ISRO to Launch Its Heaviest Rocket and Satellite Today

India’s most powerful homegrown rocket to date is set to launch Monday, another milestone for its indigenous space programme that one day hopes to put a man into orbit.

The 43-metre (140-foot) rocket is scheduled to lift off just before 5:30pm (12:00pm GMT) from the southern island of Sriharikota, one of two sites used by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to launch satellites.

This latest model boasts a powerful engine that has been developed in India over many years. Programme managers hope the technology will reduce reliance on European engines that have propelled some of India’s spacecraft in the past.

The GSLV Mk III rocket will carry a satellite weighing more than three tonnes into a high orbit above Earth, a landmark achievement as India had struggled to match the heavier payloads of other space giants.

“This is an important moment in India’s space technology to launch an indigenous heavy rocket,” Ajay Lele from the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses told AFP.

ISRO to Launch Its Heaviest Rocket and Satellite Today“Communication satellites are quite heavy and we were able to send up to two tonnes previously. This is a double quantum jump for India.”

A successful launch of the 640-tonne rocket will be another feather in the cap for scientists at ISRO, who won Asia’s race to Mars in 2014 when an Indian spacecraft reached the Red Planet on a shoe-string budget.

That feat carved out India’s reputation as a reliable low-cost option for space exploration, with its $73 million price tag drastically undercutting NASA’s Maven Mars $671-million mission.

ISRO is also mulling the idea of missions to Jupiter and Venus.

Reaching for the stars
India is vying for a vying for a larger slice of the booming commercial satellite business as phone, internet and other companies seek greater and more high-end communications.

In February, India put a record 104 satellites in orbit from a single rocket, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in one mission in June 2014.

The rocket’s main cargo was a 714-kilogram (1,574-pound) satellite for Earth observation but it was also loaded with 103 smaller “nano satellites”, nearly all from other countries.

Although India has successfully launched lighter satellites in recent years, this latest rocket is capable of carrying a massive four-tonne payload into high orbit – twice the capacity of its predecessor, ISRO says.

The space agency tested a less-developed version of the rocket in December 2014 while the cryogenic engine was still in the testing phase.

It carried an unmanned crew capsule which separated from the rocket and splashed down in the Bay of Bengal off India’s east coast 20 minutes after liftoff.

The Indian-made capsule was designed to carry up to three astronauts but ISRO said the project would take at least another seven years to reach the point where a crew could be put into space.

India wants to become the fourth nation – after Russia, the United States and China – to put astronauts into orbit but its manned spaceflight programme has seen multiple stops and starts.

NASA Postpones Sounding Rocket Launch Until June 11

NASA has postponed until June 11 the launch of a sounding rocket which will release blue-green and red artificial clouds.

The rocket’s scheduled launch for Sunday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility was scrubbed due to clouds impacting the ability to test the new ampoule ejection system designed to support studies of the ionosphere and aurora.

“While the launch window runs through June 6, forecast weather is not conducive for supporting the test mission through the remainder of the window. The launch is now scheduled for not earlier than June 11, pending range availability,” NASA said in a statement.

The rocket will eject 10 canisters about the size of a soft drink can between 10 to 20km from the rocket’s main payload, and these containers will release the vapour between 4 and 5.5 minutes after launch.

NASA Postpones Sounding Rocket Launch Until June 11These clouds or vapour tracers allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space.

The development of the multi-canister or ampule ejection system will allow scientists to gather information over a much larger area than previously allowed when deploying the vapour just from the main payload.

Ground cameras will be stationed at Wallops and in Duck, North Carolina, to view the vapour tracers. Clear skies are required at one of the two ground stations for this test.

The June 4 attempt was the fourth for this mission. The first two attempts were scrubbed due to winds and clouds. The third attempt was scrubbed due to boats in the launch hazard area.

NASA Renames Solar Probe Plus in Honour of Eugene Parker

NASA on Wednesday announced that it has renamed the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft – humanity’s first mission to a star, which will be launched in 2018 – as the Parker Solar Probe in honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker.

“This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The announcement was made at a ceremony at the University of Chicago, where Parker serves as the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

In 1958, Parker, then a young professor at the university’s Enrico Fermi Institute, published an article in the Astrophysical Journal called “Dynamics of the interplanetary gas and magnetic fields.”

Parker believed there was high speed matter and magnetism constantly escaping the Sun, and that it affected the planets and space throughout our solar system.

This phenomenon, now known as the solar wind, has been proven to exist repeatedly through direct observation.

