An Atlas V rocket was launched on June 20, 2012, from Cape Canaveral. This makes the 50th mission for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, as well as the 31st Atlas launch. It was carrying classified cargo for the United States National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The launch was described as flawless by Col. James D. Fisher, who is the director of the NRO’s Office of Space Launch.
The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, also called EELV, is designed to make space launch vehicles more affordable and reliable. The program is intended to replace older launch systems and reduce launch costs by at least 25%.
An Atlas V rocket can weigh between 734,850 pounds and 2,120,000 pounds. It has a maximum payload weight of 20,000 to 42,000 pounds to Low Earth Orbit. Or, it can carry 6,000 to 14,000 pounds to Geostationary Orbit. It also can carry a total of 8,750 to 28,660 pounds to a Geosynchronous Orbit.
It’s always exciting to watch a rocket launch!
The X-375B is an unmanned spacecraft. It was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in March of 2011. It returned June 16, 2012, making an autonomous landing, and Vandenberg Air Force Base. It has now completed a fifteen month clandestine mission.
It had a classified payload on board, which, of course, has led to some speculation about what that might be. Could it have been carrying an experimental spy satellite sensor? Was it doing a reconnaissance mission? Maybe it was gathering intelligence? The answer is anyone’s guess.
The X-375B is an Orbital Test Vehicle, (also called an OTV). It is part of an experimental test program that is being used to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the United States Air Force. There are two main purposes of this program: to create reusable spacecraft and to conduct experiments that can be returned to Earth to be examined.
Boeing is the prime contractor that made the X-375B. It stands 9 feet and six inches tall, and is 29 feet and 3 inches wide. It has a wingspan of 14 feet and 11 inches. Overall, it is a stocky, solid, looking spacecraft that weighs 11,000 pounds. The power for the X-375B comes from Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries.
More than a decade ago the Hubble Space Telescope snapped an image that has since been referred to as “the most important picture ever taken”. It’s real name is the Hubble Deep Field (you may want to watch this video before reading on). While the image may seem old in this fast moving world of technology, it’s not even an eye-blink when compared to it’s subject matter – the farthest astronomers have seen in the universe, and into the past.
The folks at the Max Planck Institute have been studying the image almost since it was taken in 1995. Mostly they have been focusing on the brightest galaxy in the picture, known by the catchy name of HDF850.1. That galaxy represents the furthest object, and consequently the oldest, ever seen. The fact is, HDF850.1 is 12.6 billion light years away, meaning that in the Hubble image we see the galaxy as it was 12.6 billion years ago, which is a mere 1.1 billion years after the universe began.
The galaxy, known as a starburst galaxy, is (or was) producing stars at the staggering rate of about a thousand suns per year. The Register points out that the Planck institute, “had to use IRAM interferometer, and the Jansky Very Large Array, a giant compound radio telescope in New Mexico, USA” to verify their findings. The official announcement of the discovery will be published in the next issues of Nature.
Photo Credit: M16 Eagle Nebula from Big Stock Photo
Received the news late this afternoon that my Grandfather on my dads side of the family had passed away. While expected still has hit me like a ton of bricks. I am luckier than most as I had all of my grandparents up to a few short years ago. All lived into their 90’s and went out on their own terms which is all one can hope for at the end of a long fruitful life. On my past show we where close to the end as my Grandfather was reaching up and calling out my Dad’s name. So I know that my Dad was waiting for him and that he is in a better place. I will likely be heading to Michigan either Wednesday to Thursday so if there is a show it will be from Michigan..
Congratulations to Melisa Strayer she is out last listener appreciation month winner. Congrats to all of the winners this month, and a big thank you to all of you that participated in the contests.
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While news reports have been scant, there was a major cosmic event over California and Nevada this past Sunday. A meteor weighing approximately 70 tons rocketed across the sky at a stunning 33,500 mph and exploded in the atmosphere. The meteor sighting was reported by residents of both states and those in California also reported the explosion, which rattled house windows across a large area of the state and also set off building and car alarms.
The meteor, which was roughly the size of a minivan, although much heavier due to the density, and traveling at such a high velocity, was estimated by the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office to have exploded with the force of roughly3.8 kilotons of TNT.
While NASA is busy mapping earth-threatening asteroids, one of this size is difficult to spot in advance. Thankfully most asteroids in this range are likely to burn up upon entry into earth’s atmosphere, as this one did. Some experts think that it could have possibly scattered tiny pieces of debris across the Sierra Nevada mountains, but no fragments were likely large enough to do any damage. You can check out the video below.
Vandenburg Air Force Base, which is located 130 miles from Los Angeles, California, launched a rocket at 4:12 in the afternoon, PDT, on April 3, 2012. Originally, this rocket was planned to be launched on March 29, 2012. It was delayed because engineers needed to fix an issue with the upper stage engine of the rocket.
The rocket is a Delta IV. It was launched on a mission for the National Reconnaissance Office. This is the agency that monitors the United States’ network of spy satellites. It is known that the rocket was carrying a secret payload. The details of that mission are classified, but it has been said that the mission “will help various government agencies improve national security by monitoring other parts of the world”.
My husband and I live in California, but we were too far away from Vandenburg Air Force Base for it to be convenient for us to drive over there in the hopes of being able to watch the rocket when it was launched. However, we were able to walk outside our home, look up into the sky, and see the long, white, vapor trail that the rocket left behind.
We were just coming back from picking up some take-out for a late lunch when we noticed the mark that the rocket temporarily left in the sky as it exited the planet. It isn’t something we get to see every day, and both my husband and I thought it was really cool that the vapor trail was visible from where we live. It is one thing to know that a rocket was launched. It is quite a different experience to actually see the evidence of the launch, floating in the sky, before one’s very eyes.
There is a really good video that was taken of this rocket when it was launched. It is a raw video replay that you can watch right now. Off it goes!
Image: Rocket Tail by BigStock
Eyewitness reports have been pouring in about sightings of a meteor in the skies above New Zealand. The fireball passed over large population areas like Wellington and Christchurch giving the opportunity for anyone with a camera handy to grab shots. The pictures have been piling up at the WeatherWatch site for the kiwi nation. One eyewitness reported seeing an “object the size of a helicopter on fire.” Others across the island nation have submitted reports about seeing the object, which seems to have been visible across a large portion of the country.
The meteor was likely a lone incident as the earth is not currently passing through any showers right now, although the Lyrids is coming up in about three weeks. The meteor probably burned up in earth’s atmosphere as there are no reports of an impact. If more information comes in I will add an update to this post. I have also sent a message to the “Bad Astronomer” Phil Plait to see if he has additional insight.
Picture Credit: Channel 3 News via Web Pro News