CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX is preparing for a potential launch doubleheader on Sunday (Aug. 30), and you can watch the action live online.
On Sunday morning, the company’s Starlink internet megaconstellation is expected to grow as SpaceX plans to launch an additional 60 satellites into orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Just nine hours later, a different Falcon 9 is slated to deliver the Argentinian satellite SAOCOM-1B into a polar orbit, marking the first such mission to fly from the Cape since the 1960s.
The Starlink mission is scheduled to launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 10:12 a.m. EDT (1412 GMT). SAOCOM-1B will fly from SpaceX’s other Florida launch pad, at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. That liftoff is scheduled for 7:18 p.m. EDT (2318 GMT).
The launch doubleheader is contingent upon a couple of factors. First, the weather needs to cooperate, and summertime in Florida can be tricky. The most recent weather reports issued by the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron do not look terribly promising, with a 50% chance of favorable conditions for Starlink and only a 40% chance of favorable conditions for SAOCOM-1B.
SpaceX also needs to get launch approvals from the Eastern Range, the entity that oversees all launch operations on the East Coast. The company announced potential launch times on Friday (Aug. 28), but those assumed that United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket would launch early Saturday morning (Aug. 29) from Cape Canaveral, which did not happen.
The Delta IV Heavy’s engines ignited and its on board computers quickly shut them down after detecting an anomaly. ULA has not yet announced what caused the shutdown but has said it will be at least a week before its triple-barrel rocket will attempt to fly again.
The Delta IV Heavy launch directly affects SpaceX’s plans because it will deliver a national security payload. The satellite perched atop the massive rocket is a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency. There’s a hierarchy when it comes to launch payloads, with NRO satellites receiving priority over all other missions, followed by civilian (such as NASA) and then finally commercial payloads.
SAOCOM-1B will be the first satellite launched into a polar-orbiting trajectory from Cape Canaveral since the 1960s. Typically, polar-orbiting missions are launched from the West Coast, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That’s because they can fly north or south over open water, which is not the case in Florida.
Most launches from Florida blast off on an easterly trek, while polar launches need to go north or south. In late 1960, debris from a Thor rocket reportedly fell on Cuba and killed a cow. This incident resulted in polar launches being moved to California.
Officials were later able to secure the rights to launch this type of mission from Florida, but only if the rocket had an automated flight termination system, which the Falcon 9 does. For the SAOCOM-1B mission, the Air Force secured a southerly corridor that passes over Cuba, while the rocket’s first stage will return to land and touch down at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.
There is some concern that the SAOCOM-1B mission’s unique flight path puts Space Launch Complex 37 (and the Delta IV Heavy) in the hazard zone. Since ULA was unable to get the Heavy off the ground Saturday morning, there was some speculation that the SAOCOM-1B mission would have to stand down until further notice. However, SpaceX’s communications team tweeted that, as of Saturday afternoon, both missions were still on for Sunday.
SpaceX hopes to provide global broadband coverage with its Starlink megaconstellation. Users on the ground will employ a small terminal (no larger than a laptop) to connect to the ever-growing constellation flying overhead.
To date, SpaceX has launched more than 600 of the internet-beaming satellites. Company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said that there need to be between 500 and 800 satellites in orbit before service can begin to roll out. Users are beta-testing the service now, but many more satellites may end up launching before Musk and SpaceX connect the world.
The weather on Sunday morning looks iffy, with only a 50% chance of favorable weather for Starlink, according to forecasters at the 45th Weather Squadron. Temperatures in the area are supposed to be around 83 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) with some thick clouds being the main cause for concern.
Later in the day, the weather conditions deteriorate a bit with just a 40% chance of launch for SAOCOM-1B. Temperatures in the area should stay around 83 degrees Fahrenheit, but forecasters are concerned about the potential for storm clouds to develop.
SpaceX has deployed one of its two drone ships, Of Course I Still Love You, to the designated recovery zone in the Atlantic Ocean. Here the massive ship will wait for the Starlink Falcon 9’s first-stage booster to return to Earth. The first stage used in the SAOCOM-1B mission will land on terra firma at Cape Canaveral Air Force station, and locals should be treated to some sonic booms.
SpaceX is also expected to attempt to recover the Falcon 9 payload fairings, or nose cones, as the company deployed its two net-equipped boats to different locations. One ship will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean at each recovery zone to support the recovery efforts of both missions.
Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
The Latest Flyby of Jupiter Has Offered Some of The Most Marvellous Views Yet – ScienceAlert
Most massive planet in the solar system – twice that of all the other planets combined. This giant world formed from the same cloud of dust and gas that became our Sun and the rest of the planets.
But Jupiter was the first-born of our planetary family. As the first planet, Jupiter’s massive gravitational field likely shaped the rest of the entire solar system.
Jupiter could’ve played a role in where all the planets aligned in their orbits around the Sun…or didn’t, as the asteroid belt is a vast region which could’ve been occupied by another planet were it not for Jupiter’s gravity.
Gas giants like Jupiter can also hurl entire planets out of their solar systems, or themselves spiral into their stars.
Saturn’s formation several million years later probably spared Jupiter this fate.
Jupiter may also act as a “comet catcher.” Comets and asteroids which could otherwise fall toward the inner solar system and strike the rocky worlds like Earth are captured by Jupiter’s gravitational field instead and ultimately plunge into Jupiter’s clouds.
But at other times in Earth’s history, Jupiter may have had the opposite effect, hurling asteroids in our direction – typically a bad thing but may have also resulted in water-rich rocks coming to Earth that led to the blue planet we know of today.
Jupiter is a window into our own solar system’s past – a past literally enshrouded beneath Jupiter’s clouds which is why Juno, the probe currently orbiting Jupiter, is so named. Juno, Jupiter’s wife in mythology, was able to peer through a cloak of clouds Jupiter used to hide himself and his wrongful deeds.
In this case, however, we are looking through Jupiter’s clouds into our own history. Juno entered orbit of Jupiter 5 July 2016 after travelling for nearly five years to reach the gas giant.
Falling into Jupiter’s gravity well, Juno arrived at a speed of 210,000 km/h, one of the fastest speed records set by any human-made object.
Juno is in a highly eccentric 53 day orbit. During Perijove, or the closest orbital approach, Juno skims Jupiter at an altitude of 4,200 km and then sweeps outward to 8.1 million km. Juno’s orbit is designed to navigate through weaker areas of Jupiter’s incredibly powerful magnetic field.
Second in power only to the Sun itself, Jupiter’s magnetic field accelerates high energy particles from the Sun creating powerful bands of radiation that encircle the planet – electronics-frying radiation.
In addition to its nimble navigation, Juno’s electronics are hardened against radiation with its “radiation vault” – a 1 cm thick titanium shell that houses its sensitive scientific equipment.
One piece of equipment which dazzles all of us back on Earth is JunoCam – an RGB colour camera taking visual images of Jupiter’s clouds as the probe buzzes the planet in just two hours each orbit spending as little time as possible in Jupiter’s radiation.
Most recently, Juno completed Perijove 29 and some of the photos were posted by “Software Engineer, planetary and climate data wrangler, and science data visualization artist” Kevin Gill.
Kevin has an absolutely astonishing Flickr page where he posts images he’s processed from Juno as well as other missions like Saturn’s Cassini and the HiRISE camera orbiting Mars on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Okay. And finally, why you came here: Behold Juno’s Perijove 29 processed by Kevin Gill (You can click each image to see their full size).
JunoCam isn’t really part of Juno’s primary scientific mission. But the camera does provide a key function – allowing Juno to bring us along for the journey.
Which I think is truly spectacular. Sometimes astrophotography is thought more of as art than science.
But as an astrophotographer myself, I believe these images inspire future scientists, general awareness of ongoing scientific missions, and hopefully public support for the funding of science. Speaking of which, what has our science discovered about our giantest of giant worlds?
One of the greatest mysteries of Jupiter is what lies at its heart. Juno helped settle an ongoing debate in the planetary science community about how Jupiter formed.
There were two possibilities: The first is that Jupiter began as a rocky world – a core about 10 times the mass of Earth. The gravity of this core drew in surrounding hydrogen and helium until the Jupiter we know of was formed – that original rocky world buried beneath the churning maelstrom.
The second possibility is that eddies in the rotating protoplanetary disk of our early solar system collapsed on themselves and Jupiter formed from them directly with no rocky core. Both theories describe different conditions at the start of our solar system. Juno revealed something stranger, not a solid core, but a “fuzzy” or “diluted” core.
It appears that Jupiter did form from a rocky body, but rather than that core being situated at the centre of the planet, its is spread throughout the interior of Jupiter.
