It didn’t crash – but, courtesy of Boeing, we still need to worry…

NASA is reviewing Boeing Co.’s software engineering, and it doesn’t like what it sees.

Lurking behind 1 million lines of code for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lies a deficient development process that led to two software flaws during a failed test flight, the U.S. space agency said Friday. The “critical software defects” — either of which could have caused the uncrewed Starliner’s destruction — prompted NASA to open a broad review of Boeing’s quality control…

Boeing’s coding skills have been under intense scrutiny because of software implicated in two Max crashes that killed 346 people. NASA officials conceded that the high-profile problems of Boeing’s best-selling jet suggested the need for a broader look into the company’s culture — and why systems designed to find coding faults had failed.

The errors “could have led to risk of spacecraft loss,” NASA said, though engineers were able to compensate during the test flight and return the vehicle back to Earth undamaged.

Sooner or later, NASA is supposed to trust the lives of astronauts to go into outer space in a craft built by a company whose latest, greatest airplanes are something I wouldn’t fly in…to Chicago.

Cassini Spacecraft Crashes into Saturn This Morning — Watch it live! Or Re-runs!


Click to enlarge

❝ Friday, Sept. 15, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will wrap up 20 historic years in space, collecting data as it crashes into Saturn’s atmosphere and burns up like a meteor…Today’s stories on Cassini’s demise…

NASA will air a series of webcasts leading up Cassini’s final suicide plunge, which you will be able to watch here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV…

❝ Friday, Sept. 15

❝ 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. EDT (1100 to 1230 GMT): Live commentary about end-of-mission activities. An uninterrupted camera feed from JPL Mission Control, with mission audio only, will also be available during the commentary…

❝ About 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT): Cassini’s last science data, and final signal, should come down to Earth.

❝ 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT): Post-mission news conference from JPL…

❝ The $3.2 billion Cassini-Huygens mission — a joint effort of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — launched in October 1997 and arrived in the Saturn system on June 30, 2004 (PDT)…

But nothing lasts forever. Cassini is nearly out of fuel; if it runs out completely, the probe’s handlers won’t be able to control it anymore. So they want to dispose of Cassini before things get to that point, which is why they’re sending the spacecraft on a death dive into Saturn on Sept. 15…

RTFA and wend your way through recent history of this space adventure. Hours of nothing but interesting articles, photos and video from serious science – as enjoyable as anything your intellect ever encounters.

Photos of a hurricane on Saturn from the Cassini Spacecraft

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has survived an unprecedented trip between Saturn and its rings, and has amazing pictures to show for it.

Flight controllers regained contact with Cassini on Thursday, a day after it became the first craft to cross this hazardous region. The rings are made up of countless icy particles, any of which could have smacked Cassini. The spacecraft’s big dish antenna served as a shield as it hurtled through the narrow gap, temporarily cutting off communications….

Twenty-one more crossings are planned — about one a week — before Cassini’s fatal plunge in mid-September. The next one is Tuesday (2nd May). Some of those passages will bring Cassini even closer to the planet as well as the innermost D ring. The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is between 1,200 and 1,500 miles across (1,900 to 2,400 kilometers).

Watch for it. Stay in touch with NASA.

First landing on comet — photo history


Rosetta selfie with Comet 67/P in the background

History was made yesterday as a spacecraft the size of a fridge executed the first successful landing on a comet. The European Space Agency confirms that at about 16:00 GMT the unmanned Philae space probe touched down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the landing site known as Agilkia. The comet and spacecraft are 510 million km from Earth, so the news of the landing took 28 minutes and 20 seconds to reach mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

The day before the landing, the 100 kg Phiale was turned on and its batteries charged for the first time since leaving Earth. There were some initial glitches as the batteries warmed more slowly than anticipated, but the spacecraft soon warmed up to its operational temperature. As the Rosetta mothership carrying Philae maneuvered into position, mission control carried out flight checks on the two spacecraft, sent command updates to Philae that allowed it to navigate autonomously to the landing site, and cleared the landing maneuver after a series of go/no decisions with the lander declared ready for separation at 02:35 GMT.

