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SpaceX delivers for Turkey in first launch of 2021 – Spaceflight Now



Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket thundered into space from Cape Canaveral and deployed a Turkish communications satellite Thursday night, the first of more than 40 Falcon rocket missions scheduled this year from launch pads in Florida and California.

The rapid-fire cadence of launches in 2021, if achieved, would break SpaceX’s record of 26 Falcon 9 flights last year, and rival the pace of U.S. launches during the early decades of the Space Age.

The first launch out of the gate was a Falcon 9 mission to deliver the Turkish-owned, Airbus-built Turksat 5A communications satellite to orbit.

The Falcon 9 did just that Thursday night, after a delay of more than 45 minutes to assess the readiness of a downrange tracking station in Gabon. The launch eventually proceeded without the tracking antenna, and the Falcon 9 lit its nine Merlin 1D main engines to fire off pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 9:15 p.m. EST Thursday (0215 GMT) Thursday.

After arcing due east from Cape Canaveral, the Falcon 9 shed its first stage booster about two-and-a-half minutes into the flight, before beginning its descent toward a SpaceX drone ship parked around 400 miles (650 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean.

While the first stage booster targeted a vertical landing on the floating drone ship, two SpaceX vessels were on station in downrange waters to retrieve the Falcon 9’s two-piece payload shroud.

The Falcon 9 booster nailed its landing on the “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship in the Atlantic about eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, completing the reusable rocket’s fourth trip to space and back. An update on the fairing recovery effort was not immediately available from SpaceX.

The Falcon 9’s single-use upper stage, meanwhile, performed two engine burns before releasing the Turksat 5A spacecraft into an elliptical “supersynchronous” transfer orbit about 33 minutes after liftoff.

U.S. military tracking data indicated the Falcon 9 rocket released Turksat 5A in an orbit ranging between 177 miles (286 kilometers) and 34,000 miles (55,000 kilometers) in altitude, with an inclination of 17.66 degrees.

Turkish officials confirmed Thursday night that ground teams received the first radio signals from the Turksat 5A after launch, allowing controllers to begin health verifications and post-launch checkouts.

Turksat 5A, with a launch weight of around 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms) will deploy its power-generating solar panels and extend articulating pods holding plasma thrusters, which will slowly circularize the satellite’s orbit at geostationary altitude more than 22,000 miles over the equator. At that altitude, Turksat 5A will orbit Earth at the same rate the planet rotates.

A Falcon 9 rocket streaks into the sky over Cape Canaveral Thursday night in this long exposure photo. Credit: SpaceX

The orbit-raising phase of the mission will last about four months. The electric thrusters are more fuel efficient than conventional liquid-fueled rocket engines, but produce less thrust.

The more efficient electric thrusters will allow Turksat 5A to maintain its position in orbit for more than 30 years, double the life span of many large communications satellites, according to Airbus.

The satellite will enter service by mid-year along the equator at 31 degrees east longitude, where its 42 Ku-band transponders will reach Turksat customers across Turkey, the Middle East, Europe, large swaths of Africa, the Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea, and the Black Sea, the company says.

Turksat 5A will become the most powerful satellite in Turksat’s fleet, according to Hasan Huseyin Ertok, the company’s deputy general manager. It will also help secure Turkish frequency rights at the 31 degrees east slot, where a Turkish-owned satellite has not operated since 2010.

Turksat awarded Airbus and SpaceX contracts to build and launch the Turksat 5A and Turksat 5B satellites in November 2017, following a meeting between SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Turksat 5B satellite, which will host a Ka-band communications payload, is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral in the second half of this year.

“Our main focus is Turkey, so it’s centered on Turkey but the whole (of) Europe, the most part of North Africa, and we go all the way to Kazakhstan going to the east. and in the African region, we have most of sub-Saharan Africa and also South Africa,” Ertok said of Turksat 5A’s coverage area.

“We can provide satellite service to anyone in that coverage area,” he said. “It can be a data service, which means bringing data from one point to another, or it can be a TV broadcasting service.”

While Turksat sells services to commercial customers, a major client for the company is the Turkish government. Turksat satellites have supported a range of Turkish civil and military operations.

Ertok said Turksat 5A will provide a “better service with a better price for our customers, to our government.”

“So it’s going to be an important satellite for us, and for our future,” he said.

Artist’s concept of the Turksat 5A satellite. Credit: Turksat

SpaceX, meanwhile, is gearing up for its next Falcon 9 launch scheduled in mid-January from Cape Canaveral. That mission, which SpaceX calls Transporter 1, will delivery numerous commercial and government small satellites to orbit on a rideshare launch.

Two more Falcon 9 launches with SpaceX’s own Starlink broadband satellites are scheduled later in January or early February.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, said in October that the company planned as many as 48 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy missions in 2021 from three separate pads at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

SpaceX officials have set an ambition to launch batches of Starlink internet satellites as often as once every two weeks, when breaks between the company’s other missions allow managers to add a flight to the Falcon 9 manifest.

Besides Starlink missions, SpaceX has at least 20 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy flights this year for external customers.

Those include two Falcon 9 launches with Crew Dragon missions — flown under contract to NASA — to carry four astronauts to the International Space Station for six-month expeditions. There is also a shorter duration commercial Crew Dragon mission planned for launch in late 2021 with Axiom, a privately-held space company, to ferry four paying passengers to and from the space station.

SpaceX also plans to launch up to three automated Dragon resupply missions to the space station in 2021, and an asteroid probe and an X-ray space telescope for NASA.

There are also at least two flights by SpaceX’s triple-body Falcon Heavy rocket planned this year with U.S. military payloads.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Scientists find a cloudless 'hot Jupiter' exoplanet with a four-day year – Yahoo Movies Canada



The Canadian Press

EU proposes more travel restrictions to stop virus variants

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive body proposed Monday that the bloc’s 27 nations impose more travel restrictions to counter the worrying spread of new coronavirus variants but make sure to keep goods and workers moving across EU borders. Amid concerns related to the production and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, the European Commission urged EU nations to reinforce testing and quarantine measures for travellers as virus mutations that are more transmissible threaten to overwhelm European hospitals with new cases. More than 400,000 EU citizens have already died from the virus since the pandemic first hit Europe last year. “The start of the EU vaccination campaign kicked off the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” EU Justice commissioner Didier Reynders said. “At the same time, new, more transmissible variants of the virus have surfaced. There is currently a very high number of new infections across many member states. And there is an urgent need to reduce the risk of travel-related infections to lessen the burden on overstretched healthcare systems.” Among the new measures, which need to be approved by EU nations before taking effect, is the addition of a new “dark red” colour to the EU’s weekly map of infections. Reynders said this new colour highlights areas where the rate of new confirmed infections in the last 14 days is 500 or more per 100,000 inhabitants. He said between 10 and 20 EU countries would already see that colour on all or part of their territory if it was in effect now. “We also think it is necessary for essential travellers arriving from dark red areas to get tested before travelling and to undergo quarantine, unless these measures would have a disproportionate impact on the exercise of their essential function,” Reynders said. Since the discovery of the new virus variants, several EU countries have already reinforced their lockdown measures. Belgium has introduced a ban on all nonessential travels for its residents until March, while France could soon start a third lockdown if a stringent 12-hour daily curfew already in place can’t slow down the spread of new infections. “We are suggesting stricter measures for dark red areas, because we must recognize the high level of cases,” Reynders said. Insisting that all non-essential travel is “strongly discouraged,” the commission repeated the need to keep the single market functioning so workers and goods can continue to cross borders smoothly, “Border closures will not help, common measures will,” Reynders said. The commission also proposed that travellers from outside the EU should face mandatory coronavirus testing before they depart, tests once they arrive, mandatory quarantines for up to 14 days and hand over data for contact tracing. It suggested EU citizens and residents take a coronavirus test upon arrival and could face further restrictions if they coming in from a country where a variant has been detected. ___ Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at: Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press

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Astronomers discover huge exoplanet has the density of cotton candy –



Roughly 212 light years away in the Virgo constellation lies a super-large exoplanet that has astronomers revising their theory of how giant gas planets form.

The exoplanet, called WASP-107b, was discovered in 2017. At the time, it was difficult to accurately pinpoint its mass. But what astronomers did know is that it was already unusual. 

It is a particularly large planet, roughly the size of Jupiter, but with an orbit that is just a mere nine million kilometres away from its host star, WASP-107, which is estimated to be about three billion years old.

To put that in perspective, Mercury, the closest planet to our sun, sits at 60 million kilometres. One year on WASP-107b takes roughly 5.7 days. 

However, now, after years of observations using the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, a team of international astronomers have uncovered something else: WASP-107b is oddly light. In fact, it’s much lighter than what was thought was needed to build gas giants such as Saturn and Jupiter.

