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CubeSats (small satellites) are often limited to low Earth orbit, making the SLS’ first launch a notable one. The mission will, among other things, help bolster NASA’s goal of getting humans to Mars by letting researchers carry out experiments beyond lower orbits.
Said NASA’s Bill Hill, “This rocket has the unprecedented power to send Orion to deep space plus room to carry 13 small satellites – payloads that will advance our knowledge about deep space with minimal cost.”
NASA says CubeSat makers will be battling it out for the opportunity to launch their wares on the first SLS rocket flight, doing so via a competition the space agency has planned. There will be four rounds called “Grand Tournaments”; ultimately the selection of three CubeSat payloads will happen next year. Several CubeSats have already been selected.
NASA has announced that SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corp (SNC), and Orbital ATK have been given contracts for delivering cargo to the International Space Station. The contracts will span from 2019 to 2024, and though details are still light at this time, the space agency says each contract guarantees a minimum of six missions for the companies.
NASA just announced the news in a conference broadcast on NASA TV. According to the space agency, the contracts will start “upon award,” with each representing at least half a dozen missions. NASA has not yet ordered any of the missions, however.
Overall, the combined possible value of the contracts could be as high as $14 billion, but the space agency anticipates the real total to end up being less than that. Orbital ATK will be launching from Virginia and possibly from Florida if the mission requires, while SpaceX and SNC will both launch from Florida.
This is the major announced NASA had teased was in the pipeline for this afternoon. It was anticipated the trio ultimately awarded the contracts were going to be NASA’s focus; while there are other contenders out there, Boeing and the like have previously being knocked out of the battle.
NASA is betting that commercial companies are finally ready for Moon missions. NASA announced Thursday that it has partnered with nine companies to enable the delivery of small scientific payloads to the lunar surface. No money was exchanged up front, but the space agency said these companies would now be eligible to "bid" for contracts to deliver select experiments to the Moon.
The space agency made the lunar announcement with considerable fanfare, devoting an hour-long ceremony to questions from children, an astronaut in Houston bouncing on a wire to simulate lunar gravity, and other activities.
Beneath the pomp and circumstance, however, two factors stood out. One is that the science arm of NASA, the Science Mission Directorate, is getting more involved in funding lunar science experiments through this program. "The Moon is full of secrets that we don't know yet," Thomas Zurbuchen, who oversees scientific activities for NASA, said Thursday. And secondly, the government is taking a concrete step toward funding commercial activities on the Moon.
The nine companies that earned the right to bid on what are called Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts are:
Astrobotic Technology Inc.: Pittsburgh
Deep Space Systems: Littleton, Colorado
Draper: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Firefly Aerospace Inc.: Cedar Park, Texas
Intuitive Machines LLC: Houston
Lockheed Martin Space: Littleton, Colorado
Masten Space Systems Inc.: Mojave, California
Moon Express: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Orbit Beyond: Edison, New Jersey
Most of these are not a surprise, as companies like Astrobotic, Masten Space Systems, and Moon Express have been working on delivering small payloads to the Moon for some time. One relative surprise was "Orbit Beyond," but it turns out this company is a consortium of mostly familiar entities also involved in lunar delivery—TeamIndus, Advanced Space, Honeybee Robotics, Ceres Robotics Inc., and Apollo Fusion.
NASA said payload delivery could begin as early as 2019. These contracts do not have a time or quantity limit, and they have a combined maximum contract value of $2.6 billion during the next 10 years. The agency said it would look at a number of factors when comparing the bids, such as "technical feasibility, price, and schedule."
What this means
Under President Trump, NASA has sought to refocus its exploration efforts on going to the Moon first and testing technology there for eventual human missions to Mars. But the space agency is also interested in determining what resources on the Moon could enable its long-term colonization, provide rare metals needed on Earth, or possibly provide rocket fuel for missions elsewhere in the Solar System
To do this, the agency needs more data about the potential for these resources, water in particular. Earlier this year, NASA canceled a mission, Resource Prospector, that would have gone into the permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles to determine the amount and availability of water ice there. The agency has positioned these new commercial missions as a first step toward doing that kind of prospecting research.
"This is a positive step forward," Clive Neal, a lunar scientist at Notre Dame, told Ars. However, he said none of these early missions were expected to have the kind of roving technology needed for mobility to map resource-rich areas on the lunar surface. Neal said NASA officials have said the new commercial payloads program will eventually get to the phase where such resource prospecting occurs.
The commercial companies involved in Thursday's announcement were understandably excited by the new program. The promise of a guaranteed customer for the missions will likely help some of these companies close their business cases and raise additional funding.
"This is on the critical path for any commercial company wanting to provide commercial lunar services," Bob Richards, the founder of Moon Express, told Ars. "The threshold of capitalization needed and the nascent market of commercial lunar customers is otherwise out of reach of most companies, certainly most startups. So NASA is providing a critical priming of the pump to get things going."
This is an important moment for some of these companies. Although there was a strong field of entrants into the Google Lunar XPRIZE, no one succeeded in winning that competition to complete a soft landing on the Moon. Now, the prize is a NASA contract. And it is nearly time for the commercial lunar companies to deliver.
There's a lot going on here, from a record number of launches to dozens of smallsats. Sunday a.m. Update: SpaceX said early Sunday that it is standing down from Sunday's launch attempt "to conduct additional inspections of the second stage." The company is working toward its backup launch attempt on Dec. 3, when the launch window opens at 1:32pm ET (18:32 UTC).
Original post: Sunday's launch attempt of a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with a primary launch window from 1:32pm ET (18:32 UTC) to 2pm ET (19:00 UTC), is significant for a number of reasons.
For one, this will be the company's 19th launch of 2018, and if successful, it will break SpaceX's record for most missions flown in a calendar year. With a handful of launches remaining on its manifest in December, SpaceX is on pace to fly as many as 22 rockets this year. This signifies that SpaceX has solved production and processing issues that prevented it from launching more than eight rockets a year prior to 2017 and that last year was not a fluke.
Perhaps more importantly, a successful flight Sunday would mark the third flight of this particular first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket. This core first flew on May 11, for the Bangabandhu-1 mission, and then again on August 7 for the Merah Putih mission. Now, for the first time ever, SpaceX will attempt to fly the same first stage (and its nine Merlin engines) for a third time.
Such a feat—flying the same rocket three times in less than seven months—would bring the company closer to its cost-cutting goal of flying each Falcon 9 rocket 10 times between significant refurbishment. This has become possible after the company introduced a final variant of its Falcon 9 booster, dubbed Block 5, which engineers designed for optimal reusability. (The May flight of this rocket core marked the first time a Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 launched). As but one (very) minor example of time and cost-reduction efforts, SpaceX no longer washes the first stage of the rocket between uses, which explains why the lower two thirds of the assembled rocket appears singed, but the top third is a pristine white. This is because the upper stage and payload fairing are new for each flight.
Finally, Sunday's mission is notable for its payload—there are many of them as part of the Spaceflight SSO-A mission. SpaceX will seek to set a US launch record for most satellites put into space at a single time, with 15 microsats and 49 cubesats from commercial and government entities around the world. (Two of these, interestingly, originate from Kazakhstan, a country that hosts many of the launches by the Russian space agency).
A company called Spaceflight organized the four-ton manifest for Sunday's flight. It designed the payload stack and coordinated a variety of satellite dispensers for when the mission has reached a Sun-synchronous polar orbit at an altitude of 575km. Deployment of the satellites will begin about 13 minutes after liftoff and conclude about 30 minutes after that point.
SpaceX will again seek to recover this booster with the droneship Just Read the Instructions stationed downrange in the Pacific Ocean. If successful, we likely can expect to see this first stage make an unprecedented fourth flight sometime in 2019.
The webcast below should begin about 15 minutes before the launch window opens.
This brings the total number of events detected by LIGO and Virgo to 11. At a weekend workshop in Maryland, physicists from the LIGO and Virgo collaboration reported four previously unannounced detections of gravitational waves from merging black holes, including the biggest-known black-hole collision to date, roughly 5 billion years ago. That merger resulted in a new black hole that is a whopping 80 times larger than the Sun.
All four are part of the first official catalog of gravitational wave events (called the Gravitational Wave Transient Catalog, or GWTC-1), listing all events detected to date. Their addition brings the total number to 11. Two scientific papers on the new findings have been posted to the arXiv preprint repository (here and here), pending publication.
LIGO detects gravitational waves via laser interferometry, using high-powered lasers to measure tiny changes in the distance between two objects positioned kilometers apart. (LIGO has detectors in Hanford, Washington, and in Livingston, Louisiana. A third detector in Italy, Advanced VIRGO, came online in 2016.) On September 14, 2015, at 5:51am EST, both detectors picked up signals within milliseconds of each other for the very first time—direct evidence for two black holes spiraling inward toward each other and merging in a massive collision event that sent powerful shockwaves across spacetime.
The collaboration picked up two more black-hole mergers from that first run. The second run, from November 30, 2016, to August 25, 2017, produced seven more binary black-hole mergers (including the four just announced) and a binary neutron-star merger, supported by a simultaneous gamma-ray burst and signals in the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum. It was an unprecedented recording of a major celestial event, combining light and sound, and officially marked the dawn of so-called "multi-messenger astronomy." If the new events are from the same second runs as events previously reported, why are we only hearing about them now? It's because the physicists wanted to make absolutely sure they were bona fide detections. "We've been sifting through the data, looking at every feature, comparing it to our astrophysical predictions, cross-checking it against monitors that tell us the health of the instruments, determining if it appears in all the detectors, and using our most robust (but slow-running) super-computer analysis codes," Shane Larsen, a Northwestern University physicist and member of the LIGO collaboration, wrote on the Write Science blog.
All that hard work paid off with the discovery of GW170729, GW170809, GW170818, and GW170823, referencing the dates on which the black holes were detected. "Having a collection of events is how we learn things about the Universe that can't be learned from just a few observations," Larson wrote. Among the things scientists have learned so far: the black holes involved in the mergers so far were formed from stars 45 times lighter than the mass of our Sun. That can tell scientists something about how black holes form and grow together, which can in turn yield insights into the evolution of stars.
The current catalog will continue to grow. LIGO and Virgo will begin the third observing run next spring, with even more sensitive instruments and improvements in data analysis techniques for detecting signals in all that noise. Plus, data from all the previous runs will soon be openly available, so there may well be even more undiscovered nuggets to be mined from them. "Historically, there have always been discoveries made in archived astronomical data long after it was collected," Larson wrote. "Data is simply too complex to understand everything in it, and we are too na?ve about everything that is going on in the Universe to recognize everything in our data the first time we work with it."
This marked a critical launch both for Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, and NASA. Less than two months after a booster separation issue with a Soyuz rocket caused a dramatic, high-gravity landing, the Russian vehicle soared back into space on Monday at 6:31 ET (11:31 UTC). The launch from Kazakhstan, under mostly clear, blue skies, was nominal as each of the rocket's first, second, and third stages fired normally.
The launch sent NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian David Saint-Jacques, and Russian Oleg Kononenko into space aboard their Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft. After making four orbits around the Earth, their Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the Russian segment of the International Space Station at 12:35pm ET (17:35 UTC) Monday.
This marked a critical launch both for Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, as well as NASA. For Russia, Monday morning's successful launch came after several high-profile failures in recent years, which called the safety of its venerable Soyuz rocket into question.
For both Russia, the United States, and the rest of the space station partnership, Monday's launch was critical as well, because another serious problem would have put the future of the orbiting laboratory into jeopardy. The three-person crew now in space, European astronaut Alexander Gerst, NASA's Serena Au??n-Chancellor, and Russian Sergey Prokopyev, are due to return to Earth on December 19.
Back on schedule
Now, they will be able to come home on schedule, and the three astronauts that launched Monday should be joined by three additional astronauts in March. This will allow the station to resume normal operations with a six-person crew, enabling both housekeeping tasks on board the station as well as a full suite of scientific research.
After Monday morning's launch, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine thanked the Russian space agency on Twitter. "I’m grateful to Director General Dmitry Rogozin and the entire @NASA and @roscosmos teams for their dedication to making this launch a success," Bridenstine said.
The administrator was actually at the Russian launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, in October when one of the four booster stages attached to the Soyuz rocket failed to separate properly. This booster then struck the core of the rocket, causing a significant jolt and triggering one of the Soyuz spacecraft's automatic escape systems. This sent the Soyuz spacecraft on a ballistic return trajectory to Earth that saved the lives of NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin.
