20 Percent Budget Cut for NASA Planetary Science

Money for the Senate Launch System (SLS) has siphoned off funding for the things that NASA does best – Planetary Science Missions. Examples of these over the past three decades include:

  • Viking I and II Mars Landers looked for life in 1976
  • Galileo was launched in 1989 and plunged into Jupiter’s crushing atmosphere on September of 2003 to protect the possible ocean on the moon Europa.
  • The Ulysses Solar Polar Explorer was launched in 1990 and ceased operation in 2009
  • Mars Global Surveyor photographed Mars from 1997 through 2006.
  • MESSENGER was launched in 2004 and arrived in orbit around Mercury in March 0f 2011 after three flybys.
  • The Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn arrived in 2004 to Study Saturn and the moon Titan. Exploration continues.
  • Phoenix Mars Lander explored the Martian Polar Region in 2008

The money has been saved for the SLS and building rockets, the things for which NASA is worst:

  • X-33 Venture Star – 1996 to 2001 – 1.2 Billion – Canceled
  • DC-X Delta Clipper – 1991 to 1995 – Transferred to NASA – 1996 -Canceled
  • Constellation and Ares I – 2005 to 2010 – 10 Billion – Canceled

Deep Impact Revisited

Before and after images of the target area for the Deep Impact Mission. The high resolution on the left shows the terrain of Tempel 1 taken by the Deep Impact spacecraft. The lower resolution image on the right, taken by StardustNExT, shows the impact crater. The outer circle annotated on the right-hand image shows the outer rim of the crater and the inner circle shows the crater floor. The crater is estimated to be 150 meters (500 feet) in diameter.

Other images from the fly-by are at the NASA Image Gallery.

Before and After
Tempel 1 Before and After Deep Impact
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Maryland/Cornell

Valentine’s Day 2011

Valentine from Space
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Tempel 1
Comet 9P Tempel 1
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

The Stardust spacecraft is set to rendezvous with comet Tempel 1. It’s Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2011.

Previously, we discussed the StardustNExT mission.

We will follow the encounter with pictures and text as they arrive. Rendezvous with comet Tempel 1 will occur at approximately 9:37 PM Phoenix time (0437 UTC Tuesday morning).

Live coverage of the Tempel 1 encounter will begin at 9:30 PM Phoenix time on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The closest approach will be approximately 200 kilometers. In 2004, Stardust flew through the tail of comet Wild 2 and sent a capsule of material back to Earth.

The mission team expects to begin receiving images on the ground starting at around 1:00 AM Phoenix time (0800 UTC) on 15 February. A news conference previously planned for 11:00 AM Phoenix time will be held later in the day, to allow scientists more time to analyze the data and images. A new time will be announced later in the morning.

Tempel 1 from Stardust
Comet Tempel from Stardust NExT taken 18-19 January 2011
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The latest report is that the StardustNExT spacecraft has taken a hit, but the thrusters responded and reoriented the craft

The most recent report is that the closest approach was 181 kilometers. 10 percent after 12 years in space orbiting the solar system many times.

The spacecraft is now back in cruise mode. The images have been collected and we are now several hours form beginning to receive the 72 high resolution images.

The JPL Deep Space Network (DSN) is scheduled to download the data. The current receiver is the 70 meter dish in Australia and the download rate will be about 16K bits per second.

Tempel 1
Image of Tempel 1 42 hours before encounter.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

In about an hour, the DSN in Madrid will acquire the Stardust spacecraft and begin downloading the 72 images. It is now 10:30 PM Phoenix time.

We now have carrier only configuration of Stardust being received in Madrid. Time is 10:57 PM Phoenix time (0557 UTC 15 February).

In about 10 minutes, Stardust will begin downloading the images from the fly-by.

At the present time, we expect the images to begin downloading about 1:00 AM. The first images should be available about 1:45 AM.

Tempel 1
Tempel 1 was 2,200 kilometers from StardustNExT and Closest Encounter. Most Recently Released Image.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

StardustNExT images are being posted at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/stardust/.

The following images are from closest approach.

Tempel 1 image 35
Tempel 1 Image 35
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Tempel 1 image 35
Tempel 1 Image 35
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Tempel 1 image 35
Tempel 1 Image 40
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Valentine’s Day Comet Rendezvous with Comet Tempel 1

This is the story of two spacecraft, three comets and four rendezvous. So, keep your eye on the moving targets at all times.

