NSS Phoenix Space News

Posts Tagged ‘Stardust’

February 2011

Posted by drdave on February 2, 2011

28 February

  • Discovery spacewalkers wrapped up a six-hour, 34-minute spacewalk Monday, moving a failed 800-pound ammonia pump module, installing an extension cable and extending the rail track along the station’s main truss.

27 February

  • Virgin Galactic has signed a contract with Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Colorado for two seats aboard SpaceShip Two. Six additional seats are an option.
  • NASA’s first solar sail to circle Earth in low orbit is making regular evening passes over much of the United States and Canada over the next week, and may be visible to skywatchers if conditions are clear. The solar sail satellite, called NanoSail-D, is making promising passes over the 48 contiguous U.S. states and southern Canada through Monday, March 7.
  • Discovery.com discusses a double impact crater on Mars. These two impact craters were formed simultaneously. If one meteor smashed into the planet, followed by another impact at a later date, one of the craters would overlap the other. But for this double impact to look so symmetrical, they had to have impacted at the same time.

26 February

  • Discovery has completed its “back flip” maneuver and no damage was found during the inspection. Discovery is scheduled to dock at the International Space Station at 12:16 PM Phoenix time (1916 GMT).

25 February

24 February

  • STS-133 successfully put the Space Shuttle Discovery in orbit, and Discovery is now chasing the International Space Station. Docking is scheduled for 12:16 PM Phoenix time (1916 UTC) on Saturday, 26 February.
  • The Johannes Kepler (ATV-2) resupply spacecraft docked with the Zvezda module on the International Space Station (ISS) at 9:08 AM Phoenix time (1608 UTC) this morning. The cargo craft from the European Space Agency will deliver 1760 kg of dry cargo, including food, clothes and equipment, 860 kg of propellant, and 100 kg of oxygen for Zvezda’s tanks.
  • Launch managers say the next attempt to fly the Taurus XL booster carrying NASA’s Glory climate satellite won’t come until at least Friday morning at 2:09 a.m. local (5:09 a.m. EST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. NASA announced that managers are now evaluating possible Glory launch opportunities in early to mid-March.

23 February

  • The Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket was set to launch the Glory satellite early Wednesday morning, at 3:09 AM Phoenix time (1009 UTC), but the countdown was stopped several minutes before launch because of an issue with a control console that was providing erroneous readings that controllers were not able to understand and resolve in time for the launch. The launch is being rescheduled for the same time on Thursday, pending a resolution of the problem.
  • The US Air Force plans to launch the second test flight for the X-37B space plane on 4 March, the service says, provided the weather at Cape Canaveral cooperates.

22 February

  • Scientists debate life’s origins.
  • With the countdown clocks now ticking down for the launch of STS-133 at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) have been hard at work this past week, reconfiguring the station for the arrival of Discovery this Saturday. The reconfiguration period is set to continue this week, as the ISS and Expedition 26 crew gear up for STS-133 docked operations.

21 February

  • The fight is on over the 2012 NASA budget. And the dust is still flying on the 2011 budget.
  • Discovery.com discusses “A Universe Stranger Than We Can’t Imagine”.

20 February

  • A Taurus XL rocket is set to carry NASA’s Glory satellite to space in a launch early Wednesday morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base, two years after a failure abruptly ended another NASA mission with the same kind of rocket. The four-stage rocket’s liftoff from Space Launch Complex 576-E is shooting for 3:09:43 AM Phoenix time (1009 UTC) Wednesday.
  • A geomagnetic space storm sparked by a solar eruption like the one that flared toward Earth Tuesday is bound to strike again and could wreak havoc across the gadget-happy modern world, experts say. Contemporary society is increasingly vulnerable to space weather because of our dependence on satellite systems for synchronizing computers, navigational systems, telecommunications networks and other electronic devices.

