Satellites Equipped With a Tether Would be Able to De-Orbit Themselves at the end of Their Life

There’s no denying it, we are facing an orbital debris problem! As of January 2019, the ESA’s Space Debris Office estimates that there are at least 34,000 pieces of large debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – a combination of dead satellites, spent rocket stages, and other assorted bits of space junk. And with thousands of satellites scheduled to be launched in the next decade, that problem is only going to get worse.

This is a situation that cries out for solutions, especially when you consider the plans to commercialize LEO and start sending crewed missions to deep space in the coming years. A team of scientists from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) has come up with a simple but elegant idea: equip future satellites with a tether system so they can de-orbit themselves at the end of their lives.

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Don’t Worry About Asteroid 2006QV89. There’s Only a 1 in 7000 Chance It’ll Hit the Earth in September

One of the many PHOs (Potentially Hazardous Objects) that we're keeping an eye on. Image Credit: NASA

Whenever scientists announce an upcoming close encounter with an asteroid, certain corners of the internet light up like the synaptic rush that accompanies a meth binge, with panicky headlines shouted straight from the brain stem. But never mind that. We’re not that corner of the internet. We’re sober, yo!

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Europe is Working On a Reusable Space Transport System: Space Rider

The ESA is developing its own spacecraft capable of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The reusable spacecraft is called the Space RIDER (Reusable Integrated Demonstrator for Europe Return), and the ESA says that the Space Rider will be ready for launch by 2022. It’s being designed to launch on the Vega-C rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

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The World’s Glaciers are Down by 9 Trillion Tonnes of Ice in the Last Half Century

This graphic shows the change in cumulative ice mass over the last 50 years in different glacial regions on Earth. Image Credit: ESA, adapted from Zemp et al. (2019) Nature, and data courtesy of World Glacier Monitoring Service

Things are not looking good for Earth’s glaciers. Usually, when it comes to climate change and melting ice, we think of the Earth’s polar regions. But they’re not the only important ice formations, and they’re not the only ice that’s melting due to climate change.

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Mars Express Saw the Same Methane Spike that Curiosity Detected from the Surface of Mars

An artist's illustration of the Mars Express Orbiter above Mars. Image Credit: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Mars: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

If you’re not a chemist, an astrobiologist, or a scientist of any sort, and that includes most of us, then a tiny, almost imperceptible whiff of methane in the Martian atmosphere might seem like no big deal. But it is, gentle humans. It is.

Why?

Because it could be a signal that some living process is at work. And even we non-scientists have wondered at some point if the only life in the Solar System, or maybe in the entire Universe, is confined here on Earth.

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Signs that Ancient Rivers Flowed Across the Surface of Mars, Billions of Years Ago

A topographic image of an area of anceint riverbeds on Mars. Created with data from the High-Resolution Stereo Camera on the Mars Express Orbiter. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/ESA_Multimedia/Copyright_Notice_Images

Billions of years ago, Mars was likely a much warmer and wetter place than the cold, dry, barren world we see today. Whether there was life there or not remains an open question. But there’s a massive, growing wall of evidence showing that Mars may have had the necessary conditions for life in the past, including at least one system of river valley networks.

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Did You Know the Earth’s Atmosphere Extends Beyond the Orbit of the Moon?

Earth's extended atmosphere is called the geocorona. Image not to scale. Image Credit: ESA.

Strictly speaking, there aren’t strict boundaries between Earth and space. Our atmosphere doesn’t just end at a certain altitude; it peters out gradually. A new study from Russia’s Space Research Institute (SRI) shows that our atmosphere extends out to 630,000 km into space.

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Here’s a Clever idea. Build Moon Bases in Craters and then Fill them in with Lunar Regolith

In the coming decades, multiple space agencies are planning to send astronauts to the lunar surface. More than that, between the European Space Agency (ESA), the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and Roscomos, there are multiple plans to construct permanent outposts on the Moon. Perhaps the best-known of these is the ESA’s plan to build an International Lunar Village,

As a spiritual successor to the International Space Station (ISS), this village would serve as a base for teams of astronauts to conduct vital research and experiments. In recent years, some very interesting proposals have been presented as part of this plan, the latest of which comes from the ESA’s European Astronaut Center (EAC), where a student team has developed a proposal for a sustainable lunar habitat.

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ESA is Planning a Mission to the Smallest Spacerock Ever Visited: the Moon of an Asteroid

An illustration of the ESA's Hera spacecraft at Didymos. Image Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org

For some small minority of humans, Death By Asteroid is a desirable fate. The idea probably satisfies their wonky Doomsday thinking. But for the rest of us, going out the same way the dinosaurs did would just be embarrassing. Thankfully, the ESA’s Hera mission will visit the smallest spacerock ever, and will help us avoid going the way of the dinosaurs.

For added kicks, it will forestall the happiness of any over-earger doomsday cultists, and the rest of us can revel in their existential anguish.

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