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Hubble Takes Perfect New Pix & Other Space News – 10/31/08

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Just prior to the scheduled launch of the last Hubble Space Telescope’s repair/upgrade mission, an onboard data router failed.  The shuttle launch was delayed until next year.  Scientists and engineers worked to use an onboard backup (thank you, redundancy!).  That backup unit is up and running.  A test photo was released by NASA and things look real good!  Unfortunately, the already delayed upgrade mission was delayed a little more.  NASA wants to send up a replacement part to the unit that failed last month.  It won’t be ready for another six months.  That could delay NASA’s plans to reconfigure the launch pad to accomodate the next generation of launch vehicles.  Fortunately, Endeavour’s Nov. 14th launch to the International Space Station remains on schedule.

A Google Lunar X-Prize contestant is not only planning to send their craft to the Apollo 11 landing site, they’re planning to launch five additional missions for lunar polar exploration.  To win the Grand X-Prize ($20 million), a private company must achieve a series of goals by Dec. 31, 2010.  Astrobotic now wants to send it main craft to the moon in 2010, then two smaller rovers in 2011 and 2012.  An additional lander would also land in 2012, then another rover in 2013.  This is exactly the kind of plan I want to see: a medium-term, aggressive approach to lunar exploration.

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander entered an inactive safe mode late Tuesday.  Very cold overnight temperatures and a dust storm has reduced Phoenix’s ability to generate enough power to conduct full science.  It’s not supposed to be a permanent condition.  Phoenix’s primary mission phase ended in August.  It has had its mission extended ever since.  Eventually, Phoenix will not be able to power itself.

NASA’s shuttle replacement might come online one year sooner than originally planned.  Plans are being drawn up to try to move the first test launch date up from 2015 to 2014.  They will be finalized in December.  This news came out prior to NASA’s announcement that the Hubble upgrade mission was going to be delayed again.  As I wrote above, the launch pad needs to be reconfigured for the Orion vehicle launch aboard the Ares rocket.

Cassini is going to pass by Saturn’s mood Enceladus for the third time tomorrow.  A number of very cool things have come from the previous two flybys.

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