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SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Nails Another Hop Test! Bring on Orbital Flights! – Universe Today

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SpaceX has done it again! Earlier today (Thurs. Sept. 3rd), the company completed a second hop test with a Starship prototype. This time, it was the sixth iteration (SN6) that successfully made the 150-meter (~500 foot) flight at their launch facility near Boca Chica, Texas. This latest test has further validated the Starship design and the Raptor engine, two systems which Musk hopes will someday take humans to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond!

This test comes less than a month after SpaceX made a similar hop with their SN5 prototype (which took place on August 4th). On that occasion, the Starship managed to reach 150 m and then land on an adjacent pad without incident, though it didn’t quite stick the landing and damage one of its legs in the process. Together, these tests have put SpaceX in good standing to begin conducting high-altitude (and eventually, orbital) test flights.

Originally, the company was hoping to make this second attempt during an otherwise jam-packed Sunday. Aside from SN6 blasting off from Boca Chica, SpaceX was also scheduled to conduct two launches from Cape Canaveral – another batch of Starlink satellites (V1 L11) and Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite. In anticipation of the launch, Cameron County issued a road closure notice for up to three days.

This notice specified Sunday (Aug. 30th) as the primary date – from 08:00 am to 08:00 pm local time (07:00 am – 07:00 pm EDT; 06:00 am – 06:00 pm PDT) – with backup opportunities for Monday and Tuesday from 08:00 am to 08:00 pm. Unfortunately, the flight test was pushed back to Thursday, most likely due to prevailing winds around the launch site, at around 12:45 pm local time (10:45 am PDT; 01:45 pm EDT).

These two hop tests are the latest in a string of successes for SpaceX, which is a welcome change of pace given their previous string of failures. After completing tests with the miniature prototype, the Starship Hopper, the company lost four full-scale prototypes in a row – Mk1, SN1, and SN3, and SN4. The first three prototypes blew up during cryogenic loa testings, whereas the SN4 passed this test, but exploded during a static fire test.

But of course, these losses were anticipated because of SpaceX’s rapid-prototyping and “test to failure” process. By building one iteration of the Starship after another, then pushing it to its limits, SpaceX has been able to accumulate massive volumes of data that have helped them improve the overall design. With the lessons that they have learned, the company is now on the verge of several major milestones.

This includes the assembly of the SN7 and SN8 prototypes, which (according to a previous statement made by Musk) are likely to be making their own 150-meter hop tests in the near future. Once that is finished, SpaceX will be attempting a high-altitude hop test, which will involve a prototype equipped with three Raptor engines and body flaps attempting to hop 20 km (12.4 mi).

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During a phone interview on Tuesday, as part of the 2020 Virtual Humans to Mars Summit, Musk shared that his company would begin constructing the first stage booster (the Super Heavy) this week. He also said that the design might be updated once again to feature fewer engines – 28 instead of 31 this time. “That’s still a lot of engines,” he said. “We’ll up cranking up the thrust on those engines.”

As for when the high-altitude flight could take place, he indicated that it could happen “probably next year.” He also cautioned that there will still be a steep learning curve:

“The first ones might not work. This is uncharted territory. Nobody’s ever made a fully reusable orbital rocket … and then having something twice the size of a Saturn V (the rocket that astronauts to the moon) that’s also fully reusable… that’s really something else, that’s profound. That’s the gateway to the galaxy or at least the solar system.” 

Further Reading: CNET, 2020 HMS

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Estee Lauder Pays NASA $128000 for Photo Shoot in Space – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — Estee Lauder Cos. is sending its newest skincare formula into space, and it’ll cost only about as much as paying a big influencer for a few Instagram posts.

The U.S. cosmetics giant is spending $128,000 for NASA to fly 10 bottles of its skin serum to the International Space Station. Once there, astronauts will take pictures of Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair in the cupola control tower, which has panoramic views of the cosmos. The images will be used on social media, with the company planning to auction one bottle off for charity when the items return to Earth this spring.

The global recession, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, has pushed brands to get more creative with their advertising because consumers are cutting back. Within beauty, several companies are spending less on traditional ads, while looking for new ways to break through the glut of content out there. In a press release, Estee Lauder highlighted it being the “first beauty brand to go into space” as a means to tout its “skincare innovation.”

