CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX will launch another big batch of Starlink satellites into orbit for the company’s burgeoning megaconstellation today (Sept. 17), and you can watch the action live online.
The California-based company is scheduled to loft 60 Starlink internet satellites on its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than 2:19 p.m. EDT (1819 GMT).
Today’s flight, referred to as Starlink 12 by SpaceX, is actually the 13th big batch of satellites the company has shot into space. However, the company has been systematically de-orbiting its initial batch of 60 satellites that were launched in May 2019. That’s because SpaceX always meant for that initial bunch to be a test series. Thus far, 26 of the original satellites have been deorbited, eight are in decaying orbits, and 26 are operational.
SpaceX hopes to provide high-speed internet access to users around the world through the Starlink megaconstellation. By using a small terminal (no larger than a laptop), users on the ground will be able to connect to the ever-growing network. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said that the company needs to launch between 500 and 800 satellites in order to begin rolling out service.
To date, SpaceX has launched more than 700 of the internet-beaming satellites into orbit, in an effort to fill out its planned initial constellation of 1,440 spacecraft. SpaceX has already begun speed-testing its space-based internet service, and the initial data looks promising. Company engineers have said that data collected so far indicates that the service will provide fast download speeds, allowing users to stream multiple HD movies at the same time.
The Starlink broadband internet is in a private beta-testing phase now, but it will be available for the public to start beta-testing later this year, SpaceX representatives have said.
Today’s launch marks the 94st flight overall for SpaceX’s workhorse two-stage Falcon 9 rocket. The liftoff is expected to feature a veteran Falcon 9 first stage, designated B1051, that has five flights under its belt. This frequent flyer previously launched three separate Starlink flights, as well as a trio of Earth-observing satellites for Canada and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on Demo-1, an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station in March 2019.
Flying previously flown boosters has become commonplace for SpaceX, as the company continues to prove the Falcon 9’s reliability. Today’s launch will mark the second time one of the company’s fleet of veteran boosters will attempt to launch and land for the sixth time.
SpaceX is both the launch provider as well as the customer for its Starlink missions, and as such has kept up a rapid launch pace this summer, relying heavily on its fleet of flight-proven boosters. In fact, this mission marks the 17th flight of 2020 for SpaceX, with Falcon 9 earning the title of most-flown American rocket earlier this year — a superlative it snagged from a chief competitor, United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V.
To date, SpaceX has successfully landed its first-stage boosters 60 times. Now that the company has two fully operational drone-ship landing platforms — “Of Course I Still Love You” and “Just Read the Instructions” — in Florida, it’s able to launch (and land) more rockets. The newer drone ship on the block, “Just Read the Instructions,” is already at the recovery zone waiting for its turn to catch B1051 when it returns to Earth this afternoon.
The weather forecast for today looks iffy; officials with the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron are predicting a 60% chance of favorable launch conditions. Temperatures in the area are supposed to be around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) with the potential for cumulus and anvil clouds.
If the mission can’t get off the ground today, there is a backup attempt tomorrow (Sept. 18). However, the weather worsens to just a 40% chance of favorable liftoff conditions, as storms are expected to roll into the area on Friday.
SpaceX will continue its tradition of recovering the Falcon 9’s payload fairing, or nose cone, on today’s flight. The company has already deployed its twin net-equipped boats — called GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief — to snag the fairings as they fall back to Earth in two pieces.
Each piece of the clamshell-like hardware, which cost approximately $6 million combined, is outfitted with software that navigates it to the recovery zone, and a parachute system that lets them gently land in the ocean or the outstretched net of GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief.
One of the pieces of the fairing on this mission has flown twice already, protecting two different Starlink payloads — one in May 2019 and one in March 2020.
Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
NASA eyes Oct 31 SpaceX craft liftoff with Japanese astronaut aboard – Japan Today
Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi and his American peers on Tuesday expressed their readiness and excitement to fly aboard a spacecraft developed by U.S. aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, currently scheduled for liftoff on Oct 31.
“We are ready to fly,” Noguchi told a joint press conference with the crew ahead of what would be the second manned mission for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, while pointing out the diversity of the team members with various experiences and backgrounds as their strength.
The upcoming mission will mark the first in a series of regular, rotational flights to the International Space Station by SpaceX’s new crew transportation system following its certification by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Upon the first launch with astronauts of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in May, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully launch humans into orbit. Two NASA astronauts safely returned in August.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the next Crew-1 mission will be another “critical milestone” in the development of U.S. ability to launch astronauts in American rockets from the country’s soil since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
He also pointed to the significance of having an international crew, namely Noguchi, joining the mission and the importance of sending more astronauts to the ISS, increasing the capacity for scientific research on the orbiting laboratory.
