NASA’S TESS SPOTS TWO DISTANT EXOPLANETS IN ITS FIRST DISCOVERY MONTHS AFTER LAUNCH

A planet-hunting orbital telescope designed to detect worlds beyond our solar system discovered two distant planets this week five months after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, officials said on 20 September.

The two newly discovered planets are Pi Mensae c, a “super-earth” planet 60 light-years away orbiting its sun every 6.3 days and LHS 3844 b, a “hot-earth” planet 49 light-years away that orbits its sun every 11 hours.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a NASA mission that will look for planets orbiting the brightest stars in Earth’s sky. It was led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with seed funding from Google.

The mission will monitor at least 200,000 stars for signs of exoplanets, ranging from Earth-sized rocky worlds to huge gas giant planets. TESS, however, will focus on stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than those Kepler examined. This will help astronomers better understand the structure of solar systems outside of our Earth, and provide insights into how our own solar system formed.

TESS will occupy a never-before-used orbit high above Earth. The elliptical orbit, called P/2, is exactly half of the moon’s orbital period; this means that TESS will orbit Earth every 13.7 days. Its closest point to Earth (67,000 miles or 108,000 kilometers) is about triple the distance of geosynchronous orbit, where most communications satellites operate.

It will use transit method to detect exoplanets. It watches distant stars for small dips in brightness, which can indicate that planet has passed in front of them. Repeated dips will indicate a planet passing in front of its star. This data has to be validated by repeated observations and verified by scientists.

TESS is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel.

Nasa expects to pinpoint thousands more previously unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or “super-Earth” sized – no larger than twice as big as our home planet.

Those are believed the most likely to feature rocky surfaces or oceans and are thus considered the best candidates for life to evolve. Scientists have said they hope TESS will ultimately help catalog at least 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study in what has become one of astronomy’s newest fields of exploration.

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Japan space robots start asteroid survey

A pair of robot rovers have landed on an asteroid and begun a survey, Japan’s space agency said Saturday, as it conducts a mission aiming to shed light on the origins of the solar system.

If the mission is successful, the rovers will conduct the world’s first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid surface.

Taking advantage of the asteroid’s low gravity, they will jump around on the surface — soaring as high as 15 meters and staying in the air for as long as 15 minutes — to survey the asteroid’s physical features with cameras and sensors.

Hayabusa2 is an unmanned explorer. It was launched in 2014 aboard Japan’s main H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Centre for its six-year mission to bring back mineral samples from the asteroid.

The probe will also release a French-German landing vehicle named Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) for surface observation.

Hayabusa2, about the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels, is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa — Japanese for the falcon.

If all goes well, soil samples will be returned to Earth in late 2020.

India contributes $1 million to UN’s ambitious solar project

India has contributed a whopping $1 million for the installation of solar panels on the roof of the imposing UN building at the world body’s headquarters here.

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Space Junk Net Successfully Completes Capture Test

A British satellite has just successfully proven that it can capture space junk using a system both innovative and old-school: nets.

RemoveDebris, based out of the University of Surrey and funded by a variety of partners including the European Commission and Airbus, has had the goal of finding a low-cost space junk removal system for years. Back in June, the RemoveDEBRIS system was deployed from the International Space Station. On September 16th, the group began to proceed with in-space testing.

Back in June, the RemoveDEBRIS system was deployed from the International Space Station. On September 16th, the group began to proceed with in-space testing.

Operating over 186 miles (30o km) above the Earth, the RemoveDEBRIS system set out to capture a tiny satellite known as a CubeSat. With a net shooting off at around 44 MPH (20 meters per second) and a vision based navigation including cameras and LiDAR, the net was able to quickly capture the runaway CubeSat.

About RemoveDebris mission:

RemoveDebris is an EU (European Union) research project to develop and fly a low-cost in-orbit demonstrator mission that aims to de-risk and verify technologies needed for future ADR (Active Debris Removal) missions.

RemoveDebris is aimed at performing key ADR technology demonstrations (e.g., capture, deorbiting) representative of an operational scenario during a low-cost mission using novel key technologies for ADR. The project is based on and aimed at contributing to global/European ADR roadmaps.

