Tag Archives: orbit

Japans Troubled X-Ray Satellite Is Dead

The Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, has announced that it is not possible to recover its ASTRO-H X-ray astronomy satellite, Hitomi. The sad news follows several weeks of uncertainty after the satellite was found to be out of control in orbit.

In a statement, JAXA said they would now try to find out what went wrong with the satellite, rather than attempting to restore communications. We will carefully review all phases from design, manufacturing, verification, and operations to identify the causes that may have led to this anomaly including background factors, they said.

Launched on February 17, 2016, Hitomi was set to be a groundbreaking mission that would use four X-ray telescopes and two gamma-ray telescopes to probe black holesand the distant universe. Costing an estimated $286 million, the project was a joint collaboration between JAXA, NASA, and other partners.

But on March 26, things started to go wrong. While being pointed towards the center of a distant galaxy, the spacecraft began to spin wildly out of control. Observations from the ground suggested bits of the satellite may have broken off. Preliminary investigations indicate that the planned rotationcaused its solar panels to snap, with some reports saying human errorcaused the breakage, possibly due to an errant command being sent to the spacecraft.

The team thought the mission might be salvageable, because they were receiving what they thought were signals from Hitomi. But in their statement, JAXA said these were likely from a different source, and the satellite has long been dead.

Takashi Kubota (right), space program director of JAXA, at a press conference in Tokyo yesterday announcing the end of the Hitomi mission. STR/AFP/Getty Images

JAXA expresses the deepest regret for the fact that we had to discontinue the operations of ASTRO-H and extends our most sincere apologies to everyone who has supported ASTRO-H believing in the excellent results ASTRO-H would bring, the agency announced solemnly.

This failed mission goes to show that space travel, no matter how successful we continue to be, is hard. Hitomi joins a host of failed spacecraft that have been launched over the last few decades. Some, like Japans Akatsuki Venus mission or NASAs Kepler spacecraft, have been recovered thanks to a bit of luck and/or ingenuity. Others, like Hitomi or Phobos-Grunt, are lost for good.

It will be 12 years until a similar satellite,ATHENA, is launched in 2028 by the European Space Agency (ESA). For Japan, and scientistsaround the world, it will be a long time to mourn this major loss to astronomy.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/japan-s-troubled-x-ray-satellite-dead

Russian Soyuz Spacecraft Malfunction Delays Arrival at ISS by 2 Days


The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 carrying Expedition 39 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, Flight Engineer Steven Swanson of NASA, and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos to the International Space Station.
Image: NASA Joel Kowsky

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft suffered an apparent malfunction in orbit late on March 25, forcing its three-man crew to circle the Earth two extra days before reaching the International Space Station as planned, NASA officials say.

The Soyuz TMA-12M space capsule launched into space March 25 carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on what was expected to be a standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station. But a malfunction on the Soyuz spacecraft prevented a critical engine burn to keep the capsule on course for its planned orbital arrival on the night of March 25.

Riding aboard the Soyuz are NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. The U.S.-Russian crew will now arrive at the station on the evening of March 27, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said in an update.

“The crew is fine, but the ground teams are taking a look at what exactly happened aboard the Soyuz and what caused that [engine] burn to be skipped,” Byerly said during NASA’s televised coverage.

Russian Soyuz engineers are unsure if a software glitch or a mechanical malfunction caused the problem, Byerly said. An initial look at conversations between mission flight controllers in Moscow and Houston suggests, that the problem may beem caused by the Soyuz not being in the proper orientation for the planned engine burn, according to a NASA status update.

The Soyuz capsule launched into orbit atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:17 p.m. EDT. Its crew planned to join three other crewmates already aboard the station with docking at 11:05 p.m. EDT.

Now, Swanson and his crewmates must wait until March 27 at 7:58 p.m. EDT to link up with the International Space Station, Byerly said, adding that the exact time of the docking could change.

“They have supplies to keep them in orbit for many, many days,” Byerly said of the three space travelers.

Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft originally flew on two-day rendezvous flights to the space station similar to the backup trajectory the current Soyuz mission is forced to fly now. It is a two-day trip that includes 32 orbits of Earth in order to catch up with the space station. The last two-day Soyuz trip before this mission was in December 2012.

Russia’s Federal Space Agency began flying shorter, six-hour trips to the space station with unmanned cargo ships in 2012. The first crewed single-day trips to station on Soyuz vehicles launched in 2013.

