The year in space

28 Dec

2015 was a great year in space. NASA took us to the edge of the Solar System and made some big discoveries, both Spacex and Blue Origin have made some major strides forward, and there have been a few setbacks.

The year started off with SpaceX sending a supply shipment to the ISS (International Space Station) and attempting to be the first privately held company bring back and land the first stage of a rocket. The re-supply part of the mission went off without a hitch as the Dragon craft soared to the ISS. Bringing back the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket didn’t go as well when it made too hard of a landing on the drone ship and exploded.

Midway through January NASA’s MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) spotted the European Space Agency’s Beagle 2 Mars lander. The lander came down on the Red Planet in Jan 2004 but was unable to send a signal back to Earth. For the next 11 years it was assumed that the lander crashed and was destroyed.

After a couple of previous attempts SpaceX finally launched NASA’s DSCOVR (deep space climate observatory) satellite into space. Once the satellite was deployed it would monitor the solar wind and send back early warnings of a solar flairs. During the mission SpaceX was scheduled to make a second attempt at landing the first stage of their Falcon 9. The attempted landing was scrubbed due to unfavorable weather.

The biggest story in March 2015 was that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft had gone into orbit around the dwarf-planet Ceres. Once in orbit the craft sent a confirmation message back to NASA and started using its equipment to do an analysis of Ceres.

The big story in April was that SpaceX made their second attempt at landing the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket. The result this time was not much different as a malfunction cause the rocket to hit the edge of the drone ship and the Falcon 9 fell into the Ocean.

May was a relatively quiet month in space as there were no SpaceX launches and NASA’s New Horizons was still on its way to Pluto where it would do a flyby in July.

One of biggest stories in June was when the European Space Agency’s Philae lander woke up after 8 months in hibernation. In November of the previous year the lander made news when it set down on Comet 67P/Churganov-Gerastenko. The craft missed its mark and was unable to recharge its batteries.

June literally went out with a bang when a SpaceX Falcon 9 exploded shortly after liftoff. The unmanned SpaceX craft was scheduled to make a mid-year supply delivery to the ISS. As a result of the tragedy all future launches of SpaceX craft would be postponed while an investigation was conducted.

One of the biggest stories in July was when NASA’s New Horizons made its flyby of the dwarf-planet Pluto. As it went past Pluto the craft would use its sensors and cameras to gather data for transmission back to Earth.

The big story in August was Japan sending a resupply mission the ISS. The unmanned H-2B craft lifted off from the Island of Tanegashima on July 19. The mission would take replacement parts, medical supplies, food, and other items lost in the SpaceX explosion.

The big story in September was the newly received pictures of the dwarf-planet Pluto. The photos showed a much different terrain than what anyone expected of the dwarf-planet. They showed mountains made of ice.

In October it was all about pictures from space. There was the “selfie” that the Curiosity Rover sent us from Mars. Scott Kelly also sent us many spectacular pictures that he took from the ISS. Not to be left out NASA’s Cassini craft sent us some pictures of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

November was a big month as we finally heard some of the findings from NASA’s MAVEN (Mars atmosphere and volatile evolution). The orbiter was sent to help us understand what happened to the atmosphere that encompassed ancient Mars. It turned out that space itself could be part of the culprit that stripped away the atmosphere over time.

As November came to a close Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin became the first privately held company to land a rocket. The New Shepard rocket was launched in the desert in Texas. It travelled to the fringes of outer-space then brought back down for a perfect landing.

December marked the return of the Hawthorn, California-based SpaceX, In a two part mission Elon Musk’s company made history by deploying 11 satellites and returning the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket.

These and other stories made for one of the busiest years in space.

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