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Sea Level Watcher Takes Flight –



A joint U.S.-European satellite, built to monitor global sea levels, lifted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base just after 9 a.m. Pacific Time on November 21, 2020. About the size of a small pickup truck, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will extend a nearly 30-year continuous dataset on sea surface height.

The satellite’s principal instrument is a radar altimeter, which monitors the height and shape of the ocean’s peaks and valleys—known to scientists as ocean surface topography. Radar altimeters continually send out pulses of radio waves (microwaves) that bounce off the surface of the ocean and reflect back toward the satellite. The instrument calculates the time it takes for the signal to return, while also tracking the precise location of the satellite in space. From this, scientists can derive the height of the sea surface directly underneath the satellite.

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will continue a sea level record that began in 1992 with the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite and continued with Jason-1 (2001), OSTM/Jason-2 (2008), and Jason-3 (2016). Together, these satellites have provided long-term, precise measurements of sea level height while tracking the rate at which our oceans are rising in response to global warming. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will eventually pass the baton to its twin, Sentinel-6B, scheduled for launch in 2025.

“Together, these satellites will let us keep measuring global sea levels for another full decade,” said Josh Willis, the NASA Project Scientist for the mission and an ocean scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It is the first time we have been able to launch one of these while its predecessor is still young. Jason-3 is still within its design life, and that is a big deal for us because to keep the record accurate when it gets handed off from one satellite to the next, we really need them overlap so we can cross-calibrate.”

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The time-lapse video above shows the plume of exhaust from the Falcon 9 in the 25 minutes after the rocket launched from California. The images were acquired with the Advanced Baseline Imager (band 2/red) on GOES-17. The satellite is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NASA helps develop and launch the GOES series.

The spacecraft is named in honor of Michael Freilich, the former director of NASA’s Earth Science Division and a leader in advancing ocean observations from space. Freilich retired in 2019 and passed away on August 5, 2020. His close family and friends attended the launch of the satellite that now carries his name.

“Michael was a tireless force in Earth sciences. Climate change and sea level rise know no national borders, and he championed international collaboration to confront the challenge,” said Josef Aschbacher, the director of Earth observation programmes for the European Space Agency (ESA). “It is fitting that a satellite in his name will continue the ‘gold standard’ of sea level measurements for the next half-decade.”

“The Earth is changing, and this satellite will help deepen our understanding of how,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “Changing Earth processes are affecting sea level globally, but the impact on local communities varies widely. International collaboration is critical to both understanding these changes and informing coastal communities around the world.”

After arriving in orbit, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s second stage and unfolded its twin sets of solar arrays. Ground controllers successfully acquired the satellite’s signal, and initial telemetry reports showed the spacecraft is in good health. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will now undergo a series of exhaustive checks and calibrations before it starts collecting science data in a few months.

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The initial orbit of Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) lower than its ultimate operational orbit of 1,336 kilometers (830 miles). In about a month, the satellite will receive commands to raise its orbit, trailing Jason-3 by about 30 seconds. Mission scientists and engineers will then spend about a year cross-calibrating the data collected by the two satellites. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich will then take over as the primary sea level satellite and Jason-3 will provide a supporting role until the end of its mission. Scientific instruments on both satellites will also make atmospheric measurements that can be used to complement climate models and help meteorologists make better weather forecasts.

Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich and Sentinel-6B compose the Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission developed in partnership with ESA, NASA, and NOAA. NASA JPL is contributing three science instruments to each Sentinel-6 satellite: the Advanced Microwave Radiometer for Climate, the Global Navigation Satellite System—Radio Occultation, and the Laser Retroreflector Array. NASA is also contributing launch services, ground systems and data support, and support for the U.S. component of the international Ocean Surface Topography Science Team.

To learn more about sea surface height and the long international collaboration to study it, read Taking a Measure of Sea Level Rise: Ocean Altimetry.

To learn more about Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich, visit the mission home pages at the European Space Agency, NASA, the European Union’s
Copernicus program, and EUMETSAT.

Looking for data related to sea level rise? The Sea Level Change Data Pathfinder on NASA’s Earthdata site highlights tools used by researchers to study ocean altimetry, including the Integrated Multi-Mission Ocean Altimeter Data for Climate Research.

NASA Earth Observatory video by Joshua Stevens, using GOES 17 data from NOAA and the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). Photographs courtesy of SpaceX. Story assembled from NASA and ESA press releases by Mike Carlowicz.

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SpaceX launches 143 spacecraft, a record for a single launch –



The rocket ferried 133 commercial and government spacecraft, as well as 10 Starlink satellites.

SpaceX has launched a batch of 143 spacecraft into space under the company’s new cost-cutting SmallSat Rideshare Programme, breaking the record for the most satellites deployed on a single mission. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 10 a.m. EST.

A collection of 143 satellites as part of SpaceX’s first dedicated rideshare mission over the experienced launcher, is called Transporter-1.

The rocket ferried 133 commercial and government spacecraft. SpaceX, acting like a cosmic carpool, dispatched its own 10 satellites into space Starlink Internet Satellites. Flat-panelled Starlink satellites are expected to be deposited in a unique polar orbit – a first for the broadband fleet, which will serve customers in Alaska and other polar regions.

The launch carried payloads for Planet, Swarm Technologies, Kepler Communications, Spire, Capella Space, ICEYE, NASA, and a host of other customers from 11 countries. The payloads ranged in size from CubeSats to microsatellites weighing several hundred pounds.

