Sent aloft, borne by a sunbeam – spaceflight roundup

Strange title, strange post.

With all eyes presently on the space shuttle Atlantis’s STS132 mission to the International Space Station, some other spaceflight pieces are falling under the radar, so here’s a couple you may have missed.

As I type, JAXA, the Japanese space agency, is launching the rocket containing the Akatsuki wind measuring craft to Venus, where it will work alongside ESA‘s Venus Express mission to study factors such as the super-rotation of the atmosphere and the bits of the atmosphere that absorb blue and ultraviolet light – scratch that, the launch has been canceled due to bad weather. Along with the main probe, there are a few other spacecraft in the payload of the rocket [to be], including Ikaros, the first solar sail spacecraft to leave the orbit of the Earth and set off, riding solar pressure. Along with the superthin sail, which also works as a solar panel, the device contains an ion engine, working off the power supplied by the solar panel. Post-launch timeline here. The launch will also include satellites Negai – testing information processing software in space; WASEDA-SAT2, which is a technology testbed; KSAT, which will conduct Earth Observation experiments; UNITEC-1, which will broadcast signals from deep space for amateur radio operators (ham radio) to pick up as well as doing some computer systems tests. Let’s hope they launch soon.

In the Independent Newspaper, complaints are surfacing over the cancellation of plans to revisit the Moon.

NASA is doing a final check on the status of the Phoenix Lander on Mars. The spacecraft landed on the edge of a polar ice cap, performed its mission as planned and then sank into darkness, also as expected. There was an extremely slim chance the lander could be reactivated when the ice cap receded in local spring, but this hasn’t happened (and it is possible the weight of carbon dioxide snow on its solar panels has snapped them off). But following the local summer solstice, now is the best time to see whether or not the lander has revived and one last attempt at contact is to be made.

And finally, as the Mars500 team prepare to go into eighteen months of isolation, to study the effect of a Mars mission on the group, one of the Russian’s has found the timing wasn’t entirely to his wife’s liking – after all, they had only just got married. Alexei Sitev will probably be facing some pretty certain dangers and a well honed rolling pin after deciding his honeymoon should wait until after he’s spent 520 days on a simulated Martian mission. Perhaps now’s the time to sign up to the real thing?


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