A new video from the New Horizons mission, whose spacecraft will fly by Pluto in July of 2015:
Pluto has been a newsmaker and topic of scientific fascination since Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in February 1930. While conversations continue over Pluto’s planetary identity, at least one theme carried through the talks at the Pluto Science Conference in July 2013.
NASA’s New Horizons mission will help us understand worlds at the planetary frontier by making the first reconnaissance of Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt — a relic of solar system formation.
The New Horizons spacecraft — built and operated at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland — launched on Jan. 19, 2006. It swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost in February 2007, and will fly through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015. The countdown is on . . .
For more on the mission, visit http://pluto.jhuapl.edu
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Here’s the latest episode of NASA’s Space to Ground series on recent activities aboard the Int. Space Station:
Here’s an item from ESA about an initiative to clean up space debris:
21 February 2014: Standard space dockings are difficult enough, but a future ESA mission plans to capture derelict satellites adrift in orbit. Part of an effort to control space debris, the shopping list of new technologies this ambitious mission requires is set for discussion with industry experts.
ESA’s Clean Space initiative is studying the e.DeOrbit mission for removing debris, aiming to reduce the environmental impact of the space industry on Earth and space alike.
Earth’s debris halo
Decades of launches have left Earth surrounded by a halo of space junk: more than 17 000 trackable objects larger than a coffee cup, which threaten working missions with catastrophic collision. Even a 1 cm nut could hit with the force of a hand grenade.
The only way to control the debris population across key low orbits is to remove large items such as derelict satellites and launcher upper stages.
Such uncontrolled multi-tonne items are not only collision risks but also time bombs: they risk exploding due to leftover fuel or partially charged batteries heated up by orbital sunlight.
The resulting debris clouds would make these vital orbits much more hazardous and expensive to use, and follow-on collisions may eventually trigger a chain reaction of break-ups.
Targeting key orbits
e.DeOrbit is designed to target debris items in well-trafficked polar orbits, between 800 km to 1000 km altitude. At around 1600 kg, e.DeOrbit will be launched on ESA’s Vega rocket.
The first technical challenge the mission will face is to capture a massive, drifting object left in an uncertain state, which may well be tumbling rapidly. Sophisticated imaging sensors and advanced autonomous control will be essential, first to assess its condition and then approach it.
Making rendezvous and then steady stationkeeping with the target is hard enough but then comes the really difficult part: how to secure it safely ahead of steering the combined satellite and salvage craft down for a controlled burn-up in the atmosphere?
Several capture mechanisms are being studied in parallel to minimise mission risk. Throw-nets have the advantage of scalability – a large enough net can capture anything, no matter its size and attitude. Tentacles, a clamping mechanism that builds on current berthing and docking mechanisms, could allow the capture of launch adapter rings of various different satellites.
Harpoons work no matter the target’s attitude and shape, and do not require close operations. Robotic arms are another option: results from the DLR German space agency’s forthcoming DEOS orbital servicing mission will be studied with interest.
Strong drivers for the platform design are not only the large amount of propellant required, but also the possible rapid tumbling of the target – only so much spin can be absorbed without the catcher craft itself going out of control.
Apart from deorbit options based on flexible and rigid connections, techniques are being considered for raising targets to higher orbits, including tethers and electric propulsion.
A symposium on 6 May in the Netherlands will cover studies and technology developments related to e.DeOrbit, with ESA and space industry representatives presenting their research and outlining their plans. For further information, or to register, go here.
Take a marvelous ride on the ISS this morning: NASA’s Time Lapse View from the International Space Station at Night – LiveLeak.com
A new selection of space policy/politics related links:
ESA has selected the PLATO (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars) exoplanet search space observatory as a new mission that will launch in 2024 time frame: ESA selects planet-hunting PLATO mission – ESA
Here is a description of the project:
Space eye with 34 telescopes will investigate one million stars
The exploration of planets around stars other than the Sun, known as extrasolar planets or ‘exoplanets’, is one of the most exciting topics of 21st century science. One of the key goals of this research is to discover and learn the properties of Earth-like worlds in the Sun’s neighbourhood. ESA, the European Space Agency, will do this in preparing a new space mission named PLATO. The mission’s launch is scheduled for 2024, and firm discoveries of Earth-like planets at Earth-like distances from stars similar to our Sun will be produced after three years of observational data have been collected. ESA’s Science Programme Committee voted for PLATO at its regular meeting in Paris on 19th and 20th February, 2014, where it was one of five proposed space projects for a so-called “M” mission.
Not a single Earth-like exoplanet in a habitable zone around a star similar to our Sun has been found and characterized yet. PLATO will be a pioneer in finding new worlds for humanity to explore.
The PLATO Science consortium is led by Don Pollacco from the University of Warwick who comments “This is fantastic news for Europe, PLATO will allow the first systematic survey of nearby planets for indications from advanced life forms (as well as slime). A few years ago this would have been science fiction and now its coming to pass as science fact.” The UK also has major roles in the instrument itself supplying the CCD sensors (e2V Technology and UCL), much of the image processing software (Cambridge) and Public Outreach (Open University).
