Friday, September 30, 2016

Space - A Cosmic Ocean Elon Musk Intends to Sail

Speaking in front of a capacity crowd at the 67th International Astronomical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, SpaceX founder, CEO and chief designer, Elon Musk, boldly unveiled his futuristic plans for sending humans to Mars.

In his much anticipated speech entitled "Making Humans a Multiplanetary Spacies," the billionaire outlined his ideas for colonizing the red planet in his trademark thinking-out-loud style of speaking.
Musk speaking in front of a capacity crowd the the International Astronomical
Congress on September 27. credit: bloomberg.com

He began by asking the question, "Why Mars?", before explaining that solar system real-estate is limited and that finding a prime spot is not as easy as people may think.

Musk stated that if a manned launch to Mars were to take place right now, a seat on board that ship would cost an astronomical $10bn per person. In other words, the system does not yet exist.

However, Musk's mantra has and always will revolve around driving down the cost of getting to space and making it accessible to all.

"The cost of a Mars ticket should equal the median cost of a house in the United States.. which is about $200,000" he went on to say. "You can't create a self-sustaining civilisation on Mars if the price is ten billion dollars per person."

This Musk explained, could only be achieved by addressing four key issues. These issues are:

-Full reusability
-Refilling in orbit
-Propellant filling on Mars
-Using the right propellant

If he succeeds in doing so, Musk believes he will be able to reduce the cost per tonne to Mars by five million percent, and in the process, facilitating the mass landing of around a million or so humans on our nearest neighbour by the 2060s.

While proclamations of slashing ticket prices to Mars were greeted with enthusiastic whoops and hollers from the crowd, the question that everyone wanted answered, was what exactly will this interplanetary space system look like?

Standing in front of a fifteen-foot-tall image of Mars, occasionally Musk would turn to catch a subtle glimpse of the revolving red globe, as if to remind himself that Mars was still there - that it wasn't so far away.

Getting to Mars
Blasting off atop a 254-foot booster from the same launch used on man's first voyage to land a man on the Moon, SpaceX's "Planetary Spaceship"(yet to be officially named, but Musk admitted that he would probably name the first ship "Heart of Gold" as a tribute to the ship used in "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy") would firstly be delivered into a preliminary parking orbit around the Earth.
SpaceX System Architecture credit: SpaceX

The booster, similar in profile of returning a Falcon-9 first stage to Earth, would then return directly to the launchpad, refuel its tanker, and launch back up to the parked manned vehicle in orbit.

This refueling process would be repeated four more times before the interplanetary ship would get the green light to rendezvous with the red planet.


In what he described as something straight out of Battlestar Galactica, Musk said he hopes to include not one, not two, but a thousand Mars ships in a single fleet, with up to two hundred people per spacecraft.

The Planetary Spaceship will use its aerodynamic lift ability to enter the Martian atmosphere, and will come to a soft landing on the surface of the planet using its propulsive rocket system.

In theory, this would allow the Spaceship to land on any rocky body in the solar system, and provided there would be fueling stations along the way, it would result in humans gaining access to almost anywhere in the solar system.

The people in these craft would require only "a few days of training" before being certified to fly. If you arrive at the place and decide you don't like it as much as you thought and yearn to come home - don't worry! With the billionaire planning on sending fleets to Mars roughly every two years, there'll be another ship along shortly to bring you back to mother Earth.

As far as safety is concerned, for the first flights of the Interplanetary Spaceship on a journey to Mars, Musk offered the grim prediction that "The risk of fatality will be high."

Throughout the speech, Musk shied away from setting any concrete dates for accomplishing the above goals, estimating that it will take anywhere between forty and one hundred years to develop a self-sustaining species from the first ship's rendezvous.

What happens now?
As a space enthusiast, Musk excites me with his audacious plans to turn humans into a multiplanetary species. The fact that someone is even thinking about doing so, let alone already investing tens of millions of dollars in order to make it a reality brings me a profound sense of joy for the present, and quiet optimism for the future.

"With each passing day, the barrier separating science fiction
and science fact is constantly being eroded" 
credit: SpaceX
Scouring online forums, websites and fan pages in the hours after Musk delivered his keynote, reactions ranged from sheer delight to downright doom and gloom. If Musk's speech was a movie, it would have received mixed reviews, and here's why..

Following the catastrophic loss of two of his Falcon-9 booster's in just fifteen months(for which a smoking gun in the second accident is yet to be identified), SpaceX's reputation as a reliable company capable of delivering payloads and one day astronauts in to space has taken a hard blow.

By the beginning of 2018 Musk hopes to begin conducting missions of its Red Dragon spacecraft(the vehicle that will deliver SpaceX's first astronauts to Mars), with Mars flights set to commence before 2023.

However, with the Hawthorne company yet to deliver a single astronaut to the International Space Station in its Crew Dragon, Elon Musk's timelines for the moment must be taken with a pinch of salt.

In summary, let us recognise that space is an awfully big ocean, and getting comfortable in the shallow cosmic waters of low-Earth orbit is a must before even thinking about venturing any deeper. It is therefore essential that Musk invest as much time and money into figuring what is going wrong with the Falcon-9, before pressing on with bigger issues.

With each passing day, the barrier separating science fiction and science fact is constantly being eroded. But it is mandatory that Musk firstly learns how to fly his troublesome Falcon as close to total reliability as possible. Otherwise, none of this will ever get off the ground - let alone to Mars.

Godspeed, Elon Musk!

Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Breaking News: Explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

In breaking news, there has been an explosion at one of the launch pads at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The pad in question is Launch Complex 40, which is currently used to by SpaceX to launch their Falcon-9 rocket to deliver payloads into Earth orbit.

SpaceX have been issuing statements throughout the day;

"SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today's static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the launch vehicle and its payload. Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries."
Video footage showing extensive damage to the Falcon-9 launch vehicle at the
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. credit: wftv.com

The 45th Space Wing at the Cape stated that the explosion, which occurred at approximately 9:07 a.m. as the rocket was being loaded with fuel.

"The anomaly originated around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle." -SpaceX statement

SpaceX, which was set to launch the Israel Aerospace Industries/Spacecom AMOS-6 communications satellite on Saturday, was conducting a static fire test on the vehicle today ahead of the launch.

A static fire test is conducted in the days prior to every Falcon launch in which the engines of the rocket are ignited to test its engines as well as other onboard systems, without the vehicle leaving the pad.

More to follow shortly..



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Welcome to Jupiter" - NASA's Juno Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Jupiter

Following a 2.8 billion kilometer inter-planetary journey lasting almost five years, NASA's Juno spacecraft has successfully entered orbit around Jupiter on a bold mission to unlock the secrets of our solar system and its largest planet.


Artists rendering of Juno approaching Jupiter
credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Amid rapturous scenes in Juno Mission Control in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL) in Pasadena, California, Jupiter orbit insertion was confirmed at 11:53 p.m. EDT marking the probe's long-awaited arrival at the gas giant.

Travelling at speeds of 58 kilometers a second(making it the fastest spacecraft to enter orbit around a planet), Juno fired its onboard engine for a risky thirty-five minute burn(insertion maneuver) on time at 11:18 p.m.

“The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from JPL.

The burn occurred at the spacecraft’s closest approach to Jupiter, and slowed it enough to be captured by the giant planet’s gravity into a 53.5-day orbit.

Following an initial capture orbit, Jupiter will begin recording scientific data on its third orbit of the planet by which point the spacecraft will have entered a more stable 14 day-orbit.

Flying from north to south, the spacecraft’s point of closest approach above the cloud tops varies with each flyby -- coming as close as about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) and as far out as 4,900 miles (7,900 kilometers). As Juno exits over the south pole, its orbit carries it far beyond even the orbit of the Jovian moon Callisto.

After the main engine burn, Juno will be in orbit around Jupiter. The spacecraft will spin down from 5 to 2 RPM, turn back toward the sun, and ultimately transmit telemetry via its high-gain antenna.

Over the course of this historic mission Juno will complete thirty-seven orbits over the next twenty months before burning up in Jupiter;s atmosphere to bring the mission to an end in February 2018.

“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.

The main goals of the Juno mission include:

-To find out how much water is in Jupiter's atmosphere, which helps determine which planet formation theory is correct (or if new theories are needed).
-To look deep into Jupiter's atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties.
-To map Jupiter's magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the planet's deep structure
-To explore and study Jupiter's magnetosphere near the planet's poles, especially the auroras – Jupiter's northern and southern lights – providing new insights about how the planet's enormous magnetic force field affects its atmosphere.
-The possible discovery of new Jovian moons.

Juno's view of a half-lit Jupiter and four of its moons before all scientific
instruments were turned off prior to Jupiter Orbit Insertion(JOI) credit: NASA/JPL





                                                                                                                                                One of the main mission objectives is to discover how a giant planet like Jupiter came into being,  and how it evolved. This cloudy world is a primary example of a giant planet, and can also give us  clues as to how other giant gas planets(called "Hot-Jupiters") which we have discovered orbiting  other stars, may have formed.

Juno will accomplish this by studying the planet's cloudy atmosphere and its overall composition. By the end of the mission it is hoped that we will be able to see how Jupiter was born, and how important of a role it played in the formation of other planets in the solar system.

Using the suite of scientific instruments aboard Juno, teams back on Earth will study the magnetosphere of Jupiter, which will tell us if Jupiter has a solid core, and how big or small it might be.

Why the name Juno?
In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter was the king of the gods, as well as god of the sky and thunder. Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter's true nature.

Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!

More information on the Juno mission is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/juno

Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Google+

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Space Station Trio Return to Earth

After a journey spanning almost 79 million miles, the crew of the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft have safely returned to Earth after completing their 186 day-long mission to the International Space Station.

Soyuz commander and veteran cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko alongside crew mates Tim Peake and Tim Kopra landed their vehicle in the remote steppe of Kazakhstan at 9:15 a.m. UTC -  just three hours after leaving their home for the past six months.
Malenchenko, Kopra and Peake shortly before closing the hatches
between their Soyuz and the International Space Station.
 credit: Roscosmos

The trio bid farewell to their Expedition 47 crew mates early this morning before hatches between the station and the Soyuz were closed. This was followed at 6:52 a.m. by the undocking of the spacecraft from the station's Rassvet module - marking the official beginning of Expedition 48.

Since their arrival to station the crew have conducted hundreds of scientific experiments across a wide range of scientific fields including physics, Earth observation and human physiology experiments. The crew also saw off One Year Crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko back in March.

Having landed under cloudy conditions amid high winds, the crew were extracted one by one from the vehicle by Russian search and recovery forces at the landing site and flown to the remote town of Karaganda a short time later for a welcoming ceremony.

Malenchenko will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center plane for a flight back to Star City to be reunited with his family, while Peake will return to the European Astronaut Center in Cologne and Kopra will return to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This morning's landing concludes the fifth long duration space flight, and the fourth aboard the International Space Station for Malenchenko, who has now logged a total of 828 days in space. European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake - the first British astronaut to visit the space station Peake logs 186 days in space while and NASA astronaut Kopra now has a total of 244 days of spaceflight across two missions.

In the meantime, station commander Jeff Williams along with Russian flight engineers Alexei Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will remain aboard the station until September. Before his departure this morning, Expedition 47 commander Kopra handed over the reigns of the International Space Station to Williams in the traditional Change of Command ceremony in which he paid tribute to the space station programme;
Peake, Malenchenko and Kopra shortly after landing in the remote
steppe of Kazakhstan after 186 days aboard the ISS.
credit: NASA

"We've been so privileged to work here on board with a huge variety of science experiments that we know are going to be a stepping stone for human exploration.. together we've demonstrated that we have a world-class orbiting laboratory."

