Commercial Earth-Watcher Ready for Friday Morning Launch

DigitalGlobe's WorldView-4 satellite is readied for encapsulation in the Atlas V payload fairing on 8 September 2016. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-4 satellite is readied for encapsulation in the Atlas V payload fairing on 8 September 2016. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

Twenty-five months after the WorldView-3 commercial Earth-imaging satellite was launched into orbit, its near-twin is set to rocket out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., no sooner than Friday, 16 September, atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket. Built by Lockheed Martin and described as “a big telescope with a little satellite wrapped around it,” WorldView-4 has followed a long and convoluted journey from factory floor to launch pad. Originally known as “GeoEye-2,” both the satellite and its parent company came under the ownership of Longmont, Colo.-based DigitalGlobe in early 2013.

However, for a time it seemed unclear if GeoEye-2—subsequently renamed WorldView-4—would ever launch. Then, in the summer of 2014, following a U.S. Department of Commerce decision to allow DigitalGlobe to commercially sell Earth imagery at far higher resolutions than previously allowable under U.S. law, the need for WorldView-4 became more acute. In tandem with WorldView-3, launched in August 2014, the new satellite will provide a panchromatic resolution of 12.2 inches (31 cm) and a multispectral resolution of 4 feet (1.2 meters). And since early 2015, this has been increased to just 10 inches (25 cm) for panchromatic and 3.3 feet (1 meter) for multispectral, offering resolutions previously unobtainable outside the military.

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Curiosity Rover Examines Spectacular Layered Buttes, Closes In on Mount Sharp

Curiosity near Murray Buttes, on first approach. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/James Sorenson

Curiosity near Murray Buttes, on first approach. Panoramic image processing by James Sorenson. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/James Sorenson

Mars has often been compared to deserts on Earth, and for good reason: It is pretty much a barren landscape with a lot of sand and rocks everywhere. Sometimes the similarities can be quite striking, and the terrain in Gale crater where the Curiosity rover is roaming around is a good example. The rover is currently in a region of stunning scenery, consisting of buttes and mesas that are very reminiscent of ones on Earth. This area could easily be mistaken for the American southwest if it weren’t for the dusty, pinkish sky and complete lack of vegetation. Curiosity is now getting a close-up look at these formations, which are not only beautiful but record a long and fascinating geological history.

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A Jewel in the Rough: Juno Returns First Rich Scientific Harvest From Jupiter

From NASA: "NASA's Juno spacecraft captured this view as it closed in on Jupiter's north pole, about two hours before closest approach on Aug. 27, 2016." Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

From NASA: “NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this view as it closed in on Jupiter’s north pole, about two hours before closest approach on Aug. 27, 2016.” Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Jupiter, with its complex layers of clouds and storms, is revealing itself to be a multifaceted jewel of a planet. Over forty years after the first observations of Jupiter, our Solar System’s largest gas giant, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has returned data and images from its first orbit.

Juno was able to image the planet’s north pole, which shows features previously unseen, including a distinctive cloud pattern. In addition, the first infrared close-ups of Jupiter were taken, showing extensive auroral activity at both the north and south poles. During the first of its 37 planned orbits, Juno passed within 2,500 miles (4,200 kilometers) of Jupiter’s cloud tops, giving scientists and researchers on Earth the most intimate view yet of our Solar System’s behemoth planet.

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'Send Up a Tanker': 50 Years Since the High-Flight of Gemini XI (Part 2)

Tethering Gemini XI to Agena-XI was part of an experiment to evaluate the controllability of two vehicles in close proximity without control inputs. Photo Credit: NASA

Tethering Gemini XI to Agena-XI was part of an experiment to evaluate the controllability of two vehicles in close proximity without control inputs. Photo Credit: NASA

Half a century ago, this coming week, on 12 September 1966, Gemini XI astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad and Dick Gordon launched from Earth within a two-second-long “window” and docked with an unmanned Agena target vehicle just 1.5 hours after launch, on their very first orbit of Earth. It was an astonishing achievement and one which mission planners lauded as critical in accomplishing Project Apollo’s mandate of Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR). When the two astronauts docked with the Agena at 11:16 a.m. EDT, some 94 minutes after liftoff, their first task was to undock, then redock, to demonstrate the capability. With this test done, the astronauts settled down to an intensive three days in space. It would be three days of experiments, spacewalking, high-flying, and sheer drama.

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Through the Lens: OSIRIS-REX Begins Epic 7-Year Mission to Asteroid Bennu and Back

Just a half-hour before the Sun set over the Space Coast on Thursday, 8 September, United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully delivered NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft on its seven-year voyage to explore the near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu. Liftoff of the highly reliable Atlas V—flying in its rarely-used “411” configuration, and is now in the process of being delivered out of Earth’s gravitational clutches as it begins a two-year journey to reach Bennu. Photo Credit: Elliot Severn / AmericaSpace

Just a half-hour before the Sun set over the Space Coast on Thursday, 8 September, United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully delivered NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft on its seven-year voyage to explore the near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu. Photo Credit: Elliot Severn / AmericaSpace

Earlier this week, ULA successfully launched NASA’s highly-anticipated OSIRIS-REX mission to meet with and study a carbon-rich asteroid that is expected to host organic molecules. But the mission is not a one-way trip, OSIRIS-REX is tasked with doing something no other NASA spacecraft has ever done: return samples of it back to Earth for study, with the hope of revealing more pieces to the puzzle of nature’s secrets behind the earliest stages of the Solar System’s formation and evolution and possibly shedding light on the origins of life as we currently understand it.

