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2005 Space News

December, 2005

Analysis: Europe's roadmap for space, the winners and the losers
After a day and a half of deliberations, ministers from the 17 member states of the European Space Agency (Esa), and Canada, finally signed off the budget that will shape Europe's space efforts until the end of the decade. Projects that got the go-ahead include ExoMars, the rover that will search for possible Maritan life, past or present, GMES, a key tool to understanding how the Earth's climate is changing and the use of European launchers. The main loser at the meeting was a plan to look into the feasibility of joining forces with Russia on its new crewed spaceship, the Clipper. Although the move attracted support from a number of countries, there was not enough backing to make a final decision on the matter in Berlin.  Full Story  BBC News_ 12/7/05

Images suggest Saturn moon geologically active

The international Cassini spacecraft has found visual evidence that Saturn's moon Enceladus is geologically active.

Recent images taken by the spacecraft show streams of fine, icy particles rising from the moon's south pole, suggesting they originated from warm zones in the region.  The discovery puts Enceladus in the class of geologically active moons with Jupiter's Io and Neptune's Triton.  It's unclear what causes the geologic activity, but scientists think it's due to internal heating caused by radioactivity or tides.  Full Story_CNN 12/7/05

Signs of water found deep within Mars
New observations of Mars' interior have revealed a crater hidden from the surface and new information about ice below the polar cap. The fresh research announced on Wednesday also points to the chemical signatures of past water on Mars, adding to other evidence suggesting a wet past.  Scientists have long held that the deep channels and signs of extensive aqueous erosion are evidence that Mars was once a watery world. But these geologic signatures alone are not enough to confirm that liquid water was stable on the planet’s surface for extended periods of time.  Liquid water is a key ingredient to life as we know it. While there is no firm evidence that biology has ever existed on Mars, scientists are seeking locations that may once have held standing water as logical places to search with future missions. They are also looking for hidden reservoirs of water beneath the planet's surface, which could serve as a refuge for past Martian life or a resource for future explorers.  Full StoryMSNBC_11/30/05

Possible mini solar system discovered

Astronomers have discovered what they believe is the birth of the smallest known solar system.  Peering through ground- and space-based telescopes, scientists observed a brown dwarf -- or failed star -- less than one hundredth the mass of the sun surrounded by what appears to be a disk of dust and gas. The brown dwarf -- located 500 light years away in the constellation Chamaeleon -- appears to be undergoing a planet-forming process that could one day yield a solar system, said Kevin Luhman of Pennsylvania State University, who led the discovery. Full Story_CNN 11/30/05

Japanese space probe lands on asteroid: Kyodo
A Japanese probe on a mission to bring back the first rock samples from an asteroid landed briefly on its target on Sunday but did not drop the equipment for collecting surface material, Kyodo news reported on Wednesday.  Scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had said earlier the unmanned probe failed to touch down on Itokawa, nearly 300 million km (186 million miles) from earth. After a voyage of 2-½ years, the space probe stayed on the surface of the 548-metre-long asteroid for 30 minutes, marking the first landing by a Japanese spacecraft on a celestial body, Kyodo said.  Full Story_Reuters 11/23/05

Company makes bid for space travel

Astronauts and passengers can go to space by 2008 if the company making the spaceship gets the funding, company officials said.  Jim Benson, chief executive officer of SpaceDev, said all it needs is $20 million in funding to develop the Dream Chaser, a NASA concept designed in the 1980s but never built, New Scientist reports.  The funding would pay for suborbital flights and an additional $100 million would enable Dream Chaser to take six people to the International Space Station by 2010.  The Dream Chaser is billed as a safer alternative than today's space ships.  It doesn't carry heavy cargo and uses a different fuel than the cryogenic fuel used in Columbia and Discovery.  Dream Chaser will use a mixture of nitrous oxide and rubber as fuel. Full Story_ UPI 11/17/05