Comet 81P Wild 2 (c#1) was visited (r#1) by the Stardust mission (s#1) in 2004 (it was launched in 1999), and sent its sample canister containing the comet bits back to Earth in 2006. The mission returned samples of the comet’s tail.

Comet 9P Tempel 1 (c#2) was impacted (r#2) on 4 July 2005 by NASA’s Deep Impact mission (s#2). Deep Impact was re-purposed for the 103P Hartley 2 (c#3) rendezvous (r#3), which took place on 4 November 2010.

Stardust NExT
Stardust NExT and Wild 2
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Now, the Stardust spacecraft (comet Wild 2) is set to rendezvous (r#4) with comet Tempel 1 (spacecraft Deep Impact) on Valentine’s Day 14 February 2011.

And that is how you do cometary science on the cheap and with low risk.

In 2005, Tempel 1 made its closest approach to the sun. This likely changed the surface of the comet. Now, scientists will get a chance to re-image the surface of the comet with Stardust and compare the images with those taken by Deep Impact five years ago.

A Snowstorm in Space – Hartley 2 and EPOXI

Following the initial images from the rendezvous of the EPOXI mission with comet Hartley 2, NASA has now released additional images of the extraordinary activity of this comet. A movie of the snow storm can be viewed here.

Below left, active vents spew icy particles into space. The diameters range from 3 to 30 centimeters (1 – 12 inches).

Below right, closeup of the snow storm swirling around comet Hartley 2. These images are from the left side of the dumbbell shaped comet, as seen from the Deep Impact spacecraft. The right side is much more active, as shown in the press release from Brown University.

Hartley 2 Snow
Active Vents Spewing Snow from Hartley 2.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD / Brown

Close up Image of Basketball sized Particles.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD

The color image below shows the different sources for water vapor, dust, carbon dioxide and ice. The images are from data obtained by the High-Resolution Imager on 4 November 2010 on board Deep Impact.

Water vapor issues from a source in the middle of the dumbbell, whereas carbon dioxide (and ice and dust) comes predominately from the small end of the comet (right).

Dust is released from the active end and from the vents on the middle of the left end, while ice is spewed from various locations.

Infrared Scan of Hartley 2.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD

The image below compares the activity of Hartley 2 with the comet Tempel 1, which was the previous target of the Deep Impact spacecraft. This encounter occurred on 4 July 2005, and images of the encounter with the comet and the impactor can be explored on the NASA website.

Tempel 1 is 4.7 kilometers on its long axis compared to 2.2 kilometers for Hartley 2. Active jets are clearly visible on Hartley 2, where extensive image processing is required to see them on Tempel 1.

Hartley 2 Activity vs Tempel 1.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD

Comet 103P/Hartley 2 – 30 Days from Closest Approach

Rendezvous Hartley 2
EPOXI orbit and Rendezvous with Hartley 2
Image Credit:
NASA / JPL-Caltech / UMD / GSFC / Tony Farnham

Hartley 2
Comet 103P/Hartley 2 on 25 September 2010
Image Credit: Credit: NASA / JPL / UMD

The Deep Impact spacecraft, re-purposed as EPOXI for the encounter with comet Hartley 2, is now 30 days from its rendezvous on 4 November 2010.

The image above left shows the orbit of the Earth, EPOXI and comet Hartley 2 leading up to the rendezvous.

The image above right is the most recent image of Hartley 2 taken from the Deep Impact spacecraft.

Additional information on the mission can be found here.

NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft captured this image of Hartley 2 in May of 2010.

Hartley 2 - WISE
Hartley 2 Imaged by WISE
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Hartley 2 – First Image from Deep Impact

Hartley 2
Hartley 2 Seen from Deep Impact
Image Credit: NASA / JPL / UM

NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, repurposed as EPOXI, has a rendezvous with Comet Hartley 2 on 4 November 2010.

From NASA’s press release:

EPOXI is an extended mission that utilizes the already “in flight” Deep Impact spacecraft to explore distinct celestial targets of opportunity. The name EPOXI itself is a combination of the names for the two extended mission components: the extrasolar planet observations, called Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh), and the flyby of comet Hartley 2, called the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI). The spacecraft will continue to be referred to as “Deep Impact.”