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Monday, February 15, 2016

This Week in Satellite News! (Feb 8 – Feb 15 2016)


Get Immersed in Curiosity's 360 Degree Mars Dune

Late last year, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity arrived at the "Bagnold Dune Field" on the slopes of Mount
Sharp, rolling up to the base of the dark sands of "Namib Dune." The mission has since been studying the area, scooping samples and surveying the surrounding sands. And, of course, taking some pretty
spectacular imagery of these extraterrestrial sand dunes.
In January, mission scientists released a full 360 degree view of this fascinating region of the Martian surface, but this week you can really get the Mark Watney experience — NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists have uploaded an immersive, 360 degree "virtual reality" experience to YouTube. Check it out:


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Spaceflight offers smallsat launch services on government contract schedule

WASHINGTON — A Seattle-based company that provides launch services for small satellites is now able to sell those services to U.S. government agencies through a standard government contract schedule, although it is unclear who would purchase those launches.
Spaceflight Inc. announced Feb. 10 that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has added the company’s small satellite launch services to its Professional Services Schedule. The schedule provides a fixed-price list of services that government agencies can purchase directly without a competition.
Spaceflight’s GSA schedule offers agencies several different options for launch services. The smallest option covers the launch of a three-unit cubesat, weighing no more than five kilograms, at a price of under $280,000. The largest option is for a 300-kilogram satellite, for nearly $7.7 million.

Three cubesats orbit Earth after being deployed from the ISS. Credit: NASA
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Gravitational Waves: What Their Discovery Means for Science and Humanity

People around the world cheered yesterday morning (Feb. 11) when scientists announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time whose existence was first proposed by Albert Einstein, in 1916.
The waves came from two black holes circling each other, closer and closer, until they finally collided. The recently upgraded Large Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) captured the signal on Sept. 14, 2015. Not every scientific discovery gets this kind of reception, so what exactly is all the hype about, and what's next for LIGO now that it has spotted these elusive waves?
First of all, detecting two colliding black holes is thrilling by itself — no one knew for sure if black holes actually merged together to create even more-massive black holes, but now there's physical proof. And there's the joy of finally having direct evidence for a phenomenon that was first predicted 100 years ago, using an instrument that was proposed 40 years ago.

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Farewell, Philae: Hunt for Rosetta's Lost Lander Ends

The European Space Agency is giving up on trying to contact the lost Philae comet lander, which had an unexpectedly rough touchdown after its release 16 months ago from the orbiting Rosetta mothership.
Rather than harpooning itself onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Philae bounced several times before coming to a rest against a cliff wall.
The probe ran through an automated three-day series of science experiments and relayed the results back to Earth before its batteries lost power.

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Mold contamination delays Orbital ATK cargo flight to ISS
NASA said it detected mold contamination on two cargo bags being prepared for a Cygnus mission to the station.
The agency decided to disinfect every bag as a precaution, including those that had already been stowed inside the Cygnus.
That work will push back the mission, previously set for launch on an Atlas 5 for March 10, to March 22. The source of the mold wasn’t clear.

Cygnus arrival at ISS
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Beware Falling Rocks: Asteroid Day Will Highlight Impact Risks

An international band of asteroid experts gathered Tuesday to discuss the future of asteroid research and avoidance in preparation for the second annual Asteroid Day.
On June 30, 1908, a large meteorite or comet exploded above the remote Russian countryside, flattening 770 square miles (1,990 square kilometers) of forest. Now, June 30 is Asteroid Day, part of a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of an asteroid strike on Earth.
At a press conference Feb. 9, the organizations behind Asteroid Day announced their plans for the latest effort, inviting a panel of experts to speak about the need for more study of asteroids as well as a commitment to preventing a large body from striking the Earth. The event was held at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC).
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SpaceX's Dragon: First Private Spacecraft to Reach Space Station

The Dragon spacecraft, operated by California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), carries cargo to the International Space Station under commercial agreements the company has with NASA. It was the first private spacecraft to berth with the ISS. SpaceX is also developing a human-rated version to eventually bring astronauts to the space station.
The company made its first demonstration flight to the station in May 2012, and then began commercial fights that fall. SpaceX is currently contracted with NASA to do 12 robotic supply flights to the station for a minimum of $1.6 billion.
While SpaceX is busy ferrying cargo to and from the station, the company is also working on a plan to put astronauts on the Dragon spacecraft. In 2014, the company received $2.6 billion from NASA for the latest phase of the Commercial Crew Program, which aims to fly astronauts on American spacecraft by 2017.

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NASA Europa Mission May Not Launch Until Late 2020s

NASA's highly anticipated mission to the potentially life-supporting Jupiter moon Europa may not get off the ground until the late 2020s, agency officials say.
Last year, Congress granted NASA $175 million to continue developing its Europa mission, which will perform dozens of flybys to gauge the life-hosting potential of the icy moon's huge subsurface ocean.
In that allocation, Congress declared that NASA must have the Europa mission ready to launch by 2022. But NASA's fiscal year 2017 budget request, which was released Tuesday (Feb. 9), includes just $49.6 million for the Europa effort — a level that, when combined with predicted funding in the coming years, "supports a Europa mission launch in the late 2020s," NASA chief financial officer David Radzanowski said during a news conference Tuesday.

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