Friday, 5 December 2014

Launch from Florida of the US space agency's new crew capsule - Orion

Orion is designed eventually to take humans beyond the space station, to destinations such as the Moon and Mars. The flight today will be used to test critical technologies, like its heat shield and parachutes.

The Delta IV-Heavy rocket launched from Cape Canaveral at 07:05 local time (12:05 GMT). Orion will reach a peak altitude of 3,600 miles, fifteen times higher than the orbit of the International Space Station. That will mark the highest altitude any spaceship capable of transporting humans has reached since Apollo 17.

This will generate temperatures in the region of 2,000C, allowing engineers to check that Orion's thermal protection systems meet their specifications.

The mission teams will also get to watch how the parachutes deploy as they gently lower the capsule into Pacific waters off the coast of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. The splashdown is expected to occur at about 11:30 EST (16:30 GMT).

Monday, 10 November 2014

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Rolls out to Launch Pad for its First Flight

The Orion spacecraft sits inside the Launch Abort System Facility
at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Nov. 4, 2014
 Image Credit: NASA/Jim Grossman
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is set to roll out of the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to its launch pad at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37 on Monday Nov. 10, in preparation for lift off next month on its first space flight. 

The move is the latest major milestone ahead of the launch of this first flight test which will be flown without a crew. Orion is in the final stages of preparation for its uncrewed flight test, targeted for Dec. 4, that will take it 3,600 miles above Earth on a more than four hour flight to test many of the systems critical for future human missions into deep space.

After two orbits and 60,000 miles, Orion will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at almost 20,000 mph before its parachute system deploys to slow the spacecraft for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. On future missions, the Orion spacecraft will help carry astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before, including to an asteroid and Mars. For more information about Orion, visit:

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

NASA ‘Trial By Fire’ Video on Orion’s Flight Test

As the flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft nears, the agency released Wednesday a video -- called "Trial By Fire" -- detailing the spacecraft’s test and the critical systems engineers will evaluate during the Dec. 4 flight.

Orion is in the final stages of preparation for the uncrewed flight test that will take it 3,600 miles above Earth on a 4.5-hour mission to test many of the systems necessary for future human missions into deep space. After two orbits, Orion will reenter Earth’s atmosphere at almost 20,000 miles per hour, and reach temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit before its parachute system deploys to slow the spacecraft for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

On future missions, Orion will carry astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before, including to an asteroid and Mars.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Arrives at Martian Mountain

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet's Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission's long-term prime destination. Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said, "Curiosity now will begin a new chapter from an already outstanding introduction to the world." Curiosity’s trek up the mountain will begin with an examination of the mountain's lower slopes. 

The rover is starting this process at an entry point near an outcrop called Pahrump Hills, rather than continuing on to the previously-planned, further entry point known as Murray Buttes. Both entry points lay along a boundary where the southern base layer of the mountain meets crater-floor deposits washed down from the crater’s northern rim.

The image above  shows the old and new routes of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover This new route provides excellent access to many features in the Murray Formation. And it will eventually pass by the Murray Formation's namesake, Murray Buttes, previously considered to be the entry point to Mt. Sharp.

Curiosity made its first close-up study last month of two Murray Formation outcrops, both revealing notable differences from the terrain explored by Curiosity during the past year. The first outcrop, called Bonanza King, proved too unstable for drilling, but was examined by the rover’s instruments and determined to have high silicon content. A second outcrop, examined with the rover's telephoto Mast Camera, revealed a fine-grained, platy surface laced with sulfate-filled veins.

While some of these terrain differences are not apparent in observations made by NASA's Mars orbiters, the rover team still relies heavily on images taken by the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to plan Curiosity’s travel routes and locations for study.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project continues to use Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. The destinations on Mount Sharp offer a series of geological layers that recorded different chapters in the environmental evolution of Mars.

The Mars Exploration Rover Project is one element of NASA's ongoing preparation for a human mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s. JPL built Curiosity and manages the project and MRO for NASA's Science 
Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Curiosity, visit

Thursday, 5 June 2014

NASA's Orion Spacecraft is Ready to Feel the Heat

Engineers completed installing the heat shield on NASA’s Orion spacecraft ahead of its first trip to space in December. The flight test will send an uncrewed Orion 3,600 miles into space before returning it to Earth for the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The heat shield will help protect the Orion crew vehicle from temperatures of about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit during its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. 

(Image Credit: NASA/Daniel Casper)

Friday, 2 August 2013

NASA Curiosity Rover Approaches First Anniversary on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover will mark one year on Mars next week and has already achieved its main science goal of revealing ancient Mars could have supported life. The mobile laboratory also is guiding designs for future planetary missions.

After inspiring millions of people worldwide with its successful landing in a crater on the Red Planet on Aug. 6, 2012, Curiosity has provided more than 190 gigabits of data; returned more than 36,700 full images and 35,000 thumbnail images; fired more than 75,000 laser shots to investigate the composition of targets; collected and analysed sample material from two rocks; and driven more than one mile (1.6 kilometers).

Curiosity, which is the size of a car, traveled 764 yards (699 meters) in the past four weeks since leaving a group of science targets where it worked for more than six months The rover is making its way to the base of Mount Sharp, where it will investigate lower layers of a mountain that rises three miles from the floor of the crater.

The mission measured natural radiation levels on the trip to Mars and is monitoring radiation and weather on the surface of Mars, which will be helpful for designing future human missions to the planet. The Curiosity mission also found evidence Mars lost most of its original atmosphere through processes that occurred at the top of the atmosphere. NASA's next mission to Mars, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), is being prepared for launch in November to study those processes in the upper atmosphere.
For more information about the Curiosity mission, see: