SpaceX transferred the first astronaut-ready Crew Dragon spacecraft Friday night from a fueling facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where teams will join the capsule with its Falcon 9 launcher for liftoff later this month.
The spacecraft arrived at the pad 39A hangar late Friday night, according to Kyle Herring, a NASA spokesperson.
Before its transport by road to the Falcon 9 hangar, the Crew Dragon capsule’s propulsion system was loaded with hypergolic hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants inside a fueling complex a few miles south of pad 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The propellants will feed the Crew Dragon’s Draco in-space maneuvering thrusters and high-performance SuperDraco escape engines, which would only be activated in the event of an emergency during launch.
Liftoff of the Crew Dragon test flight — the first U.S. mission to send astronauts to Earth orbit since 2011 — remains scheduled for May 27 at 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT) to kick off a 19-hour pursuit of the International Space Station.
In the coming days, SpaceX ground crews will verify mechanical and electrical attachments between the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 launcher inside the hangar. Then the entire vehicle, measuring some 215 feet (65 meters) tip to tail, will be lifted by a crane and placed onto SpaceX’s rocket transporter for the quarter-mile journey up the ramp to the deck of pad 39A.
The Falcon 9 launcher assigned to the Crew Dragon’s first piloted test flight — designated Demo-2 or DM-2 — is an all-new vehicle. SpaceX regularly lands and reuses rocket boosters to cut costs, but NASA has required SpaceX to assign new first stages to at least the initial launches that carry astronauts.
The first stage booster for the Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission is emblazoned with NASA’s “worm” logo, which spells out “NASA” in stylized lettering. The worm logo was introduced in 1975 to add a touch of modernity to the agency’s public image after the last of NASA’s Apollo moon landings, which took place when NASA used its original blue “meatball” symbol.
The worm logo was retired in 1992, and NASA removed the iconic interconnected lettering from signs, brochures, and even the agency’s space shuttles. The original meatball, first designed in the late 1950s, again became NASA’s official logo.
“The worm is back,” NASA announced last month. “And just in time to mark the return of human spaceflight on American rockets from American soil.”
In a statement, NASA said “the retro, modern design of the agency’s (worm) logo will help capture the excitement of a new, modern era of human spaceflight.”
The memorable worm insignia — with its stark red logotype — will make its first public appearance on a NASA-sponsored rocket in nearly 30 years when the Falcon 9 launcher emerges from the hangar next week and rolls out to pad 39A.
Once the vehicle is vertical on the launch pad, SpaceX will run the Falcon 9 rocket through a fueling test and a test-firing of its Merlin main engines next week.
At the same time ground teams work on flight hardware at Cape Canaveral, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are in quarantine at their homes in Houston before they travel to the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday aboard a NASA Gulfstream jet.
The astronauts are both veterans of two space shuttle flights, and they started working full time on NASA’s commercial crew program in 2015. In 2018, NASA assigned Hurley and Behnken to the Crew Dragon’s first flight with astronauts.
After arriving at the spaceport in Florida on May 20, the astronauts will receive mission briefings, brush up on procedures, and perform fit checks with their SpaceX-made launch and entry flight suits. They are also scheduled to take questions from reporters in a press conference Wednesday at Kennedy soon after they arrive in Florida, then in a virtual news briefing Friday, May 22.
If activities next week go according to plan, the astronauts will run through a launch day dress rehearsal next Saturday, May 23.
The two-man crew will suit up and ride inside a Tesla Model X from the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy to launch pad 39A, where they will ride an elevator to the 265-foot-level of the pad’s fixed tower. They will then walk across SpaceX’s crew access arm to the white room, where a closeout team will help them board the capsule.
Hurley, the 53-year-old Dragon spacecraft commander, will strap into the left seat of the capsule. Behnken, 49, will take his place in the right seat for the pre-launch simulation.
The “dry dress rehearsal” is meant to give the astronauts and their support teams a feel for the flow of launch day.
Amid the hardware preps and crew activities, NASA and SpaceX managers plan to convene a pair of major reviews before the Crew Dragon launch to ensure the spacecraft, the rocket, the astronauts, ground systems and the International Space Station are ready for the test flight.
A Flight Readiness Review is scheduled May 21, followed by a Launch Readiness Review May 25.
“There’s still work to be done,” said Phil McAlister, head of NASA’s commercial spaceflight development mission. “We’re still finishing up some final testing. There’s still some documents we have to review.”
