Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, VSS Unity, lands after a test flight. (Virgin Galactic Photo) sent its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, VSS Unity, through its third powered test flight today to gather more data on the craft’s aerodynamics at supersonic speeds — and to set the stage for a full-powered push across the boundary of outer space. Unity was hooked beneath its WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane this morning for takeoff from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. About an hour into the flight, the rocket plane was dropped into the air and fired its single hybrid rocket motor, punching upward into the sky. In a , Virgin Galactic reported that the craft executed a partial rocket burn, coasted through the top of the ride, and then deployed its “feathered-wing” re-entry system to slow its supersonic descent. Virgin Galactic said pilots Dave Mackay and Mike “Sooch” Masucci guided Unity through its glide back to the Mojave airport, concluding a “successful flight.” Todd Ericson and Kelly Latimir piloted WhiteKnightTwo. Details about the flight, including altitude and speed, are to be released later today. Virgin Galactic’s flight test program is closing in on Unity’s first flight beyond the 100-kilometer altitude that serves as the internationally accepted boundary of outer space. (That boundary, known as the Karman Line, .) The path hasn’t always been smooth: In 2014, the first SpaceShipTwo plane, dubbed VSS Enterprise, , killing the co-pilot and seriously injuring the pilot. Over the past four years, Virgin Galactic has incorporated safety-related upgrades in the design of VSS Unity and changed its procedures for flight training and testing. Now the company’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, is once again signaling that spaceflights could be coming soon. “We spent 14 years working on our space program,” in May. “It’s been tough. Space is tough. It is rocket science. … Before the end of the year, I hope to be sitting in a Virgin Galactic spaceship, going to space.” He said about 800 people have paid as much as $250,000 to reserve a seat on the plane, which will fly out of Spaceport America in New Mexico once commercial operations begin. Branson isn’t the only billionaire building a suborbital spaceship: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space venture is developing a vertical-launch craft called New Shepard. That rocket ship is currently going through , and Bezos is aiming to begin flying test astronauts this year. If all goes well, Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin is expected to announce a ticket price and start taking passenger reservations next year. Previously:
July 26, 2018
The European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, shown in this artist’s conception, has been circling Mars since 2003. (Spacecraft image credit: ESA / ATG Medialab; Mars: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO) Radar readings from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter point to the location of what appears to be a 12-mile-wide lake of liquid water, buried under about a mile of ice and dust in the Red Planet’s south polar region. The find is consistent with what scientists have been saying for years about the prospects for subsurface water on Mars, and is likely to give a boost for the search for Red Planet life. “There are all the ingredients for thinking that life can be there,” Enrico Flamini, project manager for the MARSIS radar instrument on Mars Express, said today during a Rome news conference to discuss the results. “However, MARSIS cannot say anything more.” The analysis of the MARSIS readings were . Over the past couple of decades, robotic missions have found ample evidence that liquid water existed on Mars billions of years ago. Much of that water was lost as Mars’ protective atmosphere was stripped away, and tons of it are locked up in ice deposits. Mars Express’ MARSIS radar instrument made 29 dedicated observations in a 200-kilometer-square area near Mars’ south pole between 2012 and 2015, indicated on the map at left. The readings turned up a bright radar reflection indicative of liquid water, shown as blue on the map at right. (Context map: NASA / Viking; THEMIS background: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU; MARSIS data: ESA / NASA / JPL / ASI / Univ. Rome; R. Orosei et al 2018) Today, Mars is too cold and dry, and the carbon dioxide atmosphere is too thin, to allow for liquid water at the surface. Deep beneath the surface, however, the weight of overlying soil and glaciers — as well as the potential presence of dissolved salts — could allow water to stay liquid even at what would otherwise be below-freezing temperatures. Those are the conditions that scientists think exist in the area that they identified. Between 2012 and 2015, MARSIS’ ground-penetrating radar conducted a survey of a 120-mile-wide (200-kilometer-wide) zone in the Planum Australe region, just beyond Mars’ permanent south polar ice cap. The readings turned up evidence of a particularly bright radar reflection in a 12-mile-wide (20-kilometer-wide) area. MARSIS’ team interpret that feature as an interface between the overlying ice and a stable body of liquid water that would have to be at least 3 feet (1 meter) thick. “This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water, or water-rich sediments,” lead study author Roberto Orosei, a principal investigator for the MARSIS experiment, . ““This is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered.” MARSIS operations manager Andrea Cicchetti said hints of subsurface anomalies had been detected before, but past attempts to confirm the results were foiled because the radar sampling rates were too low. Readings from ground-penetrating radar suggest the presence of liquid water about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) beneath the Martian surface. (ESA / NASA / JPL / ASI / Univ. Rome; R. Orosei et al 2018) “We had to come up with a new operating mode to bypass some onboard processing and trigger a higher sampling rate and thus improve the resolution of the footprint of our dataset: Now we see things that simply were not possible before,” Cicchetti said. The subsurface lake could be similar to Antarctica’s Lake Vostok, or to the subsurface seas thought to exist on the Jovian moon or the Saturnian moon . In Lake Vostok’s case, the frigid water serves as a that probably got their start millions of years ago. Similarly, if the Martian lake holds life forms, they’re likely to be holdovers from an ancient time when Mars was more habitable. Future studies will have to confirm the interpretation of the readings, however. A member of the MARSIS team who is not an author of the study, Jeffrey Plaut of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that “the interpretation is plausible, but it’s not quite a slam dunk yet.” ESA’s ExoMars rover, due for launch in 2020, will be equipped with a beneath the Red Planet’s surface. But it’d require a far more involved drilling operation to reach the feature identified in the radar readings. Authors of the Science paper, include Orosei, Flamini and Cicchetti, plus S.E. Lauro, E. Pettinelli, M. Coradini, B. Cosciotti, F. Di Paolo, E. Mattei, M. Pajola, F. Soldovieri, M. Cartacci, F. Cassenti, A. Frigeri, S. Giuppi, R. Martufi, A. Masdea, G. Mitri, C. Nenna, R. Noschese, M. Restano and R. Seu.
