Orion Parachute Test

Hopefully we will get to see the Orion parachute test being conducted at 15:10 UTC / 10:10 EST. It is not clear if NASA TV will cover the event. They WILL be streaming this live on Facebook, so one would hope they would make it more available than that.

SPACE X Update: The Space X launch has been moved to 15 December, details to follow.

Coverage of the Expedition 53 hatch closure and farewells to the returning crew will begin at 01:30 UTC 14 December / 20:30 EST 13 December. So I will leave the feed up and you can just pop back in.

Launch Day!

Here’s the replay. There was a short replay posted yesterday, but I opted for the longer verison.

I set the video to start at 19 minutes into the video, which is T minus 1 minute.

 

For the Ariane Launch:

I am not able to embed the video properly so here is the link.  Replay when available.

So for all the drama I put myself through,  the launch was great but overcast skies limited viewing some.  None the less, they do a nice job on the live feed.

I thought I had made a mess of the launch dates but as it turns out not so much!  Two launches within about an hour would have been a treat!

UPADATE:  SpaceX requested additional time for prelaunch ground systems checks, so the launch is moved to “no earlier”  than  tomorrow (13 December) times as below for now.

Space X is launching the Dragon in the re-supply mission CRS-13 Launch is scheduled for 16:46 UTC (11:46 EST). Check here after 15:50 or so for live coverage.  The video says tomorrow but that was a back up date.

 

 

 

 

UPDATE 2:  I have not found a live feed for this launch and it is getting pretty close.

Arianespace Flight VA240  is scheduled for launch at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, lift off time is 18:36 UTC (13:36 EST). This is an Ariane 5 rocket, so I am hoping to have a live feed of the launch, and we should.

I will put up replays as they are available.

Preparing for Launch

ESA is buttoning up the four Galileo satellites that will sit atop an Ariane 5 for launch.

Flight VA240 is scheduled for for tomorrow, 12 December 2017. Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana is the host for the launch scheduled for 18:36 GMT (19:36 CET, 15:36 local time).

We hope to have a live feed for the launch, which by the way is the first of a few launches in the next week.

VITA Mission Wrap-up

ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli from Italy will shortly be returning to Earth after a long-duration stay on board the International Space Station participating in the mission known as VITA ( or ‘life’ in Italian).

Paolo is set to return to Earth on 14 December 2017 together with his crewmates, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik and Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky. The landing with the Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to take place as 08:38 GMT (09:38 CET).

Back in the Day

We are looking at the way things were “back in the day”. This black hole is an astounding 13-billion light-years away.

JPL/Elizabeth Landau — Scientists have uncovered a rare relic from the early universe: the farthest known supermassive black hole. This matter-eating beast is 800 million times the mass of our Sun, which is astonishingly large for its young age. Researchers report the find in the journal Nature.

“This black hole grew far larger than we expected in only 690 million years after the Big Bang, which challenges our theories about how black holes form,” said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Astronomers combined data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) with ground-based surveys to identify potential distant objects to study, then followed up with Carnegie Observatories’ Magellan telescopes in Chile. Carnegie astronomer Eduardo Bañados led the effort to identify candidates out of the hundreds of millions of objects WISE found that would be worthy of follow-up with Magellan.

For black holes to become so large in the early universe, astronomers speculate there must have been special conditions to allow rapid growth — but the underlying reason remains mysterious.

The newly found black hole is voraciously devouring material at the center of a galaxy — a phenomenon called a quasar. This quasar is especially interesting because it comes from a time when the universe was just beginning to emerge from its dark ages. The discovery will provide fundamental information about the universe when it was only 5 percent of its current age.

“Quasars are among the brightest and most distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe,” said co-author Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.

The universe began in a hot soup of particles that rapidly spread apart in a period called inflation. About 400,000 years after the Big Bang, these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas. But the universe stayed dark, without any luminous sources, until gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies. The energy released by these ancient galaxies caused the neutral hydrogen to get excited and ionize, or lose an electron. The gas has remained in that state since that time. Once the universe became reionzed, photons could travel freely throughout space. This is the point at which the universe became transparent to light.

Much of the hydrogen surrounding the newly discovered quasar is neutral. That means the quasar is not only the most distant — it is also the only example we have that can be seen before the universe became reionized.

“It was the universe’s last major transition and one of the current frontiers of astrophysics,” Bañados said.

The quasar’s distance is determined by what’s called its redshift, a measurement of how much the wavelength of its light is stretched by the expansion of the universe before reaching Earth. The higher the redshift, the greater the distance, and the farther back astronomers are looking in time when they observe the object. This newly discovered quasar has a redshift of 7.54, based on the detection of ionized carbon emissions from the galaxy that hosts the massive black hole. That means it took more than 13 billion years for the light from the quasar to reach us.

Scientists predict the sky contains between 20 and 100 quasars as bright and as distant as this quasar. Astronomers look forward to the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, which has significant NASA participation, and NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission, to find more such distant objects.

“With several next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities currently being built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very early universe in the coming years,” Stern said.

Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

Micro Transmitter – Receiver Combo

Now here’s a transmitter/receiver module ham radio operators like myself fawn over and thanks to ESA’s Sentinel programme maybe someday. . .

From ESA — A prototype transmit/receive module on a single 6×6 mm chip, intended to deliver miniaturised space radar systems for future missions.

Traditional transmit/receive modules used on Europe’s Sentinel-1 and comparable radar missions employ separate circuits for the high-power amplifier, the low-noise amplifier and the switch/isolator.

The aim, developed for ESA by TNO in the Netherlands, UMS in France, and Airbus Defense and Space in Germany, was to integrate all these functions onto a single chip, while delivering increased efficiency and a threefold increase in radio-frequency power.

