Tag Archives: CNES

Vega completes a successful launch of VENµS and OPTSAT-000

Arianespace launched the lightest of their three vehicles on Tuesday (sorry for my late post; it’s been busy) placing two Earth observation spacecraft into orbit: VENµS and OPTSAT-3000. Yes, you read that right — there’s a lower-case mu in the name of the first one.  I think you’re meant to pronounce it “Venus”, but I’m not 100% sure.

VENµS is the Vegetation and Environment monitoring on a New Micro-Satellite (VENµS), which is where the mu comes from — one of the more creative acronyms I’ve seen.  😉  It was built by the Israeli Space Agency and will be operated by France’s CNES, which also supplied one of the instruments, as a cooperative venture between the two nations.  This is Israel’s first major scientific spacecraft, following on from a nanosatellite they flew earlier in the year.  The spacecraft will also test a Hall effect thruster supplied by ISA.

OPTSAT-3000, meanwhile, is Italy’s first optical surveillance spacecraft.  It, too, was built in Israel, but this one is for military purposes.  It joins Italy’s existing fleet of radar surveillance satellites.  OPTSAT-3000 is part of a qui-pro-quo arrangement between the Italian and Israeli governments; in exchange for buying the satellite from Israel, Israel bought a set of Italian fighter jet trainers.  The exact capabilities of OPTSAT-3000 are of course undisclosed, although Italy did indicate it would be comparable to Digital Globe’s best WorldView images.

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Ariane V launch of HellasSat 3 & GSAT 17

Ariane V has added to an already busy launch week with a successful liftoff, placing two geosynchronous commsats onto the geosynchronous transfer orbit.  HellasSat 3/Inmarsat -S-EAN, a spacecraft jointly owned by Hellas Sat and Inmarsat, will provide S-band and Ku-band services to customers in Europe, the Mideast, and Africa.  GSAT 17, a civilian commsat operated by the Indian Space Research Organization, will provide C-band services to customers in India, mainly television services.  This was the 80th successful consecutive Ariane V launch.

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EVA-3 of Expedition 50 is complete

Today, Shane Kimbrough (USA) and Thomas Pesquet (France) ventured outside the ISS to complete the 40th spacewalk from the US segment of the International Space Station, and the 198th overall.  (Note: most of the ISS spacewalks were conducted not from Station at all but from Shuttle, which is why the total spacewalk number appears so inflated by comparison.)  Today’s activities revolved mostly around prepping PMA-3 for its upcoming move to the Harmony node, where it will become available for future commercial crew operations.  This mostly consisted of unplugging things.  They also installed a new multiplexer/demultiplexer (MDM), did some work on the external cameras, lubricated the SSRMS, and completed some inspection work.  This video covers the entire spacewalk, not just the highlights, so maybe flip around through it to find interesting bits.  😉  This includes egress; you have to go up to about 45 minutes before they’re even emerging from the airlock.  (Spacewalks are complex; it’s not like going for a casual stroll.)

 

 

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22 years ago today: the US returns to the Moon

After the cancellation of Apollos 18-20, it looked unlikely that NASA would be allowed to return to the Moon.  The attitude in the legislature was one of “been there, done that”.  Human spaceflight had been re-aimed at low Earth orbit space stations and spaceplanes, while robotic missions were going ever further into the deepest recesses of the solar system.  In 1977, the final death-knell for American lunar exploration seemed to have been struck when the funding to monitor the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Packages (ALSEPs) ran out, and the perfectly good autonomous stations were deactivated.

Perhaps this is why the first return to the Moon since Apollo was not exclusively a NASA project.  In 1994, on January 25, the Clementine spacecraft blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard a Titan II rocket (military surplus; the rocket had previously lived in a missile silo).  All of the refurbished ICBM Titan II launches were for one customer: the United States Air Force.  The USAF realistically had no particular interest in the Moon, but their Ballistic Missile Defense Organization had a number of crucial new technologies that it wanted to develop, and somewhere along the way, someone came up with the bright idea of testing them out in a spacecraft that would also orbit the Moon.  This allowed them to get NASA on board, and also the French agency CNES, significantly reducing the amount each agency would need to spend.  On February 19, the spacecraft arrived in lunar orbit, and on May 3, it became the first spacecraft to do something else remarkable: it departed lunar orbit to leave the Earth-Moon system altogether.  The only spacecraft to have left lunar orbit previously were all sending capsules back to Earth.  After leaving lunar orbit, the spacecraft then left Earth orbit, conducting a burn designed to put it on course to rendezvous with the asteroid 1620 Geographos; unfortnately, a thruster malfunction ruined that plan, and they ended up putting the spacecraft into a heliocentric orbit designed to take it one more time through the Earth’s Van Allen Belts for further study.  Contact was lost in June of 1994.

