SpaceX Sets Oct. 11 Sunset Blastoff of SES-11 North American UHD TV Sat on Used Falcon 9 Rocket: Watch Live

SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket carrying SES-11/EchoStar 105 UHD TV commercial comsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A as flock of birds flies by at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, is poised for sunset liftoff on 11 Oct 2017 on world’s third reflight of a liquid fueled orbit class rocket. As seen from the pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX is all set for a sunset blastoff Wednesday, Oct. 11 of the commercial SES-11/EchoStar 105 Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV satellite serving North America on a ‘used’ Falcon 9 booster from the Florida Space Coast – that is also targeted to re-land a second time on an sea going platform off shore in the Atlantic.

Spectators should enjoy a spectacular view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 dinnertime launch with a forecast of extremely favorable weather conditions. This comes on the heels of multiple deluges of torrential rain that twice scrubbed last week’s launch of a United Launch Alliance V carrying a USAF spy satellite.

The private SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite mission will launch on a ‘flight-proven’ booster and is slated for a dinnertime liftoff on Oct. 11 at 6:53 p.m. EDT from seaside Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying the SES-11.

All systems are GO at L Minus 1 Day!

“#EchoStar105 is targeted for launch Oct. 11 from launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida-launch window 6:53-8:53 PM EDT,” EchoStar tweeted today.

“Getting Echostar-105/#SES11 ready for launch!” SES tweeted further.

SES-11/EchoStar 105 commercial telecomsat. Credit: SES

If all goes well this will be the second launch for SpaceX this week following Monday’s Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg AFB, Ca carrying 10 Iridium-NEXT satellites to orbit – and a record setting 15th of 2017!

EchoStar 105/SES-11 is a high-powered hybrid Ku and C-band communications satellite launching as a dual-mission satellite for US-based operator EchoStar and Luxembourg-based operator SES.

The used two stage 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out to pad 39A today, erected to vertical launch position and is now poised for liftoff Wednesday.

It will launch the two and a half ton EchoStar 105/SES-11 to geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the equator.

SpaceX will also attempt to recover this recycled Falcon 9 first stage booster again by soft landing on a droneship platform prepositioned hundreds of miles off shore in the Atlantic Ocean – some 8 minutes after blastoff.

Spectacular weather is expected Wednesday for space enthusiasts gathering in local regional hotels after traveling here from across the globe.

Playalinda Beach is among the best places to witness the launch from – while surfing the waves too – if you’re in the area.

You can watch the launch live on a SpaceX dedicated webcast starting about 10 minutes prior to the 6:53 pm EDT or 10:53 pm UTC liftoff time.

Watch the SpaceX broadcast live at: SpaceX.com/webcast

The two hour long launch window closes at 8:53 p.m. EDT.

The weather outlook is currently exceptional along the Florida Space Coast with a 90% chance of favorable conditions at launch time according to U.S. Air Force meteorologists with the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. The primary concerns on Oct. 11 are only for Cumulus Clouds.

The odds remain high at 90% favorable for the 24 hour scrub turnaround day on Oct. 12.

Reflown SpaceX Falcon 9 soars to orbit with SES-10 telecomsat from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 6:27 p.m. EDT on March 30, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The 45th Space Wing forecast is also favorable for the landing recovery area through Thursday “when a low pressure system may move into the area, increasing winds and seas. This low will migrate west and possibly impact Florida by the weekend.”

After the 156 foot tall first stage booster complets its primary mission task, SpaceX engineers seek to guide it to a second landing on the tiny OCISLY drone ship for a soft touchdown some eight and a half minutes after liftoff.

World’s first reflown rocket booster – the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage – sails back into Port Canaveral, FL just before sunrise atop OCISLY droneship on which it landed 9 minutes after March 30, 2017 liftoff from KSC with SES-10 telecomsat – as seen entering channels mouth trailing a flock of birds from Jetty Park pier on April 4, 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

OCISLY or “Of Course I Still Love You” left Port Canaveral several days ahead of the planned Oct. 11 launch and is prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off the US East coast, just waiting for the boosters 2nd approach and pinpoint propulsive soft landing.

The EchoStar 105/SES-11 spacecraft was built by Airbus and shipped from the Airbus facilities in Toulouse, France to Cape Canaveral, FL for flight processing.

The satellite is scheduled to be deployed approximately 36 minutes after liftoff.

Up close view of payload fairing encapsulating SES-11/EchoStar 105 UHD TV commercial comsat atop ‘flight-proven’ SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff is slated for is 6:53 p.m. ET, Oct. 11, 2017 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“SES-11 is a high-powered communications satellite designed to especially accelerate the development of the US video neighbourhood, and the delivery of HD and UHD channels. Optimised for digital television delivery, SES-11 joins SES-1 and SES-3 at the centre of its robust North American orbital arc, which reaches more than 100 million TV homes. Together with SES-1 and SES-3, SES-11 will be utilised for the expansion of the North America Ultra HD platform,” according to SES.

“SES-11 offers comprehensive coverage over North America, including Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, and will also empower businesses and governments to capture new opportunities and expand their reach across the region.”

The path to launch was cleared following last weeks successful static fire test of the first stage engines Falcon 9.

During the Oct. 2 static fire test, the rocket’s first and second stages were fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellants like an actual launch, and a simulated countdown was carried out to the point of a brief engine ignition.

The hold down engine test with the erected rocket involved the ignition of all nine Merlin 1D first stage engines generating some 1.7 million pounds of thrust at pad 39A while the two stage rocket was restrained on the pad – minus the expensive payload.

