NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made a historic New Year’s encounter with an object nicknamed Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt a billion miles beyond Pluto. The NASA space probe passed Ultima Thule at a distance of around 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) at 12:33 a.m. EST (0533 GMT) on Jan. 1, making it the most distant planetary body ever explored up close.
Russian commander Sergey Prokopyev, German flight engineer Alexander Gerst, and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor closed out a nearly 197-day space mission with a landing in Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz MS-09 crew carry ship at 0502 GMT (12:02 a.m. EST) Thursday. The Soyuz crew undocked from the International Space Station at 0140 GMT (8:40 p.m. EST Wednesday) to begin their return to Earth.
India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk.2 lifted off at 1040 GMT (5:40 a.m. EST; 4:10 p.m. Indian Standard Time) with the GSAT 7A communications satellite for the Indian Air Force. The rocket placed the spacecraft into a supersynchronous transfer orbit around 19 minutes after liftoff from Sriharikota on India’s east coast.
The French military’s newest sharp-eyed optical surveillance satellite lifted off at 1637 GMT (11:37 a.m. EST) Wednesday from French Guiana aboard a Russian-built Soyuz launcher, marking Arianespace’s 11th and final launch of 2018. The Soyuz rocket and Fregat upper stage will place the CSO 1 spacecraft into orbit around 500 miles (800 kilometers) above Earth. Managers delayed the launch from Tuesday due to unfavorable high-altitude winds.
United Launch Alliance called off the planned liftoff of a Delta 4-Heavy rocket and a classified National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Wednesday after indications of elevated hydrogen concentrations around one of the launcher’s main engines. Three previous launch attempts were scrubbed by technical concerns and bad weather.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 10:34 a.m. PST (1:34 p.m. EST; 1834 GMT) Monday. The launch, under contract to Spaceflight, carried into orbit 64 small satellites from 17 countries, the largest multi-payload rideshare mission ever flown on a U.S. rocket. The Falcon 9’s first stage booster previously flew on two missions from Florida, and landed again on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean after Monday’s launch.