BRAZIL’S LAUNCH SITE IS IN A GREAT LOCATION, BUT WILL US ROCKET COMPANIES WANT TO USE IT?

On Tuesday, the Trump administration signed a preliminary agreement with Brazil that could one day lead to US rockets launching from the South American country’s coastal spaceport. President Trump praised the idea of using the site, arguing that “because of the location, tremendous amounts of money would be saved.” But while the launch site offers up a few key benefits to US launch providers, it’s possible that these advantages may not be enough to draw all major rocket companies to the area.

The biggest asset of Brazil’s spaceport is its proximity to the equator. The site, known as the Alcântara Launch Center, is located at a latitude of just 2.3 degrees south. For anyone launching a rocket, that’s a juicy spot. There aren’t many options on Earth for launching that close to the equator, and the site would make it much easier for satellite operators to send payloads into an equatorial orbit. Additionally, rockets at the equator get an extra boost in speed, thanks to the Earth’s rotation, which helps rockets save on fuel.

However, the logistics of setting up a new launch site in Brazil could be an issue for some. The larger US rocket companies, such as SpaceX, the United Launch Alliance, and Blue Origin, already have multiple options for launching out of the US that are relatively close to the equator. A new site would need a lot of upfront investment in order to create the ground infrastructure in Brazil to support each company’s unique rocket design. It’s a lot of money and work for a small amount of benefit in flights. Plus shipping overseas to Brazil can add an extra layer of time and money that wouldn’t be an issue when launching from the US.

There are some launch providers on the smaller end of the rocket scale that see big opportunities in Brazil. Companies like startup Vector, which are focused solely on launching small satellites, have openly advocated for the chance to launch out of Alcântara. It would allow them to launch missions that they simply cannot do in the United States because of their smaller size. Since the company’s hardware isn’t as big as that of a Falcon 9 or an Atlas V rocket, very little investment is needed to make the launchpad infrastructure. “I think it’s really going to be the domain of the future small rockets that go there,” Jim Cantrell, CEO and co-founder of Vector, tells The Verge.

WHY BRAZIL?

Rockets launching again from Alcântara would reinvigorate what was once a major national resource for Brazil. Numerous sounding rockets took flight from the area throughout the 1990s. But in 2003, a rocket intended for orbit exploded on the site’s launchpad during some ground tests, killing 21 people nearby and leveling the pad’s launch tower. The accident halted Brazil’s efforts to launch two planned satellites, and the country’s space efforts have had difficulty recovering.

Wreckage at the Alcântara Launch Center, following the 2003 explosion.
 Photo: AFP / Getty Images

Since then, Brazil has been looking for international partnerships to bring other countries’ vehicles to Alcântara. The country even courted the Bush administration back in 2000 to bring commercial launches to the site, but those efforts were met with opposition from Brazilian lawmakers. Now, Brazil is trying again. In 2018, the government invited two major US players in aerospace, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to visit Alcântara, according to a report in Reuters. The goal is to offer up a cheaper location than the nearby Guiana Space Centre in South America’s French Guiana where all of Europe’s rockets take flight.

Alcântara boasts a few impressive geographic benefits that are needed for a spaceport. It’s on the coast of Brazil, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east. That’s key for a launch site, as many rockets launch eastward to match the direction of Earth’s orbit. Launching over a large body of water is important for safety, as it reduces the risk of a falling rocket part hitting someone on the ground or damaging someone’s property. It’s the reason why US launches occur in coastal areas, such as Cape Canaveral, Florida, or the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Brazil has a slight advantage over Cape Canaveral, which is located at around 28.5 degrees north. Being near the equator is great for sending satellites into a type of orbit known as a geostationary orbit. This is a path 22,000 miles above the Earth’s equator where satellites are traveling at the same speed as the Earth’s rotation. The result is that satellites basically hover over the same patch of Earth at all times. It’s a perfect spot to deposit a communications satellite or a surveillance probe that needs to look at the same region of the planet at all times.

