The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer
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An experimental
German companion.
Current mission news: MGS (latest pictures!) + Cassini + Galileo + NEAR

Astro-E delivered into wrong orbit - contact lost: AFP.
An earlier report on the launch that took place at the 3rd attempt: Fla. Today. The 2nd delay: CNN, SpaceViews. Updates: Spacefl. Now. The mission: SpaceScience.
Update # 173 of February 9th, 2000, at 19:45 UTC
XMM's first results / "Mission 2000" a success / NEAR closing in on Eros / Picosatellites work! / SRTM countdown has begun / Russian ion engine plans / SOHO finds 100th comet / Silence from Mars / NASA's budget proposal / Asteroid 'scare' over

First images, spectra show "XMM-Newton's" strengths

The first pictures from ESA's new X-ray space observatory fully demonstrate the capabilities of the spacecraft's telescopes and its science instruments. The images were obtained between January 19th and 25th at the very start of the science payload commissioning process. The spacecraft viewed three regions of the sky: part of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), the Hickson Cluster Group 16 (HCG-16), and the star HR 1099: These targets were chosen because they all present a variety of X-ray extended and point sources and are very interesting regions. On the occasion of the publication of these first results, the telescope has also finally been given a real name: XMM-Newton.

Particularly spectacular is the color X-ray image of the 30 Doradus star forming region in the LMC, where stellar explosions are releasing newly manufactured elements, and new stars are being formed. The image is made so as to reveal the temperature of the X-ray emitting medium, with blue indicating the hottest regions, green the intermediate temperatures and red the coldest regions. Most of the 'blue' X-rays have not been observed before, and it is the collecting power of XMM - the largest of any X-ray observatory - that enables these observations. The white and blue arc-like formation just off the centre is a new object, with the appearance of a supernova remnant with its expanding glowing-hot gas producing X-ray emission as it collides with the interstellar medium. On the lower right of the picture is the remains of Supernova 1987A.

ESA Science News with links to all pictures. And why Newton is an appropriate name.
More XMM First Light information from the Max Planck Society.
Coverage by BBC, Space Daily, RP,, SPIEGEL, Discovery, CNN, NSU.
XMM News from ESA.
More than you ever wanted to know about XMM can be found in ESA Bulletin #100...

"Mission 2000" succeeds: Fregat qualified, reentry method works

The first qualification flight of the new Fregat ('Frigate' in English) upper stage on the Russian Soyuz rocket (see last Update story 5) was completed early on February 9th. It was the first time that the Fregat has flown on a Soyuz and represents a major milestone on the road towards the launch of ESA's four Cluster II satellites this summer. During the short mission, the Fregat performed two 'burns' within 1 1/2 hours of the Soyuz launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The first occurred within minutes of lift-off and placed the Fregat and its payloads into an elliptical orbit of approximately 200 x 600 km. A second burn followed when the upper stage was at its apogee in order to circularise the orbit at 600 km.

Once its main objective was achieved, the remainder of the Fregat mission was devoted to an innovative experiment involving a new Inflatable Re-entry and Descent Technology (IRDT) heat shield: This was the first time that such a lightweight, inflatable system had been tested in space. A small ESA experiment, known as 'Stone 2', was also carried out during re-entry. Three samples of different rocks were embedded in the heat shield on the IRDT demonstrator. By exposing them to the extreme heat of re-entry, scientists hoped to learn more about the processes that affect meteorites which have travelled all the way from Mars to the Earth.

After completing five orbits and two more engine firings, the Fregat and its IRDT dummy payload separated and began to re-enter the upper atmosphere. Both the small heat shield on the demonstrator and the large shield on the Fregat inflated at an altitude of 50 km and then functioned as parachutes to deliver their cargo safely back to Earth. About 17 minutes after the final Fregat burn, the upper stage and the demonstrator hit the flat Russian steppes at a velocity of 13 m/s; the recovery has since been hindered by bad weather and the lack of a homing beacon and will resume on Feb. 10th. The overall mission had lasted about eight hours.

