Archive for February, 2014

Meteorite scientist, Ludovic Ferrière at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria, holds a chunk of Chelyabinsk skyfall.   Credit: © NHM Wien, Kurt Kracher. Used with permission.

Meteorite scientist, Ludovic Ferrière at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria, holds a chunk of Chelyabinsk skyfall.
Credit: © NHM Wien, Kurt Kracher. Used with permission.

Here’s a new story from me, up today on SPACE.com:

Meteorite Fragments from Russian Fireball on Display 1 Year After Space Rock Explosion

By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
February 26, 2014 06:34am ET
http://www.space.com/24813-russian-meteor-fragments-museum-display.html

Large lunar impact detected by Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS) system

Large lunar impact detected by Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS) system.


WHAM!

A meteorite with the mass of a small car crashed into the Moon last September.

Catching the event were astronomers in Spain, reporting the event in the journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The impact on the Moon — in Mare Nubium, an ancient lava-filled basin with a darker appearance than its surroundings — produced a bright flash and would have been easy to spot from the Earth.

The unusually long and bright flash was witnessed on September 11, 2013. An afterglow remained visible for a further eight seconds.

MIDAS touch

The Spanish telescopes are part of the Moon Impacts Detection and Analysis System (MIDAS) system that monitors the lunar surface.

This project is being undertaken by Jose Maria Madiedo, from the University of Huelva (UHU), and by Jose L. Ortiz, from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC).

The September event is the longest and brightest confirmed impact flash ever observed on the Moon, according to Madiedo.

New crater formed

Since these impacts take place at huge speeds, the rocks become molten and are vaporized at the impact site instantaneously.

These impacts produce a thermal glow that can be detected from Earth as short-duration flashes through telescopes.

According to the astronomers, the rock slammed into Mare Nubium at about 61,000 kilometers per hour and created a new crater with a diameter of around 40 meters. The impact energy was equivalent to an explosion of roughly 15 tons of TNT.

NOTE: For more information on this event, go to a short clip that shows the impact flash itself, at:

http://youtu.be/zCFDkj2JtyA

Also, a longer movie that includes an explanation of the impact and the MIDAS observatory can be viewed at:

http://youtu.be/perqv4qByaI

CURIOSITY MARS 2Progression of images taken Feb. 21-22 show NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars inspecting an interesting feature on the red planet. Using the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, ultra up-close imagery of the feature has been obtained.

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech with MAHLI imagery credited to NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

CURIOSITY MARS 1CURIOSITY MARS 4

CURIOSITY MARS 5

One of two near-identical images making the rounds on Chinese news sites, apparently taken during the Yutu rover's third lunar day. Credit: SASTIND

One of two near-identical images making the rounds on Chinese news sites, apparently taken during the Yutu rover’s third lunar day. Credit: SASTIND

Both China’s Chang’e 3 lunar lander and Yutu rover are now in Selene slumber, entering their dormancy Feb. 22-23.

The overall condition of the hardware is sketchy at best, with little word or imagery being released by Chinese space officials and state-run media networks.

A couple of new images taken by the mechanically-challenged Yutu moon rover showing the large lander have surfaced on several Chinese news sites. The images are undated so when they were snapped is unclear.

But in a Xinhua news agency story, it says one of the recent photos that went viral on Chinese social media networks “featured a picture of the Chang’e-3 probe taken by Yutu during its third lunar day.”

Fixed point science

According to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), Yutu did carry out “fixed point” observations during its third lunar day – a period of time equivalent to about two weeks on Earth.

SASTIND did note that Yutu’s radar, panorama camera and infrared imaging equipment are functioning normally. Still, the control issues that have troubled the rover since January persist, they added.

The Xinhua news agency noted that mechanical control issues that might cripple the vehicle are “still unresolved.”

Power-off mode

The Yutu rover went to sleep mode on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 22.

During the lunar night, there is no sunlight to power the rover’s solar panels. In this period the rover is to remain in a power-off mode and communication with Earth is cut, Xinhua reported.