SpaceX conducts successful static hot fire test of recycled Falcon 9 at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 2 Oct 2017 as a gator gazes from Playalinda waterways, FL. Liftoff is slated for 7 Oct 2017 with SES-11/EchoStar 105 telecommunications comsat. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

Following the hot fire test, the rocket was rolled back to the processing hangar located just outside the pad perimeter fence.

The 5,200 kg (11,500 pounds) satellite encapsulated inside the payload fairing was then integrated with the Falcon 9 rocket.

Mating of SES-11/EchoStar 105 commercial telecomsat. Credit: SES

This is only the third recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 ever to be launched from Pad 39A.

SES was the first company to ever fly a payload on a ‘flight-proven’ Falcon 9. The SES-10 satellite lifted off successfully this spring on March 30, 2017.

The second reflown booster successfully launched the BulgariaSat-1 a few months later.

This Falcon 9 booster previously flew on SpaceX’s 10th resupply mission to the International Space Station (CRS-10) in February of this year and made a ground landing at the Cape at LZ-1.

Pad 39A has been repurposed by SpaceX from its days as a NASA shuttle launch pad.

The last SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from KSC took place on Sept. 7 carrying the USAF X-37B military space plane to orbit just ahead of Hurricane Irma.

USAF X-37B military mini-shuttle lifts off on classified OTV-5 mission at 10 a.m. EDT Sept. 7, 2017 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX SES-11, ULA NROL-52 and NASA 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.

Ken Kremer

Mission patch for the SES-11/EchoStar 105 communications satellite launch by SpaceX. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX Falcon 9 recycled rocket carrying SES-10 telecomsat raised erect atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center as seen from inside the pad ahead of liftoff on 30 Mar 2017 on world’s first reflight of an orbit class rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

SpaceX Falcon 9 Dazzles Delivering ‘Epic’ Intelsat DTH TV Comsat to Orbit for America’s

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Intelsat 35e – 4th next gen ‘Epic’ comsat for Intelsat – on July 5, 2017 at 7:37 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The third time proved to be the charm as SpaceX kept up a torrid 2017 launch pace and successfully ignited another Falcon 9 rocket late Wednesday, July 5, from the Florida Space Coast and delivered a powerful and heavy weight commercial TV satellite to orbit that will serve “tens of millions of customers globally,” Intelsat VP for Sales Kurt Riegel, told Universe Today at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center press site.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 put on a dazzling near dusk display as it roared off historic launch pad 39A on SpaceX’s tenth launch of 2017 Wednesday evening into brilliant blue skies with scarcely a cloud to be seen and delightfully summer weather conditions.

Blastoff of the Falcon 9 carrying the Intelsat 35e communications satellite for commercial high speed broadband provider Intelsat occurred right on time at dinnertime July 5 at 7:38 p.m. EDT, or 2338 UTC from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The thunderous blastoff wowed hordes of spectators gathered along space coast beaches and causeways and local residential neighborhoods from came across the globe to witness and the launch spectacle and many of whom will be users of and benefit from the services offered by Intelsat 35e.

“Tens of millions of customers will be served and be touched by Intelsat 35e,” Intelsat VP for Sales & Marketing Kurt Riegel, told Universe Today in an exclusive interview beside the iconic countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Florida press site.

Launch of expendable SpaceX Falcon 9 with 4th next gen ‘Epic’ DTH comsat for Intelsat at 7:37 p.m. EDT on July 5, 2017 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – as seen from the countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Wednesday’s liftoff finally took place safely after back to back last moment scrubs on Sunday and Monday (July 2/3) kept Falcon 9 from igniting its engine for the delayed journey to orbit.

Elon Musk told the SpaceX launch and engineering team to stand down over the 4th of July holiday and instead thoroughly investigate the root cause of the pait of launch aborts.

The near scrubs resulted from insidious anomaly not detected after the initial launch abort on Sunday, July 2.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of with ‘Epic’ comsat for Intelsat at 7:38 p.m. EDT on July 5, 2017 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Julian Leek

Intelsat 35e will be utilized by copious public, government and commercial clients throughout the Americas, Europe and Africa.

The 23 story tall Falcon 9 lofted Intelsat’s commercial Epic 35e next-generation high throughput satellite to geostationary transfer orbit.

It separated from the Falcon 9 upper stage as planned about a half hour after liftoff.

“The Intelsat 35e satellite separated from the rocket’s upper stage 32 minutes after launch, at 8:10 pm EDT, and signal acquisition has been confirmed,” Intelsat announced post launch..

“This was the SpaceX’s first satellite launch contracted by Intelsat,” Ken Lee, Intelsat’s senior vice president of space systems, told Universe Today in a prelaunch interview on Sunday.

“Intelsat 35e is the fourth in the series of our ‘Epic’ satellites. It will provide the most advanced digital services ever and a global footprint.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Intelsat 35e – 4th next gen ‘Epic’ TV and mobile broadband comsat for Intelsat – on July 5, 2017 at 7:38 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX has now safely and successfully demonstrated an amazing launch pace with 3 rockets propelled aloft in the span of just 12 days from both US coasts. Had Intelsat 35e been launched on Sunday, July 3, it would have established and even faster record pace of 3 launches in just 9 days.

“The successful launch of Intelsat 35e is a major milestone in our business plan for 2017, furthering the footprint and resilience of our Intelsat EpicNG infrastructure,” said Stephen Spengler, Chief Executive Officer, Intelsat, in a statement.

