Tag: rocket

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

Why Elon Musk’s Reusable Rockets Are More Than A Publicity Stunt

SpaceX has made history: the rocket company, founded in 2002 by billionaire playboy Elon Musk, has launched his cherry-red Tesla Roadster into space, on course to the asteroid belt after overshooting its intended Mars orbit.

As with so much Musk does, the event was a hybrid of genuine breakthrough and nerd-baiting publicity stunt.

The presence of the car – replete with spacesuit-wearing crash test dummy, David Bowie playing from the speakers and a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quote on-screen – may not have any real point beyond generating good press pics, but the same can’t be said for the Falcon Heavy it was launched in.

Reusable rockets

SpaceX’s killer app has been the development of easily reusable booster rockets: once used up, they descend to Earth in a controlled drop, before landing vertically on land or sea, ready to be refuelled and sent off in another flight.

At least, that is the theory.

In practice, SpaceX’s rockets have hardly proven infallible: during the development of the technology, the company went so far as to release a blooper reel of all the various explosions caused by failed attempts to land the boosters, ending on the first successful landing in April 2016.




Tuesday’s launch was no exception.

The Falcon Heavy – which is essentially three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together – successfully landed its two outer stages in beautiful synchronisation, but the core module was a different story, hitting the water 100 metres from its intended landing barge at 300mph.

[It] was enough to take out two thrusters and shower the deck with shrapnel,” Musk said.

Really Falcon big

Reusable rockets have been an ace in SpaceX’s pocket for a couple of years.

The real success of Tuesday’s event was managing to build a launch vehicle out of those reusable rockets that is capable of lifting almost twice as much into orbit as any other rocket in production.

The Falcon Heavy should be able to carry more than 60 tonnes to low Earth orbit (LEO), compared with 27.5 tonnes for the Space Shuttle, and 28.8 tonnes for the Boeing/Lockheed Martin co-produced Delta IV, previously the biggest rocket in contemporary use.

All those pale compared to the fireworks of the past, however: the Saturn V, which took man to the moon, had an LEO capacity of 140 tonnes.

But it also cost almost $2bn in 2018 dollars, as opposed to the $95m SpaceX is charging for a Falcon Heavy launch.

Since 1969, as space flight budgets have been slashed and the focus has shifted from gadding about on the moon to getting satellites in orbit, priorities have changed, and the glory days have faded into the past.

There is a long way to go before we are back where we started.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Middle Booster Of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket Failed To Land On Its Drone Ship

Though the Falcon Heavy’s outer cores successfully landed after launch this afternoon, the middle core of SpaceX’s huge rocket missed the drone ship where it was supposed to land they said.

The center core was only able to relight one of the three engines necessary to land, and so it hit the water at 300 miles per hour about 300 feet from the drone ship.

As a result, two engines on the drone ship were taken out when it crashed, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a press call after the rocket launch. “[It] was enough to take out two thrusters and shower the deck with shrapnel,” he said.

It’s a small hiccup in an otherwise successful first flight. The Falcon Heavy rocket took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3:45PM ET on Tuesday and made a beautiful arc to space.




About two and a half minutes after liftoff, the two outer boosters of the rocket broke away and returned to Earth.

The pair then touched down just seconds apart on SpaceX’s two ground landing pads at the Cape called Landing Zone 1 and Landing Zone 2.

At about three minutes after liftoff, the center core broke away from the upper stage — the top portion of the rocket that is carrying the Falcon Heavy’s payload, Musk’s Tesla Roadster.

It then attempted to land on SpaceX’s drone ship, but live video of the landing stalled just before the core was slated to make its touchdown. “We lost the center core,” someone said on a separate, unlisted live stream of the launch.

Meanwhile, the upper stage seems to be doing just fine. After launch, Musk tweeted that it had successfully ignited its engine and raised its orbit as intended.

Now, the upper stage will spend about six hours coasting through space — a move by SpaceX to demonstrate a tricky orbital maneuver for the US Air Force.

That coast will take the rocket through regions of intense radiation that surround Earth called the Van Allen belts, where it will be pelted by high-energy particles.

If the vehicle is still operating as it should by then, the upper stage will do another engine burn, putting the car on its deep space path to Mars’ orbit.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

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

Rocket Lab Has Reached The Orbit For The First Time

This weekend, US spaceflight startup Rocket Lab successfully launched its second Electron rocket for a crucial flight test — and reached orbit for the first time.

