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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
Bright meteor over southern Ontario traced back to the asteroid belt
At just before 9 p.m., on the night of Tuesday, January 21, 2020, southern Ontario had an unexpected visitor – a hunk of rock from space that blazed through the sky as a meteor fireball.
The meteor, which flashed overhead just to the north of Goderich, ON, was spotted from hundreds of kilometres around. The American Meteor Society received over 30 reports from various locations around southern Ontario and southern Michigan, and as far away as Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Rochester, New York, and Columbus, Ohio.
This map shows the concentration of reports for this meteor fireball, as well as the likely start, end and trajectory of its passage through the atmosphere. Credit: American Meteor Society
According to Dr. Peter Brown, from the University of Western Ontario’s Meteor Group, the meteoroid that caused this fireball was likely the size of a softball, so perhaps 10 centimetres wide, with a mass of up to 10 kilograms, and it was travelling at around 15 kilometres per second (54,000 km/h).
Yet another capture of the Kintail fireball, this time with an experimental meteor camera system near Tavistock, ON based on https://t.co/JMV1A8Nciu @westernu @IMOmeteors @amsmeteors #fireball #toomanymeteorcameras https://t.co/ZVtQ3aOqd0
As Brown posted to Twitter, the fireball flared to life roughly 80 kilometres above the ground, starting about 50 kilometres east of Goderich, and it winked out around 30 kilometres above the ground, somewhere over the waters of Lake Huron, west of Kintail.
From the path it took during its steep plunge through the atmosphere, Brown was able to trace the meteoroid back to its origin in the asteroid belt, beyond Mars.
Kintail fireball orbit from last night place origins firmly from the asteroid belt. The initial mass was somewhere between a few to ten kilograms – softball sized. Not quite as bright as the full moon. @WesternU @amsmeteors 3/3
Given the speed of this meteoroid and the height where the fireball ended, Brown said that small meteorites may have landed from this event. Unfortunately, since the end point of the fireball was over the water, any meteorites that did reach the surface are now likely lying at the bottom of Lake Huron.
Meteors are flashes of light, resulting from the passage of some object from space – a meteoroid – travelling at high speed through the atmosphere. As the meteoroid – whether it’s a speck of dust, an ice crystal or a chunk of rock or iron – flies through the air, it compresses the air molecules directly in its path, causing them to heat up until they glow.
Any meteor flash that is intense enough to rival the brightness of Venus is typically called a fireball. If the fireball includes a sudden, intense flash due to the meteoroid breaking apart, it is often called a bolide.
Although most meteor cameras simply capture in black and white, two cameras that caught the Kintail meteor managed to pick up colours as the meteor flashed overhead.
The Kintail meteor fireball, captured by an all-sky meteor camera at Elginfield Observatory, to the southeast of the meteor’s trajectory, on January 21, 2020. North is roughly towards the top of the image. Credit: Western Meteor Group
As shown above, the meteor camera at Elginfield Observatory caught the meteor flashing from red to white to blue and back to red.
According to Brown, it is possible to tell something about the composition of a meteoroid based on the colour of the meteor flash it produces. However, the meteor colour can also be influenced by the flow of air around the meteoroid, the speed at which it was travelling, and even how the meteoroid broke apart. So, without actually recovering pieces of it, or having a detailed spectrum from the light to examine, there’s no telling exactly what is causing the colours.
Did you see this fireball? Submit a report to the American Meteor Society.
Former Shuswap residents head to Mars habitat for brain research – Keremeos Review
When Olav Krigolson was five years old, he told his mom he was going to be an astronaut.
Turns out, he wasn’t too far off.
In December, Krigolson and Kent Hecker, who both grew up in Salmon Arm, took part in a unique trip to ‘outer space’ to measure how fatigue affects the brain function of astronauts. The men were part of a five-member Canadian research team taking part in a project on a Mars simulation on the Big Island of Hawaii.
The site is called the HI-SEAS or Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation and is used by space agencies.
