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Astronomy & Space

See the Worldwide House Station above the eclipsed Moon on 16 July – Astronomy Now

July 16, 2019 • By
Observers within the British Isles with a transparent sky round civil nightfall tonight ought to discover a location providing an unobstructed view of the horizon from southeast via south. Not solely will you see the rising partially eclipsed Moon (most eclipse is shortly earlier than 10:31pm), planets Saturn and Jupiter, however the Worldwide House Station (ISS) gliding by from 10:06–10:09pm, as depicted on this looping animation. The ISS makes its subsequent move, considerably increased within the sky, at 11:44pm (all instances BST). Be aware that the Moon’s obvious dimension is enlarged for readability. AN animation by Ade Ashford.

On today fifty years in the past, Apollo 11 blasted off from Kennedy House Centre at 13:32 UTC on its historic eight-day journey to place males on the Moon and safely return them to Earth.

If you happen to want to take pleasure in a some lunar gazing to commemorate this momentous anniversary, clear UK skies round civil nightfall allow you to see not solely {a partially} eclipsed Moon low within the southeast with Saturn close by, however brighter planetary sibling Jupiter within the south and, for those who’re significantly lucky, the Worldwide House Station gliding by from 10:06–10:09pm BST!

Whereas most celestial objects require a telescope or binocular to see clearly, the intense and unmistakable Worldwide House Station makes common visits to the evening sky and could also be loved with nothing greater than the bare eye, whether or not you reside within the nation or the center of a light-polluted metropolis. The ISS will probably be nicely seen from the British Isles over the subsequent week, showing like a slowly transferring brilliant star crossing the sky in an arc from west to east, a couple of instances every evening from the UK.

Concerning the ISS
Development of the ISS started with the launch of the primary module, Zarya, in November 1998. Since then, greater than 115 constructional area flights utilizing 5 several types of launch automobiles have led to the 73 x 109 x 20 metre, 400-tonne construction that we see right now. The orbital outpost has accomplished greater than 117,000 orbits since its launch and has been constantly occupied since November 2000.

The International Space Station on 23 May 2010 as seen from the departing Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-132. Image credit: NASA/Crew of STS-132/Wikimedia Commons.
The Worldwide House Station on 23 Could 2010 as seen from the departing House Shuttle Atlantis throughout STS-132. Picture credit score: NASA/Crew of STS-132/Wikimedia Commons.

The Worldwide House Station orbits the Earth each 92 minutes at an altitude between 205 and 255 miles, travelling at a median velocity in extra of 17,000 miles per hour (7.5 kilometres per second). The ISS orbits our planet with an inclination to the equator of 51.6 levels, which means that it could seem overhead in any respect latitudes between 51.6° N and 51.6° S. So far as the UK is worried, the ISS will be seen as excessive because the zenith in any respect areas south of a line drawn between Swansea and London, showing decrease within the sky for all locations north of this line.

Utilizing Astronomy Now’s Almanac to make ISS viewing predictions
A lot of you could have used our on-line Almanac to acquire details about lunar phases, or the rising and setting of the Solar, Moon and planets for wherever you might stay, however the Almanac also can inform you when and the place to see the Worldwide House Station.

Within the Almanac, choose the closest metropolis to your location from the Nation and Metropolis pull-down menus earlier than guaranteeing that the field beside Add ISS passes? has a tick in it and — simply as importantly — the Daylight Financial savings Time? field, if relevant to your time and site. The desk beneath the month’s Moon section knowledge then exhibits present nighttime passes of the Worldwide House Station over your chosen location through the subsequent 5 days, if any.

Here’s a current instance computed for Cardiff:For the given Date in 12 months/month/day format, Native Time is the moment the ISS first turns into seen and Period signifies the size of the sighting in minutes. On the given Native Time, look within the path indicated by Strategy and, climate allowing, it’s best to see the ISS as a slowly transferring, brilliant “star”. Max. elevation is how excessive the Station will get above your horizon (90° is overhead, whereas 20° is concerning the span of an outstretched hand at arm’s size) and Departure signifies the place the ISS will probably be when it vanishes from sight. Generally an look or disappearance happens nicely up within the sky when the Station emerges into daylight or slips into Earth’s shadow, respectively.

Within the instance above, as seen from the Welsh capital on the morning of Wednesday, 17 July, the ISS first seems 16° (a span and a half of a fist at arm’s size) above the western (W) horizon at 1:18am BST in a viewing window lasting six minutes. It attains a peak altitude of 69° above the east-northeast (ENE) horizon earlier than fading into the Earth’s shadow 10° above the jap (E) horizon at 1:24am BST.

Be aware: the precise instances of occasions sooner or later will change because the orbit of the ISS varies over time; predictions made on the day are extra correct.

Viewing the ISS via a telescope?

The International Space Station photographed through a telescope by astrophotographer Ralf Vandebergh of the Netherlands. "The image shows not only the ISS with very special lighting angle but also it shows activity around the ISS which is often the case. You see the Japanese Cargo Ship HTV-1 in its demonstration flight shortly before docking and just a few hundred metres below the ISS," he said. Image credit: Ralf Vandebergh / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.
The Worldwide House Station photographed via a telescope by astrophotographer Ralf Vandebergh of the Netherlands. “The image shows not only the ISS with very special lighting angle but also it shows activity around the ISS which is often the case. You see the Japanese Cargo Ship HTV-1 in its demonstration flight shortly before docking and just a few hundred metres below the ISS,” he mentioned. Picture credit score: Ralf Vandebergh / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

Given the Worldwide House Station’s bodily dimension, proximity, and brightness (at its greatest it could rival Venus), one would possibly suppose that it might be high quality object to see via a telescope. Certainly, when passing overhead at a beneficial orientation, it could exceed an arcminute in angular dimension — about the identical as Venus near inferior conjunction.