The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket that will transport the skin serum as part of a supply run is scheduled to launch on Tuesday night from Wallops Island, Virginia. The Cygnus cargo craft will then dock on the space station early Saturday.

Estee Lauder’s push into micro-gravity is part of NASA’s effort to commercialize low-earth orbit and make it a domain where private enterprise eventually does business as routinely as the government conducts spacewalks. Companies from Goodyear Tire & Rubber to Merck & Co have used space for research, and NASA is hoping to expand its use, including private citizens visiting the space station.

“We need to expand people’s perspective on what we can accomplish in space,” said Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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A dazzling full 'harvest moon' is set to illuminate Vancouver skies next week – North Shore News

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While the weekend forecast calls for rain, Vancouver skies are expected to clear next week, which is just in time for the glorious full Harvest moon. 

Earlier this month, locals were treated to a full corn moon. Last year, September’s full moon was a full ‘harvest moon,’ which takes place in two years out of three. However, since October’s full moon falls closest to the fall equinox this year, it will carry the harvest title. 

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According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “this full Moon name is attributed to Native Americans because it marked the time when corn was supposed to be harvested.”

The Harvest Moon gets was given its name because farmers needed its silvery light to harvest crops. It has since inspired a rather dreamy, beautiful song by Canadian icon Neil Young, too.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac also notes that Native peoples would give distinctive names to each reoccurring full moon to mark the change of seasons. As such, many of these names arose when Native Americans first interacted with colonialists. 

The October moon will be at its fullest in Vancouver on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 2:05 p.m. 

Stargazers should opt to travel as far away from city lights as possible in order to avoid light pollution that will obscure the clarity of heavenly bodies. While this works best in more remote places, anywhere that has a higher elevation will also provide more ideal viewing conditions.

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Canada's peatlands are tinderboxes that are more likely to ignite in a warming world – The Globe and Mail

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Scorched trees stand near Britt, Ont., in the summer of 2018 after the Parry Sound 33 forest fire swept through the area. The fire spread in a part of the country where peat is abundant.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

When a devastating forest fire raged near Parry Sound, Ont., in 2018, Sophie Wilkinson, a postdoctoral researcher at McMaster University, was busy gathering data at a study site in northern Alberta. But once she knew her colleagues working near the fire were safe, all she wanted to do was get back there to see the result.

Nestled in a rocky inlet of Georgian Bay, Parry Sound is far from Canada’s Arctic and Subarctic wilderness. But the area has something in common with those more northerly reaches: an abundance of peat – dense layers of partly decayed vegetation that accumulate in moist places, generally over centuries. Long a neglected component of the landscape, peat is now in the scientific spotlight because of all the carbon that’s locked up in its pungent bulk. In a world increasingly ablaze with wildfires, the fate of that carbon is a matter of serious concern.

When peat burns, its carbon is released, and the peat switches from being a storehouse to a source of greenhouse gas emissions. This summer’s extensive fires in peat-rich Siberia loosed about as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the Greater Toronto Area has generated over the past five years.

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Total peatland (%)

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF CANADA

Total peatland (%)

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF CANADA

Total peatland (%)

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF CANADA

Globally, peatlands are estimated to store about 550 gigatonnes of carbon, more than all of the forests in the world combined. About one-quarter of that peat is found in Canada, with particularly dense concentrations in the Hudson Bay Lowlands and the Mackenzie River basin. Studies suggest this asset in Canada’s carbon accounting is at risk due to changing patterns of wildfire.

By chance, the Parry Sound fire, which ultimately consumed 11,362 hectares of woodland, burned across an area of peat deposits that McMaster scientists, led by ecohydrologist Mike Waddington, have been studying for seven years. Dr. Wilkinson is a member of the team, and with so much information at hand about what was there before, she was able to go in after the conflagration to measure precisely what impact the fire had.

“It was utterly desolate,” she said. “There was so little soil left that most of the trees had fallen over after they had burned, as well.”

