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Interstellar gatecrasher 2I/Borisov is no ordinary comet – Canoe

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WASHINGTON — Scientists have discovered that a comet called 2I/Borisov – only the second interstellar object ever detected passing through the solar system – is surprisingly different in its composition from comets hailing from our celestial neighbourhood.

Gas coming off 2I/Borisov contained high amounts of carbon monoxide – far more than comets formed in our solar system – indicating the object had large concentrations of carbon monoxide ice, researchers said on Monday.

Carbon monoxide, poisonous to humans, is common as a gas in space and forms as ice only in the most frigid locations. The presence of so much carbon monoxide, the researchers said, suggests 2I/Borisov formed in a different manner than comets in our solar system – in a very cold outer region of its home star system or around a star cooler than the sun.

Comets essentially are dirty snowballs composed of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit stars.

“We like to refer to 2I/Borisov as a snowman from a dark and cold place,” said planetary scientist Dennis Bodewits of Auburn University in Alabama, lead author of one of two 2I/Borisov studies published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“Comets are left-over building blocks from the time of planet formation. For the first time, we have been able to measure the chemical composition of such a building block from another planetary system while it flew through our own solar system,” Bodewits added.

The comet, detected in August 2019 by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov and estimated to be about six-tenths of a mile (1-km) wide, has zoomed through interstellar space after being ejected from its original star system.

It was born long ago in a rotating disc of gas and dust surrounding a newly formed star in a place that must have been rich in carbon monoxide, Bodewits said. That star may have been what is called an M-dwarf, far smaller and cooler than the sun and the smallest type of star that is known, Bodewits said.

Scientists initially concluded last year that 2I/Borisov was similar to comets from our solar system, but data from the Hubble Space Telescope and an observatory in Chile revealed its differences.

The researchers also found an abundance of hydrogen cyanide at levels similar to comets from our solar system.

“This shows that 2I/Borisov is not a completely alien object, and confirms some similarity with our ‘normal’ comets, so the processes that shaped it are comparable to the way our own comets formed,” said Martin Cordiner, an astrobiologist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and lead author of the other study.

The only other interstellar visitor discovered in our solar system was a cigar-shaped rocky object called ‘Oumuamua spotted in 2017.

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Elon Musk's SpaceX prepares for upcoming astronaut mission to International Space Station – National Post

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CAPE CANAVERAL — Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to launch two American astronauts to the International Space Station on Wednesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ending the U.S. space agency’s nine-year hiatus in human spaceflight.

California-based SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule carrying astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken and its Falcon 9 rocket is due to lift off at 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT) on Wednesday from the same launch pad used by NASA’s last space shuttle mission in 2011.


NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (second from left) and Doug Hurley (right) walk with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (left) and Robert Cabana (second from right), the director of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, after arriving at the Kennedy Space Center on May 20, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The astronauts arrived for the May 27th scheduled inaugural flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will view the launch in person, a White House spokesman said.

For Musk, SpaceX and NASA, a safe flight would mark a milestone in the quest to produce reusable spacecraft that can make space travel more affordable. Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Inc.

“Bob and I have been working on this program for five years, day in and day out,” Hurley, 53, said as he and Behnken, 49, arrived at the Kennedy Space Center from Houston last week. “It’s been a marathon in many ways, and that’s what you’d expect to develop a human-rated space vehicle that can go to and from the International Space Station.”


This NASA TV video frame grab shows a SpaceX in-flight abort test on January 19, 2020 at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. SpaceX simulated its emergency abort system in January on an unmanned spacecraft, the last major test before it plans to send NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. The space company launched its Crew Dragon capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10:30 am (1530 GMT) to check the capsule’s ability to reliably carry crew to safety in the event of an emergency on ascent.

HANDOUT/NASA TV/AFP via Getty Images

NASA, hoping to stimulate a commercial space marketplace, awarded $3.1 billion to SpaceX and $4.5 billion to Boeing Co. to develop duelling space capsules, experimenting with a contract model that allows the space agency to buy astronaut seats from the two companies.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule is not expected to launch its first crew until 2021.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine declared the mission a “go” last week at Kennedy Space Center after space agency and SpaceX officials convened for final engineering checks.

SpaceX successfully tested Crew Dragon without astronauts last year in its first orbital mission to the space station. That vehicle was destroyed the following month during a ground test when one of the valves for its abort system burst, causing an explosion that triggered a nine-month engineering investigation that ended in January.

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Musk's SpaceX set for debut astronaut mission, renewing NASA's crewed launch program – Cape Breton Post

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By Joey Roulette

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to launch two American astronauts to the International Space Station on Wednesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ending the U.S. space agency’s nine-year hiatus in human spaceflight.

California-based SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule carrying astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken and its Falcon 9 rocket is due to lift off at 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT) on Wednesday from the same launch pad used by NASA’s last space shuttle mission in 2011.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will view the launch in person, a White House spokesman said.

For Musk, SpaceX and NASA, a safe flight would mark a milestone in the quest to produce reusable spacecraft that can make space travel more affordable. Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Inc.

“Bob and I have been working on this program for five years, day in and day out,” Hurley, 53, said as he and Behnken, 49, arrived at the Kennedy Space Center from Houston last week. “It’s been a marathon in many ways, and that’s what you’d expect to develop a human-rated space vehicle that can go to and from the International Space Station.”