Expedition 39 Launch
This long expsoure photograph shows the flight path of the Soyuz TMA-12M rocket as it launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

A standard six-hour trip to the International Space Station includes four orbits of the Earth and requires four major engine burn maneuvers, performed automatically by the spacecraft, in order to reach the International Space Station.

Byerly said the Soyuz TMA-12M’s flight computer failed to perform the third maneuver in the flight sequence slated for 7:48 p.m. EDT.

“Right now we don’t understand exactly what happened, so we’ll analyze and review all the telemetry of it,” a Russian flight controller radioed the Soyuz crew, according to a audio translation.

Russia’s three-person Soyuz spacecraft are currently the only vehicles capable of ferrying astronaut and cosmonaut crews to and from the International Space Station. NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, and is dependent on Russian Soyuz vehicles to fly American astronauts to the station and back. The U.S. space agency plans to fly American astronauts on commercial U.S. spacecraft beginning in 2017.

Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev are due to spend nearly six months in space during their current mission, which will bridge the space station’s Expedition 39 and 40 crews. The trio will join Expedition 29’s Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin already aboard the station, then stay on to serve as the outpost’s Expedition 40 crew.

Editor’s Note:

This story was updated at 10:50 pm ET to clarify that the cause of the Soyuz spacecraft’s missed engine burn is being studied as a possible software issue, mechanical malfunction or incorrect attitude.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/26/russian-soyuz-spacecraft-malfunction/

If Planet 9 Exists, What Is It Made Of?

Its understandably difficult to try and predict what a planets made of when you cant even be sure its there. Thats the confounding challenge facing astronomers right now when it comes to the hypothetical Planet Nine, perhaps the newest member of our Solar System; nevertheless, a team from the University of Bern in Switzerland have given it their best shot.

As revealed in their study, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, Planet Nine would be a decidedly cold, icy place at the surface, but curiously hot and rocky the further down you go. The researchers think that its core is still cooling down, and excess heat is still escaping up to the surface.

With our study candidate Planet Nine is now more than a simple point mass, said Christoph Mordasini, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Bern and the studys co-author, in a statement. It takes shape, [it has] physical properties.”

The potential ice giant, which could even be an exoplanet captured by our Sun in an act of celestial-scale kleptomania, was first proposed in January by Caltech Astronomer Mike Pluto killer Brown and his colleagues. By tracking the strange movements of objects in the distant Kuiper Belt, a vast region of comets far beyond Pluto, Brown concluded that something must be perturbing their paths through the cosmos.

This could only be due to an object with a mass of 10 Earths, orbiting the Sun on an elliptical path, at a distance of 200 to 700 times the Earth-Sun distance. For this new study, the researchers took this orbital and mass data and ran computer simulations designed to explain the evolution and composition of this mysterious, distant world.

An artists impression of Planet Nine. Neptunes orbit is shown as a small ellipse around the Sun, top right. Tomruen, nagualdesign/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 4.0

The most likely simulation, according to the study, pointed to a planet like Uranus or Neptune, but not quite as massive.

If you sliced through this frigid world, youd cut first through an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium, before reaching a far thicker gas layer made of the same elements. At this point, its literally freezing, with surface temperatures clocking inat -226C (-375F). Thats just 47 degrees above absolute zero, the coldest possible temperature in the universe.

Next comes a water ice layer at a toasty temperature of 1,827C (3,320F). It may seem contradictory that water ice could be so hot, but the gaseous atmosphere or envelopeon Planet Nine is likely to be around 1.4 times the mass of the Earth. This would exert an enormous pressure on the water ice beneath it, which would allow it to retain its solid ice form.

Just below the ice lies a mantle region composed of silicates, somewhat similar to that of several other rocky planets, including our own. Beneath the mantle lies the core, thought to be iron again, just like our own at a temperature of around 3,427C (6,200F). Overall, the solid parts of the planet come in at around 8.6 Earth masses, meaning that the entire world is about 10 Earth masses, with a radius 3.7 times greater than our own worlds.

Planet Nine, then, is Neptune-like in its upper layersand Earth-like in its deeper layers. In its whole appearance, I would rather say it is a smaller version of Uranus and Neptune, Esther Linder, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Bern and co-author of the study, told IFLScience.

Of course, only time will tell if this estranged planetary cousin is actually there at all.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/planet-nine-ice-giant-thats-part-neptune-part-earth

Closest-Ever Images Of Ceres Snapped By Dawn

The peculiaritiesof Ceres’ surface were one of the highlights of 2015, and it looks like the trend is set to continue into 2016. The latest images are the closest pictures of the dwarf planet yet, taken by Dawn as the spacecraft reached its lowest-ever altitude, 385 kilometers (240 miles) above the surface.