Despite a transient fault in the cold gas thruster aboard Philae, at 07:35 GMT Rosetta completed its final maneuver and the final permission was given to proceed with landing. At 09:03 Philae separated from Rosetta. During course correction maneuvers, communications with Earth were interrupted from either spacecraft, so they were programmed to operate autonomously…


First photo from Philae lander

…Since its arrival on August 6, the orbiter has been mapping the comet in search of a suitable landing site for the Philae lander.

…The landing…was based on a window where there would be enough sunlight to power the lander, but not so much as to make the comet dangerously active. Meanwhile, the site was chosen based on a balance between the scientific value of the area against the safety of the lander. Agilkia has very little slope, few boulders, and abundant sunlight, yet contains many features of interest.

ESA says that Philae has begun taking panoramic images as part of a two-and-a-half day science mission using its suite of 10 instruments, which could be extended if its solar panels are able to charge its batteries.

Bravo. Kudos to ESA for having the foresight and dedication to basic science and research required to fund and manage this project.

Click through to the article and more than 2 dozen photos from the history of the Rosetta project.

Thanks, Ursarodinia, Mike – GMTA

Secret X-37B craft lands after 15-month mission


Click on photo for video of landing

The U.S. Air Force’s robotic X-37B space plane finally returned to Earth today, wrapping up a mysterious mission that lasted more than year in orbit.

The unmanned X-37B spacecraft…glided back to Earth on autopilot, touching down at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at 5:48 a.m. PDT (1248 GMT). The landing brought to an end the X-37B program’s second-ever spaceflight, a mission that lasted more than 15 months with objectives that remain shrouded in secrecy.

Air Force officials announced the X-37B space plane’s successful landing in a brief statement posted on the Vandenberg website and emailed to reporters.

“Team Vandenberg has put in over a year’s worth of hard work in preparation for this landing and today we were able to see the fruits of our labor,” said Col. Nina Armagno, 30th Space Wing commander at Vandenberg. “I am so proud of our team for coming together to execute this landing operation safely and successfully…”

Exactly what the spacecraft, which is built by Boeing’s Phantom Works division, was doing up there for so long is a secret. The details of the X-37B’s mission, which is overseen by the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, are classified, as is its payload.

My guess is they rendezvoused with the UFO’s we support – delivering groceries and clean underwear.

SpaceX Dragon splashdown return to Earth from ISS rendezvous


Photo provided by SpaceX – capsule in Pacific right after splashdown

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft successfully returned to Earth Thursday, becoming the first privately-owned spacecraft to complete a mission to the International Space Station.

The pilotless Dragon left the ISS after a nine-day mission loaded with 1,455 pounds of cargo on early Thursday morning. After separating from the space station, Dragon fired a series of engine burns to slow itself down enough to drop from orbit. The craft encountered temperatures of up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on the most intense part of the fall.

Dragon also fired a series of thruster bursts to keep itself on target for a splashdown a few hundred miles from southern California. At 45,000 feet above the Earth, the craft deployed two small parachutes that stabilized its flight path. Once those parachutes were fully deployed, three main brightly colored chutes were released, each with a diameter of 116 feet. Dragon’s altitude loss then slowed to about 17 feet per second, allowing it a comfortable aquatic arrival.

While Dragon descended from the heavens, a NASA aircraft watched via infrared camera and a pre-positioned group of ships owned by SpaceX sat ready to recover the 19-foot-long spacecraft. The craft touched down in the cloud-covered Pacific Ocean at 11:42 a.m. ET.

The ships’ crewmembers initially had trouble locating the spacecraft because of the heavy cloud coverage in the area, but the orange-and-white main parachutes caught their attention. SpaceX dive teams then disconnected the main parachutes and towed the craft to the barge, which used a heavy-lifting crane to take it on board…

Dragon launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 22 after a series of delays. It docked with the ISS on May 25, becoming the first privately-owned spacecraft to do so. The spacecraft brought experimental equipment and other cargo to the ISS.

Bravo. Another milestone completed.

Doomed – I say “Dooomed!” – Russian probe crashes today!


