Tag: Space

Watch SpaceX launch a reused capsule on a recycled rocket

SpaceX is making an historic first on Wednesday, when it gets one step closer towards realizing its vision of reusable space launch gear. The private space company is launching a space station resupply mission using a refurbished Dragon spacecraft and a previously-flown Falcon 9 booster. Dragon will spend around a month at the International Space Station unloading supplies and filling up with return cargo before returning to Earth, while SpaceX plans to recover Falcon 9 by landing it at its LZ-1 facility at Cape Canaveral. Both parts have been used on other resupply missions before, and if SpaceX's dreams come to fruition, they'll be used again. Watch them blast off live on Wednesday December 13 at 11:24 AM EST (08:24 AM PST).

Via: Techcrunch


Trump to sign directive ordering NASA to return to the Moon

President Trump's administration hasn't been shy about wanting to put people back on the Moon, and now it's taking action to make sure that happens. In a statement, the White House said the President would sign Space Policy Directive 1, which orders NASA to lead an "innovative space exploration program" that sends astronauts to the Moon and, "eventually," Mars. Details of what the policy entails aren't available at this point, but the signing will take place at 3PM Eastern. The date isn't an accident -- it's the 45th anniversary of the landing for the last crewed Moon mission, Apollo 17.

Vice President Pence shed some light on the motivations in October. The symbolism of returning to the Moon is a factor, of course, but Pence also saw it as a way to "build the foundation" for trips to Mars "and beyond." Both the presidential transition team and NASA's director nominee Jim Bridenstine have floated the possibility of mining the Moon, but there's no immediate indication that this will be part of the directive.

Whether or not the strategy is a good one is up in the air. Some support Pence's approach, arguing that the US needs more recent experience with human exploration than the Apollo missions before it travels all the way to Mars. It could also help create a lunar station that simplifies Mars voyages. However, there are concerns that the insistence on a moonshot won't help much, and may only serve to delay a visit to Mars at a significant expense to the public. And of course, there's the question of this being used to justify a shift away from the climate science that the current administration hates so much. Whatever the reasons, the debate is largely moot -- the US is going to try for more astronauts on the Moon.

Source: Reuters


Trump to sign directive ordering NASA to return to the Moon

President Trump's administration hasn't been shy about wanting to put people back on the Moon, and now it's taking action to make sure that happens. In a statement, the White House said the President would sign Space Policy Directive 1, which orders NASA to lead an "innovative space exploration program" that sends astronauts to the Moon and, "eventually," Mars. Details of what the policy entails aren't available at this point, but the signing will take place at 3PM Eastern. The date isn't an accident -- it's the 45th anniversary of the landing for the last crewed Moon mission, Apollo 17.

Vice President Pence shed some light on the motivations in October. The symbolism of returning to the Moon is a factor, of course, but Pence also saw it as a way to "build the foundation" for trips to Mars "and beyond." Both the presidential transition team and NASA's director nominee Jim Bridenstine have floated the possibility of mining the Moon, but there's no immediate indication that this will be part of the directive.

Whether or not the strategy is a good one is up in the air. Some support Pence's approach, arguing that the US needs more recent experience with human exploration than the Apollo missions before it travels all the way to Mars. It could also help create a lunar station that simplifies Mars voyages. However, there are concerns that the insistence on a moonshot won't help much, and may only serve to delay a visit to Mars at a significant expense to the public. And of course, there's the question of this being used to justify a shift away from the climate science that the current administration hates so much. Whatever the reasons, the debate is largely moot -- the US is going to try for more astronauts on the Moon.

Source: Reuters


NASA’s high altitude ER-2 scans California’s wildfires

For the second time this year, swaths of California are burning out of control thanks to unseasonably warm and dry temperatures. To better study what's happening and assess the environmental impact, NASA deployed its high-altitude ER-2 aircraft with a host of scientific instruments on board. In the image above, sunlight glints on its prop as it flies over the Thomas Fire in Ventura county at around 65,000 feet.

The ER-2 has been scanning the blazes with a couple of interesting instruments that have flown, or will fly aboard the international space station (ISS). One of them is the AVIRIS spectrometer that can penetrate cloud, dust and smoke to see the ground below. While providing a clear image of the ground, it can also measure fine details in vegetation like water content and plant species growing. Eventually, a similar instrument will be launched into space.