“The Flight Readiness Review on the 21st is a very big milestone,” McAlister said Thursday in a briefing to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee. “That’s going to be when we we all get together one last time and say whether we are ready for flight. So that will be a huge, huge milestone.”
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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.
Toward customizable timber, grown in a lab – EurekAlert
Each year, the world loses about 10 million hectares of forest — an area about the size of Iceland — because of deforestation. At that rate, some scientists predict the world’s forests could disappear in 100 to 200 years.
In an effort to provide an environmentally friendly and low-waste alternative, researchers at MIT have pioneered a tunable technique to generate wood-like plant material in a lab, which could enable someone to “grow” a wooden product like a table without needing to cut down trees, process lumber, etc.
These researchers have now demonstrated that, by adjusting certain chemicals used during the growth process, they can precisely control the physical and mechanical properties of the resulting plant material, such as its stiffness and density.
They also show that, using 3D bioprinting techniques, they can grow plant material in shapes, sizes, and forms that are not found in nature and that can’t be easily produced using traditional agricultural methods.
“The idea is that you can grow these plant materials in exactly the shape that you need, so you don’t need to do any subtractive manufacturing after the fact, which reduces the amount of energy and waste. There is a lot of potential to expand this and grow three-dimensional structures,” says lead author Ashley Beckwith, a recent PhD graduate.
Though still in its early days, this research demonstrates that lab-grown plant materials can be tuned to have specific characteristics, which could someday enable researchers to grow wood products with the exact features needed for a particular application, like high strength to support the walls of a house or certain thermal properties to more efficiently heat a room, explains senior author Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories.
Joining Beckwith and Velásquez-García on the paper is Jeffrey Borenstein, a biomedical engineer and group leader at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. The research is published today in Materials Today.
To begin the process of growing plant material in the lab, the researchers first isolate cells from the leaves of young Zinnia elegans plants. The cells are cultured in liquid medium for two days, then transferred to a gel-based medium, which contains nutrients and two different hormones.
Adjusting the hormone levels at this stage in the process enables researchers to tune the physical and mechanical properties of the plant cells that grow in that nutrient-rich broth.
“In the human body, you have hormones that determine how your cells develop and how certain traits emerge. In the same way, by changing the hormone concentrations in the nutrient broth, the plant cells respond differently. Just by manipulating these tiny chemical quantities, we can elicit pretty dramatic changes in terms of the physical outcomes,” Beckwith says.
In a way, these growing plant cells behave almost like stem cells — researchers can give them cues to tell them what to become, Velásquez-García adds.
They use a 3D printer to extrude the cell culture gel solution into a specific structure in a petri dish, and let it incubate in the dark for three months. Even with this incubation period, the researchers’ process is about two orders of magnitude faster than the time it takes for a tree to grow to maturity, Velásquez-García says.
Following incubation, the resulting cell-based material is dehydrated, and then the researchers evaluate its properties.
They found that lower hormone levels yielded plant materials with more rounded, open cells that have lower density, while higher hormone levels led to the growth of plant materials with smaller, denser cell structures. Higher hormone levels also yielded plant material that was stiffer; the researchers were able to grow plant material with a storage modulus (stiffness) similar to that of some natural woods.
Another goal of this work is to study what is known as lignification in these lab-grown plant materials. Lignin is a polymer that is deposited in the cell walls of plants which makes them rigid and woody. They found that higher hormone levels in the growth medium causes more lignification, which would lead to plant material with more wood-like properties.
The researchers also demonstrated that, using a 3D bioprinting process, the plant material can be grown in a custom shape and size. Rather than using a mold, the process involves the use of a customizable computer-aided design file that is fed to a 3D bioprinter, which deposits the cell gel culture into a specific shape. For instance, they were able to grow plant material in the shape of a tiny evergreen tree.
Research of this kind is relatively new, Borenstein says.
“This work demonstrates the power that a technology at the interface between engineering and biology can bring to bear on an environmental challenge, leveraging advances originally developed for health care applications,” he adds.
The researchers also show that the cell cultures can survive and continue to grow for months after printing, and that using a thicker gel to produce thicker plant material structures does not impact the survival rate of the lab-grown cells.
“Amenable to customization”
“I think the real opportunity here is to be optimal with what you use and how you use it. If you want to create an object that is going to serve some purpose, there are mechanical expectations to consider. This process is really amenable to customization,” Velásquez-García says.
