Sunday, July 5, 2015

Christmas in July: Russian Progress M-28M Cargo Craft Arrives at Space Station

Progress M-28M spacecraft approaching the ISS. Credit: NASA

Traveling about 251 miles over the south Pacific, southeast of New Zealand, the unpiloted Progress M-28M Russian cargo ship docked today at 3:11 a.m. EDT to the Pirs Docking Compartment of the International Space Station (ISS). "The operation was carried out in an automated mode," the Russian Mission Control said. The Progress cargo ship was successfully launched into the designated orbit just nine minutes after it was launched aboard a Soyuz-U carrier rocket that blasted off from the Baikonur space station in Kazakhstan at 07:56 Moscow time (04:56 GMT) on July 3.

New Horizons Spacecraft Suffers Glitch

Artist's rendering of New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The New Horizons spacecraft experienced an anomaly Saturday afternoon that led to a loss of communication with Earth. Communication has since been reestablished and the spacecraft is healthy. The mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, lost contact with the unmanned spacecraft -- now 10 days from arrival at Pluto -- at 1:54 p.m. EDT, and regained communications with New Horizons at 3:15 p.m. EDT, through NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Signing the Biggest Commercial Rocket Deal in History

Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb (left), Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO of Arianespace (center) and Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic (right) at the contract signing on June 25, 2015 in London. Photo Credit: Stéphane Israël/Twitter

OneWeb, a UK company building a new global satellite-based internet network has surprisingly become the driving force of future big commercial rocket launches that would boost space industry growth in many countries. Last week’s deal signed by OneWeb and aerospace giants will come down in history as the biggest commercial launch contract. The British company on June 25 inked a deal worth more than $1 billion for 65 launches to deliver its first 900 microsatellites each weighing up to 150 kg, into orbit. 21 launches will be performed by Arianespace using the Russian Soyuz rocket and 39 launches will be provided by Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne, all between 2017 and 2019. The agreement has an option for at least five additional Soyuz missions after 2020, and three Ariane 6 launches.

Counting Stars with Gaia

The outline of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, and of its neighbouring Magellanic Clouds, in an image based on housekeeping data from ESA’s Gaia satellite, indicating the total number of stars detected every second in each of the satellite's fields of view.  Brighter regions indicate higher concentrations of stars, while darker regions correspond to patches of the sky where fewer stars are observed. Credit: ESA/Gaia – CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

This image, based on housekeeping data from ESA’s Gaia satellite, is no ordinary depiction of the heavens. While the image portrays the outline of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, and of its neighboring Magellanic Clouds, it was obtained in a rather unusual way. As Gaia scans the sky to measure positions and velocities of a billion stars with unprecedented accuracy, for some stars it also determines their speed across the camera’s sensor. This information is used in real time by the attitude and orbit control system to ensure the satellite’s orientation is maintained with the desired precision.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Famous Exoplanet Hunter William Borucki Retires from NASA

William Borucki. Credit: NASA

William Borucki, a space scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and the principal investigator of the agency’s planet-hunting Kepler mission retired from NASA on July 3, after decades of successful career. His 53-year scientific lifework, marked with numerous discoveries and prestigious awards is best known for his persistent advocacy for an exoplanet searching satellite and then leading the Kepler mission to outstanding successes.

Pluto: The 'Other' Red Planet

What color is Pluto? The answer, revealed in the first maps made from New Horizons data, turns out to be shades of reddish brown. The mission’s first map of Pluto is in approximate true color – that is, the color you would see if you were riding on New Horizons. At left, a map of Pluto’s northern hemisphere composed using high-resolution black-and-white images from New Horizons LORRI instrument. At right is a map of Pluto’s colors created using data from the Ralph instrument. In the center is the combined map, produced by merging the LORRI and Ralph data. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

What color is Pluto? The answer, revealed in the first maps made from New Horizons data, turns out to be shades of reddish brown. Although this is reminiscent of Mars, the cause is almost certainly very different. On Mars the coloring agent is iron oxide, commonly known as rust. On the dwarf planet Pluto, the reddish color is likely caused by hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto's atmosphere and on its surface.

Russia Launches Progress M-28M Spacecraft with Supplies for the ISS

Roscosmos successfully launched the Progress M-28M spacecraft to the International Space Station on July 3, 2015. Photo Credit:

The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) successfully launched the Progress M-28M cargo craft on Friday, July 3, with approximately 2.4 metric tons (5,290 pounds) of food, fuel, and supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) crew. The spacecraft’s lift-off atop a Soyuz-U rocket took place at exactly 04:55:48 UTC (12:55:48 a.m. EDT), from Launch Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. After the launch, the four side-mounted boosters of Soyuz-U burned for one minute and 58 seconds, each consuming nearly 40 metric tons of propellants. The boosters separated from the rocket, falling back to Earth for a crash landing 216 miles (348 km) from the launch pad.