On the flight pictured above, however, it's carrying another instrument, the Cloud-Aerosol Multi-Angle Lidar (CAMAL). It was originally developed to a validate space-based version of the instrument called CATS, which operated for 33 months aboard the ISS, before going out of service last month. Now, CAMAL is being used for a similar purpose aboard the ER-2. Unlike other types of LiDAR used to scan the ground, CAMAL can study pollution, smoke, clouds and other atmospheric phenomena.

Another view of the Thomas Fires from space

Ideally, NASA flies the AVIRIS spectrometer over regions before a fire starts to get a base measurement, then overflies the same spot again afterwards. Comparing the before and after images gives researchers an idea about the severity of a fire.

Meanwhile, when the blaze is active, the area can be scanned with the CAMAL LiDAR to get a picture of the dust, smoke and cloud cover in the area. Using the space-based version of the instrument, for instance, NASA scanned the October wildfires, finding plumes extending as high as 2-3 miles that created "the worst air quality ever recorded in many parts of the Bay Area," NASA's CATS team said.

"The vision is that these types of measurements could be available from space in the next decade," said JPL's Rob Green. "The resulting information would then be used to develop fuel maps in advance that could be used to make better predictions about where you could mitigate risk by clearing brush and trees." CAMAL can also be used by researchers to study cloud formations and learn more about climate change, which is helping fuel the wildfires in the first place.

Source: NASA


Thai company mu Space can now operate satellites

Today, Thai startup company mu Space announced that it has acquired a satellite license from Thailand's National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission. It allows the company to operate satellites, and provide services based on those satellites, through the year 2032. mu Space is the first Thai startup company to acquire such a license.

We previously covered mu Space because it was the third company (and first Asia-Pacific company) to book a slot on Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket. Blue Origin is Jeff Bezos' rocket company, and the New Glenn is still under development. This license means that mu Space has crossed another regulatory hurdle in its quest to get the brand new company up and running.

Only 12 percent of Thailand's population has access to broadband internet, and those people are typically centered in space. mu Space hopes to fill in the gaps by providing an alternative in rural areas, where traditional telecom companies haven't bothered to build infrastructure. The company also hopes to provide space tourism to Asian customers within the next 10 years.


This is why you don’t look directly at a solar eclipse

Remember all that talk about eclipse glasses ahead of the full solar eclipse in August? Remember NASA repeatedly letting everyone know how important those glasses were for eye safety? Do you remember how many times you heard someone say to not under any circumstances look directly at the sun during the eclipse? Well despite all of those persistent warnings, some people still did just that and a new paper published today in JAMA Ophthalmology shows that just six seconds of unprotected viewing can cause permanent damage.

The paper focuses on a woman in her 20s who looked directly at the sun without eye protection for around six seconds during the eclipse. She said her vision became blurry and distorted just a few hours later and that she started seeing a black spot when looking out of her left eye. Three days after the eclipse, she went to an ophthalmologist in New York and subsequent eye exams showed she had permanently damaged photoreceptors in both eyes and a lesion in her left. "It remains to be seen whether the patient can recover any visual function from this region of disturbed photoreceptors in the future," the authors note in the case study.

There's no treatment for this type of damage but getting a good look at what exactly is affected in the eye after staring at the sun could help ophthalmologists better understand this condition. The US will see another total solar eclipse in 2024, so let this serve as a warning -- the sun is no joke and you need eye protection if you're going to look at it, eclipse or no.

Via: The Verge

Source: JAMA Ophthalmology


Farthest-ever supermassive black hole reveals the early universe

Quasars are supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies that actively consume gas and dust. As mass falls into the black hole, it forms an accretion disk around the black hole and jets of matter that spew from the black hole. These features make quasars some of the brightest objects in the universe. And now, scientists have discovered the most distant supermassive black hole ever observed, which is within a quasar. Findings will be published in the journal Nature.

The most interesting aspect of this supermassive black hole is its age -- it's 13 billion light years away, which scientists determined via redshift. This means that, in looking at this object, we are looking at the universe as it was just hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang. It's a glimpse into what the earliest universe was like. It's especially interesting because the bulk of the hydrogen in the quasar appears to be neutral, rather than ionized. After the energetic particles from the Big Bang cooled, they formed neutral hydrogen. The universe during this period was dark, but as stars and galaxies formed, the hydrogen ionized. This means that much of the quasar's matter could be from a time we don't know much about, during which the universe was dark.