The Electron took off from the company’s New Zealand launch facility at 2:43PM local time on Sunday (or 8:43PM ET on Saturday), and about eight and a half minutes later, the rocket deployed three small commercial satellites.

It marks the first time the Electron has completed a full mission, and that may mean Rocket Lab is ready to start commercial flights of the vehicle.




Reaching orbit on a second test flight is significant on its own, but successfully deploying customer payloads so early in a new rocket program is almost unprecedented,” Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, said in a statement.

Rocket Lab was founded on the principal of opening access to space to better understand our planet and improve life on it. Today we took a significant step towards that.

Rocket Lab’s big ambition is to be a dedicated launcher of small satellites. That’s why the company’s Electron rocket isn’t very big itself.

It stands at just over 55 feet tall, a slight stature compared to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which is a lofty 180 feet tall. And the Electron’s capacity is limited, only capable of getting between 330 and 500 pounds to lower Earth orbit.

For comparison, the Falcon 9 can get around 50,000 pounds to a similar orbit.

But demand for this type of small rocket has been high. Operators of tiny satellites don’t have many options to get to space, and typically have to hitch rides on launches of much bigger probes.

That’s not always ideal, since it means waiting for someone else launch and possibly going to a less-than-desirable orbit.

But with a launcher like the Electron, small satellite operators can potentially pay for an entire rocket ride for their hardware, and Rocket Lab says individual flights may start as low as $4.9 million.

The company says it already has a full manifest of customers waiting for trips.

Before customers can start flying, Rocket Lab needed to show that the Electron could do its job, and getting to orbit was a key goal of this test.

During the first flight test of the vehicle, appropriately called “It’s a Test,” the Electron made it to space but failed to make it to orbit.

Some communications equipment on the ground lost contact with the rocket during flight, causing the vehicle to abort its mission. Rocket Lab said that if the mishap hadn’t occurred, the Electron would have made it to orbit.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

SpaceX To Launch Heaviest Rocket Falcon Heavy At ‘End Of Month’, Elon Musk Announces

The space exploration company has said that it will fire its Falcon Heavy rocket in a test flight from the Kennedy Space Center “at the end of the month”, without giving a specific date.Billionaire Mr Musk posted a picture of the Falcon Heavy on Instagram, alongside the caption: “At 2500 tons of thrust, equal to 18 Boeing 747 aircraft at full throttle, it will be the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two.

Excitement on launch day guaranteed, one way or another.”




Rather than carrying a customers’ payload, the Falcon Heavy will carry a “cherry Tesla Roadster” to orbit Mars, playing David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ on repeat.

The firm said it would “be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.

Last month, Mr Musk posted a series of pictures on Instagram of the red Tesla Roadster inside the Falcon Heavy.Alongside the images, Mr Musk put: “Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks.

“That seemed extremely boring. Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel.

“The payload will be an original Tesla Roadster, playing Space Oddity, on a billion-year elliptic Mars orbit.”However, Mr Musk has admitted there is a significant chance that the Falcon Heavy rocket test could fail.

Speaking of the rocket in July, he said: “I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it does not cause pad damage.

“I would consider even that a win, to be honest.”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Japanese Rocket Launches Two Satellites Into Orbit

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched two satellites into space Friday (Dec. 22) on separate missions to study the Earth and test new ion engine technology.

A JAXA H-2A rocket launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan carrying the Global Change Observation Mission-Climate (GCOM-C) satellite and the Super Low Altitude Test Satellite (SLATS).

Liftoff occurred at 8:26 p.m. EST (0126 GMT) on Friday, though the local time was 10:26 a.m. Saturday Japan Standard Time.




The GCOM-C satellite, nicknamed Shikisai (which means “Color” in Japanese), is an Earth-observing satellite designed to be the first in a pair to monitor Earth’s climate from space over 15 years.

It carries instruments to study Earth’s carbon cycle, clouds, aerosols, ocean color, vegetation, and snow and ice, according to a JAXA mission description.

GCOM is expected to play an important role in monitoring both global water circulation and climate change, and examining the health of Earth from space,” JAXA officials wrote.

