Tag Archives: NASA

Elon Musk's SpaceX and Nasa launch new astronaut capsule

Elon Musk's SpaceX and Nasa launch new astronaut capsuleElon Musk's SpaceX has successfully  launched a rocket out of the Earth's atmosphere, heralding the rebirth of American manned spaceflight later this year. The unmanned crew capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Florida bound for the International Space Station at 7.49am GMT on Saturday. Nasa and SpaceX successfully launched the new astronaut capsule on a week-long trip to the International Space Station and back – a key step towards resuming manned space flights from US soil after an eight-year break. This time around, the only occupant on board SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule is a dummy named Ripley, named after the character in Alien played by Sigourney Weaver. But if the test goes smoothly, Nasa plans to put two astronauts aboard by the end of the year. View this post on Instagram All systems and weather are go ahead of Crew Dragon's first test flight tomorrow morning at 2:49 a.m. EST, 7:49 UTC A post shared by SpaceX (@spacex) on Mar 1, 2019 at 12:43pm PST Musk, the SpaceX founder, said the launch had left him “emotionally exhausted”. “That was super stressful – but it worked, so far,” he said. Before lift off Musk tweeted a photo of the inside of the Crew Dragon capsule with the Ripley mannequin strapped in it. The new capsule, carrying 400 pounds of supplies and test equipment, is scheduled to reach the ISS by Sunday, with a return to Earth next Friday. "This is a critically important event in American history," the head of the US space agency, Jim Bridenstine, told reporters, with the rocket and capsule visible behind him on the legendary launch pad where the Apollo missions to the Moon began. "We're on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011." SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off to ISS from Kennedy Space Center Credit: REUTERS The excitement was palpable at Cape Canaveral, from the space-fan volunteers guiding media on site, to the tourists who came to watch the launch light up the overcast skies. "It's been a long eight years," the Kennedy Space Center's director Bob Cabana, a former astronaut himself, said as SpaceX employees milled around the rocket. Falcon 9 rocket, with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft on board, as it was rolled out to the launch pad Credit: NASA/JOEL KOWSKY/AFP/Getty Images After the shuttle program was shuttered in July 2011 after a 30-year run, Nasa began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions. It pays Russia to get its people up to the ISS orbiting research facility at a cost of $ 82 million a head, for a round trip. In 2014, the US space agency awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for them to take over this task. But the program has suffered delays as safety requirements are much more stringent for manned flights than for unmanned missions to deploy satellites. "We're going to have more access to space at a better cost than at any point in human history," said Bridenstine, adding he was "100 percent confident" that a manned flight would happen by year's end. What will be learned  Saturday's flight aims to test the vessel's reliability and safety in real-life conditions. The dummy that will ride in the capsule – which SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann prefers to call a "smartie" – has been nicknamed Ripley in honor of the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" movies. It will be fitted with monitors to test the forces that future astronauts will be subjected to on takeoff and when they return to the Earth's atmosphere and then splash down in the Atlantic, slowed down by giant parachutes. Blast off Credit: AP Photo/Terry Renna "We're going to learn a ton from this mission," said Kathy Lueders, the manager of Nasa's Commercial Crew program. For SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002, sending an astronaut into orbit would be a culmination of years of hard work and high-risk investment. "Every mission is important, but this is even more important, said Koenigsmann, the firm's vice-president for build and flight reliability. "Early on, our goal was human spaceflight," he said. "Human spaceflight is a core value of business of SpaceX." In less than a decade, SpaceX has become a key partner for Nasa, in addition to dominating the market for private satellite launches. Its Falcon 9 rockets have resupplied the space station 15 times in seven years, even though one of them blew up in 2015.

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NASA mulls buying new rides to space from Russia amid program delays

NASA mulls buying new rides to space from Russia amid program delaysThe U.S. space agency has since had to rely on Russia’s Roscosmos program to ferry astronauts to the orbital space station at a cost of roughly $ 80 million per seat, NASA has said. After 2019 there are no seats available on the spacecraft for U.S. crew, and a NASA advisory panel recommended on Friday that the U.S. space program develop a contingency plan to guarantee access to the station in case technical problems delay Boeing and SpaceX any further. A NASA spokesman on Friday characterized a solicitation request NASA filed on Wednesday as a contingency plan.

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NASA to make final attempt to contact Mars Opportunity Rover

NASA to make final attempt to contact Mars Opportunity RoverUS space agency NASA will make one final attempt to contact its Opportunity Rover on Mars late Tuesday, eight months after it last made contact. Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and covered 28 miles (45 kilometers) on the planet, securing its place in history after lasting well beyond its expected 90-day mission. Despite NASA engineers’ best efforts to get a response via radio channels, its last communication was on June 10, 2018.

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NASA Releases New, High-Quality New Horizons Image of the Ultima Thule "Snowman" Asteroid

NASA Releases New, High-Quality New Horizons Image of the Ultima Thule "Snowman" AsteroidThis new image highlights all kinds of features that weren't visible in the initial images.

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New Horizons isn’t done yet, and NASA is searching for its next target

New Horizons isn’t done yet, and NASA is searching for its next targetNew Horizons gave NASA an amazing New Year's gift when it sent back gorgeous images of the distant Solar System object Ultima Thule, which we now know is the very first contact binary every visited by man-made spacecraft. It's been a fantastic few days for the New Horizons team, but the spacecraft is far from finished.

Now, even as NASA scientists prepare to download a massive collection of data collected during the Ultima Thule flyby, the spacecraft's handlers are busy searching for its next target. The probe still has plenty of fuel to play with, and there's no shortage of interesting objects in the Kuiper Belt, which is packed with debris of varying sizes.

As Space News explains, deciding on Ultima Thule took a lot of time and effort, as well as some help from the powerful Hubble Space Telescope. When picking Ultima Thule, the team weighed many different factors, including how interesting the object itself might be and the probability of making a safe pass.

The good news is that New Horizons is equipped with an instrument designed specifically to spot objects that are far away. The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager helped the New Horizons team aim the spacecraft in the ideal direction for a close flyby, but sending back those images take a long time. A new software change could allow the spacecraft to snap many different images, combine them, and then send them back as one, which would save time, but that system is still in its conceptual stage and not ready for prime time.

NASA will continue to search for new objects that would be crossing near the current path of the spacecraft at the right time, but at the moment the future is still shrouded in mystery. For the time being, the New Horizons team will sift through the Ultima Thule data that will continue to trickle in for the next two years or so, but once they have decided on a new object to visit the hype will begin building once again.

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NASA: Icy object past Pluto looks like reddish snowman

NASA: Icy object past Pluto looks like reddish snowmanLAUREL, Md. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft 4 billion miles from Earth yielded its first close-up pictures Wednesday of the most distant celestial object ever explored, depicting what looks like a reddish snowman.

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NASA space probe 'phones home' in landmark mission to solar system's edge

NASA space probe 'phones home' in landmark mission to solar system's edgeThe nuclear-powered space probe has traveled 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) to come within 2,200 miles (3,540 km) of Ultima Thule, an apparently peanut-shaped, 20-mile-long (32-km-long) space rock in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt. Engineers at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland cheered when the spacecraft’s first signals came through the National Aeronautic and Space Agency’s Deep Space Network at 10:28 a.m. EST (1528 GMT). “We have a healthy spacecraft,” Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman declared.

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NASA space probe 'phones home' in landmark mission to solar system's edge

NASA space probe 'phones home' in landmark mission to solar system's edgeThe nuclear-powered space probe has traveled 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) to come within 2,200 miles (3,540 km) of Ultima Thule, an apparently peanut-shaped, 20-mile-long (32-km-long) space rock in the uncharted heart of the Kuiper Belt. Engineers at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland cheered when the spacecraft’s first signals came through the National Aeronautic and Space Agency’s Deep Space Network at 10:28 a.m. EST (1528 GMT).

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NASA declares New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule a huge success

NASA declares New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule a huge successWhile most of us were popping the corks on bottles of champagne, NASA engineers were holding their breath as they watched the calendar flip to 2019 on the East Coast. That's because the New Horizons spacecraft, which has now traveled some 4 billion miles through our Solar System, finally made its flyby of the most distant object ever studied up close.

The probe's target was the oblong space rock known as Ultima Thule, and even though the spacecraft passed the massive rock at around midnight EST, NASA had to wait another ten hours before they even knew if the probe performed as planned. Now, with signals finally coming back from New Horizons, NASA can rest easy.

