All eyes are on south Mississippi with this month’s delivery and installation of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s first core stage to Stennis Space Center for a milestone Green Run test series prior to its Artemis I flight.
The Green Run testing will be the first top-to-bottom integrated testing of the stage’s systems prior to its maiden flight. The testing will be conducted on the B-2 Test Stand at Stennis, located near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and the nation’s largest rocket propulsion test site. Green Run testing will take place over several months and culminates with an eight-minute, full-duration hot fire of the stage’s four RS-25 engines to generate 2 million pounds of thrust, as during an actual launch.
“This critical test series will demonstrate the rocket’s core stage propulsion system is ready for launch on missions to deep space,” Stennis Director Rick Gilbrech said. “The countdown to this nation’s next great era of space exploration is moving ahead.”
NASA is building SLS as the world’s most-powerful rocket to return humans to deep space, to such destinations as the Moon and Mars. Through the Artemis program, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. Artemis I will be a test flight without crew of the rocket and its Orion spacecraft. Artemis II will carry astronauts into lunar orbit. Artemis III will send astronauts to the surface of the Moon.
The SLS core stage, the largest rocket stage ever built by NASA, stands 212 feet tall and measures 27.6 feet in diameter. It is equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, miles of cables, propulsion systems and propellant tanks that hold a total of 733,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to fuel the four RS-25 engines during launch. The core stage was designed by NASA and Boeing in Huntsville, Alabama, then manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans by lead contractor Boeing, with input and contributions from more than 1,100 large and small businesses in 44 states.
“Delivering the Space Launch System rocket core stage to Stennis for testing is an epic historical milestone,” said Julie Bassler, the SLS stages manager. “My team looks forward to bringing this flight hardware to life and conducting this vital test that will demonstrate the ability to provide 2 million pounds of thrust to send the Artemis I mission to space.”
The stage was transported from Michoud to Stennis aboard the specially outfitted Pegasus barge. It arrived at the B-2 dock on Jan. 12 and was rolled out onto the test stand tarmac that night. Crews then began installing ground equipment needed for lifting the stage into a vertical position and onto the stand.
The lift was performed Jan. 21-22, which provided optimal weather and wind conditions. Crews now will fully secure the stage in place and to stand systems for testing.
NASA completed extensive modifications to prepare the B-2 stand for the test series. The stand has a notable history, having been used to test Saturn V stages that helped launch astronauts to the Moon as part of the Apollo Program and the three-engine propulsion system of the space shuttle prior to its first flight.
Preparing the stand for SLS core stage testing required upgrades of every major system on the stand, as well as the high pressure system that provides hundreds of thousands of gallons of water needed during a test. It also involved adding 1 million pounds of fabricated steel to the Main Propulsion Test Article framework that will hold the mounted core stage and extending the large derrick crane atop the stand that will be used to lift the SLS stage into place.
Once installed on the stand, operators will begin testing each of the stage’s sophisticated systems. Among other things, they will power up avionics; conduct main propulsion system and engine leak checks; and check out the hydraulics system and the thrust vector control unit that allows for rotating the engines to direct thrust and “steer” the rocket’s trajectory.
They also will conduct a simulated countdown, as well as a “wet dress rehearsal,” in which propellants are loaded and flow throughout the stage system. The rehearsal exercise will end just prior to engine ignition, with the full four-engine hot fire to come in subsequent days.
After the hot fire test, crews plan to perform refurbishment work on the stage and inspect and configure it for shipment to Kennedy Space Center. The stage will be removed from the stand, lowered to its horizontal position on the tarmac and reloaded into Pegasus for the trip to Florida.
At Kennedy, the stage will be joined with other SLS elements and prepared for launch. The next time its four RS-25 engines fire, Artemis I will be taking flight.
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Russia to supply US with six RD-180 rocket engines this year
Moscow (Sputnik) Jan 23, 2020
Russian rocket engine manufacturer NPO Energomash plans to ship six RD-180 rocket engines to the United States this year, government procurement website data shows.
The RD-180 engines will be used to power the first stage of the Atlas V launch vehicles.
In December, Energomash said that it shipped a total of six RD-180 rocket engines to the United States in 2019.
In October, Roscosmos subsidiary Energomash was preparing to deliver three more RD-180 engines for use with Atlas V launch v … read more
The most massive explosion since the Big Bang was just spotted in deep space – BGR
As far as astronomers know, the Big Bang is why we’re all here. The massive explosion sent all the matter we see in the universe flying, expanding rapidly and coalescing into the stars, planets, and other objects that fill the cosmos. Now, astronomers have detected what they believe is the largest explosion ever observed by humans, and it took place in a cluster of galaxies nearly 400 million light-years away.
The record-breaking explosion is believed to have originated in a black hole at the heart of the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster. It was spotted using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory as well as the ESA’s XMM-Newton and other instruments in Australia and India.
When you think of a black hole you probably think of a point in space that gobbles up everything in its path. That’s not too far from the truth, but black holes can have more explosive personalities, too. Black holes are known to blast material into space as well, forming strong jets of matter and energy moving at incredible speeds. The initial observations of this colossal explosion were made years ago, but have only now been confirmed.
Chandra observations reported in 2016 first revealed hints of the giant explosion in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster. Norbert Werner and colleagues reported the discovery of an unusual curved edge in the Chandra image of the cluster. They considered whether this represented part of the wall of a cavity in the hot gas created by jets from the supermassive black hole. However, they discounted this possibility, in part because a huge amount of energy would have been required for the black hole to create a cavity this large.
Further research showed that there actually was an explosion, and the big boom is now considered to be the largest ever documented by science. According to NASA, the amount of energy involved in this recent blast is around five times greater than the previous largest space explosion on record.
At a distance of 390 million light-years from Earth, the explosion actually took place, well, around 390 million years ago. It’s impossible for us to know what the galaxy cluster looks like today, but astronomers are using their ability to look back in time to see the record-breaking explosion today, and that’s pretty awesome.
Why Mars Needs Leap Days, Too – The New York Times
This Saturday, you have the gift of time. Feb. 29 is a leap day — a calendar oddity that gives us an extra day.
You probably know why: The time it takes Earth to rotate on its axis is called a day — but it doesn’t take an even number of days to complete a single loop around the sun, or one orbit. Instead it takes a messy 365.2422 spins. And yet the calendar year runs out after 365 days. That means that when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, Earth hasn’t quite circled all the way back to its starting point.
“It’s like being a quarter of a day behind at the end of every workday,” said Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “After four days, you would need one full day to catch up on all your work. It’s the same for the Earth’s orbit and the calendar.”
So every four years, the month of February has 29 days instead of 28. But even that solution isn’t perfect, because the year is not exactly 365.25 days. We have to make additional tweaks. If a year is divisible by 100, for example, there’s no extra day — unless the year is divisible by 400. In other words, the year 2000 was a leap year, but 1900 was not, nor will the year 2100 be one (its nearest leap years will be 2096 and 2104).
These contortions are awkward, but they’re fairly straightforward compared with the adjustments that would need to be made to the calendars of alien civilizations if they existed elsewhere in our solar system.
On Mars, a year lasts 668.6 Martian days. Should the calendar year include only 668 days, it would quickly fall out of alignment with the Martian seasons. Luckily, astronomers, science-fiction writers and enthusiastic hobbyists have presented several proposals for Martian calendars.
“I daresay there have been more different proposals for Mars calendars than there are different calendars for the Earth,” said Michael Allison, a retired NASA scientist.
One of the most popular — the Darian calendar — was created in 1985 by Thomas Gangale, a space law expert. It breaks up the lengthy year into 24 months of 27 and 28 Martian days — each of which alternates between Latin and Sanskrit names for constellations of the zodiac, like Virgo and its Sanskrit equivalent, Kanya.
To keep the calendar in harmony with the Martian seasons, Dr. Gangale proposed that even-numbered years have 668 Martian days (except those divisible by 10), and odd-numbered years have 669 Martian days. That works out to an average of 668.6 — the length of a Martian year.
But it isn’t the only way to reach that average. Dr. Allison has proposed another calendar — “a whimsical exercise,” he said.
He thought it was important to maintain similarities to Earth’s calendar, just in case future Martians wanted to celebrate major holidays. So he retained the 12 months we know and love, then added 10 extra months (each is 30 or 31 days) and named them after Johannes Kepler, Ray Bradbury and other famous astronomers, mathematicians and science-fiction writers.
In his calendar, Dr. Allison proposed that years divisible by five would have three leap days, for a total of 671 days. But all other years would have 668 days.