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'Would You Believe M=1?' 50 Years Since the High-Flight of Gemini XI (Part 1)

Fifty years ago, this month, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon's Gemini XI mission would carry them to a peak 850 miles (1,370 km), which remains the highest altitude of any Earth-orbital mission. Only the Apollo lunar flights traveled higher on their expeditions to the Moon. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifty years ago, this month, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon’s Gemini XI mission would carry them to a peak 850 miles (1,370 km), which remains the highest altitude of any Earth-orbital mission. Only the Apollo lunar flights traveled higher on their expeditions to the Moon. Photo Credit: NASA

Not all astronauts get on with one another, but if there ever was a crew whose members could be described as best buddies, it would be Gemini XI’s Charles “Pete” Conrad and Dick Gordon. Their friendship pre-dated their NASA days, back to a time in the late 1950s when they served together aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger. A decade later, as astronauts, their camaraderie endured and they earned a reputation for being fun-loving, cocky, irreverent, and intensely focused. Nowhere was that focus more tightly maintained than on Gemini XI, a three-day mission in September 1966—50 years ago, this month—during which Conrad and Gordon pushed the United States a step closer to landing on the Moon.

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OSIRIS-REx Launches on Multi-Year Mission to Asteroid Bennu

Precisely on the opening of tonight's 115-minute "launch window", the Atlas V 411 took flight. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace

Precisely on the opening of tonight’s 115-minute “launch window,” the Atlas V 411 took flight. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace

Just a half-hour before the Sun set over the Space Coast on Thursday, 8 September, United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully delivered NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft on its seven-year voyage to explore the near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu. Liftoff of the highly reliable Atlas V—flying in its rarely-used “411” configuration, equipped with a 14-foot-diameter (4-meter) Large Payload Fairing (LPF), a single strap-on, solid-fueled booster, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage—occurred at 7:05 p.m. EDT, precisely at the opening of the 115-minute “window.” OSIRIS-REx is now in the process of being delivered out of Earth’s gravitational clutches as it begins a two-year journey to reach Bennu.

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OSIRIS-REx Stands Ready for Date With Asteroid Bennu (Part 2)

An artist's rendering of OSIRIS-REx at asteroid 101955 Bennu. Its solar arrays will be configured in a "Y-wing" shape to avoid dust accumulation. Image Credit: NASA

An artist’s rendering of OSIRIS-REx at asteroid 101955 Bennu. Its solar arrays will be configured in a “Y-wing” shape to avoid dust accumulation. Image Credit: NASA

Tomorrow evening, if all goes well, a spacecraft destined to visit, retrieve, and return samples from a near-pristine “carbonaceous” asteroid will roar aloft atop a unique “flying-sideways” rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. NASA’s $800 million Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft represents the third member of the New Frontiers program—a medium-class series of deep-space exploration missions, following hard on the heels of New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter—and is truly audacious in its scope.

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Expedition 48 Crew Wraps Up Six-Month Space Station Mission

Wrapping up his fourth space mission, Jeff Williams is now the United States' most experienced space traveler, with over 534 cumulative days away from the Home Planet. Photo Credit: NASA TV

Wrapping up his fourth space mission, Jeff Williams is now the United States’ most experienced space traveler, with over 534 cumulative days away from the Home Planet. Photo Credit: NASA TV

After more than 172 days in space, U.S. national-record-breaking astronaut Jeff Williams and his Russian crewmates Alexei Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka have landed safely in south-central Kazakhstan, aboard their Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft. The trio undocked from the space-facing (or “zenith”) Poisk module on the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:51 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, 6 September. Following a smooth de-orbit burn, they achieved a textbook landing at 9:13:53 p.m. EDT (7:13:53 a.m. local time on Wednesday, 7 September). In completing the fourth mission of his astronaut career, Williams has accrued more than 534 days away from the Home Planet, making him by far the most experienced U.S. spacefarer of all time.

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OSIRIS-REx Stands Ready for Date With Asteroid Bennu (Part 1)

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has completed assembly at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver, CO. Over the next several months engineers will put the spacecraft through a series of intense tests. The $800 million mission to retrieve samples from Astroid Bennu is scheduled to launch in September 2016. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has completed assembly at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver, Colo. Over the next several months engineers will put the spacecraft through a series of intense tests. The $800 million mission to retrieve samples from Astroid Bennu is scheduled to launch in September 2016. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

Just two days now remain before NASA’s $800 million Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft—the third member of the New Frontiers medium-class exploration program—launches on a multi-year expedition to gather samples from Asteroid 101955 Bennu and return them to Earth for scientific analysis. Liftoff of OSIRIS-REx aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster is currently targeted during a two-hour “window,” which opens at 7:05 p.m. EDT on Thursday, 8 September. Opportunities to launch the spacecraft remain available for 33 days, through 12 October.

Rising from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., the Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft will be deposited onto a trajectory which will see it gain a gravitationally-assisted boost from Earth in September 2017, ahead of rendezvous with Bennu in August 2018. It will then set to work on a lengthy imaging and mapping campaign, in order to select an appropriate sampling location. In July 2020, OSIRIS-REx’s 11-foot-long (3.35-meter) articulated arm and sample collector head will gather between 2 ounces (60 grams)—about the same volume as an average candy bar—and 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of regolith from Bennu’s carbon-rich surface. These priceless extraterrestrial grains will be encapsulated inside a Sample Return Canister (SRC) and transported back to Earth for a parachute-assisted landing at the Utah Test and Training Range in September 2023.

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