Despite a, a record and having to swap out problematic rocket engines, NASA and SpaceX remain determined to get the historic Crew-1 mission off the ground from Florida on Saturday. The flight of four astronauts to the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket follows and and will set a few key spaceflight milestones.
Here are the answers to your most pressing questions about the mission.
Wait, what was that about the engines?
The targeted launch date for Crew-1 was pushed back from late October after NASA and SpaceX noticed some unexpected behavior from a few Falcon 9 engines that were set to be used for an unrelated mission to. That mission was scrubbed with just two seconds left on the countdown and an a stray bit of lacquer had clogged a tiny relief valve line. The clog caused two of the rocket’s engines to try and fire early, potentially damaging the engines had liftoff not been automatically aborted.
SpaceX found that engines in the rocket to be used for Crew-1 had the “same tendencies.” Launch date was moved to November, the engines were swapped out and now NASA and SpaceX are both satisfied that it’s go time.
OK, so why is Crew-1 a big deal?
Crew-1 is part of the culmination of NASA’s Commercial Crew program that’s been years in the works. For decades, NASA has typically developed its own rockets and spacecraft internally with the help of contractors, but the Commercial Crew program works more like chartering a flight. Companies like SpaceX and Boeing have vehicles designed to be used by other customers, and NASA can hitch a ride on them.
It’s also a huge step in bringing spaceflight back to US soil. From the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 up until, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to shuttle its astronauts to orbit.
Demo-2 was considered a successful demonstration of Crew Dragon and NASA looks at Crew-1 as the first official crew rotation mission from US shores since the retirement of the Shuttle.
“It’s exciting, especially with Crew-1 being the first time we’ve ever put four people on a space capsule ever, as humans, like that’s pretty cool,” explained NASA’s Anthony Vareha, the lead flight director for the mission. “It’s also the longest mission of a crewed US capsule ever.”
Who is flying in the Crew Dragon?
Along for the historic flight will be NASA’s Crew Dragon Commander Michael Hopkins, Pilot Victor Glover, and Mission Specialist Shannon Walker, joined by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Mission Specialist Soichi Noguchi to the space station.
Up until now, three people in a Soyuz capsule amounted to a cramped ride, but Crew Dragon can accommodate up to seven (for comparison, the Space Shuttle flew crews of up to eight), making the trip for these four spacefarers seem relatively spacious.
How long is the trip?
The members of Crew-1 are embarking on a six-month science mission, which is exciting for people involved in the orbital and space science world because four crew members making the trip amounts to more hands available on the station to do more experiments in microgravity.
“It’s going to be exciting to be able to see how much work we can get done while we’re there,” Hopkins said Monday.
But first, of course, the astronauts will have to get there. The actual trip to the ISS takes just about eight-and-a-half hours from launch Saturday evening to docking with the station early Sunday morning.
How do I watch?
Right here. NASA and SpaceX will stream the launch, currently set for 4:49 p.m. PT (7:49 p.m. ET) on Saturday, Nov. 14, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA TV will broadcast the launch and the docking Sunday, and we’re also carrying a livestream, which you can catch below.
China prepares mission to bring samples from the Moon – Prensa Latina
This new mission is considered one of the most complicated and challenging for China, since its objective is to bring samples to Earth back from the Moon.
The current probe is the successor of the Chang’e-4, the world’s first probe traversing the dark side of the Moon.
If it performs as expected, another mission to the lunar North Pole will follow to determine the age of the soil, the composition of the solar wind, the isotopes of hydrogen, carbon, helium and oxygen.
Meanwhile, the Chang’e-7 will seek to discover if there is ice in the hidden side of the moon and the eighth will later focus on scientific experiments and will test key technologies to lay the foundations for the construction of a science and research base that involves humans and robots in the 2030s.
China has also launched since the summer a team to Mars in order to study the planet’s atmosphere, environment and geological characteristics.
Thailand: Rare whale skeleton discovered – Report Door
An almost perfectly preserved whale skeleton thought to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old has been discovered in Thailand.
The bones were found in early November some 12km (7.5 miles) off the coast just to the west of Bangkok.
The 12m (39ft) long skeleton is thought to be that of a Bryde’s whale.
Experts hope the find might provide “a window into the past,” especially for research on sea levels and biodiversity.
The partially fossilised bones are “a rare find,” mammal researcher Marcus Chua of the National University of Singapore told the BBC.
“There are few whale subfossils in Asia,” he said, and even fewer ones are “in such good condition”.
Pictures shared by Thailand’s environment minister Varawut Silpa-archa show the bones apparently almost entirely intact.
According to the politician, more than 80% of the skeleton has so far been recovered, including vertebrae, ribs, fins and one shoulder blade.
The skeleton’s head alone is estimated to be about 3m in length.
Mr Chua says the discovery will allow researchers to find out more about the particular species in the past, whether there were any differences compared to today’s Bryde’s whales.
The skeleton will also provide information about the “paleobiological and geological conditions at that time, including sea level estimation, types of sediments, and the contemporary biological communities at that time”.
“So this find provides a window into the past once the skeleton has been dated,” Mr Chua says.
The bones are yet to be carbon-dated to determine their exact age, with the results expected in December.
The gulf of Thailand has an interesting history in the last 10,000 years, the biologist points out, with sea levels possibly up to 4m higher than today and active tectonic activity.
The skeleton was found off the current coastline in Samut Sakhon.
Bryde’s whales, which live worldwide in warm temperate and tropical waters, are still found in the waters around Thailand today.
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European Space Agency inks deal to deploy massive space pincers to clean up orbit – ZDNet
The European Space Agency (ESA) has inked a deal with ClearSpace SA to clean up orbit with craft equipped with pincers designed to grab space junk.
As space agencies and private companies go beyond research and start exploring the potential of commercial space and tourism, the space ‘junk’ we are accumulating will only grow.
This is a severe issue, considering the smallest satellite or piece of defunct technology zooming around at thousands of meters per second, if it collides with craft or other objects, can cause massive damage that also sends additional debris into space.
To tackle the problem, the ESA has signed an €86 million contract with startup ClearSpace to fund and launch debris-removal missions.
Due to launch in 2025, the first active debris removal mission, dubbed ClearSpace-1, will propel a craft into space equipped with pincers able to capture satellites. In this test, the ESA says that ClearSpace craft will “rendezvous, capture and bring down for reentry a Vespa payload adapter.”
The adapter, a leftover from a 2013 mission, has a mass of 112kg and is roughly the size of a small satellite.
“Cleaning space is no longer optional,” ClearSpace says in its mission statement. “Removing human-made space debris has become necessary and is our responsibility to ensure that tomorrow’s generations can continue benefiting from space infrastructures and exploration.”
ClearSpace was selected out of 12 candidates in 2019 by the ESA to develop a commercial debris removal solution for space.
The ESA is only partially funding the mission and the agency intends to raise the rest of the mission cost from commercial investors interested in the technology.
According to the ESA’s latest Space Environment report, there are over 25,000 objects in space — including satellites and various hunks of debris — and rocket bodies, upper stages leftover from launches, and malfunctioning satellites that can’t be deorbited are forms of space junk causing the most concern.
The majority of objects on the list were launched before 2000 and modern space junk mitigation guidelines were adopted by space agencies.
In October, IBM revealed a separate project designed to tackle the emerging problem of space junk. A new open source venture between the tech giant and Dr. Moriba Jah at the University of Texas at Austin is focused on predicting where space objects are in orbit, and where they are likely to go.
By accurately predicting future orbit positions through the creation of machine learning (ML)-based algorithms, this could help companies such as ClearSpace track junk and clean up orbit more effectively.
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