Thursday, September 17, 2015

Space Highlights - September 17, 2015

September 17, 2015

The world's first all-electric propulsion satellite has now become operational.  Boeing's ABS-3A became operational last week, providing TV, internet and cellular service.  The satellite uses a xenon-ion propulsion system for station keeping in orbit, in place of a conventional chemical propellant.

Boeing reported on Tuesday that it lost a second potential satellite sale due to a lack of available financing.  The U.S. Congress allowed the charter for the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which had previously financed such deals, to expire in June, amid debate over whether the U.S. government should be in the business of guaranteeing Export-Import loans.  Boeing reports that an existing order by Bermuda-based ABS was cancelled over the lack of financing arrangements, and that a potential order by Singapore-based Kacific was put on hold over the lack of low interest loans.

SpaceX expects its Falcon 9 booster to return to service in November with the launch of a communications satellite for SES.  The Falcon 9 has been grounded since a launch failure in June that was attributed to an "overpressure event" in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.

With the successful launch of the Express AM8 communications satellite on September 14th, Russia's commercial satellite bandwidth will have been replenished.  The satellite was launched on a Proton booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the second successful launch since athe failure of a Proton launch in May.

NASA announced on Tuesday that research has confirmed the existence of a global ocean beneath the icy crust of Saturn's moon Enceladus.  The announcement was based on observations from the Cassini probe, taken over several years.  Active geysers had previously been detected at the small moo, but extended observations were required to confirm that the subterranean water source spanned the entire globe.  The findings were based on observations of the wobble of the moon, which confirmed the existence of a liquid interior.

A new type of antenna has been developed that should allow future Mars rovers to communicate directly with Earth, rather than relaying signals to an orbiter for rebroadcast.

NASA's Dawn space probe has sent back new, more detailed images of the mysterious bright spots on the asteroid Ceres.  Ceres is the largest asteroid between Jupiter and Mars.  The composition and origin of the bright spots remains unknown.

The first high-resolution images transmitted back from Pluto by the New Horizons space probe have revealed a startlingly complex surface.  The images appear to show widespread geologic activity, including dunes - blown by an unknown source for wind - and river deltas - where an unknown liquid (possibly liquid nitrogen) has recently flowed across the surface.

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