NASA’s Webb Space Telescope Launch Delayed to 2019

The 18-segment gold coated primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is raised into vertical alignment in the largest clean room at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Nov. 2, 2016. The secondary mirror mount booms are folded down into stowed for launch configuration. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The most powerful space telescope ever built will have to wait on the ground for a few more months into 2019 before launching to the High Frontier and looking back nearly to the beginning of time and unraveling untold astronomical secrets on how the early Universe evolved – Engineers need a bit more time to complete the Webb telescopes incredibly complex assembly and testing here on Earth.

Blastoff of NASA’s mammoth James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been postponed from late 2018 to the spring of 2019.

“NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope now is planning to launch between March and June 2019 from French Guiana, following a schedule assessment of the remaining integration and test activities,” the agency announced.

Until now the Webb telescope was scheduled to launch on a European Space Agency (ESA) Ariane V booster from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana in October 2018.

“The change in launch timing is not indicative of hardware or technical performance concerns,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington, in a statement.

“Rather, the integration of the various spacecraft elements is taking longer than expected.”

NASA’s says the currently approved budget will not bust the budget or reduce the science output. It “accommodates the change in launch date, and the change will not affect planned science observations.”

NASA’s $8.8 Billion James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful space telescope ever built and is the scientific successor to the phenomenally successful Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

The Webb Telescope is a joint international collaborative project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Up close side-view of newly exposed gold coated primary mirrors installed onto mirror backplane holding structure of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope inside the massive clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland on May 3, 2016. Aft optics subsystem stands upright at center of 18 mirror segments between stowed secondary mirror mount booms. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Since Webb is not designed to be serviced by astronauts, the extremely thorny telescope deployment process is designed to occur on its own over a period of several months and must be fully successful. Webb will be positioned at the L2 Lagrange point- a gravitationally stable spot approximately 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) away from Earth.

So its better to be safe than sorry and take the extra time needed to insure success of the hugely expensive project.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope sits in Chamber A at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston awaiting the colossal door to close in July 2017 for cryogenic testing. Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn

Various completed components of the Webb telescope are undergoing final testing around the country to confirm their suitability for launch.

Critical cryogenic cooling testing of Webb’s mirrors and science instrument bus is proceeding well inside a giant chamber at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.

However integration and testing of the complex multilayered sunshield at Northrup Grumman’s Redondo Beach, Ca. facility is taking longer than expected and “has experienced delays.”

The tennis court sized sunshield will protect the delicate optics and state of the art infrared science instruments on NASA’s Webb Telescope.

Webb’s four research instruments cannot function without the essential cooling provided by the sunshield deployment to maintain them at an operating temperature of minus 388 degrees F (minus 233 degrees C).

The Webb telescopes groundbreaking sunshield subsystem consists of five layers of kapton that will keep the optics and instruments incredibly cool, by reducing the incoming sunside facing temperature more than 570 degrees Fahrenheit. Each layer is as thin as a human hair.

All 5 layers of the Webb telescope sunshield installed at Northrop Grumman’s clean room in Redondo Beach, California. The five sunshield membrane layers are each as thin as a human hair. Credits: Northrop Grumman Corp.

“Webb’s spacecraft and sunshield are larger and more complex than most spacecraft. The combination of some integration activities taking longer than initially planned, such as the installation of more than 100 sunshield membrane release devices, factoring in lessons learned from earlier testing, like longer time spans for vibration testing, has meant the integration and testing process is just taking longer,” said Eric Smith, program director for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a statement.

“Considering the investment NASA has made, and the good performance to date, we want to proceed very systematically through these tests to be ready for a Spring 2019 launch.”

Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with Sunshield at bottom. Credit: NASA/ESA

Northrop Grumman designed the Webb telescope’s optics and spacecraft bus for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which manages Webb.

