Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Welcome to Jupiter" - NASA's Juno Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Jupiter

Following a 2.8 billion kilometer inter-planetary journey lasting almost five years, NASA's Juno spacecraft has successfully entered orbit around Jupiter on a bold mission to unlock the secrets of our solar system and its largest planet.


Artists rendering of Juno approaching Jupiter
credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Amid rapturous scenes in Juno Mission Control in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL) in Pasadena, California, Jupiter orbit insertion was confirmed at 11:53 p.m. EDT marking the probe's long-awaited arrival at the gas giant.

Travelling at speeds of 58 kilometers a second(making it the fastest spacecraft to enter orbit around a planet), Juno fired its onboard engine for a risky thirty-five minute burn(insertion maneuver) on time at 11:18 p.m.

“The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from JPL.

The burn occurred at the spacecraft’s closest approach to Jupiter, and slowed it enough to be captured by the giant planet’s gravity into a 53.5-day orbit.

Following an initial capture orbit, Jupiter will begin recording scientific data on its third orbit of the planet by which point the spacecraft will have entered a more stable 14 day-orbit.

Flying from north to south, the spacecraft’s point of closest approach above the cloud tops varies with each flyby -- coming as close as about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) and as far out as 4,900 miles (7,900 kilometers). As Juno exits over the south pole, its orbit carries it far beyond even the orbit of the Jovian moon Callisto.

After the main engine burn, Juno will be in orbit around Jupiter. The spacecraft will spin down from 5 to 2 RPM, turn back toward the sun, and ultimately transmit telemetry via its high-gain antenna.

Over the course of this historic mission Juno will complete thirty-seven orbits over the next twenty months before burning up in Jupiter;s atmosphere to bring the mission to an end in February 2018.

“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer - Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.

The main goals of the Juno mission include:

-To find out how much water is in Jupiter's atmosphere, which helps determine which planet formation theory is correct (or if new theories are needed).
-To look deep into Jupiter's atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties.
-To map Jupiter's magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the planet's deep structure
-To explore and study Jupiter's magnetosphere near the planet's poles, especially the auroras – Jupiter's northern and southern lights – providing new insights about how the planet's enormous magnetic force field affects its atmosphere.
-The possible discovery of new Jovian moons.

Juno's view of a half-lit Jupiter and four of its moons before all scientific
instruments were turned off prior to Jupiter Orbit Insertion(JOI) credit: NASA/JPL





                                                                                                                                                One of the main mission objectives is to discover how a giant planet like Jupiter came into being,  and how it evolved. This cloudy world is a primary example of a giant planet, and can also give us  clues as to how other giant gas planets(called "Hot-Jupiters") which we have discovered orbiting  other stars, may have formed.

Juno will accomplish this by studying the planet's cloudy atmosphere and its overall composition. By the end of the mission it is hoped that we will be able to see how Jupiter was born, and how important of a role it played in the formation of other planets in the solar system.

Using the suite of scientific instruments aboard Juno, teams back on Earth will study the magnetosphere of Jupiter, which will tell us if Jupiter has a solid core, and how big or small it might be.

Why the name Juno?
In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter was the king of the gods, as well as god of the sky and thunder. Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter's true nature.

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More information on the Juno mission is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/juno

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Space Station Trio Return to Earth

After a journey spanning almost 79 million miles, the crew of the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft have safely returned to Earth after completing their 186 day-long mission to the International Space Station.

Soyuz commander and veteran cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko alongside crew mates Tim Peake and Tim Kopra landed their vehicle in the remote steppe of Kazakhstan at 9:15 a.m. UTC -  just three hours after leaving their home for the past six months.
Malenchenko, Kopra and Peake shortly before closing the hatches
between their Soyuz and the International Space Station.
 credit: Roscosmos

The trio bid farewell to their Expedition 47 crew mates early this morning before hatches between the station and the Soyuz were closed. This was followed at 6:52 a.m. by the undocking of the spacecraft from the station's Rassvet module - marking the official beginning of Expedition 48.

Since their arrival to station the crew have conducted hundreds of scientific experiments across a wide range of scientific fields including physics, Earth observation and human physiology experiments. The crew also saw off One Year Crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko back in March.

Having landed under cloudy conditions amid high winds, the crew were extracted one by one from the vehicle by Russian search and recovery forces at the landing site and flown to the remote town of Karaganda a short time later for a welcoming ceremony.

