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AmericaSpace Launch Countdown

Next Launch MUOS-3 on a Atlas V 551 rocket from Cape Canaveral AFB, FL
scheduled for:
21 Jan 15 1:04:00 GMT
20 Jan 15 20:04:00 EST

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Dawn’s Greatest Glimpse Yet of Ceres Hints at Startling Revelations Soon to Come

GIF animation of Ceres images taken by Dawn spacecraft on Jan. 13, 2015.   Credit:   NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

GIF animation of Ceres images taken by Dawn spacecraft on Jan. 13, 2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

We’ve wondered about Ceres‘ nature and true identity for over two centuries, ever since it was discovered on New Year’s Day, 1801, by Giuseppe Piazzi of Italy. It’s been alternately classified as a planet, asteroid, and more recently as a dwarf planet.

Just gander in amazement at the greatest glimpse yet of the infant world and you’ll quickly realize we are now clearly on the cusp of startling new revelations about the mysteries of Ceres.

Continue reading Dawn’s Greatest Glimpse Yet of Ceres Hints at Startling Revelations Soon to Come

Dragon Unloading, False Alarms, and Ongoing Research Highlight Last Week's Activities on ISS

European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti works with a pair of Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti works with a pair of Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES, on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

After an emergency incident on the International Space Station (ISS) last week put a pause on routine operations, the astronauts of Expedition 42 were back to the business of unloading supplies and experiments off the SpaceX Dragon CRS-5 spacecraft (which is currently docked to the ISS), as well as conducting ongoing research.

Continue reading Dragon Unloading, False Alarms, and Ongoing Research Highlight Last Week’s Activities on ISS

Most Powerful Atlas V Ready to Boost Heavyweight MUOS-3 Satellite to Orbit on Tuesday

The bulbous payload fairing and MUOS-3 undergo preparations for installation atop the Atlas V 551. Photo Credit: ULA

The bulbous payload fairing and MUOS-3 undergo preparations for installation atop the Atlas V 551. Photo Credit: ULA

After completing a banner 14 flights last year, United Launch Alliance (ULA)—the Centennial, Colo.-based operator of the Atlas V, Delta IV, and Delta II boosters out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.—will kick off an ambitious 2015 with its inaugural launch on the evening of Tuesday, 20 January. The mission will deliver the third heavyweight Multi-User Objective System (MUOS-3) satellite into geostationary transfer orbit, with an apogee of 22,240 miles (35,790 km), on behalf of the U.S. Navy. Following on the heels of the launches of MUOS-1 in February 2012 and MUOS-2 in July 2013, the 15,000-pound (6,800-kg) MUOS-3 represents the third of an eventual constellation of five next-generation narrowband tactical satellites to offer U.S. and allied military forces improved communications capabilities whilst on the move.

Continue reading Most Powerful Atlas V Ready to Boost Heavyweight MUOS-3 Satellite to Orbit on Tuesday

NASA Undecided on Asteroid Redirect Mission Concept as Near-Earth Asteroid Approaches for Flyby

This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2004 BL86, which will come no closer than about three times the distance from Earth to the moon on Jan. 26, 2015. Due to its orbit around the sun, the asteroid is currently only visible by astronomers with large telescopes who are located in the southern hemisphere. But by Jan. 26, the space rock's changing position will make it visible to those in the northern hemisphere. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2004 BL86, which will come no closer than about three times the distance from Earth to the Moon on Jan. 26, 2015. Due to its orbit around the Sun, the asteroid is currently only visible by astronomers with large telescopes who are located in the southern hemisphere. But by Jan. 26, the space rock’s changing position will make it visible to those in the northern hemisphere. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On Monday, Jan. 26, asteroid 2004 BL86 will safely whizz past the Earth, at about three times the distance of Earth to the Moon. By the time the asteroid, which is one-third of a mile (0.5 km) in size, makes its closest approach it will be an estimated 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth. BL86 poses no threat to Earth whatsoever, but a close flyby of an asteroid that size does provide NASA scientists at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., with a unique opportunity to learn more about the ancient rock from the dawn of the Solar System.

Continue reading NASA Undecided on Asteroid Redirect Mission Concept as Near-Earth Asteroid Approaches for Flyby

Who Is This? Remembering the Flight of STS-81 (Part 2)

The combined shuttle and Mir crews, pictured during the STS-81 visiting mission in January 1997. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The combined shuttle and Mir crews, pictured during the STS-81 visiting mission in January 1997. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Almost two decades ago, America’s shuttle program began living up to its billing as a vehicle for delivering experiments, equipment, and supplies to an Earth-circling space station. And in the small hours of 12 January 1997, Atlantis roared aloft on a mission to exchange long-duration U.S. astronauts aboard Russia’s Mir orbital outpost and to transport upwards of 6,100 pounds (2,800 kg) of logistics in a pressurized Spacehab double module. During STS-81—as described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article—astronaut Jerry Linenger was dropped off at Mir and John Blaha returned to Earth in his stead, whilst the “core” shuttle crew of Commander Mike Baker, Pilot Brent Jett, and Mission Specialists Jeff Wisoff, John Grunsfeld, and Marsha Ivins and the station’s own crew of Russian cosmonauts Valeri Korzun and Aleksandr Kaleri supported one of the most complex and ambitious joint flights ever attempted.

