December 8-14, 2014 / Vol 33, No 49 / Hawai`i Island, USA

New Horizons Ready for Historic Pluto / Kuiper Belt Encounters

New Horizons Dec 2014

New Horizons spacecraft, nearly 4.8B kilometers from Earth, is preparing for its 6-month encounter with Pluto and moon Charon starting Jan 15, 2015 with distant-encounter operations. About 260M kilometers from Pluto traveling at 52,685 kph, the spacecraft will continue to collect navigation-tracking data, download and analyze the cruise science data, and undergo final tests of science instruments and operating systems. The communications it sends to Earth will take 4 hrs 25 mins to be received. Its long-awaited, unprecedented flyby of Pluto and Charon is set for July 14, 2015 (11:49:59 UTC), about 9.5 years after launch Jan 19, 2006. New Horizons will image Pluto and Charon, map surface composition, collect data on atmosphere and temperature, look closely at moons Kerberos and Styx, and search for more moons and rings around Pluto. The US$700M mission plans an encounter with at least one not-yet selected Trans-Neptunian object in the unexplored Kuiper belt. New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern states “No voyage like this has been conducted since the epic days of Voyager, and nothing like it is planned again.” It is expected to be the 5th spacecraft to leave the Solar System. (Image Credit: NASA, APL, SwRI)


Dec 8 — ISS, LEO: Expedition 42 six-member crew preparing for Dragon CRS-5 arrival, working on ESA Plasma Kristall-4 plasma crystals investigation, conducting in-flight interviews; 3-D printing tests to continue.

Dec 8 — Mars Orbiter Mission, Mars Orbit: Taking color & thermal images of Mars surface, analyzing neutral composition of particles in exosphere, measuring methane, deuterium & hydrogen in atmosphere.

Dec 8 — Juno, Jupiter Trajectory: Now 574 days from Jupiter insertion, spacecraft traveling at 45,962 kph in nominal health; one-way radio signal travel time is ~36 minutes.

Dec 8 — Orion, California USA: Orion crew module & data on heat shield, parachute systems, avionics, launch abort system & attitude control acquired from Exploration Flight Test-1 being analyzed.

Dec 8 — Deep Space Industries, McLean VA: NewSpace company will begin working with Solid Prototype Inc on 3D printed spacecraft prototypes to reduce fabrication costs.

Dec 8 — Moon Express Inc., KSC FL: Hot fire & flight testing of MTV-1X vehicle with MTV EGC (Earth Gravity Cancelling) Main Engine will continue through the end of Dec 2014 & into 2015.

Dec 8 — LiftPort Group, Seattle WA: Working on high-altitude balloon, multi-wheeled climber, Vectran polymer fiber to be used for Space Elevator prototype experiment.

Dec 8-10 — Arizona State University, Tempe AZ: Meeting: Early Science from Low-frequency Radio Telescopes.

Dec 8-11 — International Academy of Astronautics, University of Brasilia, Brasilia, Brazil: 1st International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Latin America CubeSat Workshop.

dec - feb 2015 = 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: Venus (SW), Mars (SW), Jupiter (ENE); Morning Planets: Saturn (ESE).

China Chang’e-3 Set to Begin 2nd Year of Operations on Lunar Surface; Anticipating Arrival of Siblings CE4, CE5

calendar feature - CE3-4-5

Having become the 3rd nation to land a spacecraft safely on the Moon, China is forging ahead with its extensive Lunar Exploration Program. December 14 marks the 1 year anniversary of the historic landing of Chang’e-3. The craft has now endured twelve dark ~180°C lunar nights and continues to communicate with mission control, transmitting valuable scientific data, including UV astronomy observations of variable stars that would be impossible from Earth. The recent CE5-T1 test flight mission successfully proved the capability of CNSA to return a capsule safely from Lunar orbit back to China. It also deployed a sophisticated Service Module to Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2. In mid-January 2015 the SM will reposition back into Lunar orbit ahead of long-range guidance tests for lunar orbit rendezvous and docking in February and March, as well as surveys of the CE5 landing site in April. All of this in preparation for the full-up CE5 sample return mission in 2017. There is also the CE4 spacecraft, originally a backup to CE3, which may be reconfigured to fly in 2016 to practice orbital, descent and landing procedures for the as of yet unexplored South Pole region — the location recognized almost unanimously as the prime venue for future Moon exploration and development. (Image Credit: CNSA)

Dec 8-11 — European Southern Observatory, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Tokyo, Japan: Conference: Revolution in Astronomy with ALMA – The Third Year.

