NASA's Dawn mission to study two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres, has begun. Lying between Mars and Jupiter, the two very different bodies offer clues to planetary formation.
The craft will arrive at Vesta in 2011 and the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015.
In addition to being the first to orbit two solar bodies, Dawn is also powered by unique ion propulsion system briefly described by Scientific American in its story on the mission.
Top artist's rendering: William K. Hartmann Courtesy of UCLA. Side image: NASA/ Kim Shiflett
In this recent image of Saturn, Dione (1,126 kilometers, 700 miles across), Enceladus (505 kilometers, 314 miles across) and Mimas (397 kilometers, 247 miles across) are visible left to right. Click to enlarge.
Cassini is headed for an October 2 close encounter with Titan and will be able to take another look at the surface of the moon.
Source: Cassini imaging central laboratory for imaging, or CICLOPS.
Jeff Foust, the man behind a favorite web log of mine, Personal Spaceflight, has published a piece in The Space Review on NASA administrator Michael Griffin's current view of the "space economy," its impact on the larger economy and the balance NASA must strike between its historic role as the nation's space agency and an emerging space industry.
While NASA has carved out a modest but relatively stable wedge in the overall federal budget, some wonder whether that wedge is big enough for the agency to do all it has been tasked to do, from kickstarting an ambitious human exploration program to maintaining its portfolio of science and aeronautics research. Meanwhile, long-term budget pressures, particularly from entitlement programs as the Baby Boomer generation approaches retirement, could make it difficult for NASA to retain even its current share of the budget over the long haul. That requires NASA to both better justify the importance of a government space program while also seek means to work with the private sector to do more for less—approaches that NASA administrator Michael Griffin described in two very different speeches last Monday.
The entire Foust article is well worth the time to read and quotes Griffin from two speeches given just this Monday.
The image above is of a star-forming region called Coronet Australis that was recently captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/CXC/JPL-Caltech/CfA
The latest Carnival of Space is up and guess what story is dominating the news? Not willing to wait, Advanced Nanontechnology has already outlined how to win the $30 million Google Lunar Lander X Prize.
Other stories not included in the latest iteration of the space carnival include Paul Gilster's piece on Tau Ceti, which asks the question: what should the constant bombardment of potential planets in the dust belt surrounding that star tell us about the development of life on Earth?
Wired reports that NASA's GLAST is designed to peer into every corner of the universe as well, looking for the sources of gamma-ray radiation, the kinds of fantastic energy produced by merging neutron stars, for example. Wired's science blog also links to Scientific American articles on the future of space travel and the hard choices NASA may face - funding for every worthy goal simply isn't available.
Lastly, the image above is from Cassini's recent very close flyby of Iapetus, one of Saturn's moons. The image is of its "Himalayas." In this press release from NASA, the moon is characterized as the "Yin-and-Yang moon." Image Source: CICLOPS, the Cassini Imaging Team.
The new prize calls upon teams to create autonomous rovers that could land on the moon, travel at least three-tenths of a mile (500 meters) and send video, images and data back to Earth.
The first team to succeed would win $20 million - that is, if the job is done by 2012. After that, the prize drops to $15 million, and if no one is successful by the end of 2014, the money could be withdrawn. If a second team succeeds before the deadline, $5 million would be given as a runner-up prize. Another $5 million would be reserved for bonus tasks - for example, roving for longer distances, taking pictures of old lunar spacecraft, finding water ice or surviving the long lunar night.
No more than 10 percent of a competitor's income can come from government contracts. See Alan Boyle's entire article for more, including comment from other private space ventures on the announcement.
Video of the announcement may be found at the X Prize Foundation.
[Image credit: Geoff Oliver Bugbee. This live-blogged Michio Kaku presentation from the ideaFestival is being cross posted from the ideaFestival web log. Enjoy.]
The speaker now is theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. He holds degrees from Harvard, UC Berkeley and has offered a foundation for modern string field theory. He has authored "Hyperspace," "Time Warps" and "Parallel Worlds," popular books on physics.
The presentation starts with a thumping video of the city of the future. In 2057 the video says we'll all live in a wired world full of ambient technology.