1. Rocket – 508 mentions

The historical launch of the Mars Curiosity Rover as well as recent rocket launches including the Electron booster, Soyuz 2-1v and Ariane 5 were popular topics of discussion across Twitter during the month. The Mars Curiosity Rover was launched on November 26th 2011 on-board a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The vehicle completed seven years in space and is still performing well after 2,597 sols (solar days on Mars), according to NASA History Office.

Rocket Lab’s Electron booster rocket, carrying seven small satellites, was successfully launched during month. A key feature of the launch was design changes made by the company to the re-entry guidance and control technology that will enable the future boosters to be recovered and reused, according to Spaceflight Now, a website covering news on space.

Ariane 5 rocket carrying satellites for Egypt and Inmarsat; Soyuz 2-1v rocket carrying a clandestine Russian military satellite, and the Long March 4C rocket carrying an all-weather radar imaging satellite for China were other popularly discussed rocket launches during the month.

2. Space – 434 mentions

Research missions planned to be carried out in space by scientists were trending topics discussed on Twitter. NASA’s Human Research Programme is developing a space garden called Vegetable Production System or Veggie on the International Space Station to study how plants can be grown in space. The Veggie programme aims to provide safe and nutritious food to astronauts on deep space missions, according to International Space Station. A team of researchers on the ground assisted the astronauts in carrying out the research, which involves growing plants in a clay-based growth media under a bank of light emitting diodes.

Three new NASA-supported missions including the Cusp Region Experiment-2 or CREX-2 mission planned to be launched in 2021 will study how solar wind influx at polar cusps, causes disruptions in satellite, radio and GPS signals, according to NASA. Polar cusps are funnel shaped areas formed near the poles in Earth’s magnetosphere. The missions are part of the Grand Challenge Initiative – Cusp, which includes the launch of a series of nine sounding rocket missions that will explore the polar cusps. Six missions out of the nine have already been launched into space.

3. Engine – 186 mentions

The installation of all four RS-25 engines to NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) core stage for the Artemis I mission and testing of abort systems by SpaceX and Boeing were some of the trending topics discussed on Twitter. The fourth and final engine for NASA’s SLS core stage was completed in November for the Artemis I mission scheduled for 2020. The Artemis I mission aims to place an unmanned Orion spacecraft around the moon, according to NASA. The core stage measuring 212ft in total length will provide more than two million pounds of thrust to the rocket.

SpaceX successfully carried out static fire engine tests of its Crew Dragon spacecraft to test its launch escape system, which will safeguard astronauts in case something goes wrong during the launch, according to NASA Commercial Crew. Boeing conducted a similar test called pad abort test for its abort system for the Starliner spacecraft, according to NASA. The four launch abort engines of the abort system were tested successfully and pushed away the spacecraft from the test stand.

4. Missiles – 85 mentions

The misidentification of the location of 79 missiles by the Air Force and integration of missiles with various vehicles were key topics trending on Twitter in November. The Air Force reportedly misidentified the locations of 79 Minuteman III nuclear-armed missiles, which was revealed in an audit conducted by the Pentagon, according to an article shared by Anthony Capaccio, a journalist. The error may have occurred due to manual input of data and is planned to be corrected.

Missiles were also discussed in relation to the delivery of the H160M multi-role helicopters to the French department of defence. The H160M’s are fitted with tactical radar, MBDA’s Sea Venom anti-ship missile, harpoon, and side mounted gun, according to a tweet by Tim Robinson, Editor-in-chief for AEROSPACE magazine. Another MBDA missile, the Meteor air-to-air missile, is planned to be integrated with KF-X fighter aircraft under a contract awarded by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), according to an article tweeted by Air Recognition, an online magazine for aviation and aerospace. KAI is developing the KF-X under a joint South Korean and Indonesian fighter aircraft development programme. The aircraft is planned to enter service in 2026.

5. Drones – 77 mentions

Drones shot down in Libya and Iran and tests conducted on drones were widely discussed across Twitter. A US surveillance drone was shot down in Iran, following which the Department of Defence is planning to reduce its fleet of Global Hawk unmanned drones, according to Lara Seligman, a correspondent for the Pentagon. The move is part of a shift towards strengthening the country’s capabilities to counter China and Russia. In another development, the MQ-9A Predator B drone of the Italian air force was reportedly shot down in Libya although the exact reason for the damage was not known, according to David Cenciotti, a blogger.

Tests involving surrogate drones and the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie drone were mentioned in tweets by, Tyler Rogoway, Editor at The Drive, an aviation and military website. The surrogate drones are being tested by Boeing Australia as part of the Airpower Teaming System for the Royal Australian Air Force. The system will enable the drones to work along with manned vehicles including F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. The US Air Force is planning to carry out similar tests on the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie drone under the GatewayOne programme. The tests will evaluate the drone’s capability to act as a relay gateway between F-22 Raptors and F-35As without degrading their stealth signatures.

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