A microsatellite called here RemoveSAT, will release, capture and deorbit two space debris targets, called DebrisSats, in sequence using various rendezvous, capture and deorbiting technologies thus demonstrating in orbit, key ADR technologies for future missions in what promises to be the first ADR technology mission internationally.

Space junk is an ever-growing problem with more than 7,500 tonnes of redundant hardware now thought to be circling the Earth. Ranging from old rocket bodies and defunct spacecraft through to screws and even flecks of paint – this material poses a collision hazard to operational missions.

The rising population of space debris increases the potential danger to all space vehicles, but especially to the International Space Station (ISS), space shuttles, satellites, and other spacecraft.

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The case for making Pluto a planet again

Scientists are arguing that denying Pluto planetary status is invalid and erroneous. A team led by Philip Metzger, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, is indicating that the basis on which Pluto was rejected as a planet does not have any support in the research literature.

When Pluto was discovered in 1930, it was the ninth planet in the solar system based on an overestimation of its size. However, Pluto seemed to look out of place among the other larger planets after the discovery of swarms of ice dwarfs – icy rocks in the Kuiper Belt, at the very edge of the solar system billions of miles from the sun. Due to this, some astronomers suggested that Pluto could be just another Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) and not a planet.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) laid out some guidelines for a celestial body to be called a planet. The IAU said that there were three conditions that must be fulfilled for a celestial body to be termed as a planet: 1) it must be round; 2) it must orbit the sun, and 3) it must have “cleared the neighborhood” of its orbit.

According to the IAU’s definition, Pluto does not meet the criteria, as Neptune’s gravity influences it, and Pluto shares its orbit with frozen gases and objects in the Kuiper belt.

Pluto downgraded to “dwarf planet”:

After several years of intense debate, astronomers finally reached a consensus in August 2006. They decided to demote Pluto in an extreme redefinition of planethood that seemed to favor scientific reasoning over historic and cultural influences. The decision meant that Pluto will not be a planet anymore.

Pluto stood apart from the other discovered planets. Not only because of its small size, but because its elongated orbit was tilted with respect to other planets, and it goes insider Neptune’s orbit as part of its 248-year journey around the sun.

Pluto has five known moons, the largest of which is Charon. Charon is about half the size of Pluto itself, making it the largest satellite relative to the planet it orbits in our solar system.

Pluto orbits the Sun about 3.6 billion miles (5.8 billion km) away on average.

A year on Pluto is 248 Earth years. A day on Pluto lasts 153 hours or about 6 Earth days.

Pluto has a thin atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide. The atmosphere has a blue tint and distinct layers of haze.

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NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler probe restarts science operations

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope — which has led to the discovery of over 2,300 planets so far — was roused from sleep mode and has restarted its scientific operations. The US space agency has been closely monitoring the probe since it is expected to run out of fuel soon. The spacecraft went into sleep mode after successfully downloading data from its 18th observation campaign. “After being roused from sleep mode the spacecraft’s configuration has been modified due to the unusual behavior exhibited by one of the thrusters,” NASA said in a statement.

The space telescope, originally launched in March 2009, has had a tumultuous year. The team placed Kepler into hibernation in July, as their new planet-hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), began testing for its own mission. The hibernation-like state was to ensure that the data from Kepler’s 18th mission, stored onboard the spacecraft, would be able to make its way back to Earth.

In total, the Kepler mission has confirmed the existence of 2,652 exoplanets and 30 of those exist within the Small Habitable Zone, the area of space surrounding a star where a planet could theoretically support a surface of the liquid water (and potentially extraterrestrial life).

Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-sized and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.

About TESS mission:

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a NASA mission that will look for planets orbiting the brightest stars in Earth’s sky. It was led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with seed funding from Google.

The mission will monitor at least 200,000 stars for signs of exoplanets, ranging from Earth-sized rocky worlds to huge gas giant planets. TESS, however, will focus on stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than those Kepler examined. This will help astronomers better understand the structure of solar systems outside of our Earth, and provide insights into how our own solar system formed.

TESS will occupy a never-before-used orbit high above Earth. The elliptical orbit, called P/2, is exactly half of the moon’s orbital period; this means that TESS will orbit Earth every 13.7 days. Its closest point to Earth (67,000 miles or 108,000 kilometers) is about triple the distance of geosynchronous orbit, where most communications satellites operate.

