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SpaceX will trigger an intentional rocket failure to prove crew capsule's safety – Spaceflight Now



Illustration of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket during the company’s uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This demonstration test of Crew Dragon’s launch escape capabilities is designed to provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

SpaceX will sacrifice a Falcon 9 rocket Sunday in a fiery test a minute-and-a-half after liftoff from Florida’s Space Coast to prove the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft can safely push astronauts away from a failing launch vehicle, simulating a daring maneuver that would only be attempted on a piloted mission during an in-flight emergency.

The launch escape demonstration could be a spectacle for local residents, rocket fans and enthusiasts along the Space Coast, assuming clear skies and good visibility, according to SpaceX.

While the Crew Dragon capsule — flying without astronauts on Sunday’s test — fires away from the top of the Falcon 9 rocket, the booster itself is expected to tumble and break apart, possibly in a fireball visible from the ground.

The purpose of the test — the final planned demonstration of a full-scale Crew Dragon before NASA astronauts fly it int orbit — is to validate the ship’s launch escape system. Abort rockets mounted around the circumference of the capsule would activate to rapidly carry the spaceship and its astronaut crew away from an emergency during launch on a Falcon 9 rocket, such as a booster failure or explosion.

“On launch day (with crews), we’re really hoping for it not to be exciting,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program. “I will tell you (Sunday) will be an exciting day. We are purposely failing a launch vehicle to make sure that our abort system on the spacecraft that we’ll be flying for our crews works.”

The Crew Dragon’s eight liquid-fueled SuperDraco escape engines will ignite around 84 seconds after liftoff on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A, soon after the point in the launch sequence where the booster and capsule experience the most extreme aerodynamic pressures.

The abort thrusters will generate nearly 130,000 pounds of thrust, pushing the gumdrop-shaped crew capsule away from the top of the Falcon 9 with an acceleration of up to to 4Gs.

The six-hour test window opens at 8 a.m. EST (1300 GMT) Sunday. SpaceX called off a launch attempt early Saturday due to concerns about rough seas in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida, where the Crew Dragon splash down under parachutes around 10 minutes after launch from pad 39A the Kennedy Space Center.

“What will happen, basically, is we’ll initiate launch escape, and the Falcon engines will shut down,” said Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management. “So the thrust of the Falcon will shut down right after that happens.”

The abort burn should happen as the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon are flying at an altitude of roughly 62,000 feet (19 kilometers) and traveling nearly twice the speed of sound.

“Dragon, at the same time, will be getting away,” Reed said. “It takes about 10 seconds for a SuperDraco burn on the Dragon. Dragon will hit about Mach 2.3 as its getting away. We expect it to be actually quite far away from falcon at the acceleration its going before anything starts to happen on Falcon … That’s a very quick process.”

The sudden separation of the Dragon spacecraft from top of the rocket, coupled with the loss of thrust from the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines, will likely cause the launcher to begin tumbling in the upper atmosphere.

“The Dragon will have left, so the top end of the second stage is now basically a big air scoop, so you’ve got all this air pushing against it, huge amounts of force pushing against it, and it’s also cut thrust, so its no longer pushing up in a trajectory,” Reed said. “It’s going to be a lot more susceptible to the winds and starting to fall as it loses its velocity and starts to tumble.

“At some point, we expect that the Falcon will start to break up,” Reed said. “Both stages are loaded with fuel because we want have the right mass, and test the right (way), so with those both stages loaded with fuel, we do expect there will probably be some amount of ignition, flame. We’ll see something. On a clear day, possibly from the ground you could see it.”

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The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket launching the Crew Dragon on Sunday’s abort test is designated B1046. It’s set to fly for the fourth and final time, and was the first upgraded Falcon 9 “Block 5” booster to launch in May 2018.

The Block 5 is the most recent, human-rated variant of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

Before the Crew Dragon abort test, the B1046 booster launched the Bangabandhu 1 communications satellite for Bangladesh from the Kennedy Space Center in May 2018, then launched again in August 2018 with the Indonesian Merah Putih communications spacecraft. The booster’s third mission occurred in December 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a rideshare mission with 64 small satellites.

