Blue Origin aims for first manned suborbital flight in April

Capitalism in space: According to this CNBC report, Blue Origin is now targeting its first manned suborbital flight of New Shepard by April, after completing one more unmanned test flight in late February.

Blue Origin on Thursday completed the fourteenth test flight of its New Shepard rocket booster and capsule. Called NS-14, the successful test flight featured the debut of a new booster and an upgraded capsule. Beyond the upgrades, CNBC has learned that NS-14 also marked one of the last remaining steps before Blue Origin flies its first crew to space.

The flight was the first of two “stable configuration” test flights, people familiar with Blue Origin’s plans told CNBC. Stable configuration means that the company plans to avoid making major changes between this flight and the next. Additionally, those people said that Blue Origin aims to launch the second test flight within six weeks, or by late February, and the first crewed flight six weeks after that, or by early April.

We shall see. The sources are anonymous, and thus not entirely reliable. Furthermore, this schedule is far faster than the pace that Blue Origin has traditioinally set.

At the same time, the competition to get those first suborbital passengers in space is heating up, as Virgin Galactic is rumored to have a somewhat similar schedule. Moreover, the first entirely private manned orbital tourist mission by SpaceX is presently set for October. If these two suborbital companies fail to begin manned flights before SpaceX their ability to garner customers will be sorely damaged.

InSight scientists give up on heat sensor mole

After another failed attempt earlier this month to dig with the German-made mole on the InSight Mars lander, the science team has decided to abandon all further efforts.

After getting the top of the mole about 2 or 3 centimetres under the surface, the team tried one last time to use a scoop on InSight’s robotic arm to scrape soil onto the probe and tamp it down to provide added friction. After the probe conducted 500 additional hammer strokes on 9 January, with no progress, the team called an end to their efforts.

This means the heat sensor, one of the two instruments carried by InSight, is also a failure, and will not be able to provide any data about the planet’s interior temperature.

From the beginning InSight appears to have been a poorly run and badly chosen project. Other than a weather station, it carried only two instruments, a seismometer and a heat sensor. Its launch was delayed two years when the French attempt to build the seismometer failed and JPL had to take over, fortunately with success. Now the failure of the German-made mole has made the heat sensor a failure.

To send a lander to Mars at a cost of a billion dollars with so little payoff seems in hindsight to have been bad use of money. Plenty of other NASA planetary missions have done far better for far less.

Another professor arrested for hiding ties to China

An MIT professor has been arrested for hiding his extensive ties to the Chinese communist government, even as he took almost $20 million in grants from the Department of Energy.

According to prosecutors, Gang Chen, a mechanical engineering professor at MIT, has held various positions on behalf of the PRC aimed at promoting China’s technological and scientific capabilities. He allegedly shared his expertise directly with Chinese government officials, “often in exchange for financial compensation,” said prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston.

The Chinese consulate in New York allegedly requested that Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen, act as an “overseas expert” for the PRC. He was also a member of two talent programs that the PRC has used to place Chinese students at American universities.

This is not the NASA scientist who pled guilty to similar charges yesterday.

It appears to me that the Trump Justice Department is trying to wrap up as many of its cases of academics spying for China as it can before Joe Biden takes over.

Leftist activist arrested for inciting riot at Capitol

A leftist activist who is very anti-Trump and heads an organization founded in support of Black Lives Matter causes has been arrested by the FBI for participating and inciting the riot that occurred at the Capitol Building on January 6th.

[John] Sullivan, the founder of “an activist group formed after the killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020” entitled Insurgence USA which “calls itself anti-fascist and protests police brutality,” insisted he was only inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6th to “record.”

…The 18-page affidavit reveals that Sullivan allegedly incited violence by exclaiming “we gotta get this [expletive] burned” and “it’s our house mother[expletive].” … During one of his interactions with others, Sullivan can be heard in the video saying, “We gotta get this [expletive] burned.” At other times as he is walking through the Capitol, Sullivan can be heard saying, among other things, “it’s our house mother[expletive]” and “we are getting this [expletive].”

