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

January 6th

On the 10th of January keen observers in Asia, Australia, Europe, and Africa may see the Moon turn a shade darker during the maximum phase of a penumbral lunar eclipse. Most penumbral lunar eclipses cannot be easily distinguished from a usual Full Moon.

Source: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2020-january-10

December 30th

In the early hours of New Year’s Day, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft hurtled past Ultima Thule, the most distant space rock we have ever visited.

Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt, some 6.6 billion kilometres from Earth. Though low in resolution, the images sent back by the probe suggest that it is shaped like a bowling pin with two unequally sized bulbous ends.

The object is around 32 kilometres long and at most 16 kilometres wide. It appears to be spinning like a propeller, with its axis pointing towards New Horizons. However, we can’t yet rule out the possibility that it is actually two objects orbiting each other.

New Horizons began its long journey in 2006, reaching its primary destination, Pluto, in 2015 before changing course for Ultima Thule. It will send back more images from the rock in the coming months, along with data on its surface composition and temperature.

The Kuiper belt is made up of remnants from when the solar system formed, so this information may teach us something about the origin of planets including Earth. New Horizons will continue to explore the Kuiper belt until at least 2021.

Source: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2189436-distant-space-rock-ultima-thule-looks-like-a-spinning-bowling-pin/

December 16th

On Dec. 16, 1962, NASA launched the Explorer 16 spacecraft to study micrometeoroids near Earth. 

The mission would determine how likely it would be for spacecraft to get damaged by the small space rocks and dust particles around the Earth. The cylindrical spacecraft measured about 6 feet long and 2 feet in diameter. It carried instruments that could detect when meteoroids hit the spacecraft and assess the resulting damage. 

Data from this mission helped scientists determine the size, number, distribution, and momentum of dust particles in the near-earth environment.

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

November 18th

On Nov. 18, 2013, NASA launched the MAVEN spacecraft to Mars. 

The name MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN. The spacecraft is an orbiter designed to help scientists figure out what happened to Mars’ water and its atmosphere. Mars is dry today, but data from several Mars missions suggest that it was a much wetter environment a long time ago. MAVEN is tracking the rate of atmospheric loss from Mars. 

The planet has a super thin atmosphere that has been leaking into space for a few billion years. Scientists think that when Mars lost its atmosphere, water dried up on the surface as a result. Solar storms that blast radiation into the solar system appear to have blasted away some of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere once kept Mars warm enough to sustain water, and losing that greenhouse gas turned Mars into a cold and dry place. 

MAVEN’s science mission ended in 2016, but the spacecraft is still used to relay communications with other missions on Mars. 

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

21st October 2019

On Oct. 21, 2008, the Indian Space Research Organization launched its first mission to the moon. The mission was named Chandrayaan-1, and it consisted of both an orbiter and an impactor.

Chandrayaan-1 launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center on an Indian rocket called the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, or PSLV-XL. It arrived in lunar orbit about three weeks later and dropped off the Moon Impact Probe, which crashed into the moon on Nov. 14.

The rest of the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft stayed in orbit, where it collected and transmitted data from the moon to Earth for about a year. The mission ended abruptly 14 months ahead of its planned end date when scientists lost contact with the probe.

Chandrayaan-1 did more than just demonstrate that India’s space program was capable of launching missions to the moon; it also returned some amazing science results, like evidence of water ice on the moon.

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html