Archive for November, 2015
Earth’s crater-dotted moon is a graveyard of space probes, hurled there by a number of nations. The search is on for pinpointing the whereabouts of the former Soviet Union’s Luna 9 probe. It was the first survivable landing of a human-made object on another celestial body.
The USSR’s Luna 9 made it to the moon on February 3, 1966. The lander was spherical in shape, less than 2-feet (0.6 meters) in diameter, and weighed around 220 pounds (100 kilograms).
Once coming to full-stop, the vehicle cranked out the first images taken from the moon’s bleak landscape. When pieced together, those pictures offered a panoramic view of the moon’s terrain and the horizon less than a mile away.
Decades later, and thanks to the sharp-eyed NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) now circling the moon, researchers are trying to locate the true, final resting location of the historic Luna 9.
For more details, go to my new Space.com story at:
Long-Lost Lander: Researchers Hunting for Soviet Moon Probe Luna 9
By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist |
November 30, 2015 07:00am ET
The Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has served notice of a breakup of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NOAA-16 spacecraft.
Orbital debris related to the breakup is being cataloged. Potential close approaches to other satellites are being assessed.
Although pinpointing the cause of the breakup is under investigation, there is no indication that a collision caused the NOAA-16 breakup. SpaceTrackOrg has noted that, at this time, there is no danger to any other satellite as result of NOAA 16 breakup.
JSpOC detects, tracks, and identifies all artificial objects in Earth orbit.
NOAA-16 Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite (POES) was also tagged as NOAA-L and was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif.
NOAA-16 was launched on September 21, 2000 under technical guidance and project management by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The spacecraft was placed into a 470- nautical mile afternoon orbit.
The spacecraft was decommissioned after it suffered a serious anomaly on June 6, 2014.
NOAA announced on June 9, 2014 that the spacecraft was turned off.
In early February, a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 was involved in a debris-causing event. It too was built by Lockheed Martin.
A subsequent review of the incident determined there were no actions that could have been taken to prevent the incident. The mission was operated by NOAA on behalf of the U.S. Air Force.
The review into the unexpected loss of this satellite determined a failure of the battery charger as the likely cause.
Analysis indicated that one of the wiring harnesses lost functionality due to compression over a long period of time in the battery charge assembly.
Once the harness was compromised, the exposed wires potentially caused a short in the battery power, leading to an overcharge situation with eventual rupture of the batteries.
The crash site of Apollo 16’s S-IVB stage has been pinpointed after a dedicated search for its impact location on the Moon.
As the third stage on the Saturn V booster, the S-IVB stages were purposely smashed into the Moon to perform seismic measurements used for characterizing the lunar interior.
However, on the Apollo 16 flight, a malfunction resulted in premature loss of tracking data for that mission’s SIVB. There was uncertainty in the stage’s impact location.
Position poorly defined
“I did finally find the Apollo 16 SIVB crater,” reports Jeff Plescia of The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
“It looks like the others, but its position was much more poorly defined since the tracking was lost prior to impact,” Plescia told Inside Outer Space.
The Apollo 16’s SIVB struck the Moon on April 19, 1972.
Plescia made use of super-powerful images produced by the LROC system on the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to identify the crash site.
Fifth human mission
Lifting off from Earth on April 16, 1972, Apollo 16 was the fifth mission to land humans on the Moon and return them to Earth.
The crew members for this expedition were John Young, Commander, Thomas Mattingly II, Command Module Pilot, and Charles Duke, Jr., Lunar Module Pilot,
Onboard their lunar lander – Orion — Young and Duke touched down in the Descartes Highlands of the Moon.
NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars drove some 92 feet (28 meters) on Sol 1174 and is now parked in front of a beautiful sand sheet and sand dune!
That’s the word from Lauren Edgar, a research geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona and a member of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) research team.
Three sol plan
“Today science and engineering teams cooked up a full 3-Sol plan, to account for the second half of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,” Edgar reports.
The Mars rover team, Edgar adds, started with equal parts Mastcam and ChemCam to analyze the sand and bedrock, and to monitor the movement of sand across the rover deck and in nearby ripples.
“The meat of the plan consists of SAM [Sample Analysis at Mars Instrument Suite] preconditioning, drop off of the “Greenhorn” drill sample to SAM, and an EGA (evolved gas analysis). Essentially that means that we’ll heat the sample up in an oven and measure the major gases that are released,” Edgar adds.
