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Fixing Solar Max: 30 Years Since Mission 41C (Part 2)

Backdropped by the glorious Earth, Challenger drifts serenely with Solar Max secured in her payload bay. Photo Credit: SpaceFacts.de

Backdropped by the glorious Earth, Challenger drifts serenely with Solar Max secured in her payload bay. Photo Credit: SpaceFacts.de

Thirty years ago today (6 April 1984), the shuttle launched on arguably its most ambitious mission to date: a mission which would demonstrate the reusable orbiter’s capabilities of rendezvous, retrieval, satellite repair, and spacewalking with the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) “jet backpack” in spectacular fashion and enhance NASA’s confidence in anticipation of future flights to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Originally designated “STS-13,” and later redesignated “STS-41C,” the reader would be forgiven for thinking that the mission might have been dogged with ill-fortune. In fact, for the five-man crew, the question of good or bad luck even factored into their impromptu mission patch. On Mission 41C in April 1984, astronauts Bob Crippen, Dick Scobee, Terry Hart, James “Ox” van Hoften, and George “Pinky” Nelson salvaged NASA’s crippled Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) spacecraft—nicknamed “Solar Max”—and after initial difficulties repaired and rejuvenated it during two magnificent EVAs.

Continue reading Fixing Solar Max: 30 Years Since Mission 41C (Part 2)

First Direct Imaging of Exoplanet in Visible Light Obtained by Ground-Based Telescope

An image of the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b made with the Magellan Adaptive Optics (MagAO) VisAO camera. This image was made using a CCD camera, which is essentially the same technology as a cell phone camera. The planet is nearly 100,000 times fainter than its star, and orbits its star at roughly the same distance as Saturn from our Sun. Image Credit/Caption: Jared Males/UA

Image of the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b made with the Magellan Adaptive Optics (MagAO) VisAO camera. This image was made using a CCD camera, which is essentially the same technology as a cell phone camera. The planet is nearly 100,000 times fainter than its star and orbits its star at roughly the same distance as Saturn from our Sun. Image Credit/Caption: Jared Males/UA

The advent of digital photography and the development of digital imaging technologies like Charged Coupled Devices, or CCDs, have made digital cameras the method of choice for amateur and professional astronomers alike when it comes to capturing the beauty of the night sky. Now, in what constitutes a step forward in the direct imaging of exoplanets, astronomers have used this technology to capture the light from an alien world in visible wavelengths for the first time, with a CCD camera mounted on top a ground-based telescope.

Continue reading First Direct Imaging of Exoplanet in Visible Light Obtained by Ground-Based Telescope

Fixing Solar Max: 30 Years Since Mission 41C (Part 1)

Thirty years ago, this week, Mission 41C put the shuttle's capabilities to the test. In a single flight, the reusable vehicle demonstrated its capacity to support satellite deployment and retrieval, rendezvous and proximity operations, untethered spacewalking and robotics...and served as a highlight of the ingenuity of the human spirit. Photo Credit: SpaceFacts.de

Thirty years ago this week, Mission 41C put the shuttle’s capabilities to the test. In a single flight, the reusable vehicle demonstrated its capacity to support satellite deployment and retrieval, rendezvous and proximity operations, untethered spacewalking and robotics … and served as a highlight of the ingenuity of the human spirit. Photo Credit: SpaceFacts.de

Thirty years ago this week, the shuttle launched on arguably its most ambitious mission to date: a mission which would demonstrate the reusable orbiter’s capabilities of rendezvous, retrieval, satellite repair, and spacewalking with the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) “jet backpack” in spectacular fashion and enhance NASA’s confidence in anticipation of future flights to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Originally designated “STS-13,” and later redesignated “STS-41C,” the reader would be forgiven for thinking that the mission might have been dogged with ill-fortune. In fact, for the five-man crew, the question of good or bad luck even factored into their impromptu mission patch. On Mission 41C in April 1984, the astronauts salvaged NASA’s crippled Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) spacecraft—nicknamed “Solar Max”—and after initial difficulties repaired and rejuvenated it during two magnificent EVAs.