19 February

  • The X PRIZE Foundation announced the official roster of 29 registered teams competing for the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, an unprecedented competition to send a robot to the Moon that travels at least 500 meters and transmit video, images, and data back to the Earth.
  • NASA managers confirmed Friday a February 24th launch date for the space shuttle Discovery. The shuttle will lift off on STS-133 at 2:50 pm Phoenix time (2150 UTC) Thursday, the date the agency had been planning towards but officially confirmed at the end of the flight readiness review on Friday.
  • Cosmonauts Dmitry Kondratyev and Oleg Skripochka installed two experiments and retrieved the materials science panels outside the International Space Station (ISS) during a 16 February spacewalk. In their 5 hour effort, the spacewalkers attached the Molniya-Gamma and Radiometria experiments to the exterior of the Zvezda service module. The first will investigate gamma-ray and optical flashes from cosmic sources and lightning associated with terrestrial thunderstorms. Radiometria will monitor ground-based microwave emissions that could be useful in the prediction of seismic activity, including earthquakes.

18 February

  • After what was an eventful pad flow for Discovery last week, STS-133 is enjoying a relatively trouble-free final week ahead of S0007 (Launch Countdown) operations. Despite the one day delay to Ariane 5′s successful launch of ATV-2, shuttle managers remain focused on a February 24 launch date, pending Flight Readiness Review (FRR) approval.

17 February

  • The European Space Agency’s ISS resupply cargo vessel “Johannes Kepler” was launched successfully aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. Docking directly and autonomously with Russia’s Zvezda module at the International Space Station is scheduled for next Thursday, 24 February, one day before the launch of STS-133 Discovery.

16 February

  • Scientists said Tuesday that the images from StardustNExtT showed the crater created by the impactor on NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, which flew past the comet in 2005. The crater and other features on the surface of the comet’s nucleus show signs of erosion.
  • Two Russian cosmonauts will venture out of the International Space Station and focus on installation of two scientific experiments outside the Zvezda service module. The first is called Radiometria, and is designed to collect information useful in seismic forecasts and earthquake predictions. Radiometria will be installed on a portable workstation on the port side of the large-diameter section of the Zvezda module. The second is Molniya-Gamma, which will look at gamma splashes and optical radiation during terrestrial lightning and thunderstorm conditions using three sensors. The Molniya-Gamma will be installed on a portable workstation on the starboard side of the Zvezda module.

15 February

14 February

  • Happy Valentine’s Day
  • The House Committee on Appropriations released its proposal to cut $500 million from NASA’s science, exploration, and aeronautics and space technology accounts, but give more money to Space Operations for shuttle flights.
  • As the future of NASA’s budget finds itself under scrutiny again this week, managers have told their workforce that STS-135 will fly “regardless” of what happens with the funding situation via the Continuing Resolution (CR). Atlantis’ preparations for the final flight of the Space Shuttle are continuing without issue, as managers debate the payloads which will ride to the International Space Station (ISS).

13 February

  • Sand dunes in a vast area of northern Mars long thought to be frozen in time are changing with both sudden and gradual motions, according to research using images from a NASA orbiter. These dune fields cover an area the size of Texas in a band around the planet at the edge of Mars’ north polar cap. The new findings suggest they are among the most active landscapes on Mars.
  • NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have started negotiating for at least two more years of Soyuz flights to the International Space Station (ISS) by U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian astronauts, as the space shuttle era draws to a close with no other replacement available. “We are negotiating for more Soyuz seats because we’re nearing the three-year lead time for ordering seats beyond the current contract,” the U.S. agency stated Feb. 9. “We are beginning discussions on the acquisition of crew-rotation services for 2014 and 2015.”
  • Lockheed Martin engineers in Denver are awaiting the arrival of the first complete Orion crew exploration vehicle structure for the start of ground tests. The ground test article left NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans by truck on Feb. 10. In Denver, technicians will integrate it with its heat shield and thermal protection backshell.

12 February

  • Bound by restrictions set in a temporary budget resolution, NASA has not yet committed full funding of a risk reduction test flight of the Taurus 2 rocket, one of the launch vehicles the agency hopes will be ready to resupply the International Space Station by the end of this year.
  • Boeing is weighing international sales of its CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft if NASA selects the firm to continue development of the capsule, a company official said Wednesday.

