Move Over SpaceX. Amazon Wants To Launch Thousands of Internet Satellites Too

NASA has released new composite images of the Earth at night, the first ones since 2012. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Back in April 2019 Amazon signaled its intention to get into the internet satellite business. Following in the footsteps of SpaceX and their Starlink satellite system, Amazon intends to launch thousands of internet satellites in the coming years. Now that they’ve filed their application with the FCC, we have more details of their plan.

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Virgin Orbit Tests its Satellite-Delivery Rocket for the First Time

Since 2015, Virgin Orbit has been developing a launch system that will send satellites into space using a rocket launched from a modified 747. This is part of Sir Richard Branson’s plan to crack the burgeoning market of cost-effective satellite deployment. This market is especially lucrative considering how many satellites are expected to be launched into orbit in the coming years.

This week, the Virgin Orbit team achieved a major milestone by flying the LauncherOne rocket into the air and releasing it over the Mojave desert for the first time. This drop-test not only validated the design of the modified 747 (named Cosmic Girl) that serves as its flying launchpad, it also demonstrated the effectiveness of the launch system – which can rely on regular airstrips instead of launch pads to send satellites into space.

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Satellites Equipped With a Tether Would be Able to De-Orbit Themselves at the end of Their Life

There’s no denying it, we are facing an orbital debris problem! As of January 2019, the ESA’s Space Debris Office estimates that there are at least 34,000 pieces of large debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – a combination of dead satellites, spent rocket stages, and other assorted bits of space junk. And with thousands of satellites scheduled to be launched in the next decade, that problem is only going to get worse.

This is a situation that cries out for solutions, especially when you consider the plans to commercialize LEO and start sending crewed missions to deep space in the coming years. A team of scientists from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) has come up with a simple but elegant idea: equip future satellites with a tether system so they can de-orbit themselves at the end of their lives.

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Before We Ruin the Universe, We Should Follow Some Space Sustainability Guidelines

There are over 20,000 objects in orbit around Earth that are larger than 10 cm. Image Credit: European Space Agency.

There are 20,000 objects orbiting Earth at this moment that are larger than 10 cm. Out of that number, only about 2,000 are operational satellites. The other 18,000 objects are pieces of junk of varying sizes. But it’s not just junk: it’s dangerous junk.

If that doesn’t sound like a problem, keep this in mind: Thanks to SpaceX and others, we’re living in the age of cheap access to space, and we’re seeing more and more satellites boosted into orbit. The problem won’t go away on its own.

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SpaceX’s Starlink Constellation Construction Begins. 2,200 Satellites Will go up Over the Next 5 years

Elon Musk has made a lot of crazy promises and proposals over the years, which inevitably leads people to pester him about deadlines. Whether it’s reusable rockets, affordable electric cars, missions to Mars, intercontinental flights, or anything having to do with his many other ventures, the question inevitably is “when can we expect it?”

That question has certainly come up in relation to his promise to launch a constellation of broadband satellites that would help provide high-speed internet access to the entire world. In response, Musk recently announced that SpaceX will launch the first batch of Starlink satellites in May 2019, and will continue with launches for the next five years.

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Space Weather Forecasts can now give Satellites One Whole Day of Warning when a Killer Solar Storm is Inbound

An artist’s rendering of the Van Allen radiation belts surrounding Earth. The purple, concentric shells represent the inner and outer belts. They completely encircle Earth, but have been cut away in this image to show detail. Image Credit: NASA’s Conceptual Image Lab/Walt Feimer

Earth’s fleet of satellites is in a vulnerable position. When solar activity increases, high-energy particles are directed toward Earth. Our large fleet is in the direct path of all that energy, which can damage them or render them inoperable. But now we have another tool to help us protect our satellites.

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The World’s Glaciers are Down by 9 Trillion Tonnes of Ice in the Last Half Century

This graphic shows the change in cumulative ice mass over the last 50 years in different glacial regions on Earth. Image Credit: ESA, adapted from Zemp et al. (2019) Nature, and data courtesy of World Glacier Monitoring Service

Things are not looking good for Earth’s glaciers. Usually, when it comes to climate change and melting ice, we think of the Earth’s polar regions. But they’re not the only important ice formations, and they’re not the only ice that’s melting due to climate change.

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Micrometeorite Damage Under the Microscope

If there’s one thing that decades of operating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) has taught us, it is that space is full of hazards. In addition to solar flares and cosmic radiation, one of the greatest dangers comes from space debris. While the largest bits of junk (which measure more than 10 cm in diameter) are certainly a threat, the real concern is the more than 166 million objects that range in size from 1 mm to 1 cm in diameter.

While tiny, these bits of junk can reach speeds of up to 56,000 km/h (34,800 mph) and are impossible to track using current methods. Because of their speed, what happens at the moment of impact has never been clearly understood. However, a research team from MIT recently conducted the first detailed high-speed imaging and analysis of the microparticle impact process, which will come in handy when developing space debris mitigation strategies.  Continue reading “Micrometeorite Damage Under the Microscope”