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How SpaceX's Crew Dragon launch abort test today works in 10 not-so-easy steps – Space.com

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NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect SpaceX’s new launch time.

SpaceX will fly a major test flight of its Crew Dragon space taxi today (Jan. 19) to prove the spacecraft’s launch escape system can carry astronauts to safety in the event of a rocket emergency. The launch, set for 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT) is unlike anything SpaceX has done before. 

Called an in-flight abort, the SpaceX test will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s SuperDraco launch abort system designed to rip the spacecraft free of its Falcon 9 rocket in the event of a launch failure. It’s the last major test for Crew Dragon before SpaceX can start flying astronauts for NASA under a Commercial Crew Program contract. 

You can watch the launch live here and on the Space.com homepage, courtesy of SpaceX, beginning at about 10:10 a.m. EST (1510 GMT). You can also watch the launch directly from SpaceX here, or from NASA here.

Scroll down for a look at how the major SpaceX test flight will work in 10 steps.

1. Launch

(Image credit: SpaceX)

Like every SpaceX mission, Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort test begins with a Falcon 9 launch. 

Liftoff is set for no earlier than 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT) from the historic Launch Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. In the hours leading to launch, SpaceX and NASA will practice everything needed for an actual crew launch.

SpaceX has a 6-hour window in which to launch Crew Dragon and wants optimal weather conditions for the launch itself, as well as for the spacecraft’s offshore recovery in the Atlantic Ocean. Visibility is a key concern for the launch. 

SpaceX has already delayed the launch 24 hours (from Saturday, Jan. 18) due to bad weather. Another launch opportunity is on Monday, Jan. 20, but weather forecasts are less favorable. 

2. A proven rocket

(Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is using a proven rocket for the Crew Dragon in-flight abort test. 

The Falcon 9 first-stage booster on this flight is making its fourth flight and is actually the first Block 5 version of the rocket SpaceX ever launched. The booster launched a satellite for Bangladesh in May 2018, an Indonesian satellite in August of that same year and then finally a set of 64 satellites in a rideshare mission in December 2018.

SpaceX will not recover this veteran booster. It should break apart, or maybe even explode, after Crew Dragon separates from the rocket’s second stage. The first and second stages are fully fueled, but the second stage carries a mass simulator in place of an engine since one is not needed for this flight. 

3. SuperDraco abort engines fire

(Image credit: SpaceX)

Precisely 84 seconds after liftoff, as the Falcon 9 rocket is flying Mach 2.3, Crew Dragon will fire its eight SuperDraco engines and rip itself free of the rocket’s second stage. 

SpaceX is triggering the abort test while Crew Dragon and its Falcon 9 are about 14 miles (19 kilometers) high and 2.5 miles (4 km) down range. 

“Dragon will leave the Falcon very quickly,” Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management, said during a news conference Friday (Jan. 17).

The open maw of Falcon 9’s second stage, still attached to the first stage booster, should act as an air scoop, slowing the booster and ultimately leading it to break apart. The booster could explode and be visible from the ground, Reed said. 

“There will probably be some ignition,” Reed said. “We’ll see something.”

4. Abort system shutdown

(Image credit: SpaceX)

Crew Dragon’s SuperDracos will fire for 10 seconds, pulling the capsule free of the Falcon 9 and carrying upward on a suborbital trajectory.

The eight SuperDraco on Crew Dragon are arranged in four pairs of two around the capsule’s side walls, with each capable of generating 16,000 lbs. of thrust. They are more advanced and more powerful than Dragon’s Draco attitude thrusters. SpaceX makes them through direct metal laser sintering, essentially 3D printing. 

5. Crew Dragon trunk jettison

(Image credit: SpaceX)

About 2.5 minutes after liftoff, Crew Dragon will jettison its “trunk” service module. The cylindrical, finned module contains the solar arrays and other gear required to sustain Crew Dragon’s taxi flights to the International Space Station for NASA. 

During reentry, Crew Dragon jettisons its trunk just like SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon vehicles. This clears the spacecraft’s heat shield for entry and prepares the spacecraft for a splashdown landing in the ocean. 

6. Prepare for entry

(Image credit: SpaceX)

Just after the 3-minute mark, Crew Dragon will fire its regular Draco thrusters to orient the space capsule for entry and splashdown. 

