As It Happens: Space missions and exploration


June 15, 2021

The first crew for China’s new space station prepared to blast off this week for the latest step in Beijing’s ambitious programme to establish itself as a space power.

The mission is China’s first crewed spaceflight in nearly five years, and a matter of prestige for the government as it prepares to mark the 100th birthday of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a propaganda blitz.

A Long March-2F rocket carrying three astronauts in the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft is slated to lift off from a base in northwest China’s Gobi desert on Thursday, according to experts with knowledge of the matter.

They plan to spend three months on the Tiangong station, China’s longest crewed space mission to date, with spacewalks among their tasks.

The astronauts will aim to “get their new home in space kitted out and ready to use,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. — AFP

June 13, 2021

An unnamed bidder pays $28 million at auction Saturday for a seat on board the first crewed spaceflight of Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin on July 20, as one of four passengers including the Amazon founder himself.

The winner, whose identity will be disclosed in coming weeks, beat out some 20 participants in an auction launched in late May, and wrapped up with a 10-minute online bidding frenzy, livecast by Blue Origin. —  AFP

May 11, 2021

The US space probe Osiris-Rex on Monday left the orbit of the asteroid Bennu, from which it collected dust samples last year, to begin its long journey back to Earth.

The probe still has a vast distance to cover before it lands in the Utah desert on September 24, 2023. 

Osiris-Rex is “now moving away over 600 miles an hour from Bennu, on its way home,” Dante Lauretta, head of the mission, said on NASA’s video broadcast of the event. 

The spacecraft’s thrusters were engaged without incident for seven minutes to put the probe on the correct trajectory home, a journey of 1.4 billion miles (2.3 billion kiometers).

It is carrying more than 60 grams of dust and fragments from the asteroid, the largest sample collected by NASA since the Moon rocks brought back by the Apollo missions. — AFP

May 10, 2021

SpaceX will launch a satellite to the Moon next year funded entirely with the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, Canadian company Geometric Energy Corporation, which will lead the lunar mission, announced Sunday.

The satellite, dubbed DOGE-1, will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the first quarter of 2022, the Calgary-based company said in a statement.

The cubic satellite, weighing 88 pounds (40 kilograms), will aim to obtain “lunar-spatial intelligence from sensors and cameras on-board,” according to the statement.

The “DOGE-1 Mission to the Moon” will be “the first-ever commercial lunar payload in history paid entirely with” Dogecoin, Geometric Energy Corporation said, without specifying how much the project cost.

“We’re excited to launch DOGE-1 to the Moon!” Tom Ochinero, SpaceX vice president of commercial sales, said in the statement. — AFP

May 9, 2021

A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-tonne object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China’s new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

“After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has reentered the atmosphere,” the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. —  AFP

May 6, 2021

The Pentagon says it is following the trajectory of a Chinese rocket expected to make an uncontrolled entry into the atmosphere this weekend, with the risk of crashing down in an inhabited area. 

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is “aware and he knows the space command is tracking, literally tracking this rocket debris,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says. 

China on Thursday launched the first of three elements for its space station, the CSS, which was powered by the Long March 5B rocket that is now being tracked. —  AFP

May 6, 2021

SpaceX successfully landed its prototype Starship rocket on its fifth attempt, a livestream Wednesday shows.

There was however a small fire at the base of the rocket, dubbed SN15, which announcers said was not unusual. —  AFP

April 27, 2021

Blue Origin, the US space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, files a protest against NASA’s choice of rival SpaceX to build the module that will land the next US astronauts on the Moon.

“NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute,” Blue Origin says in a statement sent to AFP.

The decision “eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America’s return to the Moon” by 2024 as the US space agency plans, the private space company says. —  AFP

April 23, 2021

SpaceX is set to launch its third crew to the International Space Station early Friday, reusing a rocket and crew capsule in a human mission for the first time. 

The Crew-2 mission blasts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:49 am Eastern Time (0949 GMT), after being delayed a day by adverse weather along the flight path. 

“It seems the weather is cooperating, so looks like we will try to launch tomorrow!!!” tweeted French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who will become the first European to fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon. —  AFP

April 12, 2021

Russians on Monday celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first manned flight to space carried out by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as the Soviet hero remains one of the most admired figures in the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to travel to Engels, a city in the south of the country on the banks of the Volga river, to the site of the cosmonaut’s landing where a memorial stands to honour the historic flight.