In observe, making an attempt to trace the ISS with an undriven telescope akin to a Dobsonian feels reasonably like clay pigeon taking pictures, as one makes an attempt to anticipate the place it will likely be within the finder earlier than catching a glimpse because it flashes via the sector a high-power eyepiece in a fraction of a second. Nonetheless, observe makes good, and if a rigorously targeted astrovideo digicam is used rather than an eyepiece, some frames on playback can include tantalising pictures.

Observers with computerised telescope mounts that may be pushed by exterior software program designed to trace satellites a have a a lot larger likelihood of success. Astrophotographers Thierry Legault and Ralf Vandebergh amongst many others have succeeded in capturing beautiful footage of the ISS exhibiting high quality structural element which might be an inspiration to imagers the world over.

But the serene great thing about the Worldwide House Station gliding silently overhead wants nothing greater than the bare eye to understand. Moreover, for those who do make a sighting over the subsequent few nights, ponder the six-person crew of Expedition 60 presently aboard – significantly on this epic anniversary of Apollo 11’s Moon mission.


Astronomy & Space

India seeks to hitch unique firm with formidable moon mission – Astronomy Now

July 14, 2019 • By
Artist’s illustration of the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft in lunar orbit. The mission’s touchdown craft — which carries the rover — is seen at high, and the orbiter phase is at backside. Credit score: ISRO

India’s formidable $142 million Chandrayaan 2 moon mission, comprising a orbiter, lander and rover, is ready for liftoff Sunday to start an almost two-month transit culminating in a landing close to the lunar south pole in September.

The robotic science mission is awaiting liftoff aboard India’s Geosynchronous Satellite tv for pc Launch Car Mk.3, or GSLV Mk.3, rocket at 2121 GMT (5:21 p.m. EDT) Sunday from a spaceport on the Indian east coast.

If every little thing goes in response to plan, the three-in-one spacecraft will arrive in orbit across the moon round Aug. 5, then detach the touchdown craft round Sept. 2 or Three to start decreasing its altitude in preparation for a remaining descent to the lunar floor as quickly as Sept. 6.

“We are landing at a place where nobody else has gone,” mentioned Ok. Sivan, chairman of the Indian House Analysis Group.

Indian scientists are focusing on touchdown of the Chandrayaan 2 lander at an unexplored website situated on the close to aspect of the moon at 70.9 levels south latitude, nearer to the moon’s south pole than any earlier mission. The touchdown module is called Vikram for Vikram Sarabhai, the daddy of India’s area program, and can deploy the Pragyan rover, named for the Sanskrit phrase for “wisdom.”

The stationary lander and rover are designed to final 14 days — equal to half of a lunar day — till the solar units on the touchdown website, robbing the automobiles {of electrical} energy as temperatures plummet to close minus 300 levels Fahrenheit (minus 183 levels Celsius).

If the touchdown is profitable, India will grow to be the fourth nation to perform a managed comfortable landing on the moon, following landings by the Soviet Union, the USA and China.

Clive Neal, a lunar scientist on the College of Notre Dame, mentioned India’s area program “making great strides” after inserting spacecraft into orbit across the moon and Mars in 2008 and 2013, respectively.

Chandrayaan 2 is a follow-up to India’s Chandrayaan 1 lunar orbiter, which made historical past by detecting water-bearing molecules on the moon’s poles, with the best concentrations inside permanently-shadowed craters on the south pole.

“This proof of capability, the Chandryaaan 2 mission with the lander and the rover, is very ambitious,” Neal mentioned in an interview with Spaceflight Now.

And Chandrayaan 2’s price range is a fraction of the event price range for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which price greater than $500 million to construct and launch in 2009.

“They’ve got a nice landing site picked out,” Neal mentioned. “It looks pretty benign in terms of small craters and boulders. This would be a pathfinder for future landings in more challenging environments, and because it’s a new place (to explore) on the moon, there will be good science that comes out of it.”

Floor crews increase the Chandrayaan 2 mission’s lunar lander (left) on high of the orbiter phase (proper) throughout launch preparations final month. One half of the GSLV Mk.3’s payload fairing is seen within the background. Credit score: ISRO

China is the latest nation to hitch the elite group of countries with profitable moon touchdown missions. China’s Chang’e Three mission landed on the close to aspect of the moon in 2013, and Chang’e Four made the primary comfortable touchdown on the far aspect of the moon in January.

Chang’e 4’s lander and rover are nonetheless working, and if profitable, the arrival of Chandrayaan 2 in September may mark the primary time because the 1970s that two spacecraft have operated on the moon’s floor on the similar time.

“This is very exciting, and I wish them well,” Neal mentioned. “They’ve got a wealth of experiments that they’re carrying on the orbiter, the lander and the rover. It’s going to tell us some interesting things about the lunar surface at a location we haven’t been to.”

ISRO says the orbiter’s mission will final not less than a 12 months, taking high-resolution photos and scanning the lunar floor with radar and spectral imagers to hunt for indicators of water ice.

Officers initially designed the Chandrayaan 2 mission as a joint endeavor with Russia, which was to offer the touchdown module to fly to the moon with an Indian-made orbiter and rover. However Russia dropped out of the venture after the failure of the Phobos-Grunt Mars probe in 2011, prompting the Indian authorities to make Chandrayaan 2 an all-Indian mission.

“This mission is not only ISRO’s mission,” Sivan mentioned in a press briefing final month. “It is a mission of the entire country.”

Chandrayaan 2 will experience into area on high of a GSLV Mk.Three rocket, India’s strongest launcher, from the Satish Dhawan House Heart on Sriharikota Island, situated on the coast of the Bay of Bengal in southeastern India.

Making its third full-up flight, the 142-foot-tall (43.4-meter) launch automobile will take off at 2:51 a.m. Indian Customary Time on Monday with some 2.2 million kilos of thrust from two solid-fueled boosters.

The 142-foot-tall (43.4-meter) GSLV Mk.Three rocket rolls out of its meeting constructing with the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft on-board. Credit score: ISRO

An air-lit core stage with two hydrazine-fueled Vikas engines and an higher stage with a hydrogen-fueled engine will ship the Chandrayaan 2 mission into area. Separation of the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft is scheduled at T+plus 16 minutes, 13 seconds.

