Red, purple and green streamers of the aurora borealis dazzled viewers in North America on Friday and were seen much farther south than normal, with people in California, Arizona and Texas reporting they could see it, according to AccuWeather, Inc. Typically, the spectacular display is only visible in northern locales like Alaska, North Dakota, Canada and Iceland.
SpaceX launches 60 new Starlink internet satellites into orbit, misses rocket landing – Space.com
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.
Video: Watch SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch 60 Starlink satellites
Related: SpaceX’s Starlink satellite megaconstellation in photos
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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.
Related: See the evolution of SpaceX’s rockets in pictures
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.
Solar Storm That Caused Dazzling Auroral Display Could Linger
A coronal mass ejection, an explosion of magnetic fields and plasma from the sun’s atmosphere, hit Earth early Friday with more force than initially forecast. These events can disrupt Earth’s magnetic field causing auroral displays, as well as disrupting satellites, communication and electric grids.
Read more: A Swedish Resort Lets You See the Northern Lights From Your Room
The US Space Weather Prediction Center had originally expected a G2 level storm Friday on its five-step scale, the event measured in at G4, one of the strongest triggered on Earth since 2017.
The impacts from the coronal mass ejection have trailed off, but energy coming from what scientists call a “coronal hole” will continue at least through Saturday and that could mean the aurora could be seen by viewers across Europe, Asia and North America through Sunday, the UK Met Office said on its website.
There are currently eight sunspot clusters visible on the side of the sun facing Earth, however another coronal mass ejection blasting toward us isn’t forecast, the UK Met Office said.
An airplane-sized asteroid will pass between the Earth and moon’s orbits Saturday
An asteroid dubbed “city killer” for its size will pass harmlessly between the moon and the Earth Saturday evening.
The asteroid 2023 DZ2 will pass at a distance of over 100,000 miles, less than half the distance between the Earth and the moon. It’s about 160 feet long — about the size of an airliner. An asteroid that size could cause significant damage if it hit a populated area, hence its nickname.
“While close approaches are a regular occurrence, one by an asteroid of this size (140-310 ft) happens only about once per decade, providing a unique opportunity for science,” NASA Asteroid Watch tweeted.
Astronomers from the International Asteroid Warning Network, established about 10 years ago to coordinate international responses to potential near-Earth object impact threats, will be monitoring and learning from this asteroid.
NASA Asteroid Watch called the opportunity “good practice” in case “a potential asteroid threat were ever discovered.”
Near-Earth objects are asteroids or comets that pass close to the Earth’s orbit, and they generally come from objects that are affected by other planets’ gravity, moving them into orbits that push them close to Earth, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.
The European Space Agency maintains a risk list of 1,460 objects, which catalogs every object with a non-zero chance of hitting Earth over the next 100 years. Asteroid 2023 DZ2, which is in orbit around the sun, is not on the risk list.
Large asteroid to zoom between Earth and Moon
On Saturday, the 2023DZ2 will come within a third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
A large asteroid will safely zoom between Earth and the Moon on Saturday, a once-in-a-decade event that will be used as a training exercise for planetary defence efforts, according to the European Space Agency.
The asteroid, named 2023 DZ2, is estimated to be 40 to 70 metres (130 to 230 feet) wide, roughly the size of the Parthenon, and big enough to wipe out a large city if it hit our planet.
At 19:49 GMT on Saturday, it will come within a third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon, said Richard Moissl, the head of the ESA’s planetary defence office.
Though that is “very close”, there is nothing to worry about, he told AFP news agency.
Small asteroids fly past every day, but one of this size coming so close to Earth only happens about once every 10 years, he added.
The asteroid will pass 175,000km (109,000 miles) from Earth at a speed of 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,400 miles per hour). The Moon is roughly 385,000km (239,228 miles) away.
An observatory in La Palma, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, first spotted the asteroid on February 27.
Last week, the United Nations-endorsed International Asteroid Warning Network decided it would take advantage of the close look, carrying out a “rapid characterisation” of 2023 DZ2, Moissl said. That means astronomers around the world will analyse the asteroid with a range of instruments such as spectrometers and radars.
The goal is to find out just how much we can learn about such an asteroid in only a week, Moissl said. It will also serve as training for how the network “would react to a threat” possibly heading our way in the future, he added.
The asteroid will again swing past Earth in 2026, but poses no threat of impact for at least the next 100 years – which is how far out its trajectory has been calculated.
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