March 29th

On March 29, 1807, the German astronomer Heinrich Olbers discovered the asteroid Vesta. Vesta is the second-largest body in the asteroid belt and is surpassed in size only by the dwarf planet Ceres. 

To look for asteroids, astronomers would draw sky charts every night and look for spots that moved. Sunlight reflecting off the asteroids can make them look like faint stars, but unlike stars, the asteroids didn’t have a fixed location in the sky. 

Vesta was the fourth object to be discovered in the region between Mars and Jupiter, which we now know as the asteroid belt. Olbers and other astronomers thought the asteroid belt might be the remains of a hypothetical planet that was either smashed to pieces by a collision or ripped apart by Jupiter’s gravity. 

Source: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/on-this-day-in-space-march-29-1807-heinrich-olbers-discovers-asteroid-vesta/ar-BB11S1U9

23rd March 2020

As the U.S. scrambles to respond to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic, NASA supercomputers are joining the effort to look for potential treatment and vaccine candidates.

A new initiative brings together NASA and the National Science Foundation as well as a host of Department of Energy laboratories, companies and academic institutions. The White House announced the effort, meant to divert spare computing resources to research aimed at slowing the pandemic, today (March 23).

“I’m proud that @NASA is lending our supercomputing expertise to assist in the global fight against COVID-19,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement on Twitter. “For more than six decades the agency has used its expertise to take on challenges that have benefited people worldwide in unexpected ways.”

One of the areas of NASA redirecting its supercomputer time is the Earth science division, according to Science Mission Directorate head Thomas Zurbuchen. “Researchers input satellite data to run climate models to predict Earth’s future climate,” Zurbuchen said in a statement on Twitter. “NASA is pleased to lend our supercomputing expertise to assist in the global fight against #COVID19.”

Researchers working on projects related to COVID-19 will be able to apply for time on the supercomputers, according to a White House statement, which should speed up calculations necessary for slowing the pandemic.

“America is coming together to fight COVID-19, and that means unleashing the full capacity of our world-class supercomputers to rapidly advance scientific research for treatments and a vaccine,” Michael Kratsios, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, said in the statement.

Source: https://www.space.com/nasa-supercomputers-join-fight-against-coronavirus.html

March 16th 2020

There’s a new contender for the “most exotic exoplanet” title.

The crown may have rested for a while now on the head of HD 189733 b, a cobalt-blue alien world where molten-glass rain whips sideways through the air at up to 5,400 mph (8,790 km/h). But a new study reports that iron rain likely falls through the thick, turbulent air of WASP-76 b, a bizarre “ultrahot Jupiter” that lies about 640 light-years from the sun, in the constellation Pisces.

WASP-76 b zips around its host star once every 1.8 Earth days, an orbit so tight that the gaseous planet is “tidally locked,” always showing the star the same face. Temperatures on this dayside climb above 4,350 degrees Fahrenheit (2,400 degrees Celsius) — hot enough to vaporize metals — whereas the nightside is a much cooler (but still ridiculous) 2,730 F (1,500 C), researchers said.

“These are likely the most extreme climates we could ever find on a planet,” said study lead author David Ehrenreich, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

“We have to stretch our understanding of what is a climate, what is a planetary atmosphere, to understand this object,” Ehrenreich told Space.com.

WASP-76 b was discovered in 2013. The alien planet is about as massive as Jupiter but nearly twice as wide, likely because the massive radiation loads the exoplanet receives from its host star puff up its atmosphere considerably. (And one quick note about the object’s distance: Some sources say that WASP-76 b is about 390 light-years away, but that number is inaccurate, Ehrenreich said. He and his colleagues calculated WASP-76 b’s distance using data from Europe’s ultraprecise star-mapping spacecraft Gaia.)

For the new study, the researchers studied WASP-76 b using the Echelle Spectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO), an instrument installed on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

ESPRESSO detected a strong signature of iron vapor at the “evening” border that separates WASP-76 b’s dayside from its nightside. But no such signature was spotted at the “morning” border on the other side of the planet, where the nightside melds into day.

