Material science is still the unsung hero of space exploration. Rockets are flashier, and control systems more precise, but they are useless without materials that withstand the immense temperatures of forces required to get people and things off the planet. Now a team from MT Aerospace, working on a grant from ESA, has developed a new type of material that will be immensely useful in one of the most important parts of any rocket engine – the fuel tanks.Continue reading “Lightweight Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic Fuel Tanks Pass a Critical Test, and Could Knock a lot of Weight off a Rocket’s dry Mass”
Ever since 1971, when the Mariner 9 probe surveyed the surface of Mars, scientists have theorized that there might be subsurface ice beneath the southern polar ice cap on Mars. In 2004, the ESA’s Mars Express orbiter further confirmed this theory when its Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument detected what looked like water ice at a depth of 3.7 km (2.3 mi) beneath the surface.
These findings were very encouraging since they indicated that there could still be sources of liquid water on Mars where life could survive. Unfortunately, after reviewing the MARSIS data, a team of researchers led from Arizona State University (ASU) has proposed an alternative explanation. As they indicated in a recent study, the radar reflections could be the result of clays, metal-bearing minerals, or saline ice beneath the surface.Continue reading “Unfortunately, There are Other Viable Explanations for the Subsurface Lakes on Mars”
For decades, scientists engaged in the search for life in the Universe (aka. astrobiology) have focused on searching for life on other Earth-like planets. These included terrestrial (aka. rocky) planets beyond our Solar System (extrasolar planets) and ones here at home. Beyond Earth, Mars is considered to be the most habitable planet next to Earth, and scientists have also theorized that life could exist (in microbial form) in the cloud tops of Venus.
In all cases, a major focal point is whether or not planets have large bodies of water on their surfaces (or did in the past). However, a new study led by a research team from the UK and German (with support from NASA) has shown that the existence of life may have less to do with the quantity of water and more to with the presence of atmospheric water molecules. As a result, we may have better luck finding life on Jupiter’s turbulent cloud deck than Venus’.Continue reading “Bad News, Life Probably can’t Exist on Venus. Good News, it Could be in Jupiter’s Clouds”
It’s an exciting time to be a Venus watcher. Our sister planet, which has been the target of only one mission since the 1980s, is now the focus of not one, not two, but three missions from NASA and ESA. Combined, they promise to give the closest look ever at the Morning Star, and some of the processes that might have made such a similar world so different from our own.Continue reading “ESA is Joining NASA With Their own Mission to Venus”
Between now and the end of this decade, multiple space agencies plan to send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. But whereas Apollo was a “footprints and flags” affair, the current proposals for lunar exploration call for the creation of infrastructure that allow for a sustained human presence there. In addition to NASA’s Artemis Program, the ESA is also working on a plan to create an “International Moon Village.”
For years, the ESA has released teasers as to what this “successor to the International Space Station” (ISS) might look like, the latest of which is on display at the La Biennale di Venezia museum in Venice. As part of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) showcased their design (with technical support from the ESA) for a semi-inflatable lunar habitat that could facilitate long-term lunar settlement.Continue reading “Conceptual Design for a Lunar Habitat”
In 1915, Einstein put the finishing touches on his Theory of General Relativity (GR), a revolutionary new hypothesis that described gravity as a geometric property of space and time. This theory remains the accepted description of gravitation in modern physics and predicts that massive objects (like galaxies and galaxy clusters) bend the very fabric of spacetime.
As result, massive objects (like galaxies and galaxy clusters) can act as a lens that will deflect and magnify light coming from more distant objects. This effect is known as “gravitational lensing,” and can result in all kinds of visual phenomena – not the least of which is known as an “Einstein Cross.” Using data from the ESA’s Gaia Observatory, a team of researchers announced the discovery of 12 new Einstein Crosses.Continue reading “Gaia Finds 12 Examples of Einstein Crosses; Galaxies Being Gravitationally Lensed so we see Them Repeated 4 Times”
Glaciologists have been closely monitoring ice shelves in Antarctica for signs of cracks and chasms that indicate breakups. The loss of ice around the Earth’s polar regions is one of many consequences of climate change, which is leading to rising ocean levels and various feedback mechanisms. Recently, the ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite witnessed a giant iceberg breaking off from Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf on February 26th.
The Copernicus Sentinel mission consists of two polar-orbiting satellites that rely on C-band synthetic aperture radar imaging to conduct Earth observations in all weather conditions. In recent years, it has been monitoring the Brunt Ice Shelf for signs of cracks and chasms. According to the images it recently captured, an iceberg larger than New York City broke free and began floating out to sea.Continue reading “Another Big Iceberg Just Broke off from Antarctica”
A little over a week ago (February 18th, 2021), NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on the surface of Mars. In what was truly a media circus, people from all over the world tuned to watch the live coverage of the rover landing. When Perseverance touched down, it wasn’t just the mission controllers at NASA who triumphantly jumped to their feet to cheer and applaud.
In the days that followed, the world was treated to all kinds of media that showed the surface of Mars and the descent. The most recent comes from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which is part of the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars program. From its vantage point, high above the Martian skies, the TGO caught sight of Perseverance in the Jezero crater and acquired images that show the rover and other elements of its landing vehicle.Continue reading “Perseverance Seen From Space by ESA’s ExoMars Orbiter”
If the Roman Empire had been able to launch a satellite in a relatively high Low Earth Orbit – say about 1,200 km (750 miles) in altitude – only now would that satellite be close to falling back to Earth. And if the dinosaurs had launched a satellite into the furthest geostationary orbit – 36,000 km (23,000 miles) or higher — it might still be up there today.Continue reading “How Long Will Space Junk Take to Burn Up? Here’s a Handy Chart”
A deep-space mission is about to pull a ‘vanishing act,’ through mid-February, as the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter (affectionately known as ‘SolO’ to mission controllers) makes a crucial pass behind the Sun.Continue reading “ESA’s Solar Orbiter ‘Hides’ Behind the Sun”