Tag Archives: spacecraft animation

Cassini: just a little over a day left

The Cassini spacecraft has just one day and eight hours left to live, and after thirteen years in Saturn orbit, it’s hard not to feel a little choked up thinking about it.  I just rewatched this animation, and I gotta admit . . . it got awfully dusty in here . . . .


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Space news catchup! Vega, Blue Origin, GOES-16’s lightning mapper, and more!

It’s been really busy lately, so I haven’t has as much time to post as I’d like.  So today I will make up for it with a bunch of space news updates!

First off, a rocket launch is always fun.  Arianespace’s Vega launcher placed the Sentinel 2B environmental monitoring satellite into orbit from Kourou, French Guiana:

Meanwhile, GOES-16 continues its commissioning phase.  As part of that, it has returned its first view of lightning from 22,000 miles away, a demonstration of its incredible capacity at this range.  The green lines represent the coast of Texas.  The lightning is all in real time, and is overlaid over an image taken at the same time by GOES-16’s revolutionary Advanced Baseline Imager.

This full-disk image was created from data from the same instrument, and shows total lightning energy recorded over a one-hour period (an hour which included the image above; that really bright spot in this image is the same storm system over Texas):

And then let’s go back to rockets!  Blue Origin unveiled their New Glenn rocket today with an animation depicting its flight profile.  It is definitely similar to the strategy SpaceX is using, but one difference is that the engine, BE-4, will also by flying on another rocket, ULA’s Vulcan.  Another difference is the strakes.  It looks quite lovely, and I hope we’ll get to see it fly soon.  They do already have a customer for it: the first flight customer will be Eutelsat.

And then, how about some good news on the political front?  Cutting NASA has long been a bipartisan pasttime, but the tides seem to be changing.  A strong bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives voted to pass the NASA Authorization Bill, the first time they’ve managed to do so despite annual attempts in the past six years.  (NASA has been operating under continuing resolutions instead.)  This bill budgets $19.5 billion for NASA in 2017.  Of course, now we have to see what actually gets appropriated; that’s a separate battle, and will start with the White House federal budget request.  So cross your fingers, space geeks!

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IDA-2 is ready for installation!

The first of two International Docking Adapters (designated IDA-2 since IDA-1 was lost in the one and only Falcon 9 launch mishap to date) has, by now, been extracted from the trunk of the CRS-9 Dragon spacecraft and should be hovering about three feet away from the Pressurized Mating Adapter 2 (PMA-2) on the forward end of the ISS, secure in the grip of the SSRMS.  It will stay there until Friday, when astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins will exit the Quest airlock and work to get the adapter properly installed.  NASA has released this wonderful informative CGI video outlining the plan for Friday’s spacewalk.

If you want to watch it live, tune in to NASA TV (via cable, satellite, YouTube, the NASA TV website, or wherever else you can find a feed) on Friday.  Live coverage starts at 6:30 AM EDT (10:30 UTC), and the actual spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 8:05 AM EDT.

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Juno orbital insertion is right around the corner!!!!

While across America people are lighting off fireworks, the Juno probe will quietly be launching some of its own.  At 10:18 PM Central Daylight Time*, Juno will light its main engine for thirty-five minutes, dropping speed just precisely enough to be captured in Jupiter’s massive gravity well.  The spacecraft will consume an impressive 7,900 kg of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide bipropellant during this maneuver using its British-built LEROS 1b main engine.  While the burn happens, the spacecraft will not be able to point its high-gain antenna directly at Earth; mission controllers will therefore only have a carrier signal to go on to judge its progress.  They will monitor the Doppler effect on this signal to see the change in Juno’s velocity.  You will know if it’s been successful if you see a lot of people jumping and shouting and cheering.  😉

*More properly, we’ll know about the engine burn starting at 10:18 PM.  Since we’re presently about 48 light-minutes from Jupiter, by the time the signal arrives telling controllers that the burn has started, it will already be over.  Everything on a deep space mission is experienced as the signal arrives at Earth, not the time it actually happens across the solar system.

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Voyagers, by Santiago Menghini

As the content of this blog amply demonstrates, space is one of my favorite things.  I’ve been interested in space since early childhood, but the thing that really sparked my love for it was the Voyager mission.  When I was a kid, my parents had a VCR, and had taped a NOVA special about the Voyagers.  I watched the heck out of that tape as a little kid, like a kid today might rewatch “Frozen” or “My Little Ponies”.  And then of course “Star Trek: the Motion Picture” came out, and gave me all the more reason to love that spacecraft.  V’Ger is still my favorite Star Trek monster, in a lot of ways.  😉

So I really have a soft spot for these astonishing spacecraft, among the most powerful probes ever flown, and both still operational today as they approach their 40th anniversaries.  And that’s why I absolutely must share this video.  I saw it linked over at io9 and immediately knew it was something special.  It’s a condensed tribute to the mission, with some lovely animated segments interspersed with old documentary footage and real Voyager imagery and data.  Oh, and the music is from the Golden Record that each Voyager carries into the abyss — selections chosen by the Voyager team to commemorate humanity to whomever or whatever may find either Voyager in the far distant future.

