The BepiColombo Mission To Mercury is Losing Power

Artist's impression of the European Space Agency/JAXA BepiColombo mission in operation around Mercury. Credit: Astrium

BepiColombo is a joint ESA/JAXA mission to Mercury. It was launched in 2018 on a complex trajectory to the Solar System’s innermost planet. The ESA reports that the spacecraft’s thrusters have lost some power.

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Japan’s Lunar Lander Survives its Third Lunar Night

Lunar surface seen by SLIM

Space travel and exploration was never going to be easy. Failures are sadly all too common but it’s wonderful to see missions exceed expectations. The Japanese Space Agency’s SLIM lunar lander was only supposed to survive a single day but it’s survived three brutal, harsh lunar nights and is still going. The temperatures plummet to -170C at night and the lander was never designed to operate into the night. Even sat upside down on the surface it’s still sending back pictures and data. 

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The Solar Wind is Stripping Oxygen and Carbon Away From Venus

Artist's impression of the European Space Agency/JAXA BepiColombo mission in operation around Mercury. Credit: Astrium

The BepiColombo mission, a joint effort between JAXA and the ESA, was only the second (and most advanced) mission to visit Mercury, the least explored planet in the Solar System. With two probes and an advanced suite of scientific instruments, the mission addressed several unresolved questions about Mercury, including the origin of its magnetic field, the depressions with bright material around them (“hollows”), and water ice around its poles. As it turns out, BepiColombo revealed some interesting things about Venus during its brief flyby.

Specifically, the two probes studied a previously unexplored region of Venus’ magnetic environment when they made their second pass on August 10th, 2021. In a recent study, an international team of scientists analyzed the data and found traces of carbon and oxygen being stripped from the upper layers of Venus’ atmosphere and accelerated to speeds where they can escape the planet’s gravitational pull. This data could provide new clues about atmospheric loss and how interactions between solar wind and planetary atmospheres influence planetary evolution.

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Against all Odds. Japan’s SLIM Lander Survived a Second Lunar Night Upside Down

Illustration: SLIM lander on the moon
An artist's conception shows Japan's SLIM lander in its upended position on the lunar surface. (Credit: JAXA)

You might remember the SLIM lunar lander that managed to land upside-down! The probe from the Japanese Space Agency has survived its second night on the Moon and returns a new photograph. Despite the solar panels pointing away from the Sun during the day it was still able to capture the image and transmit to Earth. All that while surviving the harsh -130C lunar night. 

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Crew-8 Arrives at the ISS, Despite a Crack in the Capsule

Launch of Crew 8

Space travel seems to be a fairly regular occurrence now with crews hopping up and down to the International Space Station. This week, another crew arrived on board a SpaceX Dragon capsule known as Endeavour.  On board were NASA astronauts Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt and Jeanette Epps along with cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin. The ISS already had seven people on board so this brought the total crew to eleven. The launch almost got cancelled due to a crack in the hatch seal. 

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Astroscale’s Satellite is Now Chasing Down a Real Piece of Space Debris

ADRAS-J Launch. Credit: Astroscale Japan, Inc.

Space debris is a thing.. It seems whether we explore the Earth or space we leave rubbish in our wake. Thankfully, organisations like Astroscale are trying to combat the problem of debris in space with a new commercial debris inspection demonstration satellite. Named ADRAS-J, the satellite – which is now in orbit – is hunting down an old Japanese upper stage rocket body which was launched in 2009.  It will approach to within 30 metres to study the module from every angle and work out how it can be safely de-orbited by a future mission. 

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Japan's New H3 Rocket Successfully Blasts Off

The launch of Japan's H3 rocket on February 17, 2024. Credit: JAXA.

Japan successfully tested its new flagship H3 rocket after an earlier version failed last year. The rocket lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center on Saturday, February 17, reaching an orbital altitude of about 670 kilometers (420 miles). It deployed a set of micro-satellites and a dummy satellite designed to simulate a realistic payload.

With the successful launch of the H3, Japan will begin transitioning away from the previous H-2A rocket which has been in service since 2001 and is set to be retired after two more launches. Several upcoming missions depend on the H3, so this successful test was vital.

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Asteroid Ryugu Contained Bonus Comet Particles

Asteroid Ryugu, as imaged by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. The red dot marks the sampling location. Image Credit: JAXA/Hayabusa2
Asteroid Ryugu, as imaged by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. The red dot marks the sampling location. Image Credit: JAXA/Hayabusa2

On December 5th, 2020, Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission successfully returned samples it had collected from the Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) 162173 Ryugu home. Since asteroids are basically leftover material from the formation of the Solar System, analysis of these samples will provide insight into what conditions were like back then. In particular, scientists are interested in determining how organic molecules were delivered throughout the Solar System shortly after its formation (ca. 4.6 billion years ago), possibly offering clues as to how (and where) life emerged.

The samples have already provided a wealth of information, including more than 20 amino acids, vitamin B3 (niacine), and interstellar dust. According to a recent study by a team of Earth scientists from Tohoku University, the Ryugu samples also showed evidence of micrometeoroid impacts that left patches of melted glass and minerals. According to their findings, these micrometeoroids likely came from other comets and contained carbonaceous materials similar to primitive organic matter typically found in ancient cometary dust.

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Japan’s SLIM Lander Finds Power Even Though It’s Face Down

Photo of the SLIM lander on the surface of the Moon - showing it tipped onto its side.
Photo of SLIM Lander

The Moon is a bit of a hot bed for exploration of late.  The Japanese agency JAXA have been getting in on the act but their SLIM lander fell on its side with its solar panels pointing toward the ground. Until today, JAXA thought that was it but today it seems that they have managed to re-established contact again.

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Japan’s New X-Ray Observatory Sees First Light

Supernova remnant N132D lies in the central portion of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy about 160,000 light-years away. XRISM’s Xtend captured the remnant in X-rays, displayed in the inset. Although bright in X-rays, the stellar wreckage is almost invisible in the ground-based background view taken in optical light. Credit: Inset, JAXA/NASA/XRISM Xtend; background, C. Smith, S. Points, the MCELS Team and NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

XRISM, the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, is a joint NASA/JAXA mission led by JAXA. The X-ray space telescope began its mission in low-Earth orbit on September 6th, 2023. Science operations won’t begin until later this year, but the satellite’s science team has released some of the telescope’s first images.

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