North Korea Aims To Place Its Flag On The Moon

Space exploration was once considered the province of two superpowers, with only tertiary participation from other nations. But since the turn of the century, more and more nations are joining in. China and India, for example, have placed landers on the Moon, satellites around Mars, and are even working on a space station. And as if that weren’t enough, private industry is also making its presence felt, largely through SpaceX and Blue Origins‘ development of reusable rockets.

But in the latest announcement to come out of the world’s last Stalinist regime, it seems that North Korea also hopes to join the 100 mile-high club (the space race, not the other thing!) In a recent interview with the Associated Press, a North Korean official indicated that the country is busy working on a five year plan that will put more satellites into orbit by 2020, and mount a mission to the moon within 10 years time.

According to the official – Hyon Kwang Il, the director of the scientific research department of North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration – the 5-year plan is focused on the deployment of more Earth observations satellites, as well as what will be the country’s first geostationary communications satellite.

Visitors takes photos of an illuminated model of a globe at the Sci-Tech Complex in Pyongyang, North Korea. Credit: Kim Kwang Hyon/AP
Visitors takes photos of an illuminated model of a globe at the Sci-Tech Complex in Pyongyang, North Korea. Credit: Kim Kwang Hyon/AP

He further indicated that universities in North Korea are expanding their programs to train rocket scientists, with the ultimate purpose of mounting an unmanned Moon mission sometime in the 2020s. If this statement is to be believed, then this plan would constitute significant steps being taken by the isolated regime to establish a foothold in space.

As Hyon indicated in an interview with AP on July 28th, this will all be taking place despite the ongoing embargo and attempts to stifle North Korea’s technological ambitions:

“Even though the U.S. and its allies try to block our space development, our aerospace scientists will conquer space and definitely plant the flag of the DPRK on the moon… We are planning to develop the Earth observation satellites and to solve communications problems by developing geostationary satellites. All of this work will be the basis for the flight to the moon.”

Considering the announcements to come out of this isolated, totalitarian state in the past – i.e. having a cure for HIV, Ebola and cancer, finding a unicorn lair, and having invisible phones – you might be asking yourself, “how seriously should I take this?” The answer: with cautious skepticism. Granted, North Korea’s state-controlled media frequently releases propaganda statements that are so outlandish that they make us laugh out loud.

Still, this latest claim does not seem so farfetched. Already, North Korea has deployed two Earth observation satellites as part of its Kwangmyongsong program, which began in earnest in 1998. Back in February, the fifth satellite in this program (Kwangmyongsong-5) was successfully launched into orbit. And while this was only the second successful launch, it does show that country is developing a certain degree of competency when it comes to space technology.

Image released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of the rocket said to be carrying North Korea's Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite, Feb.7, 2016. Credit: AP
Image released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of the rocket said to be carrying North Korea’s Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite, Feb. 7, 2016. Credit: AP

The Unha rockets that were used to deliver the satellites into orbit are also considered to be capable. An expandable carrier rocket, the Unha relies on a delivery system that is similar to the Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile (which is a modified version of the Russian Scud). What’s more, recent satellite images of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station (located in the northeastern North Pyongan Province) has revealed that an enlarged launch tower is under construction.

This could be an indication that an enlarged version (Unha-X) might be under development, which is consistent with propaganda posters that are also advertising the new rocket. And this past Wednesday, the country test-fired what was believed to be a medium-range ballistic missile into the seas off Japan, which is the fourth reported weapons launch to take place in the past two weeks. Clearly, the regime is working to develop its rocket capabilities, which is essential to any space program.

Beyond that, the success other nations have had in recent years conducting unmanned mission to the Moon – like China’s Chang’e program –  could serve as an indication that the North Korean regime is entirely serious about planting a flag there as well. “Our country has started to accomplish our plan and we have started to gain a lot of successes,” said Hyon. “No matter what anyone thinks, our country will launch more satellites.”

Seriousness or not, whether or not North Korea can actually achieve their more ambitious goal of reaching the Moon in a decade remains to be seen. And it will only come with a whole lot of time, effort, and the country burning through another significant chunk of its GDP (as with its nuclear tests). In the meantime, we better get used to the idea of Low-Earth Orbit getting a bit more crowded!

