Could Space-based Satellites Power Remote Mines?

Many space-based technologies are still looking for their “killer app” – the thing that they do better than anything else and makes them indispensable to whoever needs to have that app to solve a problem. At this point in the development of humanity, most of those killer apps will involve solving a problem back on Earth. Space-based solar power satellites are certainly one of those technologies. 

They have the potential to fundamentally transform the energy industry here on Earth. But they need that one “killer app” to get people interested in investing in them. A study from a group of researchers at the Colorado School of Mines looked at one potential use case – powering remote mining sites that aren’t connected to any electric grid. Unfortunately, even at those extremes, solar power satellites aren’t yet economical enough to warrant the investment.

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NOAA’s New Weather Satellite is Operational, and its Pictures of Earth are Gorgeous

Polar-orbiting satellites capture swaths of data throughout the globe, and observe the entire planet twice each day. The global mosaic, captured by the VIIRS instrument on the recently launched NOAA-21 satellite, is a composite image created from these swaths. Image Credit: NOAA STAR VIIRS Imagery Team.

You’d have to be in some kind of sense-of-wonder-repressed coma not to appreciate satellite images of Earth. If you are, then images from the NOAA’s newest satellite might pull you out of it.

And they’re only a taste of the fascinating images that it will provide.

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Ground Telescopes can Adapt to Satellite Megaconstellations if They get Accurate Telemetry Data

starlink satellite streaks
An image of the NGC 5353/4 galaxy group made with a telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, USA on the night of Saturday 25 May 2019. The diagonal lines running across the image are trails of reflected light left part of a Starlink satellite constellation.

The growing population of communication satellites such as Starlink and OneWeb is posing challenges for Earth-based astronomy facilities. Since such constellations will not be going away soon, astronomers want to find ways to work around the issue.

It’s not going to be easy, considering that thousands and thousands of low-Earth satellites (LEOsats) could potentially be placed in low-Earth orbit in the next few years. So, what are the solutions?

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With a Small Network of Satellites Around Mars, Rovers Could Navigate Autonomously

small satellites at Mars
An artist's concept for a smallsat constellation around Mars for polar exploration. Courtesy Serena Molli.

When it comes to “on the ground” exploration of Mars, rovers make pretty good advance scouts. From Pathfinder to Perseverance, we’ve watched as these semi-autonomous robots do what human explorers want to do in the future. Now, engineers are studying ways to expand rover exploration on Mars. One thing they’re thinking about: communication satellite constellations for Mars surface navigation.

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BlueWalker 3 is a Cellphone Tower in Space and One of the Brightest Objects Ever Launched. Astronomers Aren’t Happy.

BlueWalker 3
Trails in the night sky left by BlueWalker 3 are juxtaposed against the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, a Program of NSF's NOIRLab. The lights from Tucson, Arizona, are seen in the background.

It seems our nighttime skies are hosting another new communications network. In recent years, we’ve seen Starlink trains of satellites moving against the backdrop of stars, and more OneWeb satellites will soon be heading to orbit. Now, it’s BlueWalker 3, a prototype test satellite for a new communications constellation aimed at cell phones. Think of it as the first of many “cell towers in space” providing communications access for people around the globe.

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Air-Breathing ion Engines can Continuously Boost Spacecraft Anywhere There’s an Atmosphere

Staying in orbit can be challenging, at least for lower orbits that are more affected by Earth’s atmosphere. But, such orbits also come with advantages, such as better vantage points for new commercial operations such as Earth Observation and telecommunications connections. So there is an incentive for anyone who can figure out how to functionally keep a satellite in orbit at those lower altitudes for long periods. One of the best paths toward that goal seems to be an ion engine that takes in atmospheric particles and uses them for thrust. Now, a recently released paper explores potential use cases for such an engine and suggests a path toward their commercialization.

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What Happened to those CubeSats that were Launched with Artemis I?

A portion of the far side of the Moon looms large just beyond the Orion spacecraft in this image taken on the sixth day of the Artemis I mission by a camera on the tip of one of Orion s solar arrays. Credit: NASA.

NASA made history on November 16th when the Artemis I mission took off from Launch Complex 39B at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on its way to the Moon. This uncrewed mission is testing the capabilities of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft in preparation for the long-awaited return to the Moon in 2025 (the Artemis III mission). Rather than astronauts, this mission carries a group of mannequins with sensors and has a primary payload consisting of the Callisto technology demonstrator (a human-machine video interface system).

As a secondary payload, Artemis I also brought ten 6U CubeSats beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), three of which were NASA missions designed to perform experiments. The rest were built by partner space agencies, commercial space entities, research institutes, and universities to carry out a variety of unique deep-space science experiments. While all these satellites managed to deploy successfully, six have not made contact with controllers on the ground or since experienced problems, and their whereabouts remain unknown.

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Navigation Satellites fly at 23,000 km Altitude. Europe Wants to Build a Constellation That Flies Much, Much Lower

Distances to different orbits can be hard to understand. For example, the ISS sits around 400 kilometers from Earth, whereas some satellites, such as Starlink, orbit at about 550 km. Often that is intentional, as objects in those orbits will eventually degrade their orbit and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. However, many systems orbit a few orders of magnitude higher – such as the Galileo satellites that make up the backbone of the European Union’s satellite navigation network. At an orbit of around 23000 km, it has some advantages over lower-hanging satellites but also plenty of disadvantages too. Now, the EU was to eliminate some of those disadvantages by releasing a whole new set of lower-orbiting satnav satellites.

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Falcon Heavy Launches for the First Time in Over Three Years, Carrying Military Satellites to Orbit

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches on November 1, 2022 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, sending satellites to orbit for the military. Credit: SpaceX/Space Force

SpaceX launched its gigantic Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time in more than three years, sending satellites for the military to orbit. The rocket took off amid heavy fog at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, November 1, and a few minutes later two booster segments returned to Earth, sticking the side-by-side landings back at Cape Canaveral.

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The Methane Released From the Damaged Nord Stream Pipeline is Visible From Space

On September 20, 2022 a GHGSat satellite observed the area of the Nordstream pipeline break, and saw an estimated emission rate of methane of 79,000 kg per hour – making it the largest methane leak ever detected by GHGSat from a single point-source. Credit: GHGSat and ESA.

On September 26, 2022, leaks were discovered in the underwater Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, located near Denmark and Sweden. Both pipelines are owned by Russia and were built to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. Officials have said the leaks were caused by deliberate action, not accidents, and were likely intentional sabotage. While accusations have abounded, the motives behind the damage are not yet known.

Seismic disturbances in the Baltic Sea were detected, and officials said that while neither pipeline was transporting gas at the time of the blasts, they still contained pressurized methane, which is the main component of natural gas. The methane has now spewed out, producing a wide stream of bubbles on the sea surface which are visible from various satellites in Earth orbit.

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