In October 2021, NASA launched its ambitious Lucy mission. Its targets are asteroids, two in the main belt and eight Jupiter trojans, which orbit the Sun in the same path as Jupiter. The mission is named after early hominin fossils (Australopithecus afarensis,) and the name pays homage to the idea that asteroids are fossils from the Solar System’s early days of planet formation.
Visiting ten asteroids in one mission is the definition of ambitious, and now NASA is adding an eleventh.
In any plan to establish a presence on the Moon, the South Pole is key. There, in the deep permanent shadows of the region’s craters, are voluminous quantities of water ice. And water ice means water, oxygen, and even rocket fuel.
The InSight lander might have transmitted its last picture from the surface of Mars. It looks like the lander is succumbing to Mars’ dusty conditions, as its ability to generate energy from its solar panels has been declining in recent weeks.
It’s always sad and somehow poignant when a lander or a rover falls silent. Each of them has a personality that goes along with their mission. But we’ve known for months this day was coming.
To stand on a coastal shore and watch how eagles, ravens, seagulls, and crows take flight in high winds. it’s an inspiring sight, to be sure. Additionally, it illustrates an important concept in aerial mechanics, like how the proper angling of wings can allow birds to exploit differences in wind speed to hover in mid-air. Similarly, birds can use these same differences in wind speed to gain bursts of velocity to soar and dive. These same lessons can be applied to space, where spacecraft could perform special maneuvers to pick up bursts of speed from “space weather” (solar wind).
This was the subject of a recent study led by researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. By circling between regions of the heliosphere with different wind speeds, they state, a spacecraft would be capable of “dynamic soaring” the same way avian species are. Such a spacecraft would not require propellant (which makes up the biggest mass fraction of conventional missions) and would need only a minimal power supply. Their proposal is one of many concepts for low-mass, low-cost missions that could become interplanetary (or interstellar) explorers.
It’s been over 35 years since a spacecraft visited Uranus and Neptune. That was Voyager 2, and it only did flybys. Will we ever go back? There are discoveries waiting to be made on these fascinating ice giants and their moons.
But complex missions to Mars and the Moon are eating up budgets and shoving other endeavours aside.
A new paper shows how we can send spacecraft to Uranus and Neptune cheaply and quickly without cutting into Martian and Lunar missions.
A tiny spacecraft is ready to head out for a big job: shining a light on water ice at the Moon’s south pole.
Lunar Flashlight is a cubesat about the size of a briefcase, set to launch on December 1 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, sharing a ride with the Hakuto-R Mission to the Moon.
The tiny 14 kg (30 lb) spacecraft will use near-infrared lasers and an onboard spectrometer to map the permanently shadowed regions near the Moon’s south pole, where there could be reservoirs of water ice.
“If we are going to have humans on the Moon,” said Barbara Cohen, Lunar Flashlight principal investigator, “they will need water for drinking, breathing, and rocket fuel. But it’s much cheaper to live off the land than to bring all that water with you.”
The Orion spacecraft made its first close flyby of the Moon on Monday, November 21, coming as close as 81 statute miles (130 km) from the lunar surface. As the Artemis 1 mission’s uncrewed spacecraft flew past the far side of the Moon, Orion’s orbital maneuvering system engine fired for 2 minutes and 30 seconds to successfully put the capsule into the desired orbit for the mission, called a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.
“This burn is setting Orion up to orbit the Moon, and is largest propulsive event so far, as Artemis is hunting the Moon,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis Mission Manager at a briefing on Monday.
Japan and Germany have a history of collaboration in scientific and technological endeavours. The countries have a Joint Committee on Cooperation in Science Technology that has met many times over the decades. Both countries have advanced, powerful economies and sophisticated technological know-how, so it makes sense they’d collaborate on scientific activities.
This time, their cooperation concerns a small, potato-shaped chunk of rock: Mars’ moon Phobos.
Even though there’s no firm date for a Mars sample return mission, the Perseverance rover is busy collecting rock samples and caching them for retrieval. We’ve known of the future Mars sample return mission for a while now, and as time goes on, we’re learning more details.
The latest development concerns helicopters. With Ingenuity’s success, NASA has decided that the sample return mission will take two helicopters.