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Cygnus launch to ISS scrubbed as NASA considers schedule changes for future cargo missions – SpaceNews



WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — A technical issue scrubbed a scheduled Feb. 9 launch a Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station as NASA is considering changes to the schedule of future cargo missions and science activities on the station given uncertainties about the size of the station’s crew.

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket was scheduled to lift off from Pad 0-A the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at 5:39 p.m. Eastern Feb. 9, carrying a Cygnus spacecraft on a mission designated NG-13. However, the launch was first pushed to the end of its five-minute window, and then scrubbed a few minutes before the revised launch time.

NASA and Northrop Grumman said immediately after the launch that the scrub was due to “off-nominal data from ground support equipment” but did not provide additional information or announce a new launch date. Weather forecasts are unfavorable for the next few days, including an 80% chance of violating weather constraints for a Feb. 10 launch and 75% for a Feb. 11 launch, according to a weather forecast during a Feb. 8 briefing at the Wallops Flight Facility here.

The Cygnus is carrying 3,633 kilograms of cargo, including about 1,600 kilograms of vehicle hardware and nearly 1,000 kilograms of science payloads. Crew supplies and other equipment constitute the rest of the cargo on the spacecraft.

As NASA reschedules this cargo mission, the agency may be shifting future missions around as well to reflect the status of the station’s crew. By April, the station will have only a three-person crew, including a single NASA astronaut, Chris Cassidy, for potentially several months. Uncertainty about when commercial crew vehicles will fly, and the duration of their missions, has created challenges for planning the resources needed for the station and the science that can be performed there.

“We are discussing the best cadence on which to launch the cargo missions, and one factor is when we’ll have crewmembers on board,” said Ven Feng, manager of NASA’s ISS Transportation Integration Office. The schedule of commercial crew vehicles as well as plans to complete science investigations on the station are key factors in that planning.

“We’re trying to position ourselves to have the most flexibility possible to get the most and highest quality science done as we hope to see our commercial crew vehicle arrive some time this year,” he said.

Feng said that Northrop has done a “tremendous” job demonstrating its ability to fly earlier than planned for the NG-13 mission. “We may pull on that again in the near future,” he said. Northrop officials at Wallops said the next Cygnus mission, NG-14, is tentatively scheduled for October but could be moved up to August.

SpaceX’s next cargo Dragon mission, CRS-20, is scheduled for launch March 2, and will be the last of that version of the spacecraft. The company will start using a version of its Crew Dragon spacecraft for future cargo missions under its new Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract with the CRS-21 mission no earlier than August.

The reduced crew size will also affect science on the station. A Nov. 14 report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General concluded that with only one NASA astronaut on board, the amount of science done on the station would drop from an average of about 35 hours a week to just 5.5 hours.

“We’re taking that into account,” said Heidi Parris, assistant program scientist for the ISS program at NASA. “We’re talking with our researchers, we’re talking with the different funding sponsors, and making sure that everybody understands the situation.”

Parris said that some experiments on the station don’t require crew time. “Those are certainly helpful in a time like this when we’re not going to have a lot of crew time available,” she said. There’s also “reserve science” that astronauts can do when they’re able to free up time in their schedules.

“We’re doing everything that we can to keep doing as much science as possible during this deficit in crew time,” she said.

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University of Calgary study examines if Mars could have once supported life –



Was there ever life on Mars?

Using data from the Curiosity rover, a University of Calgary (UofC) scientist is studying Mars’ geology “for signs the planet could have once supported life.”

It’s part of the NASA-led Mars Science Laboratory mission to examine the rocks on the surface of Mars, as they could offer evidence of life on the Red Planet.

“Our goal is to place constraints on whether Mars was habitable,” Tutolo said. “And if Mars was habitable, then we can think about whether it actually did evolve life.”

The study will be using data collected by Curiosity as it was slowly climbing Mount Sharp 10 years ago to finally land in the centre of the Gale crater.

The rover has analyzed the chemistry and minerology of 1,211 samples of rocks and soil surfaces and sent 2,659 results back to Earth.

Tutolo and his team will do experiments in the laboratory to better understand and interpret the results. They will also conduct field research in British Colombia and run numerical models on a computer.

Study focuses on geological transition of rocks

The team will focus on examining the geological transition of rocks from the oldest layers of sediments to the younger layers “deposited in the crater and which formed Mount Sharp around 3½ billion years” ago.

