Philae's First Science Results Highlight An Unexpected Cometary World

From ESA: "Zooming in to a portion of the fractured cliff face imaged by CIVA camera 4 reveals brightness variations in the comet’s surface properties down to centimetre and millimetre scales. The dominant constituents are very dark conglomerates, likely made of organics. The brighter spots could represent mineral grains, perhaps even pointing to ice-rich materials.  The left hand image shows one of the CONSERT antennas in the foreground, which seems to be in contact with the nucleus. The dimensions of the antenna, 5 mm in diameter and 693 mm long, help to provide a scale to the image." Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

From ESA: “Zooming in to a portion of the fractured cliff face imaged by CIVA camera 4 reveals brightness variations in the comet’s surface properties down to centimetre and millimetre scales. The dominant constituents are very dark conglomerates, likely made of organics. The brighter spots could represent mineral grains, perhaps even pointing to ice-rich materials. The left hand image shows one of the CONSERT antennas in the foreground, which seems to be in contact with the nucleus. The dimensions of the antenna, 5 mm in diameter and 693 mm long, help to provide a scale to the image.” Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

Just weeks before the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft makes the first observations of a comet at perihelion from the perspective of an orbiting spacecraft, researchers have gotten their first, long-awaited “taste” of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko…and does it reveal some surprises.

As Rosetta continues to orbit Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, early findings from its lander’s first set of scientific observations were published in the journal Science on Thursday, July 31. These findings encompass discoveries including, but not limited to, the composition of the comet, surface features and hardness, temperature, and magnetism. The space agency also released an image sequence underscoring what the lander saw as it descended to the comet’s surface. While Philae has been out of contact with the Rosetta orbiter since early July, it is hoped that these results aren’t the last pieces of information from the lander.

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NTSB Determines Probable Cause of Fatal SpaceShipTwo Crash, Unknown if Delays Contributed to Accident

The National Transportation and Safety Board met on July 28, 2015, to discuss the probably cause surrounding the fatal SpaceShipTwo accident that occurred in late October 2014. Photo Credit: NTSB

The National Transportation and Safety Board met on July 28, 2015, to discuss the probably cause surrounding the fatal SpaceShipTwo accident that occurred in late-October 2014. Photo Credit: NTSB

After a series of delays on the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, pilot Peter Siebold and co-pilot Michael Alsbury soared over the Mojave Desert on the fourth rocket-powered test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spaceplane. An anomaly caused the vehicle to break up 13 seconds into the flight and end in catastrophic failure. Alsbury did not survive the crash, and Siebold was severely injured. Nearly nine months later, on July 28, 2015, the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) met to discuss the probable cause behind the fatal crash of the suborbital spaceplane built by Scaled Composites for Virgin Galactic, called SpaceShipTwo.

Continue reading NTSB Determines Probable Cause of Fatal SpaceShipTwo Crash, Unknown if Delays Contributed to Accident

CST-100 Spacecraft Development Moves Forward in Former Shuttle Hangar

One of two pressurized domes for the "shell" of the Structural Test Article (STA) of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft undergoes checkout. Photo Credit: NASA

One of two pressurized domes for the “shell” of the Structural Test Article (STA) of Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft undergoes checkout. Photo Credit: NASA

Less than a year since winning a $4.2 billion slice of the $6.8 billion Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract—the current phase of NASA’s effort to return U.S. astronauts to space, aboard a U.S.-built vehicle, and from U.S. soil—Boeing has taken a significant forward step as it prepares its CST-100 spacecraft for an initial unpiloted “shakedown” voyage in April 2017, then a crewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in July 2017. This will be followed by the first contracted long-duration crew exchange mission, by either Boeing’s CST-100 or SpaceX’s Dragon V-2, at some stage after November 2017, on the eagerly awaited “U.S. Crew Vehicle-1” or “USCV-1.” In anticipation of Commercial Crew operations, the first two domes for CST-100’s Structural Test Article (STA) have been delivered to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, where they will be transferred to the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) Bay 3 for integration.

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NASA Awards Grants to Ozark IC to Create Circuits for Proposed Venus Rover

Artist's conception of the Venus Landsailing Rover. Image Credit: NASA GRC

Artist’s conception of the Venus Landsailing Rover. It would use advanced circuits which could survive longer than previous landers in the extreme surface conditions. A “sail” on top would help to move the rover on the surface using wind, a technique known as landsailing. Image Credit: NASA GRC

In what may be a significant step toward the seemingly far-off goal of sending a rover to the surface of Venus, NASA has awarded two grants totalling $245,000 to a semiconductor technology firm to design complex integrated circuits which could withstand the extremely harsh environment on this neighboring world.

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Haze Detected Above Mystery Bright Spots on Ceres

The brightest of the bright spots on Ceres, in Occator crater. Haze detected above them may help scientists determine if they are made of ice, salts or something else. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The brightest of the bright spots on Ceres, in Occator crater. Haze detected above them may help scientists determine if they are made of ice, salts or something else. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The intriguing bright spots on dwarf planet/asteroid Ceres have been fascinating the public and scientists alike for the past few months, and now a new discovery might provide a valuable clue as to just what these spots are made of: the Dawn spacecraft has detected a periodic haze over the brightest spots in Occator crater.

