Success! TESS Takes First Science Image and Finds First Exoplanet

The “first light” image from TESS, showing large swaths of the souther sky. Image Credit: NASA/MIT/TESS

NASA’s newest planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), has just returned its first science image of the mission – ushering in a new era of exoplanet study and the search for other habitable worlds. This “first light” image is a detailed picture of the southern sky taken with all four of the spacecraft’s wide-field cameras, and shows a wide range of stars and other objects, including star systems that were already known to have exoplanets. It has also discovered its first new exoplanet!

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Elon Outlines New SpaceX BFR Design, Introduces First Private Citizen for Flight to the Moon

The first crewed mission to the moon and back on the SpaceX BFR / BFS, sporting a new design over the original with actuating fins at both the front and rear, to serve as wings / body flaps and landing legs. Illustration Credit: SpaceX

Last night, SpaceX’s leader Elon Musk announced the company’s plans to fly the first ever private customer around the moon in the coming years. On a livestream from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, Musk gave both an update on BFR / BFS designs and introduced that private citizen, Japanese businessman billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.

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Flying Free With Meade and Lee: Remembering STS-64's Untethered Spacewalk, OTD in 1994

Astronaut Carl Meade flies freely from Discovery’s payload bay, during his spacewalk with Mark Lee, on this day in 1994. Photo Credit: NASA

One hundred and twenty-three times before 16 September 1994, astronauts and cosmonauts had clambered outside their space ships and maneuvered themselves around in the harsh, unforgiving vacuum of space. They had used handholds and tethers and specialized maneuvering units to prevent them from losing contact with their vehicles and floating away into the void. When STS-64 astronauts Mark Lee and Carl Meade ventured outside shuttle Discovery’s airlock on that early-fall day in 1994, they wore something quite distinct and entirely new on their space suit backpacks. Known as the Simplified Aid for Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Rescue (SAFER), it was a $7 million self-rescue tool and its descendents are today routinely used by spacewalkers on the International Space Station (ISS).

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'Godspeed Delta II', Historic Workhorse Rocket Delivers ICESat-2 to Orbit On 155th And Final Mission

The final United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket launch with the NASA Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) onboard, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The ICESat-2 mission will measure the changing height of Earth’s ice. Photo Credit: John Kraus / AmericaSpace

Saturday proved bittersweet for United Launch Alliance (ULA), as the Centennial, Colo.-based organization successfully lofted the final Delta II booster, wrapping up a 155-flight career which extends back almost three decades. With its characteristic growl, which builds in a howling shriek at the instant of liftoff, the 132-foot-tall (40.3-meter) rocket roared away from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-2W at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.—its 45th launch from the West Coast—at 6:02 a.m. PDT, to deliver NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat)-2 into a near-circular, near-polar orbit.

As outlined in AmericaSpace’s preview article, the satellite will pick up the baton left by the first ICESat mission, investigating how melting polar ice-sheets contribute to sea-level change and climate change, as well as understanding the correlation between sea-ice thickness and the exchange of energy, mass and moisture between the ice, ocean and atmosphere.

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Workhorse Delta II Stands Ready at Vandenberg for Final Launch on Saturday

The Delta II has a long and chequered history, extending back almost three decades. Its final launch is slated for this weekend from Vandenberg AFB with NASA’s ICESAT 2. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

If all goes well in the small hours of Saturday, 15 September, the workhorse Delta II—a rocket already used 154 times in almost three decades, with a near-perfect success record—will log its swansong mission to deliver NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat)-2 into a near-circular, near-polar orbit, some 287 miles (463 km) above Earth. Liftoff is targeted for 5:46 a.m. PDT (8:46 a.m. EDT) from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-2W at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. And if the venerable old booster performs its job to its usual standards, it will proudly retire into the annals of space history with an unbroken run of 100 consecutive launch successes. Truly, the story of the Delta II is the story of the one of the most remarkable vehicles ever used to launch missions into space.

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Half the World's Population To Be Covered by Telstar 18V, Following Middle-of-Night SpaceX Launch

Merlins burning bright as a new Falcon 9 ‘Block 5’ rocket launches the Telstar 18V satellite from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 40 in Florida on Sep 10, 2018. Photo Credit: John Kraus / AmericaSpace.com

More than a month since its last launch, SpaceX has successfully delivered the heavyweight Telstar 18 Vantage (or “18V”) communications satellite towards a geostationary location, some 22,300 miles (35,900 km) above Earth. Liftoff of the Falcon 9 ‘Block 5’ occurred from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 12:45 a.m. EDT Monday, 10 September, about 80 minutes into a four-hour “launch window”, after being delayed for weather.

The flight marked the fourth outing of SpaceX’s new Block 5 booster, and within nine minutes Telstar 18V was deployed and the first stage of the booster returned to a smooth touchdown on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), dubbed “Of Course I Still Love You”, positioned offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

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'Luxurious' Launch: Remembering the Pre-Sunset Flight of Discovery STS-64, A Quarter-Century Ago

Discovery springs away from Pad 39B at the cusp of evening, 24 years ago. Photo Credit: NASA

Almost a quarter-century ago, today, on 9 September 1994, Commander Dick Richards awoke for the most “luxurious” launch morning of his career. Having previously experienced early-hours rides into space on his three previous shuttle missions, Richards had been required to “sleep-shift” in order to properly align his circadian rhythms with a middle-of-the-night wakeup. On STS-64, which was targeted for a late-afternoon launch, his crew could sleep in until 7:30 a.m. “We didn’t really have to do much in the way of sleep-shift,” he remembered in the post-flight NASA news conference. “We were sleep-shifted for this flight when we were assigned to it, about nine months prior.”

Five of the six STS-64 astronauts—Richards, Pilot Blaine Hammond and Mission Specialists Susan Helms, Carl Meade and Mark Lee—had been named to the flight in November 1993 and were joined by late addition Jerry Linenger the following February. With a heavy load of payloads, satellite deployment and retrieval and an ambitious spacewalk, STS-64 required its six astronauts “to more efficiently distribute the crew workload for this complex flight”.

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SpaceX Targeting Sunday Night Launch of Telstar 18V Satellite From Florida

Telstar 19 VANTAGE headed to orbit atop SpaceX’s second ‘Block 5’ Falcon 9 rocket on July 22, 2018 at 1:50am EDT from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

SpaceX is hoping to fly their first mission in a month this weekend from Florida, aiming for a late-night launch from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. with the heavyweight Telstar 18 Vantage (or “18V”) communications satellite on Sunday evening (Sep 9). Liftoff is scheduled for 11:28 p.m. EDT, at the opening of a four-hour “launch window”, and will mark the fourth outing of SpaceX’s new Block 5 booster, which will roar to space to deploy the satellite towards a geostationary location some 22,300 miles (35,900 km) above Earth. 

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'Towering Hexagon' and Auroras: Saturn's North Polar Wonders

The already well-known hexagon at Saturn’s north pole is a massive jet stream in the atmosphere, similar to the Polar Jet Stream on Earth, but much larger. A new study shows that a “secondary” hexagon extends above this one for hundreds of miles. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s north pole is an incredibly active place, data from NASA’s Cassini mission and the Hubble Space Telescope have shown, with its massive hexagonal weather system and powerful auroras. Now, a new study, published Sept. 3 in Nature Communications, has shown that not only is there the main hexagon in the lower layers of the atmosphere, as already seen, but also a related hexagon pattern above that, towering over the surrounding clouds. This structure is thought to extend hundreds of miles in height. The new images from Hubble, meanwhile, show Saturn’s spectacular auroras in ultraviolet light, fluttering in the upper atmosphere just like ones on Earth, but much more intense.

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'An Evolving Process': Remembering the Shuttle's First Landing in Darkness, 35 Years Ago

Challenger alights on concrete Runway 22 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in the small hours of 5 September 1983. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Characterized by NASA as “any landing which occurs no later than 15 minutes before sunrise”, nighttime landings were among the most dramatic events in the 30-year span of the Space Shuttle Program (SSP). On 26 occasions between August 1983 and July 2011—most recently the triumphant homecoming of the program’s final voyage, STS-135—shuttle crews alighted at night on the runway at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida or Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to wrap up a variety of missions, including the first Hubble servicing and the inaugural construction flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Thirty-five years ago, this week, Challenger and her five-man STS-8 crew touched down at Edwards to complete the first nighttime landing of the shuttle program. Dictated by operational parameters, landing at night was a fundamental requirement in NASA’s pre-51L drive to make shuttle missions more “routine”.

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