I think the word for the month of February is: "routine." The 21 missions that I'm tracking (amounting to 24 spacecraft) are nearly all in routine science operations or cruise behavior, gathering data from across the solar system or journeying to new destinations.
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.
Posted by A.J.S. Rayl on 2012/01/31 10:24 CST
As Opportunity worked away on its winter science campaign, the Mars Exploration Rover mission quietly completed its eighth Earth year of exploring the surface of the Red Planet last week, and is now roving on into Year 9 of its 90-day mission.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/01/23 05:32 CST
Today Opportunity sent back to Earth the last few frames of the "deck pan" self-portrait she took during the waning days of 2011. Her solar panels are very dusty, which isn't helpful. It's near winter solstice in her southern location on Mars, so the angled Sun is not providing as much power as it would in a different season.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/01/16 02:27 CST
Phobos-Grunt has returned to Earth, a lot sooner than it should have. Yesterday, at approximately 17:45 UT, the Russian spacecraft and its passengers, including a Chinese orbiter and the Planetary Society's LIFE experiment, descended into Earth's atmosphere.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/01/13 12:25 CST
I'm not looking forward to spending the weekend sitting deathwatch on Phobos-Grunt. It's not science, and it's a sad event, so my instincts would lead me to other subjects. But it contains the Planetary Society's Phobos LIFE experiment.
Posted by Bruce Betts on 2012/01/13 10:35 CST
We explore space for the noblest goals of science and exploration, and we often persevere in spite of challenges. But space exploration is fraught with bad things happening, or, to use the technical term, ouchies. The Planetary Society's Phobos LIFE biomodule will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere in the next few days with the rest of the Phobos-Grunt mission.
Posted by Jason Davis on 2012/01/09 05:54 CST
As of November 2011, the Earth Observing Handbook counts 109 active missions to study the Earth as a planet, with 112 more approved and planned for the future. Jason Davis provides an overview of key current and upcoming earth-observing missions.
Posted by Marc Rayman on 2012/01/09 03:53 CST
The Dawn mission's Project System Engineer Marc Rayman reports that Dawn concluded 2011 more than 40 thousand times nearer to Vesta than it began the year. It is now at its lowest altitude of the mission, conducting a detailed exploration of the protoplanet and continuing to make new discoveries.
Posted by A.J.S. Rayl on 2011/12/31 10:24 CST
As New Year's Eve moved from time zone to time zone across planet Earth, the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) team looked to 2012 and wrapping its eighth Earth year of exploring, while up on the Red Planet Opportunity settled into the "saddle" at Greeley Haven preparing for the onslaught of its fifth Martian winter.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/12/29 05:57 CST
There will be no planetary launches in 2012, but there is still plenty of deep-space activity to look forward to over the coming year.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/12/28 05:21 CST
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.
Posted by A.J.S. Rayl on 2011/12/07 10:24 CST
Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has discovered gypsum and its "single most powerful piece of evidence for liquid water on Mars."
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/12/05 04:13 CST
A report on a press briefing about Voyager 1 at the Fall 2011 American Geophyisical Union meeting. The spacecraft has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space, which scientists are calling the stagnation region.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/12/02 12:04 CST
After modifying two antennas and attempting to send commands to Phobos-Grunt for weeks without success, ESA has made the decision to stop tracking support.
Posted by Marc Rayman on 2011/12/01 04:05 CST
In this update on the Dawn mission, project system engineer Marc Rayman reports that the probe is headed for its low altitude mapping orbit (LAMO), where it will focus on making a census of the atomic constituents and on mapping the gravity field in order to determine Vesta's interior structure.
Posted by A.J.S. Rayl on 2011/11/30 10:24 CST
Opportunity roved toward the end of its eighth year of exploration on the Red Planet and chalking up yet another "exciting" textbook discovery for the Mars mission.