News Notes - 2008

Dec 30 - NASA RELEASES FINAL REPORT ON COLUMBIA
New details on the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster can be found at NASA reports.

Dec 25 - RUSSIA LAUNCHES GLONASS SATELLITES
Using a Proton M launcher, Russia has launched a second group of 3 GLONASS global navigation satellites within 4 months, to form an operational constellation of these satellites. GLONASS is the Russian counterpart of the US GPS system. The satellites orbit at an altitude of about 19,250 km and an inclination of 65 degrees.

Dec 23 - NEW CHINESE WEATHER SATELLITE
Fenyun 2E was launched to geosynchronous orbit by a Long March 3A rocket from the Xichang launch centre. It will be used to replace the Fenyun 2C satellite which is currently at 105 degrees east longitude.

Dec 15 - CHINA LAUNCHES ANOTHER REMOTE SENSING SATELLITE
A Long March 4B rocket was used to launch the Yaogan 5 dual use (civilian and military) remote imaging satellite from the Taiyuan launch site. The satellite was placed in a sun-synchronous orbit at 490 km altitude and 97 degrees inclination.

Dec 01 - CHINA LAUNCHES REMOTE SENSING SATELLITE
A Long March 2D rocket was used to launch the Yaogan 4 remote sensing satellite from the Jiuchuan launch site. The initial orbit was at an altitude of 643 km and an inclination of 98 degrees.

Nov 14 - INDIANS HIT MOON
The Indian Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter was commanded to release its 34 kg Moon Impact Probe. The MIP impacted the lunar surface 25 minutes after its release from the 100 km altitude lunar orbit. The MIP relayed height, atmospheric and image data back to the mothercraft for retransmission to Earth. This demonstration was done to test technology that it is hoped will be useful for the future Chandryaan-2 spacecraft that will attempt to soft land a rover on the moon's surface. More details at ISRO.

Nov 15 - STS-126 LAUNCHES TO ISS
The Space Shuttle Endeavour launched to the Internationl Space Station carrying the laden Italian Leonardo module with components necessary for a six person crew. EVA's will be conducted to repair and lubricate a malfunctioning solar array rotary joint. For more details see NASA Space Shuttle.

Nov - ESA TO DEVELOP SPACE SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM
The European Space Agency has formulated a plan to develop an indigenous space surveillance system that will include monitoring satellites and space debris, in an effort to reduce reliance on US sources for this information, and increase space situational awareness.

Nov - NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SUPPORTS DARK SKIES
The cover story of this month's National Geographic Magazine is entitled "The End of Night - Why We Need Darkness", and graphically shows why the Milky Way is now invisible from many cities of the world. National Geographic. For more on this problem see the International Dark-Sky Association.

Oct 24 - ITALIAN RADARSAT LAUNCHED
The third satellite in the Italian COSMO SkyMed constellation was launched into a polar 620 km circular orbit from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California by a Boeing Delta 2 rocket. The radar satellite constellation is designed to provide precise digital elevation models for civilian and military uses, and to help provide disaster and safety data for the Mediteranean basin. For more information see the Italian Space Agency.

Oct 22 - INDIA LAUNCHES LUNAR SPACECRAFT
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched a 1380 kg probe toward the moon using its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The spacecraft, named Chandrayaan-1 was launched from India's Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. The four stage PSLV placed it in a geosynchronous transfer orbit, and a liquid apogee motor (LAM) was then fired ten times to attain a 100km circular orbit about the moon, which it successfully reached on 12 November. Chandrayaan-1 has 11 scientific instruments on board, and a moon impact probe. India is the sixth country to achieve lunar orbit. More details can be found at ISRO.

Oct 19 - IBEX LAUNCHED FROM KWAJALEIN ATOLL
The Interstellar Boundary Explorer was successfully launched by a Pegasus rocket dropped from an aircraft near Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. IBEX is a satellite developed by the US Southwest Research Institute to image the boundary of the heliosphere. This is where the solar wind, flowing out from the Sun, meets the interstellar environment. It is hoped to image this boundary by detecting neutral interstellar atoms that make their way past this barrier into the solar system. The satellite will orbit the Earth with a very high apogee of about 320,000 km and a perigee of 7000 km. More information at the IBEX web site.

Oct 02 - AUSTRALIA WINS SPACE MOOT COMPETITION
A team of law students from the University of New South Wales won the 2008 Manfred Lachs Space Moot competition arranged by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL). In the final competition, held in Glasgow, Scotland at the same time as the International Astronautical Congress, Australia defeated a team representing Germany from the University of Augsburg. The problem debated this year related to the use of space communications by a small developing country. Madeleine Ellicott of the UNSW team was awarded the Best Oralist Award.
The IISL released the 2009 problem on 15 September, and this concerns the use of force in space. For more details see spacemoot.

