Boeing’s new Starliner unmanned spacecraft returned to Earth on Sunday, landing in the New Mexico desert in the United States six days early after a clock problem scuppered a rendezvous with the International Space Station.
NASA hailed the aborted flight as a success, despite its failure to reach the ISS on what was meant to be a final dress rehearsal before a crewed mission.
Images broadcast by NASA showed the spacecraft touching down, cushioned by airbags, after a pre-dawn descent slowed by three large parachutes.
“We had some challenges, but a lot of things did in fact go right,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters, describing the landing as an “absolute bull’s-eye”.
“We did not make it to the International Space Station. We did not dock, but the spacecraft flew exceptionally well. We’ve got a lot of data to review.”
The Starliner capsule was launched Friday from Cape Canaveral in Florida, but shortly after separating from its Atlas V launch rocket, its thrusters failed to activate as planned, preventing it from reaching a high enough orbit.
The space station orbits at an altitude of about 400 kilometers (250 miles) above sea level.
As the craft had burned too much propellant, Boeing and NASA were forced to guide the Starliner back to Earth.
“Maybe it’s acceptable to go next step – fly the crew flight test, but we have to go through the data first,” Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said.
“We tested a majority of the core system of the vehicle… We had a little issue with the timer in the beginning.”
The test flight was a key part of NASA’s plans to end US dependence on Russia for space rides.
Its flight troubles also dealt a fresh reputational blow to Boeing, which faces a safety crisis in its commercial air division.
The company is reeling from two fatal crashes of its 737 Max airliner. The crashes, in October 2018 in Indonesia and in March 2019 in Ethiopia, claimed a total 346 lives.
Boeing plans to suspend production of the plane in January.
Capsule named ‘Calypso’
The Starliner was able to establish a communications link with the ISS, and to test its docking mechanism, solar panels, batteries, thrusters and heat regulation system.
Its heat shield protected the capsule during re-entry, when temperatures outside the vehicle rose to over 1,600 degrees Celsius (2,900 degrees Fahrenheit) due to friction.
Before its descent, the Starliner was orbiting at an altitude of 250 kilometers (150 miles) and traveling at over 28,000 kilometers an hour (17,400 mph).
In a test in November, only two of the three parachutes opened, although they proved sufficient for the landing.
NASA said the Starliner had landed in excellent condition and would now be refurbished ahead of a decision on whether to carry out another test flight or to trust that the vehicle was safe to carry astronauts.
The capsule has been named “Calypso” after French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau’s ship, NASA added.
Starliner’s first crewed flight had been scheduled for early 2020. That development was much-anticipated as NASA has been forced to rely on Russian Soyuz rockets to transport its astronauts to the space station since the Space Shuttle program was shuttered in 2011 after 30 years.
Under former president Barack Obama, NASA opted for a shift in how it operates.
Instead of owning the hardware, it hired private companies to take over, awarding Boeing and SpaceX billions of dollars to develop “Made in the USA” solutions.
The Crew Dragon, developed by SpaceX, is expected to be ready for launch next year.
NASA has committed to pay $8 billion to Boeing and SpaceX, which in return are to deliver six trips carrying four astronauts each from now to 2024.
Starliner carried a test dummy called “Rosie” after ‘Rosie the Riveter’, the star of a campaign aimed at recruiting women to munitions factory jobs during World War II.
Rosie was packed with sensors to verify the voyage would be safe for future teams of humans.
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Chang'e-4 lander finds radiation levels on the moon 2.6 times higher than at space station – Firstpost
Agence France-PresseSep 28, 2020 10:50:29 IST
As the US prepares to return humans to the Moon this decade, one of the biggest dangers future astronauts will face is space radiation that can cause lasting health effects, from cataracts to cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
Though the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s proved it was safe for people to spend a few days on the lunar surface, NASA did not take daily radiation measurements that would help scientists quantify just how long crews could stay.
This question was resolved Friday after a Chinese-German team published in the journal Science Advances the results of an experiment carried out by China’s Chang’E 4 lander in 2019.
“The radiation of the Moon is between two and three times higher than what you have on the ISS (International Space Station),” co-author Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber, an astrophysicist at the University of Kiel told AFP.
“So that limits your stay to approximately two months on the surface of the Moon,” he added, once the radiation exposure from the roughly week-long journey there, and week back, is taken into account.
There are several sources of radiation exposure: galactic cosmic rays, sporadic solar particle events (for example from solar flares), and neutrons and gamma rays from interactions between space radiation and the lunar soil.
Radiation is measured using the unit sievert, which quantifies the amount absorbed by human tissues.
The team found that the radiation exposure on the Moon is 1,369 microsieverts per day – about 2.6 times higher than the International Space Station crew’s daily dose.
The reason for this is that the ISS is still partly shielded by the Earth’s protective magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere, which deflects most radiation from space.
Earth’s atmosphere provides additional protection for humans on the surface, but we are more exposed the higher up we go.
