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SpaceX launches another batch of Starlink satellites Spaceflight Now – Spaceflight Now

A Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from pad 39A at 8:25 a.m. EDT (1225 GMT Sunday. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launched 60 more Starlink internet relay platforms into orbit Sunday as the company ramps up network testing in Washington state and touts a streak of nearly 300 satellites launched since June without a spacecraft failure.

Nine Merlin 1D engines fired up and powered the Falcon 9 rocket off pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:25:57 a.m. EDT (1225:57 GMT) Sunday, marking the 14th Falcon 9 mission dedicated to deploying satellites for SpaceXs Starlink broadband network.

The kerosene-fed engines throttled up to produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust, driving the Falcon 9 rocket to the northeast from the Floridas Space Coast. Two-and-a-half minutes later, the first stage booster shut down its engines and detached to begin descending toward SpaceXs drone ship Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean.

The second stages single Merlin engine ignited to continue the mission into orbit, and the Falcon 9s two-piece nose shroud jettisoned nearly three-and-a-half minutes into the flight.

The 15-story first stage booster nailed its landing on SpaceXs drone ship around 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral. It was the sixth trip to space and back for this particular booster designated B1051 after its debut on an unpiloted test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in March 2019.

At the same time, the Falcon 9s upper stage delivered the 60 Starlink internet satellites into a preliminary orbit. The upper stage engine later reignited to maneuver the payloads into a near-circular orbit 172 miles (278 kilometers) above Earth, with an inclination of 53 degrees to the equator.

The 60 flat-panel satellites separated from the rocket at 9:29 a.m. EDT (1329 GMT) to conclude SpaceXs 70th straight successful mission. A camera on the upper stage showed the 60 satellites each with a mass of about a quarter-ton flying free of the Falcon 9 over the Indian Ocean.

Great way to start off a Sunday, said Andy Tran, a production supervisor at SpaceX who hosted the companys launch webcast Sunday.

SpaceX said its two fairing recovery ships caught both halves of the fairing from Sundays launch as the clamshells came back to Earth under parachutes. The net on one of the vessels gave way as the fairing settled into orbit, but SpaceX said its ocean-going recovery team was OK.

With the satellites launched Sunday, SpaceX has placed 835 Starlink broadband relay stations into orbit, including prototypes that wont be used for commercial service. That extends SpaceXs lead in operating the largest fleet of satellites in orbit.

The new Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, were expected to unfurl solar panels and activate krypton ion thrusters to begin raising their altitude to roughly 341 miles (550 kilometers), where they will begin providing broadband service.

SpaceX plans to operate an initial block of around 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbits 341 miles above Earth. The company, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually field a fleet of up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations operating in Ku-band, Ka-band, and V-band frequencies.

There are also preliminary plans for an even larger fleet of 30,000 additional Starlink satellites, but a network of that size has not been authorized by the FCC.

SpaceX says the Starlink network designed for low-latency internet service is still in its early stages, and engineers continue testing the system to collect latency data and speed tests. In a filing with the FCC dated Oct. 13, SpaceX said it has started beta testing of the Starlink network in multiple U.S. states, and is providing internet connectivity to previously unserved students in rural areas.

On Sept. 28, the Washington Military Department announced it was using the Starlink internet service as emergency responders and residents in Malden, Washington, recover from a wildfire that destroyed much of the town.

Earlier this month, Washington government officials said the Hoh Tribe was starting to use the Starlink service. SpaceX said it recently installed Starlink ground terminals on an administrative building and about 20 private homeson the Hoh Tribe Reservation.

Weve very remote, saidMelvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the Hoh Tribe. The last eight years, Ive felt like we have been paddling up river with a spoon and almost getting nowhere with getting internet to the reservation.

It seemed like out of nowhere, SpaceX just came up and just catapulted us into the 21st century, Ashue said Oct. 7. Our youth are able to do education on line, participate in videos. Tele-health is no longer going to be an issue, as well as tele-mental health.

In an FCC filing last week, SpaceX representatives wrote that the company had successfully launched and operated nearly 300 new Starlink spacecraft since June without a failure.

SpaceX continues investing in its rapid network deployment, including launching as many as 120 satellites a month and installing extensive ground infrastructure across the country, SpaceX told the FCC.

SpaceX appears to be on pace to launch more than 120 satellites in the month of October.

The company added 60 satellites to the Starlink network with a Falcon 9 launch Oct. 6, and put up another 60 spacecraft Sunday. A Falcon 9 rocket is tentatively scheduled for liftoff from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:36 p.m. EDT (1636 GMT) Wednesday with another flock of Starlink satellites.

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SpaceX launches another batch of Starlink satellites Spaceflight Now - Spaceflight Now

NASA’s about to scoop up some asteroid dirt on the space rock Bennu. Scientists are thrilled. – Space.com

NASA will touch a space rock tomorrow (Oct. 20) in a milestone event for what the agency considers a crucial field of study: asteroid science.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has spent two years orbiting a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu in preparation for the big moment. But that mission, more formally known as the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer, is just one of a host of asteroid missions on NASA's agenda.

"While the planets and moons have changed over the millennia, many of these small bodies of ice and rock and metal haven't," Lori Glaze, head of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said during a news conference held on Monday (Oct. 19). "So the asteroids are like time capsules floating in space that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system."

Related: Photos: Asteroids in deep space

But just as paleontologists need to study a range of fossils to learn about different species and epochs, scientists need to visit a host of asteroids to paint a detailed picture of how our solar system got the way it is, Glaze said.

"There are so many of these small bodies out there," she said. "Looking at the diversity of those different types of objects can really help put that puzzle together."

And NASA has several missions tackling that big picture. OSIRIS-REx's sampling attempt is a key piece of that science agenda, since the spacecraft will bring the asteroid pieces back to Earth for scientists to examine with much more sophisticated instruments than can be sent into space.

In particular, scientists are looking forward to analyzing amino acids and other carbon compounds that play a vital role in life here on Earth in the sample once it arrives later this decade. "We have really good reason to believe that the Bennu sample, when it returns, is going to contain a lot of these organic molecules, these building blocks," Jamie Elsila, a research scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said during the news conference.

There's no life to be found on Bennu, she emphasized. "But we're looking for those building-block molecules, because those are going to help us understand what the ingredients were in the early solar system, when life arose on Earth, and how those organic molecules might have been delivered to the Earth's surface and maybe to elsewhere in the solar system as well."

But while sample analysis in terrestrial laboratories is scientifically incredibly valuable, scientists can't bring home a piece of every space rock that catches their eyes. "Bringing samples back is a real challenge," Glaze said.

That's where NASA's other asteroid missions, the ones that only journey one way, come into the picture. In particular, NASA is launching two key asteroid science missions this decade: Lucy in 2021 and Psyche in 2022.

Lucy will visit one object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, then focus its attention on two special clusters of space rocks that orbit ahead of and behind Jupiter, called the Trojans, which scientists have never been able to examine up close.

"The Trojans, despite the fact that they're in a very narrow region of space, are very different from one another they have different colors, different spectra," Hal Levison, the Lucy mission principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, said during the news conference.

And Lucy, over the course of its mission, will visit seven Trojan rocks on five different stops. If all goes well, the spacecraft will give scientists observations of about as many Trojans as main-belt asteroids that spacecraft have visited to date.

But main-belt asteroid missions are continuing, including with the 2022 launch of NASA's Psyche mission, which will visit an asteroid by the same name. Out of the 2 million objects in the asteroid belt, the asteroid Psyche is one of nine known objects that are primarily metal, rather than rock or ice. Scientists aren't sure how that came to be their primary hypothesis is that the object was once the core of a planet that somehow lost its less-dense outer layers.

"It's an entirely unique object in our entire solar system," Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the Psyche mission's principal investigator at Arizona State University, said in the news conference. "One thing I can promise you for sure is that when we arrive, we will be surprised."

The observations of these missions grouped together, scientists hope, will help them to decipher the history of our solar system at large.

"We used to believe the planets sort of formed in the region we now see them. Really, what happened is that it's as if somebody picked up the solar system and shook it real hard," Levinson said. "So these objects that are leftover have moved a lot and have witnessed a lot."

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

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NASA's about to scoop up some asteroid dirt on the space rock Bennu. Scientists are thrilled. - Space.com

Elon Musk says SpaceX’s 1st Starship trip to Mars could fly in 4 years – Space.com

SpaceX is almost ready to start building a permanent human settlement on Mars with its massive Starship rocket.

The private spaceflight company is on track to launch its first uncrewed mission to Mars in as little as four years from now, SpaceX's founder and CEO Elon Musk said Friday (Oct. 16) at the International Mars Society Convention.

"I think we have a fighting chance of making that second Mars transfer window," Musk said in a discussion with Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin. You can watch a replay of the talk here.

That window Musk referred to is a launch opportunity that arises every 26 months for mission to Mars. NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates all launched missions to mars in July of this year. The next window opens in 2022 with Musk referring to the 2024 Mars launch opportunity.

The mission will launch to the Red Planet on a SpaceX Starship vehicle, a reusable rocket-and-spacecraft combo that is currently under development at the company's South Texas facility. SpaceX is also planning to use Starship for missions to the moon starting in 2022, as well as point-to-point trips around the Earth.

Related:Starship and Super Heavy: SpaceX's Mars-colonizing vehicles in images

Musk has long said that humans need to establish a permanent and self-sustaining presence on Mars to ensure "the continuance of consciousness as we know it" just in case planet Earth is left uninhabitable by a something like a nuclear war or an asteroid strike.

But SpaceX doesn't have any plans to actually build a Mars base. As a transportation company, its only goal is to ferry cargo (and humans) to and from the Red Planet, facilitating the development of someone else's Mars base.

"SpaceX is taking on the biggest single challenge, which is the transportation system. There's all sorts of other systems that are going to be needed," Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin said during the convention.

"My personal hope is that we're gonna see Starship in the stratosphere before this year's out, and if Elon is right, reach orbit next year or the year after," Zubrin added. "This will change people's minds as to what is possible. And then, you know, we'll have NASA seeking to fund the remaining pieces of the puzzle or entrepreneurs stepping forward to develop remaining pieces of the puzzle."

If Musk's projections are correct he is known for offering overly ambitious timelines SpaceX's first Mars mission would launch in the same year that NASA astronauts return to the moon under the Artemis program. SpaceX is also planning to fly space tourists on a Starship mission around the moon in 2023. NASA has also picked SpaceX as one of three commercial teams to develop moon landers for the Artemis program.