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Air Force Weather Satellite’s Breakup Blamed on Wiring Harness Compression in Battery Charge Assembly

DMSP Air Force weather satellite is depicted in polar orbit near Alaska. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

DMSP Air Force weather satellite is depicted in polar orbit near Alaska. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

A U.S. Air Force review into the Feb. 3 loss of Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Flight 13 determined a failure of the spacecraft’s battery charger as the likely cause of the satellite’s failure and structural breakup.

Analysis indicates one of the satellite’s wiring harnesses in the battery charge assembly lost functionality due to compression over a long period of time. Once the harness was compromised, exposed wires potentially caused a short in the battery power, leading to an overcharge situation with eventual rupture of the satellite’s two batteries.

The Air Force declined to reveal the breakup until amateur trackers discovered the debris cloud.

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'Cola and Solar Wars': 30 Years Since the Unlucky Success of Mission 51F (Part 2)

The Instrument Pointing System (IPS) was flown for the first time on Mission 51F. It would later be reflown on a pair of dedicated astronomy missions in 1990 and 1995. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The Instrument Pointing System (IPS) was flown for the first time on Mission 51F. It would later be reflown on a pair of dedicated astronomy missions in 1990 and 1995. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Three decades have now passed since one of the most dramatic missions—and one of the most dramatic months—in the shuttle program’s 30-year history. On 29 July 1985, Challenger rocketed into orbit, carrying her eighth human crew on a week-long voyage to explore the Sun and the cosmos with a battery of scientific instruments. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, Mission 51F had already endured a harrowing main engine shutdown, seconds before liftoff, on 12 July, but any belief that the seven astronauts had weathered their run of bad luck was sorely mistaken. Six minutes after launch, and 67 miles (108 km) above Earth, a main engine failure necessitated an Abort to Orbit (ATO), marking the only major in-flight abort ever effected during a shuttle launch. Challenger limped into a low, but stable orbit, ready for an ambitious mission, which, despite its scientific bonanza, would forever become known for its role in “The Cola Wars”.

Continue reading ‘Cola and Solar Wars': 30 Years Since the Unlucky Success of Mission 51F (Part 2)

Rosetta Team Troubleshoots Philae as Comet's Activity 'Heats Up'

From ESA: "“This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken on 14 July 2015 from a distance of 161 km from the comet centre. The image has a resolution of 13.7 m/pixel and measures 14 km across.” Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

From ESA: ““This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken on 14 July 2015 from a distance of 161 km from the comet centre. The image has a resolution of 13.7 m/pixel and measures 14 km across.” Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft is on the precipice of making more discoveries as its comet begins to “heat up.” Just weeks before Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko reaches perihelion—the point where its orbit brings it closest to the Sun—the Rosetta spacecraft has been moved back from the comet due to increasing activity. While the spacecraft will begin an unprecedented observation of a comet during this crucial period, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) continues to troubleshoot Philae’s communication issues. At present time, the lander has not been heard from since July 9.

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Clarifying NASA's Budget Regarding Orion, SLS, and SpaceX / Boeing Commercial Crew

 

The launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its first spaceflight, EFT-1, last December. The capsule is intended for deep-space crewed missions starting in the next decade atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The launch of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on its first spaceflight, EFT-1, last December. The capsule is intended for deep-space crewed missions starting in the next decade atop the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

As next year’s NASA budget is being written by the House and Senate appropriations committees, a potential fight is brewing between the White House and NASA. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has, on several occasions over the past three months, publicly taken the position that proposed congressional appropriations bills will do real harm to the ability of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) before 2018. These same concerns were raised in a recent veto threat by the White House.

Some in the commercial space activist community have responded to the congressional funding bills with dismay, claiming that money is being removed from the CCP for the benefit of the Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) programs. And a few such activists have ascribed congressional funding levels as purely political.

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'Going to Spain': 30 Years Since the Unlucky Success of Mission 51F (Part 1)

After one false start, Challenger roars into orbit on 29 July 1985, to begin the Spacelab-2 science mission. It would be one of the most dramatic near-misses in the 30-year shuttle program. Photo Credit: NASA

After one false start, Challenger roars into orbit on 29 July 1985, to begin the Spacelab-2 science mission. It would be one of the most dramatic near-misses in the 30-year shuttle program. Photo Credit: NASA

Thirty years ago, this week, one of the most significant Space Shuttle science missions ever undertaken hung—for the merest of minutes—in the balance, suspended on a knife-edge of success and failure, some 67 miles (108 km) above Earth. Heading towards low-Earth orbit at more than 9,300 mph (15,000 km/h) on the afternoon of 29 July 1985, Challenger was in the process of delivering her eighth human crew on the Spacelab-2 mission to explore the Sun and the cosmos in unprecedented detail, using a battery of telescopes and instruments in her payload bay. Three weeks earlier, on 12 July, the crew of Mission 51F had also suffered a hairy shutdown of their three main engines on the pad, seconds before liftoff. If the crew believed to have weathered their run of bad luck, they could not have been more mistaken. Today, with the shuttle now a figure of history, Mission 51F stands alone as arguably the most significant near-miss in the program’s 30-year operational lifespan.

Continue reading ‘Going to Spain': 30 Years Since the Unlucky Success of Mission 51F (Part 1)