Clementine was a short-lived probe, and one which, like the girl in the song, is now lost and gone forever.  But it did something important in the meantime: it proved there was still a reason to go to the Moon.

PIA00432_modest

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Mars InSight Will Miss Its Window

Bummer of a news item, I know, but the Mars InSight lander, set to blast off in the upcoming Mars window, has been delayed.  Testing last week revealed a leak in a seismometer provided by the French space agency, CNES (le Centre national d’études spatiales).  The instrument has had a somewhat checkered past already, with leaks detected as far back as August and attributed to faulty welding.  Engineers had performed a fix, but apparently it was not sufficient.  Engineers are exploring options, but there is nothing that would be done in time to encapsulate it for launch.

As it is, the spacecraft is in California, and ULA has already begun stacking its Atlas V rocket, but the seismometer is still at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Colorado, where it was supposed to have been integrated with the spacecraft; in an effort to save time, they shipped the rest of the lander out to California with the intention of attaching the seismometer at the last possible minute.  That is no longer possible, so InSight will be going back to Colorado to be put into storage while NASA decides what to do about it.  The next launch opportunity is not until 2018.

It’s a blow not just to the Mars exploration program but also in many ways an extra slap to the mission proposals that lost out to InSight.  I was really excited about the Titan Mare Explorer concept, but it was shelved in favor of InSight.  Perhaps it will get another go the next time around.

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SPOT-7 launched this morning!

The French SPOT-7 satellite launched aboard an Indian PSLV today:

PSLV is becoming increasingly relevant on the global commercial launch market, particularly for smaller payloads such as this.  Indeed, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that PSLV’s most famous payload today, the Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission, cost considerably less than the budget for Hollywood blockbuster “Gravity” — including the launch vehicle and mission costs.  Space is getting closer all the time.  😉

 

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Space is dangerous: CoRoT is the latest casualty

Space is dangerous.  With launch hazards, the impossibility of repair, the concern of design errors undetected until the spacecraft a thousand miles away and forever unreachable, draining batteries and degrading solar arrays, growing tin whiskers and diminishing fuel reserves, micrometeoroids and an increasing abundance of space debris, it’s amazing that mission-ending accidents don’t happen more often.

And there’s one more hazard I didn’t mention: radiation.

Computers don’t get cancer or develop radiation sickness, but charged particles can flip bits in a circuit or even saturate a circuit so severely that it melts through in one spot and causes a short.  It’s a serious problem that contributes heavily to the cost of a spacecraft in shielding, careful circuit protection (especially around solar arrays, which are exceptionally good at grabbing charged particles and feeding them right into the circuitry), and massive error correction in both hardware and software — since corrupted data can be a very big deal, if the corruption is in a computer instruction.  Even the signals received from the ground can become corrupted in this way, so it’s a huge focus of spacecraft design.

And sometimes all that engineering effort is not enough.  There is no way to complete protect all of the computer circuits, all of the instructions, all of the data storage, all of the communications, so instead you protect as best as is practical and then you cross your fingers.  The current solar maximum has been cooperative as far as that goes, with space weather much more benign than it normally is during the solar peak.  But “more benign” is not the same as “mostly harmless”.  And now the French Convection, Rotation and Planetary Transits (CoRoT) space telescope has been hit.

CoRoT is not completely dead, but no data has been received from its main instrument, a 27 cm telescope and camera designed to patiently scan the sky in hopes of capturing a planetary transit around a distant star.  It’s been functioning great since its launch in 2006 (not bad for a three year primary mission), discovering dozens of planets and a great many basic science contributions to astrophysics, but now its mission is over.  Controllers on the ground will perform a series of engineering experiments with it, and then will safe it, which will mostly consist of safely discharging its batteries and feathering the solar arrays so it is less likely to explode when uncontrolled.  It will eventually fall out of orbit.

Good work, CoRoT.  Sad to see you go, but you’ve done well.  Bonne nuit.

CNES: CoRoT mission page

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