Thursday, December 10, 2015

Space Highlights - December 10, 2015

December 10, 2015

North Korea is believed to be nearing completion for a three-year program to upgrade their satellite launch facilities. North Korean satellite launch attempts, most of which have failed to orbit a satellite, have been condemned by the U.S. and Japan as a cover for North Korean ballistic missile development tests.

India is expecting to launch a booster carrying six Singaporean satellites into orbit on December 16th.  This will include an earth observation satellite named TeLEOS, plus five small satellites.

Virgin Galactic has announced plans to convert an old Boeing 747 into the carrier vehicle for a microsatellite launch system - similar in principal to Orbital Science Corporation's Pegasus booster.

China launched the ChinaSat-1C military communications satellite into orbit this past week, aboard a Long March 3B booster.

Russia's Kanopus-ST remote-sensing satellite failed to separate from its upper stage this past week, and is expected to crash back to earth within the next few days.  The satellite is believed to have been intended to track opposing submarines.

Japan's Akatsuki Venus probe has successfully entered orbit around Earth's "sister planet" five years after its first orbital insertion attempt failed.  The probe is expected to observe Venusian weather systems, using several sensors intended to penetrate to different cloud depths.

Scientists studying data from the Dawn space probe are beginning to coallesce around the idea that the bright, salty spots observed in some of the craters of Ceres are the remnants of a water evaporation process. Other instruments have detected water vapor mists that create a morning haze in two of Ceres' craters, suggesting that a subsurface layer of water ice exists across many areas on Ceres.

NASA's Cassini space probe has captured new images of three of Saturn's smaller moons: Atlas, Epimetheus and Prometheus.

NASA also released a composite view of Titan, captured by Cassini's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) this past November.  The VIMS instrument allows the space probe to peer through Titan's heavy cloud cover to observe the surface below.

The New Horizons spacecraft has continued to transmit back high-resolution images of Pluto's surface.

NASA has released visualizations that depict the ripples in the solar wind "weather" that the New Horizons spacecraft flew through on its way to Pluto.

The New Horizons spacecraft has also supplied its first images of a far off Kuiper belt object - a 90 mile wide object labeled 1994 JR1.

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