Decades of research aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and other spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) have shown that long-duration stays in microgravity will take a toll on human physiology. Among the most notable effects are muscle atrophy and bone density loss and effects on eyesight, blood flow, and cardiovascular health. However, as research like NASA’s Twin Study showed, the effects extend to organ function, psychological effects, and gene expression. Mitigating these effects is vital for future missions to the Moon, Mars, and other deep-space destinations.
To reduce the impact of microgravity, astronauts aboard the ISS rely on a strict regiment of resistance training, proper diet, and cardiovascular exercise to engage their muscles, bones, and other connective tissues that comprise their musculoskeletal systems. Unfortunately, the machines aboard the ISS are too large and heavy to bring aboard spacecraft for long-duration spaceflights, where space and mass requirements are limited. To address this, NASA is investigating whether exercise regimens that rely on minimal or no equipment could provide adequate physical activity.
The International Space Station (ISS) will be retired in 2030 after more than thirty-two years of continuous service. Naturally, there are questions regarding what will replace this station, which has served as a bastion for vital research and inter-agency cooperation in space. In the past, China has indicated that their Tiangong (“heavenly palace”) space station will be a successor and rival to the ISS, offering astronauts from other nations an alternative platform to conduct research in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). As part of this plan, China recently announced plans to double the size of Tiangong in the coming years.
Aboard the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts and cosmonauts from many nations are performing vital research that will allow humans to live and work in space. For more than 20 years, the ISS has been a unique platform for conducting microgravity, biology, agriculture, and communications experiments. This includes the ISS broadband internet service, which transmits information at a rate of 600 megabits per second (Mbps) – ten times the global average for internet speeds!
On August 10th, 2023, Roscosmos’ Luna-25 mission launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome atop a Soyuz-2 rocket. This mission was the first lunar mission to launch from Russia since the 1970s and would be the first Russian lander to touch down in the South-Pole Aitken basin. This mission was part of Roscosmos’ partnership with China to develop an International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in the region by 2030. Unfortunately, Russia announced on Saturday, August 19th, that the lander spun out of control and crashed into the surface.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. In 2020, Arianespace and the ESA signed contracts for the rocket’s last eight launches before the Ariane 6 (a heavier two-stage launcher) would succeed it. The Ariane 5‘s final flight (VA261) lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport at 06:00 PM EST (03:00 PM PST) on July 5th, 2023, and placed two payloads into their planned geostationary transfer orbits (GTO) about 33 minutes later. On the downside, this means that the ESA is effectively out of launch vehicles until the Ariane 6 makes its debut next year.
On one particular day in 2021, astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS must have felt a pin-prick of fear and uncertainty. On November 15th of that year, Russia fired an anti-satellite missile at one of its own defunct military satellites, Tselina-D. The target weighed about 1,750 kg, and when the missile struck its target, the satellite exploded into a cloud of hazardous debris.
NASA woke the crew on the International Space Station in the middle of the night and told them to take precautions and prepare for a possible impact. The Chinese space station Tiangong was also in danger, and multiple countries and space agencies condemned Russia’s foolhardy behaviour.
In the near future, NASA and other space agencies plan to send crews beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to perform long-duration missions on the Moon and Mars. To meet this challenge, NASA is developing life support systems that will sustain crew members without the need for resupply missions from Earth. These systems must be regenerative and closed-loop in nature, meaning they will recycle consumables like food, air, and water without zero waste. Currently, crews aboard the International Space Station (ISS) rely on an Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) to meet their needs.
This system recycles air aboard the station by passing it through filters that scrub excess carbon dioxide produced by the crew’s exhalations. Meanwhile, the system uses advanced dehumidifiers to capture moisture from the crew’s exhalation and perspiration and sends this to the Water Purification Assembly (WPA). Another subsystem, called Urine Processor Assembly (UPA), recovers and distills water from astronaut urine. To boost the WPA’s efficiency, the crew integrated a new component called the Brine Processor Assembly (BPA), which recently passed an important milestone.
Typically when you think of a satellite, you think of a metal box with electronic components inside it. But that is simply because most satellites have been made that way throughout history. There is nothing against using other materials to build satellites. Now, a team of researchers from Japan has completed testing on another type of material that could eventually be used on an actual satellite – magnolia wood.
Well, buckle up! The European multinational aerospace giant Airbus has thrown its hat into the ring! In a recently-released video, the company detailed its proposal for a Multi-Purpose Orbital Module (MPOP) called the Airbus LOOP. This modular space segment contains three decks, a centrifuge, and enough volume for a crew of four, making it suitable for future space stations and long-duration missions to Mars. The LOOP builds on the company’s long history of human spaceflight programs, like the ISS Columbus Module, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), and the Orion European Service Module (ESM).
Spaceflight takes a serious toll on the human body. As NASA’s Twin Study demonstrates, long-duration stays in space lead to muscle and bone density loss. There are also notable effects on the cardiovascular, central nervous, and endocrine systems, as well as changes in gene expression and cognitive function. There’s also visual impairment, known as Spaceflight-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS), which many astronauts reported after spending two months aboard the International Space Station (ISS). This results from increased intracranial pressure that places stress on the optic nerve and leads to temporary blindness.
Researchers are looking for ways to diagnose and treat these issues to prepare for future missions that will involve long-duration stays beyond Earth and transits in deep space. A cross-disciplinary team of researchers led by the University of Western Australia (UWA) has developed a breakthrough method for measuring brain fluid pressure that could reduce the risk of SANS for astronauts on long-duration spaceflights. This research could have applications for the many efforts to create a human presence on the Moon in this decade and crewed missions to Mars in the next.