The Chang’e 3 lander made its lunar touchdown in mid-December then dispatched the Yutu (Jade Rabbit) robot to being a projected minimum three months of exploration. Pre-launch, the lander was given a one year of life warranty.

But Yutu ran into unexpected problems as it entered its second dormancy on the Moon on Jan. 25. As the lunar night fell, concern was raised that the robot was crippled, so much so, that it might not “wake up.”

SASTIND said that the mechanic control abnormality occurred due to the “complicated lunar surface.”

The reawakening

But Yutu regained some sort of operable status on Feb. 12, with SASTIND noting that the reawakening was two days behind schedule.

Meanwhile, Xinhua said that the Chang’e 3 lander entered dormancy in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Feb. 23.

It did so “after carrying out observations of celestial bodies and the Earth’s plasmasphere using its optical telescope and extreme ultraviolet camera.” So these words indicate that the instrument-carrying lander is in fairly good shape.

 

Climber makes it way up lengthy space elevator.  Credit: Frank Chase/Chase Design Studios

Climber makes it way up lengthy space elevator.
Credit: Frank Chase/Chase Design Studios

A true “elevator pitch” – my new SPACE.com story up today. I hope you find it of interest:
 
Can Quiet, Efficient ‘Space Elevators’ Really Work?
 

http://www.space.com/24739-space-elevator-tether-technology.html

Envisat, an artist’s impression Credit: ESA/Denmann production

Envisat, an artist’s impression
Credit: ESA/Denmann production

 

The Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) module on the International Space Station, as seen in this 2011 photo. The RRM is an International Space Station demonstration that proves the tools, technologies and techniques to refuel and repair satellites in orbit - especially satellites not designed to be serviced.  Credit: NASA

The Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) module on the International Space Station, as seen in this 2011 photo. The RRM is an International Space Station demonstration that proves the tools, technologies and techniques to refuel and repair satellites in orbit – especially satellites not designed to be serviced.
Credit: NASA

 

 

 

 No doubt that the hit movie “Gravity” struck a chord with moviegoers – and made an impact in the public mind about the threat of human-made orbital debris.

A team of University of Leicester students have taken a hard look at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Envisat that lost contact with Earth in April 2012. Envisat is ESA’s largest Earth observation satellite.

Their appraisal: The huge spacecraft could potentially pose a threat similar to the events which plagued Sandra Bullock in the Oscar-nominated sci-fi/fact thriller.

What’s more, the task of bringing the satellite back to Earth may be too costly and complex to be feasible, according to the final year paper written by the students for the Journal of Physics Special Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

Congested region

ESA’s Envisat now orbits the Earth out of human control at an altitude of some 490 miles (790 kilometers). That’s where the amount of space debris around the planet is greatest.

This means there is a chance of collision with other satellites and debris during the 150 years it is expected to remain in space, according to a news release from the University of Leicester Press Office.

Each year, two objects are expected to pass Envisat to within about 656 feet (200 meters). Other spacecraft have already had to move out of Envisat’s path.

According to the student research, it is possible — though unlikely — that a collision with Envisat could lead to a chain reaction effect, known as the “Kessler Syndrome.” That’s where fast-moving debris runs into other space junk and creates more clutter.

The result: It could make it difficult for future space missions to pass through the region of Envisat’s altitude, if the region becomes congested with space debris.

Tall order

De-orbiting Envisat, the student study suggests that around 308 pounds (140 kilograms) of fuel would be required to move the satellite to a point where it would naturally return to Earth within 25 years.

This could be quite feasible, according to the students, if two of the craft’s four fuel tanks were replaced.

 But actually getting this fuel to the satellite in orbit would be a pretty tall order due to the costs involved of such a mission – which has never been attempted for a satellite which wasn’t designed to be refueled.

De-orbiting Envisat

So although it is unlikely to happen, de-orbiting Envisat is certainly worth considering.

“Unfortunately, it would be very unlikely we could move Envisat to the right altitude due to how much it would cost,” said physics student Katie Raymer, 22, from Whitstable. “Envisat was not designed to be refueled, so another method of de-orbiting Envisat may be a better option.”

The students suggest it may be possible to use NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) which has been designed to refuel and repair non-operational satellites. But that hardware is still in its earliest stages of testing.

Major risk factors

There’s one cosmic caveat to the student research work: The team stressed that the calculations used in the paper should be taken as an estimate, as a full treatment would be very complicated and beyond the scope of a Journal of Physics Special Topics paper.

George Fraser, Director of the University’s Space Research Center, commented:

“The Special Projects paper highlights the huge area and mass of Envisat as the major risk factors for space debris,” Fraser said. “The fact that Envisat is in a near-polar orbit doesn’t help either, since its path intersects most satellites’ orbits nearly at right angles. Imagine driving down the motorway and every so often a large truck cuts right across all four lanes right in front of you!”

Note: The full paper can be found at:

http://physics.le.ac.uk/journals/index.php/pst/article/viewFile/621/424

Griffin robotic moon lander. Credit: Astrobotic Technology

Griffin robotic moon lander. Credit: Astrobotic Technology

 

Credit: Pocari Sweat

Credit: Pocari Sweat

Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh has been contracted to send the “Lunar Dream” time capsule on its October 2015 private lunar mission.

The deal has been struck between the robotic spacecraft builder and Astroscale PTE. Ltd. – a Singapore-based space industry company.

The time capsule would contain the popular Japanese sports drink, Pocari Sweat, which is sold across Asia and in much of the Middle East.

The electrolyte drink is a mild tasting liquid that replenishes body fluids lost through perspiration. It is quickly absorbed into the body and is recommended by its maker as a beverage for physical activities such as sports and exercise.

Griffin lander

Billed as “the first commercial beverage to be delivered to the Moon’s surface,” the Lunar Dream time capsule will be placed on the lunar surface by Astrobotic’s Griffin lander after it touches down in the Lacus Mortis region of the Moon. 

In a press statement, John Thornton, Astrobotic’s CEO said: “Our services are optimized for customers seeking the simplicity of point-to-point delivery… establishing affordable lunar access for companies, universities, and governments.”

Astroscale’s corporate mission is to address the growing threat of space debris by incubating removal technologies while arousing a passion and excitement for space exploration among people around the world.

In order to make the space more approachable for people, Astroscale provides technology support as well as the global alliance necessary for private companies to be involved in space missions, according to the firm.

 

Skyfall over Russia! Credit: Alex Alishevskikh via ESA

Skyfall over Russia!
Credit: Alex Alishevskikh via ESA

It has been over a year since the space rock explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia.

That February 15, 2013 event damaged thousands of houses and other structures, shattered windows, and injured many people due to flying broken glass caused by the powerful atmospheric blast.

The celestial encounter of the near Earth object (NEO) kind has served as a wake-up call. Earth can be on the receiving end of objects from outer space.

There is new news on the NEO front.

Networking

In December of last year, the UN General Assembly moved forward on establishing an International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) and a Space Missions Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG).

Earlier this year, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), in collaboration with the UN Action Team – 14 on NEOs that was established in 2001, each organized a meeting to formally establish the network and the space agency group. Both meetings advanced significantly the formal establishment of the IAWN and SMPAG.

The role of IAWN is to interface with the relevant international organizations and programs to establish linkages with existing national and international disaster response agencies in order to study and plan response activities for potential NEO impact events

SMPAG is being established by States Members of the United Nations that have space agencies. The group includes representatives of spacefaring nations to lay out the framework, timeline and options for initiating and executing space mission response activities to an Earth-threatening NEO.

Meetings held

On January 13-14 the first meeting of the Steering Committee of the IAWN was hosted by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

At that meeting, the core membership of an ad hoc Steering Committee was established, and it includes individuals and institutions from: Russia (Institute of Astronomy/Russian Academy of Sciences , France (French National Centre for Scientific Research ), United States (NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the MPC), Germany (German Aerospace Center) , ESA and its Space Situational Awareness program; the Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Italy (Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology), the International Astronomical Union and the Chair of the Action Team on NEOs.

