Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Space Updates

While two weeks ago was a bit of a shit storm so to speak for the space community (both Orbital Sciences and Virgin Galactic saw catastrophic failures on their spacecraft), this week has been a welcome celebration of successes!  First off, the Rosetta mission, launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2004 released its Philae lander and successfully soft landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko today!!!  The spacecraft took 10 years to reach the comet, which is 4 billion miles away from earth (it had to travel aross the asteroid belt and into deep space, more than five times Earth’s distance from the Sun).  Apparently there were some thruster issues along the way, but ESA stuck with it and received confirmation this morning that Philae was successfully landed and trasmitting.  This is the first time we (humanity) have ever landed a spacecraft on a comet and to do so successfully (with full telemetry available post landing) is incredible!  Way to go ESA!  In addition, the Rosetta mission will achieve many other historic firsts:
  • Rosetta was the first spacecraft to orbit a comet’s nucleus.
  • It will be the first spacecraft to fly alongside a comet as it heads towards the inner Solar System.
  • Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to examine from close proximity how a frozen comet is transformed by the warmth of the Sun.
  • The Rosetta lander’s instruments will obtain the first images from a comet’s surface and make the first in situ analysis to find out what it is made of.
  • On its way to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta will pass through the main asteroid belt, with the option to be the first European close encounter with one or more of these primitive objects.
  • Rosetta will be the first spacecraft ever to fly close to Jupiter’s orbit using solar cells as its main power source.
This is much more information on this amazing accomplishment all over the interwebs.  In fact, if you attempt to google "Rosetta mission" you will see that even Google has updated its logo to show the Philae lander as one of it's O's.  Live coverage of the event can be found on spaceflightnow.com.

In other good space news, NASA's first Orion capsule was delivered to the launch pad last night!  On the way from the Launch Abort Systems Facility at KSC to Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station the capsule passed by the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building for a photo op and also travelled past Launch Complex 39B, the former shuttle launch pad which has been refurbished and modified to launch future Orion capsules on the currently-in-design SLS rockets.  This first Orion capsule is intended for a test mission.  It will be launched unmanned on December 4, 2104 on a Delta IV Heavy rocket, which will send Orion around the Earth twice, reaching an altitude of 3,600 miles on a four-hour, 23-minute mission to test out the crew module.  So bummed I won't make it to Florida to see the launch.  Good luck Orion!

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