Enceladus' Water Geysers May Be 'Curtain Eruptions' According to New Study

The water vapor jets on Enceladus are now thought to be more like diffuse "curtains" rather than separate plumes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/PSI

The water vapor jets on Enceladus are now thought to mostly be more like diffuse “curtains” rather than separate plumes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/PSI

The water vapor geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus are one of the most fascinating phenomena in the Solar System; the jets spray far out into space in a dazzling display unseen anywhere else. Known to emanate from the “tiger stripe” fissures at the south pole, they were thought to be separate, distinct plumes erupting from the surface, but now scientists think that they might actually be mostly broader, more diffuse “curtains” of spray along the length of the fissures.

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First GPS III Satellite Fully Integrated, Being Readied for Testing

An artist's rendering of Lockheed Martin's GPS III satellite in operation. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

An artist’s rendering of Lockheed Martin’s GPS III satellite in operation. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

The development of the most advanced Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite ever built reached an important milestone within the last month. Lockheed Martin announced that the system module of its first next-generation GPS III satellite (Space Vehicle One, or SV 01) was lowered over its propulsion core in April, fully integrating the satellite at the company’s manufacturing facility near Denver, Colo. The system module contains the satellite’s essential navigation payload, while the propulsion core will provide maneuverability on orbit. The satellite will be subjected to rigorous testing that simulates conditions in space, bringing it closer to a projected 2017 launch.

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PHOTOS: SpaceX Successfully Completes Rapid Pad Abort Test From Cape Canaveral

More than 120,000 pounds (54,430 kg) of propulsive yield from eight SuperDraco thrusters pulled the Dragon spacecraft to an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), ahead of a perfect oceanic splashdown. Photo Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace

More than 120,000 pounds (54,430 kg) of propulsive yield from eight SuperDraco thrusters pulled the Dragon spacecraft to an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), ahead of a perfect oceanic splashdown. Photo Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace

SpaceX has successfully conducted its long-awaited Pad Abort Test of a mockup Crew Dragon spacecraft, ahead of the In-Flight Abort, later this summer, and its eventual plan to deliver U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), aboard a U.S.-manufactured spacecraft, and from U.S. soil, for the first time since the end of the shuttle era. Delayed since early April, the test got underway with spectacular speed at 9 a.m. EDT Wednesday, 6 May, as the spacecraft punched away from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., rising to a predicted altitude of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) in a matter of a few seconds, before its crew capsule separated from the unpressurized “trunk” and completed a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Early indications are that the 102-second test—which showcased a system that SpaceX and NASA fervently hope they will never need to use with a crew aboard—ran without a wrinkle.

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Astronaut Don Thomas, Veteran of 'Repeat' Shuttle Mission, Turns 60 Today

Don Thomas, pictured in March 2002, during training for Expedition 6. Photo Credit: NASA

Don Thomas, pictured in March 2002, during training for Expedition 6. Photo Credit: NASA

Astronaut Don Thomas—one of only four humans to have flown Shuttle Columbia as many as three times, joint record-holder for the shortest interval between two discrete space flights, and a member of 1995’s famous “All-Ohio Mission”—turns 60 today (Wednesday, 6 May). During his career, Thomas flew four times into space in just 36 months and, but for an unfortunate health issue, might also have journeyed to the International Space Station (ISS) as a member of Expedition 6. Additional misfortune came in the form of damage to the shuttle’s External Tank (ET), prior to his second flight, by pesky woodpeckers, which snatched away Thomas’ chance to be part of the United States’ 100th piloted space mission. However, he became one of the first dozen astronauts to have flown 1,000 hours aboard the shuttle and, in his later career, served as ISS Program Scientist.

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Astronomers Find First Evidence of Possible Volcanic Activity On a Super-Earth Exoplanet

Artist's conception of super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, before and after volcanic activity on its day side. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

Artist’s conception of super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, before and after volcanic activity on its day side. The surface may be partially molten. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

Discovering new exoplanets has become rather routine in the last few years, but determining just what conditions exist on any of them is naturally more difficult, since they are so far away. But astronomers are making advances in this area as well, and now they have found the first evidence of changing temperatures – and possible volcanic activity – on a distant super-Earth exoplanet.

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PHOTOS: SpaceX Crew Dragon Ready for First Critical Flight Test Wednesday

SpaceX's Crew Dragon prototype space capsule sits atop SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral AFS for a scheduled Wednesday morning Pad Abort Test. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon prototype space capsule sits atop SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral AFS for a scheduled Wednesday morning Pad Abort Test. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

Tomorrow morning, SpaceX is scheduled to conduct the company’s highly anticipated first critical flight test for its Crew Dragon space capsule, known as the Pad Abort Test (PAT), at the company’s primary launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. SpaceX is already well into the development of their crewed space systems for low-Earth orbit transport, having secured a multi-billion dollar NASA contract last year to fly NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) starting in 2017. But before any astronaut straps themselves inside a Dragon capsule, SpaceX must successfully demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to abort from a launch or pad emergency to safely carry crew members out of harm’s way.

