An exploration of space, the orbital economy and the people involved.
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Episode 10: A Trip into the Deep Past
Space newsHubble still down: NASA is trying to fix the HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE after a memory module failure forced the agency to shut down the iconic orbiting observatory.
The problem is with the payload computer, which halted o June 13, stopping hte spacecraft from collecting science data. The telescope andother instruments are all working as expected, but they rely on the payload computer to operate.
Over the next week, the team will continue to assess hardware to identify if something else may be causing the problem.
Thousand sign up to fly to space: The European Space Agency (ESA) is looking for six astronauts to join its core, as well and 20 reservists from academia.
They will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) and one day on to the NASA Lunar Gateway that will be in orbit around the Moon.
A total of 22,589 people have applied, and submitted a valid medical certificate, in the hope of going into the next round. The six will be confirmed late in 2022.
Are they watching us? There could be as many as 29 potentially habitable worlds ‘perfectly positioned' to observe the Earth if they hold an intelligence civilisation, according to a new study.
Exploring ways in which we find exoplanets, that is worlds outside the solar system, the team from Cornell University reversed the process to see which could spot us.
While exoplanets haven't been detected around all of the stars that can observe the Earth, the team estimate 29 will have a rocky world in the habitable zone that are well positioned to also detect radio waves emitted by humans over 100 years ago.
A Virgin licence: Space tourism firm Virgin Galactic has been given the go ahead by the FAA to take paying customers to the edge of space, in a first for the aviation industry.
The firm said there were still three test flights to go before it takes the first commercial astronauts next year, but this is an important step in that journey.
The new licence from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) gives the firm the right to send paying customers into space, and not just as part of a test flight.
Upcoming launchesThis week: SpaceX Falcon 9 • Transporter 2 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Transporter 2 mission, a rideshare flight to a sun-synchronous orbit with numerous small microsatellites and nanosatellites for commercial and government customers.
June 29: Soyuz • Progress 78P from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. A Russian government Soyuz rocket will launch the 78th Progress cargo delivery ship to the International Space Station. The rocket will fly in the Soyuz-2.1a configuration. Delayed from March 19.
July 1: Soyuz • OneWeb 8 from Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia. A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch 36 satellites into orbit for OneWeb, which is developing a constellation of hundreds of satellites in low Earth orbit for low-latency broadband communications. The Soyuz-2.1b rocket will use a Fregat upper stage.
July: Falcon 9 • Starlink from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch on the first dedicated mission with Starlink internet satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base. This mission will deploy an unspecified number of Starlink satellites into a high-inclination orbit.
Exoplanet of the week: TYC 8998-760-1 cThis hot, very large planet is the second to be directly imaged – that is, pixels of light captured by telescope from the planet itself – as it orbits a Sun-like star some 300 light-years away. An international team of scientists published its discovery of the star's first directly imaged companion in February 2020.
Key facts: These two planets – TYC 8998-760-1 b and now, c – are considered the first multi-planet system to be directly imaged around a Sun-like star. The star is a baby version of our Sun, only 17 million years old. The extreme youth of this system is a big part of why astronomers were able to capture direct imag
Episode 9: A Trip to Strange Stars
This week in space newsChina in space: The Chinese Space Agency has sent a trio of astronauts to spend the next three months of the Tiangong space station. This is a brand new modular space station built and operated by China and they arrived on a Chinese spaceship sent up on a Chinese-made rocket.
The Chinese and Russian space agencies will also work together to begin construction of a base on the surface of the moon in 2026, due for completion by 2036 – but they won't be sending astronauts until after it is fully operation and the robots have had a chance to explore.
Boeing boeing … going? NASA is working with Boeing on sending the Starliner crew capsule into space for another test this July. Starliner was originally due to be operational, ferrying crew to the ISS last year, working alongside the SpaceX Crew Dragon, but it has been hit by problems.
For the new test Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket without a crew on board. IF it goes to plan the first crewed mission could be towards the end of this year with astronauts Barry Wilmore, Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke on board.
Betelgeuse had gas! The red supergiant star betelgeuse, found on the shoulder of the hunter in Orion's Belt, which began mysteriously dimming last year was just being blocked by a cloud of gas and dust, according to a new study.
Astronomers from France created a computer simulation based on images from the Very Large Telescope in Chile to determine the Great Dimming was caused by the star ejecting a bubble of gas and giant blobs of plasma moving on its surface.
The temperature drop from the giant blobs led to the creation of an opaque dust which dimmed its appearance when viewed from Earth.
Making space sustainable: The World Economic Forum has launched a new Space Sustainability Rating, designed to shed light ont he problem of space junk and the impact it is having on our orbital evnironment.
The argument is that it is a problem one single government can't solve, with rules and enforcement from multile nations required to solve the problem.
It will work like nutrition and energy efficiency labels, making it clear what companies and organisations are doing to improve the near-Earthenvironment.
