Tag: Falcon 9

SpaceX Blasts Off NASA’s New Spacecraft On Quest To Find New Planets

NASA’s TESS spacecraft embarked Wednesday on a quest to find new worlds around neighboring stars that could support life.

TESS rode a SpaceX Falcon rocket through the evening sky, aiming for an orbit stretching all the way to the moon.

The satellite — the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess — will scan almost the entire sky for at least two years, starting at the closest, brightest stars in an effort to find and identify any planets around them.

Hundreds of thousands of stars will be scrutinized, with the expectation that thousands of exoplanets — planets outside our own solar system — will be revealed right in our cosmic backyard.

Rocky and icy planets, hot gas giants and, possibly, water worlds. Super-Earths between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. Maybe even an Earth twin.

Discoveries by Tess and other missions, he noted, will bring us closer to answering questions that have lingered for thousands of years.




Does life exist beyond Earth? If so, is it microbial or more advanced? But Tess won’t look for life.

It’s not designed for that. Rather, it will scout for planets of all sorts, but especially those in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone of a star: an orbit where temperatures are neither too cold nor too hot, but just right for life-nourishing water.

The most promising candidates will be studied by bigger, more powerful observatories of the future, including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in another few years as the heir to Hubble.

These telescopes will scour the planets’ atmospheres for any of the ingredients of life: water vapor, oxygen, methane, carbon dioxide.

TESS is the successor to NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, on its last legs after discovering a few thousand exoplanets over the past nine years.

Astronomers anticipate more than doubling Kepler’s confirmed planetary count of more than 2,600, once Tess’ four wide-view cameras begin scientific observations in early summer.

Unlike Tess, Kepler could only scour a sliver of the sky.

The total exoplanet census currently stands at more than 3,700 confirmed, with another 4,500 on the not-yet-verified list. That’s a lot considering the first one popped up barely two decades ago.

Until about 25 years ago, the only known planets were in our own solar system, noted NASA’s director of astrophysics, Paul Hertz.

While Kepler has focused on stars thousands of light-years away, Tess will concentrate on our stellar neighbors, dozens or hundreds of light-years away.

Most of TESS’ targets will be cool, common red dwarf stars, thought to be rich breeding grounds for planets.

To find the planets, Tess will use the same transit method employed by Kepler, watching for regular, fleeting dips in stellar brightness that would indicate a planet passing in front of its star. That’s the best astronomers can do for now.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA’s Planet-Hunting TESS Telescope Launches Today Aboard A SpaceX Rocket

Some of the most exciting space news of the past few years has been about Earth-like exoplanets that could one day (or perhaps already do) support life. TESS, a space telescope set to launch today aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

It will scan the sky for exoplanets faster and better than any existing platforms, expanding our knowledge of the universe and perhaps finding a friendly neighborhood to move to.

The Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite has been in the works for years and in a way could be considered a sort of direct successor to the Kepler, the incredibly fruitful mission that has located thousands of exoplanets over nearly a decade.

But if Kepler was a telephoto aimed at dim targets far in the distance, TESS is an ultra-wide-angle lens that will watch nearly the entire visible sky.

They both work on the same principle, which is really quite simple: when a planet (or anything else) passes between us and a star (a “transit”), the brightness of that star temporarily dims.

By tracking how much dimmer and for how long over multiple transits, scientists can determine the size, speed, and other characteristics of the body that passed by.




It may seem like looking for a needle in a haystack, watching the sky hoping a planet will pass by at just the right moment.

But when you think about the sheer number of stars in the sky — and by the way, planets outnumber them — it’s not so crazy.

As evidence of this fact, in 2016 Kepler confirmed the presence of 1,284 new planets just in the tiny patch of sky it was looking at.

TESS will watch for the same thing with a much, much broader perspective.

Its camera array has four 16.4-megapixel imaging units, each covering a square of sky 24 degrees across, making for a tall “segment” of the sky like a long Tetris block.

The satellite will spend full 13.7-day orbits observing a segment, then move on to the next one.

There are 13 such segments in the sky’s Northern hemisphere and 13 in the southern; by the time TESS has focused on them all, it will have checked 85 percent of the visible sky.

It will be focusing on the brightest stars in our neighborhood: less than 300 light-years away and 30 to 100 times as bright as the ones Kepler was looking at.

The more light, the more data, and often the less noise — researchers will be able to tell more about stars that are observed, and if necessary dedicate other ground or space resources towards observing them.

Of course, with such close and continuous scrutiny of hundreds of thousands of stars, other interesting behaviors may be observed and passed on to the right mission or observatory.

Stars flaring or going supernova, bursts of interesting radiation, and other events could very well occur.

In fact, an overlapping area of observation above each of Earth’s poles will be seen for a whole year straight, increasing the likelihood of catching some rare phenomenon.

SpaceX is the launch partner, and the Falcon 9 rocket on which it will ride into orbit has already been test fired. TESS is packaged up and ready to go, as you see at right.

Currently the launch is planned for a 30-second window at 6:32 Florida time; if for some reason they miss that window, they’ll have to wait until the moon comes round again — a March 20 launch was already canceled.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Evolution of the SpaceX Falcon 9

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SpaceX is on a roll lately with the launch of their Falcon Heavy rocket, but the real workhorse of the SpaceX lineup is the Falcon 9. So let’s look at the development of the Falcon 9 and how it got this way.

