Tag Archives: space x

NASA and Space X embark on historic mission to the International Space Station

An international crew of four astronauts (three from the US and one from Japan) is now on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) following a successful launch on a SpaceX rocket.

It’s the first NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft system in history.

Image Credits: NASA

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon capsule on top of it took off from Kennedy Space Center. The launch happened a day later than planned due to bad weather but at 7:27 p.m. local time on Sunday, November 15, it took off with four astronauts on board: Shannon Walker, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Soichi Noguchi.

The capsule successfully separated from the second stage of the rocket and, according to a SpaceX team member speaking over the radio, is currently on the correct trajectory to reach the ISS. The crew should dock at their destination on Tuesday, joining two Russians and an American aboard the station.

It is the second manned flight for SpaceX, a private company founded by Tesla’s owner Elon Musk, which will now take NASA astronauts into space after nine years of US dependence on Russian Soyuz rockets. Vice President Mike Pence, who attended the launch, called it “a new era in human space exploration in America.”

SpaceX has signed a $3 billion contract with NASA to develop, test, and fly an astronaut taxi service. The deal also includes six “operational” (or routine) missions, this flight being the first of them. Back in May, the company performed a demonstration in which two astronauts were taken to the station and returned safely to Earth.

NASA has a similar agreement with the Boeing aerospace company, although its service is more than a year behind SpaceX. It’s a new model of contracting out transportation to low-Earth orbit, the agency said, saving money in procurement costs. NASA wants to use this model to fund its Moon and Mars ambitions.

As the rockets and capsules are developed by SpaceX and Boeing, with NASA being the customer, the companies will also use their vehicles to fly tourists, private researchers, or anyone else who can afford a $50 million ticket. This has been seen as controversial but it’s part of the way forward chosen by NASA.

“The big milestone here is that we are now moving away from development and test and into operational flights. And in fact, this operational flight was licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. So this is a truly a commercial launch,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

The crew and their mission

The crew will carry out scientific experiments and maintenance operations during a six-month stay aboard the ISS and will return in spring 2021. It is scheduled to be the longest human space mission ever launched from the US. The spacecraft is capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days, per NASA requirements.

It’s only last week that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon was officially certified as a spacecraft capable of carrying people. This opens the door for the company to begin making the trip relatively routine, carrying astronauts from a variety of backgrounds. In this mission, for instance, Walker and Noguchi have backgrounds in physics and will oversee a series of experiments.

“In the next 15 months, we should be flying roughly seven Dragon missions. And this mission represents the initiation of a Dragon in orbit continuously – knocking on wood – and certainly is really the beginning of a new era in human spaceflight,” said SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell in a statement.

Among their research at the ISS, the crew will assess the effects of microgravity on human health and diseases using specialized organ-on-chip platforms. These ’tissue chips’ have been hailed as an important innovation for this type of study. The astronauts will also test a new system to remove heat from NASA’s next generation spacesuit.

At the end of the mission, the astronauts will once again board the Crew Dragon capsule, which will autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule also will return to Earth with important and time-sensitive research, NASA said in a statement.

SpaceX launches new satellite that will make GPS three times more accurate (eventually)

Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation could eventually be subject to a major upgrade as Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched a satellite that promises to make GPS three times more accurate. Nevertheless, this doesn’t necessarily mean that improvements will be seen overnight.

Credit Lockheed Martin

Usually taken for granted, GPS satellite navigation has become an essential tool for anything from military operations to a road trip. Every GPS device determines its position, navigation and timing information by receiving signals from a constellation of satellites orbiting the Earth 20,000 kilometers away.

The technology already works pretty well already and it feels like it’s always been there, despite its actually quite new, with the first such satellites launched in 1978 by the United States. Since then, many organizations have been involved in trying to refine it. Now, it was time for SpaceX to join that group.

Earlier this week, a Falcon 9 rocket delivered its first payload for the United States Space Force mission, carrying a state-of-the-art new GPS satellite. The mission sent up the third satellite for the so-called GPS III project, which seeks to upgrade the constellation of GPS satellites currently orbiting the planet.

“Your GPS just got slightly better,” Musk wrote on Twitter moments after the GPS III satellite was deployed. But that’s not actually true since GPS doesn’t get better automatically just because SpaceX launched a new satellite into space. Still, when more such satellites are deployed, the improvement should be more visible.

The current GPS technology can narrow down a location within 28 inches (about 71 centimeters). While that’s quite an achievement, GPS III technology will narrow that range down even further, offering accuracy within nine inches (about 22 centimeters). That’s almost three times as accurate as now.

Coverage will also improve. This might mean that the dreaded “searching for signal” message on a cellphone while trying to get to a restaurant or a party could eventually be something of the past. Or maybe even forget about the difficulties of getting a GPS signal when you are in a forested or mountainous region during a hike.

The new satellites have a 15-year lifespan, which is twice as long as the current ones. They can be launched two at once, making them cheaper. And, most importantly, they will be harder to jam. So far, only one of the three that are in orbit is fully operational and the manufacturer Lockheed Martin is now building ten more.

Understanding GPS

GPS technology essentially uses signals from satellites in the sky to pinpoint the location of a user. A receiver, usually a smartphone, measures how long it took for a given satellite’s signal to reach Earth and then multiplies the time by the speed of a radio wave to work out the distance.

Nowadays GPS applications aren’t limited to simple, though widespread, auto-navigation, or as personal mapping; they’re used by manufacturing industries, supply chains, drilling oil, various other logistics, banks, and virtually anything you can imagine. A report warned in 2017 that the world might depend too much on the technology.

While the United States’ GPS constellation first started in 1978, the US is just one player in this global field. In 1982, the Soviet Union launched GLONASS, or Global Navigation Satellite System, and China followed with Beidou in 2000. Then came the European Space Agency with its first experimental satellite positioning system, Galileo, in 2005.