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Featured B Space Stuff and Launch Info

  1. Sep 3, 2016 #51
    Interesting article, reading it certainly got my "curiosity" going. While the aspects mentioned are great examples of the rovers uniqueness I was left with the impression that I need to do more studying before I can comment on other factors that make it "one of a kind", While I'm getting back with an answer I would imagine other readers on the forum with far more technical knowledge than myself will come up with points that will be useful also. One thought is the landing system mentioned is the only current method that can safely land a high mass vehicle on mars, (SpaceX's propulsive system on the Red Dragon is the only alternative I have seen and NASA seems very impressed with it so far.) The sky crane is the method that will be used on the 2020 rover as well. Back in a bit after I do some studying up. :cool:
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2016
  2. Sep 3, 2016 #52
    The 2020 rover will also be using a more or less identical body frame as Curiosity, this makes good leverage of a tested vehicle design.
    Maybe one or two subsystems might be upgraded a little based on the performance of Curiosity.
    AFAIK the only problem of significance has been more than expected wear and tear on the wheels, but not enough to be critical.
    That approach reduces the development cost so more can be invested in the instrument payload which will be the main difference.
  3. Sep 8, 2016 #53
    From, http://www.space.com/33993-bus-sized-asteroid-buzzes-earth.html
    An asteroid the size of a school bus buzzed by Earth today (Sept. 7) in an exceptionally close - but safe - flyby. Scientists discovered the object on
    Monday, just two days before its encounter with Earth.

    The newfound asteroid, named 2016 RB1, is between 13 and 46 feet (4 to 14
    meters) wide. The space rock made its closest approach to Earth at 1:28 p.m.
    EDT (1728 UTC). According to NASA's Near Earth Object Program, RB1
    zoomed past Earth at a relative speed of over 18,000 mph (8.13 km/s) and
    passed within 23,900 miles (38,463 kilometers) of the Earth's surface. This is
    only one-tenth the average distance between Earth and the moon.

    Planetary protection ?
  4. Sep 9, 2016 #54
    O-Rex is finally on the way.


    The OSIRIS-REx mission marks a bright spot in what will soon be a dark time for NASA’s solar
    system exploration program. By the time the spacecraft arrives at Bennu in 2018, there will be
    no spacecraft visiting or en route to any of the outer planets-Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and
    Neptune-for the first time since 1979.

    The Cassini probe, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, will plunge into the planet’s
    atmosphere in 2017. Juno will follow suit at Jupiter in early 2018.

    Bennu’s orbital path will keep OSIRIS-REx closer to home. It only takes 1.2 years for the
    coal-black, near-Earth asteroid to travel around the sun.

    After arriving in 2018, OSIRIS-REx will survey Bennu for two years before collecting a small soil
    sample. The spacecraft will depart as early as March 2021 and return its sample capsule to
    Earth in September 2025

    OSIRIS-REx is the third of NASA’s cost-capped, mid-budget New Frontiers missions. The first,
    New Horizons, flew past Pluto last year. The second, Juno, entered orbit at Jupiter on July 5.

    The mission has a budget of almost $800 million, not including the $184 million sticker price of
    its Atlas V carrier rocket. But at the moment, OSIRIS-REx is under budget by at least $30
    million, according to Lauretta.
  5. Sep 9, 2016 #55


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    Gold Member

    Despite the support of NASA, the FAA and the US Air Force, no answers are thus far forthcoming as to the cause of the massive explosion. The problem is no apparent heat source. It does seem to be a bit of an "anomaly", or "bug". Poor Elon Musk, the stars seem to have turned against him. :bugeye:

    An investigation into how a SpaceX rocket exploded is uncovering a "difficult and complex failure", the firm's founder Elon Musk has said. Mr Musk tweeted that the explosion of Falcon 9 during a routine filling operation was the most complicated in the space travel firm's history. He said that the engines weren't on and there was "no apparent heat source".
  6. Sep 9, 2016 #56
    Meanwhile the "commercial space race" forges ahead.
    A Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo space plane took to the air under the wing of
    its massive mothership Thursday (Sept. 8), marking the first flight test for the
    private space travel company since a tragic accident in 2014.

    Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, the Virgin Spaceship
    Unity, soared over Mojave, California, in a captive carry test flight with its
    WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, the Virgin Mother Ship Eve. Although the
    Unity spacecraft remained attached to its carrier plane for the entire flight, the
    test did mark Virgin Galactic's first return to airborne trials of SpaceShipTwo
    since the company's first spacecraft - the VSS Enterprise - broke apart
    during a rocket-powered test on Oct. 31, 2014.

    Thursday's test flight took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port, with the VMS
    Eve carrying the VSS Unity to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters).
    That's the target altitude for the separation between a carrier plane and
    SpaceShipTwo during an actual launch. From takeoff to landing, the test flight
    lasted 3 hours and 43 minutes.

    TITUSVILLE, Fla. - Blue Origin plans to conduct the next flight of its New
    Shepard suborbital vehicle in October, a launch that the company's founder
    says will test the vehicle's abort system.

    In an email update Sept. 8, company founder Jeff Bezos said the upcoming
    New Shepard flight, planned for the first half of October from the company's
    West Texas test site, will be an in-flight abort test, where the crew capsule
    will fire its abort motor to fly away from the propulsion module during the

    The motor, mounted at the base of capsule, will fire for two seconds to push it
    away from the booster module. The capsule will then make a parachute
    landing as it does on normal flights, when it separates from the booster
    module after engine shutdown.