11 February

  • Currently on display in Washington D.C. is the Earth orbiting Dragon capsule from the December mission. SpaceX put the capsule on display to illustrate the progress commercial companies are making in space flight.
  • NASA managers are investigating a proposed plan that would see a Soyuz spacecraft undock from the International Space Station (ISS) during the upcoming STS-133 mission in order to take photographs of the orbital outpost, along with its record number of attached Visiting Vehicles (VVs) here, here and here, and the docked Space Shuttle Discovery.

10 February

  • The STS-133 stack has been checked for damage after a feeler gauge came apart during work to remove ET-137′s Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP). The incident resulted in nine blades from the tool falling down the pad, with one becoming embedded in the tank – resulting in minor foam damage – before high winds dislodged it.
  • New Mexico’s governor, Susana Martinez, appointed seven people to the New Mexico Spaceport America board of directors. In January she forced the resignation of the executive director, and then removed the entire board.

9 February

  • NASA announced this week that the Planetary Society’s LightSail-1 solar sail mission is on their short list for upcoming launch opportunities. The missions selected are Cubesats destined for piggyback launches as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative.
  • “We are definitely in the bonus round,” said Stardust-NExT Project Manager Tim Larson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This spacecraft has already flown by an asteroid and a comet, returned comet dust samples to Earth, and now has almost doubled its originally planned mission life. Now it is poised to perform one more comet flyby.” Its target is comet Tempel 1.
  • NASA Television plans live coverage of the launch and automated docking of the second unpiloted European cargo ship that will deliver approximately seven tons of fuel, food and supplies to the International Space Station. NASA TV coverage of the launch from the northern coast of South America will begin at 3:45 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Feb. 15. The European Space Agency and its launch services provider, Arianespace, are scheduled to launch the Johannes Kepler Automated Transfer Vehicle-2, or ATV2, on an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, at 4:13 p.m. (7:13 p.m. in Kourou). NASA TV coverage will continue through the deployment of the cargo ship’s solar arrays about 90 minutes after launch.
  • Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off company, has signed a launch services contract with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) for a Falcon 9 rocket to deliver a lander, small rover and up to about 240 lb. of payload to the surface of the Moon.

8 February

  • NASA’s Stennis Space Center conducted a 53 second test of the Aerojet AJ26 rocket engine. The AJ26 will power the Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Taurus II rocket. The Taurus II, under construction in Virginia, is planned to be used to provide cargo and essentials to astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
  • Opening up the X-37B.
  • Not giving up on a solid fuel first stage launch vehicle, ATK and Astrium are working together in response to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development-2 (CCDev-2) procurement. The team is offering NASA launch services with the Liberty rocket.

7 February

  • Scientists have seen their first panoramic view of the sun, in photographs beamed down by twin spacecraft that faced each other across our nearest star and took snapshots of its surface. The images from Nasa’s $500m Stereo mission will be used to create a three-dimensional map of the sun in an attempt to understand its innermost workings.

6 February

  • Canadian robotics systems aboard the International Space Station retrieved two cargo platforms from the Japanese HTV resupply freighter this week, stockpiling the outpost with more spare parts and proving an adroit mechanized handyman can perform operational duties in space.
  • Following delays, a Minotaur I rocket was launched this morning from Space Launch Complex-8 at Vandenberg Air Force base at 5:26 AM Phoenix time (1226 UTC).

5 February

  • NASA announced that astronaut Mark Kelly will resume training as commander of the STS-134 space shuttle mission on Monday, 7 February. With the exception of some proficiency training, Kelly has been on personal leave since 8 January to care for his wife, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically wounded in a Tucson, Arizona shooting.

4 February

  • Discover.com speculates on whether we know enough to suggest that there may be life on one of the Earth-like exo-planets announced yesterday.

3 February

  • Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft announced Wednesday that they have now found in excess 1,000 potential extrasolar planets orbiting other stars, including dozens of planets about the size of the Earth. The discoveries come from observations of more than 156,000 stars in one portion of the sky over several months in 2009. Scientists said they have found 1,235 “planet candidates” orbiting those stars, including 68 Earth-sized worlds. In addition, 54 of the exoplanet candidates found to date orbit their stars’ habitable zones; five of the 54 are Earth-sized while the rest are larger. Among the findings in the discovery is one solar system, orbiting a star designated Kepler-11, featuring six planets that orbit the star closer than Venus orbits the Sun.