It will use transit method to detect exoplanets. It watches distant stars for small dips in brightness, which can indicate that planet has passed in front of them. Repeated dips will indicate the planet passing in front of its star. This data has to be validated by repeated observations and verified by scientists.

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SATURN’S FAMOUS HEXAGON MAY TOWER ABOVE THE CLOUDS

When Cassini arrived at the Saturnian system in 2004, the southern hemisphere was enjoying summertime, while the north was in the midst of winter. The spacecraft spied a broad, warm, high-altitude vortex at Saturn’s southern pole, but none at the planet’s northern pole.

The vortex is akin to the famous hexagon seen deeper down in Saturn’s clouds. The edges of this newly-found vortex appear to be hexagonal, precisely matching a famous and bizarre hexagonal cloud pattern we see deeper down in Saturn’s atmosphere.

The results suggest that the lower-altitude hexagon may influence what happens above and that it could be a towering structure hundreds of miles in height.

This warm vortex sits hundreds of miles above the clouds, in the stratosphere.

Launched in 1997, the Cassini mission — a cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — has sent back thousands of stunning images and made numerous discoveries about the ringed planet and its moons.

Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit. Its design includes a Saturn orbiter and a lander for the moon Titan. The lander, called Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005. The spacecraft was launched on October 15, 1997. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.

 Objectives of the mission:

Determine the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the rings of Saturn.

Determine the composition of the satellite surfaces and the geological history of each object.

Determine the nature and origin of the dark material on Iapetus’s leading hemisphere.

Measure the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the magnetosphere.

Study the dynamic behavior of Saturn’s atmosphere at cloud level.

Study the time variability of Titan’s clouds and hazes.

Characterize Titan’s surface on a regional scale.

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India, France to collaborate on human space mission Gaganayaan

Stepping up space cooperation, India and France Thursday inked an agreement to collaborate on Gaganyaan, ISRO’s first human space mission. The two countries have formed a working group for the project.

The ambit of the cooperation includes giving ISRO access to space hospital facilities in France and combining the expertise of the two space agencies in fields of space medicine, astronaut health monitoring, life support, radiation protection, space debris protection and personal hygiene systems, the president of the French space agency Jean-Yves Le Gall said. The MoU was signed to define the conditions in which we are going to work together, the CNES president said.

India plans to send three humans to space before 2022. The Indian Space Research Organisation’s mission is significant as it would make India one of the four countries in the world after Russia, US and China to launch a manned space flight. The first step under the MoU is to exchange specialists to work on (space) medicine. We are going to send our specialists to identify exactly what we are going to do together. We have facilities like space hospital in France, and so we are doing exchange notes on the topic, Gall said in an interaction with PTI.

Under the vision statement, it was agreed that ISRO and CNES would jointly develop capabilities and critical technologies addressing radiation shielding solutions, personal hygiene, and waste management system and design of man-in-loop simulators for human spaceflight as well as bioastronautics. ISRO Chairman K Sivan said the joint vision statement was an umbrella agreement while today’s MoU was more specific to the human space mission. French-Indian space cooperation spans in areas of climate monitoring, with a fleet of joint satellites devoted to research and operational applications, innovation, through a joint technical group tasked with inventing launch vehicles of the future.

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Japan team to test mini ‘space elevator’ in world first

A Japanese team working to develop a “space elevator” will conduct the first trial this month, blasting off a miniature version of the apparatus and monitoring equipment on satellites to test the technology.

The test equipment, produced by researchers at Shizuoka University, will hitch a ride on an H-2B rocket being launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency from the island of Tanegashima next week.

The test involves a miniature elevator that is 6 cm (2.4 inches) long, 3 cm wide, and 3 cm high.

If all goes well, it will provide proof of concept by moving along a 10-meter cable suspended in space between two minisatellites that will keep it taut.

The mini-elevator will travel along the cable from a container in one of the satellites.

The idea was first proposed in 1895 by Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky after he saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and was revisited nearly a century later in a novel by Arthur C. Clarke.

But technical barriers have always kept plans stuck at the conceptual stage.

Japanese construction firm Obayashi, which is collaborating with the Shizuoka University project, is also exploring other ways to build its own space elevator to put tourists in space by 2050.