At this link you can see a video of Sullivan speaking at what appears to be a DC rally, threatening violence and insurrection against Trump.

He is not the only one arrested, and his leftist agenda only illustrates that the politics of the individuals who attacked the Capitol Building were not all the same. It also adds weight to the possibility that many who were there were not there in support of Trump, as has now become the accepted but very unproven wisdom, but might actually have been there to help slander those Trump supporters.

And I still want to know more about that woman in the pink hat.

Craters in slush on Mars

Dust devil steak across a slushy plain on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on October 27, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It was taken not for any particular research project, but as one of the periodic images the camera team needs to take maintain the camera’s proper temperature. When they need to do this, they often will take a picture in an area not previously viewed at high resolution. Sometimes the image is boring. Sometimes they photograph some geology that is really fascinating, and begs for some young scientist to devote some effort to studying it.

In this case the photo was of the generally featureless northern lowland plains. What the image shows us is a scattering of impact craters that appear to have cut into a flat plain likely saturated with ice very close to the surface.

How can I conclude so confidently that these craters impacted into ice close to the surface? The location gives it away.
» Read more

These rioters in the Capitol are not Trump protesters

Below is a video taken inside the Capitol building on January 6th, apparently right after protesters have broken a window and gotten inside. It opens with one of them asking someone outside “Where’s the floor plan?” Later a woman in a pink wool hat outside sticks her head through the window, shouting military-like commands with a bullhorn.

Watch. I have been to numerous conservative demonstrations. I have never ever seen Republican protesters act like this. Never. Their behavior has almost always tried to stay within the law, and when someone begins to act unlawfully, usually there are cries everywhere to stop, with several quickly moving in to prevent it. Conservative protesters also are never organized in this manner. They come to the protest randomly, and mill about randomly.

A second video at this link is from outside before they have broken the window, and shows the woman in the pink hat apparently in command and helping to use a battering ram, clearly prepared beforehand, to smash a window.

As far as I am concerned, these rioters are not supporters of Trump. Their techniques, behavior, and approach all scream Antifa, in every way, dressed up to look like Trump supporters.

I might be wrong. There is no evidence right now one way or the other. Finding and interrogating that woman in the pink hat would be especially illuminating, because this footage clearly shows her breaking the law and leading the attack.

Too bad we no longer have a legitimate police force in DC willing to honestly investigate this.

Live stream of New Shepard flight: Successful flight

UPDATE: The flight has completed successfully, with the capsule reaching a height of about 66 miles, or about 107 kilometers. The booster was doing its first flight, with the capsule doing its eighth flight.

Original post:
——————–
Capitalism in space: I have embedded the live stream of today’s New Shepard suborbital flight by Blue Origin. The countdown is just under T-19 as I write this.

Watch if you want, though you will have deal with Blue Origin’s pr, including their somewhat noxious anchor, who spends much of her narration telling us how wonderful and breath-taking and amazing everything is, no matter what happens.
» Read more

Scientist pleads guilty of lying about ties to China

A NASA scientist yesterday pled guilty of lying about his participation in China’s Thousand Talents program, designed to recruit scholars for stealing U.S. intellectual property.

On or about October 27, 2020, MEYYAPPAN was interviewed by the FBI, NASA OIG, and the USAO, in New York, New York. During that interview, MEYYAPPAN falsely stated, among other things, that he was not a member of the Thousand Talents Program and that he did not hold a professorship at a Chinese university. In truth and in fact, MEYYAPPAN was a member of the Thousand Talents Program and held a professorship at a Chinese university, funded by the Chinese government.

This guy is one of a slew of scientists the Trump administration has caught spying for China. There are certainly many others, as our academic community generally has more loyalty to communism and China than it does to the U.S.

Unfortunately, he will likely be one of the last such spies caught, as we can surely expect the Biden administration, with its own ties to China, to shut down this national security work.

