SpaceX’s Crew-1 NASA astronauts and the rest of the International Space Station crew are celebrating the space agency’s latest historic Mars landing in Earth orbit.
The culmination of more than half a decade of work and a several hundred million million mile journey through deep space, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have managed to make lightning strike twice, successfully landing a second car-sized rover on the surface of Mars. Carrying a bevy of cutting-edge science instruments – many of which are on the Red Planet for the first time – and even a small helicopter-like drone, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is now ready for a careful once-over before kicking off a what should be a years-long science campaign.
If all goes as planned, part of that campaign will involve collecting an extensive series of Martian soil samples that could eventually be recovered and launched back to Earth in the late 2020s or 2030s. In the meantime, the Perseverance rover – nicknamed ‘Percy’ – will essentially operate as a supercharged, upgraded version of Curiosity, an almost identical car-sized rover that debuted NASA and JPL’s powered descent and landing capabilities in 2012.
Curiosity continues to roam Mars with no signs of slowing down and is making slow but steady progress on a marathon climb up the outskirts of Mount Sharp. While roughly the same size as Percy, Curiosity’s younger sibling carries an almost entirely revamped set of scientific instruments and is substantially heavier, meaning that the Mars 2020 mission represents the first time history that a spacecraft weighing more than one metric ton (1025kg/2260lb) has successfully landed on another planet.
Unlike SpaceX, which has long prioritized trial and error and extensive incremental testing on the path to developing new technologies and capabilities, NASA and JPL – for a variety of complex reasons – are under an incredible amount of pressure to succeed on the first try. That’s particularly apparent with missions like Curiosity and Perseverance, where the slightest error could easily doom a $2.5 billion work of art, engineering, and science to a crater on the surface of its target destination.
The sheer insanity of injecting a car-sized rover into another planet’s atmosphere – with no prior braking of any kind – at around 10 times the speed of a bullet, deploying a house-sized parachute at supersonic velocities, and ultimately dropping that rover to the surface of Mars with a literal rocket-powered ‘sky crane’ is hard to exaggerate. The fact that that was what hundreds of the world’s smartest people concluded was the safest and most optimal architecture exemplifies just how extraordinarily difficult large-scale Mars landings really are.
With any luck, in 5-10 years, NASA, SpaceX, and the world will be watching with bated breath as Starship attempts its first Mars atmospheric entry, descent, and landing and (most likely) explodes somewhere in the middle. Regardless, SpaceX will be – and is, even today – standing on the shoulders of giants like those that just bullied the laws of physics and complexities of systems engineering into submission to land a second car-sized rover on Mars.
SpaceX’s reign as the only privately funded American spaceflight company to reach and successfully deploy small satellite payloads into orbit ended on January 21, 2018, when Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket delivered three customer CubeSats to orbit for the first time.
SpaceX and Rocket Lab have since been the only private American companies to offer dedicated and rideshare delivery of small satellites to orbit. That is until Virgin Orbit joined the competition with the success of its Launch Demo 2 mission earlier this week.
On Sunday, January 17, Virgin Orbit – one of two spaceflight companies backed by billionaire Richard Branson – joined SpaceX and Rocket Lab as the next private American rocket launcher sending small satellites to space. Virgin Orbit delivers its payload slightly differently than SpaceX and Rocket Lab. Virgin Orbit can uniquely offer its customers the flexibility of launch site because its liquid-fueled rocket is dropped mid-air from under the wing of a massive Boeing 747 before propelling itself to space.
In the Spring of 2020 Virgin Orbit conducted its first Launch Demo mission off of the coast of southern California. Prior to the rocket’s first stage ignition, the company achieved the majority of its intended test flight targets. Just after LauncherOne’s first stage ignition the rocket prematurely shut down resulting in the complete loss of the rocket and its payload as it fell to the ocean.