In other news: NASA has a new deputy administrator, after former astronaut Pam Pelroy was confirmed by the senate, and the opportunity to apply to be a European Space Agency astronaut has passed. The deadline for entries closed on Friday June 18th.
Launches this weekJune 24: Launch site: SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Transporter 2 mission, a rideshare flight to a sun-synchronous orbit with numerous small microsatellites and nanosatellites for commercial and government customers. Moved up from July.
June 25: Launch site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Oblast, Russia – A Roscosmos Soyuz 21.b will send a Russian military intelligence ELINT satellite into heliosynchronous orbit.
Exoplanet of the weekHD 209458 b (nickname “Osiris”)
The first planet to be seen in transit (crossing its star) and the first planet to have it light directly detected. The HD 209458 b transit discovery showed that transit observations were feasible and opened up an entire new realm of exoplanet characterization.
The planet is 1.3 times larger than Jupiter, or about 220 times the size of the Earth in terms of mass. It orbits very very close to its star – just one eight that of Mercury around the Sun – going around its star every 3.5 days.
That means a year on Osiris is just 3.5 Earth days – meaning you'd have over 100 birthdays per Earth year if you somehow managed to live on the strange hot world.
Although given it is a gas giant, based on both the high mass and volume, there wouldn't be much of a surface to stand on if you did visit.
It belongs to a type of extrasolar planet known as ‘hot Jupiters' – Giant, gaseous planets in low orbits – with a surface temperature more than twi
Episode 8: A Trip Beyond the Edge
This week on the show we look at the European Space Agency's planned trip to Venus, new competition for SpaceX in the launch market and what is a solar eclipse?
We also launch a new feature – exoplanet of the week – where I trawl through NASAs vast exoplanet archive, pick one that looks interesting and go on a virtual vacation.
Envision is the name of the new ESA mission to Earth's ‘evil twin,' as the agency puts it. The probe will study the atmosphere nature and explore down to the core of the inhospitable world.
It will launch in the early 2030s and include NASA instruments, making it compatible with the DAVINCI+ and VERITAS missions being sent to the world by the US agency.
Sticking with the European Space Agency, ESA has announced its science themes as part of its Voyage 2050 planning, outlining projects and missions that will happen from the 2030s onward.
‘The selection of the Voyage 2050 themes is a pivotal moment for ESA’s science programme, and for the future generation of space scientists and engineers,' says Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.
Themes include habitability of the moons of the outer planets in the solar system, a search for temperate exoplanets and the less accessible regions of the Milky Way galaxy and probes of the early Universe.
SpaceX has more competition, this time in the form of the Relativity Space, 3D printed and fully reusable Terran R rocket, that will take on the Falcon 9.
It is a few years away from launch but a new $650 million funding round could bring that closer to reality sooner than previously expected, making them the latest, after Rocket Labs, to enter this heavier lift market.
Speaking of rocket firms, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, announced he'd be heading to space on the New Shepherd rocket on July 22. This flight will go up to about 100km, have 10 minutes weightless and return.
This could make Bezos the first of the three billionaire space firm founders to make it up into space on their own launch vehicle – beating out Sir Richard Branson, who is due to go up on VSS Unity later this year.
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However, Branson confirmed that he was looking to go up on an earlier test flight – possibly the very next trip – potentially allowing him to beat Bezos into space by a few days or weeks.
This week also saw a partial solar eclipse across the UK and US, as well as a full ‘ring of fire' eclipse in Canada, Greenland and Russia – but what is an eclipse and when is the next one?
I explore these questions and more, as I take a slightly more detailed look at our star and the unique relationship between the Earth, Moon and Sun.
Finally, Perseverance is heading south on Mars to explore the ancient lakebed of Jezero Crater in a bid to find traces of ancient microbial life.
This marks the end of system testing, and the start of the true purpose for the rover on the Red Planet. Driving to a low-lying scenic overlook to survey some of the oldest geologic features within the crater.
Exoplanet of the week: Kepler-452b (Earth's Cousin)Classic SciFi read: HG Well's A Modern Utopia – Chapter 5
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Episode 7: A Trip to LEO and Venus
NASA is going back to Venus, selecting the VERITAS and DAVINCI+ missions as part of the Discovery program, with both scheduled to launch between 2028 and 2030.
These two missions to Earth's hellish twin will aim to find out why it’s so hot and inhospitable, why its early development went from being Earth-like to hellish and what hides beneath the thick acidic clouds.
A jellyfish galaxy is a strange form of star cluster. It has a tail making it look like a jellyfish – and a team from the Max Plank Institute want you to help them find out why – through the Zooniverse citizen science website.
Canadaarm2 is the Canadian Space Agency contribution to the ISS. It helps spaceships dock and installs equipment without astronauts having to take an EVA – but it had a recent close encounter with a piece of space debris.
