Kepler Space Telescope Recovered from Emergency Mode

It was recently reported that the deep space telescope, Kepler had run into trouble and had forced itself to enter its emergency mode. Thankfully the planet-hunting spacecraft has since returned to a stable state.

NASA’s Kepler team engineers were able to direct the communications array aboard the craft towards Earth and have begun the long process of downloading the data that could reveal the cause of the emergency. Due to the spacecraft being 75 million miles from Earth, any signal to and from it takes a whole 13 minutes.

When the telescope was first found to have run into issues late last week, NASA had declared a mission emergency, providing the Kepler team with priority access to the Deep Space Network, which is used to contact distant spacecraft. Due to emergency mode consuming vastly more fuel than normal, restoring Kepler’s functionality was a race against time before it would be unable to complete its mission. Now that Kepler has returned to a stable state, access to the DSN has returned to normal priorities.

Whether Kepler will be returned to “science mode” is yet to be decided by the mission engineers and they are currently performing health checks on all data received from the craft. At the time of failure, the telescope was only 14 hours away from beginning the next section of its ongoing mission, however, the craft has until July 1st to complete this stage, should it be deemed fit to return to full operation.

Planet Hunting Spacecraft Kepler Enters Emergency Mode

NASA engineers have raised a mission emergency in regards to the exoplanet-hunting spacecraft Kepler, which has unexpectedly entered its emergency mode 75 million miles from Earth. This mode is the lowest level of operation for the craft and worryingly, also consumes the most fuel while in it.

The last time that NASA communicated with Kepler was on April 4th, where it was still fully operational and reporting no issues. Despite this, by the 7th, Kepler was reporting that it had been in emergency mode for a day and a half. This is certainly not good but as communication with the spacecraft is still possible, recovery from whatever went wrong may still be possible.

It won’t be easy to get Kepler back on track, though, as due to the enormous distance from Earth, any messages will take a whole 13 minutes in order to reach the craft. In order to have the best chance of getting Kepler back into normal operation, the mission support team have been granted priority access to NASA’s deep space telecommunications system and will provide updates on the craft’s status as it develops.

Kepler is no stranger to technical difficulties and its mission team have proven themselves capable of recovering the craft in the past. In July 2012 and later May 2013, Kepler lost one of its four reaction wheels used to steer the craft. Being down to half of these wheels should have proven fatal to the craft, which required precise directional control to search for planets. Despite this, a workaround using the pressure from the sun was found that allowed Kepler to continue its mission and has operated this way for almost 3 years.

Blue Origin’s New Shepherd Rocket Succeeds in Third Landing

The race for reusable spacecraft is on, and the forerunners of this contest are SpaceX and Blue Origin. SpaceX may have landed their rocket from a far higher altitude, but have never achieved (or attempted) a repeat performance. Meanwhile, Blue Origin’s New Shepherd spacecraft has completed its third takeoff and landing using the same vehicle, and this time, it performed something spectacular, a suicide burn landing.

For those who don’t know, a suicide burn landing is when the craft burns its engines at the last possible moment on the return trajectory. By only burning at 100% power as late as possible, it allows the rocket to land in the most efficient manner, as it doesn’t have to fight gravity all the way down and as the atmosphere thickens, it will provide some assistance in arresting the speed of the craft. Of course, should the time to reignite the boosters be wrong, the landing will turn into a spectacular fireball as the rocket collides with the ground.

The success of this landing furthers Blue Origin’s bragging rights in its contest with SpaceX who have not relaunched the Falcon 9 rocket that performed a successful landing and has had a recent series of failures to land, perhaps due to their attempts to do so at sea. Blue Origin are also getting closer and closer to their goal of offering low orbital space trips for tourists with the New Shepherd, with the project still on track to offer its first trips to customers by 2018.

Fancy Building a Life-Size Millennium Falcon?