July 25, 2018
(University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) Many city drinking water systems add softening agents to keep plumbing free of pipe-clogging mineral buildup. According to new research, these additives may amplify the risk of pathogen release into drinking water by weakening the grip that bacteria -- like those responsible for Legionnaires' disease -- have on pipe interiors.
July 25, 2018
(The University of Hong Kong) Chair Professor in GIS in Urban Planning Professor Anthony Yeh and his research team invented the world's first Smart Address Plate (SAP) which when installed in buildings or shops, can help users determine their location and find outdoor and indoor destinations easily via one mobile application.
July 25, 2018
A webcam shows the deployment of an Iridium NEXT telecommunications satellites from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 upper stage, with Earth in the background. (SpaceX via YouTube) SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sent 10 more Iridium NEXT telecommunications satellites into space today from a fogged-in California pad, then executed a rough-and-tumble booster landing. Today’s mission also featured an attempt to catch the rocket’s falling nose cone, using a boat equipped with a giant net. SpaceX said the effort was unsuccessful, in part because of the windy conditions at sea. Liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base occurred on time at 4:39 a.m. PT, amid fog so thick that the two-stage rocket’s ascent could only be seen as a bright spot in the murk. Minutes after launch, the Falcon 9’s second stage separated to continue the push to orbit, while the first stage maneuvered itself through a supersonic descent back down to a ship stationed hundreds of miles out in the Pacific Ocean. Launch commentator John Insprucker downplayed the chances for a successful landing on the ship, named “Just Read the Instructions,” because of challenging weather conditions. “They’re the worst that we’ve ever had for trying to get a first stage back on a drone ship,” he said on the webcast. Despite winds and rough seas, the booster set itself down successfully. A webcam view shows the first-stage booster of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket standing on the deck of a drone ship named “Just Read the Instructions.” (SpaceX via YouTube) Another ship, called Mr. Steven, was tasked with trying to snag the parafoil-equipped halves of the second stage’s nose cone, also known as the fairing. Such attempts have been made in the past without success, but for this mission, the ship was given a dramatically bigger net. Today’s effort came oh so close, but not close enough. “We had bad weather out in the Pacific with that wind shear,” Insprucker said. “They did see the payload fairing coming down, but they were not able to catch it in the net. We will continue to attempt that in the future as we learn to how to bring fairings back and then reuse them.” Reusing nose cones could save millions of dollars off the $50 million list price of a Falcon 9 launch. An hour after launch, the focus shifted to the deployment of the 10 Iridium satellites in low Earth orbit. One by one, the satellites took their place in Iridium’s next-generation constellation, designed to provide enhanced broadband services across the globe. This was the seventh of eight Iridium launches contracted out to SpaceX. Today’s deployment, like the six previous ones, was fully successful. “Ten for 10, a clean sweep again,” Insprucker declared. SpaceX’s California launch was just one of today’s comings and goings for the space industry. About 15 minutes before the Falcon 9 lifted off, the European Space Agency sent a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket into orbit to add four satellites to the Galileo navigation constellation, Europe’s analog to America’s Global Positioning System. Liftoff ! Carrying 4 new navigation satellites into orbit. Watch live: — ESA (@esa) Meanwhile, a different SpaceX Falcon 9 first-stage booster was on the Florida coast, three days after its to put the heavy-duty Telstar-19 Vantage telecom satellite in orbit. That booster made its own successful landing on SpaceX’s Atlantic drone ship, christened “Of Course I Still Love You.” Beautiful landed booster and naval fleet pull into Port Canaveral below rising sun at 715 AM ET from launch. Credit: — Ken Kremer (@ken_kremer) Yet another Falcon 9 rocket is due to be on Aug. 4 to put the Merah Putih telecommunications satellite in orbit for Telkom Indonesia.
July 25, 2018