The core’s dilution is likely the result of a massive planet-sized impact with Jupiter that shattered the initial core and spread it through half of Jupiter’s diameter.
Imagine being present for an event like that – Jupiter swallowing a would-be planet in our solar system we’ve never known. History of our place in space revealed.
We’ve also learned that Jupiter’s winds dive deep below the outer clouds, that the Great Red Spot is hundreds of kilometers deep, and we’ve seen giant cyclones at Jupiter’s North and South Poles that could swallow a country.
Jupiter is presently the brightest object in the night sky after sunset. If you have clear skies and can see it, look South!
Remember, that bright point is a giant world hundreds the times the size of Earth, millions of kilometers away, and yet potentially one of the key factors in your existence. By Jove, that’s amazing.
NASA Astronaut Will Vote From Space – KCCU
On Election Day, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will be more than 200 miles above her nearest polling place. But she’s still planning to vote — from space.
“It’s critical to participate in our democracy,” Rubins told the Associated Press. “We consider it an honor to be able to vote from space.”
Rubins, who has a Ph.D. in cancer biology from Stanford and was the first person to sequence DNA in space, is currently training for her upcoming six-month mission on the International Space Station.
Voting from the space station is similar to voting absentee from anyplace on the planet — except instead of relying on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the ballot, Rubins will get hers forwarded electronically from Mission Control in Houston.
“Using a set of unique credentials sent to each of them by e-mail, astronauts can access their ballots, cast their votes, and downlink them back down to Earth,” the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum explained in 2018.
The ballot is then sent to the county clerk for tabulation.
American astronauts have been able to cast ballots from above for over two decades now, ever since a Texas lawmaker learned that astronaut John Blaha couldn’t vote in the 1996 presidential race between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. At the time, Blaha was serving on Russia’s Mir Space Station, a predecessor to the ISS.
“He expressed a little bit disappointment in not being able to do that,” Republican State Senator Mike Jackson told NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce in 2008.
Voting from space had never really been an issue before then, because NASA astronauts typically spent no more than about two weeks on shuttle missions. But with the advent of the space station, Americans were sometimes on missions for months at a time.
So a new law was born. “I can attest to how important one person’s vote is because my first election I won by seven votes out of over 26,000,” Jackson said.
Texas lawmakers approved the measure in 1997, and then-Gov. George W. Bush signed it into law. That same year, astronaut David Wolf became the first American to “vote while you float,” as NASA cheekily put it.
“I voted alone up in space, very alone, the only English speaker up there, and it was nice to have an English ballot, something from America,” Wolf told The Atlantic in 2016. “It made me feel closer to the Earth and like the people of Earth actually cared about me up there.”
Most NASA astronauts live in Houston, so since that Texas law was passed, several astronauts have been able to cast ballots from above. This isn’t even the first time Rubins has exercised her orbital privilege; she also voted in the 2016 presidential election from the space station — listing her address as “low-Earth orbit.”
“I think it’s really important for everybody to vote,” Rubins said. “If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too.”
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
Estee Lauder Pays NASA $128000 for Photo Shoot in Space – BNN
(Bloomberg) — Estee Lauder Cos. is sending its newest skincare formula into space, and it’ll cost only about as much as paying a big influencer for a few Instagram posts.
The U.S. cosmetics giant is spending $128,000 for NASA to fly 10 bottles of its skin serum to the International Space Station. Once there, astronauts will take pictures of Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair in the cupola control tower, which has panoramic views of the cosmos. The images will be used on social media, with the company planning to auction one bottle off for charity when the items return to Earth this spring.
The global recession, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, has pushed brands to get more creative with their advertising because consumers are cutting back. Within beauty, several companies are spending less on traditional ads, while looking for new ways to break through the glut of content out there. In a press release, Estee Lauder highlighted it being the “first beauty brand to go into space” as a means to tout its “skincare innovation.”
The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket that will transport the skin serum as part of a supply run is scheduled to launch on Tuesday night from Wallops Island, Virginia. The Cygnus cargo craft will then dock on the space station early Saturday.
Estee Lauder’s push into micro-gravity is part of NASA’s effort to commercialize low-earth orbit and make it a domain where private enterprise eventually does business as routinely as the government conducts spacewalks. Companies from Goodyear Tire & Rubber to Merck & Co have used space for research, and NASA is hoping to expand its use, including private citizens visiting the space station.
“We need to expand people’s perspective on what we can accomplish in space,” said Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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