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How to watch SpaceX's Crew Dragon abort test live online this Saturday – Space.com

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SpaceX will launch its Crew Dragon spacecraft on a critical abort test  Saturday morning (Jan. 18), and you can watch it live online.

The private spaceflight company will use an expendable Falcon 9 rocket to launch the uncrewed spacecraft from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8 a.m. EST (1300 GMT). If the test flight, known as an in-flight abort, is successful, it will prove that the Crew Dragon has what it takes to keep onboard astronauts safe in the event of an emergency during launch.

You can watch the launch live here on Space.com, courtesy of SpaceX, beginning at about 7:40 a.m. EST (1240 GMT). You can also watch the launch directly from SpaceX here, or from NASA here. NASA’s webcast will begin at 7:45 a.m. EST (1245 GMT). 

Video: How SpaceX’s in-flight abort Crew Dragon launch will work
Related: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon faces critical test for future astronaut flights Saturday

This is SpaceX’s second launch of the year and the second in just two weeks. The mission will also mark the third time SpaceX has flown a Falcon 9 first-stage booster for the fourth time; this booster previously hoisted the first satellite for Bangladesh, an Indonesian communications satellite, and more than 60 satellites as part of a rideshare mission

“Critical test launch before flying astronauts is green for Jan. 18,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted Jan. 11, following a successful test-firing of the Falcon 9. 

This test is the last major milestone SpaceX must complete before it can launch astronauts to the International Space Station. The company successfully launched an uncrewed Crew Dragon to the space station in March 2019, as part of a mission called Demo-1. That spacecraft was later destroyed during ground testing of the abort system. 

SpaceX made upgrades to the spacecraft to prevent such an anomaly from happening again, and then performed subsequent tests that showed the abort system was ready to be tested in flight. 

The Crew Dragon capsule is equipped with special abort engines that will pull the spacecraft away from its rocket if there’s an anomaly during flight. In October 2018, a similar abort system on a Russian Soyuz rocket carried NASA astronaut Nick Hague and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin to safety when their booster failed during flight

Related: Emergency launch abort systems of SpaceX and Boeing explained

A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is perched on a Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for an in-flight abort test on Jan. 18, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX/Twitter)

Shortly after liftoff on Saturday, onboard software will intentionally trigger the spacecraft’s launch-abort system midflight. That system, which comprises eight SuperDraco abort engines built into the spacecraft’s hull, will pull the Crew Dragon free of its launcher before performing a parachute-aided ocean landing. A recovery vessel will be standing by to scoop up the Crew Dragon and return it to land. 

SpaceX is one of two commercial companies (Boeing is the other) that NASA contracted to build private space taxis to fly astronauts to and from the space station. Boeing’s astronaut-toting spacecraft, called Starliner, recently completed its own orbital flight test. However, that spacecraft suffered a mission clock failure that prevented it from reaching the space station. 

Weather conditions are predicted to be 90% favorable for the launch Saturday morning during the planned 4-hour window, according to the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, which performs weather assessments for space launches. “The primary weather concern is flight through precipitation,” launch weather officer Mike McAleenan said during a prelaunch news conference at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday (Jan. 17)

Although the weather looks good for a launch, strong winds and ocean waves could potentially impede Crew Dragon’s recovery after it splashes down in the Atlantic. Those winds and waves should calm down closer to the end of the 4-hour launch window, McAleenan added.

If SpaceX cannot launch its in-flight abort test mission Saturday, the company has backup launch opportunities on both Sunday, Jan. 19 and Monday, Jan. 20 at the same time.

Visit Space.com for complete coverage of SpaceX’s in-flight abort launch. 

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.

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Marsquakes caused by tectonic activity, NASA’s InSight probe confirms – BBC Focus Magazine

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  • NASA’s InSight probe confirms that Mars’ quakes are caused by the movement of tectonic plates.
  • InSight has detected more that 450 quakes on Mars since it arrived in November 2018.
  • The probe also finds that the local magnetic field is 10 times stronger than expected.
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A NASA spacecraft sent to study the deep interior of Mars has confirmed the planet to be seismically active, or in other words, prone to quakes.

The spacecraft, called InSight, successfully touched down in the Elysium Planitia region of the Red Planet in November 2018 after travelling 300 million miles through space for almost seven months.

Scientists say understanding more about the seismic activity of planets other than Earth could reveal clues about how the Solar System formed.

Dr Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator and lead author on one of the studies, said: “We finally have, for the first time, established that Mars is a seismically active planet.”

Read more about the InSight mission:

The first so-called “Marsquake” was recorded by InSight’s onboard sensors in April 2019. Since then, it has detected more than 450 quivers, much smaller than anything that would be felt on Earth.  But two of them were big enough for scientists to be able to trace them back to their source. They came from a geologically active area known as Cerberus Fossae, around 1,000 miles east of Elysium Planitia.

