Good and bad space news

By Phil Plait | August 29, 2009 9:26 am

Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.

The good news is that the Space Shuttle Discovery had an apparently flawless flight to orbit last night after a launch at one minute before midnight. It’s carrying a crew member and supplies (including the COLBERT) to the International Space Station. You can read more about the mission on NASA’s STS-128 page.

The bad news is that it looks like the Indian Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter has gone silent, and is presumed dead. It was not yet halfway through its two year mission, but has done quite a bit of interesting science, including looking for water buried under the surface at the Moon’s poles. Emily Lakdawalla with The Planetary Society has more details.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Space
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Comments (32)

  1. Awwwww….drat.

    Still, that’s good news about Discovery.

  2. It must have found proof that we never went to the Moon, so they had to silence it. :-)

    (Of course, how it got to the Moon to find proof that we never went there is a topic to be avoided.)

    Oh well. I hope they got enough data already. C’est la vie.

  3. Considering that India’s space program is still in its infancy, the Chandrayaan is a huge success. It was able to successfully orbit the Moon (no small feat) and take tens of thousands of photographs, somewhere around 74,000?, before going dark. India should be proud of what it has accomplished in space so far.

  4. Kevin

    And in other bad space news, I see that the fires out in California are threatening JPL and Mt. Wilson.

  5. MadScientist

    Colbert got into space – but didn’t NASA hear us saying “TOILET”, not “TREADMILL”?

  6. awesomekip

    Did they get the results of the bi-static radar experiment before contact was lost?

  7. Brandon

    It ran into an alien spaceship, just like the beginning of “Independence Day”. We should be being attacked any second now.

  8. Scott R

    With both Chandrayaan-1 and LCROSS problems, it has not been a good week for lunar exploration.

  9. IVAN3MAN

    #6. awesomekip: “Did they get the results of the bi-static radar experiment before contact was lost?”

    From the Indian Space Research Organization press release:

    Before the experiment commenced, LRO executed a minor manoeuvre to adjust its orbit to the well-established Chandrayaan-1 orbit. The data was collected for about 4 minutes. MiniSAR of Chandrayaan-1 was fine tuned for making observations in terms of pulse width, range rate sampling as well as its 200 km orbit height. The operations went on as planned.

    All Chandrayaan-1 operations related to Bi-Static experiment were executed from Spacecraft Control Centre (SCC) at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC), Peenya. Science Data was immediately downloaded over Johns Hopkins Universitys Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the ground station that had the visibility. Later today morning (August 21, 2009), during Chandrayaan-1s visibility over Indian Deep Space Networks antennas at Byalalu, near Bangalore, the data was again obtained along with spacecrafts orientation information when Bi-Static observations were performed.

    […]

    Observations from today’s experiment are being analysed by scientists from ISRO and NASA.


  10. Buzz Parsec

    I for one would like to be the first to welcome our alien lunar probe destroying overlords…

  11. Hopefully we can figure out out what happened to it. There’s much to be learned from failure.

  12. Flying sardines

    Like hopefully how NOT to repeat the same mistakes. ūüėČ

    A pity – but Chandrayaan did accomplish quite a bit and demonstrate the Indian space agencies capabilities. They should be proud of what its done – & trying to outdo that next time. (& I’m sure they are & will. ūüėČ )

    One less positive reflection though – is Chandrayaan‘s silent robotic corpse now the first piece of lunar space junk?

    Or did the Apollo, Surveyor, Ranger, Lunik, etc .. missions already leave some of that? (Think most of them either ended in independent solar orbit like Lunik I a.k.a. Mechta (“dream”) or crashed on the Moon’s surface deliberately like most of the ‘Saturn V’ third stages.

    Anyone got any idea what will happen to the dead Indian probe now? Will it just orbit the Moon forever or crash into it eventually? With the super thin (an understatement times lots!) Lunar atmosphere I fear the former seems more likely but hope I’m wrong.

    Good to see ‘Discovery’ is up, up & away though. Well done & best wishes to its astronauts from me and heres hoping for another smooth & successful shuttle flight.

    (Not that its likely any shuttle astronauts will be reading this … or will they? ūüėČ )

  13. Petrolonfire

    @ 9 IVAN3MAN:

    Before the experiment commenced, LRO executed a minor manoeuvre to adjust its orbit to the well-established Chandrayaan-1 orbit.

    So could they have collided? ūüėČ

    Unlikely I know since they call it ‘space’ for a reason.

    Still I’d have thought these separate spacecraft would always keep each others orbits clear & not try to share them – sounds like risking trouble needlessly!

  14. Porky Pine

    Oh good. As soon as SC gets back from vacation, he’s going to crow about the ISS module. I can hardly wait.

  15. Ummmm, Phil, I think I found out what happened to the Indian Probe:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HArUmqqiL0s

  16. rohit

    Considering the time and money we Indians can afford for space programs, Chandrayaan-1 is really a great step. But the bad news is that India (ie ISRO) does so little to interest the general public in its space programs. Very less photos taken by Chandrayan-1 made it to the TV and newspapers and children here know almost nothing about it :(

  17. Jack Mitcham

    I blame the Sycorax. (The Doctor Who race, not the Shakespeare character or the moon of Uranus.)