    The test, Bezos acknowledged, will likely destroy the booster module, which
    has flown four previous New Shepard launches dating back to November 2015.
    "The booster was never designed to survive an in-flight escape," he wrote.
    "The capsule escape motor will slam the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis
    force delivered by searing hot exhaust. The aerodynamic shape of the vehicle
    quickly changes from leading with the capsule to leading with the ring fin,
    and this all happens at maximum dynamic pressure."

    In addition to New Shepard, Blue Origin has been working on an orbital
    launch vehicle system, few details of which the company has released. Bezos
    said Sept. 8 that a future update would provide more information about that

    Also this on New Frontiers,
    From, http://www.planetary.org/blogs/gues...selecting-the-next-new-frontiers-mission.html
    NASA’s planetary missions fall into three categories of ambition and cost. At the high end at
    around $2-2.5 billion are the Flagship missions that use highly capable spacecraft for exploration
    that addresses a wide range of questions at the target world. These missions include the
    Curiosity Mars rover, its 2020 Mars rover sibling in development, and the planned Europa
    multi-flyby mission.

    At the low end, at around $600 million, are the Discovery missions that conduct highly focused
    missions. Teams are free to propose missions to study any solar system body except the Sun
    and Earth (which are studied through other programs at NASA). Ten of these planetary missions
    have flown successfully and have included the MESSENGER spacecraft that orbited Mercury
    and the Dawn spacecraft that currently orbits the asteroid Ceres. Next up will be the 2018
    InSight geophysical station for Mars to be followed by one or two missions to study either
    asteroids and/or Venus that will be selected by the end of the year.

    And of interest to robotics as well as the Satellite industry.
  7. Sep 9, 2016 #57


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    Thanks, 1oldman2, that's a nifty set of links to some of the commercial space programs, NASA high cost Flagship missions and low cost Discovery missions. You also touched upon the NASA Sun and Earth missions which, in my estimation, are equally vital and interesting as the others. Here is a link to the NASA Sun and Earth missions: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/missions/index.html#op
    I will try to keep closer track of some these. :biggrin:
  8. Sep 9, 2016 #58
    This is very likely the type of program where tomorrows tech (even asteroid mining) will be developed.
    In the 2017 Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge,
    NASA is engaging university-level students in its quest to reduce the cost of
    deep space exploration.

    NASA’s Game Changing Development Program (GCD), managed by the agency’s
    Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the National Institute of Aerospace
    (NIA) are seeking novel and robust concepts for in-space assembly of spacecraft -
    particularly tugs, propelled by solar electric propulsion (SEP), that transfer
    payloads from low earth orbit (LEO) to a lunar distant retrograde orbit (LDRO).

    "GCD initiated the BIG Idea Challenge in 2016 as a unique approach to finding top
    talent for NASA, and it proved to be more successful than we had hoped," said
    Mary E. Wusk, acting GCD program manager at NASA's Langley Research Center
    in Hampton, Virginia.

    Meanwhile speaking of "Curiousity" these are some of the most interesting geological images I have seen yet.
    First a detailed view of Curiosity's heat shield.
    Curiousity heat shield.jpg

    then from Murray buttes.
  9. Sep 10, 2016 #59
    On the subject of post #50, I came across this while looking into the radioisotope power supply, pretty interesting stuff.

    The United States has begun manufacturing nuclear spacecraft fuel for the first time in a generation,
    but full production of the stuff is still seven years or so away.

    In December, officials at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory in
    Tennessee announced that researchers at the site had generated a 1.8-ounce (50 grams) sample
    of plutonium-238, the fuel that powers deep-space missions such as NASA’s New Horizons Pluto
    probe and Cassini Saturn orbiter.

    The milestone marked the first domestic production of Pu-238 since the Savannah River Site in
    South Carolina, another DOE facility, stopped making the fuel in the late 1980s. But Oak Ridge
    is still at the proof-of-concept stage in the restart, and it will therefore be a few years
    before the lab begins churning out large amounts of Pu-238, officials said.

    For more than 50 years, RTGs have been the power source of choice for missions that travel far
    enough from the sun to make solar panels impractical. Some famous examples include NASA’s twin
    Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, which launched in 1977 and have recently been exploring the
    solar system’s extreme outer reaches. (Voyager 1 actually reached interstellar space in 2012.)

    From the early 1960s through the late 1980s, the Pu-238 needed for such missions was made at the
    Savannah River Site, as an offshoot of the facility’s weapons-production program. (Plutonium-238
    is not used to make nuclear weapons, but its close cousin, plutonium-239 - which harbors one more
    neutron in its nucleus than does Pu-238 - is a common bomb-making material.)

    The country currently has just 77 lbs. (35 kg) of the spacecraft fuel left, and only about half of
    that stockpile is suitable for power production as-is (though the rest could conceivably be made
    usable by blending it with newly produced Pu-238, DOE officials have said.)

    RTGs like the one powering NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity use 10.6 lbs. (4.8 kg) of Pu-238, so right now
    there’s enough of the stuff to power perhaps three more such deep-space missions, DOE officials have

    The activities underway at Oak Ridge are therefore designed to avert a possible shortage and keep
    NASA spacecraft cruising through deep space for decades to come. NASA officials have said 3.3 lbs.
    (1.5 kg) of new Pu-238 per year should suffice to accommodate the agency’s needs.

