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SpaceX just test fired the Falcon 9 rocket for its astronaut launch for NASA – Space.com

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket test fires its first-stage engines briefly atop Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Nov. 14, 2020. The rocket will launch the Crew-1 astronaut mission for NASA on Nov. 14. (Image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX just fired up the rocket that will ferry it’s next crew of astronauts to the International Space Station this weekend. 

The private spaceflight company conducted a static-fire test on Wednesday (Nov. 11) of its Falcon 9 rocket at Pad 39A here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The test is one of the last major milestones ahead of a planned launch on Saturday (Nov. 14).

The routine preflight test kicked off the countdown to the highly-anticipated flight of the company’s first operational mission of its Dragon crew capsule, called Crew-1. The spacecraft is bound for the International Space Station, carrying with it three NASA astronauts and one Japanese spaceflyer. 

The test, which was originally scheduled for Tuesday evening (Nov. 10), was pushed back 24 hours so SpaceX could test and replace a purge valve in the rocket’s second stage. 

Live updates: SpaceX’s Crew-1 astronaut launch for NASA
In photos: SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station  

On Wednesday afternoon, the Falcon 9 rocket roared to life, as smoke billowed from its engines during the preflight test. The brief ignition, known as a static-fire test, is a standard part of prelaunch procedures and one of the last major milestones before liftoff.

During the test, the Falcon 9 is held down on the pad while its nine first-stage engines are briefly fired. This allows crews to ensure that all systems are working properly and that the rocket is ready to fly. Shortly after the test, SpaceX tweeted that the static-fire test was a success and that the company planned to launch on Saturday at 7:49 p.m. EST (0049 GMT on Sunday Nov. 15).

The flight marks SpaceX’s 21st mission of the year and the 1st long-duration mission to launch from Florida. The rocket’s first stage is expected to land back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station approximately 9 minutes after liftoff. If everything goes according to plan, the crew capsule will spend just 8.5-hours trailing the space station before arriving at the orbital outpost early Sunday (Nov. 15).

Both the Dragon capsule and its launcher are brand new for this mission. Following the success of the Demo-2 mission, which launched two NASA astronauts to the space station in May for a two-month stay, NASA has given SpaceX permission to reuse both the crew capsule and the rocket on future missions. In fact, the Crew-2 mission set to launch next year will reuse the Dragon capsule from Demo-2 and the booster from the Crew-1 mission. 

Keeping with the precedent set by the Demo-2 mission, the rocket’s shiny first stage exterior has been adorned with NASA’s iconic worm logo. 

With the Dragon capsule perched atop the rocket, the duo rolled out of the hangar and onto the launch pad at complex 39A on Monday evening (Nov. 9). Standing 256.3 feet (78.1 meters) tall, the pair were lifted upright overnight.

Related: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space capsule explained (infographic) 

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket are pictured in the hangar at Launch Complex 39A, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ahead of the planned launch of the Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station. (Image credit: SpaceX/Twitter)

Secured to the launch pad, teams loaded the rocket with super-chilled propellants — kerosene and liquid oxygen — and then briefly ignited the first stage’s nine Merlin 1D engines.

The engines briefly fired at 3:52 p.m. EST (2052 GMT), generating 1.7 million pounds of thrust while the booster remained firmly on the ground. Engineers reviewed the data before deciding to proceed with the Falcon 9’s planned launch attempt Saturday evening. 

“Static fire of Falcon 9 complete — targeting Saturday, November 14 at 7:49 p.m. EST for launch of Crew Dragon’s first operational mission to the space station with four astronauts on board,” SpaceX tweeted shortly after the test. 

The company also said that teams will continue to monitor weather conditions for liftoff and along the flight path closely leading up to launch. 

The static fire test comes on the heels of a hardware swap. Originally slated for Oct. 31, the Crew-1 flight was pushed back two weeks to allow SpaceX time to replace one of the booster’s nine Merlin 1D engines on its first stage. 

Last month, SpaceX attempted to launch an upgraded GPS satellite when it noticed an engine anomaly. The rocket’s on board computer triggered an abort and the mission was indefinitely postponed while teams worked to troubleshoot the issue. 

A thorough investigation revealed that residual masking lacquer leftover from the manufacturing process prevented the engines from performing as expected. SpaceX changed out two engines on that rocket and the GPS mission was able to get off the ground on Nov. 5. 

SpaceX also took the time to examine two other boosters and determined that the same traces of lacquer were detected in engines on two other Falcon 9 first stages — one on the rocket that will launch the Sentinel-6 Earth-observation satellite and one on the Crew-1 booster. SpaceX then swapped out the affected engines.

With a successful static fire test now under its belt, the rocket is ready to fly. Following the launch on Saturday night, SpaceX plans to land its first-stage booster on one of its two massive drone ships, “Just Read the Instructions,” which is stationed out in the Atlantic. If successful, this would mark the 65th booster recovery. 

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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China successfully lands spacecraft on moon, prepares to collect lunar rocks – CBC.ca

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China successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon’s surface on Tuesday in a historic mission to retrieve lunar surface samples, Chinese state media reported.

China launched its Chang’e-5 probe on Nov. 24. The uncrewed mission, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, aims to collect lunar material to help scientists learn more about the moon’s origins.

The mission will attempt to collect two kilograms of samples in a previously unvisited area in a massive lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms.”

If the mission is completed as planned, it would make China the third nation to have retrieved lunar samples after the United States and the Soviet Union.

The lander vehicle that touched down on the moon’s surface was one of several spacecraft deployed by the Chang’e-5 probe.

Upon landing, the lander vehicle is supposed to drill into the ground with a robotic arm, then transfer its soil and rock samples to an ascender vehicle that would lift off and dock with an orbiting module.

