Tag Archives: NASA

Opportunity keeps on trucking

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:

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Cygnus will fly in 360 degrees tomorrow!

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.

 

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Space updates: Soyuz MS-02 returns, John Glenn to fly again, Chinasat 16, and Cassini’s next step

I’ve been way busy the last few days, so I regret I have not posted as often as I’d like.  But I’ll start making up for that.  😉  First off, the landing of Soyuz MS-02 from the ISS!  The imagery is great; you even get to see the capsule venting hydrogen peroxide as it descends under parachute (at which point the thrusters are no longer useful, so they dump the propellant to make it safer on the ground).  This completes the Expedition 50 mission.  On board were Sergey Ryzhikov, Andrey Borisenko and Shane Kimbrough.  Two crew will launch on the next Soyuz, due to funding constraints at Roscosmos which has forced them to make the difficult decision to reduce their crew size.  On a positive note, the commander of Expedition 51, who took command upon this crew’s departure, is Peggy Whitson, and NASA has just decided to extend her mission by three months.  She currently holds the female spaceflight endurance record, and by the end of her extended mission, will also capture the American spaceflight endurance record.

Meanwhile, in Florida, crews are preparing the next Cygnus vehicle, named for astronaut John Glenn, to be launched aboard an Atlas V to the ISS.  This trip will carry experiments to create new targeted chemo drugs in microgravity for Oncolinx (an experiment which will consume a lot of crew time; it’s stuff that cannot be done anywhere else), a crystal growth experiment that goes beyond the basic science of previous experiments and aims to build new radiation detectors, a mini greenhouse (the most sophisticated sent to space to date) with wheat and Arabidopsis seeds, 34 Cubesats in the pressurized compartment (to be deployed later from Kibo), and 4 Cubesats to be deployed by Cygnus itself after departing the station.  Finally, there are two experiments to be carried after Cygnus has completed its primary mission — the third SAFIRE test to better understand fire in microgravity, and three small reentry bodies that will be ejected prior to Cygnus’ reentry, a process which they are expected to survive.  They will splash down in the ocean and sink, however, so they aren’t expected to be recovered.  Instead, they will be continuously transmitting temperature data via the Iridium constellation, allowing testing of new heat shield materials under real-world circumstances.  Note: launch was delayed from March to April 18 due to a launch vehicle technical issue which has been resolved.

And although Falcon 9 has taken a lot of business away from Chinese launch vehicles, they still have a solid lock on their burgeoning government program.  A Long March 3B blasted off from Xichang with the Shijan 13 (Chinasat 16) communications satellite on board.  This is the highest-bandwidth spacecraft that China has launched, and in addition to acting as a technology demonstrator for several projects (including ion propulsion and laser communications), it will provide high-bandwidth Internet service to airline, ship, and train passengers in and near China.

And lastly, on a bittersweet note, yesterday JPL uploaded the instructions for Cassini’s next Titan flyby.  In six days the Cassini spacecraft is moving towards a major milestone — the last flyby of Titan.  This flyby will be used as a gravity assist to move the spacecraft from its current ring-grazing phase to the final phase of the mission, called the Grand Finale.  It will fly closer to Saturn that anything ever has before, completing several orbits before impacting Saturn in September.  But it will return astonishing data that could not be captured any other way, including passes through the tenuous outer atmosphere of Saturn and through the D ring itself.

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Spacecraft Animation: CST-100 Dreamliner!

It’s been a while since I’ve had the joy of posting a spacecraft animation, and today I get to share one that’s very special to me — animation of a complete CST-100 mission.  It’s not yet available anywhere I can just link it, but SpaceflightNow has posted it to their website.  And alas, it doesn’t have sound yet.  But it sure looks pretty.  😉

https://spaceflightnow.com/2017/04/04/animation-the-flight-of-a-boeing-starliner-capsule-from-launch-to-landing/

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Saturn’s Aviators Up Close

Saturn has aviators?  What?

Well, not really, no, but it does have propellers.  These strange structures were first spotted in Cassini imagery in 2006, but not conclusively identified until 2010, when the lighting conditions were right again.  They are now mapped well enough to confirm that they are not transient structures but persist over long timescales, long enough to justify giving them names.  Appropriately enough, they’re named for famous aviators from the early, propeller-driven days of aviation: Bleriot, Earhart, and Santos-Dumont are three that have been closely monitored.

This monitoring has allowed planetary scientists to confirm that they clumped ring particles being pulled along by moonlets embedded in Saturn’s ring (mainly in the A ring, in a region now known as “the propeller belt” because there are so many of them there).  With Cassini now moving closer to the rings than ever before, the propellers are being closely watched, as they represent a natural lab of planetary formation.

Here’s Earhart, photographed on March 22:

That black area to the right is the Encke Gap, which is shepherded by the moon Pan.  I blogged about Pan not too long ago, as Cassini recently revealed that it is shaped like a ravioli.  It’s a tiny little world, but it dwarfs the tiny moonlet in the middle of Earhart.  Pan is big enough to sweep the gap open, although it tugs and pulls as it goes, creating waves through the rings.  Earhart’s moonlet is much too small and the A-ring too dense; the moonlet displaces material, but it quickly slumps back in after the moon’s small gravity well passes.

Here’s Bleriot, which looks a bit different, although scientists aren’t sure whether that’s a real difference or just a difference in viewing conditions.

And here’s Santos-Dumas, in two images taken Feb 21.  This took advantage of Cassini’s motion and grabbed shots before and after periapsis, so the shot on top is from the sunlight side of the rings, and the bottom shot is from the backlit side:

The propellers are fascinating structures, and hopefully we’ll get more looks at them over the next few months, before Cassini’s mission ends.  If not, well, they’ll definitely be a hot target for any future Saturn missions, to see how they’ve evolved over time.

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Juno returns more awesome images

The Juno probe has completed another perijove, and returned some more truly sublime photography.  The spacecraft is going to remain in its initial orbit rather than the originally planned science orbit, due to concerns about its main engine following the failure of a very similar engine from the same manufacturer on a commercial satellite.  This will make the mission take longer, but will have about the same overall radiation exposure (since it will make the same number of perijoves) and can still be completed before Juno’s orbit precesses to where it will go into Jupiter’s shadow.  Juno is solar powered and Jupiter’s shadow is very large; going into that shadow will be a dicey proposition when the time inevitably comes.  But until then, it’s returning images like these:

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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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