Watch for Ken’s onsite space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about the upcoming ULA Atlas NRO NROL-52 spysat launch on Oct 5 and SpaceX Falcon 9 SES-11 launch on Oct 7, JWST, OSIRIS-REx, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Oct 3-6, 8: “ULA Atlas NRO NROL-52 spysat launch, SpaceX SES-11, CRS-12 resupply launches to the ISS, Intelsat35e, BulgariaSat 1 and NRO Spysat, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Sunshield Layers Installed on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope as Mirror Cryo Cooling Testing Commences

All 5 layers of the Webb telescope sunshield installed at Northrop Grumman’s clean room in Redondo Beach, California. The five sunshield membrane layers are each as thin as a human hair. Credits: Northrop Grumman Corp.

The complex multilayered sunshield that will protect the delicate optics and state of the art infrared science instruments of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is now fully installed on the spacecraft bus in California, completing another major milestone on the path to launch, NASA announced.

Meanwhile a critical cryogenic cooling test of Webb’s mirrors and science instrument bus has commenced inside a giant chamber at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas, marking another major milestone as the mammoth telescope comes together after years of development.

NASA’s $8.8 Billion James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful space telescope ever built and is the scientific successor to the phenomenally successful Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

The sunshield layers work together to reduce the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the observatory by approximately 570 degrees Fahrenheit. Each successive layer of the sunshield, which is made of Kapton, is cooler than the one below. The sunshield is in the clean room at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California.
Credits: Northrop Grumman Corp.

The Webb telescopes groundbreaking tennis court sized sunshield subsystem consists of five layers of kapton that will keep the optics and instruments incredibly cool, by reducing the incoming sunside facing temperature more than 570 degrees Fahrenheit. Each layer is as thin as a human hair.

“The sunshield layers work together to reduce the temperatures between the hot and cold sides of the observatory by approximately 570 degrees Fahrenheit,” according to NASA. “Each successive layer of the sunshield is cooler than the one below.”

The painstaking work to integrate the five sunshield membranes was carried out in June and July by engineers and technicians working at the Northrop Grumman Corporation facility in Redondo Beach, California.

“All five sunshield membranes have been installed and will be folded over the next few weeks,” said Paul Geithner, deputy project manager – technical for the Webb telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.

Deployment tests of the folded sunshield start in August.

Webb’s four research instruments cannot function without the essential cooling provided by the sunshield deployment.

Northrop Grumman designed the Webb telescope’s optics and spacecraft bus for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which manages Webb.

Two sides of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Credit: NASA

“This is a huge milestone for the Webb telescope as we prepare for launch,” said Jim Flynn, Webb sunshield manager, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

“The groundbreaking tennis court sized sunshield will shield the optics from heat and assist in providing the imaging of the formation of stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago.”

The 18-segment gold coated primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is raised into vertical alignment in the largest clean room at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Nov. 2, 2016. The secondary mirror mount booms are folded down into stowed for launch configuration. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Webb is designed to look at the first light of the Universe and will be able to peer back in time to when the first stars and first galaxies were forming. It will also study the history of our universe and the formation of our solar system as well as other solar systems and exoplanets, some of which may be capable of supporting life on planets similar to Earth.

After successfully passing a rigorous series of vibration and acoustic environmental tests earlier this year at NASA Goddard in March, the mirror and instrument assembly was shipped to NASA Johnson in May for the cryo cooling tests.

“Those tests ensured Webb can withstand the vibration and noise created during the telescope’s launch into space. Currently, engineers are analyzing this data to prepare for a final round of vibration and acoustic testing, once Webb is joined with the spacecraft bus and sunshield next year,” says NASA.

The cryogenic cooling test will last 100 days and is being carried out inside the giant thermal vacuum known as Chamber A at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope sits in Chamber A at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston awaiting the colossal door to close in July 2017 for cryogenic testing. Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn

“A combination of liquid nitrogen and cold gaseous helium will be used to cool the telescope and science instruments to their operational temperature during high-vacuum operations,” said Mark Voyton, manager of testing effort, who works at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Next year, the tennis-court sized sunshield and spacecraft bus will be combined to make up the entire observatory.

The first layer of the Webb telescope sunshield installed at Northrop Grumman’s clean room in Redondo Beach, California. Credits: Northrop Grumman Corp.

