Tag Archives: engineering

First image of multi-exoplanets around young sunlike star

Two exoplanets in one image

Worlds without end: Using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, astronomers have taken the first image that captures two different exoplanets circling a young sunlike star.

The star’s light is partly blocked in the upper left of the photo to the right, cropped slightly to post here.

You can read the paper here [pdf]. The star itself, though similar in mass to the Sun, is thought to be only seventeen million years old.

But the system, dubbed TYC 8998-760-1, is nothing like our solar system. One of the star’s companions straddles the line that defines planets, with a mass 14 times Jupiter’s; the other has a mass of six Jupiters. Both orbit far from the star, about 160 and 320 times the average distance between Earth and the Sun. That puts them more than four times farther out than Pluto is from the Sun.

The size and distance of these giant planets were why they could be imaged from the ground.

Break in fuel line caused LauncherOne failure

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit has determined that a break in the oxygen feed line in its LauncherOne rocket caused the failure during its first orbital test flight in late May.

Speaking at a webinar organized by the Space Generation Advisory Council, an organization for young space industry professionals, Dan Hart said the demonstration mission for the LauncherOne rocket May 25 went well until several seconds after the ignition of the NewtonThree engine that powers the rocket’s first stage. “We had a component break in our engine system. It was a high-pressure feed line,” he said. Liquid oxygen “stopped going into the engine and our flight was terminated.”

The company has performed an investigation and identified what needs to be fixed in the engine to strengthen the components that failed. A second LauncherOne rocket is in final integration right now and will be leaving the factory in the next few weeks while modifications to the engine continue. “We’ll be targeting our next flight before the end of the year,” Hart said.

They need to meet that schedule, as in the past few years they have consistently failed to fly when promised.

Cubesat uses thruster to avoid collision

Capitalism in space: For the first time a cubesat has used a thruster to not only adjust its orbit but to also avoid a collision with another satellite.

From June 23 to July 3, the UWE-4 cubesat fired its NanoFEEP thrusters several times to reduce its altitude by more than 100 meters. By comparison, natural orbital decay would lower the altitude 21 meters in the same timeframe, according to a University of Wuerzburg news release.

One July 2, as the UWE-4 cubesat was lowering its altitude, the University received a warning from the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron of a July 5 conjunction with a retired Iridium satellite. When UWE-4 mission operations personnel analyzed the conjunction, they determined the UWE-4 cubesat would not collide with the Iridium satellite because it would be orbiting at a lower altitude. As a result of the analysis, UWE-4 mission operations personnel continued firing thrusters to lower the cubesat’s altitude. They received no further conjunction messages.

The thrusters were built by Morpheus Space. Incorporating thrusters onto a cubesat, the size of which fits on the palm of your hand, is quite amazing, and illustrates the growing capability of these tiny satellites.

Moving ripples on Mars

Using Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) high resolution images, scientists have now determined that the giant ripples seen from space are actually moving, albeit very slowly.

Megaripples are found in deserts on Earth, often between dunes. Waves in the sand spaced up to tens of meters apart, they’re a larger version of ripples that undulate every 10 centimeters or so on many sand dunes. But unlike dunes, megaripples are made up of two sizes of sand grains. Coarser, heavier grains cap the crests of megaripples, making it harder for wind to move these features around, says Simone Silvestro, a planetary scientist at Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics in Naples.

Since the early 2000s, Mars rovers and orbiters have repeatedly spotted megaripples on the Red Planet. But they didn’t seem to change in any measurable way, which led some scientists to think they were relics from Mars’s past, when its thicker atmosphere permitted stronger winds.

Now, using images captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Silvestro and his colleagues have shown that some megaripples do creep along—just very slowly.

They found that the ripples shift position about four inches per year, which astonished them since they had not believed the winds of Mars were strong enough to move them at all.

Russia launches Progress freighter to ISS

Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS using its Soyuz-2 rocket.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

17 China
11 SpaceX
8 Russia
3 ULA
3 Japan

The U.S. still leads China 18 to 17 in the national rankings. Expect these numbers to change almost daily during the rest of July. A lot of launches are on tap.

