SpaceX to send first paying tourists around moon next year

UNTV News   •   February 28, 2017   •   3056

File Photo: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (R) unveils the Dragon V2 spacecraft in Hawthorne, California May 29, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

SpaceX plans to launch two paying passengers on a tourist trip around the moon next year using a spaceship under development for NASA astronauts and a heavy-lift rocket yet to be flown, the launch company announced on Monday.

The launch of the first privately funded tourist flight beyond the orbit of the International Space Station is tentatively targeted for late 2018, Space Exploration Technologies Chief Executive Elon Musk told reporters on a conference call.

Musk declined to identify the customers or say how much they would pay to fly on the weeklong mission, except to say that it is “nobody from Hollywood.”

He also said the two prospective space tourists, who know each other, have put down a “substantial” deposit and would undergo “extensive training before going on the mission.”

“I think there’s a market for one or two of these per year,” he said, estimating that space tourist fares charged by SpaceX could eventually contribute 10 to 20 percent of the company’s revenue.

Plans call for SpaceX’s two-person lunar venture to fly some 300,000 to 400,000 miles (480,000 to 640,000 km) from Earth past the moon before Earth’s gravity pulls the spacecraft back into the atmosphere for a parachute landing.

That trajectory would be similar to NASA’s 1968 Apollo 8 mission beyond the moon and back.

Musk also said that if NASA decides it wants to be first in line for a lunar flyby mission, the U.S. space agency would take priority.

At the behest of the Trump administration, NASA is conducting a study to assess safety risks, costs and potential benefits of letting astronauts fly on the debut test flight of its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule.

That mission is currently planned to be uncrewed and scheduled to launch in late 2018.

Musk said the privately funded moon expedition would take place after his California-based company begins flying crew to the International Space Station for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NASA is hoping those crew-ferrying flights begin by late 2018.

SpaceX’s own Falcon Heavy rocket, which Musk wants to use for the lunar tourist mission, is scheduled to make a debut test flight later this year.

Musk, also CEO of electric carmaker Tesla, said missions around the moon could provide practice for eventual human flights to Mars, the long-term goal of SpaceX.

Except for needed communications upgrades, the Dragon spaceship in development for NASA astronauts is well suited for lunar flyby missions, Musk added.

The launch would require licensing by the Federal Aviation Administration.

SpaceX joins a growing list of companies developing commercial passenger spaceflight services.

Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group, is testing a six-passenger, two-pilot spaceship to carry paying customers about 62 miles (100 km) above Earth, high enough to experience brief microgravity and see Earth’s curvature against the blackness of space.

Tickets to ride cost $250,000 each.

SpaceX has a $10 billion backlog of about 70 missions for NASA and commercial customers. The firm’s backers include Alphabet’s Google Inc and Fidelity Investments, which together have contributed $1 billion to Musk’s firm.

(This version of the story corrects SpaceX backlog to $10 billion from $70 billion in paragraph 20.)

(Reporting by Irene Klotz at Cape Canaveral, Florida; editing by Steve Gorman and Mary Milliken)

NASA’s new Mars rover launches from Florida to seek signs of past life

UNTV News   •   July 31, 2020

NASA’s next-generation Mars rover Perseverance blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Thursday (July 30) atop an Atlas 5 rocket on a $2.4 billion mission to search for traces of potential past life on Earth’s planetary neighbor.

The next-generation robotic rover – a car-sized six-wheeled scientific vehicle – also is scheduled to deploy a mini helicopter on Mars and test out equipment for future human missions to the fourth planet from the sun. It is expected to reach Mars next February.

It soared into the sky under clear, sunny and warm conditions carried by an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance. The launch took place after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California where its mission engineers were located was rattled by an earthquake.

This marked NASA’s ninth journey to the Martian surface.

Perseverance is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists suspect could bear evidence of potential past microbial life on Mars.

