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

Asteroid Toutatis Tumbles Past Earth

Toutatis
Radar Image of Asteroid Toutatis on 12 December 2012
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The asteroid Toutatis passed 18 lunar distances (6.9 million kilometers) away from the Earth on 12 and 13 December 2012. NASA has released a movie based on a series of radar images taken by the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California.

Toutatis is an elongated asteroid with a maximum length of about 4.8 kilometers. It tumbles slowly, once every 5.4 days, and precesses like a badly thrown football around the long axis every 7.4 days.

Currently, its orbit will bring it back to the Earth’s neighborhood in 2069 and it will pass by at a distance of about 3 million kilometers.

Tracking Toutatis is the job of Near-Earth Object Observations Program. The program discovers and tracks asteroids and comets and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

An Asteroid Is Coming to a Planet Near You

2012 DA14
Fast Image Trail of Asteroid 2012 DA!14
Image Credit: Courtesy Jaime Nomen, La Sagra Observatory

On 15 February 2013, asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass within 22,500 kilometers of the Earth. Geostationary satellites orbit 35,800 kilometers above the surface.

This asteroid is roughly the same size as the object that burst over Tunguska Siberia in 1908.

Our friends at The Planetary Society provided the funds that allowed La Sagra Observatory in southern Spain to upgrade one of their telescopes with a new camera capable tracking fast moving objects like 2012 DA14, and determining their orbit. The new instrument has found more than ten Near-Earth Objects (NEO), along with a previously unknown comet.

The key to the new discoveries involve fast read-out Charge-Coupled Devices (CCD) and revised image filtering software used with the space-junk tracking program at La Sagra.

Everything

Everything
The WISE
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA

The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has just released the image above showing Everything in the infrared spectrum. Approximately 560 million stars, galaxies, gas clouds, near-Earth asteroids and other objects are included in the image.

Visible in the image:

  • Large and Small Magellanic clouds to the bottom right
  • The Andromeda galaxy forms a small blue streak to the lower left
  • The Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, only 130 light years away, above the galactic center

Is An Earth Trojan Asteroid the Logical Target for the “Flexible Path”?

Trojan Asteroid 2010 TK7
Asteroid 2010 TK7 is circled in green.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA

Scientists using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have discovered the first Trojan Asteroid in Earth orbit. Trojans orbit at a location in front of or behind a planet known as a Lagrange Point.

A video of the asteroid and its orbit at the Lagrange point can be found here.

Martin Connors of Athabasca University in Canada is the lead author of a new paper on the discovery in the July 28 issue of the journal Nature.

Connors notes that:

These asteroids dwell mostly in the daylight, making them very hard to see. But we finally found one, because the object has an unusual orbit that takes it farther away from the sun than what is typical for Trojans. WISE was a game-changer, giving us a point of view difficult to have at Earth’s surface.

TK7 is roughly 300 meters in diameter and traces a complex motion around SEL-4 (Sun Earth Lagrange point 4). The asteroid’s orbit is stable for at least the next 100 years and is currently about 80 million kilometers from the Earth. In that time, it is expected to come no closer that 24 million kilometers.

The obvious question is whether this is the logical destination for NASA’s Flexible Path manned asteroid mission? The Lagrange 4 point (SEL-4) is a logical way station on the Solar System exploration highway. Other NEO asteroids that have been identified as possible targets are few and much more difficult to reach and return than an asteroid at SEL-4. This may well be the target of opportunity that opens manned exploration of the Solar System in an “easy” mode. Unfortunately, Asteroid 2010 TK7 travels too far above and below the plane of Earth’s orbit, which would require large amounts of fuel to reach it.

NEOWISE is the program for searching the WISE database for Near Earth Objects (NEO), as well as other asteroids in the Solar System.The NEOWISE project observed more than 155,000 asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, and more than 500 NEOs, discovering 132 that were previously unknown.

Close Encounters

Asteroid CA7
Asteroid 2011 CA7
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Asteroid 2011 CA7 made its closest approach to Earth yesterday, 9 February, passing inside the Moon's orbit.

NASA's Near-Earth Object Program tracks asteroids and comets that are in the Earth's neighborhood. And its a crowded neighborhood. The NEO Program publishes the Close Approach Table.

Earlier this week:

Asteroid 2011 CQ1 was discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey on February 4 and made a record close Earth approach 14 hours later on February 4 at 19:39 UT (14:39 EST). It passed to within 0.85 Earth radii (5480 km) of the Earth's surface over a region in the mid-Pacific. This object, only about one meter in diameter, is the closest non-impacting object in our asteroid catalog to date.

That's just over 3,200 miles above the surface of the Earth.

NASA – The New Course – Charles Bolden at the National Press Club

The National Press Club on NASA TV.

