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SpaceX is replacing 2 rocket engines for its next astronaut launch for NASA - Space.com
The Crew-1 mission is on track for a Nov. 14 liftoff.
SpaceX is replacing two engines on the rocket that will launch the company's next crewed mission, which is scheduled to lift off on Nov. 14. The measure follows an investigation into the aberrant behavior of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that was supposed to launch a GPS satellite for the U.S. Space Force on Oct. 2. That liftoff was aborted automatically with just two seconds left on the countdown clock when sensors picked up off-nominal readings. The upcoming astronaut launch, which will kick off SpaceX's Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station for NASA, also will employ a Falcon 9. So NASA and SpaceX pushed back Crew-1's target liftoff date, which had been Oct. 31, to allow time for an investigation and make sure the same problem won't affect the astronaut launch. Related: See the evolution of SpaceX's rockets in pictures The investigation of the Oct. 2 abort traced the issue to two of the nine Merlin engines on the Falcon 9's first stage. Those two Merlins retained residue of a "masking lacquer" designed to protect sensitive parts during anti-corrosion anodizing treatment, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president of build and flight reliability, said during a news conference on Wednesday (Oct. 28). The vendor performing the treatment didn't manage to remove all of the lacquer afterward, and some of it ended up blocking 0.06-inch-wide (1.6 millimeters) vent holes for valves in two of the Merlins that were supposed to power the two-stage Falcon 9 skyward on Oct. 2, Koenigsmann said. After analyzing a wide range of Merlin data, SpaceX found signs of a similar issue with two of the engines in the Crew-1 Falcon 9's first stage, as well as one Merlin in the first stage of the booster scheduled to loft the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Earth-observing satellite for NASA and several of its partners on Nov. 10. So SpaceX is now swapping out all of those affected Merlins for ones known to be free of masking-lacquer residue, Koenigsmann said. The investigation and troubleshooting process, which SpaceX conducted with the help of NASA and the Space Force, "led to a really good review and a really good anomaly resolution that, in my opinion, makes a better vehicle and a better engine going forward," Koenigsmann said. SpaceX's safety systems worked properly on Oct. 2, noticing the anomaly in time and aborting the launch, he said. And a liftoff that day may not have been disastrous, Koenigsmann added; the Falcon 9 might have experienced a "hard start" caused by introducing various fluids — igniter fluid, liquid oxygen and kerosene — in the wrong order in the affected engines. "It's not necessarily bad," he said of a hard start. "In most cases, it rattles the engine, and it may cause a little bit of damage to the engine. In extreme cases, it may cause more damage to the engine." In photos: SpaceX's historic Demo-2 test flight with astronauts The Falcon 9 should be ready in time for the planned Nov. 14 launch of Crew-1, NASA officials said during Wednesday's news conference, though they stressed that the mission will launch when it's ready and not be constrained by an arbitrary timeline. And NASA wants to see another Falcon 9 fly before the astronaut launch — specifically, the one that will loft the GPS satellite that was supposed to go up on Oct. 2 (and which also got a two-Merlin swap), said Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The GPS launch, which will take place from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, is currently targeted for no earlier than Nov. 4, according to Spaceflight Now. Processing of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule that will carry the four Crew-1 astronauts — NASA's Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins and Japan's Soichi Noguchi — to the space station for a 6-month stay is coming along nicely, Stich said. If all goes according to plan, NASA and SpaceX will conduct a flight readiness review for Crew-1 on Friday (Oct. 30) and start loading propellant this weekend into the Crew Dragon, which its riders have named "Resilience," Stich said. The four astronauts are currently in "soft quarantine" at their homes and will enter a more stringent quarantine on Halloween, Stich added. The quartet will travel to the Crew-1 launch site, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Nov. 6, if all goes according to plan. Crew-1 will be SpaceX's second astronaut mission to the International Space Station for NASA. On May 30, Elon Musk's company launched Demo-2, a test flight that carried NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station for a two-month stay. A review of the Demo-2 data has been completed, clearing the path for Crew-1, Stich said. SpaceX holds a $2.6 billion contract with NASA to fly at least six operational missions, the first of which will be Crew-1, to and from the station. Boeing signed a similar deal, worth $4.2 billion, which it will fulfill using a capsule called CST-100 Starliner. Starliner isn't ready to carry astronauts yet, however; the capsule still must refly an uncrewed test flight to the station, after failing to meet up with the orbiting lab as planned during its first attempt in December 2019. Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is tucking away precious asteroid samples for safekeeping - Space.com
The OSIRIS-REx probe is packing up while it can.
