What’s Happening in Space in November?
As the days grow shorter and the nights draw in, there’s plenty happening in space.
A new era dawns in the field of space travel, as SpaceX gets ready to launch four astronauts to the International Space Station in their first operational mission as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Currently due to take place at 00:27 (GMT) on 16 November, the mission will see the first use of the space company’s Dragon Resilience spacecraft, delivered to the ISS by a Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker, plus JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi, will live aboard the ISS for a planned six month period, before returning to Earth in May 2021. This launch is seen as a giant leap in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, with long duration commercial crew rotation missions enabling NASA to lay the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond.
This month will be a busy one for SpaceX, as they also prepare to launch the first ten GPS III satellites on 05 November, as well as a classified payload on the 18 November, and the Turksat 5A satellite on the 30 November.
We are also expecting a suborbital 15km test flight of a Starship prototype and the next set of Starlink satellites to be launched into low-earth orbit, although no date has been set at the point of writing this blog.
But it’s not just SpaceX making historical launches this month. Across the other side of the world, China is getting ready to launch the first lunar sample-return mission since 1976, as Chang’e 5 blasts off on 24 November.
The mission will see the probe return a lunar soil sample, making China only the third country to make a lunar orbital flight (after the Soviet Union and USA.)
However, rather than returning the sample directly to Earth, the ascent stage will dock with the service module, before the sample is transferred to the return capsule.
When the return capsule gets close to Earth the sample will then and perform an atmospheric re-entry.
November provides us with many important space anniversaries, particularly when it comes to the Space Race of the 1960’s. On 09 November 1967 NASA launched its first Saturn V rocket. This was the rocket that would eventually carry astronauts to the Moon, such as Apollo 12 astronauts Charles Conrad and Al Bean, who took their first steps on the lunar surface on 19 November 1969.
The Soviet Union’s answer to the Saturn V is the Soyuz rocket, the first successful launch of which took place on 28 November 1966. Soyuz went on to become the most used and successful rocket and spacecraft to date, often called the workhorse of space travel.
On 02 November 2000, the Expedition 1 crew, NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd and Cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, became the first crew on the International Space Station.
It was the last date that all living humans were together on Earth. The orbiting science facility has remained inhabited since that date, 20 years ago.
Image Credit: ESA
This month also sees the anniversary of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, which made history becoming the first to land a probe on a comet. Rosetta is studying the Jupiter-family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with a combination of remote sensing and in situ measurements. The spacecraft arrived at the comet on 6 August 2014 following a 10-year journey through the Solar System.
On 12 November 2014, the Philae lander descended towards comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, bounced twice off the surface, then arrived under an overhanging cliff in the Abydos region. The landing process provided insights into the properties of a cometary nucleus.
Earlier this month scientists found the second place where a bouncing European lander touched down on a comet, a discovery that’s shedding considerable light on the icy wanderer’s composition.
If you are looking for something to do during November, wrap up warm, check for clear skies and head outside. November provides us with not one but two meteor showers, with best viewing for both from a dark location after midnight.
The first of these are the North Taurids which peaks on the evening of 10 November (the South Taurids peaks on or around 04 November, but the light of the bright waning gibbous moon will accompany the peak of the South Taurids, which rarely produces more than five meteors per hour, even at maximum). You can find full details of how to view the North Taurids on our Meteor blog.
The second shower, the Leonids, should hopefully have much better viewing opportunities. Peaking on the evening of 17 November, the Leonids are produced by dust grains left from comet Tempel-Tuttle, and an early setting crescent moon should leave us with optimal viewing conditions (weather permitting of course.) The meteors will radiate from Leo but can appear anywhere in the night sky.
If the weather is not on our side you can always get your space fix by watching some great space films, which all celebrate their anniversaries this month, including, in my opinion, two of the finest space films this century; Gravity (07 November 2013) and Interstellar (07 November 2014).
Slightly less famous but still enjoyable is Solaris (29 November 2002), starring George Clooney and based on the 1961 novel of the same name.
If you are a Star Trek fan, then this month is an excuse to celebrate the release of Star Trek Generations (18 November 1994). This all-time classic brings together the characters of both the original and Next Generation series, including the teaming of Captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard.
If you are looking for a film the whole family can enjoy, Zathura: A Space Adventure (11 November 2005) is the story of two brothers who discover a board game that transports them into space, and which they must complete to return home. Yes it’s Jumanji in space, and what isn’t there to love about that?