The Webb Telescope is a joint international collaborative project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Assembly of the Webb telescope is currently on target and slated to launch on an ESA Ariane V booster from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana in October 2018.

NASA and ESA are currently evaluating a potential launch scheduling conflict with ESA’s BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

Technicians work on the James Webb Space Telescope in the massive clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, on Nov. 2, 2016, as the completed golden primary mirror and observatory structure stands gloriously vertical on a work stand, reflecting incoming light from the area and observation deck. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with Sunshield at bottom. Credit: NASA/ESA

………….

Learn more about the upcoming SpaceX Dragon CRS-12 resupply launch to ISS on Aug. 14, ULA Atlas TDRS-M NASA comsat on Aug. 18, 2017 Solar Eclipse, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

Aug 11-14: “SpaceX CRS-12 and CRS-11 resupply launches to the ISS, Inmarsat 5, BulgariaSat 1 and NRO Spysat, EchoStar 23, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Rise of the Mega Rockets: Comparing Heavy Lift Launch Systems

A new generation of space rockets ready to lift new and exciting payloads spaceward is coming to a sky near you.

Tomorrow, a Delta IV Heavy rocket will boost the Orion space capsule on a two orbit journey around the Earth that will test key systems. And though tomorrow’s launch is uncrewed, the Orion Command Module will one day form the core of NASA’s Orion MPCV Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and is slated to care out humanity’s first mission to an asteroid and beyond in the next decade.

But a second, lesser known launch also leaves Earth tomorrow as well, atop a rocket that will soon give way to a new generation of lift boosters as launch services vie for new customers. Just over eight hours after the launch of EFT-1, an Ariane 5 rocket lifts off from French Guiana with GSAT-16.

Credit Jason Major.
The EFT-1 Delta IV Heavy posed for roll out. Credit: Jason Major. @JPMajor

Is the ‘battle of the boosters’ heating up?

This comes after the December 2nd announcement earlier this week by participating members of the European Space Agency to proceed with the development of the next generation Ariane 6 rocket. Also included in the 5.9 billion Euro (7.3 billion USD) budget proposal  is funding for the 2018 ExoMars mission, along with further support of ESA’s International Space Station commitments.

To date, ESA has fielded five of its Automated Transfer cargo Vehicles (ATVs) on missions to the International Space Station. ESA will also design the Service Module segment of the Orion MPCV.

“I can summarize this ministerial council by say it was a success… I’d even go so far as to say that it is a great success,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director-general of the European Space Agency.

The Ariane 6 is expected to be on the launch pad by 2020, and will feature two variants capable of placing 5 to 11 tonnes in a geostationary transfer orbit. The solid fuel booster to be incorporated will be based on the Vega rocket design, while the upper stage Vinci engine is already currently in development.

Ariane 6. Credit Wikimedia Commons, SkywalkerPL.
A look at the Ariane 6 rocket. Credit Wikimedia Commons, SkywalkerPL.

The design has been hotly contested among European Space Agency members, many of whom are in favor of other variants based on the upgraded Ariane 5. Some of the largest rockets of all time included those developed by NPO Energia, capable of lofting 100,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit. An Energia N1 Moon rocket exploded on the pad on July 3rd 1969, effectively ending the Soviet Union’s bid to put a man on the Moon. In comparison,   the massive Saturn V rocket — thus far, the largest and most powerful ever fielded by the United States  — could deploy the equivalent of 118,000 kg to low Earth orbit and 47,000 kg to a Trans-Lunar Insertion orbit around the Moon.

But that’s just the beginning. Though the Orion capsule will ride atop a United Launch Services Delta IV Heavy tomorrow — a system usually employed for launching clandestine spy satellites — NASA hopes to have its own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket sitting on the pad by the end of 2018. Boeing was awarded the contract for SLS earlier this year, and the system largely rose re-imagined from the ashes of the cancelled Constellation program. The SLS Block 1 is expected to have a lift capacity of 70,000 kg to LEO, while Boeing’s proposed SLS Block 2 variant would, if fielded, have the largest lift capacity of all time at 130,000 kg to LEO. Only the Long March 9 proposed by China approaches that lofty goal.

