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DMSP F-12 Breaks Up On Orbit

A retired United States Air Force weather satellite has broken up on orbit. The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 12 (DMSP F-12) satellite is some 22 years old and was already out of service when its breakup occurred. 

According to a report appearing on Space News, the Joint Space Operations Center located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California announced the discovery earlier this week. Given that the DMSP F-12 satellite was decommissioned back in 2008, determining what caused it to break up in orbit will be difficult. Possible clues as to what might have caused the incident are available.

In February of 2015, the DMSP F-13 satellite also broke up on orbit. The fact that both satellites shared the same battery assembly is a possible connection between the two events as this was determined to be the cause of the 2015 anomaly.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force lost the ability to direct the DMSP F-19 satellite. It was determined that a power system failure was the cause of this issue (as was noted in a report appearing on DefenseNews). Launched in April of 2014, DMSP F-19 was sent to orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 3E (East).

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

Faulty Software Becomes Prime Suspect in Botched Schiaparelli Mars Landing

A navigation software miscommunication appears to have played a central role in last week’s Schiaparelli crash landing on the surface of Mars, initial analysis of data recorded during the lander’s descent reveals.

Schiaparelli – part of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2016 mission – was attempting to demonstrate Mars entry & landing technology for the ExoMars 2020 mission that aims to deliver a much larger payload to the surface of the planet comprised of a European rover and Russian-built surface platform.

The 600-Kilogram lander was dispatched on its final descent toward Mars by the main element of the mission, the Trace Gas Orbiter which – in parallel to Schiaparelli’s landing – fired its main engine to be captured in Mars orbit for a five-year mission exploring the planet’s atmosphere. Schiaparelli hit the atmosphere at 14:42 UTC last Wednesday and was set for a six-minute descent to the surface, but signals from the lander stopped around a minute prior to the expected landing.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Mars Lander Crash Complicates Follow-up Rover in 2020

Engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA) are racing to figure out what went wrong with the Schiaparelli Mars lander. On 19 October, it seemed to drop out of the sky and crash to the surface less than a minute before its planned soft landing. A diagnosis is urgent, because many of the same pieces of technology will be used to get a much bigger ExoMars rover down to the surface in 2020.

More than engineering is at stake. If the ExoMars 2020 rover is to fly at all, ESA must persuade its 22 member states to chip in to cover a €300 million shortfall in the €1.5 billion cost of both the 2016 and 2020 phases of ExoMars. On 1–2 December, at a meeting of government ministers, ESA officials will make their case that they are not throwing good money after bad. After the Schiaparelli loss, securing funding for ExoMars 2020 “is really more important than ever, if Europe wants to be seen as part of exploring our solar system,” says David Southwood of Imperial College London, who was ESA’s director of science from 2001 until 2011.

Read more at: Sciencemag

SpaceX AMOS-6 Anomaly Update

The Accident Investigation Team continues to make progress in examining the anomaly on September 1 that led to the loss of a Falcon 9 and its payload at Launch Complex 40 (LC-40), Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Since the incident, investigators from SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, the US Air Force and industry experts have been working methodically through an extensive fault tree to investigate all plausible causes. As part of this, we have conducted tests at our facility in McGregor, Texas, attempting to replicate as closely as possible the conditions that may have led to the mishap.

The investigation team has made significant progress on the fault tree. Previously, we announced the investigation was focusing on a breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank. The root cause of the breach has not yet been confirmed, but attention has continued to narrow to one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the LOX tank. Through extensive testing in Texas, SpaceX has shown that it can re-create a COPV failure entirely through helium loading conditions. These conditions are mainly affected by the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded.

Read more at: Spaceref

Detailed Images of Schiaparelli and its Descent Hardware on Mars

A high-resolution image taken by a NASA Mars orbiter this week reveals further details of the area where the ExoMars Schiaparelli module ended up following its descent on 19 October.

The latest image was taken on 25 October by the high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and provides close-ups of new markings on the planet’s surface first found by the spacecraft’s ‘context camera’ last week.

