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Astronauts arriving for NASA's 1st home launch in decade – TheSpec.com

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The two astronauts who will end a nine-year launch drought for NASA flew to Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, exactly one week before their historic SpaceX flight.

It will be the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sends astronauts into orbit.

NASA test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken departed Houston aboard one of the space agency’s jet planes.

They’re scheduled to blast off next Wednesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, bound for the International Space Station. They’ll soar from the same pad where Atlantis closed out the space shuttle program in 2011, the last home launch for NASA astronauts.

Awaiting the astronauts at Kennedy’s former shuttle landing strip were the centre’s director, former shuttle commander Robert Cabana, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The welcoming committee was reduced drastically in size because of the coronavirus pandemic. Journalists were told to wear masks.

NASA’s commercial crew program has been years in the making. Boeing, the competing company, isn’t expect to launch its first astronauts until next year.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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What Time Is the SpaceX Launch? How to Watch – The New York Times

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On Saturday, for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in July 2011, NASA astronauts are scheduled to blast off from American soil on an American rocket to the International Space Station. In contrast to astronaut launches in the past when NASA ran the show, this time a private company, SpaceX, will be in charge of mission control. The company, founded by Elon Musk, built the Falcon 9 rocket and the capsule, Crew Dragon, which the two astronauts will travel in.

The mission is scheduled to lift off at 3:22 p.m. Eastern time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Coverage of the launch on NASA Television will begin at 11 a.m. The Times will provide live video of the launch.

The first attempt to launch, on Wednesday, was called off about 15 minutes before it was to occur because the weather wasn’t playing nice. SpaceX’s launch directors deemed the risk of lightning and other weather hazards too high to allow the astronauts to lift off safely.

The weather officers said that they expected conditions to clear up about 10 minutes after the scheduled launch time. But in order for the capsule to catch the space station at the right moment the next day, the launch had to go off at the precise time of 4:33 p.m. Eastern time.

Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Not the most promising. Weather forecasts currently give a 50 percent chance of favorable conditions at the launch site. The next opportunity on Sunday is slightly better, with a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions.

Lifting off in bad weather can be catastrophic to rockets. During the countdown, about 10 members of the 45th Weather Squadron, part of the United States Space Force, keep a close eye on conditions to see if they fall within predetermined launch criteria. If the weather conditions violate the criteria, SpaceX’s launch director will call off the launch.

The launch has to occur at a precise moment to allow the Crew Dragon to meet up with the space station, and there is no leeway for delays.

For the safety of the crew, the launch team also has to consider weather and ocean conditions just off the coast, where the capsule would splash down if there were an emergency on the launchpad or farther away in the Atlantic if a problem occurred on the way to orbit.

Credit…John Raoux/Associated Press

The astronauts are Robert L. Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley, who have been friends and colleagues since both were selected by NASA to be astronauts in 2000.

They both have backgrounds as military test pilots and have each flown twice previously on space shuttle missions, although this is the first time they have worked together on a mission. Mr. Hurley flew on the space shuttle’s final mission in 2011.

In 2015, they were among the astronauts chosen to work with Boeing and SpaceX on the commercial space vehicles that the companies were developing. In 2018, they were assigned to the first SpaceX flight.

SpaceX has never taken people to space before. Its Crew Dragon is a gumdrop-shaped capsule — an upgraded version of SpaceX’s original Dragon capsule, which has been used many times to carry cargo, but not people, to the space station.

Crew Dragon has space for up to seven people but will have only four seats for NASA missions. If this launch succeeds, it will ferry four astronauts to the space station later in the year.

The Crew Dragon is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station 19 hours after launch on Sunday, at about 10:30 a.m. Eastern time. During their trip, the astronauts will test to test how the spacecraft flies and verify that the systems are performing as designed. Unless something goes wrong, the Crew Dragon’s computers usually handle all of the maneuvering and docking procedures.

The astronauts also said they planned to test out the capsule’s toilet.

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SpaceX’s Starship SN4 launch vehicle prototype explodes after static engine fire test – TechCrunch

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SpaceX had just conducted yet another static fire test of the Raptor engine in its Starship SN4 prototype launch vehicle on Friday when the test vehicle exploded on the test stand in Boca Chica, Texas. This was the fourth static fire test of this engine on this prototype, so it’s unclear what went wrong versus other static fire attempts.