And in the meantime, be sure to enjoy this video from the Onion, which presents what is only a semi-satirical take on the regime’s space plans:

Further Reading: Associated Press

The Moon Is A Real Attention Junkie

NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory captured a series of images of the Moon passing in front of the Earth on July 5th. Image: NASA/NOAA

We’re accustomed to seeing stunning images of both the Moon and Earth floating in space. It’s the age we live in. But seeing them together is rare. Now, NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has captured images of the Moon passing between itself and the Earth, in effect photo-bombing Earth.

The image was captured with the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera on DISCOVR, and is the second time this has been captured. EPIC is a 4 megapixel camera on board DSCOVR, and DSCOVR is in orbit about 1.6 million km (1 million miles) from Earth, between the Earth and the Sun.

“For the second time in the life of DSCOVR, the moon moved between the spacecraft and Earth,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Cool pictures of the Moon are a bonus, though, as DSCOVR’s primary mission is to monitor the solar wind in real time for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It does so while inhabiting the first LaGrange point between the Earth and the Sun, where the gravitational pull of the Sun and the Earth balance each other. To do so requires a complex orbit called a Lissajous orbit, a non-recurring orbit which takes DSCOVR from an ellipse to a circle and back.

DSCOVR occupies the LaGrange point 1 between the Earth and the Sun. Image: NOAA
DSCOVR occupies the LaGrange point 1 between the Earth and the Sun. Image: NOAA

DSCOVR has other important work to do. From its vantage point, DSCOVR keeps a constantly illuminated view of the surface of the Earth as it rotates. DSCOVR provides observations of cloud height, vegetation, ozone, and aerosols in the atmosphere. This is important scientific data in monitoring and understanding Earth’s climate.

DSCOVR is a partnership between NASA, NOAA and the U.S. Air Force. As mentioned above, its primary objective is maintaining the nation’s real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of space weather alerts and forecasts from NOAA. The DSCOVR website also has daily color pictures of the Earth, for all your eye-candy needs.

Check it out:

http://epic.gsfc.nasa.gov/

NASA Jason-3 Sea Level Rise Reconnaissance Satellite Successfully Blasts off on SpaceX Falcon 9; Hard Landing on Barge

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen as it launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, , Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Jason-3, an international mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will help continue U.S.-European satellite measurements of global ocean height changes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen as it launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Jason-3, an international mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will help continue U.S.-European satellite measurements of global ocean height changes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the NASA/NOAA/European Jason-3 sea level rise reconnaissance satellite a short while ago today, Sunday, Jan. 17, from Vandenberg Air Force Base into a polar orbit around the Earth.

The launch was a complete success with all first and second stage rocket firings and the Jason-3 deployment occurring precisely as planned and on time. Continue reading “NASA Jason-3 Sea Level Rise Reconnaissance Satellite Successfully Blasts off on SpaceX Falcon 9; Hard Landing on Barge”

SpaceX Trying Ambitious 2nd Rocket Recovery Landing in 4 Weeks

SpaceX is on course to move ahead with an ambitious spaceflight agenda, trying a 2nd rocket recovery landing of their Falcon 9 booster in barely 4 weeks time and upcoming this Sunday, Jan. 17, says Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX.

Musk confirmed that SpaceX plans to launch and subsequently land the first stage of its next Falcon 9 rocket on a “droneship” at sea in the Pacific Ocean this weekend. Continue reading “SpaceX Trying Ambitious 2nd Rocket Recovery Landing in 4 Weeks”

Gorgeous Views of Earth from Space Ring in New Year 2016 From the Space Station and Beyond

Earth from GOES East

Happy New Year 2016 from the International Space Station (ISS) and Beyond!

Behold Earth ! Courtesy of our Human and Robotic emissaries to the High Frontier we can ring in the New Year by reveling in gorgeous new views of our beautiful Home Planet taken from the space station and beyond. Continue reading “Gorgeous Views of Earth from Space Ring in New Year 2016 From the Space Station and Beyond”

Monster Cat 5 Hurricane Patricia Strongest Ever Recorded Menaces Millions in Mexico; Seen from ISS

“Hurricane #Patricia approaches #Mexico. It’s massive. Be careful” in this image taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS on Oct. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
More images and videos below[/caption]

Hurricane Patricia, the strongest storm in recorded history with winds exceeding 190 mph (305 km/h) is right now menacing millions in Mexico after suddenly intensifying with little warning over the past day, threatening widespread catastrophic destruction as it barrels towards frightened residents along the nations Pacific coast and makes landfall this evening, Friday, Oct. 23.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured striking photos, above and below, of Hurricane Patricia this afternoon from aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Other NASA and NOAA weather satellites are actively monitoring and measuring the strongest storm on the planet right now.