Midnight repost: Elon Musk and the forgotten word

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: Today’s repost comes from October 20, 2011, following Elon Musk’s National Press Club speech where he announced he was going to vertically land the Falcon 9 first stages so they could be reused. In comparing the new commercial competitive space industry with NASA’s government-run space program, I tried to outline the fundamental reason the former was always going to do better than the latter.

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Elon Musk and the forgotten word

Elon Musk at National Press Club

When Elon Musk gave his speech at the National Press Club on September 29, he was asked one question to which he really did not know the answer. He faked it, but his response illustrated how completely forgotten is one fundamental fact about American society — even though this fact is the very reason the United States became the world’s most wealthy and powerful nation less than two centuries after its founding.

To explain this fundamental fact I think I need to take a step back and talk about the ongoing war taking place right now over how the United States should get its astronauts into space. On one side we have NASA and Congress, who want NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket to carry its Orion capsule beyond Earth orbit. On the other side we have a host of independent new space companies, all vying for the chance to launch humans and cargo into space for fun and profit.

Which is right? What system should the United State choose?
» Read more

Tianwen-1 successfully launched, on its way to Mars

UPDATE: According to news reports, China tonight successfully launched Tianwen-1 towards Mars, with arrival expected in February 2021.

Below the fold is a live stream of the launch of the Long March 5 rocket. It is not in English, and since it was not linked to China’s mission control, it only covers the first two minutes or so, after which the rocket went out of sight.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

17 China
11 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA
3 Japan

The U.S. still leads China 18 to 17 in the national rankings.
» Read more

Rover update: Curiosity pauses to drill

Curiosity's entire journey so far in Gale Crater

Overview map of Curiosity's recent travels

The artist’s oblique drawing above, as well as the map to the right, provide some context as to Curiosity’s present location and its entire journey in Gale Crater. For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater. For all rover updates since then through May 2020, go here.

Since my last update on July 7, 2020, Curiosity has quickly moved a considerable distance to the east, as planned, skirting the large sand field to the south in its journey to the best path upward onto Mt. Sharp. The science team however has detoured away from their planned route, shown in red on the map, heading downhill a bit in order to find one last good location in the clay unit to drill. They are at that location now and are presently scouting for the best drilling spot.

About a week ago, before heading downhill, they had stopped to take a set of new images of Curiosity’s wheels. » Read more

After releasing its Ryugu samples Hayabusa-2’s mission will continue

Japan’s space agency JAXA has revealed that it is looking at two fast-spinning asteroids as possible destinations for its Hayabusa-2 spacecraft after it has dropped off its samples from the asteroid Ryugu on December 6.

The candidate asteroids on the agency’s list are asteroid 2001AV43 which Hayabusa2 would reach in November 2029 after flying by Venus, and asteroid 1998KY26 which the probe would reach in July 2031 after passing by another asteroid.

JAXA says both asteroids are rotating on their axis once every 10 minutes. The high-speed spinning indicates that the asteroids’ inner structures are likely different from that of asteroid Ryugu on the first mission, which consists of pieces of rocks.

The spacecraft will no longer have the equipment for returning additional samples, but everything else is functioning and it has the fuel.

Tianwen-1 launch set for July 23rd

China has rolled out its Long March 5 rocket and is now preparing to launch its Tianwen-1 orbiter/lander/rover to Mars this coming Thursday, July 23rd, some time between 12 am and 3 am (Eastern).

A Long March 5 rocket is set for liftoff with China’s Tianwen 1 mission some time between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m. EDT (0400-0700 GMT) Thursday, according to public notices warning ships to steer clear of downrange drop zones along the launcher’s flight path.

Chinese officials have not officially publicized the launch date. Chinese state media outlets have only reported the launch is scheduled for late July or early August, and officials have not confirmed whether the launch will be broadcast live on state television.

This will be the first operational launch of the Long March 5, which has had three previous test launches, with the first two failing. The success of the December launch, as well as the May success of the related Long March 5B, made this Mars mission possible.

After achieving orbit in February 2021 and spending two months scouting the landing site, the lander will descend to the surface, bringing the rover with it. The prime landing site is Utopia Planitia, in the northern lowland plains.

