CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX just launched the first of four planned Falcon 9 rocket launches this month, with its workhorse rocket carrying a stack of 48 Starlink satellites and two BlackSky Earth observation satellites into orbit, before sticking a booster landing at sea.
The previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 6:12 p.m. EST (2312 GMT), marking this particular booster’s ninth flight.
“The Falcon has landed,” SpaceX representatives said on the live broadcast. “You can hear the cheer and applause and there’s the visual; this first stage booster has landed a total of nine times.”
The successful liftoff marked the second upgraded batch of Starlink satellites to launch from Florida on one of its 229-foot-tall (70 meters) workhorse Falcon 9 rockets in six months. (SpaceX also launched a Starlink mission from its California-based launch pad in September.)
The company set a rapid launch pace earlier this year but briefly paused for a few months to upgrade its own broadband internet satellites, which are now equipped with laser-based systems to communicate with each other in orbit, and less with the ground, the company has said.
About nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, touching down on SpaceX’s drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” for a successful upright landing. The ship is the newest member of SpaceX’s recovery fleet, bringing the total number of mobile landing platforms up to three. It resides in Port Canaveral, supporting East Coast launches alongside its counterpart “Just Read the Instructions.” (The company’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” is currently based in California, catching rockets that return to Earth off the coast of California.)
SpaceX officials said that due to the delays with its most recent crew launch to the International Space Station, Just Read the Instructions was forced to stay out at sea, braving waves ranging from 20 feet to 25 feet (6 to 8 m) high. Although the drone ships are designed to withstand those wave heights, the teams opted to switch out the ships (and the crew) so teams would be fresh for both launches.
SpaceX’s Starlink megaconstellation is designed to provide high-speed internet coverage to users around the world below, particularly those in remote and rural areas that do not have access to traditional internet connections.
To date, SpaceX has launched almost 1,900 flat-paneled broadband satellites, with just under 900 launched in 2021 alone. The company has approval for 30,000 more satellites, with the option for as many as 42,000.
Today’s flight is the third batch of the company’s recently upgraded Starlink internet satellites, with a stack of 48 Starlink satellites sharing a ride with two Earth-observing satellites for BlackSky. The two BlackSky satellites successfully separated from the rocket’s upper stage about an hour after liftoff, and the 48 Starlink satellites separated about a half-hour later, the company confirmed during a live broadcast of the launch and on Twitter.
This mission marks the second rideshare mission for BlackSky, and the two optical satellites onboard each weigh approximately 121 pounds (55 kilograms). They will join eight others to help fill out BlackSky’s planned constellation. A total of 12 satellites will eventually make up the company’s planned constellation with two additional satellites scheduled to launch on an upcoming Rocket Lab mission.
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A reused rocket
The Falcon 9 rocket on today’s launch, called B1060, is a flight-proven booster that has now flown nine times. It made its debut in June 2020, carrying an upgraded GPS satellite into space for the U.S. Space Force. Its other payloads have included another rideshare mission called Transporter-2, a communication satellite for Turkey and five additional Starlink missions.
The flight marked the 27th launch of 2021 for SpaceX and the 32nd dedicated Starlink launch for the company’s burgeoning constellation. It also marks the 130th overall flight of a Falcon 9 rocket, and the 115th from Florida.
Along with the rocket’s first stage, SpaceX also recycled the clamshell-like protective hardware that encases the payload. Called a payload fairing (or nose cone), the two pieces account for one-tenth of the rocket’s cost SpaceX officials have said. Each piece fetches $3 million, so reusing them helps keep down costs.
Equipped with navigation software and parachutes, the fairings will gently splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean where they will be retrieved by one of SpaceX’s recovery vessels to be refurbished for a future flight.
Tonight’s SpaceX launch is the first of a global launch doubleheader. Just over 24 hours later, at 7:23 p.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 3 (0023 Dec. 4 GMT), an Arianespace Soyuz rocket will carry two new Galileo navigation satellites into space from French Guiana. The satellites are the European counterpart to the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites we use here in the U.S.
That launch was delayed 24 hours due to an issue with a tracking station downrange of the launch, Arianespace officials said on Twitter.