Crew Dragon will not reach space on this launch. The highest the capsule should fly is about 24.8 miles (40 km), according to Reed. 

7. Drogue chutes deploy

(Image credit: SpaceX)

About 5.5 minutes after liftoff, Crew Dragon will begin releasing parachutes to slow itself for splashdown. 

The first still will be the release of two drogue chutes to stabilize the capsule and prepare it for the release of its four main parachutes. 

8. Main parachutes deploy

(Image credit: SpaceX)

Shortly after the drogue chutes deploy, Crew Dragon will release its four main parachutes to slow the spacecraft’s descent ahead of splashdown. 

The parachutes on this Crew Dragon are SpaceX’s newest version, the Mark 3 parachute design. SpaceX has been testing parachutes to make sure they will safely return a Crew Dragon to Earth. To date, the company has flown 80 tests, including 10 successful tests of the four-parachute arrangement. 

This flight will mark a major practical test of the parachute design, which has passed a series of drop tests in recent months, but not yet been used in an actual flight. 

9. Splashdown

A step-by-step look at SpaceX's major Crew Dragon in-flight abort launch test to demonstrate the spacecraft's emergency escape system in January 2020.

(Image credit: SpaceX)

About 10 minutes after launch, Crew Dragon will splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. According to Reed, the drop zone is between 18 and 21 miles offshore (30-35 km). 

SpaceX’s recovery ship, the GO Searcher, will be looking for Crew Dragon ahead of its splashdown, setting the stage for the final step of the mission: Recovery.

10. Crew Dragon recovery

(Image credit: SpaceX)

Crew Dragon’s in-flight abort test will give SpaceX a unique chance to test its recovery procedures for astronauts returning from space. 

The company has staged its recovery ship, the GO Searcher, near the splashdown zone and expects its retrieval team to reach the capsule shortly after it lands. 

“When Dragon splashes down, we’ll be approaching the vehicle within minutes,” Reed said. 

In addition to its regular recovery team, SpaceX has enlisted the aid of the Air Force Detachment-3, an emergency team of divers and officials on call to aid astronaut recovery in the event of an emergency. 

After Crew Dragon is safely on board GO Searcher, the ship will return to Cape Canaveral so it can be studied to see how it fared during the test. 

SpaceX hopes to begin flying astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA later this year. The first crewed flight, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behknen and Doug Hurley on the Demo-2 flight, could launch as early as March if the abort system test goes well, according to Spaceflight Now.

SpaceX is one of two companies with multi-billion-dollar contracts to fly astronauts for NASA. The other company, Boeing, will fly astronauts on its Starliner spacecraft, which launches on a crew-rated Atlas V rocket. Boeing also plans to begin crewed flights this year.

Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.

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Geminid Meteor Shower returns in December – country1053.ca

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The best meteor shower of the year are the Geminids and they’ll return this month. They start December 3 and will peak on the evenings of December 13 and 14 at around 2 a.m. ET. What makes this meteor shower interesting is that most come from comets traveling trough the solar system, while this one stems from an asteroid. Hoping for a clear sky both nights and you could see blue and even green colors as the space rocks burn up while passing through Earth‘s atmosphere. More info on the Geminids from NASA. There was already a preview of what you can see on November 3 in Manitoba.

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This 130 million-year-old ichthyosaur was a 'hypercarnivore' with knife-like teeth – Livescience.com

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You wouldn’t want to meet an ichthyosaur while taking a dip in the early Cretaceous seas. That goes double for Kyhytysuka sachicarum: This newly identified 130 million-year-old marine reptile, now known from fossils in central Colombia, had larger, more knife-like teeth than other ichthyosaur species, a new study finds — and that is saying something, as ichthyosaurs are famous for their long, toothy snouts. 

These big teeth would have enabled K. sachicarum to attack large prey, such as fish and even other marine reptiles. 

“Whereas other ichthyosaurs had small, equally sized teeth for feeding on small prey, this new species modified its tooth sizes and spacing to build an arsenal of teeth for dispatching large prey,” paleontologist Hans Larsson of McGill University’s Redpath Museum in Montreal, Canada, said in a statement.

