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Japan's Space Agency Loses Contact With New X-Ray Telescope Satellite "Hitomi" 77

As carried here by the San Francisco Chronicle, The Associated Press reports that Japanese space agency JAXA reports that it has lost contact with its new satellite "Hitomi," deployed last month and designed to explore deep space with X-ray telescopes. The AP story linked quotes Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who surmises that an "energetic event" has sent the craft into a tumble. The agency's release on the failure is terse, but leaves some room for hope: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) found that communication with the X-ray Astronomy Satellite âoeHitomiâ (ASTRO-H), launched on February 17, 2016 (JST), failed from the start of its operation originally scheduled at 16:40, Saturday March 26 (JST). Up to now, JAXA has not been able to figure out the state of health of the satellite. While the cause of communication failure is under investigation, JAXA received short signal from the satellite, and is working for recovery.

SpaceX Sets April 8 For Next Dragon Launch 42

schwit1 writes: SpaceX has scheduled April 8 for the next Falcon 9 launch, set to carry its first Dragon capsule since the launch failure last year. Though this is the most important news contained by the article, its focus is instead on the various preparations that SpaceX is doing at its Texas test facility to prepare for this launch as well as the increased launch rate required for the company to catch up on its schedule. Note that the Dragon launch will also be significant in that it will be carrying Bigelow's inflatable test module for ISS, built for only $17 million in less than two years. NASA, ESA, or JAXA would have required at least half a billion and several years to have accomplished the same.

How Many Digits of Pi Does NASA Use? (kottke.org) 174

An anonymous reader quotes an article on Kottke.org: Mathematicians have calculated pi out to more than 13 trillion decimal places, a calculation that took 208 days. NASA's Marc Rayman explains that in order to send out probes and slingshot them accurately throughout the solar system, NASA needs to use only 15 decimal places. Rayman explains, "The most distant spacecraft from Earth is Voyager 1. It is about 12.5 billion miles away. Let's say we have a circle with a radius of exactly that size (or 25 billion miles in diameter) and we want to calculate the circumference, which is pi times the radius times 2. Using pi rounded to the 15th decimal, as I gave above, that comes out to a little more than 78 billion miles. We don't need to be concerned here with exactly what the value is (you can multiply it out if you like) but rather what the error in the value is by not using more digits of pi. In other words, by cutting pi off at the 15th decimal point, we would calculate a circumference for that circle that is very slightly off. It turns out that our calculated circumference of the 25 billion mile diameter circle would be wrong by 1.5 inches. Think about that. We have a circle more than 78 billion miles around, and our calculation of that distance would be off by perhaps less than the length of your little finger."

NASA's Journey To Mars May Use Nuclear Rockets (blastingnews.com) 224

MarkWhittington writes: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has been making the rounds of congressional committees, defending the indefensible, that being the latest Obama space agency budget proposal. Thursday it was the turn of the House Science Committee to complain to Bolden that the budget underfunded the Journey to Mars and to vow that more money would be forthcoming. One of the other complaints Congress has been making is that NASA lacks a plan to get people to Mars, scheduled to happen sometime in the 2030s. Bolden was coy, suggesting that the time was not right to start firming up architectures and missions. However, he did drop an intriguing hint that a nuclear thermal rocket engine being developed at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center may take people to Mars quicker than chemical rockets.

ESA's ExoMars Successfuly Lifts Off From Baikonur (esa.int) 45

vikingpower writes: The European Space Agency's second mission to Mars, ExoMars, was successfully launched from the Baikonur launch pad today. ExoMars will search for traces of life, either past or present, on the Red Planet, and is the precursor to a more full-fledged mission to Mars in 2018, comprising a rover. It consists of an orbiter and of Schiaparelli, a lander built by European industry and scheduled to land in October this year. Both missions are cooperations between ESA and RosKosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. If one of them met their ultimate goal -- proving there is or was life on Mars — the excitement here on Earth would be unimaginable. Mark Whittington adds a link to The Guardian's coverage and a bit of detail: The Russian-made launch vehicle lobbed a probe into space, the Trace Gas Orbiter, that will enter orbit around Mars later in 2016 and search for methane in the Red Planet's atmosphere. Methane can have a number of sources, but one of them is the waste product of microbial life. Both the Mars Express orbiter and the Mars Curiosity rover have detected some measure of methane, which could be produced by geological processes as well.

NASA Begins Planning the First Human Mission To Cislunar Space (blastingnews.com) 99

MarkWhittington writes: With the first launch of the heavy-lift Space Launch System drawing nigh (for no later than November 2018), NASA is already trying to plan the first crewed space mission beyond low-Earth orbit for the early 2020s. However, budget uncertainties plus a couple of congressional mandates are causing uncertainty for the launch manifest for the SLS.

Laser System Set To Revolutionize Future Aircraft, Satellite Data Links (thestack.com) 55

An anonymous reader writes: A new laser system, dubbed HYPERION, promises to improve the transmission of data from aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and orbiting satellites to ground stations. The optical system, developed by a team of Innovate UK researchers, has been designed to send critical information more securely, rapidly and efficiently than traditional radio frequency (RF) methods. Suggested applications for HYPERION include helping UAVs involved in disaster monitoring and other humanitarian projects to quickly offload detailed data back to the ground for analysis. The system could also be applied in future airline systems to transmit vast amounts of technical data collected by on-board sensors to ground stations — a process which could help speed up maintenance procedures and significantly cut turnaround times.