“With each Intelsat EpicNG launch, we advance our vision of creating a global, high performance for our customers that will unlock new growth opportunities in applications including mobility, wireless infrastructure and private data networks. As we further our innovations with respect to ground infrastructure and managed service offerings, like IntelsatOne Flex, we are transforming the role of satellite in the telecommunications landscape.”

Launch of expendable SpaceX Falcon 9 with 4th next gen ‘Epic’ DTH comsat for Intelsat at 7:38 p.m. EDT on July 5, 2017 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – as seen from the KSC press site. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The geostationary comsat will provide high performance services in the C- And Ku-bands to customers in North and South America, the Caribbean, as well as the continents of Europe and Africa.

The Ku band service includes a customized high power beam for direct-to-home television (DTH) and data communications services in the Caribbean as well as mobility services in Europe and Africa

The first stage was not recovered for this launch because the massive 6800 kg (13000 lb) Intelsat 35e comsat requires every drop of fuel to get to the desired orbit.

Intelsat 35e marks the tenth SpaceX launch of 2017 – establishing a new single year launch record for SpaceX.

The recent BulgariaSat-1 and Iridium-2 missions counted as the eighth and ninth SpaceX launches of 2017.

Including those last two ocean platform landings, SpaceX has now successfully recovered 13 boosters; 5 by land and 8 by sea, over the past 18 months.

Expendable SpaceX Falcon 9 is seen rising to launch position in this up close view of payload fairing encapsulating Intelsat 35e comsat and is now erected to launch position and poised for liftoff on July 5, 2017 at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s onsite Intelsat 35e 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.

Intelsat reps Kurt Riegel, Sr VP Intelsat Sales (c), and Diane VanBeber, VP Intelsat investor relations (l), speak to Ken Kremer/Universe Today (r) about Intelsat35e launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 beside the countdown clock at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Never used SpaceX Falcon 9 is seen rising to launch position and now stands erect and poised for liftoff Intelsat 35e on July 3, 2017 at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Artists concept of Intelsat 35e in geostationary Earth orbit. Credit: Intelsat
SpaceX Falcon 9 is poised for liftoff with Intelsat 35e – 4th next gen ‘Epic’ comsat on July 5, 2017 at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Colonizing the Inner Solar System

Colonizing The Inner Solar System


Science fiction has told us again and again, we belong out there, among the stars. But before we can build that vast galactic empire, we’ve got to learn how to just survive in space. Fortunately, we happen to live in a Solar System with many worlds, large and small that we can use to become a spacefaring civilization.

This is half of an epic two-part article that I’m doing with Isaac Arthur, who runs an amazing YouTube channel all about futurism, often about the exploration and colonization of space. Make sure you subscribe to his channel.

This article is about colonizing the inner Solar System, from tiny Mercury, the smallest planet, out to Mars, the focus of so much attention by Elon Musk and SpaceX.  In the other article, Isaac will talk about what it’ll take to colonize the outer Solar System, and harness its icy riches. You can read these articles in either order, just read them both.

At the time I’m writing this, humanity’s colonization efforts of the Solar System are purely on Earth. We’ve exploited every part of the planet, from the South Pole to the North, from huge continents to the smallest islands. There are few places we haven’t fully colonized yet, and we’ll get to that.

But when it comes to space, we’ve only taken the shortest, most tentative steps. There have been a few temporarily inhabited space stations, like Mir, Skylab and the Chinese Tiangong Stations.

Our first and only true colonization of space is the International Space Station, built in collaboration with NASA, ESA, the Russian Space Agency and other countries. It has been permanently inhabited since November 2nd, 2000.  Needless to say, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, an Expedition 24 flight engineer in 2010, took a moment during her space station mission to enjoy an unmatched view of home through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station, the brilliant blue and white part of Earth glowing against the blackness of space. Credits: NASA
NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, an Expedition 24 flight engineer in 2010, took a moment during her space station mission to enjoy an unmatched view of home through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station, the brilliant blue and white part of Earth glowing against the blackness of space. Credits: NASA

Before we talk about the places and ways humans could colonize the rest of the Solar System, it’s important to talk about what it takes to get from place to place.

Just to get from the surface of Earth into orbit around our planet, you need to be going about 10 km/s sideways. This is orbit, and the only way we can do it today is with rockets. Once you’ve gotten into Low Earth Orbit, or LEO, you can use more propellant to get to other worlds.

If you want to travel to Mars, you’ll need an additional 3.6 km/s in velocity to escape Earth gravity and travel to the Red Planet. If you want to go to Mercury, you’ll need another 5.5 km/s.

And if you wanted to escape the Solar System entirely, you’d need another 8.8 km/s. We’re always going to want a bigger rocket.

The most efficient way to transfer from world to world is via the Hohmann Transfer. This is where you raise your orbit and drift out until you cross paths with your destination. Then you need to slow down, somehow, to go into orbit.

One of our primary goals of exploring and colonizing the Solar System will be to gather together the resources that will make future colonization and travel easier. We need water for drinking, and to split it apart for oxygen to breathe. We can also turn this water into rocket fuel. Unfortunately, in the inner Solar System, water is a tough resource to get and will be highly valued.

We need solid ground. To build our bases, to mine our resources, to grow our food, and to protect us from the dangers of space radiation. The more gravity we can get the better, since low gravity softens our bones, weakens our muscles, and harms us in ways we don’t fully understand.

Each world and place we colonize will have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s be honest, Earth is the best place in the Solar System, it’s got everything we could ever want and need. Everywhere else is going to be brutally difficult to colonize and make self-sustaining.

