SpaceX to Launch the GRACE-FO

Replay when available (if it isn’t on this link). Ground video was out of focus, they had a spot of bother with the auto-focus.

Mission: Iridium-6/GRACE-FO

Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9

Date/Time: 22 May 2018 19:47 UTC / 15:47 ET

Spaceport: Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Orbital is launching CRS-9 and CubeSats

I’m back and have updated the video so it will start at around T-minus 1:00.

Wow, a fast ascent, or at least it seemed it.

Note: I switched video feeds so hopefully this one will provide replays. I won’t be able to check for the majority of the day unfortunately.

Orbital ATK is launching the Cygnus Cargo-spaceship to the International Space Station.

Spaceport: Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia USA)

Launch time: 08:39 UTC / 04:39 ET

Rocket: Orbital’s Antares

Along with the Cygnus are ten CubeSats. Including EnduroSat One a ham radio satellite for Bulgaria (yes many hams in Bulgaria), the CubeRPT an Ohio State University satellite to conduct radiometer radio frequency interference technology validation, and HaloSat, a satellite to examine the galactic halo.

I will leave this feed up for most of the day, but will post replays later.

Note: There is another launch tomorrow after 15:30 UT. The GRACE Follow-on mission will be launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Launching Tomorrow Morning

Orbital ATK will be launching the Antares rocket with the Cygnus space-cargoship bound for the International Space Station.

There will also be ten CubeSats launched at the same time.

Launch time: 08:39 UTC / 04:39 ET

Coverage begins at 08:00 UTC / 04:00 ET


Orbital mechanics is a very interesting topic.

Usually when you see an orbital track displayed on your computer you see a nice sine-wave pattern.

Take the International Space Station for example or perhaps the newly launched Sentinel-3B.

Then we have geostationary satellites like GOES-17, oh yes it is orbiting.

Have a look at the seemingly odd orbit of the recently launched TESS.

Thanks to N2YO for those great links and check that site out – great stuff!

Scott Manely has a good video out: T”he Most Confusing Things About Spacecraft Orbits”

Martian Pac-Man-like Crater

As much as I hate to admit this, I know what Pac-Man is.  You might say “well who doesn’t know Pac-Man?  I remember quite a lot of life BEFORE Pac-Man or those type games.  Ha, kind of makes me feel a little old.

Beyond that, this is a great image from the HiRISE imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).  Be sure to click the image and look at some of the details.  I like the dunes inside the crater.

Here’s the caption from NASA:

This image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows barchan sand dunes, common on Mars and often forming vast dune fields within very large (tens to hundreds of kilometers) impact basins. The regions upwind of barchans are usually devoid of sandy bedforms, so if you were walking in a downwind direction, then the barchans would seem to appear out of nowhere.

As you walk downwind, you would notice the barchans link up (“joining arms”) and eventually slope into featureless sand sheets. We call this progression of dunes a “Herschel-type dune field” named after the first place this sequence was described: Herschel Crater.

But here is something interesting: a barchan dune filling the upwind portion of a small impact crater in a Pac-Man-like shape. This “dune-in-a-crater” is nearly at the highest extent of the field. It is also probably a rare configuration, and over the next few tens of thousands of years the sand will be blown out of the crater.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona



First Light For MarCO (B)

The Mars InSight lander was launched on 05 May 2018 on a course that ultimately put it on the surface of the planet. When the InSight spacecraft was launched it also had two CubeSats along for the journey.

The CubeSats – collectively named Mars Cube One – are known by MarCO A & B. In the case of MarCO-B it also known as Wall-E to the MarCO team.

The CubeSats are pioneering the path to Mars and the mission will be one of many “firsts”.

“NASA set a new distance record for CubeSats on May 8 when a pair of CubeSats called Mars Cube One (MarCO) reached 621,371 miles (1 million kilometers) from EarthToday we have a first, a look back at the Earth and Moon from MarCO-B, the CubeSat’s Pale Blue Dot.” — NASA

They CubeSats are in for a great mission once they get to Mars. They will be testing their ability to be used as communications relays, they should fit the bill perfectly. Time will tell being a ham radio operator I am pulling for them.