Oct 01 - THAILAND REMOTE SENSING SATELLITE LAUNCHED
A Russian Dnepr rocket launched the Thailand Earth Observation Satellite (THEOS) from Yasni in southern Russia. The satellite was placed in a circular 825 km orbit. It carries a panchromatic imager with 2m resolution and a multi-spectral imager with 15m resolution to monitor topography and vegetation.

Sep 28 - FIRST PRIVATE ROCKET ORBITS SATELLITE
A liquid fuelled Falcon 1 rocket, the product of the firm Space Exploration Technologies, successfully placed a payload of 165 kg in low Earth orbit with a launch from an island in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. See SpaceX for more details of this launch and other company activities .

Sep 27 - HUBBLE FAILURE DELAYS SHUTTLE REFURBISHMENT MISSION
The Hubble Space Telescope suffered a serious computer failure that has resulted in the postponement of Space Shuttle Mission STS-125 to refurbish the orbiting observatory. The failure occurred in the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling unit. Fortunately this unit has a secondary redundant side, which has been switched on to replace the failed side. The STS-125 mission is likely to be delayed until at least May 2009 so that a new Data Handling unit can be added to the list of items to be changed and/or upgraded. For more details see Hubble@NASA or Hubblesite.

Sep 25 - CHINESE FIRST EVA MISSION
The Shenzhou 7 spacecraft was launched by China carrying astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng. Zhai performed the first Chinese extravehicular activity on the second day of the mission. The spacecraft made a safe landing in Inner Mongolia on the 28th. China is now the third country to have performed a successful EVA.

Sep 6 - HIGH RESOLUTION REMOTE SENSING SATELLITE LAUNCHED
The commercial GeoEye-1 remote sensing satellite was launched into low Earth orbit by a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The imagery from this satellite will provide the highest resolution commercial images available of the Earth. Image resolution will be 40 cm panchromatic (black and white), and 150 cm colour. Images will be available to US and foreign customers for civilian and military purposes. Rapid dissemination will make the images particularly useful for disaster monitoring and relief purposes. The US government National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has heavily sponsored the development of the GeoEye and other commercial high resolution satellite systems. General public access to these images will be through Google Earth.

Sep 5 - ESA ROSETTA MISSION IMAGES SMALL ASTEROID
The first scientific target of the Rosetta spacecraft 11 year mission to asteroids and a comet, the small main belt asteroid 2867 Steins was imaged from only 800 km away. Steins is an irregular shaped asteroid under 5 km in size. See images at Rosetta.

Aug 29 - RAPID EYE REMOTE SENSING CONSTELLATION IN ORBIT
A German commercial remote sensing company, Rapid Eye, now has a constellation of five 150 kg satellites in low Earth orbit. All satellites were launched by a Russian Dnepr-1 rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. For more details see Rapid Eye.

Jul 22 - GERMAN RADAR MILSAT LAUNCHED
A Kosmos 3M rocket launched the German Sar Lupe 5 satellite into orbit from Plesetsk. The satellite carries an X-band synthetic aperture radar. A near circular orbit just under 500 km is expected to provide 1m resolution images at any time of day of night.

Jun 30 - TUNGUSKA EVENT 100 YEARS AGO
At around 00 UT on 30 June 1908, an intensely bright meteor was seen over the skies of Siberia. The body, believed to be either a comet or small stony asteroid, imploded in an air burst over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River basin, sending seismic and barometric waves around the world. Only 19 years later did a Russian scientific expedition note the full extent of the blast, when they saw trees within a 30 km radius knocked over, pointing radially away from ground zero. Estimates of the explosive energy released range from about 10 to 15 megatons of TNT. A strong reminder of the debris that shares Earth orbital space.

Jun 23 - INTERIM GOVERNMENT SPACE REPORT
The Australian Senate Standing Committee on Economics issued its Interim report on Australian space science and industry. The Committee comprises eight members and has so far received and considered over eighty submissions, and has conducted public hearings in Adelaide and Canberra. Eleven key questions related to Australian involvement in space were considered. A copy of the report can be obtained from the SSCE.