Parker’s work forms the basis for much of our understanding about how stars interact with the worlds that orbit them.

“The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before,” he said.

“It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind. I’m sure that there will be some surprises. There always are,” Parker added.

In the 1950s, Parker proposed a number of concepts about how stars, including our Sun, give off energy.

NASA Renames Solar Probe Plus in Honour of Eugene ParkerHe called this cascade of energy the solar wind, and he described an entire complex system of plasmas, magnetic fields and energetic particles that make up this phenomenon.

Parker also theorised an explanation for the superheated solar atmosphere, the corona, which is, contrary to what was expected by physics laws, hotter than the surface of the Sun itself.

Many NASA missions have continued to focus on this complex space environment defined by our star – field of research known as heliophysics.

“Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we’ve puzzled over for more than six decades,” said Parker Solar Probe Project Scientist Nicola Fox of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

“It’s a spacecraft loaded with technological breakthroughs that will solve many of the largest mysteries about our star, including finding out why the sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface,” she said.

Parker Solar Probe is on track for launch during a 20-day window that opens on July 31, 2018, NASA said.

SpaceX Poised for Thursday Cargo Launch to Space Station

SpaceX is poised to blast off its next delivery of food, supplies and science experiments to the astronauts living at the International Space Station on Thursday.

The launch of SpaceX’s 11th commercial resupply mission aboard an unmanned Dragon cargo ship is scheduled for 5:55pm (2155 GMT) on June 1 (3:25am IST on June 2), and will be broadcast live on NASA’s website.

If all goes as planned, a Falcon 9 rocket will propel the Dragon into low-Earth orbit, where it will eventually connect with the space station, circling the Earth at a height of some 250 miles (400 kilometers).

SpaceX Poised for Thursday Cargo Launch to Space StationThe cargo ship should arrive Sunday at 8:30am (1230 GMT).

It is packed with almost 6,000 pounds (2,700 kilograms) of science research, crew supplies and hardware.

The supplies for special experiments include live mice to study the effects of osteoporosis and fruit flies for research on microgravity’s impact on the heart.

The spacecraft is also loaded with solar panels and equipment to study neutron stars.

The weather forecast for Thursday’s launch was 70 percent favorable, NASA said.

If the launch is postponed for any reason, another opportunity opens at 5:07pm (2107 GMT) Saturday, June 3.

The launch will be the 100th from NASA’s historic launch pad 39A, the starting point for the Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as a total of 82 shuttle flights.

SpaceX ISS Cargo Launch Postponed to Saturday After Lightning Strike

A lightning strike near Cape Canaveral forced SpaceX to delay until Saturday its first-ever cargo delivery to the astronauts living in orbit using a vessel that has already flown to space once before, NASA said Thursday.

The lightning did not hit any of SpaceX’s equipment but happened within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of the launch pad.

The strike happened about 25 minutes before the scheduled launch at 5:55 pm (2155 GMT).

“The lightning flight rule requires 30 minutes for you to clear that before it is safe to launch,” NASA spokesman Mike Curie said.

“Weather has gotten us today.”

The next opportunity for SpaceX’s 11th commercial resupply mission aboard an unmanned Dragon cargo ship is now 5:07pm (2107 GMT) on Saturday (2:37am IST Sunday), and will be broadcast live on NASA’s website.

The weather forecast for Saturday is 60 percent favorable, NASA said.

Refurbished capsule
The gumdrop-shaped Dragon spaceship has been refurbished, after previously toting food and supplies to the International Space Station in September 2014, and then splashing back down in the ocean intact.

“The majority of this Dragon has been in space before,” said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of mission assurance.

SpaceX ISS Cargo Launch Postponed to Saturday After Lightning StrikeThe heat shield, however, has been replaced, he told reporters at a pre-launch press conference on Wednesday.

The re-use of an old spaceship is the latest move in SpaceX’s long-running strategy to make space flight cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

Its main effort has been in recycling rockets, by powering their first stage engines and guiding them back to Earth following launch.

This saves the main portion of the rocket, and avoids jettisoning millions of dollars worth of equipment into the ocean after takeoff.

About 10 minutes after Saturday’s launch, SpaceX will attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on solid ground back at Cape Canaveral.

The Dragon is packed with almost 6,000 pounds (2,700 kilograms) of science research, crew supplies and hardware.

The supplies for special experiments include live mice to study the effects of osteoporosis and fruit flies for research on microgravity’s impact on the heart.

The spacecraft is also loaded with solar panels and equipment to study neutron stars.