Credit: NASA.
An artist’s concept of Orion headed towards deep space. Credit: NASA.

And the wild card is Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Already in the game of sending cargo via its Dragon spacecraft to the ISS, SpaceX is developing a reputation for dependability when it comes to getting satellites into orbit at relatively low cost. SpaceX hopes to field its Falcon 9 Heavy with a lift capacity of 53,000 kg to LEO sometime in 2015, and many proposed missions are banking on the the Falcon 9 Heavy as a future service provider for solar system exploration.  Certainly, with the recent failure of the Antares rocket on October 28th, SpaceX may look like the more attractive option to many, and the development of the Ariane 6 is expected to face stiff competition in the brave new world of high tech rocketry.

Ever wonder what all of these launch vehicles and spacecraft past and present look like stacked up against each other? There’s a graphic for that, recently featured on Io9:

Credit: Heaney555
A breakdown and comparison of spacecraft launch systems. Click to enlarge. Credit: Reddit user Heaney555.

From Almaz to Zarya, this is a fascinating study in scale comparison. Be sure to zoom in and check out the tiny ant-like crew compliment of each, also to scale. Of course, the backyard satellite-tracker in us can’t help be notice the brightness-versus size comparison for many of these. For example, the International Space Station on a good pass can appear as bright as Venus at -4th magnitude — and even look “TIE Fighter shaped” in binoculars — while the smaller Shenzhou and Soyuz modules are often barely visible as they pass overhead. And how we miss watching the Shuttle paired with the International Space Station as they both glided silently by:

But such orbital drama can still be caught if you know when and where to look for it. And speaking of which, viewers in western Australia and the southwestern United States may be able to see Orion and EFT-1 on its first lap around the Earth tomorrow before it fires its engines over the Atlantic headed for a 5,800 km apogee over southern Africa. Assuming EFT-1 lifts off at the beginning of its 159 minute launch window at 7:05 AM EST/12:05 UT, expect it to see it crossing dusk skies over western Australia at 55 minutes after liftoff, and dawn skies for the southwestern U.S. at 95 minutes post-launch respectively.

An awesome sight to behold indeed, marking the start of a brave new era of space exploration.

So what do you, the astute and space-minded reader of Universe Today think? Are the SLS and its kin the lift vehicle(s) of the future, or ‘rockets to nowhere?’ Will they survive the political winds that are bound to blow over the coming decade? Will the Ariane 6 best the Falcon 9 as the lift platform of choice?

One thing is for sure, expect coverage of space exploration drama and more to continue here at Universe Today!

 

 

A History of Launch Failures: “Not Because They are Easy, but Because They are Hard”

Over the 50-plus years since President John F. Kennedy’s Rice University speech, spaceflight has proven to be hard. It doesn’t take much to wreck a good day to fly.

Befitting a Halloween story, rocket launches, orbital insertions, and landings are what make for sleepless nights. These make-or-break events of space missions can be things that go bump in the night: sometimes you get second chances and sometimes not. Here’s a look at some of the past mission failures that occurred at launch. Consider this a first installment in an ongoing series of articles – “Not Because They Are Easy.”

A still image from one of several videos of the ill-fated Antares launch of October 28, 2014, taken by engineers at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Wallops, VA. (Credit: NASA)
A still image from one of several videos of the ill-fated Antares launch of October 28, 2014, taken by engineers at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, Wallops, VA. (Credit: NASA)

The evening of October 28, 2014, was another of those hard moments in the quest to explore and expand humanity’s presence in space. Ten years ago, Orbital Sciences Corporation sought an engine to fit performance requirements for a new launch vehicle. Their choice was a Soviet-era liquid fuel engine, one considered cost-effective, meeting requirements, and proving good margins for performance and safety. The failure of the Antares rocket this week could be due to a flaw in the AJ-26 or it could be from a myriad of other rocket parts. Was it decisions inside NASA that cancelled or delayed engine development programs and led OSC and Lockheed-Martin to choose “made in Russia” rather than America?

