On Aug. 5 or Aug. 6, depending on which part of the country you’re in, the Curiosity spacecraft careening toward Mars will hit the Red Planet’s atmosphere, deploy a supersonic parachute and either land safely on the planet’s surface or perish. It’s dramatic stuff, and NASA has produced this Hollywood-style YouTube video, complete with animation and suspenseful music, to preview the landing, evoke that drama and put viewers on the edge of their seats.
As engineers explain, it will take seven minutes for Curiosity to travel from the edge of Mars’ atmosphere to the surface, going from a speed of 13,000 mph to zero. “If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game over,” engineer Tom Rivellini says.
Because Mars is so far away, it actually takes 14 minutes for the spacecraft’s signal to reach Earth. So by the time we learn the spacecraft has hit the top of Mars’ atmosphere, Curiosity will have either have survived the landing or perished for a full seven minutes.
Source: Skye – 7 Minutes of Terror: NASA’s Dramatic Mars-Landing Preview
A team of astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is reporting the discovery of another moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto.
The moon is estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is assumed to be co-planar with the other satellites in the system.
“The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls,” said team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.
The discovery increases the number of known moons orbiting Pluto to five.
The Pluto team is intrigued that such a small planet can have such a complex collection of satellites. The new discovery provides additional clues for unraveling how the Pluto system formed and evolved. The favored theory is that all the moons are relics of a collision between Pluto and another large Kuiper belt object billions of years ago.
The new detection will help scientists navigate NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft through the Pluto system in 2015, when it makes an historic and long-awaited high-speed flyby of the distant world.
More on this – NASA: Hubble Discovers a Fifth Moon Orbiting Pluto
This Sunday (July 1, 2012), three members of the International Space Station crew will return to Earth on board a Kazakhstan-bound Soyuz craft, after over six months in orbit. Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers, two of the returning astronauts, and Joe Acaba, who arrived at the station in May, discuss life on board ISS, the visit of the Dragon capsule, and current activities in space.
FLORA LICHTMAN: Just another day at SCIENCE FRIDAY, calling space.
Station, this is National Public Radio. How do you hear me?
DON PETTIT: NPR, we hear you loud and clear.
LICHTMAN: Don Pettit, walk us through how you’ll get back to our planet this weekend.
PETTIT: We will get in our Soyuz spacecraft and under the command of Oleg Kononenko, and Andre Kuipers will be flight engineer one or board engineer one, and I’m board engineer two. And we work together to get this spacecraft back home, starting off with undocking.
We start off, we get inside, the close the hatch, we have to do a leak check, make sure the hatches don’t leak. And then we strap in and undock, and then we do a de-orbit burn. And then as we hit the atmosphere, the spacecraft separates so that only the descent module comes through the atmosphere in one piece.
And then our parachute comes out, and we go thump, roll, roll on the steppes of Kazakhstan.
Read, or listen, to the full interview – Astronauts Prepare For Departure
The Commercial Crew Program is responsible for helping companies develop vehicles that can ferry astronauts, and maybe civilians, to space. Could this lead to a ‘spaceline’ industry, a la the airlines?
An interview with Ed Mango, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program:
What’s the goal of the Commercial Crew Program?
We still have Americans in space. But we don’t have a way to get there. So the motivation for this small team I have is that we are the next organization within NASA that’s going to get American systems back into low Earth orbit.
Why is NASA relying on private companies instead of operating the flights itself?
It fits with what has happened in the past. Look at how the airlines got started: Air Mail was run by the government, totally. Then eventually, the government didn’t want to be the ones to own airplanes, own airfields, employ the pilots — all that kind of stuff. So they said, “We’re going to contract this out.”
That became cargo capability. And as time went on, companies said, “We can transport people, not just cargo.” Thus, the birth of the airlines.
Keep reading – NASA encouraging spaceflight to go commercial
Last week, in the corners of the Internet devoted to outer space, things started to get a little, well, hot. Voyager 1, the man-made object farthest away from Earth, was encountering a sharp uptick in the number of a certain kind of energetic particles around it. Had the spacecraft become the first human creation to “officially” leave the solar system?
It’s hard to overstate how wild an accomplishment this would be: A machine, built here on Earth by the brain- and handiwork of humans, has sailed from Florida, out of Earth’s orbit, beyond Mars, beyond the gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn, and may now have left the heliosphere — tiny dot in the universe beholden to our sun. Had it really happened? How would we know?
We’re not quite there yet, Voyager’s project scientist and former head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Edward Stone, told me. The spacecraft is on its way out — “it’s leaving the solar system” — but we don’t know how far it has to go or what that transition to interstellar space will look like.
For several years scientists have been begging to test their theories about Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun. You see, the radar signals come back showing ice exists on the planet, but how could ice exist on a planet so incredibly hot?
NASA sent the spacecraft MESSENGER to orbit the planet and figure the mystery out (among other things). It turns out that ice exists at the planet north and south poles and possibly underneath some “dirt-shielding”.
