Testing a Probe that Could Drill into an Ice World

SLUSH prototype probe set up over an ice tower. Bottom left: Top view of 1.4 m borehole created by the SLUSH prototype probe. Middle: Dolphin Probe being tested inside an ice tower. Right: Salmon Probe being tested on top of Devon Island Ice Cap.

I remember reading about an audacious mission to endeavour to drill through the surface ice of Europa, drop in a submersible and explore the depths below. Now that concept may be taking a step closer to reality with researchers working on technology to do just that. Worlds like Europa are high on the list for exploration due to their potential to harbour life. If technology like the SLUSH probe (Search for Life Using Submersible Head) work then we are well on the way to realising that dream. 

Continue reading “Testing a Probe that Could Drill into an Ice World”

Astroscale’s Satellite is Now Chasing Down a Real Piece of Space Debris

ADRAS-J Launch. Credit: Astroscale Japan, Inc.

Space debris is a thing.. It seems whether we explore the Earth or space we leave rubbish in our wake. Thankfully, organisations like Astroscale are trying to combat the problem of debris in space with a new commercial debris inspection demonstration satellite. Named ADRAS-J, the satellite – which is now in orbit – is hunting down an old Japanese upper stage rocket body which was launched in 2009.  It will approach to within 30 metres to study the module from every angle and work out how it can be safely de-orbited by a future mission. 

Continue reading “Astroscale’s Satellite is Now Chasing Down a Real Piece of Space Debris”

Japan’s SLIM Lander Finds Power Even Though It’s Face Down

Photo of the SLIM lander on the surface of the Moon - showing it tipped onto its side.
Photo of SLIM Lander

The Moon is a bit of a hot bed for exploration of late.  The Japanese agency JAXA have been getting in on the act but their SLIM lander fell on its side with its solar panels pointing toward the ground. Until today, JAXA thought that was it but today it seems that they have managed to re-established contact again.

Continue reading “Japan’s SLIM Lander Finds Power Even Though It’s Face Down”

Plants Growing in Space are at Risk from Bacterial Infections

Graduate student Noah Totsline works in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources lab of Harsh Bais on a NASA-sponsored project looking at how plants grown in space are more prone to infections of Salmonella compared to plants not grown in space or grown under gravity simulations. The microgravity environment of space can be simulated in the lab by rotating the plants at a precise speed that causes the plants to react as if they were in a constant state of free-fall.

I have spent the last few years thinking, perhaps assuming that astronauts live off dried food, prepackaged and sent from Earth. There certainly is an element of that but travellers to the International Space Station have over recent years been able to feast on fresh salad grown in special units on board. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that pathogenic bacteria and fungi can contaminate the ‘greens’ even in space.

Continue reading “Plants Growing in Space are at Risk from Bacterial Infections”

Chinese Firm Successfully Tests a New Reusable Booster

The sight of a Falcon-9 rocket landing in an upright orientation is not an unusual sight. It seems that the Chinese aerospace firm LandSpace is getting in on the act with their new Zhuque-3 (I don’t even know how to pronounce that) reusable methane rocket. The prototype booster took off, reached a height of 350 metres and landed 60 seconds later about 100 metres away on a landing pad. LandSpace have revealed this test showcases key technologies that will be used for their upcoming reusable rocket.

Continue reading “Chinese Firm Successfully Tests a New Reusable Booster”

Private Axiom Mission 3 is Off to the Space Station

Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3), the third all private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, lifted off at 4:49pm EST on Thursday Jan 18 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA

A few decades ago, the idea of private individuals travelling to the International Space Station was as much science fiction as a time travelling police box.  Yet here we are, in 2024 and a crew of four private astronauts are on board the ISS. The team will spend about two weeks undertaking various experiments, commercial activities and outreach tasks. 

