CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a new batch of 60 Starlink internet satellites into orbit late Monday (Feb. 15), but failed to stick its landing on a floating platform at sea.
The two-stage Falcon 9 booster, topped with the 60 broadband spacecraft, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 10:59 p.m. EST (0359 GMT on Feb. 16). Approximately nine minutes later, the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth to attempt its sixth landing on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean,” but missed its target.
“It does look like we did not land our booster on Of Course I Still Love You tonight,” SpaceX manufacturing engineer Jessica Anderson said during live launch commentary. “It is unfortunate that we did not recover this booster but our second stage is still on a nominal trajectory.”
SpaceX prefers to recover its Falcon 9 rocket stages for reuse, but the company has also said repeatedly that delivering a flight’s payload to orbit is always the primary mission.
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One of SpaceX’s frequent fliers powered this latest Starlink mission into orbit. The booster, dubbed B1059, previously ferried two different SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station — CRS-19 in Dec. 2019 and CRS-20 in March of 2020 — a Starlink mission last June, an Earth-observing satellite for Argentina (SAOCOM-1B in August 2020), and a spy satellite for the U.S government as part of the NROL-108 mission in December.
Tonight’s launch was the first of two planned Starlink liftoffs within a week; another 60 satellites are scheduled to take flight early as Wednesday (Feb. 17) on a different Falcon 9. The quick succession is due to the fact that SpaceX recently had to shuffle around its planned Starlink missions as both weather and hardware-related issues presented a bit of a challenge.
This mission, dubbed Starlink 19, moved forward after SpaceX’s 18th Starlink mission blasted off on Feb. 4. Both flights leapfrogged Starlink 17, which was originally slated to launch on Feb. 1. Scheduled to fly on one of SpaceX’s two record-setting frequent fliers, B1049, the mission was delayed several times and is now expected to blast off just after midnight on Feb. 17.
During the initial mission planning, SpaceX targeted launching two Starlink missions just hours apart — a first for the space coast since 1966 when a Gemini rocket was followed by an Atlas Agena just 99 minutes later. Ultimately the dual missions did not happen, but in an unprecedented move for the era of commercial spaceflight, the Eastern Range (the agency that oversees launches along the East Coast) approved two missions to launch in quick succession.
This is a feat we may see happen at a later date, especially as more launch providers become active and more and more launches blast off from Florida. Last year, there were a record 31 launches for the year, and 2021 could be even busier as the 45th Space Wing is preparing for at least 40 missions.
Double the launches
Originally slated to launch on Sunday night, SpaceX had to stand down due to poor weather at the launch site. Thunder storms rolled across Florida this past weekend, preventing the flight from taking off.
Conditions improved Monday and the Falcon 9 was able to fly, marking the fifth launch of the year for SpaceX and enabling the company to look forward to its next mission. Another stack of Starlink satellites is set to blast off from SpaceX’s other Florida launch site at Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here.
The mission was also the 108th flight overall for SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9. It would have marked the 75th rocket landing for the company if the Falcon 9 had stuck its touchdown.
To recover its returning boosters, SpaceX uses two massive floating landing platforms — “Of Course I Still Love You” and “Just Read the Instructions” — in addition to its landing pads, which allow the company to launch (and land) more rockets. Typically the drone ships see most of the action as it takes more fuel reserves to land back in land than it does to land at sea.
The version of Falcon 9 we see today, is a souped-up version of its predecessors, capable of flying multiple times with only minor refurbishments in between. That’s due to a series of upgrades Falcon 9 received in 2018 — including a more robust thermal protection system, titanium grid fins and a more durable interstage — which facilitate reuse.
As such, this fleet of more capable rockets has allowed SpaceX to fly more missions. The company launched a record 26 times in 2020, with 22 of those flights on veteran rockets.
The company aims to surpass that record in 2021, as it hopes to launch at least 40 rockets between its California and Florida launch facilities.
Building a megaconstellation
With tonight’s launch success, SpaceX now has more than 1,000 Starlink satellites into orbit. And there are many more launches coming; SpaceX’s initial Starlink constellation will consist of 1,440 satellites, and the company has sought approval for tens of thousands more.