After months of investigation, Virgin Orbit attributed the prematurely terminated flight to a component failure that led to a breach of a high-pressure line starving the engine of Liquid Oxygen resulting in the immediate loss of propulsion. The issue was remedied quickly and Virgin Orbit aimed to fly and launch again in December 2020 for its Launch Demo 2 mission attempting to successfully achieve orbit by the close of the year. In mid-December, the launch date of Launch Demo 2 was postponed until January 2021 due to impacts to operation and scheduling caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Virgin Orbit’s 747, Cosmic Girl, piloted by Kelly Latimer took to the skies on Sunday, January 17 with a fully fueled LauncherOne rocket loaded with a payload of nine CubeSat missions made up of ten spacecraft for NASA’s Educational Launch of NanoSatellites (ELaNa XX) series contracted under NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program.
The Launch Demo 2 mission went off without a hitch. Just as with the first Launch Demo, all pre-launch activities proceeded nominally with Cosmic Girl reaching an altitude of 30,000 feet prior to the release of LauncherOne over the Pacific Ocean. Once released into free flight, the rocket’s first stage engine ignited and carried it through the atmosphere until separation and second stage engine ignition beyond the Kármán line – the recognized point at which “space” is defined beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Eventually, all nine payloads were successfully deployed into orbit completing the first-ever successful mission of an orbital class, liquid-fueled, air-launched rocket to reach space.
Another One Leaves The Crust
SpaceX has set the pace for space in 2021 successfully achieving two orbital-class launches within the first twenty days of the year with a third mission scheduled to depart Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Base in Florida on Friday, January 22. Likewise, Rocket Lab looks to aggressively exceed its previous launch record of seven missions in one calendar year. The only way to demolish a previous record is to launch frequently from multiple spaceports. SpaceX currently has three active launchpads, two in Florida and one in California. Within 2021, Rocket Lab will also have three operational launchpads, two in New Zealand and one in Virginia.
On Wednesday, January 20, 2021 – its third anniversary of first making it to orbit – Rocket Lab successfully launched its first Electron mission of 2021 nicknamed “Another One Leaves The Crust.” After standing down from a previous launch attempt on January 16 due to an erroneous sensor, the eighteenth overall mission of the Electron rocket successfully launched and deployed a single communications microsatellite for the European space technology company, OHB Group. The mission took place from Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand at 07:26 UTC. This mission brings the total satellites deployed by Rocket Lab to 97.
In a statement provided by Rocket Lab, founder and CEO, Peter Beck, states that “We’re proud to be delivering a speedy and streamlined path to orbit for OHB Group on this mission, with launch taking place within six months of contract signing. By flying as a dedicated mission on Electron, OHB and their mission partners have control over launch timing, orbit, integration schedule, and other mission parameters.”
2021 – The year of the small satellite launcher
Expect SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and Virgin Orbit to be joined by other small launchers looking to break into the market sooner rather than later. Another NASA Venture Class Launch Services provider, Astra – a California-based small satellite launcher that launches from Kodiak, Alaska – narrowly missed beating out Virgin Orbit for the third-place slot in the competition to deliver small satellites to orbit.
On December 15, 2020, Astra launched its small orbital-class vehicle, Rocket 3.2, for the second time from Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. The vehicle soared past the Kármán line with the upper stage reaching its targeted altitude of 380 kilometers at 7.2 km/sec but falling just shy of achieving orbital velocity at 7.68 km/sec.
Astra is not the only small private spaceflight company looking to join the ranks of SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and now Virgin Orbit. Texas-based Firefly Aerospace is also expected to join the elite group of privately funded spacefaring companies this year.
In October 2020, Firefly successfully completed acceptance testing of the first stage of its small class Alpha rocket. The stage completed a 35-second static fire demonstrating a full range of thrust vector control maneuvers. The first stage of the Alpha rocket has since been shipped to Firefly’s launch complex at Space Launch Complex 2 West (SLC-2W) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. In Novemeber 2020 Firelfy began the integration process of the payloads for the maiden Alpha launch.
In December 2020, Astra and Firefly were awarded Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 firm fixed-priced contracts by NASA’s Launch Services Program along with a third small class launcher, California based Relativity Space. Astra received $3.9 million in funding while Firefly was awarded $9.8 million and Relativity received $3 million to place CubeSats in Low Earth Orbit.
SmallSats and CubeSats are quickly becoming the preferred method of operating in orbit because it is technology and opportunity that is attainable for many smaller companies and other parties interested in reaching space such as universities. As SmallSats continue to rise in popularity so too will the demand to launch them. 2021 is already shaping up to become the year that produces the highest amount of private commercialized spaceflight, ever.
On Friday evening, Nov. 13, NASA and SpaceX announced that the first operational Commercial Crew Program mission of the Crew Dragon would be delayed 24 hours to Sunday, Nov. 15, at 7:27 pm EST (0027 GMT 11/16). During a Crew-1 pre-launch news conference, SpaceX’s senior director of the Human Spaceflight Programs, Benji Reed, stated that the delay was driven by impacts on recovery efforts caused by tropical storm Eta, which had plagued Florida for days.
Just prior to the news conference, United Launch Alliance(ULA) successfully launched its Atlas V rocket after suffering delays of its own earlier in the week. The NROL-101 mission carried a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office of the U.S. government and successfully launched from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:32 pm EST.
Florida weather caused multiple launch delays
Weather, especially that caused by tropical storm Eta, has caused a domino effect of delays for SpaceX and ULA over the last few weeks. The ULA Atlas V 531 rocket stacked with the secretive NROL-101 payload, initially set to liftoff on Nov. 3, was first delayed by damage sustained to environmental control system hardware of the upper stage.
According to company CEO, Tory Bruno, as the rocket was transported from ULA’s vertical integration facility (VIF) to the launchpad of SLC-41, very high winds caused damage to a duct that controlled the flow rate of an upper payload environmental control system. As a result, the rocket was returned to the VIF to have the duct replaced. A launch attempt scheduled for the following day on Wednesday, Nov. 4, was called off due to an unrelated problem with ground support equipment.
The NROL-101 mission was then set to launch on Sunday, Nov. 8, but that attempt was eventually called off due to the impending weather that would be brought across the Florida peninsula by then hurricane Eta. On Friday, Nov. 6, the Atlas V 531 rocket and payload for the National Reconnaissance Office was once again returned to the VIF for protection from the storm.
A final launch attempt was identified for Friday, Nov. 13, just 22 hours before the scheduled launch of the SpaceX, NASA Crew-1 mission from nearby Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Fortunately, the weather held out long enough for the ULA Atlas V 531 rocket to liftoff. Following liftoff and successful payload deployment the mission was later declared a full success by ULA.
Florida weather also caused offshore recovery delays, impacting crewed launch
Similarly, the SpaceX and NASA Crew-1 mission has also suffered setbacks due to inclement weather, although not at the launch site. Following the successful launch and landing of the B1062 Falcon 9 of the recent GPSII-SV04 mission on Thursday, Nov. 5, SpaceX recovery teams battled unsettled seas to return the booster and the recovery droneship, Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY), safely back to Port Canaveral.
After securing B1062 safely aboard OCISLY, the SpaceX recovery vessel GO Quest took refuge at the Port of Morehead City in North Carolina. The recovery crew would wait there to assist with the recovery of the B1061 Falcon 9 of the Crew-1 mission, rather than return to Port Canaveral in Florida. The droneship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) was intended to meet the crew of GO Quest at the Crew-1 booster recovery zone prior to the end of the week.
Due to high winds and rough seas churned up by tropical storm Eta, the OCISLY droneship took an exceptionally tedious 7-day journey hugging the eastern coast of the United States to return to Port Canaveral. The delay caused the crew transfer process from OCISLY to JRTI to be delayed which in turn hindered the departure of the JRTI droneship.
