Listening for the Phoenix

Phoenix Lander Amid Disappearing Spring Ice

The Mars Odyssey orbiter will be listening for radio signals from the Mars Phoenix Lander. Having ceased communications near the end of 2008 with the onset of the Martian winter, the Phoenix lander is extremely unlikely to have survived, but if it somehow manages to come back to life with the start of the Martian spring, it will be sending out signals that Odyssey should be able to pick up. The Phoenix lander was not designed to survive the Martian winter, so it would be extremely impressive if Odyssey picks up signals from the lander: it really would be like a phoenix in more ways than one (the other way being a resurrection of a cancelled Martian lander project).

There most likely won't be any signals from the Phoenix lander, though, but this is still an opportunity to remember the impressive achievements it made.

Testing the escape

I just saw a video where the Attitude Control Motor for the Orion Crew Vehicle Launch Abort System was tested, and I was pretty impressed with how the exhaust of the rocket was controlled. On the other hand, since it's part of the escape system when something goes drastically wrong with a launch, I find myself hoping that it never actually needs to be used ...

Akatsuki to Venus

Japan will become the fourth "nation" after the United States, the Soviet Union, and the European Union (which isn't a nation, but saying "the 30th nation" sounds all wrong) to send a spacecraft to Venus. It will be the Venus Climate Orbiter AKATSUKI, which obviously will study the climate of Venus' carbon-dioxide-laden atmosphere.

They also happen to be sending an aluminum plate with messages from all over the world along with the spacecraft. If you want, you could send your own message to Venus. My own message was "Greetings from Blue Star to Gold Star" (I really would have liked to put a couple of "Wandering"s in there, but it wouldn't fit the 40 character limit). In return, I got a ticket for a ride on the Venus Climate Orbiter: valid for up to 3 Venus years after launch, but void if I were to get off during the journey. Now if I could just get to the launch pad in time, maybe I could hitch a ride ...

Message to Venus

LCROSS saw water

LCROSS infrared spectrum
LCROSS infrared spectrum

LCROSS crashed into the Moon last month, although the lack of a visible plume in the real-time video feed made the impact less exciting than it could have been. But the lack of a visible plume is hardly a failure, since LCROSS was sent to do science, not make a flashy impact.

And it looks like LCROSS has managed to find exactly what it was sent to find on the Moon. Analysis of the near-infrared and ultraviolet spectra as LCROSS passed through the plume kicked up by the impact of the Centaur rocket upper stage indicates that the plume contained water. And not the piddling amount of water that seems ubiquitously present on the rest of the Moon: there must be significant reservoirs of water at Cabeus crater. Just how much water there might be remains to be seen, as well as the identity of other compounds that appear to have been detected in the impact plume.

A glitch in Kepler

The Kepler spacecraft is supposed to continuously watch a hundred thousand stars to detect the slight dimming that would indicate the presence of a planet. The bad news is that the spacecraft has a few noisy electronic components: while Kepler should still be able to detect larger planets, the noise is enough that will be difficult to discover Earth-sized planets. The good news is that this problem can be fixed by software, and the software fix for Kepler should be in place by 2011.