Category Archives: Space industry and microgravity R&D

Space sciences roundup – May.10.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images from space-related science news items:

** Experiments designed and built by students were among the 38 R&D payloads on the recent Blue Origin New Shepard flight to 106 km:

For example, the UCLA team of 11 students designed and built an experimental magnetic pump named Blue Dawn that will work in zero-gravity:

“The goal was to see if we could design an efficient fluid pump without any moving parts to work in zero-gravity, which has never been done before,” said Alexander Gonzalez, fourth-year physics major and undergrad science lead on the project. Such a low-maintenance pump would be ideal for moving various liquids on the International Space Station, and could reduce the risk of motorized pump failures for rovers and even future bases on the moon or Mars.

** Living tissues embedded in 3D electronics chips were among the research projects on the recent SpaceX Dragon Cargo mission to the ISS. The company Emulate, Inc. sent “organs-on-chips” to the ISS to study the Effects of Microgravity on Human Physiology including

the effect of microgravity and other space-related stressors on the brain blood barrier. It uses fully automated tissue chip technology, a Brain-Chip, consisting of living neuronal and vascular endothelial cells in a micro-engineered environment. Results may provide insight into the relationship between inflammation and brain function and a better understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

More about tissue chip research in microgravity:

** The latest sunspot count: Sunspot update April 2019: Not quite minimum | Behind The Black

As the Sun ramps down to minimum it will have months where there is no activity, as happened in February 2019, and months, such as in March and April, where more sunspots appear.

Eventually the quiet months will become dominate, and soon thereafter, when activity increases again (assuming it does), the solar science community will then announce the date of true minimum.

We are not there. Normally it can take a year or more for the Sun to settle down. If activity declines as indicated by the red curve, it could take as long four years, which would be a record-long minimum. The difference will tell us whether the eleven-year solar cycle is continuing, or the Sun is heading into a grand minimum, with no significant sunspots for decades.

** Measuring the magnetism of Mars and Jupiter were discussed on the recent TMRO.tv episode Orbit 12.15:

NASA’s MAVEN Magnetometer Instrument Lead Dr. Jared Espley joins us to talk about MAVEN, Juno and how we measure the magnetism of planets in our local system. More information on MAVEN can be found here: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ma… And more information on Juno can be found here: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ju…

** The mystery of Mars water remains unsolved: Mars Used to Have Water, But We Can’t Explain How | The Planetary Society

Mars has been the most extensively studied planet in the Solar System, except of course Earth. For the last 25 years, these missions have focused on the search for life by “following the water.” Although we have acquired compelling evidence of flowing liquid water on early Mars, the fundamental question about how water could be stable under Martian atmospheric conditions remains unsolved. Everything we have learned about Mars points towards a freezing cold Martian climate that would be incapable of stabilizing liquid water throughout Mars’ history.

** Even dry asteroids contain water in our wet solar system: Water has been found in dust of an asteroid thought to be bone-dry | Science News

Grains of dust from the asteroid Itokawa actually contain a surprising amount of water, two cosmochemists from Arizona State University in Tempe report May 1 in Science Advances.

“We didn’t really expect water to be there in Itokawa at all,” says study coauthor Maitrayee Bose. But if similar asteroids have similar amounts of water, the space rocks could have been a major source of water for the early Earth.

** More cave openings spotted on Mars and analyzed by Bob Zimmerman: The many pits of Arsia Mons | Behind The Black

Arsia Mons pits 2019. Credits Behind-the-Black

The many pits surrounding Arsia Mons highlight a far greater mystery about Martian geology. Some geologists believe that the many meandering channels we see on Mars could have formed not from surface flow as generally assumed but by underground drainage that washed out voids below the ground which in turn caused the surface to subside, forming those meandering channels.

Yet, as far as I can tell, the only place where scientists have been able to identify a significant number of potential cave openings are on the volcanic slopes of Arisa Mons and its neighboring giant volcanos. There are exceptions, such as this spectacular pit at the head of a channel in the transition zone between the southern highlands and the northern lowlands, as well as two different pits, here and here, that are located in the lowlands in Utopia Basin. Overall however the bulk of pits imaged by MRO appear to be on the slopes of the giant volcanoes, with the majority so far found near Arsia Mons.

** Insight lander images sunrise and sunset on Mars: InSight Captures Sunrise and Sunset on Mars | NASA

A camera on the spacecraft’s robotic arm snapped the photos on April 24 and 25, the 145th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. In local Mars time, the shots were taken starting around 5:30 a.m. and then again starting around 6:30 p.m. As a bonus, a camera under the lander’s deck also caught clouds drifting across the Martian sky at sunset.

Insight captures a sunset.
“NASA’s InSight lander used the Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) on the end of its robotic arm to image this sunset on Mars on April 25, 2019, the 145th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. This was taken around 6:30 p.m. Mars local time.” Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Full image and caption

** NASA orbiter measures the temperature of Mars moon Phobos: Why This Martian Full Moon Looks Like Candy – NASA JPL

For the first time, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter has caught the Martian moon Phobos during a full moon phase. Each color in this new image represents a temperature range detected by Odyssey’s infrared camera, which has been studying the Martian moon since September of 2017. Looking like a rainbow-colored jawbreaker, these latest observations could help scientists understand what materials make up Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two moons.

