Juno Woes 

NASA’s spacecraft that is currently circling Jupiter has had a rough couple of weeks.

On October 14, it was announced that the engine burn that was to insert Juno into close orbit around the gas giant would be postponed:

Mission managers for NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter have decided to postpone the upcoming burn of its main rocket motor originally scheduled for Oct. 19. This burn, called the period reduction maneuver (PRM), was to reduce Juno’s orbital period around Jupiter from 53.4 to 14 days. The decision was made in order to further study the performance of a set of valves that are part of the spacecraft’s fuel pressurization system. The period reduction maneuver was the final scheduled burn of Juno’s main engine.

Juno was still scheduled to pass Jupiter even without this burn, but then the spacecraft encountered more issues:

NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered safe mode Tuesday, Oct. 18 at about 10:47 p.m. PDT (Oct. 19 at 1:47 a.m. EDT). Early indications are a software performance monitor induced a reboot of the spacecraft’s onboard computer. The spacecraft acted as expected during the transition into safe mode, restarted successfully and is healthy. High-rate data has been restored, and the spacecraft is conducting flight software diagnostics. All instruments are off, and the planned science data collection for today’s close flyby of Jupiter (perijove 2), did not occur.

NASA has until early December to get the engine valve issue straightened out, or it will be another 53 days before the burn can be attempted again. I wouldn’t want to have be feeling the stress the Juno team must have right now, and I hope they get things worked out. It’s a cool mission to a planet we don’t know all that much about.

Blue Origin Holds Successful Escape System Test »

Loren Grush:

Despite expectations of fiery explosions, Blue Origin successfully landed its New Shepard rocket after launching the vehicle for the fifth time today. The landing was a delightful surprise for the company, since it fully expected that rocket to either break up or slam into the floor of the Texas desert.

That’s because the purpose of today’s flight was to test out the New Shepard’s escape system. It’s a feature that will save future passengers on board the vehicle, in case the rocket suffers a major failure during flight.

In short, the crew capsule escape system uses a motor on the underside of the capsule to pull it away from the booster. That act was thought to damage the booster, or knock it off trajectory enough to make a landing impossible.

Turns out Jeff Bezos’ team underestimated their hardware. While SpaceX may make more headlines, Blue Origin is coming right along in their quest for reusable boosters.

You can watch the whole thing on YouTube:

Musk Outlines Mars Plan »

Ria Misra at Gizmodo:

SpaceX plans to build a “self-sustaining city” on Mars, according to its founder Elon Musk. But, while we now know a lot more about how SpaceX plans to get to Mars, details about how people will actually survive up there remain sketchy.

Misra has the best round-up of the news that I’ve seen. I haven’t had a chance to see all of the keynote yet, but there are plenty of open questions left about Musk’s plan.

Voyager Golden Record Kickstarter »

A new Kickstarter project has grabbed my attention:

Experience the historic interstellar message for extraterrestrials the way it was meant to be played.

In 1977, NASA’s Voyager I and II probes were sent to explore the outer solar system1 and beyond. In fact, Voyager I holds the distinct record of being the first human-built object to enter interstellar space.

In addition to cameras and sensors, the space craft are carrying a special payload:

Mounted to each of these spacecraft is a stunning golden phonograph record, an interstellar message to introduce our civilization to extraterrestrials who might encounter the probes, perhaps billions of years from now.

The Voyager Golden Record contains the story of Earth expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth’s greatest music from myriad cultures and eras, from Bach and Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, Senegalese percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Dozens of natural sounds of our planet — birds, a train, a baby’s cry — are collaged into a lovely sound poem. There are spoken greetings in 55 human languages, and one whale language, and more than one hundred images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are.

The project includes LPs so the sounds etched on these records can be played for the first time outside of NASA. Pretty cool.

  1. Sadly, Uranus and Neptune haven’t been visited by any probe other than Voyager 2. 

Juno Beams Home Images From First Perijove »

Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society:

On August 27, Juno soared across Jupiter’s cloud tops from pole to pole, with all instruments operating. NASA posted some terrific first results from several of the instruments today. And the JunoCam team released all 28 raw images taken during the close encounter. I’ve collected all the data onto a single page for easy browsing and downloading; I’ll have more to say about that below.

Her post is full of breathtaking imagery of Jupiter. There’s going to be a lot more where this came from:

SpaceX Falcon 9 Explodes on Pad 

News broke this morning that a Falcon 9 rocket due to launch later this weekend exploded on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

There are few details known at this point, but early reports say the failure occurred leading up to a static fire test, in which the rocket’s motors are fired while the vehicle is clamped down to the pad. Some tweets have indicated the explosion took place during a “catastrophic abort” of the test.

Here is SpaceX’s initial comment on the accident:

SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today’s static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload. Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.

This is the second failure SpaceX has seen in 14 months.

The payload for this weekend’s launch was a $200 million Internet.org satellite.

Update: US Launch Report has published video of the accident.

NASA’s Juno Completes First Jupiter Flyby »

Tony Greicius at JPL:

While results from the spacecraft’s suite of instruments will be released down the road, a handful of images from Juno’s visible light imager — JunoCam — are expected to be released the next couple of weeks. Those images will include the highest-resolution views of the Jovian atmosphere and the first glimpse of Jupiter’s north and south poles.

It’s an exciting time to be a space enthusiast.


Nola Taylor Redd at Space.com:

In 2023, a bit of the primordial solar system will return to Earth. That’s when NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex mission will return a sample of the asteroid Bennu, a carbon-rich rock hosting traces of the early solar system. While there, the mission will conduct an in-depth study of the rocky body, learning more about how sunlight can shift its position, before gathering a small sample to return to Earth.

This mission seems so much like science fiction, but it’s real, and it’s launching in just a couple of weeks.