A Commercial Satellite Just Docked with Another for the First Time, Opening Up a New Era in Orbital Maintenance

SpaceLogistics LLC has achieved a first: it’s docked it’s maintenance satellite, called MEV-1, with another satellite in order to extend the life of the satellite. The docked pair will perform some check-ups, and if all goes well, MEV-1 will boost the client satellite to a higher orbit, extending its operational life-span by about five years.

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Future Astronauts Could Enjoy Fresh Vegetables From an Autonomous Orbital Greenhouse

If humanity is going to become a spare-faring and interplanetary species, one of the most important things will be the ability of astronauts to see to their needs independently. Relying on regular shipments of supplies from Earth is not only inelegant; it’s also impractical and very expensive. For this reason, scientists are working to create technologies that would allow astronauts to provide for their own food, water, and breathable air.

To this end, a team of researchers from Tomsk Polytechnic University in central Russia – along with scientists from other universities and research institutes in the region – recently developed a prototype for an orbital greenhouse. Known as the Orbital Biological Automatic Module, this device allows plants to be grown and cultivated in space and could be heading to the International Space Station (ISS) in the coming years.

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A New Kind of Rocket that’s Lightweight and Easier to Construct: a Rotating Detonating Engine. Unfortunately, it’s Also Completely Unpredictable

In the current era of space exploration, the name of the game is “cost-effective.” By reducing the costs associated with individual launches, space agencies and private aerospace companies (aka. NewSpace) are ensuring that access to space is greater. And when it comes to the cost of launches, the single-greatest expense is that of propellant. To put it simply, breaking free to Earth’s gravity takes a lot of rocket fuel!

To address this, researchers at the University of Washington recently developed a mathematical model that describes the workings of a new launch mechanism: the rotating detonation engine (RDE). This lightweight design offers greater fuel-efficiency and is less complicated to construct. However, it comes with the rather large trade-off of being too unpredictable to be put into service right now.

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Anti-Solar Cells Could Generate Electricity at Night

It is a foregone conclusion that if humanity intends to survive the so-called “Anthropocene” we need to make the transition away from fossil fuels and other methods that are unsustainable and amplify our impact on the planet. In this respect, a great deal of research and development is being directed towards “renewable energy.” Of the many methods that are being developed, the biggest contender is and always has been solar power.

Unfortunately, solar power suffers from a number of drawbacks, like the fact that it is only available during the day and favorable weather conditions. However, a new study by researchers from the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics (IREAP) shows how a special kind of photovoltaic cell could generate power at night. These “anti-solar” cells could revolutionize renewable energy and make it far more proficient.

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A Cubesat Deployed a De-Orbiting Tether and Now it’s Losing Altitude 24 Times Faster than Before

A company called Tethers Unlimited has deployed its de-orbiting tether in a successful test on the Prox-1 satellite. The satellite is one of four that are carrying the device, called the Terminator Tape. Rather than stay in space for years or decades, and add to the growing problem of space debris, Prox-1 is using its Terminator Tape to slowly lower its orbit.

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LightSail 2 is Still Solar Sailing, But it’s Getting Lower and Lower with Each Orbit

LightSail 2 deployed it solar sail five months ago, and it’s still orbiting Earth. It’s a successful demonstration of the potential of solar sail spacecraft. Now the LightSail 2 team at The Planetary Society has released a paper outlining their findings from the mission so far.

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ESA Astronaut Luca Parmitano will be Controlling a Rover From Space

Update: The Analog-1 experiment was a complete success! Astronaut Parmitano completed all the requirements within the specified time frame (one hour). This test is the first step in validating the teleoperation technology.

NASA has been rather up-front about its desire to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars in the coming years. They are joined by multiple space agencies (such as the ESA, Roscosmos, the CNSA and the IRSO) who also wish to conduct their first crewed missions beyond Earth. However, what is often overlooked is the role teleoperated missions will play in the near-future – where humans and robots explore hand-in-hand.

For example, the ESA has embarked upon a series of experiments collectively named Analog-1, where astronauts control robots from space. Yesterday (Nov. 18th), ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano took control of a robot in the Netherlands from the ISS. This experiment and others like it will help prepare astronauts for future missions that will involve the exploration of hazardous or inaccessible off-world environments.

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This Artificial Leaf Turns Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel

There is no doubt that climate change is a very serious (and worsening) problem. According to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), even if all the industrialized nations of the world became carbon neutral overnight, the problem would continue to get worse. In short, it’s not enough to stop pumping megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere; we also have to start removing what we’ve already put there.

This is where the technique known as carbon capture (or carbon removal) comes into play. Taking their cue from nature, an international team of researchers from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, have created an “artificial leaf” that mimics the carbon-scrubbing abilities of the real thing. But rather than turning atmospheric CO2 into a source of fuel for itself, the leaf converts it into a useful alternative fuel.

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NASA is Testing a Coating to Help Astronauts and Their Equipment Shed Dangerous Lunar Dust

In the coming years, NASA is going back to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. Rather than being a “footprints and flags” operation, Project Artemis is intended to be the first step in creating a sustainable human presence on the Moon. Naturally, this presents a number of challenges, not the least of which has to do with lunar regolith (aka. moondust). For this reason, NASA is investigating strategies for mitigating this threat.

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