CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX kicked off what is expected to be another launch-packed year by delivering a Turkish communications satellite to orbit tonight (Jan. 7).
A 230-ft-tall (70 m) Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 9:15 p.m. EST (0215 GMT on Jan. 8), about 45 minutes into a planned four-hour window, carrying the Turksat 5A satellite into space. The brief delay was due to a downrange tracking issue, SpaceX said during its live launch broadcast.
Going into the launch tonight, forecasters at the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Space Wing predicted a 70% chance of favorable conditions for launch, with the main concerns being cumulus and thick clouds, along with upper-level wind shear. These conditions aren’t always ideal for onlookers but can allow interesting acoustics as the roar of the Falcon sounds extra loud.
The two-stage Falcon 9 lit up the night sky as it leapt off the launch pad tonight. The glow of the rocket’s nine first-stage engines turned night into day as the rocket climbed into the clouds hanging over the Space Coast. The rumble of the engines could be heard long after the rocket disappeared from sight.
Tonight’s mission marked the first launch of the year here at the Cape, and 8.5 minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage landed on one of SpaceX’s two massive drone ships, “Just Read the Instructions,” which was stationed out in the Atlantic Ocean.
Today’s flight was the fourth launch for this particular Falcon 9 first stage. The booster, designated B1060, previously lofted an upgraded GPS III satellite for the U.S. Space Force in June 2020, followed by launches of SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites in September and October.
The Falcon 9 went vertical on the pad this morning. SpaceX did not conduct a static fire test of this particular rocket before flight. Typically, the company holds the rocket down on the pad and briefly fires its nine first-stage engines to make sure their systems are working as expected prior to liftoff. It’s rare that SpaceX skips this routine test, but it’s not unheard of. In fact, SpaceX skipped the static fire test on its previous mission as well, which launched a spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office in December.
Powered by more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust from its nine first-stage Merlin 1D engines, the Falcon 9 deposited the 7,700-lb. (3,500 kilograms) Turksat 5A satellite into orbit about 33 minutes after liftoff. The spacecraft is designed to operate for approximately 15 years, providing broadband coverage to Turkey, the Middle East, Europe and portions of Africa.
SpaceX will also launch the spacecraft’s counterpart, Turksat 5B, later this year. The Turksats are part of an effort to expand Turkey’s presence in space, which hasn’t been without controversy. In October, activists began pressuring SpaceX to stop the Turksat 5A launch. They protested outside SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, citing Turkey’s role in a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan as the reason the mission shouldn’t fly. Their attempt was unsuccessful.
About 8.5 minutes after Falcon 9 leapt off the pad, the rocket’s first stage landed on the drone ship, marking the third successful launch and landing for this particular booster. The landing also marked the 71st successful touchdown for a returning SpaceX booster overall and the 21st in a row. (In 2019, SpaceX lost two first-stage boosters in back-to-back missions as the vehicles failed to hit their mark.)
Expanding Turkey’s space presence
Built by Airbus, the Turksat 5A spacecraft separated from the Falcon’s upper stage approximately 30 minutes after liftoff. From its orbital perch, more than 22,000 miles (36,00 kilometers) above Earth, the satellite will beam down broadband coverage, thanks to its 42 Ku-band transponders.
It will take the satellite nearly four months to reach its final altitude. Turksat 5A will make the trek using its onboard plasma thrusters, which rely on electrical energy from the spacecraft’s solar panels rather than traditional fuel. These thrusters are more energy efficient but produce less thrust, so it takes a bit longer to reach its orbital parking spot.
“We are very pleased to welcome Turksat as a new Eurostar customer for the most powerful satellites of their fleet. We were the first to demonstrate full electric propulsion technology for satellites of this size and capacity, and this will enable the Turksat spacecraft to be launched in the most cost-efficient manner,” Nicolas Chamussy, head of space systems at Airbus, said in a company statement.
Turksat 5B, which is slated to launch later this year, is a bit heavier than its predecessor. Weighing in at more than 9,000 lbs. (4,500 kg), the satellite will operate in both the Ku and Ka bands, providing more than 50 gigabits per second of capacity, according to Airbus. That satellite is expected to enter service later this year, if all goes as planned.
Stick it to the drone ship
The Turksat 5A mission is SpaceX’s 50th reflight of a Falcon 9 since the company recovered a booster for the first time in 2015.
To stick the landing, the booster separated from its upper stage and conducted a series of orbital ballet moves, to reorient itself for landing. Then it performed a series of three engine burns to slow itself enough to gently touch down on its designated landing spot, the deck of “Just Read the Instructions.”
To facilitate reuse, SpaceX employs two massive drone ships, the second of which is named “Of Course I Still Love You.” The floating platforms are stationed in the Atlantic prior to launches from the Space Coast and return to Port Canaveral with the booster in tow following a successful catch. These two vessels have enabled SpaceX to launch and subsequently land more rockets.
“Of Course I Still Love You” is now receiving some TLC after a busy year last year. In total OCISLY has caught 40 returning boosters, 13 of which landed in 2020. The ship will soon return to service, ready to catch many more boosters with SpaceX’s busy schedule for this year.
“Just Read the Instructions” received its own upgrades and renovations at the beginning of 2020.
The current iteration of the Falcon 9 debuted in 2018. Known as the Block 5, it features 1.7 million pounds of first-stage thrust as well as some other upgrades that make it capable of rapid reuse. According to SpaceX, each of these first-stage boosters can fly as many as 10 times with minor refurbishments in between, and potentially as many as 100 times before retirement.
To date, SpaceX has launched and landed the same booster a maximum of seven times. So far we have yet to see one fly 10 times, but that could happen this year.
Company founder and CEO Elon Musk has said that he wants his rockets to help facilitate access to space, and the Block 5 Falcon 9 was created to do that. Thanks to the launcher’s capabilities, it has enabled smaller countries and organizations to reach space through dedicated missions and “rideshares.”
With this flight, Turkey has become the latest country to take advantage of that opportunity. A little over two years ago, Bangladesh sent its first-ever communications satellite into space atop a SpaceX rocket; last July, South Korea launched its first dedicated military satellite from Florida’s Space Coast; and in 2018, Israel launched a spacecraft to the moon as part of a rideshare mission. These are just a few examples of the growing number of countries and entities that are reaching for the stars thanks to reduced launch costs.
Ahead of today’s launch, SpaceX deployed its dynamic duo — GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief — in an effort to fetch the two falling pieces of the Falcon 9’s payload fairing, or nose cone.
Ms. Tree had been working solo for the final few missions of 2020, getting an assist from a boat named GO Navigator.
Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief serve as giant, mobile catcher’s mitts, snagging payload fairings in their attached nets as they fall back down to Earth. (The boats are also capable of retrieving fairing halves rom the water after they splash down.)
Each fairing piece is equipped with parachutes and special software to guide itself to a predetermined recovery zone where the boats are waiting with their outstretched nets.
Once returned to port, the fairings are refurbished and used again. Typically, SpaceX flies used fairing pieces on its own Starlink missions, but the company has been branching out and using more reused hardware on all its missions. In December, the company flew a veteran fairing on its Sirius XM-7 mission, the first external mission to feature a refurbished shroud.
Today’s mission marks the beginning of a busy launch year for the Cape. More than 40 missions are on the schedule, with SpaceX hoping to launch 40 rockets this year between its California and Florida launch sites.
Those launches include two astronaut missions to the International Space Station, more Starlink flights, and one liftoff of SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy.
Up next for SpaceX is the Transporter-1 mission, which is slated to transport 72 small satellites along with four additional payloads into space as part of SpaceX’s latest rideshare endeavor. Transporter-1’s liftoff is scheduled for no earlier than Jan. 14.
Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
NASA Test of Mega Moon Rocket Engines Cut Short Unexpectedly – Gadgets 360
NASA’s deep space exploration rocket built by Boeing briefly ignited all four engines of its behemoth core stage for the first time on Saturday, cutting short a crucial test to advance a years-delayed US government programme to return humans to the moon in the next few years.