Continue reading “Private Axiom Mission 3 is Off to the Space Station”

Future Mars Helicopters Could Explore Lava Tubes

The circular black features in this 2007 figure are caves formed by the collapse of lava tubes on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/USGS

The exploration of Mars continues, with many nations sending robotic missions to search for evidence of past life and learn more about the evolution of the planet’s geology and climate. As of the penning of the article, there are ten missions exploring the Red Planet, a combination of orbiters, landers, rovers, and one helicopter (Ingenuity). Looking to the future, NASA and other space agencies are eyeing concepts that will allow them to explore farther into the Red Planet, including previously inaccessible places. In particular, there is considerable interest in exploring the stable lava tubes that run beneath the Martian surface.

These tubes may be a treasure trove of scientific discoveries, containing water ice, organic molecules, and maybe even life! Even crewed mission proposals recommend establishing habitats within these tubes, where astronauts would be sheltered from radiation, dust storms, and the extreme conditions on the surface. In a recent study from the University Politehnica Bucuresti (UPB), a team of engineers described how an autonomous Martian Inspection Drone (MID) inspired by the Inginuity helicopter could locate, enter, and study these lava tubes in detail.

Continue reading “Future Mars Helicopters Could Explore Lava Tubes”

Spending Time in Space? Maximize Your Health with this Space Salad

This salad made up of soybeans, poppy seeds, barley, kale, peanuts, sweet potato and sunflower seeds could be the optimal meal for men on long-term space missions.

Space exploration carries with it many challengs and one of them is eating, or more accurately the provision of food. During short duration missions then its reasonable to take pre-packaged meals that have been provided from Earth. For long germ missions its a different story, not only will the fearless space explorers crave fresh food its also more of a logistical challenge to take enough food for a trip spanning many years. Researchers have now developed a healthy ‘space salad’ from ingredeints that could be grown in space.

Continue reading “Spending Time in Space? Maximize Your Health with this Space Salad”

Communicating With a Relativistic Spacecraft Gets Pretty Weird

Artistic rendition of an interstellar spacecraft traveling near the speed of light. Credit: Made with ChatGPT

Someday, in the not-too-distant future, humans may send robotic probes to explore nearby star systems. These robot explorers will likely take the form of lightsails and wafercraft (a la Breakthrough Starshot) that will rely on directed energy (lasers) to accelerate to relativistic speeds – aka. a fraction of the speed of light. With that kind of velocity, lightsails and wafercraft could make the journey across interstellar space in a matter of decades instead of centuries (or longer!) Given time, these missions could serve as pathfinders for more ambitious exploration programs involving astronauts.

Of course, any talk of interstellar travel must consider the massive technical challenges this entails. In a recent paper, a team of engineers and astrophysicists considered the effects that relativistic space travel will have on communications. Their results showed that during the cruise phase of the mission (where a spacecraft is traveling close to the speed of light), communications become problematic for one-way and two-way transmissions. This will pose significant challenges for crewed missions but will leave robotic missions largely unaffected.

Continue reading “Communicating With a Relativistic Spacecraft Gets Pretty Weird”

Simulating How Moon Landings Will Kick Up Dust

A look at the Apollo 12 landing site. Astronaut Alan Bean is shown, working near the Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly (MESA) on the Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM) during the mission's first extravehicular activity, (EVA) on Nov. 19, 1969. Credit: NASA.

When spacecraft land on the Moon, their exhaust strikes the powdery regolith on the lunar surface. The Moon has low gravity and no atmosphere, so the dust is thrown up in a huge plume. The dust cloud could possibly interfere with the navigation and science instruments or cause visual obstructions. Additionally, the dust could even be propelled into orbit, risking other spacecraft nearby.

In working to better understand the impact future landers might have on the lunar surface, NASA has developed a new supercomputer simulation. They used it to predict how Apollo 12’s lunar lander exhaust would interact with regolith, then compared this to the actual results of the landing.

Continue reading “Simulating How Moon Landings Will Kick Up Dust”