Two SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets have completed back-to-back Starlink launches less than 24 hours apart, successfully delivering 106 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO).
Originally scheduled just a handful of hours apart, slight delays eventually saw Starlink 4-13 and Starlink 4-15 settle on 6:07 pm EDT, May 13th and 4:40 pm EDT, May 14th, respectively. Entering the final stretch, launch preparations went smoothly and both Falcon 9 rockets ultimately lifted off without a hitch.
The series began with Starlink 4-13 on Friday. SpaceX chose Falcon 9 B1063 to support the Starlink launch and the booster did its job well, wrapping up its fifth launch since November 2020 with a rare landing aboard drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY). Since SpaceX permanently transferred OCISLY from the East Coast to the West Coast in mid-2021, the drone ship has only supported five booster recoveries. Save for an unusual East Coast Starlink launch in May 2021, Falcon 9 B1061 has also primarily been tasked with supporting SpaceX’s West Coast launch manifest. With only one older pad – Vandenberg Space Force Base’s (VSFB) SLC-4 complex – available to SpaceX, the company’s West Coast Falcon launches are also considerably rarer than its East Coast missions.
SpaceX has also taken to using the pad – which is in an optimal location to launch satellites that orbit Earth’s poles – to launch several batches of Starlink satellites into more ordinary equatorial orbits, essentially augmenting the capabilities of its two Florida launch sites.
Starlink 4-13 and 4-15 were more or less identical, in that regard; both launched 53 Starlink V1.5 satellites into LEO to continue filling out the fourth of five Starlink orbital ‘shells’ that will make up SpaceX’s first licensed constellation. Since SpaceX began Plane 4 (or Group 4) launches in November 2021, the company has now completed 15 missions that carried a total of 860 Starlink V1.5 satellites into orbit. Excluding a solar storm-related fluke that destroyed almost an entire launch worth of satellites, all but 8 remain operational in orbit. According to astronomer Jonathan McDowell’s independent tracking, about 300 Group 4 Starlink satellites have reached operational orbits, while another 500 or so are either raising their orbits or waiting for the right moment to do so.
As of May 2022, the first shell or ‘group’ of SpaceX’s first Starlink constellation has about 1500 operational Starlink satellites of a nominal 1584. If all working Group 4 satellites currently in orbit become operational, SpaceX has another ~770 satellites or 15 launches to go to complete the shell (17 to finish Shell 1 and Shell 4). If SpaceX maintains its current six-month launch cadence of one Starlink mission every ~11 days, SpaceX’s first Starlink constellation could have around 3400 working satellites in orbit and be more than three-quarters complete by the end of 2022.
SpaceX, by all appearances, fully intends to push its vehicles and workforce to the absolute limits in 2022 in a bid to complete as many as 60 orbital launches. To launch Starlink 4-15, for example, SpaceX made an unprecedented decision to debut a brand new Falcon 9 booster on the internal mission, demonstrating just how fully its customers have embraced reusability and how much the company wants to expand its fleet of Falcon 9 boosters as quickly as possible.
Following Starlink 4-13 and 4-15, SpaceX has completed 20 launches in the first 19 weeks of 2022 and has another two launches scheduled in the last two weeks of May.
Astronaut study reveals effects of space travel on human bones – Euronews
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON – A study of bone loss in 17 astronauts who flew aboard the International Space Station is providing a fuller understanding of the effects of space travel on the human body and steps that can mitigate it, crucial knowledge ahead of potential ambitious future missions.
The research amassed new data on bone loss in astronauts caused by the microgravity conditions of space and the degree to which bone mineral density can be regained on Earth. It involved 14 male and three female astronauts, average age 47, whose missions ranged from four to seven months in space, with an average of about 5-1/2 months.
A year after returning to Earth, the astronauts on average exhibited 2.1% reduced bone mineral density at the tibia – one of the bones of the lower leg – and 1.3% reduced bone strength. Nine did not recover bone mineral density after the space flight, experiencing permanent loss.
“We know that astronauts lose bone on long-duration spaceflight. What’s novel about this study is that we followed astronauts for one year after their space travel to understand if and how bone recovers,” said University of Calgary professor Leigh Gabel, an exercise scientist who was the lead author of the research published this week in the journal Scientific Reports https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-13461-1.
“Astronauts experienced significant bone loss during six-month spaceflights – loss that we would expect to see in older adults over two decades on Earth, and they only recovered about half of that loss after one year back on Earth,” Gabel said.
The bone loss occurs because bones that typically would be weight-bearing on Earth do not carry weight in space. Space agencies are going to need to improve countermeasures – exercise regimes and nutrition – to help prevent bone loss, Gabel said.
“During spaceflight, fine bone structures thin, and eventually some of the bone rods disconnect from one another. Once the astronaut comes back to Earth, the remaining bone connections can thicken and strengthen, but the ones that disconnected in space can’t be rebuilt, so the astronaut’s overall bone structure permanently changes,” Gabel said.
The study’s astronauts flew on the space station in the past seven years. The study did not give their nationalities but they were from the U.S. space agency NASA, Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Space travel poses various challenges to the human body – key concerns for space agencies as they plan new explorations. For instance, NASA is aiming to send astronauts back to the moon, a mission now planned for 2025 at the earliest. That could be a prelude to future astronaut missions to Mars or a longer-term presence on the lunar surface.