Meanwhile, China has made an important step forward with their manned space program, but it’s quite late tonight and I’m pooped, so I hope to write about that tomorrow.  😉  Good night!

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ExoMars is on its way!

A Proton rocket blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome this morning, carrying the ExoMars orbiter/lander pair onto the trans-Mars cruise trajectory.  This is the only Martian probe using the current Mars window (after the unfortunate cancellation of Mars InSight), and Europe’s first attempt at a Martian lander.  (Beagle 2 was an exclusively British effort, with ESA only providing a lift in the form of Mars Express, which remains active in Mars orbit today.)

ESA also released this spacecraft animation depicting launch and cruise, but not landing.  It’s got some pretty intense music as well.  😉  The two spacecraft comprising the ExoMars mission are the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli Lander.

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Space Probe Catchup: Hayabusa 2, Curiosity, New Horizons, and Dawn – Occator Crater revealed!

I’ve been busy lately, so I have not had much time to write, so here’s the latest on three different deep space probes!

First off, Hayabusa 2 made a successful flyby of the Earth on December 3, flying about 3,090 km above Hawaii at closest approach.  The spacecraft was performing a gravity assist maneuver, and controllers now report the maneuver was performed flawlessly: Hayabusa 2 is right on target to encounter asteroid 162173 Ryugu in 2018.  Hayabusa 2 is a follow-on to the original Hayabusa mission, which encountered serious difficulties but still managed to return samples from asteroid 25143 Itokawa.  Hayabusa 2 builds on the lessons learned from that mission and should be able to return much larger samples, scheduled for 2018.  It will also deploy a set of landers, both Japanese and European.

Earth from Hayabusa 2, just after the gravity assist.  Summer has reached the South Pole.

Earth from Hayabusa 2, just after the gravity assist. Summer has reached the South Pole.

Here’s a fantastic animation showing its flight:

Next, Curiosity!

The Mars Science Lander “Curiosity” is now well into its mission exploring Mount Sharp in the center of Gale Crater.  Its latest object of interest is a field of sand dunes.  The going will be difficult, and the team will be very cautious, since it was sand dunes that irretrievably mired MER-A “Spirit”.  This is the rippled surface of “High Dune”, within a dune field named Bagnold Dunes.


The texture and particles are very intriguing, and Curiosity may learn a lot when it samples them.  They’ve already used the wheels to help get a peek below the surface:



And still New Horizons returns data!

The probe is continuing its long, slow plod through the enormous data set that it collected at Pluto.  Color data is now available for those high resolution images taken at closest approach, and it only looks wilder:


Click for the larger image.  It’s really quite weird looking.  The geology must involve some processes that simply don’t happen on Earth, although some of it looks distinctly familiar to our eyes.

Last but not least, Dawn!

Dawn has continued studying 1 Ceres, the closest of the dwarf planets, and there is new information on the mysterious lights in Occator Crater!   Occator Crater has by far the brightest spots on Ceres, but the small world is sprinkled with bright spots.  New spectrographic analysis is consistent with all of those spots being a salt called hexahydrite, which is a type of magnesium sulfate.  Furthermore, all of the spots are associated with impact craters.  This allows them to rule out ice volcanism.  They  believe the spots are salt left behind after water sublimated away following impacts which exposed a briny water layer just below Ceres’ crust.  They aren’t yet suggesting that layer to be liquid, by the way.  It could well be ice, which would rapidly boil away in the sunlight this close to the Sun.  (Ceres is near the limit of our Sun’s golidlocks zone.)  Occator Crater they think is brightest because of relative youth, and possibly also a more energetic impact digging deeper into this layer.  It appears that the water may not have finished sublimating away from Occator Crater, as there is evidence of water vapor accumulating in the crater from both Dawn and also the Herschel Space Observatory.

Another team was analyzing for evidence of ammonia compounds on Ceres, and came up with a lot of evidence, locked up in clays.  This is particularly interesting because surface ammonia is even more volatile than water; that Ceres has some suggests it formed further away from the Sun than its present position.  Perhaps interactions with the giant planets pushed it in.  Ceres is also unusually rich in water ice for a main belt asteroid, which would tend to suggest the same thing.

Here is a color-enhanced image of Ceres rotating.  The enhanced colors help to pick out subtle differences but should not be interpreted as what the human eye would see.

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