NASA, hoping to stimulate a commercial space marketplace, awarded $3.1 billion to SpaceX and $4.5 billion to Boeing Co to develop dueling space capsules, experimenting with a contract model that allows the space agency to buy astronaut seats from the two companies. 

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule is not expected to launch its first crew until 2021.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine declared the mission a “go” last week at Kennedy Space Center after space agency and SpaceX officials convened for final engineering checks.

SpaceX successfully tested Crew Dragon without astronauts last year in its first orbital mission to the space station. That vehicle was destroyed the following month during a ground test when one of the valves for its abort system burst, causing an explosion that triggered a nine-month engineering investigation that ended in January.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Will Dunham)

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SpaceX on the verge of sending astronauts into orbit – Financial Times

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If Elon Musk’s SpaceX succeeds in sending two astronauts into orbit for the first time this week, it will do more than just boost the bragging rights of one of the world’s best-known billionaires.

As the first human test flight on a commercial rocket to reach the International Space Station, it will also signal a breakthrough for the private space industry as a whole, and an important moment in the opening up of low earth orbit to the commercial sector.

The first manned test for the Crew Dragon capsule, carrying two Nasa astronauts on top of one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, is scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday morning.

If the flight to the ISS is successful, Nasa is expected to buy four seats on a follow-up flight later this year, the first time its astronauts will have become paying passengers on a commercially owned and operated space vehicle.

This week’s launch marks the moment when the private sector starts to lift humans off the face of the planet “reliably and cheaply”, said Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize, the competition which led to the first private manned flight to the edge of space 16 years ago. “It’s the first, fully commercially built, entrepreneurial capability,” he said. “What Elon Musk has done is nothing short of extraordinary, outpacing the US government-backed industries, Russia and China.”

Many of the technologies that SpaceX is relying on were pioneered by government space programmes over the past 60 years, meaning that the company is “standing on the shoulders of giants”, said Greg Autry, a former White House liaison to Nasa and an expert on the private space sector.

He compared the commercialisation of human space flight with the moment when the internet, which was created by the US Defense department, was handed over to the private sector. That makes the test flight a “tipping point we’ve been waiting for in the commercial space industry for a number of years”, he said.

Nasa, which commissioned both SpaceX and Boeing seven years ago to build human launch systems, is counting on commercial incentives and market competition to drive down the price of getting into space. It has estimated that the $400m SpaceX spent to develop its Falcon 9 rocket, which has become the workhorse for lifting cargo to the ISS, was only a tenth what it would have cost Nasa itself to build a similar rocket.

Since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011 and the US was forced to buy seats on Russian rockets to propel its astronauts to the ISS, the cost of getting into space has risen sharply. Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, paid $20m in 2001 for a ride to the ISS on a Russian rocket. The price of a seat has now ballooned to more than $90m.

A competitive commercial market could quickly push that price back below $50m, said Mr Autry. Boeing’s rival space capsule suffered a setback earlier this year because of software glitches but is expected to make its first manned test launch next year. Other companies, including Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada, a Californian company that has built a space vehicle with wings, also hope to cash in.

As competition increases and the process for mounting human flights becomes more streamlined, the price for a trip into orbit could fall below $10m over the next decade, Mr Autry predicted.

All of this remains theoretical, however, until private companies prove they can launch humans into orbit safely, and return them to earth. The thought of entrusting astronauts to a fully commercial rocket company was jarring for many in the US space programme when it was first proposed in 2011, said Janet Kavandi, a former Nasa astronaut and now an executive at Sierra Nevada.

Nasa worked hard to make sure companies such as SpaceX are ready, she added. That meant doing everything from sharing the data from its Columbia shuttle disaster to teaching them everything it had learnt about crew survivability, down to the way seats are attached to the craft. By opting for a capsule, rather than a winged craft such as the Space Shuttle, SpaceX has also reduced the complexity of its launches.

Technical illustration showing some of the details of spaceX's Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 launcher

Many in the private space industry believe demand is pent up to support the new human launch companies in their early years, though few are prepared to guess at the ultimate size of the market.

Countries that have space programmes but don’t have their own launch systems are already waiting to buy seats on private rockets, said Laura Forczyk at Astralytical, a US space consultancy. A boom in space tourism is likely to follow, she added, particularly if prices fall as fast as some expect.

Nasa, which objected to Mr Tito’s private flight nearly two decades ago, has since become a strong backer of space tourism as a way to share some of its own costs and shift more of its budget to reach the moon and, eventually, Mars. Last year it went as far as to publish a detailed price list for use of its facilities on the ISS, including $11,250 a day for private astronauts to access the station’s life support system and toilet.

The next step in commercialising space will need more accommodation for private astronauts, particularly since the ISS is due to be retired sometime this decade. The first private company to launch a module designed to attach to the ISS, Axiom, hopes to launch in 2024, on the way to a fully freestanding space station. The full potential of low earth orbit also depends on the private sector seizing on the chance to carry out materials research and manufacturing in zero-gravity — an idea that has barely been tested.

For Mr Musk, meanwhile, the first private trip some 250 miles up to the ISS is only a small step to a far more ambitious goal. Turning humanity into an interplanetary species is still his overriding ambition in life, said Mr Diamandis. “It means that we now have an entrepreneurial company that will also get us to the moon, and eventually to Mars,” he said.

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