Wednesday, December 31, 2014

China Successfully Launches Meteorological Satellite Fengyun-II 08

The launch of Fengyun-II 08 satellite on Dec. 31, 2014. Credit: news.cn

China successfully launched Fengyun-II 08, its meteorological satellite, at 9:02 a.m. on Wednesday from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province. The satellite will collect meteorological, maritime and hydrological data; and transmit information that will be used for weather forecasting and environment monitoring. Both the Long March 3A rocket, which was used to propel the satellite into space, and the satellite were made by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dawn Spacecraft Enters Its Approach Phase Toward Ceres

This artist's concept shows NASA's Dawn spacecraft heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has entered an approach phase in which it will continue to close in on Ceres, a Texas-sized dwarf planet never before visited by a spacecraft. Dawn launched in 2007 and is scheduled to enter Ceres orbit in March 2015. Dawn recently emerged from solar conjunction, in which the spacecraft is on the opposite side of the sun, limiting communication with antennas on Earth. Now that Dawn can reliably communicate with Earth again, mission controllers have programmed the maneuvers necessary for the next stage of the rendezvous, which they label the Ceres approach phase. Dawn is currently 400,000 miles (640,000 kilometers) from Ceres, approaching it at around 450 miles per hour (725 kilometers per hour).

Monday, December 29, 2014

Arizona State University Students Design Martian Weather Forecasting Tool

SPARC logo. Credit: SDSL

Cold and windy with a chance of dust storms, that’s what a weather forecaster might say about Mars. But if we want our colonization plans of the Red Planet to be successful, a better understanding of Martian weather patterns is needed. A team of students of the Arizona State University (ASU) has developed a tool named Sensing Pressure and Atmospheric Research Console (SPARC), to make it possible, and they aim to put it on Mars to conduct a series of weather experiments. “If you want to go on vacation you always check the weather. Otherwise you would end up in Alaska with a Hawaiian shirt and shorts!” Brody Willard of the Sun Devil Satellite Lab (SDSL) at ASU told astrowatch.net. “With that in mind, we designed a payload that would not only record data about Mars atmosphere, but also records video of the Martian environment. That way we don’t just have both a visual and data component, but when looking over the data we can actually see the event that the data is telling us about.” The project is participating in the Mars One University Competition and if it wins, it will be send as a payload to Mars, onboard the Dutch company’s mission to the Red Planet.

ILS Successfully Launches Astra 2G Satellite

Astra 2G satellite launched onboard an ILS Proton at 3:37 a.m, Dec. 28, 2014. Credit: ILS

International Launch Services (ILS) successfully placed the Astra 2G satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) on Sunday for SES of Luxembourg - a satellite operator, providing satellite communications solutions to broadcast, telecom, corporate and government customers worldwide. The Astra 2G satellite launched onboard an ILS Proton rocket at 3:37 a.m. today local time, from Baikonur Cosmodrome (4:37 p.m. on December 27 EST, 21:37 GMT and 22:37 CET). This was the 8th Proton launch of the year and the 3rd ILS mission for 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

China Launches Yaogan Weixing-26 Satellite

A Long March-4B rocket carrying the Yaogan-26 remote sensing satellite blasts off from the launch pad at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province, Dec. 27, 2014. Credit: Xinhua/Yan Yan

China launched the Yaogan Weixing-26 remote sensing satellite into the preset orbit at 11:22 a.m. on Saturday Beijing Time from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China's Shanxi Province. Xinhua news agency reports that the satellite will mainly be used for scientific experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster prevention. As was the case in previous launches of the Yaogan Weixing series, Western analysts believe this class of satellites is used for military purposes.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Russia Successfully Launches Resurs-P Satellite

The Launch of Soyuz-2.1b rocket with Resurs-P2 satellite. Credit: Roscosmos

Russia’s satellite of remote sensing of the Earth Resurs-P number 2 has separated from the Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket and reached the designated orbit, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos told TASS on Friday. “The satellite separated from the carrier rocket at a scheduled time,” the spokesman said. The Soyuz-2.1b was launched from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan at 21:55 Moscow time. The satellite is designed for detailed, broadband and hyperspectral opto-electronic surveillance of the Earth surface. These data will be used by Russia’s ministry of natural resources, hydrometeorological service, emergencies ministry, ministry of agriculture, federal agency for fisheries and others. The satellite also has Nuklon equipment to explore outer space and register radiation.

China Deorbits FY-2C Satellite

Artist's view of the FY-2 satellite. Credit: eoportal.org

Chinese Xinhua News Agency reports that from December 10 to 13, FY-2C satellite has been successfully deorbited. FY-2C was the first operation application satellite of FY-2 satellites and the first geostationary meteorological satellite achieved continuous and stable operation in-orbit. It was launched in October 19, 2004 and stopped operation in November 25, 2009. After that, the satellite had been in backup status.

Russia Launches New Military Satellite into Orbit

Soyuz-2.1b launch with Lotos-S satellite on Dec. 25, 2014. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense

Russia’s Soyuz-2-1b rocket conducted its penultimate flight of the year on Thursday morning, successfully carrying the second Lotos-S reconnaissance satellite into orbit in a morning launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Liftoff was on schedule at 06:01 local time (03:01 UTC). According to the Russian Defence Ministry Spokesman Colonel Alexei Zolotukhin, the satellite was put in orbit at 06:16 a.m. local time. “Stable telemetric communications has been established and is maintained with the satellite. Its onboard systems are working normally,” he said.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

NASA's MESSENGER Mission Extended

Artist's rendition of MESSENGER spacecraft orbiting Mercury. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The MESSENGER spacecraft will soon run literally on fumes. After more than 10 years traveling in space, nearly four of those orbiting Mercury, the spacecraft has expended most of its propellant and was on course to impact the planet's surface at the end of March 2015. But engineers on the team have devised a way to use the pressurization gas in the spacecraft's propulsion system to propel MESSENGER for as long as another month, allowing scientists to collect even more data about the planet closest to the Sun.

