The Cosmic Mirror

of News events across the Universe

Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer, Skyweek - older "Mirrors" in the Archive - and find out what the future might bring!

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Current mission news: MGS (science!) + Cassini + Galileo + Prospector

The next MEPCO is coming ... to Bulgaria, in early August, 1999!
For details on this astronomical conference just before the total solar eclipse click here!

New: every page on two servers, in Europe and the U.S.!
Click here for updates from the search for Liberty Bell 7!
Live from the world's most secret launch site!
Watch the launch of the German X-ray satellite ABRIXAS (see article below)
on a Russian COSMOS rocket in Kapustin Yar
live on the net on April 28 at 20:20-40 UTC:
Live Event, Webcam, Background.

Update # 127 of April 27th, 1999 at 19:55 UTC

Mars Global Surveyor: Antenna partially stuck!

But the mapping mission continues on April 29

Despite a malfunction of the mechanics of the high-gain antenna, the mapping mission of the Mars Global Surveyor will continue on April 29 with the antenna in a fixed position: Some obstruction prevents it from moving freely. On May 6, when Mars and the Earth are at favorable angles from each other, the spacecraft will return to a normal mapping mission that will use the antenna in its steerable mode to send continuous data to Earth. A normal mapping mission is possible until February 2000, when the geometry between Mars and Earth again becomes unfavorable: The MGS would need to return to mapping with the antenna in a fixed position if the obstruction has not been resolved.

It had only gone well for 11 days: On April 4th the mapping mission of the Mars Global Surveyor had started in earnest, with the high gain antenna deployed, the spacecraft's instruments pointing towards Mars all the time (while the antenna tracked the Earth), and data coming to us "from a firehose", as a NASA scientist put it. But on April 15, the antenna's hinge suddenly got stuck, sending the spacecraft into a contingency mode. There are two hinges at the end of the boom that connect to the high-gain antenna. One hinge, called the azimuth hinge, moves the antenna from side to side, the other hinge up and down.

The azimuth hinge appears to have stopped moving midway between its parked and earth-tracking position. On April 19, the spacecraft was no longer in the contingency mode, and that afternoon flight controllers turned the entire spacecraft to point the high-gain telecommunications antenna toward Earth. On April 21st flight controllers moved the hinge one-half of a degree from side to side. The information from the spacecraft shows that the hinge moves freely in one direction, but it's motion appears to be obstructed in the opposite direction. (From the Status Reports of Apr. 16 to 23)

Status Reports of April 16, April 19, April 21 and April 23.
MGS Homepage

Other Mars News:
The first sun dial on Mars will fly on the Mars Surveyor Lander of 2001: Details are described in press releases from Cornell, Washington and JPL, news coverage from BBC and Spacer.
Mars reaches Opposition on April 24st and is closest to Earth on May 1st: Some background from NASA.
Do you believe in 'nanobes'? That's what Australian scientists call extremely small cell-like brought up from kilometers below the sea floor - which cannot live theoretically, but seem to grow and multiply under lab conditions. This controversial discovery,if confirmed, would have far-reaching consequences for anything from the origin of life on Earth and Mars (and elsewhere) to medicine. The Homepage of the Nanobes, a Press Release, and Stories from the New Scientist (critical), the BBC and Microscopy.

New X-ray satellite ready to go!

It doesn't have the clout of the giant X-ray observatories Chandra (NASA) or XMM (ESA), but it will still play an important role in high-energy astronomy - and it is a worthy successor of Germany's ROSAT satellite that has mapped the X-ray sky in unprecedented quality from 1990 til 1999. ABRIXAS, "A BRoad band Imaging X-ray All-sky Survey", is again a German national project, but much cheaper: Satellite and launch vehicle add up to just 45 million German marks. The mission: to conduct a survey of the complete sky at higher energies than ROSAT could see and with much higher spectral resolution.

ABRIXAS' planned launch at 20:30 UTC on April 28th will also make space history: It's the first commercial launch from Kapustin Yar, a Russian launch site only used for military purposes so far. The launcher will be a Russian COSMOS rocket (that will also carry a small Italian data relay satellite), which has a good record. The unusual arrangement was part of the package deal the German space agency DLR had struck with the main contractor OHB: We tell you what we want, you deliver to us a spacecraft in orbit. Oridinarly the spacecraft gets delivered on the ground and the launch is negotiated separately.

