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SpaceX Falcon 9 boosts Dragon cargo ship to orbit, first stage misses landing target – Spaceflight Now

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STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: SpaceX

Two days after a successful launch from California, SpaceX fired off another Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Wednesday, this one carrying a Dragon cargo ship loaded with 5,660 pounds of equipment and supplies bound for the International Space Station.

But an attempt to recover the booster’s first stage ended in failure when a hydraulic system malfunction caused the booster to rapidly spin and tilt about its long axis during its final descent. As a result, the rocket landed well off target, settling to a gentle, upright “landing” in the Atlantic Ocean just east of the launch site.

The rocket then tilted over, splashing down horizontally and remaining intact. SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted that the hydraulic problem affected the movement of the rocket’s four titanium “grid fins,” used for steering and to maintain orientation as the booster drops tail first back to Earth.

“Pump is single string,” Musk tweeted, meaning the system does not have a backup. “Some landing systems are not redundant, as landing is considered ground safety critical, but not mission critical. Given this event, we will likely add a backup pump & lines.”

Engines stabilized rocket spin just in time, enabling an intact landing in water! Ships en route to rescue Falcon. pic.twitter.com/O3h8eCgGJ7

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 5, 2018

A few minutes later, he tweeted video captured by a camera on board the rocket.

“Engines stabilized rocket spin just in time, enabling an intact landing in water! Ships en route to rescue Falcon,” he said.

It was SpaceX’s sixth outright landing failure and the first since June 2016, ending a string of 27 successful recoveries. The company’s overall record stands at 32 successful recoveries: 11 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, one at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and 20 on off-shore droneships.

The new “block 5” Falcon 9 stages are designed fly dozens of times with minimal refurbishment between launchings, a key element in the company’s drive to lower launch costs by recovering and re-flying recovered stages.

The stage launched Monday from California was making its third flight, a first for SpaceX. But the rocket launched Wednesday from Cape Canaveral was brand new. It’s not yet clear what went wrong with the grid fin or whether the mishap will prompt the Air Force to reconsider SpaceX’s clearance to land at the Air Force station.

But the landing system is designed with the safety of personnel and ground facilities in mind. The rocket’s guidance system initially targets an off-shore “impact point” and only moves the target on shore to the landing pad during a final rocket firing and only after verifying all systems are operating properly.

Tracking shot of Falcon water landing pic.twitter.com/6Hv2aZhLjM

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 5, 2018

During Wednesday’s landing, the flight computer recognized the grid fin problem and never moved the impact point ashore during the final engine firing.

“The important point here is we have a safety function on board that makes sure the vehicle does not go on land until everything is OK, and that worked perfectly,” Hans Koenisgman, SpacerX vice president of build and flight reliability, told reporters. “The vehicle kept well away from anything where it could pose even the slightest risk to population or property.

“Public safety was well protected here,” he added. “As much as we are disappointed in this landing, or landing in the water, it shows the system overall knows how to recover from certain malfunctions.”

The mission got underway at 1:16 p.m. EST (GMT-5) when the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1C engines ignited with a roar and a torrent of fiery exhaust, quickly pushing the 230-foot-tall booster away from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Liftoff came a day late because of time needed to replace moldy food bars in a habitat housing 40 rodents being carried to the station for medical research. But it was clear sailing Wednesday and the countdown ticked to zero with no interruptions.

At the moment of liftoff, the space station was flying 250 miles above the Indian Ocean south of Australia, but the plane of its orbit was sweeping across the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as Earth rotated below it. The Falcon 9 climbed away to the northeast directly into that orbital plane to enable the planned rendezvous.

The first stage engines shut down and the lower section of the rocket fell away two minutes and 23 seconds after liftoff. The single engine powering the second stage then ignited for a six-minute 18-second burn to complete the climb to orbit.

The first stage, meanwhile, flipped around and restarted three engines to reverse course and head back toward Florida. Another burn four minutes later slowed the stage down for descent back into the thick lower atmosphere.

Long-range tracking cameras provided spectacular views as the stage dropped tail first toward Cape Canaveral. But television views from a camera mounted on the rocket suddenly showed it rotating roughly about it’s long axis.