“Microgravity affects a lot of body systems, muscle and bone being among them,” Gabel said.
“The cardiovascular system also experiences many changes. Without gravity pulling blood towards our feet, astronauts experience a fluid shift that causes more blood to pool in the upper body. This can affect the cardiovascular system and vision.
“Radiation is also a large health concern for astronauts as the further they travel from Earth the greater exposure to the sun’s radiation and increased cancer risk,” Gabel said.
The study showed that longer space missions resulted both in more bone loss and a lower likelihood of recovering bone afterward. In-flight exercise – resistance training on the space station – proved important for preventing muscle and bone loss. Astronauts who performed more deadlifts compared to what they usually did on Earth were found to be more likely to recover bone after the mission.
“There is a lot we still do not know regarding how microgravity affects human health, particularly on space missions longer than six months, and on the long-term health consequences,” Gabel said. “We really hope that bone loss eventually plateaus on longer missions, that people will stop losing bone, but we don’t know.”
Understanding Plants Is Key to Finding a Cure for Cancer – SciTechDaily
If scientists can fully understand plant growth, they might be able to find a cancer cure
In order to increase agricultural yields, it is important to understand how plants process light. Plants use light to determine when to grow and bloom. Plants find light using proteins called photoreceptors. However, understanding plants have impacts in fields other than agriculture. Ullas Pedmale, an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), and his colleagues have discovered how the proteins UBP12 and UBP13 regulate the activity of a CRY2 photoreceptor. Their finding could make new growth-control strategies apparent, with potential implications well beyond agriculture.
There are CRY photoreceptors in both plants and people. They are connected to a number of conditions including diabetes, cancer, and several brain disorders. CRY2 helps in regulating growth in both people and plants. Uncontrolled development in plants reduces their viability, whereas it causes cancer in humans. “If we understand growth,” Pedmale says, “we can cure cancer.”
Plants need the right amount of CRY2 to know when to grow and flower. Pedmale and former postdoctoral fellow Louise Lindbäck discovered that manipulating UBP12 and UBP13 can change the amount of CRY2 in plants. They found that increasing UBP12 and UBP13 reduces CRY2 levels. This made plants think there wasn’t enough light. In response, they grew longer, abnormal stems to reach more. Pedmale says:
“We have a way to understand growth here—and we could manipulate growth just by manipulating two proteins. We have found a way we can actually increase flower output. You need flowering for food. If there’s no flower, there is no grain, no rice, no wheat, no maize.”
Pedmale and Lindbäck didn’t know exactly how UBP12 and UBP13 regulated CRY2. When the researchers took a closer look, they made a surprising discovery. In humans and other organisms, versions of UBP12 and UBP13 protect CRY photoreceptors from degradation. But in plants, the team saw the opposite. UBP12 and UBP13 were actually helping degrade CRY2 instead. Lindbäck, who is currently a research and developmental engineer at Nordic Biomarker in Sweden, explains:
“From literature, it’s known that if you find an interaction like this, it will protect from degradation. Initially, we saw the opposite, and we thought, ‘okay, maybe I did something wrong,’ but then when I did it a few times, we realized, ‘okay, this is true.’ Instead of protecting CRY2, it causes CRY2 to degrade.”
Pedmale hopes their discovery will help plant researchers and plant breeders improve crop yields. He also hopes his work helps inform cancer research. “My colleagues at CSHL are working hard trying to understand cancer,” he says. “We are coming at it from a different angle with plants.”
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Reference: “UBP12 and UBP13 deubiquitinases destabilize the CRY2 blue light receptor to regulate Arabidopsis growth” by Louise N. Lindbäck, Yuzhao Hu, Amanda Ackermann, Oliver Artz and Ullas V. Pedmale, 13 June 2022, Current Biology.
Rocket Lab's Lunar Photon Completes Sixth Orbit Raise for NASA's CAPSTONE Mission to The Moon – Parabolic Arc – Parabolic Arc
LONG BEACH, Calif. (Rocket Lab PR) — Rocket Lab USA, Inc. (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, today confirmed its Photon Lunar spacecraft successfully completed a sixth on-orbit burn of the HyperCurie engine, bringing the CAPSTONE satellite closer to the Moon. Lunar Photon’s apogee – the point at which the spacecraft is farthest from Earth during its orbit – is now 43,297 miles (69,680 km).
This sixth burn was originally scheduled to be two burns, but Rocket Lab’s space systems team determined the HyperCurie engine would be capable of performing a single maneuver to accomplish the same delta-v, so combined the two.
The next and final burn is designed to set CAPSTONE on a ballistic lunar transfer trajectory to the Moon travelling at 24,500 mph (39,400 km/h) to break free of Earth’s orbit. This final maneuver is currently scheduled to take place as early as July 4th. After separating from Lunar Photon, CAPSTONE will use its own propulsion and the Sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon, a four-month journey that will have CAPSTONE arriving to its lunar orbit on Nov. 13.
Designed and built Terran Orbital, and owned and operated by Advanced Space on behalf of NASA, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) satellite will be the first spacecraft to test the Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. This is the same orbit intended for NASA’s Gateway, a multipurpose Moon-orbiting station that will provide essential support for long-term astronaut lunar missions as part of the Artemis program. CAPSTONE was successfully launched to space on Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle on June 28.
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