A Very Alien Moon: NASA Celebrates 12th Anniversary of Huygens Landing on Titan

Mosaic of images taken by Huygens during its descent to the surface of Titan, from an altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers). Image Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Mosaic of images taken by Huygens during its descent to the surface of Titan, from an altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers). Riverbeds formed by liquid methane can be seen near the center of the image. Image Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Twelve years ago today, one of the most incredible space missions ever was accomplished: the first landing of a probe on an alien moon. And this wasn’t just any moon, but Titan, largest moon of Saturn and one of the most fascinating worlds in the Solar System. Although much colder than Earth, Titan mimics some of the processes found here such as its hydrological cycle, but with liquid methane/ethane instead of water. Titan had been observed extensively by telescopes and from Saturnian orbit, but this was the first time the surface could be seen up close.

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SpaceX Successfully Launches First of Seven Iridium NEXT Multi-Satellite Missions

As well as returning SpaceX to flight, today's mission marked the first successful drone ship landing for Just Read the Instructions. Photo Credit: SpaceX/Twitter

As well as returning SpaceX to flight, today’s mission marked the first successful drone ship landing for Just Read the Instructions. Photo Credit: SpaceX/Twitter

SpaceX has returned to flight operations, with the successful delivery of ten Iridium NEXT global mobile telecommunications satellites to low-Earth orbit. Launch of the Upgraded Falcon 9 took place during an “instantaneous” window at 9:54 a.m. PST Saturday, 14 January, and marked its third flight from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Within eight minutes, the first stage completed a smooth touchdown on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), nicknamed “Just Read the Instructions”, which was situated off the coast of San Diego. This marked the first time that the “West Coast” drone ship had hosted a fully successful landing of a Falcon 9 first stage. Aside from the visible triumph of returning to flight and bagging another ASDS landing, however, SpaceX has successfully fulfilled the first part of a seven-year-old contract which will see it place 70 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit by spring 2018.

“Team Vandenberg takes pride in supporting the launch of Iridium NEXT and SpaceX’s return to flight,” said Col. J. Christopher Moss, 30th Space Wing Commander at Vandenberg and the Launch Decision Authority for the Iridium NEXT mission. “Today’s launch is a testament to the professionalism and commitment to mission assurance, public safety, and mission success on the Western Range.”

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'Traumatic Decisions': 25 Years Since STS-42 Inaugurated International Space Year (Part 1)

The tunnel adaptor for the IML-1 Spacelab module is prepared for installation in the Orbiter Processing Facility. STS-42 was the first human launch of International Space Year 1992. Photo Credit: NASA

The tunnel adaptor for the IML-1 Spacelab module is prepared for installation in the Orbiter Processing Facility. STS-42 was the first human launch of International Space Year 1992. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-five years have now passed since the International Space Year (ISY) in 1992, during which 29 national space agencies and 10 international organizations participated in various activities to promote the exploration of both the cosmos and our home planet, Earth. And although a pair of Russian cosmonauts—Aleksandr Volkov and Sergei Krikalev—were aboard the Mir space station on New Year’s Day, the first piloted launch of 1992 was a major venture in life and microgravity sciences, involving over 200 scientists and the respective space agencies of the United States, Germany, France, Canada, and Japan. Laden with the first International Microgravity Laboratory (IML-1), Shuttle Discovery’s STS-42 mission had gone through several changes in crew composition and had been shadowed by disappointment and tragedy in equal measure.

Continue reading ‘Traumatic Decisions’: 25 Years Since STS-42 Inaugurated International Space Year (Part 1)

SpaceX Ready for Return-to-Flight Mission, Launching 10-Strong Iridium NEXT Payload

The Upgraded Falcon 9 vehicle for the first Iridium NEXT mission is prepared for launch. Photo Credit: SpaceX/Matt Desch/Twitter

The Upgraded Falcon 9 vehicle for the first Iridium NEXT mission is prepared for launch. Photo Credit: SpaceX/Matt Desch/Twitter

Four months after an Upgraded Falcon 9 booster catastrophically exploded on Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.—destroying both the vehicle and its payload, the Amos-6 communications satellite—SpaceX is ready for its second Return-to-Flight (RTF) in just over a year. The Hawthorne, Calif.-headquartered launch services organization plans to launch 10 Iridium NEXT global mobile telecommunications satellites into low-Earth orbit, no sooner than 9:54 a.m. PST Saturday, 14 January. The mission will be SpaceX’s third launch from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

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U.S.-French EVA Team Completes First Space Station Battery Swap

Shane Kimbrough made the fourth EVA of his astronaut career on Friday, 13 January 2017. Photo Credit: Shane Kimbrough/NASA/Twitter

Shane Kimbrough made the fourth EVA of his astronaut career on Friday, 13 January 2017. Photo Credit: Shane Kimbrough/NASA/Twitter

Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet spent almost six hours working outside the International Space Station (ISS), earlier today (Friday). During U.S. EVA-39—the 39th spacewalk performed from the station’s Quest airlock, in U.S.-built Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs) and performed without a Space Shuttle being present—the two astronauts hooked up three new adapter plates and associated electrical connectors for new lithium-ion batteries. As outlined previously by AmericaSpace, over the next few years, a total of 24 lithium-ion batteries will replace 48 aging nickel-hydrogen batteries aboard the Integrated Equipment Assemblies (IEAs) of the station’s four main power-producing truss segments.