Both cameras had already been scheduled to observe the centre of the landing ellipse after the coordinates had been updated following the separation of Schiaparelli from ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter on 16 October. The separation manoeuvre, hypersonic atmospheric entry and parachute phases of Schiaparelli’s descent went according to plan, the module ended up within the main camera’s footprint, despite problems in the final phase.

Read more at: Mars Daily

U.S. Raises Concerns Over SpaceX Launch Site Near Gas Projects

A U.S. agency is looking into the impact that a failed rocket launch at billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX site in Texas may have on a set of natural gas export terminals developers want to build nearby.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has asked the companies proposing to run liquefied natural gas plants along the coast of Texas to hire experts that can weigh in on how a failed rocket launch at the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. site in Boca Chica Village could affect LNG operations and shipping. They have 90 days to respond, letters filed by the commission show.

The federal inquiry follows a Sept. 1 fireball that destroyed one of SpaceX’s rockets on a launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The company’s working to send rockets to space from the same area along the Texas coast that LNG shippers are hoping to use to send shale gas overseas. There are “possible siting concerns posed from potential failed rocket launches,” the energy regulatory commission said in letters to the developers this week. “We have determined that more information” is necessary, it said.

Read more at: Bloomeberg quint

Chinese Space Lab Deploys Compact Satellite for External Surveys

A companion satellite ejected from China’s orbiting Tiangong 2 research module has snapped unique views of the space lab as two astronauts inside press on with experiments and other tasks in their second week aboard the mini-space station.

The cubical craft deployed from Tiangong 2 on Sunday is about the size of a printer, and it took sharp black-and-white pictures of the space lab and the Shenzhou 11 crew transport craft docked together around 235 miles (380 kilometers) above Earth.

Fitted with a 25-megapixel camera and an ammonia-based propulsion system, the Banxing 2 satellite is expected to loiter around Tiangong 2 and Shenzhou 11, and eventually return to the vicinity of the complex to take pictures from above with Earth in the background, according to Chinese state media reports.

The first batch of photos from Banxing 2’s departure are looking up at the mini-space station complex, with the blackness of space as a backdrop. In addition to the imagery taken by the micro-satellite’s visible camera, Banxing 2 captured more than 300 infrared pictures during the flyaway sequence.

Read more at: Spaceflight Now

Astronauts’ Back Pain has Surprising Cause

Astronauts may have no trouble moving heavy objects in the weightlessness of space, but that doesn’t mean that the experience isn’t hard on their backs. Astronauts on long-duration spaceflights routinely report back pain, both during and after the flight. Now doctors think they know what’s causing this.

In a new study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to observe the spines of six NASA astronauts before they landed, at the time of landing and about two months after they had spent upward of seven months on the International Space Station. The researchers found that the prolonged exposure to weightlessness weakened the muscles supporting the astronauts’ spines.

The discovery runs counter to the theory that the astronauts’ back pain is caused by the swelling of their spinal disks, the shock-absorbing cushions between the vertebrae, the researchers said.

Read more at: Space.com

SpaceShipTwo Drop Test Set for Tuesday

Virgin Galactic plans to conduct the first glide test of the second SpaceShipTwo on Tuesday, Nov. 1. It will be the first flight of the spaceship and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft since a captive carry test on Sept. 8.

The flight, which will take place from the Mojave Air and Space Port, will come two years and 1 day after the first SpaceShipTwo broke up during a powered test flight, killing Scaled Composites pilot Mike Alsbury and injuring pilot Pete Siebold.

Virgin Galactic pilot C.J. Sturckow confirmed the date of the flight test during an event on Saturday at the Explorers Club in New York City, according to SpaceNews reporter Jeff Foust.

Read more at: Parabolic Arc

Meteorite Crashes Near Lake Baikal, Russia

Residents of eastern Siberia, Russia reported seeing a flash of green light falling on Earth around Lake Baikal at 11:45 UTC on October 25, 2016. The observed green light in the Irkutsk Region and the Buryatia Republic closely resembled the famous Chelyabinsk meteor, that fell to the ground in 2013. The newly observed phenomenon quickly became a topic of various speculations, as some believe it might have been a meteor, piece of space junk or even a rocket while others suggested the arrival of aliens to our planet.

