SpaceX to launch April 30 after NASA gives it all-clear

Space X Dragon Capsule
SpaceX Dragon Capsule (© SpaceX)

A private spaceship, built by the company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, is soon heading for the International Space Station. The launch is planned for April 30, and if successful will mark a historic event, making SpaceX’s Dragon the first commercial American robotic spacecraft to have ever flown and dock with the International Space Station.

The unmanned capsule, named Dragon, will be the first of a new fleet of commercial spacecraft being developed to deliver cargo to the station. The spacecraft will on this first test-run rendezvous with the space station and then be captured by astronauts, operating a robotic arm and offload some cargo. If SpaceX’s April test flight goes according to plans, another Dragon capsule will make the first official cargo delivery run in August.

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ESA successfully launch a new smart supply ship

ATV-3 on Ariane
ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi on Ariane 5

Yesterday at 04:34 GMT (05:34 CET, 01:34 local), ESA successively launched their new ATV from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, heading towards the International Space Station. The Automated Transfer Vehicle named Edoardo Amaldi, is the most complex spacecraft ever produced in Europe. It’s mission is to deliver essential supplies, and it will also reboost the orbit of the International Space Station’s while it is attached for about five months.

The 20-tonne payload lifted off with the help of a Ariane 5 launcher, operated by Arianespace. The Ariane 5 have on numerous occasion demonstrated its robustness and reliability, and this time was no exception. It started it’s flight over the Atlantic towards the Azores and Europe, where an initial eight-minute burn of Ariane’s upper stage took ATV-3 into a low orbit inclined at 51.6 degrees to the equator. After coasting for about 42 minutes, the upper stage reignited to circularise the orbit at an altitude of 260 km. About 64 minutes into flight, the supply ship separated from the upper stage, and 25 minutes later ATV-3 started deploying its four solar wings, which when completed marked the end of the launch phase.

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has discovered new features on Vesta

The Canuleia crater on Vesta
The Canuleia crater on Vesta

NASA‘s Dawn spacecraft has revealed some new and unexpected details on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. The images and data captured shows the diversity of Vesta‘s surface, and reveal unusual geologic features. Some never previously seen on a asteroid.

Being one of the brightest objects in the solar system, Vesta is the only asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter visible to the naked eye from Earth. Scientists have previously seen brightness variations in previous images of Vesta captures with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, but the new images captured by the Dawn spacecraft found that some areas on Vesta can be nearly twice as bright as others. This could potentially reveal clues about the asteroid’s history.

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Spitzer space telescope finds solid Buckyballs in Space

Solid shape Buckyballs (Image from

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have for the first time discovered buckyballs in a solid form in space. Buckyballs are microscopic carbon spheres formally named buckministerfullerene. They are named after their resemblance to the late architect Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes. Prior to this discovery, they have only been found in gas form in space.

The so called Buckyballs are made up of 60 carbon molecules arranged into a hollow sphere, like a soccer ball. Their unusual structure makes them ideal candidates for electrical and chemical applications, including superconducting materials, medicines, water purification and armor.

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ESA’s new launcher Vega scores success in maiden flight

ESA's Vega Launch
ESA's new launch Vega take off

ESA’s new launch vehicle Vega is now ready to operate alongside the Ariane 5 and Soyuz launchers, after a successful qualification flight this morning from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The launch was initially planed for the end of January as previously reported on this site, but has been plagued with delays through out its journey. The new launcher passed its final hurdle on Saturday at Europe’s Spaceport, the Launch Readiness Review, and was finally cleared for take off. The first Vega lifted off at 10:00 GMT (11:00 CET, 07:00 local time) from the new launch pad, and conducted a flawless qualification flight.

The first mission, designated VV01 has a payload that consists of two Italian satellites – ASI’s LARES laser relativity satellite and the University of Bologna’s ALMASat-1, as well as seven picosatellites provided by European universities: e-St@r (Italy), Goliat (Romania), MaSat-1 (Hungary), PW-Sat (Poland), Robusta (France), UniCubeSat GG (Italy) and Xatcobeo (Spain).

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NASA looking to go green, seeking new propellant technology

NASA going green
NASA seeking green propellant technology

NASA is now looking for alternatives to be more environmentally friendly, and seeking technology proposals for green propellant alternatives to the highly toxic fuel hydrazine used today. Hydrazine is an efficient and ubiquitous propellant that can be stored for long periods of time, but at the same time it is also highly corrosive and toxic. The fuel is used extensively both on commercial and defense department satellites, as well as for NASA science and exploration missions.

