This Month in Space: November

November is officially over and we’re just now starting to clear out all of the Thanksgiving leftovers from the fridge. In addition to being stuffed with stuffing, this month was also cranberry-jam-packed with exciting space events and news. So strap in tight (if you’re not still too full) and get ready to get caught up.

 

NASA certifies Falcon 9 for highest priority science missions.

SpaceX representatives announced earlier this month that NASA has certified the Falcon 9 rocket as a Category 3 vehicle, meaning it is now able to launch NASA’s highest-priority and most critical missions. This opens the door for less expensive options for NASA to fly future science missions.

Category 3 vehicle certifications are reserved for only the most dependable rockets in the industry, they have to achieve a reliability percentage of 90 to 95 percent. Before the Falcon 9’s certification, only United Launch Alliance and Arianespace offered Category 3 vehicles capable of launching the important projects.

Some of the projects launched atop ULA and Arianespace Category 3 rockets include the Mars rover Curiosity and the James Webb Space Telescope. SpaceX says it is excited to partner up with NASA and be a part of projects of this magnitude in the near future.

 

NASA’s Juno spacecraft captures ‘Dragon’s Eye’ on Jupiter’s surface.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft recently captured breathtaking photos of what has been dubbed as a “Dragon’s Eye” on Jupiter’s turbulent surface.

Launched out of Cape Canaveral in 2011, the Juno probe was created to take photos, measure atmospheric data, and make other observations of the largest planet in our solar system. Juno reached Jupiter in July of 2016 and it is also the farthest space probe to be powered by solar rays.

Coming within just 4,400 miles of the top of Jupiter’s cloud system, Juno was able to capture the stunning “Dragon’s Eye” photos on its 16th skim over Jupiter’s surface.

Musk backs Space Force proposal.

In an interview with technology website Recode, Elon Musk revealed that he is supportive of the Trump Administration’s push for a space force as the country’s sixth military branch.

Throughout the interview, Musk draws a comparison between the proposal of the space force and the proposal of the United States Air Force more than 70 years ago. He states that when the Air Force was formed, people also thought it was a silly idea with no real practicality, but as the years went on it became evident that we, in fact, did benefit from its creation.

Musk believes that in the future, the space force (set to be fully operational by 2020 according to a speech by Vice President Pence) will also prove itself to be a necessity that we have not yet realized.

 

Dawn mission to asteroid belt ends.

The Dawn spacecraft, one of NASA’s crafts that visited two of the largest objects in the solar system, ran out of fuel earlier this month, effectively ending its 11-year mission.  

NASA announced that after two communications that were sent to the spacecraft went unanswered, they started to investigate what could be causing this but suspected that it might have run out of fuel.

After officially ruling out any other possibilities, scientists concluded that the spacecraft had indeed run out of hydrazine fuel, causing it to not be able to maneuver to orient its main communication antenna towards Earth or its solar panels toward the sun.

Dawn mainly orbited around Ceres for its mission, collecting data that helped scientists better understand the evolution of our solar system.

 

Hubble Telescope finds a smile in space.

Smile up at the sky and you might get a smile in return! Okay, maybe not. But you can look at recently captured images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that show what seems to be a smiley face made of galaxies.

The cosmic smiley face phenomenon was caused by a trick of gravity and light called gravitational lensing. Gravitational lensing means that the distorted galaxy that creates the smile has had its light passed near a massive object while it was on its way to the Hubble Telescope, causing it to look out of shape.

 

Hewlett-Packard supercomputer brings ‘the cloud’ to astronauts.

Thanks to a supercomputer created by Hewlett-Packard Enterprise astronauts will soon be able to have “the cloud” all the way up above the clouds.

The cloud technology will enable astronauts to perform tests and experiments at higher speeds and run data analysis while in orbit at the International Space Station. HPE stated that after more than a year of testing the supercomputer, the technology is finally ready to go.

Before HPE’s supercomputer, astronauts conducting experiments in the International Space Station had to first transmit all of their data all the way down to Earth in order to analyze any findings. This process was slow and often times unreliable which severely hindered the rate at which the astronauts could perform any accurate experiments.

The supercomputer is 30 to 100 times faster than an iPhone or a tablet.

This is also a huge contributing step to humanity’s future journey to Mars. The gap in communication from Mars to Earth would have even more latency, so making sure that the supercomputer’s systems work perfectly in the harsh conditions of space was an important step towards being able to conduct meaningful experiments once mankind reaches Mars’ surface.

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