Indian area program managers final 12 months moved the Chandrayaan 2 launch from the much less succesful GSLV Mk.2 rocket to the GSLV Mk.Three after the spacecraft exceeded its authentic weight throughout growth.

The orbiter, lander and rover collectively will weigh round 8,500 kilos — about 3,850 kilograms — on the time of launch. About one-third of that weight is propellant, in response to Sivan.

The GSLV Mk.Three will haul the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft into an elliptical switch orbit round Earth, with a low altitude of 105 miles (170 kilometers) and a most distance from Earth of 24,270 miles (39,059 kilometers).

After separation from the GSLV Mk.Three launcher, Chandrayaan 2’s orbiter will prolong a power-generating photo voltaic array wing and kit up for a collection of orbit-raising burns earlier than breaking freed from the grip of Earth’s gravity and touring to the moon.

5 engine burns over 16 days will nudge Chandrayaan 2’s orbit increased earlier than a trans-lunar injection maneuver on the finish of July sends the spacecraft on a five-day arcing trajectory to intercept the moon.

One other vital engine burn round Aug. 5 will place the Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft in an oval-shaped orbit across the moon — ranging between 93 miles (150 kilometers) and about 11,200 miles (18,000 kilometers) in altitude — adopted by extra thruster firings to steer the probe right into a round 62-mile-high (100-kilometer) orbit by early September.

Then the Vikram lander will detach from the orbiter to start descent maneuvers, ending with a 15-minute touchdown sequence from an altitude of about 100,000 ft (30 kilometers) on Sept. 6, in response to ISRO.

“These 15 minutes are going to be the most terrifying moment for all of us,” Sivan mentioned. “It is going to be a terrifying moment because … ISRO has never undertaken such a complex flight. This 15 minutes of flight is the most complex mission ISRO has ever undertaken.”

Artist’s idea of the Chandrayaan 2 lander. Credit score: ISRO

5 throttleable liquid-fueled engines will management the lander’s charge of descent, and a laser rangefinder will information the spacecraft towards a touchdown zone in an historic polar highlands area between two craters at roughly 70.9 levels south latitude, and 22.Eight levels east longitude.

The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft’s three elements every carry a set of scientific devices:

  • Orbiter
    • Mass: 5,244 kilos (2,379 kilograms)
    • Dimensions: 3.2 x 5.Eight x 2.1 meters (10.5 x 19.Zero x 6.9 ft)
    • Energy: 1,000 watts
    • Description: The Chandrayaan 2 orbiter — designed for a one-year mission — carries eight scientific devices, together with a high-resolution stereo imaging digicam, a dual-frequency artificial aperture radar search for proof of water ice on the lunar poles, an imaging infrared spectrometer to help within the seek for water, and sensors to review the moon’s tenuous environment. The orbiter can even present information relay companies the Vikram lander.
  • Vikram Lander
    • Mass: 3,243 kilos (1,471 kilograms)
    • Dimensions: 2.54 x 2.Zero x 1.2 meters (8.33 x 6.6 x 3.9 ft)
    • Energy: 650 watts
    • Description: The Vikram lander’s focused landing zone is situated in a highland area on the the close to aspect of the moon at roughly 70.9 levels south latitude, nearer to the moon’s south pole than any earlier lunar touchdown mission. Vikram will use 5 throttleable liquid-fueled engines to decelerate for touchdown. The stationary touchdown craft carries a set of a number of cameras and three science devices, together with a seismometer to hear for moonquakes, a thermal probe to achieve a depth of as much as 33 ft (10 meters) to measure the vertical temperature gradient within the lunar crust, sensors to research plasma close to the moon’s floor, and a NASA-provided laser retroreflector array to assist scientists find the lander’s precise place on the moon. The Vikram lander is designed to final 14 days on the moon, equal to at least one lunar day.
  • Pragyan Rover
    • Mass: 59 kilos (27 kilograms)
    • Dimensions: 0.9 x 0.75 x 0.85 meters (3.Zero x 2.46 x 2.79 ft)
    • Energy: 50 watts
    • Description: The solar-powered Pragyan rover has a spread of as much as 500 meters, or 1,640 ft, throughout its 14-day mission on the moon. The AI-enabled rover has six wheels and can relay science information and pictures by a radio hyperlink with the Vikram lander. Indian scientists put in an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer to measure the fundamental composition of the rocks on the Chandrayaan 2 touchdown website, together with a laser-induced breakdown spectroscope. The Pragyan rover is called for the Sanskrit phrase for “wisdom.”

The lander’s focused vacation spot is roughly 220 miles (350 kilometers) from the rim of the South Pole-Aitken basin, a area scientists imagine is one of the vital historic affect websites within the photo voltaic system, created when a big asteroid or comet struck the moon billions of years in the past.

For the primary time, Chandrayaan 2’s rover may study historic materials within the lunar crust ejected throughout the colossal collision that created the South Pole-Aitken basin, offering information that might yield clues in regards to the photo voltaic system’s chaotic early historical past.

China’s Chang’e Four mission, landed on the far aspect of the moon in January, is exploring the mid-latitudes of the southern hemisphere, inside the South Pole-Aitken basin.

Not like the Indian Pragyan rover, Chang’e Four doesn’t carry an alpha X-ray spectrometer, or APXS, to acquire compositional measurements of the lunar crust. The presence of such an instrument on-board Chandrayaan 2 may very well be boon for lunar geologists.

Neal mentioned he wished Chang’e 4’s rover, named Yutu 2, carried an APXS instrument to the far aspect of the moon.

The APXS on the Indian rover “will give us an idea of the chemical composition of the rocks that are there,” Neal mentioned. “That is going to be a critical piece of the puzzle … It’s going to tell us more about the composition at that particular vicinity, whether or not it will find water. It doesn’t look like it’s too close to the permanently-shadowed regions, but we don’t know what’s underneath the regolith there.”