Tonight’s Falcon 9 launch marks the first of five launches planned to lift off from Florida in December. The next mission, scheduled for Sunday morning (Dec. 5), features a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying a mix of payloads for the U.S. Space Force. One such payload features a new laser communication system for NASA called the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration.
Also on deck is NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission, scheduled for Dec. 9; a communications satellite for Turkey (Turksat 5B), scheduled for Dec. 18, and finally a cargo resupply mission which is slated to carry cargo to the International Space Station on Dec. 21.
Astronauts may need to jump in space to fight bone loss – Space.com
When astronauts spend extended periods of time in space, many surprising and sometimes harmful changes can occur in their bodies. Unfortunately, there aren’t always ways to avoid or mitigate these effects.
One such health concern is a loss in bone density and bone strength due to the effects of microgravity and, to a lesser extent, radiation exposure. A NASA-funded study in 2009 found that astronauts’ bone strength decreased by at least 14% on average during a six-month stay in space. Other studies have found much higher rates of bone loss.
But a new study suggests that astronauts and mission planners could employ an effective weapon in the fight against bone-density loss: jumping and other forms of high-impact exercise.
Out of the 17 astronauts who participated in the new study (opens in new tab), which was published online Thursday (June 30) in the journal Scientific Reports, only eight regained full bone mass density one year after returning from flight. Bone density loss was found to be much higher in astronauts who flew on missions longer than six months.
But the researchers also found that astronauts who engaged in resistance-based training while in space were able to recover bone mineral density after they returned. The authors thus propose adding “jumping resistance-based exercise that provides high-impact dynamic loads on the legs” to astronauts’ existing exercise routines to prevent bone loss and promote bone growth while on spaceflight missions.
“Jumping provides short bouts of high-impact, dynamic loads that promote osteogenesis [bone growth],” the researchers wrote, while adding that “neither running, cycling, squats, nor heel raise volume were associated with bone recovery.” Adding jumping exercise routines to astronauts’ existing exercise regimens may prevent bone loss and actually reduce the amount of exercise time needed each day, the authors suggest.
Of course, any new jumping regimen would require specialized equipment, and space is always limited aboard any spaceflight. “Successful implementation of high-load jump-training on-orbit will require an exercise device that mitigates forces transferred to the vehicle, along with an exercise regimen that accounts for astronaut deconditioning,” the researchers wrote in the new study. The authors acknowledge that since living quarters are typically cramped aboard spaceflights, “exercise equipment will need to be optimized for a smaller footprint.”
Obviously, a study size of 17 astronauts isn’t exactly conclusive, and the authors note that much more data is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn regarding the effects of resistance training on astronaut bone loss.
Astronauts already engage in regular exercise while in space to combat the effects of microgravity, and scientists have already tried feeding astronauts genetically modified vegetables to help stimulate bone growth and fish oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids to help mitigate bone breakdown. With bone loss still plaguing astronauts on long flights, there is still a need for more methods to mitigate it.
'Permanent bone loss': Calgary study finds astronauts suffer on return to Earth – Cochrane Today
CALGARY — The experience may be out-of-this-world but research indicates those who travel to outer space suffer from increased bone loss.
A study released Thursday from the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary followed 17 astronauts before and after their spaceflights.
The TBone study, conducted over a seven-year period starting in 2015, found that prolonged weightlessness accelerated bone loss in the astronauts.
“You see on average they lose about two decades of bone. We found that weight-bearing bones only partially recovered in most astronauts one year after spaceflight,” said Dr. Leigh Gabel, an assistant professor in the faculty of kinesiology and lead author of the study.
“After a year of recovery, they tend to regain about half of that. This suggests the permanent bone loss due to spaceflight is about the same as a decade worth of age-related bone loss on Earth.”
The researchers travelled to Johnson Space Center in Houston to scan the wrists and ankles of the astronauts before they left for space, on their return to Earth, after six months and then one year.
The findings, published in Scientific Reports, said the loss happens because bones that would normally be weight-bearing on Earth, such as the legs, don’t have to carry weight in a zero-gravity setting.
