SpaceX’s Rocket Failure Could Cause Delays for Lots of Launches

SpaceX rocket-cam showing orbital flight
A view from the Falcon 9 upper stage's rocket-cam shows ice forming around the engine hardware. (Credit: SpaceX via YouTube)

After going eight years and more than 300 launches without a failure, SpaceX had a Falcon 9 rocket launch go awry, resulting in the expected loss of 20 Starlink satellites.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it would oversee an investigation into the anomaly, raising the prospect that dozens of launches could be delayed until the problem is identified and rectified.

As many as 40 Falcon 9 launches are on tap between now and the end of the year — potentially including missions that would carry astronauts to the International Space Station and send the privately funded Polaris Dawn crew into orbit for the world’s first commercial spacewalk.

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A Hopping Robot Could Explore Europa Using Locally Harvested Water

Various forms of hopping robots have crept into development for us[e in different space exploration missions. We’ve reported on their use on asteroids and even our own Moon. But a study funded by NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) in 2018 planned a mission to a type of world where hopping may not be as noticeable an advantage—Europa.

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Resources on Mars Could Support Human Explorers

Mineral map of Mars showing the presence of patches that formed in the presence of water. Credit: ESA

In the coming decades, multiple space agencies and private companies plan to establish outposts on the Moon and Mars. These outposts will allow for long-duration stays, astrobiological research, and facilitate future Solar System exploration. However, having crews operating far from Earth for extended periods will also present some serious logistical challenges. Given the distances and costs involved, sending resupply missions will be both impractical and expensive. For this reason, relying on local resources to meet mission needs – aka. In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) – is the name of the game.

The need for ISRU is especially important on Mars as resupply missions could take 6 to 9 months to get there. Luckily, Mars has abundant resources that can be harvested and used to provide everything from oxygen, propellant, water, soil for growing food, and building materials. In a recent study, a Freie Universität Berlin-led team evaluated the potential of harvesting resources from several previously identified deposits of hydrated minerals on the surface of Mars. They also presented estimates of how much water and minerals can be retrieved and how they may be used.

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Exoplanet Could be an Enormous Version of Europa

Certain exoplanets pique scientists’ interest more than others. Some of the most interesting are those that lie in the habitable zone of their stars. However, not all of those planets would be similar to Earth – in fact, finding a planet about the size of Earth is already stretching the limits of most exoplanet-hunting telescopes. So the scientific community rejoiced when researchers at the Université de Montréal announced they found an exoplanet in the size range of the Earth. However, it appears to be almost entirely covered in water, making it more similar to a giant version of Europa, the ice-covered moon of Jupiter. 

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The Moon Occults Spica This Weekend For North America

Mu Geminorum
The Moon occults the star Mu Geminorum. Credit: David Dickinson

The ‘Great North American Occultation’ sees the Moon blot out Spica Saturday night.

Few events in the sky transpire as quickly as occultations. While the path of the planets may move at a leisurely pace, and the orbits of double stars may be measured in terms of a lifetime or more, occultations are swift vanishing acts.

North American observers have a chance to witness just such an event this coming weekend, when the waxing gibbous Moon passes in front of the bright first magnitude star Spica.

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Webb Detects the Smell of Rotten Eggs in an Exoplanet’s Atmosphere

Studying the atmospheres of exoplanets is helpful for several reasons. Sometimes, it helps in understanding their formation. Sometimes, it helps define whether the planet might be habitable. And sometimes, you allow a press officer to write the headline “Stench of a gas giant? Nearby exoplanet reeks of rotten eggs.” That headline was released by John Hopkins University’s (JHU) press department after a study describing the atmosphere of one of the nearest known “hot Jupiters” was recently published in Nature.

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Ancient People Saw a Kilonova Light up the Sky

A comparison between the observed XMM-Newton image of the kilonova 1181 with an IRAS-derived schematic of infrared contours (presumably of the dust ring) around the resulting white dwarf. This kilonova occurred when two white dwarfs collided and were observed in 1181. Courtesy Ko, et al, 2024.
A comparison between the observed XMM-Newton image of the kilonova 1181 with an IRAS-derived schematic of infrared contours (presumably of the dust ring) around the resulting white dwarf. This kilonova occurred when two white dwarfs collided and were observed in 1181. Courtesy Ko, et al, 2024.

What happens when aging white dwarf stars come together? Observers in feudal Japan in the year 1181 had a front-row view of the superpowerful kilonova created by such a merger. Their records show that a rare “guest star” flared up and then faded. It took until 2021 for astronomers to find the place in the sky where it occurred.

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Ariane 6 Rocket’s Debut Puts Europe Back in the Launch Game

Ariane 6 liftoff
The European Space Agency's Ariane 6 rocket rises for the first time from its launch pad in French Guiana. Credit: ESA via YouTube

Europe’s next-generation Ariane 6 rocket rose today for the first time from its South American spaceport, ending a yearlong launch gap caused by the Ariane 5’s retirement.

The heavy-lift launch vehicle’s demonstration flight began with liftoff at 4 p.m. local time (19:00 GMT) from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, and continued with satellite deployments in orbit.

“A completely new rocket is not launched often, and success is far from guaranteed,” Josef Aschbacher, the European Space Agency’s director general, said in a statement. “I am privileged to have witnessed this historic moment when Europe’s new generation of the Ariane family lifted off – successfully – effectively reinstating European access to space.”

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Do Planets Have the Raw Ingredients for Life? The Answer is in their Stars

Illustration of the Plato Observatory

Finding planets that already have, or have the ingredients for intelligent life is a real challenge. It is exciting that new telescopes and spacecraft are in development that will start to identify candidate planets. Undertaking these observations will take significant amounts of telescope time so we need to find some way to prioritise which ones to look at first. A new paper has been published that suggests we can study the host stars first for the necessary raw elements giving a more efficient way to hunt for similar worlds to Earth. 

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The Rugged Desert Moss Best Equipped to Survive on Mars

S. caninervis plants

For decades, we have seen Mars as a desolate landscape devoid of any signs of life. Attempt to identify ways of growing plants and food on the red planet have focussed on greenhouse like structures to enable plants to survive, that is, until now! A desert moss called ‘Syntrichia caninervis’ has been identified and it can grown in extreme environments like Antarctica and the Mojave Desert. A new study revealed the moss can survive Mars-like environments too including low temperatures, high levels of radiation and drought. 

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