2 February

  • Just over two weeks before its flyby of comet Tempel 1, NASA’s Stardust spacecraft fired its thrusters to help refine its flight path toward the comet. The Stardust-NExT mission will fly past comet Tempel 1 on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14, 2011).

1 February

  • Ground services have been unable to contact the Geo-IK-2 geodetic spacecraft launched atop the Rokot carrier rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome (Arkhangelsk region) at 5 p.m. Moscow time on Tuesday. “There is no contact with the satellite,” a source from the space industry told Interfax-AVN.
  • The Space Shuttle Discovery has arrived back at its pad. Space shuttle Discovery repeated history Monday night (Jan. 31), making its final trip to the launch pad – for the second time. Discovery, NASA’s oldest flying orbiter and first one to reach its final flight, had been rolled to the pad last September, but unexpected damage to its external fuel tank required it to be brought back and extensively repaired.
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January 2011

Posted by drdave on January 2, 2011

31 January

  • Discovery is scheduled to begin her journey back out to Pad 39A with her modified External Tank (ET-137) at 6:00 PM Phoenix time (0100 UTC Tuesday) on Monday evening, following an issue-free installation of radius blocks on most of its intertank stringers. With a high-level of confidence in the mitigation of further cracks on the stringers during loading and launch, managers have called for the same modifications to take place on STS-134′s ET-122.

30 January

  • The Russian cargo spacecraft Progress M-09M docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday.

29 January

  • The Runaway Star. Traveling at a breakneck speed of 87,000 kilometers per hour (or 24 kilometers per second), the massive Zeta Ophiuchi probably used to have an even larger binary partner that exploded as a supernova. So, like a hammer thrower spinning quickly at the Olympic Games, the blue supergiant star was treated like the hammer, released from the gravitational embrace of its exploding sibling in an instant. At the moment of detonation, it’s orbital momentum shot it off into space at high speed.

28 January

  • Hot on the heels of JAXA’s HTV-2 arrival at the International Space Station (ISS), Russia’s Progress M-09M/41P spacecraft has lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday morning at 1:31 AM GMT. Docking to the ISS at the Docking Compartment-1 (DC-1) Pirs Nadir port, recently vacated by Progress M-08M/40P, will occur two days later on Sunday 30th January at 2:40 AM GMT.
  • The fuel and most of the cargo are loaded and ATV has been hoisted to the top of Ariane 5 as teams on four continents prepare for the 15 February launch of Johannes Kepler from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

27 January

  • After less than a week in space, Japan’s HTV-2 spacecraft was successfully grappled by the ISS crew via the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System), ahead of berthing to Node-2 Nadir – which was completed at 07:51 AM Phoenix time (14:51 UTC). Over the coming days, the ISS crew will remove external payloads from HTV-2 before moving the spacecraft to a temporary berthing location on Node-2 Zenith ahead of the arrival of STS-133 in late-February.
  • The first image of comet Tempel 1 taken by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft is a composite made from observations on Jan. 18 and 19, 2011. On Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14 in U.S. time zones), Stardust will fly within about 200 kilometers (124 miles) of the comet’s nucleus
  • Astronomers announced Wednesday the discovery of the most distant galaxy yet observed, an object that dates back to the first half-billion years of the universe. The object, designated UDFj-39546284, is a compact galaxy of blue stars with a redshift of approximately 10, which dates the galaxy to just 480 million years after the Big Bang. Astronomers discovered the galaxy in Hubble Ultra Deep Field – Infrared data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 in 2009 and 2010.

26 January

  • The European Space Agency (ESA) has released images of Phobos from the Mars Express at an altitude of 100 km. The images are from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) science team and show a 3D view of the moon and the proposed landing site of the Phobos-Grunt mission.