The launch will be the 100th from NASA’s historic launch pad 39A, the starting point for the Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as a total of 82 shuttle flights.

NASA Set to Launch First Ever Mission to Study Neutron Stars

NASA is set to launch the world’s first mission tomorrow to study rapidly spinning neutron stars – the densest objects in the universe – nearly 50 years after they were discovered.

The same platform will also carry out the world’s first demonstration of X-ray navigation in space.

The agency plans to launch the two-in-one Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) aboard SpaceX CRS-11, a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) to be launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday.

The launch was earlier planned for June 1, but was delayed due to poor weather.

About a week after its installation, this one-of-a-kind investigation will begin observing neutron stars, the densest objects in the universe.

The mission will focus especially on pulsars – those neutron stars that appear to wink on and off because their spin sweeps beams of radiation past us, like a cosmic lighthouse.

Due to their extreme nature, neutron stars and pulsars have engendered a great deal of interest since their existence was proposed in 1939 and then discovered in 1967.

These objects are the remnants of massive stars that, after exhausting their nuclear fuel, exploded and collapsed into super-dense spheres.

Their intense gravity crushes an astonishing amount of matter – often more than 1.4 times the content of the Sun or at least 460,000 Earths – into city-sized orbs, creating stable, yet incredibly dense matter not seen anywhere else in the universe.

Just one teaspoonful of neutron star matter would weigh a billion tonnes on Earth.

“The nature of matter under these conditions is a decades-old unsolved problem,” said Keith Gendreau, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in the US.

“Theory has advanced a host of models to describe the physics governing the interiors of neutron stars. With NICER, we can finally test these theories with precise observations,” said Gendreau.

NASA Set to Launch First Ever Mission to Study Neutron StarsAlthough neutron stars emit radiation across the spectrum, observing them in the energetic X-ray band offers the greatest insights into their structure and the high-energy phenomena that they host, including starquakes, thermonuclear explosions and the most powerful magnetic fields known in the cosmos.

During its 18-month mission, NICER will collect X-rays generated from the stars’ tremendously strong magnetic fields and from hotspots located at their two magnetic poles.

At these locations, the objects’ intense magnetic fields emerge from their surfaces and particles trapped within these fields rain down and generate X-rays when they strike the stars’ surfaces.

In pulsars, these flowing particles emit powerful beams of radiation from the vicinity of the magnetic poles.

On Earth these beams of radiation are observed as flashes of radiation ranging from seconds to milliseconds depending on how fast the pulsar rotates.

Since these pulsations are predictable, they can be used as celestial clocks, providing high-precision timing, like the atomic-clock signals supplied through the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Although ubiquitous on Earth, GPS signals weaken the farther one travels out beyond Earth orbit. Pulsars, however, are accessible virtually everywhere in space, making them a valuable navigational solution for deep-space exploration.

NASA Exoplanet Discovery Commemorated in Thursday’s Google Doodle

NASA Exoplanet Discovery Commemorated in Thursday's Google DoodleGoogle on Thursday celebrated with a doodle NASA’s announcement of the discovery of seven Earth-size planets around a single nearby star – believed to be the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable worlds outside our solar system.

“This just in! Turns out it wasn’t just dust on the telescope lens: NASA just announced the discovery of seven Earth-size planets orbiting the same star only 235 trillion miles away. In space terms, that practically makes us next-door neighbors!” Google said in a statement.

Because they are located outside of our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets.

This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile.

“What exactly does this new solar system TRAPPIST-1 mean for our universe? Well, three of these newly discovered planets land smack-dab in the middle of what scientists call the habitable zone, or the distance from the star it orbits ‘where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water’,” the statement added.
Though scientists have some serious studying to do before we can definitively say whether any of the new TRAPPIST-1 planets are habitable, the potential is very promising.

So if three of these new TRAPPIST-1 planets land in the habitable zone, what about the other four?

According to NASA, all seven planets could have liquid water, the most crucial ingredient for life – assuming the right atmospheric conditions.

The star-studded doodle created by artist Nate Swinehart, depicts the discovery of the exoplanet system with the help of a telescope.

Unlike our solar system, the planets in TRAPPIST-1 are very close together.

NASA’s Juno Probe Forces ‘Rethink’ on Jupiter After Revealing Stunning Details

NASA's Juno Probe Forces 'Rethink' on Jupiter After Revealing Stunning DetailsAn unmanned NASA spaceship circling Jupiter has spotted massive cyclones at the gas giant’s poles, revealing stunning new details about our solar system’s largest planet, researchers said Thursday.