NASA's asteroid-sampling maneuver last week was so successful that the spacecraft will begin stowing its new souvenirs today (Oct. 27) to avoid losing rock by idling around. The agency's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft touched down on an asteroid named Bennu on Oct. 20 and puffed nitrogen gas at the space rock to blow pieces into the arm's sampling head before backing away to safety. When OSIRIS-REx scientists were able to see images of the sampling head on Oct. 22, they realized that the maneuver had been so successful that asteroid rubble blocked the flap designed to close off the material in the arm. Some of the spacecraft's precious haul started leaking away. Related: OSIRIS-REx: NASA's asteroid sample-return mission in pictures So, in a procedure that's become familiar for the OSIRIS-REx team, the mission's scientists and engineers reevaluated their plans . Originally, the spacecraft was scheduled to make a careful pirouette over the weekend that would tell scientists precisely how much weight OSIRIS-REx had picked up in its encounter. But without the flap fully closed, that spin would result in the spacecraft losing more space rock. To prevent this, the mission staff decided to skip that step and instead go ahead and stow the sample, a days-long maneuver that starts today, rather than waiting until Nov. 2 as had been previously planned. The process will tuck the spacecraft's sampling head securely into its sample return capsule for safe travel to Earth. An artist's depiction of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft stowing its sampling head. (Image credit: NASA/University of Arizona, Tucson) The OSIRIS-REx (short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) mission isn't done studying Bennu, however. The mission is scheduled to remain at the space rock until the middle of next year before turning back to Earth, where it will deliver its cargo in 2023. Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
SpaceX now targeting Nov. 14 for next astronaut launch - Space.com
SpaceX is gearing up for another historic astronaut launch next month.
SpaceX is gearing up for another historic astronaut launch next month. The private spaceflight company is planning to send four astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Nov. 14, the agency announced Monday (Oct. 26). Called Crew-1, the mission will be the first operational flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon astronaut taxi and the second Crew Dragon mission to carry passengers on board. It is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:49 p.m. EST (0049 GMT on Nov. 15). Riding the Dragon will be NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who will spend about six months at the orbiting laboratory before returning to Earth. The first Crew Dragon passengers were NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who spent 62 days at the International Space Station as part of the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission earlier this year. In photos: SpaceX's historic Demo-2 test flight with astronauts Crew-1, which was originally slated to launch Aug. 30, has faced numerous delays in getting off the ground. NASA pushed the mission to late September, then to Oct. 23, then to Oct. 31 and finally to early to mid-November, citing logistical and technical issues. The newly announced target date firms up that latter timeline. The most recent delay was intended to provide "additional time for SpaceX to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of Falcon 9 first stage engine gas generators observed during a recent non-NASA mission launch attempt," NASA officials said in a blog post, possibly referring to SpaceX's aborted launch of a GPS satellite on Oct. 2. Meanwhile, SpaceX isn't the only company working on launching astronauts into space for NASA. Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which failed to reach the International Space Station during its debut test flight last year, is expected to launch a second uncrewed demonstration mission in January 2021, with its first crewed flight to follow next summer. SpaceX's Crew-1 Crew Dragon space capsule is seen nearly complete at the company's Hawthorne, California facility. (Image credit: NASA/SpaceX) If all goes according to plan, the Crew-1 astronauts will safely dock with the International Space Station after a 19-hour flight. There they will join NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov as members of the Expedition 64 crew. Email Hanneke Weitering at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
NASA to announce 'exciting new discovery' about the moon on Monday - Space.com
Oh, there's a flying telescope involved, too.