John Holdren introduces the implications of the new course based on NASA’s 2011 budget and Charles Bolden.

Bolden is speaking. NASA’s way forward. Thanks the teams that have worked Constellation for many years.

NASA will now be on a sustainable course.

We want to increase our understanding of the Earth and the Solar System.

A new path for exploring and living in space. $6 Billion in new funds for technology and research.

We have experienced a slow erosion of science missions within NASA. Therefore, this administration needs to re-baseline the science and other missions. 30 % increase in science. 60% increase in Earth science research.

Commercial partnerships with industry to produce safe reliable redundant access to low Earth orbit.

NASA’s role is to catalyze commercial operations and markets.

Industry already launches all our military and national security satellites. They also launch the high value commercial and civilian satellites and spacecraft.

Therefore, NASA is not putting its trust in unproven companies.

Commercial access to space and our international partners. This will let NASA focus on its key role of research on cutting edge technology.

Today, we will have SpaceX and Orbital discuss their roles with NASA. We will also introduce the five companies to whom we just awarded contracts for development:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington. Robert Millman. Pusher Escape System. Composite Pressure Vessel.
  • The Boeing Company of Houston, Texas. Brewster Shaw. Partnership with Bigelow. System of cargo and crew transportation for commercial and NASA.
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona. Jane Poynter. Developing turnkey system for use on any spacecraft.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado. Mark Sirangelo. Concept based on the HL20.
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado. Mike Gass. Emergency protection system for Atlas and Delta rockets.
  • Orbital Systems. David Thompson. Private cargo systems within the next year.
  • Space X. Ken Bowersox. Cargo to ISS
Seven Commercial Partners
Credit: NASA TV
The Seven Commercial Partners

Q & A.

1. Goals? What is the timetable and the architecture?

More than a couple weeks but less than years to create the plans. The Moon, Mars, Asteroids are the logical destinations.

2. In orbit fueling? Primary or from Earth?

Being able to launch with a lighter vehicle. The problem is getting out of the gravity well. However, game changing technology: ion engines, VASIMR. Facilitate public discussion on goals and methods.

3. We are abandoning human space flight to the Chinese and others?

We are still the nation with whom everyone wants to partner. We are not abandoning human space flight. We will likely get there quicker than most people think.

4. Columbia accident board. NASA was stretched to thin? Lack of a National mandate?

Apollo 1. Challenger. Columbia. Continuing reminders. Take advantage of technology for destinations as it becomes available.

5. How to keep on budget?

Be a realistic dreamer. But plan to the budget, not try and budget for the plan. We have sufficient funds for what we want to do.

6. Astronauts on commercial vehicles? 60% of astronauts against commercial?

Stick with us if you can. If its not exciting enough, we will help you find your passion. And bear with them.

7. Involvement of Russian companies in partnerships?

Conversation yesterday with Anatoliy Permanov head of the Russian Space Agency Russia will remain a firm partner. Soyuz is excellent. But we will be without redundancy. Retirement of shuttle is the correct thing to do.

8. Job creation in commercial industry?

The more money our new partners receive, the more jobs. But there will be jobs lost and jobs gained. $6 Billion in new funds will translate to jobs.

END.

NASA – The New Course – Liveblog Gen. Charles Bolden (ret.) Press Conference

The Budget

The complete 2011 Federal Budget was released at 8:00 AM Phoenix (10:00 AM EST), including the NASA budget. Highlights from the NASA section:

  • Adds $6 billion to NASA’s budget over five years and draws upon American ingenuity to enable us to embark on an ambitious 21st Century program of human space exploration.
  • Initiates flagship exploration technology development and demonstration programs of “gamechanging” technologies that will increase the reach and reduce the costs of future human space exploration as well as other NASA, government, and commercial space activities.
  • Embraces the commercial space industry and the thousands of new jobs that it can create by contracting with American companies to provide astronaut transportation to the Space Station—thus reducing the risk of relying exclusively on foreign crew transport capabilities.
  • Ends NASA’s Constellation program, which was planning to use an approach similar to the Apollo program to return astronauts back to the Moon 50 years after that program’s triumphs. An independent panel found that Constellation was years behind schedule and would require large budget increases to land even a handful of astronauts back on the Moon before 2030. Instead, we are launching a bold new effort that invests in American ingenuity for developing more capable and innovative technologies for future space exploration.
  • Extends the International Space Station and enhances its utilization, bringing nations together in a common pursuit of knowledge and excellence in space.
  • Enhances the Nation’s global climate change research and monitoring system, including reflight of a satellite that will help identify global carbon sources and sinks.
  • Provides for a robust program of robotic solar system exploration and new astronomical observatories, including a probe that will fly through the Sun’s atmosphere and an expanded effort to detect potentially hazardous asteroids.
  • Revitalizes and realigns NASA to put in place the right workforce and facilities to function as an efficient 21st Century research and development agency.

