On Oct 18, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch performed the first all-woman spacewalk. Koch & Meir replaced a faulty battery charge/discharge unit that failed to activate after a previous spacewalk. This was the fourth spacewalk for Christina Koch and the first for Jessica Meir.
A Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft scheduled to liftoff in early November will carry supplies and scientific experiments to the International Space Station. The investigations making the trip range from research into human control of robotics in space to reprocessing materials for 3D printing.
On 12 October 2019, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope provided astronomers with their best look yet at an interstellar visitor — Comet 2I/Borisov — which is believed to have arrived here from another planetary system elsewhere in our galaxy.
This observation is the sharpest view ever of the interstellar comet. Hubble reveals a central concentration of dust around the solid icy nucleus.
Comet 2I/Borisov is only the second such interstellar object known to have passed through our Solar System. In 2017, the first identified interstellar visitor, an object dubbed ‘Oumuamua, swung within 38 million kilometres of the Sun before racing out of the Solar System.
“Whereas ‘Oumuamua looked like a bare rock, Borisov is really active, more like a normal comet. It’s a puzzle why these two are so different,” explained David Jewitt of UCLA, leader of the Hubble team who observed the comet.
Our Milky Way is a frugal galaxy. Supernovas and violent stellar winds blow gas out of the galactic disk, but that gas falls back onto the galaxy to form new generations of stars. In an ambitious effort to conduct a full accounting of this recycling process, astronomers were surprised to find a surplus of incoming gas.
“We expected to find the Milky Way’s books balanced, with an equilibrium of gas inflow and outflow, but 10 years of Hubble ultraviolet data has shown there is more coming in than going out,” said astronomer Andrew Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, lead author of the study to be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Fox said that, for now, the source of the excess inflowing gas remains a mystery.
** Both young and old craters at lunar south pole have water:
The majority of the reported ice deposits are found within large craters formed about 3.1 billion years or longer ago, the study found. Since the ice can’t be any older than the crater, that puts an upper bound on the age of the ice. Just because the crater is old doesn’t mean that the ice within it is also that old too, the researchers say, but in this case there’s reason to believe the ice is indeed old. The deposits have a patchy distribution across crater floors, which suggests that the ice has been battered by micrometeorite impacts and other debris over a long period of time.
If those reported ice deposits are indeed ancient, that could have significant implications in terms of exploration and potential resource utilization, the researchers say.
“There have been models of bombardment through time showing that ice starts to concentrate with depth,” Deutsch said. “So if you have a surface layer that’s old, you’d expect more underneath.”
While the majority of ice was in the ancient craters, the researchers also found evidence for ice in smaller craters that, judging by their sharp, well-defined features, appear to be quite fresh. That suggests that some of the deposits on the south pole got there relatively recently.
“That was a surprise,” Deutsch said. “There hadn’t really been any observations of ice in younger cold traps before.”
The Chandrayaan-2 mission launched in July and was designed to tackle a host of questions about the moon, with a particularly sharp eye to the water ice the spacecraft’s predecessor spotted at the south pole. The current orbiter carries eight different instruments — and Indian scientists are already poring over some of the mission’s very first science data.
The orbiter carries two cameras, both of which have been hard at work. The Terrain Mapping Camera began surveying the moon as soon as Chandrayaan-2 arrived in orbit. Now, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which runs the mission, has also released images taken by a second instrument, the Orbiter High Resolution Camera.
With the release yesterday by NOAA of its September update of its graph showing the long term sunspot activity of the Sun, we find ourselves in what might be the longest stretch of sunspot inactivity in decades, part of what might become the most inactive solar minimum in centuries.
In the last four months the Sun has produced practically no sunspots. There were two in June, two in July, and one in August. The September graph, posted below with additional annotations by me to give it context, shows that the past month was as weak as August, with only one sunspot again.
These scarps have so far been found in the highest latitudes of those two glacial bands, which might also explain why they appear more solid with the appearance of only the beginning of degradation. The buried glaciers found in the lower latitudes always look more degraded. As Dundas notes,
We expect that ice at lower latitudes will be less stable because the temperatures are warmer, so on average (over millions of years) at lower latitudes there will be less frequent deposition and more sublimation, so this fits together.
One striking conclusion that we can begin to draw from all this recent research is that ice is likely far more prevalent close to the Martian surface then previously believed. Not only will it be reachable by colonists by simply drilling down to an underground ice table, from 30 degrees latitude and higher there will be numerous places where it will be either close to the surface, or exposed and accessible.