Press Release by ESA and another Press Release on Mars Express' use of Fregat.
(Graphically overdesigned) IRDT Homepage from Germany.
Coverage by AFP,, Wired, ABC, RP, BBC.
More advance coverage from, RP.

Final trajectory correction no problem for NEAR

A slight "press on the pedal" on Feb. 8th has adjusted NEAR's flight path to Eros one last time time before the spacecraft's encounter with the asteroid on the 14th. The 23-second engine burn bumped NEAR from 29 to 35 km/h relative to Eros, and shifted the target point for its closet approach to the asteroid by 0.6 degrees. The maneuver was the second of two speed-and-trajectory adjustments the NEAR team designed just last week, after the craft went into "safe" hold. On February 9th NEAR crosses a milestone: Images of Eros from then on are at a higher resolution than has ever been achieved before - check the redesigned NEAR Homepage with further announcements frequently!

Story filed earlier

Tension rises as NEAR prepares for Eros orbit

"NASA needs a success," says one unnamed project scientist, "the pressure is on us to produce some scientific results," adds another: On Valentine's day NASA will try again to put the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft into an orbit around the asteroid Eros - a maneuver that failed 14 months ago during the first attempt (see Update # 115). Now the mission team is wiser and determined not to miss the second chance - which by itself is a rare opportunity in space research. The one-year delay has increased the total mission cost of $224 million by about $12 m.

In December 1998 NEAR almost had been given up for dead after a problem with an attempted rocket firing left the mission unable to complete its goal of going into orbit around asteroid Eros. Since then the spacecraft has been crawling back toward Eros (just Feb. 3rd, its speed was slowed to 29 km/h from 72 km/h), once again preparing to enter into orbit and make the first detailed exploration of an asteroid with a full complement of instruments. By Feb. 12th NEAR finally will be closer to Eros - about 1310 km away - than it was on Dec. 20th, 1998, when the rocket problem occurred. At that time, the highest resolution pictures of Eros yet can be expected.

The mission team is being very cautious the second time around: In recent weeks there have been two "rehearsals" in which instructions have been sent to the spacecraft, tested and verified. On Feb. 13th, 30 hours before entering orbit 200 km above Eros, the spacecraft will perform a low-phase flyby of the asteroid. Partly this is to make sure the commands to the spacecraft are keeping it healthy and safe. About 11 hours before the orbit maneuver, the spacecraft will pass directly between the asteroid and the sun at an angle that will erase shadows from Eros' surface, as seen from NEAR: This will permit its infrared spectrometer to measure the brightness of the surface in infrared wavelengths, for minerological studies.

At 15:33 UTC on Feb. 14, NEAR's main engine will burn to slow down the spacecraft, thrusting it into orbit around the asteroid - one hour later success should be confirmed. For the next three weeks NEAR will stay in a "loose, adjustable orbit" - the modest mass of the asteroid means that the spacecraft will be barely bound by gravity. Eventually the orbit will settle at 200 kilometers. By April the orbit will be lowered to 100 km, and by the end of May to 50 km, where it will remain for the rest of the year. After most of the mission's goals have been accomplished NEAR will go even closer, perhaps 5 km above the surface - and there is even a possibility that next January the decision will be made to land the spacecraft on the surface of Eros. (With Space News of Feb. 7th)

Trajectory now perfect: News Flash and Science Update of Feb. 8th.
New pictures: Eros then & now (1998 vs. 2000), a rotation movie with pix from Feb. 4th, revealing major landforms, the same images as still frames and the two faces of Eros.
JHU, Cornell, NASA and SpaceScience Press Releases of Feb. 8th. And when the world will know how the orbit insertion went.
Also interesting to know - the December 1999 mishap has still not been explained: story from January.
Coverage by Space Daily, Space Daily again and Space Daily one more time, SPIEGEL, Fla. Today, RP, CNN.

