How Will Starlink’s Packet Routing Work?

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite cluster has been receiving more and more headline space recently as it continues adding satellites at a breathtaking pace.  Much of this news coverage has focused on how it’s impacting amateur skygazers and how it could benefit people in far-flung regions.  But technical details do matter, and over on Casey Handmer’s blog there was a recent discussion of one of the most important aspects of how Starlink actually operates – what will it do with its data?

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Room-temperature Superconductivity Achieved for the First Time, but There’s a Catch

One of the most interesting things about space exploration is how many technologies have an impact on our ability to reach farther.  New technologies that might not immediately be used in space can still eventually have a profound long-term impact.  On the other hand, everyone knows some technologies will be immediately game changing.  Superconductors, or materials that do not have any electrical resistance, are one of the technologies that have the potential to be game changing.  However, hurdles to their practical use have limited their applicability to a relatively small sub-set of applications, like magnetic resonance imaging devices and particle accelerators.  But another major hurdle to the broad use of superconductors has now been cleared – a lab at the University of Rochester (UR) has just developed one that works at almost room temperature.  The big caveat is it has to be under pressure similar to that in the Earth’s core.

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Impatient? A Spacecraft Could Get to Titan in Only 2 Years Using a Direct Fusion Drive

Fusion power is the technology that is thirty years away, and always will be – according to skeptics at least.  Despite its difficult transition into a reliable power source, the nuclear reactions that power the sun have a wide variety of uses in other fields.  The most obvious is in weapons, where hydrogen bombs are to this day the most powerful weapons we have ever produced. But there’s another use case that is much less destructive and could prove much more interesting – space drives.

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Operating a Rover in Real-time From a Distance

There are instances other than pandemics when it is necessary to work remotely. Spacecraft operators are forced to do most of their work remotely while their charges travel throughout the solar system.  Sometimes those travels take place a little closer to home. Engineers at DLR, Germany’s space agency, recently got to take the concept of remote working to a whole new level when they operated a rover in a whole different country almost 700 kilometers away while working remotely from their primary office.

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Astronomers Will Be Able to Use the World’s Biggest Radio Telescope to Search for Signals from Extraterrestrial Civilizations

Image of the FAST telescope in China

Back in April, we reported on how a collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Breakthrough Listen Initiative, and the SETI Institute planned to use the new Five-hundred-meter Aperture radio Telescope (FAST) to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.  We now caught up with another of the project scientists to flesh out some more details of their observational plans and what observations they hope to make in the future.

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Lakes On Titan Will Have Layers, Like Lakes On Earth, But for a Completely Different Reason

Lakes on Earth are a common sight in many locales.  They’re central to the recreation and livelihood of millions of people.  Few of those people think of the hydrodynamics that happen in a lake system.  It is common for lakes to stratify into different layers. On Earth that stratification is the result of the sun heating the upper layer of water, which then becomes less dense and floats on top of the colder, more dense layer beneath it.  Now, scientists from the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) have found similar dynamic cycles in a different kind of lake – the ethane and methane lakes on Titan.

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Testing the Rover That’ll Land on Phobos

Rovers seem to be proliferating all over Mars.  There are currently 4 on the surface, and another (Perseverance) will be arriving in a few months after a successful launch at the end of July.  Mars itself isn’t the only interesting rocky body in the Martian system, however.  Its two moons, Phobos and Deimos, pose a bit of a mystery.  How were they formed? Were they captured asteroids or caused by an impact similar to Earth’s own Moon?

Scientists and engineers are now one step closer to answering those questions with the successful test of a rover that will visit Phobos with JAXA’s Martian Moon Exploration (MMX) mission that will launch in 2024.  The rover, which has yet to be separately named from its parent mission, just underwent some testing that will help to prove it’s worthy to join the pantheon of rovers roaming around the Martian system.

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Is There Life Deep Underground on Mars?

It’s been a great month for planetary science.  Scientists first discovered the chemical signature of phosphine on Venus, then found additional underground lakes on Mars.  While no life has been conclusively found yet, science continues to take incremental steps toward proving what could be one of the most impactful discoveries in history: that we are not alone.

But in order to definitively prove that, science will have to conclusively find life first.  The methods for doing so will differ dramatically based on whether the location is in the clouds of Venus or under the ice of Mars.  Scientists have come up with a model to understand the conditions for any life to exist in the subsurface oceans of not only Mars, but any rocky body with underground liquid water.

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New Radio Telescope Is Going to Fly to the Far Side of the Moon to Listen to the Signals From the Early Universe

The phrase “silence is golden” is even more important for radio astronomers.  The sheer amount of radio output created by humans can drown out any interesting signal from the heavens that they might wish to study.  Those signals are also partially blocked by Earth’s atmosphere, adding more complexity to the challenge.  

The obvious solution to the atmosphere problem is to launch space based observatories, and that has been done in the past.  However, in near Earth orbit the radio waves emitted from radio stations all around the world can still blast any radio receiver with an unwanted deluge of signals.  So scientists have come up with a novel idea to get the silence they so crave: park a probe on the far side of the moon.

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Asteroid Bennu has little pieces of Vesta on it

The asteroid belt is a chaotic place.  Things smash into each other, get thrown into completely different orbital planes, and are occasionally visited by small electronic spacecraft launched by humans.  All three things seem to have happened to the asteroid Bennu, which is currently being orbited by OSIRIS-REx, a mission launched by NASA in 2016.

The most recently released results from the mission show that Bennu might have small pieces of Vesta on it.  Given that Vesta is one of the biggest asteroid belt objects and Bennu is a near Earth asteroid millions of kilometers away from the asteroid belt, this hints at a pretty exciting past history for the asteroid currently being visited by NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

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