Scientists have long debated whether Mars – once a much more hospitable place than it is today – ever harbored life. Water is considered a key ingredient for life, and the Mars billions of years ago had lots of it on the surface before the planet became a harsh and desolate outpost.

One of the most complex maneuvers in Perseverance’s journey will be what mission engineers call the “seven minutes of terror,” when the robot endures extreme heat and speeds during its descent through the Martian atmosphere, deploying a set of supersonic parachutes before igniting mini rocket engines to gently touch down on the planet’s surface.

Aboard Perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter named Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars for the first time.

This was scheduled as the third launch from Earth to Mars during a busy month of July, following probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and China. The state from which the rover was launched, Florida, is currently one of the hot spots in the United States for the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters)

(Production: Kia Johnson)

NASA poised to launch new rover to seek evidence of past Martian life

UNTV News   •   July 30, 2020

NASA is set to launch an ambitious mission to Mars on Thursday (July 30) with the liftoff of its next-generation Perseverance rover, a six-wheeled robot tasked with deploying a mini helicopter, testing out equipment for future human missions and searching for traces of past Martian life.

The $2.4 billion mission, slated for liftoff at 7:50 a.m. ET (1150 GMT) from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, is planned as the U.S. space agency’s ninth trek to the Martian surface. The United Arab Emirates and China separately this month launched probes to Mars in displays of technological prowess and ambition.

Launching atop an Atlas 5 rocket from the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance, the car-sized Perseverance rover is expected to reach Mars next February. It is due to land at the base of an 820-foot-deep (250 meters) crater called Jezero, a former lake from 3.5 billion years ago that scientists believe could hold traces of potential past microbial Martian life.

“This is the first time in history where we’re going to go to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told a news briefing on Wednesday (July 29).

The rover will attempt for the first time to bring Martian rock samples back to Earth, collecting materials in cigar-sized capsules and leaving them scattered on the surface for retrieval by a future “fetch” rover. That conceptual rover is expected to launch the samples back into space to link up with other spacecraft for an eventual Earth homecoming around 2031.

Also aboard Perseverance is a four-pound (1.8 kg) autonomous helicopter dubbed Ingenuity that is due to test powered flight on Mars for the first time.

“Imagine a day when we land a robot on Mars and that robot can send maybe a dozen helicopters in different directions to make different discoveries,” Bridenstine said.

Since NASA’s first Mars rover Sojourner landed in 1997, the agency has sent two others – Spirit and Opportunity – that have revealed the geology of vast Martian plains and found evidence of past water formations, among other discoveries. NASA has successfully sent three landers – Pathfinder, Phoenix, InSight – as well.

The United States has plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s under its Artemis program, which envisions using a return to the moon as a testing platform for human missions before making the bigger leap to Mars. (Reuters)

(Production: Rollo Ross)

First images taken by the Solar Orbiter are released by ESA

UNTV News   •   July 17, 2020

The European Space Agency and NASA released on Thursday (July 16) the first images of their joint Sun-observing mission, the Solar Orbiter.

The pictures, taken at an approximate distance of 77 million kilometres away from the Sun, revealed omnipresent miniature solar flares, dubbed ‘campfires’, near the surface of the Sun.

They are the first images taken of the star’s surface from a closer distance, and it remains unclear whether the so-called ‘campfires’ are tiny versions of big flares or whether they are driven by different mechanisms.

The Solar Orbiter was launched in February 2020.

It carries six remote-sensing instruments, or telescopes, to picture the Sun and its surroundings, and four instruments aimed at monitoring the environment around the spacecraft.

By comparing the data from both sets of instruments, scientists hope to get insights into the generation of solar wind, that is, the stream of charged particles coming from the Sun that influences the entire Solar System.

“This is not as close as we will eventually get. Our closest approach will be just over a quarter of the distance between the Sun and Earth and we will reach that in about two years’ time,” promised Daniel Mueller, the ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project scientist. (Reuters)

(Production: Elena Gyldenkerne)

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