Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Space Highlights - August 31, 2016

August 31, 2016

The Intelsat 33e and a second Intelsat EpicNG communications satellite was launched this week aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.

India became the fourth nation to conduct an experimental, scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) flight test, launching a scramjet-powered test article to hypersonic speeds atop a rocket booster.  The air-breathing scramjet has been the subject of interest in the U.S. and elsewhere, for use in both high-speed, military applications, as well as for satellite launch purposes.

China has unveiled designs for its planned 2020 Mars lander and rover mission.  Weighing over 400-lb, the proposed rover would feature a six-wheeled configuration, but would have a less complicated suspension than the Curiosity or Opportunity rovers developed by NASA.

NASA has signed a contract to launch its Mars 2020 rover mission aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 booster.  This was the same booster type that launched the previous Curiosity rover in 2006.

Scientists have demonstrated that the salty brine responsible for the seasonal dark streaks that have been observed at certain locations on Mars, referred to as recurring slope lineae (RSL) likely contain very little liquid water combined with a very high salt content.  Estimates place the resulting water content of the soil as similar to some of the driest deserts on Earth.

After nearly two years of silence, NASA has reestablished contact with its STEREO-B solar probe.  The spacecraft was originally part of a two-spacecraft network that was intended to provide stereo imaging of the sun's surface.  The sister STEREO-A spacecraft has continued to operate without interruption.

NASA has released additional images of Saturn's moons, as captured by the Cassini spacecraft, as the Cassini mission winds down to its eventual end this coming month.

European researchers have confirmed earlier reports that they have confirmed an earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri - the star closest to our own sun.  Proxima Centauri lies some 4.25 light years away, and is the closest member of the Alpha Centauri trinary star system.  The planet is estimated to be some 1.3 times Earth's mass, and orbits its red-dwarf parent star within the "habitable zone" where liquid water might exist on its surface.

NASA's Juno mission has completed its second close flyby of the giant planet, coming closer to the cloud surface than any previous spacecraft.  Juno is currently in a highly elliptical orbit, that will be transitioned to a slightly less severe trajectory during the coming months.

Researchers have confirmed discovery of a galaxy made up almost entirely of dark matter.  Using the relative motion of stars orbiting the galaxy's central core, scientists were able to confirm that some 99.99-percent of the faint galaxy Dragonfly 44 is made up of dark matter, which is invisible to the electromagnetic spectrum.  Researchers hope that this, and similar galaxies will help them to determine if dark matter - which makes up the majority of the matter in the universe - interacts in any way with either other dark matter, or with ordinary matter, through means other than gravity.

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