NASA is Going to Add a Commercial Module to the Space Station

NASA’s plan to open up the International Space Station (ISS) to commercial activity is gaining ground. They have a vision for an economy in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) called the Plan for Commercial LEO Development. According to NASA, they intend to foster economic development in LEO and to drive innovation, all for the benefit of the American economy.

Now they’ve selected Axiom Space of Houston to provide a commercial habitation module for the ISS.

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SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Nails In-Flight Abort Test! Next Stop, the ISS!

At Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, during the morning hours this past Sunday (Jan, 19th), SpaceX conducted the final uncrewed test of their Crew Dragon space capsule. This was the all-important in-flight abort test, the purpose of which was to validate the crew capsule’s escape capabilities in the event of an unexpected emergency during launch.

The event, which was live-streamed by NASA TV, was a complete success and saw the Crew Dragon successfully separate from its Falcon 9 launcher before being retrieved at sea. With this test complete, NASA and SpaceX will be moving forward with the first crewed mission. Known as Crew Demo-2, this mission will see two astronauts launched aboard the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year.

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Crew Dragon Abort Test is Scheduled for Saturday Morning

As part of their Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Program, NASA has contracted with aerospace giants like SpaceX and Boeing to provide commercial launch services to the International Space Station (ISS). These services will consist of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon (Dragon 2) and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner bringing astronauts to orbit in the coming years, effectively restoring domestic launch capability to the US.

To get these spacecraft ready for flight, Boeing and SpaceX have been putting them through rigorous launch tests. Tomorrow morning (Saturday, Jan. 17th), SpaceX will be conducting its final test in preparation for crewed flights. This is the all-important in-flight abort test, which will be live-streamed by NASA TV – will take place at 7:45 AM EST (4:45 AM PST) from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

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Astronomers Map the Surface of a Pulsar

When stars exhaust their supply of fuel, they collapse under their own weight and explode, blowing off their outer layers in an event known as a “supernova”. In some cases, these events leave behind neutron stars, the smallest and densest of stellar objects (with the exception of certain theoretical stars) that sometimes spin rapidly. Pulsars, a class of neutron star, can spin up to several hundred times per second.

One such object, designated J0030+0451 (J0030), is located about 1,100 light-years from Earth in the Pisces constellation. Recently, scientists using NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) were able to measure the pulsar’s size and mass. In the process, they also managed to locate the various “hot spots” on its surface, effectively creating the first map of a neutron star.

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Astronauts are Going to Attach a “Robot Hotel” to the Outside of the International Space Station

Robotic helpers are becoming an increasingly important element aboard the International Space Station. It is here where robots like the Robonaut, CIMON, FEDOR, Canadarm2, Dextre, and CIMON 2 (which is currently on its way to the ISS) were tested and validated for space operations. In recent years, the Robotic External Leak Locators (RELL) also proved their worth by conducting extra-vehicular activities (EVAs) and finding leaks.

Unfortunately, sending these robots out to do their tasks has been a long and complicated process. For this reason, NASA has created a new housing unit called the Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS). Developed by the Satellite Servicing Projects Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (with support from the Johnson Space Center), this “robot hotel” launched yesterday (Dec. 4th) and will soon be integrated with the station.

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Luca Parmitano Takes the Wheel and Test Drives a Rover From Space.

Back in November, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano made history by taking command of a rover from the International Space Station (ISS). As part of the Analog-1 experiments, this feat was made possible thanks to a “space internet” command infrastructure and a force-feedback control setup. This allowed Parmitano to remotely operate a rover 10,000 km (6,200 mi) away while orbiting Earth at a speed of 8 km/s (28,800 km/h; 17,900 mph).

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Cancer Seems to Have Trouble Spreading in Microgravity

The International Space Station (ISS), seen here with Earth as a backdrop. Credit: NASA

There are a number of health risks that come with going to space. Aside from the increased exposure to solar radiation and cosmic rays, there are the notable effects that microgravity can have on human physiology. As Scott Kelly can attest, these go beyond muscle and bone degeneration and include diminished organ function, eyesight, and even changes at the genetic level.

Interestingly enough, there are also a number of potential medical benefits to microgravity. Since 2014, Dr. Joshua Choi, a senior lecturer in biomedical engineering at the University of Technology Sydney, has been investigating how microgravity affects medicine and cells in the human body. Early next year, he and his research team will be traveling to the ISS to test a new method for treating cancer that relies on microgravity.

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ESA Astronaut Luca Parmitano will be Controlling a Rover From Space

Update: The Analog-1 experiment was a complete success! Astronaut Parmitano completed all the requirements within the specified time frame (one hour). This test is the first step in validating the teleoperation technology.

NASA has been rather up-front about its desire to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars in the coming years. They are joined by multiple space agencies (such as the ESA, Roscosmos, the CNSA and the IRSO) who also wish to conduct their first crewed missions beyond Earth. However, what is often overlooked is the role teleoperated missions will play in the near-future – where humans and robots explore hand-in-hand.

For example, the ESA has embarked upon a series of experiments collectively named Analog-1, where astronauts control robots from space. Yesterday (Nov. 18th), ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano took control of a robot in the Netherlands from the ISS. This experiment and others like it will help prepare astronauts for future missions that will involve the exploration of hazardous or inaccessible off-world environments.

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