The PLATO mission itself is led by Dr Heike Rauer at DLR, the German Aerospace Center. “PLATO will begin a completely new chapter in the exploration of extrasolar Planets” Dr Rauer confidently predicts. “We will find planets that orbit their star in the life-sustaining ‘habitable’ zone: planets where liquid water is expected, and where life as we know it can be maintained.”
PLATO will measure the sizes, masses, and ages of the planetary systems it finds, so detailed comparisons with our own Solar System can be made. “In the last 20 years more than one thousand exoplanets have been discovered, with quite a few multi-planetary systems among them”, Rauer explains. “But almost all of these systems differ significantly from our Solar System in their properties, because they are the easiest-to-find examples. PLATO firmly will establish whether systems like our own Solar System, and planets like our own Earth are common in the Galaxy.”
PLATO, is an acronym for PLanetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars. PLATO will find planets through the periodic dimming of the detected starlight caused by a planet orbiting in front of the star, blocking PLATO’s view of a fraction of the starlight. PLATO will also measure tiny changes in detected starlight caused by small vibrations in the host stars, performing so-called astroseismology. Just as in seismology of the Earth, these vibrations reveal the interior structure of the vibrating body. Astroseismology allows us to learn the age of the vibrating star and the planets orbiting around it.
A new type of space telescope
PLATO is a completely new type of space telescope: it will use an array of telescopes rather than a single lens or mirror. PLATO will use top quality cameras, and will have the advantage of observing continuously from space, without the interruption of sunrise, or the blurring caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. This will allow PLATO to discover planets smaller than Earth, and planets at distances from their host stars similar to the Earth-Sun distance. So far, only a few small exoplanets are known at star-planet distances comparable to or greater than Earth’s. Unlike previous missions, PLATO will focus on these planets, which are expected to resemble our own Solar System planets.
Europe will take on a leading role in the search for extrasolar planets
PLATO is a lively and vigorous European collaboration – many European research institutions and hundreds of European researchers are working together, with scientists from all over the world completing the team. The catalogue of potentially habitable planets provided by PLATO will be the basis for follow-up measurements to confirm discoveries of new planets, using the European Southern Observatory’s European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), or the next generation of large space telescopes, like the James Webb Space Telescope. With PLATO, Europe will be leading the search for habitable exoplanets.
So far only a few exoplanets have had their mass, radius and age determined precisely. This is needed to properly describe a planet. “The observation of planets in many different states of their evolution will give us clues for the past and the future of our own planetary system”, Dr Rauer remarked. “By no means do we know all about the youth of our Solar System.”
Pioneering work in the search for a candidate “second Solar System”
Only a measurement of both the radius and the mass of a planet allows us to distinguish between a “mini-Neptune” with a high gas content, but a low density – like the two outermost planets in the Solar System – or a rocky planet with an iron core, like the Earth. Without this information the habitability of a planet cannot be determined. Some known extrasolar planets are “super-Earths” with sizes and masses somewhat larger than the Earth’s. These two fundamental parameters are not known with sufficient precision for most exoplanets.
During its six year long planned mission, PLATO will observe one million stars, leading to the likely discovery and characterisation of thousands of new planets circling other stars. PLATO will scan and observe about half the sky, including the brightest and nearest stars.
PLATO consists of an array of 34 individual telescopes mounted on an observing platform in the space probe. The satellite will be positioned at one of the so-called Lagrangian Points , where the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Earth cancel each other out so the satellite will stay at a fixed position in space. Each of the 34 telescopes has an aperture of 12 centimetres.
The individual telescopes can be combined in many different modes and bundled together, leading to unprecedented capabilities to simultaneously observe both bright and dim objects.
PLATO will be equipped with the largest camera-system sensor ever flown in space, comprising 136 charge-coupled devices (CCDs) that have a combined area of 0.9 square metres.
The accuracy of PLATO’s astroseismological measurements will be higher than with previous planet-searching programmes, allowing for a better characterisation of the stars, particularly those stellar-planetary configurations similar to our Solar System.
The scientific objective is based on previous successful projects, like the French-European space telescope CoRoT or NASA’s Kepler mission. It will also take into account the mission concepts that are currently under preparation which will “fill the gap” between now and PLATO’s launch in 2024 – NASA’s Kepler-2, and TESS missions and ESA’s ChEOPS mission.
Dr Heike Rauer from DLR’s Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin is a professor for astrophysics at Berlin’s Technical University. Rauer is leading the international consortium that will provide the payload and perform all scientific investigations with the data.
Here’s a video animation showing a time lapse view of the assembly of the International Space Station:
This is the latest HiRISE image of Opportunity rover at Solander Point, where it spent a few weeks investigating Pinnacle rock (the “jelly donut”) that was flipped over by the rover wheel.
