This Week in Space: NASA, NOAA, and the Long March 9

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to this week in space. As usual we’ve got the best space news of the week. But first, we want to start with a note on celebrating Veterans Day.

It takes a lot of courage to put yourself on the line for your country and your fellow citizens. Ending a war also takes a lot of courage. This holiday has its roots in another holiday, Armistice Day, which commemorates the end of World War I. We might have called it Armistice Day, but just 20 years after the end of the Great War, war broke out again. After World War II, a veteran named Raymond Brooks organized a national Veterans Day rally to honor all veterans on November 11, and the name Veterans Day caught on. So, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour, we celebrate the end of a period of war that left a terrible scar on the world’s collective memory. To those who have served then and now: We salute you.


In addition to the holidays, we’ve got our regular Friday news from the world’s space agencies. Artemis 1 and SLS have been a prominent topic of discussion this week in light of Hurricane Nicole. But NASA is also scrambling to figure out what to do about an independent review that found major problems across the agency’s jet propulsion lab. Meanwhile, China is advancing its own space program with the recently completed Tiangong Space Station. We’ve also got some of this week’s best space images, including one of an evolving supernova – and another, of a “star factory” that ESO released to celebrate its sixtieth anniversary. We’ve got beauty shots of Tuesday’s total lunar eclipse over Canaveral. Finally, we’ll wrap up with some skywatching tips for the Leonid meteor shower.

Artemis will launch on May 1 now on November 16

Beyond the story of problems with the SLS rocket’s hydrogen system, this year’s Atlantic hurricane season has been tough on Artemis 1’s timeline. Hurricane Ian forced a rollback in the vehicle assembly building for the rocket and its Orion capsule. But this happened because NASA had enough precautions and the forecast didn’t change much.

Hurricane Nicole (now, thankfully, Tropical Storm Nicole) has been a whole other story. The storm defied predictions, slowing down and intensifying rapidly. NASA did not have enough time to return Artemis to the VAB, this time. When Nicole made landfall as a Category 1 storm, winds at Kennedy Space Center were actually higher than during Ian. Still, the rocket and capsule had to ride through the storm on the launchpad.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is seen atop a mobile launcher as it leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building for Launch Pad 39B, Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

As late as last Friday, Artemis was scheduled to launch on November 14. However, Nicole throws a wrench in that plan. A NASA spokesman said this week that Artemis could — may be — Launched on November 16. Unless something else goes wrong.

Before missing its Aug. 29 launch, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said of Artemis 1, “It’s a test flight, so I want to bring everybody back to Earth a little at a time.” how clever

Tuesday morning’s total lunar eclipse, as seen at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

A review of the Psyche mission uncovered problems throughout JPL

NASA formed an independent review board to review the Psyche asteroid mission, after both it and Artemis 1 missed their August 29 launch windows. Among other issues, understaffed and underfunded missions had to contend with late and incompletely delivered guidance, navigation and control (GNC) flight software. The pandemic has made almost everything worse. But the review found that Psyche’s problems were symptomatic of a much larger series of cultural and practical problems throughout NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. In short, JPL can barely fund — let alone staff — many of the projects it currently manages for NASA.

Desperate to staff the Psyche mission, NASA is poaching its own staff from other projects. Despite not falling behind schedule, the agency’s VERITAS mission to Venus will now be delayed by three years, as its personnel have been transferred to Project Psyche. Read our breakdown of the agency’s response to the review.

Launch and Landing

Cygnus CRS18 launched atop an Antares rocket at 5:32 a.m. EST Monday, Nov. 7 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA astronauts Nicole Anapu Mann and Josh Casada captured Cygnus using the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm. Currently, there are five vehicles attached to the ISS: Cygnus, the SpaceX crew Dragon Endurance, Russia’s Soyuz MS-22 crew ship, and the Progress 81 and 82 resupply ships.

Cygnus CRS18 aboard an Antares rocket, during its November 7 launch. Photo: NASA/Jamie Adkins

Cygnus has provided a new mounting bracket that astronauts will attach to the station’s exterior during spacewalks later this month. In a blog post, NASA explained that the mounting bracket will enable space station personnel to install a pair of new solar arrays. Cygnus will remain in the space station before leaving the station in late January and burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

NOAA’s new JPSS-2 satellite launched Thursday, Nov. 10 at 4:25 a.m. from Vandenberg aboard a ULA Atlas V 401 rocket. Weather forecasting satellites are now in sun-synchronous, polar low-Earth orbits.

The same flight that launched JPSS-2 was carrying a NASA technology demonstration, the Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID), which went according to plan. This inflatable module could one day help slow down huge payloads on their way to Earth — or even Mars. The LOFTID team successfully recovered the mission’s ejectable data modules on Thursday, from where they splashed into the Pacific Ocean.

A Long March 7 Yao-6 rocket rolls out on its pad at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on China’s Hainan Island. The rocket will carry Tianzhou 5, a cargo spacecraft, to the country’s Tiangong space station during its launch Saturday morning local time. Meanwhile, after leaving the space station on Wednesday, the unidentified Tianzhou 4 will burn up in the atmosphere. Tiangong is currently hosting the three astronauts of the Shenzhou 14 mission: Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Zhuze.

SpaceX is aiming to launch Intelsat G-31 and 32 on a Falcon 9 rocket before Saturday, November 12. These satellites are the latest in a series that Intelsat is launching to replace its Galaxy network, as part of the FCC’s ongoing effort to clear the C band of radio spectrum for use by 5G networks.

China is moving towards reusable rockets for the Long March 9

We often use reusable rockets these days to transport people and supplies between the ground and the International Space Station. Despite this, the US has released a large amount of junk into the atmosphere this year and has allowed multiple Cygnus modules to burn. China has the same problem, especially with the spent stage from its workhorse Long March rocket. So it came as welcome news when Liu Bing, director of the General Design Department of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), announced this week that the CSA is scrapping the expendable Long March 9 boosters in favor of a reusable design.

Liu confirmed the direction of the new design in an interview with China Central Television on Monday. Ideally, the new rocket will be ready for a test flight around 2030. A recent Chinese air show demonstration revealed that the new rocket could use kerosene like the Soyuz. However, Liu noted that the design will almost certainly change between now and then, so the timeline could change.

Relativity in action: Hubble captures evolving supernovae

This week, Hubble gave us a beautiful demonstration of general relativity. The space telescope managed to capture three separate moments from an evolving supernova – in the same frame. The progenitor star was a red supergiant, with a radius 500 times that of our Sun.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, Wenlei Chen (UMN), Patrick Kelly (UMN), Hubble Frontier Fields

Gravitational lensing made this possible. The galaxy cluster Abell 370 created three separate paths for light to travel from this supernova. Because these paths were of different lengths, ESA said in a statement, when Hubble took this image, “the supernova appeared at three different stages of evolution.”

ESO marks 60th anniversary with photo of Cone Nebula star factory

To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) released this beautiful image of a “star factory” in the Cone Nebula.

Credit: IT

Image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), atop Cerro Paranal in Chile. Telescopes like the VLT can get these beautiful images because they take advantage of a technique called interferometry. This allows astronomers to sync two or more telescopes, to achieve one effective Aperture equal to the distance between the telescopes. However, the VLT’s four optical telescopes can also operate independently.

ESO also posted a companion video to the photograph: a deep zoom through space toward the spot we see in the glamor shot above.

Specifically, we’re looking at a star-forming region within the Cone Nebula. These columns of cold molecular gas and dust are located about 2500 light-years from Earth.

Scientists have discovered the closest black hole to Earth

Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of our galaxy, receives enormous pressure. But it is not the closest black hole to Earth. This week, that honor belongs to Gaia BH1, a dormant, invisible black hole in the constellation Ophiuchus.

ESA’s Gaia spacecraft is on a mission to create an ultra-detailed 3D map of the galaxy.

Gaia first identified this invisible object with a visible, Sun-like stellar wobble. with follow-up monitoring The Magellan Bode and Gemini North telescopes confirmed that Gaia BH 1 is a binary pair of stars and a stellar-mass black hole.

Before that, the nearest black hole to us was about three thousand light years away. At 1600 light years from us, the new black hole should be easy to photograph. This could change our understanding of binary stars.

Skywatchers Corner

This week features a full moon – and a total lunar eclipse In this time-lapse composite, you can see what the eclipse looked like as it unfolded over the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Tuesday morning’s total eclipse was the last we’ll see until 2025. However, there will be a partial lunar eclipse on October 28, 2023. For the curious: the next solar eclipse will occur in less than two weeks. An annular eclipse on October 15, 2023 should be visible from every city in the United States.

November has a night sky full of shooting stars. The Leonids will be active throughout November, but they peak on November 18. Right now, the waning moon currently rises around midnight. This means your best chance to catch the Leonids at their peak will come just before midnight on the 18th. At their peak, we can see 10-25 meteors per hour.

The Leonids came from the debris path of Comet Temple-Tuttle. Like other meteor showers, the Leonids are named for the constellation from which they originate — in this case, Leo, the constellation of the lion. For the best chance of seeing a long, streaking fireball, instead of looking directly at Leo, lie on your back and look straight up.

That’s all for this week. But since Leonids peaks next Friday night, we’ll make sure to remind you next week… in space.

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