Bad Astronomy

Launch meat

A few launch notes:

Kepler, the telescope designed to look for Earthlike planets around nearby stars, is due to launch on a Delta II on March 6. That’s still to be confirmed, but it looks good. Kepler will stare at about 100,000 stars and look for periodic dimming in them due to an orbiting planet passing in front of the star. It will be able to detect planets the size of Earth orbiting sunlike stars, so we may be on the verge of a very large breakthrough in exoplanet astronomy!

Also, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is due to launch on May 20. This is an ambitious Moon probe that will be able to take images of the lunar surface with a resolution of half a meter. Years ago I tried to pressure NASA to take Apollo landing site images and make them a high priority – I think the PR value alone would be fantastic, plus I’m curious to see how things may have changed. I expect the nylon in the flags has long ago succumbed to solar UV bombardment. But the rovers and landers will be big enough to see, though fuzzy. How cool would that be? I have no idea if they plan on doing that or not – as Jim Baen once said, “I just think that the space program reminds me of a government agency” – but maybe they’ll do it. We’ll see.

You can get launch news about non-Shuttle related rockets at NASA’s Expendable Launch Vehicle Status Reports page.