SpaceX, the company belonging to American billionaire Elon Musk, has decided to postpone the last qualifying flight of its Dragon capsule by one week from 30 April to 7 May in order to carry out further checks on its computer codes.
This ambitious mission is combine the objectives initially scheduled for two qualification flights (Dragon C2 and C3), prior to the capsule beginning to operate servicing flights to the International Space Station on NASA’s behalf but on a commercial basis. Once it has been put in orbit by a Falcon 9 launch vehicle - also developed by SpaceX - the capsule is to rendezvous with the Station and safely perform nearby manoeuvres (objectives of C2’s mission). It will then position itself so that it can be “captured” by the Station’s remote manipulating arm and docked with the ISS. The astronauts will go aboard and unload its contents. Having been closed, it will then be separated from the Station and sent back down to Earth so that it can be recovered off the California coast (objectives of C3’s mission).
Maiden launch of the Dragon capsule in December 2010. Credits: SpaceX
SpaceX has a lot at stake with this mission as the company has not performed any launches since the success of the Dragon C1 mission on 8 December 2010. The Dragon capsule, together with the Cygnus cargo ship one of the two commercial vehicles chosen by NASA for unmanned servicing of the ISS in order to replace the space shuttle. SpaceX is also a candidate for the future astronaut transport system with a human space flight version of the Dragon capsule which is capable of transporting up to seven astronauts per flight.
International Launch Services (ILS), Arianespace’s main competitor, has just recorded its third success of the year. Last night at 00:18 (22:18 UT), a Proton M launch vehicle blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in order to place a second satellite, belonging to the Al Yah Satellite Communications operator (YahSat) based in the United Arab Emirates, in orbit. The Breeze M upper stage modified the trajectory by firing five times in 9 hours prior to releasing the satellite into its geostationary transfer orbit this morning at about 09:30.
Liftoff video. Credits: Roskosmos
YahSat 1B is a satellite that weighs in at over 6 tonnes (with its tanks full of propellant) and is part of the Eurostar 3000 series. It was manufactured and put together in Toulouse, France, by Astrium with a payload supplied by Thales Alenia Space, also in Toulouse. Once positioned at 52.5° E on the geostationary arc (vertically over the Seychelles), it is to provide telecommunications and Internet services for Africa, the Middle East and south-west Asia. It will also be responsible for the Emirates’ government links.
An identical YahSat 1A was launched a year ago by Ariane 5.
NASA’s Moonbuggy Race competition is to take place for the 19th time in Huntsville, Alabama on 13 and 14 April 2012. This annual race, the only one of its kind, is aimed at teams of secondary school pupils and students who have to develop a 2-seater “lunar bicycle” in order to be the first to complete a course where obstacles recreate certain difficulties encountered on our natural satellite. The craft which can only be moved by the muscular force of its pilots, has to be able to be dismantled such that it forms a 1.2 m sided cube (just like the “lunar jeep” used for the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions). Furthermore, the race begins with the assembly of the Moonbuggy. Consequently, physical condition is important but then so is the cleverness of the vehicle’s design.
North Korea has previously announced on two separate occasions that it has placed a satellite in orbit. But the international community remains circumspect as regards declarations made by the Pyongyang regime. Indeed, whether in 1998 or 2004, no space power has ever detected Kwangmyongsong (1 then 2) as its orbits the Earth. Many think that the North Korean space programme is above all aimed at testing a long-range nuclear missile. Therefore, when Pyongyang stated its desire to launch Kwangmyongsong-3 next April, many countries including the United States, Japan and South Korea made their opposition known. They notably believe that such an initiative violates the United Nations’ Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874 that prohibit North Korea from testing ballistic missiles.
For the very first time, Mercury is to be explored by Europe and Japan as part of the joint BepiColombo mission. This journey to the planet nearest to the Sun was initially set to begin with a blast-off atop an Ariane 5 from Kourou in July 2014. But the manufacturers who are working on this mission with the ESA, European Space Agency, are confronted with the high temperatures that the double probe (one European and the other Japanese) is to be subjected to on its orbit around Mercury (above 450°C). It has therefore been decided to postpone the blast-off to August 2015 so that the necessary technological developments can be completed. Published on 13 March 2012
25 years ago the prime contractor for Ariane 5, the company Astrium (EADS group) founded Cryospace with Air Liquide in order to manufacture the European rockets’ liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks. Cryospace has now become EuroCryospace as part of the Ariane 5 ME (for Midlife Evolution) programme which is aiming to increase the launch vehicle’s capacities and notably move up from 10 to 12 tonnes in geostationary transfer orbit (orbit from which a satellite can reach the ideal geostationary position for telecommunications). With this in mind, a new site (with creation of 40 jobs) is due to be developed in Bremen, Germany. Adopted in 2008, the Ariane 5 ME programme is to be the subject of some important decisions during the next ESA, European Space Agency, Ministerial Council Meeting. This Council, due to meet at the end of 2012, will unite all the ministers from the Agency’s member states.
Titan with its thick orange clouds and Enceladus with its water geysers are well known, but they are not the only satellites around Saturn to have an atmosphere according to a recently published study.
When the Cassini probe flew past Dione, a small icy moon 1,118 km in diameter, on 7 April 2010, it detected minute traces of oxygen, an atmosphere so tenuous that to find a terrestrial equivalent, we would have to go up to an altitude of almost 500 km, which is 100 km higher than the International Space Station’s orbit. But this is not quite a first as oxygen was also detected around Rhea, the neighbouring moon, in 2004.
The heavily cratered surface of Dione, a moon that was discovered 328 years ago by astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
On Earth, oxygen is predominantly produced by photosynthesis, but the process at work on these moons in temperatures of -190°C is very different. Their surfaces’ water ice is bombarded with solar wind particles which decompose the molecules and therefore give rise to molecular oxygen. This then escapes, although part of it remains trapped in the weak gravitational field.
The discovery of this phenomenon on Dione as previously on Rhea indicates that it could indeed be more common than was thought and that it could also occur in the rings of the giant planet and on Jupiter’s three Galilean moons (Europa, Ganymede and Callisto). Exobiologists are of the opinion that there is no reason to imagine that life could be found on the surface of these frozen celestial bodies, but that this discovery does however provide new leads for understanding the possible presence of oxygen on other planets and for efficiently searching for places suitable for the appearance or the survival of extraterrestrial life.
On Monday 6 August the Mars rover Curiosity should land on the red planet. From today Enjoy Space and Cité de l’Espace are offering you the chance to follow this event on Twitter, and then by video, direct from the NASA JPL in California!
This is the mythical rocket par excellence, the one that launched Sputnik, the first satellite and Gagarin, the first man in space. The CSG, Guiana Space Centre, is now one of its launch bases: a historic achievement.