Link 'lost' with asteroid robot
Japan's space agency has lost contact with a robotic probe that it dispatched to explore the surface of an asteroid, according to reports.  The small probe called Minerva was released from its mothership Hayabusa on Saturday, but officials say its "current status is still unknown".  Hayabusa is hovering near asteroid Itokawa, in preparation to collect surface samples for return to Earth.  Full Story_BBC 11/16/05

"Gravity Tractors" could outwit killer asteroids

No need to send Bruce Willis into space with a nuclear bomb -- the best way to deal with a killer asteroid hurtling toward Earth could be a "gravity tractor."  Two NASA astronauts, gently mocking the solution offered in the Hollywood blockbuster "Armageddon," have come up with a deceptively simple plan to pull asteroids off course.  Edward Lu and Stanley Love have proposed that a rocket be launched into space, effectively to act as a giant magnet.  Landing on an asteroid, which is no more than a spinning pile of rubble, is very difficult to achieve.  Instead, the gravity tractor would travel alongside the asteroid and gradually pull it off course, using nothing more than the gravitational pull between the two bodies.  "This saves you from having to land on the asteroid and then trying to stabilize yourself on a flying pile of rock and debris which is spinning all the time," Love told Reuters after their plan was published on Wednesday in the science journal Nature.  Full Story_Reuters 11/9/05

All go for giant comms satellite
Inmarsat-4 F2, one of the largest and most powerful communications satellites ever built, has succesfully launched from a floating pad in the Pacific. The six-tonne UK-built craft was carried aloft by a Zenit-3SL rocket at approximately 1407 GMT on Tuesday. The launch had twice been postponed after a software glitch stopped the countdown sequence on Saturday. Inmarsat-4 F2 is designed to improve broadband and 3G communications, principally in the Americas. It is the second in a planned two-satellite constellation. The first spacecraft launched in March covers most of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Indian Ocean. The new satellite will improve and extend communications across South America, most of North America, the Atlantic Ocean and part of the Pacific Ocean. The two satellites will support the London-based Inmarsat company's global broadband network, BGan. Full Story_BBC 11/8/05

Planet Venus: Earth's 'evil twin'

The Babylonians called it "Ishtar". To the Mayans, it was known as "Chak ek", which translates as "great star". Venus is the brightest object in the sky except for the Sun and Moon. As such, the second planet from the Sun has fascinated humankind for millennia. Europe's Venus Express spacecraft blasts off this week, and will rendezvous with our nearest planetary neighbour next year to study it from orbit. The mission aims to shed light on an enduring mystery about this world: how a planet so similar to our own in size, mass, and composition has evolved so differently over the last 4.6 billion years.  Full Story BBC News_ 11/7/05

October, 2005

Last Titan rocket blasts off; an era ends

For the 368th and last time, the United States launched a Titan rocket into space October 19. The blastoff of the 16-story, unmanned Titan IV signaled the end of an era that began in 1959, as the US military converts to cheaper space boosters. The last Titan carried a secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees the nation’s spy satellites. Titan’s past included many high-profile missions, including boosting Gemini manned spacecraft into orbit in the mid-1960s as preparation for the Apollo moon landings. The workhorse rocket, originally designed as a weapon-bearing intercontinental ballistic missile for the Cold War, also sent many scientific craft on their way to Mercury, Mars and the outer planets.  Full Story  AP/Daily Times_ 10/24/05

Saturn moon is a frigid world; Dione an 'older, more mature moon,' says Cassini scientist

A close flyby of Saturn's grayish moon Dione reveals it is a mature, frigid world with hints of tectonic activity, new observations suggest. The U.S.-European Cassini spacecraft flew within 310 miles (500 kilometers) of the Dione's pale surface last week, showing it possessed a heavily cratered surface but no presence of an atmosphere. Cassini scientists compared the frozen Dione to another Saturn moon, Enceladus, which recently was found to have active ice volcanoes and a significant atmosphere.  Full Story_CNN 10/19/05


Chinese spacecraft back to Earth
China's Shenzhou VI spacecraft has safely returned to Earth, after five days in orbit. The craft, carrying two astronauts, landed at 0432 on Monday (2032 GMT on Sunday) in the remote grasslands of Inner Mongolia. It is the second manned spaceflight for China - only the third country to successfully put a man into space. China first sent up a manned mission in 2003, following the United States and Russia into space.  Full Story BBC News_ 10/17/05

Chinese astronauts blast off

Chinese exulted at their country's second manned space flight Wednesday after the government eased its secrecy and showed the launch of two astronauts on live television.  Children in Shanghai watched in class and hundreds of people gathered around a giant video screen at Beijing's main railway station to see astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng blast off from a base in China's desert northwest.  "I am feeling really emotional," said a construction worker at the Beijing train station, who would give only his surname, Liu. "This is a proud moment -- not only for China, but for Chinese people all over the world, and for humankind."  Full Story_CNN 10/12/05

China countdown to space launch
China is preparing to launch its second manned spacecraft, Shenzhou VI, Wednesday, Oct. 12. The mission will take two astronauts into Earth orbit for five days, during which they will perform experiments. The launch comes almost exactly two years after China's first manned space flight, which made astronaut Yang Liwei a national hero. China sees its space programme as an important symbol of its emergence as a world power. Unlike the last mission, Xinhua news agency said a live broadcast of the launch would be provided to foreign media.  Full Story_BBC News 10/11/05


China set for second manned space shot
The Shenzhou-6 spacecraft will launch from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Base, in the Gobi desert of northern China on 13 October at the earliest, Chinese news sources claim. Reports say the Chinese will send two astronauts into space for a mission lasting about five days. China's first manned launch in October 2003 made it only the third country to send a human into space on its own, after Russia and the US. China has announced plans to land an unmanned probe on the Moon by 2010, as well as operate a space station. Full Story BBC News_ 9/26/05

NASA to unveil moon plan: Agency plans to send 4 astronauts to the moon in 2018

NASA briefed senior White House officials Wednesday on its plan to spend $100 billion and the next 12 years building the spacecraft and rockets it needs to put humans back on the Moon by 2018. The space agency now expects to roll out its lunar exploration plan to key Congressional committees on Friday and to the broader public through a news conference on Monday.  U.S. President George W. Bush called in January 2004 for the United States to return to the Moon by 2020 as the first major step in a broader space exploration vision aimed at extending the human presence throughout the solar system.  Full Story_CNN 9/15/05

Saturn's rings surprise scientists

Rings have changed over the past 25 years

New observations by the international Cassini spacecraft reveal that Saturn's trademark shimmering rings, which have dazzled astronomers since Galileo's time, have dramatically changed over just the past 25 years. Among the most surprising findings is that parts of Saturn's innermost ring -- the D ring -- have grown dimmer since the Voyager spacecraft flew by the planet in 1981, and a piece of the D ring has moved 125 miles inward toward Saturn. While scientists puzzle over what caused the changes, their observations could reveal something about the age and lifetime of the rings.  Full Story_CNN 9/6/05

Deep Impact probe shows a fragile, empty comet
Comet Tempel 1, the target of NASA's Deep Impact probe, turns out to be quite fragile, with no more substance than a snowbank, scientists said on Tuesday. "The comet is mostly empty, mostly porous," said Michael A'Hearn, a comet specialist at the University of Maryland. "Probably all the way in, there is no bulk ice. The ice is all in the form of tiny grains." The material on the comet's surface, down to a depth of several dozen yards (meters) is "unbelievably fragile, less strong than a snowbank," A'Hearn said in a telephone news briefing to release early findings from the mission.The comet's dust and ice grains form a fluffy structure of fine particles held together loosely by a weak gravitational pull, the researchers said.  Full Story_ Reuters 9/6/05

