Space Sunday: Artemis rises, a star is (almost) born

NASA’s SLS rocket soars into the Florida early morning sky, November 16th, 2022, at the start of the Artemis 1 mission to cislunar space.. Credit: United Launch Alliance

On November 16th, 2022 NASA launched what is – for a time at least – the world’s most powerful  rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), on its maiden flight. The uncrewed mission marks the first flight of a human-capable vehicle to the vicinity of the Moon under the aegis of NASA’s Project Artemis.

Lift-off came at 06:47 UTC on the morning, and the rocket – roughly the size of the Apollo Saturn V but massing around 400 tonnes less and with engines generating 5 meganewtons greater thrust – was no slow climber like Saturn V; instead it fairly leapt into the night sky, thundering from 0 to 120 km/h in just a handful of seconds as it lifted an Orion capsule and service module away from the launch pad and on their way to orbit.

The view home: a camera mounted on one of Orion’s four solar arrays looks back at Earth from a distance of almost 92,000 km, 12.5 hours after launch as the vehicle makes a sweeping 6-day arc out from Earth to the Moon. Credit: NASA TV

It was actually a launch that also nearly didn’t take place (again); during fuelling operations immediately ahead of the launch, a leak was detected. Such leaks have been the bane of this rocket’s existence, and for a time it was uncertain if NASA would stop or delay the fuelling operation – and even scrub the entire launch attempt.

Instead, a risky decision was taken to send in a Red Team to Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Centre to try to fix the leak with the liquid hydrogen propellant feed at the base of the rocket, even with propellants in the tank and the risk of a spark causing an explosion. The team – engineers Trent Annis, Billy Cairns and Chad Garrett worked under the “living” rocket – these monsters do not stand quietly when even partially fuelled, they creak, groan and periodically vent excess gasses – to tighten the “packing nuts” designed to hold the seals on the propellant feed line tightly in place. The crew arrived on the pad just 3.5 minutes ahead of the launch and had to work fast to fix the issue if a launch scrub was to be avoided.

The three-man Red Team address reporters following their trip to the launch pad to fix a liquid hydrogen propellant leak during fuelling operations. Credit: NASA TV

Obviously, the team was successful – which does not lessen the risks they took as unsung heroes of the launch – and at 07:01 UTC, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) upper stage of the rocket placed the Orion vehicle in an initial orbit, and just over 30 minutes afterwards, the Orion service module successfully deployed the four solar arrays required to provide it and Orion with electrical power.

An hour later, after raising Orion’s orbit, the IPCS stage re-lit is engines to propel Orion from Earth orbit and into a trans-lunar injection orbit at 08:37 UTC, the stage separating from the space vehicle at 09:13 UTC.

Since then, the mission has progressed precisely as planned. At 14:30 UTC, Orion completed its first engine burn, correcting its flight to the Moon, and then late in the day a camera mounted on one of the service module’s solar panels captured a shot of Earth as seen from the vehicle, already almost some 92 thousand kilometres from Earth. On November 18th, the vehicle returned a further image of Earth – in greyscale – as it reached the 299,000 km from Earth mark.

A view of Artemis 1 simulated by AROW – he Artemis Real-time Orbit Website – showing the vehicle as it approaches the Moon on Sunday, November 20th. Note the vehicle appear to be travelling sideways in order to keep its solar arrays facing the Sun. Credit NASA AROW

The next major milestone for the flight comes on Monday, November 21st, 2022, Orion will complete the first stage of its leisurely, widely-curved outbound flight to the Moon. At 12:44 UTC on that day, with the vehicle passing around the far side of the Moon at a distance of 130 km, the vehicle will undertake a 2.5 minute burn of its main engine to direct itself into a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) which will carry it as far as 432,000 km from Earth.

The critical aspect of this manoeuvre is that it will occur when the vehicle is out-of-communication with Earth, thanks to the Moon being in between. The entire manoeuvre will therefore be carried out entirely by the onboard flight systems.

The flight so far has tested almost all of Orion’s flight, navigation and other systems, with only 13 issues, the majority defined as “benign”, being recorded. The most significant issue has been the star tracker – part of the flight navigation system. This was getting “dazzled” by thruster plumes as the vehicle adjusted its orientation during flight. While the tracker itself was designed to ignore the plumes, their brightness did confuse the flight software – something that hadn’t been considered could happen during testing. However, now it has been identified, the problem can be dealt with by Mission Control.

More substantial damage was actually done by the rocket itself at launch; the sheer power on the four RS25 engines and two solid rocket boosters did unspecified, but apparently extensive, damage to the mobile launch platform and launch tower. How much damage they sustained is unclear, but Pad 39B has been known to cause launch platforms using it damage. This was particularly noticeable following the launch of Apollo 10 in ay 1969 and again with the Ares 1-X launch in October2009 which resulted in some US $800 million in damages to the pad, platform and tower – although this was in part due  the vehicle having to be launched slightly off-vertical, resulting exhaust plume physically striking the tower.

The view inside Orion: “Commander Moonikin Campos” seated in the command position aboard Orion, facing a set of dummy digital display panels. The mannequin is testing the Orion Crew Survival System Suit (OCSSS), designed to keep crew alive in the event of the vehicle’s life support system experiencing a malfunction. Credit: NASA TV

As  I noted in my previous Space Sunday report, Orion is carrying a range of experiments onboard, all of which are being monitored throughout the flight. Chief among these are the radiation experiments which will come into their own as the vehicle enters its extended orbit around the Moon, where it will remain through until it again uses the Moon to swing itself back onto a return course to Earth in December 2022.

If you want to interactive track Artemis 1, you can do so via NASA’s Artemis Real-time Orbit Website (AROW). In the meantime, the video below captures the stacking of the Artemis 1 SLS vehicle inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Centre, together with the original roll-out to the pad earlier this year, and the night-time roll-out ahead of the launch, together with the initial phase of the mission’s ascent to orbit.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Artemis rises, a star is (almost) born”

The coffee houses of Heterocera in Second Life

Le’eaf and Tinsel Café, Heterocera – November 2022

Exploring Second life – particularly the Mainland continents – can be thirsty work. Fortunately there are often spots along the way that people have provided for the enjoyment of refreshments and a little sit-down.

Coffee is often the beverage of choice (although with the northern hemisphere winter and the holiday season approaching, hot chocolate is liable to start rivalling it as an option!), and that’s just fine with me, as I’m a genuine coffeeholic / coffee snob in the physical world :).

Take Heterocera as an example. Like all of the mainland continents it has plenty to see, particularly along its road and rail network – although the former is generally the easier way to spot public places awaiting visitors. I’m not going to try to offer an extensive review of all the cafés across the continent in this piece, instead, I’ll cover a trio I’ve enjoyed dropping into on occasion.

Le’eaf and Tinsel Café, Heterocera – November 2022

The first comes on the north side of the continent and, given its latitude and the time of year, is appropriately dressed for winter. Snuggled against the southern side of Route 3’s north-eastern curve, Le’eaf and Tinsel is reached via a short climb up a set of stone steps from the side of the highway.

Snow crunches softly under your feet as you wander the white dusted trails. Among the trees and gently falling snow you will find a winter wonderland and of course… Coffee. Le’eaf&Bean Coffee truck is onsite for your caffeine and cocoa fix.

– Le’eaf and Tinsel About Land

The work of T Lefevre (Teagan Lefevre), this 2,800 sq metre parcel sits under her Le’eaf portfolio of parcel and regions designs. Like her other work, the parcel forms a part of the Mainland Preservation Society & The Nature Collective – with Teagan working with Emm Vintner (Emmalee Evergarden) – and there will be more on this in a moment.

Le’eaf and Tinsel Café, Heterocera – November 2022

Small the parcel might be, it nevertheless offers an engaging visit, the path from the step meandering to the left between rocks, trees and shrubs to reach a little wooden bridge. Following the path offers hints of more to be found beyond the hedges: the walls and roof of a building and the top of a van. However, as the shrubs extend along the side of the path all the way to the bridge, visitors need to make a right turn at the top of the steps and follow the right arm of the path.

This also meanders somewhat, but leads to where a skating rink sits beyond a picket fence to the right (touch the sign alongside the rink for skates), and to the left is a fire pit warming outdoor seating. The building – a converted barn – and the van sit on the south side of the parcel; the former is home to a little bakery, the latter the Le’eaf & Bean coffee wagon; both lie alongside a winding boardwalk and have further outdoor seating snuggled between them.

Winter Wonders of Comelia Street and the Toe Beans Cat Café and Rescue, Heterocera – November 2022

The wooden bridge within the parcel spans a narrow stream, the path beyond passing through a set of high gates and into the next parcel and the second of the café destinations I want to talk about – the Winter Wonders of Comelia Street and the Toe Beans Cat Café and Rescue.

Both are the work of Emm Vintner as a part of her Nature Collective brand, with the former offering an almost winter-streets-of-New-York-meets-Dickens’-Victorian-England vibe. The cobbled street is lined to one side by tall apartment buildings and a cosy bookshop. With more snow falling from above, the north side of the street offers winter seasonal elements that help with the more timeless feel to the parcel – an outdoor hot chocolate stand, a snowman, and tall street lamps that might be a gaslight, together with a little place selling fir trees for the holiday season – complete with a modern machine for netting them to allow easier transport.

Winter Wonders of Comelia Street and the Toe Beans Cat Café and Rescue, Heterocera – November 2022

The far end of the street from the gate to Le’eaf and Tinsel provides access to the café, assuming you’re following my footsteps through he parcels.

As its name suggests, the Toe Beans Cat Café and Rescue is a place for both humans and cats – and particularly the latter! Kitties of all ages await visitors, with some also helping themselves to the café’s offerings! A novel aspect of the café is the ability to help toward local tier by “adopting” a cat from the board just inside the door to the left. L$25 will bring you a copy of one of the offers cats (just right-click and PAY the photo of the cat you desire).

Winter Wonders of Comelia Street and the Toe Beans Cat Café and Rescue, Heterocera – November 2022

The square outside the café is warmed on one side by a propane heater for those who would like to  sit outdoors, and one of the tables includes a game of draughts which might be enjoyed while munching on the roasted chestnuts available from the little vendor cart in one corner of the yard. Or visitors can sit on the bench next to the cart, which is also warmed by another of the propane heaters.

The final destination for this piece lies on the south-western side of Heterocera and is a place – again possibly befitting the more southerly latitude – which is snow-free for those looking for somewhere warmer to visit. It also, again if you’re following in my footsteps, continues the kitty theme found at the Toe Beans Cat Café in that there is a certain moggy presence to be found here.

Hi Café, Heterocera – November 2022

The work of Hitsu Ruby, the Hi-Café sits alongside the Atoll Road and sits within a cosy 1536 sq m parcel. The café itself sits adjacent to the cobbles of the Atoll Road, a tall brick-built building watched over by the aforementioned moggies and with an inviting, modern décor.

Caught in the shades of Autumn, the setting offers the café, with a span of a canal behind it cutting through the parcel to separate the café from Hitsu’s modest store, where she sells prefab buildings. Both the store and the café are also Hitsu’s own designs, but they appear to be custom builds rather than units she sells.  Those interested in her commercial builds can obtain demos through the store, or take a peek at the neighbouring parcel to the west, and her Store #11 on display.

Hi Café, Heterocera – November 2022

The canal itself is bordered on either side by paved footpaths complete with wildling flower beds, places to sit (allowing for the cats laying claim to portions of them!), the two halves of the parcel spanned by a pair of bridges. The rest of the parcel is peppered with little details – the bus stop (/landing point) alongside the road, the little second-hand bookstall / newspaper stand, a Parisienne-style kiosk, a fountain – all of which add character to the setting.

Those wishing to rez props for photography can do so by joining the local Group, and there is a 30-minutes return time for objects that are rezzed; however, if you avail yourself to the opportunity, do be sure to pick up your items hen done, so that other can rez without having to wait.

Hi Café, Heterocera – November 2022

All three locations are equally attractive, offering their own points of attraction. They are not the only such places to be found in Heterocera or SL as a whole, but I offer them here as a small selection, and may well do more pieces like this one in the future.

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