“Something must be happening on the nightside that makes iron disappear,” Ehrenreich said. 

The best explanation, he added, is that winds and WASP-76 b’s rotation carry vaporized iron from the dayside to the nightside. The nightside is cool enough for the iron vapor to condense into clouds, which then dump rain into the air over there. That rain could consist of compounds such as iron sulfide or iron hydride.

But, “given the conditions, the most likely [scenario] is that iron condenses into liquid droplets of pure iron,” Ehrenreich said. (This iron rain probably eventually makes its way back to the dayside again via atmospheric circulation, perpetuating the cycle, he added.)

And that rain probably isn’t sprinkling down in a gentle mist, because the big temperature disparity between WASP-76 b’s two halves generates winds of startling ferocity. The iron in the planet’s dayside air, for example, is hurtling toward the nightside at about 11,000 mph (18,000 km/h), Ehrenreich said.

WASP-76 b’s exoticism doesn’t end there. The dayside atmosphere may be much more puffed up than that of the nightside because of the higher heat loads, the researchers said. So the “evening” and “morning” borders between the two hemispheres might be marked by towering clouds that fall from the light toward darkness.

“And the drizzle of this fall would not be water droplets but iron droplets,” Ehrenreich said.

The craziness of WASP-76 b has more than just gee-whiz appeal. The new information about this odd exoplanet should help scientists refine and test climate and global circulation models, leading to a better understanding of exoplanetary atmospheres in general, Ehrenreich said. And WASP-76 b also serves as a compelling reminder for researchers to keep an open mind, because nature churns out a dizzying diversity of worlds.

“Exoplanets are a real treasure trove full of surprises,” Ehrenreich said. “The more you look, the more you find.”

He and his colleagues aim to dig up more such surprises. The new results, which were published online today (March 11) in the journal Nature, come from the very first science observations ever made with ESPRESSO, back in September 2018. The researchers are now conducting a broad survey of exoplanet atmospheres using ESPRESSO, which could reveal if WASP-76 b is an outlier or a member of a very weird class of worlds.

“What we have now is a whole new way to trace the climate of the most extreme exoplanets,” Ehrenreich said in a statement.

Source: https://www.space.com/alien-planet-iron-rain-WASP-76b.html

11th March 1960

Pioneer 5 (also known as Pioneer P-2, and Able 4, and nicknamed the “Paddle-Wheel Satellite”) was a spin-stabilized space probe in the NASA Pioneer program used to investigate interplanetary space between the orbits of Earth and Venus. It was launched on 11 March 1960 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 17A at 13:00:00 UTC with an on-orbit dry mass of 43 kg. It was a 0.66 m diameter sphere with 1.4 m span across its four solar panels and achieved a solar orbit of 0.806 × 0.995 AU (121,000,000 by 149,000,000 km).

Data was received until 30 April 1960. Among other accomplishments, the probe confirmed the existence of interplanetary magnetic fields. Pioneer 5 was the most successful probe in the Pioneer/Able series.

The original mission plan was for a launch in November 1959 where Pioneer 5 would conduct a flyby of Venus, but technical issues prevented the launch from occurring until early 1960 by which time the Venus window for the year had closed. Since it was not possible to send the probe to Venus, it would instead merely investigate interplanetary space and an actual mission to the planet would have to wait another three years.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_5

February 17th

Not just one, but seven Earth-size planets that could potentially harbor life have been identified orbiting a tiny star not too far away, offering the first realistic opportunity to search for signs of alien life outside the solar system.

The planets orbit a dwarf star named Trappist-1, about 40 light-years, or 235 trillion miles, from Earth. That is quite close in cosmic terms, and by happy accident, the orientation of the orbits of the seven planets allows them to be studied in great detail.

One or more of the exoplanets in this new system could be at the right temperature to be awash in oceans of water, astronomers said, based on the distance of the planets from the dwarf star.