Giant water plume spews from Saturn’s moon

Four fissures in the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus are spewing out a plume hundreds of kilometres high, the Cassini probe has revealed, and the ejecta is leaving a vapour trail that rings Saturn.  Scientists are shocked by this volcanic activity on what should be a small, quiet moon. "It is a stunning surprise," said Dennis Matson, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US. But researchers are beginning to develop theories about what is going on.  Full Story_ New Scientist 8/30/05

China opens moon mission center
China moved one small step closer to its goal of launching three unmanned missions to the moon by opening a lunar exploration center in Beijing, the China Daily reported on Tuesday. The center, opened on Monday, would oversee the launch of a moon orbiter in 2007, a lunar lander in 2012 and a third satellite designed to reach the moon and bring back soil samples for research in 2017, the newspaper said.  Full Story_ CNN 8/23/05

Shuttle delay may threaten space station

Scientists believe the future of the International Space Station could be threatened by the Nasa's decision to ground its shuttles. The US space agency has said March 4 is the next target date for a shuttle launch as they investigate safety concerns surrounding foam falling away from Discovery during its recent launch. The shuttle is the only vehicle that can transport parts to complete the building of the space station, a 16-nation project to create a laboratory to study the effects of space on human beings. Following the Columbia shuttle accident in 2003, which killed seven astronauts, maintenance trips to the space station have been carried out by Russian rockets.  Andrew Coates from UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory said: "The knock-on effects to the International Space Station are quite dramatic. Long delays could potentially be a show-stopper for the whole thing."  Full Story_ITN 8/19/05

China plans unmanned moon mission by 2007
China plans to launch its first unmanned lunar flight by 2007 in a three-phase mission that aims to bring back rock samples, state media said.  In the second stage, a lunar vehicle would land on the moon by 2012 and by 2017 the rock samples could be collected, the report said quoting aerospace officials.  China has developed an ambitious space program since its first Long March rocket blasted off in 1970. It became the third country to successfully send a man into space in October 2003 and regularly sends up research satellites.  Full Story_Reuters 8/16/05

Russia cosmonaut sets record for most days in space
Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev Tuesday set a record for the most days spent in space, clocking almost 748 days over a 20-year career.  Krikalev, scheduled to remain aboard the International Space Station (ISS) until October, beat the previous record of 747 days 14 hours 14 minutes and 11 seconds held by fellow Russian Sergei Avdeyev, mission control said. Krikalev's space travels have included stints on the MIR space station -- the crown jewel of the Soviet space program which was destroyed in 2001 -- as well as the ISS, and he has traveled on U.S. shuttles and Russian Soyuz spaceships.  Full Story_ Reuters 8/16/05

'Largest' communication satellite launched

A Thai-owned communications satellite was launched early Thursday off French Guiana, officials said. Billed as the world's largest, the satellite will provide Internet access and multimedia services for the Asia-Pacific region, Australia and New Zealand. The satellite, called Thaicom 4, will be operated by Shin Satellite, a company owned by the family of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and is the fourth satellite launched by the company. It weighs more than 7 tons and cost $400 million, and was built by Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California.  The satellite has bandwidth capacity of 45 gigabytes per second and will route data through 18 gateways.  Full Story_ CNN 8/12/05

Japan-U.S. X-ray spectrometer fails

A spectrometer jointly developed by Japan and the United States and launched on a satellite in July has failed and there is no hope of repairing it, Japan's space agency said this week.  The high-resolution X-ray spectrometer, or XRS, was the first to be put on a satellite. The equipment, used to study X-ray sources in the examination of hot gases in space, failed on Monday, said the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.  The cause of the failure was under investigation, the agency said.  Full Story_CNN 8/11/05

Annual Perseid meteor shower to peak August 12

Every August, when many people go vacationing in the country where skies are dark, the best-known meteor shower makes its appearance -- the Perseids. In 2005, the Perseids are expected to reach their maximum on August 12. Peak activity is unfortunately predicted for the daylight hours across North America. Sky watchers are thus encouraged to watch during the predawn hours of Friday, August 12 and again during the early morning hours of Saturday.  Perseid meteors can be traced to particles of dust from the tail of comet Swift-Tuttle.  Full Story_CNN 8/11/05