Just when you think you’re free from Star Wars it drags you back in! After a long break, the Force Awakens came out and fans have been excited since. With news that the next film is delayed, what else could fans do but build a life-Size Millennium Falcon?

The US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville wanted to do just that. Why would you settle for just seeing it on the screen when you can sit in a replica cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Based off the version seen in “The Empire Strikes Back”, the entire display weighs over a thousand pounds (that’s around 454 kilograms).

With around 300 volunteers from around the world, tasks are separated so that if you can be there to help build it or if you are at your computer designing that little lever to jump to hyperspace, you can help.

The project is not cheap, with aircraft ejection seats being used to replicate the seats for the interstellar seat. This would be fine if it didn’t cost $20,000 a seat (that’s just for the used ones as well)!

In order to avoid legal issues with Disney the project is self-funded with volunteers and donations of materials and other items. If you’ve ever grown up and wanted to experience what it was like to live in a movie, this is the closest you may get to it.

NASA Wants to Install a Robot on an Asteroid and Push into Orbit around the Moon

NASA has unveiled its ambitious plan to collect a massive space rock, attach a robotic space craft, and move the rock into orbit around the Earth’s moon. The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), planned for some time during the 2020s, will allow astronauts to explore the surface of the rock and return with samples.

“NASA has identified multiple candidate asteroids and continues the search for one that could be redirected to near the moon in the 2020s,” the announcement on NASA’s website reads. “Since the announcement of the Asteroid Initiative in 2013, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program has catalogued more than 1,000 new near-Earth asteroids discovered by various search teams. Of those identified so far, four could be good candidates for ARM. Scientists anticipate many more will be discovered over the next few years, and NASA will study their velocity, orbit, size and spin before deciding on the target asteroid for the ARM mission.”

While the mission is intended as a primer for NASA’s proposed future voyages to Mars, one of the engineer who is working on ARM has drawn comparison with a celestial object from a galaxy far, far away. “It could provide the metals,” Brian Muirhead, Chief Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who is working on the ARM project, told Wired. “You have organic compounds, you have water—all the building blocks you would need to build your family Death Star.”

NASA’s Space Launch System Passes Critical Review

New artist rendition of the SLS in burnt orange and white

The most powerful rocket ever built and NASA’s first new human-rated rocket in 40 years, named the Space Launch System (SLS), has had its design pass NASA’s critical design review, meaning that the design has been deemed capable of carrying astronauts into deep space, on budget and on schedule. The next stage for the SLS will be the construction of a test version, which itself will undergo a design certification and testing against the original design, which is estimated to be completed by 2017.

The SLS Block 1, the now certified setup of the SLS, is launched using a pair of solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 engines which are currently in production, together capable of providing 77-tonnes of lift to the core unit and Orion crew module. The other key part of the SLS allowing it to operate manned missions is the Orion crew vehicle. This module can hold up to 4 crew members and is currently under development by NASA engineers, having passed its own CDR back in August. The SLS test launches could be on-track for test flights in the early 2020s. And after that, the Moon and then Mars by the 2030s are on the cards. Future planned versions of the SLS include the Block 1B, with a more powerful upper stage for deeper space missions and the Block 2, adding two solid or liquid propellant boosters, pushing the lift to over 130-tonnes.

Could the SLS spark a new era of manned space exploration in the near future, or will NASA and its SLS be the sole way for mankind of travel the vastness of space anytime soon?

Image via

Energy-Delivering Space Laser Patented

A professor from the University of Alabama has patented a revolutionary space-based laser system designed to generate and deliver energy to a nearby spacecraft. Dr. Richard Fork thinks his new innovation could even be used as the first line of defence in the event of a potential asteroid collision with the Earth.

“I see this patent as a useful step in making efficient and effective power infrastructures available to the regions of space surrounding an asteroid or planet orbiting a star,” Dr. Fork said. “The patent is significant in that it gives UAH an advantage in launching what may be the first enterprise designed to provide energy generated in space and delivered in space for commercial purposes, as well as for non-commercial applications of general interest, such as successfully redirecting asteroids or other objects that may threaten Earth.”

