch is scheduled for Thursday, 8 September at 05:37.06 or 06:16.12 Phoenix time.

3 September

  • Opportunity, NASA’s long-lived Martian robotic workhorse, has started a new round of studies at a place unlike anything seen before on Mars. Poised on the rim of a large crater called “Endeavour, Opportunity has been examining a rock with an unusually high concentration of zinc, among other targets. On Earth, such rocks usually mean they’ve spent time in water, typically warm water.
  • A NASA-backed team of scientists and engineers is set to map the Moon’s gravity—and internal structure. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (Grail) mission will track minute changes in the distance between two satellites in the same orbit caused by changes in the density of the terrain below.

2 September

  • Blue Origin, the private entrepreneurial space group backed by Amazon.com mogul Jeff Bezos, has reported a failure in its suborbital rocket development plans. “Three months ago, we successfully flew our second test vehicle in a short hop mission, and then last week we lost the vehicle during a developmental test at Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 45,000 feet,” Bezos wrote in a statement posted to the Blue Origin website.
  • America’s National Research Council has finally heeded warnings from spaceflight experts, telling NASA it is not doing enough to address the hazards posed by the space debris that it and other space users leave in orbit. In a 1 September report (pdf) on space junk, the NRC says NASA “has not kept pace with increasing hazards posed by abandoned equipment, spent rocket bodies and other debris orbiting the Earth”.

1 September

  • Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut living aboard the International Space Station are scheduled to return to Earth on 16 September, leaving the outpost with a three-person crew until Russia can resume crewed launches of the grounded Soyuz rocket.

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