Monday, August 31, 2009

Mission to Mars to be between 2013-2015

India's mission to Mars will take place between 2013-2015, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief G Madhavan Nair said on Monday.

"We have given a call for proposal to different scientific communities. Depending on the type of experiments they propose, we will be able to plan the mission," he told a news agency.

The mission is at conceptual stage and will be taken up after Chandrayaan-2, Nair said. "Once in two years you get an opportunity for the mission," Nair said. ISRO Chairman is in Goa to host the eighth international conference on low cost planetary missions.

He said that like Chandrayaan-1, which had cost less than 100 million dollars, the mission on Mars will also be low cost space odyssey

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Latest Space Shuttle News STS-128

The mission management team opted to give engineers more time to refine their analysis of a fill-and-drain valve inside Discovery rather than push quickly into a new launch cycle, NASA pre-launch mission management team chairman Mike Moses said."We gave the team a day to go and keep working on it," he said.

The decision moved Discovery's liftoff to Friday at 11:59 p.m. EDT to begin the STS-128 mission to the International Space Station. Engineers are comfortable that the 8-inch diameter valve will work just fine, but the extra time will be used to polish that conclusion and determine a series of possible steps in case another trouble comes up during a future countdown.

STS-128 Launch Director Pete Nickolenko said preparations are already moving ahead toward Friday night's launch, including moving the rotating service structure around Discovery so technicians can replace the Tyvek covers protecting the nose thrusters of the shuttle.

The mission management team opted to give engineers more time to refine their analysis of a fill-and-drain valve inside Discovery rather than push quickly into a new launch cycle, NASA pre-launch mission management team chairman Mike Moses said."We gave the team a day to go and keep working on it," he said.

The decision moved Discovery's liftoff to Friday at 11:59 p.m. EDT to begin the STS-128 mission to the International Space Station. Engineers are comfortable that the 8-inch diameter valve will work just fine, but the extra time will be used to polish that conclusion and determine a series of possible steps in case another trouble comes up during a future countdown.

STS-128 Launch Director Pete Nickolenko said preparations are already moving ahead toward Friday night's launch, including moving the rotating service structure around Discovery so technicians can replace the Tyvek covers protecting the nose thrusters of the shuttle.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

South Korea launches first space rocket

South Korea's first space rocket blasted off on Tuesday in a long-delayed launch but failed to place a satellite into its designated orbit, officials said. In an event watched guardedly by rival North Korea, the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 lifted off on schedule at 5:00 pm (0130 IST) atop a tail of flame, to the jubilation of officials at the Naro Space Centre.

The first stage separated successfully less than five minutes after lift-off and the South Korean-built 100-kilogram scientific research satellite was placed into Earth orbit. Science and technology Minister Ahn Byong-Man said it was not following the designated orbit, hampering communications with mission control.

"All aspects of the launch were normal, but the satellite exceeded its planned orbit and reached an altitude of 360 kilometres (225 miles)," Ahn said. It should have separated at around 302km. "A joint probe is under way by South Korean and Russian engineers to find the exact cause," the Minister said.

Experts from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute told this to a news agency that they were trying to track the whereabouts of the satellite and declined to say if contact could be made later. They said that despite the satellite's failure to reach its proper orbit, the launch should be seen as a "half success" since the rocket functioned without any problem.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shuttle Managers to Discuss Valve Problem

Shuttle managers will hold a standard post-scrub meeting at 7:15p.m. EDT regarding the launch attempt of Discovery that was called off earlier today after a problem developed with a liquid hydrogen fill-and-drain valve in the aft compartment of the shuttle. A news briefing will be held after that meeting concludes and will air on NASA TV.

Regarding the valve, when launch controllers commanded it to close, they did not receive the "closed" indication. There is a concern that the valve is either open or partially open, but that needs to be evaluated for confirmation.

A new launch date and time for Discovery's STS-128 mission has not been set at this time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

India doing enough to combat global warming

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday rubbished criticism from developed nations that India was not doing enough to combat global warming, saying it fully recognised the importance of the issue. He also said that domestic capacity should be strengthened to meet the challenges arising out of growing energy needs.

"We fully recognise not just how important this issue is to India but also our own obligation to address it," he said apparently referring to criticism from developed nations on the issue. The Prime Minister was addressing a national conference of state ministers of environment and forests in New Delhi.