The Crew-1 mission team is scheduled to launch aboard the Crew Dragon capsule, which they named “Resilience,” on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:40 a.m. on Oct. 31, and will stay on the ISS for approximately six months.
The team members are Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover and two mission specialists, Shannon Walker and Noguchi. Glover, a former military test pilot and a rookie astronaut, will reportedly be the first African American to stay on a long-duration mission to the ISS.
Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is a 55-year-old veteran of two space missions, having been aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2005 and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a 161-day stay on the ISS between 2009 and 2010.
Noguchi said he and Walker had a “relatively short” time for preparation as they joined the team around February and March, but that the important thing is all of the members “contribute to this wonderful team.”
“This diversity definitely brings the team’s resilience,” he said.
SpaceX, officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and founded by Tesla Inc. billionaire Elon Musk, is working with NASA to develop a successor to the Space Shuttle transportation system.
NASA has invested in private companies in hopes of creating a safe, reliable and cost-effective means of transporting humans to the ISS and to foster commercial access to space.
Hopkins said at the press conference that he hopes the upcoming mission will mark the start of “opening up low-Earth orbit to more people — to potentially not just NASA astronauts and JAXA astronauts and cosmonauts, but to civilians that are out there.”
Meanwhile, as the liftoff is scheduled just ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, the American crew members said they are planning to cast their ballots from the ISS.
According to Walker, the astronauts will mark their choices on an electronic PDF file and email it to election officials.
NASA's new $30M space toilet is smaller, better smelling and more female-friendly – CBC.ca
Melissa McKinley has spent the last three years helping to build a cutting-edge piece of technology that will make life a lot easier for astronauts on space missions.
NASA’s new $30-million space toilet, the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS), will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) this weekend, where astronauts will test how well it works in micro-gravity.
Designed with astronaut feedback in mind, the new toilet is lighter, smaller, better smelling and more gender-inclusive than the Russian-made toilet currently in use aboard the ISS.
“It’s a fun project to work on because of the technical challenges, and because of the big impact on the crew. Obviously, going to the bathroom is something that the crew has to deal with multiple times a day,” McKinley, a systems project manager at NASA, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.
“We have such a talented and technical team working on this. It has truly been exciting to see the challenges and solutions that this team has come up with.”
How does a space toilet work?
While toilets down here on Earth use water to flush away waste, space toilets use use air flow.
Feces is pulled away from the body and into a cannister for later disposal, while urine is sent to the ship’s recycling system to be converted into drinkable water.
“Obviously, that’s a vital part of the overall systems on board,” McKinley said.
The new toilet improves upon existing technology in a number of ways, and it was designed with the help of astronaut feedback to be more comfortable and easier to use, clean and maintain.
“The project team is focused on doing the best job technically. And in order to do that, you have to have those frank conversations, and they become very, very commonplace,” McKinley said.
“The goal there for our team is to make it so that the crew can focus on other things they need to do during space travel and make this a more comfortable and convenient way for them to deal with these bodily functions.”
One big complaint about the previous toilet design is that it “really wasn’t customized for the female experience,” McKinley said. “So this is a chance to customize it more for the female anatomy and more for their use.”
Current design is divided into two parts, with crew using a funnel and hose for peeing, and a seat for bowel movements. The UWMS is designed so that the funnel and seat can be used simultaneously.
Another major factor is the smell.
Orion capsule engineering lead Jason Hutt, tweeted last month: “If you want to recreate that used spacecraft smell, take a couple dirty diapers, some microwave food wrappers, a used airsickness bag, & a few sweaty towels, put them in an old school metal trash can and let it bake in the summer sun for 10 days. Then open the [lid] & breathe deep.”
That shouldn’t be a problem with the UWMS, McKinley said. The new model comes with an odour bacteria filter.
“It’s been said that the air coming out of the toilet is some of the nicest smelling air on the spacecraft,” she said.
But, perhaps, the most important upgrade is the reduced mass.
The UWMS is 65 per cent smaller and 40 per cent lighter than the toilet currently aboard the ISS — which means more room for the astronauts, and a safer launch.
The toilet was supposed to launch on Tuesday aboard a cargo capsule as part of a routine resupply mission, but was delayed due to weather. NASA now hopes to launch by the weekend.