The NASA Overview (pdf) specifically states that:

Research and development to support future heavy-lift rocket systems that will increase the capability of future exploration architectures with significantly lower operations costs than current systems—potentially taking us farther and faster into space.

In the full budget, under Terminations, Reductions and Savings (p. 18):

The Administration proposes to cancel the Constellation Systems program intended to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and replaces it with a bold new approach that embraces the commercial space industry, forges international partnerships, and develops the game-changing technologies needed to set the stage for a revitalized human space flight program and embark on a 21st Century program of space exploration.

Now the question is how this actually translates into programs. Does the HLV quote mean a Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle ready to give American astronauts access to the ISS by 2014/2015? Or, does the “set the stage for a revitalized human space flight program” quote mean that Human Space Flight by America has been kicked down the road for a decade while Research and Development figure out if we can do it?

In reports from other sources:

  • The Business Standard of India quotes Obama’s budget chief Peter Orszag as telling reporters “We are cancelling the program, not delaying it”, with regard to the Constellation program and a return to the Moon. The report states that “the administration will instead direct NASA to turn to long-range research and development which could eventually lead to a manned space program to Mars, a senior US official said.”

The Press Conference

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Chief Financial Officer Beth Robinson will brief reporters about the agency’s fiscal year 2011 budget during a teleconference at 10:30 PM Phoenix (12:30 PM EST), which will carried in audio only at http://www.nasa.gov/news/media/newsaudio/index.html.

If it is as carefully scripted as the Budget, we may know little more than what is apparent so far. We will see if there are questions from reporters, and if so, whether any of the questions are meaningful.

Bolden has begun speaking. His first significant note is that over the next five (5) years the NASA budget will be increased by $6 Billion.

The ISS will continue to 2020 and beyond in cooperation with our International Partners.

Collaboration with our partners to build the technology for missions to Mars that takes weeks, rather than months.

Commitment to green aeronautical research.

The Constellation program would not get us back to the Moon. So this budget cancels Ares I, Ares V and Orion. We were neglecting investments in key tech to get beyond moon.

The Augustine Commission has given us significant goals which this administration seeks to achieve.

Through an open competition, NASA has awarded Space Act Agreements for the development of crew concepts, technology demonstrations, and investigations for future commercial support of human spaceflight to:

  • Blue Origin of Kent, Washington
  • The Boeing Company of Houston, Texas
  • Paragon Space Development Corporation of Tucson, Arizona
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation of Louisville, Colorado
  • United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado

We will be discussing these awards in more detail, and introducing you to the space pioneers behind them tomorrow at our event at the National Press Club.

We intend to make full use of the International Space Station. There is so much to know before we move out of Low Earth Orbit.

NASA will fly out the remaining five flights of the Shuttle. NASA will have funds for 2011 if the shuttle schedule slips.

Lori Garver is now speaking.

Heavy Lift Vehicle R&D budget is very robust. It is not for a restacking of existing technologies. Constellation provided no real development funding for HLV until 2016, only research until that time. Now, beyond LEO with HLV on a timetable faster than Ares V.

Looking at flagship missions, that they are going to design over the next couple of months. Don’t want to relive the mistakes of the past.

Commercial competition will see industry define the vehicles and time lines for crew and cargo. They will tell us what they can provide. Expects bids on previous investments. Orion may come back as part of a commercial bid. Propellant Depots are in the mix.

[Ed] Reading between the lines, it may well be that Boeing / ULA or others will bid a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Vehicle using existing Shuttle Assets. In any case, the budget goes to Congress, and there will be much blood on the sand before this is over.[/Ed].

NASA – The New Course

Monday we will know for sure.

In February 2009, Popular Mechanics published “Frustrated Engineers Battle with NASA over the Future of Spaceflight“. The Rebel Alliance and their plan to kill Ares I and bring down the Evil Emperor had a peculiar beginning back in 2006. According to PM:

Tierney wondered whether the Ares I is really the best way to keep the U.S. in the spaceflight business. What if, instead of building a largely new rocket, NASA created a new configuration of proven space shuttle components and placed a crew capsule on top? Sitting on his living room couch, hunched over a laptop computer, he posted the question to the chat room. A dozen replies came back supporting the idea. “I was shocked,” Tierney recalls. “Here I was, just a nobody enthusiast asking a dumb question, and a bunch of NASA engineers are telling me I was absolutely right. They said they’d been pushing the same thing for years and that they’d been threatened with their jobs if they kept talking about it.”

It was crazy in 2006. Is it crazy now? DIRECT advocates the resurrection of the National Launch System (NLS). You can play their animation showing the transition from Shuttle Parts to Jupiter Parts.