Utopia Planitia, the prime landing site for China’s Tianwen-1 Mars rover

More blobs in Utopia Planitia
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image is not only cool, it gives a nice feel for the likely shallow ice table that is probably found close to the surface throughout the lowland northern plains of Utopia Planitia, which is also the prime landing site for China’s Taenwen-1 Mars lander/rover, scheduled for launch sometime in the next four days. [Update: there are now indications the launch will not occur until early August.]

The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken on May 9, 2020 and shows a nice collection of strange land forms on the western edge of Utopia Planitia. In this one picture we can see large mounds that might be evidence of cryovolcanic activity (mud volcanoes), strings of small mounds that might be the same but that also suggest underground faults and voids, and distorted and eroded craters that could have buried glacial material in the interiors.

The largest crater in the upper left looks like it is actually filled with ice that has also spilled over to fill the adjacent and linked depression.

This location is quite typical of Utopia Planitia. See for example this post from May 13, 2020: The blobby wettish flows of Mars. In the mid-latitudes here we find ample evidence that buried very close to the surface is an ice table that when hit by an impact melts to form these strangely shaped craters.

China’s actual target landing area is far to the east of today’s cool image, in an area that is appears far less rough. » Read more

Active volcanoes on Venus?

Using computer models and past radar images from orbiters, scientists now believe that Venus could have as many as 37 active volcanoes.

The type of feature on Venus they think might still be active is called a coronae, circular features detected by radar and distinct to this planet that have been thought to be inactive ancient volcanic features.

In the new study, the researchers used numerical models of thermo-mechanic activity beneath the surface of Venus to create high-resolution, 3D simulations of coronae formation. Their simulations provide a more detailed view of the process than ever before.

The results helped Montési and his colleagues identify features that are present only in recently active coronae. The team was then able to match those features to those observed on the surface of Venus, revealing that some of the variation in coronae across the planet represents different stages of geological development. The study provides the first evidence that coronae on Venus are still evolving, indicating that the interior of the planet is still churning.

Lots of uncertainty here, but nonetheless this is good science. It also reinforces other evidence in recent years that has suggested active volcanism on Venus.

SpaceX successfully catches both fairings from a launch

Capitalism in space: For the first time SpaceX yesterday successfully caught both fairings halves in the nets of their ships as they floated down to the ocean on their parasails.

Previously they have mostly plucked the fairings from the sea, though they have caught a few in the netting of the ships. To catch both simplifies the preparation for the next flight enormously, as they never touched the water.

Midnight repost: A flag in the dust

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: This essay was posted originally on July 20, 2010, then reposted on July 20, 2011, to celebrate the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. It seems fitting to post it again, on this, the 51st anniversary of that landing.

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A flag in the dust

Today, July 20th, is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, the first time ever that a human being arrived on another planet. Americans love to celebrate this event, as it symbolizes one of the finest moments in our history, when we set out to achieve something truly great and noble and succeeded far better than we could have imagined. Not only did we get to the Moon as promised, over the next three and a half years we sent another five missions, each with increasingly sophisticated equipment, each sent to explore some increasingly alien terrain. Forty-plus years later, no one has come close to matching this achievement, a fact that emphasizes how difficult it was for the United States to accomplish it.

There is one small but very important detail about the Apollo 11 mission, however, that most Americans are unaware of. » Read more

SpaceX successfully launches South Korean military satellite

Falcon 9 first stage after landing

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched a South Korean military satellite, with its Falcon 9 rocket using the same first stage that launched two American astronauts to ISS less than two months ago.

This was the company’s fastest turnaround yet of a used first stage, 51 days, which also beats the fastest turnaround ever by the shuttle program, 54 days. And as you can see by the screen capture image to the right, they successfully landed it so that it can be used for a third time.

Watching the camera on that first stage after separation (on SpaceX’s live stream) to landing was most fascinating. After separation its tail end points down to the west and its launch site in Florida. As it curves upward and then down towards its landing in the Atlantic, its small thrusters and grid fins very slowly and gracefully swing that tail to instead point east and down to the drone ship. I had not noticed previously the gentleness of that re-positioning. The daylight clear weather today, plus excellent camera access, made it very obvious.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

16 China
11 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA
3 Japan

The U.S. now leads China in the national rankings, 18 to 16.

