Category Archives: space

Comet landing attempt today

From the NASA press release:

Earlier this morning, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission deployed its comet lander, “Philae.” Seven hours later at 11 a.m. EST, the experiment-laden, harpoon-firing Philae is set to touch down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

It will be the first time in history that a spacecraft has attempted a soft landing on a comet. Rosetta is an international mission led by ESA – European Space Agency, with instruments provided by its member states, and additional support and instruments provided by NASA.

NASA Television will provide live coverage from 9-11:30 a.m. EST of Rosetta scheduled landing of a probe on a comet today. NASA’s live commentary will include excerpts of the ESA coverage and air from 9-10 a.m. EST. NASA will continue carrying ESA’s commentary from 10-11:30 a.m. EST. ESA’s Philae (fee-LAY) lander is scheduled to touch down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 10:35 a.m. EST. A signal confirming landing is expected at approximately 11:02 a.m. EST.

After landing, Philae will obtain the first images ever taken from a comet’s surface. It also will drill into the surface to study the composition and witness close up how a comet changes as its exposure to the sun varies. Philae can remain active on the surface for approximately two-and-a-half days. Its “mothership” is the Rosetta spacecraft that will remain in orbit around the comet through 2015. The orbiter will continue detailed studies of the comet as it approaches the sun and then moves away. NASA has three of the 16 instruments aboard the orbiter.

Comets are considered primitive building blocks of the solar system that are literally frozen in time. They may have played a part in “seeding” Earth with water and, possibly, the basic ingredients for life.

Watch NASA TV online at: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

comet 67p

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Mars Spacecraft Reveal Comet Flyby Effects on Martian Atmosphere | NASA

The MAVEN spacecraft, recently arrived at Mars, detected the comet encounter in two ways. The remote-sensing Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph observed intense ultraviolet emission from magnesium and iron ions high in the atmosphere in the aftermath of the meteor shower. Not even the most intense meteor storms on Earth have produced as strong a response as this one. The emission dominated Mars’ ultraviolet spectrum for several hours after the encounter and then dissipated over the next two days.

MAVEN also was able to directly sample and determine the composition of some of the comet dust in Mars’ atmosphere. Analysis of these samples by the spacecraft’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer detected eight different types of metal ions, including sodium, magnesium and iron. These are the first direct measurements of the composition of dust from an Oort Cloud comet.

via Mars Spacecraft Reveal Comet Flyby Effects on Martian Atmosphere | NASA.

Spaceweather.com posted the actual atmosphere spectrum measurements.

MAVEN did not actually see streaks of light in the Martian atmosphere–the spacecraft was sheltering behind the body of Mars during the comet’s flyby. But when MAVEN emerged, it found a glowing layer of Mg+ (a constituent of meteor smoke) floating 150 km above the planet’s surface.

maven_strip
The blue is Mars’ atmosphere before the comet flyby, red is after.

The “smoke” was made of ionized magnesium and other metals shed by the disintegrating meteoroids. The data are consistent with “a few tons of comet dust being deposited in the atmosphere of Mars,” says Nick Schneider, the instrument lead for MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph at University of Colorado, Boulder. “A human on the surface of Mars might have seen thousands of shooting stars per hour, possibly a meteor storm.” He further speculated that the meteor shower would have produced a yellow afterglow in the skies of Mars because the meteor smoke was rich in sodium ions.

How cool is that to have MAVEN arrive in time for the flyby.

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Here’s looking at you, kid

From the Hubble Space Telescope
jupiter-eye
That’s not a new feature of the Great Red Spot, but the shadow of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede lining up just right.

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Orbital Sciences begins accident investigation, recovery

It’s the morning after, and Orbital Sciences, NASA, the NTSB, and the FAA are trying to figure out what happened. (In the immortal words of Ben Ramsey, “I know what’s wrong with it, it’s broke!”)
launch-pad-looking-south-after-failure
First, thank God no one was hurt or killed. The damage was limited to the south end of Wallops Island.
From today’s Orbital press release

The overall findings indicate the major elements of the launch complex infrastructure, such as the pad and fuel tanks, avoided serious damage, although some repairs will be necessary. However, until the facility is inspected in greater detail in the coming days, the full extent of necessary repairs or how long they will take to accomplish will not be known.