“What was really surprising about this planet is that people have known … that it’s about the size of Jupiter, so it’s a gas giant,” said Eve Lee, co-author of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal and an assistant professor in the department of physics at McGill University and McGill Space Institute in Montreal. “So if it’s a gas giant, then the usual expectation is that it would weigh just as [much] as gas giants. Except it didn’t.”

A comparison of Earth in the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, a giant storm that is at least 400 years old. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Christopher Go)

Jupiter is about 300 times the mass of Earth. But WASP-107b — while roughly the same size as our solar system’s biggest and most massive planet — is only 30 times that of Earth. That’s 1/10th the mass. 

The international team of astronomers inferred from their observations that the core of the planet was just four times that of Earth. But in theory, it was believed that these giant planets with such a gaseous atmosphere would require a core that was at least 10 times that of Earth’s.

After a star forms, the remaining gas and dust — called a protoplanetary disk — come together to build planets. When it comes to the gas giants, it’s believed that a core that is 10 times more massive than Earth’s is required to build — or accrete — and hold on to the gas envelopes.

This image from the European Southern Observatory shows a protoplanetary disk This picture of the nearby young star TW Hydrae reveals the classic rings and gaps that signify planets are in formation in this system. (S. Andrews [Harvard-Smithsonian CfA]; B. Saxton [NRAO/AUI/NSF]; ALMA [ESO/NAOJ/NRAO])

So what’s the deal with WASP-107b?

Lead author Caroline Piaulet of the Université de Montréal said there are two key elements in the theory of how this might have happened.

First, it’s believed that WASP-107b formed much farther out from its current location, likely around one astronomical unit, or the average distance between the sun and Earth, roughly 150 million kilometres. There, it began to accrete gas and dust relatively quickly. 

Secondly, it began to cool rather quickly.

“When it cools down efficiently, it’s able to accrete efficiently because if it cools down, it’s going to shrink,” said Piaulet. “So it’s going to have more space to accrete more gas.”

Eventually, the planet migrated inward to its current position.

Yet another surprise

WASP-107b isn’t the only “super puff” planet, as they are often called. Lee said there are four others known, though WASP-107b is the puffiest.

So just how puffy is it?

“It’s usually compared to cotton candy, because it’s about the right density,” Lee said. “But it’s not the kind that you find at carnivals. It’s more like the kind that you buy at stores.”

And, as surprising as this super-puff planet was, there was yet another surprise in store: a second planet orbiting the star, WASP-107c. 

The planet was detected because of the longer observation time and was found to be roughly one-third the mass of Jupiter. Its orbit around the star takes about three years, significantly longer than WASP-107b. 

The discovery is just a reminder that, while we may think we have an understanding of how planets form, we still have a lot to learn about what lies beyond our own solar system. Even then, Piaulet said, we still don’t even know much about the cores of our own giant gas planets, such as Jupiter. 

“What I found really exciting is that it’s kind of pushing our understanding of planet formation to its limits.”

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SpaceX rocket deploys record-setting cargo –



A framegrab of video of the SpaceX launch on January 24, 2021

SpaceX on Sunday launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a record number of satellites on board, the private space company said.

The rocket successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 10:00 am (1500 GMT), 24 hours after its initial take-off had been scrubbed due to .

Andy Tran, a SpaceX production supervisor, said in a video of the launch that the Falcon 9 was carrying 133 commercial and government “spacecraft” as well 10 SpaceX satellites.

“The most spacecraft ever deployed on a single mission,” Tran said.

SpaceX is flying Falcon 9 under a “rideshare” program through which other firms and governments pay the Elon Musk-founded company to deliver their technologies to space.

Minutes after taking off, the Falcon 9’s main booster that had thrust the rocket to the edge of space separated from the rest of the craft and dropped back down to Earth in a controlled fall.

It landed itself on an unmanned spaceport drone ship called “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean, marking the booster’s fifth successful deployment and recapture.

In a series of tweets, SpaceX said all 143 satellites had been successfully deployed.

SpaceX aims to send thousands of small satellites into space to form a global broadband system called Starlink.

Scientists have expressed concerns about the number of objects clogging the space around Earth. SpaceX say their satellites are designed to burn up in the atmosphere within a few years.

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SpaceX delays launch of mini-satellites

© 2021 AFP

SpaceX rocket deploys record-setting cargo (2021, January 25)
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