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.Continue reading “Air-Breathing ion Engines can Continuously Boost Spacecraft Anywhere There’s an Atmosphere”
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.Continue reading “What Happened to those CubeSats that were Launched with Artemis I?”
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.Continue reading “Navigation Satellites fly at 23,000 km Altitude. Europe Wants to Build a Constellation That Flies Much, Much Lower”
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.Continue reading “Falcon Heavy Launches for the First Time in Over Three Years, Carrying Military Satellites to Orbit”
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.Continue reading “The Methane Released From the Damaged Nord Stream Pipeline is Visible From Space”
NASA and NOAA satellites — as well as astronauts on the ISS — captured some stunning imagery of Hurricane Ian, as seen from orbit. Our lead image shows an eerie view of the hurricane’s eye on September 28. The Landsat 8 satellite passed directly over Ian’s eye as the storm approached southwest Florida.Continue reading “Gaze Down Into the eye of Hurricane Ian, Seen From Orbit”
Kessler syndrome seems to be a growing fear for those interested in space exploration. The condition where numerous non-functional pieces of junk block access to orbit appears to be inching closer to reality, spurred on by weekly news reports of dozens of more satellites launching that will eventually become precisely that kind of obsolete space junk. But that won’t happen if the US’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has anything to do with it – a new rule the commission adopted will require companies to deorbit their unused satellites in less than five years after decommissioning.Continue reading “Companies Will Have Five Years to Dispose of Their Dead Satellites”
NASA is planning a mission to demonstrate the ability to repair and upgrade satellites in Earth orbit. The mission, called OSAM-1 (On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing-1), will send a robotic spacecraft equipped with robotic arms and all the tools and equipment needed to fix, refuel or extend satellites’ lifespans, even if those satellites were not designed to be serviced on orbit.Continue reading “NASA is Building a Mission That Will Refuel and Repair Satellites in Orbit”
Collapsing ice shelves on the eastern coast of Antarctica has revealed something never seen before: a landform that might be an island. But this is not the first newly revealed island off the Antarctic coast. A series of islands have appeared as the ice shelves along the continent’s coastline has disintegrated over the past few years.Continue reading “Antarctica Lost an Ice Shelf, but Gained an Island”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to an outpouring of support and material aid from the international community. For his part, Elon Musk obliged Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov‘s request for assistance by sending free Starlink terminals to Ukraine. For some besieged communities, like the city of Mariupol, this service constitutes the only means of getting up-to-date information, communicating with family members, or sharing their stories from the front lines of the war.
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and its Minister of Digital Transformation, thanked Musk on Twitter for the devices. However, there is also the possibility that as the fighting continues, Starlink transmissions could become beacons for Russian airstrikes. John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher with The Citizen Lab (University of Toronto), pointed out this potential danger via Twitter and even recommended strategies for how this can be avoided.Continue reading “Starlink is the Only Communications Link for Some Ukrainian Towns, but the Terminals Could Also be a Target”