New Horizons Enters Safe Mode

New Horizons spacecraft (Credit: JHUAPL/SwRI)

New Horizons spacecraft (Credit: JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — The New Horizons spacecraft experienced an anomaly the afternoon of July 4 that led to a loss of communication with Earth. Communication has since been reestablished and the spacecraft is healthy.

The mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, lost contact with the unmanned spacecraft — now 10 days from arrival at Pluto — at 1:54 p.m. EDT, and regained communications with New Horizons at 3:15 p.m. EDT, through NASA’s Deep Space Network.

During that time the autonomous autopilot on board the spacecraft recognized a problem and – as it’s programmed to do in such a situation – switched from the main to the backup computer. The autopilot placed the spacecraft in “safe mode,” and commanded the backup computer to reinitiate communication with Earth. New Horizons then began to transmit telemetry to help engineers diagnose the problem.

A New Horizons Anomaly Review Board (ARB) was convened at 4 p.m. EDT to gather information on the problem and initiate a recovery plan. The team is now working to return New Horizons to its original flight plan. Due to the 9-hour, round trip communication delay that results from operating a spacecraft almost 3 billion miles (4.9 million kilometers) from Earth, full recovery is expected to take from one to several days; New Horizons will be temporarily unable to collect science data during that time.

Status updates will be issued as new information is available.

Last Updated: July 4, 2015

Happy Fourth of July!



’tis the Fourth!

Happy Independence Day!

No posts today unless something truly newsworthy happens.

Are You Ready for Pluto?!


Video Caption: Ready to explore Pluto? NASA’s New Horizons – the fastest spacecraft ever created – will speed past Pluto on July 14, 2015, beaming back high resolution photos (and invaluable data) of the dwarf planet’s surface for the first time in human history.

Continue reading ‘Are You Ready for Pluto?!’

Pluto: The Other Red Planet


What color is Pluto? The answer, revealed in the first maps made from New Horizons data, turns out to be shades of reddish brown. Although this is reminiscent of Mars, the cause is almost certainly very different. On Mars the coloring agent is iron oxide, commonly known as rust. On the dwarf planet Pluto, the reddish color is likely caused by hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto’s atmosphere and on its surface.

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AIA Decries Failure to Reauthorize Export-Import Bank


aialogosmStatement by Aerospace Industries Association President and CEO David F. Melcher on Congress allowing the authorization of the Export-Import Bank to lapse

Arlington, Va. —Today Congress missed an opportunity to support thousands of American jobs at firms across the nation that are striving to compete in a global marketplace tilted against them by foreign governments and subsidized competition.  Despite the Export-Import Bank of the United States having the support of broad bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress, a small minority has prevented a vote reauthorizing this important export financing tool for U.S. exporters.

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Upgraded XR-5 Thruster Successfully Tested on X-37 Space Plane

Upgraded XR-5A Hall thruster (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

Upgraded XR-5A Hall thruster (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., July 1, 2015 – Aerojet Rocketdyne’s (NYSE:AJRD) improved XR-5 Hall Thruster (designated XR-5A) has successfully completed initial on-orbit validation testing on the unmanned X-37 space plane, which is presently on its fourth mission in space. The Air Force Research Laboratory, Space and Missile Systems Center, and Rapid Capabilities Office collaborated to host the XR-5A Hall Thruster experiment on Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4.

The XR-5A Hall Thruster is an enhanced version of the Aerojet Rocketdyne XR-5 Hall Thruster. Both thrusters are five kilowatt class Hall Thrusters; however, the XR-5A incorporates modifications that improve performance and operating range. Aerojet Rocketdyne has manufactured and delivered 16 XR-5 Hall Thrusters and flown 12 to date. As with most new product introductions, Aerojet Rocketdyne is introducing a product upgrade to incorporate improvements identified after the initial low-rate production and flight programs.

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Critical Progress Resupply Mission Set for Friday Launch



UPDATE: Looks like the launch went well. Progress is in orbit, solar arrays deployed.

Russia’s preparing to launch a critical Progress resupply mission containing more than 3 tons of food, fuel, water, oxygen and other supplies to the International Space Station on Friday. The launch of Progress M-28M is set for 0455 GMT (12:55 a.m. EDT).

Progress flights usually attract little attention. However, this flight is seen a crucial following the loss of SpaceX’s Dragon freighter last summer in a launch accident. It was the third launch failure involving an ISS resupply ship in eight months.

On April 28, a Progress vehicle began tumbling out of control after it reached orbit. The mission was eventually abandoned. Last Oct. 28, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded shortly after liftoff, destroying a Cygnus cargo ship.

Russians officials have blamed a problem with the third stage of the Soyuz-2.1a rocket for the Progress failure. For this launch, they have switched to a Soyuz-U launch vehicle that is not susceptible to the same problem.

The resupply ship is scheduled to arrive on Sunday at 0713 GMT (3:13 a.m. EDT) with an automatic docking to the space station’s Pirs compartment.

Space Access Update: Falcon 9 Failure


Space Access Update #143 7/2/15

copyright 2015 by Space Access Society

Sunday’s Commercial Cargo Mission Loss


Sunday’s (6/28/15) SpaceX cargo resupply launch to Station failed, breaking up a little over two minutes into the flight. (More here and here.) This was SpaceX’s eighth such flight; their initial test mission then six commercial-contract cargo flights had essentially gone as planned. This was SpaceX’s nineteenth launch of the Falcon 9 booster; the first eighteen F9 launches all reached orbit successfully.
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New Horizons Reveals Two Distinct Faces of Pluto

Two hemispheres of Pluto. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Two hemispheres of Pluto. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

BALTIMORE, Md. (NASA PR) — New color images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft show two very different faces of the mysterious dwarf planet, one with a series of intriguing spots along the equator that are evenly spaced. Each of the spots is about 300 miles in diameter, with a surface area that’s roughly the size of the state of Missouri.

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NASA’s C-9B Flies Successful Microgravity Campaign

Northwestern University researchers gathered data for their foam experiment during parabolic flight. (Credit: NASA Photo)

Northwestern University researchers gathered data for their foam experiment during parabolic flight. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Flying on NASA’s C-9B parabolic aircraft, researchers tested their experiments during June 9 to 11 flights, which simulated either zero gravity, or the gravity of an asteroid. The plane flew a total of 188 parabolas during the four-day campaign.

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