Archive for the ‘space’ Category

A successful liftoff for China’s most ambitious Moon mission to date

November 24th, 2020
Image of a rocket with engines igniting on the launch pad.

Enlarge / China's heavy lift vehicle, the Long March 5, starting its liftoff with the Chang'e 5 mission.

On Monday, China successfully sent the latest in its Chang'e missions on its way to the Moon. Chang'e 5 is the most ambitious to date and, if successful, will make China just the third country to return samples from the lunar surface (after the Soviet Union and the US). While the mission is quite complex with lots of potential for things to go wrong, it's also happening on a short schedule, so we'll have a good idea of how things are going within three weeks.

There and back again

China's Chang'e program, named after a goddess of the Moon, started back in 2007 with the launch of the Chang'e 1 orbiter. Over time, the missions have gotten increasingly complex. Chang'e 3 saw the deployment of a rover on the lunar surface, and Chang'e 4 made history with the first landing on the far side of the Moon. Already, the missions have produced exciting scientific data and lots of photos of previously unexplored areas of the Moon.

Now, China plans to get something back from the Moon that can't be distilled down to a string of ones and zeroes. As with two earlier missions, once Chang'e 5 reaches lunar orbit, it will deploy a lander to the surface. But this time, the lander will be accompanied by a sample return vehicle. After using a drill and scoop to load that up with up to two kilograms of material, the sample return vehicle will lift off from the lunar surface and rendezvous with the vehicle that brought it to the Moon.

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Posted in change, china, moon, science, space | Comments (0)

UK government buys chunk of bankrupt Starlink competitor, OneWeb

November 22nd, 2020
Promotional image of Web device.

Enlarge / A OneWeb receiver. (credit: OneWeb)

The UK has entered the increasingly competitive race to become a global satellite Internet provider after taking control of failed space startup OneWeb with Indian billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal.

The low-Earth-orbit-satellite operator emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Friday and will now seek a further $1.25 billion through debt or equity to achieve its ambitious medium-term goal of launching a global commercial Internet service by 2022 focusing on remote areas.

It will face well-funded rivals, including ventures led by SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

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Posted in broadband, Internet, Policy, satellite broadband, space | Comments (0)

A solar-powered rocket might be our ticket to interstellar space

November 21st, 2020
A solar-powered rocket might be our ticket to interstellar space

Enlarge (credit: Haitong Yu | Getty Images)

If Jason Benkoski is right, the path to interstellar space begins in a shipping container tucked behind a laboratory high bay in Maryland. The set up looks like something out of a low-budget sci-fi film: One wall of the container is lined with thousands of LEDs, an inscrutable metal trellis runs down the center, and a thick black curtain partially obscures the apparatus. This is the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory solar simulator, a tool that can shine with the intensity of 20 suns. On Thursday afternoon, Benkoski mounted a small black and white tile onto the trellis and pulled a dark curtain around the set-up before stepping out of the shipping container. Then he hit the light switch.

Once the solar simulator was blistering hot, Benkoski started pumping liquid helium through a small embedded tube that snaked across the slab. The helium absorbed heat from the LEDs as it wound through the channel and expanded until it was finally released through a small nozzle. It might not sound like much, but Benkoski and his team just demonstrated solar thermal propulsion, a previously theoretical type of rocket engine that is powered by the sun’s heat. They think it could be the key to interstellar exploration.

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Posted in heliopause, interstellar space, NASA, rocketry, science, space | Comments (0)

RocketLab’s “Return to Sender” launch does exactly what was promised

November 20th, 2020
Image of a rocket leaving the launch pad.

Enlarge / What went up... (credit: RocketLab)

The small satellite launch company RocketLab made its first successful recovery of its Electron rocket after it had sent a collection of payloads toward orbit. While this rocket itself isn't going to be reused, the company expects that it will get valuable data from sensors that returned to Earth with the vehicle. The satellite launch was a success as well, an important validation after the loss of seven satellites earlier this year.

As an added bonus, the company sent a garden gnome to space for charity.

One small step

The launch took place from the company's facility on New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula and in many respects was uneventful. The countdown went off without a hitch, the second stage took the payloads to orbit, and the kicker vehicle distributed the satellites to individual orbits. But things got a bit more complicated as the second stage separated, with engineers immediately starting to calculate the likely location where the first stage would return to earth—or, more accurately, ocean.

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Posted in electron, launch vehicles, rocket lab, science, space | Comments (0)

When stars collide: Solving the 16-year mystery of the Blue Ring Nebula

November 18th, 2020
Beautiful stellar object.

Enlarge / The Blue Ring Nebula was discovered by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, or GALEX, in 2004, but it took 16 years of observations with other telescopes, both on the ground and in space, to finally pin down its cause (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Seibert (Carnegie Institution for Science)/K. Hoadley (Caltech)/GALEX)

It took 16 long years, but astronomers have finally solved the puzzle of the mysterious Blue Ring Nebula, according to a new paper published in Nature. First spotted in 2004, the star with its unusual ultraviolet ring appears to be the result of two stars merging, spewing out debris in opposite directions, and forming two glowing cones. It appears to us as a blue ring because one of those cones points directly at Earth. That makes this the first observation of a rare stage of stellar evolution, just a few thousand years into the process—akin to capturing a baby's first steps.

