Space News – December 2009

31 December 2009

  • From the NASA press release: “Kepler Mission scientists will reveal the space telescope’s latest discoveries at a news briefing in Washington on Monday, Jan. 4, 2010. The announcement will be made at 10 a.m. PST (1 p.m. EST) at a news conference during the 215th national meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel.”
  • From ASU: “According to research published online in the Dec. 31 issue of Science Express and in the Jan. 22 issue of Science magazine by Greg Brennecka, a graduate student in the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) at Arizona State University (ASU), the 238U/235U ratio can no longer be considered a constant in meteoritic material. Any deviation from this assumed value causes miscalculation in the determined Pb-Pb age of a sample, meaning that the age of the Solar System could be miscalculated by as much as several million years. Although this is a small fraction of the 4.57 billion year age of the Solar System, it is significant since some of the most important events that shaped the Solar System occurred within the first 10 million years of its formation.”

30 December 2009

  • The Arizona Daily Star reports that the U of A is one of three finalists for NASA’s Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer, or Osiris-Rex for the New Frontiers program. The UA’s Michael Drake, director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, would head the project to explore an asteroid and return samples.
  • JPL announced that the WISE observatory has released its cover and begun observations. The first data should be released in about a month, after calibration is complete. WISE will perform the most detailed infrared survey of the entire sky to date. Its millions of images will expose the dark side of the cosmos — objects, such as asteroids, stars and galaxies, that are too cool or dusty to be seen with visible light.

29 December 2009

  • Graduate students at the University of Colorado at Boulder have been awarded an $840,000 grant to develop a five (5) pound satellite to observe energetic particles in space that should give scientists a better understanding of solar flares and their interaction with Earth’s atmosphere
  • On Orbit has images of the plumes of Enciladus.

28 December 2009

27 December 2009

  • JPL reports that the Cassini spacecraft will fly over the north pole of Titan today. The flyby, which brings Cassini to within about 960 kilometers (600 miles) of the Titan surface at 82 degrees north latitude, will take place the evening of Dec. 27 Pacific time.
  • Aviation Week discusses the contract awarded to EADS Astrium by the European Space Agency (ESA) for definition of a higher-power, more versatile variant of the Ariane 5 heavy-lift booster. It will feature a new upper stage, a re-ignitable Vinci upper stage engine and enhanced avionics and flight software. The enhanced Ariane V should make its first flight around 2017, and will have a payload capacity of 12 metric tons. This compare to 10 tons for the existing Ariane 5 ECA. The new Ariane V will be be capable of launching spacecraft into multiple orbits. It is intended to allow the Ariane 5 to remain competitive with new launch vehicles like China’s Long March 5.

26 December 2009

  • In November, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study that expressed concern over the ability of NASA to utilize more than a fraction of the research potential of the International Space Station.
  • Discovery.com reports on the end of the ISS Butterfly Experiment. The National Space Biomedical Research Institute reports that “The four Painted Lady butterflies on the International Space Station have completed their normal life spans.”

25 December 2009

24 December 2009

  • Late Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to extend federal liability protection for commercial space launch providers (First established by Congress as part of the Commercial Space Launch Act Amendments of 1988). Under the measure approved by the Senate, the U.S. government would continue for three more years to indemnify commercial launch operators against third-party claims for launch-related damages that exceed $500 million, up to a total of $1.5 billion.
  • Galaxies existing only 500 million years after the Big Bang have been reported in the journal Nature. Images taken in August by the Hubble telescope show three galaxies with a red shift around 10.

23 December 2009

  • The Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft docked with the nadir port of the station’s Zarya module at 5:48 pm EST (2248 GMT) Tuesday, two days after launching from Baikonur. On board are the Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
  • The air force web site discusses the successful test firing of ATK’s Castor 30 solid fuel second stage engine at the Arnold Engineering Development Center’s J-6 large-rocket motor-testing facility on 9 December 2009. Although the rocket engine can be used in military applications, it is designed to burn more slowly than most solid rocket engines, giving a gentler ride to commercial satellite payloads.