We do have one huge advantage, though. Earth is still here, we can return whenever we like. The discoveries made on our home planet will continue to be useful to humanity in space through communications, and even 3D printing. Once manufacturing is sophisticated enough, a discovery made on one world could be mass produced half a solar system away with the right raw ingredients.

We will learn how to make what we need, wherever we are, and how to transport it from place to place, just like we’ve always done.

Mercury, as imaged by the MESSENGER spacecraft, revealing parts of the never seen by human eyes. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Mercury, as imaged by the MESSENGER spacecraft, revealing parts of the never seen by human eyes. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Mercury is the closest planet from the Sun, and one of the most difficult places that we might attempt the colonize. Because it’s so close to the Sun, it receives an enormous amount of energy. During the day, temperatures can reach 427 C, but without an atmosphere to trap the heat, night time temperatures dip down to -173 C. There’s essentially no atmosphere, 38% the gravity of Earth, and a single solar day on Mercury lasts 176 Earth days.

Mercury does have some advantages, though. It has an average density almost as high as Earth, but because of its smaller size, it actually means it has a higher percentage of metal than Earth. Mercury will be incredibly rich in metals and minerals that future colonists will need across the Solar System.

With the lower gravity and no atmosphere, it’ll be far easier to get that material up into orbit and into transfer trajectories to other worlds.

But with the punishing conditions on the planet, how can we live there? Although the surface of Mercury is either scorching or freezing, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft turned up regions of the planet which are in eternal shadow near the poles. In fact, these areas seem to have water ice, which is amazing for anywhere this close to the Sun.

Images of Mercury's northern polar region, provided by MESSENGER. Credit: NASA/JPL
Images of Mercury’s northern polar region, provided by MESSENGER. Credit: NASA/JPL

You could imagine future habitats huddled into those craters, pulling in solar power from just over the crater rim, using the reservoirs of water ice for air, fuel and water.

High powered solar robots could scour the surface of Mercury, gathering rare metals and other minerals to be sent off world. Because it’s bathed in the solar winds, Mercury will have large deposits of Helium-3, useful for future fusion reactors.

Over time, more and more of the raw materials of Mercury will find their way to the resource hungry colonies spread across the Solar System.

It also appears there are lava tubes scattered across Mercury, hollows carved out by lava flows millions of years ago. With work, these could be turned into safe, underground habitats, protected from the radiation, high temperatures and hard vacuum on the surface.

With enough engineering ability, future colonists will be able to create habitats on the surface, wherever they like, using a mushroom-shaped heat shield to protect a colony built on stilts to keep it off the sun-baked surface.

Mercury is smaller than Mars, but is a good deal denser, so it has about the same gravity, 38% of Earth’s. Now that might turn out to be just fine, but if we need more, we have the option of using centrifugal force to increase it. Space Stations can generate artificial gravity by spinning, but you can combine normal gravity with spin-gravity to create a stronger field than either would have.

So our mushroom habitat’s stalk could have an interior spinning section with higher gravity for those living inside it. You get a big mirror over it, shielding you from solar radiation and heat, you have stilts holding it off the ground, like roots, that minimize heat transfer from the warmer areas of ground outside the shield, and if you need it you have got a spinning section inside the stalk. A mushroom habitat.

Venus as photographed by the Pioneer spacecraft in 1978. Some exoplanets may suffer the same fate as this scorched world. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech
Venus as photographed by the Pioneer spacecraft in 1978. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

Venus is the second planet in the Solar System, and it’s the evil twin of Earth. Even though it has roughly the same size, mass and surface gravity of our planet, it’s way too close to the Sun. The thick atmosphere acts like a blanket, trapping the intense heat, pushing temperatures at the surface to 462 C.

Everywhere on the planet is 462 C, so there’s no place to go that’s cooler. The pure carbon dioxide atmosphere is 90 times thicker than Earth, which is equivalent to being a kilometer beneath the ocean on Earth.

In the beginning, colonizing the surface of Venus defies our ability. How do you survive and stay cool in a thick poisonous atmosphere, hot enough to melt lead? You get above it.

One of the most amazing qualities of Venus is that if you get into the high atmosphere, about 52.5 kilometers up, the air pressure and temperature are similar to Earth. Assuming you can get above the poisonous clouds of sulphuric acid, you could walk outside a floating colony in regular clothes, without a pressure suit. You’d need a source of breathable air, though.

Even better, breathable air is a lifting gas in the cloud tops of Venus. You could imagine a future colony, filled with breathable air, floating around Venus. Because the gravity on Venus is roughly the same as Earth, humans wouldn’t suffer any of the side effects of microgravity. In fact, it might be the only place in the entire Solar System other than Earth where we don’t need to account for low gravity.

Artist's concept of a Venus cloud city — a possible future outcome of the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) plan. Credit: Advanced Concepts Lab at NASA Langley Research Center
Artist’s concept of a Venus cloud city — a possible future outcome of the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) plan. Credit: Advanced Concepts Lab at NASA Langley Research Center

Now the day on Venus is incredibly long, 243 earth days, so if you stay over the same place the whole time it would be light for four months then dark for four months. Not ideal for solar power on a first glance, but Venus turns so slowly that even at the equator you could stay ahead of the sunset at a fast walk.

So if you have floating colonies it would take very little effort to stay constantly on the light side or dark side or near the twilight zone of the terminator. You are essentially living inside a blimp, so it may as well be mobile. And on the day side it would only take a few solar panels and some propellers to stay ahead. And since it is so close to the Sun, there’s plenty of solar power. What could you do with it?