Some suggest the object might have been an RS-18 ballistic missile which was launched around midday on October 25 (local time) near Yasny town in Orenburg Region, southern Urals, and reached the Kura test range in Kamchatka. Residents reported observing similar flashes in the Urals and Lipetsk Region, western Russia.

According to Pavel Nikiforov, a director of the Irkutsk Observatory, no space body was observed on the date: “It is difficult to say if it was a meteorite or an artificial body… No monitoring website showed that a celestial body fell to the ground,” he said.

Read more at: watchers.news

Russia to Face Strong Competition from China in Space Launch Market

In the decade to come Russia will face strong competition from China for the commercial launch of satellites for developing countries, according to Ivan Moiseev, director of the Institute of Space Policy.”China is trying to expand its space launching services, developing new boosters for different segments of the market,” Moiseev told RIA Novosti.

“It has constructed a new spacecraft launch site and is busy searching for business contracts in the segment where Russia is currently active, the segment of commercial launch of satellites for developing countries. In other words, it has become Russia’s direct competitor,” the expert added. He noted that there is already competition in the space launch market between the two countries, however it will get much stronger in the years ahead.

Read more at: Space Daily

Russia Plans to Test Elements of New Nuclear Engine on ISS

Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos has announced a tender for developing proposals on testing key elements of a megawatt-class nuclear propulsion system, including aboard the International Space Station (ISS), according to the tender documentation posted on the state procurement website on Thursday.

Specifically, Roscosmos expects to receive “proposals on the rational structure of key elements, systems and items of a perspective nuclear propulsion unit intended for tests in outer space, including with the use of the ISS’ Russian segment.

According to the tender documentation, Roscosmos is ready to allocate more than 264 million rubles (about $4 million) for this work. The winner of the tender is expected to be announced on October 28.

Read more at: TASS

Catalog of Known Near-Earth Asteroids Tops 15,000

The number of discovered near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) now tops 15,000, with an average of 30 new discoveries added each week. This milestone marks a 50 percent increase in the number of known NEAs since 2013, when discoveries reached 10,000 in August of that year.

Surveys funded by NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program (NEOs include both asteroids and comets) account for more than 95 percent of discoveries so far.

The 15,000th near-Earth asteroid is designated 2016 TB57. It was discovered on Oct. 13 by observers at the Mount Lemmon Survey, an element of the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona. 2016 TB57 is a rather small asteroid — about 50 to 115 feet (16 to 36 meters) in size — that will come closest to Earth on Oct. 31 at just beyond five times the distance of the moon. It will safely pass Earth.

Read more at: JPL

Loverro: U.S. Government Needs to Rethink How it Works With Private Space Ventures

The next big change in space operations could be the paperwork. The U.S. government needs to reform and rethink its policies about working with private companies, in order to make the opportunities more agile and enticing for businesses, a panel of military and civilian experts said Monday.

“How will we make sure regulation doesn’t disadvantage either our companies or our activities?” said Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. “I think that’s a key question. I don’t believe anybody knows the answer to that question.”

The panel on military-commercial relations in space was hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a kick-off to the think tank’s new Aerospace Security Project to study air and space issues more closely.

The regulatory framework of the nation’s space business has lagged behind rapid developments in the field, Loverro said. Some areas, like remote sensing, are stuck with outdated rules that require “regulatory reform, regulatory relaxation,” while other activities such as space traffic management “don’t have any regulation to date.”

Read more at: Space News

KSC Evaluating the Groundwork Challenges for SLS Block 1B Upgrades

NASA’s monster rocket will evolve into an even larger vehicle early in her lifetime, as the Block 1 rocket grows into the workhorse known as the Block 1B. With a large increase in capability – and height – the Block 1B will require a revamp of numerous elements of the KSC ground systems, ranging from major changes to the new Mobile Launcher, through to need for a new LH2 storage sphere at the pad.

