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Night Owl Club

Night Owl Club

Night Owl Club

7:00 PM on first Thursday of every month

Fairbanks Night Owl Club

An informal online discussion with astronomy and space exploration experts that follows your curiosity to the edges of the universe!

artemis orbitWant to know more about the data coming back from the Mars Perseverance Rover? About rockets being launching from nearby Maine and around the world? Or whether there could be life on close or faraway planets? Bring any questions you want to discuss about space- the sky is the limit… or is it the stars?

The Fairbanks Museum is home to the only public planetarium in Vermont, and our educators are connected with the latest NASA projects. We'll bring a passion for space exploration and astronomy events to this monthly conversation, where you can bring your questions and observations. Together, we'll discover the latest images from deep space, once-in-a-lifetime astronomical occurrences, and advances in space technology that make our solar system more accessible. We'll also uncover new mysteries and celebrate achievements in understanding our universe.

Drawing on monthly updates from planetarium director Mark Breen, astronomy and spaceflight presenter Christian Bradley Hubbs will highlight a few topics with images and deeper explanations. Come with questions or simply listen-in for your Night Owl inspiration that will help you read the night sky through the month.

Tune in at 7:00 PM on the first Thursday of each month to “talk shop” with astronomy and spaceflight presenters, educators, and experts.

Use this Zoom link to log on, or find us live on Facebook 

Astronomy & Spaceflight News from the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium

by Christian Bradley Hubbs

James Webb Space Telescope Set to Launch

On 18 December, if everything proceeds as expected, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The Webb Space Telescope is mounted on an Ariane 5 rocket and begin its journey to a position beyond the Moon where it will perform groundbreaking astronomical observations of distant objects of the early universe. Webb will be the biggest and most powerful space telescope since the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched by a Space Shuttle in 1990.


Named after the famous Apollo-era NASA Administrator who also supported astronomy and scientific research programs early in the agency, the Webb Telescope began as the Next Generation Space Telescope program in 1996. It was renamed to JWST in 2002, and had an initial launch planned for 2010. The project is led by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), with contributions from other international partners.


The mission was delayed several times in the 2000s and 2010s, but successfully passed a critical design review in 2010 and was set for a launch in late 2018, when one of the Sun-shields, thin metal sheets on the bottom of the telescope to block Solar infrared radiation, was torn during testing and preparation. This set the mission back to a March 2021 planned launch. However, the launch vehicle for Webb, ESA’s Ariane 5 built and operated by ArianeSpace, showed unacceptable conditions for the delicate telescope during the launch of a different, more robust spacecraft in August 2020. The launch was pushed to late 2021 and engineers went to work assessing the rocket and modified the payload fairing in order to meet launch condition requirements. Two more Ariane 5 launches with this modified fairing in July and October 2021 showed good data, making the rocket ready to launch Webb.


That brings us to the present. The telescope was shipped from California in September, passing thru the Panama Canal and reaching the ESA spaceport in French Guiana in mid October. It now has been integrated with the Ariane 5 launch vehicle and is awaiting launch, targeted for no earlier than the evening of 18 December. After a nominal launch, the craft will be expected to undergo a one month process of positioning itself at the L2 Lagrange point beyond the Moon, and then begin the longer process of unfolding itself and beginning to activate and inspect its instruments. The first astronomical observations are expected no sooner than 6 months after launch and deployment.


If successful, Webb will observe a range of the electromagnetic spectrum from the most red visible light to the deep infrared, overlapping only partially with Hubble, which observed from UV to near-IR, mostly focusing on visible light. This will allow Webb to look deeper into the distant, early universe at sources that began as high energy gamma and x-rays but have been red-shifted down to the infrared. Webb will observe the earliest star and galaxy formation in the millions of years that immediately followed the Big Bang. This will go beyond the famous Deep Field and Ultra Deep Field images obtained by Hubble. Unlike Hubble, however, this telescope will not be in Low Earth Orbit and is not planned to be accessed by astronauts for maintenance, at least in the near future. Contrasting with Hubble’s deployment and 5 servicing missions performed by the Space Shuttle, which was retired in 2011 - a year after the James Webb Space Telescope was originally planned to launch. Even without maintenance however, if it can be deployed successfully, Webb will be an absolutely revolutionary tool for the future of astronomy and understanding the evolution of the universe.

Japanese Space Tourists Launching on Soyuz to ISS

On December 8, a crew of 3 will ride a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station for the MS-20 mission. Two of the crew members are Japanese space tourists Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano, who paid for the ride by the company Space Adventures, along with the commander, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin. A third tourist, Shun Ogiso, trained with the other two and has been assigned to the backup crew, with the chance to fly on a future Space Adventures mission

Space Adventures, founded in 1998, previously provided seats on Soyuz flights to tourists several times between 2001 and 2009, but were unable to during the 2010s due to the retirement of the Space Shuttle, which required NASA astronauts to also ride to the Station on Soyuz. Now that NASA has the ability to launch crews on SpaceX Dragon and in the near future Boeing Starliner, this frees up Soyuz seats once again for tourists.

Back in 2018, during a presentation with Elon Musk, Maezawa previously announced his intention to fly to the Moon on a SpaceX vehicle (at the time a large composite craft, now the stainless steel Starship) as part of the “Dear Moon” mission, now scheduled for no earlier than 2023. To get some spaceflight practice in Earth orbit, he is choosing to ride on a Soyuz to the ISS beforehand.

This comes just months after the Soyuz MS-19 mission which carried a Russian film crew to the Station, signaling that the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos is opening up Soyuz once again for private and commercial passengers. MS-20 is planned to last for about two weeks, returning the 3 crew to Earth around 20 December. Roscosmos is already planning to launch another Soyuz carrying two tourists on MS-23 in 2022.

Russian Anti-Satellite Missile Test Jeopardises ISS, NASA & ESA Condemn

On the night of 14-15 November, the Russian military conducted a test of an anti-satellite missile, which targeted an old Soviet satellite. The missile, an A-235 Nudol, was launched from the military cosmodrome in Plesetsk, northern Russia, and struck the targeted object, Kosmos 1408, and this collision created a cloud of debris orbiting Earth in such a way that they would pass relatively close to the International Space Station several times before spreading out. The orbital altitude of the satellite before the collision was around 480 km, and the cloud of debris large enough to be tracked after ranged from 440 to 520 km. This caused the ISS to enter a safety procedure to prepare for any potential collisions with fragments, with the Station crew, including Russian cosmonauts, entering their respective Soyuz and Dragon return capsules to be prepared in the event of an emergency. This came just days after another potential collision caused the ISS to perform a maneuver to avoid an object which would pass within about 600 meters of the Station.

The aftermath of this event included criticism from NASA, ESA, and other national space agencies and private companies, as well as embarrassment and consolation from Roscosmos, saying the cosmonauts aboard the station plan to continue their normal operations without much difficulty despite the emergency. Soon after, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson met with the leader of Roscosmos, Dimitry Rogozin, to discuss the event and about the security of the ISS in the future. The Russian space agency was not involved in the missile test and subsequent dangerous circumstances, and Roscosmos likely was opposed to the test for various reasons including the proliferation of space debris and endangerment of cosmonauts.

The major issue here is that the test was conducted on a satellite that was in a high enough orbit to both pass by many other operational spacecraft, like the ISS, and also not deorbit quickly due to drag for a longer period of time. Due to the density of air in the upper atmosphere, most satellites between 200 and 500 km will take months or years to decay, while orbits below 200 km will decay in a matter of weeks. Kosmos 1408, a surveillance satellite launched in 1982, was likely selected as the target because, even if it was above the ISS, it was one of the lowest orbiting of the derelict Soviet & Russian satellites, and this option was cheaper than launching a new target into an orbit below the ISS. Other countries have conducted anti-satellite activities over the years, including China and India. The US has used missiles to quickly deorbit malfunctioning satellites in the past as well with its own anti-satellite missile system. Many countries and companies are developing space debris mitigation systems and technologies, in order to reduce clutter in Earth orbit in order to prevent something called Kessler Syndrome, a cascading sequence of orbital collisions which would render regions of space unusable.

December Launch Forecast

(Launch schedule information provided by All dates/times in ET & 24h format. All launches subject to change or delay. If no time yet specified, NET = No Earlier Than. Missions carrying humans shown in bold.)





Launch Site

Landing Site


1 Dec 4:25


Oriole IV

NASA/Andoya Space/

Norwegian Space Agency

LC, Andøya, Norway

N/A (Expended)


2 Dec 17:57

Starlink 4-L3

Falcon 9 B5 B10XX


SLC-40, Cape Canaveral, FL, USA

ASDS A Shortfall Of Gravitas, North Atlantic


2 Dec 19:27

Galileo FOC FM23-24

Soyuz ST-B



ELS, Kourou, French Guiana

N/A (Expended)


NET 2 Dec

STP-27VPB Above The Clouds

Cosmic Girl

Launcher One

Virgin Orbit

(Air Launch), Mojave, CA, USA

N/A (Expended)


5 Dec 4:04


Atlas V 551


SLC-41, Cape Canaveral, FL, USA

N/A (Expended)


6 Dec 18:10


Kuaizhou 1A


Site 95, Jiuquan, Inner Mongolia, China

N/A (Expended)


6 Dec 19:40

"A Data With Destiny"


Rocket Lab

LC-1A, Mahia, New Zealand

Helicopter Recovery, South Pacific


8 Dec 2:38

Soyuz MS-20

Soyuz 2.1a

Roscosmos/ Space Adventures

Site 31/6, Baikonur, Kazakhstan

N/A (Expended)

LEO (ISS Rassvet)

9 Dec 1:00

Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE)

Falcon 9 B5 B10XX


LC-39A, Cape Canaveral, FL, USA

ASDS, North Atlantic


9 Dec 10:00


New Shepard 4.5 (RSS First Step)

Blue Origin

LS-1, Corn Ranch, Van Horn, TX, USA

Corn Ranch Landing Site, Van Horn, TX, USA


12 Dec 7:09

Ekspress AMU-3&7



Site 200/39, Baikonur, Kazakhstan

N/A (Expended)


18 Dec 22:58

TurkSat 5B

Falcon 9 B5 B10XX


SLC-40, Cape Canaveral, FL, USA

ASDS, North Atlantic


21 Dec 5:06

Dragon CRS-24

Falcon 9 B5 B10XX


LC-39A, Cape Canaveral, FL, USA

ASDS, North Atlantic

LEO (ISS Harmony)

21 Dec 9:33

InmarSat I-6 F1

H-IIA 204

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

LA-Y1, Tanegashima, Japan

N/A (Expended)


22 Dec 7:20

James Webb Space Telescope

Ariane 5

NASA/ESA/ ArianeSpace

ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana

N/A (Expended)

Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange Point

NET 22 Dec

MGM #3

Angara A5

Russian Aerospace Forces

Site 35/1, Plesetsk, Russia

N/A (Expended)


23 Dec 5:30


Chang Zheng 7A


LC-201, Wenchang, Hainan, China

N/A (Expended)