This is How Astronauts Would Escape from the Artemis II Launch Pad

KSC Emergency Escape Baskets

Space exploration is a tricky and at times, dangerous business. The safety of the crews is of paramount importance and escape technology is always factored into spacecraft design. Whilst Artemis I did not require such provisions when it launched Artemis II with astronauts on board is being prepared with a ski-lift style escape system to take them far away from the launch pad. 

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There’s Less Dark Matter at the Core of the Milky Way

A study by MIT physicists suggest the Milky Way’s gravitational core may be lighter in mass, and contain less dark matter, than previously thought. Credits:Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC, Edited by MIT News

Science really does keep you on your toes. First there was matter and then there were galaxies. Then those galaxies had more stuff in the middle so stars further out were expected to move slowly, then there was dark matter as they actually seemed to move faster but now they seem to be moving slower in our Galaxy so perhaps there is less dark matter than we thought after all! 

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Plants Growing in Space are at Risk from Bacterial Infections

Graduate student Noah Totsline works in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources lab of Harsh Bais on a NASA-sponsored project looking at how plants grown in space are more prone to infections of Salmonella compared to plants not grown in space or grown under gravity simulations. The microgravity environment of space can be simulated in the lab by rotating the plants at a precise speed that causes the plants to react as if they were in a constant state of free-fall.

I have spent the last few years thinking, perhaps assuming that astronauts live off dried food, prepackaged and sent from Earth. There certainly is an element of that but travellers to the International Space Station have over recent years been able to feast on fresh salad grown in special units on board. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that pathogenic bacteria and fungi can contaminate the ‘greens’ even in space.

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Ingenuity Suffers Rotor Damage, Ending the Mission

Ingenuity stood on the surface fo Mars
Ingenuity helicopter

There have been numerous robotic space missions reach the end of their operating life over the years and for a multitude of reasons. Be they catastrophic failure or a scheduled end but I must say one that has recently made me a little sad is the demise of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. It sustained damage after its recent flight and can now no longer fly. In a mission that was supposed to complete five flights in 30 days, the plucky little helicopter completed 72 flights over three years! 

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Another Asteroid Discovered Hours Before it Impacts the Earth

What were you doing last Saturday? As it turns out, I was doing something rather unexciting… Trying to fix my washing machine (I did – in case you are interested). At the same time, Hungarian geography teacher by day and asteroid hunter by night Krisztián Sárneczky was out observing and detected a small asteroid which it transpired was on a collision course with Earth! 

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China Reveals How it’s Planning to Search for Water Ice at the Moon’s South Pole

A render of China's planned lunar base. /CFP

It’s been a big week for Chinese space exploration. First a successful test flight of Zhuque-3 and this week we learned of their plans to explore the Moon’s South Pole. Previous missions have even returned samples to Earth but the Chinese landers have yet to explore more southerly areas of the Moon. Chang’e-6 is due to launch in a few months to collect samples from the far side of the Moon while Chang’e-7 launches in 2026 to the Moon’s south pole. 

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Chinese Firm Successfully Tests a New Reusable Booster

The sight of a Falcon-9 rocket landing in an upright orientation is not an unusual sight. It seems that the Chinese aerospace firm LandSpace is getting in on the act with their new Zhuque-3 (I don’t even know how to pronounce that) reusable methane rocket. The prototype booster took off, reached a height of 350 metres and landed 60 seconds later about 100 metres away on a landing pad. LandSpace have revealed this test showcases key technologies that will be used for their upcoming reusable rocket.

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It’s Time to Go Back to Uranus. What Questions do Scientists Have About the Ice Giants?

Image of Uranus from Webb

It seems crazy that Uranus was discovered in 1781 yet here we are, in 2024 and we have only sent one spacecraft to explore Uranus. Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have given us close-up images of Uranus (and Neptune) but since their visit in 1986, we have not returned. There have of course been great images from the Hubble Space Telescope and from the James Webb Space Telescope but we still have lots to learn about them. 

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Private Axiom Mission 3 is Off to the Space Station

Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3), the third all private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, lifted off at 4:49pm EST on Thursday Jan 18 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA

A few decades ago, the idea of private individuals travelling to the International Space Station was as much science fiction as a time travelling police box.  Yet here we are, in 2024 and a crew of four private astronauts are on board the ISS. The team will spend about two weeks undertaking various experiments, commercial activities and outreach tasks. 

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Now We Know Why Starship’s Second Flight Test Failed

The moment of separation between Superheavy and Starship. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is often in the headlines, unfortunlatey its not always good news. On 18th November we saw the second of the Starship and SuperHeavy booster get off the launchpad successfully, it failed before reaching orbit. In a recent event, Elon Musk explained how a fuel venting near the end of the burn was responbie but entirely avoidable next time!

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