The Block 1 SLS is a 70mT capable rocket that will provide up to two test flights with the Orion capsule. Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) is currently aiming to launch in late 2018, before standing down for several years until the proposed repeat mission, EM-2, this time with a crew.

The plan is still being worked on, not least due to the political uncertainty in NASA’s roadmap during the upcoming change of President.

Read more at: NASA Spaceflight

Swarm Reveals Why Satellites Lose Track

Satellite engineers have been puzzling over why GPS navigation systems on low-orbiting satellites like ESA’s Swarm sometimes black out when they fly over the equator between Africa and South America. Thanks to Swarm, it appears ‘thunderstorms’ in the ionosphere are to blame.

Launched in 2013, the Swarm trio is measuring and untangling the different magnetic fields that stem from Earth’s core, mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere – an undertaking of at least four years.

As with many satellites, ESA’s three Swarm satellites carry GPS receivers as part of their positioning system so that operators keep them in the correct orbits. In addition, GPS pinpoints where the satellites are making their scientific measurements. However, sometimes the satellites lose their GPS connection. In fact, during their first two years in orbit, the link was broken 166 times. A paper published recently describes how Swarm has revealed there is a direct link between these blackouts and ionospheric ‘thunderstorms’, around 300–600 km above Earth.

Read more at: ESA

Roscosmos Confirms 2021 Test Flight of Federation Spacecraft

The head of the Roscosmos State Corporation recently confirmed the first test flight of Russia’s next-generation spacecraft, Federation, will take place in 2021. The spacecraft’s maiden orbital mission will launch without a crew from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the country’s Far East. “The first launch of an unmanned version is planned in 2021,” Igor Komarov, the Director of Roscosmos, said during a meeting dedicated to the construction of Vostochny.

Currently under development by RKK Energia, the Federation spacecraft is planned to by completed by 2021. Besides the first test flight, one uncrewed mission and one test mission of a crewed variant of the vehicle are scheduled for 2023. RKK Energia tested the spacecraft’s crew-machine interface elements on a unique ergonomic simulator in May 2016. During these trials, the company checked out launch, insertion, autonomous flight, and docking procedures. The engineers also examined the flight phase toward an orbiting space station as well as circumlunar trajectories.

The Federation spacecraft will measure some 20 feet (6.1 meters) in length and have a mass of approximately 14.4 metric tons. It should be capable of delivering people and cargo to the Moon and to space stations positioned in a low-Earth orbit. The spacecraft will replace the country’s flagship Soyuz vehicle, and the cost of its development is estimated to be about $734 million over the next six years.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

How the Mars 160 Crew Stays Busy and Healthy

The Mars Society is conducting an ambitious two-phase Mars 160 Twin Desert-Arctic Analog mission to study how seven crewmembers could live, work and perform science on a true mission to Mars. Mars 160 crewmember Annalea Beattie is chronicling the mission, which will spend 80 days at the Mars Desert Research Station in southern Utah desert before venturing far north to Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station on Devon Island, Canada in summer 2017. Here’s her fourth dispatch from the mission:

None of us have traveled to Mars, and we don’t really know what it will be like. The challenges for humans in long-duration space travel have yet to be experienced.

Here at the Mars Desert Research Station, we are seven for the first phase of our Mars 160 science mission. We are living in simulation in a Mars analogue in a remote desert where temperatures can range from 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius) in winter to more than 104 degrees F (40 degrees C) in summer. [See more Mars 160 photos here, and get daily images by the Mars 160 crew]

When it comes to understanding how life might be in an enclosed community in an extreme environment off Earth, unless I move to Eigg (an island off the west Scottish coast), this is about as close as it gets to living in a small frontier microsociety on Mars.

Read more at: Space.com

‘Golden’ Expedition: 50th Commander Takes Charge of Space Station

For the 50th time its nearly 16-year history, the International Space Station has a new commander.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough became the space station’s 50th commander on Friday (Oct. 28) during a brief change of command ceremony. Kimbrough took over control from Anatoli Ivanishin, the outgoing commander of Expedition 49 and a cosmonaut with Russia’s federal space agency, Roscosmos. “It is really an honor and a privilege to take command of the International Space Station,” said Kimbrough. [Watch: New Crew Arrives at International Space Station]

The ceremony continued a tradition started by the space station’s first expedition crew, who took up residency aboard the orbiting outpost on Nov. 2, 2000. The first change of command, between Expedition 1 commander Bill Shepherd with NASA and Expedition 2 commander Yury Ushcev with Roscosmos, occurred four months later.