"Our energy needs will increase sharply in the decades to come. We can and must walk a different road, an environment-friendly road," he said. For this, Singh said, access to new technologies available with developed countries was required. "We must also make own investments in environment-friendly technologies."

For strengthening scientific foundations of environment policies and capacity to deal with the challenges, he said, "We must involve more stakeholders particularly youth to lead the movement for environmental protection."

As a step towards this direction, he asked States to create their own action plans consistent with the National Action Plan on Climate Change unveiled last year.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Maintenance, Science and Shuttle Preparations for Station Crew

The six Expedition 20 crew members aboard the orbiting International Space Station had a full Justify Fullday Friday of maintenance, science and preparations for the scheduled arrival of the crew of space shuttle Discovery.

Flight Engineer Bob Thirsk spent much of the day replacing a water circulation unit in the station’s Oxygen Generation Assembly, hoping to bring the unit back into operation. Previous attempts over the course of the week to repair the assembly were not successful.

Commander Gennady Padalka took photographs of the Self-Propagating High-Temperature Synthesis Experiment, which researches the self-propagating high-temperature fusion of material samples in space.

Flight Engineer Mike Barratt did some troubleshooting on the Agricultural Camera (AgCam), which was built and is operated primarily by students and faculty at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D. AgCam is designed to take visible light and infrared images of growing crops, rangeland, grasslands, forests, and wetlands in the northern Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions of the United States.

Flight Engineer Frank De Winne worked to replace a Command and Measurement Unit behind one of the Human Research Facilities in the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory.

Flight Engineer Roman Romanenko monitored the radiation payload suite Matryoshka-R, verifying its proper function. The Russian payload is designed for sophisticated radiation studies and is named after the traditional Russian set of nested dolls. Romanenko also performed regular weekly maintenance on the station’s treadmill.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Observing the LCROSS Impacts

The image above shows the phase of the moon, as seen from the Earth, on impact night.

Thank you for your interest in the LCROSS mission and the lunar impacts scheduled for 4:30 a.m. PDT on October 9, 2009. The LCROSS team is working with science centers and planetariums across the country to help plan impact events where members of the public will have one of the best opportunities to view the LCROSS impacts. Stay tuned for a list of participating facilities or call your local science center or planetarium and inquire if they are planning an LCROSS impact event. The impacts also will be broadcast on NASA TV and

NOTE: Viewing the impacts for the casual observer will be very complicated. Information about the impacts is based on the input of top lunar and impact scientists and evaluations of hundreds of physical and computer simulations. The LCROSS science team is continually evaluating what might be visible at impact and will update this page when new information. Amateur astronomers are encourages to join the LCROSS observation campaign.

The final target crater will be announced at a news conference at NASA's Ames Research Center on Sept. 10, 2009.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cassini's Last Earthly Date Was 10 Years Ago

PASADENA, Calif. - A decade ago today, NASA's Cassini spacecraft flew past Earth at a distance of 1,171 kilometers (727 miles) on its way to an appointment with the solar system's second largest occupant - Saturn.

Launched in October of 1997, Cassini required a grand total of four planetary flybys to provide the gravity boost it needed to get to the ringed world. A gravity boost uses a planet's mass and orbital speed to "boost" a spacecraft's velocity as it flies past. Prior to its Earth encounter, Cassini had flown past Venus on two occasions (April 26, 1998 and June 24, 1999).

The Earth flyby on Aug. 18, 1999 gave Cassini a 5.5-kilometer-per-second (about 12,000-mile-per-hour) boost in velocity, speeding Cassini toward its final gravity boost target of Jupiter in December of the following year. The total effect of the probe's four planetary flybys -- two Venus, one Earth and one Jupiter - was an extra 21.44 kilometers (13.64 miles) per second of velocity for the spacecraft.

Cassini arrived at Saturn and was captured into orbit on June 30, 2004. Since then, it has been returning a wealth of data about the planet, its rings and its moons.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. JPL manages the mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Ultimate Long Distance Communication

Anyone who's vacationed in the mountains or lived on a farm knows that it's hard to get good internet access or a strong cell phone signal in a remote area. Communicating across great distances has always been a challenge. So when NASA engineers designed the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), they knew it would need an extraordinary communications system.

Over the next year, the LRO, NASA's diligent robotic scout, will collect more information about the moon's surface and environment than any previous mission. It takes a powerful system to send all of this information more than 238,800 miles back to Earth.