A NASA statement described the planet as “a complex, gigantic, turbulent world” that is far different than scientists previously thought.

Two papers in the journal Science and 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters describe a trove of discoveries made since Juno began orbiting Jupiter last year.

“We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

“There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.”

A look at Jupiter’s poles has shown they are covered with dozens of densely clustered storms, possibly dropping hail or snow.

“Images of Jupiter’s previously-unseen poles show a chaotic scene of bright oval features,” said one of the studies in the journal Science.

These ovals, it turns out, are huge swirling storms, some of which measure up to 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) across.

Researchers found “signs of ammonia welling up from the deep atmosphere and forming giant weather systems.”

Now, more study is needed to better understand the nature of Jupiter’s storms, and why the planet acts this way.

Juno mission
The solar-powered Juno spacecraft launched in 2011, and made its first tour around Jupiter on August 27, 2016.

Juno moves in an elliptical orbit, skimming within 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) of Jupiter’s cloud tops and passing over the poles.
Juno’s mission is scheduled to end in February 2018, when the probe will self-destruct by diving into the planet’s atmosphere.

The $1.1 billion project aims to peer beneath the clouds around Jupiter for the first time to learn more about the planet’s atmosphere and how much water the planet contains.

“On our next flyby on July 11, we will fly directly over one of the most iconic features in the entire solar system – one that every school kid knows – Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Bolton.

“If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it’s Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments.”

10x Earth’s magnetic field
Juno has also taken measurements of Jupiter’s gravitational field, to see if it has a solid core, as some models have predicted, or no core at all.

Instead, researchers found that the core is “fuzzy,” – neither a small compact core nor a non-existent core.

Bolton said the core may be partially dissolved, and is certainly much larger than anybody had anticipated.

Even before Juno launched, researchers knew Jupiter had the most intense magnetic field in the solar system.

But now, astronomers see that it is “substantially stronger than models predicted, at 7.766 Gauss, or roughly ten times Earth’s magnetic field,” said the study.

According to Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator and the lead for the mission’s magnetic field investigation at NASA, the “magnetic field looks lumpy.

“It is stronger in some places and weaker in others,” he said.

“Every flyby we execute gets us closer to determining where and how Jupiter’s dynamo works.”

NASA tests robotic tools to crack the surface of icy moons

While the Mars rovers are assiduously searching the red planet for water over the next decade, there are whole moons full of the stuff just waiting for us to come visit. At least, that’s the theory. But missions to Europa and Titan are still hypothetical, so in the meantime NASA is toying with ideas about how a robotic lander would get through the miles of ice that lie on top of these extraterrestrial oceans.

From their limited observations of Europa, scientists estimate that the ice is somewhere between 6 and 12 miles thick. We’ve never had to drill through anything like that using an autonomous system, let alone one that’s being bathed in radiation from Jupiter. That’s what the Ocean Worlds Mobility and Sensing project looked into.

“Robotic systems would face cryogenic temperatures and rugged terrain and have to meet strict planetary protection requirements,” said JPL’s Hari Nayar, who oversees this particular robotics program, in a NASA news release.

Artist’s concept of what the crust of Europa might look like, with features like ice volcanoes and other cool stuff.

Among the systems undergoing testing right now are the two highlighted today: one for surface testing, and one for deep drilling.

The surface testing system uses a claw with heated tips that would grip the ice and provide a platform for a drill. The drill could core out a sample, or the whole chunk of ice could break off and be returned to the lander for testing.

NASA’s concept Europa lander belongs on the cover of a sci-fi pulpNASA’s new searchable media library is a treasure trove of space pics and videoNASA’s pop-up robot can tackle tight spots where rovers can’t reach

And because it’s unlikely they’re going to land within spitting range of the sample the scientists like the look of, a robotic arm system is also being looked into, in order to get at locations dozens of feet away. They’re even considering a sort of projectile claw that could fire even further, but let’s not get too attached to that idea, because it’s pretty insane.

For deeper drilling, the proposal is a sort of nuclear spinning saw blade, which sounds insane but actually isn’t. The saw would cut through the ice and throw detritus upwards, where it would be melted by a plutonium-powered heat source and sucked back up to the surface or elsewhere for analysis. Other deep ice drills use lasers or superheated water to make their way downwards.

These are just prototypes right now; it’s hard to make anything purposeful when you don’t know where you’re going to land, what the makeup of the surface there is and so on. But hopefully we’ll learn enough from the upcoming Europa Clipper mission to get started.