All of this was uncovered by Professor David Paige, who has previous experience with Mars and the Moon, as he explains in his own words:
“I was able to use the Mercury laser altimeter in conjunction with a three-dimensional ray-tracing thermal model that I built to study ice on the moon, Paige said. “Using these models, I calculated the average temperature on the surface of the planet and concluded that the surface temperatures were too warm to permit the long-term stability of ice. The only possibility was some sort of thin layer of cover that allowed the ice to survive.”
This thin, dark layer is called a regolith and is probably made of organic substances like the Earth’s soil, rich in hydrocarbon compounds that may have come from the comets and meteorites that struck the planet over time. The comets and meteorites may have also contributed the water that seeped under the soil cover to form the icy patches.
MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) is the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury. Its goal is to collect better data about the composition and atmosphere of the planet, and it just completed its first year of information gathering.
While the mix of water and organic compounds on another planet may raise the possibility of extraterrestrial life for some scientists, this is not what excites Paige. For him, the discovery of ice on Mercury is the triumph of science.
“We’re getting a good agreement between models and observations,” Paige said. “What we thought was true is true. The most exciting part of this? We may not know lot of things, but on Mercury we have things under control.”
via UCLA Today
SpaceX successfully test fires SuperDraco, a powerful new engine that will play a critical role in efforts to change the future of human spaceflight.
These engines will power a revolutionary launch escape system that will make Dragon the safest spacecraft in history and enable it to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy.
In a series of tests conducted at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, the SuperDraco sustained full duration, full thrust firing as well as a series of deep throttling demonstrations.
Learn more about SpaceX:
Recently, SpaceX “announced it has assembled a team of independent experts to help the company create a safe spacecraft for NASA astronauts.”
And, one of them, Edward Lu, is on Google+:
“I’m looking forward to peeking under the hood of the SpaceX Dragon, and helping them successfully launch humans into orbit!”
More on the company’s initiatives:
The company is already building its Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and has a $1.6-billion contract to do just that for NASA.
SpaceX plans to send its unmanned Dragon capsule to dock with the International Space Station on April 30 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in a demonstration flight for NASA. If successful, SpaceX would be the first private company to accomplish the feat.
Now that the space shuttle is retired, SpaceX wants in on the potentially multibillion-dollar job of ferrying astronauts to and from the station. To do that, SpaceX needs to make sure its capsule — which is built to fit up to seven people — is safe.
The independent “safety advisory panel” is composed of leading human spaceflight safety experts:
- Leroy Chiao, former NASA astronaut, former International Space Station commander.
- G. Scott Hubbard, former director of NASA Ames Research Center, Stanford University professor of aeronautics and astronautics, sole NASA representative on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
- Dr. Richard T. Jennings, former chief of medicine for NASA Johnson Space Center, University of Texas Medical Branch professor at the Aerospace Medicine Center.
- Capt. Mark Kelly, former NASA astronaut, former Space Shuttle commander, retired Navy captain.
- Edward Lu, former NASA astronaut.
via LA Times
More about SpaceX, including their manifesto: “transparency, low prices, and worldwide dominance for the future of space travel.”
// Photos via SpaceX Updates
I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America’s commercial space industry.
SpaceX, the private space transport company founded by Elon Musk, is riding high from their latest slate of successful launches and taking it to the rest of the industry. This includes the traditional American space companies and the entire international system.
Mr. Musk is even boasting that the Chinese cannot compete with SpaceX, or as he puts it, “this is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.”
In case you didn’t know, Elon Musk does this all the time. As the power player behind Tesla and Solar City, the country’s largest solar company, he has an impressive resume. Add to that his famous Iron Man chops, where Robert Downey Jr. has based his super hero character on him.
By itself, SpaceX is pretty impressive. The launch manifest shows 36 flights with twelve from NASA, eight from Iridium (private company, satellite phones), three from Europe, and more from five other countries. Not to mention an undisclosed contract with the U.S. Air Force.
The company has been profitable since 2007 and has grown from 160 employees in 2005 to 1,500 in 2011.
The next step is a manned space flight and all signs are a go. The demand to get astronauts into space, and just about everything else in space travel, is so strong that they are winning contracts before they launch vehicles and sometimes before the designs have been drawn up.
Keep an eye on this company because it may just be the next big thing.
Oh, and they are hiring, over 100 positions..
A signal from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, including the new Curiosity rover, was received by officials on the ground shortly after spacecraft separation. The spacecraft is flying free and headed for Mars.
“Our spacecraft is in excellent health and it’s on its way to Mars,” said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. He thanked the launch team, United Launch Alliance, NASA’s Launch Services Program and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for their help getting MSL into space.
Interesting that the brainpower behind NASA resides in Virginia, California, and Florida.
John Grotzinger of CalTech: “I think this mission will be a great one. It is an important next step in NASA’s overall goal to address the issue of life in the universe.”
Doug McCuisition, director of the program: “Science fiction is now science fact.”