Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Space Highlights - May 11, 2016

May 11, 2016

SpaceX successfully landed a first stage booster from its Falcon 9 rocket at sea for the second time.  The booster had placed the Japanese JCSAT-14 into orbit.  The next step for SpaceX will be demonstrating that it can refurbish and reuse the boosters that it recovers - without replacing the entire rocket motor after each launch.

The JCSAT-14, the 15th communications satellite operated by Japan's SKYPerfect, successfully completed its post-launch maneuvers and unfolded its solar panels after launch.

India's ISRO reports that the United States continues to put an indefinite hold on export license requests for the launch of U.S. commercial satellites.  U.S. law currently prohibits such launches without a case-by-case review and export approval, to protect the U.S. launch industry from Indian competition.

Russia has lost contact with one of three satellites recently launched from its new $1 billion Vostochny Cosmodrome.  The nanosatellite SamSat-218 failed to establish contact following the new space port's first launch.  The new cosmodrome is expected to reduce Russian dependence on the Soviet-era Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

New observations from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, tracking eruptions on Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, suggest that the moon's eruptions can actually intensify when it is farther in its orbit from Saturn.  The observations continue to cast new questions on our understanding of how Enceladus' eruptions are fed.

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity has begun observations from the western rim of Endeavour - a 22 km (13.7 mile) wide crater - which is expected to be rich in ancient clay deposits.

Despite continued wear and damage to its wheels, NASA officials remain confident that the Curiosity rover will successfully reach its next targeted region for exploration, on the slopes of Mount Sharpe.  Researchers intend to probe the sediment layers on the slopes of the mountain, to investigate changes in Mars' climate across billions of years.

Michael Watkins, a veteran of the Curiosity rover team, has been named as the next director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  JPL is responsible for managing all of NASA's robotic, space exploration missions.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found new evidence that volcanic eruptions in Mars' southern hemisphere may have occurred beneath an ancient polar ice cap.  The observed mineral deposits and land forms suggest that the eruptions likely occurred underneath heavy glaciers - although it is unclear as to how long ago these events occurred.  Liquid water is known to have formed seas, rivers and lakes in Mars' northern hemisphere billions of years ago, but the terrain in Mars' southern hemisphere is at a higher elevation.

Data from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft suggests that the surface of Pluto's irregularly shaped moon, Hydra appears to be dominated by nearly pure water ice.  This is in contrast to the darker material which coats the surfaces of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

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