Warp Drives Could Generate Gravitational Waves

This artist's illustration shows a spacecraft using an Alcubierre Warp Drive to warp space and 'travel' faster than light. Image Credit: NASA

Will future humans use warp drives to explore the cosmos? We’re in no position to eliminate the possibility. But if our distant descendants ever do, it won’t involve dilithium crystals, and Scottish accents will have evaporated into history by then.

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Japanese Billionaire Calls Off His Starship Trip Around the Moon

Illustration: Starship flying over the moon
An artist's conception shows SpaceX's Starship flying over the moon. (Illustration via DearMoon)

Six years after he announced a grand plan to fly around the moon with a crew of artists in SpaceX’s Starship rocket, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa said he was canceling the project due to delays in Starship’s development.

In a series of postings to the X social-media platform, Maezawa said he signed his contract with SpaceX “based on the assumption that dearMoon would launch by the end of 2023.”

“It’s a developmental project, so it is what it is, but it is still uncertain as to when Starship can launch,” he wrote. “I can’t plan my future in this situation, and I feel terrible making the crew members wait longer, hence the difficult decision to cancel at this point in time. I apologize to those who were excited for this project to happen.”

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How Knot Theory Can Help Spacecraft Can Change Orbits Without Using Fuel

These diagrams show a set of possible routes a spacecraft could take between different regions near to the Moon. Image via a new paper by Danny Owen and Nicola Baresi.

When a spacecraft arrives at its destination, it settles into an orbit for science operations. But after the primary mission is complete, there might be other interesting orbits where scientists would like to explore. Maneuvering to a different orbit requires fuel, limiting a spacecraft’s number of maneuvers.

Researchers have discovered that some orbital paths allow for no-fuel orbital changes. But the figuring out these paths also are computationally expensive. Knot theory has been shown to find these pathways more easily, allowing the most fuel-efficient routes to be plotted. This is similar to how our GPS mapping software plots the most efficient routes for us here on Earth.

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NASA’s Next Solar Sail is About to Go to Space

NASA is about to launch and test a new solar sail. Called the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System, it could advance future space travel and expand our understanding of our Sun and Solar System. Credits: NASA’s Ames Research Center

Everyone knows that solar energy is free and almost limitless here on Earth. The same is true for spacecraft operating in the inner Solar System. But in space, the Sun can do more than provide electrical energy; it also emits an unending stream of solar wind.

Solar sails can harness that wind and provide propulsion for spacecraft. NASA is about to test a new solar sail design that can make solar sails even more effective.

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NASA is Done Setting Fires Inside its Doomed Cargo Spacecraft

NASA's Saffire program is a series of experiments designed to understand how fire behaves in a spacecraft. In this image, a sample of fabric burns inside an uncrewed Cygnus cargo craft during a previous Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment investigation, Saffire-IV. Image Credit: NASA

Fire on a spacecraft can be catastrophic. It can spread quickly in a confined space, and for trapped astronauts, there may be no escape. It’s fading in time now, but Apollo 1, which was to be the first crewed Apollo mission, never got off the ground because of a fire that killed the crew. There’ve been other dangerous spacecraft fires too, like the one onboard the Russian Mir space station in 1997.

In an effort to understand how fire behaves in spacecraft, NASA began its Saffire (Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment) in 2016. Saffire was an eight-year, six-mission effort to study how fire behaves in space. The final Saffire test was completed on January 9th.

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Space Force Chooses its First “Guardian” to go to Space

U.S. Space Force Col. Nick Hague will serve as the pilot on NASA’s Space X Crew-9 mission aboard the Dragon spacecraft that will take him and his crewmates to the International Space Station. Credit: U.S. Space Force.

Although the U.S. Space Force is tasked with military operations in regards to space, they’ve never actually sent one of their own into orbit. This week, the agency announced that Col. Nick Hague will launch to the International Space Station in August 2024 to pilot the Crew-9 mission, as part of SpaceX’s ninth crew rotation to the ISS for NASA. He’ll join two NASA astronauts and a cosmonaut on the trip to space and then work as a flight engineer, spending six months on the station doing research and operations activities.

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How Could Laser-Driven Lightsails Remain Stable?

Project Starshot, an initiative sponsored by the Breakthrough Foundation, is intended to be humanity's first interstellar voyage. Credit: breakthroughinitiatives.org

It’s a long way to the nearest star, which means conventional rockets won’t get us there. The fuel requirements would make our ship prohibitively heavy. So an alternative is to travel light. Literally. Rather than carrying your fuel with you, simply attach your tiny starship to a large reflective sail, and shine a powerful laser at it. The impulse of photons would push the starship to a fraction of light speed. Riding a beam of light, a lightsail mission could reach Proxima Centauri in a couple of decades. But while the idea is simple, the engineering challenges are significant, because, across decades and light-years, even the smallest problem can be difficult to solve.

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Iran Sent a Capsule Capable of Holding Animals into Orbit.

Image of the launch of the Salaman rocket by the Iranian Space Agency
Image of the launch of the Salaman rocket by the Iranian Space Agency

Despite popular opinion, the first animals in space were not dogs or chimps, they were fruit flies launched by the United States in February 1947. The Soviet Union launched Laika, the first dog into space in November 1957 and now, it seems Iran is getting in on the act. A 500kg capsule known as the “indigenous bio-capsule” with life support capability was recently launched atop the Iranian “Salman” rocket. It has been reported by some agencies that there were animals on board but no official statement has been released.

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Astronauts Could Wear a Device to Prevent Disorientation in Space

Image of the multi-axis rotation device (MARS) used for this study, which participants used to remain balanced for an Earth analog in the vertical roll plane (left) and a spaceflight analog in the horizontal roll plane (right). (Credit: Vimal et al. (2023))

A recent study published in Frontiers in Physiology examines how vibrating wearable devices, known as vibrotactors, can be used to help astronauts cope with spatial disorientation when in space, which results from the lack of gravitational cues, or natural sensory perceptions, they are accustomed to using when on Earth and despite the rigorous training the astronauts undergo to combat the symptoms of spatial disorientation. This study was conducted by a team of researchers at Brandeis University and holds the potential to help develop more efficient methods to combat spatial disorientation, especially with long-term missions to the Moon, and even Mars.

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We Don't Know Enough About the Biomedical Challenges of Deep Space Exploration

Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. Credit: NASA
Artist's impression of astronauts on the lunar surface, as part of the Artemis Program. Credit: NASA

Although humans have flown to space for decades, the missions have primarily been in low-Earth orbit, with just a handful of journeys to the Moon. Future missions with the upcoming Artemis program aim to have humans living and working on the Moon, with the hopes of one day sending humans to Mars.

However, the environments of the Moon and deep space present additional health challenges to astronauts over low-Earth orbit (LEO), such as higher radiation, long-term exposure to reduced gravity and additional acceleration and deceleration forces. A new paper looks at the future of biomedicine in space, with a sobering takeaway: We currently don’t know enough about the biomedical challenges of exploring deep space to have an adequate plan to ensure astronaut health and safety for the Artemis program.

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