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Phew, an Earth Impact From a Notorious Asteroid Was Just Ruled Out by Astronomers – ScienceAlert

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When it comes back around again in 2068, the asteroid Apophis will have practically no chance of hitting Earth.

In fact, the 370-meter (1,210-foot) chunk of space rock won’t pose any sort of danger for at least another century, leading to its removal from both the ESA’s Risk List, and NASA’s Sentry Impact Risk Table.

“With the support of recent optical observations and additional radar observations, the uncertainty in Apophis’s orbit has collapsed from hundreds of kilometers to just a handful of kilometers when projected to 2029,” said astronomer Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies.

“This greatly improved knowledge of its position in 2029 provides more certainty of its future motion, so we can now remove Apophis from the risk list.”

Apophis was first discovered in 2004, and initial projections suggested the asteroid had a worrying 2.7 percent chance of impacting Earth in 2029. Although this was quickly ruled out, Apophis has a close approach to Earth roughly every eight years; because its orbit has been tricky to observe and characterize, the possibility of an impact at a later date remained undefined.

Gradually, over the 17 years that astronomers have been watching Apophis, its path through space has become clearer.

Last year, the biggest danger was determined to be the asteroid’s 2068 close approach. Farnocchia and his colleague David Tholen measured the Yarkovsky effect – that is, the heating on the asteroid’s Sun side that generates a small amount  of thrust – and found that it generates 170 meters of drift a year.

The other big potential problem affecting the asteroid’s path is that 2029 flyby. According to projections, Apophis will fly past Earth at a distance of just 38,000 kilometers – roughly 10 times closer than the Moon. At that proximity, Earth’s gravity will affect the asteroid’s orbit, possibly bringing it closer to a collision course.

With these two influences in mind, the astronomers recalculated the projection of Apophis’s path. The chance of impact in 2068 remained. It was only one in 150,000, but that’s still a concern, considering how much damage it could do.

Now more data has been added to the calculations. The asteroid’s most recent flyby was just a few weeks ago – on 6 March 2021, Apophis came within 16.9 million kilometers of Earth.

For months prior, it had been visible in the sky, and astronomers watched it closely; then the March 6 flyby allowed scientists to narrow down its location to an incredibly precise distance of 150 meters.

In turn, the finding allowed for further refinement of the projections, and we’re now officially safe from Apophis for a very long time indeed. Considering that the asteroid has been sitting on the Risk List and the Sentry Impact Risk Table since it was discovered, this is a big relief.

When Apophis does swing by in 2029, it will afford scientists an excellent opportunity to study its size, shape, and spin rate, without the threat of doom looming, too. It will be the last such opportunity for a while – after 2029, its ‘close approaches’ will grow more and more distant.

“When I started working with asteroids after college, Apophis was the poster child for hazardous asteroids,” Farnocchia said.

“There’s a certain sense of satisfaction to see it removed from the risk list, and we’re looking forward to the science we might uncover during its close approach in 2029.”

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NASA clears Boeing Starliner for July 30th test flight to ISS – Yahoo Movies Canada

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More than 18 months after its failed first attempt to make it to the International Space Station, Boeing’s Starliner is ready for a second shot. Following a flight readiness review, NASA is moving forward with the craft’s upcoming July 30th uncrewed orbital flight test. Unless there’s an unforeseen delay, the capsule will launch from the Space Force’s Cape Canaveral Station mounted on an Atlas V rocket at 2:53PM ET. Should NASA postpone the flight, it will again attempt to carry out the test on August 3rd at the earliest.

The purpose of the flight is for NASA to conduct an end-to-end test of Starliner’s capabilities. It wants to know if the capsule can handle every aspect of a trip to the ISS, including launch, docking as well as atmospheric re-entry. “[Orbital Flight Test-2] will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station,” the agency said.

If the flight is a success, NASA will move forward with a crewed test of the Starliner. Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager at NASA, said that could happen “as soon as later this year.” Both Boeing and NASA have a lot invested in the viability of Starliner. For the aerospace company, its decision not to conduct an end-to-end test of the craft before its failed 2019 flight left the agency “surprised,” leading to questions about the project. Meanwhile, NASA is keen to have two capsules that can ferry its astronauts to the ISS. Right now, it’s limited to just SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. “It’s very important for the commercial crew program to have two space transportation systems,” Stich told reporters.

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SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter's moon Europa – Euronews

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By Steve Gorman

LOSANGELES – Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX was awarded a $178 million launch services contract for NASA‘s first mission focusing on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and whether it may host conditions suitable for life, the space agency said on Friday.

The Europa Clipper mission is due for blastoff in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said in a statement posted online.

The contract marked NASA‘s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.

In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.

The company’s partly reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational space launch vehicle in the world, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.

NASA did not say what other companies may have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.

The probe is to conduct a detailed survey of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is a bit smaller than Earth’s moon and is a leading candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by NASA‘s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appeared to have been caused by a geyser gushing through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subsurface ocean, researchers concluded in 2018. Those findings supported other evidence of Europa plumes.

Among the Clipper mission’s objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy shell and determine the depth and salinity of its ocean, NASA said.

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NASA’s Europa Clipper will fly on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy – The Verge

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NASA’s Europa Clipper will start its journey to Jupiter’s icy moon aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket built by SpaceX. NASA will pay SpaceX $178 million to launch the vehicle in October 2024.

The Europa Clipper got the green light from NASA in 2015. It will fly by the moon 45 times, providing researchers with a tantalizing look at the icy world, believed to have an ocean lurking under its icy crust. The Clipper is equipped with instruments that will help scientists figure out if the moon could support life.

For years, the Clipper was legally obligated to launch on NASA’s long-delayed Space Launch System (SLS). But with the SLS perpetually delayed and over budget, NASA has urged Congress to consider allowing the Europa Clipper to fly commercial. Switching to another vehicle could save up to $1 billion, NASA’s inspector general said in 2019.

NASA got permission to consider commercial alternatives to the SLS in the 2021 budget, and started officially looking for a commercial alternative soon after.

The SLS has powerful allies in Congress, who have kept the costly program alive for years, even as it blew past budgets and deadlines. The first flight of the SLS was originally supposed to happen in 2017. That mission — launching an uncrewed trip around the Moon — has since been pushed to November 2021, and keeping to that new schedule remains “highly unlikely” according to NASA’s Office of Inspector General, a watchdog agency.

SpaceX first launched its Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018, and started flying satellites in 2019. Earlier this year, NASA selected the rocket as the ride to space for two parts of a planned space station orbiting the Moon.

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