Atlas V has successfully lifted off with SBIRS GEO 3!

An Atlas V in its base 401 configuration placed the SBIRS GEO 3 military early-warning satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit this evening:

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Falcon 9 arrives in Los Angeles

The Falcon 9 first stage that placed the first flight of Iridium Next spacecraft into orbit has returned to land, coming ashore on its drone barge “Just Read The Instructions” at the Port of Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the first reflown booster has been announced: as rumored, the customers is SES, and in fact the first flown booster will carry their SES 10 payload in just a month’s time.  SpaceX has a very busy plate ahead of them, catching up from their hiatus, and so Falcon 9 will actually manage to fly three more times before the SES 10 mission.

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The last man on the Moon has left the Earth

Three-time astronaut Gene Cernan has now passed, at the age of 82.  He flew in space three times — twice to the moon, once to orbit it and once to walk upon it.  (Only two other men have been to the moon twice: Jim Lovell and John Young.  Both are still living.)  In his honor, enjoy this video of his final liftoff, leaving the Moon in 1972.  (Many people ask who took this video: it was taken by the lunar rover, under remote control from Earth.)

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Falcon 9 has returned to flight!

After the shocking loss of the last Falcon 9, the rocket roared well and truly back into business today.  They had been slightly delayed by the much needed rains that have come to California, but today the weather was suitable and launch occurred on time and on target, with a successful barge recovery at sea of the first stage – the first from Vandenberg.  The Jason-3 launch a year ago was the first attempt to recover a Falcon 9 in the Pacific; it successfully soft-landed, but one of the landing legs failed to lock allowing it to fall over and explode.  This one was flawless, and the barge will return to shore in the next couple of days — I believe to San Diego, since that’s where SpaceX recovers their Dragons.

The payload is the first flight of the Iridium NEXT constellation, which uses a brand-new multi-satellite deployment system that appears to have worked flawlessly, deploying all ten spacecraft correctly into their high inclination orbit.

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Why Is That In There? Gum arabic in beverages

I don’t have a fanfic to post today, on Fanfic Friday, so instead I’m going to finally give you the second installment of Why Is That In There? – this time looking at gum arabic!

As a traditional nerd, I am quite fond of Mountain Dew, and one of the ingredients puzzled me for a while.  Why is there gum arabic in it?  Gum arabic is actually found in a lot of soft drinks — and even in some hard ones, specifically wine.  It’s also found in a lot of candies and pastes and frostings.  Less surprisingly, it’s also found in chewing gum.

I first was exposed to gum arabic as a thing through art class.  It’s used in a lot of paints, and I know it’s a natural glue.  So why is it in drinks?

Well, a little thought maybe could have given me the answer, but I went and googled it instead.  Its gummy nature means it makes an excellent emulsifier and an excellent thickener.  This is actually also what it’s doing in paint — it helps the pigment mix with the solvent, allowing it to spread evenly through the paint, which is particularly important with water-based paints.  So in Mountain Dew and other soft drinks, it helps the pigment, the flavors, the caffeine, and the sugar remain evenly distributed without separation, which is why you don’t have to shake it before you drink it — which, since it’s also carbonated, is a very good thing.  😉  In wine, it serves as slightly different purpose — it tends to bond with the particles that would precipitate out of the wine to create an unpleasant sediment (which is mostly dead yeast) at the bottom of the bottle.  If added to the barrel, it will help the sediments come out much more quickly, so they can be captured and removed when bottling the wine.  It is less common today than it was in the past, as more consistent materials are now available.  (Maybe one of these days I’ll write about isinglass, which is a rather surprising ingredient when you first learn what it is.)

Oh, and why is it called gum arabic, you might wonder?  Well, it comes from the sap of a couple of species of acacia trees, mostly ones found in the Sahel, a semiarid region south of the Sahara, but they’re also cultivated widely in Saudi Arabia, which is where Europeans first encountered it.  It’s a completely natural, biodegradable, and edible adhesive and emulsifier that has been used since ancient times.

Enjoy!

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Earth, from Mars

Here’s the latest view of our blue marble from Mars, courtesy of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:

pia21260

It’s a composite image, merging images taken through different filters to produce color (although not “true” color, since MRO can see in infrared — vegetation shines very brightly in infrared, which makes Earth redder than it would be to the human eye), and processing Earth and Moon separately so that Moon can be bright enough to see without making the Earth just a big white smear.  The Earth is one of the brightest objects in  the solar system, and while the Moon looks really bright from here, it’s actually much darker than the Earth.

Believe it or not, the Moon was the real target of this image.  MRO isn’t really equipped to take this kind of picture, since it has what’s called a “pushbroom” camera (great for mapping, terrible for portraiture or landscapes), but once every now and again it does — for calibration purposes.  When this image was taken, the Moon was almost directly opposite the Earth from Mars’ perspective.  That means it’s the Earth-facing side of the Moon that we can see — the same side of the Moon we’ve all grown up seeing.  The lunar nearside is the best-known celestial object, and therefore a perfect calibration target.  😉  They know precisely how bright it should be.

Pretty neat, huh?

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Long March 3B and Kuaizhou blast into the New Year

The first two launches of 2017 are complete: a Long March 3B carrying a technology demonstrator payload to geosynchronous orbit, and the first commercial Kuaizhou flight.

Long March 3B blasted off from Xichang Space Center last Thursday:

Close on the heels of that flight, a solid-prop Kuaizhou 1A rocket made its first commercial flight, launching from Jiuquan Space Center.  This is the rocket’s third flight, but the first with a paying customer other than the Chinese government.  Kuaizhou was developed as a low-cost rapid-response rocket that could compete favorably with the increasing range of commercial options presently on the market.  The payload is a set of small commercial imaging satellites.

Falcon 9 was expected to also launch by now, but unfortunately the wild and wet weather currently soaking California has delayed the flight.  The weather is not expected to clear up before they butt up against time scheduled for an Atlas V dress rehearsal, so the next launch opportunity is January 14, weather permitting.  The FAA signed off on the accident investigation and gave the green light for the launch attempt a few days ago, so once the skies dry up again, they’ll be good to go.

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