The booster landed on a SpaceX drone ship after each of its previous missions, but will not be recovered intact after the Crew Dragon abort test. SpaceX says teams will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean just east of Cape Canaveral to pick up any floating debris from the rocket.

There is no second stage engine on the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the abort test.

“The second stage will be loaded with propellant,” Reed said. “There will still be quite bit of propellant in the first stage. We expect there to be some sort of ignition and probably a fireball of some kind.

“Whether I would call it an explosion that you would see from the ground, I don’t know,” he added. “We’ll have to see what actually happens, but I wouldn’t be surprised, and it wouldn’t be a bad outcome.”

In the unlikely event of a rocket mishap before the planned time of the Crew Dragon abort burn, the capsule will be armed to trigger a premature escape burn Sunday, according to Reed.

While the Falcon 9 booster’s demise could prove a spectacle, SpaceX’s attention will be on the performance of the crew capsule.

The in-flight launch abort capability is a crucial part of the Crew Dragon safety system. SpaceX verified the Crew Dragon’s ability to escape an emergency on the launch pad in 2015 during a ground-launched pad abort test.

“(Sunday’s) test is one of these things that’s actually going to allow us test that whole system end-to-end,” Reed said.

Meanwhile, the Crew Dragon will reach a top speed of Mach 2.3 and arc on a ballistic trajectory to a peak altitude of some 138,000 feet (42 kilometers), then use its thrusters to re-orient for descent. The capsule will jettison an unpressurized trunk section and deploy four main parachutes to gently splash down in the Atlantic Ocean around 20 miles (32 kilometers) offshore, where U.S. military, NASA and SpaceX recovery teams will recover the capsule to practice procedures they would execute on a crew mission.

The entire abort test flight, from liftoff through splashdown, will take around 10 minutes.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands 215 feet (65 meters) tall at pad 39A Friday with a Crew Dragon spacecraft ahead of SpaceX’s In-Flight Abort Test. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX and NASA officials will have to carefully monitor weather and sea conditions for the in-flight abort test.

In addition the the typical launch weather constraints — such as high winds and lightning — engineers want good visibility to optically track the Falcon 9 launcher and Crew Dragon spacecraft during the escape sequence. And sea conditions in the Atlantic Ocean splashdown zone — roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of pad 39A — are also important.

“It’s a nice dance between launch weather, optics, and the winds and waves offshore, so we’re trying to find a time where all those things match up,” said Mike McAleenan, the launch weather officer from the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron. “But we’ll find it, and we’ll make sure we go when i’ts ready and everything is lining up.”

Launch abort systems have been used during emergencies on other rockets, most recently in October 2018, when a Russian Soyuz booster failed two minutes after liftoff. The Soyuz abort rockets fired to safely carry Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA flight engineer Nick Hague away from the Soyuz booster as it tumbled out of control.

SpaceX is conducting the in-flight abort test under the terms of a commercial crew agreement awarded by NASA in 2012.

NASA has awarded SpaceX a series of funding agreements and SpaceX since 2011 worth more than $3.1 billion for development of a human-rated Dragon spacecraft. Boeing has received more than $4.8 billion from NASA since 2010 for its Starliner crew capsule.

Both companies aim to fly astronauts for the first time later this year, ending U.S. reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for crew transportation to the International Space Station. NASA paid the Russian government $3.9 billion for crew transport services to the space station since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, according to the agency’s inspector general.

A NASA official said Friday that SpaceX’s next Crew Dragon spacecraft could be ready to launch astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the space station as soon as early March. But that schedule hinges on a good outcome to Sunday’s abort test, the results of two more parachute drop tests, NASA data reviews and final assembly and processing milestones for the Crew Dragon spacecraft itself.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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'Use this technology to monitor the progression': How space tech can help the world fight the pandemic – USA TODAY



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SpaceX and NASA Crew-3 mission finally launch into space after delays

After several delays, the SpaceX and NASA Crew-3 mission finally launched into space with four astronauts.