“Hurricane #Patricia approaches #Mexico. It’s massive. Be careful,” Kelly wrote on his twitter account with a pair of images taken from the ISS.

Patricia unexpectedly intensified quite rapidly to a Category 5 storm from a tropical storm in the space of just 24 hours from yesterday to today with the significant potential for loss of life and likely widespread catastrophic damage.

This morning Patricia had sustained winds of 190 mph (305 km/h) , on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, with gusts up to 235 mph. That’s comparable to an EF-4 tornado, but its much wider.

Weather forecasters say that unusually warm waters, possibly from the current El Niño weather pattern may be causing the rapid intensification of the storm to unprecedented power never before seen.

On Oct. 23 at 17:30 UTC (1:30 p.m. EDT) NASA's Terra satellite saw the eastern quadrant of Hurricane Patricia over Mexico and the storm's pinhole eye.  Credits: NASA's Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
On Oct. 23 at 17:30 UTC (1:30 p.m. EDT) NASA’s Terra satellite saw the eastern quadrant of Hurricane Patricia over Mexico and the storm’s pinhole eye. Credits: NASA’s Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

“Hurricane #Patricia looks menacing from @space_station. Stay safe below,” tweeted Kelly, who just broke the American record for most time spent in space.
Patricia is making landfall near the tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, the town of Cuixmala and the city of Manzanillo along Mexico’s Pacific coast, as it slightly weakens to 165 mph (265 km/h) with destructive force.

Here is the latest Hurricane Patricia animation from NOAA:
rb_lalo-animated 102315

Patricia is the most powerful storm ever to make landfall and many millions live in its path that is expected to track eastwards across inland areas of Mexico and then move up into the United States at Texas with flooding rains.

The Mexican government has warned millions to take shelter to evacuate. Over 15000 tourists have been evacuated from Puerto Vallarta to other regions. But the effort was hampered since the airport has been closed.

Catastrophic destruction to homes, businesses and infrastructure is feared.

Some 10 to 20 inches of rain is expected along the coast, causing mudslides across Mexico.

Waves heights exceeding 30 feet are also expected.

Heavy rains and flash flooding will continue into the US with the heaviest downpours expected in Texas and Louisiana.

Hurricane Patricia on Oct. 23, 2015 from the National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Patricia on Oct. 23, 2015 from the National Hurricane Center

Here’s the 7 PM CDT advisory from the National Hurricane Center:

“EXTREMELY DANGEROUS HURRICANE PATRICIA MOVING FARTHER INLAND OVER SOUTHWESTERN MEXICO”

“The center of Hurricane Patricia was located near latitude 19.5 North, longitude 104.9 West. Patricia ismoving toward the north-northeast near 15 mph (24 km/h) and this motion is expected to continue with some increase in forward speed tonight and Saturday. On the forecast track, the center of Patricia should continue to move inland over southwestern Mexico.

Patricia is expected to move quickly north-northeastward across western and northern Mexico through Saturday.

Satellite images indicate that Patricia has continued to weaken, and maximum sustained winds are estimated to be near 160 mph (260 km/h) with higher gusts. Patricia is a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Patricia is forecast to rapidly weaken over the mountains of Mexico and dissipate on Saturday.

Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 35 miles (55 km) from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (280 km).

The estimated minimum central pressure is 924 mb (27.29 inches).”

Here’s a video of Hurricane Patricia from the ISS taken today, Oct 23, 2015.

Video caption: Outside the International Space Station, cameras captured dramatic views of Hurricane Patricia at 12:15 p.m. EDT on October 23, 2015 as the mammoth system moved north at about 10 mph, heading for a potentially catastrophic landfall along the southwest coast of Mexico sometime during the day, according to the National Hurricane Center. Packing winds of 200 miles per hour, Patricia is the strongest in recorded history in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. The National Hurricane Center says that once Patricia crosses the Mexican coast it should weaken quickly and dissipate Oct. 24 due to upper level winds and mountainous terrain, but likely will introduce copious amounts of rainfall to the Texas coast through the weekend. Credit: NASA

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

Ken Kremer

Hurricane Patricia approaches Mexico in this image taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS on Oct. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
Hurricane Patricia approaches Mexico in this image taken by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the ISS on Oct. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

See EPIC Views of Rotating Earth Daily from NASA’s New DSCOVR Observatory Website

At long last, beautiful new high resolution views of the rotating Earth can be seen daily by everyone at a new NASA website – all courtesy of images taken by NASA’s EPIC camera on board the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft. And as seen in the time-lapse animation above, they provide a wonderful new asset for students everywhere to learn geography that’s just a finger tip away!

