Vignettes from dozens of LPSC talks: GRAIL and LADEE at the Moon; ice and craters and conglomerates and organics and gullies on Mars; polar deposits and volatile elements on Mercury; tectonics on Enceladus; and more, until my brain was so full I could barely speak.
The twin GRAIL spacecraft are nearly out of fuel, and are being directed to a controlled impact near the north pole on the near side of the Moon on December 17. Before the end, though, they did some cool things, including flying within 2000 meters of mountaintops, and catching video of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in flight.
This month, Opportunity is roving again, while Curiosity approaches Mars; Cassini's finally seeing rings, and will fly by Mimas, Titan, and Tethys; GRAIL has completed its primary mission and is journeying toward the second; Dawn is climbing to the HAMO2 orbit; and a rare transit of Venus is coming up on June 5/6.
Two brief mission updates. First, the good news: NASA announced yesterday that the twin GRAIL spacecraft have begun the science phase of the mission, transmitting precisely timed signals to each other in order to map the Moon's gravity field. The bad news: according to ESA, since the recent solar storm passed Venus, both of Venus Express' star trackers are suddenly unable to detect stars.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that after beginning with Dawn last week, I've kept my fingers busy, stitching more spacecraft from plastic canvas. I now have prototypes for GRAIL, New Horizons, and MESSENGER.
The twin GRAIL spacecraft are nearly at the end of their three-month cruises to the Moon. Currently being discussed is an extended mission for GRAIL that would begin after the June eclipse and last through most of December 2012.
GRAIL is trying for launch today at 8:29 PDT / 12:29 UT or 9:08 PDT / 6:08 UT., and here I am at 5:00 am my time ready to watch. As before, I'm watching the feed through Spaceflight Now's GRAIL mission status center.
The twin spacecraft of the GRAIL lunar gravity mission are set to launch side-by-side on a Delta II rocket on Thursday, September 8. Here's all the places where you can find information about the upcoming launch.