Upgraded ISS Now Has a 600 Megabit per Second Internet Connection

In the digital age, connectivity and bandwidth are important, even if you’re in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). And when you’re performing research and experiments that could help pave the way for future missions to the Moon, to Mars, and other deep-space destinations, it’s especially important. Hence why NASA recently upgraded the ISS’ connection, effectively doubling the rate at which it can send and receive data.

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How Do We Colonize the Moon?

An illustration of a Moon base that could be built using 3D printing and ISRU, In-Situ Resource Utilization. Credit: RegoLight, visualisation: Liquifer Systems Group, 2018

Welcome back to our series on Colonizing the Solar System! Today, we take a look at that closest of celestial neighbors to Earth. That’s right, we’re taking a look at the Moon!

Chances are, we’ve all heard about it more than once in our lifetimes and even have some thoughts of our own on the subject. But for space agencies around the world, futurists, and private aerospace companies, the idea of colonizing the Moon is not a question of “if”, but “when” and “how”. For some, establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon is a matter of destiny while for others, it’s a matter of survival.

Not surprisingly, plans for establishing a human settlement predate both the Moon Landing and the Space Race. In the past few decades, many of these plans have been dusted off and updated thanks to plans for a renewed era of lunar exploration. So what would it take to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon, when could it happen, and are we up to that challenge?

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Astrobotic is Going to Use a Vulcan Rocket For its Lunar Lander in 2021

In May of 2019, NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) selected Astrobotic to fulfill a contract to deliver 14 payloads to the Moon by 2021. The Pittsburg-based aerospace company plans to do this using their Peregrine Lander, a robotic lunar spacecraft that is capable of delivering payloads to the Moon for the competitive price of $1.2 million per kilogram (~$544,300 per lbs).

To get the Peregrine lander and NASA’s payloads to the Moon, Astrobiotic recently announced that it would be relying on United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide launch services. ULA will do this using their next-generation heavy-lift launch system known as the Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will also be the inaugural launch of this new vehicle.

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Astronomers Image the Atmosphere of a Red Dwarf Planet for the First Time. Spoiler Alert, it’s a Terrible Place to Live

The field of exoplanet research continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Thanks to missions like the Kepler Space Telescope, over four-thousand planets have been discovered beyond our Solar System, with more being confirmed all the time. Thanks to these discoveries and all that we’ve learned from them, the focus has begun to transition from the process of discovery to characterization.

For instance, a group of astronomers was able to image the surface of a planet orbiting a red dwarf star for the first time. Using data from the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, the team was able to provide a rare glimpse at the conditions on the planet’s surface. And while those conditions were rather inhospitable – akin to something like Hades, but with less air to breathe – this represents a major breakthrough in the study of exoplanets.

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A Spacecraft Is Going To Assemble Its Own Solar Panels In Space: Archinaut One

Artist's illustration of Archinaut One with its solar panels extended. Credit: Made In Space

As I’ve mentioned in several episodes now, humanity is in a bit of a transition period, a time when it makes sense to launch material up and out of Earth’s gravity well into orbit, and beyond. But it’s really expensive, costing up to $10,000 per pound you want in orbit, and 10 times if you want it on the Moon. 

But over the coming decades, more and more of our space-based infrastructure will be built in space, manufactured out of materials that were mined in space.

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Earth is an Exoplanet to Aliens. This is What They’d See

The study of exoplanets has matured considerably in the last ten years. During this time, the majority of the over 4000 exoplanets that are currently known to us were discovered. It was also during this time that the process has started to shift from the process of discovery to characterization. What’s more, next-generation instruments will allow for studies that will reveal a great deal about the surfaces and atmospheres of exoplanets.

This naturally raises the question: what would a sufficiently-advanced species see if they were studying our planet? Using multi-wavelength data of Earth, a team of Caltech scientists was able to construct a map of what Earth would look like to distant alien observers. Aside from addressing the itch of curiosity, this study could also help astronomers reconstruct the surface features of “Earth-like” exoplanets in the future.

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AI Could Help the Europa Clipper Mission Make New Discoveries!

In 2023, NASA plans to launch the Europa Clipper mission, a robotic explorer that will study Jupiter’s enigmatic moon Europa. The purpose of this mission is to explore Europa’s ice shell and interior to learn more about the moon’s composition, geology, and interactions between the surface and subsurface. Most of all, the purpose of this mission is to shed light on whether or not life could exist within Europa’s interior ocean.

This presents numerous challenges, many of which arise from the fact that the Europa Clipper will be very far from Earth when it conducts its science operations. To address this, a team of researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Arizona State University (ASU) designed a series of machine-learning algorithms that will allow the mission to explore Europa with a degree of autonom.

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ExoMars Parachute Test Fails, for the Second Time

Next year, the European Space Agency (ESA) will be sending the ExoMars 2020 mission to the Red Planet. This mission consists of an ESA-built rover (Rosalind Franklin) and a Russian-led surface science platform (Kazachok) that will study the Martian environment in order to characterize its surface, atmosphere, and determine whether or not life could have once existed on the planet.

In preparation for this mission, engineers are putting the rover and lander through their paces. This includes the ongoing development of the mission’s parachute system, which is currently in troubleshooting after a failed deployment test earlier this month. These efforts are taking place at the Swedish Space Corporation testing site in Esrange, and involve the largest parachute ever used by a mission to Mars.

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