Sea Launch May Move to Brazil

Credit: Sea Launch

Russia may cooperate with Brazil in the Sea Launch program, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Wednesday. “A quite remarkable dialogue at the level of experts is currently in progress; possibly, the idea may take shape within the BRICS group, or in our bilateral relations with Brazil, of carrying out such joint launches and furnishing assistance to Brazil in developing its space industry and making its own spacecraft,” Rogozin said, adding that Brazil already had its own space site close to the ocean that would fit in well with such tasks.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Keep Calm and Rove on: Oppy Struggles with Flash Memory Problems

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is continuing its traverse southward on the western rim of Endeavour Crater during the fall of 2014, stopping to investigate targets of scientific interest along way. Credit: JPL/NASA-Caltech

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover, also known as "Oppy", is continuing its traverse southward on the western rim of Endeavour Crater despite computer resets and "amnesia" that have occurred after reformatting the rover's flash memory. The problems have forced the controllers to switch the robot to a working mode that avoids use of the flash data-storage system. In the no-flash mode, the rover can continue normal operations of science observations and driving, though it cannot store data during the overnight sleep. The good news is, the restoring of the rover's flash memory will begin soon. “Testing of a work-around to mask the faulty bank of flash will begin shortly after the Christmas-New-Year break,” Guy Webster, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) spokesman told astrowatch.net.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Most Detailed Geologic Map of Mars: Q&A with the Map Author Dr. Chris Okubo

Sample of the USGS high-resolution geologic map of Mars. Credit: USGS

Earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released its highest-resolution geologic map of Mars. The new geologic and structural map uses the highest-resolution, orbiter-based images currently available for Mars – data from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) – to illuminate past geological processes in a portion of “Grand Canyon of Mars” - Valles Marineris. The area analyzed, called western Candor Chasma, is one of the largest canyons in the Valles Marineris canyon system. In an interview with astrowatch.net, USGS scientist and map author Dr. Chris Okubo, describes his latest creation and the importance of map-making for future Mars missions.

Hubble Sees the Beautiful Side of Galaxy IC 335

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the galaxy IC 335 in front of a backdrop of distant galaxies. Credit: ESA/Hubble/NASA

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the galaxy IC 335 in front of a backdrop of distant galaxies. IC 335 is part of a galaxy group containing three other galaxies, and located in the Fornax Galaxy Cluster 60 million light-years away. As seen in this image, the disc of IC 335 appears edge-on from the vantage point of Earth. This makes it harder for astronomers to classify it, as most of the characteristics of a galaxy’s morphology — the arms of a spiral or the bar across the centre — are only visible on its face. Still, the 45 000 light-year-long galaxy could be classified as an S0 type.

Tales from a Martian Rock

Robina Shaheen searches a globe of Mars for the likely origin of the Mars rock she and colleagues analyzed for traces left by the planet’s early climate. Credit: Susan Brown, UC San Diego.

A new analysis of a Martian rock that meteorite hunters plucked from an Antarctic ice field 30 years ago this month reveals a record of the planet's climate billions of years ago, back when water likely washed across its surface and any life that ever formed there might have emerged. Scientists from the University of California, San Diego, NASA and the Smithsonian Institution report detailed measurements of minerals within the meteorite in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. "Minerals within the meteorite hold a snapshot of the planet's ancient chemistry, of interactions between water and atmosphere," said Robina Shaheen, a project scientist at UC San Diego and the lead author of the report.

New Russian Heavy Rocket Angara-A5 Successfully Launches from Plesetsk

Angara-A5 rocket launches from Plesetsk cosmodrome on Dec. 23, 2014. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defence

Russia’s newest heavy launch vehicle, the environmentally friendly Angara-A5 has taken off from the Plesetsk Space Complex in the country’s northwest at 8:57 a.m. Moscow time. Twelve minutes after the liftoff, the orbital unit separated from the third stage, the press service said. The Breeze-M upper stage of the rocket has brought a dummy satellite with a test payload into medium earth orbit - over 35,000 kilometers from the Equator. The success was reported by Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to President Vladimir Putin, who was monitoring the launch form Moscow via a video link and thanked those involved in the project. "Indeed, this is a great and very important event for our rocket-and-space sphere, and for Russia in general,” Putin said. Launching right into geostationary orbit has never been practiced before by any heavy booster prototype – usually trials are performed to a low orbit with altitudes of up to 2,000km before moving on to higher altitudes.

Russian Scientists ‘Map’ Water Vapour in Martian Atmosphere

Credit: mipt.ru

Russian scientists from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), together with their French and American colleagues, have created a “map” of the distribution of water vapour in Mars’ atmosphere. Their research includes observations of seasonal variations in atmospheric concentrations using data collected over ten years by the Russian-French SPICAM spectrometer aboard the Mars Express orbiter. This is the longest period of observation and provides the largest volume of data about water vapour on Mars. The first SPICAM (Spectroscopy for Investigation of Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Mars) instrument was built for the Russian Martian orbiter Mars 96, which was lost due to an accident in the rocket launcher.

