Inside Space - March 9th, 2020

Inside Space (Mar 9th, 2020)

Falcon 9 launch / COVID-19 hits Ames / Momentus buys six launches / Chandrayaan 3 schedule

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1. On Friday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 transported a Dragon capsule loaded with supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) into space. A few minutes after liftoff, the rocket's first stage landed in Cape Canaveral, Florida, marking the 50th time that a SpaceX Falcon booster has returned to Earth after sending cargo into orbit. Although winds at Cape Canaveral were 25 mph to 30 mph, SpaceX decided to go ahead with the mission because it wanted to test the limits of the rocket, said the company's founder and CEO Elon Musk. The capsule carried several experiments, including a water droplet study to develop more efficient showerheads and another one that seeks to understand how microgravity affects intestine immune cells. It was also loaded with supplies for the ISS crew, including grapefruit, oranges, apples, tomatoes, Skittles, Hot Tamales, and Reese’s Pieces. The launch marked the last flight of the first version of the Dragon capsule, which first delivered cargo to the ISS in 2012. Going forward, SpaceX will use a new version of the spacecraft. – CBS MIAMI

2. A NASA research center has asked employees to work from home after one of them tested positive for COVID-19. In a statement, the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, said it had ordered a "mandatory telework status until further notice," to prevent the spread of the virus, even though its premises are not likely to have been contaminated. On Friday, NASA asked all its employees to work remotely in an effort to "test our capabilities, resources, and preparedness for large-scale teleworking." The Ames center plays a role in several NASA missions, including Kepler, SOFIA and the Curiosity Mars rover. – THE VERGE

3. Silicon Valley startup Momentus has purchased six rides on SpaceX rideshare missions in 2020 and 2021 to demonstrate its Vigorade vehicle. Vigorade is basically a shuttle system to transport satellites from a drop-off point to different orbits. The sats will be mounted into Vigorades before they are loaded onto the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, company officials said. Once the rocket's upper stage deploys the sats, the Vigorades will transport the sats into their designated orbits. More than a dozen customers have booked rides on Vigorades, Momentus said. The company will offer its service four times a year starting in 2021. Vigorades can transport one or several sats weighing up to 350 kilograms. – SPACE NEWS

4. India plans to send a spacecraft to the lunar surface in the first half of 2021. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) had previously indicated that the Chandrayaan 3 mission would be launched in late 2020. ISRO's previous attempt to send a spacecraft to the moon failed when the Vikram lander, which was part of the Chandrayaan 2 mission, crashed on the lunar surface while attempting to land in September. Chandrayaan 2 also included an orbiter that is working as expected but India's next lunar mission will only include a lander and a rover. – TIMES OF INDIA

5. Last Friday, Arianespace delayed a Soyuz launch to deploy a United Arab Emirates spy satellite due to a problem with the rocket's upper stage. Arianespace said that the launch will probably take place in April because it needs a few weeks to replace the upper stage with another one. The company did not give details about the problem. The Falcon Eye 2 satellite is a replacement of an almost identical sat that was lost during the failed launch of a Vega rocket last July. – SPACEFLIGHT NOW

6. Ground control will not be able to communicate with NASA's Voyager 2 for 11 months. Engineers will be able to receive data but will lack the capacity to send commands to the spacecraft because NASA is shutting down an antenna in Australia while it is upgraded so that it can communicate with future missions to Mars. The antenna in question – Canberra’s 70-meter dish, also known as DSS 43 – is part of the Deep Space Network. NASA uses this collection of very large antennas in California, Spain and Australia to communicate with spacecraft. Because the Voyager 2's position, it can only communicate with DSS 43. – THE NEW YORK TIMES

7. The magnetic field under the InSight lander is ten times stronger than expected. That's what researchers said in one of the studies published last month with seismic data gathered by the lander. The lander is inside a shallow crater called "Homestead hollow," which is located in Elysium Planitia – a plain just north of the equator. Before Insight landed on Mars in November 2018, estimates on the planet's magnetic fields came from satellites orbiting Mars at a distance of around 93 miles (150 kilometers). But measurements taken by Insight indicate that the magnetic field at the landing site is ten times stronger than those estimates and that it originates from older rocks that were magnetized billions of years ago when Mars had a magnetosphere – a global magnetic field. – SCIENCE ALERT

8. The moon will appear full for almost three days this week, from early Sunday morning to early Wednesday morning. This month's full moon will peak at 1:48 PM EDT this afternoon and it will be a "supermoon" because it will be within 90 percent of perigee – its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit, NASA said. Indian tribes in the northeastern U.S. called the March full moon the Crow Moon because at this time of the year the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter. Tribes in the south called it the Worm Moon after the earthworm casts that appear as the ground thaws. In other traditions, the last full month of winter goes by Crust Moon, Sap Moon, Sugar Moon and Lenten Moon. – UPI

9. Zero Gravity plans to start offering reduced gravity flights outside the U.S. next year. The company operates a Boeing 727 aircraft that performs parabolic flights to recreate microgravity conditions for up to half a minute at a time. It plans to start flying from airports outside the U.S. because it has seen increased demand from private clients and researchers in other countries, said CEO Matt Gohd, adding that the expansion would initially involve two or three other countries. To that end, Zero Gravity would need to acquire at least one more Boeing 727, Gohd said. – SPACE NEWS

10. Image of the day: This wide-angle image shows the central band of the Milky Way Galaxy and the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is visible on the far left. The image is a combination of over 30 exposures taken last July near the Chilean city of La Serena.

Written and curated by Eduardo Garcia in New York. Eduardo is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School M.A. Science program and writes regularly for the New York Times Climate Fwd: newsletter. In one of his previous lives, Eduardo worked as a Reuters correspondent in Latin America for nearly a decade. 


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