Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tomorrow's SpaceX launch: a reusable rocket, science and Earth's next selfie

Sunday February 8 at 6:10 EST (two minutes after sunset), a SpaceX rocket is scheduled to launch. Previous SpaceX satellites delivered payloads into low-Earth orbit, but this one is destined for the Lagrangian Point nearly 1 million miles from Earth.


At the Lagrangian point 1 (or L1), approximately one million miles from Earth, the
gravitational forces between the sun and Earth are balanced, which provides a stable
orbit that requires fewer orbital corrections for the spacecraft to remain in its
operational location for a longer period of time.
Source: NOAA

There are several reasons I will be watching the livestream of the launch.

SpaceX will attempt, for the second time, to recover the rocket. The first time they tried to recover a rocket they failed, but they understand the reason for the failure and hopefully will succeed this time.

The satellite, called "DSCOVR," has scientific and symbolic goals. At the Lagrangian Point, DSCOVR will remain stationary with respect to the Earth and the Sun, enabling it observe the Sun and serve as an early warning system for potentially disruptive solar flares.

Being stationary relative to the Earth will also enable DSCOVR to serve as a distant "Web cam" providing us with a feed of the entire, fully-lit Earth -- an ever changing version of the famous "Blue Marble" picture taken from Appolo 17. (Al Gore called for this space cam while Vice President and, after a long political struggle, his vision is about to be realized).

Earth's first selfie -- from Appolo 17

If SpaceX succeeds in recovering the their X9 rocket, they will refurbish and reuse it in a subsequent launch, cutting cost significantly -- and moving us a step closer to Internet access using a constellation of low-Earth orbiting satellites.

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Update 2/7/2014

I have two blogs and I inadvertently posted this on the wrong one -- it was supposed to be at http://cis471.blogspot.com! Still, I will leave a copy here because SpaceX satellite Internet access may serve Cuba in the future. It's a long shot both technically and politically, but not out of the question.
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