As tropical storm Eta moved out and away from Florida the waters of the Atlantic remained too rough for the JRTI droneship to make up for the lost time. Following the conclusion of SpaceX’s Crew-1 preflight launch readiness review on Friday, Nov. 13, it was announced that the delay in getting the recovery droneship to the B1061 landing zone would delay the Crew-1 launch attempt by 24 hours.
Recovering the Falcon 9 booster, of any mission, is a secondary mission objective. However, the recovery of the Crew-1, B1061 Falcon 9 is important to both NASA and SpaceX – enough so to delay a launch attempt. NASA and SpaceX have already designated this booster to be reused on the next Crew Dragon mission, Crew-2, targeted for no earlier than March 30, 2021. In order to reuse a booster to save on launch costs, it must first be successfully recovered.
If all goes to plan, three NASA astronauts and one astronaut from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will climb aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience on Sunday, Nov. 15, and blast off to the International Space Station precisely at 7:27 pm EST (0027 11/16) from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA and SpaceX will provide a hosted live broadcast of all Crew-1 events beginning at 3:15 pm EST on Sunday, Nov. 15, on NASA TV and on the SpaceX website.
SpaceX and NASA have completed the last major review standing between Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 and the duo’s operational astronaut launch debut, meaning that a routine static fire test is all that really remains.
On Thursday, November 5, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule – named “Resilience” – of the first operational SpaceX mission to and from the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) arrived at the Launch Complex 39A hangar at the Kennedy Space Center.
SpaceX is one of two commercial partners that NASA works with to develop a reliable system of crew transportation to and from the International Space Station. Since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program, the United States has been reliant on Russia and its Soyuz program to fulfill the task of maintaining an American presence aboard the ISS. With SpaceX’s first operational CCP mission – dubbed Crew-1 – a new era of commercialized crewed spaceflight will be ushered in.
On November 10th, SpaceX and NASA officials convened for a press conference following the successful completion of the Crew-1 flight readiness review (FRR) – the last major review standing between the assembled hardware and liftoff. SpaceX senior director of Human Spaceflight Programs Benji Reed listed off an array of historic milestones crossed as part of the FRR, noting that the review’s completion means that NASA has officially certified SpaceX for operational astronaut launches, making it the first and only private company in the world capable of safely launching humans.
Additionally, Reed revealed that Crew-1 and Cargo Dragon 2’s imminent December 2nd launch debut will together ring in a potentially unprecedented era in commercial spaceflight. Crew-1 – barring surprises in orbit – will further mark the longest continuous American spaceflight ever, beating a record set by a Skylab mission in the early 1970s if Crew Dragon remains in orbit for the full planned 180-210 days.
“Starting with Crew-1, there will be a continuous presence of SpaceX Dragons on orbit. Starting with the cargo mission CRS-21, every time we launch a Dragon, there will be two Dragons in space – simultaneously – for extended periods of time. Truly, we are returning the United States’ capability for full launch services, and we are very, very honored to be a part of that.”
On a more technical level, Reed noted that SpaceX has decided to replace a component of Falcon 9’s upper stage ‘purge system’ and will bring the whole rocket horizontal later today (November 10th). That swap will delay Falcon 9’s Crew-1 static fire from ~8pm today to ~8pm on Wednesday, November 11th. The Crew-1 mission remains on track to launch no earlier than (NET) 7:49 pm EDT, Saturday, November 14th.
The Crew’s All Here
Three days later, after departing Johnson Space Center via a chartered flight from Ellington Field on Sunday, November 8, the four crew members of the Crew-1 mission arrived in Florida by plane at Kennedy Space Center’s former space shuttle landing facility.
Upon arrival, the crew members – NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency – were greeted by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Agency Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, and manager of JAXA’s ISS program, Junichi Sakai.
“Today we are taking another big leap in this transformation in how we do human spaceflight. What we’re talking about here is the commercialization of space. NASA is one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
Final Milestones Ahead of Flight
After arriving at their launch site in Florida, the four-member crew made the short journey to the LC-39A horizontal integration facility acquainting themselves with their “Resilience” Dragon capsule and the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster that will soon propel them to space. The Dragon capsule had been oriented horizontally and mated with the Falcon 9 first and second stages.