An artist’s conception shows the breakup of the Phobos-Grunt probe in the atmosphere

Russia’s botched Mars probe mission Phobos-Grunt is fast approaching a fiery death, with just one or two days remaining before it falls from space…

“The European Space Agency’s current re-entry prediction for Phobos-Grunt … points to the early evening (Central European Time) on Sunday, Jan. 15, with an uncertainty of plus/minus five orbits,” equal to plus or minus 7.5 hours, said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the space debris office at ESA’s European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany…

A statement from Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) also pegged Sunday as the crash day for Phobos-Grunt, but went even further. According to the statement, released in Russian, the 14-ton spacecraft filled with fuel is expected to fall on Sunday and may crash in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile.

Russian space officials pegged the potential crash time as occurring at about 4:51 p.m. ET Sunday, although major uncertainties still remain. There is a chance the spacecraft could fall earlier in the day, or on Monday…

As Phobos-Grunt draws closer and closer to its fiery finale, a worldwide team of skywatchers is on standby alert in the hopes of spotting the fall.

Experienced observers know that the probability of seeing any given satellite re-entry is very small, so they maintain very low expectations,” said Canada-based Ted Molczan, a leader in the citizen network of observers.

RTFA for beaucoup details.

Yes, I’m one of those people who will go outdoors and look around the expected atmosphere impact time.

Ringside with Titan and Dione

Orbiting in the plane of Saturn’s rings, Saturnian moons have a perpetual ringside view of the gorgeous gas giant planet. Of course, while passing near the ring plane the Cassini spacecraft also shares their stunning perspective. The rings themselves can be seen slicing across the middle of this Cassini snapshot from May of last year. The scene features Titan, largest, and Dione, third largest moon of Saturn. Remarkably thin, the bright rings still cast arcing shadows across the planet’s cloud tops at the bottom of the frame. Pale Dione is about 1,100 kilometers across and orbits over 300,000 kilometers from the visible outer edge of the A ring. Dione is seen through Titan’s atmospheric haze. At 5,150 kilometers across, Titan is about 2.3 million kilometers from Cassini, while Dione is 3.2 million kilometers away.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

If you’d like to try a sample issue of Paws & Claws, Ursarodinia’s weekly newsletter – email her at subject line: Paws and Claws sample, ursarodinia[@]aol.com – without the brackets. I highly recommend it for humor, science, earthy sex, humor, politics – and did I mention humor?

Duck and Cover – Parts of Phobos-Grunt may land on you


Launch – November 9, 2011
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A Russian spacecraft that became stranded in orbit on the way to Mars last year is expected to fall back to Earth next week.

The 13.5 tonne Phobos-Grunt has been circling Earth since November when rocket boosters failed to ignite and send the spaceship on its journey to the Martian moon of Phobos. The spacecraft suffered a computer malfunction after launch and when repeated attempts to contact the rocket failed, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, had to abandon the mission.

Officials at Roscosmos admitted that 20 to 30 fragments of Phobos-Grunt, weighing a total of 200kg, might hit the Earth. Among the most likely parts to survive are the cone-shaped sample return capsule that is protected with a heat shield. The capsule was designed to survive a crash landing without a parachute.

Any components that are not vaporised during re-entry are likely to fall into the ocean or land in sparsely populated areas.

Which is what the PR folks for every space agency always say.

The spacecraft, the largest planetary rocket ever built by Russia, was designed to return rock samples from Phobos, the first time material would have been brought back from the moon of another planet. The rocket was to deliver a Chinese Mars orbiter and carried containers of bacteria to test their survival in space.

Space agencies tracking the rocket from radar stations around the world have stepped up their monitoring to once every day. As the spacecraft nears re-entry, officials will track its descent hour by hour to improve predictions of where any debris might land…

Tracking Phobos-Grunt will allow space agencies to work out when the rocket will begin re-entry, but does little to help predict where debris might land. The spacecraft is travelling so fast it completes an orbit of Earth every 90 minutes, so even a small uncertainty in its trajectory or how it breaks up can make a difference of hundreds of miles on the Earth’s surface.

Leave a note for your lawyer in case it gets you. At least your survivors may receive some compensation. Sometimes it ain’t fun being a beta-tester for approved technology.