Some spaceflight stuff

The weekend has seen quite a bit of activity. The final activity for Robonaut 2 before being packed away for transport to the International Space Station can be seen in this video:

Meanwhile some humans who also hope to be stationed up there or thereabouts someday have also been undergoing some activity – underwater activity familiarising themselves with performing Extra Vehicular Activities, or spacewalks. The ESA Astronaut Candidates performed their EVA training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at the European Astronaut Centre, in Cologne, Germany. Pictures here.

Other future space missions were in the spotlight as well. Russia and India are collaborating on a triple mission to the Moon, set for a 2013 launch. The mission will see an Indian rocket launch an Indian orbitting spacecraft, a Russian Lunar lander and an Indian lunar rover. The landing parts haven’t yet had a site chosen, but opinion favours the South pole, which is at a higher latitude than any previous mission, would allow more continuous communications and may improve chances of digging down and touching Lunar ice. Meanwhile, another Lunar mission by China has also been targetted at 2013, setting up an Eastern space race to be the first hardware on the surface of the Moon since 1976.

Of course, it might be nice if China did a bit of cleaning up closer to home as the nation has been revealed as the source of forty percent of the 10,000 or so bits of space debris in orbit of the Earth. The USA is second on 27.5 percent and Russia, whose space agency commissioned the report, third on 25.5 percent. The reason why China has so many bits floating about up there compared to the two powers who went up earlier and sent far more rockets in their time was the decision by the Chinese military to show off an anti satellite device that turned one defunct satellite into 2,800 pieces, which alone is more than the number of things left by second placed America.

NASA, meanwhile, is contemplating a mission to somewhere not very well covered – the surface of Venus. With suggestions that Venus may once have had continents, may well have been volcanically active more recently than previously assumed and with the low level of data we have on what it really looks like beneath the thick, swirling clouds, a mission called SAGE has been proposed. Landers on the surface of Venus last only a short while before succumbing to the intense pressure and temperatures, so SAGE intends to pack in as much as possible in the few hours it would have after landing on the flank of a possibly active volcano, Mielikki Mons. It would try to drill, to sample the air, to take spectral measurements of the composition of the ground, the subsurface, the gases and to send back as many images as possible before the second largest terrestrial planet swiftly destroys the newcomer as it has done all previous missions beneath the clouds – the present record for transmission from the surface was the 127 minutes of data from Venera 13 in 1982. If successful, SAGE’s 2016 launch would see it on the way to becoming the first landing on Venus since 1985.

NASA aren’t the only USA launchers in town. An Air Force Satellite was launched by the United Launch Alliance on an Atlas V rocket. Picture here.

And finally, Cassini has been revisiting the Tiger Stripes on Enceladus, the tiny, icy satellite of Saturn. The tiger stripes are now known to be areas from which vast amounts of water are shooting from inside the satellite and Cassini has taken images in the infrared to detect heat structures within the stripes and understand the mechanisms behind the ejection of the water. Previous flybys were inappropriate for the infrared instruments to be used as the surface flew by too quickly on previous low orbits.


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