Blacklists are back and the Democrats have got ’em

The Bill of Rights, cancelled

They’re coming for you next: Oh boy, it’s the 1950s again and its time for witchhunts from Congress and big corporations.

Unlike the 1950s, however, the question will not be whether you have ever been a member of the Communist Party. No, now the question will be much more effective and to the point. It will be “Have you ever been conservative or a member of the Republican Party?”

And as always, today’s progressive Democratic Party is on the ball! Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has revealed members of the House are planning to form a commission to “rein in” conservative media, to prevent them from “spewing disinformation and misinformation.”

During a lengthy Instagram Live on Tuesday evening where she revealed that she feared for her life during the siege, the “Squad” member accused the mainstream media of “spewing disinformation” ahead of the deadly riot in which five people died.

“There’s absolutely a commission that’s being discussed but it seems to be more investigating in style rather than truth and reconciliation,” she said. “I do think that several members of Congress in some of my discussions have brought up media literacy because that is part of what happened here,” Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) went on. “We’re going to have to figure out how we rein in our media environment so you can’t just spew disinformation and misinformation,” she said.

Hey, Alexandria, I’ve got the perfect name for your congressional commission. Why not call it the House Un-American Activities Committee? You could subpoena right-wing writers and journalists to testify against their will in Congress, demanding to know their party affiliations. You could also set up lists of these proven conservatives so that businesses nationwide can blacklist them and keep them from working.

In fact, many of big corporations, their boards dominated by Democrats, are already ahead of the curve, cutting off all donations to all Republicans who simply wanted to find out if there was election fraud in the 2020 election. Other businesses in turn have begun firing anyone who worked for Trump.

It is obvious, Alexandra, that the work will be rewarding and productive. Get that committee going. Send out those subpoenas. Harass those witnesses.

We can’t have those evil Republicans poisoning our glorious socialist paradise, can we?

Starship prototype #9 completes three static fire tests in one day

Capitalism in space: SpaceX engineers today successfully completed three static fire tests of their Starship prototype #9, all within a space of just over three hours.

The three-engine SN9 vehicle performed its second, third and fourth “static fire” tests in quick succession today (Jan. 13) at SpaceX’s South Texas facilities, near the Gulf Coast village of Boca Chica. The engines lit up briefly at 1:28 p.m. EST (1828 GMT), again at 3:22 p.m. EST (2022 GMT) and then yet again at 4:36 p.m. EST (2136 GMT).

During static fires, engines blaze briefly while a vehicle remains tethered to the ground. SN9 already had one such test under its belt, having completed a short static fire on Jan. 6.

In each case they likely practiced their countdown and fueling procedures, followed by procedures allowing for a quick recycle should they have to abort a countdown but have time to still launch that day.

All this strengthens the reliability and overall design and operation of the rocket as they develop it.

The actual hop could occur, based on road closure announcements, on Friday. It is also possible the company will do additional static fire tests beforehand.

I think it also pertinent to once again compare SpaceX’s development approach to that of Boeing and NASA in their development of SLS. SpaceX is aggressively doing a lot of tests of hardware, continually. They then redesign and rebuild based on those tests. The pace is fast and compressed, and gets things built at a remarkable low cost, considering. It also forces them to design things in a way that makes redesign easy and fast.

Boeing and NASA have done no such tests in building SLS. Instead, they designed it by computer, giving themselves large safety margins in design. This might have reduced or eliminated the need for tests, but it raises the cost of the rocket while stretching out the development time enormously. And it carries great risk. In two days they will attempt their very first static fire test of SLS’s core stage, after almost a decade of development. The actual launch is planned for within a year.

If that static fire test has any issues, the whole SLS project will face serious problems that will, based on its design, be very difficult to fix.

The target landing ellipse on Mars for Perseverance

Perseverance's landing ellipse on Mars
Click for full image.

In just over a month, on February 18, 2021, the American rover Perseverance will come screaming through the thin atmosphere of Mars at a speed of over 12,000 miles per hour to hopefully land successfully in Jezero Crater.

