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Back-to-back launches scheduled from Cape Canaveral this weekend – Spaceflight Now

An Atlas 5 rocket, seen inside its Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral, is set for launch Saturday morning with the U.S. Air Forces X-37B spaceplane. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Working under physical distancing requirements and other precautions against the coronavirus pandemic, range teams at Cape Canaveral are preparing for launches of Atlas 5 and Falcon 9 rockets from neighboring pads this weekend.

The back-to-back launches are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, hauling up the U.S. Air Forces X-37B spaceplane and another batch of around 60 satellites for SpaceXs Starlink Internet network.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is first in line, with liftoff scheduled Saturday from Cape Canaverals Complex 41 launch pad. The Atlas 5 will carry into orbit the militarys reusable winged X-37B mini-space shuttle some time between 8:24 a.m. and 10:53 a.m. EDT (1224-1453 GMT), according to airspace warning notices associated with the launch.

Meanwhile, at pad 40 around a mile-and-half to the south of pad 41, SpaceX is gearing up to launch a Falcon 9 rocket at 3:53 a.m. EDT (0753 GMT) Sunday with 60 more Starlink spacecraft for the companys satellite broadband network.

The Falcon 9 launch attempt Sunday will only go ahead if the Atlas 5 rocket takes off as scheduled Saturday, according to Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing, which manages range operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

For now, the Atlas 5 has Sunday booked as a backup launch opportunity on the Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral.

We do have a really busy couple of weeks coming up here, Schiess said Tuesday. Were working ver diligently for Saturdays (Atlas 5) launch then if that goes on schedule on Saturday morning, about 20 hours later, early Sunday morning, we will support a SpaceX commercial launch for Starlink.

The two launches this weekend will be followed by the liftoff of two NASA astronauts atop a Falcon 9 rocket from NASAs Kennedy Space Center adjacent to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. That will be the first launch of astronauts from Floridas Space Coast since the last flight of the space shuttle in July 2011.

In our partnership and SpaceX we are excited for the return of human spaceflight from the Eastern Range, Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center and the Space Coast on May 27 for the SpaceX crew mission, Schiess said.

In addition to the usual safety, weather forecasting and security support it provides for all missions from the Space Coast, the 45th Space Wing will host an emergency team that would be dispatched to rescue the astronauts in the event of a launch abort. In such a scenario, the rescue personnel would fly offshore on military helicopters and transport planes and parachute into the Atlantic Ocean to meet the astronauts.

Our Detachment 3, which has been re-designated for this event as Task Force 45, is preparing to be able to rescue astronauts if for some reason there was a catastrophic event, Schiess said. We dont think that will happen, and we hope that it never does, but we are preparing for the possibility and being prepared to do that.

If the Atlas 5 and Falcon 9 launches go off as scheduled this weekend, they would occur 20 hours, 31 minutes apart. That would mark the shortest turnaround between two orbital launches from Cape Canaveral since September 1967 when Delta-G and Atlas-Centaur rockets took off within a 10-hour span from separate launch pads, according to a launch log maintained by Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at theHarvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracks global satellite and launch activity.

Last August, a Falcon 9 and an Atlas 5 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in a period of less than 35 hours. That was the shortestspan between two orbital missions at Cape Canaveral since May 1981.

Schiess said Tuesday that range teams at Cape Canaveral are working to reduce the time required between launches. In the last few decades, the range team needed up to 48 hours to reconfigure infrastructure between launches.

That was primarily driven by readying tracking radars, transmitters and other equipment to monitor the trajectory of rockets as they arced downrange, and to send a destruct command if the launcher flew off course.

The range now tracks rockets using the GPS satellite navigation network, and the Falcon 9 launches with an autonomous flight safety system, an on-board computer that would automatically terminate the flight in the event of a major problem.

Schiess said the range team for an Atlas 5 launch, which uses a ground-commanded flight termination system, numbers around 300 people, including range operations, security forces, the fire department and other support teams. That number is around 200 people for this weekends Falcon 9 launch, which uses an autonomous flight safety system and will fly with commercial satellites, rather than a military payload.

The fact that one is a flight termination system (with a human in the loop), and one is an autonomous flight safety system is what really gets us to the ability to do (two launches) within 24 hours, Schiess said.

Schiess said that the range recently assessed the possibility of launching two SpaceX missions within six hours from different launch pads. That appears feasible with two rockets that use autonomous flight safety systems, Schiess said.

Launch operations at Cape Canaveral have continued amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Schiess said 11 people connected with Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and nearby Patrick Air Force Base where the 45th Space Wing is headquartered have tested positive for the COVID-19 viral disease.

There have been no deaths attributed to the coronavirusamong military personnel at Cape Canaveral, he said.

Range teams have introduced new physical distancing measures inside operations centers at Cape Canaveral, and workers are assigned to rotating shifts to minimize contact. When possible, teams are working remotely.

Were now all wearing face coverings any time that you enter into a building on Patrick Air Force Base or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Schiess said. Then within the operations center, if you cannot maintain 6 feet of physical separation, then youre wearing masks.

He said morale is high among the military team at Cape Canaveral.

There are a lot of different things going on that impact people, but our own folks are really excited about this weekend with a couple of launches, and the whole team is very very excited about the return of human spaceflight to the Space Coast and the Eastern Range, Schiess said.

NASA Administrator has urged people not to travel to Floridas Space Coast to view the crewed launch May 27, and the Kennedy Space Center will not allow the public to access the closest viewing sites. Schiess said the 45th Space Wing is following a similar policy.

While Kennedy and Cape Canaveral are two different installations, they are joined, so we make sure were doing things together, he said. Right now, theyre in the status where they wont have any public viewing, so we wont have any public viewing or placard viewing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at this time for the May 27 (crew) launch.

SpaceX test-fired a Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 Wednesday in preparation for Sunday mornings launch. The rockets nine Merlin engines fired up for several seconds while hold-down restraints kept the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket on the ground.

The Falcon 9 will launch on the eighth dedicated flight since May 2019 for SpaceXs Starlink broadband network. SpaceX has launched 420 Starlink spacecraft on seven previous missions, making the company the operator of the worlds largest fleet of commercial satellites.

SpaceX aims to launch around 1,000 more Starlink satellites later this year and next year to begin offering worldwide Internet service. Initial beta testing of the Starlink network could begin later this year, beginning in higher latitude regions like Canada and the northern United States.

The Falcon 9 launch this weekend is the final planned SpaceX mission before the Crew Dragon demonstration flight launching May 27.

ULA ground crews plan to transfer the Atlas 5 rocket to pad 41 Thursday morning from the Vertical Integration Facility, where the launcher was stacked over the last few weeks. ULA installed the X-37B spacecraft on top of the Atlas 5 inside the vertical hangar May 5.

There is a 40 percent chance of favorable conditions for launch of the Atlas 5 rocket Saturday, according to the official launch weather forecast.

The launch Saturday will be the sixth flight of the Air Forces reusable X-37B spaceplane, which takes off on top of a conventional rocket and lands on a runway. Around one-quarter the length of NASAs space shuttle, the Boeing-built X-37B will deploy a small experimental satellite developed by cadets at the Air Force Academy and perform other research investigations in orbit for NASA and the Naval Research Laboratory.

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Back-to-back launches scheduled from Cape Canaveral this weekend - Spaceflight Now

Virgin Galactic job application looking to hire pilots for spaceflight – Business Insider – Business Insider

Ever wanted to be an astronaut but didn't know how to break into the highly competitive industry? Well, Sir Richard Branson's commercial spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, just put out a job posting for two pilots to fly its space-bound aircraft and it's the next best thing to being a NASA astronaut.

The ambitious endeavor aims to eventually open up space for tourist travel, with seats on the Virgin-branded spaceship costing around $250,000. But while the passengers in the back will be paying through the nose for the opportunity, pilots with the "right stuff" will be getting paid to chart a new course.

While spaceflight missions are still potentially years away, the current day-to-day involves flying and assisting in the crafting of test missions for Virgin Galactic's two aircraft, SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo. The opportunity to take to space is, however, on the table as the job posting elaborates that the candidates will eventually be part of "commercial spaceflight operations," bringing passengers to the edge of space for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Taking the job would require relocation to Virgin's home base at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, right in the middle of nowhere in the vast American Southwest, with additional opportunities to travel for missions in Mojave, California.

Take a look at the requirements of what it takes to be a Virgin Galactic pilot.

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Virgin Galactic job application looking to hire pilots for spaceflight - Business Insider - Business Insider

Curiosity mission team operates rover from home – SpaceFlight Insider

Jim Sharkey

May 13th, 2020

Members of NASAs Curiosity Mars rover mission team photographed themselves on March 20, 2020, the first day the entire mission team worked remotely from home. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While the majority of scientists and engineers who work at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California are currently off-site, that doesnt mean that their work supporting interplanetary missions has ground to a halt. NASAs Curiosity Mars rover continues to explore the Red Planet, guided by a mission team that is working remotely from home.

No one from the mission team was present at JPL on March 20, 2020 when the first completely remote planning of the rovers operations took place. Two days later, the rover executed the commands they had sent to Mars, successfully drilling a rock sample at a location named Edinburg.

The team began preparations to go fully remote about two weeks earlier. Headsets, monitors and other necessary equipment were distributed via curbside pickup. There were some pieces of equipment that team members werent able to bring home.

For example, mission planners and rover drivers rely heavily on 3D images from Mars to help them determine where to drive the rover and how far they can extend its robotic arm. At JPL, the normally use special goggles that shift rapidly between left and right-eye views to better show the contours of the terrain.

