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Space Jam: Let the exploration begin with novel space missions

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By Gaurav Sharma

Dazzling images of icy plains, enigmatic clusters of mounds, and a heart shaped region holding a huge concentration of carbon monoxide set hearts roaring as NASA’s New Horizons Mission flew past the eccentric dwarf planet Pluto.

As more and more data keeps pouring in over the next 16 months, the inquisitive human eye can hope to discover the mysterious aura of the frozen planet along with the mythical nature of its “disappearing atmosphere”.

However, NASA’s epic Pluto mission is just one of the many eclectic assortments of space exploration that the scientific arena has lined up for the curious space observers in its wide gamut of astronomical odysseys.

The rapid rise of technology in the post-modern world has further led to a surge in space exploration missions. Innovative private spaceflight companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Orbital Sciences, Blue Origin and Bigelow Aerospace are fueling the revolutionary transformation in space technology.

Here is telescopic peek of the future foray into dark space exploration:

EXOMARS

People had been viewing Mars–as a red dot brimming with canals and frost–for eternity. After the relay of zoomed-in images by NASA’s Mariner 4 in 1965, the world was caught in rapt attention.

Credits: http://www.google.co.in/imgres?imgurl=http://www.esa.int/var/esa/storage/images/esa_multimedia/images/2003/03/exomars_logo/9572705-3-eng-GB/ExoMars_logo.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2003/03/ExoMars_logo&h=395&w=2023&tbnid=P1bw8bOfDZdwrM:&docid=njR7fxPf1BIjhM&ei=-PCpVcSFCYKUuQSK_bGYCQ&tbm=isch&ved=0CBsQMygAMABqFQoTCMThmcmF5MYCFQJKjgodin4Mkw

Thought to have been home to life like its cousin Earth, Mars is set for a rediscovery, this time through the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission. The mission is scheduled for next year and will sample the Martian atmosphere. However, the center of attraction will be the ExoMars Rover which will land on the Red Planet in 2018.

The ExoMars rover will be superior to the Curiosity rover, which was only able to drill two meters below the surface to search for organic matter. A riverbed which was thought to have been a watery landscape holding sediments of life will likely be the landing site of the rover.

ORION Spacecraft

Credits: https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB1qFQoTCPvwlIyG5MYCFQ9xjgodamUBmg&url=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FOrion_(spacecraft)&ei=hPGpVfueI4_iuQTqyoXQCQ&bvm=bv.98197061,d.c2E&psig=AFQjCNE8KEIvcNueEMU_kT7NI62TUffA0w&ust=1437285523978268 Designed with the aim of taking humans deeper into space than ever before, NASA’s Orion spacecraft will begin its first manned flight in 2021. The spacecraft is bigger and far more advanced than Apollo, the aircraft credited with landing humans on the Moon for the first time in history.

The spacecraft might visit asteroids to collect samples in the mid 2020s, with the ultimate aim of landing on Mars during the mid 2030s.

However, the conundrum of the rapid deterioration of human body in space will remain a contentious issue. In space, the solar radiation is high and low gravity is known to cause degradation of bone and muscle strength.

JUICE

Moving beyond the red planet to the largest planet Jupiter, the European Space Agency’s Juice mission will be initiated in 2022 with an eye to explore the icy Jovian moons.

The spacecraft will make a string of flybys of Callisto, Europa and Ganymede (the largest moon in the solar system). All three moons are likely places for life in the solar system to thrive as the thick ice crusts covering their surfaces are believed to hold liquid oceans of water.

Using radial imaging, the spacecraft will beam back images of the fractured lunar surfaces, closely resembling Antarctica’s subglacial lakes.

James Webb Telescope 

In April this year, the Hubble space telescope–one of the largest and most versatile telescopes–celCredits: https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB1qFQoTCJWxiNGH5MYCFQu-jgoduzsIqA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.spacetelescope.org%2Fimages%2Fjwst_poster01%2F&ei=IfOpVdWcH4v8ugS796DACg&bvm=bv.98197061,d.c2E&psig=AFQjCNGjDdIYInuysAMCfj3ZoDocwaECYg&ust=1437287558333072ebrated its silver jubilee. In 2018, the James Webb Telescope will become its natural successor, providing a much more encompassing visual experience for astronomers.

