Norway has launched AISSat-1, the ship tracking satellite. It will orbit the Earth and use existing identification systems to track the positions of ships. The data will be used to police Norway’s territorial waters, which expand out of the range of ground based receivers for the ship identification systems, and act as air traffic control for that part of the sea.
Data from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been used by Microsoft to generate a three dimensional rendering of the Martian surface as part of the World Wide Telescope project. Users can now explore Mars and do their own studies of the surface of the red planet as revealed by MRO. A tour of the geology and the science of the Phoenix lander is also included.
A testbed for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna or LISA mission is to be launched in 2012. LISA Pathfinder will aim to prove the feasibility of keeping test masses 35cm apart for long periods of time and at high precision. The eventual LISA mission will hold test masses at five million kilometre distances and will measure the relative rate of acceleration due to gravitational free fall experienced by them. The hope is that if gravitational waves, ripples in space-time generated by interactions between strong sources of gravity and predicted by General Relativity, do exist and wash over the masses, the minute changes in relative free fall acceleration will be measurable. The mission will be a joint ESA-NASA venture.
Meanwhile, scientists in Japan are taking a little more time to examine minute particles found in the sample canister returned by the Hayabusa asteroid rendezvous. At present, it is not known whether the particles captured by the malfunctioning arm are from the asteroid or from the Earth and some more time is required to make that determination.