25 January

  • A Russian Progress M-08M cargo spacecraft undocked from the ISS early on Monday, clearing a port for a new Progress scheduled for launch on Friday 28 January. The Progress spacecraft undocked from the Pirs module at just after 5:40 PM Phoenix time on Sunday (0040 GMT Monday) and deorbited over the south Pacific five and a half hours later.

24 January

  • A group of United Space Alliance (USA) and Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) technicians and engineers are heading into the final few days of work on modifying the stringers on Discovery’s External Tank (ET-137). With the root cause evaluations and subsequent modifications ensuring there is “no uncertainty” on all flight tanks, STS-133 remains on track for rollout to Pad 39A next Monday. All indications are that 24 February will be the start of the launch window.
  • Amateur satellite observers have confirmed that the Delta 4-Heavy launched last Thursday carried a Keyhole type replacement spy satellite. The newest satellite joins the two primary Keyholes in space today, having launched in 2001 and 2005 from Vandenberg aboard Titan 4 rockets, plus an older one deployed in 1996 that’s still running in a backup role. The Delta 4-Heavy flight targeted the orbit of the 2001 satellite, apparently to assume the lead observation duties from the aging craft that’s now achieved the record for the longest prime mission duration.

23 January

  • A team of scientists from several organizations will begin tests this spring on a space-based power generation technology using satellites, it was learned Saturday. The planned test will attempt to convert a strong electric current into microwaves and transmit them 10 meters away in a simulated outer space environment at Kyoto University. A successful test would likely accelerate the goal of putting a space-based power generation system into practical use by 2025.

22 January

  • The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched its large HTV-2 (“Kounotori” – White Swan) resupply mission to the International Space Station.
  • JAXA confirmed that the planned second burn and re-entry of the second stage of the H-IIB rocket was successful. This followed the launch of the Kounotori resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station.
  • Two Russian cosmonauts, Dmitry Kondratyev and Oleg Skripochka, spent five and a half hours in space working on the International Space Station late on Friday. The cosmonauts installed a high-speed data transmission block on the Russian service module “Zvezda,” disabled and dismantled a plasma injector equipment, and installed a TV camera on the MIM mini-research module of the Russian segment of the ISS.

21 January

  • Aviation Week discusses the plans by SpaceX to eventually carry crew to the International Space Station. “Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) says it will launch its Falcon 9 rocket at least 17 more times before it is ready to fly humans, with nine of those flights carrying the Dragon capsule it is developing for cargo missions to the International Space Station.”
  • Discovery.com “roasts” the Australian story about Betalgeuse going super nova in 2012. And Phil Plait gives us the straight scoop. Meanwhile, once interesting Huffington Post makes a complete hash of the story.
  • The launch of the JAXA resupply mission HTV-2 to the ISS is set for 10:37 PM Phoenix time tonight (5:37 UTC 22 February).

20 January

  • NASA selected astronaut Steve Bowen as a mission specialist on STS-133, the next space shuttle mission planned for launch on Feb. 24. Bowen replaces astronaut Tim Kopra, who was injured in a bicycle accident over the weekend. The agency will hold a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. CST on Wednesday, Jan. 19, to discuss the change in crew personnel.
  • Russia launched a Zenit / Fregat-SB rocket carrying an Elektra-L satellite at 12:29:01 UTC.
  • The United States launched a Delta IV Heavy carrying the NRO L-49 spy satellite from Vandenberg Air Force base in California a little after 2:00 PM Phoenix time today.

19 January

  • NASA’s Stardust-NExT spacecraft is nearing a celestial date with comet Tempel 1 at approximately 11:37 p.m. EST, on Feb. 14. The mission will allow scientists for the first time to look for changes on a comet’s surface that occurred following an orbit around the sun.
  • The launch of the H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 2 (H-IIB F2) with the KOUNOTORI2 (HTV2, a cargo transporter to the International Space Station) onboard has been rescheduled as clouds including a freezing layer that exceeds the restrictions for suitable weather are forecast to be generated at around the scheduled launch time on January 20, 2011 (Japan Standard Time.) No Earlier Than (NET) 22 January.
  • A Delta 4-Heavy rocket, made by United Launch Alliance, and carrying a massive spy satellite like the ones the Titans used to deploy before those rockets were retired from service in 2005, is scheduled for liftoff Thursday at 1:08 p.m. PST (4:08 p.m. EST; 2108 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

