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Stardust return preview
NASA's Stardust spacecraft encountered Comet Wild 2 two years ago, gathering samples of cometary dust for return to Earth. In this Dec. 21 news conference, mission officials and scientists detail the probe's homecoming and planned landing in Utah scheduled for January 15, 2006.

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Science of New Horizons
The first robotic space mission to visit the distant planet Pluto and frozen objects in the Kuiper Belt is explained by the project's managers and scientists in this NASA news conference from the agency's Washington headquarters on Dec. 19.

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Shuttle program update
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations, discusses the latest space shuttle program news, including the decision to remove the PAL foam ramp from future external fuel tanks, during this December 15 teleconference with reporters.

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Remembering Gemini 6
The Gemini 6 mission launched from the Cape at 8:37 a.m. December 15, 1965 to rendezvous with the orbiting Gemini 7 spacecraft. The rendezvous occurred and Gemini 6 safely returned to Earth.

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New views of icy moons
NASA's Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn is wrapping up a phenomenally successful year of observing the mysterious icy moons, including Enceladus, Dione, Rhea, Hyperion and Iapetus.

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First ISS spacewalkers
Mission Control remembers the spacewalking efforts by astronaut Jerry Ross and Jim Newman from this week in 1998. The duo worked to connect the first two pieces of the International Space Station -- the Russian-made Zarya control module and the U.S Unity node.

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Russian Proton rocket lofts navigation satellite trio

Posted: December 25, 2005

Three new satellites were launched by Russia on Sunday on the first leg of their mission to rejuvenate the country's system of space-based navigation that is relied upon by a host of military and civilian users.

The trio is the latest addition to the Global Navigation Satellite System, or GLONASS, which is the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Air Force's Global Positioning System and Europe's fledgling Galileo program.

A Proton rocket gave the spacecraft a successful Christmas Day ride to space after lifting off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome at 0507 GMT (12:07 a.m. EST).

The launcher included a Block-DM upper stage that performed several burns to place the three craft in the desired circular orbit almost 12,000 miles in altitude and inclined 64.8 degrees before releasing them into space at 0839 GMT (3:39 a.m. EST), a report from RIA Novosti said.

The payload consisted of two upgraded GLONASS satellites, which feature longer service lives of seven years, while also substantially increasing the precision of positioning data produced using the constellation. The third spacecraft is an older model with an anticipated lifetime of three years.

Once operational, each 3,000-pound satellite will enter service to provide exact positioning, velocity, and timing information to millions of users around the world, including the Russian armed forces.

Discounting Sunday's launch, the GLONASS fleet currently includes just 14 active satellites, but one craft was at least temporarily taken out of service earlier this month according to an online status report.

The system is designed around three orbital planes, with each intended to contain eight satellites. Officials hope 18 spacecraft will be in space by 2007, allowing the group to become fully operational, followed by reaching the system's full complement of 24 satellites by 2010, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

The primary customers of GLONASS data are found in the air and marine traffic and ground transportation industries. Other users such as scientists, law enforcement agencies, and outdoor enthusiasts also often look to space for navigation information.

The next Proton launch is scheduled for 0228 GMT Thursday (9:28 p.m. EST Wednesday) to haul the AMERICOM 23 communications satellite into orbit for U.S-based operator SES AMERICOM. The International Launch Services-managed mission, originally planned for early December, was delayed to replace a suspect gyroscope in the rocket's control system.