Roundup There was good news and bad news for space fans last week as a veteran probe lived to transmit for another day while issues with a new spacecraft became all too clear.
Voyager 2 back in business
As the 30th anniversary of the famous “Blue Dot” image of Earth approaches, engineers confirmed last week that Voyager 2 had resumed taking science data. The venerable probe had shut down instruments to protect itself after a mystery delay in the execution of manoeuvre commands to calibrate a magnetic field instrument caused too much slurping from the dwindling power supply.
The Voyagers are a marvel of autonomy (with Voyager 2 18.5 billion kilometres from Earth, they have to be) and canny engineers have designed the software running on the old things to deal with the contingencies inherent in the 17 hours it takes a command to reach the spacecraft (and the 17 hours for a response to be returned).
Good vibes! Voyager 2 continues to be stable, and communications between Earth and the spacecraft are fine.
— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) February 6, 2020
Engineers managed to turn off one of the high-power systems responsible for tripping the probe by 28 January and on 5 February confirmed that science was back on the agenda, although the instruments continue to be checked over.
Iran is UNSTOPPABLE… except when it comes to putting satellites in orbit
Iran’s minister of communication and technology put a brave face on things over the weekend as the country’s latest attempt to pop a satellite into orbit ended in failure.
The satellite, dubbed “Zafar”, was supposed to have been deposited into an orbit with an altitude of 500km, but the Simorgh carrier rocket did not reach the required velocity.
The minister was, however, unbowed and pointed out that there have been plenty of US rocket failures over the years, while delicately skipping over the impressive records achieved since.
Today “Zafar” satellite launch failed. Like many scientific projects, Failure happened. FALCON 9, Juno II, ATLAS, PROTON M, ANTARES are just few samples of US launch failures.
But We’re UNSTOPPABLE! We have more Upcoming Great Iranian Satellites! 🛰
— MJ Azari Jahromi (@azarijahromi) February 9, 2020
Far be it from us to nitpick, but we’re pretty sure that Russia has had more than a hand in the Proton M as well.
Still, it could have been worse. He could have tweeted out an image for “astronaut clothes” that featured something that looked suspiciously like a fancy dress costume from which someone had picked off the NASA badge.
Snark aside, Iran has demonstrated that it is capable of putting a domestically built satellite into space using its own launcher, a capability abandoned by the UK with the end of the Black Arrow programme in the 1970s.
OneWeb flings another 34 satellites into orbit
Great news, stargazers. Another company keen to bring “internet everywhere to everyone” launched 34 satellites last week. Well, perhaps not quite such great news if you like your skies pristine, but at least Brit-based OneWeb does not plan a constellation of multiple thousands of spacecraft like that espoused by SpaceX.
The payload was lofted by a Soyuz from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 21:42 UTC on 6 February, which spat out the 34 150kg fridge-sized satellites in nine batches over several hours. It was the second launch, following six satellites in 2019. The goal for phase one of the communications constellation will see 648 in Low Earth Orbit and global coverage up and running by 2021.
The first commercial services over the Arctic are expected to begin this year.
The company has attracted £18m in UK Space Agency funding through the European Space Agency (ESA) and the constellation could eventually grow to 1,980 satellites in later phases. Its Florida factory is capable of churning out two spacecraft per day.
OneWeb was also keen to reassure those concerned about the night sky becoming cluttered with bright dots whizzing past.
Because OneWeb’s satellites will be about twice as high as Starlink satellites… Steckel said they should not be visible to the naked eye. In addition, he said, OneWeb has been in dialogue with both the Royal Astronomical Society in London and the American Astronomical Society.
— OneWeb (@OneWeb) February 3, 2020
The next batch of 34 satellites is scheduled to launch from Baikonur in March.
NG-13 Cygnus named for Major Robert H Lawrence Jr
As has become a tradition, the next Northrop Grumman freighter to the International Space Station (ISS) has been given a name, this time in honour of the first African-American to be selected as an astronaut, Major Robert H Lawrence Jr.
Lawrence had been selected as part of the third group of astronauts for the doomed US Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) programme, but perished in a training flight in 1967 having never been in space.
The MOL was a reconnaissance programme that would have seen crews launched with a single-use laboratory and return to Earth in a Gemini-type spacecraft. The programme was cancelled in 1969 as it become clear that spy satellites could achieve considerably more bang for the military buck.
One of Lawrence’s contemporaries, the late Donald Peterson, would go on to fly on Space Shuttle Challenger’s maiden mission in 1983 and take part in first spacewalk of the shuttle programme.
The Cygnus was scheduled to launch on an Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia at 22:39 UTC on 9 February, carrying approximately 3,400kg of cargo to the ISS. Things were scrubbed deep into the countdown after iffy readings from a ground support sensor. The team will try again no earlier than 21:06 UTC on 13 February.
Should things go to plan, the crew aboard the outpost will use the station’s robot arm to grapple the freighter before berthing it on 15 February.
The previous Cygnus, NG-12, remains in orbit, having departed the station on 31 January. NG-12 had spent 88 days attached to the ISS and is now conducting a secondary mission (and deploying a series of payloads) before controllers deorbit the thing at the end of February. ®