Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Re-entry debris traced to Lunar Prospector in '98

The highly-economical science probe Lunar Prospector mated to the payload assist module prior to launch in 1998. The  man-sized tran-lunar ejection module (Bottom)  may have made a fiery return to Earth, last year [NASA].
Traci Watson

The piece of space junk that made a fiery plunge into the Indian Ocean two months ago was most likely the remains of a rocket motor that propelled a NASA probe to the Moon in 1998, researchers studying the event have concluded.

The junk’s identity is by no means certain, but the “leading candidate” is the translunar injection module of Lunar Prospector, says Paul Chodas, an asteroid tracker at the CalTech/Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The module nudged the probe out of Earth orbit and then detached from the main spacecraft, which orbited the Moon for 19 months before it was deliberately slammed into the lunar south pole in July 1999.

Speculation about the source of the debris, known as WT1190F, ran rampant even before it plummeted through the atmosphere on 13 November. The only artificial object to make an uncontrolled re-entry at a precisely predicted place and moment, it presented a unique chance to witness such an event in real time. Researchers took advantage of the opportunity, monitoring the debris from a chartered jet as well as from ground-based observatories.

Catch the full article HERE.

Thorium concentrations in ppm, among the many elemental maps gather from data collected during the pioneering and economy-driven Lunar Prospector mission over its eighteen months in lunar orbit in 1998 and 1999 [Spudis/NASA].

After ISS, lunar 'village' is next -Woerner

For ESA's 3D-printed lunar base concept, Foster+Partners devised a weight-bearing ‘catenary’ dome design with a cellular structured wall to shield against micrometeoroids and space radiation, incorporating a pressurised inflatable to shelter astronauts [ESA/Foster & Partners].
Katherine Derla

European Space Agency's head Jan Woerner released the vision outline for the Moon Village, which could replace the International Space Station as early as 2030. The lunar village will be composed of structures created by 3D printers and robots using Moon dusts as raw materials.

Woerner became the ESA head in July 2015 and made the Moon mission the space agency's central project. Woerner added that this lunar project is a crucial step towards the future flight to Mars.

"I looked into the requirements I see for a project after ISS. As of today, I see the Moon Village as the ideal successor of the International Space Station for [space] exploration," said Woerner.

The Moon Village project could be a collaboration of several nations and space exploration groups including Russia, China, NASA and ESA. Experts around the world could contribute advanced technology, knowledge and even manpower (astronauts) for the Mars mission preparations. The same can be done for the ongoing biology and physics explorations that are currently being conducted onboard the ISS.

In 2014, the U.S. announced they intend to keep the ISS in operation until 2024, which pushed back the station's retirement by at least four years. Several European nations raised concerns over the extended operation's perceived costs, challenging if the extension would be worthwhile. On the other hand, Russia is considering the option of building its own space station.

Read the full-article HERE.