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Falcon 9 rocket fires up in crucial test before weekend crew launch – Spaceflight Now

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SpaceX test-fires a Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX test-fired a Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday afternoon at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, clearing a major hurdle before it launches Saturday night — weather permitting — with a four-person crew heading for the International Space Station.

The 215-foot-tall (65-meter) Falcon 9 rocket ignited its nine Merlin 1D main engines at 3:49 p.m. EST (2049 GMT) Wednesday, and throttled up to full power for several seconds. Hold-down clamps kept the launcher firmly on the ground as the engines powered up to generate 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

A rush of exhaust emerged from the flame trench at pad 39A, and a low rumble could be heard for miles around as Falcon 9 completed a pre-flight test-firing ahead of a launch scheduled for 7:49 p.m. EST Saturday (0049 GMT Sunday) with three NASA astronauts and a Japanese space flier bound for the space station.

The mission will be SpaceX’s first operational crew rotation flight using the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule, following a successful piloted Crew Dragon test flight to the space station earlier this year.

The static fire test Wednesday was a customary rehearsal SpaceX performs before most of its missions. Stationed inside the launch control center firing room near Kennedy’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building, the SpaceX launch team managed an automated countdown that loaded kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the brand new two-stage rocket three miles away on pad 39A.

After the engine firing, the launch team drained the rockets of propellants and readied for the next activity — a “dry dress rehearsal” planned for Thursday in which NASA commander Mike Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, mission specialist Shannon Walker, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will put on their pressure suits and climb into their Crew Dragon “Resilience” capsule at pad 39A.

Hopkins and his crewmates will use the rehearsal to run through the steps they will take on launch pad, from suit-up at NASA’s crew quarters to the ride out to pad 39A inside two Tesla Model X automobiles. Once at the pad, the astronauts will ride an elevator up the service structure and walk across the crew access arm to the white room, where SpaceX’s closeout crew will help them into the spaceship.

The dress rehearsal Thursday will not involve filling the Falcon 9 rocket with propellants.

SpaceX and NASA officials plan to convene a Launch Readiness Review on Friday to assess the status of preparations for Saturday night’s launch opportunity. They will also discuss the weather forecast.

In a tweet confirming a successful outcome to the static fire test Wednesday afternoon, SpaceX said officials are monitoring weather conditions for liftoff from Kennedy Space Center and along the rocket’s flight path to the northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.

Mission managers will track winds, wave conditions, lightning, and precipitation at more than 50 locations in the Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. East Coast, east of the Canadian Maritime provinces, and just west of Ireland. The Crew Dragon capsule could abort and splash down in those areas in the event of a launch failure.

The first official weather forecast for the Falcon 9’s launch opportunity Saturday night shows a 60% probability of favorable conditions for liftoff at the Florida spaceport. The primary weather concern is with cumulus clouds, according to the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

The forecast does not take into account wind and wave conditions along the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s ascent corridor across the Atlantic, or upper level wind criteria for the Falcon 9’s climb through the atmosphere.

A backup launch opportunity is available at 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday (0027 GMT Monday).

Once the launch occurs, the Crew Dragon will fly an automated rendezvous profile to link up with the space station, delivering Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi to the orbiting outpost for a six-month expedition. They will join three other crew members currently living and working on the space station.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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China lands on moon in mission to collect samples from surface – Al Jazeera English

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If the Chang’e-5 mission is successful, China will become third country after US and Russia to collect lunar material.

China successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon’s surface late on Tuesday in the first mission to retrieve lunar surface samples in 40 years, said the country’s National Space Administration.

The space agency said the probe had successfully landed on the near side of the moon and sent back images.

China launched its Chang’e-5 probe which is not manned from the southern province of Hainan on November 24. The mission, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, aims to collect lunar material to help scientists learn more about the moon’s origins and the solar system more generally.

Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that the landing was a “historic step” adding that it would also benefit “international cooperation and the peaceful use of space.”

The mission will attempt to collect two kilogrammes (4.4 pounds) of samples in an area that has yet to be explored on an enormous lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms” and if completed as planned, would make China the third nation to have retrieved lunar samples after the United States and Russia.

The lander vehicle is expected to start drilling into the ground with a robotic arm to collect the lunar material in about two days, according to state media.

The samples will then be lifted into orbit and transferred to a return capsule for the return to Earth, where it is expected to land on land in China’s Inner Mongolia region.

If the mission succeeds it will be the first time scientists have secured samples of lunar rocks since Russia (then the Soviet Union) brought material back in the 1970s.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and made its first lunar landing 10 years later. In January last year, the Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first space probe from any nation to do so and in July it launched a spacecraft to Mars to search for water.

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China lands on moon in mission to collect samples from surface – Aljazeera.com

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If the Chang’e-5 mission is successful, China will become third country after US and Russia to collect lunar material.

China successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon’s surface late on Tuesday in the first mission to retrieve lunar surface samples in 40 years, said the country’s National Space Administration.

The space agency said the probe had successfully landed on the near side of the moon and sent back images.

China launched its Chang’e-5 probe which is not manned from the southern province of Hainan on November 24. The mission, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, aims to collect lunar material to help scientists learn more about the moon’s origins and the solar system more generally.

Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that the landing was a “historic step” adding that it would also benefit “international cooperation and the peaceful use of space.”