22 December 2009

  • The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a letter to Senators Jay Rockefeller and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation), and Representatives Bart Gordon and Ralph M. Hall (House Committee on Science and Technology) concerning the oversupply of world wide launch capacity and its detrimental affects on the ability of the United States to develop technology skills and retain the workforce in the area of rocket propulsion.
  • Space News discusses NASA’s announcement concerning design fixes to protect astronauts from potentially dangerous levels of vibrations that could otherwise reach the planned Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle during its climb to orbit atop the Ares 1 rocket.
  • The Mars Rover Spirit, trying to escape its sand trap captivity, has made another discovery while spinning its wheels. It broke through a dark reddish-brown crusty surface that was an inch or so thick, exposing loose, sandy material. As the rover tried to break free, its wheels began to churn the soil, uncovering even more sandy material, bearing “a higher concentration of sulfate that seen anywhere else on Mars,” said Ray Arvidson of the Washington University in St. Louis. “These deposits are evidence of water-charged explosive volcanism. Such areas could have once supported life.”

21 December 2009

  • London-based Avanti Communications Group PLC has awarded a contract to Orbital Sciences Corp. to provide a new communications satellite.
    Orbital, headquartered in Dulles, will deliver the HYLAS 2 satellite in early 2012.
  • NASA’s Kennedy Space Center announced it will host a media event at 10 a.m. EST on Friday, Jan. 8, to showcase the Tranquility node, which will provide room for many of the station’s life support systems. The module was built in Turin, Italy, by Thales Alenia Space for the European Space Agency. Tranquiity features a cupola which will provide a multi-directional view of the exterior of the ISS. It will allow the crew to monitor spacewalks and docking operations, as well as provide a spectacular view of Earth and other celestial objects.
  • Dwayne Day has published an interesting essay on space fetishists (advocates of one size fits all solutions to space problems). A must read.

20 December 2009

  • Oleg Kotov (Russia), Timothy Creamer (NASA) and Soichi Noguchi (Japan) have launched on board the Russian Soyuz TMA-17 on Sunday, taking aim on the International Space Station (ISS) where they will join NASA’s Jeff Williams, commander of the Expedition 22 crew. The crew launched at 4:51pm Eastern from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
  • 30 years ago, on Christmas Eve, Arianespace launched its first Ariane rocket from its new spaceport at Kourou on the edge of the massive Amazon rain forest.

19 December 2009

  • Nature News takes note of a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California where scientists report that as much as 50% of the plume shooting out of geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus could be ice. Previously, scientists had thought that only 10–20% of the plume was made up of ice, with the rest being water vapour.
  • NASASpaceFlight reports that “Capping off a highly successful year for the Space Shuttle Program, the STS-129 flight of Atlantis last month has undergone its final, official post-flight assessment: the all-important In-Flight Anomaly (IFA) review. In all, STS-129 was a clean flight, particularly for the vehicle’s Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs).”

18 December 2009

  • The seventh launch of the Ariane in 2009 by Arianspace put the HELIOS-2B satellite into a sun-synchronous polar orbit
  • XCOR announced that “The Yecheon Astro Space Center announced today that it has selected XCOR Aerospace as its preferred supplier of suborbital space launch services. Operating under a wet lease model, XCOR intends to supply services to the Center using the Lynx Mark II suborbital vehicle.”

17 December 2009

  • Amy Klamper at Spacenews.com thinks “New Direction for NASA Could Wait Until February”
  • The Ariane 5 launch of the HELIOS 2B satellite from French Guiana has been scrubbed.

16 December 2009

  • The Guardian has a report on planet orbiting a nearby star (smaller than the sun) that is nearly three times as large as Earth and made almost entirely of water, forming a global ocean more than 15,000km deep.
  • ATK successfully test fired the Orion capsule safety abort motor today.

15 December 2009

14 December 2009

  • The Russian space agency Roscosmos launched a venerable Proton rocket carrying three GLONASS-M satellites into orbit on December 14. Each 3,000-pound satellite is designed to last seven years.
  • The Wide-field Infra red Survey Explorer (WISE) lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base this morning, after the mission was delayed because of a problem with the spacecraft’s steering engine.

13 December 2009

  • On this day in 1965, Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford in Gemini VIa and Frank Borman and James Lovell Jr. in Gemini VII were flying side by side 100 miles above the Earth. One held a sign “Beat ARMY” and out of the window on the other space craft you could read “Beat NAVY”.
  • The Gemenid Meteor Shower peaks tonight.

12 December 2009

  • The Financial Times features Burt Rutan. The 66 year old aerospace legend plans to beat any government to Mars
  • If all goes to plan, billionaire Richard Branson’s spaceships will take off with tourists on board in 2012 – from Kiruna in the far north of Sweden.

