SpaceX and OneWeb — space industry rivals and owners of two of the largest fleets of commercial satellites — are set to add more spacecraft to their internet networks Wednesday with launches from Cape Canaveral and Russia.
A Falcon 9 rocket is standing on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for liftoff at 4:28 a.m. EDT (0828 GMT) Wednesday with the next batch of 60 Starlink satellites, bringing the total number of Starlink spacecraft launched to date to 1,385.
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a Russian Soyuz-2.1b rocket is standing on its launch pad at Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East to place 36 more OneWeb internet satellite into orbit. Liftoff of the Soyuz rocket is scheduled for 10:47 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0247 GMT; 11:47 a.m. Vostochny time Thursday), and with this mission, OneWeb will have 146 satellites in orbit.
Both companies have a Florida connection. SpaceX has launched all of its Starlink satellites from Florida’s Space Coast, and OneWeb builds its spacecraft in a factory just outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center.
The Falcon 9 launch set for the predawn hours Wednesday will be SpaceX’s ninth mission from Florida this year, and the seventh dedicated to the Starlink network this year. It will be the 23rd dedicated Starlink launch since May 2019.
For OneWeb, the launch Wednesday will be the fifth dedicated Soyuz flight for the OneWeb constellation, and the first of the year.
SpaceX and OneWeb are competitors in the market to provide broadband internet services from space. Other companies, such as Amazon and Telesat, are developing their own satellite internet constellations, but neither has started deploying operational spacecraft. So far, SpaceX is closest to entering commercial service, followed by OneWeb.
The commercial ventures are designed to beam internet signals to underserved communities, commercial and military ships and aircraft, and other remote customers.
SpaceX’s early focus has been on the consumer broadband market, but the U.S. military has tested out Starlink services. OneWeb’s has emphasized selling services to governments and companies.
Using its own fleet of reusable Falcon 9 boosters, SpaceX has jumped far ahead of OneWeb in launching satellites. But SpaceX’s Starlink network, which flies closer to Earth, requires more satellites to provide global service than OneWeb’s fleet.
The Starlink network could eventually number more than 10,000 satellites, but the first tranche of Starlinks will have 1,584 satellites orbiting 341 miles (550 kilometers) above Earth on paths tilted 53 degrees to the equator.
After heading northeast from Cape Canaveral, the Falcon 9 mission early Wednesday will deliver the next 60 flat-panel Starlink satellites, each with a mass of about a quarter-ton, into an orbit about 168 miles (271 kilometers) above Earth.
The Falcon 9’s first stage will aim for a vertical landing on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” positioned around 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral. The booster is designated B1060 in SpaceX’s inventory, and has logged five missions to date.
Separation of the 60 satellites is scheduled about 64 minutes after liftoff, and the spacecraft will unfurl solar panels and activate their krypton ion propulsion systems to begin checkouts and orbit-raising to reach the operational constellation at an altitude of 341 miles.
SpaceX builds its Starlink satellites in Redmond, Washington.
SpaceX has approval from the Federal Communications Commission for around 12,000 Starlink satellites at a range of altitudes and inclinations, all within a few hundred miles of the planet. The low altitude enables the satellites to deliver high-speed, low-latency connectivity to customers, and helps ensure the spacecraft naturally re-enter the atmosphere faster than if they flew farther from Earth.
Starlink is already providing interim beta service across high latitude regions, such as the northern United States, Canada, and England. More Starlink launches this year will enable an expanded coverage area.
SpaceX announced earlier this month that the Starlink beta service will soon begin reaching customers in Germany, New Zealand, and in other regions of the United Kingdom, including Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and northern England. Those areas could receive beta service in the “coming weeks,” SpaceX said.
SpaceX is accepting pre-orders from would-be Starlink consumers, who can pay $99 to reserve their place in line to get Starlink service when it becomes available in their area. For people in the southern United States and other lower-latitude regions, that should come by late 2021, SpaceX says.
Once confirmed, customers will pay $499 for a Starlink antenna and modem, plus $50 in shipping and handling, SpaceX says. A subscription will run $99 per month.
The launch for OneWeb late Wednesday (U.S. time) will be the company’s second mission since emerging from bankruptcy proceedings last year.
The London-based company plans to deploy an initial constellation of approximately 650 satellites using 19 Soyuz rockets. OneWeb purchased the Soyuz launches from Arianespace, which oversees Soyuz flights from the Guiana Space Center. Through its subsidiary Starsem, Arianespace also manages commercial Soyuz launch services from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and from Vostochny.
This mission will be the seventh launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome since Russia’s newest spaceport entered service in 2016. The cosmodrome is located in Amur Oblast in Russia’s Far East near the Chinese border.