Why the UAE’s Hope Mars Orbiter is really a US mission for UAE’s students

Today there were many many news stories touting the successful launch of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first interplanetary probe, Hope, (al-Amal in Arabic), successfully launched yesterday from Japan. This story at collectSpace is typical, describing the mission in detail and noting its overall goals not only to study the Martian atmosphere but to inspire the young people in the UAE to pursue futures in the fields of science and engineering.

What most of these reports gloss over is how little of Hope was really built by the UAE. The UAE paid the bills, but during design and construction almost everything was done by American universities as part of their education programs, though arranged so that it was UAE’s students and engineers who were getting the education.
» Read more

No TMT construction until 2021, according to its builders

According to the university consortium building the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), they will make no attempt to begin construction until the end of winter in 2021.

According to the official spokesman, the consortium remains committed to building the telescope in Hawaii on Mauna Kea, but I do not see how it will ever happen. The present Democratic government supports the protesters, and there is no chance that government will ever be voted out of power.

Based on this information, I do not think TMT will ever be built, anywhere.

UAE’s Hope Mars Orbiter successfully launched

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates first interplanetary probe, its Hope Mars Orbiter, was successfully launched by a Mitsubishi H-2A rocket today from Japan, and is now on its way to Mars.

It will arrive in February 2021, when it will attempt to inject itself into orbit, where it will then be used to study the Martian weather.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

16 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA
3 Japan

The U.S. still leads China in the national rankings, 17 to 16.

British Airways retires 747 fleet

Because of the crash in customer demand due to the Wuhan virus panic, British Airways has abruptly retired its entire fleet of 747s.

This retirement had been planned, as the 747 is expensive to operate. The airline had planned however to phase them out over several years. Now they simply don’t need them, as they are flying so few passengers.

I am fortunate that I got to fly on one in 2019, in a vacation trip to Wales with Diane. This might have been the only time I ever flew on a 747, and it was a remarkably smooth flight, both during take-off and landing. It is sad to see this magnificent American achievement finally leave us.

NASA: Dragon crew will return to Earth August 2nd

Capitalism in space: Assuming that the weather cooperates, NASA has now set August 2nd as the date the manned Dragon capsule will return to Earth with its two man crew.

Assuming good weather and a smooth final few weeks on the International Space Station, astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are scheduled to undock from the orbiting research outpost Aug. 1 and return to Earth the next day to wrap up a 64-day test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed the target dates for the Crew Dragon’s undocking and splashdown in a tweet Friday. A few hours after departing the space station, the Crew Dragon will fire its Draco thrusters for a braking burn and re-enter the atmosphere, targeting a parachute-assisted splashdown at sea. “Splashdown is targeted for Aug. 2,” he tweeted. “Weather will drive the actual date. Stay tuned.”

Note that the recovery operations, as has been the case with everything else on this flight, will be run entirely by SpaceX and its employees. NASA’s only real role is that of a customer and observer, though obviously agency officials are taking a hands-on part in determining the landing date.

More polygons on Mars!

Lava polygons on Mars?
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image, rotated, cropped, and contrast-enhanced to post here, focuses on polygons found near the equator of Mars. It was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on May 22, 2020, and shows what the science team labels as “well-preserved polygons.”

Previously I have posted cool images showing polygons (here and here), but those images were located in the northern mid-latitudes, and were thought to have been formed in connection with some form of freeze-melt-drying water process in permafrost.

Today’s image however is likely not related to water. It is located in the equatorial regions, where little water is expected. It also has a more permanent nature, which suggests that it is the result of some sort of volcanic or tectonic process. That the polygons are depressions suggests the latter, since a volcanic process is more likely to have filled cracks and left ridges more resistant to erosion, as explained by this article.

In this case the topography suggests instead some form of spreading and cracking process that left behind these polygon-shaped cracks. In mud, such polygons are found when the mud dries, but once again, these are in a very dry region. If formed in that manner they must have formed a very very long time ago, when the climate here was very different, and were somehow preserved for eons since.

The location, as shown in the overview map below provides some context, though it really doesn’t answer any questions..
» Read more

Launch update on Mars missions

The launch status of the three missions to Mars:

First, the launch of UAE’s Hope orbiter by Mitsubishi’s H-2A rocket has been pushed back to July 20th due to bad weather. Their launch window extends to August 3rd, so they still have two weeks before it closes.

Second, China has rolled to the launchpad the Long March 5 rocket, with the Tienwen-1 orbiter/lander/rover. Though they have only said that the launch will occur between July 20th and July 25th, based on past operations, they usually launch six days after roll-out, putting the launch date as July 23.

China has also provided some clarity as to Tienwen-1’s landing site on Mars. According to this Nature Astronomy paper [pdf], published on July 13th, their primary landing site is in the northern lowland plains of Utopia Planitia. The Tienwen-1 science team has also considered [pdf] the northern lowland plains in Chryse Planitia, on the other side of Mars.

Since they will spend two to three months in Mars orbit before sending the lander and rover to the surface, it could very well be that they won’t make a final decision until they get into orbit.

Finally, on July 7th Perseverance was mounted on top of its Atlas-5 rocket for its July 30th launch. Its launch window closes on August 15.

NASA confirms Webb launch delay to October 2021

NASA today confirmed that the launch date of the James Webb Space Telescope will be delayed again, from March 2021 to October 2021.

As schedule margins grew tighter last fall, the agency planned to assess the progress of the project in April. This assessment was postponed due to the pandemic and was completed this week. The factors contributing to the decision to move the launch date include the impacts of augmented safety precautions, reduced on-site personnel, disruption to shift work, and other technical challenges. Webb will use existing program funding to stay within its $8.8 billion development cost cap. [emphasis mine]

Note the highlighted words. Vague, eh? They are trying to make it seem that this new delay is solely because of the Wuhan virus panic, but that’s simply not justifiable. Notice how SpaceX has kept on launching Falcon 9s as well as testing new Starship prototypes throughout the panic. Somehow that private company was able keep its schedule going.

The truth is that as early as January, long before COVID-19 was even a blip on the horizon, the GAO was warning everyone that it was unlikely NASA and Northrop Grumman could meet the March 2021 launch date.

Webb is now more than a decade behind schedule, and once launched will have cost 20 times what it was originally budgeted ($500 million vs $10 billion). Let us pray that it works once it gets to is proper orbit, a million miles from Earth, since it will then be too far away to fix.

Starship prototype being prepped for first hop

Capitalism in space: SpaceX engineers, having successfully completed its tank pressure tests of its fifth Starship prototype, are now preparing the ship for its first static fire engine test, to be followed very quickly thereafter by its first hop to 150 meters.

SN5 [the fifth prototype] is being prepped for a flight test right out of the gate. SpaceX does not plan to perform an extended ground test campaign with SN5 after beginning Raptor engine testing.

It is understood that one good static fire test could be enough to clear the way for a 150-meter hop test. Furthermore, only a few days may be required to prepare SN5 for the flight test following a successful static fire test. If a static fire occurs this weekend, this will put the earliest possible hop date in the first half of next week.

As always, this schedule could change during testing.

The article also describes the status of both the sixth prototype, as well as the eighth being assembled now, noting that “if the 150-meter flight of Starship SN5 is successful, SpaceX is expected to quickly move on to Starship SN8 for an upcoming higher altitude flight test – potentially skipping a flight test with the SN6 prototype.”

Solar Orbiter’s first images, the closest ever of Sun

Campfires on Sun
Click for full image.

The Solar Orbiter science team today released the first images taken during the spacecraft’s first close fly-by of the Sun.

The image to the right, reduced to post here, highlights what they are touting as their first discovery, what they have dubbed “campfires” on the solar surface, small flares previously not known to exist.

The campfires shown in the first image set were captured by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) from Solar Orbiter’s first perihelion, the point in its elliptical orbit closest to the Sun. At that time, the spacecraft was only 77 million km away from the Sun, about half the distance between Earth and the star. “The campfires are little relatives of the solar flares that we can observe from Earth, million or billion times smaller,” says David Berghmans of the Royal Observatory of Belgium (ROB), Principal Investigator of the EUI instrument, which takes high-resolution images of the lower layers of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the solar corona. “The Sun might look quiet at the first glance, but when we look in detail, we can see those miniature flares everywhere we look.”

The scientists do not know yet whether the campfires are just tiny versions of big flares, or whether they are driven by different mechanisms. There are, however, already theories that these miniature flares could be contributing to one of the most mysterious phenomena on the Sun, the coronal heating.

Much more to come in future orbits, as the spacecraft works its way even closer to the Sun.

IG report: NASA’s Orion is a program of lies

The Orion capsule

In a report [pdf] released today, NASA’s inspector general confirmed unequivocally what I have been saying for years, that the agency’s project to build the Orion capsule has been built on lies, from the beginning.

First of all, the report slams NASA for purposely excluding from its public budget almost 60% of the total cost for the entire Orion project.
» Read more

Seismic signal from recent Martian impact detected by InSight?

According to a science paper released today, a small impact that occurred about 25 miles south from the InSight lander between February 21st and April 6, 2019 might have been detected by the spacecraft’s seismometer.

From the paper’s abstract:

During this time period, three seismic events were identified in InSight data. We derive expected seismic signal characteristics and use them to evaluate each of the seismic events. However, none of them can definitively be associated with this source. Atmospheric perturbations are generally expected to be generated during impacts; however, in this case, no signal could be identified as related to the known impact. Using scaling relationships based on the terrestrial and lunar analogs and numerical modeling, we predict the amplitude, peak frequency, and duration of the seismic signal that would have emanated from this impact. The predicted amplitude falls near the lowest levels of the measured seismometer noise for the predicted frequency. Hence it is not surprising this impact event was not positively identified in the seismic data.

Based on this data, they now think they will only be able to detect about two impacts per year with InSight’s seismometer, a decrease from the previous estimate of as many as ten.

Martian acne?

Acne on Mars?
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows what the scientists from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) label “fretted terrain.” In an earlier post describing evidence found by Europe’s Mars Express orbiter of glaciers in the northern mid-latitudes of Mars, fretted terrain was described as follows:

As is common with fretted terrain, it contains a mix of cliffs, canyons, scarps, steep-sided and flat-topped mounds (mesa), furrows, fractured ridges and more, a selection of which can be seen dotted across the frame.

These features were created as flowing material dissected the area, cutting through the existing landscape and carving out a web of winding channels. In the case of Deuteronilus Mensae, flowing ice is the most likely culprit. Scientists believe that this terrain has experienced extensive past glacial activity across numerous martian epochs.

In that case the fretted terrain was in the transition zone between the northern lowland plains and the southern cratered highlands, and actually resembled chaos terrain. What we see here looks far different, a surface that resembles the bubbly surface of a vat of thick molten stew.

This image is also deep in the cratered southern highlands, though still in the mid-latitudes at 41 degrees south latitude. While the presence of ice close to the surface is possible at this latitude and could definitely explain what this image shows, it would be a big mistake to accept this explanation without skepticism. A lot is going on here, and much of it suggests volcanic-type processes. The volcanoes might have been spewing mud or ice instead of molten lava, but then again, all is uncertain.

What is certain is that I can’t help thinking of the pock-marked skin of an adolescent teenager when I look at this photo. And for all we know, the processes that produce both surfaces could be in many ways similar.

Northrop Grumman launches U.S. reconnaissance satellites

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman today successfully used its Minotaur-4 rocket to launch four U.S. reconnaissance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Minotaur-4 is essentially re-purposed military ICBM that had been decommissioned, refurbished, and upgraded for orbital flight. This was its first launch from Wallops Island in Virginia. This was also Northrop Grumman’s second launch this year, which still leaves them out of the 2020 launch race leader board:

16 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA

Today’s launch however puts the U.S. ahead of China in the national rankings, 17 to 16.

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