Recovery crew members process the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at Vandenberg Air Force Base after completing 674 days in space. A total of three X-37B missions have been completed, totaling 1,367 days on orbit. Photo Credit: Boeing
The U.S. Air Force’s mysterious X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) ended its third secretive mission today, landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California at 9:24 a.m. PDT after spending 674 days in orbit carrying out its secretive mission for the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. Although the Boeing-made X-37B’s existence is public knowledge, its precise mission objectives and ultimate capabilities remain heavily classified.
Continue reading Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle Returns After Nearly Two Years in Orbit
Artist’s conception of an ice giant type exoplanet. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)
Many different kinds of exoplanets have been found by astronomers, from giant “hot Jupiters” and “super Earths” to smaller rocky worlds like Earth or Mars. Now, another type has been discovered, an “ice giant” similar to Uranus or Neptune in our own Solar System. The planet is about 25,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius and is one of the first found that appears to be similar to the ice giant planets in our Solar System, Uranus and Neptune, which are part gas and part ice in composition. The discovery was made by an international team of astronomers, led by Radek Poleski, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University.
Continue reading New Uranus-Like ‘Ice Giant’ Exoplanet Discovered
Philae’s primary landing site from 30 km. Close-up of the region containing Philae’s primary landing site J, which is located on the ‘head’ of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The mosaic comprises two images taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 14 September 2014 from a distance of about 30 km. The image scale is 0.5 m/pixel. The circle is centred on the landing site and is approximately 500 m in diameter. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Site J it is! Philae will touchdown on the comet’s “head” on Nov. 12.
Following a thorough science, engineering, and hazard assessment of the merits of Site J, the European Space Agency (ESA) has given the green light for its Rosetta orbiter to deploy its Philae lander to the primary site on the “head” of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as the location for the history’s first attempt to touchdown on a comet.
Continue reading ESA ‘Green Lights’ Primary Landing Site for Rosetta’s Philae Lander
An artist’s impression of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO), located on the outer rim of our Solar System at a staggering distance of 4 billion miles from the Sun. A HST survey uncovered three KBOs that are potentially reachable by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft after it passes by Pluto in mid-2015
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
Excitement is building as one of the most anticipated missions this decade gets closer and closer to providing the world with our first up-close views of a place so far away that humanity has never seen it in any real detail. For nearly eight years New Horizons has been blazing a trail across the Solar System, and with it recently crossing the orbit of Neptune the spacecraft is now in the final stretch of its primary objective, aiming for a July 2015 encounter with the only world not yet visited by humanity’s robotic explorers, Pluto. But the spacecraft won’t be able to slow down enough to stay and enjoy the view; Pluto’s gravity is so weak, and New Horizons is traveling so fast, that the spacecraft has no room for the extra fuel that would be required to go into orbit. Instead it will fly by Pluto at nearly 9 miles per second (over 30,000 mph), giving the science team back on Earth one shot at collecting all the science data and imagery they can.
Continue reading Hubble Reveals Three Potential Deep Space Objects for New Horizons to Explore After Pluto
A series of surface features called irregular mare patches that have been recently discovered on the Moon, are thought to be remnants of small basaltic eruptions that are indicative of lunar volcanic activity as recent as several million years ago. This image by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows one such feature, called Maskelyne. Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
Barren, desolate, and geologically dead … Our view of the Moon ever since the first humans set foot on the soft lunar soil almost half a century ago has been that of a still and unchanging world which, apart from the occasional moon quake, is only disturbed by the random meteoroid that strikes its surface. Despite the apparent timelessness of the Moon, a growing body of evidence in recent years has started to reveal that our nearest celestial neighbor has been geologically active much more recently than previously thought. The latest such evidence come from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, which has discovered many dozens of geologic features across its surface that are indicative of very young volcanic activity, as recently as a few million years ago.
Continue reading New Moon: LRO Discovers Evidence of Young Lunar Volcanism
Expedition 41 astronauts Reid Wiseman (top) and Barry “Butch” Wilmore (right) work at the zenith face of the Harmony node during yesterday’s EVA-28. Photo Credit: NASA
Despite difficulties with stubborn bolts, Expedition 41 spacewalkers Reid Wiseman and Barry “Butch” Wilmore triumphantly concluded U.S. EVA-28 on Wednesday, 15 October, replacing a failed Sequential Shunt Unit (SSU) on the starboard truss of the International Space Station (ISS) and working to replace and relocate cameras and other equipment in anticipation of next year’s arrival of International Docking Adapters (IDAs) and the movement of the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) for future Commercial Crew vehicles from 2017. With Wiseman designated “EV1,” having red stripes on the legs of his Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) suit for identification, and Wilmore as “EV2,” clad in a pure-white ensemble, the duo spent six hours and 34 minutes outside the station on the 183rd spacewalk in support of ISS assembly and maintenance.
