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Space Updates [Nov. 7th, 2014|08:16 pm]
First, the bad...

Antares Explosion Investigation

Preliminary investigation points to the old Soviet rocket engines used by the vehicle. Specifically, the current theory is that the "failure likely originated in, or directly affected, the turbopump machinery", which then blew out (or as they put it "disassemble") the fuel feed system. (Hey, I just about called it!)

Loss of Virgin's SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic's vehicle SpaceShipTwo suffered a catastrophic failure on it's test flight. At around 50K feet and just above mach one the vehicle disintegrated. One of the pilots survived (miraculously!) but the other was lost.

Preliminary investigation points to pilot error, with one of them unlocking the feathering mechanism for the tail vanes before it was safe to do so. This likely led to the vehicle tumbling and coming apart at speed.

...and the good

Chang'e Returns from the Moon

The unmanned Chinese spacecraft Chang'e orbited the moon and took that absolutely fantastic image above. What a terrific photo!

The craft circled around the moon (it was a free-return trajectory so it didn't actually enter lunar orbit) and made its way back to Earth. Then it separated a capsule that returned safely to Earth and landed safely in Inner Mongolia. A real triumph for their space program!

Extrasolar Planetary Formation Disc

This beautiful photo was taken by the the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. It's a view of HL Tau, a star located approximately 450 light years from us. The photo shows a protoplanetary disk of gas and dust. The gaps in the disk indicate that emerging planets orbit around the star and are sweeping clear paths the same way that shepherd moons are observed to do in the rings of Saturn.

It's mind boggling to me that we're now able to get these images (and with terrestrial telescopes!) of the details of other solar systems. While the large disc is easier to image than small rocky planets, it's remarkable that we've been able to capture this and that it matches much about our theories of planetary system formation.

[User Picture]From: schnee
2014-11-08 11:37 am (UTC)
Sad news about the guy who died there. At least he went doing what he (presumably) loved, though.

I'm quite amazed to hear the other one survived.
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[User Picture]From: thump
2014-11-08 07:03 pm (UTC)
Space is hard, but worth it :)
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[User Picture]From: porsupah
2014-11-08 11:42 pm (UTC)
I can't be alone in hearing the Space: 1999 theme on seeing that lunar/terran shot. =:D Quite beautiful, and a reminder of what we can aspire to, collectively.

I wonder what would cause that severe a pilot error to deploy the feathering then? Seems like they've got cockpit video and audio, not to mention one of the pilots, so hopefully the investigators will be able to get to the root of the tragedy, with suitable recommendations to guard against any repeat.

That ALMA image is indeed quite astonishing. We shan't live to see that in person, but, I'd be surprised if humanity won't at some point, whether through the brute force method of generational ships, or as yet impossibilities like folding space to effect a warp drive of sorts. The challenge seems more to ensure we don't extinguish Earth before becoming a multi-planetary species.
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