The European Space Agency’s comet satellite completed it’s second swing around Earth on the 13th of this month. The swing is necessary to gain speed for it’s deep space mission. Along the way, the satellite pointed it’s cameras at the Earth to capture a few snapshots. Most of them center on Antarctica.
Japan’s lunar explorer Kaguya, in orbit around the moon, has sent back the world’s first worldâ€™s first high-definition video of the moon’s surface. Both Japan and China currently have satellites in orbit around the moon, and there has been talk of a new space race between the two countries, although each government denies it.
via Pink Tentacle
On Thursday, NASA posted a nice short article on their Landsat mission website summarizing the planning for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission. The planned launch is July 2011, and Ball Aerospace and Technology won the contract this summer to build the Operational Land Imager instrument which will be the primary sensor for LCDM.
With Landsat 5 experiencing more problems, it’s even more critical for the remote sensing research community that the new instrument gets built and launched successfully.
I’m sure you’ve probably already seen it, but I have to give a shout out for the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial orbiting satellite. The Russian success marked the beginning of the Space Age, and the race between the US and the USSR for manned spaceflight. It’s a different world a half century on, and China may even be the next country to get to the moon.
Happy birthday Voyager 2 (and soon Voyager 1)! Thirty years ago, Voyager 2 was launched into space to start what has been an incredibly successful 30 year mission… and that’s just so far. The long range sensor is still moving out from the solar system and broadcasting data. Imagine, a device with less computing power than a really cheap wristwatch and designed to last only 4 years has continued to broadcast valuable scientific data for three decades! That’s an darn impressive accomplishment. Here’s a hearty “well done” to those scientists and engineers who worked on the Voyager program those many decades ago.
China is continuing to expand its interest in space exploration, with plans to launch a lunar orbiter called Chang’e One later this year. The orbiter will carry an imaging instrument that will begin capturing data that will allow China to map “every inch” of the lunar surface. The resulting maps and elevation models will be used in the second and third phases of China’s lunar program, which have the goal of landing a probe on the moon and bringing back samples. Having grown up in the US during NASA’s heyday with the Apollo and shuttle programs, and Landsat and other Earth observation missions, it’s interesting to see the balance of power shifting, as other countries and regions are building their own independent space programs. NASA’s budget issues and other problems are hindering new missions, and the US primacy in the area of space exploration and earth observation is rapidly diminishing, which is a loss that is not really getting the attention it needs outside of academic and professional circles.
Or at least it looks that way. The Mars explorer has turned up evidence that there are small pools of water on the surface of Mars. The claim is bound to be debated, as it is largely believed to be impossible for water to exist on the surface. However, if scientists manage to confirm this finding, this will be a major find of the century.
Sometime next year, NASA is planning to launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, which will focusing on mapping the moon’s surface in preparation for future human missions on the moon. It’s a pretty ambitious project, with 6 sensors on the satellite, that will capture not only high-resolution imagery, but also topography (through a laser altimeter instrument), surface temperatures, and hydrogen content on the lunar surface. The orbiter is scheduled to spend a year in a polar orbit collecting data, and data from the mission will be made available to the public after processing. The project has the potential to get some pretty amazing data sets, and NASA also hopes that it will be good experience for future planetary exploration missions.
NASA has launched a new program called CosmosCode, which is an attempt to open source space mission software. The Wired News article on the project details some of the goals and thoughts behind the project’s co-founders. The idea is to leverage the power of open source programming to create software needed for space flights. I find the idea pretty intriguing, but I do worry about quality control. While bugs in open source software are often found incredibly fast (and fixed faster), something like space flight is notoriously unforgiving of even the slightest bug. Writing a web application isn’t in the same league as writing software that simply can not fail. However, if you feel you’re game and have the programming chops to pull it off, take a look at the CoLab page for more information about the CosmosCode Project!
For the first time, scientists have found solid evidence of water on a planet outside our solar system. The planet in question is relatively close to Earth and clearly has water in its atmosphere. While the temperatures on the planet are way hotter than anywhere on Earth, they say water can survive in an amazing range of temperatures. We know water is mandatory for all we know about life, so that’s one criteria down!