If You’re Going to Visit Venus, Why Not Include an Asteroid Flyby Too?

Radar image of Venus created by the Solar System Visualization project and the Magellan science team at the JPL Multimission Image Processing Laboratory. This is a single frame from a video released at the October 29, 1991, JPL news conference. (Credit: NASA/JPL)

A recent study submitted to Acta Astronautica examines the prospect of designing a Venus mission flight plan that would involve visiting a nearby asteroid after performing a gravity assist maneuver at Venus but prior to final contact with the planet. The study was conducted by Vladislav Zubko, who is a researcher and PhD Candidate at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Science (RAS) and has experience studying potential flight plans to various planetary bodies throughout the solar system.

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ESA is Testing How Iron Burns in Weightlessness

ESA tested a process called discrete burning, using iron powder mixed with oxygen while in microgravity. The result is a possible way to create sustainable fuels on Earth and in space. Courtesy ESA.
ESA tested a process called discrete burning, using iron powder mixed with oxygen while in microgravity. The result is a possible way to create sustainable fuels on Earth and in space. Courtesy ESA and photo by TU/e, Bart van Overbeeke

What happens when you burn iron in space? The European Space Agency is torching iron powder in microgravity, to find out. They aren’t doing it for the fun of it, but to understand something called “discrete burning.” It turns out that this process might enable more efficient iron-burning furnaces right here on Earth. It could eventually join other renewable energy sources as a way to combat the release of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

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Here's How You Could Get Impossibly Large Galaxies in the Early Universe

The galaxy cluster SMACS0723, with the five galaxies selected for closer study. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI / Giménez-Arteaga et al. (2023), Peter Laursen (Cosmic Dawn Center).

One of the most interesting (and confounding) discoveries made by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the existence of “impossibly large galaxies.” As noted in a previous article, these galaxies existed during the “Cosmic Dawn,” the period that coincided with the end of the “Cosmic Dark Age” (roughly 1 billion years after the Big Bang). This period is believed to hold the answers to many cosmological mysteries, not the least of which is what the earliest galaxies in the Universe looked like. But after Webb obtained images of these primordial galaxies, astronomers noticed something perplexing.

The galaxies were much larger than what the most widely accepted cosmological model predicts! Since then, astronomers and astrophysicists have been racking their brains to explain how these galaxies could have formed. Recently, a team of astrophysicists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Jerusalem published a theoretical model that addresses the mystery of these massive galaxies. According to their findings, the prevalence of special conditions in these galaxies (at the time) allowed highly-efficient rates of star formation without interference from other stars.

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UFO Panelists Say NASA Needs Better Data — and Help From AI

U.S. Navy video of an anomalous object, known as the GOFAST UFO (highlighted by a red box), includes data about the circumstances of the detection. Experts would like to see a similar level of detail for NASA's information about unidentified anomalous phenomena. (Credit: U.S. Navy)

A panel of independent experts took a first-ever look at what NASA could bring to the study of UFO sightings — now known as unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAPs — and said the space agency will have to up its game.

The 16-member panel’s chair, David Spergel, said he and his colleagues were “struck by the limited nature of the data.”

“Many events had insufficient data,” said Spergel, an astrophysicist who is the president of the Simons Foundation. “In order to get a better understanding, we will need to have high-quality data — data where we understand its provenance, data from multiple sensors.”

During today’s public hearing, panelists said NASA could contribute to the UAP debate by setting standards for sighting data, creating a crowdsourcing platform for sightings, and reducing the stigma that has discouraged people from reporting and studying anomalous sightings. Some of that stigma was experienced by the panelists themselves.

“It’s disheartening to note that several of them have been subjected to online abuse due to their decision to participate on this panel,” said Daniel Evans, NASA’s assistant deputy associate administrator for research, who served as the space agency’s liaison to the panel. “A NASA security team is actively addressing this issue.”

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A New Launch Complex Opens Up in the Ocean

The Spaceport Company's prototype mobile sea platform in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: The Spaceport Company

The commercial space sector (aka. NewSpace) is one of the fastest-growing industries of the 21st century. In the past twenty years, what was once considered an ambitious venture or far-off prospect has become a rapidly-accelerating reality. Today, companies are conducting launches using their own rockets and spacecraft, often from their own facilities, to send everything from satellites and cargo to astronauts (commercial and professional) into space. The growing number of launch providers has also led to a dramatic increase in demand for launch-related services.

This includes retrieval operations designed to provide launch flexibility and safe retrieval. This is the purpose behind The Spaceport Company, a Virginia-based aerospace company dedicated to creating a global network of mobile, sea-based launch and landing site systems. On Monday, May 22nd, the company successfully tested its prototype platform by conducting the first-ever commercial rocket launches from U.S. water. This test demonstrated the potential for mobile sea platforms to ease congestion at on-shore launch facilities and expedite the delivery of payloads to orbit.

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The Kepler Mission’s Final Three Planets?

With the help of citizen scientists, astronomers discovered what may be the last three planets that the Kepler Space Telescope saw before it was retired. This illustration depicts NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which retired in October 2018, and three planets discovered in its final days of data. Image Credit: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft ended its observations in October 2018 after nine and a half years, a solid six years beyond its planned duration. It discovered 2,711 confirmed exoplanets and another 2,056 exoplanet candidates as of August 2022.

Now, astronomers at MIT and the University of Wisconsin uncovered three more exoplanets in the data from Kepler’s final days of observations. They needed the help of dedicated amateurs to do it.

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There's a New Supernova in a Familiar Galaxy. You Can See it in a Small Telescope

A new supernova in M101. Credit: Craig Stocks

The Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as M101, is a spiral galaxy just 21 million light years away. It’s a popular galaxy for photographs because it’s oriented to us face-on. This means you can see the bright whorled spirals and dark cloud regions, even in amateur photographs. Since it’s relatively close and bright, you can get a good view of it, even with a small telescope. It also happens to have a supernova at the moment.

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Robots in orbit are becoming even more popular. There are still many technical challenges ahead.

The robotic Canadarm during STS-72, as Space Shuttle Endeavour mission in 1996. Image: By NASA - https://archive.org/details/STS072-722-041, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29803999

Robots will be one of the keys to the expanding in-space economy. As launch costs decrease, hopefully significantly when Starship and other massive lift systems come online, the most significant barrier to entry for the space economy will finally come down. So what happens then? Two acronyms have been popping up in the literature with increasing frequency – in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM) and On-orbit servicing (OOS). Over a series of articles, we’ll look at some papers detailing what those acronyms mean and where they might be going shortly. First, we’ll examine how robots fit into the equation.

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NASA's Mars Helicopter Went Silent for Six Agonizing Days

The Ingenuity helicopter photographed by the Perseverance rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter on Mars has exceeded everyone’s expectations, recently completing its 51st flight when it was supposed to fly just a few times as a demonstration mission. But flights 50 and 51 almost didn’t happen.

In a recent blog post, Travis Brown, Chief Engineer for Ingenuity shared how the team lost contact with the tiny rotorcraft for six excruciating days.

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