The InSight lander © PA Science

Researchers say this provides strong evidence that seismic activity on Mars is not only a consequence of the cooling and shrinking of the planet but also caused by tectonic plates running into each other or moving apart. The seismic energy released on Mars is something between that of the Earth and the Moon, the researchers said.

Dr Domenico Giardini, of ETH Zurich in Switzerland and lead author on one of the studies, added: “Marsquakes have characteristics already observed on the Moon during the Apollo era, with a long signal duration (10 to 20 minutes) due to the scattering properties of the Martian crust.”

The scientists hope reading the seismic waves on Mars will reveal information about what the planet’s interior looks like and how it is changing.

The findings also suggest a local magnetic field at the landing site that is 10 times stronger than anticipated. In addition, the researchers found Martian weather to be similar to that of Earth but with key differences, such as stronger daily atmospheric pressure and temperature fluctuations.

Nasa’s InSight lander © NASA/JPL-Caltech
Nasa’s InSight lander © NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dr Don Banfield, of the Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science at Cornell University in the US and a lead author on one of the studies, told the PA news agency: “The atmosphere is so thin that it can heat up and cool down much faster than Earth’s. At night, it cools to as low as about -95°C, while in daytime, it reaches temperatures near 0°C.”

Evidence of dust devils, which are whirls of Martian soil whipped up by the wind that spin like a tornado at nearly 60mph, were observed a month after InSight touched down on Mars.

Read more about Mars:

The team also detected a phenomenon known as “gravity waves”, which Dr Banfield described as “buoyancy oscillations of air parcels also observed regularly on Earth”. He told PA: “We are still working to understand what these waves can teach us about Mars. This will likely receive lots of attention over the coming years.”

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Preliminary findings from InSight’s first 10 months on Mars are published in a series of papers in Nature research journals. The £633 million NASA mission is expected to continue for another year.

Reader Q&A: Do all planets have magnetic fields?

Asked by: Daniel J Buhs, US

No, not all planets have magnetic fields. The four gas giants have extremely strong magnetic fields, Earth has a moderately strong magnetic field, Mercury has an extremely weak field, but Venus and Mars have almost no measurable fields.

Planetary magnetic fields are formed by the interaction between the convection of interior conducting material (molten rock and metal) and the planet’s own rotation. Mercury’s field is weak because it rotates so slowly. Venus doesn’t have an appreciable field because there appears to be little convection in its molten interior. Mars doesn’t have an appreciable field – although it did in the past – because its interior has solidified.

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400 Marsquakes detected by UK sensors in one year – Famagusta Gazette

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An artist's impression on InSight on Mars

Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech

The seismic vibrations on Mars were detected by a set of silicon sensors developed in the UK for InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS).

Imperial College London, Oxford University and STFC RAL Space worked in partnership, with £4 million in funding from the UK Space Agency, to develop three sensors which are sensitive enough to detect motion at sub-atomic scales.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

Detecting hundreds of Marsquakes on a planet 140 million miles from Earth, using sensors developed in the UK, is an important achievement.

This is an example of how world-leading UK science and our growing space sector contribute to international missions, furthering human understanding of the Solar System.

The NASA Insight mission is the first to look deep beneath the Martian surface and detected the first ever recorded Marsquake on 6 April 2019. By the end of last year it was detecting an average of two quakes every day. The findings suggest that Mars experiences quakes more often, but also more mildly than expected with the largest measuring 4.0 on the Richter scale.

Seismic waves change as they move through different materials and this allows scientists to understand the inner structure of Mars. From this, they can also learn how other planets, moons and meteorites with rocky surfaces, including Earth, formed billions of years ago.

Professor Tom Pike, from Imperial College London, who leads the UK team, said:

From the tremors, we can build a picture of Mars’ interior, building up a cross section of the planet all the way down to the core. The remains of a liquid core could suggest that Mars once had a magnetic field. Like on Earth, the field would have protected it from harmful solar winds billions of years ago. Back then, Mars then was much warmer and wetter, and much more hospitable for life.

Studying Mars lets us travel to the solar system’s ancient past. While Earth and Venus’ tectonic systems have destroyed most of the evidence of their early history, much of the Red Planet has remained static for more than three billion years.

Dr Neil Bowles, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics, said:

The measurement of the first events from the surface of Mars by InSight are showing that the planet is still seismically active. As InSight continues to monitor the planet over the next year, we are working with our colleagues on the mission team to help understand the interior and atmosphere of the planet in a completely new way.

Dr Anna Horleston, Research Associate in Planetary Seismology at the University of Bristol, said:

The UK’s involvement in InSight has given us a unique opportunity at the forefront of planetary science. Working for the frontline analysis team for the Marsquake Service, I’ve witnessed the quakes on a daily basis and I’m very pleased that we can share the results with the public today. Seeing seismic signals from another planet and using them to look inside it is an amazing experience.