** And more Mars surface imagery analysis from Bob Zimmerman at Behind The Black:
NASA’s InSight spacecraft has used its robotic arm to help its heat probe, known as “the mole,” dig nearly 2 centimeters (3/4 of an inch) over the past week. While modest, the movement is significant: Designed to dig as much as 16 feet (5 meters) underground to gauge the heat escaping from the planet’s interior, the mole has only managed to partially bury itself since it started hammering in February 2019.
The recent movement is the result of a new strategy, arrived at after extensive testing on Earth, which found that unexpectedly strong soil is holding up the mole’s progress. The mole needs friction from surrounding soil in order to move: Without it, recoil from its self-hammering action will cause it to simply bounce in place. Pressing the scoop on InSight’s robotic arm against the mole, a new technique called “pinning,” appears to provide the probe with the friction it needs to continue digging.
Since Oct. 8, 2019, the mole has hammered 220 times over three separate occasions. Images sent down from the spacecraft’s cameras have shown the mole gradually progressing into the ground. It will take more time — and hammering — for the team to see how far the mole can go.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2558 tasks.
The rover has made a wheel scuff at “Culbin Sands,” reports Fred Calef, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Curiosity purposely ran over a megaripple (fine grained sandy ripple with a coarser pebble coating), Calef notes, to create a “scuff” which churned up and bisected the feature to observe any layering or material within.
Reports Ashley Stroupe, Mission Operations Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the rover is taking its last views of the Glen Etive 2 drill sample. A recent plan had the robot cleaning out the remaining sample within the drill and doing contact science analysis on the dumped sample.
Both the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam will be taking a look at “Penicuik,” a pebble target, and “Monach Isles,” a potential small meteorite. Also planned is a standard environmental observation suite: a Mastcam crater rim extinction and tau, and a Navcam supra-horizon movie.
The mission, named ‘As The Crow Flies,’ lifted off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula at 01:22 UTC, 17 October 2019 (14:22 NZDT). Approximately 71 minutes after lift-off, Electron’s Kick Stage deployed the payload to a circular orbit of more than 1,000 km – more than twice the altitude of any Electron mission to date. The mission successfully demonstrated recent upgrades to the Kick Stage’s 3D-printed Curie engine, including the move to a bi-propellant design for improved performance. Curie also serves as the propulsion system on Rocket Lab’s Photon satellite bus, and the flight-proven engine upgrades support enduring missions in LEO, as well as higher orbits.
This mission takes the total number of satellites deployed by Rocket Lab to 40 and continues the company’s track record of 100% mission success for customers.
The spacecraft on board was a Palisade technology demonstration satellite – a 16U CubeSat with on-board propulsion and next generation communications systems developed by Astro Digital, and software developed by Advanced Solutions Inc. including an advanced version of ASI’s MAX Flight Software.
This video of the webcast shows the liftoff at the 15:05 point. There are also interesting background stories about the company’s rocket making process, plans for reusing the first stage, the launch site, etc.
** Composite vehicle frame for Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser ready for full assembly and preparation for first flight in 2021:
…The structure is the largest piece of technology to make up Dream Chaser and the most advanced high-temperature composite spaceframe ever built.
The primary structure is a pressurized composite structure that will contain pressurized payloads heading to the International Space Station. The structure was manufactured by subcontractor Lockheed Martin and recently shipped from their Fort Worth, Texas facility to Louisville, Colorado, where Dream Chaser is being built and integrated by SNC.
Uses advanced composite 3D woven assembly methods and represents the most advanced high-temperature composite spaceframe ever built.
Structure is about 30 feet long by 15 feet wide and approximately 6 feet high and weighs roughly 2,200 pounds.
Materials include carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRPs), more traditionally referred to as “composites.”
The use of CFRP materials instead of aluminum and titanium alloys, lowers manufacturing costs for creating a unique, aerodynamically complex spaceframe design.
Composites decrease the amount of thermal protection required compared to an aluminum primary structure.
Advanced 3D woven construction minimize penetrations to the hot lower aeroshell.
**Report released on flight safety of the proposed Georgia spaceport. While waiting for FAA licensing process to be completed, Spaceport Camden management says that they have been working
… to determine a way to increase transparency about the project’s licensing information without complicating the agency’s ongoing review or releasing sensitive or export-controlled information that cannot lawfully be shared with the public. Pursuant to those goals, the County initiated the development of a publicly releasable report, prepared by The Aerospace Corporation, that describes the project’s flight safety analysis.