    As you might expect, the production of Pu-238 is complicated. First, the Oak Ridge team receives
    shipments of radioactive neptunium-237 from Idaho National Laboratory (INL), another DOE facility.

    Engineers then process the neptunium into "targets," which are blasted with beams of neutrons in one
    of two nuclear reactors at Oak Ridge, Wham said. This creates Pu-238, which is then chemically
    processed and shipped to a third DOE site, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

    Los Alamos personnel further process the stuff, creating encapsulated "pellets" that are then shipped
    to INL for integration into RTGs. The power systems are tested at the Idaho site, and, if all goes well,
    they are then shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to be prepared for launch.

    Last edited: Sep 10, 2016
  10. Sep 10, 2016 #60
    Building on the Curiosity question, I thought this was relevant. :smile:

  11. Oct 10, 2016 #61
    In the SpaceX and stuff department, here is some of what they are currently up to. :smile:
    This is rather ambitious.

    The Raptor is a very impressive piece of "rocket science"

    We might be getting closer to some answers regarding the latest "anomaly"...
    Potential causes of the COPV failure could include weakening of the structural integrity of the COPV due to the thermal difference between the metal liner on the inside subjected to the warm helium and the carbon fiber overwrap material on the outside in contact with the cold oxidizer. Acoustic phenomena resulting from the high-pressure helium being forced into the tank at a critical time during the LOX loading sequence are also on the table as possible scenarios that may have transpired.

    The previous iteration of the Falcon 9 used Liquid Oxygen at boiling point temperature and began loading its tanks over three hours ahead of launch - permitting the COPVs to be fully chilled prior to applying high pressures. Falcon 9 FT enters LOX load on the second stage with just 19.5 minutes on the countdown clock followed by Helium load just over 13 minutes prior to launch - an aggressive tanking sequence unprecedented in the space launch business.

    It is also understood that SpaceX was testing modifications to the countdown sequence on the Static Fire Test for the previous Falcon 9 mission with JCSat-16 to introduce window management capabilities for the FT version of Falcon 9 that initially had to launch very shortly after propellant loading finished in order to avoid the chilled propellants warming up inside the tanks. These modified countdown steps include adjustments to engine chilldown as well as the propellant and pressurant loading sequence.

    It is possible that, with these seemingly minor adjustments to the sequencing of events, SpaceX has inadvertently designed a chain of events that overstressed the Helium bottles.

    To gather data on the potential scenarios that can lead to a COPV failure, SpaceX has taken to its McGregor test site where, according to Shotwell, a lot of tests were being run on the COPVs. These tests, in all likelihood, are running different propellant and helium loading modes on highly instrumented tanks to learn about the critical chain of events in both loading sequences that overstress the COPVs.

    Observant SpaceX fans passing by McGregor noted experimentation involving LOX tankers and helium supplies was underway in an open area of the facility.

    Matching data from an instrumented, destructive test to the telemetry from the rocket gathered in the 93 milliseconds from the onset of the anomaly to loss of data can tell SpaceX whether their modified tanking sequence is indeed to blame for the unfortunate accident.

    Identifying an operational deficiency as the root cause beyond any reasonable doubt would be the best case scenario for SpaceX, allowing them to return to flight relatively quickly compared to a design flaw requiring re-work of all existing and future Falcon 9 stages.

    On the flip side, a purely ‘business-process’ related flaw can tell a lot about the ‘NewSpace’ culture ongoing at SpaceX - raising questions about other shortcuts taken to save money, cut processing time or increase launch-on-time probability and, as a result, taking hardware to or beyond design limits.

    Whether SpaceX can return Falcon 9 to flight before the end of the year depends on the speed of the investigation as well as the status of the company’s launch facilities.

    Shotwell said that while all plausible possibilities have to be considered in order to uncover the real reason for the explosion she felt that "the more than likely - the overwhelmingly likely - explanation is that we did something to that rocket. And we’re going to find it and we’re going to fix it." Shotwell added that the possibility of the sabotage scenario being the correct one was "absolutely not high on my list of thoughts."
  12. Oct 11, 2016 #62
  13. Oct 12, 2016 #63
    If this, (or any other sufficiently high powered method of quantum computing), is achievable then it would be perfectly suited to a future mission similar to Kepler.
    That is, repeatedly scanning the same objects and trying to spot anomalies within a huge set of data.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  14. Oct 13, 2016 #64
    I'm still thinking this thing has the potential to win a Nobel or two.

    The compact, atom-chip based instrument will be capable of trapping such elements like Rubidium and Potassium and of producing degenerate gases of each species, after a few seconds of collection and cooling. It will allow the scientists to create a state of matter called a Bose Einstein Condensate (BEC). This state can be achieved by cooling a gas of extremely low density, about one-hundred-thousandth the density of normal air, to ultra-low temperatures - lower than those that are created in laboratories on Earth.

    "CAL is a multi-user facility to study ultra-cold atoms - below a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. Microgravity allows scientists to observe cold atoms floating unconfined for long periods of time allowing highly precise measurements of very weak forces," Rob Thompson, CAL Project Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), told Astrowatch.net.

    The main goal of CAL is to study ultra-cold quantum gases in the microgravity environment. The instrument will investigate Rubidium and Potassium isotopes and interactions between mixtures of these isotopes. The facility is designed for use by multiple scientific investigators and to be upgradable and also maintainable on orbit. CAL is also perceived as a pathfinder experiment for future quantum sensors based on laser cooled atoms.