NASA wants you to get excited about the moon or more specifically, about a mysterious new science result the agency plans to unveil on Monday (Oct. 26). For more details, we'll need to wait until a news conference at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT) that day, which you'll be able to watch here at Space.com or directly through the agency's website . A NASA statement announcing the news conference promises "an exciting new discovery about the moon" and references the agency's ambitious Artemis program to land astronauts at the moon's south pole in 2024. But the science itself comes from a long-running observatory, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA ), a German-American partnership that made its first flight in 2007 . Related: Photos from SOFIA, NASA's flying telescope (gallery) SOFIA is no ordinary astronomy facility it's an astronomy facility packed into a modified 747 jet that carries its instruments up above most of Earth's atmosphere, which typically distorts ground-based observations . SOFIA's perch on a jet offers it some of the benefits of both ground-based and space-based observations: It's relatively easy to upgrade, but avoids that atmospheric interference. And because the observatory flies like a plane, it's easy to take observations of a specific patch of sky during each of the observatory's 10-hour flights, according to NASA . SOFIA's instruments focus on infrared light, studying objects in our own solar system and in other galaxies. Naseem Rangwala, project scientist for the SOFIA mission at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, will be one of four speakers during Monday's news conference. She'll be joined by Paul Hertz, who leads NASA's astrophysics division; Jacob Bleacher, the chief exploration scientist for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate; and Casey Honniball, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Although the science itself is new, chances are the observations are not: SOFIA was grounded in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic and only began flying again in mid-August, according to NASA statements . SOFIA has also struggled in the budgetary process over the past decade, as presidential budget requests have repeatedly selected the project for cancellation; Congress has reinstated it each time. Visit Space.com Monday for complete coverage of NASA’s new moon discovery. Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: communi[email protected]
NASA is about to play 'tag' with asteroid Bennu: Here's how it works. - Space.com
NASA's OSIRIS-REx is about to sample asteroid Bennu.
NASA's OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft will "TAG" asteroid Bennu Tuesday (Oct. 20) and collect a sample for return to Earth. OSIRIS-REx is NASA's first asteroid-sampling spacecraft. The "touch-and-go" (TAG) sample collection attempt involves a series of maneuvers that will bring the spacecraft down to the asteroid's surface. The location selected for touchdown is called Nightingale, which is a rocky area measuring 52 feet (16 meters) in diameter and located in Bennu's northern hemisphere, according to NASA. "We have never done this before," Nayi Castro, a mission operations manager for the OSIRIS-REx mission, said in a video from NASA. "We are actually going to collect a sample and bring it back down to Earth for further examination by scientists." Video: Grabbing some asteroid is not easy: NASA explains the challengesRelated: NASA's asteroid-sampling mission in pictures NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will collect a sample from the asteroid Bennu on Oct. 20 using a robotic sampling arm in an event called "touch-and-go," or TAG. (Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona) To achieve this, the spacecraft has been orbiting Bennu since 2018 and studying the asteroid in great detail, searching for the optimal landing spot — a location that is large enough, relatively flat and covered in fine-grained material. However, finding this type of area was challenging, resulting in a number of additional close flybys and observations to select an appropriate sample site. The OSIRIS-REx team considered other potential locations such as Osprey, Kingfisher and Sandpiper before choosing Nightingale, which has the greatest amount of unobstructed fine-grained material, according to NASA. NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will perform three separate maneuvers to reach the asteroid's surface. The first step is called a checkpoint burn, during which the spacecraft will fire its thrusters to adjust its position relative to the Nightingale sample site. When OSIRIS-REx reaches an approximate altitude of 177 feet (54 m), another maneuver called a matchpoint burn will slow the spacecraft's descent and target a path to match the asteroid's rotation at the time of contact, according to NASA. The spacecraft's robotic sampling arm, called the touch-and-go sample acquisition mechanism (TAGSAM), will then make contact with Bennu's surface for less than 16 seconds before heading back up to orbit. Upon contact with the asteroid, one of three pressurized nitrogen canisters will fire, stirring up a sample of dust and small rocks that can then be caught in the arm's collector head and stored for return to Earth. The descent to the surface of Bennu will take roughly four hours. The spacecraft will use natural feature tracking (NFT) to recognize landmarks during its descent and update its position, if needed, to navigate around large boulders and ensure a safe landing on a relatively clear space, David Lorenz, TAG campaign lead, explained in the video. An artist's depiction of how OSIRIS-REx will use natural feature tracking to compare real-time images of the asteroid's surface to a bank of previous photos in order to steer itself to the sampling site. (Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona) "There are several things that could go wrong, and we also have to be prepared that we won't be successful on our first try at Nightingale," Mike Moreau, deputy project manager for OSIRIS-REx, said in the video." In the event that the first TAG attempt is not successful, the spacecraft is equipped with backup pressurized nitrogen canisters, which will allow for additional sample collection attempts. The team hopes to collect 2 oz. (60 grams) of fine-grained material from the asteroid's surface, which will be the largest sample return from space since the Apollo program, according to NASA. The OSIRIS-REx team has also studied Nightingale to identify areas within the sample site that could potentially harm the spacecraft. A hazard map of the site was developed and programmed into the spacecraft's navigation system, so that if the NFT system detects a dangerous landmark, the spacecraft will autonomously back away from the asteroid. This will allow the mission to reattempt sample collection at a future date, according to the video. Related: How NASA's asteroid sample-return mission works (infographic) This image shows sample site Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site on asteroid Bennu. The image is overlaid with a graphic of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site. (Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona) After collecting its sample, OSIRIS-REx will fire its thrusters to back away from Bennu. If all goes according to plan during collection, the team will verify the sample by taking a picture of the TAGSAM head to see if it contains surface material. A spin maneuver will also be performed on Saturday (Oct. 24) to measure the mass of the sample and ensure at least 2 oz. (60 grams) of material was collected and can be stored for return to Earth in 2023. However, if a sufficient sample was not collected, the spacecraft will be able to make two more attempts, according to the video. "It is really exciting to know that we are finally going to be able to touch the surface of the asteroid and collect a sample to return back to Earth," Castro said. Follow Samantha Mathewson @Sam_Ashley13. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
Astronaut requirements changing rapidly with private spaceflyers, long-duration missions - Space.com
NASA's 2017 Class of Astronauts participate in graduation ceremonies at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on Jan. 10, 2020. This is the first class to graduate under the Artemis program, and the 13 astronauts are now eligible for assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the moon, and ultimately, missions to Mars. (Image credit: NASA) Being an astronaut of the 2020s will be completely different than it was for any astronaut that came before, a panel of spaceflyers told the virtual International Astronautical Congress Wednesday (Oct. 14). The spaceflight environment is rapidly changing due to several different factors. The International Space Station (ISS) is pushing harder into commercialization and will soon be welcoming more and larger space agency crews on commercial crew vehicles while bringing in a few private astronauts. Meanwhile, NASA and its international partners are preparing for the next phase of human spaceflight missions after the ISS, which they hope will include moon landings in 2024 and eventual astronaut excursions to Mars. Also in the next few years, private companies such as Virgin Galactic hope to send paying astronauts on suborbital flights, in a bid to open up space to more people besides professional astronauts. Related: How commercializing the International Space Station can help astronauts get to the moon and Mars NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, Expedition 27 flight engineer, is pictured in the Cupola of the International Space Station. Earth's horizon and the blackness of space are visible through the windows. (Image credit: NASA) This is all quite a different environment from when the ISS housed the first long-duration crew in October 2000, which was 20 years ago this month. The demands of astronauts are quickly changing and evolving as the science progresses, even between missions, former NASA astronaut Cady Coleman said. "It was very exciting to see [NASA astronaut] Kate Rubins' launch with her Russian crew eight hours ago," Coleman said, referring to the launch of Expedition 64 earlier Wednesday (Oct. 14) from Baikonur, Kazakhstan towards the International Space Station. Rubins is best known for being the first astronaut to sequence DNA in space, and she will be pushing the science even further since her last excursion in 2016. Coleman said during Rubins' last mission, Rubins grew heart muscle cells, and you could see the cells beating under a microscope. In this mission, Rubins and the team of scientists on Earth will grow small pieces of tissue with strain gauges to see what happens to the heart muscle when it's in space, Coleman added. "It makes me think of kind of what's really happened in 20 years on the space station, in science," said Coleman, who flew two space shuttle missions and the long-duration Expedition 27 mission. On one of her shuttle missions, STS-73, she said it was "a preparation for how we [were] going to do science experiments on that space station. How would the scientist see their data? What's practical? What's not practical? What can astronauts do? What can scientists do? I'm very proud of that work." It's not only the science that has changed; it is also the skill set of astronauts. The first generation of astronauts that tested out orbital missions and moon landings in the 1960s were largely drawn from military test pilots, while scientist-astronauts began participating in Apollo, Skylab and space shuttle missions in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, we have mostly seen scientists and military-trained astronauts in space, although the requirements continued to change over the decades. Two-time European Space Agency spaceflyer Pedro Duque, who visited the ISS in 1998 and 2003, said that during his busy years training as an astronaut, he found it hard to imagine being anywhere else. But in 2018, he became the Minister of Science, Innovation and Universities for the Spanish government and said his astronaut skills are still helping him every day in this position. "I believe that by working as an astronaut you learn, and that is useful for many things in life," he said. "You learn to work with very intelligent people and let them do their job while you do yours. You understand how you can be in a position that people listen to you, but then you will learn how to use this wisely — or not. And [you] try to lead by example, and by conviction, and this is something that I have tried to use in my whole life, in all the positions have been." NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold emerges from the Quest airlock during a spacewalk on June 14, 2018. (Image credit: NASA) NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold flew a space shuttle mission and the long-duration Expedition 55 mission in 2009 and 2018, respectively. It was an era when training in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) became especially important as astronauts learned more generic "expeditionary behavior" for long-duration missions, he said, rather than focusing on a few small specific skills. The newer shift in astronaut training, he added, is getting ready for the proliferation of new spacecraft — including SpaceX's Crew Dragon, Boeing's Starliner and NASA's Orion spacecraft. This will add on to the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that currently ferries astronauts to space. "There is the potential for four different vehicles you have to figure out how to fly," Arnold said, "and it'll be interesting to see what the training team does with the next class of astronauts that will come on." Related: More than 12,000 apply to become an astronaut for NASA's 'Artemis Generation' The skillset will change even further when private astronauts come on board the ISS or work on other spacecraft, said Michael López-Alegría, who flew three space shuttle missions and the long-duration Expedition 14 in the 1990s and 2000s. López-Alegría flew previously with spaceflight participant Anousheh Ansari and said he was impressed with her skillset in blogging, a new idea when they went to space together on a Soyuz in 2006. More new ideas will be forthcoming as different types of people make it to space, he added. "We're entering a new realm where you don't have to be a professional astronaut to fly to space; it's the era of democratizing that access," López-Alegría said. "It's very difficult right now, because the seats are few. And as a result, they're quite expensive to go. But I'm quite confident that these prices will come down, just like [for aviation] in the 1920s and 1930s. Commercial aviation was only something that was reachable by the very, very wealthy." Michael Lopez-Alegria, seen here in 2006 during his last visit to the International Space Station, is now assigned to command Axiom Space's AX-1 commercial mission to the orbital complex. (Image credit: NASA) While López-Alegría is retired from NASA, he's going back to the space station in another format. He joined Axiom Space as director of business development in 2017, working with a company that is building a private module for the space station as it dreams of creating independent space stations in the near future. López-Alegría will be making a return to the ISS on an Axiom Crew Dragon mission in 2021, according to Space.com partner collectSPACE. When pressed about who else will be on that mission during the panel discussion, though, López-Alegría said he "cannot really confirm or deny what's happening." But he did say Axiom plans to fly a private mission in the fourth quarter of 2021, providing the company passes approvals with its contracts. "Until such time, we're not ready to discuss who the other crew members will be. But I can tell you it's going to be the first public-private commercial mission," he added. Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcomand on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
Phew! 2 big hunks of space junk zoom safely past each other in near-miss - Space.com
The chance of a collision was higher than 10%, according to LeoLabs.
