The images and data from Perijove 7 have started coming down to Earth, and as they become available, the team is posting them in their gallery and inviting the public to process them — and the public, as always, is responding quickly. This one, processed by Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran, is quite a striking view of the giant anticyclone, processed to bring a gloriously rich depth of color to it (the color is much paler in the unprocessed images). This is closer than anyone has ever come before to the Great Red Spot, and the level of detail is breathtaking. Go on, click to view it in full scale — you know you want to!
The CRS-11 Dragon mission is now underway, the first with a reflown Dragon capsule. (The heatshield is new, as of course is the unpressurized trunk section and the solar panels, as these are discarded with each flight, burning up while the pressurized module returns to the Earth.) The Falcon 9 rocket was still brand-new, but the first stage will eventually be reused; it completed the fifth successful landing at Cape Canaveral.
This was the one hundredth launch from LC-39A.
Here’s the replay of the SpaceX webcast (jump ahead 16 minutes for the launch):
Without any fanfare, the OTV-4 mission came to an end over the weekend, landing at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility following 718 days in orbit.:
As with the previous three Orbital Test Vehicle missions, the majority of its activities remain undisclosed. However, this time the Air Force did disclose two payloads: an experimental ion thruster built by Aerojet-Rocketdyne and a NASA payload called METIS (Materials Exposure and Technology Innovation in Space) that exposed over a hundred samples of materials, such as polymers, ceramics, and more.
The fifth OTV mission has not yet been announced.
Cassini has just now completed its second close pass; the data isn’t back yet, but in the meantime, mission controllers have released a pleasant surprise from the first pass — although the big High Gain Antenna was used as shield during the pass, the plasma wave instrument (which peeks out from behind the antenna’s big reflector dish) detected almost no particle hits at all, and what it did encounter was no bigger than smoke particles (<1 micron). This is happy, because it means Cassini will not need to use the dish to shield anymore, except on a couple of passes that will penetrate some ways into the D ring.
But it’s also a puzzle, which is always a fun and exciting thing to encounter in science, because this space was not expected to be so empty. The corresponding space on the outside of the rings is definitely not so empty, and you can hear the difference in these two audio clips. The clips were made by converting the information from the plasma wave instrument into audio.
Here’s from a ringplane crossing outside of the rings. Each crackle and pop is a particle hit, and at the time of the ring crossing itself, there’s a very clear spike:
Now, for contrast, the inside of the rings, where the lack of pops and crackles is made all the more obvious by the fact that the impacts are no longer drowning out the whistles and howls that Saturn’s magnetosphere makes normally, allowing them to crank the gain way up but still without hearing a lot in the way of impacts. This one sounds a lot wilder, since here you can listen to Saturn itself:
The third periapsis will be in under a week. Things are moving fast now!
Cassini’s first dive inside the rings has been completed, and the spacecraft has regained contact with Earth, right on schedule. As I type this, Cassini is busy downlinking data from the close pass via the DSS 43 dish, the largest one at the Deep Space Network’s Canberra, Australia location. (If you’re ever curious who’s talking to who in deep space, visit NASA’s DSN Now page.) The reason they were out of contact during the pass was that Cassini was oriented so that the high gain antenna faced into the direction of travel, using the massive dish as a shield.
There’s still considerable data still to be downloaded, but JPL has posted the first images, which are in the vicinity of Saturn’s north pole. The north pole is home to Saturn’s strange hexagon feature, now seen in greater detail than ever before. These raw, unprocessed images are just a taste of what will be available when the whole data set is down.
The rover that doesn’t know how to quit, Mars Exploration Rover B “Opportunity” has just departed “Cape Tribulation”, a feature on the rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars. It’s spent the last 30 months at this location, conserving power over the Martian winter (since unlike Curiosity, it’s solar powered), and now it’s ready to move on. The next destination is a nearby valley in the huge crater’s rim, called “Perseverance Valley”. It’s a good name for a valley soon to be explored by a spacecraft 13 years into its 3-month mission. 😉 Opportunity will begin by studying the top of the valley, then move down it in the sort of pattern you’d expect a geologist to take while studying erosion and deposits that may explain how the valley was formed.
Here’s a final full-color panoramic look at Cape Tribulation:
United Launch Alliance has earned a reputation for some impressive video production efforts post-launch, and tomorrow, in collaboration with NASA, they’ve decided to up their game. The 360 launch videos they’ve posted before aren’t enough — this time, for the first time ever, they’re going to stream a launch live in 360. (This will also be the first 360 video of an Atlas launch; ULA’s previous 360 videos featured Delta IVs, including a Delta IV Heavy.) So grab your Oculus Rift or your smartphone cardboard VR goggle adapters or just a 360-compatible browser (psst — I use Opera) and tune in to NASA’s channel on YouTube tomorrow. The stream will start around 11AM Eastern Daylight Time.
If you don’t know what a 360 video is, it’s a video that you can pan around in over a 360 degree range while it plays. It’s pretty incredible, and makes it feel so much more alive!
If you want a taste of what it will be like, or if you just want to make sure your equipment will show it in 360, here are ULA’s past 360 videos. If it’s working, it’ll look just like a normal video — except if you click and drag, you’ll move around. If it’s not working, you’ll see it all warped and weird looking, and you should try a different browser or player.