Hayabusa 2 launches on audacious asteroid adventure


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Japan’s Hayabusa 2 asteroid mission blasts off from Tanegashima Space Center aboard an H-2A rocket. Credit: JAXA

A Japanese H-2A launcher blasted off from an idyllic island spaceport Tuesday, dispatching a daring six-year expedition to bring a piece of an asteroid back to Earth.

The Hayabusa 2 mission’s roundtrip voyage began at 0422 GMT Wednesday (11:22 p.m. EST Tuesday) with a thunderous ascent from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

The 1,300-pound spacecraft rode a hydrogen-fueled H-2A rocket through clouds hanging over the seaside spaceport, leaving a twisting column of exhaust in its wake before disappearing hundreds of miles over the Pacific Ocean.

The rocket’s upper stage engine fired two times to accelerate Hayabusa 2 on a speedy departure fast enough to break free of the pull of Earth’s gravity.

The robotic explorer, packed with four stowaway landers to be deployed to the asteroid’s surface, separated from the H-2A rocket at 0609 GMT (1:09 a.m. EST). Applause could be heard in a live webcast of the launch provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which manages the Hayabusa 2 mission.

The launch marked the opening chapter in the most ambitious mission to an asteroid ever attempted. The roundtrip journey will take six years to complete, and Hayabusa 2 promises to expand scientists’ understanding of how asteroids may have seeded Earth with water and organic molecules, the building blocks of life.

Hayabusa 2 is heading for asteroid 1999 JU3, a carbon-rich world just 900 meters — about 3,000 feet — across with a tenuous gravity field 60,000 times weaker than Earth’s.

The mission follows up on the achievements of Japan’s Hayabusa 1 probe, which made the first roundtrip flight to an asteroid from 2003 to 2010. The first Hayabusa mission encountered several crippling problems, including a fuel leak, failures in its pointing system, and a glitch with the craft’s sample collection system.

Despite the challenges, the spacecraft returned to Earth in 2010 — a few years late and carrying a fraction of the asteroid specimens intended. But Japanese scientists found microscopic samples from asteroid Itokawa — Hayabusa 1’s research subject — inside the probe’s landing vehicle.

The success vaulted Japan into the big leagues of solar system exploration.

“Many scientific milestones have been achieved from asteroid observations and samples from the asteroid Itokawa,” said Tetsuo Tanaka, associate director general of JAXA’s Lunar and Planetary Exploration Program Group. “Going to a far-off asteroid and returning with samples from it for the first time, these are tremendous technological challenges and our success in meeting them has brought worldwide admiration.”

“For the Hayabusa 2 project, Japan’s development of its own deep space exploration technology aims to lead the world in that technical field,” Tanaka said. “The Hayabusa 2 project sets new challenges for Japan’s unique technologies. How we face those challenges and how we use (the) project results will surely bring new impacts to the world.”

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Artist’s concept of the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft at asteroid 1999 JU3. Credit: JAXA

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Cool NASA Animation Beautifully Details Every Step of Orion’s First Launch!


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Source : universetoday.com

Video Caption: Animation details NASA’s Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission launching on Dec. 4. 2014. Credit: NASA

It’s not Science Fiction! It’s Not Star Trek!

No. It’s a really, really big NASA Mission! It’s Orion!

In fact, it’s the biggest and most important development in US Human Spaceflight since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

Orion is launching soon on its first flight, the pathfinding Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission and sets NASA on the path to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Watch this cool NASA animation beautifully detailing every key step of Orion’s First Launch!

Orion is designed to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Even farther into deep space than NASA’s Apollo moon landing which ended more than four decades ago!

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Orion atop Delta 4 Heavy Booster. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett (Click Image to Download)

We are T-MINUS 4 Days and Counting to the inaugural blastoff of Orion as of today, Sunday, November 30, 2014.

Every aspect of the final processing steps now in progress by engineers and technicians from NASA, rocket provider United Launch Alliance, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin is proceeding smoothly and marching towards launch.

Orion will lift off on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on its inaugural test flight to space on the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission at 7:05 a.m. EST on December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour Orion EFT-1 flight around Earth will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System.

‘Space plane’ readies for launch


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(Click image to Download) The Intermediate experimental Vehicle. Photo: ESA 

Europe’s first-ever “space plane” will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace says after a three-month delay to fine-tune the flight plan.

The unmanned, car-sized vessel will be sent into low orbit by Europe’s Vega light rocket, on a 100-minute fact-finding flight to inform plans to build a shuttle-like, reusable space vehicle.

Dubbed IXV, for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, the plane will be boosted from Europe’s space pad in Kourou, French Guiana, and separate from its launcher at an altitude of 320 kilometres.

The European Space Agency website says it will attain an altitude of around 450k kilometres before re-entering the atmosphere at an altitude of 120 kilometres – representative of a return mission from low orbit.

The vessel is expected to collect data on its hypersonic and supersonic flight phases, before plunging into the Pacific Ocean with a parachute.

The initial launch had been scheduled for November 18, but Arianespace in October announced a postponement “to carry out additional flight trajectory analyses”.

“Based on joint work by ESA [the European Space Agency] and CNES [the French space agency], the date for the IXV mission to be launched by Vega has been set for February 11, 2015,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Developed over five years at a cost of 150 million euros ($225 million), the IXV is the testbed for a reusable vehicle that may one day be able to land on a conventional runway on Earth after a mission to space.

This could be useful for bringing astronauts back from the International Space Station (ISS).

The only craft currently able to ferry astronauts to the ISS and back is Russia’s Soyuz.

Last month saw two major setbacks for the space industry.

On October 28, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded shortly after launch on what was to be a supply mission to the ISS, followed three days later by the crash of Virgin Galactic tourist space plane SpaceShipTwo on a test flight, killing one of two pilots.

Source : smh

Russian Cargo Ship Lifts Off For Space Station


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An unmanned Russian cargo ship successfully lifted off for the International Space Station (ISS) on October 29.

The Progress 57 craft was launched atop a Soyuz rocket at 8:09 a.m. Prague time from the Russian-leased Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan.

“Everything looks good on the Soyuz booster and the Progress resupply ship,” an announcer on the U.S. space agency’s NASA TV said.

The launch came nine hours after a privately operated rocket exploded seconds after liftoff in the United States, causing the loss of cargo ship that was also bound for the ISS.

The explosion of the Antares was the first such accident since NASA turned to private operators to deliver cargo to the station, breaking a Russian monopoly that followed the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet in 2011.

The Progress is delivering nearly three metric tons of propellant, oxygen, water, and other supplies to the station.