The company launched its massive constellation, which outnumber any other constellation currently in orbit, with an overarching goal of connecting the globe.
To that end, SpaceX designed a fleet of flat paneled broadband satellites that will fly over the Earth, providing users across the globe with internet coverage.
Tonight’s flight comes just days after SpaceX began offering preorders to the public. Last week, the company opened up its website to potential customers on a first-come, first-serve basis while the company is conducting an extensive international and domestic beta-testing phase.
Prospective users can order equipment and sign up for the service, which could take six months or more to become available, according to the website.
SpaceX began its “better than nothing” beta testing phase in 2020, as the company let its employees put the burgeoning satellite service through its paces.
Company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said there would need to be at between 500-800 Starlink satellites in orbit before coverage could start to roll out. Once that milestone was achieved, the company started testing its new service.
Early reports from employees indicated that the service worked, and even enabled streaming of multiple high definition programs at the same time. Soon after, SpaceX invited users to start testing its service, while continuing to launch more and more satellites.
The company was granted permission to start rolling out its service to users in the U.K. earlier this year, and even snagged its first Canadian customer last December.
The Pikangikum First Nation was able to use the service to connect its members, and provide access to education programs as well as telemedicine and more.
SpaceX’s very big year: Astronaut launches, Starship tests & more
GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief, SpaceX’s two net-equipped boats are also stationed out in the Atlantic. The dynamic duo will recover the rocket’s nose cone (otherwise known as a payload fairing), after the two pieces fall back to Earth.
Equipped with navigation software and special parachutes, the two halves of the protective shell will guide themselves back to Earth, and most likely be scooped out of the water after splashdown.
Occasionally SpaceX does catch the falling fairings in mid air, but that’s dependent upon winds and weather. Recovery efforts are typically announced by SpaceX 45 minutes after liftoff.
Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
Some Of This Year's Official Hurricane Names Are Inspired By Frozen Characters – 915thebeat.com
The official start date of hurricane season is three months away as meteorologists expect a particularly active period this year when three of the anticipated massive storms will be named after Disney characters. The World Meteorological Organization’s list of names for hurricanes in both the Atlantic and Pacific basins includes Olaf, Elsa, and Ana – three characters from Frozen. The film was released in 2013, and the characters’ names were initially placed on the list of hurricane names by the WMO in 2015. This year, the WMO and National Hurricane Center is recycling the list from 2015, as is custom every six years. Names of hurricanes that are unusually destructive are retired and never to be used again.
For Hurricane name information, visit: NOAA (You will be redirected)
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This Tourism Ad for Mars Wraps With a Bleak Jolt of Reality – Muse by Clio
Created by Fred & Farid Los Angeles, the ad begins with an aspirational voiceover: “After more than 5 million years of human existence on Earth, it’s time for a change. Mars: 56 million square miles of untouched land, breathtaking landscapes and incredible views.” You have to look at it from a certain angle—the opposite of Elon’s, really—to feel the irony in its premise.
It ends with a forbidding statement: “And for the 99 percent who will stay on Earth … we’d better fix climate change.”
Ah, the catch: All these promises of adventure, and escape from our existential woes, will likely be reserved for the few who can afford it. (Unless you’re into the whole indentured servitude thing … and hey, if you’ve still got school loans, what’s a couple million more before you die?)
“We wanted to highlight pure nonsense,” said Fridays for Future. “Government-funded space programs and the world’s ultra-wealthy 1 percent are laser focused on Mars … and yet most humans will never get a chance to visit or live on Mars. This is not due to a lack of resources, but the fact that our global systems don’t care about us and refuse to take equitable action.”
To drive that point home, the organization points out that NASA’s Perseverance Rover cost $2.7 billion for development, launch, operations and analysis. While we’re hard-pressed to begrudge NASA a budget at the worst of times, it’s hard to look at that figure and think about the fact that we still haven’t figured out recycling.
The ad went live on Feb. 18, the day Perseverance landed on Mars. Contrast this date with another one, just a smidge down the road: Elon Musk is “highly confident” that SpaceX will get people there by 2026. (Though if that projection is anything like his Tesla ones, feel free to add 5-10 years to that with confidence.)
