On December 21, 2015, a SpaceX Falcon 9 delivered 11 ORBCOMM satellites to low-Earth orbit and the first stage booster came back and made a powered landing on a pad at Cape Canaveral. That was the first time an orbital vertical launched rocket had done such a thing. Here is a video with highlights of the event set to music from the movie Interstellar:
Lots of launches worldwide this month. Here are videos of ten of them:
** Dec.21: Today in French Guiana, ArianeSpace launched an Ariane V rocket with two commercial communications satellites going to geostationary orbit
** Dec.20: On Wednesday the Japanese space agency JAXA successfully launched a small Epsilon rocket with the Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) science mission comprised of “nine cutting-edge instruments designed to study the Van Allen belts”.
** Dec. 18: United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral with the EchoStar 19 satellite, which will provide home broadband Internet services.
** Dec. 15: Orbital ATK air launched a Pegasus rocket from a L-1011 aircraft. The rocket deployed 8 satellites for hurricane studies.
** Dec.11: The Chinese space agency launched a weather satellite on a Long March-3B rocket:
** Dec.9: The Japanese space agency JAXA launched a H-11B rocket with the HTV-6 vehicle carrying cargo to the ISS:
** Dec 7: United Launch Alliance launched a Delta IV rocket with a USAF communications satellite. (Note the flames around the base of the rocket just at liftoff. This is a standard occurrence with the Delta IV LOX/Hydrogen engines).
** Dec.7: The Indian space agency ISRU launched a PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) with the Resource Sat-2A earth observation satellite:
** Dec.5: Arianespace launched a Vega rocket with a Turkish earth observation satellite:
** Dec.1: The Russian space agency Roscosmos launched a Soyuz rocket with a Progress spacecraft carrying cargo to the ISS. However, out of range of the cameras a problem occurred with the upper stage, and the Progress crashed into the ground:
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile has begun observing in a new range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This has been made possible thanks to new receivers installed at the telescope’s antennas, which can detect radio waves with wavelengths from 1.4 to 1.8 millimetres — a range previously untapped by ALMA. This upgrade allows astronomers to detect faint signals of water in the nearby Universe.
ALMA observes radio waves from the Universe, at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. With the newly installed Band 5 receivers, ALMA has now opened its eyes to a whole new section of this radio spectrum, creating exciting new observational possibilities.
The European ALMA Programme Scientist, Leonardo Testi, explains the significance:
“The new receivers will make it much easier to detect water, a prerequisite for life as we know it, in our Solar System and in more distant regions of our galaxy and beyond. They will also allow ALMA to search for ionised carbon in the primordial Universe.”
It is ALMA’s unique location, 5000 metres up on the barren Chajnantor plateau in Chile, that makes such an observation possible in the first place. As water is also present in Earth’s atmosphere, observatories in less elevated and less arid environments have much more difficulty identifying the origin of the emission coming from space. ALMA’s great sensitivity and high angular resolution mean that even faint signals of water in the local Universe can now be imaged at this wavelength .
To test the newly installed receivers observations were made of several objects including the colliding galaxies Arp 220, a massive region of star formation close to the centre of the Milky Way, and also a dusty red supergiant star approaching the supernova explosion that will end its life .
To process the data and check its quality, astronomers, along with technical specialists from ESO and the European ALMA Regional Centre (ARC) network, gathered at the Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden, for a “Band 5 Busy Week” hosted by the Nordic ARC node. The final results have just been made freely available to the astronomical community worldwide.
Team member Robert Laing at ESO is optimistic about the prospects for ALMA Band 5 observations:
“It’s very exciting to see these first results from ALMA Band 5 using a limited set of antennas. In the future, the high sensitivity and angular resolution of the full ALMA array will allow us to make detailed studies of water in a wide range of objects including forming and evolved stars, the interstellar medium and regions close to supermassive black holes.”
Notes  A key spectral signature of water lies in this expanded range — at a wavelength of 1.64 millimetres.
 The observations were performed and made possible by the ALMA Extension of Capabilities team in Chile.
 The ESO Band 5 Science Verification team includes: Elizabeth Humphreys, Tony Mroczkowski, Robert Laing, Katharina Immer, Hau-Yu (Baobab) Liu, Andy Biggs, Gianni Marconi and Leonardo Testi. The team working on processing the data included: Tobia Carozzi, Simon Casey, Sabine König, Ana Lopez-Sepulcre, Matthias Maercker, Iván Martí-Vidal, Lydia Moser, Sebastien Muller, Anita Richards, Daniel Tafoya and Wouter Vlemmings.