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.
(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.
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!
(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.
A new study from Boston University’s Center for Space Physics has determined that wind is an effective option for power generation on Mars! This is especially important to combat times of low solar activity such as we are seeing with the current dust storm, and to balance power needs when a piece of equipment may be in a limited sunlight environment for half the year. Additionally, radioisotope power (ie. nuclear) as powers the Curiosity rover would be counter-indicated in a polar region as it would impact any science experiments being conducted.
The original experiments for this paper were conducted in 2010. At the time it was determined that wind was a possible power source given climate conditions on the Red Planet, however there were concerns over the required size of the turbines given the state of technology at the time. Now with 8 more years of materials science and research behind us, the equipment that could be deployed for this purpose has sufficiently improved that it truly can be seen as a viable option. Another great step forward for Mars!
(Figure 1: (left) The wind turbine positioned in the wind tunnel, which is 2m in diameter. (right) Close-up of the wind turbine with the wind tunnel fan visible in the background. Image Credit: Holstein-Rathlou of Boston University )
When the starting whistle of the universe blew, and our solar system began to coalesce, it now turns out that Mars was running laps around the Earth in terms of planet formation. This is important because it means the planet would have had more than a 100-million-year head start over Earth regarding the development of a viable habitat. The report in the June 27th issue of Nature states that only 20 million years after the dust and gas around our sun had started to form the planets, Mars was up and running!
While these discoveries about the early crust formation on Mars may suggest a longer timeframe for possible development of life, it also indicates a relatively thin atmosphere which is a disappointing side note to this work. I suppose none of that will be terribly important once we start terraforming the place, and restoring it to the former glory of a green and blue world!
SpaceX is once again getting ready to resupply the ISS, as part of their ongoing contract with NASA to provide that vital service. The launch is scheduled for 5:41am Eastern on June 29th, from pad SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral. The hardware for this mission will include both a previously flown Falcon booster as well as a previously flown Dragon capsule.
It’s exciting that the development of the Crew Dragon is moving ahead strongly, and every launch of the existing resupply dragon capsule provides more data and more assurance that the systems are up to the challenge of safely launching and returning astronauts. What a relief it will be soon, to have that capacity within our own control after many years of outsourcing.
As construction of the BFR is underway at the Port of LA, we are all trying to imagine just how Big this Falcon Rocket is really going to be. Well, some enterprising soul put together a captivating video that helps us to comprehend the size, and it must be accurate enough for Musk to re-tweet. So – in case you haven’t seen it, have a look at how big this Falcon Rocket really is!
Owing to the major differences between ostensibly similar planets of Earth and Mars, the red planet is now experiencing a massive dust storm the size of North America. Right in the midst of this maelstrom is the little Opportunity rover, hunkered down as best as it can against the fury of the bringer of war.
What is truly amazing, however, is that the rover is expected to weather the storm with little difficulty, only experiencing a brief suspension of it’s ongoing mission objectives.
The large concerns in a situation like this, of course, are that the solar panels may become covered with too much dust to properly funciton, or that the sun is obscured for too long causing a sharp decline in temperature of the rover. Neither eventuality is expected to slow down the scrappy piece of tech, and NASA appears to be in good shape to claim yet another of the ongoing victories in their rover program.
Well Gazetteers, it’s last minute, but here’s an update that all of us night owls will (probably) get to see the next Falcon 9 launch at 12:45am Eastern, from Cape Canaveral. This mission is to establish the new SES communication satellite in orbit, providing a high level of broadband availability to Asian-Pacific and Middle East regions.
Unfortunately, as reported previously, this is a Block 4 booster, so recovery will not be attempted with this launch. Pretty soon, everything will be Block 5 and we can count on a smooth touchdown on the droneship or mainland pad every time.