The map to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was released last week by the Perseverance science team and shows the landing ellipse in that crater. It also shows the much larger landing ellipses of previous landers/rovers. As they noted,
» Read more

Space Force picks Alabama for its future headquarters

In a victory for Alabama and its politicians, the U.S. Space Force has chosen the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville as the location for its future headquarters.

The selection of Redstone Arsenal is a huge win for Huntsville, nicknamed “Rocket City.” U.S. Space Command is currently based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Alabama was considered a long shot and Colorado was the front runner, given its incumbent status and concentration of military installations and space industry contractors.

U.S. Space Command was established in August 2019 as the military’s 11th unified combatant command. The future headquarters will have approximately 1,400 military and civilian personnel.

While there are many good reasons to pick Huntsville, I guarantee a major factor was the clout exercised by Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), head of the Senate appropriations committee. He will no longer be in charge of the committee with the new Senate, but in his final act as head he likely used it to get the Space Force to move to his state.

This decision however is not yet final. According to government officials, it will take six years (!) to make the move, and already the politicians in Colorado, where the Space Command is presently based, are lobbying to rescind it.

Republican congressman Doug Lamborn, who represents Colorado Springs, sent a letter to President-elect Biden urging him to reverse what he called a “political decision” to move U.S. Space Command to Alabama. “I am disappointed by the horrendous decision to rip U.S. Space Command out of its home in Colorado Springs and move it to a new location,” said Lamborn.

As always, pork is the goal, not defending the U.S. in the most effective manner.

Giant iceberg from Antarctica breaking up

As should have been expected, the giant iceberg the size of Delaware that had broken from the Antarctic ice pack in 2017 and was drifting directly towards South Georgia Island (a wildlife preserve), is now breaking up without doing any harm to the island itself.

Seawater has been cutting like a knife through A-68A, the enormous Antarctic iceberg drifting in the southern Atlantic Ocean. On January 11, 2021, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NOAA-20 satellite acquired this image showing the remainder of A-68A, along with two large pieces that broke off in December 2020.

The U.S. National Ice Center (USNIC) reported on January 8 that A-68A measured 74 kilometers long and 44 kilometers wide. That equates to an area about twice the size of Houston—still sizable, but quite a bit smaller than its Delaware-sized status in July 2017 when it calved from the Larsen C Ice Shelf. The pieces that broke from A-68A in December (forming A-68D and A-68E) are smaller, but remain large enough to be tracked by the USNIC.

Every report about this, including today’s, waxes eloquently about the terrible threat the iceberg poses to the wildlife on South Georgia Island should it become grounded there, even though all past data, let me repeat, all past data indicated that it would not hit the island but drift around as it broke up.

And, surprise surprise, that is exactly what it has been doing.

Blue Origin announces next New Shepard flight for January 14th

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin today announced that it will launch its fourteenth New Shepard flight tomorrow, at 9:45 am (Central).

This will be the eighth flight for this particular New Shepard capsule.

The link above takes you to their live stream, which will go live 30 minutes before launch. From the press release:

For this mission, the crew capsule will be outfitted with upgrades for the astronaut experience as the program nears human space flight. The upgrades include improvements to environmental features such as acoustics and temperature regulation inside the capsule, crew display panels, and speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk button at each seat. The mission will also test a number of astronaut communication and safety alert systems. The capsule will be outfitted with six seats, including one occupied by Mannequin Skywalker. Also inside the capsule, Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future will fly more than 50,000 postcards to space and back from students around the globe.

The last flight New Shepard flight was in October. The company had earlier promised manned flights would begin in 2020, but that did not happen. Today’s announcement makes no mention of later flights or future plans.

While I do expect Blue Origin will eventually fly humans on a New Shepard capsule, more and more it looks like it will be more a public relations operation for the company rather than a real profit center. They might make money on it, but the focus of space tourism is shifting to orbital flights. Doing a suborbital flight will still be cool, but it will no longer have the pizazz that it would have had, had the flight been two, three, five, or ten years ago. This shift I think is reflected in the slow pace of New Shepard launches in the past three years.

