NOAA Weather Satellite Breaks Up in Orbit

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LONDON — Jeff Foust reports: A U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite retired in 2014 has suffered an apparent breakup, the second time in less than a year that a polar-orbiting weather satellite has generated orbital debris.

“The breakup, if confirmed, would be the second time in less than a year for a satellite in polar orbit. In February, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 satellite exploded in orbit, creating several dozen pieces of debris.”

The Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) announced Nov. 25 that it had identified a possible breakup of the NOAA 16 satellite. The center, which tracks objects in orbit and warns of potential collisions, said it first detected the breakup at 3:41 a.m. Eastern time and was tracking an unspecified number of “associated objects” in the orbit of NOAA 16.

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JSpOC said later Nov. 25 that the debris from NOAA 16 posed no current threat to other satellites in orbit. It added that it did not believe the debris resulted from a collision with another object, suggesting that NOAA 16 broke up on its own.

[The Biggest Spacecraft to Fall from Space]

NOAA 16 launched in September 2000 with a planned lifetime of three to five years. The spacecraft continued to operate in a backup role until June 2014, when NOAA retired the spacecraft after an unspecified “critical anomaly.”

“A sudden temperature spike in that spacecraft led spacecraft engineers to conclude a battery in the spacecraft ruptured because of a design flaw. Seven other DMSP spacecraft have a similar design flaw.”

The breakup, if confirmed, would be the second time in less than a year for a satellite in polar orbit. In February, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 satellite exploded in orbit, creating several dozen pieces of debris. A sudden temperature spike in that spacecraft led spacecraft engineers to conclude a battery in the spacecraft ruptured because of a design flaw. Seven other DMSP spacecraft have a similar design flaw. Read the rest of this entry »


Study: Cosmic Rays Could Damage Astronauts’ Brains

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Cosmic rays could leave travelers to Mars confused, forgetful and slow to react

Robert Lee Hotz writes: As NASA develops plans for a manned mission to Mars, scientists said Friday that cosmic rays during an interplanetary voyage could cause subtle brain damage, leaving astronauts confused, forgetful and slow to react to the unexpected.

“These sorts of cognitive changes could manifest during the mission and could be a real problem.”

In a NASA-funded study of radiation-exposed mice published Friday in Science Advances, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the University of Nevada warned that prolonged bombardment by charged particles in deep space could affect the brain cells involved in decision-making and memory, with implications for possible manned forays into deep space.

Oncologist-Charles-Limoli

Oncologist Charles Limoli

“I don’t think our findings preclude future space missions. But they suggest we need to come up with some engineering solutions.”

— UC Irvine radiation oncologist Charles Limoli

“These sorts of cognitive changes could manifest during the mission and could be a real problem,” said Cary Zeitlin at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, who wasn’t involved in the study. In 2013, Dr. Zeitlin reported radiation levels between Earth and Mars detected by the Mars Science Laboratory craft during its cruise to the red planet, and found that the exposure was the equivalent of getting “a whole-body CT scan once every 5 or 6 days.”

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“Apollo crews, who ventured furthest from Earth’s protective shield on their journeys to the Moon, reported seeing flashes of light when they closed their eyes, caused by galactic cosmic rays speeding through their retinas.”

Deep-space radiation is a unique mix of gamma rays, high-energy protons and cosmic rays from newborn black holes, and radiation from exploding stars. Earth’s bulk, atmosphere and magnetic field blocks or deflects most deep-space cosmic rays. Shielding on spacecraft also helps. Read the rest of this entry »


China stakes its Claims on Mars with Rover Bound for Red Planet in 2020

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For The IndependentJames Vincent writes: Sovereignty in outer space is always a tricky subject, but out of all the lifeless rocks in the solar system it’s safe to say that Mars is more American than most. It may not have a US flag crumpled in mid-wave on the surface, but every robot that’s ever crawled successfully on the planet’s surface has been made in the US. Not for much longer.

Last week China announced that it was planning send a rover to Mars by 2020 and bring back samples from the Red Planet just 10 years later. Ouyang Ziyuan, the Chinese scientist who oversaw the country’s successful Moon rover mission in December last year, said that this would be just the first step in the country’s plans to explore the solar system – with further plans involving sending probes to the Sun.

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The US aerospace industry may be having something of a minor boom at the moment as private companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX celebrate engineering successes, but America still can’t match China’s budget nor its concentration of political will.

Scott Pace, a former Nasa administrator and director of the Space Policy Insitute at George Washington University, told The Independent that China’s plans were “ambitious but not impossible,” adding that despite their success on the Moon, Mars is “much, much more difficult to reach and operate on than the Moon”.

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Of the seven rovers that have been sent to Mars only the four US missions have been successful. A pair of Soviet rovers sent in 1971 failed to stay in touch with Earth for longer than 20 seconds and in 2003 the Beagle 2’s ‘Planetary Undersurface Tool’ (only a ‘rover’ in the most generous of terms) failed to even make it to the surface. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan Exploring Manned Missions to Mars

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火星の日本人!

The Yomiuri Shimbun:  The science and technology ministry will pursue manned Japanese exploration of Mars through international cooperation as part of the nation’s space program, ministry sources said.

It is the first time the government has incorporated Martian exploration into the country’s space program, according tomars-earth the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

The plan was submitted to a panel of experts run by the ministry to discuss space program-related issues, including international space exploration following the end of the International Space Station operation. It will be finalized as early as next month and reported to the government’s Committee on the National Space Policy.

According to the ministry draft, the government will gradually advance the plan, which includes unmanned exploration and long-term settlement on the moon. Read the rest of this entry »