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Fwd: Jonathan's Space Report, No. 527

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  • Frits Westra
    Jonathan s Space Report No. 527 2004 Jun 2, Denver, Colorado ... Sender: owner-jsr@host.planet4589.org Precedence: bulk
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2004
      Jonathan's Space Report
      No. 527 2004 Jun 2, Denver, Colorado
      Sender: owner-jsr@...
      Precedence: bulk
      Reply-To: jcm@...@...

      At the American Astronomical Society in Denver, the science highlight
      was an all-day session of the spectacular first results from the Spitzer
      Space Telescope. Warmest congratulations to my many friends involved in
      the Spitzer mission. IRAS, the US-UK-Netherlands satellite which flew
      the first significant infrared mission in 1983, wasn't very sensitive,
      even though it cataloged hundreds of thousands of infrared sources. It
      also had poor angular resolution, giving a very fuzzy image of the sky.
      ISO, Europe's follow-on mission in the 1990s, gave excellent results on
      bright sources in our Galaxy but was beset with calibration problems
      which limited its ability to study faint extragalactic objects. Spitzer
      takes far sharper and deeper images, far more sensitive spectra, and
      appears to be by far the most well calibrated infrared mission to date.
      It has shown itself able to reveal beautiful detail in nearby star
      forming regions and to detect faint and distant galaxies. After multiple
      cutbacks, redesigns and descopes, my friends used to joke that
      SIRTF/Spitzer, the last of NASA's Great Observatories program, was now
      only a 'Pretty Good Observatory' but I think we now have to apologize
      and welcome it fully into Great Observatory status together with Hubble,
      Chandra, and the deceased Compton.

      NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, in a speech on Jun 1 to the American
      Astronomical Society meeting in Denver, clarified NASA's new strategy by
      confirming that basic astronomy research remains part of NASA's mission
      - something that had not been entirely clear in the confusion at NASA HQ
      and elsewhere following the presidential announcement of the Exploration
      initiative and the subsequent budget revisions. He mentioned future (and
      recently delayed) research missions such as Constellation X by name -to
      audible sighs of relief from those sitting near me - and acknowledged
      the success of Explorer missions like WMAP. However, things got a bit
      murkier in a later press conference (he did not take questions from the
      astronomer audience) when he was asked whether the astronomical
      community's own assessment of science priorities remained valid. The
      Decadal Survey study is astronomy's traditional method of avoiding
      internal food fights at budget time by establishing a consensus
      beforehand - in the latest study, prioritizing the JWST and Con-X
      missions. O'Keefe implied that the science community's opinion was only
      one input among many to the priorities for the science program. He
      referred to the new priorities as `a matter of sequencing', which I take
      to be code for saying that planet-finding missions are to be given
      priority over black-hole and early-universe studies at least in the near
      term. (Perhaps he just meant that we need to do the Webb Telescope first
      and then Con-X, but that doesn't explain some of the other budget shifts
      in favor of missions like TPF.) Astronomers at the meeting seemed
      reassured that there seems to be a commitment to carry out the broad
      astrophysics program in the long run, but concerned that the new process
      of mission prioritization appears much less transparent and more
      top-down in contrast to the peer-community involvement of the past. The
      new NASA strategy is still evolving, so it's possible that a more open
      process will emerge.

      O'Keefe addressed another specific concern of the astrophysics community,
      the future of the Hubble Space Telescope, by announcing a request for
      proposals for a robotic HST servicing mission. This would leverage
      existing efforts such as the ASTRO/Orbital Express automated rendezvous
      mission and the Canadian SPDM 'robot hand'; in one scenario, a robot
      spacecraft would rendezvous and dock with HST, attaching itself to the
      end of the aft shroud. The basic version would contain a deorbit module
      to remove HST safely from orbit. A second, enhanced version could
      attach new batteries and gyros to the spacecraft, prolonging its life
      before deorbit. A third version would also use a robot arm to replace
      the WFPC-2 camera with the already-built WFC-3, and possibly open the
      aft shroud to install the COS spectrograph, making Hubble able to take
      spectra of objects 10 times fainter than it is now able to. We'll see
      when the proposals come in whether the third version (the one
      astronomers are interested in!) is plausible. I believe that it is all
      realistic, with the possible exception of the COS installation - the
      astronauts have had some trouble in the past reclosing the doors, and
      I'm not sure how easy it will be for a robot to do this, but maybe it's
      fine. The big issue is the funding - O'Keefe refused to speculate on the
      cost but some rumours talk of a billion-dollar class mission. He did say
      that most of the cost would come from the Exploration budget (rather
      than science) since the point is partly to develop a general capability
      for robotic servicing.

      ESA has completed its report on the Beagle 2 Mars lander failure, but
      the report has not been publicly released. Nevertheless, a press release
      indicates several areas identified as possible contributors to the
      failure: problems due to shocks from pyro firings in spacecraft
      separation events; problematic cross-connected wiring; possible
      collision between the lander and its jettisoned heat shield, and
      possible air bag or parachute failure.

      Progress M-49 (spacecraft Progress 7K-TGM No. 249) was launched from
      Baykonur on May 25. The vessel carries cargo for the Space Station,
      including spacesuit Orlan-M No. 27, and is ISS flight 14P.
      The spacecraft docked with the Zvezda module on May 27 at 1355 UTC.

      Kosmos-2407, launched on May 28 into a 400 km, 65 degree orbit is
      a US-PU electronic intelligence satellite for the Russian Navy.

      The USAF weather satellite DMSP Block 5D-2 F-11 (S-12), launched in 1991
      and retired in 1995, has exploded in orbit with debris objects
      generated. It seems likely the fragmentation was due to either a battery
      explosion or to residual fuel in the attitude control system.

      Table of Recent Launches

      Date UT Name Launch Vehicle Site Mission
      Apr 16 0045 Superbird 6 Atlas IIAS Canaveral SLC36A
      Comms 11A
      Apr 18 1559 Shiyan 1 ) CZ-2C Xichang
      Imaging 12A
      Naxing 1 )
      Tech 12
      Apr 19 0319 Soyuz TMA-4 Soyuz-FG Baykonur LC1
      Spaceship 13A
      Apr 20 1657 Gravity Probe B Delta 7920 Vandenberg SLC2W
      Science 14A
      Apr 26 2037 Ekspress AM-11 Proton-K/DM-01 Baykonur LC200/39
      Comms 15A
      May 4 1242 DirecTV-7S Zenit-3SL Odyssey, Pacific
      Comms 16A
      May 19 2222 AMC-11 Atlas IIAS Canaveral SLC36B
      Comms 17A
      May 20 1747 ROCSAT-2 Taurus Vandenberg 576-E
      Imaging 18A
      May 25 1234 Progress M-49 Soyuz-U Baykonur LC1
      Cargo 19A
      May 28 0600 Kosmos-2407 Tsiklon-2 Baykonur LC90/20
      Sigint 20A

      | Jonathan McDowell | phone : (617) 495-7176 |
      | Somerville MA 02143 | inter : jcm@... |
      | USA | jcm@... |
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