Here are other unmanned launch failures of the past 25 years:

Falcon 1, Flight 2, March 21, 2007. Fairings are hard. There are fairings that surround the upper stage engines and a fairing covering payloads.  Fairings must not only separate but also not cause collateral damage. The second flight of the Falcon 1 is an example of a 1st stage separation and fairing that swiped the second stage nozzle. Later, overcompensation by the control system traceable to the staging led to loss of attitude control; however, the launch achieved most of its goals and the mission was considered a success. (View: 3:35)

Proton M Launch, Baikonur Aerodrome, July 2, 2013. The Proton M is the Russian Space program’s workhorse for unmanned payloads. On this day, the Navigation, Guidance, and Control System failed moments after launch. Angular velocity sensors of the guidance control system were installed backwards. Fortunately, the Proton M veered away from its launch pad sparing it damage.

Ariane V Maiden Flight, June 4, 1996. The Ariane V was carrying an ambitious ESA mission called Cluster – a set of four satellites to fly in tetrahedral formation to study dynamic phenomena in the Earth’s magnetosphere. The ESA launch vehicle reused flight software from the successful Ariane IV. Due to differences in the flight path of the Ariane V, data processing led to a data overflow – a 64 floating point variable overflowing a 16 bit integer. The fault remained undetected and flight control reacted in error. The vehicle veered off-course, the structure was stressed and disintegrated 37 seconds into flight. Fallout from the explosion caused scientists and engineers to don protective gas masks. (View: 0:50)

Delta II, January 17, 1997. The Delta II is one of the most successful rockets in the history of space flight, but not on this day. Varied configurations change up the number of solid rocket motors strapped to the first stage. The US Air Force satellite GPS IIR-1 was to be lifted to Earth orbit, but a Castor 4A solid rocket booster failed seconds after launch. A hairline fracture in the rocket casing was the fault. Both unspent liquid and solid fuel rained down on the Cape, destroying launch equipment, buildings, and even parked automobiles. This is one of the most well documented launch failures in history.

Compilation of Early Launch Failures. Beginning with several of the early failures of Von Braun’s V2, this video compiles many failures over a 70 year period. The early US space program endured multiple launch failures as they worked at a breakneck speed to catch up with the Soviets after Sputnik. NASA did not yet exist. The Air Force and Army had competing designs, and it was the Army with the German rocket scientists, including Von Braun, that launched the Juno 1 rocket carrying Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958.

One must always realize that while spectacular to launch viewers, a rocket launch has involved years of development, lessons learned, and multiple revisions. The payloads carried involve many hundreds of thousands of work-hours. Launch vehicle and payloads become quite personal. NASA and ESA have offered grief counseling to their engineers after failures.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Kennedy’s Rice University Speech, September 12, 1962

Rosetta on Final Approach to Historic Comet Rendezvous – Watch Live Here

ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2, 3 and 4 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km, 300 km and 234 km. Not to scale. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Watch ESA’s Live Webcast here on Aug. 6 starting at 4 AM EDT/ 8 AM GMT[/caption]

After a decade long chase of 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) through interplanetary space the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft is now on final approach for its historic rendezvous with its target comet 67P scheduled for Wednesday morning, Aug. 6. some half a billion kilometers from the Sun. See online webcast below.

Rosetta arrives at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in less than 12 hours and is currently less than 200 kilometers away.

You can watch a live streaming webcast of Rosetta’s Aug. 6 orbital arrival here, starting at 10:00 a.m. CEST/8 a.m. GMT/4 a.m. EDT/1 a.m. PDT via a transmission from ESA’s spacecraft operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Rosetta is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet and enter orbit around it. The probe will then escort comet 67P as it loops around the Sun, as well as deploy the piggybacked Philae lander to its uneven surface.

Orbit entry takes place after the probe initiates the last of 10 orbit correction maneuvers (OCM’s) on Aug. 6 starting at 11:00 CEST/09:00 GMT.

The thruster firing, dubbed the Close Approach Trajectory – Insertion (CATI) burn, is scheduled to last about 6 minutes 26 seconds. Engineers transmitted the commands last night, Aug. 4.