Continue reading Fixing Solar Max: 30 Years Since Mission 41C (Part 1)

The Sea of Enceladus: Cassini Confirms Underground Ocean on Saturn's Geyser Moon

Diagram of what the interior of Enceladus is now thought to look like, with the icy outer shell, liquid water ocean and inner rocky core. Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Diagram of what the interior of Enceladus is now thought to look like, with the icy outer shell, liquid water ocean, and inner rocky core. Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Coming just after the news of the ringed asteroid and new dwarf planet, some more exciting news from the outer Solar System was announced yesterday, and this will be of particular interest to those hoping to find evidence of alien life elsewhere in our Solar System. Saturn’s tiny moon Enceladus, famous for its geysers of water vapor spewing out into space, has long been suspected of harboring an internal ocean, just like Jupiter’s moon Europa (and possibly others). Now it seems that scientists have the evidence they’ve been looking for, thanks to new findings based on data returned by the Cassini spacecraft, still in orbit around Saturn.

Continue reading The Sea of Enceladus: Cassini Confirms Underground Ocean on Saturn’s Geyser Moon

Listening to the Cosmic Winds, Then Talking to the Artist Who Recorded Them

NASA's Voyager missions are part of humanity's greatest achievements ever, inspiring the generations. Their tremendous collection of scientific data have also inspired a scientist/musician who converted them into music, giving a whole new meaning and appreciation to both science and music. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Voyager missions are part of humanity’s greatest achievements ever, inspiring the generations. Their tremendous collection of scientific data have also inspired a scientist/musician who converted them into music, giving a whole new meaning and appreciation to both science and music. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The heavenly motions…
are nothing but a continuous song for several voices,
perceived not by the ear but by the intellect,
a figured music which sets landmarks
in the immeasurable flow of time.”

 — Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

 

From the Pythagoreans in Ancient Greece to Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler in 16th century Europe, scientists and philosophers have long sought to understand the celestial harmony and mathematical ratios of Musica universalis, the Music of the Spheres, a concept believed to be an inherent property of the Cosmos.

Continue reading Listening to the Cosmic Winds, Then Talking to the Artist Who Recorded Them

Arianespace Soyuz-Fregat Delivers European Radar-Imaging Satellite Into Orbit

The Soyuz-Fregat vehicle launches the Sentinel-1A radar-imaging satellite at 6:02 p.m. GFT (5:02 p.m. EDT) Thursday, 3 April. Photo Credit: Arianespace

The Soyuz-Fregat vehicle launches the Sentinel-1A radar-imaging satellite at 6:02 p.m. GFT (5:02 p.m. EDT) Thursday, 3 April. Photo Credit: Arianespace

Arianespace—the Paris, France-headquartered launch services organization, which operates Ariane, Vega, and Soyuz vehicles from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana—has successfully lofted Europe’s Sentinel-1A radar-imaging satellite into orbit. Liftoff of Arianespace’s seventh Soyuz booster, equipped with a Fregat upper stage, occurred precisely on time at 6:02:26 p.m. GFT (5:02:26 p.m. EDT) Thursday from the Ensemble de Lancement Soyouz (ELS) complex. Timing of this launch was particularly critical and initiated a 23-minute mission to insert Sentinel-1A into a Sun-synchronous polar orbit of about 435 miles (700 km) for its planned seven years of operational life. Once it has been tested, the satellite will provide imagery of the Home Planet in all lighting and weather conditions, utilizing a powerful C-band synthetic aperture radar.

Continue reading Arianespace Soyuz-Fregat Delivers European Radar-Imaging Satellite Into Orbit

Breaking News: Proposal Seeks End To Atlas V

The following authorization language, which sources say was written, if not wholly then very nearly so, by SpaceX and promoted by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin, has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill for the last several days. In addition to this proposal, SpaceX lobbyists and Senators Feinstein and Durbin have been meeting senators to push the proposal’s merit while avoiding any mention that United Launch Alliance has assured Congress that it has a +2 year supply of RD-180s.

