Last updated August 14, 2017 at 12:21 pm
Launch into Go/No Go, the fortnightly wrap up of spaceflight news.
Falcon Heavy nearly ready to Go
The next piece of Elon Musk’s grand plans for Space X is almost ready to take flight. The Falcon Heavy heavy-lift rocket is slated for its first flight in November.
Musk made the announcement on Instagram and Twitter.
The Falcon Heavy will be capable of lifting 54 tons of payload into a low-Earth orbit, and 22 tons into a higher geostationary orbit, making it the most powerful US-built rocket since the Saturn V used to launch the Apollo missions. It is capable of lifting twice the payload of the next most powerful rocket in use today, the Delta IV Heavy.
The Falcon Heavy is made up of two Falcon 9 rocket first stages attached to the sides of a redesigned central Falcon 9. Together, these units provide 5 million pounds of thrust. Even with using the proven Falcon 9 as its basis, Elon Musk is still dampening expectations, saying there was a “real good chance” the launch could fail.
With the Moon and Mars on Musk’s to-do list, the success of the Falcon Heavy test will be a vital piece of the puzzle for SpaceX.
Space tourism could assist health research
Going to space has some pretty detrimental effects on peoples health, from vision degeneration to bone decomposition. However three researchers from the UK have pointed out that space tourism may be one of the things that helps us understand and tackle these issues more effectively.
Since Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit Earth, only around 550 humans have gone to space. And while NASA, Roscosmos and the ESA have studied those astronauts and their health closely, it is still not a particularly large pool of data to work from. An added complication is that astronauts are usually of extremely good health and fitness, making them a particularly small, unrepresentative sample of the population to study.
The authors point out that a burgeoning space tourism industry would allow a much larger and wider group of people to fly to space, allowing researchers on the ground to collect far more information about the effects that going to space has on our health. And that could be vitally important as not only the space tourism industry increases, but also as we push farther away from Earth. Those groups of adventurous tourists could be an important resource, and it’s up to the space tourism companies and researchers to not let the opportunity slip.
ISS welcomes some new tenants
After a rapid 6 hour flight, three new astronauts have arrived on board the International Space Station. Paulo Nespoli (ESA), Sergey Ryazanskiy (Roscosmos) and Randy Bresnik (NASA) have joined the three Expedition 52 astronauts already on the ISS.
All three astronauts are spaceflight veterans, with Nespoli making his third trip off Earth. At 60 years old, Nespoli is very much the veteran of the group. While on board they will be carrying out experiments including studying a phenomenon which haunts astronauts called “puffy face.” In microgravity fluids tend to move towards the head creating a bloated appearance, but also more serious may cause vision damage.
The three astronauts already on the station, Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer (NASA) and Fyodor Yurchikhin (Roscosmos) will return to Earth in September, while Nespoli, Ryazanskiy and Bresnik return in December.
Camera on new satellite out of focus
NASA has revealed the camera on the new TESS satellite will be slightly out of focus after launch, but that it is not concerned by the problem.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite cameras will be used to monitor the intensity of the nearest and brightest stars to detect small changes in brightness. These small dips in brightness may indicate planets transiting in front of the star, a technique also used by the present Kepler satellite to detect the existence of exoplanets orbiting stars.
The defect in the cameras was found after they had been cooled to -75°C to simulate the conditions they’ll operate in in space. NASA has said the out-of-focus areas are around the edges of the image, and that the centre of the image actually has better focus than was originally designed. They also said that because the cameras are meant for measuring brightness and not for taking high-detail images, the focus issue should not affect the success of the mission.
Astronomers however have suggested that there will be a reduction in the quality of observations, with Alan Boss from the Carnegie Institution quoted saying “The TESS team thinks there will be a 10 percent cut in terms of the number of planets that they expect to be able to detect.”
NASA will be continuing to monitor the issue to make sure the image quality doesn’t deteriorate any further before launching the satellite in 2018.
Armstrong memorabilia goes missing
An extremely rare model created by jeweller Cartier to commemorate the Apollo 11 moon landing has been stolen.
Police responded to a break-in at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Ohio on Friday 28 July, where the miniature 18-karat gold lunar lander model was found to be missing. It was the only item taken.
The Cartier-made model was presented on behalf of the readers of Parisian newspaper Le Figaro to Armstrong during a visit to France in late 1969. His Apollo 11 crewmates Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin also received models. As one of only 3 models and belonging to the most famous crewmember, the value of Armstrong’s model cannot be determined.
The theft caps off an eventful month for Armstrong memorabilia after an auction at Sotheby’s saw a (legally obtained) lunar sample bag used by Armstrong sold for US$1.8 million.
It can only be hoped that the model is returned undamaged so that it can be placed back on public display. However there are fears that the model may have already been melted down for its gold value.
Virgin Galactic image courtesy of jfoust on Flickr
Astronauts image courtesy of NASA
TESS image courtesy of NASA
Eagle lander model image courtesy of Cartier