Other solar system news:
The NEAP commercial asteroid mission could be delayed and fly to another target than asteroid Nereus, SpaceDev's Jim Benson has said in a SpaceViews interview: It's more important for his company to have at least some NASA payloads (with emphasis on "pay" :-) on board.
Boeing & SpaceDev to end NASA "moonopoly" - the big and the small company just unveiled plans for what would be the first for-profit lunar launch and end NASA's 30-year monopoly on moon missions:
Why Deep Space 1 can't make it to Wilson-Harrington and only to comet Borrelly, despite the successful rescue of the mission after the star tracker failure - the new software cannot be fully loaded until May, so DS1 will not be able to resume thrusting with its ion drive until then, too late for it to veer itself onto a path that would allow it to fly past both the targets it had hoped to reach in 2001: Space Daily.
Ulysses ready for hot solar polar adventure - the joint ESA/NASA spacecraft to explore the region of space above the Sun's poles is poised on the edge of new discoveries as it prepares to pass over the poles of the Sun for the second time in its ten year lifetime: ESA Science News, Space Daily.

Smallest satellites ever launched placed in orbit

The pair of MEMS "picosatellites", connected with a tether, has been released from the OPAL mothership (see last update story 7), and effective two-way communications have been established. The two picosatellites measure 10 x 7.6 x 2.5 cm and weigh less than 200 grams each! Engineers have commanded the tiny satellites to switch to low-power mode except when they appear over the ground station in Menlo Park, CA; this is to conserve power. They are to transmit beacon signals when over the ground station. The satellites also have been commanded to exercise microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) radio frequency switches, which are the primary mission payload. Other MEMS devices are to be validated on subsequent picosat missions. The current mission also is designed to demonstrate the principles of how constellations of nanosatellites, slightly larger than picosats, will operate in the future. OPAL meanwhile will deploy four more pico-satellites over the next few weeks.
Aerosp. Press Release (Fla. Today version).
MEMS background info & links and the OPAL Operations status page.
Coverage by and again (an earlier JAWSAT status review).

Countdown for Endeavour under way again

Worries about a damaged wire didn't stop NASA from starting once more the countdown for the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission on Feb. 8th, with the launch planned for Feb. 11th between 17:30 and 19:40 UTC. After a thorough inspection, shuttle engineers determined that the scuffed cable, located in the forward skirt of Endeavour's left solid rocket booster, is safe for launch; a functional test of the booster ignitor's safe and arm device is scheduled to occur on Feb. 9th. Also, a GPS receiver issue is being worked. The receiver failed a self-test. There is a potential that the receiver - in the crew module - will have to be replaced but that is not a threat to launch; the receiver is to be used in tandem with the shuttle's Radar Topography payload. The weather is still expected to be good for Friday, with 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions.
Launch Journal (Fla. Today), Mission Status Center (Spaceflight Now), Mission Guide (SpaceRef).
The wire trouble and why it was minor.
KSC status of Feb. 7th.
Crew arrives back at KSC: Fla. Today.

Russia to lift a satellite to geostationary orbit by electric propulsion alone

Russian satellites have used electric propulsion for maintaining stability in orbit longer than Western models, and now Khrunishev wants to go one step further: In 2001 a satellite is to be launched into the usual elliptical geostationary transfer orbit - and then it will use its ion engine to move itself into the circular geostationary orbit! This has never been done before, and it will take many months because the thrust is so small. But on the other hand the engine is much lighter than a conventional rocket motor: The whole satellite weighs only 450 kg, while built the usual way it would have more than a ton. And then it couldn't even ride on the cheap Rockot vehicle that's foreseen for the launch. Space technology innovation made in Russia - it's still possible! (Space News of Feb. 7th, 2000)
More space technology:
X-34 gets a baking - the first major component of an experimental composite liquid oxygen tank for NASA's X-34 rocket plane has completed the curing process in an oversized oven at MSFC: MSFC Press Release, Space Daily.

SOHO discovers its 100th comet!

