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Space X Launch

SpaceX will be launching (hopefully) from Cape Canaveral at 20:45 ET / 01:45 UT (22 Feb).

Stop by and watch here, if you can’t watch there will be replays after the launch.

If there is not a launch due to some issue, the next opportunity is a few minutes less than 24 hours later.

The Current Solar Cycle

I’ve seen a few mentions about how we are in a new solar cycle. Well not quite so fast, the demarcation line is not distinct and it is just a wee bit too early to tell. There are some good signs to be sure, but at the same time the solar disc as been spotless for 8-days straight and 22 out of the 40 days so far this year.

So we are at solar minimum to be sure and this is probably not a “grand solar minimum” especially given the positive signs we are seeing since the “grand solar minimum” is a prolonged period, much longer than what we’ve seen so far. Basically at this point I consider such claims to be click-bait.

Here’s a little more about the solar-cycle from Michel van Biezen:

InSight Update

Happy days people, we have an update from the InSight Mars Lander mission. Sounds like the seismometer might start getting good data soon.

NASA – For the past several weeks, NASA’s InSight lander has been making adjustments to the seismometer it set on the Martian surface on Dec. 19. Now it’s reached another milestone by placing a domed shield over the seismometer to help the instrument collect accurate data. The seismometer will give scientists their first look at the deep interior of the Red Planet, helping them understand how it and other rocky planets are formed.

The Wind and Thermal Shield helps protect the supersensitive instrument from being shaken by passing winds, which can add “noise” to its data. The dome’s aerodynamic shape causes the wind to press it toward the planet’s surface, ensuring it won’t flip over. A skirt made of chain mail and thermal blankets rings the bottom, allowing it to settle easily over any rocks, though there are few at InSight’s location.

An even bigger concern for InSight’s seismometer — called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) — is temperature change, which can expand and contract metal springs and other parts inside the seismometer. Where InSight landed, temperatures fluctuate by about 170 degrees Fahrenheit (94 degrees Celsius) over the course of a Martian day, or sol.

“Temperature is one of our biggest bugaboos,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the InSight mission and built the Wind and Thermal Shield. “Think of the shield as putting a cozy over your food on a table. It keeps SEIS from warming up too much during the day or cooling off too much at night. In general, we want to keep the temperature as steady as possible.”

On Earth, seismometers are often buried about four feet (1.2 meters) underground in vaults, which helps keep the temperature stable. InSight can’t build a vault on Mars, so the mission relies on several measures to protect its seismometer. The shield is the first line of defense.

A second line of defense is SEIS itself, which is specially engineered to correct for wild temperature swings on the Martian surface. The seismometer was built so that as some parts expand and contract, others do so in the opposite direction to partially cancel those effects. Additionally, the instrument is vacuum-sealed in a titanium sphere that insulates its sensitive insides and reduces the influence of temperature.

But even that isn’t quite enough. The sphere is enclosed within yet another insulating container — a copper-colored hexagonal box visible during SEIS’s deployment. The walls of this box are honeycombed with cells that trap air and keep it from moving. Mars provides an excellent gas for this insulation: Its thin atmosphere is primarily composed of carbon dioxide, which at low pressure is especially slow to conduct heat.

With these three insulating barriers, SEIS is well-protected from thermal “noise” seeping into the data and masking the seismic waves that InSight’s team wants to study. Finally, most additional interference from the Martian environment can be detected by InSight’s weather sensors, then filtered out by mission scientists.

With the seismometer on the ground and covered, InSight’s team is readying for its next step: deploying the heat flow probe, called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), onto the Martian surface. That’s expected to happen next week.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

InSight Deploys SEIS

NASA graciously allowed the embedding of this image, however the version clipped the bottom of the image rather drastically (only the arm was visible) so I altered the embed code a little – hopefully it works out.

Now we have a seismometer from the InSight Mission on Mars. By the way, especially for teachers and students, the InSight Mission website is rich in educational activities and resources for the classroom — including Real Time Seismic Data in the Classroom.

NASA — NASA’s InSight lander placed its seismometer onto Mars on Dec. 19, 2018. This was the first time a spacecraft robotically placed a seismometer onto the surface of another planet. The seismometer is the copper-colored object in this image, which was taken around Martian dusk.

The seismometer, called Seismic Explorations for Interior Structure (SEIS), will measure seismic waves caused by marsquakes, meteorite strikes and other phenomena. Watching how these waves travel through Mars’ interior will let scientists study how the planet’s crust, mantle and core are layered. It will also reveal more about how all rocky bodies are formed, including Earth and its Moon.

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) in Switzerland, Imperial College and Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the wind sensors.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

SpaceX to Launch GPS III – Scrubbed Again

The second attempt to get the GPS III into orbit.

The weather doesn’t look too good but we’ll see.

Pretty much the same launch window as before, coverage beginning at 14:03 UT/ 09:03 ET

Good luck!

Update: As I suspected, the launch is now scheduled for 22 December with coverage starting at 13:55 UTC

Oh by the way a Delta IV Heavy is scheduled to launch the NROL-71 Satellite into orbit at (21 Dec) at 01:00 UTC.

First Light from Parker’s WISPR

Wow, very nice quality and more importantly working as expected from the Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe. Click the image for a larger version. You can also get the HD versions (and I HIGHLY recommend you do) from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.

Image: https://blogs.nasa.gov/parkersolarprobe/2018/09/19/illuminating-first-light-data-from-parker-solar-probe/

NASA’s description of this image:
Russ Howard, WISPR principal investigator from the Naval Research Laboratory, studied the images to determine the instrument was pointing as expected, using celestial landmarks as a guide.