“This is the first time so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” Michael Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium and the leader of an international team that has been observing Trappist-1, said during a telephone news conference organized by the journal Nature, which published the findings on Wednesday.

Scientists could even discover compelling evidence of aliens.

“I think that we have made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury H. M. J. Triaud, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge in England and another member of the research team. “Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to that we have on Earth, then we will know.”

Cool red dwarfs are the most common type of star, so astronomers are likely to find more planetary systems like that around Trappist-1 in the coming years.

“You can just imagine how many worlds are out there that have a shot to becoming a habitable ecosystem,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate, said during a NASA news conference on Wednesday. “Are we alone out there? We’re making a step forward with this — a leap forward, in fact — towards answering that question.”

Telescopes on the ground now and the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit will be able to discern some of the molecules in the planetary atmospheres. The James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch next year, will peer at the infrared wavelengths of light, ideal for studying Trappist-1.

Comparisons among the different conditions of the seven will also be revealing.

“The Trappist-1 planets make the search for life in the galaxy imminent,” said Sara Seager, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not a member of the research team. “For the first time ever, we don’t have to speculate. We just have to wait and then make very careful observations and see what is in the atmospheres of the Trappist planets.”

Even if the planets all turn out to be lifeless, scientists will have learned more about what keeps life from flourishing.

Astronomers always knew other stars must have planets, but until a couple of decades ago, they had not been able to spot them. Now they have confirmed more than 3,400, according to the Open Exoplanet Catalog. (An exoplanet is a planet around a star other than the sun.)

The authors of the Nature paper include Didier Queloz, one of the astronomers who discovered in 1995 the first known exoplanet around a sunlike star.

While the Trappist planets are about the size of Earth — give or take 25 percent in diameter — the star is very different from our sun.

Trappist-1, named after a robotic telescope in the Atacama Desert of Chile that the astronomers initially used to study the star, is what astronomers call an “ultracool dwarf,” with only one-twelfth the mass of the sun and a surface temperature of 4,150 degrees Fahrenheit, much cooler than the 10,000 degrees radiating from the sun. Trappist is a shortening of Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope.

During the NASA news conference, Dr. Gillon gave a simple analogy: If our sun were the size of a basketball, Trappist-1 would be a golf ball.

Until the last few years, scientists looking for life elsewhere in the galaxy have focused on finding Earth-size planets around sun-like stars. But it is hard to pick out the light of a planet from the glare of a bright star. Small dim dwarfs are much easier to study.

Last year, astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-size planet around Proxima Centauri, the closest star at 4.24 light-years away. That discovery was made using a different technique that does not allow for study of the atmosphere.

Trappist-1 is about 8 percent the size of the sun.
Trappist-1 is about 8 percent the size of the sun.Credit…ESO

Trappist-1 periodically dimmed noticeably, indicating that a planet might be passing in front of the star, blocking part of the light. From the shape of the dips, the astronomers calculate the size of the planet.

Trappist-1’s light dipped so many times that the astronomers concluded, in research reported last year, that there were at least three planets around the star. Telescopes from around the world then also observed Trappist-1, as did the Spitzer Space Telescope of NASA.

Spitzer observed Trappist-1 nearly around the clock for 20 days, capturing 34 transits. Together with the ground observations, it let the scientists calculate not three planets, but seven. The planets are too small and too close to the star to be photographed directly.

All seven are very close to the dwarf star, circling more quickly than the planets in our solar system. The innermost completes an orbit in just 1.5 days. The farthest one completes an orbit in about 20 days. That makes the planetary system more like the moons of Jupiter than a larger planetary system like our solar system.

“They form a very compact system,” Dr. Gillon said, “the planets being pulled close to each other and very close to the star.”

In addition, the orbital periods of the inner six suggest that the planets formed farther away from the star and then were all gradually pulled inward, Dr. Gillon said.

Because the planets are so close to a cool star, their surfaces could be at the right temperatures to have water flow, considered one of the essential ingredients for life.