Meet KKs3, Our Galaxy's New Neighbour

A negative image of KKs 3, made using the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope. The core of the galaxy is the right hand dark object at the centre of the image, with its stars spreading out over a large section around it. (The left hand of the two dark objects is a much nearer globular star cluster.) Credit: D. Makarov

The Milky Way, the galaxy we live in, is part of a cluster of more than 50 galaxies that make up the ‘Local Group’, a collection that includes the famous Andromeda galaxy and many other far smaller objects. Now a Russian-American team have added to the canon, finding a tiny and isolated dwarf galaxy almost 7 million light years away. Their results appear in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The team, led by Prof Igor Karachentsev of the Special Astrophysical Observatory in Karachai-Cherkessia, Russia, found the new galaxy, named KKs3, using the Hubble Space Telescope Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) in August 2014. Kks3 is located in the southern sky in the direction of the constellation of Hydrus and its stars have only one ten-thousandth of the mass of the Milky Way.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Rosetta Instrument Will Make Invaluable Discoveries, Says ESA Scientist Matt Taylor

ESA’s Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor speaks to the media about the Rosetta comet landing. Credit: ESA/liverpoolecho.co.uk

On Dec. 10, ESA announced the latest important discovery regarding comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Rosetta spacecraft orbiting the comet has found the water vapor from its target to be significantly different to that found on Earth. The discovery made by Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) fuels the debate on the origin of our planet’s oceans. That’s not all, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist, Matt Taylor, believes that ROSINA will make more key findings for our understanding of the origin of life. “ROSINA is continuing to take measurements and will for the rest of the mission,” Taylor told astrowatch.net. “It is making and will make invaluable detections of the composition of the comets atmosphere, as well as monitoring its density.”

Sun Shines in High-Energy X-rays

X-rays stream off the sun in this image showing observations from by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, overlaid on a picture taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC

X-rays stream off the sun in this image showing observations from by NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, overlaid on a picture taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). This is the first picture of the sun taken by NuSTAR. The field of view covers the west limb of the sun. "NuSTAR will give us a unique look at the sun, from the deepest to the highest parts of its atmosphere," said David Smith, a solar physicist and member of the NuSTAR team at University of California, Santa Cruz.

German Students Aim to Put Cyanobacteria on Mars to Generate Oxygen

Press team and Cyano Knights: Rob P. Schröder (left), Christian Mende (center) and Rob Emm (right)

Mars is a very harsh and hostile environment for future human explorers and like any other known planet it has no breathable air. That could change someday, and it may be soon enough for our generation to witness it, as the student team from Germany has a bold vision to make a first step to terraform the Red Planet, turning it more Earth-like. The plan is to send cyanobacteria to Mars to generate oxygen out of carbon dioxide which is the main component of Martian atmosphere (nearly 96%). “Cyanobacteria do live in conditions on Earth where no life would be expected. You find them everywhere on our planet!” team leader Robert P. Schröder told astrowatch.net. “It is the first step on Mars to test microorganisms.” The project is participating in the Mars One University Competition and if it wins, it will be send as a payload to Mars, onboard the Dutch company’s mission to the Red Planet. Now everyone can vote to help make it happen by visiting the CyanoKnights.bio webpage.

ESA Starts New Era of Experiments on Parabolic Flights

The new Airbus A310 and the retiring A300 together on the apron at Bordeaux airport. Credit: Novespace

After 17 years of loyal service, the European workhorse for microgravity research in parabolic flights, the Airbus A300 ‘Zero-G’ operated by Novespace of France, is retiring this year. Its successor, the Airbus A310 ‘Zero-G’, is already being prepared for the first campaign in April 2015. ESA has organised parabolic flights since 1984 and flown experiments on six different aircraft in over 60 campaigns. The A300 aircraft was used from 1997 for over half of ESA’s microgravity campaigns. It was also used for two collaborations offering reduced-gravity flights with French space agency CNES and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and seven ESA student campaigns.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Challenges for Orion and SLS: An Interview with Government Accountability Office Director Cristina Chaplain

GAO director Christina Chaplain testifying before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Dec. 10, 2014. Credit: C-SPAN

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress, which exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve the performance and accountability of the federal government. On Dec. 10 the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing on the progress of the nation’s next generation deep space exploration vehicle and heavy lift rocket. GAO Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management Christina Chaplain testified on the progress of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion crew vehicle, which are being developed for deep space human missions that will take astronauts to the Moon and Mars. In an interview with astrowatch.net Chaplain discusses challenges that NASA's human space exploration programs have to face in order to successfully send U.S. astronauts beyond Earth.

Eta Carinae Is Gonna Blow

Eta Carinae. Credit: NASA/CXC/GSFC/K.Hamaguchi, et al.

Eta Carinae is about 7,500 light years away, and its going to explode any time now. Mind you, “any time now” means sometime over the next ten to twenty thousand years or so. But recently the star been in the news again as an existential threat to our planet. It must be that time of year again. Just to be perfectly clear, Eta Carinae is not a danger to Earth. Even if the star exploded as a hypernova it would simply outshine the Moon for a while. It might disrupt the sleeping and hunting habits of some terrestrial critters for a while, but it won’t mean the end of life on our planet.

Members of Russian Parliament Propose to Merge Roscosmos with United Rocket Space Corporation

Credit: ITAR-TASS/Marina Lysceva

Members of the State Duma, lower house of Russia’s parliament have proposed to unify the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) with the United Rocket and Space Corporation (URCS), first deputy head of the house committee for industry Vladimir Gutenev told reporters on Friday. “The recent reform of Roscosmos with the division of functions of the customer and contractor, unfortunately, has not considerably improved the sector’s efficiency,” Gutenev said. According to him, serious shortcomings in the construction of the Vostochny (Eastern) spaceport in the Russian Far East that may disrupt the schedule of the state programme implementation, revealed by the Accounts Chamber inspections, are a typical example of this.

