CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – Boeing Co.’s new astronaut capsule failed on Friday to climb high enough in orbit to reach the International Space Station, cutting short a critical unmanned test mission in the embattled aerospace giant’s race to send humans to the outpost.
The CST-100 Starliner astronaut capsule was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, but an error in an automated timer prevented the craft from attaining the orbit that would have put it on track to rendezvous with the space station, NASA said.
Boeing could not immediately explain the error.
The Starliner’s debut launch to orbit was a milestone test for Boeing, which is vying with SpaceX, the privately held rocket company of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, to revive NASA’s human spaceflight capabilities. SpaceX carried out a successful unmanned flight of its Crew Dragon capsule to the space station in March.
The Starliner setback came as Boeing, whose shares dropped 1.6 percent on the day, sought an engineering and public relations victory in a year punctuated by a corporate crisis over the grounding of its 737 Max jetliner following two fatal crashes of that aircraft.
The implications for any further design and testing requirements before Starliner is approved for its first crewed mission also remained unclear. The prospect that Boeing might need to repeat an unmanned orbital test flight could substantially delay NASA’s timeline and drive up costs.
The plan now is for the capsule to return to Earth on Sunday, about a week ahead of schedule, parachuting to the ground at its designated landing site in White Sands, New Mexico, said Boeing’s space chief executive, Jim Chilton.
The craft, though stable, has burned too much fuel to risk further maneuvers trying to dock with the space station at this point, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a news conference.
Boeing officials said they were still seeking to pinpoint the cause of Friday’s glitch.
“The spacecraft was not on the timer we expected her to be on,” Chilton told reporters. “We don’t know if something happened to cause it to be that way.”
The spacecraft, a cone-shaped pod with seats for seven astronauts, lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 6:36 a.m. atop an Atlas V rocket supplied by the United Launch Alliance of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Minutes after launch, Starliner separated from the two main rocket boosters, aiming for a link-up with the space station on Saturday 254 miles (409 km) above Earth. But difficulties ensued with thrusters designed to boost the capsule’s orbit to the proper altitude.
“When the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle we did not get the orbital insertion burn that we were hoping for,” Bridenstine said.
Bridenstine said the timer error caused the capsule to burn much of its fuel too soon, preventing it from reaching the desired orbit. NASA and Boeing tried to manually correct the automated errors, but mission control commands sent across NASA’s satellite communications network were inexplicably delayed.
“The challenge here has to do with automation,” Bridenstine said, adding that astronauts on board would have been able to override the system that caused the malfunction.
Bridenstine said he would not rule out the possibility of allowing Boeing to proceed directly to its first crewed Starliner flight, depending on findings from the investigation of Friday’s mishap.
Nicole Mann, one of three astronauts slated to fly on Boeing’s first crewed flight test, told reporters, “We are looking forward to flying on Starliner. We don’t have any safety concerns.”
NASA astronaut Mike Fincke added, “Had we been on board, we could have given the flight control team more options on what to do in this situation.”
Friday’s test represented one of the most daunting milestones required by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to certify a capsule for eventual human spaceflight — a long-delayed goal set back years by development hurdles at both Boeing and SpaceX.
The U.S. space agency awarded $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.5 billion to SpaceX in 2014 to develop separate capsule systems capable of ferrying astronauts to the space station from U.S. soil for the first time since NASA’s space shuttle program ended in 2011. NASA has since relied on Russian spacecraft for hitching rides to the space station.
NASA initially had expected to begin crewed flights aboard the Starliner and the Crew Dragon capsules in late 2017. Both companies are currently aiming for next year, a time frame reinforced in a statement on Friday from the office of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the National Space Council.
“Vice President Pence was assured that NASA will continue to test and improve, in order to return American astronauts to space on American rockets in 2020,” it said.
In a message of sympathy for his Boeing rival, Musk said on Twitter, “Orbit is hard,” adding, “Best wishes for landing & swift recovery to next mission.”
Occupying one of Starliner’s astronaut seats on Friday was a mannequin named Rosie, outfitted with sensors to measure the pressure a real astronaut would endure on ascent to the space station and during hypersonic re-entry back through Earth’s atmosphere.
India among 11 ‘countries of concern’ on climate change for U.S. spy agencies
Afghanistan, India and Pakistan were among 11 countries singled out by U.S. intelligence agencies on Thursday as being “highly vulnerable” in terms of their ability to prepare for and respond to environmental and societal crises caused by climate change.
In a new National Intelligence Estimate, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) predicts that global warming will increase geopolitical tensions and risks to U.S. national security in the period up to 2040.
Such estimates are broad U.S. intelligence community assessments. Thursday’s report identifies as particular “countries of concern” Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Iraq, North Korea, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Colombia. ODNI posted a declassified version online.
Heat, drought, water availability and ineffective government make Afghanistan specifically worrying. Water disputes are also a key geopolitical flashpoint in India and the rest of South Asia.
The report identifies two additional regions of concern to U.S. intelligence agencies. Climate change is “likely to increase the risk of instability in countries in Central Africa and small island states in the Pacific, which clustered together form two of the most vulnerable areas in the world.”
The report notes disparities around global approaches to tackling climate change, saying countries that rely on fossil fuel exports to support their economies “will continue to resist a quick transition to a zero-carbon world because they fear the economic, political, and geopolitical costs of doing so.”