They will occupy the complex for the next three weeks before being joined in July by the crew of the Soyuz MS-01 comprising of Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The trio are set to launch aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 6th.

Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @irishspaceblog

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How to See the Transit of Mercury on May 9

There is no denying that the transit of planet Mercury is one of the most spectacular astronomical phenomena we witness on Earth. There's a transit of Mercury happening on May 9 and here's how you can see it with your own eyes.

What is the transit of Mercury?
A transit of Mercury occurs when our solar system's innermost planet comes between the Sun and the Earth, and Mercury is seen as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. Transits of Mercury occur 13 or 14 times every hundred years, which averages out to one every seven years.

How can I see it?
The transit of Mercury will begin at 11:12 UTC and last seven and a half hours.
credit: www.skyandtelescope.com
This year's transit will be visible(weather permitting) from North and South America, Europe, Africa and most of continental Asia.

Mercury will appear as a tiny dot on the surface of the Sun - covering approximately 1% of the solar disk.

However, viewers are warned not to look directly at the Sun with the naked eye as it may result in irreversible damage.

In order to view the transit safely, you will need a telescope with a solar filter. But don't worry if you don't have either of these, you can also project the image of the Sun using a piece of card with a pinhole in it. Be sure to contact your local astronomy club for more information on events that may be held in your local area to view the transit of Mercury.

The seven-and-a-half hour-long transit will begin at 11:12 a.m. UTC when Mercury makes first contact with the solar disk. The moment of greatest transit will occur at 2:57 p.m. when the planet is roughly mid-way through its path across the Sun's disk. The transit will end at the moment of final contact at 6:42 p.m.

If you're clouded over or living in a part of the world where the transit isn't visible. NASA will be providing a a near-live feed of images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite will be available at www.nasa.gov/transit.

Clear skies!

Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!






Sunday, April 10, 2016

SpaceX Dragon Returns to International Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle has arrived at the International Space Station on its eighth flight to resupply the orbiting complex.

The Commercial Resupply Services(CRS)-8 was captured by ESA astronaut Tim Peake using the station's robotic arm, Canadarm2. Capture was confirmed to have taken place at 7:23 a.m. Eastern Time as the station flew 250 miles over the Pacific Ocean.
Dragon and Cygnus docked to the International Space Station simultaneously
for the first time. credit: NASA TV

Shortly after grapple, the Expedition 47 Flight Engineer informed teams of flight controllers in Mission Control in Houston and in SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne California of his success;

"Looks like we've captured a Dragon" 

Two hours later at 9:57 a.m. robotic operators in Mission Control in Houston slowly berthed the vehicle to the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony module.

Today's arrival is an historic one, as it marks the first time that two commercially-built cargo vehicles will be docked to the International Space Station simultaneously. Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo craft is currently bolted to the Unity module of the ISS having arrived on March 26.

It also marks only the second time in the history of the International Space Station programme that six visiting vehicles have been docked to the station at once.

Dragon, making its Return to Flight to the ISS following a catastrophic launch anomaly in June 2015, launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 9:43 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday April 8 from Cape Canaveral carrying 6,900 pounds/3,130 kilograms worth of science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.

Just minutes after first stage separation, the rocket's first stage fell back to Earth, fired its thrusters and deployed its landing legs before successfully landing upright for the first time on a barge at sea. Friday's activities marked the second time that Elon Musk's company has accomplished such a feat - the first coming back on December 21.

Today's arrival will bring to an end the recent period of busy traffic to and from the International Space Station. CRS-8 is the fourth visiting vehicle to visit the laboratory in as many weeks, following the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-20M, Cygnus CRS OA-6 and the Progress 63P.

On April 15, robotic operators will once again take control of Canadarm2 and remove the much anticipated Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM), and berth it to the aft port of the station's Tranquility module.


Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM)


BEAM is an expandable habitat built by Bigelow Aerospace that will remain on station for a period of two years. NASA and its partners are currently investigating the practicalities of using expandable habitats in the near-Earth environment as well as on future missions to the Moon or Mars.

This will be the first time an expandable habitat will be docked to the station, so the procedure will take some time, allowing teams to closely observe the expansion process as well as the safety of the crew and the station. During this time the module will expand from its packed dimensions of 7.75 feet in diameter and 5.7 feet long, to its pressurised size of 10,5 feet in diameter and 12 feet long.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM) being loaded into the
trunk of the SpaceX Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral. credit: NASA

The expandable module is made up of soft fabrics instead of metal which allows the habitat to be packed to a small volume during launch and later expanded to its full size in space. Two radiation sensors, temperature and micrometeorite impacts inside BEAM will help scientists and engineers to better understand thermal, radiation and long-term leak performance of expandable habitats.

The habitat will be inflated by the crew at the end of May and it is expected that crew members will enter BEAM twice or three times per six month increment to swap out sensors that need to be returned to Earth for analysis.



Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!

Friday, April 8, 2016

SpaceX Dragon Returns to Flight Bound for the International Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon capsule has successfully launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a mission to deliver science to the International Space Station.

The Commercial Resupply Services(CRS)-8 launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 9:43 p.m. Eastern Time under clear skies carrying science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.
Dragon on its eight flight to the International Space Station launches
atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 10:43 p.m. from Cape Canveral in Florida.
credit: SpaceX

Just minutes after first stage separation, the rocket's first stage fell back to Earth, fired its thrusters and deployed its landing legs before successfully landing upright for the first time on a barge at sea. Today marks the second time that Elon Musk's company has accomplished such a feat - the first coming back on December 21.

The vehicle will arrive at the space station on Sunday April 10 loaded with 6,900 pounds/3,130 kilograms of science and payload to further advance the research capabilities of the International Space Station. From the Cupola, ESA astronaut Tim Peake will capture Dragon with the station's robotic arm, Canadarm-2, before flight controllers in Mission Control in Houston berth Dragon to the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony module a few hours later.

Today's launch marks the Return to Flight of Dragon having been lost shortly after liftoff on its seventh mission to resupply the complex in June 2015.

Sunday's arrival will be an historic one, as it marks the first time that two commercially-built cargo vehicles will be docked to the International Space Station simultaneously. Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo craft is currently berthed to the Unity module of the ISS.

On April 15, robotic operators will once again take control of Canadarm-2 and remove the much anticipated Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM), and berth it to the aft port of the station's Tranquility module.


Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM)

BEAM is an expandable habitat built by Bigelow Aerospace that will remain on station for a period of two years. NASA and its partners are currently investigating the practicalities of using expandable habitats in the near-Earth environment as well as on future missions to the Moon or Mars.

This will be the first time an expandable habitat will be docked to the station, so the procedure will take some time, allowing teams to closely observe the expansion process as well as the safety of the crew and the station. During this time the module will expand from its packed dimensions of 7.75 feet in diameter and 5.7 feet long, to its pressurised size of 10,5 feet in diameter and 12 feet long.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM) being loaded into the
trunk of the SpaceX Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral. credit: NASA

The expandable module is made up of soft fabrics instead of metal which allows the habitat to be packed to a small volume during launch and later expanded to its full size in space. Two radiation sensors, temperature and micrometeorite impacts inside BEAM will help scientists and engineers to better understand thermal, radiation and long-term leak performance of expandable habitats.

The habitat will be inflated by the crew at the end of May and it is expected that crew members will enter BEAM twice or three times per six month increment to swap out sensors that need to be returned to Earth for analysis.

The arrival of Dragon on Sunday will bring to an end the recent period of busy traffic to and from the International Space Station. CRS-8 will be the fourth visiting vehicle to visit the laboratory in as many weeks, following the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-20M, Cygnus CRS OA-6 and the Progress 63P.

Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!