The EPIC camera, which stands for Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), is located a million miles away on the DSCOVR real time space weather monitoring satellite and is designed to take full disk color images of the sunlit side of our home planet multiple times per day.

The EPIC NASA images are literally just a finger tip away, after a 17 year wait to get the satellite into the launch queue since it was first proposed by former VP Al Gore. They are all easily viewed at NASA’s new EPIC camera website which went online today, Monday, October 19, 2015.

To see the daily sequence of rotating images, visit the EPIC website link: http://epic.gsfc.nasa.gov/

This EPIC image was taken on Oct.17 and shows the Australian continent and a portion of Asia.

EPIC image taken on Oct. 17, 2015 showing the continent of Australia and a portion of Asia. Credit: NASA
EPIC image taken on Oct. 17, 2015 showing the continent of Australia and a portion of Asia. Credit: NASA

An annotated guide map illustration identifying the visible land masses accompanies each EPIC image and follows along as the Earth rotates daily.

What a great geography learning tool for student classrooms worldwide!

Annotated guide map identifying the visible land masses accompanies each EPIC image. Credit: NASA
Annotated guide map identifying the visible land masses accompanies each EPIC image. Credit: NASA

DSCOVR is a joint mission between NOAA, NASA, and the U.S Air Force (USAF) that is managed by NOAA. The satellite and science instruments were provided by NASA and NOAA.

EPIC is a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope mounted on DSCOVR and orbiting around the L1 Lagrange Point – a neutral gravity point that lies on the direct line between Earth and the sun.

NASA says that once per day they will post “at least a dozen new color images of Earth acquired from 12 to 36 hours earlier” taken by the agency’s EPIC camera. The EPIC images will be stored in an archive searchable by date and continent.

The image sequence will show “the Earth as it rotates, thus revealing the whole globe over the course of a day.”

“The effective resolution of the DSCOVR EPIC camera is somewhere between 6.2 and 9.4 miles (10 and 15 kilometers),” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.

“The color Earth images are created by combining three separate single-color images to create a photographic-quality image equivalent to a 12-megapixel camera. The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters — from ultraviolet to near infrared — to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used to create the color images. Each image is about 3 megabytes in size.”

EPIC will capture “a constant view of the fully illuminated Earth as it rotates, providing scientific observations of ozone, vegetation, cloud height and aerosols in the atmosphere.”

Technician works on NASA Earth science instruments and Earth imaging EPIC camera (white circle) housed on NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) inside NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room in November 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Technician works on NASA Earth science instruments and Earth imaging EPIC camera (white circle) housed on NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) inside NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room in November 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The couch sized probe was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Feb. 11, 2015 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to start the million mile journey to its deep space observation post at L1. The rocket was funded by the USAF.

The primary goal of the $340 million DSCOVR satellite is to monitor the solar wind and aid very important forecasts of space weather at Earth from L1.

L1 is located 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) sunward from Earth. At L1 the gravity between the sun and Earth is perfectly balanced and the DSCOVR satellite orbits about that spot just like a planet.

The mission is vital because its solar wind observations are crucial to maintaining accurate space weather forecasts to protect US infrastructure such as power grids, aviation, planes in flight, all types of Earth orbiting satellites for civilian and military needs, telecommunications, ISS astronauts and GPS systems.

This animation shows images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DISCOVR spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth - one million miles away.  Credit: NASA/NOAA
This animation shows images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DISCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away. Credit: NASA/NOAA

DSCOVR was first proposed in 1998 by then US Vice President Al Gore as the low cost ‘Triana’ satellite to take near continuous views of the Earth’s entire globe to feed to the internet as a means of motivating students to study math and science.

It was also dubbed “Goresat.”

The probe was eventually resurrected and partially rebuilt at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as a much more capable Earth science satellite that would also conduct the space weather observations.

But Triana was shelved for purely partisan political reasons and the satellite was placed into storage at NASA Goddard.

Thus the practical and teachable science and daily scenes of the gorgeously rotating Earth were lost – until now!