“When we set sail for Ceres upon completing our Vesta exploration, we expected to be surprised by what we found on our next stop. Ceres did not disappoint,” Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, said in astatement.

“Everywhere we look in these new low-altitude observations, we see amazing landforms that speak to the unique character of this most amazing world.”

This image from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows Kupalo Crater, one of the youngest craters on Ceres. The crater has bright material exposed on its rim and walls, which could be salts. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The image of Kupalo Crater has several interesting characteristics. The crater has bright material on its rim, which could potentially be salts; researchers think that this material is related to the bizarre bright spots located in the Occator Crater. Kupalo is one of the youngest craters on Ceres:it has a diameter of 26 kilometers (16 miles) and its flat floor was most likely formed from the debris and the impact melt. The picture of it has a resolution of 35 meters (120 feet) per pixel.

The fractured floor of Dantu Crater on Ceres is seen in this image from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Several bright patches can also be seen.NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

“This crater and its recently-formed deposits will be a prime target of study for the team as Dawn continues to explore Ceres in its final mapping phase,” said Paul Schenk, a Dawn science team member at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston.

Dawn also managed to photograph the vast network of cracks on the floor of Dantu Crater, which resemblethe features seen on Tycho Crater on our Moon. The cracking could have formed as the impact cooled or when the crater floor was pushed up after its formation.

Dawn has not only been taking photos but also providing scientists with a heap of data about the dwarf planet’s composition. Dawns gamma ray and neutron detector is studying the abundances of elements on Ceres’surface, and the visible and infrared spectrometer is using a multiwavelength approach to identify the different minerals that form Ceres. The analysis will help astronomers understand how Ceres’ composition evolved.

The spacecraft will remain at its current altitude indefinitely and, while the prime mission is due to end June 30, 2016, further activities will likely be planned after. Dawn is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet and the first mission to orbit two distinct Solar System objects beyond the Earth-Moon system, the other being the large asteroid Vesta.

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Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/new-close-ups-ceres-low-flying-dawn

Virgin Galactic To Use “Cosmic Girl” 747 To Launch Satellites Into Orbit

Virgin Galactic has announced that upcoming launches of its LauncherOne rocket will be carried out with the help of aBoeing 747 plane. The rocket will be used to take small satellites into orbit quickly and cheaply, without the need for costly vertical launches.

The modified 747, nicknamed the Cosmic Girl, will replace the existing WhiteKnightTwo for these unmanned launches. WhiteKnightTwo is a vast mothership plane that will be used for launches of Virgin Galactic, which will take paying tourists into space, and had been intended for LauncherOne as well, but the company has now taken a different approach.

According to the company, using a Boeing 747 will allow for more frequent and varied launches, with the plane able to take flight from a number of locations and release satellites into wide-rangingorbits.

The LauncherOne rocket will be attached to the left wing of the plane and carried into the air. It will then detach and ignite, takinga small satellite to orbital speed and launching it into orbit, while the plane returns to the ground to be used again. Other rockets, like Orbital Sciences’ Pegasus, operate in a similar manner.

“Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges,” said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO, in a statement. “Selecting the 747 airframe provides a dedicated platform that gives us the capacity to substantially increase our payload to orbit without increasing our prices.”

An artist’s impression of LauncherOne. Virgin Galactic

Launching in this manner, rather than a vertical launch from the ground, allows for a relatively cheaper method to reach orbit. It can launch satellites of more than 400 kilograms (880 pounds), with prices starting around $10 million (6.6 million), a factor of 10 cheaper than a regular launch. Although Virgin Galactic has not revealed exact pricing yet, it is expected to be significantly less expensive than a full orbital launch from the ground.

The rocket itself is discarded after each use, but the 747 can be reused again and again for launches like this, providing companies with a low-cost option to reach space. “The Boeing 747 has a very special place in my heart: we began service on my first airline, Virgin Atlantic, with just one leased 747,” Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson said in the statement. “I never imagined that today one of our 747s would get a second chance and help open access to space. Im absolutely thrilled that Cosmic Girl can stay in the Virgin family and truly live up to her name!”

As mentioned, WhiteKnightTwo will continue to be used for launchesof the Virgin Galactic spaceplane, which is still awaiting a return to flight after the tragedy last year that saw test pilot Michael Alsbury killed when the unique feathering system, used to return from space through the atmosphere, was accidentally activated at high speed.

Check out a video of LauncherOne in action below.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/virgin-galactic-use-cosmic-girl-747-launch-satellites-orbit