Now that they have demonstrated the effective tunability of this technique, the researchers want to continue experimenting so they can better understand and control cellular development. They also want to explore how other chemical and genetic factors can direct the growth of the cells.
They hope to evaluate how their method could be transferred to a new species. Zinnia plants don’t produce wood, but if this method were used to make a commercially important tree species, like pine, the process would need to be tailored to that species, Velásquez-García says.
Ultimately, he is hopeful this work can help to motivate other groups to dive into this area of research to help reduce deforestation.
“Trees and forests are an amazing tool for helping us manage climate change, so being as strategic as we can with these resources will be a societal necessity going forward,” Beckwith adds.
This research is funded, in part, by the Draper Scholars Program.
Written by Adam Zewe, MIT News Office
Paper: “Physical, mechanical, and microstructural characterization of novel, 3D-printable, tunable, lab-grown plant materials generated from Zinnia elegans cell cultures”
“Physical, mechanical, and microstructural characterization of novel, 3D-printable, tunable, lab-grown plant materials generated from Zinnia elegans cell cultures”
Crumbling comet could create meteor shower May 30 – Northern Daily News
A crumbling comet could create a meteor shower on May 30.
The ‘tau Herculids’ meteor display might be one of the most dramatic observed in over two decades, according to Space.com.
Meteor showers occur when dust or particles from asteroids or comets enter Earth’s atmosphere at a very high speed, the U.K. Sun explained.
This one is expected to be the product of a comet named 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, also known as SW3.
SW3 was first discovered in 1930 but did not reappear again until the 1970s, Republic World reported.
In 1995, astronomers noticed that the comet’s nucleus split into four smaller chunks, according to CNET.
It has continued to disintegrate more in the ensuing years.
The display is expected to be very visible in the Northern Hemisphere as it is occurring on a Moon-less night.
A consensus of experts predicts that the shower will be visible starting from 1 a.m. EST on May 31.
It is suggested viewers will want to be outside at least an hour before this so your eyes have a chance to adjust to the dark.
“The southwestern USA and Mexico are favored locations as the radiant, the area of the sky where these meteors come from, will be located highest in a dark sky,” Robert Lunsford wrote for AMS.
“The outburst may be seen from southeastern Canada and the remainder of the (eastern) USA, but at a lower altitude.”
Boeing capsule lands back on Earth after space shakedown – Phys.org
Boeing’s crew taxi returned to Earth from the International Space Station on Wednesday, completing a repeat test flight before NASA astronauts climb aboard.
It was a quick trip back: The Starliner capsule parachuted into the New Mexico desert just four hours after leaving the orbiting lab, with airbags attached to cushion the landing. Only a mannequin was buckled in.
Aside from thruster failures and cooling system snags, Starliner appeared to clinch its high-stakes shakedown cruise, 2 1/2 years after its botched first try. Flight controllers in Houston applauded and cheered the bull’s-eye touchdown.
“It’s great to have this incredible test flight behind us,” said Steve Stich, director of NASA’s commercial crew program. He described the demo as “extremely successful,” with all objectives met.
Added Boeing’s Mark Nappi, a vice president: “On a scale of one to 10, I think I’d give it a 15.”
Based on these early results, NASA astronauts will strap in next for a trip to the space station, perhaps by year’s end. The space agency has long wanted two competing U.S. companies ferrying astronauts, for added insurance as it drastically reduced its reliance on Russia for rides to and from the space station.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already the established leader, launching astronauts since 2020 and even tourists. Its crew capsules splash down off the Florida coast, Boeing’s Starliner returns to the Army’s expansive and desolate White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Boeing scrapped its first attempt to reach the space station in 2019, after software errors left the capsule in the wrong orbit and nearly doomed it. The company fixed the flaws and tried again last summer, but corroded valves halted the countdown. Following more repairs, Starliner finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral last Thursday and docked to the space station Friday.
Station astronauts tested Starliner’s communication and computer systems during its five days at the space station. They also unloaded hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of groceries and other supplies that flew up in the Boeing capsule, then filled it with empty air tanks and other discarded gear.
A folded U.S. flag sent up by Boeing stayed behind, to be retrieved by the first Starliner crew.
“We’re a little sad to see her go,” station astronaut Bob Hines radioed as the capsule flew away.
Along for the ride was Starliner’s test dummy—Rosie the Rocketeer, a takeoff on World War II’s Rosie the Riveter.
The repairs and do-over cost Boeing nearly $600 million.
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