Three German astronomical institutes will be analyzing the data ABRIXAS is supposed to deliver in the next three years. They will create a catalog of perhaps 10 000 sources in the 0.3 to 11 keV energy band (good for the planning of pointed observations for Chandra and XMM) and look for transient phenomena (such as gamma ray burster afterglows) as well. ABRIXAS has 7 telescopes (each consisting of 27 nested Wolter optics) that focus onto the same big CCD chip (which is identical to one used in XMM). Don't expect first light until one month after launch, though: The satellite must outgas for a while before the cooled CCD can be turned on. (Based on a news conference in Bonn, Germany, on April 26th)

Watch the launch live on the net! Look at the top of the page for the links.
Homepages at

Kapustin Yar (more info from Concentric and FAS).
COSMOS rocket.

Did a man pay $100m for a Mir ticket?

Is he the Deus ex Machina to save the Mir space station from being dumped into the Pacific this year? The company that operates the station says that a British businessman will pay an astounding $100 million to fly to the station later this year - but the man himself insists he will get a free ride! Energia officials claim that Peter Llewelyn, a 51-year-old British businessman who lives in the U.S., will pay $100 million to fly to Mir and spend a week on the space station this August, when the current crew is scheduled to leave. But Llewellyn told BBC News Online that he will not pay any money to fly on Mir. He said he would make a trip into orbit to raise publicity and sponsorship for a hospital he intends to build in Moscow.

If the money does arrive, it could pay for up to a year's worth of Mir operations. Energia president Yuri Semionov said at a press conference on April 26 that the annual cost for operating Mir had fallen from $250 million to $100 million, primarily due to the devaluation of the Russian ruble. $100 million for a ticket is an amazing price: In 1990 a Japanese TV company paid $12 million to fly one its journalists on Mir for a week. A Moscow bank paid $10 million around the same time to pay for Britain's Helen Sharman to spend a week on the station. And such a sum was often quoted as the 'typical' price of a one week ticket to Mir, including a year's worth of basic training in Russia. (Space Views and BBC Online of April 27 etc.)

(Confusing) news coverage from BBC Online, ABCNEWS and SpaceViews.
Earlier Mir stories: Station to stay in orbit until 2000 ( BBC on that); orbit raised again; renewed talk about private investors, after the first candidates had bailed out.
"Keep Mir Alive!" campaign.

Ikonos 1 launched, lost?

A new commercial hi-res Earth observing satellite was launched today on an Athena 2 rocket, but at this point no contact to the spacecraft has been established: news and updates from Florida Today and SpaceViews.

Landsat's first image has been published on 'Earth Day' (April 22nd): Some background from NASA and the Landsat image gallery.

Russian ICBM launches British satellite

UoSAT 12 is the first commercial payload for a de-militarized former Russian ICBM: Press Release, SpaceViews.

What life in Baikonur is like was experienced first-hand recently by ESA staff: their report.

Keck Adaptive Optics in Action

Some unusual hi-res sky views, including the surfaces of asteroids and Saturn's moon Titan can be found here, while details of the instrument are here.

Eta Carinae doubles brightness

The strange Southern star has gone up by a factor of 2 since 1997 and is brighter than any time the last 130 years: IAUC.

The oldest map of the Moon

has been identified in a tomb in Ireland - by famous planetary cartographer Phil Stooke. He says the 5000 years old carved lines represent the main lunar maria: a BBC story.

Comet Lee predictions:

A new comet discovered during a star party in Australia might become visible with 7th mag. this summer for Northerners as well: IAUC with a first orbit; a preview from Skyhound.

In a Nutshell:

New big radio array in Chile apparently named "ALMA": ABC.

Hubble's 3rd gyro has failed completely and the satellite's pointing control is now w/o redundancy: BBC. New (old) HST views of Io: STScI, CNN.

Still waiting for the next Delta III launch: articles and updates from Florida Today.

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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
(send me a mail to!), Skyweek