NASA delays shuttle landing until Tuesday
Unstable weather forces Discovery crew to spend an extra day in orbit

NASA extended the first space shuttle mission in two and a half years by one more day on Monday, postponing a planned landing because of unfavorable weather conditions at the Florida landing site.  Full Story_MSNBC 8/8/05

Discovery crew ready for re-entry
The crew said they were confident about the landing

Astronauts on the shuttle Discovery are preparing for re-entry into Earth's atmosphere early on Monday.
Crew members were upbeat, saying the spacecraft was in "great shape" for its scheduled landing in Florida.

Nasa has declared the shuttle safe to withstand the burning descent that shattered Columbia in February 2003. 

Full Story_ BBC 8/7/05

Space shuttle begins long trip home
With the most anxiety-ridden part of their flight still to come, shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven set off for home Saturday after leaving the international space station.  Monday’s planned predawn re-entry will be the first by a space shuttle since Columbia’s catastrophic descent 21⁄2 years ago.  Full Story_MSNBC

Shuttle crew pack up to go home
Astronauts on the shuttle Discovery packed up on Friday and got ready to leave the International Space Station.
Nasa earlier declared the shuttle safe to return home, clearing the way for the first step towards Discovery's planned landing on Monday.  Full Story_BBC8/5/05

Hubble discovers galaxies galore
Space telescope finds wide cosmic diversity

The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted of a collection of galaxies with more variety than a candy store. Some are big; some are small. Some are old; some are new. Some are nearby; some are far away.But one thing many of the hundreds of galaxies have in common is that they’ve never been seen until Hubble recently captured their light.  The image shown above, which covers a patch of sky only a fraction of the area of a full moon, provides a typical view of the far-off places in the universe. As some of these galaxies are billions of light-years away in space, looking down this long corridor of galaxies is like looking billions of years back in time. Full Story_MSNBC 8/4/05

NASA: No second repair needed
Discovery astronauts do not need to perform another repair to the shuttle's exterior, NASA engineers decided Thursday.  Mission control informed crew member Soichi Noguchi that a fourth spacewalk to fix a damaged thermal blanket under one of the cockpit windows was not necessary.  Tests and analysis of the blanket by NASA engineers concluded the orbiter was safe for return, mission control said.  Full Story_CNN 8/4/05

Spacewalk eases NASA's fears for shuttle shield
A spacewalking astronaut ventured to the bottom of space shuttle Discovery on Wednesday for the first time and plucked two protruding cloth fillers from between ceramic tiles on the shuttle's heat shield. "It turned out to be just as easy as we said it was going to be," said spacewalk coordinator Cindy Begley at a news conference.  Astronaut Steve Robinson took care of the nagging heat shield concern on the third and final scheduled spacewalk for Discovery's mission, NASA's first shuttle flight since the 2003 Columbia accident.  Full Story_ Reuters 8/3/05

Spacewalk sounds scarier than it is, NASA says
The shuttle Discovery's crew had misgivings about performing a spacewalk to remove two fabric fillers dangling from the ship's delicate heat shield, astronauts said on Tuesday.  However, the more the astronauts who are flying NASA's first mission since the 2003 Columbia disaster learned about the plan, the more comfortable they became with the unexpected -- and unprecedented -- repair.  Spacewalker Stephen Robinson planned to go beneath the shuttle Wednesday to pluck out two pieces of ceramic-coated cloth sticking out from the ship's smooth, tiled belly.  "Like most kinds of repairs, it's conceptually very simple, but it has to be done very, very carefully," Robinson said during a news conference from space.  Full Story_ Reuters 8/2/05