Malenchenko will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center plane for a flight back to Star City to be reunited with his family, while Peake will return to the European Astronaut Center in Cologne and Kopra will return to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This morning's landing concludes the fifth long duration space flight, and the fourth aboard the International Space Station for Malenchenko, who has now logged a total of 828 days in space. European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake - the first British astronaut to visit the space station Peake logs 186 days in space while and NASA astronaut Kopra now has a total of 244 days of spaceflight across two missions.

In the meantime, station commander Jeff Williams along with Russian flight engineers Alexei Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will remain aboard the station until September. Before his departure this morning, Expedition 47 commander Kopra handed over the reigns of the International Space Station to Williams in the traditional Change of Command ceremony in which he paid tribute to the space station programme;
Peake, Malenchenko and Kopra shortly after landing in the remote
steppe of Kazakhstan after 186 days aboard the ISS.
credit: NASA

"We've been so privileged to work here on board with a huge variety of science experiments that we know are going to be a stepping stone for human exploration.. together we've demonstrated that we have a world-class orbiting laboratory."

They will occupy the complex for the next three weeks before being joined in July by the crew of the Soyuz MS-01 comprising of Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The trio are set to launch aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 6th.

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

How to See the Transit of Mercury on May 9

There is no denying that the transit of planet Mercury is one of the most spectacular astronomical phenomena we witness on Earth. There's a transit of Mercury happening on May 9 and here's how you can see it with your own eyes.

What is the transit of Mercury?
A transit of Mercury occurs when our solar system's innermost planet comes between the Sun and the Earth, and Mercury is seen as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. Transits of Mercury occur 13 or 14 times every hundred years, which averages out to one every seven years.

How can I see it?
The transit of Mercury will begin at 11:12 UTC and last seven and a half hours.
credit: www.skyandtelescope.com
This year's transit will be visible(weather permitting) from North and South America, Europe, Africa and most of continental Asia.

Mercury will appear as a tiny dot on the surface of the Sun - covering approximately 1% of the solar disk.

However, viewers are warned not to look directly at the Sun with the naked eye as it may result in irreversible damage.

In order to view the transit safely, you will need a telescope with a solar filter. But don't worry if you don't have either of these, you can also project the image of the Sun using a piece of card with a pinhole in it. Be sure to contact your local astronomy club for more information on events that may be held in your local area to view the transit of Mercury.

The seven-and-a-half hour-long transit will begin at 11:12 a.m. UTC when Mercury makes first contact with the solar disk. The moment of greatest transit will occur at 2:57 p.m. when the planet is roughly mid-way through its path across the Sun's disk. The transit will end at the moment of final contact at 6:42 p.m.

If you're clouded over or living in a part of the world where the transit isn't visible. NASA will be providing a a near-live feed of images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite will be available at www.nasa.gov/transit.

Clear skies!

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

SpaceX Dragon Returns to International Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle has arrived at the International Space Station on its eighth flight to resupply the orbiting complex.

The Commercial Resupply Services(CRS)-8 was captured by ESA astronaut Tim Peake using the station's robotic arm, Canadarm2. Capture was confirmed to have taken place at 7:23 a.m. Eastern Time as the station flew 250 miles over the Pacific Ocean.
Dragon and Cygnus docked to the International Space Station simultaneously
for the first time. credit: NASA TV

Shortly after grapple, the Expedition 47 Flight Engineer informed teams of flight controllers in Mission Control in Houston and in SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne California of his success;

"Looks like we've captured a Dragon" 

Two hours later at 9:57 a.m. robotic operators in Mission Control in Houston slowly berthed the vehicle to the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony module.

Today's arrival is an historic one, as it marks the first time that two commercially-built cargo vehicles will be docked to the International Space Station simultaneously. Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo craft is currently bolted to the Unity module of the ISS having arrived on March 26.

It also marks only the second time in the history of the International Space Station programme that six visiting vehicles have been docked to the station at once.

Dragon, making its Return to Flight to the ISS following a catastrophic launch anomaly in June 2015, launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 9:43 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday April 8 from Cape Canaveral carrying 6,900 pounds/3,130 kilograms worth of science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

Just minutes after first stage separation, the rocket's first stage fell back to Earth, fired its thrusters and deployed its landing legs before successfully landing upright for the first time on a barge at sea. Friday's activities marked the second time that Elon Musk's company has accomplished such a feat - the first coming back on December 21.

Today's arrival will bring to an end the recent period of busy traffic to and from the International Space Station. CRS-8 is the fourth visiting vehicle to visit the laboratory in as many weeks, following the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-20M, Cygnus CRS OA-6 and the Progress 63P.

On April 15, robotic operators will once again take control of Canadarm2 and remove the much anticipated Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM), and berth it to the aft port of the station's Tranquility module.


Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM)


BEAM is an expandable habitat built by Bigelow Aerospace that will remain on station for a period of two years. NASA and its partners are currently investigating the practicalities of using expandable habitats in the near-Earth environment as well as on future missions to the Moon or Mars.

This will be the first time an expandable habitat will be docked to the station, so the procedure will take some time, allowing teams to closely observe the expansion process as well as the safety of the crew and the station. During this time the module will expand from its packed dimensions of 7.75 feet in diameter and 5.7 feet long, to its pressurised size of 10,5 feet in diameter and 12 feet long.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM) being loaded into the
trunk of the SpaceX Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral. credit: NASA

The expandable module is made up of soft fabrics instead of metal which allows the habitat to be packed to a small volume during launch and later expanded to its full size in space. Two radiation sensors, temperature and micrometeorite impacts inside BEAM will help scientists and engineers to better understand thermal, radiation and long-term leak performance of expandable habitats.

The habitat will be inflated by the crew at the end of May and it is expected that crew members will enter BEAM twice or three times per six month increment to swap out sensors that need to be returned to Earth for analysis.



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Friday, April 8, 2016

SpaceX Dragon Returns to Flight Bound for the International Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon capsule has successfully launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a mission to deliver science to the International Space Station.

The Commercial Resupply Services(CRS)-8 launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 9:43 p.m. Eastern Time under clear skies carrying science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.
Dragon on its eight flight to the International Space Station launches
atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 10:43 p.m. from Cape Canveral in Florida.
credit: SpaceX

Just minutes after first stage separation, the rocket's first stage fell back to Earth, fired its thrusters and deployed its landing legs before successfully landing upright for the first time on a barge at sea. Today marks the second time that Elon Musk's company has accomplished such a feat - the first coming back on December 21.

The vehicle will arrive at the space station on Sunday April 10 loaded with 6,900 pounds/3,130 kilograms of science and payload to further advance the research capabilities of the International Space Station. From the Cupola, ESA astronaut Tim Peake will capture Dragon with the station's robotic arm, Canadarm-2, before flight controllers in Mission Control in Houston berth Dragon to the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony module a few hours later.

Today's launch marks the Return to Flight of Dragon having been lost shortly after liftoff on its seventh mission to resupply the complex in June 2015.

Sunday's arrival will be an historic one, as it marks the first time that two commercially-built cargo vehicles will be docked to the International Space Station simultaneously. Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo craft is currently berthed to the Unity module of the ISS.

On April 15, robotic operators will once again take control of Canadarm-2 and remove the much anticipated Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM), and berth it to the aft port of the station's Tranquility module.


Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM)

BEAM is an expandable habitat built by Bigelow Aerospace that will remain on station for a period of two years. NASA and its partners are currently investigating the practicalities of using expandable habitats in the near-Earth environment as well as on future missions to the Moon or Mars.

This will be the first time an expandable habitat will be docked to the station, so the procedure will take some time, allowing teams to closely observe the expansion process as well as the safety of the crew and the station. During this time the module will expand from its packed dimensions of 7.75 feet in diameter and 5.7 feet long, to its pressurised size of 10,5 feet in diameter and 12 feet long.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM) being loaded into the
trunk of the SpaceX Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral. credit: NASA

The expandable module is made up of soft fabrics instead of metal which allows the habitat to be packed to a small volume during launch and later expanded to its full size in space. Two radiation sensors, temperature and micrometeorite impacts inside BEAM will help scientists and engineers to better understand thermal, radiation and long-term leak performance of expandable habitats.

The habitat will be inflated by the crew at the end of May and it is expected that crew members will enter BEAM twice or three times per six month increment to swap out sensors that need to be returned to Earth for analysis.

The arrival of Dragon on Sunday will bring to an end the recent period of busy traffic to and from the International Space Station. CRS-8 will be the fourth visiting vehicle to visit the laboratory in as many weeks, following the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-20M, Cygnus CRS OA-6 and the Progress 63P.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

One Year Crew Returns from International Space Station

Astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have returned to Earth after spending almost one year living and working in low-Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station.

The One Year crew alongside their Soyuz commander Sergey Volkov bid farewell to the International Space Station as the hatches between the station and the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft were closed at 9:43 p.m. GMT on March 1.
Year in Space crew members Kelly and Kornienko shortly after landing in Kazakhstan
after spending 340 days aboard the International Space Station.
credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Soyuz craft departed the complex a couple of hours later when it undocked from the space station's Poisk module at 1:02 a.m. on the morning of March 2.