    "CAL will be making several exciting Principal Investigator-Led (PI-led) specific investigations, in such areas as tests of general relativity, the physics of few-body collisions, and studies of novel spherical quantum bubble geometry condensates," Thompson revealed.

    "In addition, CAL will serve as a pathfinder for future experiments with cold atoms, which have great promise for both practical and research applications, such as tests of fundamental physics, searches for gravitational waves, better atomic clocks, space navigation, and monitoring effects of climate change," he added.

    CAL’s initial mission is expected to last one year, with a possible extension for further five years. Upgrades to the facility are also being considered. Additional features could include new laser modules, new electronic components, or a new physics package.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2016
  15. Oct 13, 2016 #65
    The article is open access http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016GL069790/epdf
    Was Venus the first habitable world of our solar system?
  16. Oct 13, 2016 #66
  17. Oct 14, 2016 #67
    With Exo-Mars in the home stretch, the main focus will initially be on Schiaparelli's Entry and hopefully successful landing, although long term the TGO's findings should be of great interest regarding the Martian atmosphere as well.

    ESA’s Schiaparelli Entry, Descent & Landing Demonstration Module (EDM) sets out to become Europe’s first craft to make a successful landing on Planet Mars, joining only NASA in achieving this feat.

    The primary objective of EDM is - as its name days - a demonstration of a Mars Entry, Descent and Landing vehicle for the ExoMars 2020 mission that is hoped to deliver Europe’s first rover to the surface to the Red Planet.

    To satisfy its mission objectives, Schiaparelli has to conduct a successful entry into the Martian atmosphere, parachute-assisted descent and propulsive landing - in the process employing a sophisticated suite of sensors to gather data on the re-entry environment and the performance of the various systems.

    Landing in Meridiani Planum - close to NASA’s Opportunity rover that has been on Mars since 2004 - EDM will survive only four Martian Days using every last bit of power stored in its chemical batteries to capture measurements with an environmental monitoring system, gathering data on meteorological and other parameters.

    Only outfitted with its landing propulsion system, EDM relies on TGO to deliver it to the correct trajectory to the precisely calculated entry location. The entry angle is set at 1.1 degrees and has to be met with high precision given Schiaparelli would burn up in case of a steep entry or skip off the atmosphere if the angle is too shallow.

    In case the separation of the lander fails for some reason, a backup opportunity is available 32 hours after the first slot to provide some time for teams to troubleshoot. The orbiter can not achieve orbit around Mars with the EDM still attached, therefore - if both attempts are unsuccessful, an emergency jettisoning of Schiaparelli would be performed. The additional mass of the 600-Kilogram EDM would not allow TGO to achieve the necessary change in velocity to enter a stable orbit around Mars.

    In case Schiaparelli can not be separated after three attempts, the mission would move into a contingency scenario where TGO maneuvers to a flyby trajectory to fly past Mars at close distance and continue in a heliocentric orbit for another attempt at orbital insertion two years later which would be possible with the lander still attached to the orbiter.
  18. Oct 15, 2016 #68
    Building on post #17 the last paragraph here seems to indicate quantum networking between Earth and LEO as well as deep space will becoming a reality sooner than I was expecting, this could be very useful transferring data between deep space craft and Earth.
    From, http://www.nature.com/nphoton/journal/v10/n10/full/nphoton.2016.180.html

    A paper published in Nature Photonics and co-authored by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, details the first experiments with quantum teleportation in a metropolitan fiber cable network. For the first time, the phenomenon has been witnessed over long distances in actual city infrastructure. In Canada, University of Calgary researchers teleported the quantum state of a photon more than 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) in "dark" (unused) cables under the city of Calgary. That’s a new record for the longest distance of quantum teleportation in an actual metropolitan network.

    "By using advanced superconducting detectors, we can use individual photons to efficiently communicate both classical and quantum information from space to the ground," Shaw said. "We are planning to use more advanced versions of these detectors for demonstrations of optical communication from deep space and of quantum teleportation from the International Space Station."
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  19. Oct 15, 2016 #69
    I considered mentioning China's upcoming launch in passing, then after reading Jason-Davis's article from Planetary.org I realized there is much more to it than just another launch. This starts out as launch information then quickly shifts to a very good piece on the political zeitgeist of space exploration, any thoughts ? :smile:

    Under a shroud of secrecy, China is completing final steps towards the launch of its Shenzhou-11 spacecraft with two taikonauts on board. On Monday, Oct. 10, the country has rolled out the Long March 2F rocket that will be used to send the crewed mission into space.

    Although China has not yet disclosed the exact date of the liftoff, it is predicted that the rocket will launch around 7:30 a.m. local time on Monday, Oct. 17 (23:30 GMT; 7:30 p.m. EDT on Oct. 16), from Launch Area 4 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert.

    Shenzhou-11 is China’s sixth manned space mission. The longly anticipated flight ends the country’s three-year period of absence in human spaceflight, as the last crewed vehicle - Shenzhou-10 - was launched from the Chinese soil in June 2013.

    However, although the mission is of high importance for China, the officials are very reluctant to reveal details about the upcoming flight. To this date, only a handful of information has been disclosed about the crew of Shenzhou-11. It was earlier announced that two male taikonauts will fly aboard the craft; however, their names are kept under wraps and could be announced even hours before liftoff.

    The duo of taikonauts will enter the Tiangong-2 module and stay inside for 30 days, testing advanced life support systems and conducting various science experiments. It will be China’s longest stay in space to date. The two-person crew will probably return to Earth on Nov. 14.