Musk said Friday that if it weren't for the orbital mechanics that call for Mars launches every 26 months, SpaceX "would maybe have a shot of sending or trying send something to Mars in three years," Musk said, adding that Earth and Mars won't be in the best position. "But the window is four years away, because of them being in different parts of the solar system."

Musk unveiled plans for SpaceX's Starship plans in 2016. The project aims to launch a 165-foot (50 meters) spacecraft atop a massive booster for deep-space missions to the moon, Mars and elsewhere. Both the Starship and its Super Heavy booster will be reusable.

This year, SpaceX launched two test flights of Starship prototypes, called SN5 and SN6, from its Boca Chica test site in Texas. Those flights reached an altitude of 500 feet (150 meters).

SpaceX is currently preparing another Starship prototype, called SN8, for a 12-mile-high (20 kilometers) test flight in the near future.

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her on Twitter @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter@Spacedotcom and onFacebook.

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Elon Musk says SpaceX's 1st Starship trip to Mars could fly in 4 years - Space.com

‘Lunar ExoCam’ project aims to film spacecraft touchdowns on the moon – Space.com

We could end up getting an amazing ground-level view of the first crewed moon landing since 1972.

NASA's Flight Opportunities program has just awarded a $650,000 grant to the team behind Lunar ExoCam, an imaging system designed to eject from moon landers during descent and record video of their touchdowns from the otherworldly gray ground.

If development continues to go well, Lunar ExoCam could be ready to fly on some of the private robotic landers that are scheduled to launch toward the moon in the next few years, said the project's principal investigator, Jason Achilles Mezilis. And he'd love to get the camera system aboard NASA's Artemis 3 mission, which aims to land two astronauts near the lunar south pole in 2024.

Related: What is NASA's Artemis program?

Lunar ExoCam's observations would help researchers better understand how lander engines kick up moon dirt and rock, as noted by NASA's award announcement, which was released on Wednesday (Oct. 14). The deployment system the team is developing could also be used to get other payloads down on the lunar surface, Mezilis said. But the motivations for the project extend beyond scientific and engineering gains.

Watching a moon lander come down toward you, especially one carrying astronauts, "would just be really, really cool," Mezilis told Space.com. As would watching those astronauts step down onto the gray dirt, imagery that Lunar ExoCam could provide as well.

Mezilis is a professional musician, but he's not a space neophyte. He's on the team that informed the design of a microphone built into the entry, descent and landing (EDL) system of NASA's Mars 2020 rover Perseverance. If that microphone works, it will record the sounds of Perseverance screaming through the thin Martian atmosphere and touching down inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater in February 2021. (Perseverance carries another microphone, too, which is part of its rock-zapping SuperCam instrument.)

The Lunar ExoCam project is a team effort as well, pulling in people from Arizona State University, Honeybee Robotics, Ecliptic Enterprises Corp. and Masten Space Systems. The lead organization, Zandef Deksit Inc., is a company that Mezilis set up in 2017 to handle his consulting work with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Perseverance's EDL microphone; he's the sole employee. (The name means nothing but still seems appropriate, Mezilis said. He described it as "a little Zaphod Beeblebrox-y," referring to a character from Douglas Adam's famed "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series.)

Though work began on Lunar ExoCam less than a year ago, the Southern California-based team already has some milestones under its belt. For example, the researchers have built and tested a prototype system, which consists of a GoPro MAX 360-degree camera encased in a cushioning wire cage.

In one of those tests, Mezilis and his colleagues used a drone to drop the prototype from a height of about 150 feet (46 meters). It survived the fall just fine and recorded video as planned.

In another trial, team members took three of the caged cameras to Masten's facilities at the Mojave Air and Space Port in the Southern California desert. They arrayed the cameras around a test stand holding a Masten vehicle, which fired up and hovered for more than a minute. The prototypes recorded the resulting dust plumes, as operational Lunar ExoCams would on the surface of the moon.

The newly awarded NASA funding will allow the team to take the testing to another level. Sometime next year, Mezilis and his team will put a Lunar ExoCam prototype on a Masten Xodiac vehicle, which will lift off into the Southern California sky. The camera will eject at an altitude of 50 feet (15 m), hitting the ground at about the same speed it would during a landing on the moon, whose gravitational pull is just one-sixth that of Earth.

Related: Here's where commercial landers will land on the moon for NASA

An operational Lunar ExoCam system would ideally employ at least three cameras, Mezilis said. The imagers would eject in the final moments of the moonward descent probably 10 to 15 seconds before touchdown at most and capture the descent and touchdown process in unprecedented detail.

"We'll start filming before we release it," Mezilis said. "So, basically, you'll be able to watch it fall off the lander, which is pretty insane."

Though the project's official name is Lunar ExoCam, Mezilis' ambitions extend beyond Earth's nearest neighbor. He'd like to get a version of the touchdown camera aboard Mars missions someday especially a lander carrying astronauts down to the Red Planet's surface.

The coolness factor of that Mars imagery would be off the charts. It would create a lasting impression in the minds of many, which is what Mezilis aims to do.

"Ultimately, my goal is to inspire all the five-year-old kids out there plant that seed for a lifelong love of science and space," he said.

Lunar ExoCam is one of 31 projects to receive funding in the latest round of Flight Opportunities awards. You can read about all of them including the experiment that New Horizons mission principal investigator Alan Stern will conduct in suborbital space in the NASA award announcement here.

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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‘It’s time to break orbit’ Clark County astronaut, NASA admin talk Artemis Program with Herrera Beutler – The Reflector

There are a lot of things very exciting in space today, NASA Astronaut and Clark County native Michael Barratt said during a recent talk about the space agencys future plans.

Barratt was participating in a virtual discussion Oct. 15 featuring him, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, to talk about NASAs latest spaceflight program and answer questions from students at two Clark County schools: Vancouver ITech Prep and Camas Odyssey Middle School.

Both Barratt and Bridenstine talked about the Artemis Program, which NASA is planning on using to send astronauts back to the moon and beyond. Bridenstine said American astronauts have been in low-Earth orbit for close to 20 years aboard the International Space Station, adding that the next step for NASA was returning for a sustained presence on the moon.

We want to go to the moon to stay, Bridenstine said.

Unlike the Apollo Program, which saw the first men on the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Artemis which is named after the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology plans to have the first woman on the moon in 2024, and will result in permanent habitation of Earths biggest natural satellite.

Bridenstine added that also differing from Apollo, Artemis will feature international and commercial partners that werent available during the prior program that ended almost a half-century ago. He said part of NASAs goal was to use the resources of the moon, saying there were hundreds of millions of tons of ice on the moons south pole, which is where the program aims to land.

Sustained occupation of the moon wasnt the last step, as Bridenstine added that NASA was looking toward going to Mars. He said that recent discoveries of complex organic compounds and potentially liquid water 12 kilometers below the surface of the planet makes the chance for even more discoveries on the planet tantalizing, which future astronauts would be able to do after learning the sustained habitation of the moon.

Bridenstine explained that any manned missions to Mars would likely have to stay on the planet for years given the window of time missions there have every 26 months, though he said advances in propulsion technologies may change that.

Herrera Beutler introduced the Camas-based Barratt, with her notably-excited oldest child seen in the video feed.

This program is something that I think captures all of our imaginations, whether were older or younger. Its a big deal, Herrera Beutler said.

The congresswoman said that not only did the event highlight the work and plans of NASA but also reinforced the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education integral to the work the space agency does.

Herrera Beutler said that while in the past Southwest Washington had relied on timber forests for its economy, what I like to say now is that we have a growing silicon forest because of the growth of our tech industries, adding nearly 40 percent of the gross regional product of Southwest Washington was in STEM-related industries.

When most people think of NASA they think of astronauts, which is an important part of the agency, but it also includes researchers and scientists and doctors and engineers, which are absolutely vital in running NASAs many programs, Herrera Beutler said.

Barratt joined NASA in 1991 and has participated in two space flights totalling 211 days in space, including two spacewalks. He was a NASA flight surgeon before being picked as an astronaut in 2000, launching both from the Russian Soyuz rocket and on the last flight of Space Shuttle Discovery.

Barratt said the main use of the ISS was for scientific research, with the station serving as a laboratory that has rendered a host of discoveries over the decades.

When you remove gravity, you find things, Barratt remarked, and we have found so many things way beyond what we expected out there.

Barratt said one of the biggest differences between what space exploration was developing when he was a kid and what is happening now was the amount of different players, pointing out a handful of private companies including Boeing that were designing spacecraft. With all the new developments he said there was a paradigm shift in astronautics from the past several decades, highlighted by the goals of the Artemis Program.

Its time to break orbit and go explore, Barratt rsaid.

He mentioned a few of the craft being developed for the Artemis Program, including the Orion Capsule, a Gateway Station in the lunar vicinity and a human landing system, the last of which Barratt has provided medical input on its development.

Barratt likened a sustained presence on the moon as a god-given space station to allow for further exploration, including Mars.

Barratt brought the conversation back to the importance of STEM, pointing to a quote from Carl Sagan from 1990 We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.

I would say that is more true now, Barratt said. There is a bit of a gap in the public awareness of that science and technology that really fuels us our economy, our exploration, our whole lives.

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'It's time to break orbit' Clark County astronaut, NASA admin talk Artemis Program with Herrera Beutler - The Reflector

NASA astronaut Christina Koch reflects on 1-year anniversary of first all-woman spacewalk – Space.com

NASA astronaut Christina Koch reflected on her participation in the first all-woman spacewalk ahead of its one-year anniversary on Sunday (Oct. 18).

A year ago, Koch and her colleague Jessica Meir, who were both part of the 2013 astronaut class the first and only astronaut class to be 50% women took part in the first-ever spacewalk conducted entirely by women. NASA hadn't orchestrated the event, rather, it was a chance pairing, the result of an increasing number of women in the astronaut corps.

"It was such a momentous moment and I think the year has really made me realize that," Koch told Space.com. "It's really been interesting how 2020 has become this year that has symbolized inclusion in so many ways."

"We kind of almost were kicking it off in some ways, unknowingly," with the spacewalk, she said, referring to spacewalking as historically male-dominated.

On Monday (Oct. 19), the Guinness Book of World Records officially recognized Koch and Meir for their historic spacewalk, and Koch specifically for her mission, the longest single spaceflight by a woman to date.

Related: The 1st all-woman spacewalk: photos, videos and tweets

"Not only is aerospace and technical industry [an area] that has often had under-representation by women, but spacewalking, in particular, is a really stark example of that," Koch said. "I think there have been about 15 women that have ever done a spacewalk, and there are over 200 men that have done a spacewalk."

This event made "sure that NASA was really committed to, like I like to say, answering humanity's call to explore by everyone. And so it was just a wonderful thing to have the honor to participate in. And I think that we're just so appreciative still to receive the support that we still receive every day about it," she said.

In looking to the future, Koch remarked on what she hopes the next generation of astronauts and spacewalkers like herself will face and how things will be different. She noted that, with this spacewalk, things seem to be starting to turn a corner and a new era is approaching "where no matter who comes on as an astronaut candidate, the expectation that's placed on them that they're going to be a great spacewalker is the same," she said. "There's no excuses, there's no lower bar of expectations."

Koch also noted that she hopes to one day "see a world where we focus on mentorship, where we're paying forward to the future explorers I see a world where women are selected into the astronaut corps and it's not even a surprise."

Besides this being a historic spacewalk, there were a few other elements of the event that stood out to Koch. "It was my only spacewalk being on the robotic arm. It was one of the few spacewalks that I was the lead spacewalker. And it was the first time that I was going out on a spacewalk with someone whose first spacewalk it was," she said.

It was "the first time my spacewalk buddy was seeing it through their eyes for the first time," she said. She also shared that, unsurprisingly, "the moment of being on the robotic arm was great."

Additionally, as the excursion was an unexpected spacewalk planned on short notice to replace a faulty power regulator that failed after the installation of new batteries, Koch appreciated "the fact that we had to just come together, it was such teamwork. We worked back and forth with the ground for the week prior to the spacewalk honing in on what procedures we would use. It was a great interactive thing, because we really were able to give a lot of input."

But out of all of these moments and triumphs, Koch noted her favorite.

"The best moment was when Jessica and I both came out of the airlock. And before we left our eyes kind of caught each other and we knew what an amazing moment it really was, and I smiled," she said. "We were talking to the ground like normal and no one knew that we had that moment, but that was a really special thing I'll never forget."

In February, Christina Koch completed a record-breaking 328-day stint in space aboard the International Space Station. So, in reflecting on her historic spacewalk she also shared her feelings about the fact that the orbiting lab she called home for so many days is celebrating its 20th anniversary of a continued human presence.

"I love thinking about how there wasn't a single day in the last 20 years, when every human was on the planet," she said. "We made sure that we were utilizing this amazing resource of our microgravity laboratory every single day."

"I see it as a science amplifier, because the space station allows us to achieve scientific discoveries that really are not possible on Earth," Koch said. In particular, she pointed to the fact that technology and science done on the space station is directly informing and supporting future missions back to the moon, to Mars and more.

"The fact that we prioritize that, as a world, is really exciting," she said.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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NASA astronaut Christina Koch reflects on 1-year anniversary of first all-woman spacewalk - Space.com

Spaceflight to serve Canon, Kleos and Spire on two launches – SpaceWatch.Global

Luxembourg, 14 October 2020. Rideshare provider Spaceflight will execute three customer missions on two upcoming launches in the next weeks, the Seattle-based company announced today.

Spaceflight will execute two launches on two different continents, the company said, one aboard a Rocket Lab Electron and the other on NewSpace India Limiteds PSLV. For both missions, Spaceflight arranged the launch and is providing mission management and rideshare integration services for its customers Canon Electronics, Kleos Space and Spire.

The next mission, dubbed RL-5, will launch from Rocket Labs Launch Complex 1 at the southern tip of Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand in October. The other mission is slated to lift off in the first half of November from Indias Satish Dhawan Space Center, Spaceflight said.

Since its founding, Spaceflight has launched more than 300 satellites and executed 32 rocket launches, the company said. Spaceflight works with a large portfolio of launch vehicles, including Falcon 9, Antares, Electron, Vega, and PSLV and has recently expanded its global portfolio of launch vehicles to include NSILs SSLV, Relativitys Terran 1 and Fireflys Alpha.

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With New Shepard launch, space researchers become space customers – University of Florida

The University of Florida is helping to launch a new era in space research with a plant experiment aboard Blue Origins New Shepard rocket that blasted off from the companys West Texas site Tuesday morning.

Rob Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul have been studying how plants respond to stressful environments for decades, placing their genetically engineered mustard plants on high-flying planes, on the space shuttle and on the International Space Station.

But the Blue Origin project is the first time UF has worked directly with a commercial launch provider, marking an important shift in how universities conduct space-related research, Ferl said.

This is one of the first wave of projects where a university is contracting directly with a commercial space flight provider to launch science experiments, he said. Previously, NASA handled all of the arrangements.

NASA still funds much of the research, but the new process enables universities to negotiate with multiple companies to get just the right fit, both in terms of the science and the cost.

For some experiments, suborbital might be the best platform, for others it might be orbital or lunar, Paul says. Instead of providing all the rides, NASA is now facilitating the relationship with the commercial providers. This frees up NASA to focus on getting us back to the moon and to Mars.

For this particular experiment, Ferl said Blue Origins New Shepard rocket was the perfect platform for studying how living things adjust their metabolism from Earths gravity to no gravity and back again.

In the early 1990s, Ferl and Paul, both plant molecular biologists with UFs Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, began experimenting with reporter genes that allowed them to see when plants were experiencing certain environmental stresses. By splicing a gene from a fluorescent jellyfish into Arabidopsis mustard plants a model species often used in plant genetics experiments they have been able to make the plants glow in response to various stresses and to track those responses using specialized cameras.

What they found when they sent their plants to space was that they respond dramatically, turning certain genes on and off and modifying how their roots grow. That could have important implications for human space flight.

About half of the genes in our bodies encode the exact same proteins in plants, explained Paul. Thats very exciting, because it means that as we look at how plants behave in the absence of gravity, we can translate many of those basic biological processes to humans.

Through their work with NASA and commercial space companies, Ferl and Paul have become as much engineers as plant scientists, learning to design and build the sophisticated capsules in which their tiny botanical astronauts travel.

Using reporter genes is everyday stuff in the lab, says Ferl. The real challenge of deploying this technology is to take all of this equipment and shrink it down into a unit that is capable of being lofted into space, where we might not be there to look after it.

The researchers have reduced their laboratory to a box about six inches square by a foot long. Inside, light emitting diodes bathe the plants in only the wavelengths they need to thrive.

For the Blue Origin mission, the researchers didnt have to wait long to check on the experiment. The entire flight took roughly 11 minutes from liftoff to the capsules parachute landing a few miles away. Ferl and Paul were among the first to the capsule, hustling their plants back to the on-site laboratory to see how they responded to the sudden changes in gravity.

The flight is just part of the experiment, Paul says. Weve got lots of new data to analyze about how our plants responded to their mission.

Ferl said the growth of commercial space companies opens new vistas for university research.

In the past, the opportunities to get an experiment on the space shuttle or up to the International Space Station were very limited because there were so few launches and so many worthy experiments, Ferl said. Now, with multiple carriers launching dozens of rockets per year, a lot more experiments can hitch a ride.

Joe Kays October 13, 2020

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With New Shepard launch, space researchers become space customers - University of Florida

The Right Stuff: Read This If You Can’t Wait to Find Out Who Makes It to Space First – POPSUGAR

Since the beginning of the space race a fierce rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s over which country would pioneer space travel American astronauts have competed on both an international stage and against each other for unprecedented achievements in manned space exploration, including being the first man in space. Shortly after a Soviet Union astronaut won the title of first man in space" in 1961, however, the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) finalized their plans to launch their first human space flight. For NASA, it wasn't a question of if they were going to send an American to space, but rather a question of whom. Disney+'s The Right Stuff tells the true story of this historic competition between seven American astronauts vying for the opportunity to fly among the stars. If you're watching the series and can't wait to find out who makes it, here's the answer: on May 5, 1961, the race ended when Alan Shepard became the first American in space.

In the opening scene of The Right Stuff, we see Shepard (played by Jake McDorman) and John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams) two of the seven competing American astronauts known as the Mercury Seven going through their morning routines just hours before a historic rocket launch that will make one of them the first American in space. But, out of the two of them, only one of them can be chosen to go and while the show leaves the decision of who is chosen a mystery in the first few episodes, we know that Shepard was chosen to pilot the first 15-minute human spaceflight on May 5, 1961, crowning him the first American in space.

On Feb. 20, 1962, Shepard's competition, Glenn, became the first American to orbit the Earth and the third American in space. Both men carry historic significance in the story of our country's space exploration, but as The Right Stuff reminds us, they were also everyday people with everyday problems. The story of how they went from pilots to history-book legends is just getting started on the Disney+ hit show, and while we already know who won the title of first man in space, we can't wait to follow along and see just how their stories both individually and collectively unfold.

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The Right Stuff: Read This If You Can't Wait to Find Out Who Makes It to Space First - POPSUGAR

Russia planning to go reusable in 2026 with new Amur rocket – Space.com

Russia is getting into the reusable rocket game.

The nation's space agency, Roscosmos, announced last week that it aims to develop a two-stage rocket called the Amur, whose first stage will return to Earth for vertical, powered landings like those performed by SpaceX's Falcon 9 boosters.

Indeed, the Amur bears a remarkable resemblance to the Falcon 9, down to the stabilizing grid fins on the rocket's first stage and the desire to launch each booster up to 100 times eventually.

Related: The history of rockets

There are differences, however. For example, the Amur will be considerably smaller and less powerful than the Falcon 9, standing just 180 feet (55 meters) tall with the ability to loft 11.6 tons (10.5 metric tons) of payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO). The Falcon 9 is 230 feet (70 m) tall and can deliver 25.1 tons (22.8 metric tons) to LEO, according to the rocket's SpaceX spec sheet.

The Amur's first stage will feature five engines, according to the Roscosmos announcement, compared to the Falcon 9's nine. And whereas the Falcon 9's Merlin engines are powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, those of the Amur which have yet to be built will swap kerosene out for methane. (There are yet more SpaceX parallels here, though: SpaceX's next-generation Raptor engine, which will power the company's Starship vehicle, is methane-fueled.)

The Amur will launch from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Amur region (hence its name). Landings of the reusable first stage will take place at several sites, which are still being determined, Roscosmos officials said. The agency is currently not planning to conduct any touchdowns on floating platforms, as SpaceX does with its two "drone ships," because the neighboring Sea of Okhotsk is notoriously rough. But that option will remain open going forward.

The plan calls for the Amur to be developed for no more than 70 billion rubles (about $900 million US at current exchange rates), fly for the first time in 2026 and feature a per-launch cost of $22 million, Roscosmos officials said. For comparison, a Falcon 9 mission with a completely new rocket currently goes for about $60 million, and one with a used first stage is about $50 million.

"If all the key indicators of the Amur program are implemented, we plan to provide the majority of commercial launches in the light and medium class with our new rocket," Alexander Bloshenko, Roscosmos executive director for long-term programs and science, said in the statement.

The Amur's development timeline may make it tough to accomplish this goal, however, even if everything goes according to plan. SpaceX is already test-flying early prototypes of Starship, a huge, fully reusable vehicle that company founder and CEO Elon Musk believes has the potential to revolutionize spaceflight via ultralow launch costs.

"It's a step in the right direction, but they should really aim for full reusability by 2026. Larger rocket would also make sense for literal economies of scale. Goal should be to minimize cost per useful ton to orbit or it will at best serve a niche market," Musk said via Twitter last week, referring to the Amur plan (and in response to a tweet by Ars Technica's Eric Berger.)

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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Russia planning to go reusable in 2026 with new Amur rocket - Space.com

This floating spaceport in Japan could bring space travel to the city – CNN

Written by Rebecca Cairns, CNN

Cylindrical steel and glass towers protrude through solar panels on the vast circular roof of the futuristic, four-story Spaceport City.

The spaceport rises from an island that floats in Tokyo Bay, with the skyscrapers of Japan's capital in the background. It's designed to launch tourists on day trips to space, where they will be able to see the building's huge roof -- as well as glimpse the curvature of the Earth and experience zero gravity.

The spaceport will do much more than offer adventurous tourists the trip of a lifetime. It's a day trip destination in itself, with lifestyle and education facilities designed to help earthbound visitors become "more familiar with space" says Urszula Kuczma, project manager at Noiz Architects.

The roof of the spaceport will be covered with solar panels. Credit: Space Port Japan Association, Dentsu, Canaria and Noiz Architects

The mixed-use space includes research and business facilities, an education academy, shops, a hotel, an astronaut-food restaurant, a 4D IMAX movie theatre, an art museum, a gym, an aquarium and a disco -- all space-themed, of course.

To make the spaceport accessible, Noiz Architects' design incorporates public transport with a network of bridges that carry electric cars and autonomous trains, seamlessly integrating the floating island with the city, says Kuczma. The idea, she says, is to stimulate economic opportunities, while inspiring people to explore the possibilities of technology and the wonders of space.

Day trips to space

Unlike the conventional vertical rocket launchers most of us associate with space travel, Spaceport City is designed for suborbital spaceships that look more like planes and take off horizontally.

The spaceport is designed like an airport, for suborbital spacecrafts that take off horizontally like planes. Credit: Space Port Japan Association, Dentsu, Canaria and Noiz Architects

Noiz Architects' plans for Spaceport City include facilities to help space tourists get prepared, says Kuczma. Space travel can be physically and mentally challenging, she says, so health check-ups in the medical clinic and training at the gym or space academy may be part of pre-flight preparations.

Location, location, location

These spaceports have been located near cities to attract space-related businesses and space travelers -- once commercial flights are available.

The four-story spaceport will be multi-purpose: a travel hub as well as an education, entertainment, retail and business center. Credit: Space Port Japan Association, Dentsu, Canaria and Noiz Architects

Tokyo's Spaceport City is designed to showcase the benefits of urban spaceports, to get city dwellers on board with having a spaceport on their doorstep, says Hidetaka Aoki, director of Spaceport Japan.

This kind of spaceflight is still decades off, but Spaceport Japan wants conceptual projects like Spaceport City to lay the groundwork in changing perceptions and "educating" the public about "potential business," says Aoki.

Whether elements of Noiz Architects' design will make it into spaceports of the future remains to be seen -- but the project starts a conversation about what space travel could be like.

Kuczma hopes it will give "people a peek and get them primed for the concept of space as part of the contemporary landscape."

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This floating spaceport in Japan could bring space travel to the city - CNN

GAD assists development of UK spaceflight industry – GOV.UK

The Government Actuarys Department (GAD) has been at the centre of helping set up the new spaceflight launch industry in the UK.

Experts from GAD have provided the UK Space Agency, Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) with support in terms of setting insurance requirements and providing risk analysis for this new frontier.

The work has been carried out ahead of spaceflight launches which are set to take off from the UK in the early 2020s. In preparation for this, DfT, UK Space Agency and CAA have launched a consultation on legislation and insurance requirements associated with launch activity.

Safety is at the heart of the proposed regulatory regime under the Space Industry Act 2018. Launch from the UK is a new activity that presents new and different risks from those posed by traditional aviation.

Operators will be required to demonstrate that the risks their activities pose to the uninvolved general public are as low as reasonably practicable. They will also need to demonstrate that the residual risk is at a level that is acceptable to the regulator. If an accident does happen, insurance therefore provides an important resource to meet potential claims.

GAD has helped to develop the methodology to enable the spaceflight regulator to assess the amount of third-party liability insurance which spacecraft operators will have to buy to cover the unlikely event that a spaceflight accident impacts on third parties.

The UK government is proposing to use a Modelled Insurance Requirement (MIR) approach to assess the impacts of a range of accident scenarios to tailor the insurance required to the specific risks of each launch. The MIR calculation takes into account the following areas:

Nick Clitheroe, the GAD actuary who led the project said: We were asked to help UK Space Agency establish a set of financial values for each of these categories that could be applied in the MIR. While a similar approach is used in the USA, the MIR needed to reflect the UKs compensation system and different launch risk profile.

Given the inherent uncertainty about who or what might be impacted in an accident, the methodology needed to take a large range of variables into account. These helped the UK government to determine a single figure for each category.

The aim was to derive a robust figure that reduced the risks of over- or under insurance for operators and minimised the governments contingent liability.

This is important because the insurance market does not have sufficient capacity to cover all of the risk that may arise. Above an upper limit of insurance required for each launch, the government would take on the liability.

The UK Space Agency undertook the modelling of potential events leading to third party claims and GAD advised on the average payment that courts would likely award in the event of death, injury or property damage.

GAD built a detailed model which placed values based on the current level of earnings. We also worked out how much would be paid as a lump sum in the event of death or serious injury. The information and data came from the Office for National Statistics and from the Ogden tables.

GAD has been working with the UK Space Agency on the insurance and risk analysis as a way of further quantifying how much incidents may cost. As part of this, we devised an average payment for each incident and the UK Space Agency was able to apply that to their modelling.

The current consultation asks people to provide comments on the MIR approach and the approach to limiting operator liabilities. It lasts 4 weeks and will close on 10 November.

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GAD assists development of UK spaceflight industry - GOV.UK

SpaceX crew launch delayed to assess Merlin engine concern – Spaceflight Now

NASAs SpaceX Crew-1 crew members are seen seated in the companys Crew Dragon spacecraft during crew equipment interface training. From left to right are NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, mission specialist; Victor Oliver, pilot; and Mike Hopkins, Crew Dragon commander; and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, mission specialist. Credit: SpaceX

NASA said Saturday that the launch of four astronauts on SpaceXs first operational Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station has been delayed from Oct. 31 until no sooner than early-to-mid November, allowing time for SpaceX to resolve an issue with Falcon 9 rocket engines that halted a recent launch attempt with a GPS navigation satellite.

The engine concern appeared during an Oct. 2 launch attempt of a Falcon 9 rocket with a GPS satellite at Cape Canaveral, prompting computers controlling the final seconds of the countdown to abort the mission just two seconds prior to liftoff.

Elon Musk, SpaceXs founder and CEO, tweeted after the abort that the countdown was stoppedafter an unexpected pressure rise in the turbomachinery gas generator, referring to equipment used on the rockets Merlin main engines. The gas generators on the Merlin 1D engines drives the engines turbopumps.

While the Falcon 9 launch of the U.S. Space Forces next GPS navigation satellite remains grounded, SpaceX proceeded with the launch of a different Falcon 9 rocket Oct. 6 from a neighboring pad at NASAs Kennedy Space Center. That mission successfully placed 60 more Starlink internet satellites into orbit.

In a statement Saturday, NASA said the Crew Dragon launch delay from Oct. 31 will allow SpaceX more time to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of Falcon 9 first stage engine gas generators observed during a recent non-NASA mission launch attempt.

The Crew Dragon mission will use the same type of Falcon 9 rocket as the GPS and Starlink launches.

NASA said it has full insight into SpaceXs launch and testing data. SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon spacecraft and flies the capsule under the auspices of a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA.

We have a strong working relationship with our SpaceX partner, said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASAs Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. With the high cadence of missions SpaceX performs, it really gives us incredible insight into this commercial system and helps us make informed decisions about the status of our missions. The teams are actively working this finding on the engines, and we should be a lot smarter within the coming week.

NASA commander Mike Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, mission specialist Shannon Walker, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will fly aboard Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, kicking off an expedition lasting about six months. The four-person crew will blast off from pad 39A at NASAs Kennedy Space Center.

The crew has named their Crew Dragon spaceship Resilience.

The reusable crew capsule was secured to its expendable unpressurized trunk section Oct. 2 at SpaceXs processing facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Hopkins and his crewmates will join NASA flight engineer Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts SergeyRyzhikov andSergey Kud-Sverchkov on the space station.Ryzhikov,Kud-Sverchkov, and Rubins are scheduled for launch Wednesday on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The first operational Crew Dragon flight, named Crew-1, follows a 64-day Crew Dragon demonstration mission with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. Hurley and Behnken launched to the space station May 30 and returned to Earth on Aug. 4 with a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico, marking the first flight of astronauts into orbit from a U.S. spaceport since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

With the test flights now in the books, SpaceXs Crew Dragon is set to begin a series of regular crew rotation flights to the space station, ending NASAs sole reliance on Russian Soyuz missions for crew transportation.

NASA said Saturday that the launch of the U.S.-European Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich oceanography satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket remains scheduled for Nov. 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. And a Dragon resupply mission to the space station is targeted for launch in late November or early December from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a delay from a previous launch date of Nov. 15, according to NASA.

NASA and SpaceX will use the data from the companys hardware testing and reviews to ensure these critical missions are carried out with the highest level of safety, the space agency said Saturday.

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SpaceX crew launch delayed to assess Merlin engine concern - Spaceflight Now

These astronauts read Tom Wolfe’s ‘The Right Stuff’ and flew in space. Here what it meant to them. – Space.com

Four-time space shuttle astronaut Steve Smith loved professional adventurers when he was a child. In the 1960s, Jacques Cousteau explored the ocean while astronauts were making their first journeys into space during NASA's Mercury program, which paved the way for the first astronauts to land on the moon in 1969.

It is this early world of spaceflight and the test pilots who made up the first astronauts that came to the fore in "The Right Stuff" the 1979 book by Tom Wolfe, the 1983 Hollywood movie and the new National Geographic TV series that launches on Disney Plus today (Oct. 9) to cap World Space Week 2020.

In an interview with Space.com, Smith said that reading the book as a young man increased his commitment to space exploration "1000-fold," allowing him to persevere as initial rejections came in from NASA and the United States Air Force.

Related: 'The Right Stuff' lifts off on Disney Plus, takes flight from book, film

Smith recalled seeing Ed White perform the first American spacewalk in 1965, which spurred the 7-year-old's "singular goal" to fly in space one day. Other factors were exposing Smith to aerospace as well. A friend's father took him flying in a small airplane, and he spent significant time on commercial jets while his family was assigned to live in Japan for two years requiring a lot of time going back and forth to the United States over the Pacific.

"But I knew nothing of behind the scenes. I knew no details about what the astronauts were like, nor what the path was to become one. 'The Right Stuff' changed everything for me. The book filled a huge void," said Smith, who spoke about his spaceflight experiences Tuesday (Oct. 6) as part of The Virtual Astronaut online series.

"The Right Stuff" book and movie duo was influential to a generation of engineers and scientists, including the astronauts of NASA. Some, like Smith, took the movie as inspiration for exploring space and for overcoming obstacles along the way.

Related: How Tom Wolfe inspired a generation of astronauts

"I found the book compelling, extremely interesting, and oftentimes humorous, as I would mentally place myself in the flight suits of these men who were to become the first," Clayton Anderson, who flew twice in space as a NASA space shuttle astronaut and International Space Station crew member, told Space.com.

The movie scene that stuck out to him most, however, was a humorous rendition of the early medical procedures that the astronaut candidates went through to prepare them for spaceflight procedures which have changed substantially since the 1960s.

"[My] takeaway was that if I was ever to become a real astronaut, I wanted no one to see my bare-naked rear end, fully exposed in the revealing flap of a single-tie hospital gown, as I sprinted down a hospital hallway in search of an 'enema-tic' release of supernova proportions. I guess that means I may not have really had 'the right stuff'," Anderson joked, presumably having never needed to undergo that scenario himself during his astronaut career a generation later.

Two-time NASA space shuttle astronaut Danny Olivas, who will speak on The Virtual Astronaut series Oct. 14, recalled another portion of the medical testing in the movie.

"There is a section where the astronauts are being evaluated for their lung capacity by having them blow into a medical device. All the astronauts were competing with one another to see who could sustain their airflow longer. After virtually all of them exhaust themselves, they look over at John Glenn, who is quite easily continuing to exhale," he told Space.com.

"That segment encapsulates what I saw as the level of competition to become an astronaut, not just between their peers, but as individuals. It was that mindset that informed me. If I wanted to become an astronaut, I would have to be prepared to compete at a very high level, and push myself to my own limits. I still think about that scene to this day, and continue to push myself."

Related: What it's like to become a NASA astronaut: 10 surprising facts

But the medical scenes of the movie also underlie some of the controversy of "The Right Stuff" film, which some of the older astronauts said was not an accurate rendition of their training. "Tom Wolfe's coverage of it was pretty good. The movie was lousy, but Tom Wolfe's coverage in the book, I thought, wasn't bad at all," Glenn, who died in 2016, told NASA in a 1997 oral interview.

Fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, another of the main characters of the book and the movie, told NASA in 1999 that he had "great affection" for Wolfe, but some troubles with the movie based upon his book.

"He is a bright, bright, fine man; and I think the film is a great film," said Carpenter, who died in 2013. "I'm asked about it frequently, and people say, 'Does it tell the truth?' And I say what I believe: that the book and the movie, for that matter, are truthful ... both of them take some literary license with facts, but only nonessential facts. The important details portrayed by both the book and the film are presented accurately."

The movie also provoked strong opinions from some of those who joined the NASA astronaut corps later in the 1960s, during the Gemini and Apollo programs. Those astronauts interacted directly with the real-life people featured in "The Right Stuff," allowing them to think critically about the story's accuracy.

"I haven't read the book critically. I'm not sure I've read it all," Gemini astronaut and Apollo 11 moonwalker Neil Armstrong, who died in 2012, told NASA in 2001. "I did see the movie. I thought it was very good filmmaking, but terrible history. The wrong people working on the wrong projects at the wrong times. It bears no resemblance whatever to what was actually going on."

NASA space shuttle astronaut Joe Allen was selected to join the astronaut corps in 1967 and became familiar with many of the personalities portrayed in the book, which he talked about in a NASA oral history in 2003. "These [people] are, in many ways ... personified by the description of Tom Wolfe in the book 'The Right Stuff'. He exaggerates it ... but he underscores a mindset of these people. They're a very extraordinary group, and they, no choice of their own, found themselves in an extremely high-profile job because of the wild enthusiasm in the eyes of the American public [for] this extraordinary undertaking and adventure."

Mindset was also what Gemini and Apollo astronaut Jim McDivitt focused on in his NASA interview in 1999. "If you've seen 'The Right Stuff', that [training approach] really came out of the [U.S. Air Force] Test Pilot School," McDivitt said. "We taught each other. We just sort of divided up the things that we wanted to [and] thought we ought to learn, and then one of us would bone up on that and then we'd teach the other guys."

At least some astronauts, however, used "The Right Stuff" as cultural touchstones to discuss milestones in their training. Gerald Carr was selected by NASA in 1966 and flew during the Skylab 4 space station mission in 1973.

"Our [qualification] physical was very much like the one that they show in the movie 'The Right Stuff', just about all the same stuff," Carr said to NASA in 2000; he died earlier this year. "We didn't have any of the comedians like [astronaut] Pete Conrad in the movie, but there was lots of good memories about that. It's an unforgettable experience, I'll tell you."

John Blaha, a space shuttle astronaut of the 1980s, recalled a different facet of "The Right Stuff" after his STS-29 crew was invited to The White House in 1989 to meet then-President George H. W. Bush, during a presidential phone call to the space shuttle.

"Did you see that movie, 'The Right Stuff'?" Blaha said during his NASA interview in 2004. "You know that one area in there where one of the wives says something to the effect of, 'I can't wait until we go to the White House and see Jackie [First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy],' or something like that. Well, that was true of space flights. So now when [Bush] said that on-orbit, it was kind of like, 'Hey, we get to go to the White House and see George.' "

Blaha, who eventually took Bush up on the invitation, laughed at the memory. "That was a fun thing," he added.

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These astronauts read Tom Wolfe's 'The Right Stuff' and flew in space. Here what it meant to them. - Space.com

Cygnus supply ship reaches space station with titanium toilet – Spaceflight Now

Northrop Grummans Cygnus supply ship is grappled by the Canadian-built robotic arm at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

A Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo ship arrived at the International Space Station on Monday, delivering nearly four tons of supplies and experiments to the research lab and its crew, including a $23 million titanium toilet and a high-definition virtual reality camera planned for use on a future spacewalk.

Capping an automated laser-guided rendezvous sequence, the Cygnus cargo freighter moved within 40 feet (12 meters) of the space station early Monday, close enough for the labs Canadian-built robotic arm to reach out and grapple it.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, assisted by Russian cosmonaut Ivan Vagner, took control of the 58-foot-long (17.7-meter) robotic arm to capture the Cygnus spacecraft at 5:32 a.m. EDT (0932 GMT) Monday.

Northrop Grumman named the Cygnus supply ship the S.S. Kalpana Chawla in honor of the first woman of Indian descent to fly into space. Chawla flew on two space shuttle missions, and she died with her six crewmates on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003.

In the name of space exploration, all have given some, some have given all, Cassidy said after capturing the Cygnus spacecraft Monday. Its an honor to welcome the good ship Kalpana Chawla. Welcome aboard the International Space Station, KC.

Ground controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston took control of the robot arm later Monday morning to attach the Cygnus spacecraft to a berthing port on the space stations Unity module, where it will stay for around two months.

Cassidy and his crewmates will open hatches leading to the S.S. Kalpana Chawlas pressurized cargo compartment to begin unpacking the supplies and experiments inside.

The arrival of the S.S. Kalpana Chawla supply ship Monday marked the 14th delivery of cargo to the space station by a Cygnus spacecraft since 2013.

The Cygnus cargo mission blasted off Friday night from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport aboard an Antares rocket, following delays earlier in the week caused by bad weather and a ground software issue.

The S.S. Kalpana Chawla is packed with 7,829 pounds (3,551 kilograms) of supplies and experiments heading to the International Space Station. Heres a breakdown of the cargo manifest provided by NASA:

The Cygnus supply ship will remain berthed Unity module until mid-December, when it will be released by the stations robotic arm.The automated cargo carrier, loaded with trash after its departure from the station, will perform an in-flight combustion experiment before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up over the South Pacific Ocean to end its mission.

The fresh food packed inside the S.S. Kalpana Chawla supply ship includesprosciutto, chorizo, salami, summer sausage, brie, smoked gouda, smoked provolone, and fruits and vegetables.

Among clothing and other crew provisions, the Cygnus mission will deliver an upgraded toilet to the space station, allowing astronauts to test its functionality before a similar commode flies on the Orion crew capsule to the moon.

The new toilet, or Universal Waste Management System in NASA-speak, is roughly the size of a camper commode. Its about 65 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter than the toilet currently on the space station, according toMelissa McKinley, logistics reduction manager for the agencys advanced exploration systems division.

NASA partnered with Collins Aerospace to develop the new toilet, which officials said is better suited for female crew members than the existing commode on the space station. Engineers made parts of the toilet out of titanium to withstand acid used to pre-treat urine before the fluid is recycled back into drinking water for the astronauts, said Jim Fuller, the toilets project manager at Collins Aerospace.

On Earth, we have gravity that helps pull the feces and urine away from our body and into the toilet, Fuller said. In space, where we have microgravity, we dont have that luxury. The dual fan separator actually creates the motive force by creating a strong airflow that helps pull the urine and feces away from the body.

When the astronauts have to go, we want to allow them to boldly go, Fuller said.

Designers wanted the new toilet to be easier to use for women flying on the space station,

The funnel design was was completely re-contoured to better accommodate the female anatomy, McKinley said. And particularly, this is a concern when the crew members are trying to do dual ops, when theyre theyre doing both defecation and urination at the same time, just the alignment of all of that at once Trying to make that more appropriate for female use was a big driver.

Theres also a virtual reality camera flying to the space station that will capture imagery of a future spacewalk.

The cosmetics companyEste Lauder is also flying 10 bottles of its Advanced Night Repair serum to the space station, where the bottles will be photographed with Earth as a backdrop.Este Lauder says it will use the images in social media and marketing campaigns, and then plans to auction the serum returned to Earth from the space station, with the proceeds going to charity.

Its part of a new NASA program that dedicates 5 percent of space station cargo capacity and crew time to commercial marketing activities.Este Lauder will reimburse NASA around $128,000 for the space station resources used in the night serum marketing initiative, according to Phil McAlister, NASAs director of commercial spaceflight development.

Northrop Grummans Cygnus spacecraft shares space station resupply duties with SpaceXs Dragon capsule, the Russian Progress resupply freighter, and Japanese cargo missions.

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On the trail of causes of radiation events during space flight – Newswise

Newswise Scientists have made significant progress in understanding the sources of radiation events that could impact human space-flight operations. Relativistic Electron Precipitation (REP) events are instances when high energy electrons move through areas of space at significant fractions of the speed of light. These REP events may pose challenges to human spaceflight, specifically during extravehicular activity (EVA).

These hazards motivate the question of whether REP events can be forecasted in order to avoid unnecessary human exposure to radiation. In order to predict REP events, their cause must first be determined.

A scientific team led by researchers at the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) in Japan has made strides in answering that question. Their findings were published on August 14 in theJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics.

Ryuho Kataoka, the lead author of the study and an associate professor at NIPR, pinpointed the cause of REP events and emphasized that REP events must be accounted for in human spaceflight missions.

"The importance of understanding REP events has been increasing since the REP events have been clearly identified at International Space Station (ISS)," Kataoka said. "REP events are important because they cause radiation dose during EVAs."

It has been hypothesized that electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves play an important role in REP events at the ISS. It was still an open question, however, whether other mechanisms played a role in REP event generation. EMIC waves are electromagnetic waves that propagate through the plasma in Earth's magnetosphere, causing disturbances in the charged particles within the plasma.

Using multiple sensors aboard the ISS, as well as data from the Arase satellite, the research group was able to show that at least three separate processes contributed to REP events. One is indeed EMIC waves. But the data also suggested two other sources: Whistler mode chorus waves and electrostatic whistler waves. Whistler mode waves can be excited by high energy electrons associated with auroral activities, such as the Northern Lights.

"It turned out that REP events at the ISS are caused not only by EMIC waves but also by whistler mode waves, which makes the space weather forecast more difficult," Kataoka said.

With a better understanding of the physical causes of REP events, Kataoka and his team are working towards ways to predict future events. "The next step is the space weather forecast of REP events at the ISS by modeling different kinds of plasma wave activities. The ultimate goal is to obtain a unified theory to understand the interaction between energetic particles and plasma waves, and their impact of radiation dose on the atmosphere, space craft, and human beings."

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About National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR)

The NIPR engages in comprehensive research via observation stations in Arctic and Antarctica. As a member of the Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS), the NIPR provides researchers throughout Japan with infrastructure support for Arctic and Antarctic observations, plans and implements Japan's Antarctic observation projects, and conducts Arctic researches of various scientific fields such as the atmosphere, ice sheets, the ecosystem, the upper atmosphere, the aurora and the Earth's magnetic field. In addition to the research projects, the NIPR also organizes the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition and manages samples and data obtained during such expeditions and projects. As a core institution in researches of the polar regions, the NIPR also offers graduate students with a global perspective on originality through its doctoral program. For more information about the NIPR, please visit:https://www.nipr.ac.jp/english/

About the Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS)

The Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS)is a parent organization of four national institutes (National Institute of Polar Research, National Institute of Informatics, the Institute of Statistical Mathematics and National Institute of Genetics) and the Joint Support-Center for Data Science Research. It is ROIS's mission to promote integrated, cutting-edge research that goes beyond the barriers of these institutions, in addition to facilitating their research activities, as members of inter-university research institutes.

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On the trail of causes of radiation events during space flight - Newswise

Space Week: From Human Spaceflight to Studying Sun, ISRO’s Upcoming Missions Aim to Transform Indian Space Exploration – The Weather Channel

Chandrayaan 2 launch.

Saturday, October 10 marks the conclusion of this years International Space Weekan annual celebration of science and technology as well as their contribution towards the betterment of the human condition. Over the past few decades, exponential growth in science and technology has allowed humanity to take gigantic leaps in understanding our planet and exploring far-off cosmic worlds that lie beyond our physical reach. In return, space science has helped humanity advance in all fields of science and ameliorate human conditions.

India too, over recent years, has become a notable contributor to the field of space science and exploration. In addition to the incredible research from Indian astronomers, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been taking the nation to greater heights and unexplored territoriesquite literally. With a hunger to explore more and understand better, the Indian space agency has no intentions of slowing down any time soon. And while the COVID-19 pandemic may have delayed some plans to an extent, ISRO has some major projects lined-up just for the next two years.

Here are ISROs five upcoming space missions that it aims to launch by the year 2022:

The first of ISROs upcoming missions will be the Radar Imaging Satellite 1A, or RISAT-1A. A land-based mission, this remote sensing satellites primary application will be in terrain mapping and analysis of land, ocean, and water surface for soil moisture.

RISAT-1A will be the sixth in the series of RISAT satellitesIndian radar imaging reconnaissance satellites built by ISRO that provide all-weather surveillance using synthetic aperture radars (SAR).

These radars can be used for Earth observation irrespective of the light and weather conditions of the area being imaged. RISAT-1A will provide continuity of service for RISAT-1, which was launched on April 26, 2012.

The satellite will carry payloads (instruments) for three categories, each consisting of different parametersLand (Albedo and reflectance, soil moisture, vegetation, and multi-purpose imagery), Ocean (Ocean topography/currents), and Snow & Ice (Ice sheet topography, Snow cover, edge and depth; Sea ice cover, edge, and thickness).

While its launch date is yet to be confirmed, reports indicate that it may take-off by late 2020 or early 2021, using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

Last year, the Chandrayaan-2 mission not only took India to the Moon, but it also made ISRO a household name across the country. And while the failure to perform a soft landing on the lunar surface prevented the mission from being a 100% success, those incomplete objectives will soon be achieved through ISROs next lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3.

Chandrayaan-2 was a reasonably successful mission, said Dr Abhay Deshpande, a Senior Scientist working for the Government of India and the Honorary Secretary of Khagol Mandal (a non-profit collective of astronomy enthusiasts). The only setback we have faced is that through Chandrayaan-3, we now have to repeat some of the work that was supposed to be done by Chandrayaan-2. This has effectively delayed ISROs timeline and postponed some of its future missions. But other than this, there is nothing that needs to be done differently for Chandrayaan-3. I believe we will take all the necessary precautions, and achieve success in this mission, he added.

C3 is expected to retain the heritage of its predecessor while sporting a configuration that allows robust design and capacity enhancement for mission flexibility. Further, considering the C2 Orbiter continues to function optimally, the C3 mission will only consist of a lander and a rover. This also makes the mission more economical, with ISRO chairman K. Sivan estimating it to be worth 615 crore rupees. In comparison, C2 cost India 970 crore rupees.

The type of payloads C3 will carry remains unknown as of now, but if it retains all the main objectives of C2, it is likely to consist of payloads identical to those within Vikram Lander and Pragyan Rover that were destroyed during the hard landing.

The mission is likely to be launched somewhere in early 2021, as per an announcement made by Jitendra Singh, the Minister of State for the Department of Space, in early September 2020.

Having made strides in the field of unmanned space exploration, ISRO is now on the verge of launching the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme through its Gaganyaan mission. The Gaganyaan, which means Sky Craft in Sanskrit, is a crewed orbital spacecraft jointly manufactured by ISRO, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Representative image

In the maiden crewed mission, which has been scheduled for December 2021, the 3.7-tonne capsule will orbit the Earth at a 400 km altitude for up to seven days, with a crew of one to three persons on board. Prior to his crewed mission, however, ISRO has also planned two uncrewed orbital test flights of the Gaganyaan capsulethe first in December 2020 and the second, July 2021.

While the crewed launch is still more than a year away, the biggest challenge of the entire mission may arrive much before the launchduring the human training phase, according to Dr. Deshpande.

Shedding light on this potential block, he told The Weather Channel: At present, the Indian astronauts are preparing for the mission in Russia, training in a simulated zero gravity environment to get accustomed to the harsh conditions of space. But at some point of time, we will have to train them on the Indian soil, for which we will have to create our own simulation and training centres. This could be one of the toughest parts of the mission, considering our lack of experience and data in this field.

While these challenges do lie in the way, they are manageable, and the overall Gaganyaan mission is expected to proceed smoothly. In fact, its successful completion will mark Indias entry to the human spaceflight programs, while simultaneously boosting the countrys space ambitions and opening doors of imagination for many Indians. For more information on the mission, click here.

So far, the year 2020 has been the year of Solar Physicsin January, US-based National Science Foundation's Inouye Solar Telescope released the most detailed images of the Sun ever; a month later, NASA and ESA launched their Solar Orbiter; and just last month, the Parker Solar Probe made its closest approach to the Sun, managing to get within 13.5 million kilometres of the solar surface.

India, too, hopes to add to these achievements and contribute its own share to the field by January 2022 through Aditya-L1, the first Indian Solar Coronagraph spacecraft mission to study the solar coronathe outermost part of the Suns atmosphere. While ISRO initially envisaged it as a small low-Earth orbiting satellite with a coronagraph, the scope of the mission has since expanded to make it a comprehensive solar and space environment observatory.

Five Lagrangian points. Position of Telescope at L2. Aditya will be at L1.

Aditya will be placed near the Lagrangian Point L1, one of the five points between the Earth and the Sun where the gravity seems to balance. This very fact allows any spacecraft placed on such Lagrangian points to go around the Sun-Earth system without requiring much fuel.

Aditya will have seven payloads: Visible Emission Line Coronagraph (VELC), Solar Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (SUIT), Aditya Solar wind Particle Experiment (ASPEX), Plasma Analyser Package for Aditya (PAPA), Solar Low Energy X-ray Spectrometer (SoLEXS), High Energy L1 Orbiting X-ray Spectrometer (HEL1OS), and Magnetometer.

Together, these payloads will help Aditya-L1 observe the Sun's photosphere, chromosphere, and corona; the magnetic fields of the solar wind and solar magnetic storms; and the overall space environment around Earth, among other phenomena. They will also help us gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamical processes of the Sun, while addressing some of the outstanding problems in solar physics and heliophysics. For more information on the mission, click here.

The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) is a joint project between NASA and ISRO to co-develop and launch the first ever dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar on an Earth observation satellite. With an estimated total cost of US$1.5 billion, it is likely to be the world's most expensive Earth-imaging satellite.

Artist's Concept of NISAR

NISARs main objective will be to observe and measure some of the Earth's most complex natural processes, including the evolution of Earths crust, ecosystem disturbances, ice-sheet collapse, changing climate, and natural calamities like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, etc. To do this, it will use advanced radar imaging to map the elevation of Earth's land and ice masses at resolutions of 5 to 10 metres.

All data collected by this satellite will be made available for all 1-2 days after observation, and even within hours in case of emergencies and disasters.

ISROs role in the mission will be to provide the satellite bus, an S band synthetic aperture radar, the launch vehicle, and associated launch services, whereas NASA will supply the L band synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a high-rate telecommunication subsystem for scientific data, GPS receivers, a solid-state recorder, and a payload data subsystem.

It will be launched from India aboard a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle in September 2022, with a planned mission life of three years.

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Space Week: From Human Spaceflight to Studying Sun, ISRO's Upcoming Missions Aim to Transform Indian Space Exploration - The Weather Channel

UAE will launch its first moon rover in 2024 – Space.com

The United Arab Emirates has joined the roll-call of nations looking to visit the moon, with a lunar rover named Rashid scheduled to launch in 2024.

The announcement comes while the nation's first mission beyond Earth orbit, a Mars spacecraft called Hope, is still trekking out to the Red Planet. That mission is a science-minded endeavor meant to study how Mars' climate and atmosphere work from orbit. The new lunar mission is of a different flavor, focused more on developing technologies and evaluating concerns before crewed and longer-duration exploration missions leave Earth and land on other worlds.

"There are many scientific objectives behind this mission that will help us to better understand the moon," Adnan AlRais of the UAE's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) told Space.com, "but also in the long run to support our ultimate goal, sending humans to Mars and building settlements on Mars."

Related: The United Arab Emirates' Hope Mars mission in photos

AlRais heads up the agency's Mars 2117 program, which was established in 2017 to target landing humans on Mars within a century. As part of the program, the UAE is developing a "Mars Science City" in the desert and taking part in practice Red Planet missions at analog facilities, among other activities.

Meanwhile, the nation's astronaut program is selecting two new spaceflyers to double its ranks. The UAE currently has two astronauts, one of whom spent a week on the International Space Station in 2019, and recently sent them to NASA's Johnson Space Center for additional training.

And that's all going on while the UAE prepares for the Hope spacecraft's orbital arrival at Mars in February.

For a space program less than two decades old, the newly announced lunar mission marks a foray beyond the existing focus areas of Earth-observation satellites, human spaceflight and Mars exploration.

The decision to target a lunar rover stems from the international recognition of the moon as a stepping stone to Mars, a nearby world to test technologies before committing to the monthslong voyage to the Red Planet.

"It makes sense to go to the moon," Hamad Al Marzooqi, project manager for the new lunar mission, told Space.com. "The moon is nearer to Earth than Mars and it will allow us to do high-frequency missions," although he declined to elaborate on what sort of future missions the agency is considering.

The team's current focus, he said, is on this initial lunar rover, dubbed Rashid after the late Sheik Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the current sheik's father and one of the founders of the UAE, according to the Associated Press. The UAE has not yet selected the rocket that will launch the rover in 2024.

The team also still needs to select a landing site from among five finalists, Al Marzooqi said. Those candidate sites, all located in the equatorial region of the near side of the moon, are locations that have never been visited by landed spacecraft, he added.

"We plan to go and explore new areas that have not been explored during previous missions and that will allow us to do interesting science," Al Marzooqi said.

The four-wheeled rover's task list is a bit of a smorgasbord, determined more by the landing site and the instruments the team believes it can manage than by an overarching scientific narrative. Rashid will carry a high-resolution camera, a thermal imager and a microscopic imager to tell scientists about the dusty lunar regolith (moon dirt) and the probe's surroundings.

It will also carry a Langmuir probe, an instrument that will study a particularly strange phenomenon on the moon. The solar wind, a constant stream of charged particles flowing off the sun, continually bombards the dayside lunar surface, since the moon has no atmosphere to stop these particles. The result is a slight positive charge to the dayside surface and in turn, a negatively charged photoelectron sheath about 3 feet (1 meter) tall above it.

The phenomenon may contribute to the stickiness of lunar dust that so frustrated Apollo-era exploration, a potential concern already on the minds of those looking to return to the moon. Al Marzooqi said no Langmuir probe has ever reached the lunar surface and he hopes Rashid's will address this ongoing mystery.

The rover will also test experimental spacesuit materials to evaluate how they withstand the harsh lunar environment. And although Rashid's primary mission will last just one lunar day (about 14 Earth days), the rover will carry experimental software that will monitor instruments' temperatures and regulate their power, with the goal of waking them up again once the frigid lunar night ends, Al Marzooqi said.

Related: Hazzaa AlMansoori: The 1st Emirati astronaut's space mission in photos

To date, three nations have successfully soft-landed on the moon: the then-Soviet Union, the U.S. and China. Two countries attempted to join that list last year but failed: Both Israel's Beresheet lander and the Vikram lander of India's Chandrayaan-2 mission experienced glitches during the landing process and didn't slow down enough to survive the impact.

Al Marzooqi said those missions were on the Rashid team's mind looking ahead to a 2024 landing attempt.

"I was disappointed to see those failed missions," he said. "When you see failed missions before your mission, you need to understand the risk better in order to make sure that we don't follow the same path."

But that risk is also the price of admission, the UAE knows.

"There is no space mission with 100% success rate," Al Marzooqi said.

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

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UAE will launch its first moon rover in 2024 - Space.com

NASAs Planet Patrol wants you to join the search for exoplanets – EarthSky

Have you ever wanted to help scientists find exoplanets, worlds orbiting distant stars? Well, nows your chance! NASA has just launched a new citizen science website called Planet Patrol,a collaboration between NASA, the SETI Institute, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and Zooniverse. Volunteers will assist astronomers by looking through images taken by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), NASAs newest planet-hunter, which was launched in 2018.

As described on the Planet Patrol website:

NASAs Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission will take pictures of more than a million stars to search for planets orbiting them, called transiting exoplanets. We expect this mission will see thousands of these transiting exoplanets when they pass in front of nearby stars and periodically block some of the starlight.

But sometimes when a star dims like that, its not because of a planet. Variable stars, eclipsing binary stars, blended stars, glitches in the data, etc., can cause a similar effect. We need your help to spot these imposters!

At Planet Patrol, youll help us check the data from the TESS mission, one image at a time, to make sure that objects we suspect are planets REALLY are planets.

Artists illustration of TESS. Planet Patrol uses data from the space telescope to search for exoplanets orbiting far-away stars. Image via NASA/ Goddard Space Flight Center.

The objective is twofold: search for planetary candidates in the data, as well as planetary imposters, other objects or phenomena that could be mimicking a planet. Project leader Veselin Kostov of NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center said in a statement:

Automated methods of processing TESS data sometimes fail to catch imposters that look like exoplanets. The human eye is extremely good at spotting such imposters, and we need citizen scientists to help us distinguish between the look-alikes and genuine planets.

This also explains why human volunteers (3,968 at the time of this writing!) are needed in the first place. TESS collects a lot of data, hundreds of thousands of images in a year. Since according to scientists most stars have planets,each image could contain thousands of unseen planets. When you multiply that by the thousands of images, it becomes a daunting task to try to find the stars where planets are transiting in front of them, from our viewpoint (keeping in mind that many planets will have orbits that dont transit). Computers can detect many or even most of such transits, but they are not perfect. This is especially true for smaller planets, like Earth, in larger orbits far out from their stars.

Scientists have discovered over 4,000 exoplanets so far, of many different kinds, as represented in this artists concept. With the publics help, they should find many more as well. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech).

The Planet Patrol volunteers will help find the planets that the computer algorithms miss, but they will also assist with something just as valuable: weeding out false positives. Sometimes, what appears to be a planet transiting its star isnt actually a planet at all. Other possibilities include binary star systems, where two stars orbit each other around their common center of mass, and so alternately eclipse each other periodically. Other times, what seems to be a transit is actually just changes in brightness of a star itself. Still another kind of false alarm is simply errors or quirks in the observing instruments themselves.

All of those possibilities need to be eliminated before a candidate planet can actually be declared a confirmed discovery.

It can be tricky, of course, separating the real planets from the false ones, but on the new website, volunteers can ask questions about each image they study. This helps the TESS team narrow down the list of potential planets to the ones that are the most promising. Theres also the Planet Patrol Talk community where participants can discuss their findings with each other as well. As Marc Kuchner, Citizen Science Officer for NASAs Science Mission Directorate, described the process:

Were all swimming through the same sea of data, just using different strokes. Planet Hunters TESS asks volunteers to look at light curves, which are graphs of stars brightness over time. Planet Patrol asks them to look at the TESS image directly, although we plan to also include light curves for those images in the future.

Veselin Kostov of NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center, Project Leader at Planet Patrol. Image viaVeselin B. Kostov.