Science instrumentation on Chandrayaan 2’s orbiter may present essentially the most detailed information but obtained in regards to the quantity of water ice hidden contained in the moon’s polar craters. The sensors can even detect the presence of hydroxyl molecules, which have oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded collectively.

The Indian orbiter’s dual-frequency radar, with L-band and S-band beams, shall be delicate to underground ice deposits as much as 16 ft (5 meters) under the lunar floor, twice as deep as reachable by radars carried Chandrayaan 1 and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“I think on the orbiter — it’s got a year long mission — the radar would be good because although LRO has a radar, it is only in receiving mode, not transmission mode, so we have to transmit from Earth in order to use it right now,” Neal mentioned. “So a lot of locations are not amenable to that.”

Chandrayaan 2 may give scientists extra refined maps of the placement of water ice deposits, and a extra correct stock for a way a lot water is trapped contained in the permanently-shadowed polar craters.

“That has a lot of potential, as does the infrared spectrometer,” Neal mentioned. “It’ll help show whether or not there’s a hydroxyl or water signal at the surface.”

Such info is vital for future human expeditions to the moon, similar to these deliberate as a part of NASA’s Artemis program, which goals to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 beneath a directive from the Trump administration.

India’s lunar lander could quickly be joined on the moon by privately-developed probes and rovers. NASA awarded contracts to a few U.S. corporations to construct robotic landers to hold U.S. science devices to the moon in 2020 and 2021.

Earlier this 12 months, a privately-funded Israeli spacecraft named Beresheet tried to land on the moon, however the probe crashed throughout remaining descent.

“I think the international and the commercial interest in the moon is really fantastic, and what it shows us is that the world and private industry have caught up with NASA,” Neal mentioned.

The launch of Chandrayaan 2 will come two days earlier than the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the primary mission to land astronauts on the moon.

“I think it’s good to see other nations going to the moon,” Neal mentioned. “Apollo has stimulated, 50 years on, international interest just as it did back in the ’60s and early ’70s.”

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Comply with Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


Astronomy & Space

NASA provides go-ahead for flying drone to discover Saturn’s moon Titan – Astronomy Now

June 28, 2019 • By
Artist’s idea of the Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan. Credit score: NASA

NASA officers introduced that the company will transfer ahead with the event of a plutonium-powered robotic quadcopter drone to discover Saturn’s moon Titan, a hazy world lined with dunes and methane lakes that scientists say is paying homage to the traditional Earth.

The Dragonfly mission will launch in 2026 and attain Titan in 2034, descend by means of its thick ambiance and deploy a rotorcraft to make a number of hops throughout the moon’s alien floor over a 2.7-year mission, surveying dune fields and craters.

“Titan is a very Earth-like place, despite the fact that the materials are very different at this very low temperature, and the bedrock is water ice and the sand dunes are made of organic sand grains, and the liquid on the surface is liquid methane,” mentioned Elizabeth Turtle, principal investigator for the Dragonfly mission on the Johns Hopkins College Utilized Physics Laboratory.”

Most of what scientists learn about Titan got here from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and a European Area Company probe named Huygens, which made the primary touchdown on Saturn’s largest moon in 2005.

Cassini made 127 flybys of Titan in its 13-year tour of Saturn earlier than its mission led to September 2017, unveiling the moon’s floor for the primary time to see lakes of methane with rugged shorelines, streams and sand dunes. NASA’s Voyager probes couldn’t see by means of Titan’s hazy veneer after they flew by Saturn in 1980 and 1981.

“One of the great things about Dragonfly is with the cameras it has looking forward and downward, as Dragonfly is flying over the surface, it’s going to be taking pictures and sending them back to Earth,” mentioned Curt Niebur, lead programme scientist for NASA’s line of New Frontiers missions. “So we’ll really get the expertise of flying together with Dragonfly, trying down at this alien, but very acquainted sort of floor that has these rivers and mountains.

“I think that’s going to be a tremendous experience for the public, and I think everybody’s really going to enjoy it,” Niebur mentioned.

The colourful globe of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, passes in entrance of the planet and its rings on this true coloration snapshot from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Area Science Institute

Titan’s thick ambiance makes getting right down to the bottom tough, however as soon as there, Titan’s soupy ambiance will make for a wonderful flying setting, scientists mentioned.

“Flying on Titan is actually easier than flying on Earth,” Turtle mentioned. “The atmosphere is four times denser, at the surface, than the atmosphere at the surface of Earth, and (Titan’s) gravity is about a seventh of the gravity here on Earth. So it’s actually easier to fly on Titan. If you put on wings, you’d be able to fly on Titan.”

Cassini found climate methods on Titan, together with rain storms and winds that seem to generate waves within the methane lakes.

“You get the rain coming down, collecting into really larger lakes, the size of Earth’s Great Lakes, filled to great depth with all this liquid methane. and it really creates a kind of weather cycle, just like we have on Earth, just without the liquid water,” Niebur mentioned.

However many questions on Titan stay unanswered. It’s the Photo voltaic System’s solely moon with a dense ambiance — made primarily of nitrogen — however Titan’s orange haze hides its floor from typical cameras. Cassini peered by means of the ambiance with an imaging radar to disclose enormous land plenty, oceans and different floor options.

The temperature at Titan’s floor hovers round -184 levels Celsius (-300 levels Fahrenheit), a lot too chilly for liquid water on the floor. However there’s proof that Titan harbours an underground ocean of liquid water.

The Dragonfly drone will carry cameras, drills, seismic and climate sensors, and spectrometers to look at the composition of Titan’s rocks and soil, gathering 4 fundamental varieties of measurements. Vacuum-like suction gadgets on the craft’s touchdown skids will suck up floor materials for evaluation in an on-board miniature oven, which is able to sense any natural compounds or biosignatures within the soil.

A plutonium energy supply, often called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG, will cost the craft’s battery to energy the devices, eight electrically-driven rotors and a high-gain antenna to beam information on to Earth.

“What really excites me about this mission is the fact that Titan has all of the key ingredients needed for life,” mentioned Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate. “Liquid water and liquid methane, we’ve advanced natural carbon-based molecules, and we’ve the power that we all know is required for all times.