USA TODAY, Storyful

Michael Strahan, former football star and host of “Good Morning America,” will be taking off with a crew of five other passengers on Dec. 9, amidst a global pandemic and rising cases of the new omicron variant.

Strahan won’t be the first civilian in space. In September, the Inspiration4 launch sent four civilians (a physician’s assistant, an aerospace worker, a professor and a billionaire) into orbit. In October, William Shatner became the oldest person to go into space, at the age of 90.

Civilian spaceflight launches have had a shining spotlight in a time when COVID devastated regions all over the globe. Some, like Prince William, have even criticized the obsession on spaceflight, saying billionaires and companies should focus more on addressing issues closer to Earth.

But could technology developed for space help us battle the pandemic?

An article released in September in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine investigated how space-based technologies could be used to help manage and prevent pandemics.

How much a seat into space costs: William Shatner went to space. Here’s how much it would cost you.

Telemedicine was ‘developed by space agencies’

When astronauts are in space, for example, their medical information is meticulously tracked, the paper says.

In fact, astronauts often run medical experiments in space to help researchers better understand how the human body reacts to the properties of space, according to Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA.

For the SpaceX Inspiration4 launch, McAlister said, civilians conducted a series of experiments, such as drawing blood in space, and shared the data with researchers on Earth.

“Telemedicine was actually developed by space agencies as well in order to provide care, monitor the care of astronauts,” says Dr. Farhan Asrar, a medical doctor and global faculty member at the International Space University. Asrar was a contributor to the Nature Medicine article.

Similarly, Asrar points out, telemedicine can be used to monitor and assess COVID patients remotely without the risk of infecting healthcare workers.

Asrar says that wearable technology has already been used by Canadian astronauts to monitor several key parameters of health, such as blood pressure, temperature, breathing rate and heart rate, all of which were streamed hundreds of miles from Earth aboard the International Space Station.

These wearable devices can be used by healthcare workers to detect early on whether they are developing and spreading symptoms, the paper suggests. 

More: NASA launches spacecraft to test asteroid defense concept

Using satellite imagery to monitor progression

Satellite imagery could contribute to pandemic planning and the distribution of vaccines against COVID-19, according to the paper. 

Satellites launched into space have already helped plot disease transmission during the Ebola outbreak, the paper points out. In the fight against polio, satellite images found marginalized and previously unknown villages in Nigeria, assisting with eradication efforts.

“There are several parameters which you can monitor using satellites,” Asrar says. “We can monitor temperatures that are ideal for these infectious conditions so that if an outbreak is occurring, you can use this technology to monitor the progression.”

Asrar cites using satellite monitoring on mosquito populations as a potential way to predict outbreaks of malaria.

How does COVID-19 affect me?: Don’t miss an update with the Coronavirus Watch newsletter.

Isolation and developing techniques to preserve mental health

One more thing we can learn from astronauts is the science of managing isolation, the paper says. 

Astronauts often have to be in space for days or months on end, with little or no contact with their loved ones. In a similar sense, social distancing guidelines have prevented people from gathering and made those with limited technological resources even more isolated, the paper points out.

In another article published in Nature in May of 2020, astronauts shared ways that they dealt with isolation in space, including having a carefully managed daily routine and structuring work around an inspiring mission.

Both research papers suggest that by understanding how astronauts cope with isolation, we can develop better techniques for preserving our mental health during the pandemic.

Feel like you’re surviving, not thriving: Join us at Keeping it Together, a newsletter about wellness and living life amid COVID-19.

Follow Michelle Shen on Twitter @michelle_shen10

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NASA’s DART Kinetic Impactor Spacecraft Launches in World’s First Planetary Defense Test Mission – SciTechDaily



NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft sets off to collide with an asteroid in the world’s first full-scale planetary defense test mission. Riding atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, DART took off Wednesday, November 24, from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Lighting up the California coastline early in the morning of November 24, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried <span aria-describedby="tt" class="glossaryLink" data-cmtooltip="

Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. It’s vision is "To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity."

“>NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft off the planet to begin its one-way trip to crash into an asteroid.

DART — a mission designed, developed, and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office — is the world’s first full-scale mission to test technology for defending the planet against potential asteroid or comet hazards. The spacecraft launched Wednesday morning at 1:21 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

As just one part of NASA’s larger planetary defense strategy, DART will send a spacecraft to impact a known asteroid that is not a threat to Earth, to slightly change its motion in a way that can be accurately measured via ground-based telescopic observations. DART will show that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and intentionally collide with it. It’s a method called kinetic impact, and the test will provide important data to help humankind better prepare for an asteroid that might post an impact hazard to Earth, should one ever be discovered.

“The Double Asteroid Redirection Test represents the best of APL’s approach to space science and engineering: identify the challenge, devise an innovative and cost-effective technical solution to address it, and work relentlessly to solve it,” said APL Director Ralph Semmel. “We are honored that NASA has entrusted APL with this critical mission, where the fate of the world really could rest on our success.”

Andy Cheng

Andy Cheng, a Johns Hopkins APL planetary scientist and one of the DART investigation leads, reacts after the successful launch of the DART spacecraft. Cheng was the individual who came up with the idea of DART. He watched the launch from the Mission Operations Center at APL’s Laurel, Maryland, campus. Credit: Johns Hopkins APL/Craig Weiman

At 2:17 a.m. EST, DART separated from the second stage of its launch vehicle. Minutes later, mission operators at APL received the first spacecraft telemetry data and started the process of orienting the spacecraft to a safe position for deploying its solar arrays. Almost two hours later, the spacecraft successfully unfurled its two 28-foot-long roll-out solar arrays. They will power both the spacecraft and NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C) ion engine, one of several technologies being tested on DART for future application on space missions.

“The DART team overcame the technical, logistical and personal challenges of a global pandemic to deliver this spacecraft to the launch pad, and I’m confident that its next step — actually deflecting an asteroid — will be just as successful,” said Mike Ryschkewitsch, head of APL’s Space Exploration Sector. “It gives me a lot of assurance that if we ever have to embark on an urgent planetary defense mission, we have the people and the playbook to make it happen.”

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DART’s one-way trip is to the Didymos asteroid system, which comprises a pair of asteroids — one small, the other large — that orbit a common center of gravity. DART’s target is the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, which is approximately 530 feet (160 meters) in diameter and orbits Didymos, which is approximately 2,560 feet (780 meters) in diameter. Since Dimorphos orbits the larger asteroid Didymos at a much slower relative speed than the pair orbits the Sun, the slight orbit change resulting from DART’s kinetic impact within the binary system can be measured much more easily than a change in the orbit of a single asteroid around the Sun.

The spacecraft will intercept the Didymos system in late September of 2022, intentionally slamming into Dimorphos at roughly 4 miles per second (6 kilometers per second) so that the spacecraft alters the asteroid’s path around Didymos. Scientists estimate the kinetic impact will shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by several minutes, and they will precisely measure that change using telescopes on Earth. The results will be used to both validate and improve scientific computer models that are critical to predicting the effectiveness of kinetic impact as a reliable method for asteroid deflection.

Double Asteroid Redirection Test Illustration

Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins, APL/Steve Gribben

“It is an indescribable feeling to see something you’ve been involved with since the ‘words on paper’ stage become real and launched into space,” said Andy Cheng, one of the DART investigation leads at APL and the individual who came up with the idea of DART. “This is just the end of the first act, and the DART investigation and engineering teams have much work to do over the next year preparing for the main event — DART’s kinetic impact on Dimorphos. But tonight we celebrate!”

DART’s single instrument, the camera DRACO (Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation), will turn on a week from now and provide the first images from the spacecraft. DART will continue to travel just outside of Earth’s orbit around the Sun for the next 10 months until Didymos and Dimorphos will be a relatively close 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth.

A sophisticated guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) system, working with algorithms developed at APL called SMART Nav (Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation) will enable the DART spacecraft to identify and distinguish between the two asteroids and then, working in concert with the other GNC elements, direct the spacecraft toward Dimorphos, all within roughly an hour of impact.