State broadcaster CCTV said it would start collecting samples on the lunar surface in the next two days. The samples would be transferred to a return capsule for the trip back to Earth, landing in China’s Inner Mongolia region.

China made its first lunar landing in 2013. In January last year, the Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first space probe from any nation to do so. 

China says the lander-ascender of its Chang’e-5 probe separated from the orbiter-returner and landed on the moon to collect samples, as this animated video shows. 1:03

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China's sample-return Moon mission touches down – BBC News

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.css-1ecljvk-StyledFigureCopyrightposition:absolute;bottom:0;right:0;background:#3F3F42;color:#EEEEEE;padding:0.25rem 0.5rem;text-transform:uppercase;CNSA

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.css-14iz86j-BoldTextfont-weight:bold;China has successfully put another probe on the Moon.

Its robotic .css-yidnqd-InlineLink:linkcolor:#3F3F42;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visitedcolor:#696969;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visitedfont-weight:bolder;border-bottom:1px solid #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focusborder-bottom-color:currentcolor;border-bottom-width:2px;color:#B80000;@supports (text-underline-offset:0.25em).css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visitedborder-bottom:none;-webkit-text-decoration:underline #BABABA;text-decoration:underline #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-underline-offset:0.25em;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus-webkit-text-decoration-color:currentcolor;text-decoration-color:currentcolor;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:2px;text-decoration-thickness:2px;color:#B80000;Chang’e-5 mission touched down a short while ago with the aim of collecting samples of rock and dust to bring back to Earth.

The venture has targeted Mons Rümker, a high volcanic complex in a nearside region known as Oceanus Procellarum.

The lander is expected to spend the next couple of days examining its surroundings and gathering up surface materials.

It has a number of instruments to facilitate this, including a camera, spectrometer, radar, a scoop and a drill.

The intention is to package about 2kg of “soil”, or regolith, to send up to an orbiting vehicle that can then transport the samples to Earth.

It’s 44 years since this was last achieved. That was the Soviet Luna 24 mission, which picked up just under 200g.

Unlike the launch of the mission a week ago, the landing was not covered live by Chinese TV channels.

Only after the touchdown was confirmed did they break into their programming to relay the news.

Images taken on the descent were quickly released with the final frame showing one of the probe’s legs casting a shadow on to the dusty lunar surface.

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The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

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Moon graphic

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Presentational white space

The 8.2-tonne Chang’e-5 spacecraft “stack” was launched from the Wenchang spaceport in southern China on 24 November (local time). It arrived above the Moon at the weekend and then set about circularising its orbit before splitting in two.

One half – a service vehicle and return module – stayed in orbit, while a lander-ascender segment was prepared for a touchdown attempt.

Chinese authorities say this lander-ascender element put down on the Moon’s surface at about 15:15 GMT (23:15 China Standard Time), after a 15-minute automated descent, controlled by the thrust of a 7,500-newton engine.

It follows China’s two previous Moon landings – Chang’e-3 in 2013 and Chang’e-4 last year. Both of these earlier missions incorporated a static lander and small rover.

A total of just under 400kg of rock and soil were retrieved by American Apollo astronauts and the Soviets’ robotic Luna programme – the vast majority of these materials coming back with the crewed missions.

But all these samples were very old – more than three billion years in age. The Mons Rümker materials, on the other hand, promise to be no more than 1.2 or 1.3 billion years old. And this should provide additional insights on the geological history of the Moon.

The samples will also allow scientists to more precisely calibrate the “chronometer” they use to age surfaces on the inner Solar System planets.

This is done by counting craters (the more craters, the older the surface), but it depends on having some definitive dating at a number of locations, and the Apollo and Soviet samples were key to this. Chang’e-5 would offer a further data point.

Reports from China suggest the effort to retrieve surface samples may last no longer than a couple of days. Any retrieved materials will be blasted back into orbit on the ascent portion of the landing mechanism, and then transferred across to the service vehicle and placed in the return module.

The orbiter will shepherd the return module to the Earth’s vicinity, jettisoning it to make an atmospheric entry and landing in the Siziwang Banner grasslands of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. This is where China’s astronauts also return to Earth.

“Chang’e-5 is a very complex mission,” commented Dr James Carpenter, exploration science coordinator for human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency.

“I think it’s extremely impressive what they’re trying to do. And what I think is fascinating is you see this very systematic, step by step approach to increasing their exploration capabilities – from the early Chang’e missions to this latest one.”

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Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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Alphabet"s UK subsidiary DeepMind makes breakthrough protein shape discovery – Proactive Investors USA & Canada

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DeepMind, a London-based subsidiary of Google’s owner Alphabet Inc, has been praised by the global scientific community after solving a 50-year-old challenge in biology. 

Its artificial intelligence system AlphaFold has figured out what shapes proteins fold into, the so-called ‘folding problem’. 

It is a major scientific breakthrough because it allows to better understand what a protein does and how it works, since its shape is closely correlated with its function. 

Proteins are the ‘building blocks of life’ because they underpin the biological processes in every living thing. 

There are currently around 200mln known proteins and another 30mln is found every year.  

Each of them has their own shape and it is often expensive and time-consuming to find their 3D composition, so we know only a fraction of the millions known to science. 

Proteins are made of amino acids, which make the protein to fold when they interact, meaning there are nearly infinite possibilities for shapes. 

AlphaFold was trained on the sequences and structures of 100,000+ proteins mapped out by scientists around the world and can now predict a protein’s shape based on the sequence of amino acids. 

As a result, scientists worldwide will have extra help in finding solutions, such as developing treatments for diseases or finding enzymes that break down industrial waste, because of the key role of proteins.  

The system was officially recognised as a solution to the issue by the biennial Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction, a community created in 1994 by scientists that were looking to solve the protein folding problem. 

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