The fourth, fifth and sixth planets orbit in the star’s “habitable zone,” where the planets could sport oceans. So far that is just speculation, but by measuring which wavelengths of light are blocked by the planet, scientists will be able to figure out what gases float in the atmospheres of the seven planets.

So far, they have confirmed for the two innermost planets that they are not enveloped in hydrogen. That means they are rocky like Earth, ruling out the possibility that they were mini-Neptune gas planets that are prevalent around many other stars.

Because the planets are so close to Trappist-1, they have quite likely become “gravitationally locked” to the star, always with one side of the planets facing the star, much as it is always the same side of Earth’s moon facing Earth. That would mean one side would be warmer, but an atmosphere would distribute heat, and the scientists said that would not be an insurmountable obstacle for life.

For a person standing on one of the planets, it would be a dim environment, with perhaps only about one two-hundredth the light that we see from the sun on Earth, Dr. Triaud said. (That would still be brighter than the moon at night.) The star would be far bigger. On Trappist-1f, the fifth planet, the star would be three times as wide as the sun seen from Earth.

As for the color of the star, “we had a debate about that,” Dr. Triaud said.

Some of the scientists expected a deep red, but with most of the star’s light emitted at infrared wavelengths and out of view of human eyes, perhaps a person would “see something more salmon-y,” Dr. Triaud said.

NASA released a poster illustrating what the sky of the fourth planet might look like.

If observations reveal oxygen in a planet’s atmosphere, that could point to photosynthesis of plants — although not conclusively. But oxygen together with methane, ozone and carbon dioxide, particularly in certain proportions, “would tell us that there is life with 99 percent confidence,” Dr. Gillon said.

Astronomers expect that a few decades of technological advances are needed before similar observations can be made of Earthlike planets around larger, brighter sunlike stars.

Dr. Triaud said that if there is life around Trappist-1, “then it’s good we didn’t wait too long.”

“If there isn’t, then we have learned something quite deep about where life can emerge,” he continued.

The discovery might also mean that scientists who have been searching for radio signals from alien civilizations might also have been searching in the wrong places if most habitable planets orbit dwarfs, which live far longer than larger stars like the sun.

The SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., is using the Allen Telescope Array, a group of 42 radio dishes in California, to scrutinize 20,000 red dwarfs. “This result is kind of a justification for that project,” said Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the institute.

“If you’re looking for complex biology — intelligent aliens that might take a long time to evolve from pond scum — older could be better,” Dr. Shostak said. “It seems a good bet that the majority of clever beings populating the universe look up to see a dim, reddish sun hanging in their sky. And at least they wouldn’t have to worry about sun block.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/science/trappist-1-exoplanets-nasa.html

February 10th

Venera 1 (Russian: Венера-1 meaning Venus 1), also known as Venera-1VA No.2 and occasionally in the West as Sputnik 8 was the first spacecraft to fly past Venus, as part of the Soviet Union’s Venera programme. Launched in February 1961, it flew past Venus on 19 May of the same year; however, radio contact with the probe was lost before the flyby, resulting in it returning no data.

Spacecraft

Venera 1 was a 643.5-kilogram (1,419 lb) probe consisting of a cylindrical body 1.05 metres (3 ft 5 in) in diameter topped by a dome, totalling 2.035 metres (6 ft 8.1 in) in height. This was pressurized to 1.2 standard atmospheres (120 kPa) with dry nitrogen, with internal fans to maintain even distribution of heat. Two solar panels extended from the cylinder, charging a bank of silver-zinc batteries. A 2-metre parabolic wire-mesh antenna was designed to send data from Venus to Earth on a frequency of 922.8 MHz. A 2.4-metre antenna boom was used to transmit short-wave signals during the near-Earth phase of the mission. Semidirectional quadrupole antennas mounted on the solar panels provided routine telemetry and telecommand contact with Earth during the mission, on a circularly-polarized decimetre radio band.