Continue reading Who Is This? Remembering the Flight of STS-81 (Part 2)

Kepler Discovers Three Super-Earth Exoplanets Orbiting Nearby Star

Cartoon illustration depicting how the three newly-found planets' shadows (right side) can be seen as eclipses from Earth (left side) as they transit in front of their star. Image Credit: Credit: K. Teramura, UH IfA.

Cartoon illustration depicting how the three newly-found planets’ shadows (right side) can be seen as eclipses from Earth (left side) as they transit in front of their star. Image Credit: K. Teramura, UH IfA.

Last week was a good one for exoplanet enthusiasts, with yet more news relating to how other worlds are now being found by the thousands, and that there may be many habitable planets out there. Now there’s already another discovery being announced of three more planets almost the same size as Earth, all orbiting a nearby star.

Continue reading Kepler Discovers Three Super-Earth Exoplanets Orbiting Nearby Star

‘Long Lost' British Beagle 2 Mars Lander Found Intact by NASA Mars Orbiter

Beagle 2 Lander Observed by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  This annotated image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a bright feature interpreted as the United Kingdom's Beagle 2 Lander, which was never heard from after its expected Dec. 25, 2003, landing. The image was taken by the orbiter's HiRISE camera on Dec. 15, 2014.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/University of Leicester

Beagle 2 Lander Observed by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
This annotated image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a bright feature interpreted as the United Kingdom’s Beagle 2 Lander, which was never heard from after its expected Dec. 25, 2003, landing. The image was taken by the orbiter’s HiRISE camera on Dec. 15, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/University of Leicester
Update: See below new Pillinger Point panorama on Mars named in honor of the late Colin Pillinger, Beagle 2 PI

The mystery of the “long lost” British Beagle 2 Mars lander that vanished without a trace some 11 years ago, during its plummet to the Red Planet’s surface around Christmas 2003, has at last been solved.

The diminutive Beagle 2 has been found intact in high-resolution images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), after a grueling search that stretched over many years. It was loaded with an innovative science payload specifically designed to look for alien life forms.

Continue reading ‘Long Lost’ British Beagle 2 Mars Lander Found Intact by NASA Mars Orbiter

One-Year Crew Reflects at T-10 Weeks on Baseball, the Grass of Home, and Singing With Sarah

The Soyuz TMA-16M crew consists of (from left to right) U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace

The Soyuz TMA-16M crew consists of (from left to right) U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko. Photo Credit: Michael Galindo/AmericaSpace

With only 10 weeks remaining until their launch aboard Soyuz TMA-16M to the International Space Station (ISS), U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko spoke with candor, excitement, and humor at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, on Thursday, 15 January, about their respective roles on the first One-Year Mission of the 21st century. The three fiftysomethings—who have a combined age of 160, as well as boasting a total of eight previous spaceflights, eight EVAs, and a cumulative 1,066 days in orbit between them—are currently scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2:42 a.m. local time on 27 March (3:42 p.m. EST on the 26th). Although Kelly and Kornienko will remain aloft until early March 2016, Padalka will return to Earth in September and be replaced for the second half of the One-Year Mission by fellow cosmonaut Sergei Volkov.

Continue reading One-Year Crew Reflects at T-10 Weeks on Baseball, the Grass of Home, and Singing With Sarah

Stepping Stones to Space Station: Remembering the Flight of STS-81 (Part 1)

Atlantis roars into the night on 12 January 1997, kicking off the shuttle program's fifth docking mission to Mir. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Atlantis roars into the night on 12 January 1997, kicking off the shuttle program’s fifth docking mission to Mir. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Almost two decades ago, America’s shuttle program began living up to its billing as a vehicle for delivering experiments, equipment, and supplies to an Earth-circling space station. And in the small hours of 12 January 1997, Atlantis roared aloft on a mission to exchange long-duration U.S. astronauts aboard Russia’s Mir orbital outpost and to transport upwards of 6,100 pounds (2,800 kg) of logistics in a pressurized Spacehab double module. During STS-81, astronaut Jerry Linenger was dropped off at Mir and John Blaha returned to Earth in his stead, whilst the “core” shuttle crew of Commander Mike Baker, Pilot Brent Jett, and Mission Specialists Jeff Wisoff, John Grunsfeld, and Marsha Ivins and the station’s own crew of Russian cosmonauts Valeri Korzun and Aleksandr Kaleri supported one of the most complex and ambitious joint flights ever attempted.

Continue reading Stepping Stones to Space Station: Remembering the Flight of STS-81 (Part 1)

All Systems GO for ULA to Launch Company's Heaviest Atlas-V Payload Next Week With MUOS-3

Crews with Lockheed Martin lifting the NAVY's MUOS-3 satellite for placement in its shipping container fpr delivery to Cape Canaveral, Fla., ahead of a planned January 2015 launch. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

Crews with Lockheed Martin lifting the NAVY’s MUOS-3 satellite for placement in its shipping container fpr delivery to Cape Canaveral, Fla., ahead of a planned January 2015 launch. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

The third in a five-ship fleet for a next-generation, narrowband tactical military satellite communications system is nearly ready for a scheduled nighttime launch attempt next week. United Launch Alliance (ULA) will kick off their new year from Atlas Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, where crews are making final preparations to deliver the U.S. NAVY’s latest Mobile User Objective System satellite, identified as MUOS-3, into a geostationary orbit over the Atlantic Ocean, over 22,200 miles high. 

Continue reading All Systems GO for ULA to Launch Company’s Heaviest Atlas-V Payload Next Week With MUOS-3