Active Sun Unleashes Significant Solar Flares

Image of the Sun on Dec. 20, 2014. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

The sun unleashed a massive solar flare on Dec. 19 (Dec. 20 UTC) that erupted from a sunspot region classified as Active Region 2242. Earlier in the week, another active sunspot region called AR 2241 fired off two intense M-class flares, on Dec. 16 registering as an M8.7-class, and the other on Dec. 18, an M6.9 solar flare. The latest solar flare was registered as an X1.8-class event, one of the most powerful types of flares possible. A pulse of X-rays and UV radiation from the flare reached Earth minutes after the explosion. This "solar EMP" ionized our planet's upper atmosphere and blacked out HF radio communications over Australia and the South Pacific. Below 10 MHz, transmissions were strongly attenuated for more than two hours.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

ESA's X-ray Spacecraft Spots Monster Black Hole Hidden in Tiny Galaxy

This image depicts the X-ray emission from dwarf galaxy J1329+3234 (centre in this image), and from a background AGN (lower right), measured by XMM-Newton in June 2013. The white bar indicates a width of 10 arcseconds, equivalent to 3.3 kpc at the distance of this galaxy. Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/N. Secrest, et al. (2015)

The galaxy, an irregular dwarf named J1329+3234, is one of the smallest galaxies yet to contain evidence of a massive black hole. Located over 200 million light-years away, the galaxy is similar in size to the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of our nearest neighbouring galaxies, and contains a few hundred million stars. In 2013, an international team of astronomers was intrigued to discover infrared signatures of an accreting black hole within J1329+3234 when they studied it with the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The same team has now investigated the galaxy further, using ESA's XMM-Newton to hunt for this black hole in X-rays – and found something very surprising. "The X-ray emission from J1329+3234 is over 100 times stronger than expected for this galaxy," says Nathan Secrest of George Mason University in Virginia, lead author of the new study published in The Astrophysical Journal. "We would typically expect to find low-level X-ray emission from stellar-mass black holes within the galaxy, but what we found instead was emission consistent with a very massive black hole."

SpaceX Conducts Static Fire Test and Completes First Milestone for CCtCap

SpaceX conducts static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX on Friday completed a successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket in advance of the CRS-5 mission for NASA. The test was conducted at SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and ran for the full planned duration. Meanwhile, NASA has approved the completion of SpaceX’s first milestone in the company’s path toward launching crews to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil under a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the agency. During the Certification Baseline Review, SpaceX described its current design baseline including how the company plans to manufacture its Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket, then launch, fly, land and recover the crew. The company also outlined how it will achieve NASA certification of its system to enable transport of crews to and from the space station.

Orion Spacecraft Returns Home

NASA's Orion spacecraft is viewed by members of the media at the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion made the 8-day, 2,700 mile overland trip back to Kennedy from Naval Base San Diego in California. Analysis of date obtained during its two-orbit, four-and-a-half hour mission Dec. 5 will provide engineers detailed information on how the spacecraft fared. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program led the recovery, offload and transportation efforts. Image Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

After traveling more than 3,600 miles above Earth and 600 miles over sea, NASA’s Orion spacecraft completed the final leg of its 2,700 mile journey by land from Naval Base San Diego, arriving home Thursday at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The NASA Ground Systems Development and Operations team transported the Lockheed Martin built spacecraft across the country by truck, and the entire trip took eight days. “Despite travelling a bit slower than what we’re used to, Orion made pretty good time,” said Michael Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager. “Most of the team hasn’t had eyes on the spacecraft since November, when we rolled to the launch pad, so we’re excited to take a look.” The spacecraft’s cross-country return sets the stage for in-depth analysis of data obtained during Orion’s trip to space and will provide engineers detailed information on how the spacecraft fared during its two-orbit, 4.5-hour flight test, completed on Dec. 5.

Spitzer Telescope Sees Horsehead Nebula in a Different Color

The famous Horsehead nebula of visible-light images (inset) looks quite different when viewed in infrared light, as seen in this newly released image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESO

Sometimes a horse of a different color hardly seems to be a horse at all, as, for example, in this newly released image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The famous Horsehead nebula makes a ghostly appearance on the far right side of the image, but is almost unrecognizable in this infrared view. In visible-light images, the nebula has a distinctively dark and dusty horse-shaped silhouette, but when viewed in infrared light, dust becomes transparent and the nebula appears as a wispy arc. The Horsehead is only one small feature in the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, dominated in the center of this view by the brilliant Flame nebula (NGC 2024). The smaller, glowing cavity falling between the Flame nebula and the Horsehead is called NGC 2023. These regions are about 1,200 light-years away.

Russian Strela Rocket Launches Kondor-E Satellite for South Africa

Russia’s Strela carrier rocket blasts off at 04:43 UTC on Dec. 19, 2014 from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with a Kondor-E radar imaging satellite. Credit: Roscosmos

Russian Strela carrier rocket blasted off at 04:43 UTC on Friday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with a Kondor-E radar imaging satellite for South Africa. The launch initially was to take place on December 18, but was postponed for technical reasons. The Strela launch vehicle is a Russian orbital launch system capable of lifting light and medium payloads to low Earth orbits. Kondor is a series of small civilian radar Earth observation satellites developed by NPO Mashinostroyeniya rocket design bureau for the Russian Defense Ministry and foreign customers.

Mars Express Mission Extended Until the End of 2018

Artist’s impression of Mars Express set against a 35 km-wide crater in the Vastitas Borealis region of Mars at approximately 70.5°N / 103°E. The crater contains a permanent patch of water-ice that likely sits upon a dune field – some of the dunes are exposed towards the top left in this image. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin-G.Neukum

It follows an elliptical orbit around Mars, undisturbed, almost lonely – the orbiter Mars Express. For 11 years now – to be precise since Christmas Eve 2003 – the first and, for some time now, European Space Agency (ESA) longest-serving interplanetary mission has been travelling around our planetary neighbour. ESA recently extended the mission by two years, until 2018. Over 90 percent of the Martian surface has been recorded since 2004 – roughly two thirds in the highest possible resolution.

XCOR Announces Further Progress on its Lynx Spacecraft

The XCOR Lynx under construction at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, CA. Credit: Mike Massee / XCOR

The XCOR Lynx suborbital spacecraft continues to make rapid progress towards final assembly. Immediately after bonding the cockpit to the fuselage the shop crews set up for the delicate and precise operation of bonding the carry-through spar on to the rear end of the Lynx fuselage. “The carry-through spar is the heart of the loading structure on any winged craft – it supports the primary load of the wings and carries that load through the fuselage,” says XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. “Attaching the spar on a composite vehicle is a one-way operation, so it has to be done right the first time. We’re really excited to have achieved this step. It paves the way for the strakes to be attached as the next step. Thanks to the hard work of the composites crew, we’re proceeding at a very rapid pace toward first flight.”

