India Mars Orbiter Mission Status Center Spaceflight Now
Russian Mars mission halted by glitch in low Earth orbit Spaceflight Now
Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission, an audacious effort to retrieve samples from a Martian moon, is stranded in low Earth orbit following a successful liftoff Tuesday from Kazakhstan, according to Russian reports. Two rocket burns were supposed to propel the massive probe on a course toward Mars late Tuesday, but indications are the engine firings did not occur, according to Vladimir Popovkin, head of the Russian space agency.
The revelation came after a successful blastoff on top of a Zenit 2FG rocket at 2016 GMT (3:16 p.m. EST). Phobos-Grunt and an attached rocket pack separated from the booster about 11 minutes later.
Radar trackers did not detect Phobos-Grunt in the expected orbit after it was supposed to fire engines nearly three hours after liftoff. The burn was timed to occur over South America and out of range of Russian ground stations, which are limited in coverage over Europe and Asia.
Super-rocket to use mobile launcher, shuttle crawlers Spaceflight Now
NASA intends to upgrade one of its Apollo-era treaded crawlers and an inactive mobile platform built for the canceled Ares launcher program to support the agency’s colossal super-rocket, officially called the Space Launch System, in time for a test flight in 2017.
NASA completes testing of sophisticated Mars rover Spaceflight Now
Engineers finished up functional testing of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory last week, verifying the Curiosity rover can make it to Mars and pursue scientific clues that the planet may have once harbored life.
Europe seeks greater role in NASA’s exploration missions Spaceflight Now
The European Space Agency wants to take on a major task in NASA’s future space exploration plans, proposing to combine parts of Europe’s existing space station freighter with the U.S. Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for human voyages into deep space.
NASA plans test of advanced nuclear power generator Spaceflight Now
Two of the robotic missions NASA selected for further study last week would be powered by experimental nuclear generators, a new technology under development to boost the efficiency of electricity production in deep space. NASA picked robotic missions to Mars, a comet and Saturn’s moon Titan as finalists last week for a launch opportunity in 2016, and two of the probes would employ a cutting edge nuclear power source never tested in space.
The space agency plans to settle on a single mission in June 2012, fully funding the winner for development and launch later this decade. Although NASA requires the missions to launch by the end of 2017, scientists in charge of all three probes target blastoff in 2015 or 2016.
Mars sample return mission could begin in 2018 Spaceflight Now
Space officials in the United States and Europe are planning an ambitious dual-rover mission that could start collecting Martian soil samples in 2018 to be picked up by a subsequent mission and returned to Earth in the 2020s. The costly mission would blast off on an Atlas 5 rocket in 2018 and land two rovers on Mars with a single “sky crane” descent system that will be tested for the first time at the Red Planet in August 2012. It would be the first time two rovers will be delivered to the same landing site on Mars. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover and a $2 billion NASA Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher mission are the leading candidates for the tandem project.
Red Planet rover could emerge from slumber soon Spaceflight Now
NASA officials say the best chance to hear from the napping Spirit rover again will be in September or October, but the timing of the robot’s revival from winter hibernation is an engineering guessing game. Spirit was forced to sleep by the cold winter in the Martian southern hemisphere, where low sun angles were not sufficient to power the rover through solar panels.
The stranded rover last communicated with Earth on March 22. Spirit has been stuck in a sand pit known as Troy since April 2009, leaving the rover tilted away from the sun and limiting its ability to produce electricity.
The winter solstice at Spirit’s location was May 13, and conditions should now be improving. But the rover’s batteries likely won’t be collecting enough sunlight to begin communicating again until September or October.
Space agencies tackle waning plutonium stockpiles Spaceflight Now
While NASA is counting on an act of Congress or a renegotiated deal with Russia to acquire plutonium for its next robotic deep space missions, the European Space Agency is considering alternative nuclear fuels to power its own probes traveling into the sun-starved outer solar system. NASA’s dwindling supply of plutonium-238 nuclear fuel will not be sufficient to power an orbiter to visit Jupiter’s moon Europa, NASA’s contribution to a planned $4.5 billion joint flagship mission between the U.S. space agency and Europe. That’s unless the U.S. Department of Energy, which supplies nuclear fuel for NASA missions, receives funding to restart domestic production of plutonium or successfully resolves a contract dispute with the Russian government, said Jim Adams, the deputy director of NASA’s planetary science division.
Making a Mars sample return mission more affordable Spaceflight Now
Scientists are proposing splitting an ambitious multibillion-dollar mission to return samples from Mars into three pieces to ease budget concerns, officials said this week. Speaking to reporters from an astrobiology conference in Houston, researchers said the next round of robotic missions to explore the solar system will be better equipped to hunt for past or present life.
The holy grail of those missions is a project to collect soil samples from Mars and return them to Earth. Officials did not disclose a predicted cost for the mission, but it will be expensive enough to warrant a joint endeavor between NASA and the European Space Agency.
A joint Mars exploration initiative finalized last year between NASA and ESA calls for a cooperative sample return mission some time in the 2020s. The sample return effort would follow joint orbiters and landers launching in 2016, 2018 and 2020.