The mission will attempt to collect two kilogrammes (4.4 pounds) of samples in an area that has yet to be explored on an enormous lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms” and if completed as planned, would make China the third nation to have retrieved lunar samples after the United States and Russia.

The lander vehicle is expected to start drilling into the ground with a robotic arm to collect the lunar material in about two days, according to state media.

The samples will then be lifted into orbit and transferred to a return capsule for the return to Earth, where it is expected to land on land in China’s Inner Mongolia region.

If the mission succeeds it will be the first time scientists have secured samples of lunar rocks since Russia (then the Soviet Union) brought material back in the 1970s.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and made its first lunar landing 10 years later. In January last year, the Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first space probe from any nation to do so and in July it launched a spacecraft to Mars to search for water.

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Arecibo Observatory Telescope Collapses, Ending An Era Of World-Class Research – KCCU

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The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has collapsed, after weeks of concern from scientists over the fate of what was once the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. Arecibo’s 900-ton equipment platform, suspended 500 feet above the dish, fell overnight after the last of its healthy support cables failed to keep it in place.

No injuries were reported, according to the National Science Foundation, which oversees the renowned research facility.

“NSF is saddened by this development,” the agency said. “As we move forward, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain our strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.”

The Arecibo Observatory had been slated last month to be withdrawn from service, with the NSF citing the risk of an “uncontrolled collapse” because of failures in the cables that suspended the platform and its huge Gregorian dome above the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish.

The telescope’s trademark dish, nestled amid thick tropical forest, was left with a huge gash in August after a cable fell and slashed through its panels. After a main cable snapped in early November, officials said they saw no way to safely preserve the unstable structure.

Instead, they were hoping to keep the visitors center and other buildings operational. But they also noted it would take weeks to work out the technical details of a plan.

Ángel Vázquez, the observatory’s director of telescope operations, says he was in the control room area when equipment began to plummet to the ground. In an interview that was posted to Twitter by scientist Wilbert Andrés Ruperto, Vázquez says he and other staff members had been in the process of removing valuable equipment when they heard a loud bang outside.

“When we looked outside the control room, we started to see the eventual downfall of the observatory,” Vázquez said. He added that strands of the remaining three cables had been unraveling in recent days, increasing the strain. And because two of the support towers maintained tension as the collapse occurred, some of the falling equipment was yanked across the side of the dish rather than falling straight down through its focal point.

“This whole process took 30 seconds,” Vázquez said, “and an unfortunate icon in radio astronomy was done.”

Vázquez said he has worked at the facility for 43 years, starting soon after college.

The massive reflector dish is made up of perforated aluminum panels, leaving an expanse of greenery underneath. But many of those panels have now fallen to the ground.

A record of discovery

In Arecibo’s nearly 60 years of operation, the observatory’s powerful capabilities made it a popular choice for researchers chasing breakthroughs in radio astronomy and atmospheric science. It was used for projects from sniffing out gravitational waves in space to tracking down potentially habitable planets far from Earth.

Arecibo’s legacy includes the detection of the first binary pulsar in 1974 — a discovery that bolstered a key idea in Einstein’s general theory of relativity and that earned two physicists the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics.

The observatory has been an inspiration to many. For its neighbors in Puerto Rico and for people worldwide, it has been a literal link between the terrestrial and the extraterrestrial. And in movies and art, it has been depicted as both Earth’s doorbell and its peephole into outer space.

Pierce Brosnan clambered around its ladders in the James Bond film GoldenEye. Jodie Foster marveled at its otherworldly promise in Contact. And in 1974, it was used to beam a “Hello” message into space.

Researchers have been mourning the telescope’s loss since the NSF announced its looming demise last month. Astronomer Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute compared it to learning your high school has burned down or to losing a big brother. Doing research at the facility was like going to a wonderful summer camp, he wrote in a recent farewell message to Arecibo.

“While life will continue, something powerful and profoundly wonderful is gone,” Shostak said.

Here’s how planetary scientist Ed Rivera-Valentin described one aspect of Arecibo’s importance earlier this year, on NPR’s Short Wave podcast:

“One of the really neat things about the Arecibo Observatory is that it’s a very versatile scientific instrument. Most telescopes, most radio telescopes, don’t have the ability to send out light. They only capture light. At the observatory, we can send and capture light. When an asteroid’s coming by, we are pretty much a flashlight that we turn on. We send radar out to it, and that radar comes back. … We can tell you how far these objects are down to a few meters.

“And we care about where these asteroids are going to be because what if, one day, this thing comes around and gets too close to Earth? But if we can let people know this is going to happen next year, we can actually prepare for it. Like, the dinosaurs — they didn’t have a space program, so they didn’t get to prepare for anything.”

The idea for the observatory was conceived in the late 1950s by Cornell University professor William E. Gordon, who was looking to build a huge tool to explore the Earth’s atmosphere and the composition of nearby planets and moons.

The site in Puerto Rico was chosen “to take advantage of the vicinity to the equator and of the topography of the terrain, which provided a nearly spherical valley and minimized excavation,” according to a lecture by longtime Cornell astronomy professor Martha Haynes.

The telescope underwent major upgrades in the 1970s and 1990s, allowing researchers to expand its role. Built with federal funds, Arecibo was managed for decades by Cornell before the University of Central Florida took up that role.

Arecibo and Puerto Rico have withstood natural calamities in recent years, including Hurricane Maria in 2017 and a series of earthquakes this year.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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