Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Risky Reboot + The Week Ahead

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Artist's concept of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter using its sounding radar to probe beneath the Martian surface to see if water ice is present at depths greater than one meter. Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA is planning to update the memory on a Mars orbiter this week. Engineers will upload new data to the main computer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) during a one-week hiatus in science observations. The data updates tables on the spacecraft that tell the spacecraft where to point its antenna after a reboot. The tables, unchanged since launch in 2005, currently only run until July 2016. The update is risky since the tables are in part of the computer that also contains files for MRO’s operating system. [NASA/JPL]


More News

The Martian is still stranded atop the box office charts. The film once again finished in first place in the U.S. over the weekend, bringing in $11.4 million as new releases did poorly. The Martian has finished first in the four of the five weekends since its U.S. release, and has now brought in $182.8 million domestically and $428.4 million internationally. [Hollywood Reporter]

United Launch Alliance won a NASA contract to launch a communications satellite. ULA will launch the TDRS-M satellite on an Atlas 5 in October 2017 under a contract awarded Friday valued at $132.4 million. The contract was the first NASA awarded since it certified SpaceX’s Falcon 9 for medium-risk missions. The contract’s value is $55 million less than one NASA awarded in 2010 for a Mars mission using the same Atlas variant. [Spaceflight Now]

An Atlas 5 successfully launched a GPS satellite Saturday. The Atlas 5 401 lifted off at 12:13 p.m. Eastern time and deployed the GPS 2F-11 satellite a little more than three hours later. The launch, previously scheduled for Friday, was delayed 24 hours because of a pad issue. The satellite is the next to last in the Block 2F series of GPS spacecraft built by Boeing. [CBS]

BAE Systems is investing in a British company developing an advanced propulsion system. BAE said it will take a 20 percent stake in Reaction Engines Ltd. for £20.6 million ($31.9 million). Reaction Engines has been working for a quarter-century on Sabre, an advanced combined cycle air-breathing rocket engine designed for use on a reusable spaceplane called Skylon. The British government also plans to give Reaction Engines a £60 million ($93 million) grant to support work on Sabre. Independent reviews have validated the Sabre concept, but Reaction Engines has made only slow progress on developing the engine. [BBC]

Boeing is building a mobile broadcasting satellite for a Chinese company. Boeing won a contract last week to build the Silkwave-1 satellite for New York Broadband LLC, a U.S.-based company linked to CMMB Vision Holdings Ltd., a subsidiary of China Telecom. The Boeing 702 satellite will provide mobile communications services in China and surrounding regions, and is scheduled for launch in 2018. [SpaceNews]

A GAO report is critical of efforts by the U.S. military to develop responsive launch vehicles. The report, issued late last week, noted that none of several vehicle projects had advanced beyond the development stage, raising questions about their future prospects. The report came out as the Air Force delayed the launch of one of those systems, Super Strypi, from Hawaii. The launch is now planned for no earlier than Monday. [SpaceNews]

NASA is starting the process of identifying landing sites for future human Mars missions. A workshop last week brought together scientists and mission planners to discuss what qualifies as an ideal landing site for human missions not expected to reach Mars before the mid-2030s. NASA’s current plans center on a concept called an “exploration zone” that contains areas of scientific interest as well as resources to support multiple crewed missions to the same region. [SpaceNews]

China plans to launch a series of new scientific satellites starting late this year. Wu Ji, director of the National Space Science Center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said a mission to study dark matter is on schedule to launch later this year, followed by a microgravity research satellite in 2016. China is also working on satellites scheduled for launch next year to study hard x-rays and perform quantum science experiments. [Xinhua]

LEGO won’t be giving the International Space Station an anniversary gift. The company declined Friday to market a model of the station that had received 10,000 votes on its website, the threshold needed to win consideration for product development. LEGO officials didn’t give a reason why it decided not to pursue the station model, which would have involved more than 1,000 pieces. The announcement came just before NASA and the other ISS partners celebrate the 15th anniversary of the arrival of the station’s first long-term crew. [collectSPACE]

The Week Ahead

Monday:

Monday-Thursday:

  • Santa Barbara, Calif.: The K2SciCon will discuss the science performed in the first year of the Kepler spacecraft’s K2 extended mission.

Tuesday-Wednesday:

Tuesday-Thursday:

Wednesday:

  • Washington: The Washington Space Business Roundtable holds a luncheon with guest speaker Manson Brown, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction and Deputy Administrator for NOAA.

Wednesday-Thursday:

Thursday-Friday:

  • Sydney: The 2nd Off-Earth Mining Forum will discuss concepts for extracting resources from the moon, asteroids and elsewhere in the solar system.

Friday:

  • International Space Station: NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren will perform a spacewalk starting at 7:15 a.m. Eastern time to perform maintenance work outside the station.