Artist’s concept of DARPA Experimental Spaceplane XS-1 deploying satellites to low-Earth orbit. Credit: DARPA
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is moving forward with its goal of developing the next generation XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane aimed at creating a fully-reusable unmanned vehicle to launch small payloads into orbit at radically lower costs.
Continue reading DARPA Seeks to Develop Reusable XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket is seen here on its maiden voyage on September 29, 2013. Recently NASA granted SpaceX’s request to extend their CCiCap award period from August 2014 to March 2015, and split the company’s Milestone 13 Critical Design Review into four separate milestones. Photo Credit: Robert C. Fisher
NASA’s Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative has, for the last couple years, been facilitating industry’s development of an integrated American-made crew transportation system (CTS) to fill the void left by the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet in 2011. By investing in three companies (Sierra Nevada, Boeing, and SpaceX) to develop the next low-Earth orbit crew transport NASA will have three commercial vehicles to choose from, and the space agency is expected to award a big money contract for ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station to one, or more, of those three companies very soon, with the goal being returning human spaceflight capability back to the United States by 2017.
Continue reading NASA Extends SpaceX CCiCap Award Period into 2015, Splits Up Company’s Critical Design Review Milestone
The Ariane 5 turns night into day with a dazzling liftoff at 8:47:46 p.m. GFT (7:47:46 p.m. EDT) on Tuesday, 29 July. Photo Credit: Arianespace
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) is presently en-route to the International Space Station (ISS), following a rousing launch atop a mighty Ariane 5 booster from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, on Tuesday, 29 July. Liftoff of the two-stage Ariane 5 occurred at 8:47:46 p.m. GFT (7:47:46 p.m. EDT) and delivered ATV-5—which is named in honor of the Belgian priest and astronomer Georges Lemaître (1894-1966)—on a two-week journey to the space station. It will dock automatically at the aft longitudinal port of the Zvezda module on 12 August and will remain in place until late January 2015, bringing about 5,730 pounds (2,600 kg) of dry cargo to the ISS and its incumbent Expedition 40 crew.
Continue reading Europe’s Ariane 5 Successfully Launches Final ATV Cargo Ship to Space Station
This is an artistic illustration of the gas giant planet HD 209458b in the constellation Pegasus. The planet was recently studied by astronomers alongside two other similar extrasolar worlds, for their abundance in water. To the surprise of astronomers, they have found much less water vapor in the planets’ atmospheres than standard planet-formation models predict. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Bacon (STScI) and N. Madhusudhan (UC)
An international team of astronomers which examined the atmospheres of three “hot Jupiters” for their abundances in water vapor found them to be much drier than previously thought, challenging the established theoretical models of planetary formation and evolution.
Continue reading No Water, Please: The Case of the Surprisingly Dry ‘Hot Jupiters’
Simulated image of Opportunity at work in Endurance crater. The “little Mars rover that could” recently surpassed a 41-year-old “off-world” distance record. Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad famously quipped as he stepped upon the Moon’s surface, “Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small [step] for Neil [Armstrong], but that’s a long one for me.” Conrad was not only spoofing his predecessor’s words, but also was poking fun at his small stature.
Likewise, one of the smaller rovers sent to Mars’ surface just completed a long step of its own. Opportunity, NASA’s Mars rover that recently passed its 10th year of operation, was announced to have broken the off-world distance record this week. The rover passed 25 miles (40 kilometers), surpassing the previous record holder, the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 Moon rover.
Continue reading ‘Miles and Miles and Miles’: Opportunity Sets New Off-World Distance Milestone
NASA Astronaut Mike Massimino onboard the Space Shuttle Columbia during his first mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in March 2002. Massimino left the space agency this week and is returning to his Alma mater, Columbia University, for a full-time position. Photo Credit: NASA
This week, after nearly two decades with NASA, one of the space agency’s most popular astronauts, Mike Massimino, announced his departure to take a full-time position at his Alma Mater, Columbia University in New York.
Continue reading Popular Astronaut Mike Massimino Departs NASA for Position at Columbia University
The geysers at the south pole of Enceladus, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
Saturn’s moon Enceladus is already known as one of the most intriguing places in our solar system, and now new findings from the Cassini spacecraft have been published, which will only add to our fascination with this little world.
Continue reading Behold Enceladus: Cassini Maps 101 Geysers on Tiny Saturn Moon
Technicians load cargo aboard the fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) at the Guiana Space Centre in March 2014. Photo Credit: ESA
A giant Ariane 5 booster stands ready at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, awaiting a nocturnal liftoff at precisely 8:47:38 p.m. local time (7:47:38 p.m. EDT) on Tuesday, 29 July, to deliver the European Space Agency’s (ESA) fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) to provide equipment and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Originally scheduled to fly on 24 July, the mission was postponed by several days to permit what Arianespace—the Paris, France-based launch services organization—described as “complementary verifications on the Ariane 5 launch system.” That work has now been completed, and on Tuesday, 22 July, Arianespace announced the revised launch date. Assuming an on-time liftoff, ATV-5 will dock at the aft longitudinal port of the station’s Zvezda module on 12 August and is expected to remain until late January 2015.
Continue reading Europe’s Final ATV Cargo Ship to Launch Tuesday Atop Ariane 5 Booster
This artist’s concept shows Kepler-421b, a Uranus-sized transiting exoplanet with the longest known year, circling its star once every 704 days. Kepler-421b orbits an orange, K-type star that is cooler and dimmer than our Sun and is located about 1,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. Image Credit/Caption: Harvard-Smithsonian, Center for Astrophysics/D. A. Aguilar
With new exoplanet discoveries announced almost at a monthly basis, it is no surprise that only those that involve potentially Earth-like, habitable worlds mostly manage to grab the headlines. Yet, as exoplanetary research has shown, even the ones that do not fit that bill are fascinating in their own right, offering a great insight into the processes that drive planetary formation and evolution. Such is the case with the discovery of the first Uranus-sized exoplanet candidate in a stable long-period orbit that was announced earlier this week, which could be similar to the ice giants of our own Solar System.
Continue reading Astronomers Discover First Ice Giant Exoplanet Candidate in Long-Period Orbit