SpaceX: The Privately Funded Aerospace Company Founded By Elon Musk
A SpaceX Falcon 9 takes off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. 
Photo: NASA / Getty Images

Getting to geostationary orbit from Florida takes a little extra work, though. Rockets must deposit a satellite on a path that’s slightly askew from the equator (at a 28.5-degree tilt), and the satellites then need to change their direction in orbit by burning an onboard engine. That requires fuel, which takes up space on a satellite and influences the vehicle’s design. At a spot like Alcântara or the Guiana Space Center, such a plane change would be minuscule, requiring less fuel.

Additionally, the Earth is actually moving faster at the equator than other points on the planet, which is good news for rockets. The Earth’s equator is its widest section, so it has a long way to travel each time the planet makes a full 24-hour rotation. One spot on the equator has to go a much greater distance than a spot near the poles, for instance. So a rocket launching on the equator gets an extra speed boost, making it easier for the vehicle to reach the extra high velocities needed to achieve orbit. The rocket doesn’t need as much fuel, making launches more efficient and potentially allowing companies to pack in more cargo on a flight.

“You can use a less powerful rocket to launch the same satellite, or you can launch a bigger satellite using the same launch vehicle,” Lakshmi Kantha, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, tells The Verge.

WHO ACTUALLY WANTS TO LAUNCH FROM BRAZIL?

Are all of these benefits enough to lure major US companies to Brazil? It’s not an enormous inconvenience to ship rockets over water. In fact, Arianespace ships its rockets by boat from Europe and Russia to French Guiana. The ULA also ships parts of its Delta IV Heavy by boat, and NASA used to ship the Space Shuttle’s external tank from New Orleans to Florida. “Large ships are used to accommodate oversized hardware,” Dennis Jenkins, an aerospace engineer at the California Science Center who used to work on the Space Shuttle, tells The Verge. “Most large rockets throughout history have been shipped at least partially by sea.”

However, moving by boat is time-consuming and somewhat costly, especially when traveling to Brazil via the Panama Canal. “That, of course, is one of the problems with ships — they’re very slow,” says Jenkins. Having a launch site closer to where a rocket is built does make things more efficient. Recently, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted that the company’s next-generation rocket, the Starship, would be built in Texas and Florida, next door to two of SpaceX’s launch sites. Plus, locations like Texas and Florida are still quite far south, so the performance benefit of moving even farther south isn’t going to be as consequential for US companies, as it would be for Russia or European nations.

Then there’s the cost of outfitting Alcântara to meet a launch provider’s needs. For larger rockets, companies will have to add concrete pads, towers, and fuel storage tanks to the surrounding area to support flights of their vehicles. Creating all of that in the Brazilian jungle, where there is minimal infrastructure in place already, will require a lot of work and investment. Plus, all of this would be in service to booking more missions to geostationary orbit, which is a type of flight that has seen a recent downturn in the market.

A Vector rocket, which stands about 40 feet tall.
 Photo: Vector

SpaceX already told Reuters that it was not interested in building at Alcântara and declined to comment to The Verge. Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which oversee the United Launch Alliance, confirmed they had looked at the site but haven’t made any major plans to invest there yet. “While we have made no concrete plans at this time, the potential for a new launch site is an encouraging development given the global interest in fast and efficient launch opportunities,” a representative for Lockheed Martin said in a statement to The Verge. Boeing declined to comment.

Ultimately, Alcântara may be a better investment for rocket companies that don’t look like SpaceX or ULA, ones that are chasing another market entirely. Companies like Vector are only capable of launching smaller satellites to low Earth orbit, and these types of probes are incapable of changing their directions significantly in space. So if a small satellite operator wants to go into a lower orbit over the equator, they basically have to launch at the equator. “Virtually nobody is launching any rockets to low Earth orbit equatorial orbits,” says Cantrell. “Virtually nobody.” Vector hopes to be one of the first companies to offer that option, claiming that around 10 customers have asked for it.

