In June 2021, China announced it was partnering with Russia to launch a lunar exploration program that would rival NASA’s Artemis Program. This program would include robotic landers, orbiters, and crewed missions that would culminate with the creation of an outpost around the Moon’s southern polar region – the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). While the details are still scant, periodic updates have provided a “big-picture” idea of what this lunar outpost will look like.
Case in point, at a recent national space conference, a team of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) presented a list of objectives for the ILRS. According to China Science Daily, these objectives will include Moon-based astronomy, Earth observation, and lunar in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). In addition, the CAS scientists indicated that China plans to establish a basic model for a lunar research station based on two planned exploration missions by 2028, which will subsequently expand into an international base.
In November 2024, NASA’s Artemis II mission will launch from Cape Canaveral, carrying a crew of four astronauts around the Moon before returning home. This will be the first crewed mission of the program, paving the way for Artemis III and the long-awaited return to the Moon in 2025. These missions will rely on the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) super-heavy launch vehicle. At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, teams of engineers have just finished integrating all five major structures that make up the core stage of the Artemis II rocket.
A couple times a year, the Hubble Space Telescope turns its powerful gaze on the giant planets in the outer Solar System, studying their cloudtops and weather systems. With the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) Program, Hubble provides us with these views and also delivers weather reports on what’s happening. Here’s an updated report and some new images of the stormy surfaces of Jupiter and Uranus.
Jupiter’s moon, Europa, contains a large ocean of salty water beneath its icy shell, some of which makes it to the surface from time to time, and this vast ocean could host life, as well. Europa was most recently observed by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, but current examinations of the moon’s internal ocean are limited to computer models and simulations produced here on Earth, as no mission is actively exploring this tiny moon orbiting Jupiter. Other than the internal water occasionally breaching the icy shell and making it to the surface, what other effects could the internal ocean have on the icy shell that encloses it?
When it comes to looking for extraterrestrial life “out there” astronomers scan distant planets. They also look for technosignatures at alien worlds. What if the answer they seek is dust blowing on the interstellar winds?
When looking for signs of life beyond the Solar System, astrobiologists are confined to looking for life as we understand it. For the most part, that means looking for rocky planets that orbit within their star’s circumsolar habitable zone (HZ), the distance at which liquid water can exist on its surface. In the coming years, next-generation telescopes and instruments will allow astronomers to characterize exoplanet atmospheres like never before. When that happens, they will look for the chemical signatures we associate with life, like nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia.
However, astrobiologists have theorized that life could exist in the outer Solar System beneath the surfaces of icy moons like Europa, Callisto, Titan, and other “Ocean Worlds.” Because of this, there is no shortage of astrobiologists who think that the search for extraterrestrial life should include exomoons, including those that orbit free-floating planets (FFPs). In a recent study, researchers led by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) determined the necessary properties that allow moons orbiting FFPs to retain enough liquid water to support life.
A Wisconsin-based startup called Type One Energy says it’s closed an over-subscribed $29 million financing round to launch its effort to commercialize a weird kind of nuclear fusion device known as a stellarator.
Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $2 billion clean-energy fund created by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, partnered with TDK Ventures and Doral Energy Tech Ventures to co-lead the investment round. Other backers include Darco, the Grantham Foundation, MILFAM, Orbia Ventures, Shorewind Capital, TRIREC and Vahoca.
In February 2022, Russian military forces invaded Ukraine as part of what President Vladimir Putin described as a “limited military operation.” This operation quickly turned into a protracted war now in its second year. For Russia, the response from the international community has been anything but favorable, consisting of sanctions, embargoes, and the termination of programs. This has been especially true for Roscosmos, which has had several cooperative agreements canceled and terminated its participation in the International Space Station (ISS).
On March 7th, 2023, Kazakhstan seized control of the Biaterek launch complex at the Baikonur Cosmodrome – Russia’s main launch site since 1955. According to statements by KZ24 News and The Moscow Times, the Kakazh government has impounded Russian assets at the Center for Utilization of Ground-based Space Infrastructure (TsENKI), a subsidiary of Roscosmos. It is also preventing Russian officials from leaving the country or liquidating Roscosmos assets. This incident is another example of how Russia’s space program is suffering collateral damage from the war in Ukraine.
A spectroscopic analysis determined that the beads contained more water than the researchers expected based on past studies. They surmised that interactions between hydrogen ions in the solar wind and oxygen-bearing materials in lunar soil created H2O molecules that could be trapped within the glass — and then diffused under the right conditions.
Based on an extrapolation of such findings, the research team — headed by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences — estimates that glass beads in lunar soil may contain up to 270 trillion kilograms (595 trillion pounds, or 71 trillion gallons) of water.
With the James Webb Space Telescope’s ability to detect and study the atmospheres of distant planets orbiting other stars, exoplanet enthusiasts have been anticipating JWST’s first data on some of the worlds in the famous TRAPPIST-1 system. This is the system where seven Earth-sized worlds are orbiting a red dwarf star, with several in the habitable zone.
Today, a new study was released on the innermost planet in the system, TRAPPIST-1 b. The authors of the study were quite frank: this world very likely has no atmosphere at all. Additionally, the conditions there for possible life as we know it only get worse from there.