Scientists Find Meteoritic Evidence of Mars Water Reservoir

This illustration depicts Martian water reservoirs. Recent research provides evidence for the existence of a third reservoir that is intermediate in isotopic composition between the Red Planet’s mantle and its current atmosphere. These results support the hypothesis that a buried cryosphere accounts for a large part of the initial water budget of Mars. Image Credit: NASA

NASA and an international team of planetary scientists have found evidence in meteorites on Earth that indicates Mars has a distinct and global reservoir of water or ice near its surface. Though controversy still surrounds the origin, abundance and history of water on Mars, this discovery helps resolve the question of where the “missing Martian water” may have gone. Scientists continue to study the planet’s historical record, trying to understand the apparent shift from an early wet and warm climate to today’s dry and cool surface conditions. The reservoir’s existence also may be a key to understanding climate history and the potential for life on Mars. The team’s findings are reported in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Kepler Proves It Can Still Find Planets

This artist's conception portrays the first planet discovered by the Kepler spacecraft during its K2 mission. A transit of the planet was teased out of K2's noisier data using ingenious computer algorithms developed by a CfA researcher. The newfound planet, HIP 116454b, has a diameter of 20,000 miles (two and a half times the size of Earth) and weighs 12 times as much. It orbits its star once every 9.1 days. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

The report of the Kepler spacecraft's death was greatly exaggerated. Despite a malfunction that ended its primary mission in May 2013, Kepler is still alive and working. The evidence comes from the discovery of a new super-Earth using data collected during Kepler's "second life." The discovery was made when astronomers and engineers devised an ingenious way to repurpose Kepler for the K2 mission and continue its search of the cosmos for other worlds. "Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries. Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies," says lead author Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Friday, December 19, 2014

Origin of Long-standing Space Mystery Revealed

The ESA/NASA Cluster and NASA's IMAGE missions were in a position around Earth on Sep. 15, 2005, to determine how solar material in the magnetic environment in near-Earth space creates a special kind of high-latitude aurora called a theta aurora. Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/LASCO/EIT

Auroras are the most visible manifestation of the Sun’s effect on Earth, but many aspects of these spectacular displays are still poorly understood. Thanks to ESA’s Cluster and NASA’s IMAGE satellites working together, a particular type of very high-latitude aurora has now been explained. Known as a theta aurora -- because seen from above it looks like the Greek letter theta, an oval with a line crossing through the center -- this type of aurora sometimes occurs closer to the poles than normal aurora. While the genesis of the auroral oval emissions is reasonably well understood, the origin of the theta aurora was unclear until now. A paper in the Dec. 19, 2014, issue of Science shows that hot plasma funneled into near-Earth space from the sun helps cause these unique aurora. “Previously it was unclear whether this hot plasma was a result of direct solar wind entry through the lobes of the magnetosphere, or if the plasma is somehow related to the plasma sheet on the night side of Earth," said Robert Fear of the University of Southampton in the UK, and the lead author of the Science paper. “One idea is that the process of magnetic reconnection on the night side of Earth causes a build-up of ‘trapped’ hot plasma in the higher latitude lobes.”

Soyuz Rocket Orbits Four Communication Satellites for O3b Networks

Arianespace’s workhorse Soyuz is shown lifting off from the Spaceport’s ELS launch facility during the daytime launch with four more connectivity satellites for O3b Networks. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace

Arianespace has orbited four new satellites in the O3b constellation. A Soyuz ST-B rocket, carrying four European communication satellites satellites on board, took off from the Kourou space center in French Guiana on Thursday at 3:37 pm local time and all four satellites were put into orbit. The 2-hr., 22-min. flight began with the propulsion of Soyuz’ basic three-stage launch vehicle, and was followed by multiple burns of its Fregat upper stage. O3b Networks’ four satellites were released in two phases from a dispenser system atop the Fregat stage. “We are so excited to be able to bring such a significant increase in capacity and capability just a few short months after our last launch," said O3b CEO, Steve Collar. "Our new satellites will allow our customers to connect digitally disadvantaged populations, enabling online education, e-commerce, telemedicine and cloud based services, to transform businesses, communities and lives."

Chandra Weighs Most Massive Galaxy Cluster in Distant Universe

A Chandra composite image shows the distant and massive galaxy cluster that is officially known as XDCP J0044.0-2033. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/INAF/P.Tozzi, et al; Optical: NAOJ/Subaru and ESO/VLT; Infrared: ESA/Herschel

Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have made the first determination of the mass and other properties of a very young, distant galaxy cluster. The Chandra study shows that the galaxy cluster, seen at the comparatively young age of about 800 million years, is the most massive known cluster with that age or younger. As the largest gravitationally- bound structures known, galaxy clusters can act as crucial gauges for how the Universe itself has evolved over time. The galaxy cluster was originally discovered using ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory and is located about 9.6 billion light years from Earth. Astronomers used X-ray data from Chandra that, when combined with scientific models, provides an accurate weight of the cluster, which comes in at a whopping 400 trillion times the mass of the Sun. Scientists believe the cluster formed about 3.3 billion years after the Big Bang.

SpaceX Resupply Mission to Space Station Slips to January

Testing operation of hypersonic grid fins on Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Elon Musk/Twitter

NASA and SpaceX announced Thursday the launch of SpaceX's fifth commercial resupply services mission (CRS-5) to the International Space Station now will occur no earlier than Tuesday, Jan. 6. The new launch date will provide SpaceX engineers time to investigate further issues that arose from a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 16 and will avoid beta angle constraints for berthing the Dragon cargo ship to the station that exist through the end of the year. A beta angle is the position of the sun relative to mechanical structures on the space station. During the time of high beta angles, which run from Dec. 28 through Jan. 7, thermal and operational constraints prohibit Dragon from berthing to the station.