Initially targeting liftoff on October 31, the Crew-1 mission experienced a delay after the SpaceX GPSIII-SV04 B1062 Falcon 9 vehicle suffered an early start anomaly initiating an autonomous pad abort at T-2 seconds.
On Monday, November 9, SpaceX and NASA managers began the tedious process of completing a flight readiness review. The meeting that extends an entire day, or two, involves managers from SpaceX, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and the International Space Station program collaborating in discussion to conduct a joint pre-flight examination of all previous specialized reviews – such as ones done specifically for the Dragon capsule or the Falcon 9 booster. The meeting also serves as an opportunity for every department to discuss and close out any remaining concerns. The meeting began at 9 am on Monday, November 9, and concluded on Tuesday, November 10.
The B1061 Falcon 9 booster and Crew Dragon “Resilience” capsule were transported the short distance from the hangar to the launchpad ahead of the test firing of the nine Merlin 1D engines – a final test to certify all flight-critical hardware ahead of the launch attempt. Clearing the final hurdle before flight, SpaceX officially acknowledged that the Crew-1 mission is targeting liftoff at 7:49pm EST (0049 UTC on Nov. 15) on Saturday, November 14 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center.
Following liftoff, the Dragon capsule “Resilience” will separate from the Falcon 9 first stage and continue to propel its crew on an uphill journey to rendevous with the ISS approximately seven and a half hours later.
Live hosted NASA and SpaceX coverage of the events will begin approximately three and half hours prior to liftoff at 3:30 pm EST and will be available on NASA TV and the SpaceX website.
On Wednesday, November 3, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 531 rocket was set to launch the NROL-101 mission – a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) of the United States government – from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. At neighboring Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) a SpaceX Falcon 9 stood ready and waiting to launch a US military GPS satellite just a day later.
Ultimately, due to an anomaly with launchpad ground support equipment, the ULA launch attempt of the Atlas V NROL-101 mission was scrubbed Wednesday evening. Admittedly, the weather did not look promising either with ground winds remaining a concern throughout the countdown window.
With an hour and forty-seven minutes to go – just five seconds after a planned fifteen-minute hold was released – the launch teams announced that an anomaly had been discovered with “a ground valve issue with the liquid oxygen system for the Atlas V first stage.” The discovery initiated an immediate stop to the countdown and launch teams entered into an unplanned hold that would delay the targeted launch time.
At first, ULA conducted remote troubleshooting, but the anomaly was not remedied and a return-to-pad team would be required to enter the secured launchpad to physically investigate.
An anomaly team was deployed to investigate the valve that was restricting the flow of liquid oxygen (LOx) to the first stage of the Atlas V rocket. The hold remained for over an hour allowing the propellant lines to warm to a temperature that would be needed to be re-cooled prior to resuming the countdown.
Eventually, the return-to-pad team was able to evacuate the pad securing it for launch once again. Chill-down procedures to return the propellant lines back to an operational temperature began but were halted almost immediately. The anomaly had not been completely rectified and not enough time remained in the launch window to re-address it and re-chill the propellant lines. This led to the scrubbed launch attempt.
Typically, a scrubbed ULA mission for the NRO means that a neighboring SpaceX mission has to wait until the problem is fixed and ULA gets its rocket off of the nearby launchpad. However, that was not the case with Wednesday’s scrub. ULA stood down for a 48 hour recycle – rather than a typical 24 hour recycle – to attempt to launch the Atlas V 531 again on Friday, November 6.
This cleared the way for SpaceX to keep its targeted launch date of Thursday, November 5 during a launch window that extends approximately fifteen minutes from 6:24 – 6:39 p.m. EST (2324-2339 UTC) from SLC-40.
