Monday, November 30, 2015

LISAPathfinder launches to research technologies to understand gravity waves

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A European rocket lifted-off into the midnight sky over French Guiana on Thursday ferrying the LISA Pathfinder craft into a deep Earth-Sun orbit to research new technologies to understand and detect gravitational waves.

Designed as a platform to test new electronics and thrusters for a future spacecraft, LISA Pathfinder will set the stage as the European Space Agency and NASA develop steps in studying ripples in the fabric of space-time. The experimental spacecraft, valued at nearly 400M EUROS, is scheduled to operate for six months first by operating its science module before starting up a propulsion module.

The pioneering mission began a day late due to a last minute technical issue with the rocket's upper stage. Engineers worked through the night on Tuesday to clear Vega for flight. The Arianespace launch team then started the official countdown eight hours prior to the rocket's ignition.

Lift-off of the lightweight Vega occurred on time at 11:04 p.m. EST (1:04 am local time) from the Kourou Space Center located on the edge of the Amazon jungles of South America. Overcast skies helped create a brightness as the core main engine throttled the rocket stack up and out over the mid-Atlantic waters.

LISA-Pathfinder spacecraft to unlock gravitational wave astronomy technologies

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A European spaceprobe designed to test new technologies for use on future spacecraft designed to study the ripples of gravitational waves in outer space is poised to lift-off on Wednesday from French Guiana.

The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder is a two-part technology test bed designed to spend six months providing engineers new research for future gravitational wave detectors. The understanding of these waves will provide scientists with a better understanding of the space-time connection with general relativity which was predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity.

In addition to the LISA Technology Package, which will operate during the first three months, is the NASA contributed Disturbance Reduction System (DRS) module. The DRS has a compliment of two clusters of micro propulsion thrusters and a computer with control software designed to create a "drag-free" flight path for the spacecraft enacted only by outside gravitational forces.

Europe's space program is working toward creating a series of ground stations to study gravitational waves in deep space in partnership with the upcoming Einstein Telescope and the eLISA observatory scheduled for launch around 2030. LISA will open the window for the advanced study of gravitational wave astronomy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Space station supply craft Cygnus prepares for December launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American commercial supply ship designed to ferry supplies to the International Space Station is proceeding toward a December launch from America's Space Coast one year following it's last ill fated mission.

Loaded with 7,700 pounds of fresh supplies and equipment, the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to lift-off a top an Atlas V rocket on Dec. 3 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This fourth operational Cygnus will occur 13 months after its Antares rocket exploded 15 seconds after launch from a Wallops, Virginia.

The fiery explosion just above the Wallops launch pad caused major damage to the pad area and nearby buildings. An independent investigation board determined an engine failure caused the rocket to fall back toward the pad. Range Safety then sent a self destruct signal which exploded the rocket.

Heiney noted the fully loaded Cygnus craft will be tucked inside its clam shell payload faring in a few days and transported on November 20 to the Florida launch site. The fairing will then be stacked high a top a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket at Complex 41.

"(Orbital ATK) had to move their spacecraft, equipment, people and overall operations to this new location in an extremely short time," Space Station Launch Support Project Manager Randy Gordon said. "It was good having them in the Space Station Processing Facility,” he added. “They have a lean workforce, but they worked hard and stayed on schedule."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tellus Museum's Cartersville meteorite receives Smithsonian recognition

ATLANTA -- A four billion year-old meteorite which plunged into a house in metro Atlanta was officially recognized and named by the Smithsonian Institution with the assistance of the Meteoritical Society during a ceremony on Wednesday at the Tellus Science Museum.

The 295 gram meteorite was officially named Cartersville in honor of the city in which it landed, and the location of the museum it has called home for six years. It was classified as ordinary Chondrite L5 meteorite, according to Smithsonian officials, having low iron ore and a high shock level 5.

In addition to receiving an official name, Tellus received special news related to the meteorite after submitting all of their data to the Meteoritical Society. The news came as surprise to staff and volunteers at the science museum.

"The breaking news today is that we have radar confirmation that we have a confirmed fall," Tellus Curator Sarah Timm said on Wednesday during a formal announcement. "There are alot of meteorites that are found, but no one knows when they fell. So the fact that we can pinpoint the day and time that it fell is pretty incredible."

"This is super exciting because up until now we just had a proposed date, but by submitting all of our data they were able to look at the radar data from that day and they found radar proof, Timm added. NASA radar sites in Georgia and Alabama recorded the meteorite's signature during its descent.

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