Former VP Al Gore was clearly delighted with today’s launch of NASA’s EPIC website in this pair of tweets:

“Today @NASA launched its site for #DSCOVR’s daily images. I look forward to seeing more from #DSCOVR,” tweeted Al Gore.

“DSCOVR’s site displaying new daily images of Earth from L1 was launched today! Congratulations to all those who made this happen!”

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

Ken Kremer

NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room. Solar wind instruments at right. DSCOVER will launch in February 2015 atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room. Solar wind instruments at right. DSCOVER launched in February 2015 atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NOAA/NASA/USAF Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room.  Probe will launch in February atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NOAA/NASA/USAF Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room. Probe launched in February 2015 atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Borderline Cat 5 Hurricane Joaquin Spied from International Space Station

As the powerful category 4 Hurricane Joaquin was pounding the Bahamas and packing winds of over 130 mph, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly captured a stunning photo of Joaquin on Friday morning, Oct. 2 from his perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As of today, Oct. 3. Joaquin has gained strength to 150 mph and is a borderline Cat 5 storm!

Coincidentally, Kelly snapped the photo within hours of the milestone 100th straight successful rocket launch by United Launch Alliance (ULA) on Oct. 2, of the firms Atlas V rocket carrying Mexico’s next generation Morelos-3 communications satellite from Florida to orbit.

Kelly’s spectacular storm photo shows the eye of Hurricane Joaquin over the Caribbean and off the US eastern seaboard with the limb of the Earth and our atmosphere in beautiful detail.

Huge thunderstorms can been off to the north of the immense category 4 storm.

And as of today, Saturday, Oct. 3, Hurricane Joaquin has further strengthened and is now packing maximum sustained winds of 150 MPH or 240 KM/H, according to the latest advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) as of 5 p.m. EDT.

Kelly posted the Oct. 2 photo of Joaquin with this caption on his twitter account:

“Early morning shot of Hurricane #Joaquin from @space_station before reaching #Bahamas. Hope all is safe. #YearInSpace.”

Two of the stations solar panels are seen in the photo as well as portions of the US east coast including Florida.

The latest NHC forecast shows Joaquin veering away from the US East Coast. But it’s still creating hurricane force winds and high waves that is threatening Bermuda.

“SEVERE HURRICANE JOAQUIN THREATENING BERMUDA,” said the NHC today.

It is moving northeast at 45 degrees at 17 MPH or 28 KM/H.

Kelly snapped another telling view of Joaquin on Thursday, Oct. 1 showing the Bahamas and Miami in the field of view.

Kelly tweeted; “#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station.”

#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station #YearInSpace.  Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly
#HurricaneJoaquin churns over the #Bahamas with #Miami in the field of view from @Space_Station #YearInSpace. Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly is a member of the first ever 1 year ISS mission crew comprising Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

They arrived at the ISS in March and had just reached the midpoint of their nearly 12 month stay aimed at conducting research to explore the impact of long term stays in space on the human body and aid NASA’s long term plans for a human ‘Journey to Mars’ in the 2030s.

NASA and NOAA satellites are keeping constant watch on the progress of the powerful Hurricane Joaquin, that earlier had the potential to barrel towards tens of millions of US coastal residents.

Here’s another stunning view of Hurricane Joaquin taken by the GOES-West satellite on Oct. 1.

This stunning image of Hurricane Joaquin is from NOAA's GOES West satellite on Oct. 1 2015. Many portions of the eastern U.S. are currently experiencing heavy rains and gusty winds associated with a frontal system.   Credit: NOAA
This stunning image of Hurricane Joaquin is from NOAA’s GOES West satellite on Oct. 1 2015. Many portions of the eastern U.S. are currently experiencing heavy rains and gusty winds associated with a frontal system. Credit: NOAA

This visible image from NASA’s Aqua satellite shows Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1.

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1 at 17:55 UTC (1:55 p.m. EDT).  Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Hurricane Joaquin over Bahamas on Oct. 1 at 17:55 UTC (1:55 p.m. EDT). Credits: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

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

Ken Kremer

Danny – First Atlantic Hurricane of 2015 as Seen from Space Station by Scott Kelly

Hurricane Danny, the first Atlantic Ocean hurricane of the 2015 season has been caught on camera by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, in a beautiful image taken on Thursday, August 20 at 6 a.m. EDT from his glorious perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Poking majestically down at the sprawling hurricane is the space stations Canadian-built robotic arm that will be used by Kelly in a few days to grapple Kounotori, the Japanese cargo ship launched earlier this week and berth it at a docking port.

