CAPE CANAVERAL-The Associated Press
As the company scrambled to understand what happened, NASA canceled the Starliner’s docking with the International Space Station, instead of focusing on a hastier than planned return to Earth. The Starliner will parachute into its landing site in the New Mexico desert on Dec. 22.
Officials stressed the capsule was stable and safe, and that had astronauts been aboard, they would have been in no danger. A crew may have been able to take over control and salvage the mission.
The problem was with the Starliner’s mission clock: It was off-kilter, which delayed timed-commands to put the capsule in the right orbit. Engineers worried the problem could resurface during descent.
It was a major setback for Boeing, which had been hoping to catch up with SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew provider that successfully completed a similar demonstration last March. SpaceX has one last hurdle a launch abort test before carrying two NASA astronauts in its Dragon capsule, possibly by spring.
NASA officials did not think Dec. 20’s problem would hold up SpaceX but said they would need to make sure nothing was in common between the two companies’ on-board mission timers. Ground controllers were puzzled over why the Starliner’s timer was not working properly when the capsule separated from the rocket and began flying freely.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was too soon to know whether Boeing would need to conduct another orbital test flight without a crew, before flying astronauts. The company had been shooting for its first crew launch by the middle of next year. An additional test flight would almost certainly push the first astronaut flight back.
Boeing’s Jim Chilton, a senior vice president, stopped by the Starliner’s manufacturing plant at Kennedy Space Center to address employees on his way to a somber news conference.
“These are passionate people who are committing a big chunk of their lives to put Americans back in space from our soil, so it’s disappointing for us,” Chilton told reporters.
It’s been nearly nine years since NASA astronauts have launched from the U.S. The last time was July 8, 2011, when Atlantis now on display at Kennedy Space Center made the final space shuttle flight.
Since then, NASA astronauts have traveled to and from the space station via Kazakhstan, courtesy of the Russian Space Agency. The Soyuz rides have cost NASA up to $86 million apiece.
The space agency handed over station deliveries to private businesses, first cargo and then crews, in order to focus on getting astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars.
Commercial cargo ships took flight in 2012. Crew capsules were more complicated to design and build, and parachute and other technical problems caused repeated delays. Target launch dates starting with 2017 came and went. Last April, a SpaceX crew capsule the same one that flew to the space station a month earlier exploded during a ground test.
The U.S. needs companies competing like this, Bridenstine said Thursday, to drive down launch costs, boost innovation and open space up to more people. He stressed the need for more than one company in case of problems that kept one grounded.
Dec. 20’s blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station started flawlessly as the Atlas V rocket lifted off with the Starliner just before sunrise. But a half-hour into the flight, the trouble became apparent.
Ground controllers tried to send up commands to get the spacecraft in its proper orbit, but the signals did not get there and by then it was too late. The capsule tried to fix its position, burning too much fuel for the spacecraft to safely make it to the space station on Dec. 21 for a weeklong stay.
All three astronauts assigned to the first Starliner crew were at control centers for the launch: Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, both with NASA, and Boeing’s Chris Ferguson, who commanded the last shuttle mission. He’s now a test pilot astronaut for Boeing and one of the Starliner’s key developers.
“This is why we flight test, right? We’re trying to get all of the bugs, if you will, out of the system,” said Fincke at the briefing. “There’s always something.”
Built to accommodate seven, the white capsule with black and blue trim will typically carry four or five people. It’s 16.5 feet (5 meters) tall with its attached service module and 15 feet (4.5 meters) in diameter.
For the test flight, the Starliner carried Christmas treats and presents for the six space station residents, the original air travel ID card belonging to Boeing’s founder and a mannequin, named Rosie after the bicep-flexing riveter of World War II.
The flight was designed to test all systems, from the vibrations and stresses of liftoff to the touchdown at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, with parachutes and air bags to soften the landing.
Boeing, a longtime partner in NASA’s human spacecraft program, had hoped to close out the year with a success. The company’s troubled 737 Max airliners remain grounded, and earlier this week, officials said production would be halted in January.
“Space system malfunctions happen all the time, so it’s tough to draw a broader conclusion, other than bad end to a bad year,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aircraft industry analyst at the Teal Group.
Boeing got more than $4 billion in 2014 to develop and fly the Starliner, while SpaceX got $2.6 billion for a crew-version of its Dragon cargo ship.
On the eve of the launch, Bridenstine said NASA wants to make sure every reasonable precaution is taken with the capsules, designed to be safer than the shuttles.
“We’re talking about human spaceflight,” he cautioned. “It’s not for the faint of heart. It never has been, and it’s never going to be.”
NASA rover Perseverance takes first spin on surface of Mars – Global News
NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance has taken its first, short drive on the surface of the red planet, two weeks after the robot science lab’s picture-perfect touchdown on the floor of a massive crater, mission managers said on Friday.