Mounted in a test facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the Space Launch System’s (SLS) 212-foot tall core stage roared to life at 4:27pm local time (3:57am IST) for just over a minute — well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket’s first launch in November this year.
“Today was a good day,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a press conference after the test, adding “we got lots of data that we’re going to be able to sort through” to determine if a do-over is needed and whether a November 2021 debut launch date is still possible.
The engine test, the last leg of NASA’s nearly year-long “Green Run” test campaign, was a vital step for the space agency and its top SLS contractor Boeing before a debut unmanned launch later this year under NASA’s Artemis programme, the Trump administration’s push to return US astronauts to the moon by 2024.
It was unclear whether Boeing and NASA would have to repeat the test, a prospect that could push the debut launch into 2022. NASA’s SLS program manager John Honeycutt, cautioning the data review from the test is ongoing, told reporters the turnaround time for another hot fire test could be roughly one month.
To simulate internal conditions of a real liftoff, the rocket’s four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines ignited for roughly one minute and 15 seconds, generating 1.6 million pounds of thrust and consuming 700,000 gallons of propellants on NASA’s largest test stand, a massive facility towering 35 stories tall.
The expendable super heavy-lift SLS is three years behind schedule and nearly $3 billion (roughly Rs. 22,000 crores) over budget. Critics have long argued for NASA to retire the rocket’s shuttle-era core technologies, which have launch costs of $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,300 crores) or more per mission, in favor of newer commercial alternatives that promise lower costs.
By comparison, it costs as little as $90 million to fly the massive but less powerful Falcon Heavy rocket designed and manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and some $350 million (roughly Rs. 2,600 crores) per launch for United Launch Alliance’s legacy Delta IV Heavy.
While newer, more reusable rockets from both companies – SpaceX’s Starship and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan – promise heavier lift capacity than the Falcon Heavy or Delta IV Heavy potentially at lower cost, SLS backers argue it would take two or more launches on those rockets to launch what the SLS could carry in a single mission.
Reuters reported in October that President-elect Joe Biden’s space advisers aim to delay Trump’s 2024 goal, casting fresh doubts on the long-term fate of SLS just as SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin scramble to bring rival new heavy-lift capacity to market.
NASA and Boeing engineers have stayed on a ten-month schedule for the Green Run “despite having significant adversity this year,” Boeing’s SLS manager John Shannon told reporters this week, citing five tropical storms and a hurricane that hit Stennis, as well as a three-month closure after some engineers tested positive for the coronavirus in March.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
Mars Needs Minerals: Researchers Are Trying to Turn the Red Planet Green – IGN – IGN
It can take seven months – or more – to get to Mars. NASA can send supplies to the International Space Station if need be, but the same isn’t true of the distant planet. Instead, astronauts spending any time on Mars will have to rely on what’s known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) – using what’s around to replace objects brought from Earth. That includes food, which will eventually have to be grown there, to support any long-term residents. Instead of hauling bags of fertilizer in the spacecraft, researchers are trying to figure out how to make do with what’s on the ground, that is, Martian soil.
Thanks to NASA’s rovers and landers, scientists know about the pH and mineral makeup of the planet’s soil, which is known as regolith. Mars gets its red color from the oxidation of its rocks, regolith, and dust. Below the dust is the crust, which contains iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and more elements, according to NASA. But their presence isn’t enough to ensure plants can thrive there. The nutrients may not exist in a usable, or bioavailable, form. The levels of some may be toxic.
Cosmos: Possible Worlds Gallery
Some studies have shown it’s theoretically possible to grow plants in replicated Martian soil, but there aren’t big enough samples of actual Martian regolith to be certain. Since there’s no way to do farming trials on Mars itself, scientists try to replicate conditions on Earth. Researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology recently tried to grow Arabidopsis thaliana, a weed, and Lactuca sativa, lettuce, in a trio of Martian Regolith Simulants. These simulants are mixtures of artificial and natural materials that mimic the basalt-like Martian surface. The scientists found that neither plant in the synthetic soil without the addition of supplemental nutrients.
