News Notes - 2008
- Dec 30 - NASA RELEASES FINAL REPORT ON COLUMBIA
- New details on the Space Shuttle Columbia
disaster can be found at
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
NPOPM web site. For operational details check with
- 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
(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,
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
- 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
NASA Space Shuttle and
- 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