OneWeb’s satellites are built by a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus. The factory operated by the venture, named OneWeb Satellites, is located at Exploration Park near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Soyuz-2.1b launcher carrying the next 36 OneWeb satellites will fly north from Vostochny, and drop its liquid-fueled first stage boosters around two minutes into the mission. The rocket’s core stage — also known as its second stage — will fire around five minutes before giving way to the third stage.
At T+plus 9 minutes, 22 seconds, the third stage will release a Russian-built Fregat upper stage to perform the final maneuvers to place the OneWeb satellites into a polar orbit around 279 miles (450 kilometers) in altitude, with an inclination of 87.4 degrees.
The OneWeb spacecraft will separate in groups of four from a dispenser structure made by RUAG Space in Sweden over a two-and-a-half hour period, with the final satellites due to deploy at 2:38 a.m. EDT (0638 GMT).
The mass-produced OneWeb satellites each weigh about 325 pounds (147.5 kilograms), featuring xenon-fed ion thrusters, Ku-band and Ka-band antennas to link with customers and ground stations, and deployable solar array wings. The OneWeb satellites will use their ion thrusters to raise altitude to 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) over the next few months, where controllers will ready the spacecraft for service.
With more launches planned this year and next year, OneWeb says it could start providing commercial internet services to some regions in late 2021.
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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.
NASA’s Europa Clipper will fly on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy – The Verge
The Europa Clipper got the green light from NASA in 2015. It will fly by the moon 45 times, providing researchers with a tantalizing look at the icy world, believed to have an ocean lurking under its icy crust. The Clipper is equipped with instruments that will help scientists figure out if the moon could support life.
For years, the Clipper was legally obligated to launch on NASA’s long-delayed Space Launch System (SLS). But with the SLS perpetually delayed and over budget, NASA has urged Congress to consider allowing the Europa Clipper to fly commercial. Switching to another vehicle could save up to $1 billion, NASA’s inspector general said in 2019.
NASA got permission to consider commercial alternatives to the SLS in the 2021 budget, and started officially looking for a commercial alternative soon after.
The SLS has powerful allies in Congress, who have kept the costly program alive for years, even as it blew past budgets and deadlines. The first flight of the SLS was originally supposed to happen in 2017. That mission — launching an uncrewed trip around the Moon — has since been pushed to November 2021, and keeping to that new schedule remains “highly unlikely” according to NASA’s Office of Inspector General, a watchdog agency.
SpaceX first launched its Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018, and started flying satellites in 2019. Earlier this year, NASA selected the rocket as the ride to space for two parts of a planned space station orbiting the Moon.
Researchers Develop Genome Techniques to Analyze Adaptation of Cattle – AZoCleantech
Jared Decker, a fourth-generation cattle farmer, has been aware of cattle suffering from health and productivity problems when they are moved from one location to another. The shift is from a region where they had spent generations to another place with a different climate, grass, or elevation.
Decker, as a researcher at the University of Missouri, looks at the chances of using science to resolve this issue, thereby serving a dual purpose to enhance the cattle’s welfare and sealing the leak in an almost $50 billion industry in the United States.
When I joined MU in 2013, I moved cattle from a family farm in New Mexico to my farm here in Missouri. New Mexico is hot and dry, and Missouri is also hot but has much more humidity. The cattle certainly didn’t do as well as they did in New Mexico, and that spurred me to think about how we could give farmers more information about what their animals need to thrive.
Jared Decker, Associate Professor and Wurdack Chair, Animal Genetics, College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
The study was published in the journal PLOS Genetics on July 23rd, 2021.
Decker and his research team have revealed the proof exposing the fact that cattle are losing their key environmental adaptations. The researchers regard this as a loss due to the lack of genetic information available to farmers.
After assessing the genetic materials dating back to the 1960s, the team determined particular DNA variations linked with adaptations that could someday be used to develop DNA tests for cattle. These tests could help educate the farmers regarding the adaptability of cattle from one environment or another.
We can see that, for example, historically cows in Colorado are likely to have adaptations that ease the stress on their hearts at high altitudes. But if you bring in bulls or semen from a different environment, the frequency of those beneficial adaptations is going to decrease. Over generations, that cow herd will lose advantages that would have been very useful to a farmer in Colorado.
Jared Decker, Associate Professor and Wurdack Chair, Animal Genetics, College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, University of Missouri
The research team included then-doctoral student Troy Rowan who had examined 60 years’ worth of bovine DNA data from tests of cryo-preserved semen produced by cattle breed associations. They observed that, as time runs, the genes related to higher fertility and productivity increased as a result of careful selection by farmers. Also, many genes relating to environmental adaptations have decreased.
