Monday, July 25, 2016

Atlas V Rocket Launch From Cape Canaveral July 28, 2016

Atlas V Rocket Launch From Cape Canaveral, Florida

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- The launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 configuration rocket carrying a National Reconnaissance Office (NROL-61) satellite from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida is scheduled to launch on Thursday, July 28, 2016.   The launch window opens at 8:37 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Few details have been released about the mission other than that it is "in support of national defense." NROL-61 will mark ULA’s sixth launch of 2016 and the 109th since the company was founded in 2006. It also will be the sixth Atlas V to launch in the 421 configuration.

LAUNCH WEATHER FORECAST

The most recent forecast issued by the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron predicts an 80% chance of overall permissible weather conditions for launch.  The primary weather concern for launch is cumulus clouds.







Where To Watch The Cape Canaveral Rocket Launch?

A.  As the top image shows, the best place to watch the launch is from the Canaveral National Seashore just north of Kennedy Space Center.  Admission is $5 per car.  The park opens at 6 a.m. Visit the U.S. National Park Service website for directions and more information. Photo credit: ULA

B. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has aunch viewing opportunities for NROL-61 are available at the LC-39 Observation Gantry, Apollo/Saturn V Center and the main visitor complex with bleacher seating and launch commentary. Launch viewing transportation will begin at 5:15 am for Apollo/Saturn V Center and at 6:15 am for LC-39 Observation Gantry. The visitor complex will open at 8 am for all other visitors. Visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex website for directions and more information.



Free Areas To Watch The Rocket Launch (in order of best viewing): 


1. Titusville, Florida southward along the Indian River on the east side of US Highway 1.
2. Between Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral along the north side of State Road 528.
3. Port Canaveral, with best viewing and paid parking available at Jetty Park.
4. Along the beaches of Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, Florida (there is metered parking in Cocoa Beach that only accepts quarters, so bring some change).

Map of Launch Complex 41 At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Map of Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Google.  Rocket launch viewing locations added by Brevard Times.

Monday, July 18, 2016

SpaceX Successfully Launches And Lands Falcon 9 Rocket At Cape Canaveral

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launches And Lands At Cape Canaveral, Florida

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- For the second time, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has successfully launched and landed a Falcon 9 first stage rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.


The SpaceX rocket lifted off at 12:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, July 18, 2016, from Space Launch Complex 40. Seven minutes after launch, the first stage booster began its descent back through Earth's atmosphere, illuminating Florida's Space Coast's night sky in an orange glow.

As the first stage neared Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a double sonic boom echoed across the Indian River Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean, cuing crowds lined up along the beach to erupt in cheers and applause. The booster then made a picture-perfect landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1.

SpaceX first landed a first stage booster at Landing Zone 1 in December 2015. SpaceX has previously successfully recovered first stage rockets from three missions at sea using the company’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships. Landing Zone 1 is built on the former site of Space Launch Complex 13, a U.S. Air Force rocket and missile testing range.


Payload On Way To International Space Station

The Dragon capsule carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station has successfully reached orbit and unfurled its solar arrays.

Among the CRS-9 mission cargo is an International Docking Adapter, or IDA,  that will provide a vital link between the International Space Station and the new spacecraft in development with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Outfitted with a host of sensors and systems, the IDA is built so spacecraft systems can automatically perform all the steps of rendezvous and dock with the station without input from the astronauts. Manual backup systems will be in place on the spacecraft to allow the crew to take over steering duties, if needed.

This adapter will be one of two at the station. Another already being assembled at NASA's Kennedy Space Center will be carried into orbit during a future SpaceX cargo resupply mission and attached to another open port on the station, giving the station two docking areas for the new generation of human-rated spacecraft. Both of the IDAs are identical.

With the IDA loaded in the rear trunk of the Dragon, the interior of the Dragon capsule holds about 3,800 pounds of material including experiment supplies for dozens of the 250 research projects taking place on the station during Expeditions 48 and 49.

Photo and video credit: SpaceX

Sunday, July 17, 2016

SpaceX to launch and land rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida

UPDATE: VIDEO REPLAY - SpaceX Successfully Launches And Lands Falcon 9 Rocket At Cape Canaveral

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- For the second time, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will attempt to launch and land a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The SpaceX rocket launch is scheduled to liftoff at 12:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, July 18, 2016, from Space Launch Complex 40 with an instantaneous launch window.

Landing and Sonic Boom Over Florida's Space Coast

After first stage separation, SpaceX will attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1. SpaceX first landed a first stage booster at Landing Zone 1 in December 2015. SpaceX has previously successfully recovered first stage rockets from three missions at sea using the company’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships. Landing Zone 1 is built on the former site of Space Launch Complex 13, a U.S. Air Force rocket and missile testing range.






Like the December 2015 landing, there is the possibility that residents of northern and central Brevard County, Florida, may hear one or more sonic booms during tonight's landing. A sonic boom is a brief thunder-like noise a person on the ground hears when an aircraft or other vehicle flies overhead faster than the speed of sound.

Residents of the communities of Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island, Mims, Port Canaveral, Port St. John, Rockledge, Scottsmoor, Sharpes, and Titusville, Florida, are most likely to hear a sonic boom, although what residents experience will depend on weather conditions and other factors.

Launch Weather 90% 'GO'

According to the latest weather forecast from the United States Air Force 45th Weather Squadron, there is a 90% percent chance overall of acceptable weather conditions for tonight's launch.  The primary weather concerns for launch are cumulus clouds and flight through precipitation. 

Payload

The CRS-9 mission will carry an International Docking Adapter, or IDA,  that will provide a vital link between the International Space Station and the new spacecraft in development with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.  

Outfitted with a host of sensors and systems, the IDA is built so spacecraft systems can automatically perform all the steps of rendezvous and dock with the station without input from the astronauts. Manual backup systems will be in place on the spacecraft to allow the crew to take over steering duties, if needed.

"It's a passive system which means it doesn’t take any action by the crew to allow docking to happen and I think that's really the key," said David Clemen Boeing's director of Development/Modifications for the space station.

The IDA stands about 42 inches tall and is 63 inches in diameter on the inside. Sensors and other fittings ring the perimeter of the adapter and give it an overall diameter of about 94 inches. Spacecraft flying to the station will use the sensors on the IDA to track to and help the spacecraft's navigation system steer the spacecraft to a safe docking without astronaut involvement.

The adapter also represents the first on-orbit element built to the docking measurements that are standardized for all the spacecraft builders across the world. Its first users are expected to be the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft now in development in partnership with NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Because the adapter is designed to an international standard, future spacecraft will be able to dock there, too.

"It's really good we have an international standard now that anybody can build against and come dock to the station or to anything that has the same standard," Clemen said. 

While the crew will be able to move the supplies out of the interior, pressurized compartment of the Dragon without leaving the station, the robotic arm will be called on to pull the IDA from the trunk and maneuver it near the port where it will be connected. NASA astronauts currently living aboard the station will perform a spacewalk later this summer to make the final connection of the IDA to the Harmony module. 

This adapter will be one of two at the station. Another already being assembled at NASA's Kennedy Space Center will be carried into orbit during a future SpaceX cargo resupply mission and attached to another open port on the station, giving the station two docking areas for the new generation of human-rated spacecraft. Both of the IDAs are identical.

With the IDA loaded in the rear trunk of the Dragon, the interior of the spacecraft will hold about 3,800 pounds of material including experiment supplies for dozens of the 250 research projects taking place on the station during Expeditions 48 and 49. The payloads are vital elements for the crew on the station to conduct its research for those on the Earth as well as to help advance the knowledge needed for a future journey to Mars by astronauts.

Photo credit: SpaceX

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

New Dwarf Planet Discovered Beyond Neptune

New Dwarf Planet Discovered In Our Solar System
An artist's rendering of the orbit of RR245 (orange line). Objects as bright or brighter than RR245 are labeled. The blue circles show the projected orbits of the major planets.  Credit: Alex Parker OSSOS team.

MAUNAKEA, Hawaii - Astronomers have discovered a new dwarf planet orbiting in the disk of small icy worlds beyond Neptune. The new object is roughly 700 kilometers in size and has one of the largest orbits for a dwarf planet.

Designated 2015 RR245 by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, it was found using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii, as part of the ongoing Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS).


"The icy worlds beyond Neptune trace how the giant planets formed and then moved out from the Sun. They let us piece together the history of our Solar System. But almost all of these icy worlds are painfully small and faint: it's really exciting to find one that's large and bright enough that we can study it in detail." said Dr. Michele Bannister of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, who is a postdoctoral fellow with the Survey.

The dwarf planet was discovered in February 2016 in the OSSOS images from September 2015.

"There it was on the screen— this dot of light moving so slowly that it had to be at least twice as far as Neptune from the Sun,” said Bannister.

Astronomers became even more excited when they realized that the object’s orbit takes it more than 120 times further from the Sun than Earth. The size of RR245 is not yet exactly known, as its surface properties need further measurement. "It's either small and shiny, or large and dull," Bannister said.

Discovery images of RR245.
The images show RR245's slow motion across the sky over three hours.
Credit: OSSOS
Scientists theorize that the vast majority of the dwarf planets like RR245 were destroyed or thrown from the Solar System in the chaos that ensued as the giant planets moved out to their present positions. RR245 is one of the few dwarf planets that has survived to the present day — along with Pluto and Eris, the largest known dwarf planets. RR245 now circles the Sun among the remnant population of tens of thousands of much smaller trans-Neptunian worlds, most of which orbits is unseen.