CATI will place the 1.3 Billion Euro Rosetta into an initial orbit at a distance of about 100 kilometers (62 miles).

Since the one way signal time is 22 min 29 sec, it will take that long before engineers can confirm the success of the CATI thruster firing.

As engineers at ESOC mission control carefully navigate Rosetta ever closer, the probe has been capturing spectacular imagery showing rocks, gravel and tiny crater like features on its craggily surface with alternating smooth and rough terrain and deposits of water ice.

See above and below our collages (created by Marco Di Lorenzo & Ken Kremer) of navcam camera approach images of the comet’s two lobed nucleus captured over the past week and a half. Another shows an OSIRIS camera image of the expanding coma cloud of water and dust.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA   Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

The up close imagery revealed that the mysterious comet looks like a ‘rubber ducky’ and is comprised of two lobes merged at a bright band at the narrow neck in between.

Rosetta’s navcam camera has been commanded to capture daily images of the comet that rotates around once every 12.4 hours.

After orbital insertion on Aug. 6, Rosetta will initially be travelling in a series of 100 kilometer-long (62 mile-long) triangular arcs in front of the comet while firing thrusters at each apex. Further engine firings will gradually lower Rosetta’s altitude about Comet 67P until the spacecraft is captured by the comet’s gravity.

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2 and 3 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km and 300 km. Not to scale.  Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM   Collage/Processing: Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2 and 3 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km and 300 km. Not to scale. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM Collage/Processing: Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Rosetta will continue in orbit at comet 67P for a 17 month long study.

In November 2014, Rosetta will attempt another historic first when it deploys the piggybacked Philae science lander from an altitude of just about 2.5 kilometers above the comet for the first ever attempt to land on a comet’s nucleus. The lander will fire harpoons to anchor itself to the 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) wide comet’s surface.

Together, Rosetta and Philae will investigate how the pristine frozen comet composed of ice and rock is transformed by the warmth of the Sun. They will also search for organic molecules, nucleic acids and amino acids, the building blocks for life as we know it.

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 on an Ariane 5 G+ rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Rosetta, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Heavy-Lift Rocket Launch Seen from Space

We all know what a big rocket launch looks like from the ground, but this is what it looks like from above the ground — 260 miles above the ground! The photo above was captured from the Space Station earlier today by NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, and it shows the contrail from a heavy-lift Ariane 5 that had just launched from ESA’s spaceport on the French Guiana coast: flight VA217, Arianespace’s milestone 250th launch carrying the ABS-2 and Athena-Fidus satellites into orbit.

Rick shared his view on Twitter with his nearly 39,000 followers, and now less than an hour later, we’re sharing it here. (Isn’t technology wonderful?)

For a more “natural” look, here it is reversed:

Rick Mastracchio's photo of the Ariane 5 launch, rotated 180 degrees.
Rick Mastracchio’s photo of the Ariane 5 launch, rotated 180 degrees.

The ISS was in the process of passing over Costa Rica when the image was taken. The rocket launched from Kourou, French Guiana — about 2,175 miles (3,500 km) away. What a view!

For this and more great images from orbit follow Rick on Twitter @AstroRM.

Watch a video of the VA217 launch below:

The 250th launch performed by Arianespace lifted off from ESA’s spaceport in French Guiana, delivering a dual-satellite payload into geostationary transfer orbit: ABS-2 for global satellite operator ABS, and Athena-Fidus for the defense/homeland security needs of France and Italy. The flight lasted just over 32 minutes. (Source)

Flawless Maiden Launch for Europe’s New Vega Rocket

[/caption]

Europe scored a major space success with today’s (Feb. 13) flawless maiden launch of the brand new Vega rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The four stage Vega lifted off on the VV01 flight at 5:00 a.m. EST (10:00 GMT, 11:00 CET, 07:00 local time) from a new launch pad in South America, conducted a perfectly executed qualification flight and deployed 9 science satellites into Earth orbit.

Vega is a small rocket launcher designed to loft science and Earth observation satellites.