The probe was equipped with scientific instruments including a flux-gate magnetometer attached to the antenna boom, two ion traps to measure solar wind, micrometeorite detectors, and Geiger counter tubes and a sodium iodide scintillator for measurement of cosmic radiation. An experiment attached to one solar panel measured temperatures of experimental coatings. Infrared and/or ultraviolet radiometers may have been included. The dome contained a KDU-414 engine used for mid-course corrections. Temperature control was achieved by motorized thermal shutters.

During most of its flight, Venera 1 was spin stabilized. It was the first spacecraft designed to perform mid-course corrections, by entering a mode of 3-axis stabilization, fixing on the Sun and the star Canopus. Had it reached Venus, it would have entered another mode of 3-axis stabilization, fixing on the Sun and Earth, and using for the first time a parabolic antenna to relay data.

Launch

Venera 1 was the second of two attempts to launch a probe to Venus in February 1961, immediately following the launch of its sister ship Venera-1VA No.1, which failed to leave Earth orbit. Soviet experts launched Venera-1 using a Molniya carrier rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The launch took place at 00:34:36 UTC on 12 February 1961.

The spacecraft, along with the rocket’s Blok-L upper stage, were initially placed into a 229 × 282 km low Earth orbit, before the upper stage fired to place Venera 1 into a heliocentric orbit, directed towards Venus. The 11D33 engine was the world’s first staged-combustion-cycle rocket engine, and also the first use of an ullage engine to allow a liquid-fuel rocket engine to start in space.

Failure

Three successful telemetry sessions were conducted, gathering solar-wind and cosmic-ray data near Earth, at the Earth’s Magnetopause, and on February 19 at a distance of 1,900,000 km (1,200,000 mi). After discovering the solar wind with Luna 2, Venera 1 provided the first verification that this plasma was uniformly present in deep space. Seven days later, the next scheduled telemetry session failed to occur. On May 19, 1961, Venera 1 passed within 100,000 km (62,000 mi) of Venus. With the help of the British radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, some weak signals from Venera 1 may have been detected in June. Soviet engineers believed that Venera 1 failed due to the overheating of a solar-direction sensor.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venera_1

February 4th 2020

Tyazhely Sputnik

Tyazhely Sputnik, (Russian: Тяжелый Спутник meaning Heavy Satellite), also known by its development name as Venera 1VA No.1, and in the West as Sputnik 7, was a Soviet spacecraft, which was intended to be the first spacecraft to explore Venus. Due to a problem with its upper stage it failed to leave low Earth orbit. In order to avoid acknowledging the failure, the Soviet government instead announced that the entire spacecraft, including the upper stage, was a test of a “Heavy Satellite” which would serve as a launch platform for future missions. This resulted in the upper stage being considered a separate spacecraft, from which the probe was “launched”, on several subsequent missions.

Tyazhely Sputnik was launched at 01:18:03 UTC on 4 February 1961, atop a Molniya 8K78 carrier rocket flying from Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. When the upper stage ignited, cavitation in the liquid oxygen flowing through the oxidiser pump caused the pump to fail, resulting in an engine failure eight-tenths of a second after ignition. It reentered the atmosphere over Siberia on 26 February 1961.

According to the memoirs of Boris Chertok, “…A pendant shaped like a small globe with the continents etched on it was placed on the 1VA. Inside this small sphere was a medal depicting the Earth-to-Venus flight path. On the other side of the medal was the emblem of the Soviet Union. The pendant was placed in a spherical capsule with thermal shielding to protect it during entry into Venus’ atmosphere at reentry velocity.” In what he refers to as a “Strange but True [incident]…in the history of cosmonautics,” while the spacecraft was originally thought to have re-entered over the Pacific Ocean, it was subsequently (in 1963) found to have re-entered over Siberia, when this medal made its way back to Chertok by way of his boss, Chief Rocket Designer Sergei Korolev. He relates that, “while swimming in a river – a tributary of the Biryusa River in eastern Siberia – a local boy hurt his foot on some sort of piece of iron. When he retrieved it from the water, rather than throw it into deeper water, he brought it home and showed it to his father. The boy’s father, curious as to what the dented metal sphere contained, opened it up and discovered this medal inside… The boy’s father brought his find to the police. The local police delivered the remains of the pendant to the regional department of the KGB, which in turn forwarded it to Moscow. In Moscow the appropriate KGB directorate… after notifying Keldysh as president of the Academy of Sciences,” delivered the pendant to Korolev. “Thus, [Chertok] was awarded the medal that had been certified for the flight to Venus by the protocol that [he and Korolev] signed in January 1961. After the launch we were all certain that the Tyazhelyy sputnik and the pendant had sunk in the ocean. Now it turned out that it had burned up over Siberia. The pendant had been designed to withstand Venus’ atmosphere and therefore it reached the Earth’s surface.”