Provided by the Italian Space Agency, the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube) will ride along with DART and be released prior to impact. LICIACube will then capture images of the DART impact, the resulting ejecta cloud and possibly a glimpse of the impact crater on the surface of Dimorphos. It will also look at the back side of Dimorphos, which DRACO will never have a chance to see, gathering further data to enhance the kinetic models.

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Space can help to solve the biggest challenges facing our planet. Here’s how – Euronews



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

In Earth’s more than four billion years of existence, it has had so many monumental moments.

The first human to discover the use of fire, the first to invent the wheel. The first human to walk on the Moon, the creation of the internet. So much evolution. Earth has witnessed the formation of life, the destruction of species, advancements in technology and society, and, ultimately, the regression of its own health.

We are at a historical cornerstone in time right now. As forests burn with fire and cities flood with water, unprecedented challenges are facing Europe and the world at large. Right now is the moment to contribute with bold, shared ambitions to solutions enabled by space.

Ambition: More important than ever

Ambition. It’s a word I use a lot. Ambition is what has driven humans to achieve the momentous, the impossible, the unimaginable.

It is what drove Europeans to explore and cross the Atlantic to new lands and later to send the first radio signals across the same body of water. It drove Europeans to discover the antibiotic penicillin and to save millions of lives with it thereafter.

To discover the theory of general relativity. To send the first space probe to perform a detailed study of a comet, dispatch a lander to its surface, and in a spectacular finale, land on the comet itself.

Ambition. Our planet’s youth is bursting with ambition (mixed with disappointment, anger, and a smudge of hope, admittedly and, well, understandably), as we saw recently in the streets of Glasgow and beyond during COP-26.

It’s been said that ‘ambition is the road to success. But persistence is the vehicle you arrive in’.

Space missions need the strength of a united Europe

So, we must move from ambition to persistence and action on what was laid out in Agenda 2025 (the strategy I developed to raise Europe’s game in space). A strategy that moves towards tangible, programmatic, and systematic commitments that create dialogue, inspiration, and change.

This is precisely what the Matosinhos Manifesto, the resolution adopted unanimously on 19 November 2021 at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Intermediate Ministerial Meeting in Portugal, does.

It represents strength in numbers. The strength of a united Europe to deliver services to its citizens by accelerating space for the betterment and advancement of its people and of the planet overall.

A Europe that puts the user and citizen at the centre of its space activities.

Three initiatives to drive missions forward

The Manifesto is a commitment to focus on three initiatives called “Accelerators”, to speed up the use of space to solve today’s biggest challenges. To focus on space for a green future, to better understand the current state of Earth, to develop scenarios and solutions for sustainable life on this planet and to contribute effectively to achieving climate neutrality.

Then we must move from studying, observing, and understanding the planet towards action based on the deep knowledge that we gain. This is where the second Accelerator comes into play: The need to develop a rapid and resilient crisis response system to support stakeholders to decisively act on crises facing Europe.

And we cannot focus on the first two without ensuring their protection. Therein lies the third Accelerator: the protection of space assets to contribute to safeguarding and protecting our assets from space debris and space weather threats.

Beyond this, we also need our own ‘giant leap’ moment to inspire young Europeans to become more inquisitive about STEM topics so that we can continue to strengthen and enhance these fields for future generations.

New space economy

Inspirational missions will help drive innovation in the new space economy that is beginning to take shape. The Inspirators mission is to catapult Europe’s position as a global leader in space technology, innovation and deep-space scientific exploration.

To promote commercialisation, a modern, forward-looking European entrepreneurial landscape, multilateral cooperation, education, the development of human capital and STEM.

Think missions to icy moons, to unveil secrets about the origins of life or space exploration to take European astronauts beyond the International Space Station.

The passing of the Matosinhos Manifesto recently has created the necessary momentum to reach beyond our ambitions and jump-start into action.

The next steps and decisions will be formulated and taken at the European Space Summit and the ESA Council Meeting at ministerial level, both to be held in 2022.

  • Josef Aschbacher is the European Space Agency’s Director General. To learn more about the Accelerators and the Matosinhos Manifesto, please visit

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