A 13-inch-long tube, called a Traveling Wave Tube Amplifier, is making it possible for scientists to receive massive amounts of images and data from the orbiter at an unusually fast rate. It is the first high data rate K-band transmitter to fly on a NASA spacecraft.

With this new amplifier, LRO can transmit 461 gigabytes of data per day. That's more information than you can find in a four-story library. And it transmits this information at a rate of up to 100 megabytes per second. By comparison, typical high-speed internet service provides about 1 to 3 megabytes per second.

As the orbiter collects information about the moon's geography, climate and environment, the communication system transmits this information to a receiver at a Ka band antenna network at White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. Scientists are using the data to compile high-resolution, 3D maps of the lunar surface.

"We're sending back more data than ever, faster and it's nearly real time," said Glenn project manager Todd Peterson. Traveling Wave Tube Amplifiers have been used for other planetary missions, such as Kepler and Cassini, but previous designs were less powerful. According to Rainee Simons, chief of Glenn's Electron and Optoelectronic Device Branch, engineers had to redesign the internal circuitry of the amplifier.

"In order to provide the power and frequency needed to send communications from the vicinity of the moon, it had to be custom designed and handmade," he said.

The orbiter's Traveling Wave Tube Amplifier is also more efficient than previous amplifiers. When it comes to launching satellites, weight means money. The heavier the spacecraft, the more fuel it needs to reach orbit. Because the new amplifier packs more power into a lighter design than previous microwave amplifiers, it's cheaper to fly.

The amplifier underwent vigorous spaceflight testing -- including vibration, thermal vacuum, radiation and electromagnetic interference tests -- to ensure that it could withstand the intense conditions of launch and lunar orbit.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Technology: An Inflatable Heat Shield

A successful NASA flight test has shown that a spacecraft returning to Earth can use an inflatable heat shield to slow and protect itself as it enters the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. This was the first time anyone has successfully flown an inflatable reentry capsule, according to engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center.

The Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment, or IRVE, was vacuum-packed into a 15-inch diameter payload "shroud" and launched on a small sounding rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. Nitrogen inflated the 10-foot (3 m) diameter heat shield, made of several layers of silicone-coated industrial fabric, to a mushroom shape in space several minutes after liftoff.

"This was a huge success," said Mary Beth Wusk, IRVE project manager, based at Langley. "IRVE was a small-scale demonstrator. Now that we've proven the concept, we'd like to build more advanced aeroshells capable of handling higher heat rates."

The Black Brant 9 rocket took about four minutes to lift the experiment to an altitude of 131 miles (211 km). Less than a minute later it was released from its cover and started inflating on schedule at 124 miles (199.5 km) up. The inflation of the shield took less than 90 seconds.

"Everything performed well even into the subsonic range where we weren't sure what to expect," said Neil Cheatwood, IRVE principal investigator and chief scientist for the Hypersonics Project of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's Fundamental Aeronautics Program. "The telemetry looks good. The inflatable bladder held up well."

Inflatable heat shields hold promise for future planetary missions, according to researchers. To land more mass on Mars at higher surface elevations, for instance, mission planners need to maximize the drag area of the entry system. The larger the diameter of the aeroshell, the bigger the payload can be.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Planck Sees Light Billions of Years Old

The Planck space telescope has begun to collect light left over from the Big Bang explosion that created our universe. The mission, which is led by the European Space Agency with important participation from NASA, will help answer the most fundamental of questions: How did space itself pop into existence and expand to become the universe we live in today? The answer is hidden in ancient light, called the cosmic microwave background, which has traveled more than 13 billion years to reach us. Planck will measure tiny variations in this light with the best precision to date.

The mission officially started collecting science data today, Aug. 13, as part of a test period. If all goes as planned, these observations will be the first of 15 or more months of data gathered from two full-sky scans. Science results are expected in about three years.

"We are targeting to issue two lakh global credit cards to our customers by end of the current fiscal," PNB Chief General Manager (Credit Card Venture) Ranjan Dhawan told this to a news agency on Monday. The bank would also shortly launch its new cards- Corporate and Platinum credit cards.

"Corporate Cards will be meant for senior executives of companies who often travel for business purposes. In this category, there will be two cards such as Individual liability and corporate liability," he informed.