This marks Fred & Farid LA’s third collaboration with Fridays For Future. It follows “House on Fire” and “If You Don’t Believe in Global Warming, How About Local Warming?” The hope, in this case, is that some bleak sci-fi will finally be what motivates people to action.
Tell that to Greta Thunberg.
On the other hand, if you’d like some actual sci-fi with a spin on what happens to everybody on Earth when all the Well-Heeled People leave, we recommend N.K. Jemisin’s Emergency Skin. (Bonus points: Buy it at a Black-owned bookstore. Thanks to Oprah, you can find one by state.) It’s short and surprisingly optimistic—so optimistic that we actually worry the most exploitative wealthyfolk will instead choose to stay, which in our minds seems increasingly likely.
More images of Mars, Perseverance rover's exciting work to happen in coming weeks: NASA's Indo-American engineer – EdexLive
Vishnu Sridhar, a 27-year-old Indian-American lead system engineer with NASA’s Perseverance rover, has said that the most exciting work on the awe-inspiring Mars mission will happen in the coming weeks.
Sridhar, who is from Queens, New York, is a lead system engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California for SuperCam on the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which is on a mission to search for signs of past life on the Red Planet.
He said some of the rover’s most exciting work will be done in the coming weeks.
“We’re going to be taking more images of Mars, we’re going to be shooting lasers with the SuperCam instrument, we’re going to be recording audio with our microphone, and eventually, soon in near future, we are going to deploy our helicopter, and do the first powered flight on Mars,” Sridhar told ABC7 channel.
SuperCam is a remote-sensing instrument that will use laser spectroscopy to analyse the chemical composition of rocks on the Martian surface.
It analyses terrain that the rover cannot reach. It is an instrument designed to scan rocks and mineralsfrom up to 20 feet awayto determine their chemical makeup. The Perseverance rover was launched on July 30 last year and successfully landed on Mars on February 18 this year.
The rover, the SuperCam, and its other devices together will help scientists search for clues of past life on Mars. Its predecessor Curiosity is still functioning eight years after landing on Mars.
The two-year Perseverance mission is NASA’s latest and most advanced mission to find evidence of past life on Mars.
Sridhar said it was important that the mission was happening despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“NASA missions are clearly trying to explore and answer the basic question.
Perseverance is also trying to seek that, and eventually answer the question that was there life on Mars, was there life outside Earth, and it was definitely a tough period for us during COVID-19 and for everyone else around the globe,” he said.
“And that’s why I love the name of Perseverance because we persevered through the pandemic and there was a paradigm shift, we learned a lot about how to do engineering remotely.
And we went through all that we learned and now we are successful on Mars and it’s a great achievement for humankind,” he said.
Sridhar’s time at JPL over the past five years has been dedicated to Mars and is currently the instrument engineer for SuperCam on the Mars 2020 Rover.
“Summer 2019 was when instruments came in from France and Los Alamos and when we physically integrated SuperCam with the Perseverance rover.
That’s something I will cherish for the rest of my life, to have touched and worked on a piece of hardware that’s on its way to Mars, he reminisced.
The US space agency on Monday released the first audio from Mars, a faint recording of a gust of wind captured by the Perseverance rover.
Perseverance will attempt to collect 30 rock and soil samples in sealed tubes to be sent back to Earth sometime in the 2030s for lab analysis.
The rover is only the fifth to set its wheels down on Mars.
The feat was first accomplished in 1997, and all of them have been American.
The US is aiming for an eventual human mission to the planet, though planning remains preliminary.
Sridhar attended Aviation High School in Queens and grew up in Rego Park.
He graduated in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech and has always been fascinated by flight and space exploration.
One of the key events that sparked my interest in space and exploration was watching National Geographic.
The Carl Sagan TV show Cosmos, he said.
According to his NASA profile page, while in elementary school he wanted to become a National Geographic photographer and travel the world.
Indian-American woman scientist Swati Mohan had also played a key role in NASA Mars rover landing.
Mohan, who leads the guidance, navigation, and control operations of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, was the first to confirm that the rover had successfully touched down on the Martian surface.
“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking signs of past life,” Mohan announced, prompting her colleagues at NASA to fist-bump and break into celebrations.
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