“We’ve seen astronauts who had trouble walking due to weakness and lack of balance after returning from spaceflight to others who cheerfully rode their bike on Johnson Space Center campus to meet us for a study visit,” said Dr. Steven Boyd, director of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health and professor in the Cumming School of Medicine.
“There is quite a variety of response among astronauts when they return to Earth.”
Boyd said new scanning technology has made a world of difference.
“We’re using new technology that can measure the fine details of the bone that are even finer than a human hair in terms of resolution. We can see detail there that wasn’t possible to see before in these astronauts.”
The study found some astronauts who flew on shorter missions — under six months — recovered more bone strength and density in the lower body compared to those who flew for longer durations.
The study’s next iteration plans to look at the effects of even longer trips to support astronauts who may one day travel beyond the International Space Station.
“NASA’s really interested in understanding if longer-term spaceflight could lead to even further bone loss, which would not be very good for the astronaut,” said Boyd.
“The next phase is to do a study that would incorporate crew members who spend a year on the International Space Station, which will give us some more insight on whether you lose even more bone after that one year period.”
The University of Calgary’s former chancellor and astronaut, Robert Thirsk, said he knows how difficult it can be to be back on solid ground.
“Just as the body must adapt to spaceflight at the start of a mission, it must also readapt back to Earth’s gravity field at the end,” he said.
“Fatigue, light-headedness and imbalance were immediate challenges for me on my return. Bones and muscles take the longest to recover following spaceflight. But within a day of landing, I felt comfortable again as an Earthling.”
The study was funded by the Canadian Space Agency in partnership with the European Space Agency, NASA and astronauts from North America, Europe, and Asia.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
James Webb Space Telescope's powers will be revealed in just weeks and scientists can't wait – Space.com
BALTIMORE — The James Webb Space Telescope’s first images are coming soon and scientists can’t wait for us to see them.
On Wednesday (June 29), NASA held a media day at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore in advance of the release of the first science-quality images from the James Webb Space Telescope, which will occur during a live event on July 12. NASA scientists and administrators gave updates on the telescope, discussed Webb’s planned science during its first year in operation and hinted at the contents of some of Webb’s first official images.
“In a real sense, we’re sort of the first users of the observatory and using it for what it’s built for,” Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at STScI, said during the news conference. “We recognize that we’re standing on the shoulders of all the scientists and engineers who’ve worked hard for the past six months to make this possible.”
Although NASA has already released a few images taken while aligning Webb, the images released on July 12 will be from a fully operational observatory, in full color, and they will show what each of the instruments on the telescope can contribute to science.
These first images will include a deep-field image peering farther into the past than ever before, scientists said during the briefing. NASA will also release Webb’s first spectroscopic data — precise data on the type of light that Webb detects that will allow scientists to learn more about the ingredients of distant cosmic objects. This data will include Webb’s first spectrum of an exoplanet, scientists said. While the images will be visually spectacular, the new information they reveal using Webb’s infrared-observing powers will distinguish them from images taken by other telescopes.
“The real difference is the new scientific information and then really opening up the longer wavelengths, infrared wavelengths in a way that we’ve really never seen before,” Jonathon Gardner, deputy senior project scientist for Webb, said during the news conference.
Each of the four instruments on Webb, including its main camera, two near-infrared spectrographs and a mid-infrared camera and spectrograph, will contribute to notable research in its first year of operation. They will collect data at nearly every scale and timescale, from our solar system today to the birth of our universe. Though scientists can detect radiation from near the beginning of our universe, no telescope has ever been able to detect light from some of the universe’s first stars and galaxies. Webb will be the first such observatory.
“The initial goal for this mission was to see the first stars and galaxies,” Eric Smith, Webb program scientist at NASA, said during the news conference. “Not the first light of the universe, but to watch the universe turn the lights on for the first time.”
Although Webb is already a remarkable feat, its first images represent the start of hopefully decades of science. Webb scientists said they have confirmed that the telescope has enough fuel to carry out science for the next 20 years. Data collected during these years could redefine how we understand our universe.
“This is really only the beginning,” Pontoppidan said. “We’re only scratching the surface.”
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