The six-wheeled, car-sized astrobiology probe put a total of 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) on its odometer on Thursday during a half-hour test spin within Jezero Crater, site of an ancient, long-vanished lake bed and river delta on Mars.
Taking directions from mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, the rover rolled 4 meters (13.1 feet) forward, turned about 150 degrees to its left and then drove backward another 2.5 meters (8.2 feet).
“It went incredibly well,” Anais Zarifian, a JPL mobility test engineer for Perseverance, said during a teleconference briefing with reporters, calling it a “huge milestone” for the mission.
NASA displayed a photo taken by the rover showing the wheel tread marks left in the reddish, sandy Martian soil after its first drive.
Perseverance rover: Scientist on when we can expect samples back from Mars
Another vivid image of the surrounding landscape shows a rugged, ruddy terrain littered with large, dark boulders in the foreground and a tall outcropping of rocky, layered deposits in the distance – marking the edge of the river delta.
Some additional, short-distance test driving is planned for Friday. Perseverance is capable of averaging 200 meters of driving per day.
But JPL engineers still have additional equipment checks to run on the rover‘s many instruments before they will be ready to send the robot on a more ambitious journey as part of its primary mission to search for traces of fossilized microbial life.
So far, Perseverance and its hardware, including its main robot arm, appear to be operating flawlessly, said Robert Hogg, deputy mission manager. The team has yet to conduct post-landing tests of the rover‘s sophisticated system to drill and collect rock samples for return to Earth via future Mars missions.
NASA announced it has named the site of Perseverance’s Feb. 18 touchdown as the “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” in honor of the award-winning American science-fiction writer. Butler, a native of Pasadena, California, died in 2006 at age 58.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
© 2021 Reuters
NASA's new Mars rover Perseverance hits dusty red road, ventures 21 feet in 1st trip – Chilliwack Progress – Chilliwack Progress
NASA’s newest Mars rover hit the dusty red road this week, putting 21 feet on the odometer in its first test drive.
The Perseverance rover ventured from its landing position Thursday, two weeks after landing on the red planet to seek signs of past life.
The roundabout, back and forth drive lasted just 33 minutes and went so well that the six-wheeled rover was back on the move Friday.
During a news conference Friday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shared photos of the tire tracks over and around small rocks.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see wheel tracks and I’ve seen a lot of them, said engineer Anais Zarafian. ”This is just a huge milestone for the mission.”
As soon as the system checks on Perseverance are complete, the rover will head for an ancient river delta to collect rocks for return to Earth a decade from now. Scientists are debating whether to take the smoother route to get to the nearby delta or a possibly tougher way with intriguing remnants from that once-watery time 3 billion to 4 billion years ago.
Asteroid twice the size of the CN Tower to make fastest flyby of Earth this month – CTV News
The biggest and fastest known asteroid of 2021 is expected to make a flyby of Earth later this month.
The space rock, officially called asteroid 231937 (designated 2001 FO32), will zoom past Earth on March 21 travelling at a speed of 123,887 kilometres per hour or 34.4 kilometres per second, according to NASA.
The asteroid is an estimated 1.1 kilometres wide, which is roughly twice the size of the CN Tower. Of the approximately 25,000 near-Earth asteroids that scientists know about, NASA says only about 3.5 per cent of them are larger than a kilometre.
Due to its size and proximity to Earth, asteroid 231937 has been classified as “potentially hazardous” by NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) and is being tracked by the space agency.
NEOs are defined as space objects, such as asteroids or comets, that come within 1.3 astronomical units (195 million kilometres) of the sun. If the object is larger than 140 metres across, it is considered a potentially hazardous object (PHO).
Nearly one hundred known asteroids are set to fly past Earth before the end of 2021, NASA says, but asteroid 231937 is set to be the largest and fastest.
However, NASA says the asteroid’s orbit is well known and poses no threat to humans.
According to the space agency, the asteroid will make is closest approach at 16:03 UTC (11:03 a.m. EST), at over two million kilometres away from Earth. NASA notes that this is nearly five times farther than the distance the moon orbits Earth.
Despite being two million kilometres away, NASA says this will be the asteroid’s closest encounter on record. According to NASA’s records dating as far back as the early 1900s, the space rock has not come closer to Earth and won’t do so again for 200 years.
Asteroid 231937 was discovered on March 23, 2001, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program in New Mexico, according to NASA. It orbits the sun every 810 days and is classified as an Apollo asteroid as it travels from inside Mercury’s orbit to the asteroid belt and back, crossing Earth’s orbit in an elliptical pattern.
While those interested in catching a glimpse of the asteroid won’t be able to do so with their eyes, EarthSky reports that stargazers may be able to see it using a telescope 20 centimetres or larger in diameter to detect the asteroid’s motion in real time.
The asteroid will be relatively low in the southern sky, but EarthSky said observers might spot it moving between the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius just before dawn.
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