Tutolo’s study suggests the oldest rocks in the crater are from a lake that is river-fed – “fluviolacustrine environment” –while the younger sediments contain extremely soluble salts – magnesium sulphate salts – such as Epsom salt that can be used for bathing. As these salts are extremely soluble, precipitating them requires all the water to be evaporated.

“We think that it must have been drier on Mars in order to precipitate those minerals. What we’re exploring is how that transition is recorded in the rocks,” Tutolo said.

The research is also taking advantage of the “rare-on-Earth” Basque Lakes near Cache Creek, B.C., that contain magnesium sulphate where the same sulphate minerals found on Mount Sharp on Mars are actively precipitating.

Tutolo is trying to answer this question: “Is there a point where it gets so salty that nothing could live there?”

Since Mars is red as a result of all the iron on its surface where its atmosphere doesn’t have similar levels of oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere, the team is using special tools in the lab to examine sensitive substances in the absence of oxygen, such as an anaerobic chamber that simulates conditions on Mars.

Mars’ geology helps understand Earth’s evolution

Understanding the geological transition on Mars will provide information on whether the planet’s environment would still be habitable in drier and colder environments and whether there’s a potential that life evolved and existed on Mars’ surface at that time. If life did evolve, what evidence can we get from the rocks?

“There was probably a period of time when Mars was getting warm and having water again, and going back and forth (from warmer to colder),” said Tutolo.

He explained that the Earth has experienced ice ages and greenhouse climates as a result of the slight variations in its movement through space, whereas Mars’ movement changes a bit more dramatically, making those cycles more enhanced.

Tutolo also adds that the geological history of early Mars helps understand the history of early Earth as there’s limited access to its geological record from that time.

The limited access to early Earth’s geology is attributed to “plate tectonics whereby, over the eons, the surface gets subsumed into the planet’s mantle as continent-sized slabs of rock collide.”

“But on Mars, all of those rocks have been there since they were deposited, some 3½ billion years or more ago,” Tutolo said. “So we can see those rocks on Mars and understand how life evolved on our planet, going from totally abiotic, or without life at all, to what it is today.”

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Blaxtair Inc. embedded pedestrian detection system – Canadian Occupational Safety



Blaxtair is an embedded pedestrian detection system for industrial vehicles, designed to prevent collisions between vehicles and pedestrians in co-activity zones. It has a smart 3D camera able to distinguish a person from other obstacles in real time and alerts operators in case of danger, without unnecessary alarms.

Blaxtair can be equipped to any industrial vehicle, including but not limited to forklifts and wheel loaders, and is perfect for sites within any industry where co-activity between pedestrians and vehicles poses a safety threat (logistics, warehousing, recycling, mining, construction, etc.)

Blaxtair is made up of 3 main parts:

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Starburst galaxy shines in new 'whirlpool of gold' photo –



The ESO’s Very Large Telescope captured this view of the starburst galaxy NGC 4303, with gas clouds of ionized oxygen, hydrogen and sulfur shown in blue, green and red, respectively.  (Image credit: ESO/PHANGS)

A mesmerizing new photo captures bright, golden swirling clouds of gas that generate an exceptionally high rate of star formation. 

This stellar nursery, a spiral galaxy known as NGC 4303 or Messier 61, is located 50 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. NGC 4303 is one of the largest galactic members of the Virgo Cluster — a large, nearby grouping of galaxies.

NGC 4303 is considered a starburst galaxy, where an unusually high amount of stars are born. In turn, studying this type of galaxy helps astronomers to better understand star formation across the universe, according to a statement from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Related: Amazing space views from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (photos)

“Stars form when clouds of cold gas collapse,” ESO officials wrote in the statement. “The energetic radiation from newly born stars will heat and ionize the surrounding remaining gas.” 

The photo, taken using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, shows bright swirling clouds of the ionized gas, appearing as a “whirlpool of gold.” The swirling clouds are like cosmic breadcrumbs, tracing the path of new stars being born, according to the statement.  

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Astronomers using the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument on the VLT observed NGC 4303 at different wavelengths of light to create this “jewel-like” image. Combining their observations revealed a glowing golden whirlpool, speckled with gas clouds of ionized oxygen, hydrogen and sulfur shown in blue, green and red, respectively. 

The recent observations were collected as part of a project called the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS), which aims to uncover nearby galaxies across all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, according to the statement. 

Follow Samantha Mathewson @Sam_Ashley13. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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