A sensor rod, bent out of its normal configuration by a little more than 6 degrees, caused the booster separation issue. This happened during assembly of the rocket, and Roscosmos classified this as a handling error. To fix the process, Soyuz rockets already assembled for launch with their booster packs will be disassembled and reassembled to ensure that similar mistakes have not occurred.
NASA will remain reliant on Russia to get into space until commercial crew spacecraft under development by SpaceX and Boeing are ready to carry astronauts to the station. That could happen as early as next year.
Friday, Oct. 18, 6:50 a.m.: NASA TV live spacewalk coverage. Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir will venture outside the International Space Station beginning at about 7:50 a.m. to replace a power controller that failed during the weekend. The spacewalk will be the first ever to be conducted by two women.
Friday, Oct. 18, 3:30 p.m.: Teleconference to discuss recommendations presented by the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board. The board examined the planetary protection guidelines the agency has used for decades to suggest changes needed to address the changing reality of space exploration. Planetary Protection is the practice of protecting solar system bodies from contamination by Earth life and protecting Earth from possible life forms that may be returned from other bodies in the solar system. Audio of the teleconference will stream live on this page.
Thursday, Oct. 31, 3 p.m.: NASA Science Live — A Galaxy of Horrors.
Saturday, Nov. 1, 1 p.m.: Coverage of the release of the JAXA HTV-8 “Kounotori” cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station; release scheduled at 1:20 p.m. EDT
Saturday, Nov. 2, 9:59 a.m.: Launch of Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo spacecraft on resupply mission. Lifting off aboard an Antares rocket from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad-0A at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Cygnus will deliver several tons of cargo including supplies and science experiments to the International Space Station. Cargo on board includes the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02, an experiment that will look for evidence of dark, strange and anti-matter to help us understand how our universe was formed.
Five more spacewalks are planned in November and December aimed at repairing the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.
Wednesday, Feb. 5, 11:15 p.m.: Launch of Solar Orbiter. Solar Orbiter, a joint NASA/ESA (European Space Agency) mission, will address central questions concerning our star, the Sun. The spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. NASA’s Launch Services Program is managing the launch.
We're less than one day away from a rocket launch! Our commercial cargo partner Northrop Grumman is scheduled to launch its next resupply mission to the International Space Station on Nov. 2 at 9:59 a.m. EDT from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The Cygnus spacecraft will deliver around 8,200 pounds of research, supplies, and hardware including supplies for upcoming spacewalks - http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?f=001Ibm974CU ... zTmPojKg== and student http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?f=001Ibm974CU ... zTmPojKg==
CubeSats. Part of the Eastern United States may see the launch. Find out when and where with our viewing map. Outside the predicted visibility area? Coverage of the launch begins at 9:30 a.m. Editor's note: This advisory was updated on Oct. 29 to update the time of NASA TV's coverage of the Cygnus capture, and on Oct. 31 to update the time of the Cygnus arrival on Nov. 4.
NASA commercial cargo provider Northrop Grumman is scheduled to launch its next resupply mission to the International Space Station at 9:59 a.m. EDT Saturday, Nov. 2. NASA’s prelaunch coverage will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning Friday, Nov. 1.
Loaded with around 8,200 pounds of research, crew supplies, and hardware, Northrop Grumman’s 12th commercial resupply mission for the space station will launch on the company’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft on an Antares rocket from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.
The Cygnus spacecraft, dubbed the SS Alan Bean, is named after the late Apollo and Skylab astronaut who died on May 26, 2018, at the age of 86. This Cygnus will launch 50 years to the month after Bean, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon flew to the Moon on NASA’s Apollo 12 mission, during which Bean became the fourth human to walk on the lunar surface. Bean was the lunar module pilot aboard Intrepid with mission commander Conrad when they landed on Moon at the Ocean of Storms on Nov. 19, 1969.
With a Nov. 2 launch, the Cygnus spacecraft will arrive at the space station Monday, Nov. 4 at about 4:10 a.m., Expedition 61 NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will grapple the spacecraft using the station’s robotic arm. She will be backed up by NASA astronaut Christina Koch. After Cygnus capture, ground controllers will command the station’s arm to rotate and install Cygnus on the bottom of the station’s Unity module.
Complete NASA TV coverage of activities is as follows:
Friday, Nov. 1
11:30 a.m. – What’s on Board science briefing
Pete Hasbrook, manager of International Space Station Program Science Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston
Liz Warren, associate program scientist with the U.S. National Lab
Sam Ting, Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-2) principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and Ken Bollweg, AMS project manager at Johnson
Kathleen Coderre, principal investigator for AstroRad Vest at Lockheed Martin Space, Littleton, Colorado, and Oren Milstein, co-founder and chief scientific officer for StemRad
Alessandro Grattoni, chairman of the Department of NanoMedicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, and Maurizio Geggiani, chief technology officer at Automobili Lamborghini, for the CraigX Flight Test Platform
Mary Murphy, senior internal payloads manager for the Zero-G Oven at Nanoracks LLC in Washington
2:30 p.m. – Prelaunch news conference
Kirk Shireman, manager of NASA’s International Space Station Program at Johnson
Jeff Reddish, Wallops Range Antares project manager
Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of Space Systems at Northrop Grumman
Kurt Eberly, Antares vice president at Northrop Grumman
Saturday, Nov. 2
9:30 a.m. – Launch coverage begins for a 9:59 a.m. liftoff
Monday, Nov. 4
2:45 a.m. – Coverage of Cygnus capture with the space station’s robotic arm
6:30 a.m. – Cygnus installation operations coverage
Media registration for the launch and associated activities has closed. However, media may participate via phone in the What’s on Board briefing and prelaunch news conference. Media interested in participating must contact Gina Anderson at email@example.com for call details.
The Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to remain at the space station until Jan. 13, 2020, when it will depart the station, deploy Nanoracks customer CubeSats, deorbit and dispose of several tons of trash during a fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere around Jan. 31.
This will be the first mission under Northrop Grumman’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 contract with NASA, for which the company will fly a minimum of six missions to the International Space Station through 2024.
Learn more about this space station resupply mission at:
-end- https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa ... onal-space
The test is scheduled for 9 a.m. EST (7 a.m. MST) with a three-hour test window. Live coverage is targeted to start at 8:50 a.m., on NASA Television and the agency’s website. Coverage will be adjusted as necessary within the window.
Boeing’s Pad Abort Test is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program work with the American aerospace industry -- through a public-private partnership -- to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil for the first time since 2011. The goal of the program is to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station, which would allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration.
The test is designed to verify that each of Starliner’s systems will function not only separately, but in concert, to protect astronauts by carrying them safely away from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff. During the test, Starliner’s four launch abort engines and several orbital maneuvering and attitude control thrusters will fire, pushing the spacecraft approximately 1 mile above land and 1 mile north of the test stand.
The spacecraft’s crew module will use parachutes with landing airbags to touch down at White Sands Missile Range. It will be recovered and brought back to Launch Complex 32 for evaluation and analysis.
For additional coverage, NASA's launch blog, and more information about the mission, visit:
The Starliner spacecraft sits atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance counting down to a liftoff Friday at 6:36 a.m. EST. This will be Boeing’s first Orbital Flight Test of the uncrewed vehicle that will dock to the station Saturday at 8:27 a.m.
NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch are getting ready for duty Saturday morning when they will monitor Starliner’s automated rendezvous and docking with the orbiting lab. The duo will then conduct leak checks, open the hatch and ingress the vehicle to begin a week of docked operations. Starliner is also delivering about 600 pounds of cargo to the crew and will return science samples to Earth after its departure on Dec. 28.
Meanwhile, microgravity science is always ongoing aboard the station to improve life for humans on Earth and in space. Today, NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan studied how weightlessness affects an optical material that can control the reflection and absorption of light. Results could improve solar power technology and electronic mobile displays.
Meir had her eyes scanned with an ultrasound device by ESA (European Space Agency) Commander Luca Parmitano for a look at her cornea, lens and optic nerve. She had a second eye exam using optical coherence tomography for a view of her retina.
The flight engineers in the Russian side of the space station checked on a pair of docked spaceships while working science and maintenance. Cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka charged electronics gear in the Soyuz MS-15 crew ship. He also worked on plumbing systems in the Progress 74 cargo craft. Cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov set up hardware for an Earth imaging study that explores the effects of natural and manmade catastrophes.