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SpaceX to Launch Twin NASA Water Cycle Tracker Satellites

The satellites are scheduled to launch at 3.47 p.m. EDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California

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NASA, Microsoft
After lettuce, astronauts could grow beans in space in 2021. Pixabay

On its way to deploy five Iridium Next communications satellites on Tuesday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will also launch twin NASA satellites that will monitor Earth’s water cycle, marking a unique rideshare arrangement.

The satellites are scheduled to launch at 3.47 p.m. EDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California. (This corresponds to 1.17 a.m. Wednesday India time), NASA said.

The two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On mission (GRACE-FO) spacecraft will follow each other in orbit around Earth, separated by about 220 km.

On liftoff, the Falcon 9 first-stage engines will burn for approximately two minutes and 45 seconds before shutting down at main engine cutoff (MECO).

The Falcon 9’s first and second stages will separate seconds later. Then, the second-stage engine will ignite for the first time (SES1) and burn until the vehicle reaches the altitude of the injection orbit, 490 km.

NASA
Representational Image, VOA

While this burn is going on, the payload fairing — the launch vehicle’s nose cone — will separate into two halves like a clamshell and fall away.

When the rocket’s second stage has completed its ascent to the injection orbit altitude, it will pitch down (its nose points down) 30 degrees and roll so that one of the twin GRACE-FO satellites is facing down, toward Earth, and the other is facing up, toward space.

Then the second stage engine will cut off (SECO).

About 10 minutes after liftoff, a separation system on the second stage will deploy the GRACE-FO satellites.

Separation will occur over the Pacific Ocean at about 17.5 degrees North latitude, 122.6 degrees West longitude.

The first opportunity to receive data from the spacecraft will occur at NASA’s tracking station at McMurdo, Antarctica, about 23 minutes after separation, NASA said.

Also Read: A Study by NASA Shows Freshwater Decline in India

After the GRACE-FO satellites are deployed, the Falcon 9 second stage will coast for half an orbit before reigniting its engine (SES2) to take the Iridium Next satellites to a higher orbit for deployment.

GRACE-FO, a collaborative mission of NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), continues the work of the original GRACE mission in observing the movement of water and other mass around our planet by tracking the changing pull of gravity very precisely. (IANS)

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Vikram Lander Spotted On Moon

The Vikram moonlander was sent by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) aboard the Chandraayan 2 that orbited the moon

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India’s Vikram lunar lander
India’s Vikram lunar lander, which crashed on its final approach to the Moon’s surface in September, has been found. Pixabay

BY ARUL LOUIS 

Shanmuga Subramanian, the eagle-eyed citizen space scientist who found Vikram moonlander said on Tuesday that he took spotting it as a challenge when NASA couldn’t.

He said in an email interview to IANS: “It was something challenging as even NASA can’t find out so why can’t we try out? And that’s the thought that led me to search for Vikram lander.”

Subramanian, who works as an information technology architect, in his spare time looked through the images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) camera on September 17 and spotted a debris from Vikram.

Those images were taken when the light during moon’s dusk was very harsh at the place where the moonlander crashed and the long shadows made the hunt for Vikram difficult, NASA and LRO said at that time.

LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro, to whom Subramanian emailed his finding, told IANS: “The story of this really amazing individual (who) found it, helped us find it, is really awesome.”

The Vikram moonlander was sent by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) aboard the Chandraayan 2 that orbited the moon.

Vikram was launched from Chandrayaan on September 6 in hopes of making a safelanding and exploring the moon’s surface. However, it lost contact with ISRO minutes before the scheduled landing and crashed.

Vikram Moon Lander
A Moon landing is the arrival of a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. Pixabay

Petro said: “This is the wonderful thing about our data. We released it for the world and anyone can use and he used it to make this discovery.”

Subramanian suggested a crowd-sourced citizen scientist movement to help space organisations.

“LRO’s data is a treasure trove. I would suggest students and others to help out NASA, ISRO and other space organisations by building a good database of LRO images with features like comparison etc.,” Subramanian told IANS.

“Currently we have to compare it manually (and I) wish someone can do more on that, with NASA’s scientists time crunched for their Moon missions,” he added.

Asked how he got interested, Subramanian said: “Space exploration is nothing new for me as I have been interested in space right from the scratch and watched ISRO’s rocket launches closely even managed to capture some of it on my YouTube channel.

“I don’t think Vikram lander would have made a such impact on the minds of the Indian public if it had landed successfully (but) since it was lost there was a lot of discussion in public forums as well as on my Facebook regarding what malfunctioned etc.

“The crash landing of Vikram made more people interested in it and it also got eventually hooked me, which lead to me searching NASA’s pic for nearly some 4-5 hours every night.”

Subramanian spoke of the social media world of space enthusiasts where intense discussions were taking place about the mystery of Vikram and which helped his quest.

“Initially there was lot of false positives I got (that were) corrected by Twitterati and one of the tweets led to me a Reddit forum where they had the exact intended landing location and the path of Vikram,” he said.

Vikram on moon
The Moon is an astronomical body that orbits the Earth as its only permanent natural satellite. Pixabay

On being able to narrow down the area for his search, he said: “Though there was no data available about the path of Vikram lander, I eventually concluded it would have come from North Pole as one of the tweets from ‘cgbassa’ said Vikram has crossed the North Pole of the moon. And from ISRO’s live images, I made out it would have stopped short of around 1 km from the landing spot so it eventually led to me searching around 2 sq km around the landing area.”

That tweet was from CG Bassa, an astronomer with Astron, the Dutch radio astronomy institute.

ALSO READ: Nations and their Moon Missions

After better pictures came from the LRO’s pass over the area in October and on November 11, when the light conditions improved, the LRO camera team scoured the area surrounding the spot where Subramanian had spotted a debris and found the impact spot of Vikram’s crash and other debris, the ASU said.

The impact site is located at 70.8810AoS, 22.7840AoE, at an elevation of 834 metres, it added. (IANS)