According to Decker, the farmers are not to be blamed as there are no affordable methods available at present to identify the suitability of cattle for a specific environment. The study also proposes easy-to-use cattle DNA tests that focus on the particular adaptations identified in the study.
Such adaptations include resistance to vasoconstriction, which is a process of blood vessel narrowing that takes place at high elevation and puts excessive stress on the heart. Also creating resistance to the toxin in the grass can result in vasoconstriction and tolerance for increased temperature or humidity. All these factors tend to decline over generations when the cattle are shifted from the associated surroundings.
Sometimes, natural and artificial selection are moving in the same direction, and other times there is a tug of war between them. Efficiency and productivity have vastly improved in the last 60 years, but environmental stressors are never going to go away. Farmers need to know more about the genetic makeup of their herd, not only for the short-term success of their farm, but for the success of future generations.
Jared Decker, Associate Professor and Wurdack Chair, Animal Genetics, College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
The first widely adopted genetic test for cattle was developed at the University of Missouri in 2007. Decker and Rowan are looking forward to giving further details of the development. Both the researchers grew up on farms with a desire to use research to help farmers to balance farm traditions of America with the requirement for eco-friendly business practices.
“As a society, we must produce food more sustainably and be good environmental stewards. Making sure a cow’s genetics match their environment makes life better for cattle and helps farmers run efficient and productive operations. It’s a win-win,” concluded Decker.
Rowan, T. N., et al. (2021) Powerful detection of polygenic selection and evidence of environmental adaptation in US beef cattle. PLOS Genetics. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1009652.
'Eye of Sauron' volcano and other deep-sea structures discovered in underwater 'Mordor' – Livescience.com
Researchers exploring the Indian Ocean have discovered the remains of a collapsed underwater volcano with an uncanny resemblance to the all-seeing “Eye of Sauron” from J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous fantasy series “The Lord of the Rings,” as well as two other seafloor structures named after places in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
The eye is actually an oval-shaped depression measuring 3.9 miles (6.2 kilometers) long by 3 miles (4.8 km) wide. Called a caldera, this giant divot is left over from the ancient collapse of a deep-sea volcano. The caldera is surrounded by a 984-foot-tall (300 meters) rim, giving the impression of eyelids, and an equally tall cone-shaped peak at the center, which looks like a pupil, according to The Conversation. The unusual structure is located 174 miles (280 km) southeast of Christmas Island ― an Australian external territory off mainland Australia ― at a depth of 10,170 feet (3,100 m).
A team of researchers discovered the structure while onboard the ocean research vessel Investigator, owned by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), on the 12th day of an expedition to Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories. The researchers used multibeam sonar to create 3D maps of the caldera and the surrounding seafloor.
Like other calderas, this one formed when the peak of the original volcano collapsed, according to the researchers.
“The molten magma at the base of the volcano shifts upwards, leaving empty chambers [below],” chief scientist Tim O’Hara, senior curator at Museums Victoria in Australia, wrote in The Conversation. “The thin, solid crust on the surface of the dome then collapses, creating a large, crater-like structure.”
The area surrounding the volcanic crater is also home to two other noteworthy structures.
“Our volcanic ‘eye’ was not alone,” O’Hara wrote. “Further mapping to the south revealed a smaller sea mountain covered in numerous volcanic cones, and further still to the south was a larger, flat-topped seamount.”
Continuing the connection to Tolkien’s fantasy epic, the researchers named the cone-covered mountain Barad-dûr, after Sauron’s main stronghold, and the seamount Ered Lithui, after the Ash Mountains, both of which are found alongside the Eye of Sauron in the evil realm of Mordor.
The Ered Lithui seamount is part of a cluster of seamounts thought to date back about 100 million years, O’Hara wrote. The Ered Lithui seamount was once above the water’s surface, giving it its flat top, and it has gradually sunk to around 1.6 miles (2.6 km) below sea level.
Over millions of years, sand and sinking detritus — particulate matter, including plankton, excrement and other organic matter — have coated the seamount in a thick layer of sediment around 328 feet (100 m) deep. However, the caldera remains relatively uncovered, suggesting it may be significantly younger, O’Hara said.
“This sedimentation rate should have smothered and partially hidden the caldera,” O’Hara wrote. It also “looks surprisingly intact for a structure that should be 100 million years old.”
This freshness suggests that the volcano was created, and subsequently collapsed, after the seamount began sinking into the ocean.
“It is possible that volcanoes have continued to sprout long after the original foundation,” O’Hara wrote. “Our restless Earth is never still.”
Originally published on Live Science.
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