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
12/13/13

Launch Schedule – China 2013

Here is the current calendar for 2013 for Chinese satellites and rocket launch vehicles as listed on the Forum at NASASpaceFlight on 18 December 2012:

2013

  • Complete
  • Upcoming
  • February – CZ-4B – TSLC, LC9 – CBERS-3
  • Early – CZ-4C – TSLC, LC9 – ‘multiple satellites’
  • June – CZ-2F/G – JSLC, 921 – SZ-10 Shenzhou-10
  • June – CZ-3B/E – XSLC, LC2 – ZX-11 Zhongxing-11 (Chinasat-11) / Supremesat-II
  • July – CZ-4C – TSLC, LC9 – FY-3C Fengyun-3C; XW-2 Xiwang-2
  • December 20 – CZ-3B/E – XSLC, LC2 – Túpac Katari ‘TKSat-1’ (Bolivia)
  • Second quarter – CZ-3B/E – XSLC, LC2 – ZX-M Zhongxing-M (Chinasat-M)
  • ?? – CZ-2D – JSLC, 631 – Shiyan Weixing-5; Chuangxin-4
  • ?? – CZ-2D – JSLC, 631 – GF-1 Gaofen-1
  • ?? – CZ-2D – JSLC, 631 – SJ-11 Shijian 11-05
  • ?? – CZ-2D – JSLC, 631 – TH-2 Tianhui-2
  • ?? – (New Launcher) – JSLC – ??
  • ?? – CZ-3B/GIII – XSLC, LC2 – Chang’e-3 (Moon lander/rover)
  • ?? – CZ-4B – TSLC, LC9 – SJ-13 Shijian-13A; Shijian-13B
  • ?? – CZ-4B – TSLC, LC9 – HY-2B Haiyang-2B (or 2014)
  • ?? – ?? – ?? – YG-17 YaoGan Weixing-17
  • ?? – ?? – ?? – YG-18 YaoGan Weixing-18
  • ?? – ?? – ?? – YG-19 YaoGan Weixing-19

2014

  • June – CZ-2C/CTS-2 – XSLC – Barcelona Moon Team
  • August – ?? – TSLC – CBERS-4 (or June)
  • October / December – CZ-3B/E – XSLC – TurkmenistanSat/MonacoSat
  • December – CZ-4B – TSLC – FY-3D Fengyun-3D (Batch 2)
  • End – CZ-5 – WSLC – ??

Updated 1 January 2013

2012 Launches
2011 Launches

Chinese Chang’E 2 Spacecraft Captures Toutatis

Toutatis
Chang’E 2 Images of Asteroid Toutatis on 13 December 2012
Image Credit: Weibo.com/Xinhuashidian

Emily Lakdawalla, at the Planetary Society, published these stunning images of the asteroid Toutatis (captured by The Chinese spacecraft Chang’E 2) as it tumbled past the Earth on 12 and 13 December 2012.

Chang’E 2 was originally launched on 1 October 2010, and mapped the Moon during an eight month mission. China published these high resolution images of the Moon earlier this year. Now, Chang’E 2 has become the first spacecraft to reach the Sun-Earth Lagrange point (SEL-2) from lunar orbit. It departed lunar orbit in June of 2011.

The world was caught completely off-guard by this low profile fly-by of the asteroid Toutatis. At closest approach, Chang’E 2 was 3.2 kilometers above the surface of the asteroid. The images were taken from a distance of 93 and 240 kilometers. China becomes the fourth country to observe an asteroid, after US, the European Union and Japan.

In January, Chang’E 2 will reach a distance of 10 million kilometers from Earth.

Additional details have been published by Xinhua on their website, and at Discovery.com.

In August, Bill Gray at the Planetary Society, published an update on the Chnag’E 2 mission.

Paolo, a member of the UnmannedSpaceflight.com forum, reported in October concerning a paper he had obtained from the IAF Congress entitled “Low energy trajectory optimization for CE-2’s extended mission after 2012“. He did share these items from the paper:

  • 13 December 2012 is confirmed as the date. no distance nor relative speed or other details are given
  • we are told that the Beijing Aerospace Control Center called for proposals on a mission beyond L2 in January 2012
  • there were lots of interesting proposals including one that would flyby Earth and Moon repeatedly, visit the L1 and L2 Lagrangian points, flyby a hundred-meter sized asteroid and finally explore the L4 Sun-Earth point in 2017 (the paper states that CE-2 would have been the first mission to do so. I think one of the two Stereos was first)
  • in March 2012 the Toutatis flyby, proposed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology was selected
  • in a non-optimized form, the mission would have cost 107.5 m/s of the remaining 120 m/s delta-v budget
  • a 6.2 m/s correction on 15 April “was mainly used to keep the Lissajous trajectory”. it was previously reported as the date CE-2 was maneuvered out of the L2 halo orbit
  • trajectory optimization was only carried out starting on 16 April. After optimization, an additional 22 m/s delta-v was gained that could be used to ensure a successful flyby
  • the first targeting maneuver was carried out on 31 May (32.9 m/s)
  • the second targeting maneuver (46.5 m/s) was to be carried out on 24 September