“The radiation levels we measured on the Moon are about 200 times higher than on the surface of the Earth and five to 10 times higher than on a flight from New York to Frankfurt,” added Wimmer-Schweingruber.
NASA is planning to bring humans to the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis mission and has said it has plans for a long term presence that would include astronauts working and living on the surface.
For Wimmer-Schweingruber there is one work-around if we want humans to spend more than two or three months: build habitats that are shielded from radiation by coating them with 80 centimeters (30 inches) of lunar soil.
NASA’s New Budget for Artemis? $28 Billion – Universe Today
It’s no exaggeration to say that NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the Moon has faced its share of challenges. From its inception, Project Artemis has set some ambitious goals, up to and including placing “the first woman and next man” on the Moon by 2024. Aside from all the technical challenges that this entails, there’s also the question of budgets. As the Apollo Era taught us, reaching the moon in a few years doesn’t come cheap!
Funding is an especially sticky issue right now because of the fact that we’re in an election year and NASA may be dealing with a new administration come Jan of 2021. In response, NASA announced a budget last week (Mon. Sept 21st) that put a price tag on returning astronauts to the Moon. According to NASA, it will cost taxpayers $28 billion between 2021 and 2025 to make sure Project Artemis’ meets its deadline of 2024.
On the same day during a phone briefing with journalists, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noted that “political risks” are often the biggest obstacle to NASA’s work. This is perhaps a reference to the fact that NASA’s plans and goals have forcible shifted over the past decade or so in response to the changing priorities of new administrations.
When he took office in 2009, President Obama and his cabinet inherited the Constellation Program initiated by the Bush administration in 2005. This program aimed to create a new generation of launch systems and spacecraft to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 at the latest. However, due to the then-current economic crisis and recommendations that the 2020 deadline could not be reached, it was canceled.
A year later, the Obama administration initiated NASA’s “Journey to Mars,” which picked up much of Constellation’s architecture but shifted the focus to a crewed mission to Mars by the 2030s. By 2017, VP Pence announced that the Trump administration’s focus would be on returning to the Moon within the 2020s. By March of 2019, Project Artemis was officially unveiled and NASA was charged with returning to the Moon in five years.
Approval for this funding now falls to Congress, which will be looking at elections by November 3rd. This year, in addition to deciding who will be president, 434 of the 435 Congressional districts across all 50 US states and 33 class 2 Senate seats will be contested. Come January, NASA could be dealing with an entirely new government.
According to Bridenstine, the first tranche of funding ($3.2 billion) must be approved by Christmas in order for NASA to remain “on track for a 2024 moon landing.” In total, NASA will require a full $16 billion in order to fund the development of the human landing system (HLS) – aka. a lunar lander – that will allow the crew of the Artemis III mission (one man and one woman) to land on the surface of the Moon.
At present, three major companies are competing to see which of their concepts NASA will choose. They include SpaceX, which presented NASA with a modified version of their Starship designed, altered to accommodate lunar landings. Then there’s Alabama-based Dynetics’ Human Landing System (DHLS), a vehicle that will provide both descent and ascent capabilities.
Rounding out the competitors is Blue Origin, meanwhile is collaborating on a design for an Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) that will consist of three elements – the descent, transfer, and ascent elements – designed by Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin, respectively. The winning design will either be integrated with the Orion capsule carrying the crew to the Moon or will launch on its own atop a company rocket.
Bridenstine also took the opportunity to set the record straight regarding where the Artemis III mission would be landing. This was in response to a previous statement he made during an online meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), which seemed to hint that the Artemis crews might revisit the Apollo sites.
“If you’re going to go to the equatorial region again, how are you going to learn the most?” he said. “You could argue that you’ll learn the most by going to the places where we put gear in the past. There could be scientific discoveries there and, of course, just the inspiration of going back to an original Apollo site would be pretty amazing as well.”
During Monday’s phone briefing, however, Bridenstine emphasized that the mission will be heading to the South Pole-Aitken Basin:
“To be clear, we’re going to the South Pole. There’s no discussion of anything other than that. The science that we would be doing is really very different than anything we’ve done before. We have to remember during the Apollo era, we thought the moon was bone dry. Now we know that there’s lots of water ice and we know that it’s at the South Pole.”
Investigations of this ice and other resources will be intrinsic to long-term plans to create the Artemis Base Camp. The current schedule has the Artemis I flight (which will be uncrewed) taking place by November of 2021. This will be the inaugural flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) flying with the Orion space capsule. Artemis II is scheduled for 2023, and will take a crew of astronauts around the Moon but will not attempt a lunar landing.
In 2024, the long-awaited Artemis III mission will occur and will see astronauts land on the surface for a week of operations and up to five operations on the surface. Beyond 2024, NASA plans to deploy the various segments that make up the Lunar Gateway, which will facilitate more long-term missions to the lunar surface and allow for the construction of the Artemis Base Camp.
Further Reading: Phys.org
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