Continue reading Space Station Replacements and Relocations Highlight Six-Hour EVA-28
Three views of an escaping atmosphere, obtained by MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph. By observing all of the products of water and carbon dioxide breakdown, MAVEN’s remote sensing team can characterize the processes that drive atmospheric loss on Mars. Credit: University of Colorado/NASA
NASA’s new MAVEN Mars orbiter has taken a series of unprecedented images in its first science campaign since achieving orbit barely three weeks ago and delivered results that are “tantalizing” scientists with the rich rewards expected to come from a spacecraft that has been a decade in the making.
Continue reading NASA’s New MAVEN Probe Tantalizes Scientists With Unprecedented First Science Results From Mars
Mission VA-220 will be powered uphill by the Vulcain-2 engine of the cryotechnic main stage and twin side-mounted solid-fuelled rocket boosters. Photo Credit: ESA – CNES Arianespace Optique video du CSG JM Guillon
For the fifth time in 2014, Arianespace is readying one of its mammoth Ariane 5 boosters to deliver a heavyweight payload into orbit. Mission VA-220—the 76th flight by an Ariane 5 and the 220th overall flight by a member of Arianespace’s rocket family—is scheduled to roar aloft from the ELA-3 (Ensemble de Lancement Ariane) launch complex at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, on the evening of Thursday, 16 October. The launch “window” extends from 6:00 p.m. until 7:51 p.m. GFT (5:00 p.m. until 6:51 p.m. EDT), and VA-220 will deliver the Intelsat-30 (also known as “DLA-1,” for “DirecTV Latin America”) and ARSAT-1 communications satellites into geostationary orbit, at an altitude of approximately 22,000 miles (35,000 km). The latter will represent Argentina’s first geostationary communications satellite. Counting one Vega and three Soyuz launches, Thursday’s mission will represent the ninth overall flight by Arianespace in 2014.
Continue reading Arianespace Ready to Launch Ninth Mission of 2014 on Thursday, 16 October
Roberto Vittori (right), who turns 50 today, is pictured with fellow Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli in Europe’s Columbus laboratory, aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in May 2011. Photo Credit: NASA
Only six Italian citizens in human history have ventured beyond the thin veil of Earth’s atmosphere and into space, and today (Wednesday, 15 October) marks the 50th birthday of Roberto Vittori, the only one of his countrymen to have flown as many as three times into space, the first European to fly twice to the International Space Station (ISS), and the last European to travel into orbit aboard the shuttle. In May 2011, Vittori served as Mission Specialist Two on STS-134, the final voyage of Endeavour, which delivered the long-awaited Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS)-2 to the station. Having been selected and trained alongside NASA’s 1998 class of astronauts, Vittori also participated in a pair of Soyuz visiting missions to the station in April 2002 and April 2005 and accrued more than 35 days in orbit, making him the third most experienced Italian spacefarer of all time.
Continue reading Roberto Vittori, Last European Shuttle Flier, Turns 50 Today
Barry “Butch” Wilmore (left) and Reid Wiseman will perform EVA-28 tomorrow, the first U.S. spacewalk since November 2008 to feature an all-Navy crew. Photo Credit: NASA
Just eight days after EVA-27, U.S. spacewalkers will again depart the Quest airlock tomorrow (Wednesday, 15 October) to install a replacement Sequential Shunt Unit (SSU) onto the starboard truss of the International Space Station (ISS) and remove and relocate cameras and other equipment in anticipation of next year’s movement of the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) and the arrival of Commercial Crew vehicles from 2017 onward. Expedition 41 astronauts Reid Wiseman (designated “EV1,” with red stripes on the legs of his space suit for identification) and Barry “Butch” Wilmore (“EV2,” wearing a pure-white suit) are expected to leave Quest at about 8:15 a.m. EDT, and their tasks should require approximately 6.5 hours. Both men represent the U.S. Navy—Wiseman is a commander, Wilmore a captain—and this will be the first all-Navy U.S. EVA since the spacewalks of Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper and Steve Bowen on shuttle mission STS-126 in November 2008.
Continue reading All-Navy Spacewalk Team Set for Ambitious EVA-28 on Wednesday