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Blog Archive


What's up in the solar system, August 2016 edition: Juno to get Jupiter close-ups, Rosetta descending, road-tripping rovers

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/07/29 02:35 CDT | 5 comments

This month we'll finally see JunoCam's first high-resolution images of Jupiter. We'll also see OSIRIS-REx making progress toward its September 8 launch. Both rovers are road-tripping at Mars, while ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has completed a major mid-course correction ahead of its October arrival.

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Akatsuki begins a productive science mission at Venus

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/05/19 06:02 CDT | 4 comments

Japan's Akatsuki Venus orbiter is well into its science mission, and has already produced surprising science results. The mission, originally planned to last two years, could last as many as five, monitoring Venus' atmosphere over the long term.

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What's up in the solar system, May 2016 edition: Good news in cruise for Juno and ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/05/03 11:17 CDT | 5 comments

May 2016 will be yet another month of fairly routine operations across the solar system -- if you can ever use the word "routine" to describe autonomous robots exploring other planets. ExoMars' cruise to Mars has started smoothly, and Juno is only two months away from Jupiter orbit insertion. Earthlings will witness a Mercury transit of the Sun on May 9.

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What's up in solar system exploration: April 2016 edition

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/04/04 10:58 CDT | 2 comments

This month (actually, today), Cassini had a relatively close flyby of Titan, and New Horizons will observe a very distant Kuiper belt object named 1994 JR1. Akatsuki has just fine-tuned its orbit around Venus, and Hayabusa2 has begun an 800-hour ion engine thrusting phase to steer it toward near-Earth asteroid Ryugu.

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What's up in solar system exploration: March 2016 edition

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/02/29 02:45 CST | 4 comments

Welcome to my monthly inventory of the 20-plus spacecraft actively exploring our solar system. Highlights of this month include the impending launch of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander, currently planned for March 14, and the resumption of regular VMC Mars images by Mars Express.

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Akatsuki's new orbit, first images, and science plans

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/12/09 06:30 CST | 9 comments

JAXA had a press briefing today to confirm the successful arrival of Akatsuki into Venus orbit. It's been a long time coming: today's announcement came twelve years to the day after Japan had to abandon efforts to put Nozomi into Mars orbit. They released lovely images and discussed future plans.

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Live from Sagamihara: Akatsuki in Orbit, Day 1

Posted by Sanjay Limaye on 2015/12/08 10:29 CST

One day after closest approach, Akatsuki is now speeding away from Venus at 4.09 kilometers per second and is 180,000 kilometers from the planet. In his last report from Sagamihara, Sanjay Limaye gets some updates on the new orbiter's trajectory.

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Live from Sagamihara: Akatsuki Orbit Insertion Success!

Posted by Sanjay Limaye on 2015/12/07 10:16 CST | 7 comments

The Akatsuki team achieved something that no mission as done before – put a spacecraft into orbit around a planet using only the attitude control thrusters. An event that one could not even conceive or propose!

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Live from Sagamihara: Akatsuki Orbit Insertion - Second Try

Posted by Sanjay Limaye on 2015/12/06 09:44 CST | 1 comments

Venus researcher Sanjay Limaye reports from the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) in Sagamihara on the status of Akatsuki's second Venus orbit insertion attempt.

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Timeline for Akatsuki's second attempt at orbit insertion

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/12/04 06:31 CST | 5 comments

This is it: Akatsuki's final chance at Venus orbit insertion. The rocket firing should begin on December 7 at 08:51 Japan time (December 6 23:51 UT / 15:51 PST) and last for 20 minutes. It will take two days for JAXA to determine whether the orbit has been changed enough for Akatsuki to stay at Venus.

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Back from the Brink: Akatsuki Returns to Venus

Posted by Ralph Lorenz on 2015/12/04 01:08 CST | 2 comments

Perhaps forgotten by the general public in the West, a long-lost spacecraft is set to enter orbit around our sister planet in December, picking up where ESA’s Venus Express left off when its operations ended last year.

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Two JAXA mission updates: Akatsuki Venus orbit entry and PROCYON Earth flyby coming up!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/11/19 05:51 CST

Akatsuki is finally approaching its second attempt to enter Venus orbit, on December 7; let's all wish JAXA the best of luck! And PROCYON, whose ion engines have failed, is still an otherwise perfectly functional spacecraft that is taking photos of Earth and the Moon as it approaches for a flyby.

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What's up in solar system exploration: August 2015 edition

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/08/10 07:31 CDT | 5 comments

I'm back from two weeks' vacation, so it's time to catch up on the status of all our intrepid planetary missions, from Akatsuki to the Voyagers and hitting the Moon, Mars, asteroids, comets, and Saturn in between.

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Two more brief mission updates: Philae makes contact; Akatsuki to perform course correction

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/07/10 09:38 CDT | 6 comments

As a followup to yesterday's post about Dawn, Juno, and OSIRIS-REx, I have updates on two more missions. With this post, I hope to have cleared the decks so that I can focus on Pluto for the next week!

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A new mission for Akatsuki, and status updates for Hayabusa2 and Chang'e

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/02/09 06:32 CST | 2 comments

Brief updates on four ongoing missions: JAXA's Akatsuki and Hayabusa2, and China's Chang'e 3 and Chang'e 5 test vehicle. JAXA has articulated the new science plan for Akatsuki. Hayabusa2's ion engines have checked out successfully. The Yutu rover is still alive on the Moon, and Chang'e 5 test vehicle has successfully tested crucial rendezvous operations in lunar orbit.

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Short updates on Akatsuki and Chang'e missions

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/01/06 02:50 CST | 1 comments

A few recent newspaper articles provide some updates on the status of Japan's Venus mission, Akatsuki, and the service module of China's Chang'e 5 test vehicle, Xiaofei. In brief: Akatsuki still plans to attempt to enter orbit in December of this year, while Chang'e 5 T1 is headed to lunar orbit. Meanwhile, the Chang'e 3 mission has released an interesting image of M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy.

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Intro Astronomy Class 4: Eclipses, Mercury, Venus-Earth-Mars Atmospheres, Venus

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2014/02/28 01:30 CST

This video of class 4 of Bruce Betts' Introduction to Planetary Science and Astronomy class discusses eclipses, Mercury, Venus, and a comparison of the atmospheres of Venus, Earth, and Mars.

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What's up in planetary missions in 2014

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2013/12/31 01:15 CST | 4 comments

With the New Year upon us, what can we look forward to in 2014? For me, the main event of 2014 is that ESA's Rosetta mission finally -- finally! -- catches up to the comet it has been chasing for a decade. We will lose LADEE, gain two Mars orbiters, and launch Hayabusa2. The year begins with an amazing 24 spacecraft exploring or cruising toward various planetary destinations.

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What's Up in the Solar System in July 2012

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/07/02 11:50 CDT

Welcome to my monthly roundup of the activities of our intrepid robotic emissaries across the solar system! Curiosity is about to land; Opportunity has rolled through sol 3000; Odyssey is back online, having switched to a spare reaction wheel; Dawn is now in High-Altitude Mapping Orbit 2; and Cassini is taking advantage of its newly inclined orbit to get spectacular series of images of Saturn's rings.

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Akatsuki to try for Venus orbit in June 2016

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/01/31 10:37 CST

Japan's Venus climate orbiter Akatsuki failed to enter orbit in December 2010 when a clogged valve caused catastrophic damage to its main engine. Since then, JAXA's engineers and navigators have determined that although the main engine is a total loss, there is the possibility of achieving Venus orbit on a future encounter, using only the attitude control rockets.

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