Another second Platinum card will come with enhanced benefits for high end customers (income having between Rs 7 to 10 lakh per annum). "This card will meet the requirements of customers like premium gold membership, lounge expenses etc," he said.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tropics of Saturn's Moon No Tropical Paradise On Some Days

Astronomers have identified a storm cell on Titan the size of the country of India. The storm system appeared in April 2008 in the moon's tropical region, an area not known for its cloudiness.

Using the Gemini North Telescope and NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano, a team of astronomers from the University of Hawaii, the Lowell Observatory, and the California Institute of Technology found a significant mass of methane clouds in a cold desert area where no clouds were expected.

Large cloud outbursts such as these are thought to be associated with significant amounts of precipitation and probably play a major part in shaping the geological features on the surface of Titan..

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Unraveling Saturn's Rings

In this simulated image of Saturn's rings, color is used to present information about ring particle sizes in different regions based on the measured effects of three radio signals.

In this simulated image of Saturn's rings, color is used to present information about ring particle sizes in different regions based on the measured effects of three radio signals.
Three simultaneous radio signals of 0.94, 3.6 and 13 centimeter wavelength (Ka-, X- and S-bands) were sent from the Cassini spacecraft through the rings to Earth.

The observed change of each signal as Cassini moved behind the rings provided a profile of the distribution of ring material as a function of distance from Saturn, or an optical depth profile.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

India to launch ocean satellite in second half of next month

India would, by the second-half of September, launch Oceansat-2 into the space, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman G Madhavan Nair said.The integration of the spacecraft, Oceansat-2, designed to identify potential fishing zones, assist in sea state forecasting and coastal zone studies and provide inputs for weather forecasting and climate studies, has been completed, Nair told the news agency.

"The thermovat test is over and right now, vibration and other tests are progressing. I hope that in next 15 days we would be able to move it to Sriharikota - the spaceport in Andhra Pradesh from where it would be launched" , the ISRO chief said adding we hope that by second half of September we should be able to make this launch.

Oceansat-2 is in-orbit replacement to Oceansat-1, launched by the space agency in May 1999 to study physical and biological aspects of oceanography.

It would blast off on board India's home grown workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota on the East coast.The spacecraft would carry an Ocean Colour Monitor (OCM) and a Ku-band pencil beam Scatterometer - for the first time, besides a Radio Occultation Sounder for Atmospheric Studies (ROSA), developed by the Italian Space Agency - ASI.

The Scatterometer with a ground resolution cell of 50 kms x 50 kms is expected to provide the wind vector range of four to 24 metres/second with better than 20 per cent accuracy in speed and 20 deg in wind direction.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Planetary Smash-Up

This artist's concept shows a celestial body about the size of our moon slamming at great speed into a body the size of Mercury. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope found evidence that a high-speed collision of this sort occurred a few thousand years ago around a young star, called HD 172555, still in the early stages of planet formation. The star is about 100 light-years from Earth.

Spitzer detected the signatures of vaporized and melted rock, in addition to rubble, all flung out from the giant impact. Further evidence from the infrared telescope shows that these two bodies must have been traveling at a velocity relative to each other of at least 10 kilometers per second (about 22,400 miles per hour).

As the bodies slammed into each other, a huge flash of light would have been emitted. Rocky surfaces were vaporized and melted, and hot matter was sprayed everywhere. Spitzer detected the vaporized rock in the form of silicon monoxide gas, and the melted rock as a glassy substance called obsidian. On Earth, obsidian can be found around volcanoes, and in black rocks called tektites often found around meteor craters.

Shock waves from the collision would have traveled through the planet, throwing rocky rubble into space. Spitzer also detected the signatures of this rubble.

In the end, the larger planet is left skinned, stripped of its outer layers. The core of the smaller body and most of its surface were absorbed by the larger one. This merging of rocky bodies is how planets like Earth are thought to form.

Astronomers say a similar type of event stripped Mercury of its crust early on in the formation of our solar system, flinging the removed material away from Mercury, out into space and into the sun. Our moon was also formed by this type of high-speed impact: a body the size of Mars is thought to have slammed into a young Earth about 30 to 100 million years after the sun formed. The sun is now 4.5 billion years old. According to this theory, the resulting molten rock, vapor and shattered debris mixed with debris from Earth to form a ring around our planet. Over time, this debris coalesced to make the moon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Saturn to Pull Celestial Houdini

In 1918, magician extraordinaire Harry Houdini created a sensation when he made a 10,000 pound elephant disappear before a mystified audience of over 5,200 at New York's famed Hippodrome theatre. But a vanishing pachyderm is nothing compared to the magnificent illusion to be performed by our solar system's own sixth rock from the sun on Aug. 11. On that day, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, the planet Saturn, with no help from either Jupiter or Uranus, will make its 170,000-mile-wide ring system disappear.