The sister probe, Venera 1, successfully launched and was injected into a heliocentric orbit toward Venus one week later, although telemetry on the mission failed a week into flight.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyazhely_Sputnik

January 27th

At 11:38 a.m. EST, on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Christa McAuliffe is on her way to becoming the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire, won a competition that earned her a place among the seven-member crew of the Challenger. She underwent months of shuttle training but then, beginning January 23, was forced to wait six long days as the Challenger‘s launch countdown was repeatedly delayed because of weather and technical problems. Finally, on January 28, the shuttle lifted off.

Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including Christa’s family, stared in disbelief as the shuttle broke up in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors.

In 1976, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) unveiled the world’s first reusable manned spacecraft, the Enterprise. Five years later, space flights of the shuttle began when Columbia traveled into space on a 54-hour mission. Launched by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank, only the aircraft-like shuttle entered into orbit around Earth. When the mission was completed, the shuttle fired engines to reduce speed and, after descending through the atmosphere, landed like a glider. Early shuttles took satellite equipment into space and carried out various scientific experiments. The Challenger disaster was the first major shuttle accident.

In the aftermath of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan appointed a special commission to determine what went wrong with Challenger and to develop future corrective measures. The presidential commission was headed by former secretary of state William Rogers, and included former astronaut Neil Armstrong and former test pilot Chuck Yeager. The investigation determined that the disaster was caused by the failure of an “O-ring” seal in one of the two solid-fuel rockets. The elastic O-ring did not respond as expected because of the cold temperature at launch time, which began a chain of events that resulted in the massive loss. As a result, NASA did not send astronauts into space for more than two years as it redesigned a number of features of the space shuttle.

In September 1988, space shuttle flights resumed with the successful launching of the Discovery. Since then, the space shuttle has carried out numerous important missions, such as the repair and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope and the construction of the International Space Station.

On February 1, 2003, a second space-shuttle disaster rocked the United States when Columbia disintegrated upon reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere. All aboard were killed. Despite fears that the problems that downed Columbia had not been satisfactorily addressed, space-shuttle flights resumed on July 26, 2005, when Discovery was again put into orbit.

Source: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/challenger-explodes

January 20th

SpaceX plans to launch its next group of Starlink broadband satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket as soon as Tuesday, Jan. 21, from Cape Canaveral, two days after the company is scheduled to launch a modified Falcon 9 booster from a separate facility at the Florida spaceport to test the Crew Dragon spaceship’s emergency escape system.

SpaceX’s ability to achieve back-to-back launch schedule hinges on several factors, including an expected test-firing in the coming days of the Falcon 9 booster slated to fly on the next Starlink launch.

But assuming everything goes according to plan, SpaceX aims to perform launches from two pads on Florida’s Space Coast as soon as Sunday and Tuesday.

The Starlink mission — SpaceX’s fourth launch dedicated to the broadband network — was previously scheduled for Monday, Jan. 20. But sources said Friday the launch was pushed back to Tuesday.

And the abort test was originally set for Saturday, but rough seas in the Crew Dragon splashdown zone east of Florida’s coast forced SpaceX to delay the flight to Sunday.