There they donned bulky spacesuits and lived in the Hab, or Mars habitat, a golf ball-like dome, for eight days, collecting data, eating freeze-dried food and, at times during their 16-hour days, venturing outside on exploratory trips of lava flows.
“So if you’d told us both in high school we’d get PhDs in neuroscience and be going to Mars together, we would have fallen over laughing,” remarked Krigolson.
“It was awesome,” enthused Hecker. “We got to put on space suits and explore lava caves. We reverted back to being kids again.”
The purpose of the mission, which was spearheaded by Krigolson, was actually a proof of concept or test run of brain-testing software that is both mobile and fast, as opposed to a typical EEG (electroencephalogram).
It uses the commercially available Muse EEG headband which evaluates electrical activity in the brain.
Then, via software developed by Krigolson’s lab at the University of Victoria, brain waves are translated into scores measuring characteristics such as fatigue.
To do that, the researchers would play simple games on an iPad three times per day to test their brain function.
Although both men have PhDs in neuroscience, Krigolson says he’s really a mathematician.
“I wrote the algorithm that takes the brain wave data and gives you fatigue scores,” he explained.
Accompanying them were PhD students Chad Williams and Tom Ferguson, as well as Gord Binsted, Dean of the Health and Social Development Faculty at UBCO in Kelowna, who was instrumental in the mission.
Binsted’s sister Kim is a professor at the University of Hawaii and runs the Mars simulation for NASA.
One highlight came about when the heating in the Hab broke down.
In order to empty the dome to facilitate the repair, the researchers were told a solar flare had occurred and they would have to go down into a lava tube to escape the radiation.
One of the students mentioned he had Star Wars, the movie, on his laptop, so there they were, in a lava tube, watching Star Wars.
“Now that, I believe, is a fairly unique experience,” said Krigolson.
Hecker graduated from SAS in 1987, Krigolson a year later. Although they were friends as youngsters and both played basketball in high school, they lost touch until about eight years ago.
Hecker, whose father Ken was a principal and basketball coach in the school district, played basketball for five years for the University of Lethbridge and is now a professor at the University of Calgary.
“He was always a jock and remains a jock,” smiles Ken.
Kent works in veterinary medicine and human medicine research, with a focus on high stress on brain functions, similar to the astronaut testing.
While going through scholarly papers connected to his work, he saw Krigolson’s name.
He contacted him and they reconnected, having now worked together on many projects.
“Very rarely do you get to do something so exciting and so cool,” said Hecker.
Their hope is that the mobile EEG and its software will be used on a longer simulated mission with real astronauts, and then eventually in space.
So far so good, judging by Day 7 from a blog Krigolson created for the mission.
“I have reviewed our findings multiple times now and all I can say is we can do it — we can accurately track brain health and performance. In this case, as we have shown here — we can track changes in cognitive fatigue with precisions,” he wrote.
“The possibilities are endless — imagine testing doctors before they operate, pilots before they fly, even businessmen before they make crucial decisions. We can do this now — the science is solid and clear.”
It’s already being used to assess concussions in sports. A new project at Krigolson’s UVIC lab is looking at Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Both men express how thrilled they are at having taken part in the project.
Krigolson sums it up like this: “I won’t lie. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of, ever.”
Adds Hecker: “It’s incredible that two kids from Salmon Arm got to do this.”
Fireball recorded in Huron County – BlackburnNews.com
Fireball recorded in Huron County
January 23, 2020 3:31pm
Video cameras from Western University captured a fireball in Huron County Thursday night.
UWO Meteor Scientist Peter Brown tweeted several images and videos of the fireball.
He reported that the fireball started near Brussels and ended just offshore over Lake Huron near Kintail.
He said a low velocity and an end height of 33 kilometres suggests small meteorites may have landed, likely in Lake Huron.
Yet another capture of the Kintail fireball, this time with an experimental meteor camera system near Tavistock, ON based on https://t.co/JMV1A8Nciu @westernu @IMOmeteors @amsmeteors #fireball #toomanymeteorcameras pic.twitter.com/ZVtQ3aOqd0
— Peter Brown (@pgbrown) January 23, 2020
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