NASA considers spacewalk to repair shuttle heat shield

NASA officials debated on Monday what to do about two pieces of gap-filling material protruding from Discovery's underside as astronauts Steve Robinson and Soichi Noguchi successfully completed the second spacewalk of the shuttle mission.  The protrusions could cause uneven heating on the shuttle's belly as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere, and NASA may decide to repair them inflight.  One possibility would be for an astronaut to attempt the repair during Wednesday's planned spacewalk.  Full Story_CNN 8/1/05

Falling foam surprises Discovery crew

Robot arm eyes 6 areas for damage; spacewalk set for Saturday

The space shuttle Discovery's commander said Friday that she didn't think the orbiter sustained any serious damage when foam fell off the external fuel tank during this week's launch.  "We were actually quite surprised to hear that we had some large pieces of debris fall off the external tank," Commander Eileen Collins said.  The space agency has said it would suspend shuttle flights until it re-evaluated why the foam still falls from the tank.  Full Story_CNN 7/29/05

Caltech astronomer finds solar system's 10th planet

It orbits the sun once every 560 years
A planet about 1 1/2 times the size of Pluto was discovered orbiting about 9 billion miles from the sun by an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, officials said on Friday.  The new planet, known as 2003UB313, has been identified as the most distant object ever detected orbiting the sun and ranks as the solar system's 10th planet, astronomer Michael Brown said. Brown said the new planet, a body of rock and ice, was detected in January by the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego.  Full Story_Reuters 7/29/05

NASA grounds shuttle fleet

Falling debris during launch draws concern
There will be no more shuttle launches until NASA engineers determine the effect of debris that fell from the shuttle Discovery during blastoff Tuesday, said Bill Parsons, space shuttle program manager.  Full Story_CNN 7/27/05

NASA sends shuttle to space, debris fears arise
NASA successfully launched space shuttle Discovery Tuesday, July 26, but anxiously reviewed video showing debris falling from the craft during liftoff, the same problem that caused the fatal Columbia disaster 2-1/2 years earlier.  The debris did not appear to hit the shuttle during the smooth morning blastoff, marking a triumphant U.S. return to manned space travel after the long struggle to recover from Columbia's breakup over Texas.  Engineers hoped to know by Sunday whether Discovery was damaged and whether the crew should attempt repairs, flight operations manager John Shannon said.  Full Story _ Reuters 7/26/05

Ice mission almost set for launch.

European Space Agency satellite due to monitor Earth's ice sheets
Engineers are carrying out final checks on the ice monitoring craft CryoSat, in preparation for an autumn launch.  The European Space Agency (Esa) satellite has gone through months of testing in Germany and will be transported to Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome next month. The three-year mission will monitor how the world's ice sheets are changing.  Its main objective is to test the prediction that ice cover is diminishing due to global warming. 

Full Story _BBC 7/22/05

Space shuttle crew returns to Florida for 2nd try
The astronauts assigned to fly NASA's first space-shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia disaster returned to Kennedy Space Center from Houston on Friday to prepare for a second launch attempt next week.  NASA called off the scheduled launch of shuttle Discovery on July 13 because of a fuel-sensor problem, delaying the U.S. space agency's quest to return its aging shuttle fleet to flight. It plans to try again on Tuesday.  Full Story_Reuters 7/22/05

NASA probe leaves crater, debris trail on comet
A spectacular collision between a spacecraft and a comet has freed a huge plume of primordial material from the comet's nucleus that could unlock the secret of how life arrived on Earth, NASA scientists say.  The first images returned from the Deep Impact fly-by spacecraft showed a small fireball followed by a much larger, incandescent flash that engulfed one end of the comet Tempel 1 as the impactor smashed into its surface at 1:52 a.m. EDT (0552 GMT) on Monday, July 4. os Angeles in about six minutes.  The collision, which occurred 83 million miles from Earth, marks the first time a spacecraft has come in contact with a comet.  Full Story _ Reuters 7/4/05


Comet mission set for deep impact
The US Deep Impact spacecraft is set to slam a washing machine-sized projectile into a comet, to reveal what's inside.

