Dawn enters new mapping orbit

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has spiraled down to a lower orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta.  This High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMA) is four times closer than the previous survey orbit.  In this orbit, the average distance from the spacecraft to the Vesta surface is 420 miles (680 kilometers).
The spacecraft will operate in the same basic manner as it did in the survey orbit. When Dawn is over Vesta's dayside, it will point its science instruments to the giant asteroid and acquire data, and when the spacecraft flies over the nightside, it will beam that data back to Earth.
Perhaps the most notable difference in the new orbit is the frequency with which Dawn circles Vesta. In survey orbit, it took Dawn three days to make its way around the asteroid. Now in HAMO, the spacecraft completes the same task in a little over 12 hours. HAMO is scheduled to last about 30 Earth days, during which Dawn will circle Vesta more than 60 times. For about 10 of those 30 days, Dawn will peer straight down at the exotic landscape below it during the dayside passages. For about 20 days, the spacecraft will view the surface at multiple angles.

Scientists will combine the pictures to create topographic maps, revealing the heights of mountains, the depths of craters and the slopes of plains. This will help scientists understand the geological processes that shaped Vesta.

Taurus 2 rocket engine tests resume after mishap

Aerojet resumed it's testing this week of 40 year old Russian rocket engines that will power Orbital Sciences Taurus 2 rocket.  This test firing, at the Stennis Space Center, is the first since June when one of the engines caught fire during a test.  The AJ26 engine fired for 54 seconds in a successful test.

Orbital Sciences will use two of the engines to power the Ukrainian built first stage of their medium lift Taurus 2 rocket being developed to haul cargo to the International  Space Station.

The AJ26 originally carried the Soviet designation of NK-33 and was built in the late 1960's and early 1970's. They were designed for use in the Soviet N1 moon rocket. Each N1 used 30 of the kerosene / liquid oxegen burning NK-33's to power it's first stage.

Image Credit: Orbital Sciences

Spacex Plans Fully Reusable Rocket

Spacex has released this really cool video of a concept to make their Falcon 9 rocket fully reusable.

Tiangong-1 Chinese Space Station Successfully Orbited

China today successfully launched it's new prototype space station, named Tiangong-1, which translates in English as “Heavenly Palace.” Launched by a Long March 2FG rocket it was initially inserted into a 350 km by 200 km orbit.

Tiangong-1's primary purpose is to serve as a docking target for a series of Schenzhou spacecraft, aiding China in developing rendezvous and docking capability. As such, it is not a fully functioning space station, but rather a sparsely equipped docking target that can be used as a temporary manned habitat, but only when a Shenzhou manned spacecraft is present.

The Long March 2FG rocket carrying Tiangong-1 lifted off at 13:16 UTC (21:16 Beijing time) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) launch pad 902, in the Gobi Desert. The rocket's four first stage YF-20B engines supplemented by four more YF-20B's on the strap-on boosters produced over a million pounds of total thrust at lift-off. The spectacular nighttime launch, carried live on Chinese television, was seen by millions in China and around the world.

The two stage rocket with its four strap on boosters can place 19,000 lbs into low earth orbit. The Long March 2F now has eight successful launches in eight attempts. The 2FG variant used for this launch sports a larger nose shroud and an improved guidance system along with stretched second stage propellant tanks.

According to China Manned Spaceflight Engineering Office (CMSE), after launch the Tiangong-1 will be maneuvered into a 350 km circular orbit.  There it will await the scheduled November 1 launch of the Shenzhou 8 unmanned spacecraft.  Shenzhou 8 is scheduled to dock with the station two days after launch.  The two will remain docked for twelve days, at which time the Shenzhou 8 will undock and then redock with Tiangong-1 before finally departing and returning to earth.  Tiangong-1 will then raise it's orbit and await the arrival of it's first crew on Shenzhou 9 next year.

Tiangong-1 weighs about 19,000 pounds and measures about 13 feet in diameter and 35 feet in length.  It's intended to be used for two years. After the unmanned visit of Schenzhou 8 two crewed spacecraft, Schenzhou 9 and Schenzhou 10 are scheduled to visit it.  As many as two more Tiangong spacecraft could be launched in the coming years.

SinoDefense.com says of Tiangong-2 that “It will be a fully-functional space outpost that can support three astronauts for up to 20 days.” and “The module will test the water recycling and oxygen generation technologies required for short- to medium-term orbit living, and allow the astronauts to carry out various scientific experiments and earth observation missions.”