U.S. and Japan formalize partnership on Gateway

NASA announced yesterday the signing of a formal agreement between the U.S. and Japan detailing exactly how the two countries will partner in the building of NASA’s lunar space station Gateway.

Under an arrangement with Northrop Grumman, Japan also will provide batteries for the Gateway’s Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), the initial crew cabin for astronauts visiting the Gateway. Additionally, Japan is investigating enhancements to its HTV-X cargo resupply spacecraft, which could result in its use for Gateway logistics resupply.

…The agreement also marks NASA’s intent to provide crew opportunities for Japanese astronauts to the Gateway, which will be determined following additional discussions, and documented in a future arrangement.

Japan is on of the seven countries that has also signed the Artemis Accords, which covers the legal and international rights under the project. This new agreement is more technical in nature, outlining who will do what during construction.

Of course, much of this assumes that money will be forthcoming from Congress for Gateway. Right now that budget does not really exist, and its allocation remains quite uncertain.

Starlink begins rollout in United Kingdom; blocked in Russia

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Starlink internet service has now begun providing its service in the United Kingdom, following approval by the government there.

Because the British government is now also an owner of Starlink’s direct competitor, OneWeb, this creates an interesting conflict of interest that fortunately has so far not impeded SpaceX. We shall have to see whether this changes with time.

Meanwhile, in Russia a similar conflict of interest has resulted in some government action against Starlink.

Russia’s legislative body, the State Duma, is considering fines for individuals and companies in the country that use Western-based satellite Internet services. The proposed law seeks to prevent accessing the Internet by means of SpaceX’s Starlink service, OneWeb, or other non-Russian satellite constellations under development.

…In the Russian-language article, translated for Ars by Robinson Mitchell, members of the Duma assert that accessing the Internet independently would bypass the country’s System of Operational Search Measures, which monitors Internet use and mobile communications. As part of the country’s tight control on media and communications, all Russian Internet traffic must pass through a Russian communications provider.

It is not surprising that Russia would take steps to block Starlink service—the country’s space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, views SpaceX as a chief rival in spaceflight. Rogozin has been critical of both NASA and the US Department of Defense for subsidizing SpaceX through government contracts. (While it is true that SpaceX has received launch contracts from the US government worth several billion dollars, it has also provided launch services at a significant discount compared to other providers.) More recently Rogozin has said Starlink is little more than a scheme to provide US Special Forces with uninterrupted communications.

That the legislation is also aimed at blocking OneWeb however is strange, considering that OneWeb is quite literally Rogozin’s only remaining commercial customer for Roscosmos’s launch services.

In the end, such laws will only end up doing more damage to Russia than to SpaceX. When you don’t allow competition you basically don’t allow any achievements at all. Russia will sink into a second-class status, not because its people are second-class but because its government is.

Tragically it appears the U.S. federal government is now in a race with Russia to the bottom.

Dream Chaser first flight delayed to ’22

Officials from Sierra Nevada today revealed they have now delayed the first flight of their mini-reusable Dream Chaser shuttle Tenacity until ’22 rather than late this year.

They claim the cause of the delay is the Wuhan flu.

Sierra Nevada has not announced when in 2022 Dream Chaser will attempt to make its first flight, but Lindsey described how pandemic restrictions prevented engineers from being on site for structural testing of the cargo model. Instead, engineers remotely oversaw the tests from a mission control center in Colorado. While the workaround allowed testing to continue, it took three or four times as long as it should have, Lindsey said.

Other delays came from supplier shutdowns due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Technical challenges not related to the pandemic also caused problems, though Lindsey did not elaborate. “All of those things have conspired to move the date a little bit,” Lindsey said.

The first issue is a management decision by the company. I note that SpaceX does not create these kinds of restrictions, and has therefore not experienced any slowdown in its launches or Starship development. It also appears to be experiencing no significant issues with COVID-19 infections.