The story begins with the so-called GALEX (Galaxy Evolution Explorer) mission, an all-sky survey in the ultraviolet band of the electromagnetic spectrum that was in operation from 2003 to 2013. Caltech physicist Chris Martin was the PI for GALEX when his team spotted an unusual object: a large, faint blob of glowing gas with a star at its center. GALEX makes measurements in both the far UV and near UV bands, but while most objects GALEX observed showed up in both bands, the stunning blue ring around the star dubbed TYC 2597-735-1 only showed up in the far UV.

Intrigued, Martin decided to investigate further, confident that he and his team could come up with a viable explanation by the end of the year. He thought the Blue Ring Nebula was most likely a supernova remnant or perhaps a planetary nebula formed from the remains of a star roughly the size of our Sun, even though these typically emit light in multiple wavelengths outside the UV range. But it turned out to be a far knottier problem.

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Posted in astronomy, Blue Ring Nebula, Physics, science, space, stellar mergers | Comments (0)

Upper stage issue causes Arianespace launch failure, costing 2 satellites

November 17th, 2020
images of people in clean suits standing near metal hardware.

Enlarge / Technicians lower one of the doomed satellites into the Vega's payload hardware. (credit: Arianespace)

An overnight launch of Arianespace's Vega rocket failed after reaching space, costing France and Spain an Earth-observing satellite each. The failure represents the second in two years after Vega had built up a spotless record over its first six years of service.

The Vega is designed for relatively small satellites, typically handling total weights in the area of about 1,000 kilograms, though it can lift heavier items into lower orbits or take lighter ones higher. The trip to space is powered by a stack of three solid rocket stages; once in space, a re-ignitable liquid-fueled rocket can perform multiple burns that take payloads to specific orbits.

Vega had started off with a flawless launch record, averaging about two a year for its first six years of service before a solid booster failure caused the first loss in 2019. After the investigation into that failure, the rocket had returned to service just over two months ago with a successful launch.

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Posted in Arianespace, failure, launch vehicles, science, space, vega | Comments (0)

Fireball is Werner Herzog’s ode to space rocks

November 14th, 2020
<em>Fireball</em> is now available on Apple TV+.

Enlarge / Fireball is now available on Apple TV+. (credit: Apple)

The Ramgarh Crater in northern India was formed millions of years ago when a large meteorite crashed into Earth. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that scientists began to believe it was an impact basin. From the ground, it’s difficult to assess that it's a crater. The thing is just too big to take in all at once. Yet the cluster of temples in the center of Ramgarh suggests ancient cultures recognized there was something special about the place, even if they had no way of knowing it was formed by a rock from outer space. Examining the effects of meteorites is always scientific, but it’s often spiritual, too, and it’s the tension between those two disciplines that drives Fireball.

Written and directed by Werner Herzog, the documentary aims to make sense of extraterrestrial geology, to trace all the ways meteorites have made impressions far beyond the edges of any individual crater. Herzog and his co-director, Cambridge University volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, interview boffins geeking out over meteorites in their lab, of course, but also a jazz musician prowling for micrometeorites on the rooftops of Oslo, an indigenous painter chronicling otherworldly stories in the outback of Australia, and a Jesuit priest keeping vigil over a meteorite collection in a secluded European observatory. “Every stone has its own separate story,” Herzog says.

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Posted in fireball, Gaming & Culture, meteorites, science, space | Comments (0)

Meet Launcher, a company building a rocket engine with eight employees

November 9th, 2020

Max Haot is not your typical rocket scientist, and Launcher is not your typical rocket company.

To be fair, Haot really isn't a rocket scientist at all. He's more of a video and technology guy, starting his career in the late 1990s by running digital operations for IMG Media and later founding Livestream. He had always maintained a deep interest in space, however, and by 2017 when he began to look around for something else to do, he returned to those dreams.

Haot viewed the opening of the cosmos as an epochal event in human history. "Ultimately think if humans will be around in 10,000 years, the most important events will be Sputnik and the Moon landings," he said. "I wanted to contribute to that."

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Posted in launcher, rockets, science, space | Comments (0)

Astronomers Finally Know What Causes Fast Radio Bursts

November 5th, 2020
After more than a decade, researchers have confirmed their suspicions about the source of the phenomena.

Posted in science, Science / Space, space | Comments (0)

With turbopump issues “sorted out,” BE-4 rocket engine moves into production

October 26th, 2020
A BE-4 rocket engine undergoes tests in West Texas.

Enlarge / A BE-4 rocket engine undergoes tests in West Texas. (credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin appears to have solved some development issues related to the turbopumps in its powerful BE-4 rocket engine.

United Launch Alliance chief executive Tory Bruno said Friday that the problem was "sorted out," and that the full-scale, flight-configured BE-4 engine is now accumulating a lot of time on the test stand. Bruno made his comments about one hour into The Space Show with David Livingston.

Bruno's company, ULA, is buying the BE-4 engine to provide thrust for the first stage of its upcoming Vulcan-Centaur rocket. This booster may make its debut next year, although ULA is still awaiting delivery of BE-4s for the first flight. Two of these large engine—each providing about 25 percent more thrust than the RS-25s used on the Space Shuttle—will power each Vulcan rocket.

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Posted in be-4, blue origin, rockets, science, space, ula, united launch alliance | Comments (0)