The anniversary of the spaceflight is a “day of national pride” for Russia, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday. — AFP

April 9, 2021

A three-man crew blasted off to the International Space Station Friday in a capsule honouring the 60th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person in space.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei lifted off from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at the expected time of 0742 GMT, footage broadcast by NASA TV showed, with docking expected at 1107 GMT. —  AFP

April 6, 2021

NASA’s Ingenuity mini-helicopter has survived its first night alone on the frigid surface of Mars, the US space agency said, hailing it as “a major milestone” for the tiny craft as it prepares for its first flight.

The ultra-light aircraft was dropped on the surface on Saturday after detaching from the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.

Detached from the Perseverance, Ingenuity had to rely on its own solar-powered battery to run a vital heater to protect its unshielded electrical components from freezing and cracking during the bitter Martian night, where temperatures can plunge as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). —  AFP

April 5, 2021

NASA’s Ingenuity mini-helicopter has been dropped on the surface of Mars in preparation for its first flight, the US space agency said.

The ultra-light aircraft had been fixed to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.

“MarsHelicopter touchdown confirmed!” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted Saturday. —  AFP

March 4, 2021

An unmanned SpaceX rocket exploded on the ground Wednesday after carrying out what had seemed to be a successful flight and landing.

It was the third straight flub involving the prototype of the Starship rocket, which SpaceX hopes one day to send to Mars. The last two test flights ended in crashes.

As seen on SpaceX video, this time the rocket appeared to have landed properly after its flight, although flames were coming out at the bottom and crews were trying to put them out. 

The rocket exploded a few minutes later. It was thrown into the air and crashed back to the ground.  —  AFP

February 19, 2021

US President Joe Biden hails the “historic” landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars as proof of the power of science and “American ingenuity.” 

“Congratulations to NASA and everyone whose hard work made Perseverance’s historic landing possible. Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility,” he tweets.

February 19, 2021

NASA says the Perseverance rover has touched down on the surface of Mars after successfully overcoming a risky landing phase known as the “seven minutes of terror.”

“Touchdown confirmed,” says operations lead Swati Mohan at around 3:55 pm Eastern Time (2055 GMT) as mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory headquarters erupted in cheers.

The autonomously-guided procedure was completed more than 11 minutes earlier, which is how long it takes for radio signals to return to Earth. —  AFP

December 6, 2020

A Chinese probe carrying samples from the lunar surface successfully docks Sunday with a spacecraft orbiting the moon, in another space first for the nation, state media reports.

The manoeuvre was part of the ambitious Chang’e-5 mission — named after a mythical Chinese Moon goddess — to bring back the first lunar samples in four decades.

The cargo capsule carrying lunar rocks and soil lifted off from the surface on Thursday, and docked with the orbiter on Sunday morning, the official Xinhua news agency says, citing the China National Space Administration. —  AFP

December 3, 2020

A Chinese space probe sent to gather material from a previously unexplored part of the moon has completed its mission and is preparing to send back the world’s first lunar samples in four decades, Beijing says Thursday.

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft, named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess, landed on the moon Tuesday and has now completed its gathering of lunar rocks and soil, the China National Space Administration says. —  AFP

November 16, 2020

A SpaceX rocket successfully lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday with four astronauts on board, bound for the International Space Station.

It is the second manned flight by SpaceX, a private company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk that will now carry NASA astronauts into space after nine years of American dependence on Russian Soyuz rockets. — AFP

 

September 22, 2020

NASA reveals its latest plan to return astronauts to the Moon in 2024, and estimated the cost of meeting that deadline at $28 billion, $16 billion of which would be spent on the lunar landing module.

US Congress, which faces elections on November 3, will have to sign off on the financing for a project that has been set by President Donald Trump as a top priority. The $28 billion would cover the budgetary years of 2021-25. 

In a phone briefing with journalists Monday on the Artemis mission to return human beings to the Moon, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine notes that “political risks” were often the biggest threat to NASA’s work, especially before such a crucial election. — AFP

August 3, 2020

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday afternoon on time after re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere and deploying its parachutes without any glitches.