  18. Levi in NY

    @Flying sardines:

    Now I’m no expert here, but I recall hearing somewhere (Astronomy Cast?) that the Moon’s gravity has enough irregularities that lots of corrections need to be made to keep something in orbit around it. I’m willing to bet Chandrayaan’s fate is to crash into the Moon. Can anyone else confirm this?

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Well, that sucks! But India showed all of us what a creative nation can do.

    Rest in pieces, Chandrayaan-1. [I assume all close moon orbiters will eventually crash due to the gravity inhomogeneities?!]

    @ Flying Sardines, Levi:

    Will it just orbit the Moon forever or crash into it eventually?

    Hopefully someone in the know will tell us.

    Meanwhile, from a Wikipedia page with references:

    The lunar mascons alter the local gravity in certain regions sufficiently that low and uncorrected satellite orbits around the Moon are unstable on a timescale of months or years. This acts to distort successive orbits, causing the satellite to ultimately impact the surface. [From “Mass concentration”.]

  20. smoothn00dle

    By reading this, I just released how much Western support are they getting… 6 out of 11 instruments are from EU and NASA. The data relay center is at John Hopkin Uni.. and India still fail…

  21. Luke in Charleston

    Levy, you’re right about the instability of lunar orbits. At low altitudes, the gravitational irregularities tend to cause a spacecraft’s orbit to become successively more and more eccentric (thinner and thinner ellipse) until it augurs into the ground. At 200 km altitude, the ISRO is predicting that the spacecraft will impact in about 1000 days. At high lunar orbits, a spacecraft tends to be tugged out of the orbit by the Earth.

  22. Why would the Moon’s gravity have irregularities? Unless it was hollowed out in some places?

    So Aliens knocked out both LCROSS and Chandrayaan 1 in the same week? Something must have upset them. Guess planning to bomb the Moon with LCROSS not such a good idea after all.

  23. hammster (#22) there are concentrations of mass underneath the Moon’s surface, called mascons. A google search will reveal much about them.

  24. Kevin

    @hammster (#22)…

    LCROSS is still out there happily doing it’s thing. It lost some fuel (thanks to the aliens), but it’s still on it’s suicide mission for October.

  25. dibin

    As an indian i feel proud of this achievement. Also india is not a rich country and cant afford to have many failures in the space missions. ISRO runs on a very thin budget with the scientists drawing 1/10th of the salaries NASA and all offers. Wish all the very best for ISRO.

  26. Sumit

    India’s moon mission will help it learn a lot. I am sure its next mission will be successful. and infact this is also quite successful , most of the nations failed in their first moon attempt…… Just India’s scientist should keep getting Goverment support.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, quoting Wikipedia:

    The lunar mascons alter the local gravity in certain regions sufficiently that low and uncorrected satellite orbits around the Moon are unstable on a timescale of months or years.

    Who are these “lunar mascons”, and what can we do to get them to stop messing around with the Moon’s gravity? Can’t Commander Straker do something about them?

    :-)

  28. mike burkhart

    Nasa had a lot of space probes fail most books only list the sucesses and disregerd the falures for example out of 9 ranger probes only 3 worked
    space exploreation is a trail and error project

  29. @kevin (#24)

    The Aliens still likely have plans for LCROSS’s demise. Let’s hope they have a sense of humor and reprograms it to orbit around Kim Kardashian’s home and image her orbs.

  30. Flying sardines

    @ 18. Levi & 19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM :

    Thanks! I’m kind of glad to hear that. Cluttering up Earth’s orbit is bad enough. ūüėČ

  31. mombasa

    By reading this, I just released how much Western support are they getting… 6 out of 11 instruments are from EU and NASA. The data relay center is at John Hopkin Uni.. and India still fail…
    …………….

    smoothnoodle, that is not called help, it’s called international cooperation. something we all could learn.
    in the period of planning chandrayan ISRO declared it was putting aside some payload for international instrument packages. the five from india already covered a number more than what most lunar probes carry, but since this was to be one of the few probes visiting moon in sometime, there were a lot of interesting packages around the world which didn’t have a probe to ride to the moon.
    one might even say it was a favour granted to NASA and ESA by ISRO !
    and the john hopkins data center was used for that particular experiment, and that too because it was nearest visible from chandrayan at the time.

    trust me all space vehicles use tracking centres from around the world, not just chandrayan.
    oh, and NASA has managed more and larger failures, that is not a commentary on their competence !

  32. John

    @ #20

    Smoothnoodle,

    The 6 instruments which you are mentioning were just payloads. Just think of a courier delivery van and you will understand what it is. They have done us a favor by carrying our stuff. Hope this arrangement continues as this benefits all involved. Good job Indians, way to go..

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