SpaceNews: September 23, 2015

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Awesome SpaceX images show how its Dragon spaceship will land on Mars

A gallery of gorgeous new images shows a cone-shaped space capsule shooting like a meteor through the atmosphere of Mars, and descending quickly toward the surface before its thrusters set it down gently in the middle of a rocky, uninhabited landscape. The human crew prepares to set food on the Red Planet.

The images are only artist’s renderings, of course — humans have not yet made it to Mars. The gorgeous gallery was released on the Flickr page of the private Spaceflight company SpaceX, and shows what it might look like if and when the company’s Dragon crew capsule makes a trip to the Red Planet. You can see all of the new images in our full Crew Dragon photo gallery.

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Cassini finds global ocean in Saturn’s moon Enceladus

A global ocean lies beneath the icy crust of Saturn’s geologically active moon Enceladus, according to new research using data from NASA’s Cassini mission. Researchers found the magnitude of the moon’s very slight wobble, as it orbits Saturn, can only be accounted for if its outer ice shell is not frozen solid to its interior, meaning a global ocean must be present.

Previous analysis of Cassini data suggested the presence of a lens-shaped body of water, or sea, underlying the moon’s south polar region. However, gravity data collected during the spacecraft’s several close passes over the south polar region lent support to the possibility the sea might be global. The new results — derived using an independent line of evidence based on Cassini’s images — confirm this to be the case.

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NASA report says rocket maker Orbital isn’t ready for space station missions

Private spaceflight company Orbital Sciences has set a timeline for rocket launches that is too ambitious — and it’s doubtful the company will launch again on time, according to NASA’s inspector general. The space agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a scathing report today criticizing the flight plans of Orbital — the company that, along with SpaceX, holds a contract with NASA to launch cargo to the station. The inspector general analyzed Orbital’s strategy for returning to flight after the company’s rocket exploded during a routine mission last year.

Orbital has been on hiatus from launching rockets since last October, after the company’s Antares rocket blew up during take off at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. It was supposed to be Orbital’s third cargo resupply mission for NASA. But a problem with the rocket’s engine caused the entire vehicle to ignite seconds after launch. The explosion destroyed Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft, filled with supplies for the station; the Wallops facility also sustained a lot of damage.

The report goes on to admonish NASA’s response to the Orbital failure, as well, arguing the space agency could have done more to reduce costs associated with the disaster. It also notes that NASA wound up paying an extra $5 million dollars to repair the Wallops Flight Facility, when that money should have come from insurance claims.

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Life in space is a giant science experiment

Space isn’t a very human-friendly environment to put things mildly. That’s why, as NASA has grown fond of saying, we’re sciencin’ the shit out of our astronauts so that we can learn how to keep them alive.

To mark the occasion, NASA released an infographic offering some fun facts about what it means to be a human in space for a year. For instance, did you know that during his cosmic sojourn, Kelly will produce “180 pounds of feces that will burn up in the atmosphere like shooting stars”? That’s cool! Or that the man is getting dosed with the radiation equivalent of over 5,000 transcontinental flights? Less cool! (But still important for us to understand).

Of course, these juicy tidbits are just the tip of the iceberg — we’ve got a lot of science to learn from Kelly as the year progresses, so stay tuned.

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