(Image Credit: Hubble (NASA, ESA, and STScI))
NASA is reminding everyone that today, July 31st 2018, is the closest Mars will be to Earth for the next 269 years, at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers). That means, unless those of us alive now are very very lucky and some medical advances happen in the next 10-20 years, we probably won’t be around for the next one.
If it is cloudy where you are, don’t stress too much – the next close approach, while not prize winning, will still be fun to observe and will take place Oct. 6, 2020.
So – get out there and keep watching the skies!
(Surface ice near the South Pole – liquid water underneath)
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/MALIN SPACE SCIENCE SYSTEMS
A team from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, using Marsis, a radar instrument on board the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Mars Express orbiter, believe they have discovered a nearly 20km (12 mile) underground liquid water lake on everyone’s favorite backup planet. This is significant for oh so many reasons, and we need to get a probe over there stat and see about what may be swimming around.
The technique for finding this new Mars feature utilized the radar capability of Marsis, and the team realized that reflections from the bottom of a subsurface feature were stronger than reflections from the surface which, in radar terms, is a good sign of liquid H2O.
(Image Credit: VesselFinder.com)
In an exciting update to news last week of a flurry of SpaceX launches, we are happy to report that they stuck the landing on Just Read the Instructions (JRTI) this morning in the Pacific despite high seas and strong wind shear. What’s more, they successfully completed the mission objective of deploying the next set of Iridium NEXT satellites, bringing the current orbiting total to 65. Only one additional mission remains to complete this large and ambitious new installation. Thanks to the wonder of modern technology, we can even track the tugboat Pacific Freedom as it tows JRTI back to shore!
Press Kits for recent two launches:
Get ready for yet another launch coming up next week – currently scheduled for August 4th from Cape Canaveral. This mission, with a launch window opening at 1:19am Eastern, will loft the Merah Putih (Telkom 4) communications satellite into orbit. Telkom 4 weighs in at 5,800 kg (at the upper limit of stated Falcon reusable payload capacity of 5,500 kg) and has a C-Band payload with 60 transponders, 36 for the Southeast Asia market and 24 for the Indian market. It is using the SSL 1300 bus and will be positioned at 108 degrees. Telkom 4 is a replacement for Telkom 1, which failed on August 25, 2017 before its planned retirement in 2022. The name Merah Putih represents the red and white of the Indonesian flag.
SpaceX Launch details: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida from pad SLC-40. Launch Window 1:19am-3:19am Eastern. Block 5 booster 1048. Recovery on Of Course I Still Love You is planned.
(Image Credit: Sam Sun for NSF L2)
Get ready for an exciting week ahead, as SpaceX sets out to prove once again just how quickly they can turn their operation around and get rockets into the air. This time they plan to stage 2 launches, on opposite coasts, landing each block 5 booster on their respective East and West Coast Autonomous Drone Ship! The Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read the Instructions are both at sea, positioning themselves for capture of the booster stages that will fly only several days apart.
This sort of launch cadence is another important way that they will prove to both fans and skeptics alike that they are capable of increasing their number of launches per year. This will be a key part of corporate growth – allowing them to fill more of the existing backlog of launch orders – as well as meeting their own ambitious goals for Starlink and eventual Mars supply runs.
So set your watch for this Sunday, July 22nd at 1:50am Eastern and watch as the brand new Block 5 booster takes off with Telstat’s Telstar 19 VANTAGE satellite. Then be sure to set another alarm for Wednesday, July 25th at 7:39am Eastern and watch the next Iridium NEXT mission take flight, fulfilling another piece of that vital contract.
Tug Rachel (our favorite unsung support vessel!) tows booster B1046, the first Block 5, to shore.
(Image Credit: Julia Bergeron)
This excellent article at NasaSpaceFlight.com points out that SpaceX will actually be attempting 5 recoveries in two weeks. This includes the flights mentioned above, as well another launch on August 2nd, the Dragon capsule and the faring halves as well, making it an extremely busy couple of weeks! They have some additional excellent information in that article about the tugboats assigned to the drone ships, as well as the crew boats which deploy on those missions as well so be sure to check it out!
(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.
(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.
(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!
* stuff.co.nz – Mars will be at its biggest and brightest
(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.
(Image Credit: Ron Miller / weather.com)
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 )
(Image Credit: JPL/NASA)
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!