NASA Delays Asteroid Redirect Mission Concept Selection

This concept image shows an astronaut preparing to take samples from the captured asteroid after it has been relocated to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. Hundreds of rings are affixed to the asteroid capture bag, helping the astronaut carefully navigate the surface. Credit: NASA

NASA's efforts to capture a near-Earth asteroid and tow it back to the lunar orbit will have to wait a little bit longer for a final mission concept. In a teleconference Wednesday, Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot told reporters he needed more information before he could select one of two options NASA is considering for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The decision is now expected to be made early next year, with a Mission Concept Review, or MCR, scheduled for late February. "While I expected to make a decision today, we really got to the point where I needed to get some more clarification on some areas," Lightfoot said, confirming he met with two teams yesterday to discuss competing ARM concepts. "I've talked to the administrator (Charles Bolden) about it, and he agrees on the areas we need to go look into a little bit, and get a little more detail."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

India Successfully Launches its Heaviest Rocket GSLV Mark-III, Tests Crew Module

GSLV Mk-III lift off on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: ISRO

The first experimental flight of India's next generation launch vehicle GSLV Mk-III was successfully conducted today from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Also known as LVM3-X/CARE, this suborbital experimental mission was intended to test the vehicle performance during the critical atmospheric phase of its flight and thus carried a passive (non-functional) cryogenic upper stage. The mission began with the launch of GSLV Mk-III at 9:30 am IST from the Second Launch Pad as scheduled and about five and a half minutes later, carried its payload - the 3775 kg Crew Module Atmospheric Re-entry Experiment (CARE) - to the intended height of 126 km. Following this, CARE separated from the upper stage of GSLV Mk-III and re-entered the atmosphere and safely landed over Bay of Bengal with the help of its parachutes about 20 minutes 43 seconds after lift-off. “This new launch vehicle performed very well and was a great success. We had an unmanned crew module to understand re-entry characteristics. That went off successfully and the crew module splashed as expected in the Bay of Bengal,” said Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K. Radhakrishnan from the mission control centre.

Signs of Europa Plumes Remain Elusive in Search of Cassini Data

Jupiter's icy moon Europa displays many signs of activity, including its fractured crust and a dearth of impact craters. Scientists continue to hunt for confirmation of plume activity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

A fresh look at data collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its 2001 flyby of Jupiter shows that Europa’s tenuous atmosphere is even thinner than previously thought and also suggests that the thin, hot gas around the moon does not show evidence of plume activity occurring at the time of the flyby. The new research provides a snapshot of Europa's state of activity at that time, and suggests that if there is plume activity, it is likely intermittent. The Europa results are being presented today at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco and published in the Astrophysical Journal. Europa is considered one of the most exciting destinations in the solar system for future exploration because it shows strong indications of having an ocean beneath its icy crust.

Johann-Dietrich Woerner Appointed as the Next Director General of ESA

Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Chairman of the DLR German Aerospace Center, during the event to mark the arrival of the Rosetta spacecraft at comet 67P. Held at the European Operations Space Centre in Darmstadt, Germany on 6 August 2014. Credit: ESA/S.Bierwald - CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The Council of the European Space Agency (ESA) announced Thursday the appointment of Johann-Dietrich Woerner as the next Director General of ESA, for a period of four years starting on 1 July 2015. He will succeed Jean-Jacques Dordain, whose term of office ends on 30 June 2015. Woerner is currently Chairman of the Executive Board of DLR, the German Aerospace Center since March 2007.

'Perfect Storm' Quenching Star Formation Around a Supermassive Black Hole

Artist impression of the central region of NGC 1266. The jets from the central black hole are creating turbulence in the surrounding molecular gas, suppressing star formation in an otherwise ideal environment to form new stars. Credit: B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

High-energy jets powered by supermassive black holes can blast away a galaxy’s star-forming fuel, resulting in so-called "red and dead" galaxies: those brimming with ancient red stars yet containing little or no hydrogen gas to create new ones. Now astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have discovered that black holes don’t have to be nearly so powerful to shut down star formation. By observing the dust and gas at the center of NGC 1266, a nearby lenticular galaxy with a relatively modest central black hole, the astronomers have detected a “perfect storm” of turbulence that is squelching star formation in a region that would otherwise be an ideal star factory. This turbulence is stirred up by jets from the galaxy’s central black hole slamming into an incredibly dense envelope of gas. This dense region, which may be the result of a recent merger with another smaller galaxy, blocks nearly 98 percent of material propelled by the jets from escaping the galactic center.

Second Woman Joins Team of Russian Cosmonauts

Anna Kikina during the spacecraft water landing training in July 2013. Credit: gctc.ru

A second woman has joined the active-duty corps of Russian cosmonauts. Her name is Anna Kikina, the press-service of the Russian space agency Roscosmos said on Wednesday. “Upon completion of the general space training program and after a state certification test a panel of examiners made a decision to award the qualification ‘test cosmonaut’ to applicant Anna Kikina,” the Roscosmos press-service said. Now she is to take special and advanced training — a mandatory procedure all 'test cosmonauts' undergo before being assigned to a crew.

Stars Within Middle-Aged Clusters Are of Similar Age

NGC 1615, a middle-age star cluster located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, contains stars that are of a more uniform age than previously believed. (Image: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope/Fabian RRRR)

A close look at the night sky reveals that stars don’t like to be alone; instead, they congregate in clusters, in some cases containing as many as several million stars. Until recently, the oldest of these populous star clusters were considered well understood, with the stars in a single group having formed at different times, over periods of more than 300 million years. Yet new research published online Wednesday in the journal Nature suggests that the star formation in these clusters is more complex. Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, a team of researchers at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics (KIAA) at Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Science’s National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing have found that, in large middle-aged clusters at least, all stars appear to be of about the same age.