Over 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered so far in our galaxy, ranging from scorching hot Jupiters to smaller and cooler rocky worlds like Earth. Astronomers now estimate that almost every star has at least one planet and that the total number of planets may outnumber the stars in our galaxy. Thats a staggering thought.

Planet Patrol is not only a new way to help find distant worlds that might otherwise be missed; it is also a great way for the public to become involved and engaged. There are still many planetary candidates from TESS to be examined, and TESS is expected to find thousands more, so this is a great time to learn how to go planet-hunting.

Bottom line: NASA has launched a new website called Planet Patrol where volunteers can help search for exoplanets.

Via NASA

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NASAs Planet Patrol wants you to join the search for exoplanets - EarthSky

Why flexibility is critical for launch industry to tide over current unpredictabilities – Geospatial World

While launch schedules are beginning to return to normal, the satellite industry will likely be feeling long-term effects from the pandemic. Under strict lockdown regulations, many satellite developers have been unable to continue development at pre-COVID-19 speed, and taken together with issues up and down the supply chain, the industry will certainly see a broad impact in speed of development. In this background, flexibility is critical to combating the unpredictability of timelines and implications they have on launch schedules, believes Grant Bonin, Senior Vice President, Business Development, Spaceflight Inc.

Before the pandemic, a Bryce report found that 100% of all commercial smallsat launches experienced some form of launch delay. Delays leave satellite developers unable to get revenue-generating assets on orbit on time and unable to demonstrate a satellites capabilities, limiting opportunities for future funding. While launch delays will never disappear completely, flexibility can mitigate negative impacts, he explains.

Initially, a lot of VC-backed companies press pause and take austerity measures, but as the current pandemic has drawn out, it is being observed that commercial companies are recognizing that the best way to create value is by launching and operating their satellites. So were seeing the market rebound in a fairly powerful way. The industry has proven more resilient than even we thought there are many great companies out there, and great companies will always get funded and need launch, he underlines. Of course, there could be a ripple effect in this regard that wont fully be understood for another six to 12 months.

In an exhaustive interview, Bonin talks about the impact of the pandemic on the industry, and how Spacelight is providing the much-needed flexibility in launches that the industry so desperately needs to tackle some of the unpredictable challenges.

ALSO READ: Satellogic teams up with European Space Imaging and others to launch global consortium of imagery

In the short term weve seen a lot of disruption to the majority of launch schedules this year. However, were now seeing launches pick back up again. For example, the VV16 Vega mission was supposed to launch in the spring of 2020, following a failure on a previous launch, but this mission was delayed following a variety of lockdowns across the globe. The mission successfully launched in September, sending more than 50 satellites to orbit. Spaceflight has three more launches scheduled this year, with several others slated for quarter one of next year.

With longer-term effects, I anticipate well see some disruption in satellite readiness for launch dates scheduled before the pandemic. Under strict lockdown regulations, many satellite developers have been unable to continue development at pre-COVID-19 speed, and taken together with issues up and down the supply chain, we certainly see a broad impact in speed of development. We fully expect to see a ripple effect in this regard that wont fully be understood for another six to 12 months: but thats where Spaceflights launch flexibility really becomes of substantial value.

When delays occur, we can re-manifest our customers on another launch via our global launch vehicle network. Additionally, we recently announced several other programs, including multi-launch subscription services for launch, fully-transparent pricing, a Book My Launch platform, new vehicle and launch contracts, and our next-generation Sherpa orbital transfer vehicle, to take customers from the airport to the hotel in comfort. All of these programs are designed to help our customers get to exactly the orbit they want, exactly when they want. Spaceflight offers launch schedule assurance and greatest flexibility to smallsat customers needing frequent, reliable, and cost-effective ways to get spacecraft on orbit.

The biggest impact Spaceflight experienced was the disruption to launch schedules. For many of our clients, we execute the integration of satellites, so we are on site for launches and supporting weeks of integration work leading up to the launch. Even with the lockdowns, we serviced the customers above and beyond. Now were seeing things return to normal with regards to launch schedules.

From the booking perspective, things have not slowed. We are still working with many clients, existing and new, to schedule upcoming launches. Similar to many organizations, our team is largely working remotely (though as with many in the aerospace sector, we have been deemed essential and engineering activities continue at our Auburn facility). Before the pandemic struck, we were already set up to work across time zones to service customers, so we adapted to it with ease and have continued to keep everything on track with our customers. Finally, with the recent introduction of our Mission Control platform, an online portal that allows customers to easily access mission statuses, learn about key deliverables and view updates, has enabled our customers to see the progression of their mission online and provides an easy way for them to coordinate with their mission manager.

Weve been making our moves into the digital realm quickly, to make sure that in this new world we all find ourselves in, were still reliable and easy to book launches through.

The major downside for us, as with many companies, has actually been the loss of in-person water-cooler conversations. The team at Spaceflight thrives on internal and customer interactions; we miss hanging out!

Spaceflight intends to change the way customers get delivered into orbit. Conventional approaches to booking (and paying for) launch are arcane and transactional. Were drawing on the best insights of the best service providers across many different industries to revolutionize the launch experience.

First, our new overall booking process was born out of a desire to create a customer experience that is seamless and convenient. Our online booking portal allows customers to easily find launch options and book the ones that suit their needs, much as they would book (or change) any other flight. Next is the ability to move spacecraft from one launch to another launch in the case of a delay. This entails moving from one vehicle and integration facility to another and the launch sites can be a country apart. The team at Spaceflight has deep expertise across a variety of launch vehicles, ensuring a smooth integration process for customers. Finally, our Sherpa OTV program completes the picture, letting us provide the much-advertised but not yet realized last mile delivery service, enabling satellites to reach almost any exact orbit from any launch to common orbits.

Spaceflight is changing the way people think about launch deals by offering exactly that: subscription services for launch. Price is always critical, but in this industry, cash is king. Spaceflight has pioneered new launch deal structures that give maximum flexibility as well as correspondingly great cashflow terms to customers. The aerospace industry has always traded on being the pointy end of the sword technically, but virtually all other industries have surpassed it in terms of customer service. We aggressively learn from other sectors about how to best serve customers, and putting customers first.

ALSO READ: Satellite data nails Chinese fishing fleet near ecologically sensitive Galpagos Islands

Now more than ever, cash is king in the space industry. As the acceptance of subscription models rises for consumer and business goods in other industries, from everything from software and entertainment to pet food, we believe its a model that could also benefit the space industry. In an industry as unpredictable and risky as the space industry, subscription models provide certainty. Under our new ownership, we are uniquely poised to offer it, to the benefit of both our customers and our launch providers.

For launch vehicle providers implementing a subscription model allows launchers to gain predictable insight into their own cash flow. It helps them capitalize on the compounding value of customer relationships and commit to providing exceptional service. Predictability, like cash, is highly valued in our business.

For satellite developers, subscriptions can help them maintain some schedule consistency and predictability. Developers can have an extra level of flexibility by securing capacity on a wide range of launch vehicles rather than just one, enabling the payloads to easily spread across multiple vehicles to minimize risk.

While conventionally, the space industry is inherently inflexible and quite challenging, subscription models bring consistency and reliability for both launchers and satellite developers.

Spaceflight has recently signed a number of multi-launch agreements, which enables us to offer our smallsat customers a diverse portfolio of launch options and extensive launch capacity. In June, we signed a multi-launch agreement with SpaceX. This agreement secures rideshare capacity to launch payloads on several SpaceX missions through the end of 2021. Additionally, we signed a launch services agreement with Firefly Aerospace in April 2020 to maximize launch capacity on the commercial Alpha mission.

We are always evaluating new vehicle entrants and securing capacity with the goal to open space access for more smallsats.

Our Sherpa orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) product will enable satellites to be deployed to anywhere on orbit, even if the initial launch drops them off in a non-ideal orbit. Satellites that require a specific orbit dont often have many launch options available, so if they are able to catch a ride to a common orbital destination and finish in an orbit that is harder to reach, the number of launches available to them will increase dramatically.

Other companies have been advertising this for years, but we generally find either their technology is intrinsically flawed, their business model is unsustainable, or they cant access the broad range of launch vehicle providers that Spaceflight can. Spaceflights Sherpa program pre-dates almost all in-space transportation solutions, and weve revamped it with the current state of the art in propulsion, radiation-tolerant avionics, and high-accuracy control and telemetry systems to deliver customers quickly (hours to days) and accurately to their final destination in space, in a way no one else can achieve.

Typically, launches that meet satellite developers orbit requests are pricey and may warrant purchasing a whole rocket, but recent innovations in hardware development have proven a promising future to make last mile delivery possible. Specifically, orbital transfer vehicles, such as Spaceflights Sherpa-FX vehicle, are paving the way to create flexible manifest changes, enabling deployment to multiple altitudes and orbital planes, all while offering rapid launch solutions.

The debut of Spaceflights Sherpa-NG (next generation) program will occur later this year, with its first OTV, Sherpa-FX, launching 16 satellites. This hardware is one of the many innovative solutions coming to the market that will allow smallsat payloads to ride on large vehicles, which offer low-cost options, while getting to their preferred orbit coordinates.

The Sherpa-NG program will host a family of space vehicles, continuing the tradition of Spaceflights first orbital free flyer on the SSO-A mission. The new orbital transfer vehicle, Sherpa-FX, will be capable of executing multiple satellite deployments to multiple orbits, as well as providing independent and detailed deployment telemetry for customers and flexible interfaces. Spaceflight delivers value that outweighs the premium costs for launch.

Be flexible. There are countless ways businesses are affected by the pandemic and its important to be adaptable and flexible and find innovative solutions. And that flexibility is something we are constantly focused on offering to our customers. That flexibility may help them manage the impacts of pandemic and find a new launch that better suits their needs. We are hopeful that businesses will survive these unique circumstances and that the industry will bounce back stronger.

At the same time, be aggressive: unfortunate as our current global circumstances are, there are huge opportunities that arise from hardship that can allow companies to create great value and improve the world.

One striking thing about all our customers is that they want to do something importantwhether its defending their country or improving it, everyone who comes to us with launch needs tends to be passionate and devoted to their cause. Space is our shared high-ground, and excitement for what we can do up there hasnt diminished. We would lastly encourage companies to be bold, take big swings, and remember that history isnt a spectator sport. Our achievements up there long-outlive our companies and lives down here.

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Why flexibility is critical for launch industry to tide over current unpredictabilities - Geospatial World


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