The second issue is also in a sense a management decision. Sierra Nevada is subcontracting a lot of its work, and thus is at the mercy of other companies. Once again, SpaceX made a decision years ago to do as much as possible in-house. Thus, they are at no one’s mercy, and can push forward even as others cower in fear.

Overall, the pace of development at Sierra Nevada has not been impressive, but then, much of their work is being done by others, such as Lockheed Martin.

The colorful and bright knobs of Ariadnes Colles on Mars

Colorful and bright knob in Ariadnes Colles
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image gives us a sample of the strange colorful hills in an even stranger knobby depression on Mars called Ariadnes Colles. The photo to the right, cropped and color enhanced to post here, was taken on September 10, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It focuses on just one of those colorful hills. The color strip only covers the western half, which is why that is the only part of the hill in color.

Ariadnes Colles is a patch of chaotic terrain 110 by 100 miles in size, located in the southern cratered highlands due south of Mars’s volcano country, at latitude 34 degrees south. What makes this particular patch of chaos distinct from the many others on Mars is that the hills, knobs, and mesas within it are routinely bright and colorful, compared to the darker surrounding terrain. Moreover, as noted in this Mars Express press release for images of Ariadnes Colles from that orbiter,

In contrast to other chaotic terrains … Adrianes Colles is not a water-source region. It is still debated, therefore, whether Ariadnes Colles was formed by the action of water or wind.

The darker material in the southern areas is most likely sand or volcanic ash; some slopes of the flat-topped features have been covered by this dark material that was blown up on the slopes.

The sand or volcanic ash most likely come from the Medusae Fossae Formation several hundred miles to the north, the largest volcanic ash deposit on Mars. The colors on the hill likely come from a variety of minerals.

The overview map below shows the entire patch, with the location of the hill above indicated by the white dot in the red rectangle that shows the full image location.
» Read more

Astronomers discover first periodic erupting supermassive black hole

Astronomers observing a galaxy 570 million light years away have discovered that the periodic energetic flares that occur there every 114 days are not supernovae but eruptions from the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, caused each time an orbiting star gets too close during its perihelion and has material stripped away from it.

ASASSN-14ko was first detected by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), a global network of 20 robotic telescopes headquartered at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus. When Payne examined all the ASAS-SN data on the phenomenon, she noticed a series of 17 regularly spaced flares.

Based on this discovery, the astronomers predicted that the galaxy would experience another burst on May 17 of last year and coordinated ground- and space-based facilities to make observations. They have since successfully predicted and witnessed flares on September 7 and December 26.

Though the press release tries to sell itself by saying these flares were initially mistaken for supernovae, a close reading suggests the astronomers thought this for only a very short time. As soon as they took their first close look and noticed the regularly space events, they abandoned the supernovae idea immediately.

Most supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies are active, emitting large amounts of energy in bursts or in a steady stream. That is why astronomers label them Active Galactic Nuclei, or AGNs. This is the first to do so in a periodic manner.

That most are active illustrates the mystery of the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way. Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star) is not active, even though it really should be.

Update of Starship prototype #9: Flight delayed until January 15

Link here. It appears that because the engine static fire test ended prematurely, SpaceX engineers want to do another before attempting the ninth prototype’s first the 50,000 foot flight.

[Yesterday] SpaceX delivered notices confirming that the next SN9 static fire attempt was now scheduled no earlier than (NET) 8 am to 5 pm CST (UTC-6) on Tuesday, January 12th. Whether SN9 actually pulls off a full-duration static fire, weather forecasts remain unfavorable for a low-velocity, high-altitude launch. Cancelled FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) more or less confirmed SpaceX’s agreement with those forecasts, leaving Starship SN9’s 12.5 km (~7.8 mi) launch debut scheduled no earlier than Friday, January 15th or Saturday, January 16th.

As far as I know, the company has not said whether it will live stream the flight, though I expect they will. I will embed that live stream here when the schedule firms up.

NASA extends mission of Juno and InSight probes

NASA has decided to extend the missions of Juno and InSight probes, giving both several more years to gather data.

