Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Falcon 9 launch of DSCOVR (2015-02-11)

The Falcon 9 launch of DSCOVR as seen from the Melbourne, Florida area. … /watch?v=sCGHLtlfu1k

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

SpaceX: No One Laughs Anymore When We Talk About Colonizing Mars

When Elon Musk founded SpaceX, way back in 2002, the plan was to colonize Mars. The company is now profitable, America’s number one choice for flying astronauts to the International Space Station, and thinking about building a satellite-based internet to connect the world. But all of those are stepping stones for the Mars plan, which is very much still the focus of the company.

“We’re not shy about talking about Mars, which would be an extraordinary step for humans, to actually have a settlement there,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Tuesday at the Satellite conference in Washington, DC. “The whole company is geared up on that, everybody’s eye is on the Red Planet.”

Mars One, a long shot, crowdsourced plan to colonize Mars, ​is apparently in shambles, so, even on the non-SpaceX front, there’s not much in the way of a concrete plan to get to Mars. We know that SpaceX is developing a methane-based rocket engine known as Raptor to get to Mars, but beyond that, much of it is speculative. That said, the company is still deadly serious about getting there, eventually.

“When we talked about Mars before, people thought we were certifiable,” Shotwell said. “Now, people kind of groove on it and they like to hear about it.”

Unlike the Mars One mission, Shotwell said that SpaceX has no intention of sending people to Mars to die. That’s one reason (of many) why the company is working on reusable rockets.

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Friday, March 13, 2015


IN NOVEMBER, A spacecraft made a dramatic, first-ever landing on a comet—three times. After the Philae lander touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the harpoons that were supposed to latch it onto the surface didn’t fire, and instead, the spacecraft bounced back into space before returning to the comet. Another shorter hop then took it to its current, shady resting spot. Since then, the Philae lander has been slumbering in the cold and dark some 286 million miles away, with only meager recharging from its solar panels. Now, with warmer and brighter days ahead, it’s time to see if the Philae lander is awake and ready to get back to work. Just don’t expect anything too soon.

Today, for the first time since it started napping, mission engineers have begun trying to communicate with Philae, which exhausted its batteries soon after landing. After four months, the orbit of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, which has been circling comet 67P, is now aligned with Philae so that they can talk to each other—as long as Philae has eked out enough power and warmth from its limited sunlight. “We don’t think we’ll hear anything just yet, but we cannot be very sure,” says Koen Geurts, the technical manager of the Philae team.

Lacking communication with Philae, scientists still don’t know exactly where it is and what its surroundings are like. Engineers have used Rosetta’s cameras to narrow down its location, but the orbiting spacecraft is currently too far away to spot the lander. Rosetta will swoop in closer in July, but as of now, engineers can only estimate that Philae is only getting 1.3 hours of sunlight for each 12.4-hour day on the comet. For the lander to wake up, its solar panels have to be turning those meager hours of sunlight into 5.5 watts of power. And to send and receive signals from Rosetta, it needs 19 watts. Philae also has to be warmer than -49˚F to work. “We do not expect that this is already the case,” Geurts says. “We think Philae is still cold.” In its shadowy hole, Philae’s temperature may have dropped to as low as -150˚F, and even though comet 67P is getting closer to the sun—Philae’s getting twice as much solar energy than it did in November—the spacecraft probably needs more time to thaw.

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