In a lengthy update by the New Horizons team, the group boasts that New Horizons sent back a signal to its handlers letting them know that it had filled its on-board recorders with a wealth of science data that it collected as it zoomed past Ultima Thule.

"New Horizons performed as planned today, conducting the farthest exploration of any world in history — 4 billion miles from the Sun," New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said in a statement. "The data we have look fantastic and we're already learning about Ultima from up close. From here out the data will just get better and better!"

The probe also snapped some images of the icy rock and relayed them to Earth. In an animation created by NASA using three of the images we can see the oblong shape of Ultima Thule, which NASA describes as looking like a bowling pin.

The images are obviously very low in resolution, and it's not immediately clear if or when we'll get a better glimpse of the rock, but New Horizons still has a lot of data to beam back to Earth. As NASA announced well in advance of the flyby, it's going to take months for the spacecraft to send its trickle of information back to Earth, and sciences will surely be eager to get their hands on it.

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New Horizons: Nasa spacecraft makes historic flyby of Ultima Thule, four billion miles away

New Horizons: Nasa spacecraft makes historic flyby of Ultima Thule, four billion miles awayA Nasa spacecraft has conducted a historic flyby of the farthest, and quite possibly the oldest, cosmic body ever explored by humankind. The US space agency was hoping to take a closer look at a tiny, distant world called Ultima Thule early on Tuesday, hoping the frozen cosmic object will reveal some clues as to how planets took shape 4.6 billion years ago.   It rang in the New Year with a live online broadcast to mark New Horizons' zoom past the mysterious object located about four billion miles away in a dark and frigid region of space known as the Kuiper Belt. The flyby at 12.33 am on Tuesday (5.33am GMT) took place about a billion miles beyond Pluto, which was until now the most faraway world ever visited up close by a spacecraft. "Go New Horizons!" said lead scientist Alan Stern as a crowd including kids dressed in space costumes blew party horns and cheered at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland to mark the moment when the spacecraft aimed its cameras at the distant space rock. Real-time video of the actual flyby was impossible, since it takes more than six hours for a signal sent from Earth to reach the spaceship and another six hours for the response to arrive. "Anything's possible out there in this very unknown region," John Spencer, deputy project scientist for New Horizons, told reporters on Monday at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. Brian May discusses the upcoming New Horizon's flyby of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule Credit: Reuters A solo track recorded by legendary Queen guitarist Brian May – who also holds an advanced degree in astrophysics – was released just after midnight to accompany a video simulation as Nasa commentators describe the close pass. "This is a night none of us are going to forget," May said. What could mission reveal? Hurtling through space at a speed of 32,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft aims to make its closest approach within 2,200 miles of the surface of Ultima Thule. Dr Stern, the lead planetary scientist on the New Horizons mission, told reporters that Ultima Thule is unique because it is a relic from the early days of the solar system and could provide answers about the origins of other planets. In less than 48 hours, New Horizons will make history! The team at @JHUAPL is preparing for the #NewYears flyby of #UltimaThule, the farthest object explored by a spacecraft ever – 4 billion miles from the Sun and ~1 billion miles from Pluto. pic.twitter.com/3EiB2bmOKy— NASA New Horizons (@NASANewHorizons) December 30, 2018 Temperatures are freezing – almost absolute zero or -273C - which means scientists hope it proves to be a time capsule. "The object is in such a deep freeze that it is perfectly preserved from its original formation," he said. "Everything we are going to learn about Ultima – from its composition to its geology to how it was originally assembled, whether it has satellites and an atmosphere and those kinds of things – are going to teach us about the original formation conditions of objects in the solar system." Huge challenges The encounter itself is risky, and if the spacecraft were to collide with a speck of space debris as small as a grain of rice, it could be destroyed instantly, mission managers warned. For that reason, Dr Stern said he and his colleagues are "on pins and needles to see how this turns out." The first signal back to Earth should come about 10 hours after the flyby, around 9.45 am (1445 GMT). Only then will Nasa know if New Horizons survived the close pass. Seven instruments on board will hopefully record high-resolution images and gather data about its size and composition. The Kuiper Belt object nicknamed "Ultima Thule," indicated by the crosshairs at center, with stars surrounding it on Aug. 16, 2018 Credit: AP But the flyby will be fast – at a speed of nine miles per second. As a result, many of the pictures taken will likely be of empty space. That's because the team on the ground will be trying to capture a 12- to 22-mile-wide world some four billion miles away.  