The company has said it could use carbon nanotube technology, which is more than 20 times stronger than steel, to build a lift shaft 96,000 km (roughly 60,000 miles) above the Earth.

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UAE to send two astronauts to space

The United Arab Emirates has selected its first two astronauts to go on a mission to the International Space Station, Dubai’s ruler said on Monday.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum named the new astronauts as Hazza al-Mansouri, 34, and 37-year-old Sultan al-Neyadi.

In July 2014, the UAE leadership announced the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission project by the President of the UAE. Subsequently, the President issued a decree establishing the UAE Space Agency.

The probe will be built by an Emirati team of engineers and experts and will be sent on a scientific voyage of discovery to the Red Planet.

This will mark the Arab world’s entry into the era of space exploration and place the UAE among the major scientific countries that have begun programmes to explore Mars.

The probe will be sent to explore the Red Planet by 2020. Following a journey of several months, the probe is expected to enter the Red Planet’s orbit in 2021, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the formation of the UAE.

Scientific Objectives of the Probe Voyage:

The Emirates Mars Mission project will answer scientific questions that have long puzzled scientists. These are questions about the Red Planet, which scientists have not been able to explain before because of the lack of data and information.

The project will cover all aspects that have not been previously covered, whether scientific or knowledge-based, and it will work on drawing a clear and comprehensive picture of the Martian climate and the causes of the corrosion of its surface that has made it impossible for water to exist on the planet.

The project will also provide insights into the weather on the Red Planet. It will observe weather phenomena such as dust storms and changes in temperature and how the atmosphere interacts with topography, from the highest volcano peaks to ice sheets to the vast deserts and the deepest canyons.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Spies Its Target Asteroid

After an almost two-year journey through space, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) caught its first glimpse of Bennu, a carbonaceous asteroid whose makeup may record the earliest history of our Solar System, last week and began the final approach toward the asteroid. Using its multipurpose PolyCam camera, the spacecraft obtained the image of Bennu from a distance of 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km), or almost six times the distance between the Earth and Moon.

OSIRIS-REx will spend two years traveling towards Bennu, arriving at the asteroid in August 2018. The probe will orbit the asteroid for 3 years, conducting several scientific experiments, before returning to Earth, with the sample capsule expected to land in Utah, the USA in September 2023.

Scientific Mission Goals:

During its three year orbit of Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will be conducting a range of scientific experiments in order to better understand the asteroid.

As part of this, the asteroid will be mapped using instruments on the probe, in order to select a suitable site for samples to be collected from.

The aim of the mission is to collect a sample of regolith- the loose, soil-like material which covers the surface of the asteroid.

In July 2020, the probe will move to within a few meters of Bennu, extending its robotic arm to touch the asteroid’s surface. The arm will make contact with the surface for just 5 seconds, during which a blast of nitrogen gas will be used to stir up the regolith, allowing it to be sucked into the sample collector.

OSIRIS-REx has enough nitrogen on board for 3 sample collection attempts, and NASA is hoping to collect between 60 and 2000g of regolith material to bring back to Earth.

Why was Bennu chosen?

Bennu was selected for the OSIRIS-REx mission from over 500,000 known asteroids, due to it fitting a number of key criteria. These include:

Proximity to Earth: In order for OSIRIS-REx to reach its destination in a reasonable timeframe, NASA needed to find an asteroid which had a similar orbit to Earth. Around 7000 asteroids are ‘Near-Earth Objects’ (NEOs), meaning they travel within around ~30million miles of the Earth. Out of these, just under 200 have orbits similar to Earth, with Bennu being one of these.

Size: Small asteroids, those less than 200m in diameter, typically spin much faster than larger asteroids, meaning the regolith material can be ejected into space. Bennu is around 500m in diameter, so rotates slowly enough to ensure that the regolith stays on its surface.

Composition: Bennu is a primitive asteroid, meaning it hasn’t significantly changed since the beginning of the Solar System (over 4 billion years ago). It is also very carbon-rich, meaning it may contain organic molecules, which could have been precursors to life on Earth.

Additionally, Bennu is of interest as it is a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Every 6 years, Bennu’s orbit brings it within 200,000 miles of the Earth, which means it has a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century.

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