The previous launch attempt on Friday, October 2 was thwarted at T-2 seconds due to anomalous engine start-up behavior. The unexplained early start-up of two Merlin 1D engines was eventually determined to be caused by “unexpected pressure rise in the turbomachinery gas generator” as explained by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
The engine anomaly prompted a thorough investigation of all Merlin 1D engines on the launch vehicle, as well as, a thorough investigation of the engines on two Falcon 9 launch vehicles designated for future NASA missions – the first operational rotation mission of the Commercial Crew Program, Crew-1, and the launch of the NASA and European Space Agency Earth-observation satellite, the Micheal Freilich Sentinel-6. Engines were eventually replaced on all three Falcon 9 launch vehicles.
A live hosted webcast of Thursday’s launch attempt will be provided on the company website and is expected to be available for viewing approximately fifteen minuted before liftoff.
SpaceX has begun applying for Starlink gateway licenses in at least four Australian cities – Broken Hill, Boorowa, Wagin, and Pimba – in one of the final steps needed before Starlink internet can begin operating on the continent.
SpaceX began filing for gateway licenses within the past few days. @VedaPrime on Twitter showed the applications and frequencies, locations, and emissions predictions for each site.
#Starlink Australia – 24 licences applied for now in total across 4 locations – Broken Hill, Boorowa, Wagin, Pimba
SpaceX has been working toward getting Starlink to become operational in Australia for several months, but the company has had to jump through a series of regulatory hurdles in order to gain approval for the satellite internet service’s functionality in the country.
In February, Starlink passed the first regulatory hurdle as it was approved to use Australian radio frequencies as a foreign-owned satellite. This was confirmed by ABC News Australia, who revealed that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) approved Starlink’s satellites to become apart of the Foreign Space Objects Determination (FSOD). The FSOD outlines the list of companies that are approved to use Australian airspace.
Now, SpaceX must gain a final, more challenging regulatory approval by obtaining a spectrum license that will allow the Starlink satellites to communicate to ground stations that are based in Australia. The ACMA stated that SpaceX’s “inclusion in the determination does not confer a right on that entity to obtain a license, rather it is a prerequisite before a space apparatus license can be issued.” Carrier license thus in hand, a spectrum license is still needed to ensure that Starlink does not interfere with existing Australian communications services.
Starlink’s Australian approval is just one of many countries that SpaceX will have to go through in order to create a fully-operational internet infrastructure that can be utilized by people worldwide. Starlink will use a constellation of between 4,400 and 40,000 internet-emitting satellites that will create affordable and reliable connections for people across the world.
Earlier today, Teslarati reported that Microsoft Azure had announced a partnership with SpaceX that will give customers the ability to both access and deploy cloud computing capabilities with the help of Starlink’s infrastructure.
Saturn is sometimes called “The Jewel of the Solar System.” It is a planet that is nothing like our own. Humans have been gazing up at Saturn for a long time. They have been wondering about it for thousands of years.
Here are some fun facts about the Ringed Planet.
Saturn is huge. It is the second largest planet in our Solar System. Jupiter is the only planet that is bigger.
The rings are huge but thin. The main rings could almost go from Earth to the moon. Yet, they are less than a kilometer thick.
Four spacecraft have visited Saturn: Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and the Cassini-Huygens mission have all studied the planet.
Saturn has oval-shaped storms similar to Jupiter’s: The region around its north pole has a hexagonal-shaped pattern of clouds. Scientists think this may be a wave pattern in the upper clouds. The planet also has a vortex over its south pole that resembles a hurricane-like storm.
Saturn is made mostly of hydrogen and helium: It exists in layers that get denser farther into the planet. Eventually, deep inside, the hydrogen becomes metallic. At the core lies a hot interior. (click the image for a better resolution).
Saturn has 62 moons: Some of these are large, like Titan, the second largest moon in the Solar System. But most are tiny – just a few km across, and they have no official names. In fact, the last few were discovered by NASA’s Cassini orbiter just a few years ago. More will probably be discovered in the coming years.