Liftoff of Maiden Vega Rocket on Feb. 13, 2012 on VV01 flight from ESA Spaceport at French Guiana. Credit: ESA

The payload 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: [email protected] (Italy), Goliat (Romania), MaSat-1 (Hungary), PW-Sat (Poland), Robusta (France), UniCubeSat GG (Italy) and Xatcobeo (Spain).

On 13 February 2012, the first Vega lifted off on its maiden flight from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. Credits: ESA - S. Corvaja

Three of these cubesats were the first ever satellites to be built by Poland, Hungary and Romania. They were constructed by University students who were given a once in a lifetime opportunity by ESA to get practical experience and launch their satellites for free since this was Vega’s first flight.

The 30 meter tall Vega has been been under development for 9 years by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its partners, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), French Space Agency (CNES). Seven Member States contributed to the program including Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland as well as industry.

Vega's first launch, dubbed VV01, occurred on Feb 13, 2012 from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. It carried nine satellites into orbit: LARES, ALMASat-1 and seven Cubesats. Credits: ESA - J. Huart
ESA can now boast a family of three booster rockets that can service the full range of satellites from small to medium to heavy weight at their rapidly expanding South American Spaceport at the Guiana Space Center.

Vega joins Europe’s stable of launchers including the venerable Ariane V heavy lifter rocket family and the newly inaugurated medium class Russian built Soyuz booster and provides ESA with an enormous commercial leap in the satellite launching arena.

“In a little more than three months, Europe has increased the number of launchers it operates from one to three, widening significantly the range of launch services offered by the European operator Arianespace. There is not anymore one single European satellite which cannot be launched by a European launcher service,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA.

“It is a great day for ESA, its Member States, in particularly Italy where Vega was born, for European industry and for Arianespace.”

Dordain noted that an additional 200 workers have been hired in Guiana to meet the needs of Europe’s burgeoning space programs. Whereas budget cutbacks are forcing NASA and its contractors to lay off tens of thousands of people as a result of fallout from the global economic recession.

LARES, ALMASat-1 and CubeSats satellites integration for 1st Vega launch.
Credits: ESA, CNES, Arianespace, Optique Video du CSG, P. Baudon

ESA has already signed commercial contracts for future Vega launches and 5 more Vega rockets are already in production.

Vega’s light launch capacity accommodates a wide range of satellites – from 300 kg to 2500 kg – into a wide variety of orbits, from equatorial to Sun-synchronous.

“Today is a moment of pride for Europe as well as those around 1000 individuals who have been involved in developing the world’s most modern and competitive launcher system for small satellites,” said Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s Director of Launchers.

ESA’s new Vega rocket fully assembled on its launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

New Plans for ESA’s Experimental Re-entry Vehicle

[/caption]
ESA and Arianespace have signed a contract planning the launch of ESA’s new IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) on Europe’s new Vega Rocket in 2014. Vega is Europe’s new small launch system and it is designed to complement the heavy Ariane 5 and medium Soyuz Rocket systems launched from French Guiana.

The small rocket is capable of a wide range of payloads up to 1.5 tonnes, compared to Ariane 5 which can lift 20 tonnes, making it especially suitable for the commercial space market. The Vega Rocket will launch the IXV into a suborbital trajectory from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, IXV will then return to Earth as if from a low-orbit mission, to test and qualify new critical technologies for future re-entry vehicles.

Vega Rocket Credit: Arianespace

The IXV will reach a velocity of 7.5km/s at an altitude of around 450km and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere gathering data about its flight. The vehicle will encounter hypersonic and supersonic speeds and will be controlled with complex avionics, thrusters and flaps.

Once the vehicle’s speed has been reduced enough, it will deploy a parachute, descend and land safely in the Pacific Ocean.

This flight will record data for the next five VERTA missions (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment – Programme), which will demonstrate the systems re-usable versatility.

Two launches a year are planned for the new programme and construction of infrastructure including mission control and communications networks is currently underway.

Development and completion of the design, manufacturing and assembly is now underway for a flight window between January and September 2014.

VERTA (Vega Research and Technology Accompaniment – Programme) Credit: Arianespace

Source: ESA