Featuring a 6.5 meter mirror and a tennis court-size sunshield, the telescope will be the largest one to be launched in low Earth orbit.

The Webb telescope will focus on infrared, thereby allowing the viewers to gaze back at the primeval stars, the stars and galaxies existing before the Big Bang. This will bring a sea change in the way astronomers have been viewing the planets until now. Direct observations of atmosphere and whether it contains air, water, methane, etc. will become a reality.

Solar Orbiter

Set to be launched in 2018, the European Space Agency’s sun observing satellite will travel closer to the sun than any other spacecraft yet flown, reaching jaw dropping temperatures of about 600C.

The satellite will circle into orbit about 21 million miles surface of Mercury. Through an onboard camera designed to showcase images spanning just 110 miles (the Sun’s visible disc is about 800,000 miles wide!), the orbiter will provide close-up views of the polar regions of the Sun, an impossible view from the Earth.

Apart from revealingCredits: https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB1qFQoTCNzzlPyD5MYCFY0Ljgod9tsILQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fphys.org%2Fnews%2F2014-06-solar-orbiter-shield-sun.html&ei=Su-pVdymCY2XuAT2t6PoAg&bvm=bv.98197061,d.c2E&psig=AFQjCNFVP7USNsWafno_ZXchIvz33o9_aA&ust=1437286586532574 the Sun’s strange landscape, swirling gases, and violent  flares in unprecedented detail, the rare images will help uncover the mystery of its powerful magnetic field and the riddle of what happens when the Sun’s magnetic field flips 180 degrees, a phenomenon which occurred in  2013.

With space exploration gearing up for intense activity with an aim to break old barriers and reach newer frontiers, space aficionados and sky gazers alike can expect a visual orgasmic treat. After all, what is exploration if not an exciting, thrilling adventure?

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SpaceX to Launch Twin NASA Water Cycle Tracker Satellites

The satellites are scheduled to launch at 3.47 p.m. EDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California

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SpaceX to Launch Twin NASA Water Cycle Tracker Satellites
SpaceX to Launch Twin NASA Water Cycle Tracker Satellites. Pixabay

On its way to deploy five Iridium Next communications satellites on Tuesday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will also launch twin NASA satellites that will monitor Earth’s water cycle, marking a unique rideshare arrangement.

The satellites are scheduled to launch at 3.47 p.m. EDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California. (This corresponds to 1.17 a.m. Wednesday India time), NASA said.

The two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On mission (GRACE-FO) spacecraft will follow each other in orbit around Earth, separated by about 220 km.

On liftoff, the Falcon 9 first-stage engines will burn for approximately two minutes and 45 seconds before shutting down at main engine cutoff (MECO).

The Falcon 9’s first and second stages will separate seconds later. Then, the second-stage engine will ignite for the first time (SES1) and burn until the vehicle reaches the altitude of the injection orbit, 490 km.

NASA
Representational Image, VOA

While this burn is going on, the payload fairing — the launch vehicle’s nose cone — will separate into two halves like a clamshell and fall away.

When the rocket’s second stage has completed its ascent to the injection orbit altitude, it will pitch down (its nose points down) 30 degrees and roll so that one of the twin GRACE-FO satellites is facing down, toward Earth, and the other is facing up, toward space.

Then the second stage engine will cut off (SECO).

About 10 minutes after liftoff, a separation system on the second stage will deploy the GRACE-FO satellites.

Separation will occur over the Pacific Ocean at about 17.5 degrees North latitude, 122.6 degrees West longitude.

The first opportunity to receive data from the spacecraft will occur at NASA’s tracking station at McMurdo, Antarctica, about 23 minutes after separation, NASA said.

Also Read: A Study by NASA Shows Freshwater Decline in India

After the GRACE-FO satellites are deployed, the Falcon 9 second stage will coast for half an orbit before reigniting its engine (SES2) to take the Iridium Next satellites to a higher orbit for deployment.

GRACE-FO, a collaborative mission of NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), continues the work of the original GRACE mission in observing the movement of water and other mass around our planet by tracking the changing pull of gravity very precisely. (IANS)