Launched 4 years ago as a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has not only revolutionized the science of the Sun: It has also revealed an amazing number of kamikaze comets plunging into the solar atmosphere, which help to make SOHO the most prolific comet finder in the history of astronomy (see also Update # 152 story 8). Calculations showing that a comet spotted by a Lithuanian astronomer on Feb. 4th is a previously unknown object have now made it the 100th comet discovered with the SOHO spacecraft. SOHO-100 is an ordinary comet, and so are two others that have appeared in the past few days.

The competition to find SOHO's 100th comet was keen. A German amateur astronomer, Maik Meyer of Frauenstein, Germany, discovered SOHO-98 and 99. On Feb. 5th, less than 24 hours after Kazimieras Cernis reported the candidate SOHO-100, Meyer found the candidate SOHO-101. On the same day and in the same LASCO images a member of the SOHO science team spotted the candidate SOHO-102 travelling ahead of 101. Computations have now validated the orbits for all three candidates and shown them to be bona fide comet discoveries. Other amateur astronomers have used the LASCO images to find comets as well.

ESA Science News, NASA Press Release, SpaceScience.
Coverage by CNN,
The SOHO Sungrazer Homepage and the origin of the Kreutz group (to which 90% of the SOHO comets belong, though not the latest three #100-102).

Other solar system news:
"Quasi-moons" are possible for Uranus and Neptune - minor bodies that have the same orbital periods as the planets but are not gravitationally bound (although they seem to 'circle' their planets like ordinary satellites): Quasi satellites homepage, an Astronomy story.

Again no signal from Mars, new attempt this week

Results from the listening windows on Friday, February 4, have not been conclusive: Both radio telescopes at Westerbork in the Netherlands and Jodrell Bank in the United Kingdom had operated optimally, but nothing has been found in the data to suggest transmissions from MPL. The radio telescopes in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and at Stanford University were to listen again on Feb. 8th; results are expected late in the week: Mars News, BBC,, AP, SPIEGEL, CNN, SpaceViews.

$14 billion budget for NASA proposed

President Clinton has proposed a $14 billion budget for NASA in fiscal year 2001, the first major increase in NASA's budget in several years - including $2.4 billion for space science, a 9% increase: details, Goldin's remarks and SpaceRef, CNN, Wired, Fla. Today, SpaceViews stories. President's Science Advisor addresses major space policy issues: SpaceRef.

New budget launches hunt for 'Shuttle: The Next Generation' - the agency wants to put $290 million into space transportation as part of a five-year, $4.5 billion Space Launch Initiative to spur private industry into developing a replacement for the space shuttle:, Aviation Now.

Major flare erupts on Sun

A major solar flare erupted on the north-east limb of the Sun on Feb. 5th - one of the largest and brightest optical flares of the current cycle and followed by the ejection of billions of tonnes of super-hot gas (not directed at Earth, though): SpaceScience, BBC, SPIEGEL, Discovery.

Jupiter's massive storms powered by the planet itself, not the Sun

Some thunderstorms on Jupiter closely resemble clusters of thunderstorms, called mesoscale convective complexes (MCCs), found on Earth. Contrary to previous belief, however, these MCCs develop from the intense heat emanating from Jupiter's core rather than from the Sun. And these MCC's drive the planet's weather system: Cornell Press Release, BBC story, Nature Science Update, EZ, RP, ExoScience.

VLT News: FORS2 commissioning period successfully terminated

The overall goal was to thoroughly test the functioning of the new instrument at the Kueyen telescope, its conformity to specifications and to optimize its operation at the telescope. FORS2 is now ready to be handed over to the astronomers on April 1st: ESO Press Release with some nice pictures.

Globalstar satellite constellation complete

A Delta 2 booster successfully launched four Globalstar satellites Feb. 8th from Cape Canaveral - the four Globalstar satellites, placed into orbits 920 km above the Earth, will serve as on-orbit spares to the 48 spacecraft currently in orbit. Globalstar is the only satellite mobile phone project that seems to work, while its two competitors Iridium and ICO are both in bankcruptcy: Space Daily, Fla. Today, Spaceflight Now,, SpaceViews. Why Globalstar was luckier: Fla. Today.