The rocket’s center engine started as usual for landing, and the booster’s landing legs deployed at low altitude as they would in a normal landing. Interestingly, the landing leg deployment seems to have slowed down the rocket’s rotation just before impact in the ocean.

While the landing was unsuccessful, the primary goal of Wednesday’s mission was to deliver the Dragon cargo ship to the proper orbit. And the Falcon 9 did just that.

If all goes well, the spacecraft will reach the station Saturday morning, pulling up to within about 30 feet and then standing by while station commander Alexander Gerst, operating the lab’s robot arm, locks onto a grapple fixture.

Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston will take over at that point, operating the arm by remote control to pull the Dragon in for berthing at the Earth-facing port of the station’s forward Harmony module.

The science gear on board includes an experiment to test robotic spacecraft refueling techniques using ultra-cold cryogenic propellants, another instrument that will use laser beams to measure tree heights globally to determine the effects of deforestation on carbon dioxide processing and another to develop wound dressings that improve drug delivery.

Yet another experiment will study development of retinal implants intended to restore vision to patients with age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. The Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy Space Station Challenge is sponsoring student experiments to develop a UV-activated dental glue that could help astronauts on long-duration voyages and another testing a mist-based irrigation system for plants grown in space.

With the Dragon in hand, the station crew will turn its attention to a planned spacewalk next Tuesday by cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Oleg Kononenko to inspect the Soyuz MS-09/55S ferry ship that carried Gerst, Prokopyev and Serena Auñón-Chancellor into orbit on June 6. Kononenko arrived at the station Monday along with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and NASA astronaut Anne McClain.

In late August, sensors detected a small pressure drop in the station’s air supply that was traced to a leak in the upper habitation module of the Soyuz MS-09 vehicle. An inspection revealed what looked like a small hole drilled into an interior panel.

Prokopyev sealed the hole with cloth soaked in epoxy and stopped the leak. Russian engineers ordered the spacewalk next week to inspect the exterior of the Soyuz to look for any signs of damage that might be related to the hole found inside the spacecraft.

While the hole appeared to be the result of deliberate action on someone’s part, presumably before launch, the Russians have not yet revealed any conclusions.

In any case, the habitation module is discarded before atmospheric entry and the issue is not considered any sort of safety threat when Gerst, Prokopyev and Auñón-Chancellor return to Earth on Dec. 20.

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Mars orbiter sends striking photos from icy crater – The Times of Israel

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Mars orbiter sends striking photos from icy crater – The Times of Israel

The European Space Agency has released stunning new photos of Mars’ northern Korolev crater.

The images are composites, created from five separate photos taken by the ESA’s Mars Express orbiter, which has been flying over Earth’s neighboring planet since 2003.

The crater is 82 kilometers (51 miles) wide, filled by a sheet of ice that is 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) deep at its thickest point.


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Unlike other icy craters on the red planet, Korolev keeps its ice all year round, thanks to a layer of cold air trapped inside the crater, cooling its contents.

This image from ESA’s Mars Express shows Korolev crater, an 82-kilometer-across feature found in the northern lowlands of Mars. This plan mosaic comprises five different observational strips that have been combined to form a single image. (ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

Korolev crater is named after Sergei Korolev, Soviet Russia’s chief rocket engineer during the space race between the USSR and the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. He worked on the Sputnik program that sent the first man-made satellite into orbit, as well as the Vostok program in which cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961.

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‘Real Alchemy’: Chinese Scientists Discover a Way to Turn Copper Into ‘Gold’ – Sputnik International

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‘Real Alchemy’: Chinese Scientists Discover a Way to Turn Copper Into ‘Gold’ – Sputnik International
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Alchemists have been struggling for ages to create the legendary philosopher’s stone capable of, among other things, turning base metals into precious ones, and specifically – into gold. Modern day Chinese scientists seem to have finally come close to performing such a transformation.

A group of Chinese scientists from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics has published research in the journal Science Advances, which describes how they managed to turn regular copper into a material “almost identical” to gold and silver. The metal, which the scientists obtained as a result of result of their experiment was capable of serving as a catalyst for a reaction producing alcohol from coal — something only precious metals such as gold are capable of doing.

Researchers bombarded a piece of copper with a stream of hot and electrically charged argon gas. The procedure charges its atoms, making their electrons more dense and more stable, making the resultant material closer to gold in terms of resistance to erosion, oxidisation and high temperatures.

The research paper points out that the new material based on cheap copper can replace expensive gold and silver in the production of electronic devices, which require significant amounts of these materials.

READ MORE: Chinese Scientists Developing Bee-Inspired Spacecraft Capable of Changing Shape

At the same time, the material will be of little use for counterfeiters, since its density remains the same as copper, thus making the material lighter than gold and a bad choice to make fake gold bars or coins.

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The Secret Fishing Habits Of Northwoods’ Wolves – NPR

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The Secret Fishing Habits Of Northwoods’ Wolves – NPR

New research at Voyageurs National Park is challenging the conventional wisdom on wolves: Their diets are a lot more varied than previously thought.

Courtesy of Voyageurs Wolf Project


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Courtesy of Voyageurs Wolf Project

New research at Voyageurs National Park is challenging the conventional wisdom on wolves: Their diets are a lot more varied than previously thought.

Courtesy of Voyageurs Wolf Project

Wolves, as it turns out, might not be the bloodthirsty, moose-slaughtering, northwoods-roaming carnivores you always thought they were.

New research on wolf packs at Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota is challenging the conventional wisdom on wolves: Their diets are a lot more varied than scientists previously thought.

Researchers with the Voyageurs Wolf Project, a collaboration between the park and the University of Minnesota, have for the first time documented wolves hunting freshwater fish as a seasonal food source — and they have video to prove it.

A diet of meat and berries

Wolves still rely heavily on deer, but earlier studies on wolves in the park have shown that they also eat a large number of beaver — and even blueberries — to supplement their diet.

Wolf scat showing evidence of blueberries in the diet.

Courtesy of Tom Gable with the Voyageurs Wolf Project


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Courtesy of Tom Gable with the Voyageurs Wolf Project

Wolf scat showing evidence of blueberries in the diet.

Courtesy of Tom Gable with the Voyageurs Wolf Project

These new discoveries, which were recently published in the journal Mammalian Biology, were possible thanks to new technology.

Since 2015, researchers have been placing GPS collars on wolves from seven different packs in and around the park. They collect location data from the animals every 20 minutes, which allows them to zoom in on the animals’ predation habits at a finer scale than earlier versions of the collars had permitted: When wolves spend more than 20 minutes at any one site, they know they’re probably eating something.

That’s how they first suspected members of the Bowman Bay pack were eating fish. In April 2017, University of Minnesota researcher Tom Gable hiked to a creek where one of the collared wolves had spent a lot of time. He was searching for evidence of a kill.

He looked up, and saw a collared wolf about 50 feet away. But the wolf didn’t see him.

“It was really crazy,” he said. “He came within about 8 to 10 meters of me and he had no idea I was there. I was hiding in the shrubs on the edge of this creek.”

For the next 15 minutes or so, Gable watched the wolf meander back and forth around the creek. Periodically it would run into the creek and splash around. Then it stopped, and looked like it was eating something, before returning to the creek.

Eventually the wolf left, and Gable came out of hiding to explore the area. He realized right away the wolf was hunting fish — spawning suckers — in the creek.

University of Minnesota researcher Tom Gable collects the skull/jaw of a beaver that was killed by a wolf.

Courtesy of Tom Gable


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Courtesy of Tom Gable

University of Minnesota researcher Tom Gable collects the skull/jaw of a beaver that was killed by a wolf.

Courtesy of Tom Gable

“And then as I explored the area even more, I found wolf tracks all over the mud on the creek, and I found fish scales and blood and guts all over the edges of the creek, and you could just see that wolves had been spending a lot of time there,” he said. “And there were wolf scats as well that were full of fish scales and fish remains.”

Gable and his colleagues quickly learned that little scene he witnessed wasn’t just a one-time meal. In the month after his hike to the creek, researchers found the two GPS-collared wolves in the Bowman Bay pack spent about half their time hunting fish there.

About a year later, Gable and his colleagues noticed the pack visiting the creek again, so they set up trail cameras, and caught footage of the wolves fishing at night.

“You can see the wolves abruptly head to the water several times after hearing a splash,” Gable said. “They learned what a fish splashing in the creek sounds like and they know that it means food.”

The video also captured wolves catching fish and not eating them right away. Instead, they stored them on the bank of the creek, and fished some more.

That behavior provides a glimpse into a wolf’s mental processing, Gable said. “It somehow knew that there were going to be more, so, it might as well go get fish while the fishing was good, and then come back later to the fish after he had gotten what he could.”

A first for freshwater fishing

Scientists have known for a long time that wolves in coastal habitats in British Columbia and Alaska eat spawning salmon. But this is the first time similar behavior with hunting freshwater fish has been detailed.

“Given the impressive adaptability of wolves to find food, it is not entirely surprising,” said project adviser Joseph Bump.

Wolves Are Back In Germany, But Not Always Welcome

But wolves are elusive, he said: “Especially in the densely forested areas of northern Minnesota, you have to either be in the right spot at the right time or have access to GPS-collar data.”

Those collars have helped shed new light into wolves’ secretive lives in the dense boreal forest of northern Minnesota. Researchers mapped 68,000 GPS locations the packs visited just this past summer.

A pack of wolves lounge on a frozen lake in Voyageurs National Park.

Courtesy Voyageurs Wolf Project


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Courtesy Voyageurs Wolf Project

A pack of wolves lounge on a frozen lake in Voyageurs National Park.

Courtesy Voyageurs Wolf Project

Among their major findings, so far:

  • Wolves are omnivores. They eat a lot of blueberries in July and August. By the time the fruit ripens in northern Minnesota, deer fawns — wolves’ primary prey in June — are old enough to escape them.
  • Wolves eat beavers — a lot of them. Beaver can constitute up to 42 percent of a pack’s diet from April until October, researchers have found. Preliminary data show that, on average, one wolf in Voyageurs kills about six to eight beavers per year. But that varies. Individual wolves might not eat any beavers at all. But they found one wolf that had eaten 28 beavers in one year.
  • Wolves hunt beaver differently than they do other prey. Instead of chasing them, they lie in ambush, and strike when the beaver venture onto land.
  • Wolves are good swimmers. One collared wolf swam 12 times across sections of Rainy Lake over a two-day period, covering 2.6 miles.
What Gave Some Primates Bigger Brains? A Fruit-Filled Diet

All these findings help confirm what scientists have understood for a long time: Wolves are highly adaptable creatures, which is why they’ve been able to thrive in so many different habitats, from North America to Europe to Asia.

“Wolves are opportunistic. They can adapt pretty readily to new food sources,” explained Steve Windels, a wildlife biologist at Voyageurs National Park.

Still, he admitted it’s exciting to confirm behaviors scientists have suspected, especially in wolves in Minnesota that haven’t been studied as intensively as their counterparts in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere.

One of the remaining details Windels hopes to tease out is the complex relationship between wolves’ predation on beavers, deer and moose and the impact it has on their populations.

Voyageurs is unique in that it has one of the densest populations of beaver in the region. It also is one of the only places in Minnesota where the moose population is holding steady. In other parts of northeastern Minnesota, moose have declined sharply in the past decade for a host of reasons, including disease and other health-related causes, but in part because of wolf predation.

It’s still too early to make a direct tie between Voyageurs’ steady moose population and its abundance of beavers for wolves to feed on, Windels said. But “this is a great opportunity for us to really get at that question just because of the of the density of beavers that we have here that creates a unique laboratory where we can actually start to see how that dynamic plays out.”

In the meantime, the wolf research at Voyageurs has been getting a lot of attention. A recent Facebook post mapping the different wolf pack territories in the park has drawn over 500,000 views, Gable said.

“That’s really a satisfying part about doing all this is to share what we’re actually finding with people, and to see how excited people are about the work that we’re doing.”

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