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 updated 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.!
Update # 129 of May 7th, 1999, at 20:15 UTC

Delta III fails again; 2nd stage shuts down early

The disturbing series of launch failures and satellite losses that began one month ago continues: The 2nd launch of the new Delta III rocket on the morning of May 5th (UTC) which once again was carrying a real satellite as payload, was a failure like the first one. This time the 2nd stage shut down too soon when it was firing for the 2nd time. The first firing had gone as planned, but the 2nd one stopped abruptly after just one second (instead of more than two minutes). The big Orion 3 telecommunications satellite and its attached second stage then slowly tumbled 3 times before the rocket's guidance system righted the craft. The satellite, however, was left in a much lower-than-intended orbit, and it is unclear whether it can be put to any use there.

The reason for the IUS failure on April 9 during a Titan launch has meanwhile been traced back to a staging problem. At 6 h 30 m after liftoff, Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the IUS were scheduled to separate. Telemetry shows several anomalous events that occurred during the separation sequence. Specifically, although two separation break wires indicate separation had occurred, a separate connector continued to carry signals, indicating the separation was not complete. The difficult task now is to determine precisely what happened and why this sequence of events occurred. (AFSC News Release May 6) No news are available yet on the investigation into the 2nd Titan failure of the month when a Centaur misfired.


Boeing's news releases and other information on the botched launch.
Delta 3 Homepage
Complete Florida Today coverage.
SpaceViews, MSNBC, ABCNEWS coverage.

In the wake of the string of mishaps the launch of GOES-L has been delayed: The newest NOAA weather satellite was to have flown on an Atlas with a Centaur upper stage, similar to the one that malfunctioned on the last Titan.

Still some life left in ABRIXAS

Flight controllers are far from abandoning the damaged ABRIXAS X-ray satellite (see last update): While the connection between the solar arrays and the battery is broken, the spacecraft is still getting some power directly from the arrays. But at the moment that is not nearly enough to fully start up all the essential systems on board: Ground controllers do get weak radio signals from ABRIXAS every time the satellite tries to wake up, the Cosmic Mirror has learned from a high-ranking German space official today, but every time the systems quickly fail again and no ground commands are accepted by the spacecraft.

The hope is now that in late June, when the solar arrays will receive much more sunlight than now, the start-up process will continue further. Ground controllers will then try to upload a software patch that allows for a quicker start - and then tell the spacecraft to change the settings of the batteries. It is possible that only one cell is damaged and the others can still be used: That could even permit the sky survey to begin. If, however, no battery loading is possible, just some basic experiments involving the advanved CCD system would take place.

The DLR official put the chances for a recovery of ABRIXAS at well below 50 percent, though - in which case the company that made it (and was to formally 'deliver' the satellite one month after launch) would have to repay the German space agency an unspecified amount of money as a 'malus'. Otherwise OHB would have received a bonus of 2 million DEM. This fixed-prize, bonus & malus system is widely used with commercial satellites but rather unusual with science spacecraft.


Updates from the ABRIXAS scientists ("the loss of the mission would be a tragedy").

A related story:
The next X-ray spacecraft after Chandra and XMM could be XEUS, the X-ray Evolving Universe Mission, that ESA might propose as a cornerstone for the science program: an update.
Space Telescopes for the Visible:
About June 30, NASA's GSFC will award two $12 million contracts for competing designs for the Next Generation Space Telescope. The contracts are part of an innovative procurement process: GSFC Press Release, NGST Homepage, NGST Origins Page.
A bold proposal for a Big Occulting Steerable Satellite that could block off the light of distant stars on demand and ease the observation of their planets etc. is taking shape: the BOSS Homepage and a detailled paper.

Galileo flies by Callisto, survives glitch

NASA's Galileo spacecraft team members are all smiles after Galileo proved to be a star pupil by successfully demonstrating specially designed, newly installed software and saving the flyby of Jupiter's pockmarked moon Callisto on May 5th. During previous flybys of Jupiter's moons, a recurring electrical glitch caused the spacecraft computer to reset and enter "safing" mode, shutting down all non-essential functions until ground controllers could restore normal operations.

The Galileo team had since pooled engineering and problem-solving talents to develop special software, known as a "bus reset patch." The name refers to Galileo's "data bus," which transfers information to various parts of the spacecraft. The software was designed to teach Galileo to recognize symptoms of the glitch and correct the problem itself, without entering safing mode. That was put to the test twice on Monday, May 3, when the glitch popped up as Galileo was approaching Callisto.

Galileo quickly diagnosed the problem, determined there was no threat to spacecraft health, and decided for itself not to enter safing mode. This allowed all spacecraft and scientific functions to continue uninterrupted, with Galileo snapping pictures and gathering observations from an altitude as close as 1322 kilometers above Callisto. The flyby was also part of maneuvers to bring Galileo's orbit closer to Jupiter and to reach Io eventually. (JPL Press Release # 38 of May 5, 1999)


JPL Press Release.
Background story, SpaceViews preview.
Earlier story: Galileo comes out of solar conjunction.

Mars Global Surveyor back at work

The mapping mission of the MGS has resumed despite the problems with steering the high-gain antenna. New pictures and the Mission Status of Apr. 30.

MGS magnetometer findings hint at ancient plate tectonics on Mars! Many more details from Science, Science again, NASA, ABC, NYT and BBC.

Meanwhile the closest approach of Mars to Earth is over - and the International Mars Watch has yielded tons of pictures, mainly CCD images. A series of HST observations of Mars ends today.

Mars Rovers: A trial run for the 2003 rover is underway with "FIDO" on Earth. And students can get involved with the 2001 rover, controlling its rover and robotic arm.

Hubble shoots galaxy by popular demand

Space Telescope Science Institute astronomers are giving the public chances to decide where to aim the Hubble Space Telescope. Guided by 8000 Internet voters, Hubble has been used to take a close-up, multi-color picture of the most popular object from a list of candidates, the extraordinary "polar-ring" galaxy NGC 4650A: Here is the picture!

In a Nutshell

The deadly tornadoes of Oklahoma: Here's how NOAA's satellites saw the clouds that spawned them. / NASA scientists invent software to improve video images: VISAR was written by a solar physicist and a meteorologist - but it could help law enforcement and everyday video users: NASA report,CNN story. / 30 top discoveries from ESA spacecraft about the Universe are featured in a new (real and online) booklet.


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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer
(send me a mail to dfischer@astro.uni-bonn.de!), Skyweek