Rosetta to Make Final Earth Flyby Nov. 13th

The comet chasing spacecraft Rosetta will make its third and final swing by the Earth on November 13th to pick up more speed for the last part of a 10-year journey that lies ahead. Its mission is to place a lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and chase the comet for an entire year on its orbit around the Sun. The spacecraft will be visible to observers from the ground in certain locations on the Earth. This last flyby will increase the spacecraft’s speed by 3.6 km/s (2.2 miles/s) with respect to the Sun, giving Rosetta the energy it needs to boost it to the outer regions of the Solar System.

Rosetta was launched March 2nd, 2004, and will visit a host of targets on its way to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta already paid a visit to asteroid 2867 Steins in September 2008. It will visit comet 21 Lutetia 10 June 2010, after which it will go into hibernation until it reaches its final destination in May 2014.

Once Rosetta arrives at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, it will deploy its Philae lander on the comet’s nucleus, and continue to orbit and study the comet for an entire year during its closest orbit of the Sun. This is the first mission ever to orbit and land on a comet, and promises to return a wealth of data on cometary interaction with the Sun. Comets also contain mostly undisturbed materials from the formation of the Solar System in their nuclei, so studying their composition gives scientists an look into how our Solar System developed.

During the flyby of Earth in November of 2007, Rosetta took the breathtaking image of the Earth pictured here. This next flyby will give observers on the ground a chance to take a look back at Rosetta. The closest approach will occur on November 13th at 8:45 Central European Time (07:45 UT).

Unfortunately, the spacecraft will only be visible from parts of Europe, South America and Africa, as can be seen in the image below. If you are in these regions during the approach, and have favorable conditions, there is a wealth of observing information on the Rosetta blog, specifically on the posts Tips for Sky Junkies I and Tips for Sky Junkies II. They will also be closely following the flyby on the blog, so you can check there for updates on the eve of the event if you are outside the observable range of the spacecraft.The regions where Rosetta will be visible to observers from the ground. Image Credit: ESA

As always, you can check back with us on Universe Today for more coverage of Rosetta’s journey!

Source: ESA

New ESA Rover Will Look For Life On Mars


NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) have been an outstanding success in their longevity and helping us to understand the role of water in Mars’ past. But Spirit and Opportunity don’t have the instruments on board to answer the question foremost in many people’s minds: Is there, or was there ever life on Mars?

A new spacecraft being readied by the European Space Agency (ESA) will have that ability. The rover for the ExoMars 2013 mission will have an on-board subsurface radar, a drill, and life-detection equipment as part of the scientific payload.

To help prepare for the mission, scientists at Aberystwyth University in Wales have simulated the surface of Mars in their lab to test the “roving” capabilities of the vehicle. Also being tested are the robotic arm for collecting samples and a panoramic camera.

The ExoMars mission will also have an orbiter that will scan for the best landing site for the rover. The rover is slated to travel to ten different locations in 6 months. The rover will use a radar system that can scan the surface and subsurface, a drill that can dig down 1-2 meters below the surface and gather a sample that will be brought to the onboard instruments that will look for life, past or present, in the Mars landscape.

A robotic arm that is part of this system is similar to arm that was part of the ill-fated Beagle 2 lander, that crashed on Mars surface in 2003. But the new arm has been improved, and it is hoped the arm will work with on-board cameras and to be able to acquire rock samples autonomously.

The rover will weigh about 140-180 kg, comparable to the NASA’s MER. The main scientific objectives of the ExoMars mission are to study the biological environment of Mars surface, to characterize the Mars geochemistry and water distribution and to identify possible surface hazards to future human missions.

The mission is scheduled to launch in 2013 and land on Mars in 2014.

Original News Source: BBC

A New Supply Ship for the ISS


The International Space Station (ISS) depends on regular deliveries of food, air and water, as well as equipment and spare parts to keep the station and its occupants happy and in peak operating condition. Of course, the space shuttle brings supplies on its visits for construction and crew exchange missions, and the Russian Progress spacecraft faithfully brings supplies and equipment to the station approximately every six months. But beginning in February 2008 the ISS will have a new supply ship: Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). The first of seven planned ships, known as the “Jules Verne,” is currently undergoing fueling to ready the craft for its journey to the space station. Launch is tentatively scheduled for February 22.