Life on an Aquaplanet

Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT

Nearly 2,000 planets beyond our solar system have been identified to date. Whether any of these exoplanets are hospitable to life depends on a number of criteria. Among these, scientists have thought, is a planet’s obliquity — the angle of its axis relative to its orbit around a star. Earth, for instance, has a relatively low obliquity, rotating around an axis that is nearly perpendicular to the plane of its orbit around the sun. Scientists suspect, however, that exoplanets may exhibit a host of obliquities, resembling anything from a vertical spinning top to a horizontal rotisserie. The more extreme the tilt, the less habitable a planet may be — or so the thinking has gone. Now scientists at MIT have found that even a high-obliquity planet, with a nearly horizontal axis, could potentially support life, so long as the planet were completely covered by an ocean. In fact, even a shallow ocean, about 50 meters deep, would be enough to keep such a planet at relatively comfortable temperatures, averaging around 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ESA's Rosetta Spacecraft to Swoop Down on Comet in February

This four-image mosaic comprises images taken from a distance of 19.4 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 14 December. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The European Space Agency’s orbiting Rosetta spacecraft is expected to come within four miles (six kilometers) of the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in February of next year. The flyby will be the closest the comet explorer will come during its prime mission. “It is the earliest we could carry it out without impacting the vitally important bound orbits that are currently being flown,” said Matt Taylor, the Rosetta project scientist from the European Space Research and Technology Center, Noordwijk, the Netherlands. “As the comet becomes more and more active, it will not be possible to get so close to the comet. So this opportunity is very unique.”

Orbital to Get 60 Russian Engines in $1 Bln Contract

Roll out of the Antares rocket to the launch pad on Wallops Island, VA. Credit: Orbital

Russian design bureau Energomash has signed a contract with the Orbital Sciences Corporation for the delivery of 60 RD-181 rocket engines to be used to power the Antares rocket's first stage, Russia's Izvestiya newspaper reported Wednesday. "We have committed to deliver a total of 60 engines. Currently, there is a firm contract for 20 engines which we have begun moving forward with, since the first two machines are to be delivered next June," a source from Roscosmos, Russia's Federal Space Agency, told the newspaper. In addition, two options of 20 rockets each were signed in the $1 billion deal between NPO Energomash and Orbital Sciences, according to the source.

James Webb Space Telescope Facing Increased Schedule Risk with Significant Work Remaining, Report Says

Inside NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center's giant clean room in Greenbelt, Md., JWST Optical Engineer Larkin Carey examines two test mirror segments recently placed on a black composite structure. This black composite structure is called the James Webb Space Telescope's “Pathfinder” and acts as a spine supporting the telescope's primary mirror segments. The Pathfinder is a non-flight prototype. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

With just under 4 years until its planned launch in October 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project reports it remains on schedule and budget. However, technical challenges with JWST elements and major subsystems, have diminished the project's overall schedule reserve and increased risk, says a new report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). "During the past year, delays have occurred on every element and major subsystem schedule—especially with the cryocooler—leaving all at risk of negatively impacting the overall project schedule reserve if further delays occur," GAO notices. JWST is one of NASA's most complex and expensive projects, at an anticipated cost of $8.8 billion. With significant integration and testing planned until the launch date, the JWST project will need to address many challenges before NASA can conduct the science the telescope is intended to produce.

Google Lunar XPrize Deadline Extended to 2016

Credit: lunar.xprize.org

International teams racing to land the first private spacecraft on the Moon to snatch the $30m Google Lunar XPRIZE will be given an extra year to finish their projects, as the XPRIZE foundation announced that the deadline has been officially extended until December 31, 2016. As part of this revised timeline, at least one team must provide documentation of a scheduled launch by December 31, 2015 for all teams to move forward in the competition. “We continue to see significant progress from our Google Lunar XPRIZE teams, most recently demonstrated in the pursuit of the Milestone Prizes, in which teams exhibited substantial technological achievements that will ultimately support their missions,” said Robert K. Weiss, vice chairman and president, XPRIZE. “We know the mission we are asking teams to accomplish is extremely difficult and unprecedented, not only from a technological standpoint, but also in terms of the financial considerations. It is for this reason that we have decided to extend the competition timeline. We firmly believe that a whole new economy around low-cost access to the Moon will be the result of the Google Lunar XPRIZE.”

SpaceX to Launch NASA's Next-generation Exoplanet Hunter

Artist's rendering of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Credit: NASA

NASA has selected SpaceX to provide launch services for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. TESS will launch aboard a Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle, with liftoff targeted for August 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The total cost for NASA to launch TESS is approximately $87 million, which includes the launch service, spacecraft processing, payload integration, tracking, data and telemetry, and other launch support requirements.

ESO Telescope Sees the Hot Blue Stars of Messier 47

This spectacular image of the star cluster Messier 47 was taken using the Wide Field Imager camera, installed on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This young open cluster is dominated by a sprinkling of brilliant blue stars but also contains a few contrasting red giant stars. Credit: ESO

This spectacular image of the star cluster Messier 47 was taken using the Wide Field Imager camera, installed on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This young open cluster is dominated by a sprinkling of brilliant blue stars but also contains a few contrasting red giant stars. Messier 47 is located approximately 1600 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Puppis (the poop deck of the mythological ship Argo). It was first noticed some time before 1654 by Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Hodierna and was later independently discovered by Charles Messier himself, who apparently had no knowledge of Hodierna’s earlier observation. Although it is bright and easy to see, Messier 47 is one of the least densely populated open clusters. Only around 50 stars are visible in a region about 12 light-years across, compared to other similar objects which can contain thousands of stars.