InSight main goal for the two-year extension will be to gather more seismic data of Mars. They will also continue their efforts to get the heat sensor into the ground, but that will have a lower priority.

Juno will be able to slowly adjust its orbit to better study Jupiter’s north polar regions, thus developing a more complete first rough map of the gas giant’s internal structure and atmosphere. The changing orbit will also allow the first close fly-bys of some of Jupiter’s moons, the first in more than twenty years.

The moon flybys could begin in mid-2021 with an encounter with Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, at a distance of roughly 600 miles (1,000 kilometers), Bolton said last year.

After a series of distant passes, Juno will swoop just 200 miles (320 kilometers) above Europa in late 2022 for a high-speed flyby. Only NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, which ended its mission in 2003, has come closer to Europa.

There are two encounters with Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io planned in 2024 at distances of about 900 miles (1,500 kilometers), according to the flight plan presented by Bolton last year. Juno will be able to look for changes on the surfaces of Jupiter’s moons since they were last seen up close by NASA’s Voyager and Galileo probes.

While it will take images, Juno’s camera is not particularly high resolution. The main effort will be to use its instruments to study the surface make-up of the moons.

Hayabusa-2 begins journey to two asteroids

On January 5, 2021, after successfully delivering its samples of Ryugu to Earth, Hayabusa-2 fired up its ion engines and began its ten-year journey to two different asteroids.

Hayabusa2’s first extended-mission destination is the roughly 2,300-foot-wide (700 meters) asteroid (98943) 2001 CC21, which the probe will fly by at high speed in 2026, if all goes according to plan. A more in-depth rendezvous with yet another space rock, 1998 KY26, is scheduled to follow in 2031.

In a previous post I had mistakenly left out the first target asteroid. However, their primary target remains the tiny 100-foot-wide 1998 KY26, since it is so small. This will be the first close-up view of such a small asteroid, in space. Since such asteroids are many, it will tell us much about the make-up and history of the solar system.

NASA moves up static fire test of SLS core stage

NASA today announced that it has rescheduled the full duration static fire engine test of the core stage of SLS’s first stage, moving it up one day to this coming Saturday, January 16th.

During the test, engineers will power up all the core stage systems, load more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic, or supercold, propellant into the tanks and fire all four engines at the same time.

If all goes right, that test will last about 8 minutes, the full time those engines are intended to fire during launch.

For SLS a lot rides on this test. Should anything go wrong, it will likely delay the launch, presently scheduled for November (though there are rumors this date is no longer likely). And since we now have a new administration taking power that is also linked politically with the previous Obama administration that was generally uninterested in SLS, a failure during this test could very well signal the death knell for this vastly over-budget and far behind schedule project.

For SLS to survive, this test must succeed, and fire for its full duration.

Partly engulfed Martian craters

An engulfed crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on October 31, 2020. It shows a crater that appears buried in a sea of material so that pretty much the only thing visible is top of its rim.

The full image shows a second larger crater to the northwest that looks the same. In both cases the material fills the craters also fills the surrounding terrain.

Yet, both craters appear to be surrounded by a faint skirt of uplifted material.

What caused this situation?
» Read more

We are about to find out who our real friends are

Sergei Krikalev on the space shuttle
Russian Sergei Krikalev on the space shuttle, February 1994.

When in 2002 I was writing my space history, Leaving Earth, I spent more than a month interviewing Russian astronauts in Moscow. Many of those individuals had also flown on the American space shuttle during the initial Mir-Shuttle joint missions followed by the start of the assembly of ISS, which had given them a unique opportunity to get an outsider’s perspective on American culture.

One man Sergei Krikalov, was especially unique. He not only was the first Russian to train at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, he was the first Russian to fly on the space shuttle, and the first to enter ISS’s first module after launch. Because of that experience, he also spoke excellent English, which meant he could describe his experiences to me directly, and not through an interpreter.

When it came to American culture, he noted how as a Russian, he was appalled at the empty nature of American friendships.
» Read more

1 2 3 774