How does a mere gas giant planet, without the benefit of a magic wand, smoke and mirrors, or even sleeves for that matter, manage to hide an estimated 35 trillion-trillion tons of ice, dust and rock fragments? Saturn itself, perhaps adhering to the magician's code never to reveal how a trick is performed, is not talking. But fortunately for us, dear friends, Linda Spilker, deputy project scientist for the Cassini Saturn mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is not in the magician's guild.

"Saturn has been performing the "ring plane crossing" illusion about every 15 years since the rings formed, perhaps as long as 4.5 billion years ago, so by now it is pretty good at it," said Spilker. "The magician's tools required to perform this trick are pure sunlight, a planet that wobbles, and a main ring system that may be almost 200-thousand miles wide, but only 30 feet thick." All planets in our solar system wobble on their axes to some extent.

This change of attitude eventually places a planet's equator directly in line with the photons of light streaming in from the sun. This is called "equinox," and on Earth it occurs every year about March 21 (spring equinox) and September 22 (autumnal equinox). On Saturn, it occurs twice during each 29 Earth-year-long orbit around the sun (about every 15 years).

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Summer Heat, Ares Style

A white-hot flame surrounded by red hot exhaust shoots from a recent test of the J-2X engine gas generator at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Recent testing of the J-2X engine gas generator at the Marshall Center. /MSFC
A white-hot flame surrounded by red hot exhaust shoots from a recent test of the J-2X engine "workhorse" gas generator at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. The workhorse gas generator simulates the flow path inside the actual J-2X gas generator that powers the engine's turbo machinery.

Testing to ensure stable combustion and uniform gas temperature in this component translates into a safer, more durable J-2X engine, which will power the second stage of the new Ares I rocket.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Ares V Cargo Launch Vehicle

Planning and early design are under way for hardware, propulsion systems and associated technologies for NASA's Ares V cargo launch vehicle -- the "heavy lifter" of America's next-generation space fleet. Ares V will serve as NASA's primary vessel for safe, reliable delivery of large-scale hardware to space -- from the lunar landing craft and materials for establishing a moon base, to food, fresh water and other staples needed to extend a human presence beyond Earth orbit.

Under the goals of NASA's exploration mission, Ares V is a vital part of the cost-effective space transportation infrastructure being developed by NASA's Constellation Program to carry human explorers back to the moon, and then onward to Mars and other destinations in the solar system.

The Ares V effort includes multiple hardware and propulsion element teams at NASA centers and contractor organizations around the nation, and is led by the Ares Projects Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. These teams rely on nearly a half century of NASA spaceflight experience and aerospace technology advances. Together, they are developing new vehicle hardware and flight systems and maturing technologies evolved from powerful, proven Saturn rocket and space shuttle propulsion elements and knowledge.

The versatile, heavy-lifting Ares V is a two-stage, vertically stacked launch vehicle. It can carry nearly 414,000 pounds (188 metric tons) to low-Earth orbit. When working together with the Ares I crew launch vehicle to launch payloads into Earth orbit, Ares V can send nearly 157,000 pounds (71 metric tons) to the moon.

For its initial insertion into Earth orbit, the Ares V first stage relies on two five-and-a-half-segment reusable solid rocket boosters. These are derived from the space shuttle solid rocket boosters and are similar to the single booster that serves as the first stage for the cargo vehicle's sister craft, the Ares I crew launch vehicle. This hardware commonality makes operations more cost effective by using the same manufacturing facilities for both the crew and cargo vehicles.

An RS68 engine undergoes hot-fire testing.

The twin reusable solid rocket boosters of the cargo lifter's first stage flank a single, liquid-fueled central booster element, known as the core stage. Derived from the Saturn V, the core stage tank delivers liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants to a cluster of six RS-68B rocket engines. The engines are upgraded versions of those currently used in the Delta IV, developed in the 1990s by the U.S. Air Force for its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program and commercial launch applications. Together, these propulsion elements comprise the Ares V's first stage.

