On July 23rd, a tiny spacecraft in orbit around Earth unfurled a thin sheet of mylar that’s the area of a boxing ring. The result is a reflective sail that rides not on wind, but on light from the Sun to propel the vehicle through space.#PlanetarySociety #LightSail #Technology #Exploration #Light #Propulsion
Over the course of the next month, LightSail 2 will perform something of a dance in orbit, twisting its sail back and forth to ride on sunlight. As it approaches the Sun, the spacecraft will keep its sail edge on toward the light. Then, once it’s directly in front of the Sun, it will twist and face the sail toward the Sun. “It’ll work very much like a sailboat, where you push, twist, and pack into the ‘wind,’” Nye said. “And then you twist and take advantage of sailing ‘downwind.’” If all goes well, the sunlight will push on LightSail 2, and the spacecraft’s orbit will rise slightly as it whips around the Earth.
Eventually, this orbit raising will lead to the spacecraft’s demise. LightSail 2 will only be able to raise its orbit on one side of the Earth, and each time the orbit gets higher on that side, the orbit gets lower on the other. In about a year, LightSail 2 will pass close enough to Earth that it will be dragged into the planet’s atmosphere, burning up during its descent.
However, its fiery demise won’t be a tragedy since LightSail 2 is only intended to prove that this type of in-space propulsion can work. If it manages to do that, The Planetary Society plans to share its solar sail technique with other spacecraft developers that are looking for innovative ways to maneuver vehicles through space. A solar sail could be used for something as simple as maintaining a spacecraft’s position in orbit, or it could be amplified for something as complex as sending cargo to Mars.
Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft has touched down on Ryugu for a second time, bagging samples which hopefully contain material from the subsurface of the asteroid.#Asteroids #Ryugu #Hayabusa2 #Japan #Space #Exploration
The first touchdown in February saw Hayabusa2 successfully collect samples from the primitive C-type asteroid Ryugu, achieving one of the main science goals of the mission.
JAXA and ISAS however decided to proceed with a second touchdown in order to boost sample volume, perform an unprecedented multi-sampling from a planetary body and, crucially, collect subsurface material excavated by the SCI experiment. In doing so the team will aim to answer questions regarding the very low reflectance of Ryugu, give insight into the regional heterogeneity of celestial bodies and, through comparison, assess the impact of solar wind on the surface.
With careful planning and dashes of creativity, engineers have been able to keep NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft flying for nearly 42 years - longer than any other spacecraft in history. To ensure that these vintage robots continue to return the best science data possible from the frontiers of space, mission engineers are implementing a new plan to manage them. And that involves making difficult choices, particularly about instruments and thrusters.#Voyager #Space #Exploration
After extensive discussions with the science team, mission managers recently turned off a heater for the cosmic ray subsystem instrument (CRS) on Voyager 2 as part of the new power management plan. The cosmic ray instrument played a crucial role last November in determining that Voyager 2 had exited the heliosphere, the protective bubble created by a constant outflow (or wind) of ionized particles from the Sun. Ever since, the two Voyagers have been sending back details of how our heliosphere interacts with the wind flowing in interstellar space, the space between stars.
Mission team members can now preliminarily confirm that Voyager 2's cosmic ray instrument is still returning data, despite dropping to a chilly minus 74 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 59 degrees Celsius). This is lower than the temperatures at which CRS was tested more than 42 years ago (down to minus 49 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 45 degrees Celsius). Another Voyager instrument also continued to function for years after it dropped below temperatures at which it was tested."
For many at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, January 1 this year didn't mean a New Year's celebration. Instead, it meant the first arrival of data from New Horizons' visit to a small Kuiper Belt object. But, like its earlier flyby of Pluto, the probe was instructed to grab all the data it could and deal with getting it back to Earth later. The full set of everything New Horizons captured won't be available for more than a year yet. But with 10 percent of the total cache in hand, researchers decided they had enough to do the first analysis of 2014 MU69.#Astronomy #Space #NewHorizons #Exploration #2014MU69 #UltimaThule #KuiperBeltObjects
Overall, 2014 MU69 looks exactly like what we'd hope for: a world that underwent some major changes immediately after its formation but has since become static, preserving its state largely as it was billions of years ago. Hopefully, more details on that state are sitting in storage on New Horizons. Because we're not likely to send something back to 2014 MU69 any time soon.
Using raw rover imagery and the sound of actual wind on Mars, I painted this little portrait of Opportunity, our faithful little martian rover friend that was lost earlier this year. Losing a rover feels a little like losing a pet. But for all that it accomplished, and for our ability to revel in all the awesome images it collected over its lifetime, its end is bittersweet. Oppy traveled 28 miles on Mars over a span of 14 years - an amazing feat of engineering and human ambition.#Mars #Rovers #OpportunityRover #Exploration #Planets #Space
After the monumentally successful flyby of Pluto in 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft continued on into the outer solar system. After traveling at more than a dozen kilometers per second out an additional billion kilometers or so, it shot past the odd little rocky iceball 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019, passing it by the razor-thin margin of just 3,500 kilometers … and that was after traveling for over 6.6 billion kilometers from Earth!#Space #Astronomy #Asteroids #NewHorizons #MU69 #UltimaThule #Exploration
New Horizons took a lot of data during this encounter, comparable to what it did at Pluto, and it'll be another year or more before it's all back on Earth. So the New Horizons team did a clever thing: They prioritized what images to send back first. Among the highest priorities was getting the highest-resolution image sent back from the closest encounter as quickly as possible.
And now that image is here.
You might think that being out there, exposed to space out past Neptune for billions of years, MU69 would be covered in craters. For Pluto that's not the case because we think its surface gets repaved, so to speak, from subsurface processes that bubble up liquid from the interior. However, MU69 is far too small for that, and is certainly solid throughout. So a dearth of craters means there must be a dearth of impactors.
Interestingly, some scientists actually predicted this! They used the number of small craters seen on Pluto and its huge moon Charon, together with measurements and estimates of sizes of small objects past Neptune (called trans-Neptunian objects [TNOs], or more specifically in this case the Kuiper Belt), first to try to figure out the size distribution of objects out there capable of hitting MU69, and then to predict the size distribution of craters on MU69. Keep in mind that this was all done before the MU69 encounter!
More than 4 years after launch and a half year surveying asteroid Ryugu in space, Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft is ready for its biggest moment yet: sample collection. The spacecraft is scheduled to touch down on Ryugu at 08:15 Japan time on 22 February (21 February 23:15 UTC, 18:15 EST). If all goes well, Hayabusa2 will gently touch Ryugu with its meter-long sample horn, fire a bullet made of tantalum into the surface, and capture the resulting cloud of dust and debris.#Space #Exploration #Asteroids #SampleCollection #Japan #Hayabusa2 #AsteroidRyugu