The ATV pressurized cargo carrier is based on the Italian-built Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), (aka Leonardo, Donatello and Raffaello) which has already been carried to the station via the space shuttle as a “space barge,” transporting equipment to and from the station. The ATV, which is equipped with its own propulsion and navigation systems combines full automatic capabilities of an unmanned vehicle with human spacecraft safety requirements. Its mission in space will resemble the combination of a tugboat and a river barge.

Every 12 months or so, the ATV will haul 7.5 tons of cargo to the Station 400 km above the Earth. The ATV will launch on board a Arianne 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. An automatic navigation system will guide the ATV on a rendezvous trajectory towards ISS, to automatically dock with the station’s Russian service module. The ATV will remain docked to the station as a pressurized “waste basket” for up to six months until its final mission: a fiery one-way trip into the Earth’s atmosphere to dispose of up to 6.5 tons of station waste.

The ATV is a cylinder 10.3 meters long and 4.5 meters in diameter. The exterior is covered with an insulating foil layer on top of anti-meteorite Whipple Shields. The X-shaped extended solar arrays look like a metallic blue wings. Inside, the ATV consists of two modules, the propulsion spacecraft and the integrated cargo carrier which docks with the ISS.

The ATV’s will become especially important during the time period between after the shuttles are retired and before the next generation of US space craft, can bring supplies and crew to the station. The ESA also sees the ATVs as a way for Europe to pay its share in ISS running costs. Depending on the operational lifetime of the Space Station, ESA will build at least 7 ATVs.

Original News Source: ESA Press Release

Ulysses Passes Over Sun’s North Pole


Continuing on its epic journey around the Sun, Ulysses has reached the Sun’s north pole just in the nick of time. In fact, its timing couldn’t be better, just as the Sun begins “Solar Cycle 24”. The probe is in a unique orbit, passing over the solar north and south poles, out of the ecliptic plane of the solar system, giving it an unprecedented view of parts of the Sun we cannot observe on Earth. “Graveyards for sunspots” and mysterious coronal holes lurk in these regions and Ulysses will be perfectly placed, directly above.

The joint NASA and ESA Ulysses mission has been a resounding success in its 18 years of operation since launch on board Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-41) in October 1990. The intrepid spacecraft was helped on it’s way by a gravitational assist by the planet Jupiter which flung it over the poles of the Sun. Quietly travelling in a perpendicular orbit (space missions and the planets usually orbit around the Sun’s equator), Ulysses has been measuring the distribution of solar wind particles emanating from latitudinal locations for one and a half orbits.

As Ulysses passes over the north polar region, the Sun will be observed during a period of minimum activity at this location for the first time. The poles of the Sun are of particular interest to scientists as this is where the fast solar wind originates from open magnetic field lines reaching into space. The dynamics of solar material in this location provides information on how the Sun interacts with interplanetary space and how the solar wind is generated. Observing the solar wind at “solar minimum” will be of massive interest as it may provide some answers as to why the solar wind is accelerated hundreds of kilometers per hour even when activity is at its lowest.

Just as Earth’s poles are crucial to studies of terrestrial climate change, the sun’s poles may be crucial to studies of the solar cycle.” – Ed Smith, Ulysses project scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The dynamics of low altitude magnetic fields in polar regions are also a focus for interest. As 11-year solar cycles progress, sunspot population increase near the solar equator. As the magnetic field is “wound up”, sunspots (and their associated magnetic flux) drift toward the poles where they slowly disappear as the old magnetic field sinks back into the Sun, quite accurately described as sunspot graveyards. Understanding how this cycle works will help to reveal the secrets of the solar cycle and ultimately help us understand the mechanisms behind Space Weather.

Source: NASA Featured News