We planned this image when this “new” rock was first seen; one hypothesis was that a recent impact deposited the rock. We see no obvious signs of a very recent crater in our image, but a careful comparison to prior images might reveal subtle changes (besides the rover position).
Changes in this region of Mars might be most likely from the action of wind (there are active sand dunes on the floor of Endeavour Crater), but new impacts could occur anywhere. The rover is located in the exact center of the color cutout.
Written by: Alfred McEwen (19 February 2014)
The Mars Society is pleased to announce that 31 student teams from six countries and four continents have officially registered for the 2014 University Rover Challenge (URC), setting a new participation record for the annual international rover competition. Countries represented this year include the United States, India, Egypt, Poland, Canada and Bangladesh.
A sampling of some of the participating universities include: Cornell University, Warsaw University of Technology, Yale University, Cairo University, Częstochowa University of Technology, University of Michigan, Military Institute of Science & Technology and York University. To view the full list of schools involved in the URC, please click here.
Scheduled for May 29-31, 2014, the URC is the world’s premier robotics competition for college students. Held annually in the desert of southern Utah, URC challenges student teams to design and build the next generation of Mars rovers that will one day work alongside astronauts exploring the Red Planet. Launched in 2006, the URC consistently draws an international field of the most talented and promising science, engineering and computer science students.
“In 2013, we shattered every previous URC milestone and had our winning team from Bialystok University of Technology score an almost unthinkable 493 points out of 500. For 2014 our registered field has more than doubled over last year, and we are eager to welcome many new teams to the competition. Everybody involved in the competition is getting excited. 2014 is going to be an incredible year for URC!”, said URC Director Kevin Sloan.
Today’s selection of space policy/politics related links:
Some space policy related webcasts:
There are lots of weird surface features seen on Mars in images taken by the orbiters. Here is one of the weirder ones:
Migratory birds and military aircraft often fly in a V-shaped formation. The “V” formation greatly boosts the efficiency and range of flying birds, because all except the first fly in the upward motion of air — called upwash — from the wingtip vortices of the bird ahead.
In this image of a dune field on Mars in a large crater near Mawrth Vallis, some of the dunes appear to be in a V-shaped formation. For dune fields, the spacing of individual dunes is a function of sand supply, wind speed, and topography.
This image was acquired by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Dec. 30, 2013. The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
Caption: Alfred McEwen
A selection of space policy/politics related links:
The latest presentation to the Future In-Space Operations (FISO) study group is now posted in the FISO Working Group Presentations Archive. The zip file includes the Powerpoint presentation, two animations, and the audio for the talk titled, Sunjammer – A Solar Sail Navigation Demonstration by Nathan Barnes , L.Garde Inc., February 12, 2014.
The talk describes the NASA/NOAA sponsored Sunjammer solar sail project, for which L’Garde Inc. (Tustin, CA) is the primary contractor. The steerable 1200 square meter sail is scheduled to be launched in January 2015 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Here’s a video overview of the project:
Here’s an animation of the deployment:
Find several more videos here.
Michael Shinabery, an education specialist and Humanities Scholar at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, New Mexico posts frequent articles on a range of space history topics. His latest article is about Max Valier, a rocketry pioneer and early science fiction writer : Valier Envisions Rocketry Through Engineering and Sci-Fi (Part 1) – This Week In Space History/Moonandback.
Speaking of science fiction, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen is writing a novel about space mining and getting help from a NASA program designed to assist SF writers with space technical info :
This map shows the global distribution of volunteers.
Here’s a list of scientific publications resulting from Zooniverse activities: Zooniverse Publications.
A posting on the Planet Hunters blog about the milestone : 15 percent of 1 million – Planet Hunters
This accomplishment is yours too. Our estimate is over 280,000 people world wide (unregistered and registered volunteers) have participated in Planet Hunters. 150,000 registered Zooniverse volunteers have classified at least one Planet Hunters light curve. Roughly 15% of the 1 million registered Zooniverse volunteers have contributed to Planet Hunters science. That’s a huge representation!
1. Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, 2-3:30 PM PST (5-6:30 PM EST, 4-5:30 PM CST): We welcome back DR. CURT BILBY CEO of Terapio with updates on RLIP 76 for radiation exposure.
2. Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014:, 7-8:30 PM PST (10-11:30 PM EST, 9-10:30 PM CST): We welcome back DOUG MESSIER of Parabolicarc.com for space news reports and updates.
3. Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 9:30-11 AM PST (12:30-2 PM EST; 11:30 AM-1 PM CST): We welcome back LIZ KENNICK for a very special report on Teachers In Space and some important news regarding this fine organization.
4. Sunday, February 23, 2014, 12-1:30 PM PST (3-4:30 PM EST, 2-3:30 PM CST). OPEN LINES. All callers welcome dealing with space, STEM, and related topics. We especially want first time callers, new callers.
The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.
Another selection of space policy/politics related links: