Plans detailed for first U.S. mission to land on moon in nearly 50 years - The Globe and Mail - Canadanewsmedia
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Plans detailed for first U.S. mission to land on moon in nearly 50 years – The Globe and Mail

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The first American spacecraft expected to land on the moon in nearly 50 years will be an unmanned robotic lander built by closely held Astrobotic Technology Inc and launched in two years by United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, the companies told Reuters on Monday.

Astrobotic was one of nine companies chosen in November to compete for $2.6 billion to develop small space vehicles and other technology for 20 missions to explore the lunar surface over the next decade.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic picked Vulcan, being developed by a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, to launch its Peregrine lander from Florida’s Cape Canaveral in summer 2021. That launch will be Vulcan’s first, and a major test for a rocket that will become the backbone of ULA’s defence against rival boosters from billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other companies.

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Barring schedule slips, Astrobotic said Peregrine would be the first American spacecraft to land on the moon since Apollo astronauts touched down in 1972.

The mission will ferry technology and experiments to the moon under a NASA program that will lay the groundwork for astronaut trips by 2024 under the optimistic schedule laid out by the Trump administration.

“Our first flight on Vulcan is also the first big step in going back to the moon,” United Launch Alliance Chief Executive Tory Bruno told Reuters ahead of the announcement.

Astrobotic said in May that NASA awarded it $79.5 million for the first mission, which will carry up to 28 payloads from eight different countries, including the United States and Mexico.

While the dollar value of the launch contract was not disclosed, it marks a high-profile victory for ULA’s flagship heavy-lift rocket, which Astrobotic said it chose over a rival bid from SpaceX.

While SpaceX has already slashed the cost of launches with its reusable rocket technology, Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, whose BE-4 engines power the Vulcan, is also working on a heavy-lift booster.

MANY MOONSHOTS

NASA is pushing to outsource the design, development and operations for some space activities to private companies under a strategy championed by Trump-appointed administrator Jim Bridenstine. He wants NASA to be one customer of many in the low-Earth and lunar marketplaces to pave the way for deeper space exploration.

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For ULA, the launch serves as the first of two certification flights for the U.S. Air Force. Vulcan will replace ULA’s legacy Delta and Atlas rocket families, synonymous with space missions for the U.S. military for decades.

ULA and Astrobotic acknowledge production problems or other factors could delay the launch schedule.

Other countries are also focused on the moon. A Chinese space probe successfully touched down on the far side of the moon in January, though Israel’s unmanned robotic lander Beresheet crashed on its final descent in April. India’s Chandrayaan-2 rover, launched in July, was on its way to the moon’s south pole, unexplored by any other nation.

“Everything that humans will do on the moon’s surface will be enhanced by robotic surface assets,” Astrobotic Chief Executive John Thornton told Reuters ahead of the announcement planned for Monday.

The Astrobotic deal marked the second time in a week that ULA beat SpaceX on a high-profile contract. On Wednesday, Sierra Nevada Corp picked Vulcan to launch its Dream Chaser space plane on cargo missions to the International Space Station, which will be the second Vulcan launch.

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Mercury passes across sun’s face in rare 5-hour transit – Global News

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Mini Mercury skipped across the vast, glaring face of the sun Monday in a rare celestial transit.

Stargazers used solar-filtered binoculars and telescopes to spot Mercury — a tiny black dot — as it passed directly between Earth and the sun on Monday.

Planet Mercury is seen as a small silhouette, center left, as it travels across the face of the sun, near capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.

Planet Mercury is seen as a small silhouette, center left, as it travels across the face of the sun, near capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.


(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

The eastern U.S. and Canada got the whole 5 1/2-hour show, weather permitting, along with Central and South America. The rest of the world, except for Asia and Australia, got just a sampling.

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READ MORE:
How to watch Mercury’s transit across the sun on Monday

Mercury is the solar system’s smallest, innermost planet. The next transit isn’t until 2032, and North America won’t get another shot until 2049.

This still image from video issued by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows Mercury as it passes between Earth and the sun on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. The solar system’s smallest, innermost planet resembles a tiny black dot during the transit, which began at 7:35 a.m. EST (1205 UTC).

This still image from video issued by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows Mercury as it passes between Earth and the sun on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. The solar system’s smallest, innermost planet resembles a tiny black dot during the transit, which began at 7:35 a.m. EST (1205 UTC).


(NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory via AP)

In Maryland, clouds prevented NASA solar astrophysicist Alex Young from getting a clear peek. Live coverage was provided by observatories including NASA’s orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory.






4:34
Searching for Mercury


Searching for Mercury

“It’s a bummer, but the whole event was still great,” Young wrote in an email. “Both getting to see it from space and sharing it with people all over the country and world.”

At Cape Canaveral, space buffs got a two-for-one. As Mercury’s silhouette graced the morning sun, SpaceX launched 60 small satellites for global internet service, part of the company’s growing Starlink constellation in orbit.

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© 2019 The Canadian Press

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Video: SpaceX successfully launched 60 Starlink satellites into orbit as part of Elon Musk's high-speed internet plan – Business Insider

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Sixty Starlink satellites were launched into space on Monday.SpaceX

  • SpaceX launched 60 of its Starlink satellites into space on Monday.
  • The satellites were carried into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
  • Starlink is SpaceX’s ambitious project to station a network of almost 12,000 satellites above the Earth to provide remote parts of the world with fast internet.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Elon Musk is one step closer to his goal of stationing a network of 12,000 satellites in orbit above Earth.

On Monday SpaceX successfully launched 60 of its Starlink satellites into orbit. This is what the satellites looked like before they were loaded onto the rocket.

They were carried into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which took off at 14:56 UTC from a launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Once it was at an altitude of 280 km (174 miles) the rocket deployed the satellites.

The stated aim of SpaceX’s Starlink project is to create a network of nearly 12,000 satellites to bring high-speed internet to remote and rural parts of the world.

After sending the satellites adrift the Falcon 9 rocket successfully landed on a landing pad out in the Atlantic ocean.

Although the original plans for Starlink listed just under 12,000 satellites, Space News reported last month that the company applied to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for permission to launch an additional 30,000.

Do you work at SpaceX? Contact this reporter via email at ihamilton@businessinsider.com or iahamilton@protonmail.com. You can alsocontact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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The Nile Could Be a Window Into the Underworld – Gizmodo

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The Blue Nile falls in the Ethiopian highlands.
Photo: Flickr

Some scientists think the Nile river might be revealing the mysteries of the mantle beneath it.

There’s been debate over the age of the Nile—whether it formed from a river redirecting around 5 million years ago or whether a proto-Nile has flowed through the area for 30 million years. If the Nile is older, as one team of scientists’ evidence suggests, then it could be mirroring the course of a plume of mantle material circulating beneath it. The mantle is the largest layer of Earth, consisting of high-pressure rock beneath the crust and above the core.

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“Maybe we can use rivers to understand how the mantle flows” more generally, Claudio Faccenna, the study’s first author and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told Gizmodo.

Two competing models try to explain the Nile. In one, the Nile formed when a drainage basin changed its course from westward to northward around 6 million years ago, due to the same processes that formed a crack in the African tectonic plate called the East African rift. The other theory says that the river formed 30 million years ago as a result of long-running geological processes in the mantle that have been pushing ground upward in Ethiopia and downward closer to the Mediterranean.

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The team of researchers from the United States, Canada, Italy, and Israel presented new evidence in favor of the latter theory, including data and modeling. The modeling of how the local topography changed over time suggests that the Ethiopian plateau may have begun upwelling 30 million years ago, while the land began sinking downward in the eastern Mediterranean, by the Nile’s mouth. The researchers linked this model to one of the mantle moving as large slabs of rock shift around, according to the paper published today in Nature Geoscience.

Past research from this team also supports an older Nile. Analysis of 20- to 30-million-year-old rocks called zircons found at the Nile’s mouth showed that they seem to match the rocks found in the Ethiopian plateau at the source of the Nile, suggesting the river is at least that old. The thickness of the sediment, as well as the amount of erosion in the Blue Nile (one of the main tributaries of the Nile) also seem to support the older age.

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Age aside, the researchers say they’ve demonstrated that some rivers can serve as a tool for understanding the behavior of the mantle below. Some rivers typically originate from mountains or high plateaus, but others, like the Nile or the Yenisei river in Siberia, simply start out at places of higher land where the Earth’s mantle has pushed upward. These kinds of rivers differ in the sort of sediment they deposit at their mouth (usually it’s of volcanic origin, from the upwelling of the mantle).

This work is exciting for scientists like Faccenna who hope to better understand the mantle, which is difficult to study because of its depth beneath the crust. “If we can find another signal of the deep mantle on the surface, it would be amazing,” he told Gizmodo.

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Obviously this work is based on a model, so there are built-in human assumptions that can alter its outcome. But I quite like the idea that there are rivers here on Earth that we can use as windows into the underworld.

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