Tag Archives: NASA

The 4th X-37 mission has ended

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.

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The wild howls of Saturn, in a strangely empty space

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!

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Cassini has survived the first dive!

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.

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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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