18 January

  • Technology Review has an update on the status of Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, descendant of NASA’s HL-20 manned space plane program from the 1970’s.
  • WikiLeaks documents published by a Norwegian newspaper have cost the CEO of OHB-Technology, a German satellite company, his job. Berry Smutny reportedly said “I think Galileo is a stupid idea that primarily serves French interests.” OHB-Technology company has the contract to build the first 14 satellites.

17 January

  • A recent storm of small “suicide” comets that pelted the sun could herald the coming a much bigger icy visitor.
  • Shuttle Discovery is aiming to roll back out to Pad 39A on February 1, following what will be the completion of numerous “radius block” modifications to the circumference of her External Tank (ET-137). NASA managers are also evaluating impacts to crew training – and potentially the launch date – following the injury sustained by STS-133′s Tim Kopra during a biking accident.
  • The Universe in High Definition – When it comes to digital cameras, people really care about their megapixels. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has them all beat with a newly released TERApixel mosaic of the sky

16 January

15 January

  • The European Space Agency (ESA) has new commentary on the Johannes Kepler ATV-2 resupply vessel scheduled for launch to the International Space Station on 15 February 2011. It will be the heaviest load ever lofted into space by the Ariane 5 rocket, making the 200th flight of the European launcher even more spectacular.
  • International Space Station Program (ISSP) managers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston held a two-day meeting this week to discuss the prospect of adding a Bigelow Aerospace inflatable module to the ISS. The Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) ran on Wednesday 12th and Thursday 13th January.

14 January

  • The Planck spacecraft, which is designed to study the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, has discovered a rash of new galaxy clusters, along with details of our own Milky Way.
  • NASA announced Thursday that astronaut Rick Sturckow will serve as a backup commander for the STS-134 space shuttle mission to facilitate continued training for the crew and support teams during STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly’s absence. Kelly’s wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was critically wounded in a shooting on Jan. 8 in Tucson, Arizona. Kelly remains commander of the mission, which is targeted for launch on April 19 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
  • Intelsat has said the former zombie satellite Galaxy 15 is again under full control and will return to commercial operation. During a webcast, Tobias Nassif, VP of satellite operations and engineering, said Intelsat has re-established full functionality over Galaxy 15. Galaxy 15 is currently positioned at 93 degrees West, where it will undergo additional testing and then be moved to either 133 degrees West or 129 degrees West, depending on demand for services. Intelsat expects to complete testing by January 31.

13 January

  • A preliminary NASA report, outlining plans for developing a Space Launch System (SLS) in response to the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, has put its weight behind a Inline Shuttle Derived (SD) Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV). However, the report to lawmakers complained it would not be able to build the vehicle based on the funding and schedule requirements.

12 January

  • NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, an observatory originally designed to hunt for alien planets, has stumbled upon an intriguing discovery: a set of triplet stars circling a massive stellar parent.
  • Aviation Week comments on the fact that Space shuttle officials have concluded that a combination of weaker-than-expected materials and subtle assembly issues led to the external tank (ET) cracks that have stalled the launches of Discovery and Endeavour on NASA’s last two scheduled shuttle missions.

11 January

  • A newly discovered planet beyond the solar system is not only the smallest extrasolar planet yet found but also the first confirmed to be made entirely of solid material. Discovered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft and dubbed Kepler-10b, the body has a diameter only 40 percent larger than Earth’s.
  • The Hubble Space Telescope has zoomed in on the mysterious green cloud of gas known as Hanny’s Voorwerp (after the Dutch school teacher Hanny van Arkel who discovered it using the citizen science project Galaxy Zoo) to reveal a zone of star formation.

