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Pandemic-caused liquid oxygen shortage impacts launch schedules – Spaceflight Now – Spaceflight Now



In this file photo from 2017, several Praxair tanker trucks deliver liquid oxygen to launch pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The effects of a nationwide liquid oxygen shortage caused by the recent spike in hospitalized coronavirus patients has already delayed the launch of a Landsat imaging satellite by a week, and threatens to impact more missions from launch sites in Florida and California.

NASA said last week that the launch of the Landsat 9 satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California would be delayed one week until no earlier than Sept. 23 due to a lack of liquid nitrogen at the military base. ULA uses gaseous nitrogen, which is converted from liquid nitrogen, for purges during testing and countdown operations.

The space agency said pandemic demands for medical liquid oxygen impacted the delivery of liquid nitrogen to Vandenberg.

Del Jenstrom, NASA’s Landsat 9 project manager, said Tuesday the liquid oxygen crunch spilled over to affect liquid nitrogen deliveries as tanker trucks were repurposed to carry oxygen to medical facilities treating COVID-19 patients.

The Defense Logistics Agency, which oversees a facility at Vandenberg that converts liquid nitrogen into gaseous nitrogen, determined last week that the military base’s nitrogen supply was “critically low” and insufficient to support pre-launch testing of the Atlas 5 rocket for the Landsat 9 mission.

Airgas, a supplier of industrial and medical gases, is relocating a “dozen or so” tankers from the Gulf Coast region to California to restock Vandenberg’s nitrogen supply, Jenstrom said.

“Most of those tankers came in over the weekend, so we’re seeing a substantial increase in the number of LN2 (liquid nitrogen) deliveries to the base right now, and as far as we know, based on latest reports, we’re on track to support our launch on Sept. 23,” Jenstrom said. “And that includes an important rocket fueling test and rehearsal called a wet dress rehearsal that should happen this week.”

Once ULA completes the dress rehearsal, teams will hoist the Landsat 9 satellite — a joint program between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey — on top of the Atlas 5 rocket on the SLC-3E launch pad at Vandenberg.

ULA rival SpaceX is also watching the liquid oxygen shortage.

A few days before NASA announced the Landsat 9 launch delay, a SpaceX executive said she anticipated a lack of liquid oxygen could impact the company’s launch schedule.

“We’re actually going to be impacted this year with the lack of liquid oxygen for launch,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said Aug. 24. “We certainly are going to make sure hospitals have the liquid oxygen that we need, but for anybody that has liquid oxygen to spare, would you send me an email?”

Some cities have asked residents to reduce water usage to address concerns about liquid oxygen supplies to hospitals.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, said the liquid oxygen shortage has, so far, not affected the company’s launch operations.

“This is a risk, but not yet a limiting factor,” Musk tweeted Aug. 26.

SpaceX is the the space industry’s biggest user of liquid oxygen. The company uses liquid oxygen, which is stored several hundred degrees below zero, in combination with kerosene to power Falcon 9 rockets into orbit.

SpaceX’s next-generation Starship launch vehicle, currently undergoing testing in Texas, uses methane fuel mixed with liquid oxygen.

Rockets need an oxidizer to fire their engines in space, where oxygen doesn’t exist to allow engine combustion.

The first stage of the Atlas 5 rocket for the Landsat 9 mission was raised on its launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base on July 13. Credit: NASA/Randy Beaudoin

Both stages of ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket use liquid oxygen — the first stage with kerosene fuel and the second stage with liquid hydrogen fuel.

SpaceX launched its most recent Falcon 9 mission Sunday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, consuming hundreds of thousands of pounds of liquid oxygen.

ULA loaded 800,000 pounds of liquid oxygen into a pathfinder booster for the company’s new Vulcan rocket at Cape Canaveral Monday for a cryogenic loading test. After the ground test, ULA drained the oxidizer from the rocket to be used again.

NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket will also need large quantities of liquid oxygen when it begins launch pad testing, possibly before the end of this year. The SLS rocket is powered by engines that consume the oxygen in combination with super-cold liquid hydrogen.

NASA says it already has enough liquid oxygen stored at the Kennedy Space Center for a fueling test of the Space Launch System, plus multiple launch attempts.

The shortage of liquid oxygen isn’t the only COVID-related supply issue impacting the space industry.

Shotwell said SpaceX is also feeling the effects of the global chip shortage, which she said has delayed development of new user terminals for the company’s Starlink internet network.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Oldest human footprints in North America found in New Mexico – CTV News



Fossilized footprints discovered in New Mexico indicate that early humans were walking across North America around 23,000 years ago, researchers reported Thursday.

The first footprints were found in a dry lake bed in White Sands National Park in 2009. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey recently analyzed seeds stuck in the footprints to determine their approximate age, ranging from around 22,800 and 21,130 years ago.

The findings may shed light on a mystery that has long intrigued scientists: When did people first arrive in the Americas, after dispersing from Africa and Asia?

Most scientists believe ancient migration came by way of a now-submerged land bridge that connected Asia to Alaska. Based on various evidence — including stone tools, fossil bones and genetic analysis — other researchers have offered a range of possible dates for human arrival in the Americas, from 13,000 to 26,000 years ago or more.