On the third Sol planning, use of the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is on tap that is dedicated to imaging and monitoring Curiosity’s wheel wear and tear.
Additionally, Edgar notes, there’s a Mastcam change detection experiment to monitor the ripples on the third Sol.
“Add in a dash of excitement about the opportunity to study active dunes on another planet, and it’s sure to be a great weekend on Mars,” Edgar concludes.
As is always the case, dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
The voyage of Europe’s ExoMars 2016 spacecraft is moving closer to the Red Planet – departing the clean rooms of Thales Alenia Space in Cannes for shipment to Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
This ExoMars spacecraft is headed for a March 2016 liftoff atop a Proton booster.
ExoMars is a joint endeavor between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), with the Italian Space Agency (ASI) as a major contributor.
Two separate missions
As the first mission in ESA’s Aurora exploration program, the ExoMars effort is made up of two separate missions.
The first mission in 2016 will study Mars’ atmosphere and demonstrate the feasibility of several critical technologies for atmospheric entry, descent and landing.
The second mission in this program — in 2018 — will include an autonomous European rover, capable of taking soil samples down to a depth of two meters, and analyzing their chemical, physical and biological properties.
Modules for Mars
For the 2016 mission, the Entry, Descent and landing Demonstration module (EDM) has been developed by Thales Alenia Space Italy.
Thales Alenia Space France is responsible for the design and integration of the 2016 orbital module, or TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter).
The ExoMars spacecraft will reach the Red Planet in October 2016 and consists of the TGO and EDM modules.
2016 mission aims
The aims of the ExoMars 2016 mission are to:
- Validate landing on the planet Mars with a demonstration capsule weighing about 600 kg, using a control system based on a radar altimeter, and with a carbon fiber shock absorber to attenuate the hard contact with the surface.
- Gather as much information as possible during entry into the Martian atmosphere.
- Carry out scientific sampling on the surface for a short period.
- Observe the Martian atmosphere and surface for two years from the orbiter at an altitude of 400 kilometers.
- Provide the telecommunication support needed by the rover for the 2018 mission.
The EDM for ExoMars 2016 is named “Schiaparelli” in honor of the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli – considered one of the leading figures in 19th century Italian astronomy, and also a leading scholar of ancient astronomy science and history.
Patrice Caine, Thales Chairman & CEO noted: “This program, which also involves 134 other space companies from ESA countries, is a key first step for an unprecedented European scientific mission on Mars.”
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has driven toward the Bagnold Dunes.
The main focus of the plan is to monitor the dunes and document the bedrock along the way, explains Lauren Edgar of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Using the rover’s Mastcam observations are to be made of two of the dunes, as well as a small sandsheet near the robot.
Navcam observations were to be staged to monitor the atmosphere and search for dust devils, Edgar adds.
Also on the check list are creating Mastcam mosaics to monitor the dunes and bedrock under different lighting conditions.
Late afternoon lighting can be very useful to bring out subtle textures in the dunes and rocks, “and will help us figure out the best time of day to image these features during the Bagnold Dune campaign,” Edgar points out.
Blue Origin has announced a “historic” rocket landing. Its New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space November 23, reaching a planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a landing back at the company’s spaceport in West Texas.
Chief rocketeer, Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin and Amazon.com leader, proclaimed that Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle “flew a flawless mission,” and then returned through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad.
“Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again,” Bezos said in a press statement.
Future plans call for New Shepard — named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, to carry six astronauts to altitudes beyond 100 kilometers, the internationally-recognized boundary of space.
The New Shepard space vehicle is fully reusable and operated from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site near Van Horn, Texas.
The vehicle is comprised of two elements—a crew capsule in which the astronauts ride and a rocket booster powered by a single American-made BE-3 liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen engine.
- Launched at 11:21 a.m. Central Time, November 23, 2015
- Apogee of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) for the crew capsule
- Mach 3.72
- Re-ignition of rocket booster at 4,896 feet above ground level
- Controlled vertical landing of the booster at 4.4 mph
- Deployment of crew capsule drogue parachutes at 20,045 feet above ground level
- Landing of the crew capsule under parachutes at 11:32 a.m. Central Time
Validation of vehicle
In a Bezos blog, the rocket and entrepreneurial mogul wrote that the flight validates the vehicle’s architecture and design.
