Could We Put Data Centers In Space?

Artificial intelligence has taken the world by storm lately. It also requires loads of band-end computing capability to do the near-miraculous things that it does. So far, that “compute,” as it’s known in the tech industry, has been based entirely on the ground. But is there an economic reason to do it in space? Some people seem to think so, as there has been a growing interest in space-based data centers. Let’s take a look at why.

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Slingshotting Around the Sun Would Make a Spacecraft the Faster Ever

NASA is very interested in developing a propulsion method to allow spacecraft to go faster. We’ve reported several times on different ideas to support that goal, and most of the more successful have utilized the Sun’s gravity well, typically by slingshotting around it, as is commonly done with Jupiter currently. But, there are still significant hurdles when doing so, not the least of which is the energy radiating from the Sun simply vaporizing anything that gets close enough to utilize a gravity assist. That’s the problem a project supported by NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) and run by Jason Benkoski, now of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is trying to solve.

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The Earliest Merging Quasars Ever Seen

This illustration depicts two quasars in the process of merging. Using both the Gemini North telescope, one half of the International Gemini Observatory, which is supported in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation and operated by NSF NOIRLab, and the Subaru Telescope, a team of astronomers have discovered a pair of merging quasars seen only 900 million years after the Big Bang. Not only is this the most distant pair of merging quasars ever found, but also the first confirmed pair found in the period of the Universe known as Cosmic Dawn.

Studying the history of science shows how often serendipity plays a role in some of the most important discoveries. Sometimes, the stories are apocryphal, like Newton getting hit on the head with an apple. But sometimes, there’s an element of truth to them. That was the case for a new discovery of the oldest pair of merging quasars ever discovered – and it all started with a pair of red blots on a picture.

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There’s Chang’e-6 on the Far Side of the Moon

The newest phase of China’s lunar exploration project is soon coming to an end. On June 20th, the Chang’e 6 sample return mission starts its journey back to Earth from the far side of the Moon, having already collected samples and blasted itself back into lunar orbit. But since a picture is worth a thousand words, let’s look at some of the more memorable images that have come out of this mission so far.

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Baby Stars are Swarming Around the Galactic Center

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The vicinity of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the Milky Way’s center, is hyperactive. Stars, gas, and dust zip around the black hole’s gravitational well at thousands of kilometers per hour. Previously, astronomers thought that only mature stars had been pulled into such rapid orbits. However, a new paper from the University of Cologne and elsewhere in Europe found that some relatively young stars are making the rounds rather than older ones, which raises some questions about the models predicting how stars form in these hyperactive regions.

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Rotation Curves of Galaxies Stay Flat Indefinitely

In his classic book On the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the philosopher Thomas Kuhn posited that, for a new scientific framework to take root, there has to be evidence that doesn’t sit well within the existing framework. For over a century now, Einstein’s theory of relativity and gravity has been the existing framework. However, cracks are starting to show, and a new paper from researchers at Case Western Reserve University added another one recently when they failed to find decreasing rotational energy in galaxies even millions of light years away from the galaxy’s center.

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Which Stars are Lethal to their Planets?

Many years ago, there was a viral YouTube video called “History of the entire world, i guess,” which has been an endless source of internet memes since its release. One of the most prominent is also scientifically accurate—when describing why animals couldn’t start living on land, the video’s creator, Bill Wurtz, intones, “The Sun is a deadly laser.” 

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How a Single Atomic Sensor Can Help Track Earth’s Glaciers

Earth observations are one of the most essential functions of our current fleet of satellites. Typically, each satellite specializes in one kind of remote sensing – monitoring ocean levels, for example, or watching clouds develop and move. That is primarily due to the constraints of their sensors – particularly the radar. However, a new kind of sensor undergoing development could change the game in remote Earth sensing, and it recently received a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant to further its development.

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A Mission To Find 10 Million Near Earth Asteroids Every Year

So far, scientists have found around 34,000 near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) that could serve as humanity’s stepping stone to the stars. These balls of rock and ice hold valuable resources as we expand throughout the solar system, making them valuable real estate in any future space economy. But the 34,000 we know of only make up a small percentage of the total number of asteroids in our vicinity – some estimates theorize that up to 1 billion asteroids larger than a modern car exist near Earth. A project from the Trans Astronautics Corp (TransAstra), an asteroid-hunting start-up based in California, hopes to find the missing billion.

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Landing on Pluto May Only Be A Hop Skip and Jump Away

There are plenty of crazy ideas for missions in the space exploration community. Some are just better funded than others. One of the early pathways to funding the crazy ideas is NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts. In 2017 and again in 2021, it funded a mission study of what most space enthusiasts would consider only a modestly ambitious goal but what those outside the community might consider outlandish—landing on Pluto.

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