The main spacecraft will release its 372kg "impactor" into the path of Comet Tempel 1 on Sunday, for an expected collision on Monday morning.  By studying the comet's interior, scientists aim to learn more about the formation of our Solar System and the chemical building blocks of life.  Its mission will be short-lived but is certain to be spectacular. Full Story_ BBC7/2/05

Saturn rings have own atmosphere
Saturn's vast and majestic ring system has its own atmosphere - separate from that of the planet itself, according to data from the Cassini spacecraft.  Cassini-Huygens mission scientists are celebrating the spacecraft's first year in orbit around the ringed planet.  By making close flybys of the ring system, Cassini has been able to determine that the atmosphere around the rings is composed principally of molecular oxygen (O2). 

Full Story_BBC 7/1/05

Titan dark spot may be large lake
A dark, lake-like feature on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has been imaged by the US-European Cassini spacecraft.  Researchers have long speculated that Titan might harbour open bodies of liquid methane - and the 235km by 75km target is the best candidate to date.  But they are being cautious about interpreting the feature, which has what looks to be a smooth shoreline.  The scientists say the object could simply be dark, solid deposits caught in a sinkhole of volcanic caldera.  Full Story _ BBC 6/29/05

NASA comet crash to seek building blocks of life
NASA scientists are preparing to slam a coffee table-sized spacecraft into a comet half the size of Manhattan on July 4 in a cosmic smashup aimed at discovering the building blocks of life on Earth.  The mission, known as Deep Impact, aims to uncover and photograph pristine material formed billions of years ago during the creation of the universe by blasting a crater the size of a football stadium into comet Tempel 1.  Full Story _ Reuters 6/29/05

Private space group to launch solar sail orbiter
The world's first solar sail spacecraft takes flight on June 21, launched by space enthusiasts who cobbled the privately funded mission together on $4 million and an untested theory that light can power limitless space exploration.  Cosmos 1, a disc-shaped craft whose two segmented sails suggest flower petals, is set to blast off from a submerged Russian submarine in the Barents Sea at 12:46 p.m. PDT (1746 GMT) on Tuesday.  Mission controllers hope to fill each sail's four 49-foot (15-meter) segments with streams of photons, or light particles, emanating from the sun to lift Cosmos 1 to a higher orbit.  Full Story Reuters_6/20/05

Smallest extrasolar planet found
Astronomers have detected the smallest extrasolar planet yet: a world about seven and a half times as massive as Earth, orbiting a star much like ours.  All of the 150 or so exoplanets found orbiting normal stars are larger than Uranus, itself 15 times Earth's mass.  The new find may be the first rocky world found around a star like our Sun. 

Full Story  BBC News_6/13/05

Voyager 1 reaches solar system's final frontier
NASA's Voyager 1 has reached the final frontier of our solar system.  Astronomers tracking the little spaceship's 26-year journey from Earth believe Voyager 1 has gone through a region known as termination shock, some 8.7 billion miles from the Sun, and entered an area called the heliosheath.  Voyager 1 and its twin spacecraft Voyager 2 were launched in 1977 on a mission to explore the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn. The pair kept going, however, and the mission was extended.  Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, the only spacecraft to have visited these outer planets. Both Voyagers are now part of the Voyager Interstellar Mission to explore the outermost edge of the Sun's domain.  Both Voyagers are capable of returning scientific data from a full range of instruments, with adequate electrical power and attitude control propellant to keep operating until 2020.  Wherever they go, the Voyagers each carry a golden phonograph record which bears messages from Earth, including natural sounds of surf, wind, thunder and animals. There are also musical selections, spoken greetings in 55 languages, along with instructions and equipment on how to play the record.  Full Story_ Reuters 5/25/05