This was a test in the development of Starship, a new spacecraft that SpaceX has been developing in Boca Chica. Eventually, the company hopes to use it to replace its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket, but Starship is still very early in its development phase, whereas those vehicles are flight-proven, multiple times over.

SpaceX had just secured FAA approval to fly its Starship prototype for short, suborbital test flights. The goal was to fly this SN4 prototype for short distances following static fire testing, but that clearly won’t be possible now, as the vehicle appears to have been completely destroyed in the explosion following Friday’s test, as you can see below in the stream from NASASpaceflight.com.

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The explosion occurred around 1:49 PM local time in Texas, roughly two minutes after it had completed its engine test fire. We’ve reached out to SpaceX to find out more about the cause of today’s incident, and whether anyone was hurt in the explosion. SpaceX typically takes plenty of safety precautions when running these tests, including ensuring the area is well clear of any personnel or other individuals.

This isn’t the first time one of SpaceX’s Starship prototypes has met a catastrophic end; a couple of previous test vehicles succumbed to pressure testing while being put through their paces. This is why space companies test frequently and stress test vehicles during development — to ensure that the final operational vehicles are incredibly safe and reliable when they need to be.

SpaceX is already working on additional prototypes, including assembling SN5 nearby in Boca Chica, so it’s likely to resume its testing program quickly once it can clear the test stand and move in the newest prototype. This is a completely separate endeavor from SpaceX’s work on the Commercial Crew program, so that historic first test launch with astronauts on board should proceed either Saturday or Sunday as planned, depending on weather.

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Proxima b, a confirmed — potentially habitable — Earth-sized planet, is a mere 4.2 light years away – The Province

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An artist’s depiction of what the surface of Proxima b might look like.

ESO

At 1.17 Earth masses and in the habitable zone, scientists says it’s orbiting the nearest star to our sun

A team of scientists from the University of Geneva has confirmed the existence of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star closest to the sun. The planet, called Proxima b, is 1.17 times the mass of Earth and is located in the habitable zone of Promixa Centauri, 4.2 light years away.

Because Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, much smaller and cooler than the sun, its habitable zone or Goldilocks zone — neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist — is very close to the star. Proxima b orbits about 20 times closer to its star than Earth does to the sun, and a year on the planet is just over 11 Earth days long.

Red dwarf stars emit huge quantities of X-rays, and the scientists estimate the planet gets 400 times as much radiation as Earth. But Christophe Lovis, a researcher in the astronomy department of the university, was optimistic that this might not rule out the possibility of life, or at least habitability.

“Is there an atmosphere that protects the planet from these deadly rays?” he asks. “And if this atmosphere exists, does it contain the chemical elements that promote the development of life — oxygen, for example? How long have these favourable conditions existed?”

Proxima b could have a moon-sized neighbour.

Such questions will, he hopes, be answered in the next few years by the next generation of spectrometers, which will tease out data from the light of the star and its planet. The recent confirmation of Proxima b came from data from a spectrograph called ESPRESSO (Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations) mounted on the Very Large Telescope (yep, that’s its name) in Chile.

Proxima b was first detected by an earlier instrument called HARPS, or High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher. “We were already very happy with the performance of HARPS, which has been responsible for discovering hundreds of exoplanets over the last 17 years”, says lead researcher Francesco Pepe. “We’re really pleased that ESPRESSO can produce even better measurements.”

In addition, data from ESPRESSO included a second signal that could indicate yet another planet orbiting even closer to the star. “If the signal was planetary in origin, this potential other planet accompanying Proxima b would have a mass less than one third of the mass of the Earth. It would then be the smallest planet ever measured using the radial velocity method,” says Pepe. Proxima b could have a moon-sized neighbour.

Despite the relative nearness of Proxima Centauri as the sun’s closest stellar neighbour, we will have to rely on spectrographic data for the foreseeable future. Our fastest interplanetary probes, the Voyagers and New Horizons, would take tens of thousands of years to reach Proxima Centauri, even if they were headed in that direction. A plan called Breakthrough Starshot imagines a tiny probe travelling at 20 per cent of light speed, and making the journey in 20 years, but it’s still very much on the drawing board.

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