“So we have, on Titan, an opportunity to observe the processes that were present on early Earth, when life began to form, and possibly even conditions that may harbour life today,” Zurbuchen mentioned. “We may be able to look for biosignatures there today.”

Dragonfly’s mobility will permit it to journey as much as 80 kilometres (110 miles) throughout Titan over the course of 20 or extra hops.

Concerning the dimension of a Mars rover, the flying drone will permit scientists to discover a wider vary on Titan than a mission restricted to the floor. Dragonfly will first contact down in Titan’s equatorial dune fields, then journey to a crater to analyze a area the place distant sensing observations from Cassini counsel the presence of water ice outcrops.

And in contrast to a rover on the floor, an instrumented drone is not going to be stopped or delayed by obstacles like rocks and steep slopes.

NASA chosen Dragonfly over a competing proposal named the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Pattern Return, or CAESAR, mission to develop into the fourth mission within the company’s New Frontiers programme. CAESAR would have flown a spacecraft to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the identical comet first explored by Europe’s Rosetta mission, and picked up a pattern from its nucleus for return to Earth.

The three earlier New Frontiers missions developed by NASA are all presently working in house.

The New Horizons spacecraft launched in 2006 and carried out the primary up-close flyby of Pluto in 2015, then continued farther into the outer photo voltaic system to come across a 22-mile-long (35-kilometer) world within the Kuiper Belt named Ultima Thule on 1 January this yr.

NASA’s Juno orbiter launched in 2011 and arrived at Jupiter in 2016 to review the large planet’s ambiance and magnetosphere, and the OSIRIX-Rex mission lifted off in 2016 and reached the asteroid Bennu late final yr, the place the spacecraft will retrieve a pattern for return to Earth.

Company officers introduced Dragonfly and CAESAR as finalists from an preliminary record of 12 mission proposals for the fourth New Frontiers mission in December 2017. NASA is committing as much as $850 million to design and develop the Dragonfly mission, excluding launch and operations prices.

When these bills are absolutely accounted, the mission is predicted to price round $1 billion.

Artist’s idea of the Dragonfly car at Titan. Credit score: NASA/JHUAPL

“Dragonfly will be the first drone lander with the capability to fly over 100 miles through Titan’s thick atmosphere,” mentioned NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Titan is in contrast to some other place in our Photo voltaic System, and probably the most similar to early Earth.

“This revolutionary mission would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago,” Bridenstine mentioned. “A great nation does great things. We will launch Dragonfly to explore the frontiers of human knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.”

However Dragonfly is a dangerous mission.

“This mission is bold,” Zurbuchen mentioned. “We do these bold missions that change not only what we know, but how we think what’s possible that we can do.”

Dragonfly will probably be constructed and managed at APL, which oversaw the event of the New Horizons probe and NASA’s Parker Photo voltaic Probe, which  launched final yr and has already set a file for the closest spacecraft to the Solar.

“When we got the proposal for this mission, the first proposal, the science was so compelling that we looked at all the risks that were there — and there were quite a number of them — and we just basically said we want to give them a chance,” Zurbuchen mentioned.

In a convention name with reporters Thursday, NASA officers mentioned a number of of the early dangers they recognized early with the Dragonfly idea, such because the potential for hydrocarbons to clog the probe’s science devices.

“Titan is rich in hydrocarbons,” Niebur mentioned. “Usually, when we have a NASA mission, we are struggling to find trace amounts of these things, and Titan has so many that the concern was raised that that vacuum cleaner system that sucks up the sample and deliver it to the instrument could get clogged or contaminated.”

The Dragonfly group redesigned the pattern supply system over the past year-and-a-half, throughout a preliminary “Phase A” examine funded by NASA.

“All these risks, 10 risks or so, that were there were eliminated,” Zurbuchen mentioned. “So it’s a team that has proven itself, a team that’s highly diverse in all dimensions, and therefore innovative, and brought together by a strong principal investigator.”

“One of the things about Dragonfly that is not necessarily apparent at first sight is that, while this is a new way of exploring a different planet, this is actually technology that is very mature on Earth,” Turtle mentioned. “There’s so much technology development in terms of rotorcraft here on Earth, in terms of autonomous flight, and indeed a lot of the instrumentation that we will fly on Dragonfly is based on instrumentation that is sitting on the surface of Mars right now, that has flown in space before. So really what we’re doing with Dragonfly is innovation not invention.”

Turtle’s group initially proposed launching Dragonfly in 2025, however NASA is giving the mission an additional yr to organize for launch.

“We felt at NASA … that the team could benefit greatly by some additional time to work through some of the challenges,” mentioned Lori Glaze, head of NASA’s planetary science division. “There was a very tight schedule, and we thought having a little extra time would help with that.”

The unique Dragonfly trajectory featured a flyby of Earth in 2026, one yr after its launch in 2025, adopted by additional gravity help flybys with Venus and Earth to slingshot towards Saturn, concentrating on a direct entry into Titan’s ambiance in 2034.

With a launch in 2026, engineers have deleted the primary Earth flyby from the trajectory, and Dragonfly will nonetheless attain Titan in 2034.

The spacecraft will plunge into Titan’s ambiance for a two-hour descent, utilizing friction and a parachute to decelerate earlier than the rotorcraft releases from its aeroshell and flies itself to the floor, touchdown straight on its skids.

Dragonfly’s exploration will probably be restricted to the equatorial areas of Titan, away from its methane oceans. The northern hemisphere, the place Titan’s largest seas are situated, will probably be in winter when the spacecraft arrives, with the Solar and Earth under the horizon.

“The big question that remains about the materials on the surface of Titan is the composition of the solid materials,” Turtle mentioned.

The Cassini spacecraft’s radar was in a position to resolve Titan’s methane seas and establish their chemical composition.

“The big outstanding question is what the nature of these solid surface materials are, and that’s where the keys to understanding the prebiotic chemistry that is so abundant on Titan lies, in the solid surface materials,” Turtle mentioned.