SpaceX has already test-fired the Falcon 9 booster assigned to the Crew Dragon capsule abort test at launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Technicians inside a hangar near pad 39A attached the Crew Dragon spaceship to the Falcon 9 rocket this week, in advance of its return to the launch complex before a countdown rehearsal Friday, during which two NASA astronauts will practice launch day procedures before climbing aboard the next Crew Dragon spaceship for a flight to the International Space Station.

The Falcon 9 is scheduled to lift off from pad 39A — without astronauts on-board — during a six-hour window opening at 8 a.m. EST (1300 GMT) Sunday. About a minute-and-a-half after launch, the first stage’s nine Merlin 1D engines will be programmed to switch off, and SuperDraco thrusters on the Crew Dragon capsule mounted atop the rocket will ignite to propel the human-rated ship away from the Falcon 9.

The maneuver will demonstrate the Crew Dragon’s ability to carry astronauts away from a launch emergency, and builds on a pad abort test in 2015 to simulate the Crew Dragon’s abort system performance during an emergency before liftoff.

SpaceX will recover the Crew Dragon capsule from the Atlantic Ocean after it splashes down under parachutes around 20 miles (32 kilometers) offshore. The Falcon 9 rocket, flying with a previously-used first stage booster, is expected to be destroyed.

Meanwhile, teams at pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station — located a few miles to the south of pad 39A — are preparing a separate Falcon 9 rocket for liftoff as soon as Tuesday, Jan. 21.

The Jan. 21 launch will haul the next batch of approximately 60 Starlink satellites into orbit for SpaceX’s global broadband Internet network. Assuming the mission remains on schedule, liftoff time Jan. 21 is expected at 11:59 a.m. EST (1659 GMT).

The two upcoming launches from Florida’s Space Coast will mark the second and third missions of the year for SpaceX, which says it could perform 35 or more launches in 2020, including flights carrying new Starlink broadband satellite into orbit as often as every two weeks.

SpaceX conducted 21 launches in 2018, the most missions in a single year in the company’s history. The company launched 13 missions last year.

The dual launches planned by SpaceX in the next week are not the only major activities scheduled at Cape Canaveral.

United Launch Alliance plans to roll an Atlas 5 rocket out of its vertical hangar at pad 41 — located between SpaceX facilities at pad 39A and pad 40 — as soon as Monday for a practice countdown Tuesday, Jan. 21, ahead of the launcher’s scheduled liftoff Feb. 5 with the joint NASA-European Space Agency Solar Orbiter mission, a robotic science probe designed to observe the sun.

Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2020/01/14/spacexs-brisk-starlink-launch-cadence-to-continue-next-week/

January 13th

Cassini–Huygens

Cassini–Huygens was a spacecraft, sent to study the planet Saturn, its rings, and its moons.

The mission was made by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft had two main parts: the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens probe. It was launched on October 15, 1997 and entered into orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004. It was the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn and the fourth one to visit Saturn (the others were fly-by’s and did not enter orbit). The mission ended September 2017.

Cassini orbiter

The orbiter was named after the Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered some moons of Saturn. Most of the orbiter was designed and built by NASA, although ASI built and programmed some parts that talked to the Huygens probe. The spacecraft spent 13 years in orbit, sending back data. It visited many parts of the Saturn system until it was short of fuel. The Cassini-Huygens ended with a controlled crash into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017.[5]

Huygens probe

ESA (European Space Agency) made the Huygens probe, named after the Dutch astronomer, mathematician, and physicist Christiaan Huygens who discovered Titan. On December 25 2004, the Huygens probe left the orbiter. A couple weeks later, the probe parachuted onto Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Astronomers have wondered what the surface of Titan was like, since it was hidden under thick clouds. It is the only moon in our solar system with a thick atmosphere. The probe descended and sent pictures and other data back for scientists to study. After 90 minutes on the moon, the spacecraft stopped working, as expected. It is the farthest place we have ever landed a spacecraft. The pictures sent while parachuting showed rivers, probably of liquid methane. The surface is much too cold for water.

Source: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassini%E2%80%93Huygens