New planet found in Milky Way

Australasian researchers have helped discover a new planet in the Milky Way, and they believe it's just a matter of time before more are discovered.  The gaseous planet is about 1000 times the size of Earth and is about halfway to the center of the galaxy, or about 25,000 light years away, researchers said.  The project used a little-known technique called micro-lensing -- using the gravitational pull of a star to act as a giant lens -- to help astronomers to look for new planets.  University of Tasmania Professor John Dickey, who took part in the project, said, "What's special about this event is, it was discovered in a way ... which could, in principle, turn up Earth-like planets as well." Full Story_CNN 5/25/04

Plane promises new views of Venus

NASA scientists believe that a solar-powered airplane could be the key to exploring Venus at closer quarters than has ever been previously possible.  The second closest planet to the sun is similar in size and composition to the earth, but Venus' hostile environment has long frustrated exploratory efforts. With an atmosphere 90 times denser than the earth's, surface temperatures reaching 500 degrees Celsius, acidic clouds and 350 kilometer an hour winds, every previous probe that has visited the planet has been quickly destroyed. But a team at NASA's Glenn Research Center said a small aircraft powered by solar energy could fly continuously in the planet's upper atmosphere and glide down to lower altitudes for several hours at a time.  Full Story_ CNN 5/16/05

Iowa scientist helps interpret Rover data

To the teams of researchers analyzing photographs and other data beamed back to Earth by the Mars rovers, Geb Thomas is equal parts detective, optometrist and quality control manager.  Thomas, an engineering professor at the University of Iowa, helps NASA geologists interpret what they see - helping them to avoid confusing pebbles with boulders as they scan the dusty, Martian landscape with a pair of rolling robots.  "Driving a robot is like walking by, only looking through a paper towel tube. It's not easy," said Thomas.  Full Story_ AP 5/14/05

New moon of Saturn makes waves
The Cassini spacecraft has found a new moon of Saturn in a gap between the planet's rings, and scientists say it is making ripples in the ring system.  It is only the second moon found inside Saturn's ring system and it has been provisionally named S/2005 S1.  Cassini reached Saturn in July 2004, and is now starting to concentrate on observing the planet's ring system.  The ripples in the rings are caused by the moon's gravity, something that can be used to calculate its mass.  Full Story_ BBC 5/11/05


Japan agency's Moon base dream faces funding hurdle

Boosted by a return to success for its satellite launch program and needled by China's achievements, Japan's space agency (JAXA) wants to put a manned space station on the moon, though it may struggle to raise funds.  JAXA says it would need a hefty increase in budget and personnel to carry out its proposals, which may be hard to secure given Japan's 751 trillion yen ($6,937 billion) national debt. 

Full Story  Reuters _4/6/05

President Bush names missile defense veteran Michael Griffin to head NASA

Griffin is a former chief engineer at NASA. He will succeed Sean O'Keefe, who presided over the National Aeronautics and Space Administration during the troubled period following the midair breakup of the shuttle Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003. Griffin is head of the space department at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University, which works on civilian and military space programs, including missile and air defense and national security analysis. Full Story  Reuters_ 3/12/05

February, 2005

Astronomers: 'Dark' galaxy discovered, 'Dark matter' revealed

Astronomers have discovered an invisible galaxy that could be the first of many that will help unravel one of the universe's greatest mysteries.  The object appears to be made mostly of "dark matter," material of an unknown nature that can't be seen. 

Full Story_ CNN 2/24/05

Huygens success: Space probe lands on Saturn's largest moon, Titan and sends back first set of data

The spacecraft probe was transmitting data for over two hours after it landed, space scientists confirmed. They're piecing together the images, measurements and sounds and hope they might even hear lightning strikes when they analyse the data. The European-built probe should have taken about 750 images during its two-and-a-half-hour descent, shedding light on a cosmic enigma. Dominated by nitrogen, methane and other organic (carbon-based) molecules, conditions on Titan are believed to resemble those on Earth 4.6 billion years ago. As such, it may tell scientists more about the kind of chemical reactions that set the scene for the emergence of life on Earth.  Full Story  BBC News_ 1/14/05

 

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