And from NASA’s press release

A number of support buildings in the immediate area have broken windows and imploded doors. A sounding rocket launcher adjacent to the pad, and buildings nearest the pad, suffered the most severe damage.
At Pad 0A the initial assessment showed damage to the transporter erector launcher and lightning suppression rods, as well as debris around the pad.

The Monday morning quarterbacking around the coffeepot at work focused on the age of the Soviet AJ-26 engines, how they were stored, how long they were stored, and what was involved in refurbishing these engines. Broken turbine blade? Something couldn’t handle the vibration load? It could even be something used that was not compatible with LOX.
We shall see.

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Roamy roundup

There’s a lot going on.

First, the X-37B landed at Vandenberg AFB after a 674-day mission.

Next, the photos are starting to trickle in from Comet Siding Spring’s close encounter with Mars. This is my favorite one from Earth. Comet is in the lower left.
Siding spring
Looks like the Opportunity rover and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured some good images.

Nichelle Nichols, Uhura from Star Trek, talks about the Orion manned spacecraft in this video.

China is launching another probe to the Moon on Thursday.

Also on Thursday is a partial solar eclipse, visible for most of the U.S. (Warning: autoplay video)

And I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the notion that the MESSENGER spacecraft has found water ice near Mercury’s north pole.

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iSAT

The local chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics hosted a luncheon today with John Dankanich, the iSAT program manager as speaker. iSAT stands for Iodine Satellite, and it is a Cubesat program to test iodine instead of xenon in a Hall thruster engine. Right now, there aren’t a lot of options for small satellite propulsion. Solid motors are one use only, liquid engines take a lot of weight and space, and hypergols will try to kill you. By letting the iodine sublimate, i.e. go directly from solid to gas, all you need is a little heat to turn on your engine.

This isn’t the kind of engine that will lift a payload from Earth to orbit, but it will allow orbit change, even inclination change. Dankanich spoke about the military uses, being able to put communication relays or observation satellites into the right orbit quickly, perhaps even a constellation. You could have a constellation of small, cheap satellites around the moon or Mars or Venus. As for myself, I was interested in the end-of-life uses for small satellites, to deorbit a spacecraft before it becomes space debris.

Another point in favor of iodine was the much lower pressure than the current xenon Hall thruster engines. It opens up the possibility of rapid-prototyping your tank and even a conformal design to fit in the available space. Iodine presents some challenges in terms of what materials it’s compatible with, but we ought to be able to handle that.

Busek thruster proposed for iSAT.  Photo courtesy of NASA/iSAT's Facebook page.

Busek thruster proposed for iSAT. Photo courtesy of NASA/iSAT’s Facebook page.

It was an interesting talk, and it sounds like they have hit the ground running with a lot of hardware ready to go or easily modified for this mission. I wish them a lot of success in the future.

If you’d like to follow iSAT’s progress, they are on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NASAisat .

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RIP, Steven Nagel

I’ve been swamped at work (so many projects that I currently have 13 different charge codes) and at home (sending Rocketboy off to college), so it took me getting the “your mailbox is over its size limit” to wade through my news and announcement emails. I was saddened to see the news that astronaut Steven Nagel had passed away after a long battle with cancer.
nagel
Nagel had the distinction of flying twice in the same year – 1985 – first as a mission specialist on STS-51G, then as a pilot on STS-61A. I do not know of any other astronaut that has done this. He was commander of STS-37 in 1991 and STS-55 in 1993. He flew on Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis, missing only Endeavour for the set.
I met him after STS-37, which launched the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. STS-61A and STS-55 were the German Spacelab missions. STS-51G was before I started working for NASA, but it was an international crew with a French astronaut and a Saudi prince.
Nagel had a long and successful career. After leaving NASA, he taught aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri at Columbia. He is survived by his wife and fellow astronaut Linda Godwin and their two daughters.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

— John Gillespie Magee, Jr

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