Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Space Highlights - February 24, 2016

February 24, 2016

India is planning to launch its first satellite to feature electric propulsion, the GSAT-9 communications satellite, due for launch this coming July.

SpaceX has successfully test fired its first stage rocket motor, in preparation for the launch of the SES-9 communications satellite later this week.  SpaceX intends to attempt another vertical landing for its first-stage booster following the launch - something that they have been successful at only once so far.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft continues to release stunning images of Saturn and its moons, with the release this week of an image depicting three of Saturn's moons - Tethys, Enceladus, and Mimas - alongside Saturn's rings.

Using data obtained by the Cassini space probe's fly-bys of Jupiter and Saturn to accurately track planetary locations and velocities, researchers are constructing models to identify the possible location of the recently hypothesized "Planet 9".  The likely existence of a ninth planet was postulated based upon the trajectories of multiple Kuiper Belt objects, whose trajectories appear to have been disturbed by a large planet beyond Pluto.

China has announced plans to send an orbiter and rover to Mars during the 2020 launch window.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing for the launch of its Trace Gas Orbiter aboard a Russian Proton booster this March.  The Trace Gas Orbiter is part of the ESA's ExoMars mission, and will include both an orbiter and a lander aimed at evaluating trace elements in the Martian atmosphere.

Researchers studying images captured of the asteroid Vesta by the Dawn spacecraft two years ago believe they have an explanation for why the surface of Vesta appears to show few signs of the late heavy bombardment (LHB) that is readily evident on Earth's moon and other planetary bodies.  According to recent models, the crust of Vesta appears to have been subject to recent pummeling by smaller rocks, which on the soft surface of Vesta, erased most of the craters that would otherwise have been left by the LHB.

Studies of the data revealed by the New Horizons spacecraft suggest that Pluto's largest moon, Charon may once have hosted a large, subsurface ocean composed of liquid water.  As the ocean cooled and froze, it would have expanded, fracturing Charon's icy surface, and explaining the 1,100 mile (1,800 km) long chasm that has been photographed by the New Horizons probe.

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