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Explained: Three men are paying $50mn each to travel to the ISS. All about the mission – The Indian Express



A former Israeli fighter pilot, an American technology entrepreneur and a Canadian investor will be part of the crew of the first entirely-private orbital space mission. The three men are paying a whopping $55 million each to fly aboard a SpaceX rocket for an eight-day visit to the International Space Station, organised by Houston-based spaceflight firm Axiom.

“These guys are all very involved and doing it for kind of for the betterment of their communities and countries, and so we couldn’t be happier with this makeup of the first crew because of their drive and their interest,” Axiom’s chief executive and president Mike Suffredini told the Associated Press. The mission will be led by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who now works for Axiom space.

What do we know about the mission?

The Axiom Mission 1 (AX 1) flight is being arranged under a commercial agreement with NASA. While private citizens have travelled to space before, the AX 1 mission will be the first to use a commercially built spacecraft, the SpaceX Dragon 2, best known for flying its first two crews to the ISS late last year.

Elon Musks’ SpaceX is scheduled to launch the all-private crew no earlier than in January next year. After lifting off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the crew will take about a day or two to arrive at the ISS and will then proceed to spend eight days there, AP reported.

But Axiom insists that the mission is by no means a vacation. The three men will participate in research and philanthropic projects alongside the astronauts from all over the world who are already stationed at the ISS.

What training will the crew receive?

Axiom chief executive Suffredini told AP that the private astronauts will have to pass medical tests and also undergo 15 weeks of rigorous training before their trip to space.

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Who are the three men paying to fly to the space station?

Larry Connor

The American real estate investor and technology entrepreneur is the head of the Connor Group, an Ohio-based real estate firm worth over $3 billion in assets. The 70-year-old will be the second-oldest person to fly to space and will be serving as the capsule pilot under Lopez-Alegria.

According to Axiom, he will be collaborating with Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic on research projects at the ISS. He also plans to provide instructional lessons to students at Dayton Early College Academy in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.

Mark Pathy

Pathy, 50, is the CEO and Chairman of MAVRIK Corp, a privately-owned investment and financing company. The Canadian is also the chairperson of the board of Stingray Group, a Montreal-based music company. An active philanthropist, he serves on the board of the Pathy Family Foundation and is also a board member of both Dans la Rue and the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation. He will be the 11th Canadian astronaut in space.

Pathy is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency and the Montreal Children’s Hospital, who are helping identify health-related research projects that could be undertaken during the mission, Axiom said in a statement.

Eytan Stibbe

Stibbe, the founder of Vital Capital Fund and a former fighter pilot, will be the second Israeli to be launched into space. He is also a founder and board member of the Center for African Studies at Ben-Gurion University and is on the board of several NGOs working specifically to develop education, art and culture.

The first Israeli to go to space was Ilan Ramon, who died onboard the space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated as it re-entered the atmoshphere in 2003. Ramon was a close personal friend of Stibbe’s.

Who is the mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria?

The former Spanish astronaut has participated in four space flights and logged over 257 days in space. He was a member of NASA’s astronaut corps for over two decades. He has performed 10 spacewalks, totalling 67 hours and 40 minutes of Extravehicular activity (EVA), according to NASA.

Lopez-Alegria joined Axiom in 2017 and now serves as the company’s Vice President of Business Development.

Is this the first time civilians have been launched into space?

No, private civilians have travelled to the space station before. Since 2001, Russia has been selling rides to the ISS to wealthy businessmen around the world. They travelled onboard the Russian Soyuz aircraft along with professional cosmonauts and NASA astronauts.

Until 2019, NASA did not permit ordinary citizens to be launched into space from American soil. It finally reversed its stance, stating that the missions would help spur growth in the commercial space industry, the Washington Post reported.

Several other space companies, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, also plan to take paying customers to space in the near future. But these up-and-down flights will last mere minutes, AP reported.

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Spacewalking astronauts encounter cable trouble while hooking up European lab – Firstpost



Spacewalking astronauts encountered cable trouble Wednesday while attempting to make improvements to the International Space Station’s European lab. Only one of the two lab upgrades was completely successful. NASA’s Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover installed a new antenna on Columbus, one of three high-tech labs at the orbiting outpost. It took a few tries by scientists in Europe to get it turned on properly. No longer needed, the boxy antenna cover was thrown overboard.

“Here we go. Countdown: 3-2-1,” Glover radioed as he heaved it safely away from the space station.

NASA astronaut Victor Glover dons his spacesuit and gets ready to exit the ISS for a spacewalk. Image credit: Twitter @Astro_Jessica

Elsewhere on the lab, Glover could not hook up all the power and data cables on a science research platform that’s been awaiting activation for almost a year. He managed to hook up four of six cables. They checked out well with power flowing, enabling partial use of the platform.

But connectors on two cables would not close all the way, and those had to be capped. Engineers will try to come up with a work-around for a future spacewalk, so the entire platform can house experiments.

SpaceX delivered the platform named Bartolomeo to the space station last spring. The shelf was installed with the station’s robot arm but had to wait until Wednesday’s spacewalk to get hooked up.

Airbus, which built and runs Bartolomeo, is looking to sell space on the platform for private research projects. It’s Europe’s first commercial venture outside the station.

Danish astronaut Andreas Morgensen guided the spacewalkers from Mission Control in Houston, where controllers wore masks and were seated apart because of the pandemic. The spacewalk lasted seven hours.

Hopkins and Glover will perform a second spacewalk on Monday to complete battery upgrades to the station’s solar power grid. The latest spacewalk was the third for Hopkins and first for Glover.

They are part of SpaceX’s second astronaut flight that launched in November. Their docked Dragon capsule was visible on NASA TV during the spacewalk.

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