Related: Fossilized ‘ocean lizard’ found inside corpse of ancient sea monster

One toothy family  

Ichthyosaurs were a large group of marine predators that first evolved during the Triassic period around 250 million years ago from land-dwelling reptiles that returned to the sea. The last species went extinct about 90 million years ago during the late Cretaceous. With long snouts and large eyes, they looked a bit like swordfish. Most species had jaws lined with small, cone-shaped teeth that were good for snagging small prey. 

The newly identified species was likely at least twice as long as an adult human, based on the size of the fossils that have been found (most of a skull and a few pieces of spine and ribs). Probable ichthyosaur fossils were first unearthed in Colombia in the 1960s, but researchers couldn’t agree on the species or precisely how ichthyosaurs from the region were related to others from the same time period. 

For the new study, Larsson and his colleagues focused on a skull kept in the collections of Colombia’s Museo Geológico Nacional José Royo y Gómez, and also considered another partial skull and bones from the spine and ribcage kept at Colombia’s Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas. Larsson and his colleagues announced the discovery and name of the marine reptile Nov. 22 in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology

Image 1 of 5

Here, an image and anatomical interpretation of the skull of Kyhytysuka sachicarum. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)
Image 2 of 5

Skeleton of the extinct ichthyosaur Kykytysuka compared to a human for scale.

Skeleton of the extinct ichthyosaur Kykytysuka compared to a human for scale. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)
Image 3 of 5

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile.

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)
Image 4 of 5

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile.

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)
Image 5 of 5

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile.

This life reconstruction of Kyhytysuka sachicarum from the early Cretaceous of Colombia shows the swordfish-like reptile. (Image credit: Dirley Cortés)

“We compared this animal to other Jurassic and Cretaceous ichthyosaurs and were able to define a new type of ichthyosaurs,” Erin Maxwell of the State Natural History Museum of Stuttgart, Germany, said in the statement. “This shakes up the evolutionary tree of ichthyosaurs and lets us test new ideas of how they evolved.”

Marine predator 

The researchers named the new ichthyosaur species  Kyhytysuka, meaning “the one that cuts with something sharp” in the language of the Indigenous Muisca culture  of Colombia.. There are other species of ichthyosaur with big teeth for catching large prey, the researchers wrote in the study, but those species are from the early Jurassic, at least 44 million years earlier than K. sachicarum. 

The new species lived at a time when the supercontinent Pangea was breaking up into two landmasses — one southerly and one northerly — and when Earth was warming and sea levels were rising. At the end of the Jurassic, the seas underwent an extinction upheaval, and deep-feeding ichthyosaur species, marine crocodiles and short-necked plesiosaurs died out. These animals were replaced by sea turtles, long-necked plesiosaurs, marine reptiles called mososaurs that looked like a mix between a shark and a crocodile, and this huge new ichthyosaur, said study co author Dirley Cortés of McGill’s Redpath Museum. 

“We are discovering many new species in the rocks this new ichthyosaur comes from,” Cortés said in the statement. “We are testing the idea that this region and time in Colombia was an ancient biodiversity hotspot and are using the fossils to better understand the evolution of marine ecosystems during this transitional time.”

Originally published on Live Science

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Kyhytysuka: A pure carnivorous `fish lizard` from 130 million years ago discovered – WION

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The 130-million-year-old hypercarnivore Kyhytysuka, often known as the “Fish Lizard,” has been unearthed.

A remarkable 130-million-year-old swordfish-shaped marine reptile fossil reveals the emergence of hypercarnivory in these last-surviving ichthyosaurs.

A group of multinational researchers from Canada, Colombia, and Germany have unearthed a new prehistoric marine reptile.

The specimen is a brilliantly preserved meter-long skull from one of the few remaining ichthyosaurs — prehistoric beasts that look alarmingly like live swordfish. 

According to researchers, this new species reveals the entire picture of ichthyosaur evolution.

This species, according to experts, originates from a crucial transitional era in the Early Cretaceous.

The Earth had emerged from a comparatively cold phase, sea levels were increasing, and Pangea, the supercontinent, had been split into northern and southern territory.

There were additional worldwide extinction events near the end of the Jurassic, which altered marine and terrestrial ecosystems. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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