Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon Charon in 14 July 2015. New Horizons has just completed a major milestone in its mission by crossing the orbit of Neptune on Aug. 25, exactly a quarter-of-a-century after Voyager 2 flew by the ice giant planet in 1989. Image Credit: Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)
They say there’s no such thing in life as chance, but only choice. That certainly holds true for NASA’s New Horizons mission which has been the culmination of more than two decades of efforts by the space agency and the planetary science community alike to study the last unexplored frontier of the Solar System: dwarf planet Pluto and the vast expanses of the Kuiper Belt that lie beyond. Yet, in what can be described as a unique cosmic coincidence, New Horizons, which has been travelling through the outer Solar System for the last 8.5 years to reach its destination, has just passed the orbit of Neptune earlier this week, exactly a quarter-of-a-century after the iconic Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up views of the fascinating ice giant planet, in August 1989. Having completed this major milestone, New Horizons is now in the homestretch of its historic journey toward Pluto, where it will arrive in less than a year, for its long-awaited flyby of this fascinating and mysterious world.
Continue reading Passing the Torch: Twenty-Five Years After Voyager 2, New Horizons Crosses Neptune’s Orbit On Its Way to Pluto
Steve Nagel (1946-2014). Photo Credit: Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de
Veteran shuttle flyer Jerry Ross—the first human being to chalk up as many as seven discrete space missions—spoke touchingly and with humor yesterday (Tuesday, 26 August) at the funeral of his friend, astronaut Steve Nagel, who died from cancer last week, aged 67. Since their first meeting at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., almost four decades ago, Ross and Nagel “discovered we had a lot of things in common” and ended up flying two shuttle missions together. During his eulogy, Ross reflected warmly on the legacy of his former crewmate and their half-joking wish to someday regale each other at an Astronaut Retirement Home. “We would have two rocking chairs next to each other on the front porch,” Ross wrote in his speech, which he has kindly permitted AmericaSpace to use, “and enjoy giving each other a bad time while talking about our ‘similarities’.”
Continue reading Men of Similarity: Jerry Ross Fondly Remembers His Friend, Steve Nagel
From the European Space Agency (ESA): “Artist’s impression of Rosetta’s lander Philae (front view) on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae will be deployed to the comet in November 2014 where it will make in situ observations of the comet surface, including drilling 23cm into the subsurface to extract material for analysis in its on board laboratory.” Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab
Just weeks after the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft made history with its unprecedented rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta’s team is hard at work determining possible landing sites for Philae, the spacecraft’s lander. ESA announced that it has narrowed down the search for landing sites to five locations. If all goes as planned, Philae will make history again, completing the first landing on a comet’s surface in November.
Continue reading The Next Giant Leap for ESA: Rosetta Team Determining Possible Landing Sites for Philae
“Got Life?”—the ExoLance logo. Image Credit: Explore Mars
Is or was there life on Mars? That is one of the biggest and most hotly debated questions in planetary science. The manner in which the evidence has been searched for is also a topic of much discussion. The Viking landers in the 1970s were the first to look for direct evidence for microbial life still existing in the Martian soil, and the results are still regarded as inconclusive, with both pro and con supporters debating whether the landers actually found living microbes or just unusual soil chemistry. Subsequent lander and rover missions have focused more on determining whether conditions in Mars’ ancient past were habitable and able to support life as we know it, rather than searching directly for evidence of past or present life itself.
Continue reading Taking Aim With ExoLance: A New Way to Search for Life on Mars
The AsiaSat-6 payload undergoes final processing, ahead of its launch on Tuesday, 26 August. Photo Credit: AsiaSat
Three weeks after launching the AsiaSat-8 communications satellite, SpaceX is primed to deliver its sibling, AsiaSat-6, into geostationary transfer orbit at an altitude of 22,236 miles (35,786 km) on Wednesday, 27 August. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services organization—headed by entrepreneur Elon Musk—will launch its fifth Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket of 2014 during a three-hour “window,” which extends from 12:50 a.m. until 4:05 a.m. EDT. As with AsiaSat-8, the geostationary altitude of this heavyweight mission requires the maximum performance capability of the Falcon 9 v1.1, and consequently the booster will not be equipped with extendible landing legs and will not perform a “propulsive return-over-water” and controlled splashdown.
