The lift-off of the Russian launcher Proton’s 70th commercial mission, scheduled for today, has been postponed for “technical reasons”, according to Khrunichev, which produces the Proton and its launch systems for International Launch Services (ILS).
No new date has yet been set for this launch, which was to carry the SES-4 telecommunications satellite on behalf of the Société Européenne de Satellites (SES) in Betzdorf, Luxembourg.
This delay was decided three days after the sixth major failure for the Russian Space Programme in thirteen months. Last August, a Proton launcher had placed its payload - the Express AM4 satellite made by Astrium in Toulouse - into the wrong orbit for its mission.
NASA diagram comparing the size of Kepler-20e, Venus, Earth and Kepler-20f. The images of Kepler-20e and 20f are artist’s renditions since no telescope is able to detail such distant worlds. Crédit : NASA
Kepler is a NASA space telescope in search of exoplanets (also known as extrasolar planets, because they orbit around stars other than our Sun), those about the size of the Earth in particular. And it has just sniffed out two of them! This particular system, named Kepler-20, is located 1,000 light years from Earth. True, the star is similar to our own Sun and we have identified 5 planets in orbit around it, two of which are Earth-sized: Kepler-20e has a slightly smaller diameter (0.87 times that of the Earth) while Kepler-20f is barely larger (diameter 1.02 times that of the Earth). But these two worlds are very close to their sun, so Kepler-20e takes only 6.1 Earth days to complete its “year” (one revolution around its star) and Kepler-20f 19.6 days. So close to their star, these two worlds are located outside the habitable zone: too hot, in this case, for water to be able to exist in liquid form. For example, the temperature on Kepler-20e is estimated by astronomers at 760°C! This means we are not in the presence of the Kepler mission’s main goal: “twins of the Earth” (Earth-sized worlds in orbit in their star’s habitable zone). Now that NASA’s exoplanet stalker has demonstrated its ability to detect worlds as small as Earth, it still must prove that it can find Earth-sized planets in habitable zones... NASA press release
We can recall that the Phobos-Grunt probe, launched in early November, was designed to reach Mars and land on the larger of its two small moons (Phobos) and return with samples. But after firing of the Fregat stage failed, the craft was caught in terrestrial orbit. Several attempts were made with the hope of restoring contact with the probe and uploading new flight software. In a statement to the Russian press agency RIA-Novosti, Viktor Khartov, director of the Lavochkin Spacecraft Construction Bureau, which built Phobos-Grunt, declared: “We should admit that Phobos-Grunt has failed to fulfil its main mission of reaching Mars. The spacecraft is lost forever, since the entire ballistics has already changed and the device will never reach the Red planet. This is a fact. Mission impossible!” The craft could re-enter our planet’s atmosphere in January with several fragments falling to Earth. As when other satellites re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, it is highly unlikely that any debris will cause damage to anyone on the ground, since 75% of the Earth’s surface is covered by seas or oceans (e.g. see this article on UARS).
During the night of 16 to 17 December, the Guiana Space Centre is to experience its second Russian Soyuz rocket blast-off. This mission dubbed VS02 (Vol Soyouz 02) is to place not only the French observation satellite Pléiades 1 in orbit for the CNES, the French Space Agency, (built by Astrium), but also 4 small ELISA demonstration satellites and SSOT, a mini-satellite on behalf of Chile. The blast-off is scheduled on 16 December at 23:03 local Guiana time, which is 03:03 in France (on the morning of 17 December). Arianespace will be showing live video which will begin 20 minutes before lift-off.
Co-founder of Microsoft, the software giant, Paul Allen has financed several projects linked to the space industry such as a set of antennas for SETI (a search for extraterrestrial signals led by scientists) or SpaceShipOne belonging to the company Scaled Composites which has become the first private aircraft to exceed the space frontier (100 km). Today, this billionaire is trying his hand in the launch market with Stratolaunch Systems which combines an enormous carrier airplane built by Scaled Composites and one of SpaceX’s rockets. The video below demonstrates how it is meant to work.
It is worthy of note that this particularly impressive carrier airplane is powered by 6 Boeing 747 reactors and has a wingspan of 117 m! The rocket manufactured by SpaceX on the same lines as its Falcon 9 launch vehicle will, then, be released at an altitude of 10 km and could carry up to 6 tonnes into low orbit. Human space flights are envisaged. Amongst the members of the board of directors is Michael Griffin who was NASA’s Administrator from April 2005 to January 2009.
NASA and the private company SpaceX have announced the date for launching the second flight of a Dragon capsule as 7 February 2012. This time, the automatic cargo ship will head towards the International Space Station in order to carry out a series of approach manoeuvres. If all goes according to plan, Dragon will complete the procedure by getting close enough to be grabbed by the Station’s Canadian robotic arm and will then be docked with the ISS (a procedure similar to that of the Japanese HTV). In the event of a successful mission, SpaceX will then be able to sell NASA automatic cargo ship flight services. However, 7 February is merely a target date as NASA stated: “we will adjust the launch date as needed to gain sufficient understanding of test and analysis results to ensure safety and mission success”.
NASA’s Dawn probe has been orbiting Vesta (530 km in diameter) in the asteroid belt situated between Mars and Jupiter since July 2011 (see this article). If you have red-blue 3D anaglyph glasses, you should put them on to get the best out of this three-dimensional video from JPL which is managing the mission for the American Agency.
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.