“These findings underscore that ISRU food solutions are likely at a lower technological readiness level than previously thought,” the researchers wrote in the study, which will be published in Icarus. For example, it’s a mistake to assume the regolith is uniform over the entire planet. “Our strategy was, rather than saying this simulant grows plants so that means we can grow plants everywhere on Mars, we need to say that Mars is a diverse planet,” ocean engineering and marine sciences associate professor Andrew Palmer told Florida Tech News.
In another new study, also published in Icarus, researchers break down the preparation of five new types of Mars simulants. Laura Fackrell, a doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia in Athens, and her colleagues created the mixtures specifically formulated with characteristics of Martian regolith that might make it difficult to grow plants. TThe soil might have high salinity or a low level of organic matter. Such conditions might require future Mars residents to add other minerals and components to their gardens before planting. “Specific types of bacteria and fungi are known to be beneficial for plants and may be able to support them under stress conditions like we see on Mars,” Fackrell told TNW.
To test the mock Mars dirt, Fackrell tried growing several plants, including a moth bean. They hold up better with less water than other options she tried, “But they’re not necessarily super healthy,” Fackrell told Science News.
It will be years before humans reach Mars, but in the meantime, research into growing plants in difficult environments could translate to Earth, where temperatures are rising. Fackrell studied microbes that live in hot springs. “Anything we learn about farming on Mars could help with farming in challenging environments on Earth that help us build to a sustainable future,” she told Florida Tech News.
Open Windows May Reduce COVID-19 Risk In Cars: Study – Jalopnik
COVID-19 has completely changed the face of travel as we know it, with massively reduced numbers of people taking flights and public transportation—but our cars have remained a mystery. How safe are we in our vehicles? What are our risks?
A study published by Science Advances in early January has begun to answer some of our most pressing questions about COVID-19 transmission in our vehicles. Four scientists from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Brown University used computational fluid dynamics to evaluate the risks posed by the virus within a vehicle’s cabin and have also suggested ways to mitigate risk.
If you’re familiar with the design process of a race car or airplane, then you’ve likely encountered computational fluid dynamics before. Essentially, these computer simulations model how gases and liquids move over and through different surfaces. In this particular case, our scientists used CFD to model the way air moves inside a car.
The simulated vehicle used in the study was loosely based on a Toyota Prius traveling at 50 mph carrying two passengers: a driver in the front left of the car and a passenger in the back right. Interestingly, the air flow outside the moving car creates a pressure gradient inside the car that causes air to circulate from the back of the car to the front. Then, they started modeling the interior air flow with different combinations of the windows being open or closed. It’s important to note here that, no matter the combination, the air conditioning was on.
The results probably aren’t going to be surprising. When all four windows were closed, the car was at its most poorly ventilated, so eight to 10 percent of aerosols—on which COVID-19 travels—exhaled by one person in the car traveled to the other. When all the windows were open, the car was at its best ventilated, with just 0.2 to two percent of aerosols swapping between passengers.
Of course, wide open windows aren’t always practical when you’re driving. Up north, you’ll freeze in the winter. Down south, someone with a delicate constitution will melt in the summer. A heavy rain will make things twice as miserable. So, having both the driver and the passenger roll down their windows was found to be better than keeping everything shut tight. That diagonal configuration allows air to flow in and then right back out. It might not be comfortable, but it could save lives.
A later study that hasn’t yet been published found that cracking windows halfway was also a good idea, but only rolling them a quarter of the way down was significantly more dangerous, the New York Times reports. For larger vehicles like minivans or for vehicles transporting more people, the recommendation is to keep everything open.
Opening windows has been recommended since the onset of the virus. The increased ventilation allows virus particles to be whisked away rather than recirculated. And we also know that the smaller the space we share, the more likely we are to swap aerosol particles. This study basically just used science to give us the ideal strategy for, say, rideshares or short jaunts outside your bubble.
Of course, there are still dangers, even when opening your windows. In fact, driving with your windows open increases in-car air pollution by 80 percent, which thus increases your likelihood of dying as a result of air pollution.
The very best option is, of course, to stay home unless absolutely necessary and, when traveling, to do so in off-peak hours.
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