Saturn orbits the Sun once every 29.4 Earth years: Its slow movement against the backdrop of stars earned it the nickname of “Lubadsagush” from the ancient Assyrians. The name means “oldest of the old”.
In Saturn there is aurora: Photographic composition made by the Hubble Space Telescope showing the occurrence of aurora in the southern hemisphere of Saturn at intervals of two days.The aurora is visible only in the ultraviolet.
Saturn spins on its axis very fast. A day on Saturn is 10 hours and 14 minutes.
You can see Saturn with your own eyes: Saturn appears as one of the 5 planets visible with the unaided eye. If Saturn is in the sky at night, you can head outside and see it. To see the rings and the ball of the planet itself, you’ll want to peer through a telescope. But you can amaze your friends and family by pointing out that bright star in the sky, and let them know they’re looking at Saturn.
We continue to make progress toward the first launch of our Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis I mission around the Moon. Engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi are preparing for the last two tests of the eight-part SLS core stage Green Run test series.
The test campaign is one of the final milestones before our SLS rocket launches America’s Orion spacecraft to the Moon with the Artemis program. The SLS Green Run test campaign is a series of eight different tests designed to bring the
entire rocket stage to life for the first time.
As our engineers and technicians prepare for the wet dress rehearsal and the SLS Green Run hot fire, here are some numbers to keep in mind:
The SLS rocket’s core stage is the largest rocket stage we have ever produced. From top to bottom of its four RS-25 engines, the rocket stage measures 212 feet.
For each of the Green Run tests, the SLS core stage is installed in the historic B-2 Test Stand at Stennis. The test stand was updated to accommodate the SLS rocket stage and is 35 stories tall – or almost 350 feet!
4 RS-25 Engines
All four RS-25 engines will operate simultaneously during the final Green Run Hot Fire. Fueled by the two propellant tanks, the cluster of engines will gimbal, or pivot, and fire for up to eight minutes just as if it were an actual Artemis launch to the Moon.
Our brawny SLS core stage is outfitted with three flight computers and special avionics systems that act as the “brains” of the rocket. It has 18 miles of cabling and more than 500 sensors and systems to help feed fuel and direct the four RS-25 engines.
The stage has two huge propellant tanks that collectively hold 733,000 gallons of super-cooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage weighs more than 2.3 million pounds when its fully fueled.
114 Tanker Trucks
It’ll take 114 trucks – 54 trucks carrying liquid hydrogen and 60 trucks carrying liquid oxygen – to provide fuel to the SLS core stage.
6 Propellant Barges
A series of barges will deliver the propellant from the trucks to the rocket stage installed in the test stand. Altogether, six propellant barges will send fuel through a special feed system and lines. The propellant initially will be used to chill the feed system and lines to the correct cryogenic temperature. The propellant then will flow from the barges to the B-2 Test Stand and on into the stage’s tanks.
All eight of the Green Run tests and check outs will produce more than 100 terabytes of collected data that engineers will use to certify the core stage design and help verify the stage is ready for launch.
For comparison, just one terabyte is the equivalent to 500 hours of movies, 200,000 five-minute songs, or 310,000 pictures!
The B-2 Test Stand has a flame deflector that will direct the fire
produced from the rocket’s engines away from the stage. Nearly 33,000 tiny, handmade holes dot the
flame deflector. Why? All those minuscule holes
play a huge role by directing constant streams of pressurized water to cool the
hot engine exhaust.
One Epic First
When NASA conducts the SLS Green Run Hot Fire test at
Stennis, it’ll be the first time that the SLS core stage operates just as it
would on the launch pad. This test is just a preview of what’s to come for
The Space Launch System is the only rocket that can send
NASA astronauts aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft and supplies to the Moon in a
single mission. The SLS core stage is a key part of the rocket that will send
the first woman and the next man to the Moon through NASA’s Artemis program.
