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Boeing prepares to launch astronaut capsule for Nasa – BBC News

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America is about to take another step towards being able to launch its own people into orbit again – a capability it’s not had for nearly nine years.

The Boeing company is going to launch a test capsule to the International Space Station (ISS).

Known as Starliner, the vehicle will be flying uncrewed on this occasion.

But if it performs without incident, astronauts will start using the craft next year.

Lift-off atop an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida is scheduled for 06:36 local time (11:36 GMT) on Friday.

The automated mission to the ISS should last a week. The capsule will come home to New Mexico, using parachutes and airbags to make a soft landing on desert terrain in the early hours of 28 December.

Not since 2011, when the shuttles were retired, have Americans launched from their own soil; US astronauts have been hitching rides in Russian Soyuz capsules instead.

Starliner is the second of the new systems the American space agency (Nasa) hopes will restore independent human access to low-Earth orbit.

The other crew capsule in development is called Dragon, a product of California’s SpaceX company.

Both should be approved for human use in the first half of 2020.

When that happens, Nasa will start purchasing seats in what will become commercial astronaut taxi services.

Contracting out space transportation in this way is designed to free up money for the agency to concentrate on the harder and more expensive task of getting people to the Moon and Mars.

“Nasa wants to be one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace for human spaceflight in the future,” said the agency’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine.

“The ultimate goal being we want to drive down costs, increase innovation, and increase access to space in a way that we’ve never seen before.”

Starliner won’t be completely empty on its ascent to orbit.

It will be carrying 270kg of supplies to the ISS – mostly food – and an anthropomorphic test device (ATD), or dummy, nicknamed “Rosie”.

The ATD is covered in sensors to record the onboard environment. “She” will tell engineers how much discomfort a real astronaut might experience during the more violent phases of flight, such as on launch or during landing.

Starliner is going up on the well proven Atlas 5 rocket.

The latest version of this vehicle was developed originally only to launch satellites, but with 80 flights and no losses to its name – there is high confidence in its suitability to launch crew.

The Atlas family of rockets actually has quite a storied history in human spaceflight. They were used in the Mercury programme in the early 1960s.

“John Glenn was launched in the first (American) human orbital mission on an Atlas rocket in 62,” remarked John Elbon, the chief operating officer for United Launch Alliance (ULA), which manufactures the Atlas.

Nasa has seeded Starliner and Dragon under its Commercial Crew Programme (CCP). Boeing and SpaceX were given milestone payments to encourage the development of their capsules.

The vehicles are somewhat late, however; they should have been flying in 2017.

That they are still at the demonstration stage is due in part to Congress squeezing the amount of money the agency could spend on the initiative. But there have also been technical set-backs, such as the explosive destruction of a Dragon capsule on a test stand.

“Building new spacecraft and developing hardware is really hard, right? Folks say it looks like it’s taking a long time, but I think when you go back and look at development history over time, this programme’s been doing a good job of meeting its obligations,” said Nasa manager Kathy Leuders.

Assuming all goes well over the next week, Starliner should get the green light to ferry people to the ISS early next year.

The first crew has already been selected. It will comprise Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, both Nasa employees, and the Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson (Ferguson was the commander on the final shuttle mission and left Nasa to help Boeing develop Starliner).

Mr Finke, who is one of the most experienced astronauts in history with more than a year of his life spent in orbit, said the new astronaut taxis should open up a new era in human spaceflight.

“We crew, we’re looking forward to commercial infrastructure in space because this means more flight assignments for us, which is what we as astronauts really live for. But it’s also more flight assignments for the non-government astronaut types. This is a really interesting time,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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nasa mars helicopter – Intelligent Aerospace

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WASHINGTON – NASA’s Perseverance explorer will land on the red planet on Feb. 18, but the rover won’t be the only newly arrived robotic explorer. The wheeled robot carries the Mars Helicopter Ingenuity on its belly, and NASA has posted a handy list of things to know about this mission. Although, several of the six facts seem to drive home that NASA doesn’t really know if Ingenuity is going to work. In fact, it could still be seen as a success at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory even if it crashes on its first flight, Ryan Whitwam reports for Extreme TechContinue reading original article.

The Intelligent Aerospace take:

January 27, 2021 –The Mars helicopter weighs in at four pounds on Earth (and 1.5 pounds on Mars) and has rotors that come in at four feet tip-to-tip. It is powered by a solar panel that charges Lithium-ion batteries, which allows for one 90-second flight per Martian day. In that time, it can fly up to 980 feet at an altitude up to 15 feet. It will fly autonomously.