It looks like humanity just dodged a pretty big space-junk bullet. Two large pieces of orbital debris a defunct Soviet navigation satellite and a spent Chinese rocket body apparently whizzed safely past each other high over the South Atlantic Ocean on Thursday evening (Oct. 15). The California-based space tracking company LeoLabs alerted the world ahead of time to the close approach, which occurred at 8:56 p.m. EDT (1256 GMT on Oct. 16) as the two craft flew 616 miles (991 kilometers) above Earth just off the coast of Antarctica. LeoLabs' pre-encounter analyses suggested that the two objects would miss each other by just 82 feet (25 meters), plus or minus 59 feet (18 m) numbers that left a collision very much in play. Indeed, LeoLabs calculated the odds of a smashup at higher than 10%. Space junk explained: The orbital debris threat (infographic) No indication of collision. 👍CZ-4C R/B passed over LeoLabs Kiwi Space Radar 10 minutes after TCA. Our data shows only a single object as we'd hoped, with no signs of debris.We will follow up in the coming days on Medium with a full in-depth risk assessment of this event!October 16, 2020 But the company's post-encounter scans suggest that the nightmare scenario didn't come to pass. "No indication of collision. CZ-4C R/B passed over LeoLabs Kiwi Space Radar 10 minutes after TCA. Our data shows only a single object as we'd hoped, with no signs of debris. We will follow up in the coming days on Medium with a full in-depth risk assessment of this event!" LeoLabs tweeted on Thursday evening . (CZ-4C R/B is the Chinese rocket body, Kiwi Space Radar is the company's New Zealand tracking array and TCA stands for "time of closest approach.") "Nightmare scenario" is not really an exaggeration. The dead Russian satellite and Chinese rocket body have a combined mass of about 6,170 lbs. (2,800 kilograms), LeoLabs said in a tweet on Tuesday (Oct. 13). The two bodies were hurtling toward each other with a relative velocity of 32,900 mph (52,950 kph), so a collision would have been incredibly destructive, spawning a huge cloud of debris. A smashup would likely have led to a "significant (10 to 20 percent) increase in the LEO [low Earth orbit] debris environment," astronomer and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell, who's based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said via Twitter on Wednesday . That debris environment is already substantial. Scientists estimate that about 34,000 objects more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) wide are whizzing around Earth at the moment, according to the European Space Agency . And the numbers get scarier the smaller you go. There are probably 900,000 or so orbital objects between 0.4 inches and 4 inches wide (1 to 10 cm) in orbit and 128 million in the 0.04-inch to 0.4-inch (1 mm to 1 cm) range. Even those tiny flecks can do considerable damage to a satellite, thanks to the great velocities involved. For example, at 250 miles (400 km) up the altitude of the International Space Station, which has had to maneuver away from three potential space-junk collisions in 2020 alone objects barrel along at a blistering 17,500 mph (28,160 kph). Per @Leolabs_space, bullet dodged. But space debris is still a big problem.October 16, 2020 Orbital collisions are not just the stuff of science-fiction films like 2013's "Gravity." In 2009, for instance, a defunct Russian military satellite called Kosmos 2251 slammed into the operational communications satellite Iridium 33, generating 1,800 pieces of trackable debris by the following October (and many others too small to monitor). And, crazily enough, humanity has spawned debris clouds intentionally on two separate occasions during destructive tests of anti-satellite technology conducted in 2007 and 2019 by China and India , respectively. The debris problem will continue to grow as more and more satellites launch to space a trend that's accelerating, thanks to continuing decreases in the costs of both launch and satellite development. And the problem could get out of hand, seriously threatening spaceflight and exploration activities, if we don't start tackling it now, many experts say "Per @Leolabs_space, bullet dodged. But space debris is still a big problem," McDowell said in another tweet on Thursday night . Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
NASA awards $370 million to private companies to aid moon exploration push - Space.com
SpaceX will test in-orbit refueling in one of the 'Tipping Point' contracts.
