Space Exploration

Science • Space
NASA's JWST launch date postponed to Oct. 31
In a recent test, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope fully deployed its primary mirror into the same configuration it will have when in space.
In a recent test, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope fully deployed its primary mirror into the same configuration it will have when in space. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has a new official launch date: October 31, 2021. NASA announced a delay of JWST in early June but hadn't given a new date then. The delay is due to technical difficulties and the impact of COVID-19.

In a statement released by NASA, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, described Webb as the "world's most complex space observatory", adding NASA had "worked hard to keep progress moving during the pandemic."

Zurbuchen reassured that "the team continues to be focused on reaching milestones and arriving at the technical solutions that will see us through to this new launch date next year."

Science • Space
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is scheduled for July 30th launch date
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover's astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover's astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (Public Domain)

Soon it will be "go for launch" for Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. On July 30, NASA's new Mars rover will go on its seven-month-long journey to the Red Planet. The launch had been postponed a couple of times because of technical difficulties and setbacks related to COVID-19.

Perseverance will land in Jezero Crater where it will search for "signs that microbes might have lived on Mars long ago, collect soil samples to be returned to Earth on a future mission and pave the way for human exploration beyond the Moon."

Science • Space
"Just keep roving, roving, roving" – NASA's Curiosity is taking a mile-long Mars road trip this summer
Stitched together from 28 images, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover captured this view from "Greenheugh Pediment" on April 9, 2020, the 2,729th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. In the foreground is the pediment's sandstone cap. At center is the "clay-bearing unit"; the floor of Gale Crater is in the distance.
Stitched together from 28 images, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover captured this view from "Greenheugh Pediment" on April 9, 2020, the 2,729th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. In the foreground is the pediment's sandstone cap. At center is the "clay-bearing unit"; the floor of Gale Crater is in the distance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is going on a road trip this summer. Curiosity has already started it's mile-long trip to a part of Mount Sharp called the "sulfate-bearing unit" where it will search for "clues how climate on Mars and its prospects for life changed nearly 3 billion years ago."

Curiosity travels with a speed between 82 to 328 feet per hour. The rover will complete part of the trip on autopilot but can't make the trip "entirely without humans in the loop." According to Matt Gildner, the lead rover driver at JPL, Curiosity has "the ability to make simple decisions along the way to avoid large rocks or risky terrain" and it only stops if it doesn't have enough information to complete a drive on its own."

Science • Space
Mars rover delayed again, launch no earlier than end of July
In this image, taken on June 13, 2019, engineers at JPL install the starboard legs and wheels — otherwise known as the mobility suspension — on the Mars 2020 rover.
In this image, taken on June 13, 2019, engineers at JPL install the starboard legs and wheels — otherwise known as the mobility suspension — on the Mars 2020 rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The launch of NASA's next Mars rover has been delayed once again. This time the delay is due to "a liquid oxygen sensor line presented off-nominal data during the wet dress rehearsal, and additional time is needed for the team to inspect and evaluate." NASA expects the rover to launch no earlier than July 30.

Science • Space
Another delay in launch of NASA's Mars rover Perseverance
In a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA's Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019.
In a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA's Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech / Public domain

Perseverance's launch has been delayed by two days to July 22. The announcement came after engineers found issues with ground support equipment but both the spacecraft and vehicle "remain healthy."

In an official statement, the agency wrote: "NASA and United Launch Alliance are now targeting Wednesday, July 22, for launch of the Mars 2020 mission due to a processing delay encountered during encapsulation activities of the spacecraft. Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF)."

Science • Space
110 people needed to start colony on Mars, scientists find
110 people needed to start colony on Mars, scientists find
Credit: unsplash.com/Nicolas Lobos

Mars won't be too crowded. French Professor Jean-Marc Salotti (Bordeaux Institut Nationwide Polytechnique) found that a small community of 110 people is sufficient to set up a self-sustaining colony on Mars. The settlers would live in an oxygen-filled glass dome where they would have to focus on building an agricultural industry to provide for themselves.