    China indeed hopes that Shenzhou-11, together with Tiangong-2, will bring the nation closer towards building its own permanent space station, as they will enable testing key technologies before sending a larger module into orbit. The station is expected to be built sometime between 2018 and 2022.

    This Sunday, two Chinese astronauts are expected to launch into space. Their Shenzhou 11 spacecraft will blast off from the Gobi desert and spend a couple days chasing down Tiangong-2, the country's new 10-meter-long, 3-meter-wide prototype space station. After docking, the crew is expected to remain aboard for about a month, carrying out various science experiments and technology demonstrations.

    Next year, in April, a Chinese cargo freighter will autonomously dock with Tiangong-2 and refuel it, similar to the way Russian Progress spacecraft are used to top off the tanks at the International Space Station.

    These will arguably be China's most ambitious human spaceflight missions to date. Yet when compared with the long history of similar achievements by the United States and Russia, they are modest.

    In the space community, we are prone to think that the pursuit of science and exploration rises above borders and politics. But in reality, China and the United States have a complicated relationship. Considering that, how should America feel about China's space ambitions?

    That was the subject of a recent House of Representatives space subcommittee hearing titled "Are We Losing the Space Race to China?" The title of the hearing implies the goals of the two programs are similar enough that we can even call it a race at all.

    What, exactly, are China's space goals? Is there really a race? And if the United States loses, is that anything to worry about?

    The station would be fully operational around 2020, and be paired with a souped-up space telescope larger than Hubble that would float nearby, giving astronauts easy access for repairs and maintenance.

    Since launching its first astronaut in 2003, China has made steady human spaceflight progress. The country's first small space station, Tiangong-1, was launched in 2011 and visited by a crew of astronauts in 2012.

    Both Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 are testbeds meant to pave the way for a more ambitious, three-module station. The first piece of that orbital complex is scheduled to be launched in 2018 atop a new rocket, the Long March 5.

    The station would be fully operational around 2020, and be paired with a souped-up space telescope larger than Hubble that would float nearby, giving astronauts easy access for repairs and maintenance.

    As for sending humans anywhere else, China's plans are vague, but reports have begun coalescing around a possible 2030 lunar landing.

    China's robotic spaceflight program is making even more ambitious strides.

    Next year, the country plans to return a sample from the far side of the moon, which would be a first for any nation. In 2018 or 2019, a lander and rover might also be sent to the far side, which would be another first, and require the country to deploy a communications relay satellite.

    In 2020, China hopes to send a probe and rover to Mars, which coincides with NASA's plan to send a successor to the Curiosity rover there. That rover, currently dubbed Mars 2020, will collect and cache samples for a future return mission.

    NASA has yet to finalize how it will retrieve those samples and get them back to Earth. China, meanwhile, is making plans of its own to launch a Mars sample return mission in 2030.

    China's mission would use a yet-to-be-built, super heavy lift rocket named the Long March 9. The rocket could be capable of lifting around 130 metric tons to low-Earth orbit, which would put it on par with the enhanced version of NASA's Space Launch System. (The 70-ton SLS variant is expected to debut in 2018.)

    For many U.S. lawmakers, not participating in a space race may be as bad as losing one.

    Rep. Brian Babin, the Texas republican who chairs the House space subcommittee, opened last month's "Are We Losing the Space Race to China?" hearing with a tirade on the Obama administration, and its decision to cancel NASA's return-to-the-moon Constellation program in 2010.

    "This vacuum of leadership... facilitated the ascendance of China as a leading space-faring nation," Babin said. "China has capitalized on this administration's weakness by offering partnerships with other nations, like a return to the moon, which the U.S. chose to walk away from."

    In the hearing - as well as in an email to The Planetary Society in response to our Horizon Goal series - Babin pointed out the Obama administration slashed Constellation funding in 2009 prior to an independent review that deemed the program, among other things, underfunded. (The review report addresses this charge on page 59 by pointing out that while the first Obama budget indeed cut Constellation dollars, the program was already falling short of original funding projections.)

    For Babin and others, then, the rise of China's space program is coupled tightly with perceived policy missteps by the Obama administration.

    But China's current spaceflight aspirations, including the goal of a permanent space station, have been around much longer. And that was when the possibility of bilateral cooperation with the United States still existed; since 2011, the House of Representatives has inserted language in NASA funding bills prohibiting such a possibility. Right now, as far as the United States is concerned, China has to go it alone.

    Tensions between the U.S. and China certainly exist. And China continues to be make worldwide watch lists for human rights violations.

    But the narrative that the two countries are engaged in a space race akin to that of the U.S. and former Soviet Union does not entirely fit. Why, then, do some American lawmakers consider China's space ambitions such a threat?

    According to Cheng, the real answer might lie in the fact that for almost half a century, the U.S. has stood alone in being able to claim the most prestigious feat of all time: landing people on another world and returning them safely to Earth.

    "The reality is, the day the Chinese are able to [land humans on the moon] is the day that American uniqueness will be openly challenged," Cheng said. "And Chinese prestige will be placed on the same level as that of the United States."
  20. Oct 16, 2016 #70
    Following up on post #69, this looks promising to me.
    From, http://spaceflight101.com/videos-shenzhou-11-pre-launch-press-conferences/

    China lifted a veil of secrecy on the country’s upcoming Shenzhou-11 mission with less than 24 hours to launch, releasing details on the mission’s flight plan and crew in a pair of press conferences held on Sunday.