Following that Massachusetts meeting, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute indicated its intention to join the IAWN.

On February 6-7, in collaboration with the Action Team on Near-Earth Objects, the European Space Agency hosted the first Meeting of the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) at its European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.

Attending that meeting: AEM(Mexico), ASI  (Italy), CNES (France), CSA (Canada), Chile, DLR (Germany), ESA, Ghana, JAXA (Japan), NASA (USA), ROSCOSMOS (Russian Federation), SSAU (Ukraine), UK Space Agency (UK). In addition, representatives of the AT-14 and the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) were present.

After the meeting the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) requested membership and announced its delegation to the SMPAG.

Enhance NEO discovery

For its part, IAWN is to enhance NEO discovery and follow-up observations (e.g. astrometry, photometry and spectroscopy), especially in the Southern Hemisphere, through further international cooperation and coordination. 

Specifically, the IAWN should encourage the coordinated use of ground-based telescopes for NEO follow-up observations; incorporate existing assets to bridge gaps in global sky coverage; and, identify and facilitate the coordination of existing capabilities of members that could be utilized more effectively.

Through further international collaboration, the IAWN is designed to establish an international rapid all-sky search capability that is focused on discovering smaller, imminent impactors (e.g., Chelyabinsk event or larger) and the development and operation of a space-based NEO infrared survey telescope to  increase the rate of discovery of NEOs by at least an order of magnitude.

Special thanks to Sergio Camacho, head of the UN’s Action Team – 14, for providing detailed information used in this article.

The asteroid that exploded near Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013 has provided scientists new insights into the risks of smaller asteroid impacts. This 3D simulation of the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion by Mark Boslough was rendered by Brad Carvey using the CTH code on Sandia National Laboratories' Red Sky supercomputer. Andrea Carvey composited the wireframe tail. Photo by Olga Kruglova. Credit: Sandia National Laboratories

Just in time to remember last year’s space rock event over Russia.

I hope you find my new SPACE.com story of interest:

United Nations Focuses on Asteroid Threat to Earth

http://www.space.com/24671-asteroid-threat-united-nations.html

NOTE: Photo info/credit:

The asteroid that exploded near Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013 has provided scientists new insights into the risks of smaller asteroid impacts. This 3D simulation of the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion by Mark Boslough was rendered by Brad Carvey using the CTH code on Sandia National Laboratories’ Red Sky supercomputer. Andrea Carvey composited the wireframe tail. Photo by Olga Kruglova. Credit: Sandia National Laboratories

 

Earlier image taken from Chang'e 3 lander shows Yutu rover on the roll, alive and well. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Earlier image taken from Chang’e 3 lander shows Yutu rover on the roll, alive and well. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

The good news from Beijing is that China’s Yutu (Jade Rabbit) lunar rover is indeed awake, apparently surviving its 14-days of low temp trauma.

However, ground controllers are still trying to find out the cause of its “mechanical control abnormality.”

“The rover stands a chance of being saved now that it is still alive,” said Pei Zhaoyu, a spokesman for the Chang’e 3 mission, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Still unknown is the state of the Chang’e 3 lander, although early reports indicated that it too survived the brutal lunar night cycle.

Sleep without protection

“Yesterday night, the Jade Rabbit lunar rover has sent us a good message from the Moon,” explained Yong-Chun Zheng, a scientist at the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Yong-Chun said that, in the last lunar day at the landing site, the rover ran into trouble in its ability to move about on the surface. “The control structure of the rover can’t function as designed. The rabbit [went] into sleep without protection,” he said.

Thanks to the efforts of engineers, Yutu has awakened. “The instruments on the rover stood up to the challenge of the very low temperature in the lunar night. The rover can receive command [s] from the ground station. We have also received data from the rover,” Yong-Chun said.

Except for some sensitive components, most of the functions of the rover have been recovered, Yong-Chun told this reporter.

“The lunar and planetary missions are not easy for any country. They always give us joy mingled with surprise,” with the anticipation now that the Yutu rover will make new discoveries on the Moon, Yong-Chun concluded.

Griffith Observatory Event