Dec 8 — Mercury: At superior conjunction with Sun, 00:00; at aphelion (distance 69,817,326 km), 11:00.

Dec 8 — Jupiter: 7.4° WNW of Regulus, 09:00.

Dec 8 — Asteroid 2014 WC364: Near-Earth flyby (0.031 AU).

Dec 8 — Asteroid 2014 WJ201: Near-Earth flyby (0.053 AU).

Continued from…

Oct 20 – Dec 12 — American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Space Frontier Foundation, Online: Commercial Space Executive Leadership Training Course; with instructors Dan Rasky and Bruce Pittman.

Nov 24 – Dec 12 — National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand, Chiang Mai, Thailand: International School for Young Astronomers (ISYA 2014).

NET Dec 1 — ISRO, Launch GSLV Mk 3 / Atmospheric Test Flight, Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota, India: Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk 3 to launch on suborbital test flight, will carry mock-up human crew module.


Dec 9 — SETI Institute, Mountain View CA: SETI Weekly Colloquium: Rosetta: Wild Bounce at Churyumov-Gerasimenko; presented by Claudia Alexander of JPL.

Dec 9 — The Space Show, Online / Tiburon CA: Dr. David Livingston talks with Richard Binzel, MIT Professor on NEO survey and the ARM project.

Dec 9 — Moon: 11.7° S of Pollux, 05:00.

Dec 8 — Asteroid 2014 WC366: Near-Earth flyby (0.011 AU).


Dec 10 — Cassini, Saturn Orbit: Titan flyby scheduled at 980-km altitude.

Dec 10 — RSA, Launch Soyuz / Resurs P2, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan: Russia government Soyuz rocket to launch Resurs P2 Earth observation satellite.

Dec 10 — Arizona State University, Tucson AZ: Space Drafts Public Talk Series – The Giant Asteroid Vesta: Highlights from NASA’s Dawn Mission; presented by Dr. Dave O’Brien.

Dec 10 — Moon: 6.0° SSW of Beehive Cluster, 09:00.

Dec 10 — Asteroid 2014 WU200: Near-Earth flyby (0.003 AU).


Dec 11 — United Launch Alliance, Launch Atlas 5 / NROL-35, Vandenberg AFB CA: ULA Atlas 5 rocket to launch classified spacecraft payload for U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

Dec 11 — Moon: 4.9° SSW of Jupiter, 15:00.

Dec 11 — Mars: At perihelion (distance 206,624,579 km) 23:00.

Dec 11 — Asteroid 2012 LA11: Near-Earth flyby (0.058 AU).


Dec 12 — International Launch Services, Launch Proton / Yamal 401, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan: ILS Proton rocket to launch Yamal 401 communications satellite for Gazprom Space Systems of Russia.

Dec 12 — Royal Astronomical Society, London, United Kingdom: RAS Ordinary Meeting.

Dec 12 — British Interplanetary Society, London, United Kingdom: Stellar Engines Ltd One Day Reverse Engineering Workshop.

Dec 12 — Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Arizona State University, Tucson AZ: Lecture: Curiosity on Mars – From Conglomerates to Noble Gases; presented by Dr. Susanne Schwenzer.

Dec 12 — Space Center Houston, Houston TX: Lunch with an Astronaut, Ken Cameron; US$49.95 adult.

Dec 12 — Moon: 4.2° SSW of Regulus, 06:00; at apogee (distance 404,176 km).

Dec 12 — Mars: At heliocentric conjunction with Neptune.


Dec 13 — Cassini OTM-398, Saturn Orbit: Spacecraft conducts Orbital Trim Maneuver #398 today.

Dec 13 — International Lunar Observatory Association, Space Age Publishing Co., Tokyo, Japan: Galaxy Forum Japan 2014: Galaxy 21st Century projects to advance STEM education & opportunities in Japan; at NAOJ Mitaka campus.

Dec 13-14 — Geminids Meteor Shower Peak: Appearing to radiate from constellation Gemini, shower can produce 50-130 meteors per hour; bright, medium-speed meteors, few leave persistent trains.

Dec 13 — Asteroid 2014 UV210: Near-Earth flyby (0.018 AU).


Dec 14 — Chang’e-3 Lander, Sinus Iridum / Mare Imbrium, 44.12°N 19.51°W, Moon Surface: Lander reaches one year on Moon; expected to exceed one-year planned lifetime and continue operations.

Dec 14 — Moon: At last quarter, 02:53.

Dec 14 — Asteroid 204131 (2003 YL): Near-Earth flyby (0.069 AU).