The atmosphere itself would probably serve as a source of raw materials. Carbon is the basis for all life on Earth. We’ll need it for food and building materials in space. Floating factories could process the thick atmosphere of Venus, to extract carbon, oxygen, and other elements.

Heat resistant robots could be lowered down to the surface to gather minerals and then retrieved before they’re cooked to death.

Venus does have a high gravity, so launching rockets up into space back out of Venus’ gravity well will be expensive.

Over longer periods of time, future colonists might construct large solar shades to shield themselves from the scorching heat, and eventually, even start cooling the planet itself.

Earth as seen on July 6, 2015 from a distance of one million miles by a NASA scientific camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft. Credits: NASA
Earth as seen on July 6, 2015 from a distance of one million miles by a NASA scientific camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft. Credits: NASA

The next planet from the Sun is Earth, the best planet in the Solar System. One of the biggest advantages of our colonization efforts will be to get heavy industry off our planet and into space. Why pollute our atmosphere and rivers when there’s so much more space… in space.

Over time, more and more of the resource gathering will happen off world, with orbital power generation, asteroid mining, and zero gravity manufacturing. Earth’s huge gravity well means that it’s best to bring materials down to Earth, not carry them up to space.

However, the normal gravity, atmosphere and established industry of Earth will allow us to manufacture the lighter high tech goods that the rest of the Solar System will need for their own colonization efforts.

But we haven’t completely colonized Earth itself. Although we’ve spread across the land, we know very little about the deep ocean. Future colonies under the oceans will help us learn more about self-sufficient colonies, in extreme environments. The oceans on Earth will be similar to the oceans on Europa or Enceladus, and the lessons we learn here will teach us to live out there.

As we return to space, we’ll colonize the region around our planet. We’ll construct bigger orbital colonies in Low Earth Orbit, building on our lessons from the International Space Station.

One of the biggest steps we need to take, is understanding how to overcome the debilitating effects of microgravity: the softened bones, weakened muscles and more. We need to perfect techniques for generating artificial gravity where there is none.

A 1969 station concept. The station was to rotate on its central axis to produce artificial gravity. The majority of early space station concepts created artificial gravity one way or another in order to simulate a more natural or familiar environment for the health of the astronauts. Credit: NASA
A 1969 station concept. The station was to rotate on its central axis to produce artificial gravity. The majority of early space station concepts created artificial gravity one way or another in order to simulate a more natural or familiar environment for the health of the astronauts. Credit: NASA

The best technique we have is rotating spacecraft to generate artificial gravity. Just like we saw in 2001, and The Martian, by rotating all or a portion of a spacecraft, you can generated an outward centrifugal force that mimics the acceleration of gravity. The larger the radius of the space station, the more comfortable and natural the rotation feels.

Low Earth Orbit also keeps a space station within the Earth’s protective magnetosphere, limiting the amount of harmful radiation that future space colonists will experience.

Other orbits are useful too, including geostationary orbit, which is about 36,000 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. Here spacecraft orbit the Earth at exactly the same rate as the rotation of Earth, which means that stations appear in fixed positions above our planet, useful for communication.

Geostationary orbit is higher up in Earth’s gravity well, which means these stations will serve a low-velocity jumping off points to reach other places in the Solar System. They’re also outside the Earth’s atmospheric drag, and don’t require any orbital boosting to keep them in place.

By perfecting orbital colonies around Earth, we’ll develop technologies for surviving in deep space, anywhere in the Solar System. The same general technology will work anywhere, whether we’re in orbit around the Moon, or out past Pluto.

When the technology is advanced enough, we might learn to build space elevators to carry material and up down from Earth’s gravity well. We could also build launch loops, electromagnetic railguns that launch material into space. These launch systems would also be able to loft supplies into transfer trajectories from world to world throughout the Solar System.

Earth orbit, close to the homeworld gives us the perfect place to develop and perfect the technologies we need to become a true spacefaring civilization. Not only that, but we’ve got the Moon.

Sample collection on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 16 astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr. is shown collecting samples with the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the left background. Image: NASA
Sample collection on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 16 astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr. is shown collecting samples with the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the left background. Image: NASA

The Moon, of course, is the Earth’s only natural satellite, which orbits us at an average distance of about 400,000 kilometers. Almost ten times further than geostationary orbit.

The Moon takes a surprising amount of velocity to reach from Low Earth Orbit. It’s close, but expensive to reach, thrust speaking.

But that fact that it’s close makes the Moon an ideal place to colonize. It’s close to Earth, but it’s not Earth. It’s airless, bathed in harmful radiation and has very low gravity. It’s the place that humanity will learn to survive in the harsh environment of space.

But it still does have some resources we can exploit. The lunar regolith, the pulverized rocky surface of the Moon, can be used as concrete to make structures. Spacecraft have identified large deposits of water at the Moon’s poles, in its permanently shadowed craters. As with Mercury, these would make ideal locations for colonies.

Here, a surface exploration crew begins its investigation of a typical, small lava tunnel, to determine if it could serve as a natural shelter for the habitation modules of a Lunar Base. Credit: NASA's Johnson Space Center
Here, a surface exploration crew begins its investigation of a typical, small lava tunnel, to determine if it could serve as a natural shelter for the habitation modules of a Lunar Base. Credit: NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Our spacecraft have also captured images of openings to underground lava tubes on the surface of the Moon. Some of these could be gigantic, even kilometers high. You could fit massive cities inside some of these lava tubes, with room to spare.

Helium-3 from the Sun rains down on the surface of the Moon, deposited by the Sun’s solar wind, which could be mined from the surface and provide a source of fuel for lunar fusion reactors. This abundance of helium could be exported to other places in the Solar System.

The far side of the Moon is permanently shadowed from Earth-based radio signals, and would make an ideal location for a giant radio observatory. Telescopes of massive size could be built in the much lower lunar gravity.

We talked briefly about an Earth-based space elevator, but an elevator on the Moon makes even more sense. With the lower gravity, you can lift material off the surface and into lunar orbit using cables made of materials we can manufacture today, such as Zylon or Kevlar.

One of the greatest threats on the Moon is the dusty regolith itself. Without any kind of weathering on the surface, these dust particles are razor sharp, and they get into everything. Lunar colonists will need very strict protocols to keep the lunar dust out of their machinery, and especially out of their lungs and eyes, otherwise it could cause permanent damage.

Artist's impression of a Near-Earth Asteroid passing by Earth. Credit: ESA
Artist’s impression of a Near-Earth Asteroid passing by Earth. Credit: ESA

Although the vast majority of asteroids in the Solar System are located in the main asteroid belt, there are still many asteroids orbiting closer to Earth. These are known as the Near Earth Asteroids, and they’ve been the cause of many of Earth’s great extinction events.

These asteroids are dangerous to our planet, but they’re also an incredible resource, located close to our homeworld.

The amount of velocity it takes to get to some of these asteroids is very low, which means travel to and from these asteroids takes little energy. Their low gravity means that extracting resources from their surface won’t take a tremendous amount of energy.

And once the orbits of these asteroids are fully understood, future colonists will be able to change the orbits using thrusters. In fact, the same system they use to launch minerals off the surface would also push the asteroids into safer orbits.

These asteroids could be hollowed out, and set rotating to provide artificial gravity. Then they could be slowly moved into safe, useful orbits, to act as space stations, resupply points, and permanent colonies.

There are also gravitationally stable points at the Sun-Earth L4 and L5 Lagrange Points. These asteroid colonies could be parked there, giving us more locations to live in the Solar System.

Mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars, similar to what one would see from orbital distance of 2500 km. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars, similar to what one would see from orbital distance of 2500 km. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The future of humanity will include the colonization of Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun. On the surface, Mars has a lot going for it. A day on Mars is only a little longer than a day on Earth. It receives sunlight, unfiltered through the thin Martian atmosphere. There are deposits of water ice at the poles, and under the surface across the planet.

Martian ice will be precious, harvested from the planet and used for breathable air, rocket fuel and water for the colonists to drink and grow their food. The Martian regolith can be used to grow food. It does have have toxic perchlorates in it, but that can just be washed out.

The lower gravity on Mars makes it another ideal place for a space elevator, ferrying goods up and down from the surface of the planet.

The area depicted is Noctis Labyrinthus in the Valles Marineris system of enormous canyons. The scene is just after sunrise, and on the canyon floor four miles below, early morning clouds can be seen. The frost on the surface will melt very quickly as the Sun climbs higher in the Martian sky. Credit: NASA
The area depicted is Noctis Labyrinthus in the Valles Marineris system of enormous canyons. The scene is just after sunrise, and on the canyon floor four miles below, early morning clouds can be seen. The frost on the surface will melt very quickly as the Sun climbs higher in the Martian sky. Credit: NASA

Unlike the Moon, Mars has a weathered surface. Although the planet’s red dust will get everywhere, it won’t be toxic and dangerous as it is on the Moon.

Like the Moon, Mars has lava tubes, and these could be used as pre-dug colony sites, where human Martians can live underground, protected from the hostile environment.

Mars has two big problems that must be overcome. First, the gravity on Mars is only a third that of Earth’s, and we don’t know the long term impact of this on the human body. It might be that humans just can’t mature properly in the womb in low gravity.

Researchers have proposed that Mars colonists might need to spend large parts of their day on rotating centrifuges, to simulate Earth gravity. Or maybe humans will only be allowed to spend a few years on the surface of Mars before they have to return to a high gravity environment.

The second big challenge is the radiation from the Sun and interstellar cosmic rays. Without a protective magnetosphere, Martian colonists will be vulnerable to a much higher dose of radiation. But then, this is the same challenge that colonists will face anywhere in the entire Solar System.

That radiation will cause an increased risk of cancer, and could cause mental health issues, with dementia-like symptoms. The best solution for dealing with radiation is to block it with rock, soil or water. And Martian colonists, like all Solar System colonists will need to spend much of their lives underground or in tunnels carved out of rock.

Two astronauts explore the rugged surface of Phobos. Mars, as it would appear to the human eye from Phobos, looms on the horizon. The mother ship, powered by solar energy, orbits Mars while two crew members inside remotely operate rovers on the Martian surface. The explorers have descended to the surface of Phobos in a small "excursion" vehicle, and they are navigating with the aid of a personal spacecraft, which fires a line into the soil to anchor the unit. The astronaut on the right is examining a large boulder; if the boulder weighed 1,000 pounds on Earth, it would weigh a mere pound in the nearly absent gravity field of Phobos. Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings (SAIC)
Two astronauts explore the rugged surface of Phobos. Mars, as it would appear to the human eye from Phobos, looms on the horizon. The mother ship, powered by solar energy, orbits Mars while two crew members inside remotely operate rovers on the Martian surface. Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings (SAIC)

In addition to Mars itself, the Red Planet has two small moons, Phobos and Deimos. These will serve as ideal places for small colonies. They’ll have the same low gravity as asteroid colonies, but they’ll be just above the gravity well of Mars. Ferries will travel to and from the Martian moons, delivering fresh supplies and sending Martian goods out to the rest of the Solar System.

We’re not certain yet, but there are good indicators these moons might have ice inside them, if so that is an excellent source of fuel and could make initial trips to Mars much easier by allowing us to send a first expedition to those moons, who then begin producing fuel to be used to land on Mars and to leave Mars and return home.

According to Elon Musk, if a Martian colony can reach a million inhabitants, it’ll be self-sufficient from Earth or any other world. At that point, we would have a true, Solar System civilization.

Now, continue on to the other half of this article, written by Isaac Arthur, where he talks about what it will take to colonize the outer Solar System. Where water ice is plentiful but solar power is feeble. Where travel times and energy require new technologies and techniques to survive and thrive.

Adventures in Satspotting: Why Are Different Orbits Needed for Satellites?

Congratulations: perhaps you’re a new space-faring nation, looking to place a shiny new payload around the planet Earth. You’ve assembled the technical know-how, and seek to break the surly bonds and join an exclusive club that thus far, only contains 14 nations capable of indigenous spaceflight. Now for the big question: which orbit should you choose?

Welcome to the wonderful world of orbital mechanics. Sure, satellites in orbit have to follow Newton’s laws of motion, as they perpetually ‘fall’ around the Earth without hitting it. But it’ll cost you in fuel expended and technical complexity to achieve different types of orbits. Different types of orbits can, however, be used to accomplish different goals.

The first artificial moon to be placed in low-Earth orbit was Sputnik 1 launched on October 4th, 1957. But even before the dawn of the Space Age, visionaries such as futurist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke realized the value of placing a satellite in a geosynchronous orbit about 35,786 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. Placing a satellite in such an orbit keeps it in ‘lockstep’ with the Earth rotating below it once every twenty four hours.

Here are some of the more common orbits targeted by modern satellites and their uses:

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Different orbits versus altitude. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Cmglee, Geo Swan

Low-Earth Orbit (LEO): Placing a satellite 700 km above the surface of the Earth moving 27,500 km per hour will cause it to orbit the Earth once every 90 minutes. The International Space Station is in just such an orbit. Satellites in LEO are also subject to atmospheric drag, and must be boosted periodically.  Launching from the equator of the Earth gives you an initial free maximum 1,670 km/per hour boost into orbit eastward. Incidentally, the high 52 degree inclination orbit of the ISS is a compromise that assures that it is reachable from various launch sites worldwide.

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Satellite constellations, including NASA’s ‘A-Train’ of sun-synchronous Earth-observing satellites. Image credit: NASA

Low Earth orbit is also becoming crowded with space junk, and incidents such as the successful 2007 anti-satellite missile test by China, and the 2009 collision of Iridium 33 and the defunct Kosmos-2251 satellite both showered low Earth orbit with thousands of extra pieces of debris and didn’t help the situation much. There have been calls to make reentry technology standard on future satellites, and this will become paramount with the advent of flocks of nano and CubeSats in LEO.

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Still up there: The orbital trace of China’s space station Tiangong-1: Image credit: Orbitron

Sun-Synchronous Orbit: This is a highly inclined retrograde orbit that assures that the illumination angle of the Earth below is consistent on multiple passes. Though it takes a fair amount of energy to reach a Sun-synchronous orbit—plus a complex deployment maneuver known as a ‘dog leg’—this type of orbit is desirable for Earth observing missions. It’s also a favorite for spy satellites, and you’ll notice that many nations aiming to put up their first satellites will use the stated goal of ‘Earth observation’ to field spy satellites of their own.

Molyina orbit: A highly inclined elliptical orbit designed by the Russians, a Molyina orbit takes 12 hours to complete, placing the satellite over one hemisphere for 2/3rds of its orbit and returning it back over the same geographical point once every 24 hours.

A semi-synchronous orbit: A 12-hour elliptical orbit similar to a Molyina orbit, a semi-synchronous orbit is favored by Global Positioning Satellites.

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The launch of SpaceX’s CRS2 resupply mission headed to the ISS. Image credit: David Dickinson

Geosynchronous orbit: The aforementioned point 35,786 km above the Earth’s surface where a satellite stays fixed over a particular longitude.

Geostationary orbit:  Place a GEO satellite in orbit with a zero degree orbit, and it is considered Geostationary. Also sometimes referred to as a Clarke orbit, this location is extremely stable, and satellites placed there may remain in orbit for millions of years.

In  2012, the EchoStar XVI satellite was launched headed to GEO with the time capsule disk The Last Pictures for just that reason. It is quite possible that millions of years from now, GEO sats might be the primary artifacts remaining from the early 20th/21st century civilization.

Lagrange point orbits: 18th century mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange made the observation that several stable points exist in any three body system. Dubbed Lagrange points, these locales serve as great stable positions to place observatories. The Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) sits at the L1 point to afford it a continuous view of the Sun; the James Webb Space Telescope is bound in 2018 for the L2 point beyond the Moon. To stay on station near a LaGrange point, a satellite must enter a Lissajous or Halo orbit around the imaginary Lagrange point in space.

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The L2 Lagrange point. Image credit: ESA

All of these orbits have pros and cons.  For example, atmospheric drag isn’t an issue in geosynchronous orbit, though it takes several boosts and transfer orbit maneuvers to attain. And as with any plan, complexity also adds more chances for things to fail, stranding a satellite in the wrong orbit. Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission suffered just such a fate after launch in 2011 when its Fregat upper stage failed to operate properly, stranding the interplanetary spacecraft in Earth orbit. Phobos-Grunt crashed back to Earth over the Southern Pacific on January 15th, 2012.

Space is a tough business, and it’s imperative to place things in the right orbit!

-Looking to hunt for satellites from your backyard? A great online resource to start with in Heavens-Above.

Most Powerful Atlas V Delivers a Most Spectacular Nighttime Sky Show Launch for US Navy

Blastoff of ULA Atlas V rocket lofting MUOS-3 to orbit for the US Navy from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace
See launch gallery below![/caption]

Launching on its milestone 200th mission, the most powerful version of the venerable Atlas-Centaur rocket put on a most spectacular nighttime sky show on Tuesday evening, (Jan. 20) that mesmerized spectators along the Florida Space Coast on a mission to deliver a powerful new next-generation communications satellite to orbit for the US Navy.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the third Mobile User Objective System satellite (MUOS-3) for the United States Navy successfully launched to geostationary orbit from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Jan. 20, 2015.

The MUOS-3 launch opened ULA’s planned 13 mission manifest for 2015 with a boisterous bang as the Atlas V booster thundered off the seaside space coast pad.

Streak shot of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the third Mobile User Objective System satellite to orbit for the United States Navy as it launched from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace
Streak shot of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the third Mobile User Objective System satellite to orbit for the United States Navy as it launched from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: John Studwell/AmericaSpace

The MUOS constellation is a next-generation narrowband US Navy tactical satellite communications system designed to significantly improve ground communications to US forces on the move and around the globe.

“The ULA team is honored to deliver this critical mission into orbit for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force with the support of our many mission partners,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs.

This is the third satellite in the MUOS series and will provide military users 10 times more communications capability over existing systems, including simultaneous voice, video and data, leveraging 3G mobile communications technology. It was built by Lockheed Martin.

Launch of ULA  Atlas V rocket sending MUOS-3 satcom to orbit for the US Navy from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Julian Leek
Launch of ULA Atlas V rocket sending MUOS-3 satcom to orbit for the US Navy from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Julian Leek

The unmanned Atlas V expendable rocket launched in its mightiest configuration known as the Atlas V 551.

The 206 foot-tall rocket features a 5-meter diameter payload fairing, five Aerojet Rocketdyne first stage strap on solid rocket motors and a single engine Centaur upper stage powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

The first stage is powered by the Russian-built dual nozzle RD AMROSS RD-180 engine. Combined with the five solid rocket motors, the Atlas V first stage generates over 2.5 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

And the rocket needed all that thrust because the huge MUOS-3 was the heftiest payload lofted by an Atlas V booster, weighing in at some 15,000 pounds.

“The MUOS-3 spacecraft is the heaviest payload to launch atop an Atlas V launch vehicle. The Atlas V generated more than two and half million pounds of thrust at liftoff to meet the demands of lifting this nearly 7.5-ton satellite,” noted Sponnick.

The Atlas V 551 rockets into the darkened Florida sky at 8:04 p.m. EST Tuesday, 20 January, to deliver MUOS-3 into orbit. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace
The Atlas V 551 rockets into the darkened Florida sky at 8:04 p.m. EST Tuesday, 20 January, to deliver MUOS-3 into orbit. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The first Atlas rocket was first launched some 52 years ago.

“Today’s launch was the 200th Atlas-Centaur launch – a very sincere congratulations to the many women and men responsible for the incredible success of the Centaur upper stage over the last 5 decades!”

Overall this was the 52nd Atlas V mission and the fifth in the Atlas V 551 configuration.

The Atlas V 551 version has previously launched two prominent NASA planetary science missions including the New Horizons mission in 2006 that is about to reach Pluto and the Juno orbiter in 2011 that will arrive at Jupiter in July 2016. It was also used to launch MUOS-1 and MUOS-2.

United Launch Alliance successful MUOS-3 mission tonight! 20 Jan 2015.  Photo Credit: Matthew Travis / Zero-G News
United Launch Alliance successful MUOS-3 mission tonight! 20 Jan 2015. Photo Credit: Matthew Travis / Zero-G News

ULA’s second launch in 2015 thunders aloft from the US West Coast with NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission (SMAP) next week.

SMAP is the first US Earth-observing satellite designed to collect global observations of surface soil moisture.

SMAP will blastoff from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg AFB at 9:20 a.m. EST (6:20 a.m. PST) on ULA’s Delta II rocket.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the third Mobile User Objective System satellite for the United States Navy launched from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: United Launch Alliance
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the third Mobile User Objective System satellite for the United States Navy launched from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: United Launch Alliance

In another major milestone coming soon, the Atlas V is right now being man rated since it was chosen to launch the Boeing CST-100 space taxi, which NASA selected as one of two new commercial crew vehicles to launch US astronauts to the ISS as soon as 2017.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the third Mobile User Objective System satellite for the United States Navy launched from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: United Launch Alliance
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the third Mobile User Objective System satellite for the United States Navy launched from Space Launch Complex-41 at 8:04 p.m. EST on Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: United Launch Alliance

The next Atlas launch involves NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) to study Earth’s magnetic reconnection. It is scheduled for launch on an Atlas V 421 booster on March 12 from Cape Canaveral. See my up close visit with MMS and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center detailed in my story – here.

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

Ken Kremer