A Mission to Reach the Solar Gravitational Lens in 30 Years

NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts is famous for supporting outlandish ideas in the astronomy and space exploration fields. Since being re-established in 2011, the institute has supported a wide variety of projects as part of its three-phase program. However, so far, only three projects have gone on to receive Phase III funding. And one of those just released a white paper describing a mission to get a telescope that could effectively see biosignatures on nearby exoplanets by utilizing the gravitational lens of our own Sun.

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Finally, a Practical use for Space-Based Power Beaming. Sending Power to Satellites in Shade

Power beaming is one of those technologies that can completely change the world.  Almost unlimited power wherever it is needed, whenever it’s needed, is literally a technology straight out of science fiction.  Researchers have been working on the technology for decades at this point, but there has been little commercial headway so far, so what is holding this revolutionary technology up?  A “killer app” would certainly help move it along – and that is what a team from Space Power, a private company, and the University of Surrey think they have found in the form of powering other microsatellites.

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Company Tests Iodine Thruster in Space for the First Time

Ion thrusters have played second fiddle to chemical rockets for most of the history of space exploration.  Part of that is because of their inability to launch payloads into orbit.  But in space, their high thrust-to-weight ratio has plenty of appeal.  Other features have held the technology back, including the difficulty of working with the thruster’s fuel source – xenon.  Now, a team of engineers and scientists from ThrustMe, a French start-up that focuses on developing advanced propulsions systems, have developed an ion thruster that works on an entirely new and much easier to use material – iodine.

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Artemis 1 is Launching in February

It’s been a long time coming, but NASA’s next moon rocket is just months from liftoff on its first uncrewed test flight. The Space Launch System (SLS) is a super heavy-lift vehicle capable of delivering 95 tons to Low Earth Orbit, but its primary purpose will be to deliver humans to lunar orbit and, eventually, to the lunar surface. SLS has been in development since 2011, and it’s faced a series of delays, but launch day is finally within sight. Earlier this month, the rocket was fully stacked for the first time in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, and the Orion capsule (the spacecraft’s crew cabin) was attached to the top. The full stack stands an impressive 322 feet tall, just shy of the Saturn V’s 363 feet.

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IBM Space Tech Wants to “Democratize Space” with ENDURANCE.

Three small CubeSats are deployed from the International Space Station on October 4, 2012. Credit: NASA

Between the rise of the commercial space industry and the proliferation of agencies and programs, it is clear that we live in a new space age. A cornerstone of this new age is how reusable rockets, small satellite technology, and other advances are reducing the cost of launching payloads to orbit. This, in turn, increases access to space and allows more people and organizations to participate in lucrative research.

In January of 2020, IBM chose to build on its many years of working with the space sector by launching its own commercial space venture known as IBM Space Tech. In early 2022, IBM Space Tech will be launching its first CubeSat space mission, named ENDURANCE, to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). By leveraging IBM/Red Hat software and the IBM Cloud, this CubeSat will give students all over the world access to space!

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NASA has Chosen 4 new Pioneer Missions: Aspera, Pandora, StarBurst, and PEUO

Budget constraints are a major consideration for every space program throughout the world.  Lately, NASA has taken a particularly bold approach, by not only innovating through novel ideas that could do great science, but innovating with the way they fund those missions.  A good example of this innovation is the Astrophysics Pioneers program, which is a NASA fund program targeted at early- to mid-career researchers.  The interesting thing about the program is that the overall budget for each project is capped at $20 million.  Now, the program has selected its first four projects to move ahead to its second stage.

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Virgin Orbit Successfully Launches a Batch of Satellites From an Airplane

Credit: Virgin Orbit

On Sunday, January 17th, Virgin Orbit conducted the second launch test of its LauncherOne rocket, which the company will use to deploy small satellites to orbit in the coming years. The mission (Launch Demo 2) went smoothly and validated the company’s delivery system, which consists of the rocket air launching from a repurposed 747-400 (named Cosmic Girl).

It also involved the successful deployment of 10 CubeSats which were selected by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI). The event began when Cosmic Girl took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port at approximately 10:50 A.M. PST (01:50 P.M. EST) and flew to a location about 80 km (50 mi) south of the Channel Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

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Tiny Cubesat Detects an Exoplanet

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the past decade and a half, a total of 4,164 thousand planets have been discovered beyond our Solar System, while another 5220 await confirmation. The majority of these were detected by the venerable Kepler Space Telescope, while the remainder have been observed by the Transitting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and a combination of other satellites and ground-based telescopes.

But in what is a new record, a known super-Earth was recently observed by the Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics (ASTERIA) small satellite – making it the smallest observatory to spot an exoplanet. Led by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), this mission has demonstrated that small satellites can perform complex tasks in space normally carried out by large observatories.

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

LightSail 2 captured this image on 25 November 2019. The top end of Australia’s Northern Territory is in the center of the image. North is approximately at the bottom of the image. The city of Darwin is beneath the clouds near the tip of the sail’s middle boom. The island of New Guinea can be seen to the left. A lens flare also appears in the left part of the image. The sail appears curved due to the spacecraft's 185-degree fisheye camera lens. The image has been color corrected and some of the distortion has been removed. Image Credit: The Planetary Society

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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NASA Tests Water Powered Spacecraft in Orbit

Two cubesats communicated and then maneuvered towards one another in a recent technology demonstration. Image Credit: NASA

Picture two tissue box-sized spacecraft orbiting Earth.

Then picture them communicating, and using a water-powered thruster to approach each other. If you can do that, then you’re up to speed on one of the activities of NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP.) It’s all part of NASA’s effort to develop small spacecraft to serve their space exploration, science, space operations, and aeronautics endeavors.

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