Meanwhile, US sees success with James Webb Space Telescope and Mars missions.
Checking in on the Space Race this week, Russia had a fail! One of their rockets has crashed back to Earth after an unsuccessful deployment.
The Angara-A5 heavy-lift rocket was launched from the Plesetsk spaceport in Russia’s northwestern Arkhangelsk region on Monday, December 27. The launch was testing a new upper rocket stage, known as the Persei booster, according to the state-run TAS news agency.
Most space debris burns up on reentry to Earth’s atmosphere and poses an extremely minimal risk to humans, but it’s possible that larger parts could cause damage if they landed in inhabited regions.
But on Wednesday, US Space Command — which had tracked the rocket booster during reentry — said the rocket reentered the Earth’s atmosphere at 2:08 pm MST over the Southern Pacific Ocean. That’s 4:08 pm ET.
It may, however, be impossible to determine exactly where the debris landed.
Reports indicate a malfunction caused the rocket the inability to achieve a proper orbit.
The fall ended nine days aloft for Persei, which got stranded with a dummy payload during a test flight that launched on Dec. 27. Persei apparently dug its own grave, failing to restart as planned for a second engine burn that would have sent it from low Earth orbit to a much higher geostationary perch.
Persei was quite a large piece of space debris. At liftoff, it weighed about 21.5 tons (19.5 metric tons) here on Earth, but most of that was propellant. That fuel was likely vented during the stage’s stay in orbit, so the chunk that fell back to Earth probably tipped the scales at around 3.5 tons (3.2 metric tons), according to Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com.
Most of the rocket body almost certainly burned up in Earth’s atmosphere today, according to McDowell, who analyzes publicly available tracking data.
On the other hand, the US has had a good week of success with the James Webb Space Telescope.
The James Webb Space Telescope, which launched on Christmas Day, successfully completed the deployment of its 70-foot (21-meter) sunshield on Tuesday. This critical milestone is one of several that must occur for the NASA observatory to function properly in space, and having achieved it was a big relief for the Webb team.
“Unfolding Webb’s sunshield in space is an incredible milestone, crucial to the success of the mission,” said Gregory L. Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA Headquarters, in a statement. “Thousands of parts had to work with precision for this marvel of engineering to fully unfurl. The team has accomplished an audacious feat with the complexity of this deployment — one of the boldest undertakings yet for Webb.”
It’s one of the most challenging spacecraft deployments NASA has ever attempted, according to the agency.
Meanwhile, NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity is slated to make its first flight of 2022, which would be an impressive 19th trip for the unit. The past year has made significant gains in our understanding of Mars, courtesy of both Ingenuity and our rovers.
Perseverance is hunting for signs of ancient Mars life in the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, which harbored a big lake and a river delta billions of years ago. The six-wheeled robot is also collecting and caching samples that will be returned to Earth, perhaps as early as 2031, by a joint NASA-European Space Agency (ESA) campaign.
Perseverance carries 43 sample tubes and has sealed up six of them to date, mission team members have said.
The big rover didn’t travel to Mars alone; it flew with a 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) helicopter named Ingenuity attached to its belly. Shortly after the duo landed, Ingenuity embarked on five pioneering flights above Jezero’s floor, showing that aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the relative wispiness of the planet’s atmosphere. (Mars’ air is just 1% as dense as that of Earth at sea level.)
That was supposed to be it for the technology-demonstrating Ingenuity. But NASA granted the little chopper an extended mission, and it’s now flying scouting sorties for Perseverance. To date, Ingenuity has performed 18 flights on Mars, racking up more than 30 minutes of air time and covering 2.37 miles (3.81 km) of ground.
…The new arrivals aren’t the only robots studying Mars up close, of course. NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring the 96-mile-wide (154 km) Gale Crater since August 2012, for example, and the agency’s marsquake-detecting InSight lander recently marked three years on the Red Planet.
When 2021 started, I was flying through space at over 50,000 mph/80,000 kph. One (Earth) year later, my land speed is definitely slower – but my pace of discoveries is only picking up. So much more to come: https://t.co/pT3fCGkL1i pic.twitter.com/nYn0w3DY3C
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) December 29, 2021
Rounding out the news are images from China’s Mars orbiter Tianwen-1, which snapped a series of ‘selfies’ taken by a small camera that is released into orbit.
Four new images have been released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), showing Tianwen-1 encircling the Red Planet, to mark the new year.
One shows a full view of Tianwen-1 in space with the Red Planet’s north pole in the background, while another shows an impressive close-up of its reflective gold body and solar antenna wing.
To capture the images, Tianwen-1 jettisoned one of its small cameras, which beamed back its snaps via Wi-Fi.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) January 3, 2022
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