Related: Six things to know about NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter

Related: Smiths Interconnect’s contact technology launched on NASA Mars Perseverance Rover

Related: Northrop Grumman contributes navigation system for NASA’s mars rover mission

Jamie Whitney, Associate Editor
Intelligent Aerospace

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Spacewalking astronauts venture out to improve European lab – Toronto Star

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A pair of astronauts went spacewalking Wednesday to install a high-speed data link outside the International Space Station’s European lab.

NASA’s Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover floated out early and headed straight to Columbus, one of the three high-tech labs at the orbiting outpost.

“That’s a beautiful view,” Hopkins observed as the station soared 260 miles (420 kilometres) above Kazakhstan.

They hauled with them a fancy new antenna for Columbus that will provide faster communication with European researchers via satellites and ground stations. The boxy antenna is the size of a small refrigerator.

Danish astronaut Andreas Morgensen guided the spacewalkers from Mission Control in Houston, where controllers wore masks and were seated apart because of the pandemic.

The spacewalkers also needed to hook up power and data cables for an experiment platform for science research outside the European lab that’s been awaiting activation for almost a year.

SpaceX delivered the platform named Bartolomeo to the space station last spring. The shelf was installed with the station’s robot arm, but had to wait until Wednesday’s spacewalk to get hooked up and activated.

Airbus, which built and runs Bartolomeo, is selling space on the platform for private research projects. It’s Europe’s first commercial venture outside the station.

Hopkins and Glover will perform a second spacewalk on Monday to complete battery upgrades to the station’s solar power grid. The latest spacewalk was the third for Hopkins and first for Glover.

They are part of SpaceX’s second astronaut flight that launched in November. Their docked Dragon capsule was visible on NASA TV during the spacewalk.

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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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ABB sensor onboard SpaceX rocket to detect greenhouse gas emissions – Design Products & Applications

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25 January 2021

An optical sensor manufactured by ABB was deployed with the successful launch of satellite Hugo from GHGSat, the emerging leader in greenhouse gas sensing services in space.

The ABB supplied optical sensor can map methane emissions from space at a resolution that is 100 times higher than any other sensors. Whilst previously only larger regions could be surveyed, for the first time the new greater granularity now allows the identification of the source of emissions. An additional nine units are currently under manufacture at ABB to be launched by the end of 2022 ready to be on-board across the first private satellite constellation dedicated to emission measurement.

Space offers the ideal location to freely monitor emissions across jurisdictions and quantitatively report on improvements. The ABB sensors will provide valuable insights which will enable governments and industries around the world to meet their emission reduction targets and reduce the negative impact on global warming.

“We selected ABB for its ability to deliver world-class instruments while meeting the challenges of a new space company like ours,” said Stephane Germain, CEO of GHGSat. “We strive to innovate for the needs of the future, and we’re excited to work with ABB to achieve that.”

“ABB shares GHGSat’s goal of reducing emissions through the creation of their greenhouse gas sensing constellation. Our selection as the manufacturer for these advanced sensors demonstrates our competitiveness and strong fit with the private space sector requirements,” said Marc Corriveau, General Manager ABB Measurement & Analytics Canada. 

“The space revolution is well underway and ABB with its heritage of unique space instruments and serial production of advanced measurement sensors for industrial applications is extremely well positioned to serve this emerging sector,” he continued. 

GHGSat announced the constellation contract award with ABB in October 2020, with first deliveries in 2021. The unit launched by SpaceX was a single unit procured by GHGSat from ABB two years ago ahead of a selection for the constellation.

With its involvement in the Canadian SCISAT mission and the Japanese GOSAT series of satellites, ABB has been at the forefront of the field of greenhouse gas sensing from space for more than two decades. ABB optical equipment already in space cumulates more than 100 years of reliable operation. The SCISAT sensor tracks long-term subtle composition changes in the earth’s atmosphere down to parts per trillion of more than 70 molecules and pollutants since 2003. Weather agencies across the world base their predictions on ABB equipment flying onboard the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather satellites (NPP and JPSS), which saves lives by improving the timeliness and accuracy of weather forecasts for up to seven days.

ABB is also a global leader in earthbound continuous emission monitoring with over 60,000 systems installed in more than 50 countries worldwide. Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS) continuously record and evaluate emission data across all industries. They provide important information for the environmental and economic operation of production facilities. The range includes the ACF5000 that accurately and reliably monitors up to 15 gas components simultaneously.

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