Adoption of the proposal’s language would not only likely mean the end of the Atlas V rocket but would also practically guarantee SpaceX a monopoly in the commercial crew launch market.

Senate Proposal To End Atlas V

Click on image to open PDF.

Update 2:

Here is a response by a GOP Senate aide,

    “This is a transparent attempt to try to distort competition.  SpaceX portrays itself as only wanting free and fair competition, but instead is using its political benefactors to try to force its main competition, the Atlas rocket – a proven, successful, and reliable launch vehicle – out of business.  More troubling is that some appear willing to risk national security and cost the government millions of dollars associated with breaking the ULA contract in order to help SpaceX avoid competing with Atlas.”

Update:

Breaking Defense has excellent coverage about the goings-on of the push by Senator Feinstein to curtail use of the Atlas V for DoD launches in their article, SpaceX Turns Up Heat On ULA; Sen. Feinstein Writes SecDef.

Another good article is Pentagon Mulls Building All-American Rocket Engines, Dropping Russian RD-180s.

Atlas V Successfully Launches Military Weather Satellite Into Near-Polar Orbit

 

Today's spectacular launch was the 80th by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) vehicle since the company's formation in December 2006. Photo Credit: Robert C. Fisher

Today’s spectacular launch was the 80th by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) vehicle since the company’s formation in December 2006. Photo Credit: Robert C. Fisher

United Launch Alliance (ULA) has successfully staged its 80th mission since the company was formed in December 2006. Liftoff of the venerable Atlas V booster—flying in its “401″ configuration, with a 13-foot-diameter (four-meter) payload fairing, no strap-on solid-fueled rockets, and a single-engine Centaur upper stage—took place on time at 7:46:30 a.m. PDT Thursday from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-3E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Within 18 minutes, the vehicle had injected the 19th Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) spacecraft into a near-polar, Sun-synchronous orbit of about 460 nautical miles (850 km). It will join a network of satellites whose heritage extends over five decades and which provides strategic and tactical weather prediction to aid the U.S. military in planning operations at sea, on land, and in the air.

Continue reading Atlas V Successfully Launches Military Weather Satellite Into Near-Polar Orbit

ESA's Rosetta Lander Awake After Long Slumber, Ready for Science

From the European Space Agency: "Artist's impression of Philae descending to the surface of comet 67P/CG." Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

From the European Space Agency: “Artist’s impression of Philae descending to the surface of comet 67P/CG.” Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced that a crucial part of its long-slumbering Rosetta spacecraft—its Philae lander—was successfully reactivated Friday, March 28. This comes over two months after the spacecraft as a whole was “woken up” on Jan. 20 after a sleep period of two and a half years. Rosetta is currently chasing down the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, where it intends to be by Nov. 11 this year. If all goes as planned, Philae will descend to the comet’s surface, where it will take high-resolution photos and samples of its composition, making unprecedented, on-the-spot analyses.

Continue reading ESA’s Rosetta Lander Awake After Long Slumber, Ready for Science

Government Orders NASA to Suspend Communications With Russia Over Ukraine Crisis

Standing in front of the first stage engines of their Soyuz rocket on 20 September 2013, Soyuz TMA-10M crewmen (left to right) Mike Hopkins (NASA), Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky (both with Roscosmos) clasp hands in solidarity. Photo Credit: NASA

Standing in front of the first stage engines of their Soyuz rocket on 20 September 2013, Soyuz TMA-10M crewmen (left to right) Mike Hopkins (NASA), Oleg Kotov, and Sergei Ryazansky (both with Roscosmos) clasp hands in solidarity. Photo Credit: NASA

Today, the U.S. Government banned all NASA employees and contractors from any communication with the Russian government and Roscosmos, citing “Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” as the reason for the decision in an internal email sent by NASA headquarters Wednesday afternoon.

Continue reading Government Orders NASA to Suspend Communications With Russia Over Ukraine Crisis