Read more at: Space.com

Industry Committee to Start Work on Human Spaceflight Safety Standards

With the Federal Aviation Administration restricted from developing safety regulations for people flying on commercial human spacecraft, an industry standards organization is moving ahead with plans to establish a committee to develop a voluntary set of standards.

At a meeting here Oct. 24, ASTM International, an organization founded in 1898 that develops voluntary consensus standards for a wide range of industries, agreed to move ahead with the creation of a committee that will work on creating such standards for commercial launch vehicles, spacecraft and spaceports.

“It will allow industry to use a 110-year-old process to produce consensus standards,” said Oscar Garcia, chairman of the standards working group of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), during a meeting of that working group here Oct. 25. The new committee, he said, “will develop standards and related roadmaps to address activities such as human spaceflight occupant safety standards, spaceports and space traffic management.”

Read more at: Space News

Dusty with a Chance of Radiation: Mars Weather Forecasting will be Critical

Weather on Earth is often a hazard for travelers; after all, snowstorms, hurricanes, floods and other events can make it dangerous to drive or fly. Space travelers have a similar problem when dealing with space weather.

As NASA plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, work is underway to study how the space weather environment will impact their journey. Explosive “storms” that erupt from the surface of the sun regularly create showers of harmful radiation. Part of NASA’s plan for a trip to the Red Planet will have to include space weather forecasting, monitoring and safety measures.

Forecasting space weather is also beneficial to people on Earth, especially as humans become more and more dependent on satellites for things like GPS and telecommunications. During a public event hosted at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., yesterday (Oct. 25), scientists discussed current efforts to help all Earthlings cope with space weather events.

Read more at: Space.com

US, China Silent on Space Talks, Except to Say There Will Be More

The United States and China appear to be keeping an unusually low profile as they push for more dialogue and cooperation on space exploration.

The State Department hosted a new round of space cooperation talks in Washington last week with a delegation led by China’s National Space Administration (CNSA), but U.S. officials didn’t publicly announce the meeting until Monday, via a tersely worded press release that said a third round of civil space dialogue would be held in China next year.

CNSA has yet to make any public mention of the talks, which included Pentagon officials and representatives from NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey.

In the United States, cooperation with China’s space agencies is a sensitive topic. U.S. law prohibits NASA from working with CNSA on manned space programs, and the U.S. military is concerned that cooperation with China’s space sector would help China improve its ability to threaten U.S. space assets.

Read more at: Voanews

Trump: “I Will Free NASA” From Being Just a LEO Space Logistics Agency

Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump vowed today to “free NASA” from serving “primarily” as a logistics agency for low Earth orbit operations.   He also supported more public private partnerships and asserted that if he wins “America and Florida will lead the way into the stars.”

Trump spoke at the Orlando Sanford International Airport today.  Originally, he planned to visit Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s Space Coast, but those plans changed over the weekend.  Florida Today reported that the Trump campaign concluded there was no suitable indoor venue near KSC and outdoor locations posed security risks, but Trump did, indeed, speak outdoors at the Sanford rally.  He mentioned that it was to have taken place inside an airplane hangar, but it was too small for the crowd.

The space program came up at the end of an almost hour-long speech.  The following is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s transcript: “My plan also includes major investments in space exploration, also right here [in Florida].  You know what we call this place. Over the last 8 years, the Obama-Clinton administration has undermined our space program tremendously. That will change. So many good things come out of it, including great jobs. That will change very quickly under a Trump administration and it’ll change before it’s too late.”