An extra boost in speed for a small launcher like Vector means much more than for SpaceX or the ULA. It could be the difference between launching 200 pounds and 300 pounds, opening up the company to different types of missions. Plus, the infrastructure and transportation costs for Vector’s smaller rockets are less of an inconvenience. “All we really need there is a concrete pad like we built already in Alaska, and we need permission to launch,” Cantrell says, adding that the company’s rocket can fit inside of an airplane.

Alcântara is nowhere close to being open for the US rocket business yet. The US signed what is known as a technology safeguards agreement with the company, which is the same kind of agreement Bush signed back in 2000. The deal needs to be approved by the Brazilian Congress, and if that happens, there are still a lot of regulatory hurdles to go through. But if it is allowed someday, the site seems much more suited for smaller rockets than bigger ones.

[“source=theverge”]

Some Strange Science Will Launch Into Space This Week for NASA

This Thursday, crystallizing proteins from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a dizzying virtual- reality system, ultratiny membranes and the “Refabricator” — a device that turns waste into 3D-printing filament, will all be shooting into space.

This weird science and so much more will launch Thursday (Nov. 15) at 4:49 a.m. EST (0949 GMT) on Northrop Grumman’s (formerly Orbital ATK) 10th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. The company’s Cygnus spacecraft will lift off on its Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, carrying about 882 pounds (400 kilograms) of research and hardware for these experiments, NASA officials said in a statement. In total, the rocket will launch about 7,500 pounds (3,402 kg) of scientific equipment and crew supplies like food and clothing to the International Space Station.

These experiments will be among the hundreds of scientific investigations currently happening aboard the space station. The launch will be visible along parts of the U.S. East Ccoast, and you can watch it live online here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV. [Launch Photo: Orbital ATK’s Antares Rocket & Cygnus OA-9 Soar to Space Station]

Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket, preparing for Northrop Grumman's 10th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station, is seen on the left in the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket, preparing for Northrop Grumman’s 10th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station, is seen on the left in the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Credit: Patrick Black/NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus vehicle has been named in honor of NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy officer John Young. Young spent 835 hours in space over six missions as a NASA astronaut.

Aboard the Cygnus vehicle will be a device called the Refabricator as part of the In-Space Manufacturing Refabricator project. This is the first integrated 3D printer and recycler that will turn waste plastic into filament for 3D-printing aboard the space station. The filament will be used for repairs aboard the space station and also as a means of recycling waste. The device could also be used to fabricate things on board the space station.

Refabricator flight hardware as seen from the front, similar to how it will look when installed in the EXPRESS Rack on the International Space Station.

Refabricator flight hardware as seen from the front, similar to how it will look when installed in the EXPRESS Rack on the International Space Station.

Credit: Allison Porter, Tethers Unlimited Inc.

This technology could be very useful for long-term deep-space missions where astronauts will have to deal with waste, repair and resource issues on a regular basis. As the investigation’s research overview states, “Without a recycling capability, a large supply of feedstock would need to be stowed on board for long-duration exploration missions.” This investigation is sponsored by NASA’s Technology Demonstration Office.

The Effect of Long Duration Hypogravity on the Perception of Self-Motion (VECTION) study, another investigation launching to the space station, will explore how a microgravity environment might affect an astronaut’s ability to visually interpret motion, orientation and distance.

Here on Earth, our senses work together to let us know how far away we are from things, how fast they are moving, and how they are oriented. In space, gravity no longer plays a part in our vestibular system, a system that contributes to our sense of balance and orientation. The VECTION study aims to better understand how microgravity affects these senses using virtual reality.

In this study, astronauts will wear a virtual-reality (VR) system that will provide computer-generated visual clues to try to create artificial gravity using visual acceleration, Laurence Harris, a professor at York University in Toronto and principal investigator in this research, said at a news conference on Thursday, Nov. 8. After the VR simulation, the astronauts will report how far they perceive that they moved, how far away things were from them, etc.

“Many astronauts do feel disoriented or suffer from space sickness when they first arrive at the space station,” Harris said. So, to understand how a microgravity environment might affect astronauts at multiple points in their trip, they will participate in the VR simulation as soon as they arrive in space, once they’ve gotten used to the environment and once they’ve returned to Earth.

[“source=TimeOFIndia”]

With the launch of TESS, NASA will boost its search for exoplanets

illustration of TESS telescpope

NASA is stepping up its search for planets outside our solar system. Its next exoplanet hunting telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is due to launch from Cape Canaveral on the evening of April 16.

Following the Kepler space telescope’s discovery of more than 5,000 possible exoplanets since 2009, TESS will continue the galactic census — flagging more planetary candidates for further study.

Astronomers expect TESS to find about 20,000 planets in its first two years in operation, focusing on nearby, bright stars that will be easy for other telescopes to investigate later. About 500 of those expected exoplanets would be less than twice the size of Earth — and therefore may be good places to look for life.

NASA’s next exoplanet hunting telescope, TESS

SMALL BUT MIGHTY NASA’s next exoplanet hunting telescope, TESS, is only 1.5 meters tall (shown here with engineers). Its size is partly due to the fact that it was designed to launch on NASA’s small Taurus rocket, but will instead launch on a larger SpaceX Falcon 9 on April 16.

ORBITAL ATK

The TESS mission is “a whole new opening for exoplanet studies,” MIT astronomer Sara Seager, TESS’ deputy science director, said during a news conference describing the upcoming launch.

TESS will be the first NASA science mission launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Once in orbit, the spacecraft will trace an unusual, elliptical path between Earth and the moon that will enable it to observe at least 85 percent of the sky — 350 times as much sky as Kepler saw.

Most of the planets found by Kepler orbit stars 1,000 light-years away or farther. TESS will focus on 200,000 stars that are a few hundred light-years away at most, and shine between 30 to 100 times brighter on average than Kepler’s.

The brighter the star, the easier it is to determine its planet’s characteristics, such as its mass and whether it has an atmosphere, Seager says. “Photons are our currency — the more, the better,” she says.

That follow-up will help TESS avoid some of Kepler’s pitfalls. Because Kepler’s stars were so far and so dim, some of its planet candidates were confirmed as actual planets only by statistics rather than by other telescopes. And not all those confirmations may stick. A recent paper posted at arXiv.org showed that Kepler 452b, an Earth-sized planet that orbits a sunlike star at the same distance Earth orbits the sun, may be a mirage (SN: 8/22/15, p. 16). Many of TESS’ planets won’t face the same uncertainty.

the TESS sattelite

COASTING IN SPACE The TESS satellite’s unusual 13.7-day orbit uses the moon’s gravity to stabilize it, so it needs little fuel. During the part of the orbit colored blue, TESS will observe the sky. During the part marked in orange, it will transmit data back to Earth. The gray ring marks the moon’s orbit.

NASA

But the way TESS will search for exoplanets is the same as Kepler: The satellite will watch stars for signs of dimming, which can indicate that a planet is transiting, or crossing in front of, the star. Measuring how much starlight is blocked can tell astronomers the size of the planet.

Once TESS finds a planet, astronomers will need more information to understand its qualities, such as whether it’s rocky or gassy (SN Online: 6/19/17). For that, other telescopes will follow up. Ground-based telescopes will measure the gravitational tug of a planet on its host star to learn the planet’s density, which is a clue to its composition. Astronomers plan to measure masses for at least 50 TESS planets that are smaller than Neptune in the hopes that many of them will have rocky, and therefore potentially habitable, surfaces.

Undiscovered country

Before TESS, most known planets were more than 1,000 light-years away, with a few closer than 30 light-years (a parsec is 3.26 light-years). TESS (orange circles) will fill in the gap. The size of the circles represents how easy the planets are to find.

graph showing where TESS will be able to detect planets
ZACH BERTA-THOMPSON

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, now scheduled to launch in 2020, will then check some of those planets for signs of life (SN: 4/30/16, p. 32).

“This is one of the major questions that TESS is intended to answer: Where will we be pointing Webb?” said the mission’s principal investigator, MIT astronomer George Ricker, at the press conference. Webb will peer at the starlight filtering through planetary atmospheres to try to detect molecules that could be produced by something living on the surface.

It will take a few months for TESS to swing into its regular orbit before it begins collecting data. At that point, it will be able to use the moon’s gravity to stabilize itself for decades in orbit without using extra fuel. The mission is set to last two years, but could continue taking data almost indefinitely.

“TESS is not going to be limited by any expendable or other aspects,” Ricker said. “It will be basically limited by how long NASA has the patience to fund the mission.”

[“Source-sciencenews”]

Will Need Government Incentives To Fulfil India’s EV Dream: Maruti Suzuki

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India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzukisaid today that government incentives will be needed to make electric vehicles (EVs) affordable as the country moves towards the eco-friendly solution for mobility. The company, which plans to launch its first EV in India by 2020, also said it will conduct a study to find consumer insights to prepare for the journey. Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) Chairman RC Bhargava said affordability is a major challenge that EVs will face and for them to be successful, focus has to be on manufacturing of batteries and other components within the country to bring down cost.

Maruti Suzuki

Maruti Suzuki Cars

  • Baleno

  • Vitara Brezza

  • Swift

  • Alto 800

  • Dzire

  • Celerio

  • Wagon R

  • Ignis

  • Ertiga

  • Celerio X

  • Omni

  • S-Cross

  • Eeco

  • Ciaz

  • Alto K10

  • Gypsy

“I think it will be required… My gut feeling is that yes, some kind of intervention would be required but I don’t know to what extent,” he told reporters when asked if government incentives would be needed to support electric vehicles transition in India.

Also Read: Maruti Suzuki Studying Market For Electric Vehicles

As electric vehicles are a new development for the Indian auto industry it would be difficult to say in details how much government support would be needed, he added. The company will conduct a study to understand more about consumer insights on electric vehicles, which will also help in estimating how much of government support will be needed, he said.

“Before that I can’t really say with any kind of confidence that this the kind of government intervention is required,” Bhargava said.

The aim of the study would be to find out as to what is the ground reality, where people park their cars and charging infrastructure and what is their thinking about EVs, he said. “It will gauge what average consumer thinks about EVs. This survey is going to provide us the first reliable data from the ground. We will start it within two to three weeks and by about end of February we would have some authentic basis to answer queries on EVs,” Bhargava said.

Stressing on the need for cost of electric cars to be within the reach of consumers, he said, “75 per cent of cars are small cars. How to make small cars electrified and affordable?

“I think this is one of the challenges which we will have to face because making an affordable large car is different from making an affordable small car. We need to keep that in mind. So what kind of government support, policy is required needs to be worked out.”

The government has set eyes on 100 per cent EVs for public mobility and 40 per cent electric for personal mobility by 2030. In a white paper submitted to the government, auto industry body SIAM had proposed 40 per cent of all new vehicles sold in the country to be electric by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2047.

When asked about MSI’s EV launch plans, he Bhargava said the first one will hit the market by 2020 and the company will also set up charging stations. On the future of conventional internal combustion (IC) engine vehicles, he said it will continue to grow.

The company has done an assessment, assuming an annual growth rate of 8 per cent between now and 2030, that 71 million cars will be sold, of which 14.4 million will be electric and 56.6 million will be IC vehicles, he said. “So, conventional cars will continue to be four times that of electrics,” he added.

[“Source-ndtv”]