Sep 16, 2009 | 4
Russia's Phobos-Grunt probe, which had been slated to head off this year on a sample-return mission to Phobos, the larger of Mars's two moons, will not launch until at least 2011, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.
Citing "a source in Russia's space industry," the news agency reported that the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Russian Academy of Sciences would make the postponement official in the next few days. As noted in a recent feature article about the Phobos-Grunt mission on ScientificAmerican.com, the delay has been rumored for months.
As was the case with NASA's mammoth rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, pushing a mission start date back from late 2009 requires a lengthy delay. The launch window to the Red Planet and its environs, based on the relative positions of Earth and Mars, only comes about every 26 months or so.
Jun 30, 2009 | 2
The hobbled Spirit rover, stuck in a tricky patch of Martian soil, is whiling away the hours with a little stargazing. From its stationary post in an area known as Troy, the rover has been turning its cameras to the skies to act as an ad hoc observatory on Mars, as noted by Universe Today.
Planetary scientist Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, the member of the rover team who is leading the effort, tells ScientificAmerican.com that Spirit has been observing stars and planets for about two weeks.
But it is a different kind of observation than that on Earth. "Images of stars are useful not for the astronomy but for the atmospheric information," Lemmon says. "Astronomers on Earth use multiple observations to cancel out the Earth's atmospheric effects and leave information on the target. We cancel out the information on the target to learn about Mars's atmosphere."
May 8, 2009 | 1
The White House yesterday announced that it will convene a 10-member independent panel to thoroughly review NASA's plans for human spaceflight. The announcement calls into doubt the agency's current cornerstones for manned missions, including the planned replacement for the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle and the stated goal of returning humans to the moon by 2020.
In a teleconference with reporters today, the panel's chair, former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, gave few hints as to the future of manned spaceflight in the U.S., saying that his group's mission was simply to "take a fresh look and go where the facts are and basically call it the way we see it."
Nov 21, 2008
With more nations sending up more spacecraft conducting more advanced scientific studies, how will the world's space agencies keep everyone and everything in the loop? NASA has devised a system, touted as a sort of deep-space Internet protocol, to form the backbone of interplanetary communication: Disruption-Tolerant Networking, or DTN. The space agency announced this week that its DTN network, which would allow the automated relay of information to and from far-flung spacecraft or landers via intermediate points, had passed its first test, relaying info millions of miles into space.
"Right now most of our missions are 'point-to-point,' i.e., one ground system talks to a single spacecraft over a single space radio link," says Adrian Hooke, manager of space networking architecture, technology and standards for NASA. Communication with Mars landers or rovers, in contrast, is a "two-hop" system, he says—one link from the ground to an orbiter around the Red Planet and another link from the orbiter to the Martian surface. "Typically those two space links are rarely both up together, so we have the orbiter 'hold' data until the next hop becomes available."
Nov 17, 2008
Like many an unsung artist or writer, the late Mars Phoenix Lander's fame has increased since the robot expired last week — thanks to social-networking tools that gave it a human voice.
The Phoenix amassed nearly 40,000 friends on Twitter and almost 4,000 fans on Facebook courtesy of a NASA spokeswoman who sent cheeky transmissions from the robot as it slowly froze to death on the Red Planet, the Arizona Daily Star reports today. "Not everyone gets the chance to read their own epitaph(s). So many great entries, I feel so loved :-)," the Phoenix "told" Twitter users on Nov. 5, five days before NASA declared it caput (but three days after it stopped communicating with the agency).
Nov 11, 2008 | 2
So long, Mars Lander.
The NASA robot’s $475-million mission is over, after increasingly cold weather and diminishing sun on Mars got the better of the lander, which relied on sunlight to recharge its solar battery, scientists said yesterday. It hasn’t contacted Earth since November 2.
"We are actually ceasing operations, declaring an end to operations at this point," Barry Goldstein, Phoenix mission project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, told reporters yesterday. "We'll constantly turn on the radio and try to hail Phoenix and see if it's alive, but at this point nobody on the team has any expectations of that happening."
Sep 30, 2008 | 3
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, having already uncovered water ice in the soil of the Red Planet's northern polar plains, has now spotted another sight familiar to those of us who dwell in the higher latitude climes back on Earth: falling snow.
Using lidar (analogous to radar, with pulses of laser light standing in for radio waves), Phoenix picked up signs of snow drifting down from clouds some 2.5 miles (four kilometers) overhead. It has not been seen reaching the Martian surface; it appears to vaporize before landfall.
"Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars," James Whiteway of York University in Toronto said in a statement. Whiteway is lead scientist for Phoenix's Meteorological Station (MET), the Canadian Space Agency's contribution to the mission. He added that the MET team will now seek to discover "signs that the snow may even reach the ground."
Jul 22, 2008
NASA has coughed up $1.2 million for a navigation system that will help astronauts find their way around the lunar surface when they return in 2020. The Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System (LASOIS) is designed to function much the same way as a global positioning system (GPS). The major difference: the moon version will rely on signals from lunar beacons, stereo cameras, and orbital imaging sensors instead of from satellites (there are none drifting around the moon) to map coordinates. These signals will be picked up by sensors onboard roving lunar vehicles, robots traversing the moon's surface and sensors mounted on astronaut space suits.
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