InSight carries other instruments to measure the Martian wind, magnetic field and temperature. Scientists set out the findings from the mission in a series of six papers published today in Nature and Nature: Geoscience.

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The seismicity of Mars – Phys.org

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Mars is shaking. Credit: NASA/JPL – Caltech

On 26 November 2018, the NASA InSight lander successfully set down on Mars in the Elysium Planitia region. Seventy Martian days later, the mission’s seismometer SEIS began recording the planet’s vibrations. A team of researchers and engineers at ETH Zurich, led by ETH Professor Domenico Giardini, had delivered the SEIS control electronics and is responsible for the Marsquake Service. The latter is in charge of the daily interpretation of the data transmitted from Mars, in collaboration with the Swiss Seismological Service at ETH Zurich. Now, the journal Nature Geoscience published a series of articles on the results of the mission in the first months of operation on Mars.

As reported in these articles, InSight recorded 174 events until the end of September 2019. Since then, the measurements have continued leading to more than 450 observed marsquakes as of today, which have not yet been analysed in detail. This accounts for one event a day on average.

The data allows researchers observing how seismic waves travel through the planet and unveiling its internal characteristics—similar to how x-rays are used in medical tomography. Before InSight landed, researchers had developed a wide range of possible models to represent the internal structure of the red planet. The recorded marsquakes, already after few months, enable refining the understanding of the structure of the planet and to reduce the uncertainties.

Interpreting marsquake data is challenging  

Marsquakes are similar to the we see on Earth, although they are generally of smaller magnitude. The 174 registered marsquakes can be categorized in two families: One includes 24 low-frequency events with magnitudes between 3 and 4, as documented in the papers, with waves propagating through the Martian mantle. A second family of marsquakes comprises 150 events with smaller magnitudes, shallower hypocentral depth and high frequency waves trapped in the Martian crust.

“Marsquakes have characteristics already observed on the Moon during the Apollo era, with a long signal duration (10 to 20 minutes) due to the scattering properties of the Martian crust,” explains ETH Professor Giardini. In general, however, he says, interpreting data is very challenging and in most cases, it is only possible to identify the distance but not the direction from which the waves are arriving.

[embedded content]

InSight landed on a thin, sandy layer  

InSight opens a new era for planetary seismology. The SEIS performance exceeded so far expectations, considering the on Mars, characterized by temperatures ranging from minus 80 to 0 degrees Celsius every day and by strong wind oscillations. Indeed wind shakes the InSight lander and its instrumentation during the day leading to a high level of ambient noise. However, at sunset, the winds calm down allowing recording the quietest seismic data ever collected in the solar system. As a result, most seismic events detected on Mars by SEIS occurred in the quiet night hours. The challenging environment also requires to carefully distinguishing between seismic events and signals originating from movements of the lander, other instruments or atmospheric-induced perturbances.

The hammering by the HP3 instrument (another InSight experiment) and the close passage of whirlwinds (dust devils), recorded by SEIS, allow to map the physical properties of the shallow soil layers just below the station. We now know that SEIS landed on a thin, sandy layer reaching a few meters deep, in the middle of a 20 meter-wide ancient impact crater. At greater depths, the Martian crust has properties comparable to Earth’s crystalline massifs but appears to be more fractured. The propagation of the seismic waves suggest that the upper mantle has a stronger attenuation compared to the lower mantle.

The seismicity of Mars
Credit: ETH Zurich

Seismic activity also induced by tectonic stress

InSight landed in a rather quiet region of Mars, as no events near the station have been recorded up to now. The three biggest events were located in the Cerberus Fossae region about 1’500 km away. It is a tectonic graben system, caused by the weight of the Elysium Mons, the biggest volcano in the Elysium Planitia area. This provides strong evidence that seismic activity on Mars is not only a consequence of the cooling and therewith the shrinking of the planet but also induced by tectonic stress. The total seismic energy released on Mars lies between the one of Earth and of the Moon.

SEIS, complementary to other InSight measurements, also meaningfully contributed data to better understand the meteorological processes on Mars. The instrument’s sensitivity to both wind and atmospheric pressure allowed identifying meteorological phenomena characteristic of Mars, including the many dust devils that pass by the spacecraft every afternoon.


Explore further

First direct seismic measurements of Mars reveal a geologically active planet


More information:
W. Bruce Banerdt et al. Initial results from the InSight mission on Mars, Nature Geoscience (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-020-0544-y

D. Giardini et al. The seismicity of Mars, Nature Geoscience (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-020-0539-8

P. Lognonné et al. Constraints on the shallow elastic and anelastic structure of Mars from InSight seismic data, Nature Geoscience (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-020-0536-y

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