These goggles require high performance computers with advanced graphics cards. In order to view 3D images on ordinary laptops, rover drivers have switched to simple red-blue 3D glasses. While these arent quite as comfortable or immersive as the goggle, they are sufficient for planning drives or arm movements.

The team also had to adjust how they worked together during planning sessions. Team members at JPL usually work with hundreds of scientists from research institutions all over the world in order to decide where to drive Curiosity and which rock targets to examine. While working remotely with these scientists isnt new, working apart from teammates usually based at JPL is.

Were usually all in one room, sharing screens, images and data. People are talking in small groups and to each other from across the room, said Alicia Allbaugh, who leads the team.

Now the team collaborates by holding several conferences at once and using messaging apps. The team conducted several tests and one full practice run before planning the drilling operation at Edinburg.

Science operations team chief Carrie Bridge makes sure that team members understand each other by proactively talking to scientists and engineers to insure that there are no gaps in communications. Under normal circumstances, Bridge would be making her rounds to check in with several groups in the situation room where Curiositys images and data are viewed a commands to the rover are composed. Now she is calling into up to four video conferences a day, while also monitoring several conversations in online chats.

I probably monitor about 15 chat channels at all times, Bridge said. Youre juggling more than you normally would.

While the transition to remote-only planning and operations has taken some getting used to, Bridge feels that effort to keep Curiositys mission going is an example of the can-do spirit that attracted her to NASA.

Its classic, textbook NASA, she said. Were presented with a problem and we figure out how to make things work. Mars isnt standing still for us; were still exploring.

Members of NASAs Perseverance rover mission work remotely from home during the coronavirus outbreak. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The team working to ready NASAs Perseverance Mars rover for its July 17-August 5 launch period has also made adjustments to the way they work in this time of social distancing. The planetary alignment of Earth and Mars puts the team under considerable time pressure. If Perseverance isnt ready to launch by August 5, the team will have to wait until September 2022 to try again.

90% of the JPL-based Perseverance team has transitioned to working remotely. From their homes, the team is continuing to work on software, mission planning and procedures and systems engineering in prepartion for launch.

Some tasks still require a physical presence at JPL. Mission essential staff recently completed the assembly and cleaning of sample tubes that will store Martian rock and soil samples for return to Earth on a later mission. Other mission-critical lab personnel will continue to work on-site as need, running critical tests on rover systems and software that need to be completed before launch.

To ensure the safety of personnel working on site, JPL has instituted a number of safe@work procedures including social distancing, protective equipment and ready access to hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies.

NASA has determined that Perseverance is the science program that has the agencys highest priority and the project has responded superbly to this challenge, said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. When we realized the pandemic would affect Lab access, we were quick to define their chief objective as being workplace safety for team members and their families, and then built a plan around that providing the clearest path to the launch pad.

Perseverance is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 541 booster between July 17-August 5, 2020. If all goes well, the rover will land at Mars Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.

Ian Clark walks past mission countdown clocks in the Perseverance offices at JPL. Clark was needed on-Lab to supervise the assembly and cleaning of the sample tubes that will hold Martian sediment and rock. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Tagged: Atlas V Curiosity Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL Lead Stories Mars Mars 2020 Mars 2020 Rover Mars Science Laboratory MSL Perserverance

Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise.While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004.Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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Curiosity mission team operates rover from home - SpaceFlight Insider

The X-37B Space Plane’s Microwave Beam Experiment Is A Way Bigger Deal Than It Seems – The Drive

Still, low earth orbit satellites circle the planet at incredibly high speeds and their maneuverability is limited, so there will be limitations to the Navys latest beamed power system, but as a proof of concept, it is essential. A constellation of satellites would likely be necessary to have a truly 24/7 supply of power, enabling UAVs to be passed from satellite to satellite for continuous or tightly scheduled recharging. The same can be said for any receiver applications on the planet's surface.

In 2014, the superintendent of the Naval Research Laboratorys Plasma Physics Division Thomas Mehlhorn published a paper in IEEE Transactions on Plasma Sciences which offered an overview of plasma physics and pulsed power as they relate to national security. The article spans a wide variety of topics including nuclear weapons, inertial confinement fusion, and high-energy laser weapons. In the paper, Mehlhorn also touches upon the Navys beamed power UAV research at the time, writing that the continuous flight times offered by beamed power systems could change surveillance, reconnaissance, and communications gateway/relay missions forever:

"Building upon the concept of scalability, rather than using a laser beam to kill a UAV, they began to pursue the idea of beaming power to a UAV to allow continuous flight, with potential application to both surveillance [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR)] and countermeasure missions. The team has pursued this idea using NRL applied research funds with the vision that long-range laser power beaming to UAVs could allow for long-duration flights with reduced manpower requirements for many Navy and DoD missions, including off-board decoys, persistent surveillance, and communication relays."

According to an October 2019 Navy.mil press release, the Navys beamed power system has also been endorsed by the Marines, Army, and Air Force and is expected to throughout the Department of Defense in the near future. The extent to which such systems have already been tested or deployed is unclear, although the Department of Energy has explored the concept of beaming microwaves from space since at least 2014. Doing the same from the ground, within line of sight of the aircraft, which can still be dozens or even hundreds of miles away depending on the altitudes involved, is such an easier task that it would be a bit puzzling if the technology isn't already under development, or even possibly in some sort of clandestine operational state.

Doing so from another aircraft is also clearly an objective based on the existing literature and would help mitigate the line of sight limitations with ground-based power beaming stations, but would sacrifice endurance and simplicity. In the 2011 RAND study cited above, the authors write that possibilities for beamed power applications include "ultra-high-altitude observation stations or communication relays and flocks of high-altitude sensor probes powered remotely from a large aircraft 'mother ship.'"

Meanwhile, the China Academy of Space Technology claimed to already be testing such a system in 2019 and said that a fully-functional Chinese microwave beaming power station in space could be deployed by 2050.

As you can probably tell at this point, this technology has massive implications not only for the future of UAVs, but for all of mankind. Such a system could be used to keep UAVs in the air for very long periods of time to replace cell towers or communications satellites in the event of a crisis in a region or even for normal operations of increasingly complex communications networks. Unlike a tethered aerostat, these UAVs would require far less infrastructure, could be moved around at will for optimum coverage, and could land quickly for servicing. They could even deploy dozens of miles, or even further, away from their base stations. With a space-based power source, they could fly anywhere on earth. Obviously, the implications for overhead surveillance are equally impactful.

So, while the X-37B's latest mission details seem neat on a scientific level, the reality is the microwave system it is testing could change the game for many military-related applications and could actually open the door for near-continuous unmanned flight throughout the atmosphere.

Contact the editor: Tyler@thedrive.com

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The X-37B Space Plane's Microwave Beam Experiment Is A Way Bigger Deal Than It Seems - The Drive

Salad seeds sent to outer space ‘grew slightly slower when planted on Earth’ – The Irish News

Salad seeds that went on a round trip to outer space and back grew at a slightly slower rate than their Earth-bound counterparts, scientists have found.

A million rocket seeds (Eruca sativa) amounting to 2kg were sent to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015 in a project supported by British astronaut Tim Peake.

When they returned to Earth six months later, 600,000 children across the UK took part in an experiment organised by the Royal Horticultural Society to grow and monitor these seeds.

Although spaceflight did not compromise seed viability and development of the seedlings, the researchers said the germination vigour of the seeds was reduced.

They believe their findings, published recently in the journal Life, take scientists a step closer to knowing whether edible crops can be cultivated on long space missions.

Dr Jake Chandler, of the Royal Holloways department of biological sciences in London and lead author on the paper, said: Transporting high quality seeds to space and beyond will be crucial for growing plants that support human exploration of space, Mars and other worlds.

Our study found that a six month journey to space reduced the vigour of rocket seeds compared to those that stayed on Earth, indicating that spaceflight accelerated the ageing process.

The researchers say that to maintain the quality of dormant seeds during spaceflights, they need to be protected from the harmful effects of cosmic radiation and mechanical vibrations of the spacecraft.

While aboard the ISS, the absorbed radiation dose of the seeds was found to be 100 times greater compared to the Earths surface.

The researchers believe the radiation exposure during Mars missions would be at least five times greater than that of the ISS.

But despite these challenges, the experts say growing crops on long space missions could be achievable, if the seeds are sufficiently protected.

Dr Chandler said: Thus, while we should carefully consider protecting seeds from potentially harmful factors including space radiation and mechanical vibration, the seeds remained alive, and the prospect of eating home-grown salad on Mars may be one small step closer.

Major Peake, added: In one of the largest and most inspirational experiments of its kind, more than half a million young people collected reliable data to help the scientists at Royal Holloway investigate the effects of spaceflight on rocket seeds.

When humans travel to Mars, they will need to find ways to feed themselves, and this research helps us understand some of the biology of seed storage and germination which will be vital for future space missions.

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Salad seeds sent to outer space 'grew slightly slower when planted on Earth' - The Irish News

Pluto’s wispy atmosphere may be surprisingly robust – Space.com

The thin atmosphere of Pluto may be far more resilient than scientists thought

The dwarf planet's thin shell of air is generated by the vaporization of surface ices, which leads to the lofting of nitrogen and small amounts of methane and other gases. That vaporization is driven by sunlight, the intensity of which varies greatly during Pluto's highly elliptical, 248-year-long trek around the sun.

Many scientists have thought that Pluto's atmosphere waxes and wanes dramatically as a result, probably even collapsing completely when the dwarf planet is at its farthest from the sun. However, recently published results based on observations by NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) may force scientists to rethink such notions.

Related: Photos of Pluto and its moons

"Now, we're questioning if Pluto's atmosphere is going to collapse in the coming years it may be more resilient than we thought," study lead author Michael Person, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Wallace Astrophysical Observatory, said in a statement this week.

Most of what we know about that atmosphere, and Pluto itself, comes courtesy of NASA's New Horizons mission, which flew by the dwarf planet in July 2015.

Two weeks before that epic flyby, SOFIA got a much longer-range look at Pluto's air, studying the dwarf planet as it passed in front of a distant star. SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747 jet outfitted with a nearly 9-foot-wide (2.7 meters) telescope, stared as starlight streamed through Pluto's atmosphere.

This "occultation" was visible for just 2 minutes, and only from a small patch of the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand. SOFIA got into position in plenty of time initially, but the plane had to course-correct just two hours before the event when updated predictions revealed that the faint shadow would actually settle onto the waves 200 miles (320 kilometers) farther north than previously thought.

"Capturing that shadow required a bit of scramble. SOFIA has the benefit of being mobile, but the revised flight plan had to be cleared by air traffic control," William Reach, SOFIAs associate director for science operations, said in the same statement.

"There were a few tense moments, but the team worked together, and we got clearance," Reach said. "We reached Plutos shadow at exactly the right time and were very happy to have made it!"

Related: Destination Pluto: NASA's New Horizons mission in pictures

SOFIA was able to peer into the middle layers of the dwarf planet's atmosphere, gathering data in infrared and visible-light wavelengths. Two weeks later, during its flyby, New Horizons collected information about the upper and lower layers, in radio and ultraviolet frequencies.

"These combined observations, taken so close in time, have provided the most complete picture yet of Plutos atmosphere," NASA officials wrote in the same statement.

For example, New Horizons' imagery revealed that the atmosphere has a distinct blue tint, like the air of Earth. The color is thought to come courtesy of tiny haze particles, which reflect short-wavelength blue light preferentially.

SOFIA's observations confirmed the existence of those particles and characterized them, revealing that each fleck is just 0.06 to 0.10 microns wide, study team members said about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

After analyzing these and other results including information gathered by SOFIA's predecessor, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, which operated from 1975 to 1995 Person and his colleagues determined that Pluto's haze likely evolves on short timescales, fading and thickening over the course of just a few years.

This brief cycle suggests that something other than Pluto's distance from the sun is driving the abundance of haze particles. For example, periods of thick haze may result when particularly ice-rich regions of Pluto's surface get their time in the sun, the researchers said.

"Theres still a lot we dont understand, but were forced now to reconsider earlier predictions," Person said. "Plutos atmosphere may collapse more slowly than previously predicted, or perhaps not at all. We have to keep monitoring it to find out."

The study was published online in November 2019 in the journal Icarus.

It's unclear how many more occultations SOFIA will be able to chase down: President Donald Trump's proposed budget for 2021 would eliminate funding for the program. But that's not necessarily a death sentence. No budget is final until Congress passes it, and SOFIA a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, known by its German acronym DLR has escaped proposed termination before.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Pluto's wispy atmosphere may be surprisingly robust - Space.com

Hopeful for launch next year, NASA aims to resume SLS operations within weeks – Spaceflight Now

A crane hoisted the Space Launch System core stage into the B-2 test stand at NASAs Stennis Space Center in January. Credit: NASA/SSC

With the Space Launch Systems inaugural test flight now officially delayed to November 2021, NASA says work halted by the coronavirus pandemic will resume within weeks to prepare for the first test-firing of the SLS core stage at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The last official schedule from NASA had the first SLS test launch in March 2021, but managers have said for months that schedule was no longer achievable. After a thorough review, NASA says the first SLS launch named Artemis 1 is now planned in November of next year.

The most powerful launch vehicle since the Apollo-era Saturn 5 moon rocket, the Space Launch System will carry an unpiloted Orion crew capsule into space. The Orion spaceship will orbit the moon to demonstrate the capsules capabilities and performance before NASA commits to flying astronauts around the moon on the second SLS/Orion flight in late 2022 or early 2023.

According to NASAs current plans, the Artemis 3 mission scheduled as soon as 2024 will send astronauts back to the moon on the third SLS/Orion flight. Once in lunar orbit, crew members will dock with a lunar lander and attempt a landing near the moons south pole.

But the development of the Space Launch System, which kicked off in 2011, has faced ballooning costs, delays and a change in strategy ordered after the Trump administration took office in 2017. Since then, the White House has directed NASA to accelerate the return of U.S. astronauts to the lunar surface to 2024.

Years behind schedule, the march toward the first SLS test launch hit another hurdle in March when NASA ordered teams at the Stennis Space Center to pause operations on the B-2 test stand, where the heavy-lift rockets core stage arrived in January from its factory in New Orleans.

We basically shut down operations there March 17, said Doug Loverro, associate administrator for NASAs human exploration and operations mission directorate.

Originally scheduled for a debut test launch in 2017, the Space Launch System has faced repeated delays, primarily due to difficulties in building the rockets first flight-ready main stage, a large structure with cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant tanks measuring 212 feet (64.6 meters) long.

The core stage built by Boeing finally left its factory at NASAs Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans earlier this year. In January, the stage arrived at the B-2 test stand at Stennis, the same facility once used for test-firings of the main stage of NASAs Apollo-era Saturn 5 moon rocket.

Before the pandemic hit, NASA and contractor teams were readying for a test-firing of the SLS core stages four hydrogen-fueled RS-25 main engines as soon as early August. Known as the green run, the test is the culmination of the core stages construction and test campaign before delivery of the rocket to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to final launch preparations.

In mid-March, rising numbers cases of the COVID-19 viral disease in the area around the Stennis Space Center including the first confirmed positive case among the Stennis workforce prompted NASA to stop work on the test stand. NASA also paused production of hardware for subsequent SLS launches at Michoud.

Theres no question were going to lose some time to (the coronavirus pandemic), but weve tried to go ahead and maximize what weve got done, Loverro said in an interview Wednesday. And were right now working the reopening plans For each activity that were doing, we are putting together a specific plan.

In a sign that operations at Stennis are beginning to resume, Loverro said NASA has approved the painting of a different test stand used to to test-fire individual RS-25 engines that are used on the SLS core stage.

We have three other plans in work right now that will be submitted later this week to restart work at MAF (the Michoud Assembly Facility), and restart work at Stennis in different areas, Loverro said.

We are going to be resuming work on the B-2 test stand in support of green run within the next couple of weeks, Loverro said. It wont be at full speed, but it will be done in a safe manner so we can protect our Boeing and NASA workers down there. And we will work on the engine section, well work on the thermal protection system. Each element will be started when we have the plans and the gear ready to protect those workers.

Loverro said NASA and contractor teams continued with virtual training sessions and reviewed paperwork.

Its often the case in these developments that the last thing that gets done is the paperwork, so we decided that wed get ahead on the paperwork and get a lot of it signed off. And the software development has still continued as well, he said.

Loverro, a veteran manager in U.S. military space programs, led a comprehensive review of the SLS and Orion schedules since arriving at NASA late last year.

We went through an entire re-baseline of the program, he said. We looked at every schedule, and we came to the conclusion that we had a very high confidence date of November 2021.

Theres no question the COVID shutdown puts pressure on that date that we had not anticipated, Loverro said. I would say the work and the experience that Boeing has done so far in green run gives me great hope and confidence that they are going to get back into this and get us very near to the original schedule on this.

He said NASA and Boeing teams at Stennis were working 10 days ahead of schedule during the green run test campaign before the shutdown in March.

So performance was excellent, Loverro said. Assuming we can get back to work in the next several weeks, I think that November 2021 date is still going to hold.

Development of the Orion spacecraft, led by Lockheed Martin and Airbus Defense and Space, has encountered its own delays. But the spaceship is on track to be ready to begin Artemis 1 launch preparations within the next few months, well ahead of the SLS timeline.

The Orion spacecraft for Artemis 1 arrived back at the Kennedy Space Center in March after thermal vacuum and electromagnetic testing at NASAs Plum Brook Station in Ohio.

We were able to continue with Orion using the right protective gear to make sure we took care of our people and the Lockheed people, Loverro said. We were able to continue with that, not as we would normally do it. But under very safe conditions, we were able to continue work there, and in fact have progressed.

A Government Accountability Office report released this week said one of the top remaining technical risks with the Space Launch Systems core stage is that the rocket may develop leaks when filled with cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the first time.

NASA plans to load 730,000 gallons super-cold propellants into the rocket during a rehearsal for the green run test-firing. If all goes according to plan, engineers would follow the fueling test called a wet dress rehearsal with another propellant load culminating in a burn of all four RS-25 main engines lasting more than eight minutes.

The next big unknown as a program is when we put the cryogenic liquids in the oxygen tank and the hydrogen tank, and we look at the plumbing and all the systems and make sure that they remain tight, and that they perform as expected through our qualification test, said John Shannon, Boeings SLS program manager, in January. We have high confidence that they will, but until you see it in an integrated fashion, you dont really know.

NASA has spent more than $15 billion on developing the Space Launch System since 2011.

The program reported further development cost growth of $700 million since 2019, for a total increase of approximately $1.7 billion or 24.6 percent above the programs development baseline, the GAO reported of the SLS program this week.

Those figures assumed the SLS could lift for the first time in March 2021, a schedule that is no longer achievable.

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The UAE is going to Mars. Here’s the plan for its Hope orbiter. – Space.com

The United Arab Emirates had its sights set on Mars the day before it launched its second satellite ever.

The resulting mission, a Mars orbiter dubbed Hope, has finished construction and is scheduled to launch this summer among a rush of spacecraft bound for the Red Planet. If all goes well, the UAE will become the fourth or fifth country to orbit Mars next February. While the country's newly minted scientists are dedicated to learning something new about Mars, inquiry wasn't the motivation for the mission.

"Going to Mars was not the main objective," Omran Sharaf, mission lead for the Hope spacecraft, which is also known as the Emirates Mars Mission, told Space.com. "It's a means for a bigger goal: to expedite the development in our educational sector, academic sector."

Related: Meet Hope: The UAE's first spacecraft bound for Mars is now complete

Sharaf first heard about the Mars plan in November 2013, as he was preparing to see his prior project, an Earth-observing satellite called DubaiSat-2, launch. The Hope mission began with an order from UAE Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum: Send a UAE-built science probe to Mars before the country's 50th anniversary in December 2021, within a set budget.

There were other constraints too: "The science needs to be unique. Whatever you do, it shouldn't be something that's been done before," Sharaf said the prime minister directed. "We should build it and not buy it, and work with others, don't start from scratch."

Jumping from Earth orbit to Mars in less than a decade is quite a leap, but a purposeful one for the UAE, which turned its gaze to spaceflight in 2006. "Only 50% of those missions [to Mars] succeed," Sarah Al Amiri, science lead for the mission and the UAE's minister of state for advanced sciences, told Space.com. "It provides the mindset that the UAE needed to have in youth who are going to be a vital part of the UAE's post-oil economy. It's about expanding their horizons and putting them in challenges at a time when the UAE is relatively comfortable as a nation."

The mission is, after all, timed to celebrate the nation's 50th anniversary. "We need to catch up with nations that have been around for centuries," Al Amiri said.

As the Hope mission grew from proposal to project, team members began building connections with Mars scientists who could help them shape the goals of the spacecraft and with seasoned Mars-goers who could teach them how to design and build the probe.

For the latter, the UAE space center signed on with the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, impressed by center members' experience with Mars missions and demonstrated ability to foster less experienced team members into full-fledged participants.

For help with the science side of things, UAE representatives reached out to the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, an advisory group convened by NASA that includes scientists from around the world. In particular, the Hope team members needed to identify a scientifically valuable task that was feasible for this mission.

"We're not there just to declare arrival to Mars," Al Amiri said. "It doesn't really make sense to call it planetary exploration and just make it about technology demonstration and about arrival."

From that consultation, Al Amiri and her colleagues found a mission for the mission. "There was a large gap in the complete understanding of the atmosphere of Mars," she said. "We don't have a full understanding of the weather system of Mars throughout an entire year."

Previous and current missions have gathered observations of the Martian weather, but only a couple of times throughout a day, Al Amiri said. These measurements have often come from surface missions and so are quite limited geographically. Weather is too complex and interconnected for scientists to really get a handle on how it works from such piecemeal data.

So, Hope aims to monitor what's happening in the Martian atmosphere for a full local year, including making connections between layers of the atmosphere. That will help scientists understand not only Martian weather, but also how Mars has lost some of its atmosphere over billions of years of planetary history.

"That science was a sweet spot for us," Al Amari said. "You're complementary to other current missions, so you maximize the benefit that scientists are going to get globally from this mission, because it feeds into the current areas of research and expands on human knowledge as a whole."

The goal of integrating data collected across layers of the Martian atmosphere means that Hope's three instruments a camera sensitive to optical and ultraviolet wavelengths and spectrometers tuned to infrared and to ultraviolet light need to take simultaneous measurements that scientists can stack together.

To facilitate that process, Hope carries all its instruments on the same arm. The spacecraft also has a precisely tuned 55 hourlong orbit that enables two different views of Mars: One in which the planet rotates beneath the spacecraft, and one in which the spacecraft keeps pace and watches the same spot over time, Al Amiri said. That combination of views should make it easier for scientists to put together a complete map of the Martian atmosphere, she said.

Hope is scheduled to launch in late July or early August the same window being targeted by NASA's Perseverance rover and China's first Mars mission, Tianwen. Until March, the European Space Agency and Russia were also in on the Red Planet rush with their joint ExoMars mission. But parachute problems had plagued the ExoMars mission for months, and with the travel restrictions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, mission personnel weren't confident they could be addressed in time. The mission is now scheduled to launch in 2022.

The Hope mission has also had to contend with pandemic complications, Sharaf said. "The coronavirus has definitely brought a different level of challenge into all this," he said. "We thought that this phase would be the quiet phase, that we would be preparing for the launch, and it turns out that it's not really the quiet phase because of COVID-19."

As of late April, the spacecraft has arrived in Japan, from where it will launch aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket. The spacecraft headed over earlier than originally planned to ensure it didn't get caught in a pandemic-related hold-up.

The team also had to adjust its staffing plans. Rather than having teams bounce between the UAE and Japan, the agency sent a smaller team to Japan early enough that they would clear quarantine when the spacecraft arrived; those personnel will remain for three months straight.

Even still, something could go wrong, Sharaf said, potentially interfering with the launch. If everything goes smoothly, Hope should reach Mars sometime in February the exact date hasn't been set yet. And if everything continues to go smoothly, the spacecraft will spend about two terrestrial years at work around the Red Planet, with a potential mission extension likely to be evaluated a year into orbit.

"I never even fathomed the minute possibility of doing this, I don't think any of us would have proposed to even say that 'OK, let's build a mission to Mars,'" Al Amiri said. "We would have thought incrementally, incrementally what's the next best thing. But incrementally never works here. If you did not leap, if you didn't push the bounds forward really, really fast you're not able to overcome challenges."

When asked how it felt to be looking ahead to the launch, especially with the US and China also targeting the Red Planet on the same time table, Sharaf said he is "Absolutely terrified, to be honest. Proud and optimistic, but terrified."

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Virgin Galactic readies space tourism trips with first Spaceport America flight – Digital Trends

Virgin Galactic has taken an important step toward the launch of its space tourism service after successfully completing the first test flight from Spaceport America the soon-to-be starting point for paying passengers trip of a lifetime.

The team previously launched test flights from Mojave, California, before relocating to its new home in New Mexico in February 2020.

The SpaceShipTwo passenger craft, also known as VSS Unity, made its debut outing from Spaceport America with VMS Eve, the aircraft designed to carry Unity on the first part of its journey toward space during the tourism trips. Together, the vehicles climbed to an altitude of 15,240 meters (50,000 feet) before Eve released Unity, allowing it to fly freely for the first time in New Mexico airspace.

The spaceship achieved a glide speed of Mach 0.70 and completed multiple test points, before touching back down smoothly for a runway landing at Spaceport America, the team wrote in a piece describing the flight.

A video (below) shows parts of the test, including the moment Eve releases Unity, and the passenger crafts landing back at Spaceport America.

The glide flight offered the first opportunity to test all of the components required to fly Eve and Unity in glide configuration, from its new home base and in new airspace, Virgin Galactic said.

During the outing, Unity pilots Dave Mackay and C.J. Sturckow successfully executed a variety of maneuvers that enabled it to gather data regarding the spacecrafts performance and handling qualities. The flight test also allowed the pilots and ground team to continue familiarization with the airspace around Spaceport America, as well as the chance to conduct further pilot training.

Competing with the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic has an eye on launching its $250,000-a-seat space tourism service in the coming months, though its yet to set a firm date for the maiden trip. The next stage of testing will involve additional rocket-powered flights to confirm Unitys readiness for rides to the edge of space.

The experience will take passengers toward the generally agreed boundary of where space begins, around 62 miles up, with stunning views and a brief period of weightlessness all part of the package.

Weve reached out to Virgin Galactic for information on when it hopes to launch its first commercial space tourism flight and will update this article when we hear back.

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Virgin Galactic readies space tourism trips with first Spaceport America flight - Digital Trends

UC Berkeley Lab to build NOAA space weather instrument – SpaceNews

SAN FRANCISCO The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded a $7.5 million contract to the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, to design, build and test an ion sensor for the Space Weather Follow-On (SWFO) Lagrange-1 mission.

Under the contract announced May 1, the Space Sciences Laboratory will build the Supra Thermal Ion Sensor in addition to supporting launch and on-orbit checkout of the instrument.

The Supra Thermal Ion Sensor is designed to measures solar energetic particles and provide advance warning if a shock wave produced by those particles is headed for Earth, where it could rattle the magnetosphere and threaten communications links, said Davin Larson Supra Thermal Ion Sensor principal investigator and Space Sciences Laboratory project scientist.

Larson also serves as instrument lead for Solar Energetic Particle (SEP), a sensor launched in 2013 on NASAs Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution. SEP measures the impact of those particles on the Martian atmosphere.

SWFO, a high priority mission for NOAAs Space Weather Prediction Center, is designed to gather solar wind data and coronal mass ejection imagery when the current generation of space weather instruments stops working.

SWFO is a scheduled to launch in 2024 as a rideshare on the NASA Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe, a mission to observe theacceleration of energetic particles and the interaction of solar wind and the interstellar medium.

NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland,serves as the flight system procurement agent for the SWFO program.

NOAA awarded a $12.9 million contract in April to the Southwest Research Institute to design and build the SWFO magnetometer.

Congress provided NOAA funding in the 2020 budget for SWFO, a mission intended to carry on work performed by NOAAs Deep Space Climate Observatory launched in 2015 and the joint European Space Agency-NASA Solar and Heliophysics Observatory launched in 1995.

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UC Berkeley Lab to build NOAA space weather instrument - SpaceNews

Stay home, reflect and be part of something bigger: Sunita Williams to Indian students stuck in US – Economic Times

Indian-American NASA astronaut Sunita Williams has advised Indian students stranded in the US due to the coronavirus-linked global travel restrictions to use the occasion to think how they could be a productive and positive addition to the society.

During a virtual interaction, she compared the Indian students' experience to her being in space in a spacecraft "where you don't get to go, see your family and friends and give them a real hug."

Organised by the Embassy of India Student Hub on Friday, the interaction was watched by 84,000 people on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the first 24 hours.

Williams drew on her 322 days of orbiting in space to encourage a move from "I" to "We", saying "Isolation also provides a time to reflect and think about... how you can be a productive, active, positive addition to the society".

She joined the live session virtually from her kitchen in Houston, where she is undergoing training for another human spaceflight in 2021.

During the interaction, Williams stated how everyone could achieve something significant right now.

"Even just staying home and being responsible and not infecting others or getting infected gives you the opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than yourself," she said.

She said that the COVID-19 crisis was making them stronger as it was teaching them to "push through and finish what is important."

The Indian students praised Williams for sharing her thoughts.

"Suni (Williams) has been my inspiration since I was in school. She gave me the impetus to follow my fascination with aircraft and spacecraft and take up Aerospace Engineering in undergrad. I was really glad to have a dialogue with a global icon!" said 2020 graduate and India Student Hub volunteer Cherie Singh.

"It was brilliant to get the perspective of an astronaut who experienced social isolation from the whole mankind! I also realised that she is a regular person like all of us - that we don't have to become a 'superhuman' in one day to be a part of one of mankind's greatest achievements," said Arshiah Yusuf Mirza.

Williams first travelled to the International Space Station in 2006. She took a box of samosas, the Bhagavad Gita and an idol of Lord Ganesha to "keep her grounded" and help her "feel closer to home."

"A view from the stars! Thank you Sunita Williams @Astro_Suni for sharing your experiences from Space and inspiring our students. Excellent initiative by India Student Hub @IndianEmbassyUS," Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu said in a tweet.

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Stay home, reflect and be part of something bigger: Sunita Williams to Indian students stuck in US - Economic Times

Soyuz launches from Kazakhstan with space station supply ship – Spaceflight Now

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with the 75h Progress supply ship for the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos

A Soyuz rocket decorated to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe fired into space Friday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending a Progress supply ship on a fast-track, three-hour pursuit of the International Space Station.

The Soyuz-2.1a booster ignited its kerosene-fueled engines at climbed away from Launch Pad No. 31 at Baikonur at 9:51:41 p.m. EDT Friday (0151 GMT Saturday) to kick off a nine-minute climb into orbit.

Liftoff occurred at 6:51 a.m. Baikonur time Saturday, and the Soyuz arced into clear skies toward the northeast over the barren Kazakh steppe.

The Soyuz-2.1a rocket was adorned with markings and the number 75 on its payload shroud, signifying the launch occurred on the 75th anniversary of the meeting of U.S. and Soviet troops on the Elbe River in Germany in the final days of World War II in Europe.

The number has a double significance because the cargo mission is the 75th Progress resupply flightto the International Space Station since 2000.

The Soyuz launch was timed less than a minute before the space station soared directly over the historic Central Asia spaceport, putting the Progress cargo freighter on course to dock with the orbiting research outpost less than three-and-a-half hours later.

The Progress MS-14 supply ship separated from the Soyuz rockets third stage around nine minutes into the flight. Seconds later, the automated cargo carrier unfurled navigation antennas and power-generating solar arrays.

A series of thruster firings put the Progress MS-14 in position to begin a final approach to the space station around three hours after launch. The radar-guided rendezvous culminated in a link-up with the rear port of the space stations Zvezda service module at 1:12 a.m. EDT (0512 GMT).

The Progress MS-14 spacecrafts pressurized compartment is packed with nearly 3,000 pounds (1,350 kilograms) of dry cargo, including food, medicine, sanitary and hygienic materials, and equipment for space station systems.

The supply ship also carries around 1,543 pounds (700 kilograms) of propellant for transfer into the stations Zvezda module propulsion system, 926 pounds (420 kilograms) of water, and around 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of compressed air to replenish the stations breathable atmosphere.

After docking, the three-man space station crew will open hatches to the Progress supply ship and begin unpacking the spacecrafts pressurized cabin. The Progress MS-14 spacecraft is scheduled to remain docked at the station through late 2020, when it will depart with trash and re-enter the Earths atmosphere for destruction over the South Pacific Ocean.

The arrival of the space stations next Progress supply shipment occurred a week after the departure of the research labs last crew. Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and NASA crewmates Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan landed in Kazakhstan on April 17, leaving veteran NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy in command of the International Space Station.

Cassidy and his Russian crewmates Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner launched April 9 for their long-duration expedition on the station, expected to last more than six months.

A Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft that arrived at the space station in February is scheduled to depart the orbiting complex May 11. Like the Progress, the Cygnus freighter will carry trash away from the station and burn up in the atmosphere.

A Japanese HTV cargo ship is scheduled for launch May 20 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. Loaded with several tons of experiments and a fresh set of solar array batteries, the HTV cargo carrier is due to arrive at the space station May 25.

Then SpaceXs Crew Dragon spaceship is set for its first launch with astronauts as soon as May 27 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will fly aboard the Crew Dragon, with docking at the space station set for May 28 to begin a mission lasting several months.

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Soyuz launches from Kazakhstan with space station supply ship - Spaceflight Now

Long space flights can increase the volume of astronauts’ brains – New Scientist News

By Layal Liverpool

Credit: Delphotos/Alamy

Astronauts brains increase in volume after long space flights, causing pressure to build up inside their heads. This may explain why some astronauts experience worsened vision after prolonged periods in space.

This raises additional concerns for long-duration interplanetary travel, such as the future mission to Mars, says Larry Kramer at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, who led the study.

Kramer and his colleagues scanned the brains of 11 astronauts before they spent about six months on the International Space Station, and at six points over the year after they returned to Earth. They found that all the astronauts had increased brain volume including white matter, grey matter and cerebrospinal fluid around the brain after returning from space.

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Under normal gravity, it is thought that fluid in the brain naturally moves downwards when we stand upright. But there is evidence that microgravity prevents this, resulting in accumulation of fluid in the brain and skull.

The astronauts brain volume increased by 2 per cent on average and the increases were still present one year after they returned to Earth, which could result in higher intracranial pressure, Kramer says. He suspects this might press on the optic nerve, potentially explaining the vision problems frequently reported by astronauts.

Kramer and his team also observed that part of the brain called the pituitary gland was deformed in six out of the 11 astronauts. These results add to a body of evidence suggesting that brain structure can be altered after space flight.

This study is important because it provides data, for the first time in NASA astronauts, demonstrating the persistence of structural brain changes even up to one year following return to Earth, says Donna Roberts at the Medical University of South Carolina.

We are currently working on methods to counteract the changes we are observing in the brain using artificial gravity, says Kramer. These methods to pull blood back towards the feet could include a human-sized centrifuge that would spin a person around at high speed, or a vacuum chamber around the lower half of the body.

Hopefully one of these or other methods will be tested in microgravity and show efficacy, he says.

Journal reference: Radiology, DOI: 10.1148/radiol.2020191413

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How engineers are operating space missions from their homes – The Verge

Last Tuesday, a team of engineers sat huddled around their computer screens, monitoring a spacecraft as it maneuvered around a rocky asteroid more than 140 million miles from Earth. They were conducting an important interplanetary dress rehearsal, running the spacecraft through many of the operations it will do in August when it attempts to snag a tiny sample of rocks from the asteroids surface. This dress rehearsal has been in the works for years, and the team had expected to be gathered together for it in a mission center in Colorado.

Instead, most of them kept tabs on the event from home. It was a skeleton crew that was supporting the event in person, compared to what was originally planned, Mike Moreau, deputy project manager for the mission at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center, tells The Verge. More than three-quarters of the team was doing it from home and monitoring remotely.

Moreau is part of NASAs OSIRIS-REx mission, tasked with grabbing a sample of the asteroid Bennu and bringing it back to Earth for study. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched in 2016, and the team had planned for this particular dress rehearsal for more than a decade. They hadnt counted on a pandemic occurring during one of the most highly anticipated checkpoints of their mission but the show had to go on.

We were all going to be there together in the mission operations area, and we actually had rehearsed that even before this checkpoint rehearsal; we had done a simulation, Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator on NASAs OSIRIS-REx mission at the University of Arizona, tells The Verge. None of that happened. We were all in remote work conditions.

Just like millions of workers all over the world, the engineers who operate spacecraft are grappling with how to do their jobs while working from home. All of NASAs centers have instituted mandatory telework policies, with some exceptions for essential personnel. That includes many people who are tasked with calculating commands for interplanetary space probes and navigating rovers through harsh terrains on other worlds.

For some, the transition was awkward at first since operating a spacecraft often relies on ample amounts of in-person communication. Thats been the case for Carrie Bridge, who works as a liaison between scientists and the engineers who operate NASAs Curiosity rover on Mars. Every day, she talks with scientists all over the country about the kind of science theyd like the rover to accomplish, and then she relays those desires to the engineers who actually navigate the robot. Normally, she just walks over to the engineering team at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to coordinate the rovers movements for the day.

My morning consisted of being on the phone with the scientists and then going in and sitting beside the rover planners at the computer, Bridge tells The Verge. And we look at the terrain and look at the targets. I then go and report back to the scientists and say, Okay I think we can drive over here.

Now, that entire routine has been moved online. She says she has about 15 to 20 chat rooms open for all of the engineers and rover planners not to mention telecons with scientists across the country. The level of intensity has gone up because youre kind of always watching things, Bridge says. Im also not exercising anymore, she jokes. I used to walk around, and now Im staring at a computer station for hours on end without moving.

One of the lead rover planners that Bridge communicates with is Matt Gildner, who is also coordinating all the commands for Curiosity from his one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. He and his team started testing how to work remotely back in mid-March when the writing was on the wall about the COVID-19 pandemic, he says. He started coordinating everything theyd need to have at home, including audio headsets, monitors, cables, and even 3D glasses. Curiosity sends back 3D images of the Martian terrain, which the rover planners and engineers observe as 3D meshes, allowing them to simulate how the rover will interact with the environment when it moves.

Im at home now, and I have all my headsets on as I talk to multiple audio channels, put on my red-blue glasses and evaluate parts of a drive that were planning for a few minutes as part of our planning day, Gildner tells The Verge. I have a nice desk set up and Ive got all my houseplants around me, dual monitors, and a good keyboard and mouse headset stand. And this is working out just fine.

Someone does need to physically be at mission control at JPL in order to send Curiosity the commands that Gildner and his team develop. That person sends commands out to the Deep Space Network, an array of large radio antennas here on Earth, which then beam commands to interplanetary space probes like the rover.

Other spacecraft operators have figured out a way to send commands to their spacecraft without actually having anyone in a mission control center. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Utah is responsible for operating two small NASA satellites HARP and CIRiS which are both observing Earth. The team there typically goes into a mission control center to send commands to the spacecraft via a ground station in Virginia. But in a weird twist of fate, operators at the lab came up with a way to actually send the commands from their laptops at home just before everyone went into lockdown.

We were preparing and testing out our working from home techniques right before the pandemic hit, Ryan Martineau, an SDL engineer and spacecraft operator, tells The Verge. We frequently have to operate our spacecraft in the middle of the night, and so we didnt have to have the same two people driving into work every day, we were getting ready to test a secure solution.

Martineau and his colleagues essentially took the software they use at their mission control centers that allows them to connect with the Virginia ground station, and they put it in their local computers. We run a [virtual] Linux machine inside of our Windows laptop that has all the software we need to run the spacecraft, he says. Thanks to this arrangement, Martineau can control the spacecraft around Earth from his home for the foreseeable future. And that means juggling other responsibilities while maintaining the satellites.

I have a three year old and a three month old, Martineau says. There have been a couple of cases where I had to hurry up with a diaper change real quick before I needed to send some commands to the spacecraft.

The presence of children and pets has been a mainstay for many at NASAs workforce at home. One of our dogs [a Great Dane] has this habit of squeaking his toys when he wants attention, Amber Straughn, the associate director for the astrophysics science division at Goddard, writes in an email to The Verge. Hes definitely done that a couple times when Ive been in telecons.

New work companions have also been present for the OSIRIS-REx team as they prepared for their big dress rehearsal last week. Many of the team managers have had to juggle family responsibilities, such as remote learning, as they prepared for the event. For some of the managers it has been really stressful because we obviously wanted to see this go forward, Moreau says. But we were also very concerned about how our people were holding up.

Ultimately, everyone made it to the day of the rehearsal. But with most of the team away from Lockheed Martins mission control center in Colorado, some adjustments needed to be made. Theres no substitute for being in the same building; being on the same floor; being able to walk over to somebodys office and say, Hey, now I was just thinking about this. How does it look on your side? Lauretta says. We couldnt really do any of that.

Lauretta says the team made do with calls, which mostly worked, though there were a few technical difficulties. For some reason my phone kept going on mute, he says. Id be dialed in, and I would be talking and nobody would be hearing me. While that was frustrating, he said everyone was in good spirits. Actually everybody was just happy to be talking to each other on the group chat.

Despite the added challenges, the rehearsal went off without a hitch. During the practice session, OSIRIS-REx got closer to Bennu than its ever been before. It was a key maneuver that paves the way for OSIRIS-REx to get right next to Bennus surface in August and scoop up 60 grams of rocks from a crater called Nightingale. The engineers are thrilled with the result, though there was definitely some sadness over the unexpected circumstances.

I would say it was bittersweet in the sense that it was a great day; everything went according to plan. But we didnt get to celebrate it as a team, says Lauretta, who notes that theyve been waiting for this big test for over a decade. Were hopeful that by August, well all be able to gather together and actually celebrate the actual sample collection event.

For now, its unclear exactly when extreme social distancing will be over, allowing everyone not just spacecraft operators to return to their normal daily routines. But until that time arrives, the people in charge of operating spacecraft are making the most of their new mission control centers at home. For Gildner, its even been a nice distraction from the daily cycle of news surrounding the virus.

Work is a nice escape from everything thats going on, especially when youre working on a spaceflight project, Gildner says You feel like youre doing something that is very worthwhile that humanity appreciates, and right now thats important more than ever, I think.

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How engineers are operating space missions from their homes - The Verge

A Brief History of Chimps in Space – Discover Magazine

Long before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin famously set foot on the moon, the hero of Americas human spaceflight program was a chimpanzee named Ham. On Jan. 31, 1961 a few months before Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarins pioneering flight Ham became the first hominid in space.

Other nonhominid animals had ventured into space before Ham, but he and his fellow astrochimps were trained to pull levers and prove it was physically possible to pilot the Project Mercury spacecraft. And, unlike many other unfortunate primates in the spaceflight program, Ham survived his mission and went on to have a long life.

Ham proved that mankind could live and work in space, reads his grave marker in New Mexico.

Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, shown just before her flight to space in 1958 on a Jupiter rocket an intermediate-range ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear warheads, not monkeys. Miss Baker and another monkey, a rhesus macaque named Able, both survived the flight and became the first animals the U.S. returned safely from space. (Credit: NASA)

The U.S. Air Force was the first to launch primates into space. Instead of chimps, smaller monkeys were their preferred choice. But those early missions didnt go well for either human or animal.

In 1948, a decade before the creation of NASA, the Air Force strapped a male rhesus monkey named Albert into a capsule on top of a souped-up, Nazi-designed V-2 rocket and launched it from White Sands, New Mexico. Poor Albert suffocated before he reached space.

The next year, a monkey named Albert II was sent on a similar mission. Unlike his predecessor, Albert II succeeded in becoming the first monkey to survive a launch and reach space. Unfortunately, on his journey home, Albert II died when the capsules parachute failed. His spacecraft left a 10-foot-wide crater in the New Mexico desert.

In 1951, the Air Force finally managed to keep a monkey this one named Albert VI alive through both launch and landing. But his capsule failed to reach the boundary of space, leaving him out of the record books.

The honor of first primates to survive a return trip to space goes to a squirrel monkey named Miss Baker, and a rhesus macaque named Able. The pair were launched in 1959 on a Jupiter rocket, an intermediate-range ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear warheads, not monkeys. Sadly, Able died just days after returning to Earth due to complications from a medical procedure.

Ham the astrochimp wears his spacesuit complete with NASA meatball logo prior to his 1961 test flight into space. (Credit: NASA)

While America was struggling to send monkeys into space, their adversaries were racking up animal success stories. Rather than monkeys, the Soviet Union preferred to crew their early spacecraft with stray dogs. And by the time of Miss Bakers and Ables trip, the country had already safely launched and landed dozens of canines. (Though they also experienced a number of gruesome dog deaths.)

By the early 1960s, the U.S. was ready for its first real human spaceflight program, Project Mercury. But instead of monkeys or humans the nascent National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided its inaugural class of astronauts would be chimps.

Monkeys, chimps and humans are all primates. However, chimpanzees and humans are both hominids, which means were much more closely related. In fact, humans share more DNA with chimps than with any other animal.

Beyond their genetic similarities to humans, chimps are also incredibly smart and have complex emotions. This is why NASA figured that if chimps could endure the trip beyond Earths atmosphere in primitive early space capsules, there was a good chance a human astronaut could survive the journey, too.And, whereas monkeys and dogs had been mere passengers, NASA needed a test subject with the intelligence and dexterity to actually prove it could operate a spacecraft.

As NASA put it: Intelligent and normally docile, the chimpanzee is a primate of sufficient size and sapience to provide a reasonable facsimile of human behavior.

All told, the U.S. government acquired 40 chimps for its Mercury program. And one of those males was Ham. He had been captured by trappers in the French Cameroons and taken to the Miami Rare Bird Farm in Florida. From there, Ham and others were soon sold to the military and transferred to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

The chimps received daily training, including some of the same G-force exposure simulations as their human Mercury 7 counterparts. But, most importantly, handlers taught Ham and the other chimps to pull a lever every time a blue light came on. If they performed the task, they got a tiny banana treat. If they failed, they got a small electric shock to their feet.

Over the course of the training, handlers winnowed the final group of astrochimps down to just six, including four females and two males. Then, with their training complete, the Air Force sent the hominids to Cape Canaveral in Florida on Jan. 2, 1961.

Out of the six chimps, NASA and an Air Force veterinarian ultimately selected Ham, then known as No. 65. He was chosen just before his flight because he seemed particularly feisty and in good humor, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Ham gives the commander of the USS Donner a handshake. (Credit: NASA)

Those traits would pay off during the mission. Following his launch on Jan. 31, 1961, Hams Mercury capsule unintentionally carried him far higher and faster than NASA intended. His capsule also partially lost air pressure, though the chimp was unharmed because he was sealed inside an inner chamber.

Well never know what Ham was thinking during his six and a half minutes of weightlessness. But, like the later human Mercury astronauts, Ham could have seen out of the capsules small porthole window.

As far as his mission was concerned, Ham successfully pulled his lever at the proper time, performing only a tad slower than he had during practice runs on Earth. By simply tugging on a lever, Ham proved that human astronauts could perform basic physical tasks in orbit, too.

Roughly 16 and a half minutes after launch, Ham splashed down in the ocean. And although the capsule took on some water while recovery crews converged, the chimp seemed unfazed once aboard the rescue ship USS Donner even shaking the commanders hand. Ham eventually became the subject of documentaries and cartoons and graced the covers of national magazines.

He lived out the rest of his life in the North Carolina Zoo, where he died in 1983 at age 25.

Following Ham, just one other chimp would ever journey to space. Enos, who was also bought from the Miami Rare Bird Farm and trained alongside Ham, orbited Earth on Nov. 29, 1961. He was the third hominid to circle our planet, following cosmonauts Gagarin and Gherman Titov.

In the decades since, many other types of monkeys have flown to space on U.S., Russian, Chinese, French and Iranian spacecraft. NASA continued sending monkeys to orbit all the way into the 1990s, when pressure from animal rights groups, including PETA, pushed the space agency to reexamine the ethics of such research. As a result, NASA pulled out of the Bion program, a series of joint missions with Russia that was intended to study the impact of spaceflight on living organisms.

These animals performed a service to their respective countries that no human could or would have performed, says NASAs history of animals in spaceflight webpage. They gave their lives and/or their service in the name of technological advancement, paving the way for humanitys many forays into space.

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A Brief History of Chimps in Space - Discover Magazine

Starlink satellites: When and how to see them flying over Nottinghamshire tonight – Nottinghamshire Live

Elon Musk's Starlink satellites will be visible once again tonight and throughout the rest of the weekend.

For the past week, a number of the 422 satellites have been visible to the naked eye as they pass over the county in low orbit.

The satellites were designed and delivered into space by the entrepreneur's private spaceflight company, SpaceX, with the aim of eventually providing high-speed internet to remote areas of the world.

SpaceX has so far been granted permission to place up to 12,000 satellites into orbit, and Elon Musk says 800 will be needed for moderate internet connection.

Eventually, there are hopes that up to 40,000 will be operational.

They are currently visible as they are in low orbit at around 550km, and can be seen tonight, travelling in a line commonly referred to as a 'train'.

The Findastarlink website says you may be able to spot satellite train Starlink-5 and Starlink-6 at around 9.45pm for around six minutes.

To see them, the website says you must look up to 10 degrees above the horizon, or up to 87 degrees depending on your position.

The satellite trains will be travelling from east to west.

Findastarlink says they may be visible on a number of occasions during the weekend, including:

Saturday, April 25: Starlink-5 and 6 at 9.45pm

Sunday, April 26: Starlink-3 at 4.50am

On April 22, residents across Nottinghamshire were also able to see SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket travelling from its launch pad in Florida and into space to deliver a further 60 satellites.

The rocket could be seen in Clifton, Beeston and Bingham trailing across the sky.

A mission to place more satellites into space happens around once a month.

The satellites are visible due to their position and reflective surfaces, which has become a concern for astronomers.

As a result, Elon Musk has now trailed a non-reflective coating on Starlink-2 to dim them in the night sky.

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Starlink satellites: When and how to see them flying over Nottinghamshire tonight - Nottinghamshire Live

UAE’s Mars Hope Probe on its way amid Covid-19 pandemic – Khaleej Times

The UAE Space Agency and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) announced the successful completion of the Hope probe's transfer to its launch site at the space station on Tanegashima Island in Japan, despite the Covid-19 pandemic challenges presented.

Positive message

Dr. Ahmed bin Abdullah Hamid Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency confirmed that with the successful completion of the transfer of the Hope probe from Dubai to Japan, the UAE is sending a positive message to the world by moving forward with the Emirates Mars Mission, as planned previously, despite the challenges resulting from the global coronavirus pandemic.

He added: "We would like to take this opportunity to extend our highest gratitude and appreciation to the wise leadership of the UAE for their continuous and unlimited support on this project to explore Mars and the national team of young women and men dedicated to this project."

"Nothing is Impossible", in word and in action

Sara Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, Deputy Project Manager of EMM, pointed out that the Emirates Mars Mission is part of the UAE's accelerated developmental journey to further establish itself as a leader in space science and exploration.

She added: "Today, we must celebrate the scientific achievement of our engineers, scientists and technicians. This milestone will become an integral part of the UAE's history that we collectively take pride in. This project will become the largest scientific addition to the Arab World's notable achievements in the space and sciences industry."

She extended her appreciation to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, Dubai Police, the UAE embassy in Japan, and Akihiko Nakajima, the Japanese Ambassador to the UAE, in facilitating the process of transferring the Probe from Dubai to Japan.

Specific Space Mission

Omran Sharaf, Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission Project, stressed that the project represents a great challenge since the day the UAE announced its launch. Since then, the Emirati team have cultivated a wealth of knowledge and experiences.

He pointed out that the successful transfer of the probe to its launch site on Tanegashima Island in Japan is done according to plan and at the highest levels of accuracy, which reflects the keenness of the team to complete the first project of its kind in the UAE and the region to achieve the vision of the UAE's leadership.

He added that the ongoing support and motivation received from the UAE's leadership and the great cooperation from many government agencies contributed to achieving this milestone, which comes despite the challenges posed by the novel COVID-19. He concluded that after the arrival of the Hope probe in Japan, the team will begin preparing for the launch that will take place this July.

Stages of The Probe transport

The journey of moving the Hope probe from Dubai to the launch site on Tanegashima Island in Japan went through three major phases. It required the activation of specific scientific procedures and the provision of integrated logistical conditions to ensure the completion of the process of the probe in an optimal manner.

The first phase

The first stage included the transportation of the probe from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center to the Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai, which lasted 12 hours, from 8 am to 8 pm. It included the preparation and loading of the shipping container specially designed for the probe, and rehabilitating it with all the required equipment to be as a clean mini-mobile room that maintains the specified temperature and humidity, and works on using nitrogen to disinfect the probe and sensitive scientific devices from any dust particles in the air.

This was followed by loading the mechanical ground support equipment represented by the probe- supporting devices to help in the process of moving it, and electronic support equipment to help monitor the state of the probe during the flight in addition to its use in preparations for launch. Then, it was transported in a special freight container on a truck carrying the probe at a slow pace and at a specified speed to reduce the percentage of vibrations, all the way to equipping the container at the airport and loading it on the plane.

The second phase

The second phase extended from Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai to Nagoya Airport in Japan. It included loading the probe and ground support equipment to the giant Antonov 124 logistical transport plane intended for the shipment of mega equipment, which is the largest cargo plane in the world, and continued to Japan for 11 hours. The team also monitored the intensity of the air bumps where severe vibrations would affect the structure of the probe. The team accompanying the probe delivered it to the team in Japan upon arrival at Nagoya Airport.

The third phase

As for the third stage, it extended from Nagoya Airport to the launch site on Tanegashima Island, and included carefully landing the probe from the plane, examining the probe and ensuring its safety, then transporting the probe by land from Nagoya Airport to the port of Shimama, and finally, moving it by sea from the port of Shimama to Tanegashima Island. After arriving to the port on the island, the team at the launch site worked to unload and check the probe before starting to prepare for the launch.

The supervising team

The team overseeing the transport operations included Omran Sharaf, Emirates Mars Mission project manager, Suhail Al Muhairi, Deputy Project Manager from the Probe Development Team, Khulood Al Harmoudi, Deputy Project Director from the Quality and Safety Assurance Team, and Mohsen Al Awadi, responsible for the transportation of the probe in the Probe Development Team, and Omar Al-Shehhi from the Probe Development Team, Leader of the transportation team from Japan Airport to Tanegashima Island.

Global best practices

In light of the challenges posed by COVID-19 during the transfer of the Hope probe from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center to Al Maktoum International Airport to Japan and then to the launch station - the best global health procedures were followed in order to preserve the health and safety of the team, as well as the team accompanying the probe on its flight to Japan. In addition, there was a third team that traveled early and underwent quarantine procedures in Japan to be able to receive the probe upon arrival, to oversee its transportation to the launch station into space.

The Hope probe is a national project that translates the vision of the United Arab Emirates' leadership to build an Emirati space program that reflects the nation's commitment to strengthening the frameworks of international cooperation and partnership with a view to finding solutions to global challenges for the good of humanity.

It is planned that the Hope probe's mission to Mars will start in mid-July 2020 from the Tanegashima Space Center using the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI H2A) platform and is expected to reach the Red Planet's orbit in the first quarter (February) of the year 2021.

The Hope probe, the first Arab project to explore other planets, carries a message of hope for all peoples of the region, in a way that contributes to reviving the rich history of Arab and Islamic achievements in all sciences. The Hope probe embodies the aspirations of the UAE, and its leadership's continuous pursuit of challenging and overcoming the impossible and consolidating this trend as a firm value in the identity of the state and the culture of its people. The Emirates Mars Mission is also an Emirati contribution to shaping and making a promising future for humanity.

