Stories tagged space exploration

Aug
07
2014

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimen
Comet 67P/Churyumov-GerasimenCourtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Rosetta - a spacecraft launched over ten years ago by the European Space Agency (ESA) - finally reached its goal yesterday, aligning and syching itself up with the orbital path of a comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) speeding around the Sun.

During the course of its trajectory, Rosetta utilized the gravity of both Earth and Mars in several slingshot maneuvers to accelerate and help hurdle the spacecraft toward its destination. The comet is traveling toward the sun at 34,175 mph. After a high-speed chase across nearly 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) of interplanetary space Rosetta had to slam on its brakes over the past to months to reduce its speed (relative to the comet) to just under 2 miles per hour.

"This arrival phase in fact is the most complex and exotic trajectory that we have ever seen," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French Space Agency CNES.

Close-up of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimen's surface: Rosetta will send a lander to the surface in November.
Close-up of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimen's surface: Rosetta will send a lander to the surface in November.Courtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
The spacecraft will spend the next year or so collecting data and photographing the comet which is roughly 2 miles in diameter and shaped somewhat like a duck. Comets are thought to be composed of the same nebular material present when the Sun and planets first formed more than 4.6 billion years ago. Rosetta will help increase our knowledge of the solar system's beginnings.

This coming November ESA engineers will command Rosetta's lander, Philae, to set down on the comet's surface to collect even more data, a feat never before attempted. That will certainly be worth watching.

SOURCES
BBC story
Sydney Morning Herald story
Rosetta FAQ
ExtremeTech (more photos)

Oct
28
2013

Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.
Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.Courtesy Lockheed Martin
From a NASA press release:

NASA's first-ever deep space craft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.

Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. Preliminary data indicate Orion's vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system -- which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities -- performed as expected.

All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.

"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step."

Orion provides the United States an entirely new human space exploration capability -- a flexible system that can to launch crew and cargo missions, extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, and enable new missions of exploration throughout our solar system.

EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface --15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans. The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.

"It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."

Throughout the past year, custom-designed components have been arriving at Kennedy for installation on the spacecraft -- more than 66,000 parts so far. The crew module portion already has undergone testing to ensure it will withstand the extremes of the space environment. Preparation also continues on the service module and launch abort system that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.

The completed Orion spacecraft will be installed on a Delta IV heavy rocket for EFT-1. NASA is also developing a new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power subsequent missions into deep space, beginning with Exploration Mission-1 in 2017.

Hold it there just a second, the reports earlier today that Voyager I has left the solar system may be a bit premature. NASA's team following the spacecraft say that they don't consider it to be outside of the influence of our Sun just yet. Confusing? You can read more about the official NASA position on this matter right here.

Voyager !: Voyager I has now left the sphere of our solar system after 35 years of space travel over 11 billion miles. It still hasn't had to stop to ask directions!!!
Voyager !: Voyager I has now left the sphere of our solar system after 35 years of space travel over 11 billion miles. It still hasn't had to stop to ask directions!!!Courtesy NASA
To paraphrase Capt. Kirk, we've now gone boldly where no one has gone before. After 35 years and 11 billion miles of travel, NASA's Voyager I spacecraft has officially left our solar system. Measuring instruments on the craft no longer defect the movement of solar wind, which is the movement of particles influenced by energy released by our Sun, around Voyager I. Following not too far behind is Voyager II, which as covered about 9.5 billion miles. You can learn more about the milestone by clicking here.

UPDATE: Wait a second, NASA isn't agreeing with this analysis on Voyager I's location. You can read more about this brewing science controversy here. Does Pluto have anything to do with this?

Jan
23
2013

Rolling, rolling, rolling: Tomorrow marks the 10-year anniversary of the landing of NASA's Mars rover Opportunity. It's still taking pictures and collecting data on the Red Planet.
Rolling, rolling, rolling: Tomorrow marks the 10-year anniversary of the landing of NASA's Mars rover Opportunity. It's still taking pictures and collecting data on the Red Planet.Courtesy NASA
Can we expect to get more than 10 years out of our cars today? At best, they get listed as a "late model" vehicle in some classified ads. So how about our space cars?

This week the Mars rover Opportunity is marking its tenth year of rolling around the Red Planet. Not too shabby for something that was designed for just a quick three-month life span. It's partner rover, Spirit, seized up and got permanently stuck in sand three years ago. And now both vehicles are being overshadowed by Curiosity, the high-tech rover that just landed on Mars five months ago.

Like any older vehicle, Opportunity has its quirks. It gets around mostly in reverse these days because one of the front wheels doesn't turn well. Its robot arm needs some extra coaxing from operators to get jobs done. But it's still collecting samples and data. It total, it's logged 22 miles across the Martian terrain. Not too shabby for a late model rover.

Here's a link to NASA's webpage of photos and information that Opportunity has collected over the years.

That's one big step for a man: Just days before the launch of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong is photographed practicing his descent from the Lunar Module.
That's one big step for a man: Just days before the launch of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong is photographed practicing his descent from the Lunar Module.Courtesy NASA
With the passing on Saturday of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, there has been a lot of media coverage of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Armstrong, very private in his non-astronaut life, seems to be a bit camera shy during his time on the moon too. You can read – and see – all about it here.

MPCV GTA
MPCV GTACourtesy Lockheed Martin/NASA
Work on the heat shield and thermal protection backshell of the new Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) ground test article, or GTA, was completed recently in preparation for environmental testing. This image is of the MPCV at the Lockheed Martin Vertical Test Facility in Colorado. The MPCV will undergo rigorous testing to confirm its ability to safely fly astronauts through all the harsh environments of deep space exploration missions.

President Signs NASA Authorization Act: President Barack Obama signs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 in the Oval Office, Monday, Oct. 11, 2010.
President Signs NASA Authorization Act: President Barack Obama signs the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 in the Oval Office, Monday, Oct. 11, 2010.Courtesy Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Obama signed the NASA 2010 Authorization Act into law yesterday, giving approval for $58.4 billion to be spent on NASA programs over the next three years.

The details are yet to be ironed out, but we do know that the budget includes one more shuttle flight (meaning there are three now remaining (STS-133 (Discovery), November 1st, 2010; STS-134 (Endeavor) February 26, 2011; and the newly added STS-135 (Atlantis) likely in June 2011), the life of the International Space Station will be extended to at least 2020, and the development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle will start as early as 2011.

Here in Minnesota, we've turned the corner and we're now heading toward winter. Snow can't be that far behind. This week on Mars, NASA's Phoenix explorer has dectected snow falling on the Red Planet. Here's a complete video report. Unfortunately for Martian school children, the snow was so light that it melted before touching down on land, removing the possiblity of having a snow day off from school.