Following a series of orbital maneuvers, the Soyuz performed its de-orbit burn to reduce the spacecraft's speed and altitude for a fiery re-entry through the Earth's atmosphere.

Just over three hours after departing the ISS, Volkov, Kelly and Kornienko landed their vehicle in the remote steppe of Kazakhstan at 4:26 a.m. - bringing the Year in Space mission to an end. The crew were then placed in reclining chairs next to their Soyuz before being carried a short distance to an awaiting medical tent to get the crew out of their Sokol launch and entry suits to participate in brief field tests.

These field test studies are conducted to see the effect that long term weightlessness has on the astronaut's ability to stand from a seated position, walk through obstacles and stand upright. This will help investigators further understand what future space farers will be able to do once they've landed on Mars having spent months in a weightless commute.

In a recent interview with NASA TV, Kelly was asked what he thought was the biggest accomplishment of this flight - "We absolutely accomplished an incredible amount of work both on the US Operational Segment and on the Russian Segment."

"Our time here has demonstrated not only the capability for us to stay in space for a long time and to do well, but also the capability of ground teams to support us, the sytsems that keep us alive and the resuspply in a way that is forward thinking towards a potential flight to Mars. We've collected a lot of data during our time here and that data is something that's going to be analysed later.. but I think it's been a great success and a real privilege to part of it."

Over the past 340 days, Kelly and Kornienko:

  • Completed 5,440 orbits of the Earth.
  • Ran over 640 miles on the station's treadmill.
  • Travelled 143,846,525 miles - roughly the distance from Earth to Mars. A return journey to the red planet is expected to last 500 days or longer.
  • Conducted over 400 scientific experiments during the course of their stint aboard the complex.


Coming Home: Kelly, Volkov and Kornienko tightly packed inside their Soyuz
credit: NASA
"Misha and I are only one data point. You need a lot more numbers to draw specific conclusions but I'm hoping what we find is a lot of information that will help us eventually continue on our path toward Mars."

Another unique investigation conducted over the past year is the Twins Study. Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, Scott Kelly's identical twin has served as the control subject for his brother on orbit. This study hopes to investigate if the effect of long-duration spaceflight has any difference on the body on a genetic level.

Today's landing brings to an end the fourth spaceflight for Scott Kelly who has now logged 520 days in space and sets the record for the most time in space for an American. Mikhail Kornienko now logs 516 across two space station expeditions. Soyuz commander Sergey Volkov returns to Earth with 548 days in space across three long-duration stays aboard the International Space Station.

The departure of the Soyuz marked the official beginning of Expedition 47 after Kelly handed over the reigns of the orbiting laboratory to Tim Kopra of NASA. Kopra remains aboard the station with cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and ESA astronaut Tim Peake.

The trio will be joined on March 19 when the Soyuz TMA-20M docks to the vacant docking port on Poisk - bringing Alexei Ovchinin, Oleg Skripochka and Jeff Williams to the station for a six month mission.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Cygnus Cargo Craft Departs International Space Station

Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo ship has departed the International Space Station after a successful 72 day mission to resupply the orbiting laboratory.

Having been unberthed from the Unity Module of the complex earlier in the day, Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Tim Kopra used the station's 57-foot robotic arm to release the unmanned Cygnus at 12:26 p.m. GMT as the two vehicles flew 400 kilometers over Bolivia. This positioned Cygnus for a fiery re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on Saturday.
Cygnus departs the International Space Station(File photo)
credit: NASA
On its fourth mission to resupply the space station, the vehicle nicknamed "S.S. Deke Slayton II" launched atop an Atlas V rocket carrying over 3,500 kilograms of cargo from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida on December 6.

Among the cargo which served the Expedition 45/46 crews was a new life sciences facility and a micro-satellite deployer, as well as food and other crew provisions.

Today's departure of Deke Slayton II also marks the beginning of a busy period of traffic from visiting vehicles to and from the station. 

On March 1 the year-long mission to the ISS conducted by Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will come to an end as the pair undock their Soyuz TMA-18M from the Poisk module on the Russian segment of the International Space Station alongside Sergey Volkov.
Kelly and Kornienko have been living aboard the station since their arrival on March 28 2015. By the time they return to Earth they will have spent 340 days in space and traveled over 140 million miles.

The departure of Kelly, Kornienko and Volkov will clear the way for the arrival of the next Soyuz to bring three new crew members to the International Space Station. Cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka, Alexey Ovchinin and astronaut Jeff Williams will dock their Soyuz TMA-20M to the vacant docking port on Poisk on March 19. This will be followed just three days later by the launch of the next Cygnus vehicle on it's fifth flight to the station.

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