Science • Space
SpaceX launched more 58 Starlink satellites, and three Planet SkySats hitched a ride
Deployment of SkySats during June 13 launch
Deployment of SkySats during June 13 launch Credit: SpaceX (Reproduction)

Earlier today SpaceX successfully launched its first rideshare mission into orbit, lofting a new batch of 58 Starlink internet satellites along with three Planet SkySats before landing the Falcon 9 rocket on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Planet satellites are part of that company’s existing SkySat constellation, which includes just over a dozen washing machine-sized craft that generate high-resolution images of our home planet.

The launch was the second Starlink mission so far this month, with one more on the schedule for no earlier than June 22.

Science • Space
Pittsburg-based Astrobotic awared US$200 million by NASA to deliver VIPER to moon
VIPER will  be tasked to prospect for natural lunar resources, especially water ice within a permanently shadowed region near the lunar south pole.
VIPER will be tasked to prospect for natural lunar resources, especially water ice within a permanently shadowed region near the lunar south pole. Credit: NASA / Public domain

VIPER is going to roam the moon soon. Today, Pittsburg-based lunar logistics service provider Astrobotic was awarded US$200 million by NASA to send the rover to the moon in 2023. VIPER, or Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, is going to explore the lunar surface, mapping its resources and looking for water ice. Under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services private companies will be paid to send payloads to the moon.

Science • Space
NASA's JWST launch postponed due to COVID-19
Ball Aerospace lead optical test engineer Dave Chaney inspects six primary mirror segments, critical elements of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, prior to cryogenic testing in the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala
Ball Aerospace lead optical test engineer Dave Chaney inspects six primary mirror segments, critical elements of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, prior to cryogenic testing in the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on yet another industry. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope was supposed to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope with improved infrared resolution and a broader range of astronomical and cosmological investigation in March 2021, but due to the ramifications of COVID-19, the launch was postponed. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, told the Space Studies Board of National Academies that the pandemic had slowed down the work on the spacecraft, making the March 2021 launch date impossible. A new launch date has yet to be announced.

Science • Space
Kathy Sullivan: First American woman who walked in space successfully dove to lowest point on earth
Dr. Kathy Sullivan, former astronaut and Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at a panel discussion in 2013
Dr. Kathy Sullivan, former astronaut and Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at a panel discussion in 2013 Credit: ENERGY.GOV / Public domain

Kathy Sullivan, age 68, a former NASA astronaut on multiple missions with the Space Shuttle and the first American woman to walk in space has successfully completed a mission to the lowest point on earth. By doing that she has become the first woman to reach the lowest point on earth, Challenger Deep inside the Mariana Trench around 10,9km below the surface. Sullivan is also the only person in the world to walk in space and reach the lowest point on earth.

Science • Space
Starship rocket is the top priority for SpaceX
Starship | First test vehicle
Starship | First test vehicle Credit: SpaceX (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

As SpaceX employees and fans all over the world celebrate the success of the Crew Dragon Demo 2 mission that launched two American Astronauts off American soil to the International Space Station just last week, Elon Musk emailed the SpaceX staff to remind them of the next major goal they should turn their attention to.

“Please consider the top SpaceX priority (apart from anything that could reduce Dragon return risk) to be Starship”

The CEO underlined that Starship development progress needs to be accelerated "dramatically and immediately". As the company just fulfilled its first promises by delivering Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station as part of the commercial crew program, it will now be able to allocate significantly more resources, in terms of both staff and finance to the development of the Starship program.

In his email, Elon also re-assured his employees that those who are considering moving to Texas in order to better support the companies new objectives, will be able to shuttle using a dedicated SpaceX aircraft.

Science • Space
SpaceX sets record with its reusable Falcon 9 rocket

10 years ago, SpaceX launched its self-landing rocket Falcon 9 for the first time. After its few initial fails, the company made history by landing the rocket, offering the world some spectacular images to be remembered by generations to come.

This Thursday, the 4th of June, SpaceX reached two new milestones using its reusable rocket system. By launching its Falcon 9 rocket and deploying a new batch of 60 Starlink satelites, the company reached the incredible milestone of 5 flights and landings of the same orbital-class rocket. As this was Falcon 9's 85th launch, it has now become the most flown operational rocket in the United States.

Moreover, the company is estimated to have saved roughly $232.5 million from this one Falcon 9 rocket alone, as the re-usability of the launch vehicle saves around $46.5 million for each successfully landed flight.