Odyssey is NASA’s longest-lived Mars mission. Its heat-vision camera, the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), can detect changes in surface temperature as Phobos circles Mars every seven hours. Different textures and minerals determine how much heat THEMIS detects.

Phobos temperature

Such measurements can help determine the composition of the moon, particularly the minerals and metals:

Iron and nickel are two such metals. Depending on how abundant the metals are, and how they’re mixed with other minerals, these data could help determine whether Phobos is a captured asteroid or a pile of Mars fragments, blasted into space by a giant impact long ago.

These recent observations won’t definitively explain Phobos’ origin, Bandfield added. But Odyssey is collecting vital data on a moon scientists still know little about – one that future missions might want to visit. Human exploration of Phobos has been discussed in the space community as a distant, future possibility, and a Japanese sample-return mission to the moon is scheduled for launch in the 2020s.

** Hubble telescope images assembled into a giant mosaic of 265k galaxies: Hubble Assembles Wide View of the Distant Universe | ESA/Hubble

Astronomers developed a mosaic of the distant Universe that documents 16 years of observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The image, called the Hubble Legacy Field, contains roughly 265,000 galaxies that stretch back to just 500 million years after the Big Bang.

The wavelength range of this image stretches from ultraviolet to near-infrared light, capturing all the features of galaxy assembly over time. The faintest and farthest galaxies in the image are just one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can observe.

“Now that we have gone wider than in previous surveys, we are harvesting many more distant galaxies in the largest such dataset ever produced,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, leader of the team that assembled the image. “No image will surpass this one until future space telescopes like James Webb are launched.”

This video “takes the viewer on a journey into the Hubble Legacy Field”:

** Tracking Gaia precisely to get precise locations of a billion stars: Pinpointing Gaia to Map the Milky Way | ESO

This image, a composite of several observations captured by ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST), shows the ESA spacecraft Gaia as a faint trail of dots across the lower half of the star-filled field of view. These observations were taken as part of an ongoing collaborative effort to measure Gaia’s orbit and improve the accuracy of its unprecedented star map.

This image, a composite of several observations captured by ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST), shows the space observatory Gaia as a faint trail of dots across the lower half of the star-filled field of view. These observations were taken as part of an ongoing collaborative effort to measure Gaia’s orbit and improve the accuracy of its unprecedented star map.

Gaia, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), surveys the sky from orbit to create the largest, most precise, three-dimensional map of our Galaxy. One year ago, the Gaia mission produced its much-awaited second data release, which included high-precision measurements — positions, distance and proper motions — of more than one billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy. This catalogue has enabled transformational studies in many fields of astronomy, addressing the structure, origin and evolution the Milky Way and generating more than 1700 scientific publications since its launch in 2013.

In order to reach the accuracy necessary for Gaia’s sky maps, it is crucial to pinpoint the position of the spacecraft from Earth. Therefore, while Gaia scans the sky, gathering data for its stellar census, astronomers regularly monitor its position using a global network of optical telescopes, including the VST at ESO’s Paranal Observatory [1]. The VST is currently the largest survey telescope observing the sky in visible light, and records Gaia’s position in the sky every second night throughout the year.

** A Galaxy Grouping in 2D and 3D: Stephan’s Quintet;

In 1877, Edouard Stephan discovered a tight visual grouping of five galaxies located in the constellation Pegasus. The galaxies of Stephan’s Quintet are both overlapping and interacting, and have become the most famous among the compact groups of galaxies. Astronomers have long known that four of the galaxies (all of which are yellowish-white in this video) form a physical group in space, while the fifth (bluish) is a foreground galaxy. In addition, a sixth galaxy (yellowish-white and on the far left) is likely to be part of the physical grouping. Hence, this 2D quintet that is a 3D quartet may actually be a 2D sextet that is a 3D quintet.

This visualization makes apparent the spatial distribution of these galaxies. The video starts with a view that matches our 2D perspective. As the sequence travels in 3D, the foreground blue spiral, NGC 7320, quickly passes by the camera. The possible sixth galaxy member on the left, NGC 7320C, is seen at roughly the same distance as the remaining four galaxies. The camera turns to pass between two strongly interacting galaxies, NGC 7319 (left) and NGC 7318B (right), with each galaxy’s spiral structure distorted by the gravitational interaction. In contrast, NGC 7318B overlaps in 2D with the more distant elliptical NGC 7318A, but does not have a strong interaction. The other elliptical, NGC 7317, is also seen as more distant than the strongly interacting pair. In 3D, the four or five galaxies in this group are gathered together by their mutual gravity, and may collide and merge together in the future.