    Here's an update on the ExoMars progress.


    ESA’s Schiaparelli Mars Lander and Trace Gas Orbiter parted ways on Sunday after traveling nearly 500 million Kilometers together on their mission to Mars.

    The separation maneuver was not without some nail-biting, though, caused by a an unexpected, but temporary loss of data from the orbiter immediately after the lander was sent on its way.

    Now on separate paths after a seven-month flight, the two are approaching the culmination of their mission on Wednesday when Schiaparelli could become the first European craft to master a successful landing on Mars and the Trace Gas Orbiter swings into orbit to mark the start of a five-year mission tracking atmospheric gases relevant to life.

    Separation occurred right on time at 14:42 UTC - exactly three days before Schiaparelli encounters the Martian Atmosphere. A three-point separation system was designed to push the Schiaparelli lander away at a relative velocity of 0.37 meters per second and, in the process, spin it up to 2.75 rotations per minute for passive orientation stabilization until the atmospheric encounter.

    The overnight Mars Avoidance Maneuver was a critical step in TGO’s approach to move away from a collision course with the planet and place itself on a flyby trajectory to set up for orbital insertion. Slewing to the proper orientation for the maneuver, TGO arrived in its burn attitude at 2:12 UTC with half an hour to spare.

    Now on two very different trajectories, one intercepting the Martian Atmosphere, the other leading past the planet, TGO and Schiaparelli are set for another two and a half days of approach. For Schiaparelli, no major events will occur until its fast-paced Entry, Descent & Landing Sequence on Wednesday, spending most of its free flight in battery-saving hibernation.

    The sequence of events on Wednesday will be relatively fast paced in the twofold adventure at Mars, 175 million Kilometers from Earth. No intervention from Mission Control will be possible as the one-way signal travel time will be 9 minutes and 46 seconds.

    Schiaparelli will hit the Martian Atmosphere at 14:42 UTC at a speed of 5.8 Kilometers per second, enduring temperatures up to 1,750°C before ejecting its parachute and slowing down prior to a half-minute rocket-powered descent that is designed to bring the Surface Platform to a two-meter free fall to its landing site in Meridiani Planum. The entire sequence from atmospheric entry to touchdown is expected to last just under six minutes.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2016
  21. Oct 17, 2016 #71
    Obital ATK launches to ISS


    Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft lifted off at 7:45 p.m. EDT from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad 0A on the company’s upgraded Antares 230 rocket carrying more than 5,100 pounds of cargo. Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at the space station Sunday, Oct. 23. Expedition 49 astronauts Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Kate Rubins of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to grapple Cygnus, about 6 a.m.

    This is the first flight on the upgraded Antares 230 launch vehicle, and the first launch from Wallops since an Antares rocket and its Cygnus spacecraft were lost in October 2014. It’s also the third flight of an enhanced Cygnus spacecraft featuring a greater payload capacity, supported by new fuel tanks and UltraFlex solar arrays.
  22. Oct 20, 2016 #72
    The Schiaparelli lander appears to be having problems, waiting on ESA to release a statement after they review data transmissions. :frown:


    ESA’s ExoMars 2016 mission reached a dramatic culmination on Wednesday when the Trace Gas Orbiter successfully inserted itself into orbit around Mars while the Schiaparelli lander attempted a daring landing maneuver to become Europe’s first craft to achieve the feat of mastering a landing on Mars.

    Unfortunately - per all indications received by late Wednesday - Schiaparelli could not conquer the rigors of landing on the Red Planet, though the final verdict on the lander’s status is not expected until Thursday morning when a final data set will have been analyzed.

    Data captured by a ground-based recording campaign and a fleet of orbiters positioned over the landing site showed the 577-Kilogram lander survived its hot re-entry and deployed its parachute but there are very strong indications that it ran into trouble after cutting itself loose from the chute at which point a rocket-powered descent was planned to deliver the lander to the surface.

    Mars has proven time and time again over the past five decades that achieving a successful landing on the planet’s dusty red surface is a tremendously difficult feat to accomplish - illustrated by an overall success rate of under 50% for the various missions that attempted a landing to date.

    However, there may be a silver lining for Schiaparelli because the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) was listening in on the data stream transmitted in real time during descent. This data - to be radioed to Earth Wednesday night - may hold the clues needed to piece together what went wrong in the final stages of the descent and also provide a full data set from atmospheric entry, holding information on how the lander’s heat shield fared plus some data on atmospheric properties at Mars.


    TGO’s safe arrival promises that the main science mission can proceed, and it will begin an aerobraking phase to change the shape of its orbit to a circular, science one in January. Once fully settled in, it will also become a relay point for NASA landers, fulfilling two of the three main objectives of ExoMars 2016.

    The third objective was to demonstrate that Europe can land on Mars. On that front, the news is less positive. Both the data from Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in Pune, India, and the data from Mars Express indicate a loss of signal at the same stage of the descent of the lander.

    "That’s the bad news," says Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations at ESA, "The fact that Pune and Mars Express lose the signal at the same time before the predicted time of touchdown."

    "We will hear if there is some information from MRO [Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter] -but frankly I consider it unlikely that we get data from MRO. If we lost the signal before the landing, at least with the communications, why should MRO be able to communicate automatically?"

    With no information coming from the lander, the key question is whether the lander itself is lost, or whether it’s just not able to communicate. There is more information about Schiaparelli’s fate on the way, with raw data expected around midnight Darmstadt time.