NASA has awarded $370 million in "Tipping Point" contracts designed to aid its push to get astronauts back to the moon and then on to Mars, agency officials announced today (Oct. 14). The funding is spread across 15 contracts to 14 different companies, including SpaceX, Astrobotic, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance and Intuitive Machines. Nearly 70% of the money is earmarked for the management of cryogenic fluids such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. SpaceX, for example, will get $53 million for an in-space demonstration that will transfer 11 tons (10 metric tons) of liquid oxygen between tanks on one of its next-gen Starship vehicles . Related:The 21 most marvelous moon missions of all time Such work could allow rockets and spacecraft to fill their fuel tanks in orbit and other off-Earth locales, NASA officials said. This capability, in turn, is necessary for the establishment of a long-term, sustainable human presence on and around the moon, a key goal of the agency's Artemis program of crewed lunar exploration. Not all of the big-ticket contracts are geared toward propellant storage and handling. For example, Intuitive Machines, which will fly a robotic mission to the lunar surface for NASA next year, snagged nearly $42 million to develop a deployable hopping lander capable of carrying a small payload at least 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) on the moon. The Tipping Point contracts aim to spur potentially transformative technologies "and really get them over the edge," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said today during a presentation at the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium conference. The $370 million is an expected total. NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate will negotiate with all of the awardees and come up with firm, fixed-price contracts that cover work lasting up to five years, agency officials said. Here's a complete list of the selected companies and a description of the awarded work, as provided by NASA : Cryogenic Fluid Management Technology Demonstration NASA and industry partners have developed and tested numerous technologies to enable long-term cryogenic fluid management, which is essential for establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon and enabling crewed missions to Mars. Implementation of the technologies in operational missions requires further maturation through in-space demonstrations. Eta Space of Merritt Island, Florida, $27 million Small-scale flight demonstration of a complete cryogenic oxygen fluid management system. As proposed, the system will be the primary payload on a Rocket Lab Photon satellite and collect critical cryogenic fluid management data in orbit for nine months. The small business will collaborate with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, $89.7 million In-space demonstration mission using liquid hydrogen – the most challenging of the cryogenic propellants – to test more than a dozen cryogenic fluid management technologies, positioning them for infusion into future space systems. Lockheed Martin will collaborate with Marshall and Glenn. SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, $53.2 million Large-scale flight demonstration to transfer 10 metric tons of cryogenic propellant, specifically liquid oxygen, between tanks on a Starship vehicle. SpaceX will collaborate with Glenn and Marshall. United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Centennial, Colorado, $86.2 million Demonstration of a smart propulsion cryogenic system, using liquid oxygen and hydrogen, on a Vulcan Centaur upper stage. The system will test precise tank pressure control, tank-to-tank transfer, and multi-week propellant storage. ULA will collaborate with Marshall, Kennedy, and Glenn. Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative Technology Demonstration As part of NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative, the agency invests in technologies needed to advance in-situ resource utilization, surface power generation and energy storage, communications, and more. These capabilities will help humans and robots explore more of the Moon. Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance of Houston, $22.1 million The space science and technology evaluation facility will give small experiments access to the lunar environment to collect data and experience exposure to the ultraviolet and charged particle radiation. Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh, $5.8 million Mature and demonstrate a fast, wireless charging system that addresses challenges associated with using the technology on the Moon. The effort will build and deliver flight units for potential use on commercial robotic landers. Astrobotic will collaborate with Glenn. Intuitive Machines of Houston, $41.6 million Develop a small, deployable hopper lander capable of carrying a 2.2-pound (1-kilogram) payload more than 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers). This hopper could access lunar craters and enable high-resolution surveying of the lunar surface over a short distance. Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, $2.8 million Build and demonstrate a universal chemical heat and electrical power source attachment that lets payloads survive the extreme environments encountered during the lunar night and in craters. Nokia of America Corporation of Sunnyvale, California, $14.1 million Inspired by terrestrial technology, Nokia proposes to deploy the first LTE/4G communications system in space. The system could support lunar surface communications at greater distances, increased speeds, and provide more reliability than current standards. pH Matter of Columbus, Ohio, $3.4 million Develop and demonstrate a reversible, regenerative fuel cell capable of producing power and storing energy on the lunar surface. The technology could run the future infrastructure that processes water harvested on the Moon and creates propellant and other mission consumables. The small business will collaborate with Glenn. Precision Combustion Inc. of North Haven, Connecticut, $2.4 million Advance a cost-effective power solution for space, military, and everyday applications on Earth. The solid oxide fuel cell stack will generate power directly