A new Assessment of the World’s Climate is out. The News Isn’t Good

In 2014, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). As with previous reports, AR5 contained the latest findings of Climate Change experts from all relevant disciplines, as well as projections about the near future. In short, the AR5 and its predecessors were assessments of the impact anthropogenic Climate Change was having on the planet and how we could avoid worst-case scenarios.

On Aug. 9th, 2021, the IPCC released a report titled Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis. Combining the latest advances in climate science and multiple lines of evidence, this first report paints a rather bleak picture of the remainder of the 21st century. At the same time, it presents a call to action and shows how mitigation strategies and reducing greenhouse gas emissions will ensure a better future for all.

Continue reading “A new Assessment of the World’s Climate is out. The News Isn’t Good”

Satellites can see the pollution trails from individual ships

All hands have to be on deck if the world is going to tackle degradation, and one of the biggest emitters is also one of the least well known – international shipping.  A 2018 study estimated that pollution emitted from cargo ships resulted in 400,000 annual premature deaths from lung cancer and heart disease.  Many of those deaths resulted from the sulfur dioxide the ships were belching into the air.  Since the beginning of the year, sulfur dioxide has been capped at .5% of emissions, compared to 3.5% previously.  While the long term benefits of that emissions cap will take some time to appear, there’s another pollutant that could potentially be tackled in the near future: nitrogen dioxide.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one of the emissions from diesel engines, and has been strictly capped in the automotive market for a number of years.  While the shipping industry so far has escaped regulation, there is a strong possibility that restrictions may be coming in the near future.  Regulations in themselves are great, but they are useless if not enforced, and the open ocean is a notoriously difficult place to enforce them.  That difficult task might have just gotten easier, as scientists at the European Space Agency realized they can use satellite data they are already collecting to track the nitrogen dioxide emissions of individual ships on the open ocean.

Continue reading “Satellites can see the pollution trails from individual ships”

Great Barrier Reef Has Lost Half of its Coral Over the Last 25 Years

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia August 1992

A new study found that warmer ocean temperatures driven by climate change have caused Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to lose more than half of its corals since 1995. The researchers say virtually all coral populations along the Great Barrier Reef have declined due to repeated “bleaching events” in the past 25 years. They said the devastation of the coral will continue unless action is taken to mitigate the causes of a warming climate.  

Continue reading “Great Barrier Reef Has Lost Half of its Coral Over the Last 25 Years”

Nutrient-Poor and Energy-Starved. How Life Might Survive at the Extremes in the Solar System

Our growing understanding of extremophiles here on Earth has opened up new possibilities in astrobiology. Scientists are taking another look at resource-poor worlds that appeared like they could never support life. One team of researchers is studying a nutrient-poor region of Mexico to try to understand how organisms thrive in challenging environments.

Continue reading “Nutrient-Poor and Energy-Starved. How Life Might Survive at the Extremes in the Solar System”

Anti-Solar Cells Could Generate Electricity at Night

It is a foregone conclusion that if humanity intends to survive the so-called “Anthropocene” we need to make the transition away from fossil fuels and other methods that are unsustainable and amplify our impact on the planet. In this respect, a great deal of research and development is being directed towards “renewable energy.” Of the many methods that are being developed, the biggest contender is and always has been solar power.

Unfortunately, solar power suffers from a number of drawbacks, like the fact that it is only available during the day and favorable weather conditions. However, a new study by researchers from the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics (IREAP) shows how a special kind of photovoltaic cell could generate power at night. These “anti-solar” cells could revolutionize renewable energy and make it far more proficient.

Continue reading “Anti-Solar Cells Could Generate Electricity at Night”

Antarctica is About to Unleash an Iceberg Twice the Size of New York City

The Brunt Ice Shelf is about to calve an ice berg more than twice as large as New York City. Image: British Antarctic Survey.

An ice shelf in Antarctica is about to give birth to a baby. This baby is a giant, spawned by growing cracks in the Brunt Ice Shelf. It’s not clear what this’ll mean to the scientific infrastructure in the area, and to the human presence, which were both established in the 1950s.

Continue reading “Antarctica is About to Unleash an Iceberg Twice the Size of New York City”

This is What Icebergs Look Like at the End of Their Lives. This One’s 18 Years Old

The coffin-shaped iceberg B-15T is drifting to its death after 18 years of "life." Image Credit: NASA/Jeremy Harbeck.

Nothing lasts forever, especially an iceberg drifting away from its frigid home. This coffin-shaped iceberg was spotted by astronauts on the International Space Station as it drifted northwards. It split off from a much larger iceberg about 18 years ago, and is moving into warmer and warmer waters.

Continue reading “This is What Icebergs Look Like at the End of Their Lives. This One’s 18 Years Old”

The Night Sky Magic of the Atacama

night sky above the atacama

There’s nothing an astronomer – whether professional or amateur – loves more than a clear dark night sky away from the city lights. Outside the glare and glow and cloud cover that most of us experience every day, the night sky comes alive with a life of its own.

Thousands upon countless thousands of glittering jewels – each individual star a pinprick of light set against the velvet-smooth blackness of the deeper void. The arching band of the Milky Way, itself host to billions more stars so far away that we can only see their combined light from our vantage point. The familiar constellations, proudly showing their true character, drawing the eye and the mind to the ancient tales spun about them.

There are few places left in the world to see the sky as our ancestors did; to gaze in wonder at the celestial dome and feel the weight of billions of years of cosmic history hanging above us. Thankfully the International Dark Sky Association is working to preserve what’s left of the true night sky, and they’ve rightfully marked northern Chile to preserve for posterity.

Continue reading “The Night Sky Magic of the Atacama”

NASA, NOAA Satellites Track Hurricane Irma’s Path

Record-setting Hurricane Irma barreled over the Caribbean islands of St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and Anguilla early Wednesday, destroying buildings with its sustained winds of 185 mph (297 kph), with rains and storm surges causing major flooding. The US National Hurricane Center listed the Category 5 Irma as the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded north of the Caribbean and east of the Gulf of Mexico. The storm continues to roar on a path toward the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and possibly Florida, or along the southeast coast of the US.

This animation of NOAA’s GOES East satellite imagery from Sept. 3 at 8:15 a.m. EDT (1215 UTC) to Sept. 6 ending at 8:15 a.m. EDT (1215 UTC) shows Category 5 Hurricane Irma as it moved west and track over St. Martin by 8 a.m. EDT on Sept. 6:

Different models have Irma traveling on slightly different paths and officials from all the areas that might possibly be hit are telling people to prepare and follow evacuation orders. National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake said via twitter that some models had the storm going one way, and some another. But he cautioned everyone in a potential path should take precautions. “Model trends can be quite misleading- could just change right back. It is all probabilistic at this point. It could still miss [one particular area]. But chances of an extreme event is rising.”

The fleet of Earth-observing satellites are providing incredible views of this monster storm, and even astronauts on board the International Space Station are capturing views:

While satellite views provide the most comprehensive view of Irma’s potential track, there’s also a more ‘hands-on’ approach to getting data on hurricanes. NOAA hurricane hunter Nick Underwood posted this video while his plane flew into Hurricane Irma yesterday. The plane’s specialized instruments can take readings on the storm that forecasters can’t get anywhere else:

But Irma isn’t the only storm to keep an eye on. Tropical storms Katia and Jose are also on the horizon:

In the meantime, a launch is scheduled from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, September 7. SpaceX is hoping to launch the US Air Force’s X-37B reusable spaceplane, but current forecasts put only a 50% chance of weather suitable enough on Thursday, and only 40% on Friday. We’ll keep you posted.

For the latest satellite views, the Twitter accounts above are posting regular updates.

On Sept. 4 at 17:24 UTC, NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured this view of Hurricane Irma as a Category 4 hurricane approaching the Leeward Islands.
Credits: NOAA/NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team.

Clean Room Tour with NASA’s Next Gen Tracking Data Relay Satellite TDRS-M, Closeout Incident Under Review – Photos

Inside the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, FL,NASA’s massive, insect like Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS-M, spacecraft is undergoing preflight processing during media visit on 13 July 2017. TDRS-M will transmit critical science data gathered by the ISS, Hubble and numerous NASA Earth science missions. It is being prepared for encapsulation inside its payload fairing prior to being transported to Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on 3 August 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

ASTROTECH SPACE OPERATIONS/KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The last of NASA’s next generation Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TRDS) designed to relay critical science data and research observations gathered by the International Space Station (ISS), Hubble and dozens of Earth-orbiting Earth science missions is undergoing final prelaunch clean room preparations on the Florida Space Coast while targeting an early August launch – even as the agency reviews the scheduling impact of a weekend “closeout incident” that “damaged” a key component.

Liftoff of NASA’s $408 million eerily insectoid-looking TDRS-M science relay comsat atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket currently scheduled for August 3 may be in doubt following a July 14 work related incident causing damage to the satellite’s Omni S-band antenna while inside the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida.

“The satellite’s Omni S-band antenna was damaged during final spacecraft closeout activities,” NASA said in an updated status statement provided to Universe Today earlier today, July 16. NASA did not provide any further details when asked.

Everything had been perfectly on track as of Thursday, July 13 as Universe Today participated in an up close media tour and briefing about the massive probe inside the clean room processing facility at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Fl.

On July 13, technicians were busily working to complete final spacecraft processing activities before its encapsulation inside the nose cone of the ULA Atlas V rocket she will ride to space, planned for the next day on July 14. The satellite and pair of payload fairings were stacked in separate high bays at Astrotech on July 13.

Alas the unspecified “damage” to the TDRS-M Omni S-band antenna unfortunately took place on July 14.

Up close clean room visit with NASA’s newest science data relay comsat – Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M (TDRS-M) inside the Astrotech payload processing facility high bay in Titusville, FL. Two gigantic fold out antennae’s, plus space to ground antenna dish visible inside the ‘cicada like cocoon’ with solar arrays below. Omni S-band antenna at top. Launch on ULA Atlas V slated for August 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

TDRS-M was built by Boeing and engineers are now analyzing the damage in a team effort with NASA. However it’s not known exactly during which closeout activity or by whom the damage occurred.

ULA CEO Tory Bruno tweeted that his company is not responsible and referred all questions to NASA. This may indicate that the antennae was not damaged during the encapsulation procedures inside the ULA payload fairing halves.

“NASA and Boeing are reviewing an incident that occurred with the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-M) on July 14 at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida. The satellite’s Omni S-band antenna was damaged during final spacecraft closeout activities” stated NASA.

Up close look at the NASA TDRS-M satellite Omni S-band antenna damaged during clean room processing on July 14, 2017. Launch on ULA Atlas V is slated for Aug. 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

TDRS-M looks like a giant insect – or a fish depending on your point of view. It was folded into flight configuration for encapsulation in the clean room and the huge pair of single access antennas resembled a cocoon or a cicada. The 15 foot diameter single access antennas are large parabolic-style antennas and are mechanically steerable.

What does TDRS do? Why is it important? How does it operate?

“The existing Space Network of satellites like TDRS provide constant communications from other NASA satellites like the ISS or Earth observing satellites like Aura, Aqua, Landsat that have high bandwidth data that needs to be transmitted to the ground,” TDRS Deputy Project Manager Robert Buchanan explained to Universe Today during an interview in the Astrotech clean room.

“TRDS tracks those satellites using antennas that articulate. Those user satellites send the data to TDRS, like TDRS-M we see here and nine other TDRS satellites on orbit now tracking those satellites.”

“That data acquired is then transmitted to a ground station complex at White Sands, New Mexico. Then the data is sent to wherever those user satellites want the data to be sent is needed, such as a science data ops center or analysis center.”

Once launched and deployed in space they will “take about 30 to 40 days to fully unfurl,” Buchanan told me in the Astrotech clean room.

Astrotech is located just a few miles down the road from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the KSC Visitor Complex housing the finest exhibits of numerous spaceships, hardware items and space artifacts.

Preflight clean room processing inside the Astrotech payload processing facility preparing NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS-M, spacecraft for launch on ULA Atlas V in Aug. 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

At this time, the TDRS-M website countdown clock is still ticking down towards a ULA Atlas V blastoff on August 3 at 9:02 a.m. EDT (1302 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, for a late breakfast delight.

The Aug. 3 launch window spans 40 minutes from 9:02 to 9:42 a.m. EDT.

Whether or not the launch date will change depends on the results of the review of the spacecraft’s health by NASA and Boeing. Several other satellites are also competing for launch slots in August.

“The mission team is currently assessing flight acceptance and schedule. TDRS-M is planned to launch Aug. 3, 2017, on an United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida,” NASA explained.

NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS-M, spacecraft will be encapsulated inside these two protective payload fairing halves inside the Astrotech payload processing facility high bay in Titusville, FL. Launch on ULA Atlas V slated for August 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

TDRS-M, spacecraft, which stands for Tracking and Data Relay Satellite – M is NASA’s new and advanced science data relay communications satellite that will transmit research measurements and analysis gathered by the astronaut crews and instruments flying abroad the International Space Station (ISS), Hubble Space Telescope and over 35 NASA Earth science missions including MMS, GPM, Aura, Aqua, Landsat, Jason 2 and 3 and more.

The TDRS constellation orbits 22,300 miles above Earth and provide near-constant communication links between the ground and the orbiting satellites.

Preflight clean room processing inside the Astrotech payload processing facility preparing NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, or TDRS-M, spacecraft for launch on ULA Atlas V in Aug. 2017. Credit: Julian Leek

TRDS-M will have S-, Ku- and Ka-band capabilities. Ka has the capability to transmit as much as six-gigabytes of data per minute. That’s the equivalent of downloading almost 14,000 songs per minute says NASA.

The TDRS program is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

TDRS-M is the third satellite in the third series of NASA’s American’s most powerful and most advanced Tracking and Data Relay Satellites. It is designed to last for a 15 year orbital lifetime.

The first TDRS satellite was deployed from the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983 as TDRS-A.

TDRS-M was built by prime contractor Boeing in El Segundo, California and is the third of a three satellite series – comprising TDRS -K, L, and M. They are based on the Boeing 601 series satellite bus and will be keep the TDRS satellite system operational through the 2020s.

TDSR-K and TDRS-L were launched in 2013 and 2014.

The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite project is managed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

TDRS-M was built as a follow on and replacement satellite necessary to maintain and expand NASA’s Space Network, according to a NASA description.

The gigantic satellite is about as long as two school buses and measures 21 meters in length by 13.1 meters wide.

It has a dry mass of 1800 kg (4000 lbs) and a fueled mass of 3,454 kilogram (7,615 lb) at launch.

Tracking and Data Relay Satellite artwork explains how the TDRS constellation enables continuous, global communications coverage for near-Earth spacecraft. Credit: NASA

TDRS-M will blastoff on a ULA Atlas V in the baseline 401 configuration, with no augmentation of solid rocket boosters on the first stage. The payload fairing is 4 meters (13.1 feet) in diameter and the upper stage is powered by a single-engine Centaur.

TDRS-M will be launched to a Geostationary orbit some 22,300 miles (35,800 km) above Earth.

“The final orbital location for TDRS-M has not yet been determined,” Buchanen told me.

The Atlas V booster is being assembled inside the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at SLC-41 and will be rolled out to the launch pad the day before liftoff with the TDRS-M science relay comsat comfortably encapsulated inside the nose cone.

NASA/contractor team poses with the Boeing built and to be ULA launched Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-M inside the inside the Astrotech payload processing facility clean room high bay in Titusville, FL, on July 13, 2017. Launch on ULA Atlas V slated for August 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Carefully secured inside its shipping container, the TDRS-M satellite was transported on June 23 by a US Air Force cargo aircraft from Boeing’s El Segundo, California facility to Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Florida, for preflight processing at Astrotech.

Watch for Ken’s onsite TDRS-M and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.