“This method is designed to use optical phenomena – again quantum optical phenomena – but very well proven and widely accepted optical quantum phenomena to maximize the efficiency and precision of the processes,” he added. “Sunlight does, of course, distribute energy in space. However, energy in the form of sunlight cannot be directed, delivered or concentrated nearly as precisely and efficiently, or at the peak energies that are maximally efficient for propulsive thrust, as can the coherent light generated by laser systems.

According to Dr. Fork, the technology is ready to be deployed, and could be of great interest to NASA, which funded the original concept, and Elon Musk’s private space enterprise, SpaceX.

“The underlying physical phenomena are non-trivial,” says Dr. Fork. “However, we believe we can clarify and evaluate a highly productive strategy we have in mind by exploring the basic phenomena here in our terrestrial laboratories at UAH given a year or so of adequate funding. I think that SpaceX and other companies might be interested in this patent although that is speculation on my part at this time.”

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Bill Nye’s Solar Sail Back In Touch After Reboot

We’ve all had the problem, something’s gone wrong and all of a sudden you panic! In my case, it’s normally something goes wrong with the wireless and you rush around checking your computer and your router making sure they are both working fine and you can connect to the internet again. In this case, though the two pieces of machinery were a little further apart when Bill Nye’s Solar Sail spacecraft started communicating again with the engineers back on earth.

The LightSail craft, our initial article on the launch here, had stopped sending information back to Earth after what is believed to be a software glitch. After attempting to remotely reboot the spacecraft failed they had only one chance left, a natural reboot, where the LightSail would reboot itself.

The LightSail successfully managed to reboot itself and call home, the company behind the project, Planetary Group, are confident that once their software has been patched and they are ready they will begin deploying the LightSails sails and continue testing the crafts space travelling capabilities.

Being able to travel without the use of fuel would make space travel not only more sustainable but could lighten up the spaceships we use considerably. This, however, goes as a reminder that no matter how safe you think are you, it always helps to have a backup, be it an automatic reboot for your multi-million dollar spaceship or your latest essay for school it helps to be prepared.

Thank you The Verge for the information.

Image courtesy of ISSS.

Ferrari to Build Spaceships?

The most famous supercar manufacturer in the world could be set to venture into the realm of spacecrafts. Flavio Manzoni, Design Director for Ferrari, has revealed a series of beautiful high-concept illustrations for a retro-futuristic spaceship.

“It all started as a bit of fun,” Manzoni said. “At first it was a sketch, or rather, a series of sketches, then [it developed] into a rendering.”

Manzoni revealed that he has been fascinated by space travel since his childhood in Sardinia. “I lived in a six-storey building, with a large terrace at the top. I thought that one day a UFO would land there. It disturbed me a little, but I was curious.”

The sleek, aerodynamic design recalls the LaFerrari Formula 1 car in its front fin, but its overall design bears more than a passing similarity to J-type 327 Nubian royal starship from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Aptly, much like George Lucas, Manzoni was inspired as a child by Flash Gordon.

Image courtesy of Wookieepedia.

“I tried to imagine something that can fly into the future, since there will be less and less space available on the ground,” Manzoni says. “And I focused on creating a little craft that’s different than my childhood dream, when I thought that a car of the future would slip on a cushion.”

Manzoni was coy over whether the designs were a bit of fun or pointed to a future in which Ferrari builds spaceships, preferring to speculate about extraterrestrial life. “I think it’s possible that there are other beings in the universe – more or less evolved – but I also think it’s really difficult to intercept. What if they were living with us already? Perhaps our brothers of the cosmos have done as the first Europeans who conquered the Americas: when the mission ended, they returned home.”

Thank you Form Trends for providing us with this information.