The third and final Tiangong module, Tiangong 3, is scheduled for launch in 2016 according to SinoDefense. “This will be an improved design that can support three astronauts for up to 40 days. The outpost will be used to test the effects of medium- to long-term orbit living on the human body.”

China plans to build a MIR class 60 ton space station by 2020.

Our thanks to Americaspace.org for it's in depth coverage of Tiangong-1.
Image credits: CMSE and CNTV

Chinese Space Station Set For Launch This Week

Sept 29  Update:  Tiagong-1 successfully launched.

Sept 28 CMSE Update: 
TiangongⅠShenzhouⅧ Rendezvous and Docking Mission Headquarters has decided on its 3rd conference that Tiangong target vehicle is scheduled to be launched during the window that extends from (13:16 UTC) to (13:31 UTC) on September 29, and propellant loading of the launch vehicle will be conducted on September 28, the spokesman of China Manned Space Engineering Office announced today.
China's Tiangong-1 miniature space station is set to launch this week, possibly Thursday or Friday, depending on weather conditions at it's Gobi desert launch site.

Last week the Long March 2F booster, with the Tiangong-1 module snugly encapsulated in it's launch fairing, rolled the one mile distance from it's vertical assembly building to the launch pad.

The Long March 2F is China's man rated booster and is also used to launch the Shenzhou crewed spacecraft.  The two stage rocket with four strap on boosters can place 19,000 lbs into low earth orbit.  It has a 100% success rate in seven launches.

Once in orbit the miniature space station will be used to prefect rendezvous and docking techniques. Later this year, flying unmanned, the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft will attempt an automated docking with Tiangong-1. During 2012 two crewed Shenzhou's are scheduled to visit the station.

 Tiangong-1, meaning "heavenly palace," weighs about 19,000 pounds. It measures 13 feet in diameter and about 40 feet in length.  It's intended to be used for about 18 months.  China plans to build a 60 ton space station by 2020.

Image credits: China Manned Space Engineering Office.

UARS May Fall on US Tonight

UARS projected reentry -Aerospace Corp
Sept 27 NASA Update
The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California determined the satellite entered the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean at 14.1 degrees south latitude and 189.8 degrees east longitude (170.2 west longitude). The satellite broke apart and continued falling and traveling for another 300 miles to the northeast, with about 26 larger metal parts from the bus-sized satellite falling over a 500-mile span.4
Sept 25 NASA Update:  
NASA’s decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. Sept. 24, 20 years and nine days after its launch on a 14-year mission that produced some of the first long-term records of chemicals in the atmosphere. 
The precise re-entry time and location of debris impacts have not been determined. During the re-entry period, the satellite passed from the east coast of Africa over the Indian Ocean, then the Pacific Ocean, then across northern Canada, then across the northern Atlantic Ocean, to a point over West Africa. The vast majority of the orbital transit was over water, with some flight over northern Canada and West Africa.

Despite NASA’s assurances only yesterday that it’s doomed UARS satellite would miss North America when it falls to Earth, today’s predictions put the US only 30 minutes away from ground zero.

Aerospace Corporation’s latest projection show UARS reentering over central Africa on Sept 24 at 03:16 UTC (Sept 23, 23:16 EDT), with an uncertainty is plus or minus 5 hours.

Only 30 minutes before the predicted reentry time the tumbling satellite will have made a low pass across North America from near Los Angeles to the Dakota’s and eastern Canada. Within plus or minus two hours of the projected reentry time UARS actually makes three passes over parts of North America.

While there’s very little danger that the falling space junk will hit anyone, it could make for a great light show if it reenters over land. 

Stay tuned.

Where Will UARS Fall?

NASA Fri, 23 Sep 2011 07:45:08 AM PDT
As of 10:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 23, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 100 miles by 105 miles (160 km by 170 km). Re-entry is expected late Friday, Sept. 23, or early Saturday, Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time. Solar activity is no longer the major factor in the satellite’s rate of descent. The satellite’s orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent. There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 12 to 18 hours.
Dave's Note:  It's interesting that NASA's predictions are now falling more into line with those of Aerospace Corporation's of a late Friday, early Saturday eastern time reentry.  

NASA Thu, 22 Sep 2011 07:01:35 PM PDT
As of 9:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 22, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 110 mi by 115 mi (175 km by 185 km). Re-entry is possible sometime during the afternoon or early evening of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time. The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 hours.
NASA Thu, 22 Sep 2011 04:44:51 AM PDT
As of 7 a.m. EDT Sept. 22, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 115 mi by 120 mi (185 km by 195 km). Re-entry is expected sometime during the afternoon of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time. The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 to 36 hours.
Nasa's now defunct 20 year old UARS (Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite) is falling to earth. Pieces of the huge satellite may crash to the Earth this week, but no one's sure where they're going to land.