In a way to minimize environmental hazards and pollutants, and also lower costs for rocket launches, NASA is now looking for innovative and transformative fuels that are less harmful to our environment. “High performance green propulsion has the potential to significantly change how we travel in space”, said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA‘s Space Technology Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “NASA’s Space Technology Program seeks out these sort of cross-cutting, innovative technologies to enable our future missions while also providing benefit to the American space industry. By reducing the hazards of handling fuel, we can reduce ground processing time and lower costs for rocket launches, allowing a greater community of researchers and technologists access to the high frontier.”

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NASA’s Kepler telescope finds 26 additional planets

NASA Kepler Misson
NASA Kepler Misson, Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

The Kepler space telescope have discovered 11 new planetary systems, hosting 26 confirmed planets. The discoveries adds to the list of confirmed planets outside the Earth’s solar system to 729, of these 60 has been found by the Kepler team

The Kepler telescope was successfully launched into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II at 10:49 p.m. EST March 6, 2009. Kepler is designed to find the first Earth-size planets orbiting stars at distances where water could pool on the planet’s surface. Liquid water is believed to be essential for the formation of life. The mission is focused on discovery and as the mission progresses, Kepler will drift farther and farther behind Earth in its orbit around the sun. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which was launched into the same orbit more than five years ago, is now more than 62 million miles behind Earth.

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Russian Mars probe will crash back to Earth next month

Russian Phobos-Grunt
Electrical testing of the spacecraft "Phobos-Grunt".

The Russian Phobos-Ground probe was intended to land on the Martian moon Phobos, and bring back soil samples to Earth in a 2,5 year mission. The craft started it’s journey from Site 45 in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on November. 8, 2011, when it was launched with a two-stage Zenit rocket (Zenit-2SB41.1). After a flawless liftoff, the first separation of the rocket went according to plan. Unfortunenaly issues occurred during the second separation of the two-stage rocket, leaving the Phobos-Grunt in an elliptical orbit with a perigee (lowest point) of 207 kilometers above the Earth surface and an apogee (highest point) of 347 kilometers.

Even after several attempt to salvage the mission, Roscosmos, the Russian space agency finally had to admit defeat and the Phobos-Ground probe was left stuck in an orbit around earth. The €129m ($170m) Phobos-Ground probe is now expected to fall back to Earth between 6 and 19 January. The craft weighs 13.2 tonne, including 11 tonnes of highly toxic fuel. But Roscosmos expect that only 20 to 30 fragments weighing a total of up to 200kg (440lb) will survive the fiery plunge and shower the Earth’s surface. Where they will land can only be calculated a few days beforehand, Roscosmos said in a statement.

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NASA’s Voyager hits new region at the edge of our solarsystem

Voyager - The Interstellar Mission
Voyager - The Interstellar Mission

NASA‘s Voyager 1 spacecraft have now entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space. The data obtained from Voyager over the last year reveals this new region to be a sort of cosmic purgatory. In this area the wind of charged particles streaming out from our sun has become calmer, our solar system’s magnetic field is piled up, and higher energy particles from inside our solar system appear to be leaking out into interstellar space.

Although Voyager 1 is about 18 billion kilometers (11 billion miles) from the sun, it is not yet in interstellar space. Based on the latest data collected, the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed, indicating Voyager is still within the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. The data do not reveal exactly when Voyager 1 will make it past the edge of the solar atmosphere into interstellar space, but suggest it will be in a few months to a few years.

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Asteroid 2005 YU55 approaches Earth for a close flyby

Asteroid 2005 YU55
Asteroid 2005 YU55, passing earth

Today on Tuesday, November 8, an asteroid with a diameter of 400 meters will approach Earth’s atmosphere. Named Asteroid 2005 YU55, and deemed “potentially hazardous” by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Ma. will fortunately miss Earth by 0.85 lunar distance, or approximately 335,000 kilometers (208,000 miles).

The approach will mark the closest a known object with this size, has ever gotten to a collision with Earth since 1976. This will as far as we know, continue to hold true until Asteroid 2001 WN5 gets within 0.6 lunar distance in 2028. The Asteroid visiting this evenings was discovered 6 years ago in 2005, and was later named Asteroid 2005 YU55 accordingly. Since this discovery was done rather late, there is still possibility that scientists may find other large floating rocks heading our way before the arrival of Asteroid 2001 WN5 in 2028.

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