Out of Control Russian Spacecraft Hurtling to Earth

The Russian cargo spacecraft Progress M-27M is currently out of control after delivering supplies to the International Space Station and is plummeting to Earth. NASA footage shows the unmanned craft descending towards Earth’s atmosphere with little hope of regaining control over it.

“It has started descending. It has nowhere else to go,” an insider told news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP). “It is clear that absolutely uncontrollable reactions have begun.” The insider also revealed that the Russian space agency will attempt to contact the craft again to ensure that it every effort is made to avert its uncontrolled fall to Earth, saying, “We have scheduled two more communication sessions to soothe our conscience.”

The Russians lost communications with the craft, launched by a Soyuz rocket on Tuesday, soon after becoming spaceborne. Spokesperson for the Russian space agency, Mikhail Fedeyev, has refused to comment, rendering him utterly redundant.

The crew of the ISS, who were due to receive a cargo shipment from the Progress on 30th April before control of it was lost, have been watching the spacecraft fall away. Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut and former Commander of the ISS, says that the Progress should burn up as it hits the Earth’s atmosphere, so there should be no concerns about falling debris impacting the surface of the planet.

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Billionaire Wants to Start Mining the Moon in 2016

Could the Moon and its resources be used to aid humanity in the future? Naveen Jain, co-founder and chairman of California-based company Moon Express, explains that their plan is to explore the Moon for “resources of benefit to humanity”.

The Moon is known for its vast riches like gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and Helium-3, a gas that can be used in future fusion reactors to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste. However, who ‘owns the Moon’? The United Nations’ 1979 Moon Agreement, states that “the Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind”, while UN’s Outer Space Treaty, states that “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind”.

“Today, people look at diamonds as this rare thing on Earth,” Jain said. “Imagine telling someone you love her by giving her the Moon.”

NASA is apparently working with Moon Express to develop robotic spacecrafts. Moon Express is said to have signed an agreement to take over the decommissioned Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral. The launch pad will be used for Moon Express’s lander development and flight-test operations.

“Clearly, NASA has an amazing amount of expertise when it comes to getting to the Moon, and it wants to pass that knowledge on to a company like ours that has the best chance of being successful,” Jain said.

Also, Moon Express has been granted a $1 million prize from Google for taking part in the Google-sponsored Lunar X Prize, organised by the X Prize Foundation, that will award $30 million to the first company that lands a commercial spacecraft on the Moon, travels 500 meters across its surface and sends high-definition images and video back to Earth before the end of 2016.

“The purpose is to show that for the first time, a company has developed the technology to land softly on the Moon,” Jain stated. “Landing on the moon is not the hard part. Landing softly is the hard part.”

Moon Express is said to further test its robotic spacecraft at the end of the month. The MX-1, its lander, is said to take off from the pad and go up and sideways before landing back on the pad. Should the test be successful, the MX-1 will be deemed ready to travel to the Moon.

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NASA’s Cassini Visits Titan, Gathering Data on Lakes

The NASA Cassini spacecraft flew by the Saturn’s moon of Titan recently, as researchers want to gain more knowledge about the intriguing smoggy moon.

During the mission, scientists bounced a radio signal from Titan’s surface to Earth, more than 1 billion miles away, using Saturn’s moon as a mirror. The data wasn’t analyzed in real-time, but the radio signal is clear enough for researchers to collect information to work with.

It has been difficult for NASA to determine where to look on the moon, then properly engineer flight patterns and approach patterns for successful maneuvers.

Here is what Essam Marouf, Cassini radio science team member from San Jose State University said in a press statement:

“We held our breath as Cassini turned to beam its radio signals at the lakes. We knew we were getting good quality data when we saw clear echoes from Titan’s surface. It was thrilling.”

Space scientists have been interested in Titan’s surface, trying to determine if it is solid, liquid, or slushy. What the surface is potentially made of, and whether it is reflective. There are still a lot of questions left unanswered, but NASA has an important piece to the puzzle, and research will continue in the future.

Thank you to NASA for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of NASA