Category Archives: History

Ultima Thule Flyby

Here’s the video from the first part of the coverage – data acquisition.

Ultima Thule flyby signal acquisition comes first at 14:45 UT / 09:45 ET. I’ll leave the link up for the post flyby press conference a couple hours later (16:30 UT / 11:30 ET).

Note: it is 15:15 UT and the coverage is about to start.

The spacecraft has data!  Press conference in about 45 minutes @ 16:30 UTC.

 

New Horizons On Track to Ultima Thule

This update video is from a couple of days ago; there will be a press conference later today but for now everything looks good for New Horizons on its way to flyby the Kuiper Belt Object called Ultima Thule at 05:33 UT / 00:33 ET tomorrow, New Years Day! I’ll try to update after the press conference if anything substantial happens. EDIT: If you noticed the ET time-conversion, you might be scratching your head – or not. I used 12:33 ET which would be correct as probably most North Americans are concerned, but it is indeed not proper if not just plain incorrect. I’ve corrected the time to be accurate.

Happy New Year wishes to everyone and if you are celebrating please be safe!!

Ultima Thule Here We Come!

On New Year’s Day the New Horizons spacecraft will visit a very distant “worldlet” called Ultima Thule. Ultima Thule is around 4,000 million miles / 6,438 million km from the Sun and New Horizon’s was launched on 19 January 2006. The little world is so far away it takes over six hours for a radio signal to reach us – a very long journey!

Have a look at this from New Horizons / John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Apollo 8 Spends the Holiday around Moon

Can you imagine spending the holidays with this view? It was done 50 years ago by astronauts: Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders during the Apollo 8 mission.

To re-live (or experience for the first time) click here.

NASA: Precisely on time on Dec. 24, 1968, Mission Control lost contact with Apollo 8 and its crew of Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders. And everyone at NASA and onboard Apollo 8 was happy about that. It meant that the spacecraft and crew were on a precise trajectory to swing behind the Moon, and if all went well, to fire the Service Module’s Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine to slow their velocity just enough to allow the Moon’s gravitational field to capture them. With a successful Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) burn, they would become the first crewed spacecraft in lunar orbit, and Mission Control would regain the signal after 32 minutes and 37 seconds. If it didn’t fire at all, they would regain the signal in 22 minutes and it meant Apollo 8 was heading back to Earth. And of course, a variety of engine malfunctions could result in different signal reacquisition times.

While NASA and the world awaited to hear from Apollo 8, Borman, Lovell, and Anders busied themselves with preparing for the engine burn. Just a few minutes before ignition, the crew got its first glimpse of the Moon. During the 66-hour coast to the Moon, the spacecraft was oriented with the SPS engine facing in the direction of travel, so the windows were pointed toward the Earth. Now, about 70 miles above its surface, the Moon finally entered into their field of view and the Apollo 8 crewmembers became the first humans to directly see the farside. Exactly on schedule, the SPS engine lit up and burned for just over four minutes, placing Apollo 8 into an elliptical 70-by-195-mile orbit around the Moon.

Just as expected, Mission Control began receiving telemetry from Apollo 8 as it came out from behind the Moon, followed by Lovell’s simple call, “Houston, Apollo 8. Burn complete.” From Mission Control, Capcom Carr replied, “Apollo 8, this is Houston. Good to hear your voice.” As they passed over the Sea of Fertility, Lovell provided this commentary: “The Moon is essentially grey, no color; looks like plaster of Paris or sort of a grayish beach sand. We can see quite a bit of detail. … The craters are all rounded off. There’s quite a few of them, some of them are newer.” They also flew over the two most easterly of the five potential sites for the first Moon landing, providing verbal narration and taking photographs.

For the next 20 hours, Apollo 8 remained in orbit around the Moon, each revolution taking about two hours, of which 45 minutes was spent out of radio contact with Earth while the spacecraft flew behind the Moon. The astronauts began their second revolution with a 12-minute TV broadcast showing the Moon as it appeared to them through the spacecraft window. At the end of the second revolution, once again behind the Moon, the crew preformed the second LOI burn using the SPS engine and lasting less than 10 seconds to circularize the orbit at 70 miles. The trio conducted extensive photography of the lunar surface, mostly of the farside given it had more sunlight, but also of proposed landing sites on the nearside. At the beginning of the fourth revolution, as they were about to round the backside of the Moon, the astronauts caught sight of the Earth appearing above the lunar limb. Anders snapped some of the most iconic photos of the Apollo program, first in black and white and then the more famous color Earthrise images.

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Around the Moon

Yesterday, 21 December marked the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8 which launched on 21 December 1968. Humankind’s first trip around the moon. A GREAT feat then and it hasn’t been done so many times that it won’t be a great feat when it gets again in the near future.

Seas of Infinity – Stargazer

The beginning – Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO) 2 and nicknamed Stargazer, it would become NASA’s first successful cosmic explorer and the direct ancestor of Hubble, Chandra, Swift, Kepler, FUSE, GALEX and many other astronomy satellites.

Rocket Lab Launches CubeSats

Rocket Lab makes history with this launch of CubeSats, including one by students atop an Electron rocket. Great job and it looks like the future is bright for Rocket Lab. By the way, the launch is at about the 18 minute mark so you may want to fast-forward.

NASA: A series of new CubeSats now are in space, conducting a variety of scientific investigations and technology demonstrations, following launch Sunday of Rocket Lab’s first mission for NASA under a Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contract.

An Electron rocket lifted off at 1:33 a.m. EST (7:33 p.m. NZDT) from the company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, marking the first time CubeSats have launched for NASA on a rocket designed specifically for small payloads.

“With the VCLS effort, NASA has successfully advanced the commercial launch service choices for smaller payloads, providing viable dedicated small launch options as an alternative to the rideshare approach,” said Jim Norman, director of Launch Services at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This first mission is opening the door for future launch options.”

At the time of the VCLS award in 2015, launch opportunities for small satellites and science missions were limited to ridesharing – flying only when space was available on other missions. Managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, VCLS awards are designed to foster a commercial market where SmallSats and CubeSats could be placed in orbits to get the best science return.

This mission includes 10 Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 payloads, selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. The initiative is designed to enhance technology development and student involvement. These payloads will provide information and demonstrations in the following areas:

“Low cost launch services to enable expanded science from smaller satellites are now a reality.  NASA’s Earth Venture program and indeed our entire integrated, Earth-observing mission portfolio will benefit greatly from the ability to launch small satellites into optimal orbits, when and where we want them,” said Dr. Michael Freilich, Director of Earth Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.  “Our partnership with LSP on the VCLS effort is helping both NASA and the commercial launch sector.”

CubeSats are small satellites built in standard units of 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, or in configurations of two, three or six units. These small satellites play a valuable role in the agency’s exploration, technology, educational, and science investigations, including planetary exploration, Earth observation, and fundamental Earth and space science. They are a cornerstone in the development of cutting-edge NASA technologies like laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications and autonomous movement.

NASA will continue to offer CubeSats an opportunity to hitch a ride on primary missions in order to provide opportunities to accomplish mission objectives, and expects to announce the next round of CubeSats for future launches in February 2019.

Kepler Retires

After more than nine-years the Kepler spacecraft is out of fuel and has been retired. What a mission it was too, click the graphic NASA put together and view some the the accomplishments including more than 2,600 new planets found.

NASA: After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets – more planets even than stars – NASA’s Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.

“As NASA’s first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars.”

Kepler has opened our eyes to the diversity of planets that exist in our galaxy. The most recent analysis of Kepler’s discoveries concludes that 20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars. That means they’re located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water – a vital ingredient to life as we know it – might pool on the planet surface.

The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn’t exist in our solar system – a world between the size of Earth and Neptune – and we have much to learn about these planets. Kepler also found nature often produces jam-packed planetary systems, in some cases with so many planets orbiting close to their parent stars that our own inner solar system looks sparse by comparison.

“When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago we didn’t know of a single planet outside our solar system,” said the Kepler mission’s founding principal investigator, William Borucki, now retired from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that’s full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy.”

Launched on March 6, 2009, the Kepler space telescope combined cutting-edge techniques in measuring stellar brightness with the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time. Originally positioned to stare continuously at 150,000 stars in one star-studded patch of the sky in the constellation Cygnus, Kepler took the first survey of planets in our galaxy and became the agency’s first mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of their stars.

“The Kepler mission was based on a very innovative design. It was an extremely clever approach to doing this kind of science,” said Leslie Livesay, director for astronomy and physics at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who served as Kepler project manager during mission development. “There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them.”

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. The mission team was able to devise a fix, switching the spacecraft’s field of view roughly every three months. This enabled an extended mission for the spacecraft, dubbed K2, which lasted as long as the first mission and bumped Kepler’s count of surveyed stars up to more than 500,000.

The observation of so many stars has allowed scientists to better understand stellar behaviors and properties, which is critical information in studying the planets that orbit them. New research into stars with Kepler data also is furthering other areas of astronomy, such as the history of our Milky Way galaxy and the beginning stages of exploding stars called supernovae that are used to study how fast the universe is expanding. The data from the extended mission were also made available to the public and science community immediately, allowing discoveries to be made at an incredible pace and setting a high bar for other missions. Scientists are expected to spend a decade or more in search of new discoveries in the treasure trove of data Kepler provided.

“We know the spacecraft’s retirement isn’t the end of Kepler’s discoveries,” said Jessie Dotson, Kepler’s project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “I’m excited about the diverse discoveries that are yet to come from our data and how future missions will build upon Kepler’s results.”

Before retiring the spacecraft, scientists pushed Kepler to its full potential, successfully completing multiple observation campaigns and downloading valuable science data even after initial warnings of low fuel. The latest data, from Campaign 19, will complement the data from NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launched in April. TESS builds on Kepler’s foundation with fresh batches of data in its search of planets orbiting some 200,000 of the brightest and nearest stars to the Earth, worlds that can later be explored for signs of life by missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

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What now for Kepler? Glad you asked: