All posts by Tom

Schiaparelli Found?

These “before and after” images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probably show Schiaparelli test lander. Initial reports show the thrusters did activate but failed at some point. We will know quite a lot more fairly soon. The decent data has been downlinked and is being studied. I am hearing reports the lander fell from 2 to 4 km; I thought the shield was supposed to separate at 7 km and the parachute was to be jettisoned and thrusters fired at just over 1 km, well below that reported altitude (link).

So we will wait and see.  Here’s the image description from NASA (with source image links):

This comparison of before-and-after images shows two spots that likely appeared in connection with the Oct. 19, 2016, Mars arrival of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli test lander.

The images were taken by the Context Camera (CTX) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on May 29, 2016, and Oct. 20, 2016.

The area indicated with a black outline is enlarged at right. The bright spot near the lower edge of the enlargement is interpreted as likely to be the lander’s parachute, which was deployed and then released during the descent through the Martian atmosphere. The larger dark spot near the upper edge of the enlargement was likely formed by the Schiaparelli lander. The spot is elliptical, about 50 by 130 feet (15 by 40 meters) in size, and is probably too large to have been made by the impact of the heat shield. The location information confirmed by this image will aid imaging the site with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, providing more details to use in interpretation. The main image covers an area about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) wide, at about 2 degrees south latitude, 354 degrees east longitude, in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. The scale bars are in meters. North is up. The before and after images are available separately as Figure A (from CTX observation J03_046129_1800) andFigure B (from CTX observation J08_047975_1779).

CTX was built by and is operated by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Juno’s Latest


NASA’s caption:
This composite image depicts Jupiter’s cloud formations as seen through the eyes of Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR) instrument as compared to the top layer, a Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem image of the planet. The MWR can see a couple of hundred miles (kilometers) into Jupiter’s atmosphere with its largest antenna. The belts and bands visible on the surface are also visible in modified form in each layer below.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/GSFC

If you were wondering where the new pictures of the clouds of Jupiter are, the Juno spacecraft encountered some sort of issue just hours before reaching perigee to the planet and the computer rebooted and no data was collected. No worries all systems are apparently working normally.

From NASA:

NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered safe mode Tuesday, Oct. 18 at about 10:47 p.m. PDT (Oct. 19 at 1:47 a.m. EDT). Early indications are a software performance monitor induced a reboot of the spacecraft’s onboard computer. The spacecraft acted as expected during the transition into safe mode, restarted successfully and is healthy. High-rate data has been restored, and the spacecraft is conducting flight software diagnostics. All instruments are off, and the planned science data collection for today’s close flyby of Jupiter (perijove 2), did not occur.
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Yes another launch to the International Space Station, this one from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Two very quick flights to the ISS, but there was another (3rd launch) in the past few days. China launched Tiangong-2 and is well on the path to having a manned space station.

AND by the way, along with the ISS, we might be able to see either of these easily – check out Heavens Above and for more about when to and where to look.

Soyuz Video
China video

Juno Update

The Juno spacecraft is about to make a close pass at Jupiter (19 Oct) and there was scheduled a engine burn in order to change the spacecraft’s orbit. The burn is not going to happen as scheduled.  There is an issue involving the engine being investigated and more time is needed for evaluation. The “burn” was going to change the orbital time from 53 to 14 days and of course it will remain at 53 days.


“Telemetry indicates that two helium check valves that play an important role in the firing of the spacecraft’s main engine did not operate as expected during a command sequence that was initiated yesterday,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The valves should have opened in a few seconds, but it took several minutes. We need to better understand this issue before moving forward with a burn of the main engine.”

The good part of the story is now the mission team is going to have ALL the Juno instruments active for the fly-by.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The complete press release is below.
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Fireball Sighting


No I did not see the fireball in the image which actually comes from NASA and the Astronomy Picture of the Day in 2009.

I picked this image because it is quite similar to the one I did see this morning (05:48 EDT). I was traveling north in a very foggy New England, and all of a sudden the fireball appeared in front of me. My sighting was about the same as this one although it did not have as much debris coming off it, not none, but not as much.

I of course reported the sighting to the International Meteor Organization (IMO) and I wanted to mention how easy they make reporting – very well done.

So my day started off great!

Orbital ATK CRS-5 Launch Retry


The launch delayed due to an Atlantic storm is on for later today. The Cygnus cargoship loaded with 5,100 lbs / 2,313 kg of materials for the ISS will hopefully launch at 19:40 EDT / 23:40 UTC.

I will try to post a live link about an hour or so before launch. If you miss the live launch, I’ll put up replay video.

The image shows the Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft arrived on Oct. 2, 2016 at the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia – Credit: NASA

Orbital ATK CRS-5

There will be a launch of Orbital’s Antares rocket topped with the Cygnus cargo-spacecraft destined for the International Space Station.

Launch time: No earlier than tomorrow (17 Oct) AT 19:40 EDT / 26:40 UTC (17 Oct)

I will try to have a live link up about an hour before launch, barring any delays of course.

Current launch status: Postponed due to an Atlantic storm. (updated as necessary. Status is available at the Orbital ATK Launch Blog)

Launching from: Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad OA at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia

People living in the US somewhere near the mid-Atlantic area can see Antares on the way up. The maps below from NASA show the angle of elevation too look and about how long after lift off it will take to be visible. Credit: Orbital ATK via NASA