Skip to main content

‘Always a sight to see!’ NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft flies again

Super Guppy Arrives in Alabama to Drop Off Artemis I Heat Shield

NASA’s extraordinary Super Guppy aircraft took to the skies again earlier this week, carrying with it a vital component that traveled to space as part of last year’s uncrewed Artemis I moon mission.

A video (top) shared by NASA shows the Super Guppy arriving at Huntsville International Airport in Alabama on Monday, carrying with it the heat shield that protected the Orion spacecraft during the Artemis I flight.

The airport’s X account posted a message describing the “unique visitor” as “always a sight to see!”

Welcome (back) to HSV, Super Guppy! This unique visitor is always a sight to see! #FlyHSV #SuperGuppy

— Huntsville International Airport (@FlyHSV) November 7, 2023

The Super Guppy brought the heat shield from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and it was later delivered to the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center about four miles away.

“Technicians at Marshall will use the center’s specialized milling tool to remove the heat shield’s outer layer of ablative material, a protective coating called Avcoat, as part of routine post-flight analysis,” NASA said.

The Super Guppy could be deployed again as part of preparations for the Artemis II mission, which next year will carry four astronauts on a flyby of the moon.

The unusual-looking aircraft was first used to transport sections of NASA’s Saturn V rocket in preparation for the Apollo missions five decades ago.

The original Guppy airplane, known as the Pregnant Guppy, was built by the now-defunct Aero Spacelines in the 1960s by converting a Boeing Stratotanker refueling aircraft.

In the middle of that decade, Aero Spacelines built the larger Super Guppy, incorporating a 25-foot (7.6-meter) diameter cargo bay and a hinged nose that made it easier to load cargo.

The final version of the aircraft, the Super Guppy Turbine, entered service in 1970.

As NASA’s original Super Guppy aged, NASA bought a newer one in 1997 from Airbus, which had built two Super Guppy aircraft after obtaining the manufacturing rights from Aero Spacelines. NASA’s Super Guppy is the only one that continues to fly today.

“The physical limitations of railroad tunnels, narrow roads, low bridges, and power lines make overland shipment of such cargo extremely problematic, if not impossible,” NASA says on its website, adding that the Super Guppy offers a “practical and economical solution to these problems.”

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Hubble Space Telescope is in safe mode due to a gyro problem
Hubble orbiting more than 300 miles above Earth as seen from the space shuttle.

The Hubble Space Telescope has experienced a problem with its hardware and is currently in safe mode, with science operations paused until the fault can be corrected. The problem is with one of the telescope's three operational gyros, which are used to control the direction in which the telescope points. When a fault like this is detected, the telescope automatically goes into a safe mode in which it performs only essential operations to prevent any damage to its hardware.

"The telescope automatically entered safe mode when one of its three gyroscopes gave faulty readings," NASA wrote in a statement. "The gyros measure the telescope’s turn rates and are part of the system that determines which direction the telescope is pointed. While in safe mode, science operations are suspended, and the telescope waits for new directions from the ground."

Read more
James Webb finds that rocky planets could form in extreme radiation environment
This is an artist’s impression of a young star surrounded by a protoplanetary disk in which planets are forming.

It takes a particular confluence of conditions for rocky planets like Earth to form, as not all stars in the universe are conducive to planet formation. Stars give off ultraviolet light, and the hotter the star burns, the more UV light it gives off. This radiation can be so significant that it prevents planets from forming from nearby dust and gas. However, the James Webb Space Telescope recently investigated a disk around a star that seems like it could be forming rocky planets, even though nearby massive stars are pumping out huge amounts of radiation.

The disk of material around the star, called a protoplanetary disk, is located in the Lobster Nebula, one of the most extreme environments in our galaxy. This region hosts massive stars that give off so much radiation that they can eat through a disk in as little as a million years, dispersing the material needed for planets to form. But the recently observed disk, named XUE 1, seems to be an exception.

Read more
Astronomers spot rare star system with six planets in geometric formation
Orbital geometry of HD110067: Tracing a link between two neighbour planets at regular time intervals along their orbits, creates a pattern unique to each couple. The six planets of the HD110067 system together create a mesmerising geometric pattern due to their resonance-chain.

Astronomers have discovered a rare star system in which six planets orbit around one star in an elaborate geometrical pattern due to a phenomenon called orbital resonance. Using both NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the European Space Agency's (ESA) CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS), the researchers have built up a picture of the beautiful, but complex HD110067 system, located 100 light-years away.

The six planets of the system orbit in a pattern whereby one planet completes three orbits while another does two, and one completes six orbits while another does one, and another does four orbits while another does three, and so one. The six planets form what is called a "resonant chain" where each is in resonance with the planets next to it.

Read more