In conjunction with last week’s U.S. EVA-38, the first six lithium-ion units have now been installed and activated on the starboard-side S-4 truss segment. The 12 old batteries from S-4 have been removed, with nine of them destined for disposal aboard Japan’s current H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-6), later in January, and the other three kept in a dormant configuration as potential on-orbit spares. The remaining 18 lithium-ion batteries will arrive, six at a time, aboard the next three HTVs, which are currently targeted to launch at yearly intervals in early 2018, early 2019 and early 2020. These batteries will be installed into the IEAs aboard the starboard-side S-6 truss and the port-side P-4 and P-6 trusses of the station’s expansive Integrated Truss Structure (ITS).

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Voyager Spacecraft Continue Their Interstellar Journey With Help from Hubble Space Telescope

Artist's illustrationn of Voyager 1 looking back on the Solar System. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)

Artist’s illustrationn of Voyager 1 looking back on the Solar System. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)

There have been many incredible planetary missions over the past several decades, from as close as our Moon to the outer reaches of the Solar System. Right now, there are robotic explorers at Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Ceres, and out past Pluto. But there are two more which have travelled even farther, to the most distant fringes of the Solar System, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Although they were launched way back in 1977, they are still active today, studying the region where our planetary system “ends” and interstellar space begins. Now, the Hubble Space Telescope is being used to help provide a “road map” for their future paths forward.

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Kimbrough, Pesquet Ready for Second Space Station Battery EVA on Friday

Thomas Pesquet assists Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson as they pre-breathe on masks before EVA-38. Photo Credit: NASA/Thomas Pesquet/Twitter

Thomas Pesquet assists Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson as they pre-breathe on masks before EVA-38. Photo Credit: NASA/Thomas Pesquet/Twitter

For the second time in 2017, a pair of astronauts will depart the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, in support of an ambitious, multi-year campaign to remove 48 aging nickel-hydrogen batteries on the Integrated Truss Structure (ITS) and install 24 lithium-ion replacements. Tomorrow’s 6.5-hour EVA-39 will be performed by Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough—a veteran spacewalker, with three excursions, totaling 19.5 hours, to his credit—and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet. As well as making his first career EVA, Pesquet will also become the fourth Frenchman to perform a spacewalk. Just a few weeks shy of his 39th birthday, he will also be the youngest of his countrymen to do so.

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'Waiting For You to Land on Mars': 20 Years Since the STS-81 Mission to Mir (Part 2)

The STS-81 and Mir crews gather for a group portrait in the space station's base block. Front row, from left, are Mike Baker, John Grunsfeld, John Blaha and Aleksandr Kaleri. Back row, from left, are Jerry Linenger, Valeri Korzun, Marsha Ivins, Jeff Wisoff and Brent Jett. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

The STS-81 and Mir crews gather for a group portrait in the space station’s base block. Front row, from left, are Mike Baker, John Grunsfeld, John Blaha, and Aleksandr Kaleri. Back row, from left, are Jerry Linenger, Valeri Korzun, Marsha Ivins, Jeff Wisoff, and Brent Jett. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Twenty years ago, this week, 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. 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 ‘Waiting For You to Land on Mars’: 20 Years Since the STS-81 Mission to Mir (Part 2)

'Horrendous Gas Mileage': 20 Years Since the STS-81 Mission to Mir (Part 1)

Mir, as viewed from Atlantis on STS-81. The orange-colored Docking Module (DM), at the end of the Kristall module, is visible at the right of the image. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Mir, as viewed from Atlantis on STS-81. The orange-colored Docking Module (DM), at the end of the Kristall module, is visible at the right of the image. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Two decades ago, this week, America’s Space Shuttle Program began living up to its billing as a vehicle for delivering experiments, equipment, people, and supplies to an Earth-orbiting space station. In the small hours of 12 January 1997, Atlantis roared into the darkened skies of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, on a 10-day voyage to exchange long-duration U.S. astronauts aboard Russia’s Mir outpost and 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 for a four-month increment, whilst John Blaha returned to Earth after his own extended stay in space. In the meantime, the “core” shuttle crew of Commander Mike Baker, Pilot Brent Jett, and Mission Specialists Jeff Wisoff, John Grunsfeld, and Marsha Ivins and Mir’s own crew of Commander Valeri Korzun and Flight Engineer Aleksandr Kaleri supported one of the most complex and ambitious joint flights ever attempted.

Continue reading ‘Horrendous Gas Mileage’: 20 Years Since the STS-81 Mission to Mir (Part 1)

Whitson Becomes World's Oldest Female Spacewalker, as EVA-38 Replaces Aging Space Station Batteries

Peggy Whitson heads out of the Quest airlock to tie Sunita Williams' record for the greatest number of spacewalks by a woman. Photo Credit: NASA/Thomas Pesquet/Twitter

Peggy Whitson heads out of the Quest airlock to tie Sunita Williams’ record for the greatest number of spacewalks by a woman. Photo Credit: NASA/Thomas Pesquet/Twitter

Two U.S. astronauts, including the oldest woman ever to participate in an Extravehicular Activity (EVA), triumphantly concluded a six-hour and 32-minute spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS) earlier today. Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson breezed through the task of installing three new adapter plates and hooked up electrical connectors for a trio of new lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries on the starboard-side S-4 segment of the station’s Integrated Truss Structure (ITS). Their work heralds the start of a two-year campaign of EVAs and robotics, which will see 48 aging nickel-hydrogen batteries on the port and starboard trusses replaced with 24 smaller, but higher-performing, lithium-ion ones. Working around an hour ahead of the timeline, Kimbrough and Whitson were also able to complete several “get-ahead” tasks, including a photographic survey of the station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-2).

Continue reading Whitson Becomes World’s Oldest Female Spacewalker, as EVA-38 Replaces Aging Space Station Batteries