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SpaceX gets certification to launch NASA science missions

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falcon-9
Image Courtesy: SpaceX

By NewsGram Staff Writer

NASA has formally certified US-based Space Exploration Technologies Corporation’s (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket to launch the most ambitious science missions.

The Falcon 9 is now certified by NASA as a “Category 2” launch vehicle. SpaceX has successfully launched six re-supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of the NASA contract.

The certification process of Falcon 9 began in 2012 by NASA and SpaceX. SpaceX won an $82 million contract to launch the Jason 3 mission — a project jointly funded by the US and France to measure sea roughness.

The scheduled mission by NASA named Jason 3 is ready to lift-off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in July. The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket will deploy the 1,124 pound spacecraft into orbit 830 miles above the Earth.

The core objective of the mission is to deploy a satellite in earth’s orbit. The satellite will then activate a radar altimeter to bounce signals off the world’s oceans to measure wave height, sea level rise and other data that are important for weather forecasting, oceanography and climate change research.

NASA spokesperson George Diller in a statement said, “The certification now clears the Falcon 9 to launch what NASA calls ‘medium-risk’ science missions, a classification that includes most of the agency’s Earth observation satellites and many of its interplanetary probes.”

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NASA Probe Makes New Discoveries on Asteroid Bennu

As a result, Bennu's rotation period is decreasing by about a second every 100 years, the scientists explained

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Asteroid
This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. NASA

NASA’s first asteroid-sampling mission OSIRIS-REx has observed particle plumes erupting from the surface of Bennu, an asteroid the size of the pyramid at Giza.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft, which began orbiting Bennu on December 31, first discovered the particle plumes on January 6, followed by additional particle plumes over the last two months.

While some of the particles were slow-moving, the others were found orbiting Bennu, like small satellites.

Bennu’s entire surface was also found to be rough and dense with boulders, contrary to the Earth-based observations, which showed a smooth surface with a few large boulders.

This means that the sample collection part of the mission will have to be adjusted to make sure that OSIRIS-REx can touch down and collect a sample, said NASA while presenting the discoveries at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Conference in Houston.

“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

NASA
This artist’s rendering made available by NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. VOA

“And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started,” Lauretta added.

Further, the team observed a change in the spin rate of Bennu as a result of what is known as the Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect.

The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed.

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As a result, Bennu’s rotation period is decreasing by about a second every 100 years, the scientists explained.

OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 to explore Bennu, the smallest body ever orbited by spacecraft, is expected to return a sample of the asteroid to Earth in 2023.

The findings will allow researchers to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the sources of water and organic molecules on Earth, the resources in near-Earth space, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. (IANS)