“There is a very distinctive cluster of stars on the overlap of the two images. The brightest is the star Antares-alpha, which is in the constellation Scorpius and is about 90 degrees from the Sun,” said Howard.

The Sun, not visible in the image, is far off to the right of the image’s right edge. The planet Jupiter is visible in the image captured by WISPR’s inner telescope — it’s the bright object slightly right of center in the right-hand panel of the image.

“The left side of the photo shows a beautiful image of the Milky Way, looking at the galactic center,” said Howard.

The exposure time – i.e. the length of time that light was gathered for this image, an interval which can be shortened or lengthened to make the image darker or brighter – is on the lower end, and there’s a reason: “We intentionally wanted to be on the low side in case there was something very bright when we first turned on, but it is primarily because we are looking so far from the Sun,” explains Howard.

As the spacecraft approaches the Sun, its orientation will change, and so will WISPR’s images. With each solar orbit, WISPR will capture images of the structures flowing out from the corona. While measurements have been made before by other instruments at a distance of 1 AU – or approximately 93 million miles – WISPR will get much closer, about 95% of the way to the Sun from Earth, dramatically increasing the ability to see what’s occurring in that region with a much finer scale than ever before and providing a more pristine picture of the solar corona.

Read the entire piece by Sarah Frazier, she covers the other instruments too and it’s a very good read.

SpaceX to Launch the GRACE-FO

Replay when available (if it isn’t on this link). Ground video was out of focus, they had a spot of bother with the auto-focus.

Mission: Iridium-6/GRACE-FO

Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9

Date/Time: 22 May 2018 19:47 UTC / 15:47 ET

Spaceport: Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

MarCO Is On the Way

Here is an artist rendering of the Mars Cube One or MarCO. Actually two Cube Sats (MarCo A & B) were launched along with and ejected with the InSight Lander. All three are apparently well and on the way to Mars. YES! Cube Sats were a brilliant idea right from the start.

NASA / Andrew Good – JPL: NASA has received radio signals indicating that the first-ever CubeSats headed to deep space are alive and well. The first signal was received at 12:15 p.m. PST (3:15 p.m. EST) today; the second at 1:58 p.m. PST (4:58 p.m. EST). Engineers will now be performing a series of checks before both CubeSats enter their cruise to deep space.

Mars Cube One, or MarCO, is a pair of briefcase-sized spacecraft that launched along with NASA’s InSight Mars lander at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT) today from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California. InSight is a scientific mission that will probe the Red Planet’s deep interior for the first time; the name stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

The twin MarCO CubeSats are on their own separate mission: rather than collecting science, they will follow the InSight lander on its cruise to Mars, testing out miniature spacecraft technology along the way.

Both were programmed to unfold their solar panels soon after launch, followed by several opportunities to radio back their health.

“Both MarCO-A and B say ‘Polo!’ It’s a sign that the little sats are alive and well,” said Andy Klesh, chief engineer for the MarCO mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which built the twin spacecraft.
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SENTINEL-3B – Deja Vu?

If you have a feeling of deja vu at the Sentinel-3B above don’t worry this is a twin. The first was launched in 2016 and this one is scheduled to be launched on 25 April 2018.

This great image is from ESA – S. Corvaja.

ESA’s caption — The Copernicus Sentinel-3B satellite being mated with the Rockot adapter at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

The satellite is being prepared for liftoff, scheduled for 25 April 2018. Its identical twin, Sentinel-3A, has been in orbit since February 2016. The two-satellite constellation offers optimum global coverage and data delivery for Europe’s Copernicus environment programme.

The Clouds of Venus

Our next door neighbor so to speak, Venus often called Earth’s twin is a very different place than Earth. Shrouded in clouds the surface temperature of the planet is around 477 C / 890 F everywhere; there are no cool spots. Those clouds are not happy rain clouds like we have, they are clouds of sulfuric acid. The surface pressure on Venus is something like 90 earth atmosphere. A very nasty place!

Still it is quite a nice sight and you can see it shortly after sunset from now until around the end of May, in fact, it will be getting higher in the sky every night until then. Occasionally we get a chance to see Venus in the daylight, but not often, it has been a couple of years.

Image description From ESA: Our sister planet Venus is a dynamic and unusual place. Strong winds swirl around the planet, dragging thick layers of cloud with them as they go. These fierce winds move so speedily that they display ‘super-rotation’: Earth’s can move at up to a fifth of our planet’s rotation speed, but winds on Venus can travel up to 60 times faster than the planet.

Observations from ESA’s Venus Express, which orbited Venus from 2006 to 2014, and other international spacecraft have probed deeper into this wind and cloud in past years, and uncovered some peculiar behaviour.

The side of the planet facing away from the Sun is somewhat more mysterious than the other side, but what we do know shows it to be quite different, with never-before-seen cloud types, shapes and dynamics – some of which appear to be connected to features on the surface below.

Super-rotation appears to behave more chaotically on the night side than the day side, but climate modellers remain unsure why. Night-side clouds also create different patterns and shapes than those found elsewhere – large, wavy, patchy irregular and filament-like patterns – and are dominated by mysterious ‘stationary waves’. These waves rise up within the atmosphere, do not move with the planet’s rotation, and appear to be concentrated above steep and higher-altitude regions of the surface, suggesting that Venus’ topography may well affect what happens in the cloud layers way up above.

These three images from the visible and infrared camera on Venus Express show these cloud features in detail: stationary waves (left), dynamical instabilities (middle) and mysterious filaments (right).

Venus Express was launched in 2005 and began orbiting Venus in 2006; the mission ended in December 2014. This image is based on the news item Venus’ mysterious night side revealed, published in 2017.

Image: ESA, NASA, J. Peralta & R. Hueso