While there have been many imaginative calendars suggested for Mars, none is in common use.
“We count Martian days and Martian years,” said John Callas, the project manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover project, which directs the Curiosity rover. “But we don’t care right now that seasonal events may be drifting relative to calendar events.”
So scientists and engineers who work on surface missions on the red planet use two systems. One counts the number of Martian days that have elapsed since the start of a particular mission and the other marks the location of Mars within its orbit (and thus allows NASA to note the season). The two systems allow scientists to sidestep the complications that arise in trying to sync the two.
“There may come a time — if you have cultural civilizations that are living in this environment and you want to preserve the seasonal significance of a particular date on the calendar — that you would likely introduce some sort of a leap system,” Dr. Callas said.
With so many proposals, we’re certainly prepared.
Calendars for other worlds in our solar system get exceedingly difficult to calculate.
“On Jupiter, it would be hopeless,” Dr. Binzel said. “It’s a gas planet and different latitudes have different rotation periods. I think the Jovians would find themselves very confused.”
Then there’s Venus where a single rotation of the planet takes longer than its entire year (it also spins upside down). No matter how you work the problem, that’s never going to come out nice and even.
Luckily, Venus doesn’t have noticeable seasons, so you need not worry if your calendar doesn’t sync up with the year.
But there is one planet where the calendar would need zero finessing: Mercury. The small planet revolves exactly three times, or days, over the course of two years — allowing its calendar to naturally align every other year.
In that way, it may be like many other planets orbiting stars throughout our galaxy. Astronomers suspect that plenty of closer exoplanets revolve exactly once every year. These planets show only one face to their star, leaving the other side in perpetual darkness. And while that might make life on those worlds difficult, their calendars would always be in sync.
But even if by some wild cosmic coincidence, a planet’s orbit could be evenly divided into days, it likely wouldn’t stay that way for long.
Earth’s spin, for example, is slowing over time. Eventually one year won’t last 365.2422 days but precisely 365 days, allowing us to drop the leap year — at least temporarily.
“You have to enjoy the leap year while it’s here,” said Konstantin Batygin, a professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology. “Because in millions of years, maybe tens of millions of years, it’s just not going to be around anymore.”
Sync your calendar with the solar system
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Astronomers spot the largest explosion since the Big Bang – ZME Science
Ever want to make a literal dent in space? Apparently a supermassive black hole in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster did when it erupted and caused the largest known explosion since the Big Bang. The black hole punched a dent the size of 15 Milky Ways in the surrounding space.
Galaxy clusters like Ophiuchus are some of the largest objects in the universe and contain thousands of individual galaxies, dark matter, and hot gas. At the heart of the Ophiuchus cluster is a giant galaxy that contains a black hole with a mass equivalent to around 10 million suns.
Professor Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, from the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, said the event was extraordinarily energetic. “We’ve seen outbursts in the centres of galaxies before but this one is really, really massive,” she said. “And we don’t know why it’s so big.”
The explosion — captured using four telescopes; NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA’s XMM-Newton, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) in Western Australia and the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India — occurred 390 million light-years from Earth. It was so powerful that it punched a cavity in the cluster plasma, the super-hot gas surrounding the black hole. The find was made with Phase 1 of the MWA, when the telescope had 2048 antennas pointed towards the sky.
Scientists dismiss the idea that it could be caused by an energetic outburst, as it was too large. The explosion was initially recorded by the Chandra Observatory in 2016, however, the results were dismissed as astronomers believed a cavity of that magnitude was impossible.
Lead author of the study Dr. Simona Giacintucci, from the Naval Research Laboratory in the United States, said the blast was similar to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, which ripped the top off the mountain. “The difference is that you could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies in a row into the crater this eruption punched into the cluster’s hot gas,” she said.
Professor Johnston-Hollitt, who is the director of the MWA and an expert in galaxy clusters, says that this finding underscores the importance of studying the universe at different wavelengths. She also likened the finding to discovering the first dinosaur bones.
“It’s a bit like archaeology,” she says. “We’ve been given the tools to dig deeper with low frequency radio telescopes so we should be able to find more outbursts like this now….We’re soon going to be gathering (MWA) observations with 4096 antennas, which should be ten times more sensitive. I think that’s pretty exciting.”
The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal.
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