The current study provides a more solid baseline for when humans definitely were in North America, although they could have arrived even earlier, the authors say. Fossil footprints are more indisputable and direct evidence than “cultural artifacts, modified bones, or other more conventional fossils,” they wrote in the journal Science, which published the study Thursday.

“What we present here is evidence of a firm time and location,” they said.

Based on the size of the footprints, researchers believe that at least some were made by children and teenagers who lived during the last ice age.

David Bustos, the park’s resource program manager, spotted the first footprints in ancient wetlands in 2009. He and others found more in the park over the years.

“We knew they were old, but we had no way to date the prints before we discovered some with (seeds) on top,” he said Thursday.

Made of fine silt and clay, the footprints are fragile, so the researchers had to work quickly to gather samples, Bustos said.

“The only way we can save them is to record them — to take a lot of photos and make 3D models,” he said.

Earlier excavations in White Sands National Park have uncovered fossilized tracks left by a saber-toothed cat, dire wolf, Columbian mammoth and other ice age animals.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit –



Tampa, Florida (WFLA) — SpaceX made history on Wednesday night when it launched the world’s first all-civil mission to get going from the Space Coast, Florida.

The Inspiration4 mission took off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center around 8:03 pm on Wednesday. The four crew members on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft were launched onto a reusable Falcon 9 rocket and later separated from the spacecraft and landed on the drone.

The mission’s five-hour launch window began at 8:02 EST. The window was very large, as the crew was sent to orbit the Earth rather than the International Space Station, and therefore did not have such strict time constraints.

The crew is set to travel 350 miles above the surface of the Earth, about 100 miles higher than the International Space Station.

“This is important and historic, because it’s the best time humans have been in orbit since the Hubble Space Telescope mission,” said Benjireed, SpaceX’s manned spaceflight director.

(Photo provided by SpaceX)

The crew will spend three days in orbit to participate in research experiments on human health and performance. We hope that the results of our research will apply not only to future space flight, but also to human health here on Earth.

Inspiration4’s main goal is to provide and inspire support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They want to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude in a three-day mission.

According to SpaceX, each of the four members of the crew was chosen to represent the pillars of a mission of prosperity, generosity, hope and leadership. The Inspiration 4 crew and the pillars they represent are:

  • leadership: 38 years old Jared Isaacman – Founder and CEO of Shift4Payments
  • Hope: 29-year-old Haley Arseno – Doctor assistants and childhood cancer survivors treated with St. Jude
  • Generosity: 41 years old Chris Sembroski – Lockheed Martin US Air Force veteran and aerospace employee
  • prosperity: 51 years old Dr. Cyan Proctor – Entrepreneurs, educators, trained pilots, and the active voice of the space exploration community

SpaceX trained all four crew members as commercial astronauts on Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft. The crew was trained in orbital mechanics, microgravity, weightlessness, other stress tests, emergency preparedness, and spacesuit training.

The mission was funded by Isaacman in a private transaction with SpaceX. Isaacman has also invested $ 100 million towards a funding target for the St. Jude mission.

Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit

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'Flying' microchips could ride the wind to track air pollution – Yahoo Movies Canada



Researchers have created a winged microchip around the size of a sand grain that may be the smallest flying device yet made, Vice has reported. They’re designed to be carried around by the wind and could be used in numerous applications including disease and air pollution tracking, according to a paper published by Nature. At the same time, they could be made from biodegradable materials to prevent environmental contamination. 

The design of the flyers was inspired by spinning seeds from cottonwood and other trees. Those fall slowly by spinning like helicopters so they can be picked up by the wind and spread a long distance from the tree, increasing the range of the species. 

The team from Northwest University ran with that idea but made it better, and smaller. “We think we’ve beaten biology… we’ve been able to build structures that fall in a more stable trajectory at slower terminal velocities than equivalent seeds,” said lead Professor John A. Rogers. “The other thing… was that we were able to make these helicopter flyer structures that are much smaller than seeds you would see in the natural world.”  

They’re not so small that the aerodynamics starts to break down, though. “All of the advantages of the helicopter design begin to disappear below a certain length scale, so we pushed it all the way, as far as you can go or as physics would allow,” Rogers told Vice. “Below that size scale, everything looks and falls like a sphere.”

The devices are also large enough to carry electronics, sensors and power sources. The team tested multiple versions that could carry payloads like antenna so that they could wireless communicate with a smartphone or each other. Other sensors could monitor things like air acidity, water quality and solar radiation. 

The flyers are still concepts right now and not ready to deploy into the atmosphere, but the team plans to expand their findings with different designs. Key to that is the use of biodegradable materials so they wouldn’t persist in the environment. 

“We don’t think about these devices… as a permanent monitoring componentry but rather temporary ones that are addressing a particular need that’s of finite time duration,” Rogers said. “That’s the way that we’re envisioning things currently: you monitor for a month and then the devices die out, dissolve, and disappear, and maybe you have to redeploy them.”

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