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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's InSight spacecraft touches down on Mars. Pixabay
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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.

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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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NASA’s Probe Discovers Signs Of Water on Asteroid Bennu

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid's gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

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

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has discovered ingredients for water on a relatively nearby skyscraper-sized asteroid, a rocky acorn-shaped object that may hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists said on Monday.

OSIRIS-REx, which flew last week within a scant 12 miles (19 km) of the asteroid Bennu some 1.4 million miles (2.25 million km) from Earth, found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules — part of the recipe for water and thus the potential for life — embedded in the asteroid’s rocky surface.

The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth. There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

 

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx. Flickr

 

“We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

“When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system,” Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement.

OSIRIS-REx, NASA, Asteroid
This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. The rocky remnant from the dawn of the solar system may hold clues to the origins of life. VOA

“We’re really trying to understand the role that these carbon-rich asteroids played in delivering water to the early Earth and making it habitable,” Lauretta added.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain. From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

Also Read: Wintertime Ice Growth in Arctic Sea Slows Long-Term Decline: NASA

The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023. (VOA)