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UAE's Mars Hope Probe on its way amid Covid-19 pandemic - Khaleej Times

Visiting the Bottom of the Mariana Trench Sounds Pretty Appealing Right Now – Popular Mechanics

Xinhua News AgencyGetty Images

A retired naval officer and wealthy investor will begin carrying paying passengers into the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point on Earth. The eight-day trip, which includes three dives into the Deep, will cost $750,000 per person.

Victor Vescovo has already visited the Challenger Deep twice, and was just the fourth person in the world to get there. In 2015, he created an exploration company he named Caladan Oceanic, after the water-covered planet in Frank Herberts Dune saga.

The group has two fully booked expeditions scheduled for May, and so far, there have been no changes to those plans. Visitors will ride out to the very remote site aboard a 224-foot repurposed research ship called Pressure Drop. Pressure Drop, too, is retired from the U.S. Navy, where she was called Indomitable.

Indomitable served for nearly two decades as a surveillance ship, and another 11 as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research vessel. Now, as Pressure Drop, she exclusively carries the specially equipped deep-ocean submarine Limiting Factor. (Three careers and counting makes sense for a vessel born in 1985, right?)

Bloomberg reports that Vescovo is excited to share the exhilarating and unusual feelings of deep water with his passengers. Even the most ardent recreational SCUBA diver doesnt go much further than about 100 feet, and the typical Navy submarine goes about 800 feet down. Researchers who study the ocean floor take special crafts to do that work, and they often use autonomous vehicles to collect data and samples more safely. Still, the ocean floor is wildly unfamiliar to us, and an estimated 80 percent remains unexplored and undocumented.

Mike MarslandGetty Images

Once you get a ways down, the surroundings look so unfamiliar that people might be discombobulated by them. But then, pretty quickly, everything goes completely dark. Then its just really peaceful, and theres virtually no sense of motion in any direction, Vescovo told Bloomberg. You arent weightless like you are in space, but theres no sense you are falling down or even turning slightly.

Thats interesting, because studies show that just over half of humans can see their own movements even in complete darknessbut thats believed to be a result of our brain activity, not any external signals. And at such depths, even adjusted and controlled air pressure cant account for how alien the darkness and sense of unfamiliarity will be. The media often compare Mariana expeditions to space flight, but in a way, weve explored more of our immediate space than we have of the deep ocean.

Carrying passengers is a moneymaker that will help Vescovo underwrite his continued research in the deep ocean. And, well, he has a beef to settle with fellow megamillionaire and Challenger Deep visitor James Cameron.

The blockbuster director has been upset with Vescovos claims that he made it 52 feet deeper into the Deep, because Cameron says the bottom is flat and you can't go any deeper. Vescovo said then that he planned to confirm his finding during his 2020 trips.

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Visiting the Bottom of the Mariana Trench Sounds Pretty Appealing Right Now - Popular Mechanics

Welders wanted: SpaceX is hiring to ramp up production of stainless steel Starship – Space.com

The coronavirus pandemic isn't shrinking every part of the job market.

For example, SpaceX is looking to hire lots of folks to help ramp up production and testing of its ambitious Starship Mars-colonizing architecture over the coming months and the company recently issued a public recruiting pitch.

"The design goal for Starship is three flights per day on average [per ship], which equates to roughly 1,000 flights per year at greater than 100 tons per flight. This means every 10 ships would yield 1 megaton per year to orbit," Jessica Anderson, a lead manufacturing engineer at SpaceX, said last week during the launch webcast for the company's latest batch of Starlink internet satellites.

Related: SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy rocket in picturesUpdates: The coronavirus pandemic impacts on space exploration

"This is a significant effort, and we are looking for highly skilled engineers and welders to help us make this a reality," Anderson added. "If you're interested in joining the team, please take a look at SpaceX.com/careers."

At the moment, that website lists more than 600 current SpaceX job opportunities, most of them based at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. But about 60 of the offered positions are at SpaceX's South Texas facility, near the village of Boca Chica, where Starship is being built.

The Starship system consists of a 165-foot-tall (50 meters) spacecraft called Starship, which SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said will be capable of carrying up to 100 people. Starship will launch to Earth orbit atop a huge rocket called Super Heavy, then make its own way to the Red Planet, the moon or anywhere else a mission may demand.

Both Starship and Super Heavy will be fully and rapidly reusable. For example, Super Heavy will come back to Earth for vertical landings shortly after liftoff, as the first stages of SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets already do. And the company wants each Starship to fly often as well, as Anderson noted during last week's Starlink webcast.

Reuse won't apply just to the Starship spacecraft that deliver payloads to Earth orbit. The vehicles that go to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations will also fly multiple missions, Musk has said. Starship will feature six of SpaceX's Raptor engines and therefore be powerful enough to launch itself off the lunar or Martian surface, without the need for Super Heavy. (Mars and the moon are much smaller than Earth and thus have a weaker gravitational pull.)

Super Heavy will be powered by up to 37 Raptors, Musk has said. So, while SpaceX aims to carry out brief flight tests in the near future with the current Starship prototype, known as the SN3, and longer demo missions shortly thereafter with the SN4, "ramping up our Starship and Raptor production line is what matters most," Anderson said.

SpaceX wants to get Starship fully up and running fast. If all goes well with development and testing, the system could start flying its first operational missions probably satellite launches to Earth orbit by 2021, company representatives have said.

And there's one crewed mission on the docket already. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa booked Starship for a round-the-moon trip, with a target launch date of 2023.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Welders wanted: SpaceX is hiring to ramp up production of stainless steel Starship - Space.com

When you can see the ‘train’ of Starlink satellites flying over Greater Manchester and the UK – Manchester Evening News

Sky-watchers are in for a treat over the next few days as a glowing satellite formation flies over the UK.

Last week, the Manchester Evening News reported that the International Space Station could be visible in the sky at the end of March and the beginning of April.

And now - at least until April 4, 2020 - a cluster of satellites known as Starlink will also be making its way over.

People will be able to watch as dozens of tiny satellites - which will look like moving stars - will fly across the sky in train-like straight line.

A sighting has already been observed by a reader who told Devon Live: "I've just been outside and I have seen at least 30 satellites following each other in a line and there's more following. Weird!"

Weather-permitting, Starlink should appear as a string of very bright lights in a line formation. So make sure you look up at the sky over the next few nights!

Starlink - the name of a satellite network - was created by a private spaceflight company called SpaceX.

The mission of the project - which continues to be developed - is to provide remote locations across the world with low-cast internet.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has granted the company permission to fly 12,000 satellites as part of the project - and this number could eventually be increased to 30,000.

To put those figures into perspective, there are 2,218 satellites currently orbiting the Earth as stated in the UCS Satellite Database.

According to spacenews.com, SpaceX has launched 120 of its planned 12,000 small broadband satellites into low orbit around the Earth.

But the project has faced back-lash as astronomers fear that SpaceX's bright satellites will interfere with other observations of the universe.

According to findastarlink.com, the Starlink satellites will be flying over the UK during the next few days.

Here are the times the satellites should appear flying over Greater Manchester, and in brackets if they will be of good or dim visibiliy.

March 31, 2020

8.17pm: Starlink-4 (old) will be visible over Greater Manchester travelling from south west to east for six minutes (dim).

9.52pm: Starlink-4 (old) will be visible over Greater Manchester travelling from west to south east for six minutes (bright).

April 1, 2020

4.39am: Starlink-5,6 (new) will be visible over Greater Manchester travelling from south east to east for two minutes (dim).

6.11am: Starlink-5,6 (new) will be visible over Greater Manchester travelling from west to east for five minutes (dim).

8.52pm: Starlink-4 (old) will be visible over Greater Manchester travelling from west to east for six minutes (bright).

10.28pm: Starlink-4 (old) will be visible over Greater Manchester travelling from west to west for six minutes (dim).

April 2, 2020

4.59am: Starlink-5,6 (new) will be visible over Greater Manchester travelling from south to East for three minutes (bright).

9.28pm: Starlink-4 (old) will visible travelling from west to east for six minutes (bright).

11.03pm: Starlink-4 (old) will visible travelling from west to west for fiive minutes (dim).

April 3, 2020

5.21am: Starlink-5,6 (new) will be visible over Greater Manchester for four minutes travelling from west to east (bright).

8.27pm: Starlink-4 (old) will be travelling over Greater Manchester for six minutes from west to east (bright).

10.03pm: Starlink-4 (old) will be travelling over Greater Manchester for six minutes from west to south west (bright).

April 4, 2020

4.14am: Starlink-5,6 (new) will be visible over Greater Manchester for one minute travelling from east to east (dim).

5.45am: Starlink-5,6 (new) will be travelling over Greater Manchester from West to East for 5 mins (bright).

If you're not from Greater Manchester click here to find the visible times for your location.

The Starlink app automatically calculates when the SpaceX Starlink satellites are expected to be visible above your current location.

When you open the app click a satellite number from the list provided and select your current location to reveal the visible times.

Results will display the start and end time of the sighting, the duration, directions for tracking, elevation co-ordinates and a visibility warning if the satellites will be hard to see.

There is also the option to set up 'remind me' alerts so you don't miss the chance to see Starlink.

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When you can see the 'train' of Starlink satellites flying over Greater Manchester and the UK - Manchester Evening News


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