SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Arrives at Cape Canaveral

SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Arrives at Cape Canaveral
(Image Credit: SpaceX)

The next big step towards private capacity for human space fight has been taken, and the Crew Dragon module from SpaceX has been delivered to Cape Canaveral for testing.

Plans are to launch the capsule on an un-piloted test later this year in order to assess the performance of key systems and, most importantly, the safety and reliability of the module before human lives are trusted to it. Estimates are that SpaceX should be able to complete the certification process by early 2019, though both they and Boeing are thought to be running behind on their programs. This has the potential for leaving a gap in access to the ISS due to the end of the collaboration with the Russians to use their Soyuz rocket to fly our people.

While this would be an unfortunate eventuality, it is still likely for the best since it will force progress on the NASA side, and should help remove any potential roadblocks that may be inclined to delay the process unduly.

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SpaceX BFR Progress – Boca Chica LOX Tank

SpaceX LOX Tank en route to Boca Chica
(Image Credit: Miguel Roberts / The Brownsville Herald)

As steady progress is made on the BFR tooling at the Port of LA, parallel work continues at the SpaceX spaceport at Boca Chica, Texas. Leased in 2014 and named as a future site of high activity for their developing efforts and aspirations, activity at the TX site has been somewhat understated since then. However, the impending ramp-up of massive activity which is sure to accompany the roll-out of the Big ‘Falcon’ Rocket has all systems go at the southern site. The arrival of this liquid oxygen (LOX) tank is a sure sign of that.

This massive tank can hold nearly as much as 20 tanker trucks, and “will be used to support propellant-loading operations during launch and vehicle tests” said Sean Pitt of SpaceX. Musk’s ever-optimistic (yet increasingly plausible) timelines target 2019 for the first ‘hopper’ flights of the BFR and he has previously stated that the first humans to depart for another planet may very well leave from the Texas spaceport. Keeping that excitement high as always!

The site is expected to be up and operational by the end of 2018. It already has 600 kilowatts of solar arrays on site, as well as a pair of 86-ton ground station antennas that are currently used to monitor the Dragon resupply missions to the ISS.

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Mars Perihelic Opposition – 15 year Minimum Distance

Mars Surface
(Image Credit: stuff.co.nz)

At the end of July we will be treated to a view of Mars that is about as good as it’s going to get from the surface of our blue planet. Earth will be passing directly between Mars and the sun, and at a minimum distance which recurs every 15 years. It should be possible to resolve surface details of our next home planet with a telescope, and you will be able to see it with the naked eye as a bright orange star-like object for the remainder of the year. While this is often at least somewhat true, 2018 should provide far better viewing than average!

It’s a good time to get and stay excited about Mars, and be sure to set your calendars for the next nearest approach when we will hopefully be sending a fleet of BFR vessels that way!

Reference:
* stuff.co.nz – Mars will be at its biggest and brightest

Fluvial Stream Evidence on Mars

Fluvial Mars
(Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

Mars has a lot of interesting surface features, and a new study claims to have decent reason to believe that many of the structures which resemble fluvial stream networks on Earth were formed by the same processes on Mars. Namely, it speaks to the existence of a climate and atmosphere which was able to support frequent and heavy rainfall, on a planet that may have been much wetter than even we had thought.

This all goes to show that Mars continues to surprise us, the more we learn about it, and that the vast undertaking of coming to terms with an entirely new celestial body is more meaningful and challenging than we can imagine.