The NLS proposed to use the shuttle External Tank (ET), the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) and the two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) as a cargo rocket with three times the capacity of the Shuttle itself, but was abandoned by Congress because the cost to operate two rocket systems was too high. Following the loss of Columbia, and the determination that the aging Shuttle fleet should be retired, NASA set about planning for the future. NASA engineers resurrected the NLS concept of reusing the existing Shuttle components, but were overruled by then Administrator Griffin. Instead, NASA was set on a course to develop two brand new rockets: Ares I and Ares V.

Now, Popular Mechanics may well have scooped the “regurgitation media”, the ghosts of investigative journalism of long past years, who now only copy each others rumors about bad news, hoping to sell advertising. On Friday, 29 January 2010, Popular Mechanics published “Rebel Engineers Sit With NASA to Chart Future of Manned Space“.

The sub-title is:

Moonlighting engineers get their say at a secret NASA meeting—and dish hints of what NASA’s future rockets might look like after the massive shake-up of manned spaceflight programs.

Popular Mechanics reports that NASA administrator Charles Bolden ordered NASA human spaceflight boss Bill Gerstenmaier and other NASA directors to meet with the DIRECT Team, which took place on 19 January 2010. This is confirmed by the meeting participants at the on going Forum conversation at NASASpaceFlight. The NASA participants are:

  • William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Space Operations
  • Douglas R. Cooke, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
  • Phil Sumrall, Exploration Launch Projects Advanced Planning Manager, MSFC
  • Geoff Yoder, Director, Constellation Systems Division, NASA HQ

That is a lot of firepower to be meeting with a group of people dismissed by the “regurgitation media” as “PowerPoint Rocketeers”.

Further, Popular Mechanics confirms much about what has been written recently about the coming changes here and here at NSS Phoenix. Finally, Chris Bergin just published “MAF provide positive ET hardware overview for early SD HLV test flight” at NASAspaceflight.com.

NASA press release concerning Monday’s press conference by Gen. Charles Bolden at 1:00 PM Phoenix time (3:00 PM EST) and the budget (which will be available at 10:30 AM Phoenix (12:30 PM EST).

NASA – The Rumor Mill

Following on the Tuesday meeting at NASA headquarters concerning revamping the governance structure, and Wednesday’s meeting between NASA administrator Charles Bolden and President Barack Obama, the rumor mill has been if full fury.

Wayne Hale offered this tweet: “Wondering if reports on Obama-Bolden meeting are accurate or just blather. No hard news has appeared.” To which Bob Jacobs, NASA’s deputy assistant administrator of Public Affairs responded: “Inaccurate. The meeting was informational, not decisional…”. Of course, that’s NASA’s spokesperson. Amy Klamper at Spacenews.com thinks “New Direction for NASA Could Wait Until February.”

Now comes Science magazine’s (AAAS) Insider report concerning the outcome of the meeting:

President Barack Obama will ask Congress next year to fund a new heavy-lift launcher to take humans to the moon, asteroids, and the moons of Mars, ScienceInsider has learned. The president chose the new direction for the U.S. human space flight program Wednesday at a White House meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, according to officials familiar with the discussion. NASA would receive an additional $1 billion in 2011 both to get the new launcher on track and to bolster the agency’s fleet of robotic Earth-monitoring spacecraft.

The major elements include:

  • Elimination of the Ares I rocket
  • Recommend Commercial development of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) launch capability for cargo and then crew.
  • Development of a smaller heavy lift rocket along the lines proposed by the old NLS (National Launch System) NASA investigated in the early 1990’s and revived by the Direct Team between 2005 and today.
  • Addition of $1 Billion to the Budget for NASA
  • European countries, Japan, and Canada would be asked to work on a lunar lander and modules for a moon base.
  • Focus on being able to perform a variety of missions including Near Earth Objects, Lagrange points, the Moon, the moons of Mars (Phobos and Deimos). See Option “5D”
  • Additional probes to the Moon, Mars and and the moons of Mars.

Immediate blow back is expected from Senator Richard Shelby, who has asked the Inspector General at NASA to investigate “corruption” within the Augustine Commission. Shelby stated that several Augustine panel members were registered lobbyists who took “direct advantage of their temporary roles on the Commission to further their personal business.” This has been interpreted as a shot across the bow in the fight over Ares I and the jobs it creates at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Shelby’s state of Alabama. Whose bow it was aimed at is in question, and it looks like an act of desperation.

However, as noted in our Wrap Up report on the Augustine Commission, time is of the essence with regard to jobs and the retention of skills associated with building the 8.4 meter External Tank used by the space shuttle and the proposed heavy launch vehicle derived from the shuttle. If the politicians resist the change that’s coming to NASA, they may lose everything.

Denials to the Science Insider article came immediately from NASA and the White House. NASA spokesman Morrie Goodman said the article was “speculation.” White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro echoed that characterization.