ESA's Venus Express Goes Gently into the Night

Visualisation of Venus Express during the aerobraking manoeuvre. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau

ESA’s Venus Express has ended its eight-year mission after far exceeding its planned life. The spacecraft exhausted its propellant during a series of thruster burns to raise its orbit following the low-altitude aerobraking earlier this year. Since its arrival at Venus in 2006, Venus Express had been on an elliptical 24‑hour orbit, traveling 66 000 km above the south pole at its furthest point and to within 200 km over the north pole on its closest approach, conducting a detailed study of the planet and its atmosphere. However, after eight years in orbit and with propellant for its propulsion system running low, Venus Express was tasked in mid-2014 with a daring aerobraking campaign, during which it dipped progressively lower into the atmosphere on its closest approaches to the planet. “The available information provides evidence of the spacecraft losing attitude control most likely due to thrust problems during the raising manoeuvres,” says Patrick Martin, ESA’s Venus Express mission manager. “It seems likely, therefore, that Venus Express exhausted its remaining propellant about half way through the planned manoeuvres last month.”

Comet Siding Spring Passes Through K2's Field-of-View

Comet Siding Spring passes through K2's Field-of-View. Image credit: NASA Ames/W Stenzel; SETI Institute/D Caldwell

On Oct. 20, the Kepler spacecraft joined the fleet of NASA science assets that observed distant Oort Cloud native Comet Siding Spring as it passed through K2's Campaign 2 field-of-view on its long journey around the sun. The data collected by K2 will add to the study of the comet, giving scientists an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the materials, including water and carbon compounds, that existed during the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. Taken by the Kepler spacecraft operating as the K2 mission, the full-frame image (left) is of the K2 Campaign 2 field-of-view. The image contains bright stars of the constellation Scorpius, with Antares just on the left edge of module-12 in the middle row second from the left. The globular clusters M4 and NGC 6144 can also be seen on module-12 along with the nebulosity of the well-studied rho-Ophiuchus star-forming region. In the upper right of module-2, the first visible module from the left in the top row, Comet Siding Springs can be seen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Curiosity Rover Finds Active, Ancient Organic Matter on Mars

This image illustrates possible ways methane might be added to Mars' atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur on modern Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAM-GSFC/Univ. of Michigan

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill. "This temporary increase in methane -- sharply up and then back down -- tells us there must be some relatively localized source," said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. "There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock." Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level. Curiosity also detected different Martian organic chemicals in powder drilled from a rock dubbed Cumberland, the first definitive detection of organics in surface materials of Mars. These Martian organics could either have formed on Mars or been delivered to Mars by meteorites. "We think life began on Earth around 3.8 billion years ago, and our result shows that places on Mars had the same conditions at that time – liquid water, a warm environment, and organic matter," said Caroline Freissinet of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "So if life emerged on Earth in these conditions, why not on Mars as well?"

Lockheed Martin and Boeing to Explore Deep Space Together with Russia

Delta IV launch with Orion spacecraft on Dec. 5, 2014. Credit: NASA

Russian Space Corporation Energiya and Lockheed Martin plan adapting the newest US manned spaceship Orion for dockings with Russian spaceships, Vladimir Solntsev, the president of the corporation said in an interview published by Izvestia daily. “The space ships should be adapted to one another and common sense prompts us we should be able to dock them,” he believes. “It’s important to know how to lend shoulder to each other because any kind of situations may emerge. And the Orion should also have capability to dock with other ships as it performs deep-space missions,” Solntsev said.

Virgin Galactic Appoints Richard DalBello as Vice President of Business Development and Government Affairs

Richard DalBello testifying at the congressional hearing on space debris and asteroid threats on Mar. 20, 2013. Credit: C-SPAN

Virgin Galactic on Monday announced the appointment of Richard DalBello as Vice President of Business Development and Government Affairs. In this role, DalBello will be responsible for managing business development focusing on LauncherOne, the company’s dedicated orbital launch vehicle for small satellites. He will be also responsible for managing the company’s interactions with the US government. “Richard has extensive experience in the commercial space and satellite industry, as well as in the development of government programs and policy,” said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. “We look forward to his contributions within our senior executive team as we pursue our goal to democratize space.” DalBello will start at Virgin Galactic on Jan. 12.

Scientists Find New Evidence for Life on Mars

SEM images of the organic carbon in Tissint. (a-b) Dark organic carbon fills all of the fractures and cleavages in olivine (Ol); (c-e) organic matter inclusions in a shock-melt vein. Credit: igg.cas.cn

Scientists have found new evidence for possible life on the Red Planet in a piece of Martian meteorite that landed on Earth after about 700,000 years of space travel. According to research carried out by teams of Chinese, German, Swiss, and Japanese scientists, more than 10 pieces of coal-like carbon particles, thinner than one-tenth of the width of a strand of hair, were found in a thumb-sized piece of the meteorite. "We used advanced equipment to determine the carbon particles are organic matter, and to rule out the possibility of graphite, which is inorganic," said Lin Yangting, a lead scientist of the research team from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The study was published as a cover article in December 2014 in the international journal of Meteoritics & Planetary Science. "Lin's team's new finding in Tissint is so far the most inspiring evidence for life on Mars," said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's lunar exploration project.

Competition Announced to Name Five Craters on Mercury

Full-color image of from first MESSENGER flyby. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

NASA’s robotic MESSENGER spacecraft made history in March 2011 when it became the first to orbit the planet Mercury. For over 3 years, MESSENGER has remotely collected and transmitted back information about the planet closest to the Sun. Now, the MESSENGER Education and Public Outreach Team is holding a competition to name five impact craters on Mercury. The contest, open to all Earth citizens except for members of the mission's EPO team, runs from December 15, 2014, to January 15, 2015. The spacecraft -- scheduled to impact Mercury in the spring -- has surpassed its originally planned primary orbital mission by three years. The EPO team organized the competition to celebrate the mission's achievements, said MESSENGER EPO Project Manager Julie Edmonds, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "This brave little craft, not much bigger than a Volkswagen Beetle, has traveled more than 8 billion miles since 2004 -- getting to the planet and then in orbit," Edmonds said. "We would like to draw international attention to the achievements of the mission and the guiding engineers and scientists on Earth who have made the MESSENGER mission so outstandingly successful."