What Are Some Clues to the Climates of Exoplanets?

In the past few decades, the number of planets discovered beyond our Solar System has grown exponentially. To date, a total of 4,158 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,081 systems, with an additional 5,144 candidates awaiting confirmation. Thanks to the abundance of discoveries, astronomers have been transitioning in recent years from the process of discovery to the process of characterization.

In particular, astronomers are developing tools to assess which of these planets could harbor life. Recently, a team of astronomers from the Carl Sagan Institute (CSI) at Cornell University designed an environmental “decoder” based on the color of exoplanet surfaces and their hosts stars. In the future, this tool could be used by astronomers to determine which exoplanets are potentially-habitable and worthy of follow-up studies.

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How Will we Receive Signals From Interstellar Probes, Like Starshot?

In a few decades, the Breakthrough Starshot initiative hopes to send a sailcraft to the neighboring system of Alpha Centauri. Using a lightsail and a directed energy (aka. laser) array, a tiny spacecraft could be accelerated to 20% the speed of light (0.2 c). This would allow Starshot to make the journey to Alpha Centauri and study any exoplanets there in just 20 years, thus fulfilling the dream of interstellar exploration within our lifetimes.

Naturally, this plan presents a number of engineering and logistical challenges, one of which involves the transmission of data back to Earth. In a recent study, Starshot Systems Director Dr. Kevin L.G. Parkin analyzes the possibility of using a laser to transmit data back to Earth. This method, argued Parkin, is the most effective way for humanity to get a glimpse of what lies beyond our Solar System.

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Spot SpaceX’s Crew Dragon After This Weekend’s Historic Launch

Crew Dragon

How to see SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo Two mission in orbit.

Update: As you probably know by now, yesterday’s Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch was scrubbed due to weather violations. This is a tough one, as seas need to be relatively calm along the entire Atlantic launch track, in the event of an abort. The next launch is set for Saturday, May 30th at 3:22 AM EDT/20:33 UT, with a backup launch date of Sunday, May 31st at 3:00 AM EDT/20:00 UT. As it stands, weather prospects for both dates are currently at a 60% chance for launch violation. The weather prospects and sighting graphics in this article are updated to reflect the new launch dates, and of course, we’ll be tracking changes on Twitter as @Astroguyz.

It’s been a long time coming.

Nearly nine years after Space Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-135 landed at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21st, 2011, crewed missions are about to resume from U.S. soil this week, with the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the historic Crew Dragon Demo 2 mission, carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station. And with any luck and clear skies willing, you may just be able to spy the mission chasing down the station this weekend.

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NASA and SpaceX Gearing Up For Historic Crew Dragon Launch This Week

Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 27th, NASA and SpaceX will make history as they conduct the long-awaited second demonstration of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Dubbed Demo-2, this mission will not only see SpaceX’s crewed spacecraft sent to space for the first time with astronauts aboard, it will also be the first time since 2011 (and the retiring of the Space Shuttle) that astronauts are launched from US soil.

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U.S. Space Force is Looking For a Place to Put its Headquarters

In the past year, the newly-formed US Space Force has taken a number of steps to set itself apart as an independent service branch. This included adopting a logo, uniforms, a flag, specialized training for career tracks, a recruitment video, and conducting its first missions (like the recent launch of the X-37B). And now, they have announced that they have adopted a revised approach for locating a headquarters.

Previously, the US Space Force was to be headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. The revised approach, instituted by the Department of the Air Force and the Office of Secretary of Defense, takes into account the emerging organizational structure of the USSF and the impact it will have. This move expands the number of possible locations for a permanent USSF base and an analysis process for choosing the final spot.

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WFIRST Will be Named After Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s First Chief Astronomer

In the mid-2020s, NASA’s next-generation Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will take to space. With unprecedented resolution and advanced instruments, it will build on the foundation established by the venerable Hubble Space Telescope – which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year! In anticipation of all it will accomplish, NASA decided that the WFIRST needs a proper name, one that honors its connection to Hubble.

This week, NASA announced that henceforth, the WFIRST mission will be known as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (or Roman Space Telescope for short) in honor of Dr. Nancy Grace Roman (who passed away in 2018). In addition to being NASA’s first Chief Astronomer, she was also a tireless educator and advocate for women in STEMs whose work paved the way for space telescopes – leading to her nickname “the mother of Hubble.”

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The SpaceX Starship Could Fly This Summer!

SpaceX is really coming along with its development of the Starship and Super Heavy launch system. After repeated delays caused by structural failures (aka. explosions), the company got back on track late in April when their fourth prototype (SN4) passed the crucial cryogenic load test. This was followed by a successful static fire test on May 4th, followed by a second static fire test the next day.

And, after being scrubbed three times since last Friday (May 15th), SpaceX conducted the third static fire test with the SN4 on Tuesday, May 19th. Unfortunately, an unexpected fire near the base of the rocket caused the prototype to get a bit scorched and caused some internal damage. However, the prototype survived and is back in working order, which means SpaceX is moving ahead with more tests in preparation for a full-scale launch.

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Space Force is Starting to Train its Soldiers to Fight… in Space?

On February 19th, 2019, the US Space Force (USSF) was officially created with the signing of Space Policy Directive–4. This effectively broke off from the US Air Force Space Command (AFSC) and made into the sixth and youngest independent branch of the armed forces. Since then, the USSF has established a headquarters, taken on staff from the US Air Force, and even produced a recruitment video!

In their latest announcement, the US Space Force stated that it will begin training soon to develop their staff’s “space warfighting skills.” This will include training personnel to specialize in orbital warfare, electronic warfare, military strategy, and others. The immediate aim is to produce personnel who can control US space infrastructure and protect it from physical, electronic, or digital attacks.

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NASA is Giving the SLS a “Green Run” to Prepare it for Launch in Late 2021

With the passage of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, work began on a launch vehicle that would carry cargo and crews back to the Moon and beyond. This vehicle is known as the Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-launch system that (once fully operational) will be the most powerful rocket in the world since the Saturn V – the venerable vehicle that took the Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

Unfortunately, the development of the SLS has suffered from multiple delays over the past few years, causing no shortage of complications. However, engineering teams at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near St. Louis, Mississippi, recently completed a Green Run of the SLS’s Core Stage, which involved testing the rocket’s critical systems in preparation for its inaugural launch by November of 2021.

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