Though fire is a natural process, what was striking about the Parry Sound event was its intensity and the way it penetrated into areas that would typically be considered too wet to burn easily. Dr. Wilkinson and her colleagues found that peat deposits that were less than 70 centimetres thick were completely incinerated. Areas like this may not return as peatlands, but instead be taken over by deep-rooted deciduous trees that drink up moisture. Trees store carbon too, but peat stores more, so a net loss of peatland after a fire is bad news for the climate.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, comes with a silver lining. Areas of deeper peat were shown to survive the fire and stay wet enough to rebound. But the work sheds new light on how vulnerable peatlands have become in places that are burning differently than they did in the past as the climate warms.

That trend is now indisputable, said Matthew Jones, an Earth systems scientist at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. In a brief released this week, Dr. Jones and four co-authors examined 116 separate studies and found that all of them either directly strengthen or are consistent with evidence that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires in multiple regions of the globe. Not surprisingly, among the areas most affected by the trend are those that have been prominent in the news due to record-setting fires in the past year, including California and eastern Australia.

“By and large, the picture is that of a warming, drying world – which is not helpful when it comes to fires,” Dr Jones said. He added that forward-looking studies using climate models “are all pointing to this situation getting worse the more the temperature rises.”

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Local and Greenpeace activists extinguish a peat fire near the Siberian village of Shipunovo on Sept. 11 this year.

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

Haze blankets the Rockies on Sept. 21 in wetern Montana as the smoke from wildfires in the western United States moves into other regions.

Samuel Corum/Getty Images

For now, the change in Canada is less extreme than in the western U.S., but it’s heading in the same direction. While the area burned has doubled in Canada since the 1970s, in California it has increased by about a factor of five, said Mike Flannigan, a professor at the University of Alberta who studies the link between climate change and fire.

Yet, the Arctic is also warming faster than the rest of the world, and this is where peatland is likely to play a bigger role in releasing carbon, creating a positive feedback cycle that spurs warming even further.

“That can really tip the effect of the wildfire season, even if the amount of area burned doesn’t change,” Dr. Wilkinson said.

Daniel Thompson, a fire scientist with Natural Resources Canada, said that fire in Canada’s northwest is clearly on the rise and is affecting peatlands in a way that’s different from the past.

The numbers bear this out. Of the 10 most severe wildfires in Canadian history, six have occurred within the past decade, all in the northwest. These include the Fort McMurray fire of 2016, which stands as Canada’s costliest natural disaster, and the massive fires near Yellowknife in 2014, which collectively burned an area larger than all of Vancouver Island.

While the numbers are startling, “this is not a new disturbance to the system,” Dr. Thompson said. “It’s more a question of frequency and intensity.”

Many of these Canadian wildfires have been raging in areas that are covered in peat. Sometimes referred to as “zombie fires,” there’s evidence that peat fires in the North can smoulder on through the winter and resurface anew in spring. And unlike the dramatic and very visible damage that fire has wrought further south, the most profound effects may be out of sight and underground. This is because peat often overlaps with another key feature of the Northern landscape: permafrost.

Permafrost is the permanently frozen ground that persists year-round below surface soil. When the Northern landscape burns, the permafrost below loses a measure of insulation that protects it during the summer months. Instead, the blackened, sooty surface left behind in a fire’s wake is ideal for absorbing sunlight and warming up the ground.

The loss of permafrost due to climate change is already a problem for Northern communities because it destabilizes the ground and threatens infrastructure. More broadly, scientists fear that melting permafrost is releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, creating another feedback loop that can further accelerate climate change. In this scenario, fire adds another boost.

David Olefeldt, a wetland scientist at the University of Alberta, has been examining the interaction of peat, permafrost and fire. He said the effects are likely not all in one direction, in part because melting permafrost may also act to suppress fire. “More fire and more thaw changes the landscape to become wetter and less treed, and therefore it burns less,” he said. He’s currently studying the question, an example of how little scientists can say for certain about the fate of Northern ecosystems and their ultimate impact on the globe even as unprecedented change is under way. A shift in vegetation due to warming is yet another factor that has been difficult for researchers to take into account when modelling future change.

For Merritt Turetsky, director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder, the field is in urgent need of a co-ordinated and multidisciplinary effort to track the new reality in the North, and how changing fire conditions are playing into the story.

“We used to think of the Arctic as the last [ecosystem] unshaped by fire,” she said. “That’s not true any more.”

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An activist works to extinguish one of Siberia’s peat fires this September.

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

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