from methane and oxygen propellants and other in-situ resources. Sierra Nevada Corporation of Madison, Wisconsin, $2.4 million Develop demonstration-scale hardware that uses methane and concentrated solar energy to extract oxygen from lunar regolith. The hardware could be tested on a commercial lunar lander to prove a full-scale production plant's viability using this process. SSL Robotics of Pasadena, California, $8.7 million Develop a lighter and less expensive robotic arm for lunar surface applications, in-orbit servicing, and terrestrial defense applications. Teledyne Energy Systems of Hunt Valley, Maryland, $2.8 million Advance a hydrogen electrical power system to enable a fuel cell with an operating lifetime of 10,000 hours. Teledyne will fly a test article of the water separator on a parabolic aircraft to characterize the effect of various gravities. Closed-Loop Descent and Landing Capability Demonstration Suborbital platforms can enable testing of integrated precision landing and hazard avoidance technologies, using lunar trajectories during descent and landing. NASA’s current investments in precision landing and hazard avoidance will benefit from analyzing flight data acquired through tests and missions in relevant environments, including those experienced during suborbital flights. Masten, $10 million Masten will demonstrate precision landing and hazard avoidance testing capabilities across relevant lunar trajectories. Masten will mature its Xogdor vehicle to provide researchers from government, academia, and industry with a new platform for testing space technologies. Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
Blastoff! Cosmonaut snaps amazing photos of Soyuz rocket launch from space - Space.com
Russian cosmonaut Ivan Vagner photographed a Soyuz rocket launching three colleagues to space on Oct. 14, 2020. (Image credit: Roscosmos) A cosmonaut in orbit caught stunning photos of three astronauts launching on a record-setting jaunt to the International Space Station . Russian cosmonaut Ivan Vagner has been in orbit since April, one of three astronauts living and working on the orbiting laboratory for the past six months. But now, he and his colleagues have company: two more cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut, who launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan Wednesday (Oct. 14) at 1:45 a.m. EDT (0545 GMT; 10:45 a.m. local time). The Soyuz arrived at the station just over three hours later, a new record for the fastest crewed trip to the orbiting lab. "Congratulations on the successful launch!" Vagner wrote on Twitter shortly after the launch. "The flight seen from space looks even cooler than from the Earth!" Related: International Space Station at 20: A photo tour Astronauts on the space station are often able to photograph their colleagues' launches because these liftoffs are carefully timed with the space station's orbit to ensure that the new vehicle can catch up to the behemoth station. In the case of today's launch, that timing was a new variation on the theme: For the first time, a crew arrived at the International Space Station after just two orbits of Earth, compared to the usual four or more. The speedy path meant that the new crew set a record, docking at the space station just 3 hours and 3 minutes after launch, according to another tweet from Vagner . Russian cosmonaut Ivan Vagner photographed a Soyuz rocket launching three colleagues to space on Oct. 14, 2020. (Image credit: Roscosmos) With that flight, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov began their six-month stay in orbit, joining NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin. The latter three will wrap up their stint in orbit later this month, returning to Earth Oct. 21. ‘Favor’ crew, congratulations on the successful launch! The flight seen from space looks even cooler than from the Earth! Getting ready to welcome #SoyuzMS17 in just 2.5 hours! pic.twitter.com/Lg5f0zKG1pOctober 14, 2020 Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]
SpaceX's Starman and Elon Musk's Tesla just made their 1st Mars flyby - Space.com
Starman got less than 5 million miles from the Red Planet.
Starman just cruised by Mars for the first time. The spacesuit-clad mannequin is "driving" SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster, which launched in February 2018 on the debut flight of the company's powerful Falcon Heavy rocket. And the duo just hit a big milestone on their cosmic journey. "Starman, last seen leaving Earth, made its first close approach with Mars today within 0.05 astronomical units, or under 5 million miles, of the Red Planet," SpaceX announced via Twitter Wednesday (Oct. 7). (One astronomical unit is the average Earth-sun distance about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.) SpaceX's epic road trip: Starman rides a Tesla roadster across space (photos) Starman and the Roadster circle the sun once every 557 Earth days, according to the tracking site whereisroadster.com. As of today, car and driver have covered nearly 1.3 billion miles (2.1 billion km) in space far enough to drive all of the roads on Earth more than 57 times over, whereisroadster.com calculated. And the duo will probably rack up a lot more space miles before they're done. The Roadster will eventually barrel into either Venus or Earth, likely within the next few tens of millions of years, a 2018 orbit-modeling study determined . But the chances of an Earth or Venus impact in the next million years are just 6% and 2.5%, respectively. Starman, last seen leaving Earth, made its first close approach with Mars todaywithin 0.05 astronomical units, or under 5 million miles, of the Red Planet pic.twitter.com/gV8barFTm7October 7, 2020 Debut launches of new rockets are risky things, which explains why SpaceX decided to put Starman and the Roadster aboard the first Falcon Heavy liftoff as a dummy payload. Marketing may have been another factor, of course; Musk also runs Tesla, a leading electric-car manufacturer. The Falcon Heavy has since launched two more missions, both of them operational flights. The booster lofted the communications satellite Arabsat-6A in April 2019 and delivered two dozen payloads to orbit for a variety of customers two months later. Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected]