If clouds don’t delay the launch again (as they did on Wednesday), NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will board SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, perched atop its Falcon 9 rocket, and hurtle into Earth’s orbit. The plan calls for them to reach the International Space Station on Sunday morning.
It’s a risky endeavor. NASA hasn’t launched its own astronauts since 2011. SpaceX is a young company — it was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 — and its rockets and spaceships have never flown humans.
NASA has told Business Insider that it estimates a 1-in-276 chance that the flight could be fatal and a 1-in-60 chance that a problem would cause the mission to fail but not kill the crew.
The risk to the mission is therefore considered about 4.5 times the risk to the crew. This is in part because of SpaceX’s advanced emergency-abort system. Here’s how it works.
SpaceX’s emergency escape system proved itself in an explosive test
In the event of a rocket failure, the Crew Dragon should detach from the Falcon 9 rocket and fire a set of eight SuperDraco engines to make an escape. That force should jettison the spaceship away from danger, with Behnken and Hurley inside.
At a safe distance from the rocket, the Dragon would then deploy a set of four giant parachutes and drift into the Atlantic Ocean, where rescue teams would pick up the astronauts.
In January, SpaceX tested that system by launching a Crew Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket with no people inside. The company then cut the rocket’s engines while it was traveling at around twice the speed of sound, just 84 seconds into the flight.
At that moment, the Crew Dragon detached, fired its thrusters, and sped away from impending doom. The animation below shows the escape system in action during the test.
Shortly afterwards, the rocket succumbed to extreme drag, broke up, and exploded into a fireball. The Crew Dragon landed in the ocean under the sails of its parachutes about 9 minutes after launch.
“It went as well as one could possibly expect,” Musk said during a televised NASA press briefing shortly after that abort test. “I’m super fired up. This is great. It’s really great. We’re looking forward to the next step.”
SpaceX And NASA Try Once More To Launch Astronauts
Elon Musk cannot control the weather. Yet.
After storms and a tornado warning upended a launch attempt on Wednesday, the billionaire’s commercial spaceflight company, SpaceX, is once again braving Florida’s wild weather to launch astronauts into orbit.
Such a launch, if successful, would mark the first time NASA has sent astronauts into space from U.S. soil since the end of the shuttle program in 2011. It would also be a first for SpaceX, which has ambitions of someday taking paying customers zooming around the Earth.
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are scheduled to lift off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 3:22 p.m. ET.
They will travel to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. The bell-shaped capsule resembles the spacecraft of the Apollo-era, but its sleek interior sports oversized touchscreen controls. The capsule will be carried to orbit atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, which has been used successfully dozens of times to put satellites and space-station cargo into orbit.
The launch is important to NASA, which has depended on Russian Soyuz rockets to get its astronauts into space for nearly a decade. The success of a SpaceX flight would return astronaut launches to American soil, while ostensibly freeing up the agency’s own resources to conduct exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.
The existence of a planet the size of Earth around the closest star in the solar system, Proxima Centauri, has been confirmed by an international team of scientists including researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE). The results, which you can read all about in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, reveal that the planet in question, Proxima b, has a mass of 1.17 earth masses and is located in the habitable zone of its star, which it orbits in 11.2 days. This breakthrough has been possible thanks to radial velocity measurements of unprecedented precision using ESPRESSO, the Swiss-manufactured spectrograph — the most accurate currently in operation — which is installed on the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Proxima b was first detected four years ago by means of an older spectrograph, HARPS — also developed by the Geneva-based team — which measured a low disturbance in the star’s speed, suggesting the presence of a companion.
The ESPRESSO spectrograph has performed radial velocity measurements on the star Proxima Centauri, which is only 4.2 light-years from the Sun, with an accuracy of 30 centimeters a second (cm/s) or about three times more precise than that obtained with HARPS, the same type of instrument but from the previous generation.
“We were already very happy with the performance of HARPS, which has been responsible for discovering hundreds of exoplanets over the last 17 years,” begins Francesco Pepe, a professor in the Astronomy Department in UNIGE’s Faculty of Science and the man in charge of ESPRESSO. “We’re really pleased that ESPRESSO can produce even better measurements, and it’s gratifying and just reward for the teamwork lasting nearly 10 years.”
Alejandro Suarez Mascareño, the article’s main author, adds: “Confirming the existence of Proxima b was an important task, and it’s one of the most interesting planets known in the solar neighborhood.”
The measurements performed by ESPRESSO have clarified that the minimum mass of Proxima b is 1.17 earth masses (the previous estimate was 1.3) and that it orbits around its star in only 11.2 days.
“ESPRESSO has made it possible to measure the mass of the planet with a precision of over one-tenth of the mass of Earth,” says Michel Mayor, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2019, honorary professor in the Faculty of Science and the ‘architect’ of all ESPRESSO-type instruments. “It’s completely unheard of.”
And what about life in all this?
Although Proxima b is about 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun, it receives comparable energy, so that its surface temperature could mean that water (if there is any) is in liquid form in places and might, therefore, harbor life.
Having said that, although Proxima b is an ideal candidate for biomarker research, there is still a long way to go before we can suggest that life has been able to develop on its surface. In fact, the Proxima star is an active red dwarf that bombards its planet with X rays, receiving about 400 times more than the Earth.
“Is there an atmosphere that protects the planet from these deadly rays?” asks Christophe Lovis, a researcher in UNIGE’s Astronomy Department and responsible for ESPRESSO’s scientific performance and data processing. “And if this atmosphere exists, does it contain the chemical elements that promote the development of life (oxygen, for example)? How long have these favorable conditions existed? We’re going to tackle all these questions, especially with the help of future instruments like the RISTRETTO spectrometer, which we’re going to build specially to detect the light emitted by Proxima b, and HIRES, which will be installed on the future ELT 39 m giant telescope that the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is building in Chile.”
Surprise: is there a second planet?
In the meantime, the precision of the measurements made by ESPRESSO could result in another surprise. The team has found evidence of a second signal in the data, without being able to establish the definitive cause behind it. “If the signal was planetary in origin, this potential other planet accompanying Proxima b would have a mass less than one third of the mass of the Earth. It would then be the smallest planet ever measured using the radial velocity method,” adds Professor Pepe.
It should be noted that ESPRESSO, which became operational in 2017, is in its infancy and these initial results are already opening up undreamt of opportunities. The road has been traveled at breakneck pace since the first extrasolar planet was discovered by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, both from UNIGE’s Astronomy
Department. In 1995, the 51Peg b gas giant planet was detected using the ELODIE spectrograph with an accuracy of 10 meters per second (m/s). Today ESPRESSO, with its 30 cm/s (and soon 10 after the latest adjustments) will perhaps make it possible to explore worlds that remind us of the Earth.
A physicist has created the fifth state of matter working from home using quantum technology.
Dr. Amruta Gadge from the Quantum Systems and Devices Laboratory successfully created a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC) at the University of Sussex facilities despite working remotely from her living room two miles away.
It is believed to be the first time that BEC has been created remotely in a lab that did not have one before.
The research team believe the achievement could provide a blueprint for operating quantum technology in inaccessible environments such as space.
Peter Krüger, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Sussex, said: “We believe this may be the first time that someone has established a BEC remotely in a lab that didn’t have one before. We are all extremely excited that we can continue to conduct our experiments remotely during lockdown, and any possible future lockdowns.
“But there are also wider implications beyond our team. Enhancing the capabilities of remote lab control is relevant for research applications aimed at operating quantum technology in inaccessible environments such as space, underground, in a submarine, or in extreme climates.”
A BEC consists of a cloud of hundreds of thousands of rubidium atoms cooled down to nanokelvin temperatures which is more than a billion times colder than freezing.
At this point the atoms take on a different property and behave all together as a single quantum object. This quantum object has special properties which can sense very low magnetic fields.
Professor Krüger said: “We use multiple carefully timed steps of laser and radio wave cooling to prepare rubidium gases at these ultralow temperatures. This requires accurate computer control of laser light, magnets and electric currents in microchips based on vigilant monitoring of environmental conditions in the lab while nobody is able to be there to check in person.”
The Quantum Systems and Devices Group have been working on having a second lab with a BEC running consistently over the past nine months as part of a wider project developing a new type of magnetic microscopy and other quantum sensors.
The research team uses atomic gases as magnetic sensors close to various objects including novel advanced materials, ion channels in cells, and the human brain.
Trapped cold quantum gases are controlled to create extremely accurate and precise sensors that are ideal for detecting and studying new materials, geometries and devices.
The research team are developing their sensors to be applied in many areas including electrical vehicle batteries, touch screens, solar cells and medical advancements such as brain imaging.
Just in time before lockdown, researchers set-up a 2-D magnetic optical trap and have returned only a couple of times to carry out essential maintenance.
Dr. Gadge, Research Fellow In Quantum Physics And Technologies at the University of Sussex, was able to make the complex calculations then optimising and running the sequence from her home by accessing the lab computers remotely.
She said: “The research team has been observing lockdown and working from home and so we have not been able to access our labs for weeks. But we were determined to keep our research going so we have been exploring new ways of running our experiments remotely. It has been a massive team effort.
“The process has been a lot slower than if I had been in the lab as the experiment is unstable and I’ve had to give 10-15 minutes of cooling time between each run. This is obviously not as efficient and way more laborious to do manually because I’ve not been able to do systematic scans or fix the instability like I could working in the lab.
“We’re hopeful of establishing a skeleton crew back in the labs with social distancing measures in place as soon as it is safe to do so and permitted but we will be able to have many of the team continuing to work from home on a rota basis thanks to the progress we have made with remote working.”
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Bad weather postponed a SpaceX rocket launch, which was set to be the first time a private company sent humans into orbit – and the first time in nearly a decade that the United States launched astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil.