McCaw to bail out Iridium? Apparently the Teledesic co-founder has offered up to $600 million to purchase the bankcrupt company: NYT,, SpaceViews.

India shifts space policy, clearing way for ambitious science

The Indian government has recently decided to gradually hand over rocket building and satellite launching activities to - as far unnamed - private companies, so that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) can concentrate on its ambitious science and development ideas. Among the projects are improved propulsion systems, reusable launch vehicles - and a lunar orbiter (see Update # 169 story 3) for 2008. (Space News of Feb. 7th)

France may join Japan's Hope-X reusable launch vehicle program: Under a proposed accord NASDA and CNES would run joint tests with Hope-X models being dropped from a French balloon. (AW&ST of Feb. 7th, p. 40)

Another minimally hazardous asteroid come - and gone

For a few hours, asteroid 2000 BF19 had about one chance in a million of colliding with the Earth in 2022, but new observations have quickly eliminated the threat - an urgent call for observations had been heeded immediately by other astronomers, just as the discoverer of the potential danger had hoped: BF19 'homepage', Impact Risk page, CCNet of 7th, 8th and 9th.

The most unusual aspect about this latest 'case' was the amount of news coverage generated: = EZ, AP, SpaceViews, Discovery, RP, BBC, SPIEGEL (after the mini-scare was over), NYT, AP, RP, EZ, SPIEGEL (before the threat was gone).

More computer power for the Minor Planet Center

A grant has permitted the creation of a high-speed computer network for the MPC, the international clearing house for astronomical information based at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, MA. It will allow more rapid determination of the paths of newly discovered asteroids and comets, including those on possible crash courses with Earth: CfA Press Release.

Should military micro-satellites hunt down asteroids? A high-ranking U.S. Military official, speaking in a non-official capacity, says the hunt for potentially Earth-threatening space rocks should be more centralized, and the DoD could be a primary force behind this project: the essay (including some debate) and a story about it.

It's the same Pete Worden, BTW, who stars in the Mongolian meteor drama from 1998 where he's even seen in a picture ...

US team goes to Moscow for ISS check

A team from the US space agency will arrive in Moscow on Feb. 10th to check the progress of the project to launch the Zvezda module, part of the planned International Space Station. A date for the launch of the module should be fixed during their visit: AFP.

The U.S.-Russia feud - what's holding up the ISS? Will the international vision be sacrificed soon? AFP.

Two rare meteorites discovered

UK meteorite hunters have tracked down two extremely rare space rocks, with minerals (ringwoodite and majorite) that have never been seen in terrestrial rocks and yet probably make up most of our planet - they only form under extreme pressure: BBC.

Could there be Perseid storms in the future? The same model that was used to predict last year's Leonid meteor storm is hinting at possible high Perseids activity in 2004: Lyttinen special page and his meteor pages.

"Lunar impact" picture(s) all but withdrawn

The Cosmic Mirror has learned that the investigation of the alleged photographs of a gigantic impact on the Moon on Jan. 18 (see last Update, last story) by German planetologists at DLR has shown - as expected - that all the 'impact plumes' are internal reflexes of the optics. Parallel reports about visual observations of lunar transient events therefore are unrelated to the non-phenomenon.
  • Physicists recreate big bang conditions with quark gluon plasma creation at CERN: Press Release with many background links, ABC,, RP, BBC, NYT, SPIEGEL, AP stories.
  • Kasachstan drops Proton launch ban - next launch expected on Feb. 12th: SpaceViews, BBC.
  • More nice Ikonos images of famous landmarks: BBC.

  • Three satellites flying in triangle formation often spotted by amateur astronomers belong to the "NOSS" program:
  • Huygens tests S-band probe relay: ESA Science News.
  • Biggest parachute ever used in X-38 drop test in January: BBC, Space Daily.

  • New Hayden Planetarium suffering from "futuristic sterility", says a critic.
  • Rare Copernicus book stolen in St. Petersburg: BBC.
  • Faster European access to the Planetary Photojournal thanks to a mirror site in Germany: JPL Release.

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