A number of different levels of spaceflight are on display in the media at the moment.
A South Korean satellite is believed to have been lost 137 second after launch. Having previously sent ten satellites and one astronaut into orbit aboard another country’s rockets, South Korea have been attempting to enter the exclusive club of nine countries who have launched their own satellites with rockets built in their own countries, with the ultimate aim of a lunar mission. The first attempt with a Naro-1 rocket failed when the fairing didn’t open, trapping the satellite in the body of the spent rocket. Yesterday’s launch at 9:01 BST from the Naro Space Center seems to have been accompanied by a problem in the first stage of the rocket. Contact between ground control and the satellite was lost 137 seconds after launch and it is believed the satellite exploded at that time, at an altitude of 70km.
Another country not known for its domestic launches, the United Kingdom, has announced funding for its part in the ExoMars venture, which will see a rover placed onto the red planet. More about UK involvement in the rover, expected to be launched in 2018 along with a NASA rover, and the technologies expected to be derived from our contribution can be found here. Unfortunately, they give with one hand and take with the other as the government has also denied UK scientists entry into the European high performance computing consortium PRACE, according to New Scientist.
With all the whims and wishes of politics clouding the stability of basic research, it’s no wonder the USA are fielding out rocket development to the private sector, and no bad thing according to an editorial in the Philadelphia Enquirer.
One government still persisting with the ‘old model’ is that of Japan. JAXA has managed to successfully unfurl their Solar Sail mission, Ikaros, and have confirmed that the superthin solar panels are receiving power from the Sun – though not whether the Sun is pushing it along. The project is a joint venture between JAXA and the Planetary Society, whose writeup of the announcement is here.
All of this comes on the 53rd anniversary of the announcement of the imminent launch of Sputnik-1, back in 1957. The first ever man made satellite.
Of course, in order to start and end with a bang, I should also mention that a Japanese satellite is also expected to go down in flames on Sunday when the asteroid mission Hayabusa burns up above Australia. The final ion engine burn occurred earlier this week, leaving the stricken satellite on course to deliver a capsule possibly containing material from the asteroid Itokawa before falling to a fiery end in the atmosphere. If successful, this will be the first asteroid return mission ever carried out. The capsule is expected to land at the Woomera test range at 15:00 BST and will be tracked by a NASA DC-8 aircraft.