Tag Archives: mission

Time to Wake Up: Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, currently en route to Pluto. Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory are preparing to “wake” the spacecraft from electronic hibernation on Dec. 6, when the probe will be more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

New Horizons Set to Wake Up for Pluto Encounter

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft comes out of hibernation for the last time on Dec. 6. Between now and then, while the Pluto-bound probe enjoys three more weeks of electronic slumber, work on Earth is well under way to prepare the spacecraft for a six-month encounter with the dwarf planet that begins in January.

“New Horizons is healthy and cruising quietly through deep space – nearly three billion miles from home – but its rest is nearly over,” says Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. “It’s time for New Horizons to wake up, get to work, and start making history.”

Since launching in January 2006, New Horizons has spent 1,873 days in hibernation – about two-thirds of its flight time – spread over 18 separate hibernation periods from mid-2007 to late 2014 that ranged from 36 days to 202 days long.

In hibernation mode much of the spacecraft is unpowered; the onboard flight computer monitors system health and broadcasts a weekly beacon-status tone back to Earth. On average, operators woke New Horizons just over twice each year to check out critical systems, calibrate instruments, gather science data, rehearse Pluto-encounter activities and perform course corrections when necessary.

New Horizons pioneered routine cruise-flight hibernation for NASA. Not only has hibernation reduced wear and tear on the spacecraft’s electronics, it lowered operations costs and freed up NASA Deep Space Network tracking and communication resources for other missions.

Ready to Go

Next month’s wake-up call was preprogrammed into New Horizons’ on-board computer in August, commanding it come out of hibernation at 3 p.m. EST on Dec. 6. About 90 minutes later New Horizons will transmit word to Earth that it’s in “active” mode; those signals, even traveling at light speed, will need four hours and 25 minutes to reach home. Confirmation should reach the mission operations team at APL around 9:30 p.m. EST. At the time New Horizons will be more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth, and just 162 million miles – less than twice the distance between Earth and the sun – from Pluto.

Time to Wake Up: Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, currently en route to Pluto. Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory are preparing to “wake” the spacecraft from electronic hibernation on Dec. 6, when the probe will be more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)
Time to Wake Up: Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, currently en route to Pluto. Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory are preparing to “wake” the spacecraft from electronic hibernation on Dec. 6, when the probe will be more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

After several days of collecting navigation-tracking data, downloading and analyzing the cruise science and spacecraft housekeeping data stored on New Horizons’ digital recorders, the mission team will begin activities that include conducting final tests on the spacecraft’s science instruments and operating systems, and building and testing the computer-command sequences that will guide New Horizons through its flight to and reconnaissance of the Pluto system. Tops on the mission’s science list are characterizing the global geology and topography of Pluto and its large moon Charon, mapping their surface compositions and temperatures, examining Pluto’s atmospheric composition and structure, studying Pluto’s smaller moons and searching for new moons and rings.

New Horizons’ seven-instrument science payload, developed under direction of Southwest Research Institute, includes advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a compact multicolor camera, a high-resolution telescopic camera, two powerful particle spectrometers, a space-dust detector (designed and built by students at the University of Colorado) and two radio science experiments. The entire spacecraft, drawing electricity from a single radioisotope thermoelectric generator, operates on less power than a pair of 100-watt light bulbs.

Distant observations of the Pluto system begin Jan. 15 and will continue until late July 2015; closest approach to Pluto is July 14.

“We’ve worked years to prepare for this moment,” says Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager at APL. “New Horizons might have spent most of its cruise time across nearly three billion miles of space sleeping, but our team has done anything but, conducting a flawless flight past Jupiter just a year after launch, putting the spacecraft through annual workouts, plotting out each step of the Pluto flyby and even practicing the entire Pluto encounter on the spacecraft. We are ready to go.”

“The final hibernation wake up Dec. 6 signifies the end of an historic cruise across the entirety of our planetary system,” added New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. “We are almost on Pluto’s doorstep!”

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is the principal investigator and leads the mission; SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft.

Source: JHUAPL

MAVEN Completes Commissioning And Begins Its Primary Science Mission

The MAVEN spacecraft completed its commissioning activities on November 16 and has formally begun its one-year primary science mission.  The start of science is actually a “soft start”, in that the instruments started making science measurements beginning almost as soon as we were in orbit, and some instrument calibration activities will be continuing throughout the mission.

