South Korea’s First Orbital Mission to the Moon is on its Way

A graphic showing the orbital path the Danuri Lunar Pathfinder spacecraft will take to go into orbit around the Moon. Credit: Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)

South Korea launched its first robotic mission to the Moon last week, as a SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched the Danuri Lunar Pathfinder mission on August 4, 2022 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The spacecraft was placed into a fuel-saving lunar transfer orbit, and it should arrive in lunar orbit in December.

Translated, Danuri means “enjoy the Moon.”

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ESA’s EnVision Mission Doesn’t Have a lot of Fuel, so it’s Going to Aerobrake in the Atmosphere of Venus

Artist impression of ESA's EnVision mission. Credit:ESA/VR2Planets/Damia Bouic

Venus has almost been “the forgotten planet,” with only one space mission going there in the past 30 years. But the recent resurgence of interest in Earth’s closest neighbor has NASA and ESA committing to three new missions to Venus, all due to launch by the early 2030s.

ESA’s EnVision mission Venus is slated to take high-resolution optical, spectral and radar images of the planet’s surface. But to do so, the van-sized spacecraft will need to perform a special maneuver called aerobraking to gradually slow down and lower its orbit through the planet’s hot, thick atmosphere. Aerobraking uses atmospheric drag to slow down a spacecraft and EnVision will make thousands of passages through Venus’ atmosphere for about two years.

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Uh Oh, NASA is Reviewing Psyche and May Terminate the Mission

NASA's mission to asteroid 16 Psyche has been delayed. Now a review panel is examining the delay. Credit: Maxar/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA is reviewing its mission to visit the asteroid 16 Psyche. The Administration has convened a 15-member review board to examine the mission and its failure to meet the scheduled 2022 launch. The review began on July 19, and the board will present their findings to NASA and JPL in late September.

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A New Method for Making Graphene has an Awesome Application: A Space Elevator!

Credit: Lux Virtual/Galactic Harbor

The Space Elevator is one of those ideas that seems to have an endless supply of lives. Originally proposed about a century ago, this concept calls for a tether of supermaterial that connects a station in orbit to Earth’s surface. Our planet’s rotation would keep this tether taut, and a system of “climbers” would transport people and payloads to and from space. The engineering challenges and costs associated with such a structure have always been enormous. But every generation or so, new research comes along that causes engineers and space agencies to reevaluate the concept.

The single-greatest challenge has always been the tether since no known material has ever been strong enough to handle the stresses involved. But as it turns out, this issue may finally be resolved! According to scientists with the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC), a cost-effective manufacturing process could produce graphene ribbons that are strong enough to fashion a tether! Their latest findings are detailed in a paper they will present at the upcoming 2022 International Astronomical Congress in Paris.

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Two Spacecraft Could Work Together to Capture an Asteroid and Bring it Close to Earth for Mining

Mining asteroids might be necessary for humanity to expand into the Solar System. A new paper says spacecraft could work in pairs to capture Near Earth Asteroids. Credit: ESA.

Humanity seems destined to expand into the Solar System. What exactly that looks like, and how difficult and tumultuous the endeavour might be, is wide open to speculation. But there are some undeniable facts attached to the prospect.

We need materials to build infrastructure, and getting it all into space from Earth is not realistic. (Be quiet, space elevator people.)

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A Swarm of Swimming Robots to Search for Life Under the Ice on Europa

An artist’s interpretation of liquid water on the surface of the Europa pooling beneath chaos terrain. Credit: : NASA/JPL-Caltech

When Galileo pointed his telescope at Jupiter 400 years ago, he saw three blobs of light around the giant planet, which he at first thought were fixed stars. He kept looking, and eventually, he spotted a fourth blob and noticed the blobs were moving. Galileo’s discovery of objects orbiting something other than Earth—which we call the Galilean moons in his honour—struck a blow to the Ptolemaic (geocentric) worldview of the time.

Galileo couldn’t have foreseen the age of space exploration that we’re living in now. Fast forward 400 years, and here we are. We know the Earth doesn’t occupy any central point. We’ve discovered thousands of other planets, and many of them will have their own moons. Galileo would be amazed at this.

What would he think about robotic missions to explore one of the blobs of light he spotted?

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China is Considering a Nuclear-Powered Mission to Neptune

Artist's impression of what the surface of Triton may look like. Credit: ESO

One look at the Planetary Decadal Survey for 2023 – 2032, and you will see some bold and cutting-edge mission proposals for the coming decade. Examples include a Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP) that would study Uranus’ interior, atmosphere, magnetosphere, satellites, and rings; and an Enceladus orbiter and surface lander to study the active plumes emanating from Enceladus’ southern polar region. Not to be outdone, China is also considering a nuclear-powered Neptune Explorer to explore the ice giant, its largest moon (Triton), and its other satellites and rings.

The mission was the subject of a study conducted by researchers from the China National Space Agency (CNSA), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the China Atomic Energy Authority, the China Academy of Space Technology, and multiple universities and institutes. The paper that describes their findings (published in the journal Scientia Sinica Technologica) was led by Guobin Yu, a researcher with the School of Astronautics at Beihang University and the Department of Science and Technology and Quality at the CNSA.

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A new LEGO Spacecraft to Vote for: China's Long March 5 With the Tianwen-1 That Flew to Mars

A proposed Lego set of the Long March rocket and Tianwen-1. Credit: Lego.

Two Lego designers with a history of space-themed projects have teamed up for a new proposed set: China’s Long March CZ-5 and Tianwen-1 Mission. The set is currently gathering supporters on the LEGO Ideas website. If it gets enough support, LEGO will review it and possibly create it.

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China’s Lunar Lander Finds Water Under its Feet

The area marked by the red line are the scoop sampling points, the blue box identifies the imaging area of the panoramic camera and the base image is from landing camera. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Earlier this year, scientists from China’s Chang’E-5 lunar lander revealed they had found evidence of water in the form of hydroxyl from in-situ measurements taken while lander was on the Moon. Now, they have confirmed the finding with laboratory analysis of the lunar samples from Chang’E-5 that were returned to Earth.  The amount of water detected varied across the randomly chosen samples taken from around the base of the lander, from 0 to 180 parts per million (ppm), mean value of 28.5?ppm, which is on the weak end of lunar hydration.

“For the first time in the world, the results of laboratory analysis of lunar return samples and spectral data from in-situ lunar surface surveys were used jointly to examine the presence, form and amount of ‘water’ in lunar samples,” said co-author Li Chunlai from the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), in a press release. “The results accurately answer the question of the distribution characteristics and source of water in the Chang’E-5 landing zone and provide a ground truth for the interpretation and estimation of water signals in remote sensing survey data.”

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Japan’s Upcoming Mission Will Use a Vacuum to Get its Sample From Phobos

The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission (courtesy: JAXA/NASA).

JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, is carving out a niche for itself in sample-return missions. Their Hayabusa mission was the first mission to sample an asteroid when it brought dust from the asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Then its successor, Hayabusa 2, brought back a sample from asteroid Ryugu in 2020.

Now JAXA has the Martian moon Phobos in its sights and will send a spacecraft to sample it as soon as 2024. The mission is called Martian Moons eXploration (MMX), and it’ll use a pneumatic vacuum device to collect its samples.

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