Jun 11 - NASA LAUNCHES GAMMA RAY TELESCOPE
The Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) was launched into low Earth orbit (565 km altitude, 25.5 deg inclination) by a Delta II rocket with 9 strap-on boosters from Cape Canaverval. This spacecraft is one of NASA's Great Observatory telescopes (in the same lineage as the Hubble Telescope) with a cost of just under $US700 million. It will study high energy processes in the Universe. These include gamma-ray bursts, supernovae and potential black hole candidates. NASA renamed GLAST the Fermi Space Telescope in August. More details can be found at GLAST.

May 31 - SPACE SHUTTLE STS-124 CARRIES KIBO-2 TO ISS
The Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 21:02 UT heading for the International Space Station (ISS). It is carrying the second section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Kibo laboratory. This is the Japanese Pressurised Module (JPM), and it will be attached to the first section which was connected to the ISS by mission STS-23. There are seven astronauts aboard Discovery, and they will work with 3 ISS astronauts to install the JPM and also the Kibo robotic arm system. The JPM will be the largest module on the space station. For more details see NASA Space Shuttle.

May 25 - PHOENIX SPACECRAFT LANDS ON MARS
The NASA Phoenix Mars Mission started beaming high quality images back to Earth within hours of a successful landing at around 2353 UT. This mission is the first in NASA's Scout Program, and was designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian artic. The Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona is the principal investigator in the mission - the first public university to lead a mission to Mars. Phoenix landed in the Vastitas Borealis, a plains area within the artic circle. For more details see Phoenix Mission at LPL.

May 23 - COMMEMORATIVE RUSSIAN MICROSAT LAUNCHED
"Yubileiny" (Jubilee) was launched by a Rokot rocket from Plesetsk. It commemorates the 1957 launch of Sputnik 1 and broadcasts telemetry, audio and video in the 2m and 70cm amateur radio bands. Initial orbital period was 115.8 min with an apogee of 1,510 km, perigee at 1,480 km, and an inclination of 82.5. A telemetry beacon transmits on 435.315 MHz. The satellite is also known as RS - 30 (Radio Sputnik). A pdf article on the satellite can be downloaded from the NPOPM web site. For operational details check with AMSAT.

May 10 - PHYSICIST PAUL WILD DIES
Dr J. Paul Wild was an inspirational scientist and engineer. In space science his crowning achievement was to lead a team to develop and deploy the large solar radioheliograph at Culgoora near Narrabri. His studies of solar coronal phenomena led to a classification of solar radio emissions that are still in use today. For more details see Paul Wild at CSIRO.

May 7 - ESA NAVIGATION TEST SATELLITE OPERATING
The European Space Agency's GIOVE-B navigation satellite is now transmitting signals to verify the concept of a European satellite navigation system similar to the US Global Positioning System (GPS). GIOVE-B, the second Galileo In-Orbit Validation Element, was launched on April 27 and carries the most accurate atomic clock ever flown in space. The first operational satellite of the full Galileo constellation is expected to be launched in the next two years.

Apr 26 - JULES VERNE BOOSTS INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION
The European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle, the Jules Verne, demonstrated for the first time, its ability to boost the International Space Station to a higher orbit. This function is necessary due to loss of orbital altitude experienced by the ISS due to atmospheric drag.

Apr 10 - ESA RECRUITING EUROPEAN ASTRONAUTS
The European Space Agency has started to recruit a new batch of astronauts, for future missions to the International Space Station, the Moon and beyond. For details see ESA Astronaut Selection.

Apr 6 - SELENE RECORDS 'FULL EARTH' FROM MOON
The Japanese Selene lunar probe recorded the first full-Earth image. This is equivalent to a full-Moon viewed from Earth, and requires the Sun, Moon and Earth to be colinear, in that order. The image was taken with a high-definition video camera supplied by the Japanese television network NHK.

Mar 19 - GOVERNMENT SPACE INQUIRY
The Australian Senate Economics Committee is directed to inquire and report on Australian space science and industry with an interim report by 23 June and a final report by October 2008. The inquiry terms of reference are to examine "options to strengthen and expand Australia's position in fields that strongly align with space science and industry .... with particular reference to:
(a) Australia's capabilities in space science, industry and education ..
(b) arguments for and against expanded Australian activity in space science and industry ..
(c) realistic policy options that facilitate effective solutions .."

Mar 19 - ARTHUR C CLARKE DIES
Scientist, Underwater Explorer, Visionary, Writer and Grand Master of Science Fiction Arthur C Clarke died in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For more details see the Last Interview with Arthur C Clarke and the ASA Museum Arthur C Clarke notes.

Mar 11 - SPACE SHUTTLE STS-123 CARRIES JAPANESE KIBO MODULE TO ISS
The Space Shuttle Endeavour blasted off from the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a nominal 16-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS). It is carrying the first section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Kibo laboratory which will be attached to the ISS. It also carries the Canadian Space Agency two-armed robotic system known as Dextre. This will be the longest shuttle mission to the ISS and will involve a record 5 spacewalks from the shuttle. There are seven astronauts aboard mission STS-123. For more details see NASA Space Shuttle.

Mar 10 - NEW GPS SATELLITE LAUNCHED
The satellite, designated GPS-IIR-18M, is the fifth in the new series of GPS satellites, and was launched into orbit by a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This series of GPS satellites, built by Lockheed Martin, transmits a second civilian frequency which allows suitably equipped receivers to remove ionospheric effects from the signals, and thus provide a more accurate positional estimate.

Mar 9 - ESA LAUNCHES ATV TO ISS
An Ariane 5 launcher put the European Space Agency (ESA) Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) into orbit from the ESA Spaceport at Kourou in French Guiana. The ATV is the first spacecraft in the world designed to conduct automated docking with the International Space Station (ISS) in compliance with tight safety standards for human spaceflight operations. The Jules Verne will dock with the ISS and transfer about 10 tons of cargo. It is also able to boost the ISS to higher altitudes. It is the largest orbiting spacecraft after the US Space Shuttle, and makes ESA a very important part of ISS operations, especially considering NASA's plan to retire from Space Shuttle operations as of 2010.
A small space tracking station was set up by ESA in New Zealand to the south of Invercargill, to help in following the progress of the Jules Verne spacecraft.
For more details see Automated Transfer Vehicle

Feb 29 - DRAFT SPACE SCIENCE PLAN RELEASED FOR COMMENT
The National Committee for Space Science (NCSS) of the Australian Academy of Science has released a draft of the Space Science Decadal Plan for comment by interested parties. The draft plan may be downloaded from NCSS. The draft provides contacts for comments, which should be forwarded by the end of April.

Feb 21 - DECAYING SATELLITE DESTROYED BY US ASAT MISSILE
The US Navy destroyed a non-functioning reconnaissance satellite which was in a decaying orbit and due to reenter the Earth's atmosphere within a day of March 15. The anti-satellite missile used to destroy the 2500 kg spacecraft was launched from a warship in the Pacific ocean just west of Hawaii. For more details see USA 193

Feb 7 - SPACE SHUTTLE STS-122 CARRIES EUROPEAN COLUMBUS MODULE TO ISS
The US Space Shuttle mission STS-122 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center carrying the European built Columbus laboratory module to the International Space Station. This module will attach to the Station via the Harmony node connected in November 2007. Colombus will allow long-term research in the microgravity environment of the ISS. Equipment on Colombus includes a fluid science laboratory, physiology modules, a biolab, a material science laboratory, a solar platform, an external exposure facility, an atmosphere-space interaction monitor and an atomic clock assembly. See NASA Space Shuttle and Colombus Laboratory.

Jan 16 - CURTIN ASTRONOMY WEB SITE OPENS
Curtin University of Technology, with its main campus in Perth, Western Australia, launched a new web site devoted to its astronomical activities. This follows a major expansion in staff who will be devoted to radio astronomony, with a strong emphasis on SKA pathfinder instruments to be located in the Murchison region. See Astronomy @ Curtin.

Jan 14 - MERCURY MESSENGER FLIES BY MERCURY
The NASA Mercury Messenger spacecraft made its first flyby of the planet Mercury, and acquired many images of the planet that have never been seen before. This is the first of several flybys that will eventually lead to orbital insertion around Mercury on October 6, 2011. The images can be viewed at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Mercury Messenger web site.

Jan 4 - FIRST SOLAR CYCLE 24 SPOT GROUP OBSERVED
What is probably the first sunspot group of the coming sunspot cycle 24 was observed by Alan Brockman, the Principal Physicist at Learmonth Solar Observatory in Western Australia. The group, numbered 10981 by the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, was of reverse magnetic polarity to current cycle 23 sunspot groups, and was also at the relatively high latitude of 30 degrees north. Although reverse polarity high latitude magnetic regions have been observed many months ago, this is the first such region to have sunspots associated with it. This spot group had three small spots and a lifetime of 3 days. It is typically at least 12 months after the appearance of the first spotted region of a new cycle that sunspot minimum occurs. If the Sun follows this behavior again, this would place the time of sunspot minimum and the start of cycle 24 no earlier than January 2009, making cycle 23 the longest sunspot cycle in almost 200 years.