    "TGO has been recording telemetry - it has recorded more than 20MB of data," says Ferri." TGO was doing a more important job, which was to get in orbit. So it was in a mode that doesn’t allow it to dump data."

    Switching into that mode, and sending back the data will take several hours.

    "The estimation is that by midnight we should have the data here. Then these data have to be processed. It takes some time - it is a sampling of the radio signal. I’m pretty confident that this data - this telemetry - will tell us what action was interrupted when we lost the communication. I think, I am quite optimistic, that tomorrow morning with this data, we will know what happened," Ferri says.

    "It may mean we have some hope and some strategies to re-establish communication - I’m just speculating now. But we have very good chances to know tomorrow morning either to know that the lander is lost or to know the strategy to try to recover communication."

    If the lander is lost, so are the descent pictures it would have sent from the surface. As would be the final objective of the mission, the science that Schiaparelli would have been able to conduct during its time there - albeit a mission that was limited by battery life. If the lander is not transmitting, its battery life may be extended slightly, but its days are still very much numbered.

    "Of course we hope we have a problem with the communications and not with the landing sequence. Certainly the problem happened very late in the sequence - there is a good chance that the parachute phase worked but at the moment we don’t know, it’s all speculation,"Ferri says.

    The test of landing technologies was key to the next part of ExoMars - the 2020 lander and rover. But ESA so far are remaining optimistic about the future of the next mission.

    "We need to learn how to land on Mars," says Ferri, "And for me, whatever we understand of what happened, of course it helps to get to that objective."

    "Whether we achieve it 100%, 95%, 90%, or 0%, but zero I think we can already exclude. The sequence was very long. But how far we have gone, I can’t say. I am pretty confident that we have enough data to do that."

    ESA Director General Jan Wörner sustained hope for the lander, and confidence in its contribution to the 2020 mission saying: "It is a big success for ESA - to fly to Mars is a very big challenge, to be in the orbit of Mars is a very big challenge.

    "This spacecraft is a marvellous feat of engineering. Of course we also look at this part [Schiaparelli] this is a test part. We don’t know all the details but this is typical of a test. We did this to learn about how - using European technology - to land on Mars."

    "Our experts will look how to manage the next landing when we will go with the rover. I don’t close my hope right now that everything is fine."

    The next communication from ESA is expected at a news conference at 1000 CEST (0800 UTC, 04:00 EDT, 01:00 PDT) on Thursday. The most talented and experienced people on the mission have a long night ahead of them following their long day.
  23. Oct 20, 2016 #73
    Something new to wonder about in the realm of Space&Stuff.

    Astronomers have found a pair of extraordinary cosmic objects that dramatically burst in X-rays. This discovery, obtained with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory, may represent a new class of explosive events found in space.

    The mysterious X-ray sources flare up and become about a hundred times brighter in less than a minute, before returning to original X-ray levels after about an hour. At their peak, these objects qualify as ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) that give off hundreds to thousands of times more X-rays than typical binary systems where a star is orbiting a black hole or neutron star.

    While the nature of these flares is unknown, the team has begun to search for answers. One idea is that the flares represent episodes when matter being pulled away from a companion star falls rapidly onto a black hole or neutron star. This could happen when the companion makes its closest approach to the compact object in an eccentric orbit. Another explanation could involve matter falling onto an intermediate-mass black hole, with a mass of about 800 times that of the Sun for one source and 80 times that of the Sun for the other.
  24. Oct 20, 2016 #74
    From what has been said so far,it sounds as if the Schiaparelli test lander failed at the last minute of descent.
    This would be the stage after the parachute separates and retro rockets ought to kick in for the final phase of slowing down.
    Still, nobody can say what happened yet, they are waiting to receive the complete data and assess it.
    As the lander was only a system test and the main science objective (the TGO orbiter) is in good shape, it's not a failed mission overall.
    Am hoping that the landing failure is down to unforeseen/unpredictable events and not a basic design flaw of the landing system.
  25. Oct 20, 2016 #75
    Here is the latest on Schiaparelli.

    20 October 2016
    Essential data from the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander sent to its mothership Trace Gas Orbiter during the module’s descent to the Red Planet’s surface yesterday has been downlinked to Earth and is currently being analysed by experts.

    Early indications from both the radio signals captured by the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), an experimental telescope array located near Pune, India, and from orbit by ESA’s Mars Express, suggested the module had successfully completed most steps of its 6-minute descent through the martian atmosphere. This included the deceleration through the atmosphere, and the parachute and heat shield deployment, for example.

    But the signals recorded by both Pune and Mars Express stopped shortly before the module was expected to touchdown on the surface. Discrepancies between the two data sets are being analysed by experts at ESA’s space operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

    The detailed telemetry recorded by the Trace Gas Orbiter was needed to better understand the situation. At the same time as Schiaparelli’s descent, the orbiter was performing a crucial ‘Mars Orbit Insertion’ manoeuvre - which it completed successfully. These important data were recorded from Schiaparelli and beamed back to Earth in the early hours of Thursday morning.

    The data have been partially analysed and confirm that the entry and descent stages occurred as expected, with events diverging from what was expected after the ejection of the back heat shield and parachute. This ejection itself appears to have occurred earlier than expected, but analysis is not yet complete.

    The thrusters were confirmed to have been briefly activated although it seems likely that they switched off sooner than expected, at an altitude that is still to be determined.

    "Following yesterday’s events we have an impressive orbiter around Mars ready for science and for relay support for the ExoMars rover mission in 2020," said Jan Wörner, ESA’s Director General.