UARS, launched in 1991 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, will fall into the grasp of Earth's atmosphere around Friday September 23, plus or minus a day, according to NASA estimates.

“Re-entry is expected Sept. 23, plus or minus a day,” an agency spokesperson wrote in the most recent update. “It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry. Predictions will become more refined over the next two days.”
Most of the six ton satellite will burn up entering Earth's atmosphere, but it's thought as many as 26 major pieces may survive to fall to the ground.  This could happen anywhere between 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south.

“The risk to public safety or property is extremely small, and safety is NASA’s top priority,” NASA reports. “Since the beginning of the Space Age in the late-1950s, there have been no confirmed reports of an injury resulting from re-entering space objects. Nor is there a record of significant property damage resulting from a satellite re-entry.”

Current projections show UARS re-entering Earth's atmosphere just off the coast of Chile on a path that will take it northeast across central South America.  

This prediction, generated by Aerospace Corporation,  is based on September 20 data.  The yellow icon within the orange circle indicates the predicted re-entry point.  The blue and yellow orbital tracks indicate plus or minus 6 hours of uncertainty. So, as you can see, at this point it can come down just about anywhere.

NASA Announces Design for New Space Launch System

NASA has officially announced the design of their new advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle or SLS.  With artwork depicting a vehicle that conjures up memories of the Saturn V and the moon program of 40 years ago,  NASA described a rocket that "will give the nation a safe, affordable and sustainable means of reaching beyond our current limits and opening up new discoveries from the unique vantage point of space."

The SLS will consist of  liquid oxygen / liquid hydrogen burning first and second stages with strap-on booster for added thrust at lift off.  The first stage will use the same RS-25 engine as the Space Shuttle, while the second stage will use the J2X engine, upgraded from the Saturn V program. The first versions of the rocket will use five segment versions of the Space Shuttle SRB's.  The initial version will be able to lift 70 metric tons into orbit.  Later versions will increase this to 130 or more metric tons.

For more information see:

Twin NASA Probes Head to Moon

NASA's GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) lifted off successfully from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Pad SLC-17B at 9:08 a.m. EDT Saturday September 10, 2011.

Riding aboard a Delta II rocket the dual moon probes were successfully placed on a trajectory that will have them arriving at the moon in about three and a half months.  Ninety minutes later engineers received signals from both spacecraft indicating their solar panels had deployed successfully.

For more information see:  http://www.nasa.gov/grail and http://moon.mit.edu/

Mars Orbiter Is Having Camera Problems

Orbiter Resumes Use of Camera - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

"Operators of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are resuming use of the mission's highest resolution camera following a second precautionary shutdown in two weeks.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument powered off on Aug. 27 and again on Sept. 6. In each case, commanding for an observation was not properly received by the memory module controlling one of the instrument's 14 electronic detectors (CCDs, or charge-coupled devices).

Between those two incidents, the camera successfully resumed observations for five days using its other 13 detectors. The second entry into the power-off, thermally protected mode occurred during an attempt to add use of the 14th detector. The camera is resuming observations with 13 detectors today while plans are developed for other diagnostic tests. "

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Launch Postponed Until Saturday

Launch Postponed Until Saturday - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

"The launch of a Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) has been postponed one day to allow additional time to review propulsion system data from Thursday's detanking operation after the launch attempt was scrubbed due to upper level winds. The postponement will allow the launch team additional time to review the data.

The launch now is planned for Saturday, Sept. 10, from Space Launch Complex-17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. There are two instantaneous launch opportunities at 8:29:45 a.m. and 9:08:52 a.m. EDT (5:29:45 a.m. and 6:08:52 a.m. PDT). The forecast for Sept. 10 shows a 60 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for a Saturday morning launch."

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NASA Chief: Station Evacuation Unlikely

The Flame Trench space news and analysis: NASA Chief: Station Evacuation Unlikely:

"NASA is confident its Russian partners will find and fix the root cause of an Aug 24 Soyuz U rocket failure in time to avoid evacuating the International Space Station, U.S. space agency chief Charlie Bolden said today.

"We're getting to the point where we're going to satisfy ourselves that we can launch an unmanned vehicle to demonstrate that Soyuz is still okay, and then we'll fly the crew up on a normal Soyuz mission later this fall," Bolden, a former shuttle pilot and mission commander, said "

GRAIL Launch Milestones

06:08 PDT:  Launch scrubbed due to upper level winds.  24 hour recycle. 