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SpaceX Prepares for Latest in Long History of Critical Pad Abort Tests (Part 2)

The launch escape apparatus pulls an Apollo Command Module (CM) to safety during the Pad Abort Test-2 in June 1965. Photo Credit: NASA

The launch escape apparatus pulls an Apollo Command Module (CM) to safety during the Pad Abort Test-2 in June 1965. Photo Credit: NASA

Tomorrow, if all goes well, more than 120,000 pounds (54,430 kg) of thrust will rock Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., as SpaceX stages the long-awaited Pad Abort Test of its crewed Dragon spacecraft. The test, which is part of the Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) contract with NASA and comes only months after SpaceX was awarded a slice of the $6.8 billion Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) “pie,” will see eight side-mounted SuperDraco thrusters boost the soon-to-be-piloted capsule to an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) and about 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) eastwards, after which Dragon will execute a parachute-guided splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Wednesday’s test will be dramatic, indeed, and represents a critical milestone as SpaceX aims to deliver U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), aboard a U.S. spacecraft, and from U.S. soil, by mid-2017. Yet it is actually the latest in a long line of pad abort tests over more than five decades, which have served to prove the safety and flightworthiness of U.S. crewed vehicles.

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Aging Studies, Muscle Investigations, and Other Biological Research Keeping ISS Expedition 43 Busy

Expedition 43 crew member and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti working with the C.Elegans muscle experiment last week on the ISS. Photo Credit: Twitter via @AstroSamantha

Expedition 43 crew member and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti working with the C. elegans muscle experiment last week on the ISS. Photo Credit: Twitter via @AstroSamantha

The Expedition 43 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) kept busy last week working on a large variety of research and experiments, most of which focused on learning how to improve the health of those living both on and off the planet.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly worked on tasks related to two investigations last week. He conducted a dry run for the first study, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Nematode Muscles investigation, by starting the growth cycle for the small roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (which is a commonly used as a model for larger organisms) by transferring the set of worms being used for the experiment to a culture bag. Researchers will study the muscle fibers and cytoskeleton of C. elegans in order to better understand the way these physiological systems change when they are exposed to microgravity. Two sets of worms will be grown on the ISS: one in microgravity, and the other in 1g by putting it in a centrifuge. The purpose of the centrifuge is to mimic gravitational forces as the worms are still in orbit. This will give investigators a way to compare the way different levels of gravity affect the C. elegans samples while they live in space.

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SpaceX Prepares for Latest in Long History of Critical Pad Abort Tests (Part 1)

The LJ-1B Little Joe mission launches from Wallops on 21 January 1960, carrying "Miss Sam", the second rhesus passenger, on a critical Pad Abort Test for Project Mercury. Photo Credit: NASA

The LJ-1B Little Joe mission launches from Wallops on 21 January 1960, carrying “Miss Sam”, the second rhesus passenger, on a critical Pad Abort Test for Project Mercury. Photo Credit: NASA

Following the recent successes of the CRS-6 Dragon launch toward the International Space Station (ISS) on 14 April and last week’s flight of the TurkmenÄlem52E/MonacoSat payload to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO), the roar of rocket engines from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is becoming almost commonplace. However, on Wednesday, 6 May, SpaceX—the Hawthorne, Calif.-based operator of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle and recent co-winner of a slice of NASA’s $6.8 billion Commercial Crew transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract—will execute its most ambitious exercise to date, ahead of its 2017 goal to deliver U.S. astronauts to the space station, aboard a U.S. spacecraft, and from U.S. soil, for the first time since the end of the shuttle era. The long-delayed Pad Abort Test of a specially instrumented Dragon spacecraft will last under two minutes from pad departure through splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, with most of that distance covered in the first 25-30 seconds, but carries profound implications for the future prospects of the Commercial Crew endeavor.

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'The Lord Protected Grandpa': 30 Years Since Mission 51B (Part 2)

During the majority of the seven-day mission, Challenger operated in a gravity gradient orientation, with her vertical stabilizer directed Earthward and her starboard wing pointing in the direction of travel. Image Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

During the majority of the seven-day mission, Challenger operated in a gravity gradient orientation, with her vertical stabilizer directed Earthward and her starboard wing pointing in the direction of travel. Image Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Thirty years ago, this week, a seven-man crew with a combined age of 340 years rocketed into orbit aboard Shuttle Challenger on Mission 51B. For seven days, the astronauts—Commander Bob Overmyer, Pilot Fred Gregory, Mission Specialists Don Lind, Norm Thagard, and Bill Thornton, and Payload Specialists Lodewijk van den Berg and Taylor Wang—worked around the clock in two shifts to support 15 life and microgravity science experiments from U.S., European, and Indian researchers in the pressurized Spacelab-3 module. As described in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, they became the first U.S. crew to include as many as three over-50s, including the then-oldest man in space, but unbeknownst at the time they came within milliseconds of disaster, soon after liftoff.

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