Credits: G. Bacon, J. DePasquale, F. Summers, Z. Levay (STScI)

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Outpost in Orbit: A Pictorial & Verbal History of the Space Station

Videos: EXOS Aerospace launches suborbital SARGE rocket from New Mexico

Today, EXOS Aerospace successfully launched the SARGE reusable sounding rocket on a suborbital flight from Spaceport America near Las Cruces, New Mexico. Haven’t seen any word on the altitude reached. The rocket returned via a paraglider return for a soft landing and will be used again for future flights.

EXOS Aerospace SARGE rocket lifts off from Spaceport America.

Here is the full webcast video. (Liftoff takes place at 1:21:50):

The rocket returned for a landing within a couple of hundred meters of the launch pad.

SARGE comes back to earth with a paraglider.

An inspection of the rocket following the landing:

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Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past

SpaceIL Beresheet lunar mission update + iSpace of Japan to launch lunar orbiter and lander

SpaceIL‘s Beresheet lunar lander, launched as a secondary payload on a Falcon 9 last Thursday evening, has completed its first engine firing, which will raise the altitude of the perigee (low point) of its highly elliptical orbit around the earth so that it doesn’t reenter the atmosphere.  First Israeli lunar spacecraft completes first maneuver – Israel National News.

The maneuver was made at a distance of 69,400 km from Earth for 30 seconds and will increase the spacecrafts closest point of approach to Earth to a distance of 600 km.

Beresheet continues its course according to plan and the next maneuver is scheduled for Monday night.

As seen on this video, the craft will need to carry out several engine firings to extend its orbit outward to the Moon and then go into orbit around it:

The glare of the sun has affected the craft’s star-tracker but otherwise the vehicle seems in good shape.

Scott Manley posted a video before the launch in which he discussed the SpaceIL mission:

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Japan’s ispace is another organization that began as an entrant in the Google Lunar XPRIZE and then continued after the GLXP ended. ispace, however, is a commercial company rather than a non-profit like SpaceIL. The company has raised nearly $100M in investments and has contracts with several companies and government institutions.

The latest contract is with the NGK Spark Plug company and involves testing a solid-state a battery under the harsh conditions on the Moon, particularly the extremely cold temperatures during the 2 week long nights.

The company currently is focused on the first two missions to the Moon:

Mission 1 will entail an orbit around the Moon, while Mission 2 will perform a soft lunar landing and deployment of rovers to collect data from the lunar surface.

ispace has contracted with SpaceX to carry its Lunar Lander (Moon landing spacecraft) and Lunar Rovers (Moon surface exploration robots) for the HAKUTO-R Program as secondary payloads on it’s Falcon-9 rocket. The launches for the first and second missions for HAKUTO-R will occur in mid-2020 and mid-2021, respectively.

Here is a video showing the phases of the mission to land on the Moon and deploy a small rover to explore:

This video introduces some of the people working at ispace:

And this video presents the company’s long term vision:

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Telescopes and Binoculars at Amazon

Videos: More views of the 2nd Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo spaceflight

More imagery from Friday’s flight of the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (see previous postings here and here):

** Beth Moses enjoys the view from space:

“The face you make when you look back on Earth from space. Our Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, is the 571st person to fly to space and the first woman to fly on board a commercial spaceship.” – Virgin Galactic

** Flight highlights:

** Post-flight interviews with Moses, Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, Co-Pilot Michael “Sooch” Masucci, and Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides:

** Feather reentry mode as seen from a camera on one of the booms:

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The Cosma Hypothesis: Implications of the Overview Effect

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo test flight – Feb.22.2019

[ Updates:

12:14 pm EST: Max altitude is reportedly 294,000 feet, or 89.6 km, or 55.7 miles. [Update: 295,007 feet, or 89.9 km, or 55.87 miles.]

12:08 pm EST: The SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity is back safely on the ground after a second successful powered flight to the edge of space. Official apogee not yet announced. Unity definitely achieved 50+ miles, which crosses the USAF/NASA definition for the boundary altitude to space.

11:56 am EST: The motor has finished firing and the vehicle reached Mach 3.

11:55 am EST: Unity has been released and its motor is firing.

11:28 am EST: The WK2/SS2 combo should reach the launch altitude in about half an hour and release the SS2 for its powered test flight. There are three crew persons on the SS2 today:

VG also says Moses is “She’s an expert micro-gravity researcher who’s completed over 400 zero g parabolic flights in 4 different aircrafts.”

11:08 am EST: The WK2/SS2 combo has taken off:

WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve and SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity take off from Mojave space port.

]

Virgin Galactic plans to fly SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to the edge of space today. This will be the fifth rocket powered flight and the second to to go to 80+ kilometers in altitude. Currently, the schedule has the WhiteKnightTwo with the SS2 hung beneath it taking off from Mojave Air & Space Port at 8:00 am PST local time (11:00 noon EST).

Here is a diagram of the test:

Find live updates at Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) | Twitter.

Unity will be carrying several NASA sponsored research payloads that will take advantage of the several minutes of microgravity conditions.

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The Cosma Hypothesis: Implications of the Overview Effect