The SLATS satellite (nicknamed Tsubame, or “Swallow”) is on a technology demonstration mission to test how ion engines could help keep satellites aloft in “super low orbits” below 186 miles.

Such a low orbit will subject SLATS to 1,000 times the atmospheric drag on satellites in higher orbits between 372 and 497 miles (600-800 km), JAXA officials said.

Even the International Space Station is in a higher orbit of about 248 miles (400 km).

JAXA’s successful satellite launch on Friday came just over one minute before another rocket launch.

The U.S. spaceflight company SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 Iridium Next communications satellites into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The launch created dazzling views for spectators across Southern California.

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SpaceX Launch Leaves Ghostly Glowing Trail In The Sky

People along the West Coast looked toward the heavens Friday to find a strange, morphing orb glowing in the night sky.

It looked like the stuff of science fiction, but it was actually the mark of a SpaceX rocket hauling a group of telecom satellites into Earth’s orbit.

The rocket took off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California, and kicked up a flurry of wonder from social media users from across the state.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk fueled the fun by teasing onlookers who were confused by the eerie contrail.

Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea,” he tweeted.




But the show was, in fact, put on by the rocket’s exhaust meeting the crisp air.

Water vapor from the aircraft engine exhaust is immediately exposed to very cold temperatures at very high altitudes.”

“The impurities in the exhausts and the very cold temperatures are the perfect recipe for a condensation trail,” writes meteorologist and Forbes contributor Marshall Shepherd.

It’s just like what airplanes leave behind when they streak across the sky.

Friday’s launch marked SpaceX’s 18th and final launch for the 2017 calendar year, making it the busiest private-sector rocket company in the world.

The mission was to deliver a group of 10 telecommunications satellites to low-Earth orbit for a company called Iridium, which is in the process of replacing its vast satellite network.

It’ll be used to deliver communications services and, among other things, track airplane traffic.

Musk took advantage of the buzz created by Friday’s spectacle to tout SpaceX’s next big feat: conducting a test launch of its massive new rocket, called Falcon Heavy.

That’s due in January.

To translate, “rocket cores” refer to the boosters at the base of the rocket.

They provide the initial thrust at lift-off. SpaceX’s defining move is to guide those boosters back to Earth for a safe landing so they can be reused in future missions.

The Falcon Heavy has three boosters, two more than SpaceX’s operational Falcon 9 rocket, and SpaceX will attempt to recover all of them.

Droneship refers to a landing pad that SpaceX sends into the ocean to capture boosters that fly out with a horizontal trajectory.

Reusing hardware is all part of SpaceX’s plan to drastically drive down the cost of spaceflight, and the company has all but mastered the move. It’s landed rockets on 20 separate occasions.

No rocket landing was attempted on Friday, however.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

According To This Man, A Rocket Launch Will Prove Earth Is Flat

This Saturday you’ll be able to watch live streaming footage of a flat-earther as he tries to prove the Earth is flat.

Mike Hughes and his homemade steam-powered rocket are working till the end, tweaking the rocket that will send him on a 500 mph mile-long flight across the Mojave Desert.

The ultimate goal? To prove astronauts, government agencies, and Elon Musk wrong; that the Earth is indeed a flat disk.

To do this Hughes will climb aboard the rocket he built from scrap metal and launch himself 1,800 feet into the air in order to take photos proving the Earth is flat.




“I don’t believe in science. I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.” Hughes told The Associated Press.

While this isn’t the first time Hughes has launched himself on a homemade rocket, this will be the highest and farthest by far.

The rocket will launch from a modified mobile home in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Meanwhile, he’s noted that this is just his first phase in his flat-earth space program.

Mike Hughes, a limo-driver in California, has been in the spotlight before for his daredevil stunts. .

From a 2002 Guinness World Record limousine jump to various rocket launches, Hughes has made a name for himself with homemade stunts.

Eventually, Hughes plans to launch himself miles above the Earth and take photos of the flat Earth below.

Hughes has often cited fake NASA and SpaceX launches, noting that NASA is controlled by a group of Freemasons and somehow that means they’re all lying to us.

Thankfully, we have Hughes to debunk the round Earth claims and prove we all live on a disc. His first rocket launch was in 2014 when he rode his homemade rocket on a quarter-mile trek at Winkelman, Arizona.

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Pass it on: New Scientist