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.
Technology Readiness Levels (or TRLs) are commonly used in the space industry to determine what level of development a technology has undergone. For space technologies, eventually, they get to a TRL where they have to be used in space. In some cases, that can be difficult, as getting a ride on a launch is both risky and expensive. So it’s good news for Oxford Space Systems (OSS) that they penned an agreement with Surrey Satellites Technology Ltd (SSTL) to prove one of their new technologies on an actual flight.
Every once in a while, the stars (or, in this case, satellites) align, and keen observers can receive an unexpected light show. That happened a few weeks ago at the Subaru telescope in Hawai’i. An eerie green laser seemingly appeared out of nowhere, as captured in a YouTube video uploaded to the telescope channel. Luckily, their source was no more ominous than a passing satellite, and with its video posted publicly, now everyone could enjoy the light show.
NASA’s Apollo program most notably explored the Moon. But it also helped us study the Earth as well, as it provided some of the first high-resolution images of our whole planet, like the famous “Blue Marble” photo taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts.
However, these full-Earth photos revealed a mystery. Scientists expected that Earth’s two hemispheres, the north and south, would have different albedos, a difference in the amount of light they reflect. This is because Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres of Earth are quite different from each other. The southern hemisphere is mostly covered with dark oceans, while the northern hemisphere contains vast land areas that are much brighter than the oceans
Yet, when observing Earth from space, the two hemispheres appear equally bright.
This symmetry in brightness has been a puzzle for over 50 years. But now, a new study shows that the albedos are roughly the same because of the increased clouds and storms in the southern hemisphere.
A Russian KOSMOS 2499 satellite broke up last month — for a second time — according to the Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron. In a recent tweet, the Space Force said they are currently tracking 85 individual pieces of debris at an altitude of 1,169 km (726 miles). The breakup occurred on January 4, 2023, but the reason for the disintegration remains unknown.
At this high altitude, it will take decades for the debris to deorbit and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere, and presence of this debris in an increasingly busy region in Earth orbit.
On September 26, 2022, leaks were discovered in the underwater Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, located near Denmark and Sweden. Both pipelines are owned by Russia and were built to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. Officials have said the leaks were caused by deliberate action, not accidents, and were likely intentional sabotage. While accusations have abounded, the motives behind the damage are not yet known.
Seismic disturbances in the Baltic Sea were detected, and officials said that while neither pipeline was transporting gas at the time of the blasts, they still contained pressurized methane, which is the main component of natural gas. The methane has now spewed out, producing a wide stream of bubbles on the sea surface which are visible from various satellites in Earth orbit.
The new generation of Starlink satellites remain above the accepted brightness threshold.
It’s one of the stranger sights of the modern Space Age. Recently, we found ourselves under the relatively dark skies of southern Spain. Sure enough, within a few minutes, we caught sight of a chain of flashing ‘stars’ winking in and out of view in quick succession.
NASA is planning a mission to demonstrate the ability to repair and upgrade satellites in Earth orbit. The mission, called OSAM-1 (On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing-1), will send a robotic spacecraft equipped with robotic arms and all the tools and equipment needed to fix, refuel or extend satellites’ lifespans, even if those satellites were not designed to be serviced on orbit.
Collapsing ice shelves on the eastern coast of Antarctica has revealed something never seen before: a landform that might be an island. But this is not the first newly revealed island off the Antarctic coast. A series of islands have appeared as the ice shelves along the continent’s coastline has disintegrated over the past few years.
October 4th, 2022, will be an auspicious day as humanity celebrates the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the Space Age. It all began in 1957 with the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik-1, the first artificial satellite ever sent to orbit. Since that time, about 8,900 satellites have been launched from more than 40 countries worldwide. This has led to growing concerns about space debris and the hazard it represents to future constellations, spacecraft, and even habitats in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
This has led to many proposed solutions for cleaning up “space junk,” as well as satellite designs that would allow them to deorbit and burn up. Alas, there are still questions about whether a planet surrounded by mega-constellations is sustainable over the long term. A recent study by James A. Blake, a research fellow with the University of Warwick, examined the evolution of the debris environment in LEO and assessed if future space operations can be conducted sustainably.