If all goes well, NASA also plans to install the toilet on Orion for a flight test that will send astronauts on a 10-day mission beyond the Moon and back.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Peterson.
“Toxic or Habitable?” –The Hidden Lakes of Ultima Scopuli at Mars South Pole – The Daily Galaxy –Great Discoveries Channel
One of the myriad of unsolved mysteries about the Red Planet is why why ancient Mars had liquid water. Early in the planet’s history, Mars only received a third of the sunlight of present-day Earth, which shouldn’t be enough heat to maintain water. But in past, ancient millennia, huge rivers flowed across the planet’s surface, when its atmosphere was thicker and warmer, cutting gullies and channels on the silent, desolate landscape, unchanged for millions of years that are visible today to orbiting spacecraft. Scientists have long known that water was abundant on ancient Mars, but there has been no consensus on whether liquid water was common, or whether it was largely frozen in ice.
In 2013, planetary scientists at the European Space Agency released 3D images of the striking upper part of the Reull Vallis region of Mars, which reveal a 1500 kilometer long river running from the Promethei Terra Highlands to the vast Hellas basin. The image data from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft shows that, at some points, the river bed is seven kilometers wide and 300 meters deep. The stereo cameras on board the satellite have also revealed “numerous tributaries” that fed the gigantic river. Today’s low atmospheric pressures on the Red Planet mean that any surface water would boil away. But recent discoveries reveal that water survives not frozen in polar ice caps and in subsurface ice deposits but also in a massive network of ancient buried lakes.
In January of 2020, Caltech astronomers probed a mysterious feature at the South Pole of Mars –a massive deposit of CO2 ice and water ice in alternating strata, like the layers of a cake, shown at the top of the page, that extend to a depth of one kilometer, buried under a thin cover of CO2 ice. This strange feature was preceded in 2018 by discovery of evidence suggesting that far beneath the deeply frozen ice cap at Mars’s south pole lies a lake of liquid water—the first found on the Red Planet. Detected from orbit using ice-penetrating radar of Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS), the finding resembles the interconnected bodies of water buried under several kilometers of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, where a network of 400 lakes have been detected.
MARSIS, an instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, which launched in 2003, beams down pulses of radio waves and listens for reflections. Some of the waves bounce off the surface, but others penetrate up to 3 kilometers and can be reflected by sharp transitions in the buried layers, such as going from ice to rock.
Several years into the mission, MARSIS scientists began to see small, bright echoes under the south polar ice cap—so bright that the reflection could indicate not just rock underlying the ice, but liquid water. The researchers doubted the signal was real, however, because it appeared in some orbital passes but not others.
The spacecraft’s computer was averaging across pixels to reduce the size of large data streams—and in the process, smoothing away the bright anomalies. “We were not seeing the thing that was right under our noses,” says Roberto Orosei, a principal investigator (PI) for MARSIS at the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics in Bologna.
“It’s a very exciting result: the first indication of a briny aquifer on Mars,” said geophysicist David Stillman of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. The findings, if confirmed, would mark the detection of the largest body of liquid water on Mars reported Marina Koren in The Atlantic..
A lake of liquid water surrounded by smaller ponds may be buried under 1400 meters of ice near the south pole of Mars reports Nature. New measurements offer more evidence of its existence, according to Elena Pettinelli at Roma Tre University in Italy and her colleagues who used the MARSIS radar instrument then applied criteria that were used to search for buried lakes in Greenland, –where New research has increased the number of known lakes lurking beneath the ice sheet from just four to a total of 60–to examine an area called Ultima Scopuli near the Red Planet’s south pole.
The researchers spotted a liquid lake measuring about 20-by-30 kilometers, along with at least three smaller ponds, each a few kilometers across. But the resolution of the radar measurements wasn’t high enough to determine their depth.
“It was probably originally a larger, wet area, and this is the remnant of that in smaller ponds,” says Pettinelli. For the water to remain liquid at the frigid temperatures, her team suggests that it is most likely a salty brine.
“There are bacteria that can live in very awkward situations,” says Pettinelli. “In Antarctica, they found bacteria living happily in the water of the underground lakes and between the crystals of the ice, and Antarctica is our closest analogue to Mars.”
Image credit top of page: the ice-capped Martian south pole, pictured here by the Mars Express spacecraft that also carries the MARSIS radar instrument. (ESA/DLR/FU Berlin / Bill Dunford)
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