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Stories, updates, insights, and original analysis from The Planetary Society.

What's Up in the Solar System in October 2012

Welcome to my monthly survey of the activities of robots across the solar system! Tomorrow is the equinox at Mars; both Curiosity and Opportunity will be spending the month actively analyzing Martian rocks. It'll be a less active month for Cassini, as Saturn passes through solar conjunction late next month.

IKAROS is alive! (Or: oh me of little faith!)

I am rarely so glad to admit that I was wrong as when it's about the failure of a mission. Only last month, I speculated that IKAROS's mission was done. And now the news comes that IKAROS has been heard from -- twice! -- on September 6 and 8, 2012.

What's up in the Solar System in August 2012

Welcome to the monthly roundup of our solar system's envoy of electronic explorers! All eyes are on Curiosity as it approaches Mars this weekend. Who will lend support at the Red Planet?

What's Up in the Solar System in July 2012

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.

A theme song for IKAROS

JAXA's solar sail mission IKAROS is still hibernating, and there's no way of knowing if the spacecraft will reawaken or not. They try to raise contact with the spacecraft once a month, with the last attempt being made on March 10; we can only wait to see if they'll succeed. What better time to release a theme song for the mission? IKAROS has always been even more full of personality even than other JAXA missions (which is saying a lot).

A new trick for IKAROS: Spinning the other way

JAXA's solar sail demonstration craft IKAROS is still puttering along, 17 months after it launched, and its controllers back on Earth keep coming up with new things to try with it. I'm pretty amazed by the most recent trick: reversing its spin direction. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is, especially for IKAROS.

365 Days of Astronomy Podcast: What's up in the second quarter of 2011

Regular readers of this blog will find the content of today's 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast familiar, because it's an update on what the solar system exploration spacecraft are up to, based on my monthly

What's up in the solar system in April 2011

April 2011 will see MESSENGER begin the science phase of its orbital mission at Mercury, and should, I think, also see the start of Dawn's approach observations of Vesta. At Mars, Opportunity is back on the road again, rolling inexorably toward Endeavour. At Saturn, Cassini will continue its focus on Saturn and Titan science.

Encouragement from space for Japan

I saw this posted by @Akatsuki_JAXA (the Akatsuki Venus mission's official Twitter identity) and thought it was cute so I'm sharing it here.

What's up in the solar system in March 2011

I don't think there's any question what the big event of this month will be: MESSENGER is finally, finally entering orbit at Mercury on March 18 at 00:45 UTC (March 17 at 16:45 for me).

IKAROS: self-portrait with Venus; primary mission complete

JAXA posted a report today stating that IKAROS

IKAROS flew past Venus on December 8

Just after Akatsuki missed entering orbit, another spacecraft, IKAROS, quietly passed by Venus.

Congratulations to the IKAROS team for their "8th Web Creation Award"

This news is a little old but worth mentioning: On September 9, the Japanese solar sail mission, IKAROS, won a Web award in Japan for their work to publicize the mission via Twitter.

LightSail team learns from IKAROS

While we were in New York for the International Solar Sailing Symposium last week, we held a meeting with the Japanese IKAROS team to discuss technical results and issues in our two projects.

From the Solar Sail Symposium in New York

This week, Bill Nye and I are attending the International Solar Sail Symposium at the New York College of Technology.

JAXA confirms acceleration of IKAROS solar sail by photon pressure

The Japanese space agency reported on their web site today that acceleration of the IKAROS spacecraft by solar pressure has been confirmed.

A brush painting for Hayabusa

Upon James Aldridge's return from Japan, he posted several albums worth of amazing photos, including several of their calligraphy instructor, well-known artist Aiko Tanaka, creating a gestural brush painting to commemorate Hayabusa's return.

IKAROS Begins Attitude Control

The IKAROS spacecraft continues to perform its mission well as its team at the Japan Space Exploration Center moves closer to the first fully controlled solar sail flight.

IKAROS' deployable camera captures perfect sail photos and animation!

We've already seen IKAROS' view of its deployed sails from cameras attached to the spacecraft, but, in a brilliant idea, the Japanese built IKAROS with two deployable cameras that could view the thing from a distance.

IKAROS: Successful sail deployment and solar power generation! Hooray!!

JAXA finally issued the formal announcement: they successfully expanded IKAROS' square sail!

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