06:07 PDT:  Delta ready for launch.  Red on upper level winds.  Will pick up count and hold at 2 minutes if upper level winds are not green on latest balloon data.

06:03 PDT:  Weather briefing.  60% chance of weather rules violation.

05:31 PDT:  Red upper level winds.  Changing to second launch window at 06:16:12 PDT. T minus 4 minutes and holding.

05:28 PDT: Delta ready for launch.  Red on upper level winds.  Will pick up count and hold at 2 minutes if upper level winds are not green on latest balloon data.

05:23 PDT: T minus 4 minutes and holding. Built in 10 minute hold.

05:18 PDT: T minus 10 minutes.  Weather is go...

04:53 PDT: T minus 15 minutes and holding.  Built in 20 minute hold

04:50 PDT: Steering checks complete

04:37 PDT Steering checks underway. About 30 minutes to launch.

04:30 PDT: LOX loading complete
04:00 PDT: LOX loading is underway


GRAIL Launch Milestones - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
"NASA's GRAIL spacecraft are set to launch to the moon aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket on Sept. 8, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. There are two instantaneous (one-second) launch windows at 5:37:06 a.m. and 6:16:12 a.m. PDT (8:37:06 a.m. and 9:16:12 a.m. EDT). The launch period extends through Oct. 19. The launch times occur approximately four minutes earlier each day.

GRAIL's primary science objectives are to determine the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core, and to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon.
The lunar orbiters are nestled inside the top of a United Launch Alliance Delta II 7920H-10C rocket, the most powerful Delta rocket in NASA's inventory."

New LRO Images Offer Sharper Views Of Apollo Landing Sites

New LRO Images Offer Sharper Views Of Apollo Landing Sites:

"NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. Images show the twists and turns of the paths made when the astronauts explored the lunar surface.

At the Apollo 17 site, the tracks laid down by the lunar rover are clearly visible, along with the last foot trails left on the moon. The images also show where the astronauts placed some of the scientific instruments that provided the first insight into the moon's environment and interior.

"We can retrace the astronauts' steps with greater clarity to see where they took lunar samples," said Noah Petro, a lunar geologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who is a member of the LRO project science team. "

NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity Begins Study of Martian Crater

NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity Begins Study of Martian Crater - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

"The initial work of NASA's Mars rover Opportunity at its new location on Mars shows surface compositional differences from anything the robot has studied in its first 7.5 years of exploration.

Opportunity arrived three weeks ago at the rim of a 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater named Endeavour. The first rock it examined is flat-topped and about the size of a footstool. It was apparently excavated by an impact that dug a crater the size of a tennis court into the crater's rim. The rock was informally named "Tisdale 2."

"This is different from any rock ever seen on Mars," said Steve Squyres, principal investigator for Opportunity at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "It has a composition similar to some volcanic rocks, but there's much more zinc and bromine than we've typically seen. We are getting confirmation that reaching Endeavour really has given us the equivalent of a second landing site for Opportunity." "

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MSL Launch Preparations Report

MSL Launch Preparations Report - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

"NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project continues to press ahead with launch preparation activities, planning to use additional time before encapsulating the rover in the launch vehicle's nose cone.

Officials want to maintain additional schedule margin for enhanced safety procedures in assembly and testing. System testing put the rover and other parts of the spacecraft through simulations of many activities from launch through operations on Mars' surface. Aspects of the test simulating the final moments before landing took longer than scheduled. Additional margin that had been built into the schedule has been consumed in recent weeks by stepped-up safety procedures in assembly and testing."

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Rare martian lake delta spotted by Mars Express

ESA Portal - Rare martian lake delta spotted by Mars Express:

"ESA’s Mars Express has spotted a rare case of a crater once filled by a lake, revealed by the presence of a delta. The delta is an ancient fan-shaped deposit of dark sediments, laid down in water. It is a reminder of Mars’ past, wetter climate."

The delta is in the Eberswalde crater, in the southern highlands of Mars. The 65 km-diameter crater is visible as a semi-circle on the right of the image and was formed more than 3.7 billion years ago when an asteroid hit the planet.

Dawn Mission: Dark Material on Hilltops

Dawn Mission: News & Events > Dark Material on Hilltops:

"NASA’s Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on August 18, 2011. This image was taken through the framing camera’s clear filter aboard the spacecraft. The image has a resolution of about 260 meters per pixel.
The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. It is a project of the Discovery Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft."

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