December 19-25, 2016 / Vol 35, No 51 / Hawai`i Island, USA

China and Japan Both Set to Launch Satellites for Geo-Science Applications

On December 21 China National Space Administration launches TanSat to sun-synchronous orbit at ~700 km altitude via Long March 2D rocket. The 600-kg launch-mass MiniSat is on a mission to monitor atmospheric CO2 in relation to climate change funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology. It carries two instruments developed by the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics/Chinese Academy of Sciences in Changchun city, Jilin province: CarbonSpec a high-res CO2 spectrometer measuring near-infrared absorption and CAPI (Cloud and Aerosol Polarimetry Imager) to compensate for the effects on the data of cloud and aerosol. TanSat will be in a slightly different orbit than the A-Train constellation of international climate sats but will nonetheless greatly enhance global understanding of this most critical issue. On Dec 20 Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launches ERG aboard Epsilon 2 rocket from Uchinoura Space Center into an elliptical orbit of 300 km perigee to 30,000 km apogee. The 350-kg Exploration of Energization and Radiation in Geospace satellite has been developed to study the Van Allen belts by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science with participation of over 100 researchers. It has four solar panels, two 5-m masts and four 15-m wire antennae with an array of 9 instruments measuring electrons, particles and ions at various energy levels as well as magnetic fields, plasma waves and wave-particle interactions. (Image Credit: CNSA, JAXA)



star-grey Dec 19 — ISS, 330-435-km LEO: Expedition 50 six-member crew transferring cargo from Japan HTV-6 and Russia Progress 64P & filling with ISS waste, installing experiment to measure space radiation, analyzing water samples, testing remote control of rovers, Astronauts will be given time off to celebrate Holidays in Space.

star-grey Dec 19 — Gaia, Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange Point: ESA spacecraft reaches 3 years in orbit today; 5-year planned mission aims to create 3D map of more than 1 billion stars; launched in 2013, first catalogue of more than a billion stars published in September.

 Dec 19 — Dawn, Ceres Orbit / Main Asteroid Belt: In 6th science orbit at dwarf planet ~7,200-km altitude, mission control adjusted craft path to reduce fuel usage by 65% and operate with only 2 reaction wheels, refining measurements on asteroid composition, craters, geologic activity; research shows Ceres may be 10% water ice.

circle-full-grey Dec 19 — Proposed Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return Mission, Washington DC: NASA New Frontiers seeks concept study proposals (due end 2017) for mission ready to launch ~2025; recent suggestions include craft lifetime of 1 lunar day, returning 1 kg, using existing satellites at Sun-Earth L-1 for communications.

circle-full-grey Dec 19 — Moon Express (ME), Cape Canaveral FL and Moffett Field CA: NewSpace company founder Naveen Jain states Human lunar flights could be US$10,000 a seat within 10 years; GLXP launch contractor Rocket Lab plans early 2017 Electron test flights as ME works on MX-1 hopper lander development, payload contracts.

 Dec 19 — Reaction Engines, Oxfordshire, England: On schedule to produce full demonstrator SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) engine in 2020, SABRE intends to power craft to over 25 times the speed of sound for space access, achieve single-stage-to-orbit capability; has secured financial investments from UK government & ESA.

circle-full-grey Dec 19 — Final Frontier Design, Brooklyn NY: Project PoSSUM suborbital research program evaluates company’s prototype IVA spacesuit technologies for use on commercial suborbital spaceflights to increase technology readiness level, validate pressurized suit performance under live conditions.

dec-feb-2017 = All times

for terrestrial events in local time unless noted.

= All times for international terrestrial events in local time unless noted.

= All times for space events, and…

= All times for international space / astro events in Hawaii Standard Time unless noted. Add 10 hours to obtain UT (‘Universal Time;’ Greenwich, England).

Weekly Planet Watch – Evening Planets: Mercury (SW), Venus (SW), Mars (SSW), Uranus (S), Neptune (S); Morning Planets: Jupiter (SE).

21st Century Deep Space Craft Exploring Solar System Complete

International Deep Space craft observations are welcoming New Year 2017 and promising ground-breaking encounters to benefit future Human exploration efforts. Mars Express is entering its 14th year in Mars orbit on December 25. The ESA mission is recording atmospheric and geologic changes of Mars and adding to understanding of its history. Juno at Jupiter in 53-day polar orbit is set to make its 4th close approach February 2. It is expected to remain in orbit for ~20 months to investigate the mysteries of the giant gas planet, and provide the best data to date on its composition, interior, gravity, magnetic field and winds. NASA Cassini is set to complete 16 additional orbits from high above Saturn North Pole to a point just outside the outermost ring (F ring) collecting information on gravity and magnetic fields and particles. It is working toward an ambitious goal beginning April 27 to perform 22 plunges (each taking 6 days) through the 3,000-km wide gap between Saturn and the innermost ring (D ring), heading to September 15 atmospheric impact. On Jan 1, New Horizons will be 2 years from Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 flyby. The mission may have the opportunity to further explore the Kuiper Belt, dubbed as the Third Zone of the Solar System stretching over 20 AU. Pushing the boundaries of technology and science to discover new worlds, learn about our place within the Solar System / Galaxy, and pave the way for Human extraterrestrial habitation should enhance international relations, create new industries and benefit future generations of explorers. (Image Credit: NASA, ESA, SwRI)

Dec 19 — United Nations Outer Space Treaty (OST) 50th Observation, Worldwide: OST framework to address legal questions for capabilities and activities in Space adopted by United Nations General Assembly on this day in 1966, opened for signature on January 27, 1967 and entered into force on October 10, 1967; evolving / unfolding regulations include commercial space activities, private space stations, habitats on Moon, asteroid mining, contamination of celestial bodies.