The added ingredient enabling this was that the chip was made using gallium nitride (GaN) – the most promising semiconductor since silicon. If you have a Blu-ray player than you own a tiny crystal of GaN, used in high-performance blue lasers.

GaN can operate with high radio-frequency output power, low noise or at much higher temperatures than silicon. As a plus, it is also inherently resistant to radiation. ESA has been leading the industrialisation of GaN through the GaN Reliability Enhancement and Technology Transfer Initiative consortium.

This prototype was developed through ESA’s Basic Technology Research Programme.

A follow-up project to integrate the chip into a complete radar module suitable for a future Sentinel-1 successor mission is being undertaken through the Agency’s follow-up General Support Technology Programme.

Image: ESA/TNO

By the way, today is my brothers birthday.  He is a sometimes contributer here with some great photography.  Happy Birthday Andrew!!!!

 

Two Earths Around Star K2-18

Really enjoyed hearing about this research coming out of the Université de Montréal. I am very curious about the atmosphere of the planet in the habitable zone as is everybody else.

Université de Montréal — New research using data collected by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has revealed that a little-known exoplanet called K2-18b could well be a scaled-up version of Earth.

Just as exciting, the same researchers also discovered for the first time that the planet has a neighbor.

“Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting,” says lead author Ryan Cloutier, a PhD student in U of T Scarborough’s Centre for Planet Science, U of T’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and Université de Montréal Institute for research on exoplanets (iREx).

Both planets orbit K2-18, a red-dwarf star located about 111 light years away in the constellation Leo. When the planet K2-18b was first discovered in 2015, it was found to be orbiting within the star’s habitable zone, making it an ideal candidate to have liquid surface water, a key element in harbouring conditions for life as we know it.

The data set used by the researchers came from the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) using the ESO’s 3.6m telescope at La Silla Observatory, in Chile. HARPS allows for measurements of radial velocities of stars, which are affected by the presence of planets, to be taken with the highest accuracy currently available. Hence, this instrument allows for the detection of very small planets around them.

In order to figure out whether K2-18b was a scaled-up version of Earth (mostly rock), or a scaled-down version of Neptune (mostly gas), researchers had to first figure out the planet’s mass, using radial velocity measurements taken with HARPS.

“If you can get the mass and radius, you can measure the bulk density of the planet and that can tell you what the bulk of the planet is made of,” says Cloutier.

Continue reading

A Lunar Transit of the ISS

Hat tip to Joel Kowsky and NASA for this excellent image featuring an ISS transit of the moon. Opportunities to capture these events are uncommon enough and then the whole event is over is about a second or two, very difficult to get right. I know, in the few opportunities I’ve had something has either gone wrong or I’ve been too slow on the shutter. I’m still trying.

Little wonder this was NASA’s Image of the Day yesterday, here’s their caption:

The International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, is seen in silhouette as it transits the Moon at roughly five miles per second, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Manchester Township, York County, Pennsylvania. Onboard are: NASA astronauts Joe Acaba, Mark Vande Hei, and Randy Bresnik; Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Sergey Ryanzansky; and ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli.

Image Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Voyager 1 Fires the Thrusters

After 37 years the thrusters on Voyager 1 are fired to adjust the spacecraft to keep the antennas in alignment. Outstanding!

You can see the current status of both Voyager spacecraft at NASA’s Voyager Mission Status page.

I also like the check the status at The Sky Live.

So here’s what happened from NASA — If you tried to start a car that’s been sitting in a garage for decades, you might not expect the engine to respond. But a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft successfully fired up Wednesday after 37 years without use.

Voyager 1, NASA’s farthest and fastest spacecraft, is the only human-made object in interstellar space, the environment between the stars. The spacecraft, which has been flying for 40 years, relies on small devices called thrusters to orient itself so it can communicate with Earth. These thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or “puffs,” lasting mere milliseconds, to subtly rotate the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet. Now, the Voyager team is able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980.

“With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years without use, we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Since 2014, engineers have noticed that the thrusters Voyager 1 has been using to orient the spacecraft, called “attitude control thrusters,” have been degrading. Over time, the thrusters require more puffs to give off the same amount of energy. At 13 billion miles from Earth, there’s no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up.

The Voyager team assembled a group of propulsion experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, to study the problem. Chris Jones, Robert Shotwell, Carl Guernsey and Todd Barber analyzed options and predicted how the spacecraft would respond in different scenarios. They agreed on an unusual solution: Try giving the job of orientation to a set of thrusters that had been asleep for 37 years.

“The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters,” said Jones, chief engineer at JPL.

In the early days of the mission, Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, Saturn, and important moons of each. To accurately fly by and point the spacecraft’s instruments at a smorgasbord of targets, engineers used “trajectory correction maneuver,” or TCM, thrusters that are identical in size and functionality to the attitude control thrusters, and are located on the back side of the spacecraft. But because Voyager 1’s last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn’t needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. Back then, the TCM thrusters were used in a more continuous firing mode; they had never been used in the brief bursts necessary to orient the spacecraft.

All of Voyager’s thrusters were developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The same kind of thruster, called the MR-103, flew on other NASA spacecraft as well, such as Cassini and Dawn.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

“The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test. The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all,” said Barber, a JPL propulsion engineer.

The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power — a limited resource for the aging mission. When there is no longer enough power to operate the heaters, the team will switch back to the attitude control thrusters.

The thruster test went so well, the team will likely do a similar test on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the twin spacecraft of Voyager 1. The attitude control thrusters currently used for Voyager 2 are not yet as degraded as Voyager 1’s, however.

Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years.

Artists concept: NASA/JPL-Caltech — click here to get to a larger version suitable for your desktop.