Kelly is nearly five months into his year-long stay aboard the ISS and is a prolific photographer of the natural wonders of our home planet.

“Hurricane Danny. Keeping an eye on you from the International Space Station. Looks like you’re 1st in the Atlantic this year. Stay safe below! #YearInSpace,” wrote Kelly on his Facebook and twitter pages.

Danny had risen to a Category 3 hurricane by Friday afternoon, August 21, with winds over 115 mph and was moving westward in the Central Atlantic Ocean towards the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.

By 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC) on Friday, August 21, the eye of Hurricane Danny was located near latitude 14.0 North, longitude 48.2 West, according to NASA. The center of Danny was about 930 miles (1,195 km) east of the Leeward Islands. With maximum sustained winds of near 105 mph (165 kph), Danny was a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

By 8:00 p.m. Friday evening, Friday, the National Hurricane Center said Danny was located over the central tropical Atlantic Ocean about 800 miles east of the Leeward Islands.

Late this evening at 11 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said it had weakened slightly back to a Category 2 storm with maximum winds of 110 mph and was located at 14.8°N and 49.8°W while moving west northwest at 10 mph.

The NASA GOES-East animation below combines visible and infrared imagery showing Hurricane Danny’s movement in the eastern and central Atlantic Ocean from Aug. 18 to 21, 2015.

Video caption: Hurricane Danny Seen By GOES-East. This animation of visible and infrared imagery of Hurricane Danny in the Central Atlantic Ocean was taken from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite from Aug. 18 to 21. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center think it may weaken over the next few days as it heads towards the Caribbean islands.

“Vertical shear is expected to increase further during the next couple of days, which should allow drier air in the surrounding environment to penetrate into Danny’s circulation. Therefore,there is no change in the thinking that Danny should weaken as it approaches and moves across the Leeward Islands and the Greater Antilles during the forecast period.”

Danny could reach Puerto Rico by Monday in a weakened state.

Although it’s still far away from the US, it’s not expected to impact the East Coast but that could change.

If Danny were to take aim at the US, it could impact plans to launch the Air Force MUOS-4 satellite on Aug. 31 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Here’s a map showing the current location:

Hurricane Danny location on Aug. 21, 2015. Credit: National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Danny location on Aug. 21, 2015. Credit: National Hurricane Center

On Aug. 19, NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission core satellite passed over Danny and analyzed the structure of its rainfall, as seen in this image.

On Aug. 19, 2015 GPM saw Danny's rain structure was still asymmetric as noted by the large rain band (identified by the green arc indicating moderate rain) being located mainly on the eastern side of the storm. Within this rain band, GPM detected rain rates of up to 73.9 mm/hour (shown in darker red).Credits: SSAI/NASA, Hal Pierce
On Aug. 19, 2015 GPM saw Danny’s rain structure was still asymmetric as noted by the large rain band (identified by the green arc indicating moderate rain) being located mainly on the eastern side of the storm. Within this rain band, GPM detected rain rates of up to 73.9 mm/hour (shown in darker red).Credits: SSAI/NASA, Hal Pierce

A research team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, created a 3-D rendering of Danny using data from the GPM DPR (Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar) instrument.

“GPM showed that Danny was still in the process of becoming organized. The rain structure was still very asymmetric as noted by a large rain band being located mainly on the eastern side of the storm. Within this rain band, GPM detected rain rates of up to 73.9 mm/hour. At the time of this image, Danny was still a minimal tropical storm with sustained winds estimated at 50 mph by the National Hurricane Center (NHC),” said officials.

And dont forget that you can watch Commander Scott Kelly and his five international crew mates on a regular basis as they soar overhead. Just click on NASA’s Spot the Station link and plug in your location.

ISS crosses the Big Dipper over NJ.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ISS crosses the Big Dipper over NJ. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

Moon Transits Earth in Eye-poppingly EPIC View from 1 Million Miles Away

This animation shows images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DISCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away. Credit: NASA/NOAA
See YouTube version and EPIC camera below[/caption]

An eye-poppingly ‘EPIC’ view of the sunlit far side of the Moon transiting the sunlit side of Earth was recently captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera from one million miles away. “Wow!” – is an understatement!

The stunning animation of the Moon crossing in front of the Earth, shown above, and seemingly unlike anything else, was created from a series of images taken in July by NASA’s EPIC camera flying aboard the orbiting Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a space weather monitoring satellite, according to a NASA statement.