“Mars landings are notoriously challenging due to the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere. The MarCO CubeSats will follow along behind InSight during its cruise to Mars. Should they make it all the way to Mars, they will radio back data about InSight while it enters the atmosphere and descends to the planet’s surface. The high-gain antennas are key to that effort; the MarCO team have early confirmation that the antennas have successfully deployed, but will continue to test them in the weeks ahead.

InSight won’t rely on the MarCO mission for data relay. That job will fall to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But the MarCOs could be a pathfinder so that future missions can “bring their own relay” to Mars. They could also demonstrate a number of experimental technologies, including their antennas, radios and propulsion systems, which will allow CubeSats to collect science in the future.” — NASA

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Antarctic Sunset

Remember the Sentinel-3B launch a few weeks ago (25 April)? Not wasting any time we already have the first image. Actually the image was taken on 07 May, barely two weeks after launch. And what an image it is – a look at the Antarctic sunset!

Sentinel-3B joins Sentinel-3A in the Earth observation mission: oceanography and land-vegetation monitoring, as part of the European GMES programme.

By the looks the data should be second to none. Great stuff – makes me smile.

About the image from ESA: The Copernicus Sentinel-3B satellite captured its first image on 7 May 2018 at 10:33 GMT (12:33 CEST), less than two weeks after it was launched. The image shows the sunset over the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica. While the line between day and night is clearly visible, bright streaks glint on the clouds from the sunset. The image was taken by the satellite’s ocean and land colour instrument, which features 21 distinct bands, a resolution of 300 m and a swath width of 1270 km. The instrument can be used to monitor aquatic biological productivity and marine pollution, and over land it can be used to monitor the health of vegetation. Sentinel-3B’s instrument package also includes a sea and land surface temperature radiometer, a synthetic aperture radar altimeter and a microwave radiometer. Sentinel-3B was launched from Russia on 25 April and joins its twin, Sentinel-3A, in orbit. The pairing of the two satellites optimises coverage and data delivery for Europe’s Copernicus environmental monitoring programme.

The include image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by EUMETSAT, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Kilauea Eruption From NASA Satellite

The Kilauea volcano is getting plenty of news coverage and rightfully so.  Check out this link from KHON2 News featuring the 17th fissure to open.

The image above and the caption below is from NASA’s Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument.

Despite all of the science knowledge and the benefits potentially being derived from this eruption, I feel for the impacted residents. Be safe or e palekana (tranlation by Google Translate)

NASA: On May 3, 2018, a new eruption began at a fissure of the Kilauea volcano on the Island of Hawaii. Kilauea is the most active volcano in the world, having erupted almost continuously since 1983. Advancing lava and dangerous sulfur dioxide gas have forced thousands of residents in the neighborhood of Leilani Estates to evacuate. A number of homes have been destroyed, and no one can say how soon the eruption will abate and evacuees can return home.

On May 6, 2018, at approximately 11 a.m. local time, the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this view of the island as it passed overhead. Much of the island was shrouded by clouds, including the fissure on its eastern point. However, an eruption plume is visible streaming southwest over the ocean. The MISR instrument is unique in that it has nine cameras that view Earth at different angles: one pointing downward, four at various angles in the forward direction, and four in the backward direction. This image shows the view from one of MISR’s forward-pointing cameras (60 degrees), which shows the plume more distinctly than the near-vertical views.

The information from the images acquired at different view angles is used to calculate the height of the plume, results of which are superimposed on the right-hand image. The top of the plume near the fissure is at approximately 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) altitude, and the height of the plume decreases as it travels south and west. These relatively low altitudes mean that the ash and sulfur dioxide remained near the ground, which can cause health issues for people on the island downwind of the eruption. The “Ocean View” air quality monitor operated by the Clean Air Branch of the State of Hawaii Department of Health recorded a concentration of 18 μg/m3 of airborne particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter at 11 a.m. local time. This amount corresponds to an air quality rating of “moderate” and supports the MISR results indicating that ash was most likely present at ground level on this side of the island.

These data were acquired during Terra orbit 97780. The smoke plume height calculation was performed using the MISR INteractive eXplorer (MINX) software tool, which is publicly available at The MISR Plume Height Project maintains a database of global smoke plume heights, accessible at