Monday, November 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Mars Probes

"Next Stop Mars! Huge NASA Rover Launches Toward Red Planet"
Mike Wall, (November 26, 2011 )

"NASA has launched its next Mars rover, kicking off a long-awaited mission to investigate whether the Red Planet could ever have hosted microbial life.

"The car-size Curiosity rover blasted off atop its Atlas 5 rocket today (Nov. 26) at 10:02 a.m. EST (1502 GMT), streaking into a cloudy sky above Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here. The huge robot's next stop is Mars, though the 354-million-mile (570-million-kilometer) journey will take 8 1/2 months...."

"...NASA began planning Curiosity's mission — which is officially known as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) — back in 2003. The rover was originally scheduled to blast off in 2009, but it wasn't ready in time.

"Launch windows for Mars-bound spacecraft are based on favorable alignments between Earth and the Red Planet, and they open up just once every two years. So the MSL team had to wait until 2011...."

One thing about the Curiosity Mars rover: The thing is big. Curiosity's heat shield is bigger than the ones used on Apollo missions. (June 20, 2009)

A tip of the Lemming's hat to for a pretty good, mercifully brief, explanation of launch windows. Orbital mechanics, and performance limits of today's spaceships, explain why Russia's Phobos/Fobos-Grunt mission had a launch date so close to Curiosity's.

Phobos/Fobos-Grunt: a Little Good News

"Russia 'makes first contact' with stranded Mars probe"
AFP (November 24, 2011)

"Russia on Thursday announced its scientists had for the first time made contact with its stranded Mars probe Phobos-Grunt, a day after the European Space Agency said it had received a signal.

" 'A signal from the probe has been received and some telemetry data. At the moment our specialists are working on this information,' the Interfax news agency quoted Russian space agency spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov as saying.

"Interfax said the signal was received at a Russian station at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday afternoon.

"The European Space Agency said its ground station in Perth, Australia made contact with the probe at 2025 GMT on Tuesday, the first sign of life from Phobos-Grunt since it got stuck in Earth orbit after launch on November 9.

"Russian officials had cautioned earlier this week that the chances were very small of saving the mission, which would require reprogramming the probe to send it off on its trajectory to Mars before the window for its journey closes...."

That's better news than what the Lemming had been fearing, about Fobos-Grunt. It still looks like Russia's current Mars probe doesn't have all that much of a chance at getting to its destination. Which is definitely not good news for folks in the Russian space program.

Elsewhere, the Lemming ran into news about a Yankee imperialist warmonger plot to foil the noble Russian endeavor. At least, that's what some folks believe.

Here's a rather calm news item about that flashback from the Cold War:

Not Exactly Nostalgia

"­Did US 'climate weapon' knock-out Russian probe?"
RT (November 24, 2011)

"Russian space experts are struggling to decode fresh telemetry signals received from the stricken Phobos-Grunt probe. Meanwhile, rumors are circulating that America's ionosphere research site in Alaska caused the spacecraft's failure. ..."

"...Meanwhile, a retired Russian general believes that the glitch which prevented Phobos-Grunt from carrying out its space mission was caused by American radar sites in Alaska.

"General-Lieutenant Nikolay Rodionov, who used to command the country's ballistic missile early warning system, told Interfax that 'the powerful electromagnetic radiation of those sites may have affected the control system of the interplanetary probe.'

"The general was apparently referring to the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) site located in Gakona, Alaska. The facility's stated purpose is the study of the ionosphere and its use for communication. But several popular conspiracy theories say it is developing a superweapon with potential to cause natural disasters on a global scale, including earthquakes, climate change and reversal of the magnetic poles...."

The Lemming remembers the 'good old days:' when folks upset by Yankee imperialists, commie plots, and conspiracies to fluoridate water, were a staple in the news. In some circles, that sort of thing never seems to get old - and that's another topic.

Seriously? Let's Look at Getting to Mars

Bottom line, one Mars probe seems to be off to a pretty good start. Another: not so much. The Lemming would like to see both get to Mars - particularly since Fobos-Grunt might have sent back a soil sample.

Well, maybe two years from now - - -

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