At closest approach, New Horizons is expected to take nearly 900 photos at the highest resolution – and Ultima Thule is expected to appear in a few. "We're rendezvousing with something that's a mountain draped in black velvet in almost pitch-dark conditions, and we're screaming up to it [..] within 2 seconds of perfection," Dr Stern told the Washington Post. "You can't get any better than that." Despite the tough task, the team is confident. “I think we're good,” Marc Buie, an astronomer working to pin down Ultima Thule’s position, told the New York Times. “I think we're better than good.” What does it look like?  Scientists are not sure what Ultima Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) looks like – whether it is cratered or smooth, or even if it is a single object or a cluster. It was discovered in 2014 with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, and is believed to be 12-20 miles in size. A blurred and pixelated image released on Monday, taken from 1.2 million miles away, has intrigued scientists because it appears to show an elongated blob, not a round space rock. Astronomers believe it is either made up of two objects touching each other, or perhaps even a binary system, in which two objects orbit each other. “It’s really puzzling, because we know the shape is irregular,” Dr Stern said. Even clearer images should be in hand over the next three days. Scientists decided to study it with New Horizons after the spaceship completed its main mission of flying by Pluto in 2015, returning the most detailed images ever taken of the dwarf planet. Dr Stern said the goal is to take images of Ultima that are three times the resolution the team had for Pluto. Launched in January 2006, New Horizons embarked on a 4 billion mile journey toward the solar system's frigid, faraway edge to study the dwarf planet Pluto and its five moons. During a 2015 fly-by, the probe found Pluto to be slightly larger than previously thought. In March, it revealed that methane-rich dunes were on the icy dwarf planet's surface. Frontier of planetary science Ultima Thule is named for a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography, according to Nasa. "Ultima Thule means ’beyond Thule’ – beyond the borders of the known world – symbolising the exploration of the distant Kuiper Belt and Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons is performing, something never before done," the US space agency said in a statement. According to project scientist Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, humans didn’t even know the Kuiper Belt – a vast ring of relics from the formation days of the solar system – existed until the 1990s. "This is the frontier of planetary science," said Weaver. "We finally have reached the outskirts of the solar system, these things that have been there since the beginning and have hardly changed – we think. We will find out." New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern speaks during an overview of the New Horizons Mission Credit: Getty In an editorial in The New York Times, Dr Stern recalled that December 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the first time humans ever explored another world, when US astronauts orbited the Moon aboard Apollo 8. "New Horizons will continue in that legacy," Dr Stern wrote. "As you celebrate New Year’s Day, cast an eye upward and think for a moment about the amazing things our country and our species can do when we set our minds to it." Listen to Brian May's new music The Queen guitarist  is releasing his first official solo work in two decades to mark the occasion. May, who is as passionate about science as he is about music, said he didn't know if "anyone's going to like it yet". Dr Stern, who first suggested creating the track, was among the few who had listened to it. “I have been bouncing it off Alan all the way," he told Newsweek. "He's made some comments – some very interesting comments, because of course he comes from a completely different world from me. And he's been liking it, which is great. “I find myself in an unusual place because I’m deeply immersed in music – and have been all my life – but I’m also deeply immersed in astronomy and astrophysics.” Creating a single inspired by the New Horizons probe was “an amazing opportunity for me to combine the two,” May added. Woven into the recording are words from Stephen Hawking, including a message from the scientist to the New Horizons team in 2015 after the successful Pluto mission. “He said exactly what was in my mind,” May said. “In another part of his message – which actually nobody has heard yet – he said, ‘we do this because we are human and because we need to know.'" What comes next? The huge trove of data that New Horizons sends back is hoped to keep scientists busy for the next one and a half years.  But its journey is far from over – barring any disasters.  Nasa is hoping New Horizons can go on to investigate other objects in the Kuiper Belt. "The spacecraft is very healthy, it's not using any of its back-up systems and it has power and fuel to operate for close to 20 more years," Dr Stern said. "There's a lot of future exploration ahead for New Horizons."

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