Dec 19 — CNES, Paris, France: France National Space Agency CNES marks 55th year of operations, established 1961.

Dec 19 — NASA Astrobiology Institute, Online / Mountain View CA: Webinar: Martian Environments, Facies, and Ages – Evidence for Rock-Hosted Waters.

Dec 19-20 — University of Minho, Portuguese Society of Relativity and Gravitation, Guimaraes, Portugal: 9th Black Hole Workshop.

Continued from…

Oct 15 – Sep 4, 2017 — Peabody Essex Museum, Salem MA: Lunar Attraction Exhibit; featuring 60 Apollo memorabilia, paintings, sculptures, photographs, books, movies, jewelry that illustrate our profound connection to the Moon.

Dec 18-20 — University of California – San Diego, La Jolla CA: UCSD Interplanetary Scintillation (IPS)-Based Workshop.


Dec 20 — JAXA, Launch Epsilon / ERG Satellite, Uchinoura Space Center, Japan: Second-generation Epsilon rocket to launch Exploration of Energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) satellite to study Van Allen radiation belt; launch window 20:00-21:00.

Dec 20 — Arianespace, Launch Ariane 5 / Star One D1 & JCSAT 15, Kourou, French Guiana: Arianespace will use an Ariane 5 ECA rocket, designated VA234, to launch Star One D1 and JCSAT 15 communications satellites.

 Dec 20 — SETI Institute, Mountain View CA: Lecture: Sustainable Energy Now and in a Livable Future; Dan Kammen, Director of Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, 12:00.

Dec 20 — NASA Astrobiology Institute, Online / Mountain View CA: Webinar: Metabolisms and Niches for Terrestrial Rock-Hosted Life.

Dec 20-22 — INFN National Laboratory of Frascati, Frascati, Italy: Workshop: Selected Puzzles in Particle Physics.

Dec 20 — Moon: At last quarter, 15:56.

Dec 20 — Mercury: 1.9° SW of Pluto, 02:00.

Dec 20 — Aten Asteroid 2016 GK135: Near-Earth Flyby (0.093 AU).


Dec 21 — CNSA, Launch Long March 2D / TanSat, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China: Long March 2D rocket to launch TanSat spacecraft to map global distribution of carbon dioxide in Earth atmosphere and support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 Dec 21 — Armagh Planetarium, Armagh, United Kingdom: Planetarium showing: The Mystery of the Christmas Star; a modern scientific exploration of the cosmic sky 2000 years ago, produced by Evans & Sutherland Digital Theater, 14:00 and 19:30.

Dec 21 — Winter Solstice: The Sun, appearing to travel along the ecliptic, reaches the point where it is farthest South of the celestial equator; 00:44.

Dec 21 — Mars and Jupiter: At heliocentric opposition, 20:00.

Dec 21 — Ursid Meteor Shower Peak: Appearing to radiate from β star of Ursa Minor, Ursids are associated with comet 8P/Tuttle; peak offers medium speed (33 km/sec), mostly faint with a few fireballs, 9-10 per hour, visible in northern Hemisphere, 13:00.

Dec 21 — Aten Asteroid 2015 YQ1: Near-Earth Flyby (0.016 AU).

Dec 21 — Apollo Asteroid 2010 XN: Near-Earth Flyby (0.045 AU).

Dec 21 — Apollo Asteroid 2006 XD2: Near-Earth Flyby (0.048 AU).

Dec 21 — Apollo Asteroid 2016 XM18: Near-Earth Flyby (0.053 AU).

Dec 21 — Apollo Asteroid 418849 (2008 WM64): Near-Earth Flyby (0.072 AU).


Dec 22 — Cassini, Saturn Orbit: Start of revolution 254 around planet.

Dec 22 — International Launch Services, Launch Proton / EchoStar 21, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan: Proton rocket with a Breeze M upper stage to launch EchoStar 21 communications satellite, formerly known as TerreStar 2.

Dec 22 — James Madison University, Harrisonburg VA: James C. Wells Planetarium showing: The Mystery of the Christmas Star; produced by Evans & Sutherland Digital Theater, 14:00, free.

Dec 22 — Moon: 2.3° NNE of Jupiter, 08:00; 5.8° NNE of Spica, 14:00.


Dec 23 — Cassini OTM-468, Saturn Orbit: NASA craft scheduled to short engine burn / Orbital Trim Maneuver #468 to stay on course.

Dec 23 — The Space Show, Online / Tiburon CA: Dr. David Livingston talks with Chris Stone (former Pentagon strategic space analyst at Air University in Alabama) about national security space.

Dec 23 — Aten Asteroid 2016 XD2: Near-Earth Flyby (0.043 AU).


Dec 24 — Mauna Kea Astronomy Outreach Committee, Mauna Kea HI, 2,800-meter level: Malalo o ka Po Lani; presentation covering cultural components that surround Mauna O Wakea, 18:00 followed by stargazing program, at Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center; featuring Olivia Ling, Leilehua Yuen & Manu Josiah.

Dec 24 — Moon: At apogee (distance 405,386 km), 20:00.


Dec 25 — Mars Express, Mars Orbit: ESA spacecraft enters 14th year in Mars orbit today; will continue to study Mars atmosphere & climate, planet structure, mineralogy, geology, and to search for traces of water; launched June 2, 2003.

Dec 25 — Mercury: At perihelion (distance 0.3075 from Sun), 05:00.