SpaceX is the most successful private rocket launch company in the world, and it’s due in large part to the Falcon 9 rocket.

And the journey to the Falcon 9 began with the Falcon 1 in 2006. The first three launches of the Falcon 1 failed, and with only one more shot before the company went bankrupt, they finally got into orbit on the 4th launch.

Plans for a larger Falcon 1e were scrapped, as well as a Falcon 5, so that they could move forward with the Falcon 9 v1.0.

With this first version of the Falcon 9, SpaceX was able to win a contract to service the ISS through NASA’s COTS program by proving that the Dragon capsule was capable of carrying out resupply missions.

SpaceX then focused on reusability and developed the Falcon 9 v1.1, which they used to test landings over open water, at the same time testing vertical take off and landing with their grasshopper vehicle.

But it was the next version, the Falcon 9 Full Thrust, that was the first to land, first on a landing pad at Cape Canaveral, and then on a drone ship.

Incremental improvements lead to the Falcon 9 Block 4 and Block 5 that will launch for the first time this April.

Earlier this year, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy, which is 90% reusable, making spaceflight even more sustainable, but the ultimate reusable rocket is the upcoming BFR, which is completely reusable.

This is the ultimate implementation of the SpaceX vision.

Everything You Need To Know About Today’s Falcon Heavy Launch

The time has finally come for SpaceX to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket. A launch license has been issued for the giant vehicle to take flight this Tuesday.

It’s a mission that many have been waiting for since 2011 when SpaceX CEO Elon Musk first announced plans to develop the vehicle.

Now, after seven years and numerous delays, the launch of the rocket is imminent — and it could be a game-changer for SpaceX.

Here are all the details you need to know about this launch and why it’s such a big deal for both SpaceX and the industry.




What is the Falcon Heavy?

The essence of the rocket is right there in its name: it’s the heavy-lift version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The vehicle consists of three Falcon 9 cores strapped together, giving the rocket an awesome amount of power.

And since each Falcon 9 has nine main rocket engines, there are 27 total engines that will all be used to send this vehicle to space. No other working rocket has ever used so many.

All of this hardware can supposedly create more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.

That makes the Falcon Heavy capable of putting around 140,000 pounds of cargo into lower Earth orbit, earning the title of the most powerful rocket in the world.

Where is it launching from?

The Falcon Heavy is taking off from a historic launch site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, called LC-39A.

The site was used to launch the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon as well as numerous Space Shuttle missions — including the final Shuttle launch.

In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease with NASA to use the pad at 39A for the company’s flights, and it has since modified the site to accommodate launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.

 

What is the Falcon Heavy going to do?

For the first Falcon Heavy flight, SpaceX is going to try to launch it to orbit without blowing up. This is a demonstration mission, meant to see if the Falcon Heavy can simply send a payload to orbit.

That’s why the rocket’s cargo is pretty silly: it’s Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster, made even sillier with the possible inclusion of a dummy in the passenger seat, dressed in a brand-new SpaceX suit, naturally.

The Falcon Heavy is supposed to put the car (as well as the passenger, presumably) into an orbit around the Sun known as a Hohmann transfer orbit.

This path will take the car as far out from the Sun as the distance of Mars’ orbit. However, the car won’t be going anywhere near Mars, so there’s no risk of the car contaminating the planet with Earth microbes.

What happens if it’s successful?

Then the Falcon Heavy has some more flights scheduled. The vehicle is booked to a put up a large communications satellite for operator Arabsat of Saudi Arabia sometime in early 2018.

And the Falcon Heavy is also slated to launch a test payload for the US Air Force no earlier than June.

That launch will allow the Air Force to judge whether or not the Falcon Heavy is ready to fly national security payloads, which could become a big market for the vehicle.

The flight will also contain a cluster of secondary satellites, too, including a special test spacecraft from the Planetary Society called LightSail.

The probe is designed to deploy a large, thin sail that uses radiation from the Sun to propel through space.

When is the launch happening?

The launch is currently scheduled to take off on Tuesday, February 6th, sometime during a launch window that spans from 1:30PM to 4PM ET.

However, this is the first flight of the Falcon Heavy — ever — so technological glitches could arise that push the launch back a couple of days.

Weather could also cause a delay, but there’s an 80 percent chance that weather will be favorable, according to Patrick Military Air Force Base at the Cape.

How can I watch the launch?

SpaceX will be live-streaming the mission on YouTube, which will be embedded in this post. Coverage should begin shortly before liftoff, so check back then to watch one of the most anticipated rocket launches in the last decade.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

SpaceX Has Launched And Landed Two Falcon 9 Rockets In One Weekend

Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX successfully launched two payloads into orbit over the weekend, and then landed the first-stage booster from each rocket onto one of the company’s drone ships.

Last Friday, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the first telecommunications satellite for the country of Bulgaria from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The first stage booster for that rocket which had already been launched, landed, and refurbished once before was successfully maneuvered down for a safe landing on a barge called “Of Course I Still Love You”.




Last Sunday, SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 carrying 10 satellites for Iridium Communications from Vandenberg Air Force Base, located northwest of Los Angeles.

The first stage booster from that rocket was landed on the ship “Just Read the Instructions,” which was floating in the Pacific.

These events marked the fastest turnaround for SpaceX launches from two different sites, according to Spaceflight Now. SpaceX’s continued success with landing and re-using boosters could save the company and its customers millions of dollars.

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Pass it on: New Scientist