According to the report, the new rocket is being designed at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing. Its main body will be 87 meters tall, which means it will be almost twice as tall as the Long March 5, currently the biggest of China’s rockets.
The gigantic craft will boast liftoff weight of about 2,200 metric tons, nearly triple that of the Long March 5. This will enable the rocket to place a 25-ton spacecraft in a lunar transfer trajectory, the newspaper said.
The Long March 9 is expected to fly in 2030.
“But it is necessary for China to develop a new rocket for manned missions because such a rocket will offer us a new option, besides the Long March 9, for future explorations to the moon or other deep-space destinations,” he said.
“And compared with the Long March 9, it will have lower costs and can enter service earlier.”
According to the designers’ plan, a Long March 9 will be capable of lifting 140 tons of payload into a low-Earth orbit or a 50-ton spacecraft to a lunar transfer trajectory. The 100-meter colossal machine will also be able to ferry 44 tons of payload to a Mars transfer orbit.
The Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), for the first time, will be tested on land — the 2.2 km runway at ATR to be precise — with its under carriage in position after a freefall from a helicopter flying at an altitude of three km. The onboard computer will help the RLV to glide for some distance before touching down like an aircraft, scientists at Isro told Deccan Chronicle.
The technology to dock spacecraft and transfer propellants or other necessities has a history in spaceflight, but doing so autonomously and in more modern ways has long been sought after by NASA, commercial satellite operators, and even the Department of Defense.
Having that ability could mean spacecraft such as Starship go on longer voyages; or it could help existing satellites in orbit around Earth stay in their positions longer without having to shut down due to fuel depletion. And it doesn’t have to just be fuel – such docking maneuvers could help pave the way for in-orbit repairs and servicing, too.
*** A new Starship/Super Heavy animation was posted by SpaceX this week. The in-orbit refueling starts at about the 1:15 point.
Elon Musk says that SpaceX Starship engine upgrades are on track to begin static fire tests of a Raptor Vacuum variant as few as a “couple months” from now.
Designed to enable more efficient performance in thin atmosphere or vacuum, Musk admitted that the first version(s) of Raptor Vacuum (RVac) will likely be a compromise between efficiency and speed of development. Nevertheless, the faster SpaceX can prepare Raptor Vacuum for flight, the easier it will be for Starship to begin serious (sub)orbital flight tests.
** Raptor vertical test stand under construction at McGregor, Texas facility:
According to CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy rockets are about to get a new test stand that will enable additional and more useful static fire tests of their Raptor engines.
These modifications could reportedly lead to a simplified engine design and will generally expand SpaceX’s ability to rapidly acceptance-test a huge number of Raptors – a necessity given that each Starship/Super Heavy pair will need up to 43 engines.
*** Latest on SpaceX efforts to buy out Boca Chica home owners:
SpaceX now has three of its next-generation Starship rockets under construction, as aerial video shows the latest developments at the company’s facility in Florida.
The first bands of stainless steel for another Starship rocket were put on a stand Thursday, and were captured in a video taken from a flying drone. Former commercial pilot John Winkopp took the video and gave CNBC permission to use his footage.
** How millennials are impacting aerospace | Interview – TMRO.tv
Laura Seward Forczyk, author of the book, “Rise of the Space Age Millennials” joins us to talk about the new generation entering the workforce. Specifically the impact millennials are having in unexpected ways on the entire aerospace industry as well as some of the hurdles the generation is presented with.
The Seraph was built to test new technologies and systems for integration into our upcoming passenger model, due to be unveiled next year. With the Seraph we became the first company in the world to release flight footage of an eVTOL aircraft capable of carrying 250kg.
The aircraft is capable of carrying loads of up to 250kg and can reach speeds of up to 80kmph. It features a unique passive cooling system, and a customisable design, meaning the aircraft can be made larger or smaller, fitted with wheels or floats to facilitate water landings.
What can fly like a bird and hover like an insect? Your friendly neighborhood hummingbird. If drones had this capability, they would be able to fly steadily through windy conditions, and get into tight spaces other drones couldn’t go. Assistant professor Xinyan Deng and her team have created a bio-inspired hummingbird robot: trained by artificial intelligence, weighing only 12 grams, and utilizing unsteady aerodynamics to hover, just like the real thing.