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Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


Astronomy & Space

Japanese spacecraft to hold European rover to martian moon – Astronomy Now

June 20, 2019 • By
A notional rendering of a small rover exploring one in all Mars’ two moons after supply by a Japanese spacecraft. Picture: CNES

The Japanese Martian Moons eXploration mission, or MMX, will carry a German-French rover to one of many crimson planet’s two moons in 2024. The spacecraft will slip into orbit round Mars in 2025 and deploy a lander that can goal both Phobos or Deimos, exploring the floor in unprecedented element to be taught extra concerning the formation and evolution of the photo voltaic system.

An settlement to incorporate the rover within the MMX mission was introduced on the Paris Air Present in Le Bourget by officers representing the Japanese Area Company (JAXA), the French Area Company (CNES) and the German Aerospace Middle (DLR).

“The world-first exploration of the Martian moons with a rover is a major technical challenge that we are tackling within the framework of our strong and proven partnership with Japan and France,” stated Pascale Ehrenfreund, chairman of the DLR Govt Board. “Together, we want to push the boundaries of what is technically feasible in robotic exploration and expand our knowledge about the origin of the solar system.”

DLR is chargeable for growing the rover’s physique and its robotic locomotion system, together with a spectrometer and a radiometer that can assist decide the composition of the martian moon’s floor materials. The French house company is growing cameras and the rover’s service module. The robotic might be operated collectively by DLR and CNES.

The MMX mission will comply with Japan’s profitable Hyabusa2, which has been finishing up close-range observations of the asteroid Ryugu for the previous 12 months, deploying a sequence of small landers and transferring in to gather samples for return to Earth in 2020. The MMX spacecraft will try to gather floor samples from Phobos by deploying a small lander that can use pressurised fuel to fire up and seize floor materials.


Astronomy & Space

Cassini mosaic captures moon sculpting Saturn’s rings – Astronomy Now

June 14, 2019 • By
A mosaic made up of photographs in the course of the Cassini spacecraft’s last orbits of Saturn reveals new insights into how the small moon Daphnis gravitationally sculpts close by ring materials into rippling waves. Click on on the picture for a zoomed-in view. Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Area Science Institute

NASA’s Cassini mission resulted in 2017 with a deliberate plunge into Saturn’s environment. However information and pictures captured in the course of the spacecraft’s last, closest-ever passes by the planet’s rings proceed to disclose new particulars in regards to the composition of the system and the way small moons gravitationally sculpt ring particles into delicate textures and patterns.

“It’s like turning the power up one more notch on what we could see in the rings,” stated Cassini Challenge Scientist Linda Spilker. “Everyone just got a clearer view of what’s going on. Getting that extra resolution answered many questions, but so many tantalising ones remain.”

The analysis, showing within the journal Science, applies not simply to the dynamics of Saturn’s rings. It additionally sheds gentle on how astrophysical disc type an evolve, together with the protoplanetary discs that give rise to total photo voltaic programs.

“These new details of how the moons are sculpting the rings in various ways provide a window into solar system formation, where you also have disks evolving under the influence of masses embedded within them,” stated lead writer and Cassini scientist Matt Tiscareno of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

In a spectacular mosaic, Saturn’s tiny moon Daphnis could be seen embedded within the rings, its gravity clearing out a area generally known as the Keeler hole, trailing three waves within the hole’s periphery. The crests of the waves diminish in measurement the farther they’re from the moon as ring particles work together and collide.

A closeup displaying how probably the most distant crest within the waves trailing Daphnis breaks down as ring particles jostle about within the moon’s gravitational wake. Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Area Science Institute

The sculpting generated by Daphnis already was effectively documented, however the brand new evaluation reveals a number of beforehand unseen options, together with skinny strands of ring materials spreading out because the extra distant crests diminish and break up. The pictures making up the mosaic have been captured at a distance of about 28,000 kilometres (17,000 miles) from Daphnis.

“This tells us the way the rings look is not just a function of how much material there is,” Tiscareno stated. “There has to be something different about the characteristics of the particles, perhaps affecting what happens when two ring particles collide and bounce off each other. And we don’t yet know what it is.”

Cassini’s Seen and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer revealed one more thriller, discovering a surprisingly weak sign for water ice in Saturn’s outermost A hoop, a extremely reflective area thought to include comparatively uncontaminated ice bands. As well as, no natural compounds have been detected and no detectable quantities of ammonia ice or methane ice.

“If organics were there in large amounts, at least in the main A, B and C rings, we’d see them,” stated Phil Nicholson, Cassini VIMS scientist of Cornell College. “I’m not convinced yet that they are a major component of the main rings.”


Astronomy & Space

NASA funds industrial moon landers for science, exploration – Astronomy Now

June 2, 2019 • By
An artist’s impression of a industrial moon lander. NASA is funding private-sector improvement of recent landers to hold devices and sensors to the moon to assist pave the way in which for astronaut landings in 2024. Picture: NASA

Below contracts valued at $253.5 million, NASA is funding three fast-track moon landers in a program meant to kick-start private-sector exploration and expertise improvement, key parts within the area company’s drive to return astronauts to the moon’s floor in 2024.

Orbit Past of Edison, New Jersey, was awarded $97 million to construct and launch its Z-01 spacecraft as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, touchdown on Mare Imbrium by September 2020.

Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, gained $79.5 million to develop its Peregrine lander to hold 14 NASA payloads to a landing at Lacus Mortis in July 2021. The corporate has not but specified a launcher.

Intuitive Machines of Houston, Texas, is receiving $77 million for its Nova-C spacecraft, certain for a touchdown in Oceanus Procellarum, additionally in July 2021. A Falcon 9 shall be used to launch the Nova-C.

“This is a new era for the moon,” John Thornton, Astrobotic CEO, mentioned when the contracts have been introduced 31 Might. “It’s been almost 50 years since we’ve been back as a country. Now we’re going back, we’re going to have regular, routine access to the moon in ways we’ve never experienced before. Our scientists are going to get really, really smart about that’s up there. This is a whole new era, an incredibly exciting time.”