Spacecraft commissioning, in what the MAVEN team called its “transition phase”, included adjusting the orbit to get into its science orbit, deploying the booms that hold a number of the instruments away from the spacecraft, ejecting the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) instrument cover, turning on and checking out each of the science instruments, and carrying out calibration activities for both the spacecraft and the instruments.  This period also included the close approach of Comet Siding Spring, which whizzed by Mars at a distance of only ~135,000 km on October 19.

During this transition phase, we were able to get some early science observations.  We made observations from MAVEN’s initial 35-hour capture orbit immediately after the large Mars Orbit Insertion maneuver on Sept. 21.  From this capture orbit, which took the spacecraft to much higher altitudes than our science-mapping orbit will, we used the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument to observe the extended clouds of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen surrounding the planet.  These “coronae” extend out to more than ten planetary radii, and this orbit allowed us to make measurements of the clouds’ spatial extent to higher altitudes than we can during the primary mission.  We also took time off from commissioning to observe the comet and to take before and after observations of the Mars atmosphere to look for changes.  IUVS and NGIMS observations both revealed a tremendous quantity of metal ions that came from cometary dust that entered the atmosphere.  Their presence was unexpected, in that the nominal models of the paths taken by dust grains, calculated prior to the comet passage, indicated that no dust would make it all the way to Mars.  We’re certainly glad that we took precautions to protect us from dust during the encounter!

During science mapping, the spacecraft will carry out regular observations of the Martian upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and solar-wind interactions.  MAVEN will observe from an elliptical orbit that gets as low as about 150 km above the surface and as high as 6000 km.  The nine science instruments will observe the energy from the Sun that hits Mars, the response of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, and the way that the interactions lead to loss of gas from the top of the atmosphere to space.  Our goal is to understand the processes by which escape to space occurs, and to learn enough to be able to extrapolate backwards in time and determine the total amount of gas lost to space over time.  This will help us understand why the Martian climate changed over time, from an early warmer and wetter environment to the cold, dry planet we see today.

From the observations made both during the cruise to Mars and during the transition phase, we know that our instruments are working well.  The spacecraft also is operating smoothly, with very few “hiccups” so far.  The science team is ready to go!  Of course, standing behind the science team are literally hundreds of engineers who designed, built, tested, and integrated together the spacecraft and the science instruments, and who operate the spacecraft daily (and, when called upon, even in the middle of the night).  The MAVEN team consists of researchers at the University of Colorado, NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, University of California at Berkeley, Lockheed Martin, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as colleagues at numerous other institutions who participated in developing the flight hardware and in doing the science analysis.  Space exploration is a “team sport”, and the success of the whole team allows us to do our science.

With the formal start of our science mission, we’re on track to be able to carry out our full mission as planned, and the science team is looking forward to an incredibly exciting year!

Bruce JakoskyMAVEN Principal Investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

Source: NASA

Image credit : ESA

Philae landed successfully on comet : Rosetta update

Image credit : ESA
Image credit : ESA

A remarkable feat in human history has been achieved by European Space Agency (ESA) when Rosetta mission’s Philae lander landed on a comet successfully.

This achievement is not only a great achievement for ESA but it can be useful for space science and technology in general as now humanity knows that it is doable!

Congratulations ESA and all the scientists, engineers and everyone involved with the mission.


Following is a tweet from @Philae2014



ESA enters into the sci-fi realm with ‘Ambitious’

European Space Agency has entered the area of science fiction in an unusual and innovative way of doing public outreach. This new experimental work was done in the form of a short film ‘Ambitious’, premiered on Friday in London.


Ambition is a collaboration between Platige Image and ESA. Directed by Tomek Bagiński and starring Aiden Gillen and Aisling Franciosi, Ambition was shot on location in Iceland, and screened on 24 October 2014 during the British Film Institute’s celebration of Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, at the Southbank, London. 

Source: ESA

Rover landing site candidates. Credit : ESA

Four possible landing sites are being considered for the ExoMars mission in 2018 :ESA

Four possible landing sites are being considered for the ExoMars mission in 2018. Its rover will search for evidence of martian life, past or present.

ExoMars is a joint two-mission endeavour between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency. The Trace Gas Orbiter and an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, will be launched in January 2016, arriving at Mars nine months later. The Rover and Surface Platform will depart in May 2018, with touchdown on Mars in January 2019.

Rover landing site candidates. Credit : ESA
Rover landing site candidates. Credit : ESA

The search for a suitable landing site for the second mission began in December 2013, when the science community was asked to propose candidates.

The eight proposals were considered during a workshop held by the Landing Site Selection Working Group in April. By the end of the workshop, there were four clear front-runners.

Following additional review by an ESA-appointed panel, the four sites have now been formally recommended for further detailed analysis.


The sites – Mawrth Vallis, Oxia Planum, Hypanis Vallis and Aram Dorsum – are all located relatively close to the equator.

“The present-day surface of Mars is a hostile place for living organisms, but primitive life may have gained a foothold when the climate was warmer and wetter, between 3.5 billion and 4 billion years ago,” says Jorge Vago, ESA’s ExoMars project scientist.

“Therefore, our landing site should be in an area with ancient rocks where liquid water was once abundant. Our initial assessment clearly identified four landing sites that are best suited to the mission’s scientific goals.”

The area around Mawrth Vallis and nearby Oxia Planum contains one of the largest exposures of rocks on Mars that are older than 3.8 billion years and clay-rich, indicating that water once played a role here. Mawrth Vallis lies on the boundary between the highlands and lowlands and is one of the oldest outflow channels on Mars.

The exposed rocks at both Mawrth Vallis and Oxia Planum have varied compositions, indicating a variety of deposition and wetting environments. In addition, the material of interest has been exposed by erosion only within the last few hundred million years, meaning the rocks are still well preserved against damage from the planet’s harsh radiation and oxidation environment.

By contrast, Hypanis Vallis lies on an exhumed fluvial fan, thought to be the remnant of an ancient river delta at the end of a major valley network. Distinct layers of fine-grained sedimentary rocks provide access to material deposited about 3.45 billion years ago.

Finally, the Aram Dorsum site receives its name from the eponymous channel, curving from northeast to west across the location. The sedimentary rocks around the channel are thought to be alluvial sediments deposited much like those around Earth’s River Nile.

This region experienced both sustained water activity followed by burial, providing protection from radiation and oxidation for most of Mars’ geological history, also making this a site with strong potential for finding preserved biosignatures.

“While all four sites are clearly interesting scientifically, they must also allow for the operational and engineering requirements for safe landing and roving on the surface,” adds Jorge.

“Technical constraints are satisfied to different degrees in each of these locations and, although our preliminary evaluation indicates that Oxia Planum has fewer problems compared to the other sites, verification is still on going.”

The next stage of analysis will include simulations to predict the probability of landing success based on the entry profile, atmospheric and terrain properties at each of the candidate sites.

The aim is to complete the certification of at least one site by the second half of 2016, with a final decision on the landing site for the ExoMars 2018 rover to be taken sometime in 2017.

Download the full report: Recommendation for the narrowing of ExoMars 2018 landing sites

More ExoMars images, including digital terrain models of the candidate landing sites, are availablehere.

Source: ESA

ISRO's facebook page inviting their members to witness the history.

ISRO and India all set for MOM’s Mars Insertion|Update: MOM successfully completes Insertion Phase

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is all set to make a history when their Mars Orbital Mission (MOM) or Mangalyan will enter the orbit of Mars.

Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) is scheduled on 24th of September 2014.

MOM  was launched into the Earth’s orbit on 5th November 2013 from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, using a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket C25 at 09:08 UTC (14:38 IST) . The mission will not only help in gathering useful information related to the atmosphere of Mars or the Red Planet and planetary astrophysics in general but will also be remembered as a great milestone achieved by Indian scientists and is expected to boost the interest in science and technology education and research in India.

The live webcast for MOI will be available on ISRO’s website. Webcast will be available on Sep 24, 2014 from 06:45 hrs (IST):


We wish best of luck to MOM!

ISRO's facebook page inviting their members to witness the history.
ISRO’s facebook page inviting their members to witness the history.

Update 7:35 am: MOM successfully complete’s Insertion phase.

Narendra Modi, PM of India announced the success by saying,

“Aaj Mangal ka MOM sai milan hogiya.” [Today, Mangal (Mars or Mangalyan) and MOM have met]


Congratulations India and ISRO!