Additionally, the size of the black hole is a puzzle in itself: Its mass is 800 million times greater than our sun's. "Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth," says Eduardo Bañados from the Carnegie Institute for Science, who led the team of astronomers that made the discovery. This means that the early universe likely was conducive to the quick formation of supermassive black holes; our current universe isn't, and black holes are generally much smaller.

There are only 20 to 100 quasars that are as bright and distant as this newly discovered object in Earth's sky, so the detection of this supermassive black hole is a pretty big deal. As more giant telescopes are constructed, we'll be able to locate more of these objects, but this specific supermassive black hole gives us unique insight into the state of the early universe, as it existed shortly after the Big Bang.

Source: EurekAlert


NASA’s James Webb telescope is one step closer to launch

NASA's $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has just left the thermal vacuum chamber where it's spent more than three months being put through its paces in a series of hardcore cryogenic tests. Scientists wanted to make sure the telescope's instruments and optical element can function properly in the cold, airless conditions of space, and while NASA studies the results, engineers are busy putting JWST back together again, in preparation for its launch in spring 2019.

JWST will take to the skies from a European spaceport in French Guiana and journey to the sun-Earth Lagrange point 2, which is situated about 930,000 miles from Earth. Like its predecessor the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST will operate in infrared waves to peer into the deepest, oldest parts of the universe. The launch date has already been pushed back twice due to integration issues, but JWST is the most powerful telescope of its kind with the potential to unlock the secrets of life as we know it. It's no surprise NASA is taking the time to make sure everything is ready.

Source: Space.com


Spacesuit ‘take me home’ feature could save lost astronauts

The greatest fear for many astronauts is to get lost or disoriented during a spacewalk, especially if it's untethered. How do you get back to safety with no sense of direction, little to no help and a limited supply of oxygen? Researchers at Draper might offer a lifeline. They recently applied for a patent on a self-return feature in spacesuits that would automatically navigate back to the astronaut's home ship. A spacefarer in a panic could just slap a button and know they would get back to the airlock.

The trick is to equip the suit with sensors that track motion and position relative to that of a relatively stationary object like a spacecraft, with alternative methods if one system or another doesn't work. Since GPS isn't exactly viable in space, it could use star tracking or vision-boosted navigation to get bearings. Draper is hoping for an autonomous system that would trigger thrusters all on its own, but it's open to the possibility of a manual system that uses an in-visor display and sensory cues to guide astronauts homeward.

This is only a patent, and it isn't guaranteed to go into space any time soon. However, NASA has been backing Draper's research -- it's interested in advancing spacesuit design. And as Draper notes, the basic ideas behind this could still be helpful for anyone in a suit who needs an urgent trip home, whether it's a deep sea diver or a firefighter in the middle of a burning building.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Draper, Google Patents


Life may be easier to find on planets outside the ‘habitable zone’

When scientists are looking for worlds that might harbor life on other planets, they tend to look for worlds that have features similar to Earth's. It makes sense; after all, our dominant theories on how life evolved on the planet center on the presence of oxygen, organic molecules and liquid water. But now, two scientists are positing that we may be severely limiting ourselves by only looking for rocky planets with surface oceans. A study published last week at arXiv.org outlines the possibility that it's more likely that scientists will find life on icy worlds with subsurface oceans.

The issue here is the definition of the "habitable zone" of a star. Right now, scientists think that they are most likely to find life on other planets within the habitable zone of a star, and that definition is based on the Earth. Scientists are looking primarily at Earth-like planets (rocky, with surface liquid water) to find life. But Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb posit that this is too narrow a search. In their study, they look closely at the concept of habitable zone and how it's not necessarily a predictor for habitability. For example, Mars and Venus are within the sun's habitable zone.

However, planets outside this area are capable of supporting liquid oceans underneath a crust of ice. We see this in our own solar system, thanks to worlds such as Europa, Titan and possibly even Pluto. Lingam and Loeb calculate the advantages and disadvantages life would have on these planets, as well as the likelihood life could even exist on them.

They conclude that these types of icy planets with liquid oceans could exist across a wide range of conditions, and that they are much more common (around 1,000 times) than rocky planets within a star's habitable zone. "As these worlds are likely to be far more abundant than the standard paradigm of rocky planets in the HZ of stars, we suggest that more effort should focus on modeling and understanding the prospects for life in subsurface oceans," the study says. After all, life may face more challenges on these worlds than on an Earth-like planet, but if it's just a numbers game, chances are that at least a few of them will support life.

Via: Universe Today

Source: arXiv.org