The vehicle’s unique ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387 mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad; then the throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph to touchdown on the pad.
“Rockets have always been expendable. Not anymore. Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket,” Bezos notes. The Blue Origin team “is working hard not just to build space vehicles, but to bring closer the day when millions of people can live and work in space.”
Another rocketeer, who has had his ups and downs, Elon Musk of SpaceX has twittered: “Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO [Blue Origin] team for achieving VTOL [Vertical Takeoff and Landing) on their booster.”
But Musk adds: “It is, however, important to clear up the difference between ‘space’ and ‘orbit’…”
To watch Blue Origin’s milestone making flight, go to:
Last week on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been wheeling ever-closer to the Bagnold Dunes – characterizing the bedrock and sand along the way.
Lauren Edgar of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona reports that the Bagnold Dunes “are tantalizingly close.”
On Sol 1167, Curiosity drove 128 feet (39 meters) “and the dunes are starting to look pretty big,” Edgar adds.
Curiosity also carried out a successful Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) methane experiment – one Mars year after the previous high detections of methane.
The rover also made a drive of 120 feet (36.5 meters) on Sol 1168, Edgar says.
The Bagnold Dunes skirt the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp.
As noted in a Jet Propulsion Laboratory release:
“No Mars rover has previously visited a sand dune, as opposed to smaller sand ripples or drifts. One dune Curiosity will investigate is as tall as a two-story building and as broad as a football field. The Bagnold Dunes are active: Images from orbit indicate some of them are migrating as much as about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year. No active dunes have been visited anywhere in the solar system besides Earth.”
There’s a weekend three-Sol plan that starts with a number of environmental monitoring activities to assess atmospheric opacity and composition.
The second sol includes several Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam activities to study the local bedrock and prepare for the upcoming dune investigation.
Edgar notes that use of Curiosity’s Navcam is on tap to search for dust devils and monitor clouds and wind, and to monitor the deck of the rover to look for dust and sand accumulation.
On the third Sol, the rover is to drive and take standard post-drive imaging.
The plan also includes SAM and Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) activities to prepare for future sampling.
As always, conduct of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
What are the latest innovations in space technology, the prospects for a human mission to Mars, and the importance of sustaining American leadership in space exploration?
The Washington, D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations held on November 19 a discussion on the future of space under their Emerging Technology Series
The Emerging Technology series explores the science behind innovative new technologies and the effects they will have on U.S. foreign policy, international relations, and the global economy.
- Lori Garver, General Manager, Air Line Pilots Association; Former Deputy Administrator, NASA
- John Logsdon, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and International Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
- Charles Miller, President, NexGen Space LLC
To view the discussion, go to this video, courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations at:
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today a new CubeSat rideshare program that offers universities the chance to compete for free CubeSat rides on future launches.
In a ULA announcement today: “ULA will offer universities the chance to compete for at least six CubeSat launch slots on two Atlas V missions, with a goal to eventually add university CubeSat slots to nearly every Atlas and Vulcan launch,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO.
CubeSats are miniaturized satellites originally designed for use in conjunction with university educational projects and are typically 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm (4 inches x 4 inches x 4 inches) and approximately 1.3 kg (3 lbs).
Formed in December 2006, ULA is a 50-50 joint venture owned by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company. ULA now provides the Atlas and Delta launch services for the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office and other organizations.
Fly for free
The first free CubeSat launch slot in 2017 is being offered to the University of Colorado Boulder.
CU-Boulder students have been building and operating small satellites for 20 years, including the Colorado Student Space Weather CubeSat launched on a ULA Atlas rocket in 2012.
For those universities interested in taking advantage of this new ULA initiative, send an email to:
Deadline for your email is Dec. 18, 2015 – notifying ULA that you are interested in participating.
In early 2016, ULA will release a request for proposal (RFP) for the first competitive CubeSat launch slots. The selected universities will be announced in August 2016.
Name the new program
In addition, ULA is offering the nation’s universities the chance to help name the new CubeSat program.
Universities, educators and students can submit names for consideration to ULACubeSats@ulalaunch.com using a campus-issued email address.
Submissions are due by Dec.18, 2015. The winning name will be announced early next year, and the institution will receive a free CubeSat launch slot on a future mission.
For detailed information on this new program, go to: