SpaceX to conduct launches for NASA Space Science Mission

NASA and SpaceX have come into a contract where the latter has been offered the contract to carry out launches on an interstellar science operation and other secondary payloads. An announcement by NASA on September 28, SpaceX was given the agreement to launch NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) spacecraft to be carried out in 2024. The contract is estimated at $109.4 million, of which it covers the launch and arising expenditure from the operation.

IMAP, which is part of NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program, was initiated for expansion in 2018 and will function at the L-1 Lagrange point, which is in the sun’s direction and 1.5 million KM from Earth. The mission will be to study the sun’s heliosphere boundary with interstellar space and quantity cosmic rays’ generation.

Given that there will be excess capacity on the science mission, NASA will utilize it by including several other secondary payloads on the launch. The loads will consist of NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer smallsat meant to circle the moon looking for aquatic ice and NOAA’s Space Weather Follow-On L-1 mission, which is a space weather monitoring mission. Just like the IMAP, it will be responsible for the operation at the L-1 point. There will be an inclusion of two supplementary NASA heliophysics though they are yet to be chosen. 

SpaceX has been making fruitful efforts to be awarded contracts to liftoff NASA science satellites, and this new cooperation between the two marks yet another victory for the contactor. In April 2019, SpaceX won the contract to establish a launch for NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test task worth $69 million and launched in 2021. The company also secured a deal to launch Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer smallsat at $50.3 million. This year, the company won and got awarded the contract worth $80.4 million to launch the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, and Ocean Ecosystem spacecraft. 

Like the IMAP assignment, SpaceX will be using the Falcon 9 rockets in the three launches. However, the IMAP task is expected to be costlier than the others because its task is more complicated as it involves numerous ancillary shipments targeting the L-1 point as well as the moon. The IMAP contract is a bit less than the contractor’s initial Falcon Heavy contract with the space explorers, meant for the Psyche asteroid mission granted in February and valued at $117 million.


An analysis of Kujira Tropical Storm by NASA using Infrared Light

To determine just how strong the Kujira Tropical Storm is, NASA decided to analyze the cloud top temperatures. It chose to use infrared light in this case. According to the imagery, there were two strong spots. They are the storm’s center and a thunderstorms’ band on the west side of the Kujira Tropical storm.

In the beginning, the storm was just but a low-pressure area. However, by 5 p.m. EDT of September 26, an increase in consolidation and strength saw it change into a tropical depression. Then, the depression has strengthened into a tropical storm by 11 a.m. EDT of September 27. That’s also when the tropical storm got the name Kujira.

NASA chose the infrared light to identify the temperature of the storm. Using the infrared data, it was able to relay the cloud top temperatures. They are a significant determinant of the strength of any particular storm. The colder the cloud top temperatures, the stronger the storm. Equally important, strong storms tend to extend into the troposphere more than their weak counterparts.

Thanks to the data, NASA identified the strength of the storm and the strongest points. Its Aqua satellite used the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) equipment. The temperatures recorded for the strong spots were between -80 and -70 degrees Fahrenheit, equivalent to -62.22 degrees Celsius to -56.6 degrees Celsius. According to the experts, the low temperatures indicated not only intense storms but also a possibility of heavy rain.

As of 11 a.m. EDT of September 28, the Tropical Storm Kujira’s center was at a latitude and longitude of 29.7 degrees N and 153.3 degrees E, respectively. Therefore, the distance between the storm and Minami Tori Shima is approximately 286 nautical miles. The isolated Japanese coral atoll is around 1148 miles equivalent to 1848 kilometers from the southeastern side of Tokyo, Japan.

The storms’ winds are at a speed of 45 knots, which is 52 m per hour or 83 km per hour. High gusts also characterize this Kujira storm. It is moving toward the north, and its course is the open waters of the Pacific Ocean, precisely the north-western side.

According to the forecast, the intensity will increase because it will interact with the elongated area of high pressure known as the subtropical ridge. The power will also increase further upon coming into contact with the mid-latitude westerlies’ winds. That could see it commence its extratropical transition. On the other hand, its encounter with the increased vertical wind may make the tropical storm weaken and tear apart.