December 7-13, 2015 / Vol 34, No 49 / Hawai`i Island, USA

Venus Beckons: More to Learn from Our Sister Planet

calendar feature - venus 2015

Second planet from the Sun and closest to Earth, Venus is often referred to as Earth’s twin due to its similar size, mass, density, composition and gravity. Despite basic similarities Venus is very different from Earth, and is the hottest planet in the Solar System. A dense atmosphere that traps heat in a runaway greenhouse effect results in temperatures reaching 465°C. The atmosphere consists mainly of carbon dioxide with clouds of sulfuric acid and is heavier than that of any other planet, causing surface pressure 90 times that of Earth. Japan begins an attempt Dec 7 to become the 4th major spacefaring power to achieve orbit around Venus with a robotic spacecraft. Small attitude-control thrusters are set to start maneuvering the JAXA Akatsuki probe into a highly elliptical orbit around Venus, after having overshot the planet on its first attempt in Dec 2010 when the main engine failed during a critical orbital-insertion burn. The BepiColombo Mercury orbiter mission, a collaboration between ESA and JAXA, is expected to conduct 2 flybys (2019, 2020) of Venus en route to Mercury. Russia has proposed the Venera-D mission for an orbiter and lander in the 2020s. The NASA Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG) chaired by Lori Glaze of Goddard Space Flight Center continues to advance Venus science and exploration with regular meetings. The 14th VEXAG Meeting is scheduled for November 15-17, 2016. There is also an International Venus Science Conference set for April 4-8, 2016 in Oxford, England. (Image Credit: NASA, ESA, JAXA, Roscosmos)


Dec 7 — ISS, LEO: Expedition 45 six-person crew preparing for 3 members to return to Earth Dec 11, packing Soyuz with return experiments and Progress 60P with waste for disposal, planning for Cygnus OA-4 and Progress 62P cargo, working on studies involving radiation, blood circulation, microbes living on crew members.

Dec 7 — Venus Climate Orbiter (Akatsuki), Heliocentric Orbit: JAXA US$300M spacecraft will attempt to achieve Venus orbit by using small engine burns; if successful will study Venus clouds, atmosphere, weather; launched May 2010 – main engine failure prevented spacecraft from reaching Venus sooner.

Dec 7 — XMM Newton, LEO: ESA craft detecting massive filaments made of hot gas flowing toward one of the most massive galaxy clusters in the Universe, Abell 2744 (the Pandora Cluster); this reveals a portion of the cosmic web that permeates the entire Universe.

Dec 7 ARTEMIS, Moon Orbit: In highly elongated orbits ranging from tens of km to 18,000 km, twin spacecraft are studying how solar wind & plasma flows past Moon and fills in vacuum on the other side.

Dec 7 — U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitive Act H.R. 2262, USA National: Supporting space mining, space tourism and ISS lifetime extension to 2024, approved bill will bolster commercial space industry; complex questions for international rights to be addressed at UNOOSA meeting April 4-16.

Dec 7SpaceX, Hawthorne CA: NewSpace company may attempt to land first-stage on land-based pad at Cape Canaveral Landing Complex 1 after Falcon 9 launch of ORBCOMM’s OG2 satellites expected mid-December.

Dec 7Spaceflight Inc., Tukwila WA: Offering 3U CubeSat launch to 500 km Sun Synchronous Orbit in 2018 for US$200,000 (if purchased before Dec 31); working on integrated payload stack of 12-18 smallsats to rideshare to LEO along with SpaceIL GLXP craft launching to Moon in 2017.

 Dec 7Copenhagen Suborbitals (CS), Copenhagen, Denmark: Designing 100 kN Spica rocket & Tycho Deep Space II capsule for suborbital crewed spaceflight (testing may begin 2016), will test Nexø I and II rockets in spring of 2016 from CS-constructed 12,000-kg steel catamaran taken 231.5 km into Baltic Sea.

Dec 7-10 — Paris Institute of Astrophysics, Sorbonne University, et al, Paris, France: Conference: Cosmology and First Light.

DEC - FEB 2016 = 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: Uranus (S), Neptune (S); Morning Planets: Venus (E), Mars (E), Jupiter (E).

Russia to Attempt Three Launches over Three Consecutive Days

Russia launches

On December 9 the 44-meter long, 2-stage Soyuz-2-1v will attempt to deploy the 400-kg Kanopus ST Earth observation satellite for Roscosmos from Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia (62° N, 40° E). On Dec 10 the 53-meter tall, 3-stage Proton rocket is set to launch the Garpun communications satellite for Russia military from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. The following day, a land-launch Zenit 3SLBF will attempt to loft the Elektro-L 2 geostationary weather satellite from Baikonur. Sea Launch, with RSC Energia owning 95% of the company, utilizes Zenit 3SL rockets and is still undergoing various shifts as it awaits financial support from commercial customers to continue operations. This may be the last Zenit launch for Russia as it phases out Zenit and Proton rockets for the Angara family. Dombarovsky airbase hosts Dnepr-1 launches at 50° N, 59° E. The developing Vostochny Cosmodrome at 51° N, 15° E is intended to be completed in 2018, support Russia launching from its own soil, and host the first Soyuz launch in 2016 and the first uncrewed test mission of the Angara heavy-lift rocket in 2021. Russia with an eye on the Moon, reports its Lunar program will involve orbiters / landers / rovers (Luna 25-29) and Human Moon missions utilizing Angara-A5, while a long-term goal remains lunar settlement. (Pictured L-R: Roscosmos Head Komarov Igor, First Deputy Ivanov Alexander, Deputy Head Ivanov Vladimir; Image Credit: Roscosmos, Google, NPO VNIIEM, ISS Reshetnev, NASA, Lavochkin)

Dec 7 — Moon: 1.1° ENE of Venus, 07:00.

Dec 7 — Apollo Asteroid 2015 WF13: Near-Earth flyby (0.028 AU).

Continued from…

Sep 14 – Dec 7 — SSERVI, NASA, Online: SSERVI teams at University of Central FL (CLASS) and Brown University/MIT (SEEED) give 13 lectures on Planetary Evolution: Phobos and Deimos, every Monday; live coverage available.

Nov 24 – Dec 22 — IEEE, edX, Online: Course: From Goddard to Apollo: The History of Rockets, Part 1; with instructor Burton Dicht.


Dec 8 — Library of Congress – Science, Technology and Business Division, Washington DC: Lecture: New Horizons: Journey to Pluto and Beyond; presented by Dennis Reuter.

Dec 8 — SETI Institute, Mountain View CA: Lecture: Pinpointing the Search for Life in Ancient Martian Hot Springs; presented by J.R. Skok.

Dec 8-9 — National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Socorro NM: 2nd next generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) Technical Workshop.

Dec 8-9 — Defense Strategies Institute, Alexandria VA: Space Resiliency Summit: Integrating Innovative Approaches For Space Control.

Dec 8-10 — Applied Technology Institute, Columbia MD: Satellite Communications Design and Engineering course; with instructor Dr. Mark R. Chartrand.

Dec 8 — Apollo Asteroid 2015 XC: Near-Earth flyby (0.009 AU).

Dec 8 — Apollo Asteroid 2015 VZ145 : Near-Earth flyby (0.024 AU).


Dec 9 — RSA, Launch Soyuz 2-1v / Kanopus ST, Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia: Russia government to launch Soyuz 2-1v rocket with Volga upper stage to deploy Kanopus ST Earth observation satellite.

Dec 9 — University of Arizona, Tucson AZ: Space Drafts Public Talk Series: Supernovae; presented by Dr Jennifer Andrews, at Borderlands Brewery.

Dec 9-12 — University of Padova, ESA, Padova, Italy: 1st Symposium on Space Students Activities; to provide overview of space-related activities conducted by student teams from different countries.

Dec 9 — Aten Asteroid 2011: Near-Earth flyby (0.066 AU).


Dec 10 — XMM-Newton, Highly Eccentric Elliptical LEO: ESA craft studying X-ray emissions, star-forming regions, galaxy clusters, environment of supermassive black holes, mapping dark matter, enters 17th year in space today, launched 1999.

Dec 10 — RSA, Launch Proton / Garpun, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan: Russia government proton rocket with Breeze M upper stage to deploy Garpun communications satellite.

Dec 10 — Space Tec Partners, Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics, Creative District, beSPACE, Brussels, Belgium: Explorare, Quo Vadis? Art, Philosophy, and Space Exploration; featuring speakers Jacques Arnould (CNES), Olivier Chazot (von Karman Institute), Angelo Vermeulen (HI-SEAS), Bernard Foing (ESA).

Dec 10 — Moon: 3.1° N of Saturn, 05:00; 9.3° N of Antares, 07:00.


Dec 11 — ISS, Undocking of Soyuz TMA-17M / ISS 43S, LEO: Expedition 44/45 members Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Kimiya Yui of JAXA, Oleg Kononenko of RSA scheduled to return to Earth; live coverage begins 09:47 UT.

Dec 11 — RSA, Launch Zenit 3SLBF / Elektro-L 2, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan: Ukraine Zenit rocket with a Fregat upper stage to deploy Elektro-L 2 geostationary weather satellite for Russia.

Dec 11 — Royal Astronomical Society, London, United Kingdom: Royal Astronomical Society Ordinary Meeting; Discussion Meeting: Cosmic dust in space and on the Earth: Interplanetary, interstellar and man-made; Discussion Meeting: A Critical Assessment of Cluster Cosmology.

Dec 11 — The Space Show, Online / Tiburon CA: Dr. David Livingston talks with Dr. Paul Spudis.

Dec 11 — Moon: New Moon, 00:29.

Dec 11 — Aten Asteroid 33342 (1998 WT24): Near-Earth flyby (0.028 AU).


Dec 12 — Space Generation Advisory Council, Padova, Italy: Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) European Student Workshop 2015; two working groups will discuss topics of interest for European students of space-related fields.

Dec 12 — Moon: 7.2° N of Mercury, 04:00; 3.2° N of Pluto, 23:00.


Dec 13-18 — University of Geneva Department of Astronomy & Physics, Geneva, Switzerland: 28th Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics.

Dec 13 — Apollo Asteroid 2015 WK: Near-Earth flyby (0.055 AU).