Have just witnessed NASA’s New Horizons flyby of the Pluto-Charon double planet system, the similarity to what some call the Earth-Moon double planet system is eerie. You could imagine ones heart going out to Earth’s Australian continent as an upside down version of Pluto’s bright heart shaped ‘Tombaugh Regio’ region in the southern hemisphere.

EPIC is a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope mounted on DSCOVR and orbiting at the L1 Lagrange Point – a neutral gravity point that lies on the direct line between Earth and the sun.

The goal of the $340 million DSCOVR is to monitor the solar wind and aid very important forecasts of space weather at Earth from L1.

EPIC will capture “a constant view of the fully illuminated Earth as it rotates, providing scientific observations of ozone, vegetation, cloud height and aerosols in the atmosphere.”

L1 is located 1.5 million kilometers (932,000 miles) sunward from Earth. At L1 the gravity between the sun and Earth is perfectly balanced and the DSCOVR satellite orbits about that spot just like a planet.

The EPIC images “were taken between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 16, showing the moon moving over the Pacific Ocean near North America,” NASA said.

This image shows images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DISCOVR spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth - one million miles away.  Credits: NASA/NOAA
This image shows images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DISCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away. Credits: NASA/NOAA

You can see Earth’s North Pole at the upper left side of the images which results from the orbital tilt of Earth from the vantage point of the spacecraft at the L1 Lagrange Point.

EPIC will take full disk color images of the sunlit side of Earth at least six times per day.

They will be made publically available by NASA at a dedicated website, when the camera starts its regular daily science observation campaign of the home planet in about a month during September.

NASA says the images will show varying views of the rotating Earth and they will be posted online some 12 to 36 hours after they are acquired.

Each image is actually a composite of three images taken in the red, green and blue channels of the EPIC camera to provide the final “natural color” image of Earth. Since the images are taken about 30 seconds apart as the moon is moving there is a slight but noticeable artifact on the right side of the moon, NASA explained.

Altogether, “ EPIC takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband spectral filters — from ultraviolet to near infrared — to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used in these color images.”

EPIC should capture these Earth-Moon transits about twice per year as the orbit of DSCOVR crosses the orbital plane of the moon.

The closest analog according to NASA came in May 2008 when NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft “captured a similar view of Earth and the moon from a distance of 31 million miles away. The series of images showed the moon passing in front of our home planet when it was only partially illuminated by the sun.”

We never see the far side of the moon from Earth since the bodies are tidally locked. And its quite apparent from the images, that the moon’s far side looks completely different from the side facing Earth. The far side lacks the large, dark, basaltic plains, or maria, that are so prominent on the Earth-facing side.

“It is surprising how much brighter Earth is than the moon,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.

“Our planet is a truly brilliant object in dark space compared to the lunar surface.”

DSCOVR is a joint mission between NOAA, NASA, and the U.S Air Force (USAF) that is managed by NOAA. The satellite and science instruments were provided by NASA and NOAA.

Technician works on NASA Earth science instruments and Earth imaging EPIC camera (white circle) housed on NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) inside NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room in November 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/AmericaSpace
Technician works on NASA Earth science instruments and Earth imaging EPIC camera (white circle) housed on NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) inside NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room in November 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The couch sized probe was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on Feb. 11, 2015 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to start a million mile journey to its deep space observation post. The rocket was funded by the USAF.

DSCOVR was first proposed in 1998 by then US Vice President Al Gore as the low cost ‘Triana’ satellite to take near continuous views of the Earth’s entire globe to feed to the internet as a means of motivating students to study math and science. It was eventually built as a much more capable Earth science satellite that would also conduct the space weather observations.

But Triana was shelved for purely partisan political reasons and the satellite was placed into storage at NASA Goddard and the science was lost until now.

It was also dubbed “Goresat.’

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

Ken Kremer

Video caption: This animation shows images of the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DISCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away. Credit: NASA/NOAA

NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room. Solar wind instruments at right. DSCOVER will launch in February 2015 atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/AmericaSpace
NOAA/NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) undergoes processing in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center clean room. Solar wind instruments at right. DSCOVER launched in February 2015 atop SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch of NOAA DSCOVR satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Feb. 11, 2015 to monitor solar storms and space weather.   Credit:  Julian Leek
Launch of NOAA DSCOVR satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Feb. 11, 2015 to monitor solar storms and space weather. Credit: Julian Leek