Sky and Telescope has also weighed in with unique information on the fly-by. The passage was so close that the deflection in the trajectory of the spacecraft could be used to determine the gravitational mass of Toutatis, which in turn would yield the overall density, a key to understanding its bulk composition and internal makeup.

edited: 5 PM 16 December 2012

Shenzhou-9 Returns with Chinese Taikonauts

Liu Yang
Liu Yang Emerges from the Shenzhou-9 Descent Module
Image Credit: CCTV

Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang, the three member crew of China’s Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, returned to Earth, following a successful and historic mission with the unmanned space module Tiangong-1. The Descent Module touched down around 7:00 PM Phoenix time Thursday (0200 UTC Friday) at the landing site in Inner Mongolia.

Three Taikonauts
Three Taikonauts Seated Outside the Shenzhou-9 Descent Module
Image Credit: CCTV

Chinese Crew Conducts Manual Docking With Tiangong-1

Manual Dock
Beginning of Manual Docking of Shenzhou-9 with Tiangong-1
Image Credit: CCTV

Chinese taikonauts completed another objective of their current mission aboard their spacecraft, Shenzhou-9, when they completed a manual docking maneuver with the orbital module Tiangong-1 around 0450 UTC Sunday (9:50 PM Saturday night Phoenix time).

Several hours prior to this, the crew set Tiangong-1 for independent flight in case an emergency was encountered. Then commander Jing Haipeng and the other two crew, Liu Wang and Liu Yang, entered the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, donned their flight suits and performed an automated undocking.

This was followed by backing away to 400 meters. The crew then closed to 140 meters and the two vehicles maintained their positions while the ground control evaluated the data. Approval was given for the manual approach controlled by Liu Wang. The spacecraft approached to within 30 meters for a short hold.

Finally closing at 0.4 meters per second, Shenzhou-9 completed the docking procedure.

With this objective completed, the taikonauts will continue their testing of the orbital module, and medical and physiological tests and exercises.

They are scheduled to return to Earth on Friday, 29 June.

Manual Dock
Final Moment Before the Manual Docking of Shenzhou-9 with Tiangong-1
Image Credit: CCTV

Chinese Crew Enters Tiangong-1 Space Station

Crew
Three Chinese Crew Members Occupy The Tiangong Space Orbiter
Image Credit: CCTV

Three hours after automatically docking with the Tiangong-1 space orbiter, Jing Haipeng opened the hatch between the Shenzhou space craft and the orbiter and floated aboard. The mission commander was followed by Liu Wang and Liu Yang.

The Tiangong-1 has been in orbit for 262 days following its launch on 29 September 2011. It was previously visited by the Shenzhou-8 unmanned mission, which was launched on 31 October 2011, docked on 3 November and returned on 19 November.

Tiangong-1 is a test bed for a future space station scheduled for 2020. The module weighs 8.5 metric tons (19,000 pounds) with an interior of 15 cubic meters (540 cubic feet). The module is 3.35 meters in diameter, and 10.4 meters in length.

The crew is scheduled to conduct medical experiments, and to perform a manual docking on 24 June.

Shenzhou-9 Carries Female Taikonaut to Orbit

Liu Yang
Liu Yang Prior to Launch Aboard the Shenzhou 9 Space Craft
Image Credit: AFP/ STR

Liu Yang, China’s first female taikonaut, was launched aboard the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft on top of a Long March 2F rocket. Jing Haipeng, a veteran of two other spaceflights, will command the mission, and Liu Wang the third member of the crew is making his inaugural flight. Liftoff from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Saturday in the Gobi Desert occurred Saturday morning at 3:37 Phoenix time (10:37 UTC).

The planned rendezvous with the Tiangong-1 mini-spacelab, which is already in orbit, is scheduled for 18 June. The crew will conduct one automated docking and then a manual docking. Once the docking is complete, two of the crew will work in the space station, while the third member remains on the Shenzhou-9 space craft to handle any emergency that might arise.

The expectation is that the mission will last around 20 days, after which the craft will undock and return to Earth.

Long March 2F
Long March 2F Carrying the Shenzhou-9 Space Craft into Orbit
Image Credit: China Daily