Veteran NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley were prepared to launch from Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A at 4:33 p.m. aboard the new Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket.
The planned backup dates for the mission known as Crew Dragon Demo-2 are Saturday at 3:22 p.m. EDT and Sunday at 3 p.m. EDT. The weather for both backup dates stands at 60% “go,” according to the Space Force’s latest forecast.
The former space shuttle astronauts went through the paces for their mission, including a traditional breakfast of steak and eggs, suit-up at the historic Operations and Checkout Building and a 20-minute ride to pad 39A in two Tesla SUVs.
Severe weather brought wind, rain and lightning to the Space Coast on Wednesday, leading to a tornado warning and a significant weather advisory hours before the planned launch.
Because the capsule has to intercept the International Space Station about 250 miles overhead, the capsule needed to launch at 4:33 p.m. Wednesday.
President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, at least half a dozen current and former astronauts and other VIPs were at the space center to witness the historic launch.
Despite the health concerns from the coronavirus pandemic and bad weather, spectators had gathered in hopes of seeing the launch.
Cathy and John Mayes and their daughter Meghan of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, drove all night to get to the Space Coast in time for today’s launch.
“Just to have it postponed,” Cathy said earlier in the day with a good-natured shrug.
SpaceX is officially “go” to launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station this week after mission teams completed the final launch readiness review on Monday (May 25). But some bad weather could potentially cause delays.
NASA and SpaceX convened at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on Monday to go over last-minute launch preparations in the final review before the big day. If all goes according to plan — and if the weather cooperates — SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket from the center’s historic Launch Complex 39A on Wednesday (May 27) at 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT).
“We had a really good successful launch Readiness Review and we go for launch,” Hans Koenigsmann vice president of Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX, said in a briefing after the launch readiness review.
On board the Crew Dragon spacecraft will be NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who will become the first astronauts to launch to orbit from U.S. soil in nearly a decade. The mission, called Demo-2, will be the first crewed test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, following a successful uncrewed test flight, Demo-1, in March 2019.
While the launch readiness review (LRR) found that Demo-2 is ready to launch, the weather forecast shows a good chance of bad launch weather.
“All the teams were go, and we’re continuing to make progress toward our mission. Now the only thing we need to do is figure out how to control the weather,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program said in the post-LRR briefing.
According to Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer for the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, there is currently a 60% chance of good launch weather on Wednesday and a 40% chance of a weather violation due to precipitation and clouds, he said in the post-LRR briefing.
The 45th weather squadron will continue to monitor the weather up until the final countdown. If the launch is called off at the last minute, there will be backup launch opportunities on Saturday and Sunday (May 30 and 31).
The final review came three days after NASA and SpaceX declared the Demo-2 mission was “go” for launch in a separate flight readiness review, which focused “on the readiness of the Crew Dragon and systems for the Demo-2 mission; the readiness of the International Space Station Program and its international partners to support the flight; and the certification of flight readiness,” NASA officials said in a statement.
During Monday’s launch readiness review, NASA and SpaceX officials went over additional data from the static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket, which took place on Friday (May 22), as well as the dry dress rehearsal on Saturday (May 23). During the dress rehearsal, Behnken and Hurley, together with SpaceX and NASA mission teams, went through all the steps that they will on launch day, with the exception of an actual liftoff.
“I can’t tell you how moving it was for me to see Bob and Doug get into vehicles and right out to the pad and realize that the next time was going to be when we were getting ready to launch,” Lueders said.
On launch day, the Falcon 9 rocket will send the two astronauts on a 19-hour orbital chase of the International Space Station, where they will join the three-person crew of Expedition 63 on Thursday (May 28).
Behnken and Hurley will spend anywhere from one to four months on board the orbiting laboratory, depending on how well their Crew Dragon spacecraft fares and on the status of another Crew Dragon spacecraft that launch the first operational Crew Dragon mission to the space station, called Crew-1.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of Uncharted, a series about the world we’re leaving behind, and the one being remade by the pandemic.
HONG KONG—On a recent Friday night, a masked, affable hostess at Hong Kong’s Buenos Aires Polo Club was eager to show patrons to their tables. But before they stepped into the Argentinian steak house, they needed to answer a few questions.
“Have you been outside of Hong Kong?”
“Experienced any symptoms commonly associated with the coronavirus?”
“Have you come into ‘direct contact with or the immediate vicinity of anyone’ carrying the coronavirus or who has been outside the city within the last 14 days?”
The health declaration, handed to diners on a hefty but stylish clipboard, comes along with a second temperature check. (The first is done at the main entrance to the tower that houses the restaurant, a requirement to get in.) Only then does the routine of a night out return, briefly, to the familiar “Right this way” and “Enjoy your meal.” Inside, tucked into tufted leather booths surrounded by polo memorabilia and perched on high seats at the marble bar, guests slide their face masks into small paper bags. Tiny bottles of hand sanitizer marked with the restaurant’s logo, a galloping horse ridden by two men, one grasping a mallet, are delivered table side.