HBO is developing a biopic-style show focused on the achievements of Elon Musk and SpaceX, specifically highlighting the company’s successful mission which launched and landed NASA astronauts this year. The limited series, produced by Channing Tatum’s Free Association, will be based on Ashlee Vance’s 2017 biography of Musk titled, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. A shorter title will be used for the six-episode show, however, which is simply “SpaceX.”
Other standout names on board for the SpaceX series include co-executive producer Len Amato, the former president of HBO Films, Miniseries, and Cinemax, along with Reid Carolin and Peter Kiernan from the Tatum-led production company. Vance himself will also take on an executive production role, and Doug Jung, known for 2016’s Star Trek Beyond screenplay, will be a writer. Michael Parets, who worked on sci-fi film Arrival, will oversee the project as the VP of Development and Productions for Free Association.
As a history-making commercial spaceflight company with impressive technology aimed at making humans a multiplanetary species, SpaceX is no stranger to the big and small screen alike. Musk and his rocket company have been featured in nearly every modern project discussing Mars, including National Geographic’s “Mars” mini series. Alongside behind-the scenes footage of SpaceX’s first successful Falcon 9 landing, an interview with the founder and CEO was featured in bits over several episodes to give insight to the technology shown on the show.
More recently, SpaceX and NASA have partnered with Tom Cruise to film the first-ever feature film to be produced outside of planet Earth. Reports in May indicated the project’s development was still in very early and preliminary stages, and casting decisions had not been made other than Cruise’s appearance. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine later confirmed the project via Twitter where Musk also indicated his enthusiasm for the project. “Should be a lot of fun!” he tweeted in reply to Bridenstine’s announcement.
With roles in television and film, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX generally plays himself, including Iron Man 2 and his less-serious appearance in a Thanksgiving episode of The Big Bang. The times he played a character instead include an episode of Rick and Morty as “Elon Tusk” and in Men in Black: International where he played an alien in an uncredited role. Musk is known to be a fan of Rick and Morty in particular, the show having inspired features included in Tesla’s Sentry Mode.
Prospective SpaceX competitor Blue Origin has completed a suborbital launch of its reusable New Shepard rocket for the first time in 10 months.
Originally designed to help usher in a new wave of space tourism as early as 2017, the tourist launch debut of the New Shepard rocket – alongside fellow tourism company Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo – appears destined to forever be “a couple flights” away.
Essentially the same diameter as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, New Shepard measures ~3.6m (~12 ft) wide, ~15m (~50 ft) tall, and likely weighs around 35 metric tons (~75,000 lb) at liftoff. The small rocket booster is powered by one liquid hydrogen and oxygen (hydrolox) BE-3 engine capable of producing ~500 kN (110,000 lbf) of thrust and is designed for what Blue Origin calls “operational reuse”.
In practice, Blue Origin has only built four New Shepards in ~6 years and has never flown the same booster twice in less than ~60 days, despite an effectively blank-check budget from owner Jeff Bezos since the company’s founding in 2000.
It’s truly difficult to fathom why, if New Shepard is capable of semi-rapid reuse, Blue Origin has only launched the small rocket an average of once every six months in the last four years. If the company genuinely wants to routinely launch space tourists above the Karman Line (100 km), actually demonstrating safety with as many consecutively successful launches as possible is a no-brainer given an effectively unlimited budget and schedule.
Put a different way, Blue Origin was technically founded two years before SpaceX. In the 6-7 years since Bezos’ space startup began building the first New Shepard, the company has built just four vehicles total, one of which was destroyed when it failed its first landing attempt. In that same timeframe, SpaceX has built ~50 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters and completed 83 successful launches, only one of which was intentional suborbital.
While Blue Origin is technically working on New Glenn – a massive orbital-class reusable rocket with performance similar to Falcon Heavy – and the powerful BE-4 engine, mean to power both New Glenn and ULA’s new Vulcan rocket, both appear to be in the throes of technical difficulties and delays. During Blue Origin’s official New Shepard Flight 13 (NS-13) webcast, the company didn’t mention either program once.