10 January

  • Using the world’s largest telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, the researchers have used Quasar Absorption Line Spectroscopy to identify gas clouds called ‘damped Lyman alpha systems’ (DLAs). Among the thousands of DLAs known, the team have succeeded in finding a rare cloud released from a star very early in the history of the universe. The gas cloud was released by the exploding star around 13 billion years ago, one of the earliest stars in the universe.

9 January

  • By the end of the decade, five new telescopes will be completed which are each hugely more powerful than any before them and may answer vital questions about our universe. Among the objects that astronomers hope to study will be the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang – the birth of the universe 13.7 billion years ago. It is also hoped the new super-telescopes will be able to spot Earth-like planets in orbit round other stars and give early warnings of asteroids or meteorites heading on a collision course with Earth.

8 January

  • Following the further delay of the STS-133/ULF-5 mission into late February, International Space Station (ISS) Program Managers are readjusting the mission plans for Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-2 (ATV-2) “Johannes Kepler” and Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle-2 (HTV-2) “Kounotori”. Both vehicles will be present at the ISS during the STS-133 mission, which should provide for some stunning views during Discovery’s flyaround post-undocking.

7 January

  • Thursday’s Program Requirements Control Board (PRCB) meeting overviewed the status of Discovery’s External Tank (ET-137), with recommendations made to install radius blocks on over 100 stringers. A new launch date will be entered as a Change Request (CR) next week, based on negotiations with the ISS on the ability to achieve either a February 24 or 27 NET (No Earlier Than) target.

6 January

  • NASA released its annual SpinOff report at the end of December.

5 January

  • The root cause of the cracked stringers on STS-133′s External Tank (ET-137) may have been found, following the investigation team’s findings that the material used for the tank’s intertank support beams was found to be “mottled”, when compared to standard material. While the work on the 34 stringers is already approved, Thursday’s Program Requirements Control Board (PRCB) will discuss an option to install radius blocks on all 108 remaining stringers, which in turn would slip STS-133 out of the early February launch window.

4 January

  • Aviation Week reports on the newly ordered repairs to the external tank of the space shuttle Discovery. Launch is still slated for 3-10 February 2011.
  • Kathryn Aurora Gray, a precocious 10-year-old amateur astronomer from Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada, has discovered a supernova explosion in a galaxy, called UGC 3378, within the faint constellation of Camelopardalis. The galaxy is approximately 240 million light-years away.

3 January

  • In 2011 a strong display of Quadrantid meteors is likely for Europe and points east to central Asia. Maximum activity is expected at around 0100 GMT on Tuesday, Jan. 4 when the radiant of this shower – from where the meteors appear to emanate – is ascending the dark northeastern sky. With no moonlight to interfere, this might turn out to be one of the best meteor displays of the year. Morning twilight will not interfere until about 6 a.m. local time. What about for North America? At the time the shower is reaching its peak, it will be Monday evening, Jan. 3 on the other side of the Atlantic; 8 p.m. EST in the East and 5 p.m. PST (still twilight) in the West. The radiant will be positioned low near the north-northwest horizon.

2 January

  • Long past their 90 day warranties, The Martian Rovers are approaching seven Earth years on the surface of Mars. Spirit landed on Mars on 4 January 2004. Its twin, Opportunity, hit the planet’s red dirt three weeks later, on 25 January.

1 January

  • An Indian rocket that tumbled out of control and was destroyed a minute after liftoff last month failed because of a snapped data cable, investigators said Friday. The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) lifted off normally on December 25 but started losing attitude control 47.8 seconds later; the rocket broke up at T+53.8 seconds and was destroyed by range safety at T+64 seconds. An initial investigation, chaired by former ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair, concluded that the primary cause of the failure is the “untimely and inadvertent” snapping of a group of 10 connectors at the base of the upper stage linking the rocket’s avionics, located in the upper stage, with the rocket’s lower stages. The snapped cables prevented commands from reaching the first stage’s electronics, causing the rocket to lose control. Why the cables snapped remains unknown.
  • In a controversial move, Brazil will pay more than €250 million over a decade to become a member of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The agreement is part of a bid by Brazil’s government to lift the quality of domestic science by joining big international projects. Brazil has also been negotiating entry into Europe’s CERN particle accelerator.

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