Continue reading SpaceX Primed to Launch Second AsiaSat Mission in Three Weeks
Artist’s impression of a fast radio burst appearing in the sky above the 64-m Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. A handful of these elusive cosmic radio flashes, whose exact origin remains unknown, have been detected during the last decade. Image Credit: CSIRO/Harvard/Swinburne Astronomy Productions
In 2007, David Narkevic, then a physics and political science undergraduate student at the West Virginia University, discovered a very powerful, ultra short radio burst that had seemingly come from beyond the Milky Way, while he was re-analysing archival data from 2001 that had been collected with the iconic 64-m Parkes radio telescope in Australia. The nature of this powerful, 4.6-millisecond-long signal, which was hidden inside a “haystack” of 480 hours’ worth of data, proved to be quite elusive while bearing no resemblance whatsoever to other known, previously discovered cosmic radio bursts. The enigmatic signal, named “the Lorimer burst” after Dr. Duncan Lorimer, an astronomy professor at the West Virginia University and Narkevic’s supervisor, thus remained a strange peculiarity for years, without reappearing in follow-up scans of the same part of the sky. A new cosmic mystery had been born.
Continue reading They Came From Outer Space! The Mystery of the Fast Radio Bursts
Boeing recently completed the final two milestones under the company’s CCiCap agreement with NASA, making Boeing the first, and only, company to have completed their CCiCap program on time and on budget. Image Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace / Boeing
One of three commercial spacecraft currently being developed under a NASA-funded competition to replace the agency’s now retired space shuttle fleet may have just sealed the deal in their effort to earn award of a commercial crew contract to return human spaceflight capability back to the United States. Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation capsule, or CST-100, is the company’s choice to provide NASA and the United States with a new mode of American-made transportation to and from the International Space Station, and last week the company became the first—and thus far only—company to complete its CST-100 Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA, both on time and on budget.
Continue reading Boeing’s CST-100 Completes CCiCap On Time and On Budget, Awaits NASA’s Commercial Crew Award Decision
Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits install a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module. Photo Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
Things are moving forward nicely at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Operations and Checkout Building in Florida, where technicians with Lockheed Martin (Orion’s prime contractor) are working hard to ready the agency’s Orion spacecraft for its maiden voyage next December. The flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1 for short), will put the unmanned capsule in action to evaluate its launch and high speed re-entry systems, such as avionics, attitude control, parachutes, computers, software, guidance and control, the separation events, and the critical heat shield, and last week the team preparing Orion to fly installed the 970 tiles that make up the spacecraft’s protective cone-shaped back shell.
Continue reading Orion’s Protective Shell of 970 Space Shuttle Thermal Tiles Installed for EFT-1 Mission
Neptune and its large moon, Triton, as seen by Voyager 2, three days after closest approach. Photo Credit: NASA
Twenty-five years ago, this week, humanity braced itself for its last, first-time, close-up glimpse of a new planet in the 20th century. NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, launched in August 1977, had already conducted a breathtaking exploration of Jupiter and Saturn—together with its twin, Voyager 1—and had undertaken our species’ first visit to Uranus. In readiness for the Uranus and Neptune rendezvous, a conference in Pasadena, Calif., in February 1984, allowed scientists to look at what was known about the two mysterious planets and identify a comprehensive series of observations about them. Although a reasonable amount of valuable data existed about Neptune, the enormous quantity of new information which would flow back to Earth in August 1989 enriched our understanding of this strange, distant world. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the observations of Neptune turned up many more questions than answers, as would its close passage by one of the Solar System’s most enigmatic moons: Triton.
Continue reading A Shrinking, Icy Moon: 25 Years Since Voyager 2′s Mission to Neptune (Part 4)
Dream Chaser blazes to orbit and the ISS after separation from ULA Atlas V Rocket 2nd stage and liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)
With the pace of assembly accelerating for the first private Dream Chaser space plane, plans for its maiden blastoff on an “orbital test flight on a fully autonomous mission in Nov. 2016″ are moving forward, Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems, told AmericaSpace in Part 3 of our exclusive, one-on-one interview about their efforts to build a cost-effective astronaut taxi to the International Space Station (ISS).
The first unmanned flight will be followed by the launch of the first manned Dream Chaser before the end of 2017, under NASA’s current timetable, Sirangelo stated.
Continue reading Flight Plans and Crews for Commercial Dream Chaser’s First Flights: One-on-One Interview With SNC VP Mark Sirangelo (Part 3)