The report also notes the likelihood of increasing strategic competition over the Arctic. It says that Arctic and non-Arctic states “almost certainly will increase their competitive activities as the region becomes more accessible because of warming temperatures and reduced ice.”
It predicts international competition in the Arctic “will be largely economic but the risk of miscalculation will increase modestly by 2040 as commercial and military activity grows and opportunities are more contested.”
(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Frances Kerry)
Mining the moon's water will require a massive infrastructure investment, but should we? – Yahoo News Canada
We live in a world in which momentous decisions are made by people often without forethought. But some things are predictable, including that if you continually consume a finite resource without recycling, it will eventually run out.
Yet, as we set our sights on embarking back to the moon, we will be bringing with us all our bad habits, including our urge for unrestrained consumption.
Since the 1994 discovery of water ice on the moon by the Clementine spacecraft, excitement has reigned at the prospect of a return to the moon. This followed two decades of the doldrums after the end of Apollo, a malaise that was symptomatic of an underlying lack of incentive to return.
That water changed everything. The water ice deposits are located at the poles of the moon hidden in the depths of craters that are forever devoid of sunlight.
Since then, not least due to the International Space Station, we have developed advanced techniques that allow us to recycle water and oxygen with high efficiency. This makes the value of supplying local water for human consumption more tenuous, but if the human population on the Moon grows so will demand. So, what to do with the water on the moon?
There are two commonly proposed answers: energy storage using fuel cells and fuel and oxidizer for propulsion. The first is easily dispensed with: fuel cells recycle their hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis when they are recharged, with very little leakage.
Energy and fuel
The second — currently the primary raison d’être for mining water on the moon — is more complex but no more compelling. It is worth noting that SpaceX uses a methane/oxygen mix in its rockets, so they would not require the hydrogen propellant.
So, what is being proposed is to mine a precious and finite resource and burn it, just like we have been doing with petroleum and natural gas on Earth. The technology for mining and using resources in space has a technical name: in-situ resource utilization.
And while oxygen is not scarce on the moon (around 40 per cent of the moon’s minerals comprise oxygen), hydrogen most certainly is.
Extracting water from the moon
Hydrogen is highly useful as a reductant as well as a fuel. The moon is a vast repository of oxygen within its minerals but it requires hydrogen or other reductant to be freed.
For instance, ilmenite is an oxide of iron and titanium and is a common mineral on the moon. Heating it to around 1,000 C with hydrogen reduces it to water, iron metal (from which an iron-based technology can be leveraged) and titanium oxide. The water may be electrolyzed into hydrogen — which is recycled — and oxygen; the latter effectively liberated from the ilmenite. By burning hydrogen extracted from water, we are compromising the prospects for future generations: this is the crux of sustainability.
But there are other, more pragmatic issues that emerge. How do we access these water ice resources buried near the lunar surface? They are located in terrain that is hostile in every sense of the word, in deep craters hidden from sunlight — no solar power is available — at temperatures of around 40 Kelvin, or -233 C. At such cryogenic temperatures, we have no experience in conducting extensive mining operations.
Peaks of eternal light are mountain peaks located in the region of the south pole that are exposed to near-constant sunlight. One proposal from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab envisages beaming sunlight from giant reflectors located at these peaks into craters.
These giant mirrors must be transported from Earth, landed onto these peaks and installed and controlled remotely to illuminate the deep craters. Then robotic mining vehicles can venture into the now-illuminated deep craters to recover the water ice using the reflected solar energy.
Water ice may be sublimed into vapour for recovery by direct thermal or microwave heating – because of its high heat capacity, this will consume a lot of energy, which must be supplied by the mirrors. Alternatively, it may be physically dug out and subsequently melted at barely more modest temperatures.
Using the water
After recovering the water, it needs to be electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen. To store them, they should be liquefied for minimum storage tank volume.
Although oxygen can be liquefied easily, hydrogen liquefies at 30 Kelvin (-243 C) at a minimum of 15 bar pressure. This requires extra energy to liquefy hydrogen and maintain it as liquid without boil-off. This cryogenically cooled hydrogen and oxygen (LH2/LOX) must be transported to its location of use while maintaining its low temperature.
So, now we have our propellant stocks for launching stuff from the moon.
This will require a launchpad, which may be located at the moon’s equator for maximum flexibility of launching into any orbital inclination as a polar launch site will be limited to polar launches — to the planned Lunar Gateway only. A lunar launchpad will require extensive infrastructure development.
In summary, the apparent ease of extracting water ice from the lunar poles belies a complex infrastructure required to achieve it. The costs of infrastructure installation will negate the cost savings rationale for in-situ resource utilization.
Alternatives to extraction
There are more preferable options. Hydrogen reduction of ilmenite to yield iron metal, rutile and oxygen provides most of the advantages of exploiting water. Oxygen constitutes the lion’s share of the LH2/LOX mixture. It involves no great infrastructure: thermal power may be generated by modest-sized solar concentrators integrated into the processing units. Each unit can be deployed where it is required – there is no need for long traverses between sites of supply and demand.
Hence, we can achieve almost the same function through a different, more readily achievable route to in-situ resource utilization that is also sustainable by mining abundant ilmenite and other lunar minerals.
Let us not keep repeating the same unsustainable mistakes we have made on Earth — we have a chance to get it right as we spread into the solar system.
Alex Ellery does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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