Pilot Doug Hurley, one of the two astronauts on board, said: “It’s truly our honor and privilege” as radio communications became choppy and cut out.

It was the first water landing for a US spacecraft since the Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. — AFP

July 31, 2020

NASA’s latest rover Perseverance launched for Mars on Thursday, blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on schedule.

The first stage of rocket separation took place a few minutes later for the second stage Centaur rocket to take over, boosting it into orbit.

Perseverance is now preparing for a second burn that will put it on a trajectory toward Mars, a trip that will take around seven months and cover 300 million miles (480 million kilometers). — AFP

July 20, 2020

The first Arab space mission to Mars blasts off Monday aboard a rocket from Japan, after weather delays set back the launch of the probe dubbed “Hope.”

A live feed of the launch showed the rocket carrying the unmanned probe, known as “Al-Amal” in Arabic, lifting off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan.

“We have launched the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 42 (H-IIA F42) carrying aboard the Emirates Mars Mission’s (EMM) HOPE spacecraft… at 6:58:14 (JST) (2158GMT),” rocket manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said in a statement shortly after the launch. — AFP

June 1, 2020

NASA astronauts enter the International Space Station on Sunday after a landmark 19-hour journey on the first crewed US spacecraft in nearly a decade, a triumph for SpaceX and private enterprise.

The hatch opened at 1:02 pm Eastern Time (1702 GMT) as Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley carried out final close out procedures, crossing the threshold about twenty minutes later.

Wearing black polo shirts and khaki pants, Behnken entered first, followed by Hurley. 

They were greeted by fellow US astronaut Chris Cassidy, as well as cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, all in the blue jumpsuits of the space station, which was launched in 1998 and first inhabited in 2000. — AFP

May 28, 2020

SpaceX’s landmark launch to the International Space Station was postponed Wednesday due to poor weather with around 20 minutes to go until takeoff.

“Unfortunately, we are not going to launch today,” SpaceX launch director Mike Taylor told NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. 

The next launch window is on Saturday. — AFP

 

December 28, 2019

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will head off for the Red Planet next year. But like Voyager, Galileo and Cassini before it, the mission’s epic journey began in a “clean room” in California.

One of two ultra-sterile labs used for spacecraft assembly at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the eggshell-white room was briefly and exceptionally opened to journalists Friday.

“We need to keep the hardware as pristine and as safe as possible until we get to Mars,” says David Gruel, operations manager for Mars 2020. — AFP

August 14, 2019

To prepare for the next mission to Mars in 2020, NASA has taken to the lava fields of Iceland to get its new robotic space explorer ready for the job.

With its black basalt sand, wind-swept dunes and craggy peaks, the Lambahraun lava field at the foot of Iceland’s second biggest glacier, Langjokull, was chosen as a stand-in for the Red Planet’s surface.

July 21, 2019

Houston’s Space Center counts down to the exact moment 50 years ago that Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon, marking one of humanity’s greatest achievements.

Thousands celebrate the “Moonversary” with fireworks and music as a giant screen showed footage of the era-defining moment.

After spending a few moments at the foot of the ladder of lunar module Eagle, where he and Buzz Aldrin had landed six hours earlier, Armstrong stepped onto the surface of our natural satellite at 10:56 pm on July 20, 1969.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

July 12, 2019

India will step up the international space race when it launches a low-cost mission to become only the fourth country to land a probe on the Moon.

Just five days before the 50th anniversary of man’s first lunar landing, Chandrayaan-2 — or Moon Chariot 2 — will blast off from a tropical island off Andhra Pradesh state after a decade-long build-up.

The mission will also highlight how far space travel has advanced since Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind during the Apollo 11 mission. — AFP

June 25, 2019

The first crew to blast off to the International Space Station following a launch accident that deepened doubts over Russia’s space program returned to earth on Tuesday.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain, veteran cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos and Canadian Space Agency record-holder David Saint-Jacques touched down on the Kazakh steppe at 2:47 a.m. GMT (10:47 a.m. Tuesday, Philippine time).

Monitor major developments on space explorations and the status of missions.





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