China’s Super-Heavy Lift Rocket Will Carry 100 Tons to the Moon

China’s proposed next-generation rocket reached the final stage of feasibility studies this month. The planned launch vehicle, known as the Long March-9, will be capable of sending 100 tons to the Moon, and could see its first launch as early as 2030.

Announced in 2018, the Long March-9 will play a key role in China’s long-term space ambitions. If all goes as planned, its first payload is likely to be a Martian sample return mission, and it would support China’s Lunar ambitions as well. Another proposed use for the super-heavy lift vehicle is to build an experimental space-based solar power station, although plans for that project are still very tentative.

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Mining Water and Metal From the Moon at the Same Time

In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) is becoming a more and more popular topic as space exploration begins to focus on landing on the surface of other bodies in the solar system.  ISRU focuses on making things that are needed to support the exploration mission out of materials that are easily accessible at the site being explored.  Similar to how European explorers in the New World could build canoes out of the wood they found there.  

Recently NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) has started looking more closely at a variety of ISRU projects as part of their Phase I Fellows program.  One of the projects selected, led by Amelia Grieg at the University of Texas, El Paso, is a mining technique that would allow explorers to dig up water, metal, and other useful materials, all at the same time.

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NASA Invests in a Plan to Build Landing Pads and Other Structures on the Moon out of Regolith

Materials are a crucial yet underappreciated component of any space exploration program.  Without novel materials and ways to make them, things that are commonplace today, such as a Falcon 9 rocket or the Mars rovers, would never have been possible.  As humanity expands into the solar system, it will need to make more use of the materials found there – a process commonly called in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).  Now, the advanced concepts team at NASA has taken a step towards supporting that process by supporting a proposal from Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee, a chemist at Texas A&M.  The proposal suggests using lunar regolith to build a stable landing pad for future moon missions.

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The Mars Helicopter Could Charge up the Atmosphere Around Itself as it Flies

Plasma globes are a common enough sight in retails stores across the rich world.  If you’ve ever seen one and gotten a chance to touch it, you’ve seen how the plasma will arc toward your touch creating a sense that you’re able to harness electricity like Thor.

That effect does not only take place on Earth – anywhere there is a charge build-up that causes a high enough electrical potential between two points to create an electrical glow or corona. Now a team at NASA think that a large charge build-up might occur when Ingenuity, Perseverance’s helicopter companion, takes to the sky.

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SpaceX’s Starship Prototype Flies High AND Sticks the Landing!

They say, “third time’s the charm.” This was largely the case today as SpaceX made their third attempt at a high altitude flight test at their launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Like the previous two attempts, this flight saw a Starship prototype (SN10) with three Raptor engines fly to an altitude of 10 km (6.2 mi), conduct a “belly-flop” descent maneuver, and then return to the launch facility.

As with the previous high-altitude tests, the SN10 successfully launched, reached its apogee, and validated the control fins and aerodynamic surfaces. But unlike the previous tests, the SN10 was able to slow down enough and keep itself upright so it could make a soft landing. While the prototype exploded a few minutes after landing (apparently from a methane leak) the flight was a complete success!

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New Perspective of Jezero Crater Shows the Path Perseverance Could use to Navigate

On February 18th, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover set down on the surface of Mars. During the next two years of its primary mission, the rover will search the Jezero crater (where it landed) for evidence of past life on Mars. This will consist of collecting soil and rock samples from the preserved delta feature that formed billions of years ago from sediments deposited by flowing water.

The question is, where should it look for this possible evidence? A possible route the rover will take during its primary mission is shown in a series of recent images provided by NASA and the US Geological Survey (USGS). As illustrated in the image below, this path would take it from the cliffs that form the edge of the delta, up and across its surface towards possible “shoreline” deposits, and up to the rim of the crater.

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What Happens if Perseverance Finds Life on Mars?

It all happened so fast! On Thursday, February 18th, NASA’s Perseverance rover set landed in the Jezero crater on Mars and almost immediately transmitted its first image of the Martian. This was followed by photos from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and footage taken by the rover’s Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL). Then there was the panoramic video, a sound recording, and deployed its Ingenuity helicopter, all in the space of a week!

But that’s nothing compared to what happened next. Shortly after the rover started drilling into the floor of the Jezero crater, Perseverance found evidence of fossilized bacteria! The search for life on Mars finally struck paydirt! Okay, that didn’t happen… Not yet, anyway. But what if it does? After all, one of Perseverance‘s main objectives is to search for evidence of past life on Mars. What will be the impact if and when it finds it?

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Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope Could Get A Starshade Of Its Own

NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is getting closer and closer to its launch date in 2025. This Hubble-class wide-field infrared telescope is going to help astronomers discover the nature of dark energy, discover planets, and perform large area surveys of the night sky.

But even with its power, the telescope will be limited in its ability to examine planets.

A team of engineers is proposing to fly a follow-on mission to Nancy Grace: a Starshade. This petal-shaped spacecraft could fly in formation with the telescope, blocking the light from stars, and helping it see the fainter planets nearby.

An exceptional telescope gets an upgrade? That seems like a win-win.

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Jupiter has Added a Comet to its Trojan Collection

Jupiter is notorious for capturing objects that venture too close to the gas giant and its enormous pull of gravity. Asteroids known as Jupiter Trojans are a large group of space rocks that have been snared by the planet, which usually remain in a stable orbit near one of the Jupiter’s Lagrangian points.  

But now, the Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a comet near Jupiter’s Trojan asteroid population. This is the first time a comet has been found in this region, and the team of scientists studying the object  – named P/2019 LD2 (LD2) – think the unexpected comet is only a temporary visitor.

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Sand Dunes on Mars Shift From Season to Season

Mars’ gravity makes it an amazing place to find some of the biggest landscapes in the solar system.  Those would include the solar system’s biggest sand dune – one that resides in Russell crater.  Now, a team of scientists led by Dr. Cynthia Dinwiddie noticed something unique about the sides of this massive dune.  Occasionally gullies form along its surface. Dr. Dinwiddie’s novel explanation for this phenomena – boulders of CO2 rolling down the dune’s surface.

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