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12/29/2015 – Ephemeris – Some space triumphs of 2015

December 29, 2015

Ephemeris for Tuesday, December 29th.  The Sun will rise at 8:19.  It’ll be up for 8 hours and 50 minutes, setting at 5:10.   The Moon, half way from full to last quarter, will rise at 9:58 this evening.

This past year had several important events.  Perhaps the biggest was the flyby of Pluto and its moons July 14th By the New Horizons spacecraft.  The transmission of data and images will continue for most of 2016, but what has been revealed has been spectacular if puzzling.  In other space news Blue Origin landed their New Shepard rocket vertically after sending it straight up 60 miles.  In June the SpaceX Falcon 9 blew up while attempting to send its 7th resupply Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.  Eight days ago The Falcon 9 returned to flight orbiting 11 satellites for Orbocomm, and flew the booster from over 100 miles up and 100 miles out over the Atlantic to land upright on its designated landing pad back at the cape.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.



Enhanced color portrait of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Shepard landing

Blue Origin New Shepard rocket, with landing legs expended about to land. Credit: Blue Origin.

Falcon 9

First stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 descending on its center rocket engine to the center of the main landing pad at Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX.

These weren’t the only highlights of 2015.  Having only 45 seconds to devote to the story, I picked the three most important events.  I consider the reuseability of rockets to be the Holy Grail of reducing the cost to access to space.  The Space Shuttle was a partial, but ultimately failed solution.  SpaceX had the most difficult task in refurbishment and reuse because the first stage had to endure a supersonic reentry, though it didn’t need a heat shield.  We’ll have to see if the cost of recycling rocket boosters is cheaper than building one from scratch.

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