In 2016, several amazing feats of space exploration took place. Here are just some of those that made your heart beat faster.
It was a busy year in the solar system. Some ships crashed on distant planets, while others were discovered after they were listed as lost forever. And some interesting things began to happen with new missions, including the study of Jupiter and experiments on the utility of inflatable structures in outer space.
1) Found: Phil
Phil ceased to function after separation from the main spacecraft Rosetta in November 2014. The small descent vehicle bounced off the surface at the first contact with comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko and flew uncontrollably for two whole hours. Then he found shelter for resting in a place too shaded to replenish the battery with solar energy. Phily captured several hours of scientific material, went into hibernation and gave only a few signals through months of silence. And then the European Space Agency refused to attempt to contact the device.
Since Rosetta’s cameras didn’t have enough permission to take off Phila’s landing site, no one could have decided exactly where he was. But that all changed when Rosetta was in the month of a planned landing on a comet. In September, the ship’s orbit was just 2.7 km from the surface, and Phil was discovered in one of the proposed landing zones.
2) Found (then lost again): STEREO-B
After 22 months of silence, NASA finally heard the signals from the lost ship. One of the twins of the Solar Observatory of Earth Connections (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories - STEREO-B) stopped transmission in October 2014. And in August of this year, NASA's Deep Space Network finally tuned into a spacecraft.
Unfortunately, NASA cannot restore it because it is uncontrollable and far away from the Earth (two distances from Earth to Sun). With limited data, the agency attempted to stabilize the spacecraft, but the statement said that one of the engines was not working as planned (probably frozen). NASA last heard a signal from STEREO-B on September 23, but attempts to communicate continue.
3) Lost: Schiaparelli
Mars is a difficult place to land. Do not believe? Just ask any group that tried to send the lander for many years, and they have not succeeded (for example, NASA, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency - ESA). ESA was convinced of the complexity of the example of the failed landing of Beagle2 in 2003. It turned out that Schiaparelli’s attempt was also unsuccessful.
Schiaparelli separated from the ExoMars orbit and began its descent on October 19. At first everything went according to plan, but suddenly something happened, and the device crashed. The reasons have not yet figured out. Fortunately for ESA, NASA, thanks to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, was able to film the crash site. More images are planned with better visibility.
4) Lost: Hitomi / ASTRO-H / New X-ray Telescope (NeXT)
Hitomi was an X-ray astronomy satellite for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which was supposed to monitor high-energy processes throughout the universe. The spacecraft proceeded to the mission, as planned, on February 17. But constant communication with him was lost on March 26th.
The investigation found that the spacecraft probably had problems with the pointing system. She ordered Hitomi to spin when he was stable. This led to other reactions and caused problems. They made the ship spin so fast that it just fell apart.
5) Lost: Falcon 9 + Amos-6 rocket
On September 1, the SpaceX Falcon 9 company was on the site and performed a standard statistical fire test before launching the Amos-6 (Israeli communications satellite). The rocket exploded, dragging the satellite with him. But fortunately, on Cape Canaveral, the space launch complex 40 was without casualties.
The final cause is still trying to find. There are suggestions that the problem could be in helium in the second stage of the liquid oxygen tank. Perhaps it all happened because of the method of transferring helium to the tank.
6) Lost (almost): Tyangun-1
Tyangun-1 was the first space station in China. But not a full-fledged station, but a small prototype to expand its space program in the future. She began working as a solid station in September 2011 and received three spacecraft: Shenzhou 8 (automatic), Shenzhou 9 (with crew) and Shenzhou 10 (with crew). The station worked for more than four years (doubled its estimated lifespan), and is currently falling into orbit and then falling to Earth. China expects it to fall in early 2017 and that it will not affect aviation activity or the Earth in any way.
7) Getting Started: Juno
Although there were so many missions to Jupiter, but most of them were just overflights. And none of them do what Juno does. The spacecraft studies the composition of Jupiter (there is still little information about its “interior”), as well as its magnetic and gravitational environment. The goal is to better understand the formation of Jupiter and its influence on other planets. It is possible that thanks to Juno we will even be able to replenish the stock of knowledge about exoplanets.
Juno arrived at Jupiter on July 4th and has been researching the past few months. Employees of Juno regularly post to Twitter amateur footage based on data from the JunoCam camera. The mission also managed to remove layers of the clouds of the planet.
8) Getting Started: ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter
The new Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) spacecraft, which arrived on Mars in October, is intended for observing gas trails in the atmosphere of the Red Planet. Carbon dioxide is the main driving force on Mars. But there are small areas of the atmosphere that remain unclear. A striking example is methane, which was measured in different excess by various telescopes, orbiters and even a NASA Curiosity rover.
TGO is now following an ellipse, but over time it will begin to use atmospheric braking (sliding through the thinnest part of the Martian atmosphere) and lower itself to a distance of about 400 km from the surface. The process takes a lot of time, so the European Space Agency says they will save fuel and transmit data about the Martian atmosphere for use in scientific research.
9) Getting Started: BEAM (International Space Station)
The International Space Station is a great place for long-term research of everything (from plants to human physiology). It is also a great place for companies to check out new processes and ideas. One of the latter is an experimental inflatable residential module (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module), also known as BEAM. Bigelow has two inflatable mini-stations that have been in orbit for several years to check how near-earth orbit inflatable objects behave. The next step for them was the installation of an inflatable module in the ISS.
The BEAM development ended on May 26, but the attempt was stopped because there was more air pressure inside than expected (possibly due to the fact that the layers of fabric stuck together). The second attempt occurred on May 28 and ended successfully. Astronauts entered BEAM several times to take air samples for routine monitoring. But for the most part it is empty attached to the Tranquility node (module of the ISS).
10) Completed: Annual mission to ISS
While many astronauts spend 6 months at the station, NASA hopes to extend the mission in order to prepare for a possible journey to Mars in the coming decades. In 2015, Mikhail Kornienko (Roscosmos) and Scott Kelly (NASA) spent almost a year on the orbital complex. This was the first time that humans have been in space for so long since the days of the Mir space station of the 1990s. Both returned safely to Earth in March.
Kelly won the US press - he is one of the twins, an excellent photographer and charmingly laconic in the statements on Twitter. His twin brother Mark is also an astronaut and took part in voluntary genetic research. It will take years to collect and analyze all the information, but this flight will help scientists learn more about the cosmic effects on the human body.
11) Completes: Cassini
The Cassini spacecraft provided an incredible overview of Saturn and its system over the past 12 years. We saw streams of water from Enceladus, lakes on Titan and strange vertical structures in rings of Saturn. The spacecraft has little fuel left after studying the Solar System since 1997, so the researchers are going to send Cassini to Saturn.
The device will gradually move between the planet and its rings (this is the first time in space exploration) to better understand some of the structure of the particles that make up the crown of Saturn. In September 2017, he will plunge into Saturn for the last time, removing atmospheric changes as long as possible, so that researchers can learn more about the internal structure of the planet.