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Orbit

If you've ever dreamed of turning your municipal airport into a satellite launching facility, then DARPA has your number. At this week's 18th Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, DC, Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office reported on the progress of the agency's Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, which is designed to launch 100-lb (45-kg) satellites into low-Earth orbit using an expendable rocket dropped from a conventional aircraft. Read More

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured a rare image of a triple transit, as three of Jupiter's largest moons cast their shadows on the gas giant's planetary disk. The three moons captured in the image – Europa, Callisto and Io, were among the first celestial objects observed with a telescope, and were instrumental in debunking the long held belief that the Earth was at the center of the universe. Read More

ESA's Rosetta orbiter is preparing to make a daring 6 km (3.7 miles) pass of one of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko's most active regions – an area on the comet's larger lobe designated as Imhotep. As the comet moves closer to the Sun, mission controllers are expecting to see an exponential increase in volatile activity, and ESA hopes that the new orbits planned for the little probe will allow scientists to gain a better understanding of these effects. Read More
Key orbits frequented by GPS and communications satellites are becoming more and more hazardous, as man-made debris presents an increasingly palpable danger to the valuable assets orbiting at heights of around 2,000 km (1,243 miles) above the Earth. That' s why the European Space Agency (ESA) is hosting an international workshop geared towards cleaning up low-Earth orbit, with a focus on how to make the space industry more sustainable. Read More
The International Space Station (ISS) has been forced to fire the thrusters of ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) in order to maneuver the station and its crew out of the way of potentially harmful debris. Such instances are rare, making a catastrophic scenario highly unlikely. However, with each passing year, the amount of orbital debris increases, heightening the risks of a collision for mankind's only manned outpost among the stars. Read More
Yale astronomers have discovered a low-mass, low-density exoplanet orbiting a distant star whose orbit boasts some fascinating and extreme characteristics. The yearly period of the exoplanet, known as PH3c, varies enormously from one orbit to another, and so eclectic are these orbits that it was undetectable by conventional exoplanet hunting techniques that rely on a periodic dip in the light of the parent star. Read More
NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has successfully completed a maneuver designed to place the robotic explorer in Mars orbit. The achievement is the crowning moment in a 10-month journey through deep space, representing the culmination of millions of dollars and over a decade of planning and hard work by NASA mission operators. Read More
Mission operators working from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center are undergoing final adjustments for orbital insertion of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft, due to take place September 21. Achieving a stable orbit around the Red Planet would be the culmination of a 10-month voyage, during which the robotic explorer traveled 442 million miles (711 million km) after having ridden into space in November 2013 atop an Atlas V rocket. Read More
Facing the alternative of a fiery death, the ESA’s Venus Express orbiter has completed a daring maneuver that extended the life of the unmanned explorer by several months. Under command from Earth, the spacecraft spent a month skimming the outer edge of the Venusian atmosphere to alter its velocity and send it into a new orbit that will keep it operating until perhaps the end of the year. Read More
Those packing their bags for a trip to the two potentially habitable exoplanets previously claimed to be orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581 had better rethink their travel plans. Astronomers at Pennsylvania State University say the planets, Gliese 581 d and Gliese 581 g, don't actually exist. Read More
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