Space Sunday: rocket power and space stations

Dude, why’s my car in orbit? Musk’s cherry-red Tesla photographed from its payload mounting on the Falcon Heavy upper stage. Credit: SpaceX

On Tuesday, February 6th, SpaceX launched one of the world’s most powerful launch vehicles – in fact, currently, the most powerful launcher in operation since NASA’s massive Saturn V rocket by a factor of 2 in terms of lift capability.

I’m of course talking about the Falcon Heavy, which after years of development and launch delays, finally took the to skies at 15:45 EST (20:45 UTC) on the 6th, after upper altitude wind shear delayed the launch from its planned 13:30 EST lift-off time – which would have been at the start of the four-hour launch window required to send its payload on a trans-Mars injection heliocentric orbit.

Three cores, 27 Merlin engines, 5 million pounds of thrust. A remarkable shot of the lower part of the Falcon Heavy at lift-off, captured by Ryan Chylinski. Credit: R. Chylinski / SpaceFlight Insider

The run-up to the launch was handled fairly conservatively by SpaceX: Falcon Heavy is a complex system – effectively three individual Falcon 9 rockets which have to operate in unison. So much might go wrong that even Elon Musk was stating he’d be happy if the vehicle was lost after it had cleared the launch pad. This was not a joke: in September 2016, a pre-flight test of a Falcon 9 lead to the loss of the vehicle, its payload and massive damage to its Cape Canaveral launch pad, putting a dent in SpaceX’s launch capabilities at the time. A similar event at Kennedy Space Centre’s pad 39-A, the only launch facility capable of handling the Falcon Heavy, would be a massive setback for the company’s 2018 aspirations.

However, and as we all know, the launch proved to be flawless. All 27 engines fired as required, generating the same thrust as 18 747 running all their engines at full throttle, and the vehicle took to the air. Two minutes later, the “stack” reached the point of “max-Q”, the point at which aerodynamic stress on a vehicle in atmospheric flight is maximised (symbolised in a formula as “q” – hence “max Q”). At this point, were the rocket’s engines to continue to run at full thrust, the combined stresses could literally shake the vehicle apart; so instead the motors are throttled back, easing the strain on the vehicle, prior to them returning to full thrust as “max-Q” has passed.

The Falcon Heavy flight path. Credit: SpaceX

After passing through “max-Q”, the vehicle completed perhaps the most spectacular part of its flight. Their job done, the two outer Falcon 9 stages shut down their engines and separated from the core rocket. Then then re-lit their engines to boost them vertically to where both could perform a back-flip and then return for a landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just south of Kennedy Space Centre. So perfect was this aerial ballet that the two boosters landed almost simultaneously.

The central first stage should have also made a return to Earth after separating from the upper stage, landing aboard one of the company’s two autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) – necessary because the stage had flown too far and too high to make a return to dry land. This was the only point of failure for the flight. Unfortunately, it over-burnt its propellants, leaving it without enough fuel to land on the floating platform. Instead, it slammed into the sea at an estimated 480 km/h (300 mph), some 100 metres (300ft) from the ASDS – the only notable failure in the launch.

Two from one: the moment at which two Falcon 9 cores are about to touch-down at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station following the February 6th, 2018 launch of Falcon Heavy. Credit: SpaceX

The second stage, however, performed perfectly, the payload fairings jettisoned, and the world got its first look at a car in space: Musk’s own Tesla Roadster, complete with a spacesuited mannequin (“Starman”) at the wheel, Don’t Panic – a reference to The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – displayed on the dashboard. During the ascent, he was apparently listening to David Bowie’s Space Oddity played on the car’s stereo.

Right now, “Starman” and the car are en-route to a point out just beyond the orbit of Mars. It is is on a heliocentric (Sun-centred)  orbit, travelling between 147 million and 260 million km (91.3 million and 161.5 million mi) from the Sun, and passing across both the orbits of Mars and Earth in the process – but without actually coming close to either. It will continue in this orbit for millions of years. Continue reading “Space Sunday: rocket power and space stations”

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Family, survival, magic and Shadows in Second Life

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home at Holly Kai Park, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, February 11th 18:00: The Not-Just-Anybody Family

When Junior Blossom wakes up in the hospital, his last memory is of crouching on the barn roof with cloth wings tied to his arms, and of Maggie and Vern in the yard below, urging him to fly. That had been just before Junior spotted a police car approaching the farm in a cloud of dust.

Meanwhile Pap, the children’s grandfather, sits in disgrace in the city jail. He was arrested for disturbing the peace after his pick-up truck accidentally dumped 2,147 beer and soda cans on Spring Street.

With their mother away on the rodeo circuit, it’s up to Maggie and Vern to find a way to rescue Pap and Junior. How will they solve their family problems?

Join Caledonia Skytower at the Golden Horsehoe for this Magicland Storytime reading of this Betsy Byars classic.

Monday, February 12th 19:00: Sentenced to Prism

Prism is a planet with a uniquely crystaline environment and which supports both silicon and carbon-based life forms. It is a planet where even the tiniest creatures are living jewels.

For some time, the Company has been illegally exploiting Prism, but now all contact has been lost with the research team there, leaving the Company with a problem. Any attempt to launch a rescue mission will draw unwanted attention both to Prism and to the Company’s activities. Something else must done; so they call on the talents of Evan Orgell.

A smart, self-confident and successful problem-solver, Orgell has access to the best equipment available within the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, and as Orgell discovers, Prism is a harsh and hard place – a lot harder than his state-of-the-art environment suit. When that succumbs to the local flora/fauna, Orgell finds himself exposed to the hostile environment and fighting for his survival without any protection, dependent upon little more than his wits.

Then help arrives from an unexpected quarter: a sentient life-form native to Prism calling itself A Surface of Fine Azure-Tinted Reflection With Pyroxin Dendritic Inclusions – which Orgell decides to call “Azure”.

Join Gyro Muggins as he reads a standalone story from Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth series.

Tuesday, February 13th 19:00: 21 Balloons

Faerie Maven-Pralou reads William Pène du Bois’ 1947 children’s classic, The Twenty-one Balloons.

A steamship en route across the North Atlantic comes across the strange wreckage of twenty deflated gas balloons and rescue, much to their surprise, a lone man – one Professor William Waterman Sherman.

The professor had last been seen some three weeks previously, departing San Francisco aboard a giant balloon, determined to spend a year aloft and drifting on his own.

Now, as word spreads that the professor has been found alive and well – and in completely the wrong ocean to the one he had last been seen flying towards – the world awaits the story of how he came to circumnavigate the globe in record time, only to be fished from the wreckage of twenty balloons when he had started with just the one. When he has sufficiently rested and recovered after receiving a hero’s welcome on his homecoming, the good professor tells a tale most fantastic…

Wednesday, February 14th 19:00: The Night Circus

Caledonia Skytower reads selections from Erin Morgenstern tale about a circus that suddenly arrives without no warning: one day a field is empty, the next the circus, with big top and paraphernalia is just there. Called Le Cirque des Rêves, it is only open at night and offers visitors a unique experience full of breathtaking amazements.

But behind the scenes, lies a fierce competition – a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors.

Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble head-first into love – a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Thursday, February 15th 19:00 From The Shadows – Phantom Loves

With Shandon Loring. Also presented in Kitely (hop://grid.kitely.com:8002/Seanchai/144/129/29).

 


Please check with the Seanchai Library’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The featured charity for January / February 2018 is Reach Out and Read, giving young children a foundation for success by incorporating books into paediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together.