iamlucky13 writes: Following in the footsteps of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which were named Spirit and Opportunity based on a short essay by nine-year-old Sofi Collis, NASA has announced a new competition for US students ages 5 to 18 to choose a name for the Mars Science Laboratory. The contest is co-sponsored by Disney, with their WALL-E character serving as a "spokes-robot" for the program. The winning student will enjoy a trip to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab to see the rover under construction and have an opportunity to mark their signature on it. A website has been set up for prospective entrants, and more information about NASA's giant new rover, scheduled for launch in the fall of 2009 is available on the program website.
iamlucky13 writes: A very small asteroid a few meters across is expected to enter the earth's atmosphere over northern Sudan at approximately 2:46 UT Tuesday. It will enter at 12.8 km/s, at a low angle of 19 degrees, and is expected to burn up harmlessly. Objects of this size would be expected to enter the Earth's atmosphere every few months on average but this is the first time such an event has been predicted ahead of time. Most of us won't get to see it, but you can always take the opportunity to try out this meteor in the University of Arizona's impact effects calculator.
iamlucky13 writes: Over 17 years ago, the Ulysses spacecraft was launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery for a unique NASA/ESA mission. While nearly all other probes travel along our solar system's ecliptic plane, Ulysses used a Jupiter gravity assist to swing 80 degrees out of plane, carrying it over the sun's poles for an unprecedented view. During a mission that lasted four times longer than planned, it has flown through the tails of several comets, helped pinpoint distant gamma-ray bursts, and provided data on the sun and its heliosphere from the better part of two solar cycles. Unfortunately, the natural reduction of power from its radioisotope thermal generator means it is now unable to even keep its attitude control fuel from freezing, and NASA has decided to formally conclude the mission on July 1.
iamlucky13 writes: Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics believe they have found a supermassive black hole 10 billion light years away escaping its parent galaxy at an estimated 2650 km/s. Theoretical models of black hole mergers have suggested that the gravitational waves produced by such events are emitted mainly in one direction, giving the product of the merger a kick in the opposite direction. They clocked the black hole by measuring spectral lines from its accretion disc. The astronomers say this lends indirect support to the existence of gravity waves, which are predicted by general relativity. As usual in science, however, there is some uncertainty. Another article covering the story suggests that their measurements may have been spoofed by the chance alignment of two quasars. Observations by the Hubble may lend credence to either theory.
iamlucky13 writes: A minor academic debate among astronomers is the final fate of the earth. As the sun ages and enters the red giant stage of its life, it will heat up, making the earth inhospitable. It will also expand, driven by helium fusion so that its outer layers reach past the earth's current orbit. Previously it had been believed that the sun would lose enough mass to allow earth to escape to a more distant orbit, lifeless but intact. However, new calculations, which take into account tidal forces and drag from mass shed by the sun, suggest that the earth will have sufficiently slowed in that time to be dragged down to its utter destruction in 7.6 billion years. It looks like the earth destruction manual can update Fallback Method 3 with the good news.
iamlucky13 writes: British scientists and engineers have devised a proposal for the United Kingdom to build a pair of previously unplanned modules for the International Space Station at a cost of $1 billion. The two Habitat Extension Modules would provide enhanced living space for the eventual six-person crew, including a communal area, small personal rooms, and extra radiation protection. A US habitat module was previously cancelled due to budget constraints. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2010, the modules would likely be launched by a Russian Fregat rocket. If the government decides to act on the proposal, this would be the first British material contribution to the ISS. Other components have been provided by the US, Russia, Canada, European Space Agency, and Japan.
iamlucky13 writes: In an online posting Monday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk gave a detailed update on the status of their ongoing projects. The many details covered include extensive testing of the new, higher-performance Merlin 1C engine, test firing of a Falcon 9 first stage, groundbreaking on a new launch facility at Cape Canaveral, results from the NASA COTS critical design review, updates on the Dragon capsule including splash-down testing and work on the heat shield, a new hypergolic OMS engine called "Draco," and plans to launch the third Falcon 1 in spring of 2008. Whew! Also included are some great pictures and videos of the Falcon 9 test firing, its 17 foot diameter payload fairing, Dragon test articles, the new manufacturing facility, and plenty of other fascinating evidence of the work going on at SpaceX.
iamlucky13 writes: Last week, the IAU's Minor Planet Center asked professional astronomers around the world to help track a previously unknown asteroid, labeled 2007 VN84, that will pass the earth at the alarmingly close distance of 5600 km on November 13. However, Denis Denisenko of the Moscow Space Research Institute then noticed something peculiar: the object's trajectory exactly matched that of the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe, which will perform a gravitational slingshot around the earth on that date on its way to study and land on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The MPC's editorial notice on the error also comments critically on the current means available to identifying distant spacecraft such as Rosetta.
iamlucky13 writes: The Space Shuttle Discovery successfully lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 11:38 EDT this morning for the 14 day STS-120 mission to the International Space Station. In a carefully orchestrated series of moves, the busy mission will install the Harmony module currently in Discovery's payload bay, relocate a docking adapter, and move the first US-launched solar panel from it's temporary position on the top of the station to the end of the recently completed truss structure. The addition of Harmony provides more space for astronauts and equipment and a node for the future attachment of the European-made Columbus and Japanese-built Kibo laboratory modules. In addition, Luke Skywalker's original prop lightsaber from Star Wars is onboard to commemorate 30 years since the premiere of the classic space epic.
iamlucky13 writes: In January of 2004, the NASA's Stardust mission made a flyby of comet Wild-2, taking images and collecting samples from its tail that have since been returned to earth in a detachable capsule. On July 4, 2005, Deep Impact smashed a 350 kg projectile traveling 37,000 km/h into comet Tempel 1 as part of its studies of that object. With both craft in good shape at the end of their missions, NASA has been considering additional tasks for the probes. These plans have now been confirmed with a variety of tasks costing an estimated 15% what a new mission would. Among the new duties will be a revisit of Tempel 1, a flyby of comet Boethin, and transit studies of known extra-solar planets.
iamlucky13 writes: Barely under a year since a fuel leak doomed their first launch, upstart aerospace company SpaceX has cleared the ground a second time with their Falcon 1 rocket. The flight proceeded smoothly until a roll control issue caused premature engine shutdown and loss of telemetry at T plus 5:05. News is currently limited to brief mission status reports. Although the ultimate fate of the rocket and payload are unknown, the company appears pleased with preliminary performance indications. "We in the Washington, D.C. office are celebrating with champagne," said company VP Gwynne Shotwell. "We don't have any information yet from the launch control center, but the Falcon clearly got to space with a successful liftoff, stage separation, second stage ignition and fairing separation."
The flight of the $7 million rocket was to demonstrate its capabilities for DARPA and included two NASA experiments. CEO Elon Musk noted many improvements had been made since the first launch attempt, and has cited similar challenges in the development of other rocket systems. A launch attempt yesterday was scrubbed to resolve telemetry issues with just 62 seconds left. Today's countdown was kept exciting by an automated abort after engine ignition due to marginal chamber pressure. The countdown was restarted after refueling the rocket, with launch at 01:10 GMT from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific.