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By Hamza Jawad
Microsoft and HPE collaborate to connect Azure to space
by Hamza Jawad
Earlier today, Microsoft announced the development of its latest U.S. datacenter region centered in the state of Georgia. Last week, meanwhile, the tech giant rolled out Azure Quantum in public preview. Today, Microsoft has unveiled a new team-up with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), with the primary mission of connecting Azure directly to space.
What this means exactly is that by utilizing HPE's upcoming Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2), the Redmond firm is set to deliver Azure workloads on the International Space Station (ISS). This will make it the first time the ISS will be able to leverage both edge computing and AI capabilities together.
With Microsoft Research and Azure Space engineering teams delving in collaboration, new and advanced machine learning models are currently in the process of creation, alongside evaluation of the potential of HPE's processing with hyperscale Azure. The aforementioned models include:
Weather modeling of dust storms to enable future modeling for Mars missions. Plant and hydroponics analysis to support food growth and life sciences in space. Medical imaging using an ultrasound on the ISS to support astronaut healthcare. Notably, the connection between the SBC-2 and Azure will fully leverage the power of the hyperscale cloud to perform hugely complex analysis at the edge, aiming to tackle the challenges in advanced processing.
HPE's Spaceborne Computer-2 is scheduled to launch into orbit for the ISS on February 20. The aforementioned research endeavors will be sponsored by the ISS National Labs for the next two to three years. Microsoft believes that its latest advancement will help push Azure AI and ML to space on a different level than before.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA approves SpaceX and the Crew Dragon for regular crewed missions to the ISS
by Ather Fawaz
Image via NASA/SpaceX It has been a big year so far for SpaceX. Back in May, its Crew Dragon spacecraft completed its first manned voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). With Elon Musk accrediting Starship as the top priority for the company, the famed project has also picked up pace. So has the Starlink initiative, with its recent expansion to include more beta customers. The firm is also gearing up for Dragon's second manned mission, Crew-1, to the ISS in a few days as well. Amidst all this, it has now finally gained NASA's approval that it has been striving towards with the Commercial Crew program.
The approval came after NASA signed the Human Rating Certification Plan for SpaceX’s crew transportation system yesterday. The signing was completed after conducting a thorough flight readiness review ahead of the agency’s Crew-1 mission, with astronauts onboard, to the space station. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine commended the success of the Commercial Crew Program and the achievements of both companies, stating:
The founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk marked it as an honor and a motivating force in the company's vision to make flights to the Moon and Mars a reality:
This is a milestone for both companies. For SpaceX, this system of the Crew Dragon plus the Falcon 9 rocket along with the associated ground systems is the first to be NASA-certified for regular manned flights since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago. This obviously means that SpaceX's hefty investment in the Commercial Crew program has paid off. For NASA, this is the first time that the agency has certified a commercial spacecraft system in history that is capable of transporting humans to and from the ISS. This directly means that astronauts can regularly make trips to the ISS to and from American soil, which could be a vital step towards commercializing space flights.
By Ather Fawaz
NASA and SpaceX are gearing up for Crew Dragon's second manned voyage to the ISS next month
by Ather Fawaz
SpaceX Crew-1. Image via SpaceX/NASA SpaceX and NASA are preparing to launch the Crew Dragon's second manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) next month. Dubbed Crew-1, the private spaceflight will be ferrying astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi to the space station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Weather permitting and barring unforeseen circumstances, the Crew Dragon will launch atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:49 PM EST (0049 GMT) on Saturday, November 15.
Although the companies planned to launch this mission back in August initially, they have faced numerous delays. Last week, NASA announced that they were considering a launch window sometime early to mid-November. November 15 falls within that period, and it will be less than six months after the Dragon's first voyage to the ISS back in May this year. The latest delay, NASA stated, was to provide "additional time for SpaceX to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of Falcon 9 first stage engine gas generators observed during a recent non-NASA mission launch attempt".
Image via NASA Commercial Crew (Twitter) Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 28, 4 PM EDT, teams managing the Crew-1 mission will hold a media teleconference to get the media and the general public up to speed with what's in store for next month's launch. They will also be discussing results from the recent testing of Falcon 9 Merlin engines that have caused the latest delay. For those interested, you can join the live teleconference here.
By Ather Fawaz
SpaceX achieves major milestones on Falcon 9's 12th launch of the year
by Ather Fawaz
GIF via TechCrunch SpaceX's latest launch had a lot of firsts. On Monday, July 20, Falcon 9 took flight for the 12th time this year. At 05:30 PM EDT, from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, it began its journey with ANASIS-II onboard, which became South Korea's first military satellite in space following successful deployment.
On this mission, the Falcon 9 rocket used the same boosters that were used less than two months ago in Crew Dragon's maiden manned flight to the International Space Station (ISS). To be exact, a period of 51 days separates the Dragon's test flight and Monday's launch, making it the fastest turnaround time for a rocket booster in history. The previous record was held by NASA's Atlantis space shuttle, which turned around in 54 days. In spite of this impressive feat, SpaceX is pushing to further reduce this turnaround time to a matter of days instead of weeks.
Image via SpaceX This recycling and reusing of rocket boosters is a way for SpaceX to cut costs, essentially recovering machinery worth millions of dollars with each launch. Still, the founder and CEO of the firm, Elon Musk, wants to further maximize this. And Monday's launch did exactly that.
For the first time, SpaceX was able to recover both fairing halves on the Falcon 9. This fairing is essentially a two-piece protective cover encapsulating the payload on the rocket as it pushes through Earth’s atmosphere before entry into space. After they have served their purpose, the two halves dislodge from the spacecraft and end up in a water body on Earth.
SpaceX caught and retrieved the two fairing halves using two ships accoutered with special nets, Musk announced in a tweet. Of course, this in addition to SpaceX successfully landing the Falcon 9's boosters back on a landing pad to retrieve them as well.
The estimated savings from the fairing's retrieval alone amount up to $6 million. Furthermore, SpaceX is looking into potentially modifying the netted ships to catch the Crew Dragon bringing astronauts back to the Earth in the future as well. Historically, astronauts have to be collected from an ocean, and thus, immediate retrieval via the modified ships could be a promising safety improvement to the procedure.
By Ather Fawaz
Boeing will continue to support the ISS through 2024 under a new contract extension
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Jim Watson (AFP), Getty Images Back in 1993, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) selected Boeing as the prime contractor for the International Space Station (ISS). Since then, the two companies have collaborated on advancing scientific research onboard the space station and human spaceflight in general.
Now, Boeing announced that it will continue supporting the ISS through September of 2024 under a $916 million contract extension that was awarded today. Valued at about $225 million annually, under the contract, apart from managing the ISS' many stations, Boeing will provide resources, engineering support services, and personnel activities aboard the space station as well. Furthermore, the new contract can be extended beyond 2024.
Apropos the contract extension, Boeing Vice President and Program Manager for the ISS, John Mulholland, commented:
Boeing has also been involved in other initiatives in advancing human spaceflight. It is currently one of the two contenders for the NASA Commercial Crew program alongside SpaceX. Its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is currently in development for the purpose of ferrying astronauts to the ISS. The firm is also building the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System whereby it hopes to make space travel to lunar orbit and Mars a tangible reality.