Read more at: Spacepolicyonline

Clinton Wants Balanced NASA Program With Climate Change Research and Exploration Partnerships

Jim Kohlenberger, who served in both the Obama and Bill Clinton administrations, published an op-ed in Space News today laying out Hillary Clinton’s civil space agenda.  Clinton wants a balanced NASA program with a focus on climate change research as well as a “robust” exploration program, all in partnership with the international and commercial communities.

Kohlenberger was chief of staff for the Obama White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from 2009-2011.  During Bill Clinton’s presidency, he was Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Vice President Al Gore.   Currently he is President of JK Strategies, a public policy consulting practice, and Executive Director of the Center for Copyright Information.

This is the third op-ed in the trade publication providing information on the candidates’ views on space.  The first two, published last week (on civil space issues) and yesterday (on national security space) were from two representatives of the Trump campaign, Bob Walker and Peter Navarro.  Trump himself also spoke about NASA briefly today.

Read more at: Spacepolicyonline

Europe Wants to Strengthen Position in Space Under New Strategy

The European Union adopted a plan to keep a leading place in the increasingly competitive global space industry by encouraging companies to make use of its cutting-edge satellite data set to become indispensable in areas from producing driverless cars to monitoring climate change.

The European Commission, the regulatory arm of the 28-nation EU, wants to promote the creation of industrial space hubs and help start-ups gain a foothold in the region’s space industry. The Space Strategy for Europe also highlights the need for the region to develop autonomous access to space through building its own launchers.

“Space matters for Europe; each euro invested in space brings back 7 euros,” EU Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said. “Public finance is there. With this strategy we want to attract and foster greater involvement of the private sector.” Europe has earmarked 12 billion euros for high-quality space projects in 2014-2020.

Read more at: Bloomberg

Zap! NASA Betting on Space Lasers for Superfast Calls from Mars

In NASA’s eyes, a record-breaking laser-communications test in 2013 was just the beginning. In 2019, the space agency plans to launch a mission that will extend upon the progress made during that 2013 trial, which was performed by NASA’s LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) spacecraft.

LADEE’s Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) experiment sent data from Earth to the moon at 622 megabits per second, far exceeding what would have been possible with traditional radio communications. While LADEE’s laser showed the feasibility of the technology in space, the mission was designed to be short-lived; LADEE crashed into the lunar surface as planned just a few months after arriving at the moon.

The 2019 mission, called the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), will operate much closer to home, on the International Space Station (ISS). LCRD will practice sending communications from Earth orbit to two dedicated ground stations in Hawaii and California.

Read more at: Space.com

Lawmakers File Bills Creating PHL Space Agency

The Philippines is one step closer to having its own national space agency. Filipino astrophysicist Dr. Rogel Mari Sese announced this week the filing of two bills in the Senate and Lower House for the establishment of a centralized Philippine Space Agency.

“All the work that we have done in the past few years for the development of a national space program amounts to these two documents… House Bill 3637 and Senate Bill 1211 which both aim to legislate a Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy and create a Philippine Space Agency,” Sese wrote in his Facebook account on Tuesday.

As the program leader of the National Space Development Program (NSDP) under the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), Sese and his colleagues have been lobbying for the Philippines’ active participation in space exploration and utilization.

Read more at: gmanetwork

Ewen Whitaker, Who Guided NASA to the Moon, Dies at 94

Ewen A. Whitaker, a British-born astronomer who drew on his unparalleled knowledge of the lunar surface to select landing sites for unmanned NASA spacecraft in the 1960s, guide the footsteps of the Apollo 12 astronauts and develop accurate maps of the moon, died on Oct. 11 in Tucson. He was 94. His daughter, Fiona Andrews, confirmed the death.

Mr. Whitaker, who had no formal training as an astronomer, became an expert in lunar photography and selenography — describing and mapping the surface features of the moon — while working at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in the 1950s.

At the time, the International Astronomical Union relied on a lunar map, published in 1935, that was largely hand-drawn. Mr. Whitaker, in his spare time, began updating it with information taken from photographs.

His work attracted the attention of the Dutch astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper, the director of the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, operated by the University of Chicago. He invited Mr. Whitaker to join the Lunar Project, newly created to produce a high-quality photographic atlas of the moon.

Read more at: NY Times