Wrapping up 2013 with a Shiny Bow

The year is winding down with some interesting developments related to space programs.

Globally, India has sent a probe on its way to Mars, the first such mission for that nation. China has sent a lunar probe in orbit around our Luna, and by the time this article is published, ought to have attempted a soft landing in the Bay of Rainbows. On the other hand, the normally reliable Long March 4B experienced what appears to be an upper stage failure in the launch of an environmental observation satellite.

Back in the USA, on December 3 SpaceX achieved a major milestone with the successful launch of a commercial communications satellite into geostationary orbit with their Falcon 9 rocket. This is set to be the first of many such commercial (non-government) payloads launched by them in the next year. It will be interesting to see if they can achieve the pace required to execute all of those missions. In another NewSpace development, Blue Origin had a good test firing of their BE-3 oxygen-hydrogen engine. This is the first new rocket engine of this type to be developed in the US in decades.

In the realm of audacious proposals, the folks from Mars One (who want to establish a colony on Mars) have contracted with Lockheed Martin to do a mission concept study for a version of the Phoenix Mars lander for a privately sponsored mission to the Red Planet. Whether Mars One can come up with the hundreds of millions of dollars that is likely going to be needed to pay for such a project is yet to be seen, but it is an indication of how serious they are about this effort.

And at Jupiter, researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope have suggested that there are huge water geysers erupting on Europa. This icy moon is thought to have a deep ocean under its ice crust but until now there was no evidence of water reaching the surface. It is possible that there is more water on Europa that all of planet Earth. This could make a Europa lander mission much more compelling.

I don’t want to attempt to make this blog a news column (as there are many websites doing a great job at providing news on space exploration) but I thought these recent items were notable enough to close out the year on a positive note.

Locally, we decided not to compete with all the holiday activities and are not holding any events in December. Make sure you reserve January 18 for our next meeting which will feature Art Anzaldua talking about future operations in the Earth-Moon system.

Mike Mackowski
Phoenix NSS/TMS Chapter President