Monday, 25 June, 2018

Today’s SpaceX launch will help NASA monitor climate change

GRACE-FO Launch Enlarge Image The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen with the NASA German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow On spacecraft. NASA Bill Ingalls
Doris Mccormick | 26 May, 2018, 04:42

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center told Bloomberg News in a statement that the launch date "has slipped due to ongoing SpaceX qualification testing and final engineering reviews by both SpaceX and the Air Force of Falcon 9 design changes". This will be its last mission - it's not one of the "Block 5" rockets with all the durability improvements, so it would take a lot of money and time to fly again, and the risk of failure would grow considerably every time.

Today's the day for SpaceX's launch of Iridium's NEXT communications satellites and a pair of twin birds from NASA that will monitor the fresh water on the surface of the Earth.

A SpaceX rocket Tuesday blasted off a duo of sports car-sized satellites built by the USA and Germany to reveal changes in sea level rise, ice melt and drought on Earth. In reality, the deployment of the two payloads will be separated not just by time but also by a burn of the Falcon 9's second stage engine to push it even farther away from Earth.

Weather for Tuesday launch is forecast to be 90-percent favorable.

SpaceX's recovery ship, Mr Steven is heading out into the ocean to attempt to catch at least one half of the expensive shell used to protect spacecraft during the early phases of launch. Two additional SpaceX flights are planned later this year.

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The Iridium Next satellites are less interesting: They will join the 50 Iridium Next satellites already floating in space that, according to Space.com, will eventually make up part of the 75-satellite communications constellation. SpaceX appears to have been absolved from blame for this mishap, and certainly the first stage booster performed nominally during that mission.

In this photo provided by NASA, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen with the NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On spacecraft and onboard, Monday, May 21, 2018, at Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

This is an unusual launch - the rocket will be making some complicated maneuvers 300 miles up to make sure NASA's satellites are deployed correctly, then it travels the rest of the way to the targeted orbit for the communication satellites.

NASA has spent $430 million on the mission, and Germany has spent about $91 million. So, to obtain information about the distribution of mass below, the GRACE-FO satellites need not look down; instead, they'll only "look" at each other and measure their separation by constantly sending microwave signals back and forth. The result is a monthly map of the Earth's gravity field and gives clues as to how mass (normally water) is moving around the planet. GRACE stands for "Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment".

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