SpaceX's Latest Launch Successful, But Ends With a "Hard Landing" (theverge.com) 129

Eloking writes with this news from The Verge: SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket into space this afternoon, but — as expected — failed to land the vehicle on a drone ship at sea afterward. CEO Elon Musk said the rocket 'landed hard' on the drone ship. The mission requirements made a successful landing unlikely. This was SpaceX's fourth attempt to land the Falcon 9 post-launch on an autonomous drone ship floating in the ocean. All of the previous sea landings failed too, though the third attempt came very close. The company had low hopes of a successful landing from the start of this mission, since the rocket had to send a heavy satellite into a high orbit. That requires a lot of fuel for the launch itself, so there wasn't much fuel left for the rocket's return to Earth and powered landing.

NASA's New Horizons Returns Images of the Canyons of Pluto's North Pole (examiner.com) 29

MarkWhittington writes: NASA's New Horizon space probe, which flew by Pluto last July, continues to send data and images that amaze and awe. The space agency released an image of Pluto's North Pole taken by the probe's Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The image shows, as has previous images of other regions of the so-called dwarf planet, that Pluto is a diverse world with an active geology. The North Pole of Pluto is characterized by long canyons that are covered in yellow methane ice. The canyons show how the dwarf planet had, and perhaps still has active tectonics..

Former NASA Chief On US Space Policy: "No Vision, No Plan, No Budget" (arstechnica.com) 171

An anonymous reader writes: During a congressional hearing Thursday, former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin had harsh words for the space agency and the space policy crafted by President Obama's administration. Under the Obama administration's guidance, NASA has established Mars as a goal for human spaceflight and said that astronauts will visit the red planet by the 2030s. However, a growing number of critics say the agency's approach is neither affordable nor sustainable.

On Thursday, Griffin, administrator of NASA from 2005 to 2009, joined those critics. The United States has not had a serious discussion about space policy, he testified, and as a result, the space agency is making little discernible progress. NASA simply cannot justify its claims of being on a credible path toward Mars, he added.

SpaceX Rocket Launch Postponed Again (www.cbc.ca) 30

ClickOnThis writes with a CBC report that SpaceX has "called off a planned launch of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a communications satellite less than two minutes before blastoff from Florida on Thursday, citing a technical problem. It marked the second straight day that Elon Musk's privately owned Space Exploration Technologies had postponed the launch."

Sorry, But Lasers Aren't Taking You To Mars Anytime Soon 193

An anonymous reader writes: It's long been a dream of humanity to travel interplanetary distances at great speeds, or to make it to another star system within a human lifetime. Until recently, technologies to get us there — antimatter propulsion, wormholes or warp drive — have all been composed of physically unrealistic solutions. But recent developments in laser technology make directed energy propulsion a feasible solution. By building a giant laser array in space and developing a new type of solar sail that reflects the laser light with incredible efficiency, a laser sail, this propulsion system is scalable to arbitrarily large powers. There are many technical obstacles to be overcome, and so it's unlikely we'll see the fruit of this anytime in the next few decades (despite the promises of some), but this may well be the technology that takes us to the stars in the coming centuries.

Russia's Moon And Mars Exploration Ambitions Hobbled By A Lack Of Money (phys.org) 114

MarkWhittington writes: Phys.Org reports that the ambitions of the Russian Space Agency continue to exceed its financial wherewithal to carry them out. A Russian rocket is due to launch the first element of the European ExoMars program, which consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Italian-built Schiaparelli lander, in March. Both are due to arrive at Mars in October. After that, Russia's space exploration plans are a bit hazy, hobbled by a lack of money.

NASA's Search For Astronauts Yields a Deluge of Applicants 37

NASA, notes Ars Technica, has just produced a bumper crop of applicants for the coveted job of astronaut. 18,300 would-be astronauts applied to be part of the 2017 hiring class. It would be good to keep a backup job in mind, though: NASA's astronaut applications have surged even as its flight opportunities have fallen by about 90 percent. Back in the early 2000s during the peak of the space shuttle program, NASA had more than 150 active astronauts. That's because the shuttle, with six to seven launches a year, afforded 40 to 50 annual flights into space. The number of active astronauts is now about one-third of that peak due to the shuttle's retirement in 2011. With no Shuttle, and only one real destination (the International Space Station), those 18,300 astronauts will be whittled down to 8-14 candidates.

NASA Is Already Studying What Sort of Person Is Best Suited For Mars (blastingnews.com) 144

MarkWhittington writes: The first crew to set forth to Mars are likely in Middle School or High School, but NASA is already delving into what criteria it should use to select the interplanetary explorers. That they should be physically fit and experts in their fields are a given. But the space agency is keen that the people who will set forth to Mars in 20 years or so should be of a particular psychological type. NASA has granted Johns Hopkins money to conduct a study into the problem.

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