The contracts are managed by NASA’s Industrial Lunar Payload Companies, or CLPS, program, which has authority to award as much as $2.6 billion in contracts over a 10-year interval. The objective is to fund non-public improvement of area methods and infrastructure that NASA can then use to ship science payloads to lunar orbit or the floor.

Future contracts are anticipated to fund missions that may ship landers to the moon’s south polar area to discover ice deposits in completely shadowed areas the place future astronauts could possibly extract air, water and even rocket gasoline. That’s the place NASA plans to ship the primary crew within the new Artemis moon program.

“These CLPS providers are really leading the way for our return to the moon as part of the Artemis program, these are precursor missions prior to us landing the first woman and the next man on the surface of the moon in 2024,” mentioned Steve Clarke, deputy affiliate administrator for exploration at NASA Headquarters.

“NASA is one of many customers,” he mentioned of the landers. “We are buying a ride, essentially. … We are looking for these providers to deliver our payloads to the surface. They are responsible for the launch, the lander itself, landing it and making sure we can operate our instruments on the surface of the moon.”

Officers with all three firms mentioned the preliminary touchdown missions will set the stage for extra intensive industrial improvement within the years forward.

“I think it’s going to create a new era, a new ecosystem for commercial companies to really explore space,”mentioned Kam Ghaffarian, govt chairman of Intuitive Machines. “I truly believe commercial space in general, whether it’s low Earth orbit or deeper space exploration is just beginning. It’s going to be a truly exciting journey.”


Astronomy & Space

Rock that hit moon throughout lunar eclipse possible impacted at 61,000 kph – Astronomy Now

May 2, 2019 • By
A quick flash of sunshine throughout January’s complete lunar eclipse marked the spot the place a rock crashed into the floor at some 61,000 kph (38,000 mph). Picture: J. M. Madiedo/MIDAS

A rock that slammed into the moon throughout a broadly seen complete lunar eclipse in January possible hit the floor at some 61,000 kilometres per hour (38,000 mph), releasing the vitality of 1.5 tonnes of TNT and blasting out a crater 10 to 15 metres (33 to 49 toes) throughout, astronomers report in Month-to-month Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Based mostly on an in depth evaluation of the good, short-lived – 0.28 second – burst of sunshine that accompanied the affect, the astronomers concluded the rock had a mass of about 45 kilograms (100 kilos) and measured 30 to 60 centimetres (12 to 24 inches) throughout. Particles ejected by the affect possible reached a peak temperature of round 5,400 levels Celsius (9,750 Fahrenheit).

The eclipse occurred on 21 January and was seen throughout western Europe and North and South American. At 4:41 GMT, simply after totality started, many observers famous a short flash on the moon’s darkened floor.

Jose Madiedo of the College of Huelva and Jose L. Ortiz of the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia function the Moon Impacts Detection and Evaluation System, or MIDAS, utilizing eight telescopes in southern Spain to observe the lunar floor. MIDAS video captured the second of affect, the primary ever filmed throughout a lunar eclipse. Observing at a number of wavelengths, the researchers had been capable of calculate the scale of the impacting physique and the vitality launched.

“Something inside of me told me that this time would be the time,” mentioned Madiedo, including the occasion was brighter than most beforehand detected by the MIDAS survey. “It would be impossible to reproduce these high-speed collisions in a lab on Earth. Observing flashes is a great way to test our ideas on exactly what happens when a meteorite collides with the Moon.”


Astronomy & Space

Israeli probe crashes in try and turn into first privately-funded Moon lander – Astronomy Now

April 13, 2019 • By
This picture was taken by Beresheet at an altitude of 13.7 miles (22 kilometers) above the Moon and relayed to mission controllers by way of NASA’s Deep Area Community. Credit score: SpaceIL

An Israeli-built spacecraft in search of to turn into the primary privately-developed probe to land on the Moon crashed on descent Thursday, however the mission was extensively lauded as a breakthrough for the business area trade, and Israeli prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned the nation would strive once more.

“We had a failure of the spacecraft,” mentioned Opher Doron, common supervisor of the area division at Israel Aerospace Industries, which constructed the Beresheet Moon lander. “We sadly haven’t managed to land efficiently.

“We are the seventh country to orbit the Moon, and the fourth to reach the moon’s surface, and it’s a tremendous achievement up to now,” Doron mentioned.

Stay telemetry from the Beresheet spacecraft, relayed to mission management in Yehud, Israel, by way of a NASA monitoring antenna in Spain, indicated the lander bumped into hassle round 1919 GMT (3:19 p.m. EDT), six minutes earlier than its scheduled touchdown time, at an altitude of round 43,800 toes (13,350 meters).

Doron supplied updates on the progress of Beresheet’s descent. Information from the spacecraft — in regards to the measurement of a golf cart — indicated an issue in one among its inertial measurement models, a key a part of the probe’s steering system, Doron mentioned.

Controllers briefly misplaced the sign from Beresheet, and once they regained telemetry, the info indicated Beresheet was quickly falling towards the moon.

“We seem to have a problem with our main engine,” Doron mentioned. “We are resetting the spacecraft to try to enable the engine.”

Moments later, an information show in mission management steered Beresheet had crashed on the lunar floor at excessive velocity at roughly 1923 GMT (3:23 p.m. EDT).

“Well, we didn’t make it, but we definitely tried, and I think that the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous,” mentioned Morris Kahn, the president of SpaceIL who donated some $40 million of his fortune to the privately-funded lunar lander program. “I think we can be proud.”

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted the Beresheet management crew shortly earlier than the lunar touchdown try Thursday. Credit score: SpaceIL

“If at first you don’t succeed, you try again,” mentioned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who noticed the touchdown try from the management heart.

Netanyahu mentioned Israel might attempt to one other moon touchdown mission in two years.

Beresheet started its descent at an altitude of about 15 miles (25 kilometers), roughly 500 miles (800 kilometers) from its focused touchdown web site, a number of hundred kilometers from the placement the place the Apollo 15 astronauts landed in 1971.

The lander first switched on its laser touchdown sensors, which had been designed to feed knowledge in regards to the craft’s altitude and descent fee to a steering laptop accountable for commanding firings of Beresheet’s major engine to manage its velocity.

Then Beresheet started pulsing its eight small management thrusters to get into the proper orientation to gradual its velocity and fall towards the moon, with its major engine dealing with within the path of journey parallel to the lunar floor.

Beresheet’s major engine was a 100-pound-thrust (400-newton) LEROS 2b engine constructed by Nammo, previously Moog, in the UK. The hydrazine-fueled engine was a modified model of a thruster sometimes utilized by giant communications satellites.

However the engine had by no means been used for a touchdown on one other planetary physique, and engineers up to date the engine’s design to permit for a number of “hot restarts,” when the lander will fireplace the engine in fast bursts to manage its descent fee. The engine couldn’t be throttled to regulate Beresheet’s velocity.

“The hot restarts represented a particular challenge as it effectively puts the engine into its most stressful temperature environment,” mentioned Robert Westcott, one among Nammo’s lead propulsion engineers on the Beresheet venture, earlier than Thursday’s touchdown try. “To test this we performed a series of hotfire trials together with SpaceIL, where we stopped and started the engine repeatedly, which confirmed that it is able to operate in this highly demanding firing mode.”

Different adjustments to the engine included shortening its nozzle to make sure it might match into the Beresheet spacecraft and maintain the thruster from hitting the Moon’s floor. Nammo additionally made the engine extra highly effective for Beresheet by growing its thrust.

Information transmitted again to Earth from the spacecraft confirmed Beresheet began slowing its velocity above the moon from roughly 3,800 mph (1.7 kilometers per second) round 1911 GMT (3:11 p.m. EDT).

If the spacecraft carried out as anticipated, Beresheet ought to have reached a horizontal velocity of zero at an altitude of about 3,300 toes (1 kilometer). Beresheet would have then pitched over and began a vertical descent.

“Roughly 15 feet (5 meters) or so above the surface of the Moon, the velocity will go to zero, and then we’ll just shut off the motors and the spacecraft will perform a free fall all the way to the surface of the Moon,” mentioned Yariv Bash, a SpaceIL co-founder, final week. “The legs of the spacecraft were designed to sustain that fall, and hopefully once we are on the Moon we’ll be able to send back images and videos to Earth.”

After selecting the floor on its 4 touchdown legs, Beresheet was to take a sequence of images, together with photographs for a panorama to indicate the probe’s environment. The lander was even be programmed to file a sequence of photographs in the course of the touchdown sequence to create a video of the descent.

Beresheet’s sole energetic science instrument was a magnetometer developed by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel to measure the magnetism of lunar rocks.

The German area company — DLR — additionally helped the SpaceIL crew with drop testing to simulate the circumstances the spacecraft will encounter for the time being of touchdown.

Regardless of touchdown failure, officers laud Beresheet’s groundbreaking mission

Beresheet, which implies “genesis” or “in the beginning” in Hebrew, was aiming to turn into the primary privately-funded spacecraft to land on one other planetary physique. The mission was developed for round $100 million by SpaceIL, a non-profit group based in 2011 by three younger Israeli engineers.

Regardless of the probe’s failure, officers from NASA and the business area trade congratulated the Beresheet crew for his or her achievement in getting the spacecraft so near touchdown.

“While NASA regrets the end of the SpaceIL mission without a successful lunar landing of the Beresheet lander, we congratulate SpaceIL, the Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the incredible accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine mentioned in an announcement.

“Every attempt to reach new milestones holds opportunities for us to learn, adjust and progress,” Bridenstine mentioned. “I have no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and I look forward to celebrating their future achievements.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate, tweeted: “Space is hard, but worth the risks. If we succeeded every time, there would be no reward. It’s when we keep trying that we inspire others and achieve greatness.”

Zurbuchen mentioned he’ll journey to Israel later this 12 months for discussions on future cooperation on lunar missions. NASA supplied a laser retroreflector and communications and monitoring help for the Beresheet mission.

Artist’s idea of the Beresheet lander throughout its last descent to the moon. Credit score: SpaceIL

“I wish to thank for doing this touchdown with thousands and thousands watching all over the world, regardless of realizing the dangers,” Zurbuchen tweeted. “We do the same because we believe in the value of worldwide exploration and inspiration. We encourage all international and commercial explorers to do the same!”

SpaceIL was based to pursue the Google Lunar X Prize, which promised $20 million grand prize for the primary crew to land a privately-funded spacecraft on the moon, return high-definition imagery, and reveal mobility on the lunar floor.

The Google Lunar X Prize contest ended final 12 months with out a winner, however Beresheet’s backers saved the mission alive.

Kahn, a South African-born Israeli businessman, was the mission’s largest single contributor. Different donors included Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, a on line casino and resort magnate who lives in Las Vegas. IAI, the lander’s prime contractor, additionally invested a few of its personal inside analysis and improvement cash into this system.

The Israeli Area Company awarded SpaceIL round $2 million, this system’s solely authorities funding.

The X Prize Basis, which organized the unique Google Lunar X Prize competitors, introduced March 28 that it will provide a $1 million “Moonshot Award” to SpaceIL if the Beresheet mission efficiently landed on the moon.

Peter Diamandis, founder and govt chairman of the X Prize Basis, introduced Thursday that SpaceIL will get the $1 million Moonshot Award anyway. He tweeted that the award will assist SpaceIL “continue their work and pursue Beresheet 2.0.”

“They managed to touch the surface of the Moon, and that’s what we were looking for for our Moonshot Award,” mentioned Anousheh Ansari, CEO of the X Prize Basis.

“Besides touching the surface of the Moon, they touched the lives and the hearts of an entire nation, the entire world,” Diamandis mentioned. “These prizes are not easy, and frankly, space is not easy, not yet,” Diamandis mentioned.

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Comply with Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.