11 December 2009

  • Endeavor (STS-130) has arrived at the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) prior to mating with External Tank (ET-134) and the twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). Launch is scheduled for early February on a 13 day mission to the International Space Station.
  • Europe’s Mars Express captured images of both Martian moons together at one time.

10 December 2009

  • NASA acknowledged that the mars rover Spirit’s right rear wheel may be inoperable. That would leave the rover with only four working wheels, and likely doom her to remain mired in the sand.
  • Paul Hill, the Director of NASA’s Mission Operations Directorate, hinted at an additional Space Shuttle flight, and discussed Commercial alternative launch vehicles.

9 December 2009

  • Arianespace has delayed the launch of the HELIOS 2B satellite for several days in order to replace a part in a launcher subsystem
  • NASA has succeeded in getting its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter out of safe-mode, and expect to resume science experiments next week.

8 December 2009

  • NASA managers have confirmed they are considering adding STS-135 to the Shuttle manifest in late 2010 or early 2011. They would use Atlantis, which would mean one more flight for that venerable shuttle after STS-133.
  • BioEdOnline has the latest on four Painted Lady butterflies that emerged from their chrysalis aboard the International Space Station.

7 December 2009

  • Calculations by Diedrich Möhlmann of the German Aerospace Center in Berlin suggest that liquid water may collect temporarily below the Martian surface.
  • Scaled Composites unveiled SpaceShipTwo, designed to take tourists to the edge of space.

6 December 2009

  • The New Horizon spacecraft with be half-way to Pluto at the end of December.
  • A new configuration of the Delta IV rocket has launched on its maiden flight. The new Medium+ (5,4) variant was used to orbit the Wideband Global SATCOM 3 (WGS-3) satellite for the US Air Force.

5 December 2009

  • There is a 60% chance weather will again delay the launch of the Air Force communication satellite on board a Delta 4 rocket.
  • NASA’s MODIS satellite has this image of dust storms off the coast of West Africa.

4 December 2009

  • Gwenaël Boué and Jacques Laskar recently published a paper entitles “A collisionless scenario for Uranus tilting“. They propose a model wherein Uranus once possessed a moon with a mass of 1% of the planet and orbiting at a certain distance. This configuration could unbalance the spin of Uranus and the wobble would tilt the planet. The moon was subsequently ejected during an encounter with another planet.
  • Why we shouldn’t release all we know about the cosmos.
  • Troubles launching an Air Force satellite from Cape Canaveral has delayed the Vandenberg launch of the Delta 2 rocket that will carry NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. WISE is designed to scan the whole sky in the infrared to find previously undetected celestial objects.

3 December 2009

  • The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft has been mated to its fairing in preparation for its scheduled 9 December launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. WISE will circle Earth over the Earth’s poles. During its nine months of operations, it will look for the coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.
  • The latest information from JPL on the efforts to free the Spirit rover. Dark days indeed.
  • “Safe Mode”. Another word for Ouch!!. Kepler experienced a safe mode event on Nov. 18, 2009. Engineers from Ames are working on the problem. No mission data was lost. Both Mars Orbiters are also in “Safe Mode”. See 2 December, below.

2 December 2009

  • The New Scientist reports that both of the Mars orbiters are out of commission, spelling problems for the two rovers. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spontaneously rebooted in August for the fourth time this year, and has been on stand-by ever since. On Friday, 28 November, Mars Odyssey suffered a memory glitch and has been in “safe mode” pending resolution.
  • Bad weather has delayed the launch of an Air Force satellite aboard an Atlas rocket until Thursday, 3 December between 7:22 PM to 8:43 PM EST.
  • The Geminid Meteor shower will peak the night of 13/14 December, with as many as 50-80 meteors per hour.

1 December 2009

  • The Soyuz TMA-15 spacecraft is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station Monday at 10:56 PM EST. Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko, European Space Agency Flight Engineer Frank De Winne and Canadian Space Agency Flight Engineer Bob Thirsk are slated for a landing in Kazakhstan at 2:15 AM EST Tuesday (1:15 p.m. Kazakhstan time) to conclude their 188 days in space, 186 days on the station.
  • The Tranquility module is set for delivery in 2010 by the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s STS-130 mission to the International Space Station. Thales Alenia Space in Turin Italy built Tranquility. The pressurized node will provide additional room for crew members and many of the space station’s life support and environmental control systems. These systems include air revitalization, oxygen generation and water recycling. A waste and hygiene compartment and a treadmill also will be relocated from other areas of the station.