Science • Space
SpaceX Starship "hops" expected in coming weeks, launch debut still on track for 2020
Starship | First test vehicle
Starship | First test vehicle Credit: SpaceX (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

SpaceX's Starship is undergoing extremely fast-paced development in South Texas, Boca Chica Beach where the 5th, 6th and 7th prototypes are currently being assembled, some of them about to be ready for testing.

On Friday, May 29th the 4th Starship prototype had just successfully completed a static fire test, when liquid methane was being spotted leaking in huge quantities. Shortly thereafter the liquid methane ignited and detonated the Serial Number 4 build of Starship, with steel debris being propelled all around the development and testing area.

In an interview by Spiegel, Hans Koenigsmann, VP of Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX and veteran employee of 18 years stated among other things, that despite the latest deveopments he expects the first test flights of 150 m altitude hops to happen in the coming weeks. Moreover, he stated that with the tests going according to plans, Starship is still predicted to debut its orbital launch by the end of 2020.

While Starship SN4 performed an "Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly" as SpaceX employees and fanatics often call a rocket exploding beyond repair, the next prototype in line SN5 is effectively complete and ready for testing.

Per Koenigsmann, the first Starship 150m flight could debut by the end of June 2020.

Science • Space
NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 capsule docked with space station at 14:16(UTC)
NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 capsule docked with space station at 14:16(UTC)
Credit: SpaceX (Reproduction)

The Dragon capsule docked at the International Space Station at 14:16(UTC), slightly ahead of schedule, 422km above the border between northern China and Mongolia. The completion of the docking procedure happened at 14:30(UTC).

Science • Space
NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 capsule set to dock with space station at 14:30(UTC)
Astrounauts Bob Behnken (far) and Doug Hurley (near)
Astrounauts Bob Behnken (far) and Doug Hurley (near) Credit: NASA (Public Domain)

The Dragon capsule launched yesterday from Cape Canaveral will dock to the International Space Station at 14:30(UTC). Although astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are on board, the docking procedure should be fully automated.

Science • Space
NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 launch successful
NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission launch
NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission launch Credit: NASA via YouTube Livestream

The SpaceX Demo-2 mission launch was successful. The Falcon 9 rocket landed on the "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship.

NASA Astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken on board the Crew Dragon is on a 19-hour flight to the International Space Station and are expected to dock with ISS on Sunday.

The astronauts will be staying for several months to perform duties and conduct experiments.

Science • Space
SpaceX's 'Demo-2' mission to attempt to launch today
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley Credit: NASA (Public Domain)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will make another attempt to launch two NASA astronauts to the space station today at 19:22(UTC). If the launch attempt is delayed once again due to the weather — there's currently a 50% chance of unfavourable launch weather — the next available launch window will be on Sunday, May 31, 19:00(UTC).

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley are expected to dock Crew Dragon with the ISS about 19 hours after liftoff.

Science • Space
SpaceX raises $346 million a day before of debut astronaut mission
Crew Dragon
Crew Dragon Credit: NASA

SpaceX on Tuesday announced it raised an additional $346.2 million to its current round of financing, totalling $567 million. The closing of this round happens a day before the company launches two American astronauts to the International Space Station.

Valued at around $36 billion, SpaceX remains one of the most valuable non-listed companies in the world.

Science • Space
Ariane 6 maiden flight likely delayed to 2021
Artistic view of Ariane 6 rocket with four boosters
Artistic view of Ariane 6 rocket with four boosters Credit: ESA

Arianespace and the European Space Agency (ESA) say that their plans for the debut flight of the Ariane 6 launch rocket have been delayed into 2021, due to the Covid-19 pandemic that slowed or halted work on development projects related to the rocket.

Ariane 6 is the long-awaited replacement for the reliable Ariane 5 rocket and planned to be a valid financial competitor to SpaceX.

Science • Space
Abrupt Resignation of Doug Loverro, Head of HEO at NASA

The resignation of Doug Loverro as associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at came just days before the launch of Commercial Crew Demo-2. His departure was abrupt and rather unexpected.

In a note sent to his colleagues, he wrote: "The risks we take, whether technical, political, or personal, all have potential consequences if we judge them incorrectly. I took such a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfil our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences." It's unknown what mistake he is referring to.