Worlds that journey far from the Sun have exotic geology with landscapes made of many different frozen materials, as the recent flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft showed.

After hundreds of years further than 12 billion km (80 astronomical units, AU) from the Sun, RR245 is travelling towards its closest approach at 5 billion km (34 AU), which it will reach around 2096. RR245 has been on its highly elliptical orbit for at least the last 100 million years.

As RR245 has only been observed for one of the seven hundred years it takes to orbit the Sun, where it came from and how its orbit will slowly evolve in the far future is still unknown; its precise orbit will be refined over the coming years, after which RR245 will be given a name. As discoverers, the OSSOS team can submit their preferred name for RR245 to the International Astronomical Union for consideration.

"OSSOS was designed to map the orbital structure of the outer Solar System to decipher its history," said Prof. Brett Gladman of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "While not designed to efficiently detect dwarf planets, we're delighted to have found one on such an interesting orbit".

Moon Photobombs Satellite Imagery Of Earth

Moon photobombs Earth

For the second time in a year, the Moon has photobombed a NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth on Jul 4-5, 2016.

"For the second time in the life of DSCOVR, the moon moved between the spacecraft and Earth,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "The project recorded this event on July 5 with the same cadence and spatial resolution as the first ‘lunar photobomb’ of last year."







The images were captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four-megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth. From its position between the sun and Earth, DSCOVR conducts its primary mission of real-time solar wind monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The satellite is orbiting around the sun-Earth first Lagrange point (where the gravitational pull of Earth is equal and opposite of that of the sun) in a complex, non-recurring orbit that changes from an ellipse to a circle and back (called a Lissajous orbit) taking the spacecraft between 4 and 12 degrees from the sun-Earth line. This orbit intersects the lunar orbit about four times a year. However, depending on the relative orbital phases of the moon and DSCOVR, the moon appears between the spacecraft and Earth once or twice a year.

The last time EPIC captured this event was between 3:50 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. EDT on July 16, 2015.

Image Credits: NASA/NOAA

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Working Again After Glitch

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover working again after glitch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - NASA's Curiosity Mars rover resumed full operations on Monday, July 11, 2016, following an investigation by NASA engineers to determine why the rover put itself into a safe standby mode on July 2. The rover team brought Curiosity out of safe mode on July 9.

NASA says that the most likely cause of entry into safe mode was due to a software mismatch in one mode of how image data are transferred on board. Future science activity planning for the rover is avoiding use of that mode, which involves writing images from some cameras’ memories into files on the rover’s main computer. Curiosity has alternate means available for handling and transmitting all image data.






The rover landed in Mars' Gale Crater in August 2012. During its first year on Mars, the mission achieved its goal by determining that, more than 3 billion years ago, the region offered fresh-water lakes and rivers with environmental conditions well-suited to supporting microbial life, if life has ever existed on Mars. In continuing investigations, the mission is learning more about the ancient wet environments and how and when they evolved to drier and less habitable conditions.

Last week, NASA approved an additional two-year mission extension, beginning Oct. 1, 2016, for the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which developed and operates Curiosity.

ABOVE IMAGE: This May 11, 2016, self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Okoruso" drilling site on lower Mount Sharp's "Naukluft Plateau." The scene is a mosaic of multiple images taken with the arm-mounted Mars Hands Lens Imager (MAHLI). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Juno Probe Beams Back First Up-Close Image Jupiter

This color view from NASA's Juno spacecraft is made from some of the first images taken by JunoCam after the spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter on July 5th

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -  After launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida nearly five years ago, the JunoCam camera aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft is operational and sending down data after the probe’s July 4 arrival at Jupiter.

Juno’s visible-light camera was turned on six days after Juno fired its main engine and placed itself into orbit around the largest planetary inhabitant of our solar system. The first high-resolution images of the gas giant Jupiter are still a few weeks away.

The new view was obtained on July 10, 2016, at 10:30 a.m. PDT (1:30 p.m. EDT, 5:30 UTC), when the spacecraft was 2.7 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) from Jupiter on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day capture orbit.  The color image shows atmospheric features on Jupiter, including the famous Great Red Spot, and three of the massive planet's four largest moons -- Io, Europa and Ganymede, from left to right in the image.








"This scene from JunoCam indicates it survived its first pass through Jupiter's extreme radiation environment without any degradation and is ready to take on Jupiter," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "We can't wait to see the first view of Jupiter's poles."

JunoCam is a color, visible-light camera designed to capture remarkable pictures of Jupiter's poles and cloud tops. As Juno's eyes, it will provide a wide view, helping to provide context for the spacecraft's other instruments. JunoCam was included on the spacecraft specifically for purposes of public engagement; although its images will be helpful to the science team, it is not considered one of the mission's science instruments.

During its mission, Juno will circle Jupiter 37 times, soaring low over the planet's cloud tops -- as close as about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

NASA's Juno spacecraft also captured a unique time-lapse movie of the Galilean satellites in motion about Jupiter. The movie begins on June 12th with Juno 10 million miles from Jupiter, and ends on June 29th, 3 million miles distant. The innermost moon is volcanic Io; next in line is the ice-crusted ocean world Europa, followed by massive Ganymede, and finally, heavily cratered Callisto.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Monday, July 11, 2016

Earth's Clouds Have Moved From Where They Were 30 Years Ago

Earth's Clouds Have Moved Over The Last 30 Years

Historical cloud coverage has moved significantly around the world in the last 30 years due to global warming - but volcanic eruptions can reverse the trend, according to a new study by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego.

Researchers analyzed satellite cloud records and found that the cloudy storm tracks on Earth are moving toward the poles while subtropical dry zones are expanding. Cloud tops are also moving higher in the atmosphere.






Inconsistent satellite imaging of clouds over the decades has been a hindrance to improving scientists' understanding of historical cloud coverage around the globe. Records of cloudiness from satellites originally designed to monitor weather are prone to spurious trends related to changes in satellite orbit, instrument calibration, degradation of sensors over time, and other factors.

When the researchers removed such artifacts from the record, the data exhibited large-scale patterns of cloud change between the 1980s and 2000s that are consistent with climate model predictions for that time period, including poleward retreat of mid-latitude storm tracks, expansion of subtropical dry zones, and increasing height of the highest cloud tops.

Change in observed and simulated cloud amount and albedo between the 1980's and 2000's. Credit:  Joel Norris

The researchers drew from several independent corrected satellite records in their analysis. They concluded that the behavior of clouds they observed is consistent with a human-caused increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and a planet-wide recovery from two major volcanic eruptions, the 1982 El Chichón eruption in Mexico and the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines. Aerosols ejected from those eruptions had a net cooling effect on the planet for several years after they took place.

Barring another volcanic event of this sort, the scientists expect the cloud trends to continue in the future as the planet continues to warm due to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.

"What this paper brings to the table is the first credible demonstration that the cloud changes we expect from climate models and theory are currently happening," said study lead author Joel Norris, a climate researcher at Scripps.

The study, "Evidence for Climate Change in the Satellite Cloud Record," appeared July 11 in the journal Nature.

Global cloud photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

NASA's Juno Probe Successfully Orbits Jupiter

NASA's Juno Probe Arrives At Jupiter

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - After launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida nearly five years ago, NASA's Juno spacecraft finally reached Jupiter on the Fourth of July, 2016.

While Americans were busy celebrating Independence Day with fireworks, the Juno probe fired its main engine to place it into a polar orbit around the gas giant. The 35-minute burn of the spacecraft's 645-Newton Leros-1b main engine began on time at 11:18 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, decreasing the spacecraft’s velocity by 1,212 miles per hour (542 meters per second) and allowing Juno to be captured in orbit around Jupiter.  Confirmation that the burn had completed was received on Earth at 11:53 p.m. EDT.






“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer -- Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden. “And what is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved.”

Soon after the burn was completed, Juno turned so that the sun’s rays could once again reach the spacecraft's 18,698 individual solar cells that give Juno its energy.

“This is the one time I don’t mind being stuck in a windowless room on the night of the 4th of July,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “The mission team did great. The spacecraft did great. We are looking great. It’s a great day.”

As the largest planet orbiting the sun, Jupiter has had a profound influence on the solar system. But its origin remains a profound mystery. To learn how Jupiter formed and how it has evolved, Juno will study the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and explore the swirling clouds that form Jupiter’s colorful, trademark atmosphere.

The mission also help scientists understand how gas giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system.


Photo and video: Artist animation Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Blue Origin Breaks Ground On Florida Rocket Facility

Artist concept of Blue Origin Rocket Factory In Florida

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida - Blue Origin broke ground on its 750,000-square-foot rocket factory at Exploration Park just south of Kennedy Space Center in Florida, CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Tuesday.




The site will eventually serve as launch, manufacturing and support facilities for Blue Origin's Orbital Launch Vehicle (OLV) program that will launch from Space Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station later this decade.

In partnership with United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine is slated to replace the Russian-made RD-180 engine by 2019.

Dubbed by Bezos as "a 21st century production facility where we’ll focus on manufacturing our reusable fleet of orbital launchers and readying them for flight again and again," the  project will create 330 new jobs and a capital investment of $200 million on Florida's Space Coast over the next five years.

Land cleared on Merritt Island for Blue Origin faclity

Bulldozers clear land on Merritt Island for Blue Origin faclity

Photo credits: Blue Origin