Atop the central booster element is an interstage cylinder, which includes booster separation motors. It connects the core stage to the Ares V Earth departure stage, which is propelled by a J-2X main engine. The J-2X, also powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, is an evolved variation of two historic predecessors: the powerful J-2 upper-stage engine that propelled the Apollo-era Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets to the moon and the J-2S, a simplified version of the J-2 developed and tested in the early 1970s.

Ares V Earth departure stage

Anchored atop the Earth departure stage is a composite shroud protecting the Altair lunar lander, which includes the descent stage that will carry explorers to the moon's surface and the ascent stage that will return them to lunar orbit to rendezvous with the Orion crew exploration vehicle for their return home.

During launch of an Ares V, the reusable solid rocket boosters and core propulsion stage power the vehicle into low-Earth orbit. After separation from the spent core stage, the Earth departure stage's J-2X engine takes over, placing the vehicle in a circular orbit, and the departure stage shroud separates to prepare the lander for rendezvous with the Orion capsule.

Orion carrying four astronauts is delivered to space separately by the Ares I rocket. Orion then docks with the orbiting departure stage and its lunar lander payload. Once mated, the Earth departure stage fires its J-2X engine a second time to achieve "escape velocity," the speed necessary to break free of Earth's gravity, and the lunar vessel begins its journey to the moon.

The Earth departure stage is jettisoned after it puts the mated Orion capsule and Altair lander on course for the moon. Once the astronauts arrive in lunar orbit, they transfer to the lunar module and descend to the moon’s surface. Orion remains in orbit until the astronauts depart from the moon in the lunar vessel, rendezvous with the spacecraft in orbit and return to Earth.

The Ares V also represents an unmatched national asset for lifting heavy exploration, scientific, and commercial payloads to Earth orbit or trans-lunar injection, a trajectory designed to intersect with the moon. Such lift capabilities will enable NASA to, in time, undertake crewed missions to destinations beyond the moon.

The first test flight of the Ares V is planned for around 2018. The first crewed lunar excursion is scheduled for launch in the 2020 timeframe.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Practice Countdown Highlights

Friday will feel like launch day for the seven astronauts of Discovery’s STS-128 mission. Almost. The crew will suit up in their orange launch-and-entry ensembles and climb into the Astrovan at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They’ll get taken out to Launch Pad 39A and technicians will help them into their seats.

The countdown clock will roll backwards and the astronauts will run through their launch-day protocols of radio checks and liftoff procedures. Then, it’ll all be over. The clock will stop and the crew will practice a few skills they hope to never need: emergency evacuation. Called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, it’s a routine exercise for shuttle crews.

It also caps the astronaut’s visit to Kennedy that began Wednesday. As for Discovery, the “Leonardo” supply module full of supplies and equipment for the International Space Station was being loaded into the payload bay Thursday. With launch targeted for Aug. 25, technicians at Kennedy will spend the next couple of weeks prepping the craft for its real liftoff.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Astronomy Picture of the Day

The sharpest image ever of Betelgeuse shows a mammoth star that is slowly evaporating. Betelgeuse (sounds a lot like "beetle juice"), also known as Alpha Orionis, is one of the largest and brightest stars known. The star is a familiar orange fixture easily visible to the unaided eye toward the constellation of Orion. The above recent image from the Very Large Telescope in Chile resolves not only the face of Betelgeuse, but a large and previously unknown plume of surrounding gas.

This plume gives fresh indications of how the massive star is shedding mass as it nears the end of its life. Conversely, a series of previous observations indicate that the surface of Betelgeuse has noticeably shrunk, on the average, over the past decade. If Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star about 640 light years distant, were placed at the center of our Solar System, the plume would extend past the orbit of Jupiter.

Since Betelgeuse is known to change its brightness irregularly, future observations may determine if changes its appearance irregularly as well. Betelgeuse is a candidate to undergo a spectacular supernova explosion almost anytime in the next few thousand years.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

New Spin On Saturn's Rotation

Larger image New meteorological data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft indicates the value for Saturn's rotation period could be more than 5 minutes shorter than previously believed - and that Saturn is more like its larger neighbor Jupiter than previously considered.

The rate at which Saturn spins provides important data for planetary scientists interested in the ringed world. Obtaining an accurate fix on that number is critical to enhancing scientist's understanding of the planet's evolution, formation and meteorology. The report on this finding, led by Cassini scientist Peter Read of Oxford University, England, is published in the July 30 issue of the journal Nature.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. JPL manages the mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.