Rosetta’s Comet Nears Perihelion

August 4, 2015

With the fanfare of the New Horizons flyby of Pluto/Charon, we learned that public interest in space can be robust, at least to judge from the number of people I spoke to who had never previously seemed aware of the subject. Here’s hoping that interest continues to be piqued — as it should be — […]

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Interplanetary Updates: Philae and New Horizons

June 16, 2015

Given that the Philae lander has just come to life after seven months without communicating, it’s no wonder that the mood among everyone involved with Rosetta’s mission to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko is exuberant. On the surface of the comet, conditions have been improving for Philae since March, meaning that with higher temperatures and better illumination, it […]

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A Cometary Reawakening

June 15, 2015

In a summer already packed with interesting missions, we also have the unusual phenomenon of spacecraft ‘waking up’ after unexpected periods of dormancy. The European Space Agency’s Philae lander, which shut down on November 15, 2014 after operating on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for about sixty hours, came out of its hibernation on June 13. ESA reports […]

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Mission Updates Far and Near

June 9, 2015

The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla tells us (via Twitter) that she has a history with jigsaw puzzles, one that finally paid off in the image below. You’re looking at her work on a partially de-scrambled image from LightSail, fragmentary because the entire image was not downloaded during a Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) overflight on […]

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Mission Data: An Early Summer Harvest

June 3, 2015

What a time for space missions, with data returning from far places and a nail-biter close at hand. On the latter, be advised that the LightSail mission team has decided to divide sail deployment into two operations, one of them starting today as the CubeSat’s solar panels are released and an imaging session verifies the […]

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Thoughts on Voyager’s Closest Stars

May 6, 2015

Not long ago I looked at the future of the Voyager spacecraft and noted a possibility once suggested by Carl Sagan. Give the Voyagers one last ‘empty the tank’ burn and both could be put on a trajectory that would take them near, if not through, another star’s system (see Voyager to a Star). It […]

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Mission Updates: New Horizons, Hayabusa 2

March 11, 2015

While we wait for the Dawn spacecraft to come back around the lit side of Ceres as it continues a long period of orbital adjustment, let’s check in on two other spacecraft with the potential for a big science return. New Horizons performed a 93-second thruster burn on March 10 that was the farthest burn […]

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Long-Distance Spacecraft Engineering

December 30, 2014

I find few things more fascinating than remote fixes to distant spacecraft. We’ve used them surprisingly often, an outstanding case in point being the Galileo mission to Jupiter, launched in 1989. The failure of the craft’s high-gain antenna demanded that controllers maximize what they had left, using the low-gain antenna along with data compression and […]

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Interstellar Flight: Risks and Assumptions

October 8, 2014

The interstellar mission that Dana Andrews describes in his recent paper — discussed here over the past two posts — intrigues me because I’m often asked what the first possible interstellar mission might be. Sure, we can launch a flyby Voyager-class probe to Alpha Centauri if we’re willing to tolerate seventy-five thousand years in cruise, […]

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Starflight: Near-Term Prospects

October 6, 2014

If our exoplanet hunters eventually discover an Earth-class planet in the habitable zone of its star — a world, moreover, with interesting biosignatures — interest in sending a robotic probe and perhaps a human follow-up mission would be intense. In fact, I’m always surprised to get press questions whenever an interesting exoplanet is found, asking […]

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