An Alternative Theory of Inertia will Get Tested in Space

On June 10th, 2023, IVO Ltd. will test the first all-electrical thruster in space. Credit: IVO Ltd.

One of the most exciting aspects of the current era of space exploration (Space Age 2.0) is how time-honored ideas are finally being realized. Some of the more well-known examples include retrievable and reusable rockets, retrieval at sea, mid-air retrieval, single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) rockets, and kinetic launch systems. In addition, there are also efforts to develop propulsion systems that do not rely on conventional propellants. This technology offers many advantages, including lower mass and improved energy efficiency, ultimately leading to lower costs.

On June 10th, 2023, an all-electrical propulsion system for satellites (the IVO Quantum Drive) will fly to space for the first time. The system was built by North Dakota-based wireless power company IVO, Ltd., and will serve as a testbed for an alternative theory of inertia that could have applications for propulsion. The engine will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of a dedicated rideshare (Transporter 8) hosted by commercial partner Rogue Space Systems. If the technology is validated, the Quantum Drive could trigger a revolution in commercial space and beyond. And if not, then we can relax knowing that the laws of physics are still the laws of physics!

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Strange Green Lines Above Hawaii was Probably a Chinese Satellite

Every once in a while, the stars (or, in this case, satellites) align, and keen observers can receive an unexpected light show. That happened a few weeks ago at the Subaru telescope in Hawai’i. An eerie green laser seemingly appeared out of nowhere, as captured in a YouTube video uploaded to the telescope channel. Luckily, their source was no more ominous than a passing satellite, and with its video posted publicly, now everyone could enjoy the light show.

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Are There Better Ways to Communicate with Mars?

Mars is a long way from Earth, making it challenging to communicate with. That difficult communication is becoming ever more important as we launch more and more craft to the Red Planet. It will become absolutely critical when we send actual people there. So what can be done to increase the speed of communications between our solar system’s blue and red planets? A paper from researchers primarily based in Spain looks at different networking topologies that could help solve some of the communication problems. 

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Hubble’s Orbit Has Dropped So Far that Starlink Satellites are Photobombing its Images

This composite shows some of the satellite trails polluting Hubble Space Telescope images. Image Credit: Kruk et al. 2023.

Astronomy is poised for another leap. In the next several years, major ground-based telescopes will come online, including the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT,) the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT,) the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT,) and the Vera Rubin Observatory. The combined power of these telescopes will help drive discovery in the next couple of decades.

But something threatens to undermine astronomical observing in the coming years: Starlink and other internet satellite constellations.

Now a group of astronomers have shown that even the Hubble can’t escape the satellite problem.

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A Russian Satellite Has Broken Into Pieces, Littering Debris in Space

Space junk orbiting around earth - Conceptual of pollution around our planet (Texture map for 3d furnished by NASA - http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/)

A Russian KOSMOS 2499 satellite broke up last month — for a second time — according to the Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron. In a recent tweet, the Space Force said they are currently tracking 85 individual pieces of debris at an altitude of 1,169 km (726 miles). The breakup occurred on January 4, 2023, but the reason for the disintegration remains unknown.

At this high altitude, it will take decades for the debris to deorbit and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, and presence of this debris in an increasingly busy region in Earth orbit.

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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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