    "Schiaparelli’s primary role was to test European landing technologies. Recording the data during the descent was part of that, and it is important we can learn what happened, in order to prepare for the future."

    "In terms of the Schiaparelli test module, we have data coming back that allow us to fully understand the steps that did occur, and why the soft landing did not occur," said David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration.

    "From the engineering standpoint, it’s what we want from a test, and we have extremely valuable data to work with. We will have an enquiry board to dig deeper into the data and we cannot speculate further at this time."


    ESA still awaits for signal from its ExoMars Schiaparelli module, that was expected to land on Mars yesterday at 10:48 a.m. EDT (14:48 GMT). Contact with the spacecraft was lost about a minute before the planned touchdown on the Martian surface.

    The Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), known as "Schiaparelli" is part of the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars 2016 mission tasked with searching for traces of life on the Red Planet. The EDM itself was designed to demonstrate the capability to perform a controlled landing on Mars.

    After a seven-month trip, Schiaparelli arrived at Mars being attached to ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). It was separated from the orbiter on Oct. 16, to begin its three day cruise ending with landing on Meridiani Planum. The controllers woke up the module from hibernation about one hour and 20 minutes before the planned touchdown.

    The lander was activated at an altitude of about 76 miles (122.5 kilometers). Initial data provided by the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India and ESA’s Mars Express orbiter, indicated that the module has successfully completed most steps of its six-minute long descent through the Martian atmosphere. Schiaparelli made use of its aerodynamic heat shield during the atmospheric entry and deployed its parachute when approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers) above the surface.

    The lander’s liquid propulsion system was activated to reduce the speed to less than 4.35 mph (7 km/h) when it was about 6.5 feet (2 meters) above the ground. The engines were expected to be switched off and the module was planned to be dropped to the ground. However, the transmission sent by GMRT and Mars Express stopped shortly before the module was expected to touchdown on the surface.

    ESA revealed that important set of data about the descent of Schiaparelli was obtained by the TGO, that was being inserted into the Martian orbit at the time of the module’s landing. The detailed telemetry recorded by TGO is currently being analyzed by the mission team.

    "In terms of the Schiaparelli test module, we have data coming back that allow us to fully understand the steps that did occur, and why the soft landing did not occur," said David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration.

    Parker was addressing reporters during a press conference convened today at 4:00 a.m. EDT (8:00 GMT) to provide an update on the status of the mission. He noted that the controllers received extremely valuable data to work with and the agency will have an enquiry board to dig deeper into the available information.

    While the cause of the apparent Schiaparelli descent failure in now under assessment, ESA officials provided some hints on what could trigger the lander’s lengthening silence. They revealed that this anomaly could be due to a premature ejection of the back heat shield and parachute.

    "This ejection itself appears to have occurred earlier than expected, but analysis is not yet complete," ESA said in a press release.

    The team will keep listening for any signals from the Schiaparelli lander, using GMRT and a fleet of NASA and ESA spacecraft currently orbiting Mars. So far, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected no signal from the stranded module, but it will be employed to obtain images of the lander in the coming days.

    The Schiaparelli lander, built by Thales Alenia Space, is about 5.4 feet (1.65 meters) in diameter and 5.9 feet (1.8 meters) high and has a mass of 1,322 lbs (600 kg). It is designed to be capable of landing on a terrain with rocks as high as 1.3 feet (0.4 meters) and slopes as steep as 12.5 degrees. It was planned to be operational for up to eight Martian days after landing.

    Schiaparelli was designed to demonstrate the capability of ESA to perform a controlled landing on Mars. It was also expected to deliver a science package that will operate on the surface of the Red Planet for a short duration after landing, planned to last approximately from two to four Martian days.

    The landing of Schiaparelli is the second European attempt to land on Mars after the Beagle 2 spacecraft failed to accomplish on Dec. 25, 2003. No contact was received at the expected time of landing on Mars, and ESA declared the mission lost in February 2004.

    Meanwhile, the ExoMars’ TGO spacecraft is currently in excellent health after completing the Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) maneuver at 11:24 a.m. EDT (15:24 GMT) on Oct. 19.

    "Following yesterday’s events we have an impressive orbiter around Mars ready for science and for relay support for the ExoMars rover mission in 2020," said Jan Wörner, ESA’s Director General.

    Weighing about 4.3 metric tons, the car-sized TGO spacecraft has dimensions of 11.5 ft × 6.5 ft × 6.5 ft (3.5 m × 2 m × 2 m) with solar wings spanning 57.4 feet (17.5 meters) and providing up to 2,000 W of power. The TGO is equipped with four scientific instruments for the detection of trace gases: Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery (NOMAD), Atmospheric Chemistry Suite (ACS), Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS), and Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (FREND).

    The TGO will enter a highly elliptical orbit that takes four Martian days to complete one revolution. Aerobraking maneuvers between January and November 2017 will bring the orbiter into a circular orbit at 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the surface. Science operations will begin in December 2017 and will continue for two years.

    Although TGO’s main goal is to to detect a wide range of atmospheric trace gases, it will also serve as a data relay center for sending commands to the ExoMars 2020 rover and downloading data to Earth through the ESA space communications network.

    The ExoMars 2020 mission will include an ESA carrier module as well as a Russian lander that will deploy a rover to Mars’ surface. The stack will be launched atop a Russian Proton-M booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome located in Kazakhstan.
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