ESA has launched a debris coding challenge. Space junk it is a growing problem and to encourage coders and STEM students to think about the problem, the European Space Agency launched a challenge asking people to calculate the origin of fictional space junk when given just their trajectory.
We also look at the ESA astronaut program, with the opportunity to apply to become a European astronaut coming to close in just over a week.
Virgin Galactic are sending an bioastronautics researcher up to space. Kellie Gerardi will go up on VSS Unity from next year to test fluid dynamics in low gravity, an undersuit with sensors and look out of the window at Earth.
And chapter three of HG Wells A Modern Utopia, where we start to explore the idea of another world.
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Episode 6: A trip to the edge
This week on the show we find that the Milky Way may not be all that unique, plasma from a microsecond after the Big Bang may have made all atoms, SpaceX may be creating a monopoly and the second chapter in our reading of HG Wells Modern Utopia.
We also explore whether we are heading for a Wild West in space, with a lack of coherent global regulation leading to a spike in the number of satellites sharing an orbit.
In a slightly related area, ArianeSpace, the main European launch provider, ESA partner and operator of many Soyuz rockets, believes SpaceX is monopolising low Earth orbit.
After covering space launch and policy, we move on to space science – with two big studies published in the last week before revealing more about our universe.
The first goes right back to a microsecond after the Big Bang, when the only matter about, Quark–gluon plasma, turned into all of the atoms in the universe – at least their cores – due to the rapid hot expansion.
QGP is a state of matter in which the elementary particles that make up the hadrons of baryonic matter are freed of their strong attraction for one another under extremely high energy densities. (Wikipedia).
The second study we explore looked at our Milky Way, well actually it looked at another galaxy 320 million light years away – but by studying it side on they found it was remarkably similar to the Milky Way.
This allowed them to theorise that, rather than being unique and created from an explosive merger with another galaxy, the Milky Way is typical off spiral galaxies and formed slowly over time.
We finish with chapter two of HG Well's Modern Utopia.Finally, it’s time for chapter two in our reading of HG Wells Modern Utopia The 1905 work was serialised in the Fortnightly Review and is presented as a tale told by a character known as the ‘Owner of the Voice’.
CREDITS: Background audio: Icons8, PixabayAI voices: Podcastle.aiText for Modern Utopia: Project Gutenberg
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Episode 5: A Trip back to the Moon
This week on the A Trip to Space podcast we take a trip back to the Moon, where ESA and NASA are preparing to make exploration much easier and more sustainable.
First The European Space Agency has announced plans to build a constellation of a navigation and communication satellites in orbit around the Moon that could one day enable it to become the ‘eighth continent'.
This network would be open to all travellers to the lunar surface and orbit – both human and robotic and from any space agency or space businesses, with the goal of making lunar exploration cheaper and more sustainable.
On that note, NASA announced the VIPER mission, to send a rover to the lunar South Pole in search of frozen water and other potentially beneficial researchers future human explorers could utilise.
NASA plans to send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024, a year after this robotic explorer will scope out the same location and landscape.
But that's not all we cover in this packed show. NASA has confirmed it ‘may' have discovered organic salts on the surface of Mars – thanks to the chemistry lab in the belly of the long-running Curiosity rover.
These salts are like ancient relics, signs that life may once have been present on Mars, but all other larger molecules have since been removed due to radiation – leaving just these tiny remnants.
NASA says ‘may' as it is impossible to tell if they are organic in origin with the equipment Curiosity has, but studies on Earth seem to suggest they should be, so future missions will explore this idea in more detail
We also come a little closer to home, with Virgin Galactic's news that it completed the first ever human spaceflight operating out of New Mexico – sending its VSS Unity up beyond 55 miles.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic have successfully reached space for the first time from New Mexico with their spaceship VSS Unity – after it separated from mothership VSS Eve.
This flight meant that New Mexico had become the third state to launch humans into space. Unity reached Mach 3 after being released from Eve and reached space at 55.45 miles before gliding back to Spaceport America.
CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay were in the flight deck of Unity when it reached space with CJ becoming the first person to fly to space from three different US states.
I also finish the show with a reading of the first chapter from HG Wells Modern Utopia, in a new feature exploring some old, public domain science fiction.
The 1905 work was serialised in the Fortnightly Review and is presented as a tale told by a character known as the ‘Owner of the Voice'.
The premise is that there is a planet exactly like Earth, so similar in fact all the current people on Earth also exist ‘in duplicate' on this world, but they have different habits, traditions, knowledge, ideas, clothing and appliances.'
But they all speak English, as, according to Wells ‘should we be in Utopia at all, if we could not talk to everyone?'
Then we explore Proxima Centauri b, the first planet in the Proxima Centauri system, which is the smallest star in the triple star system Alpha Centauri.
Proxima Centauri b was first discovered in 2016 and is thought to be a slightly larger than Earth terrestrial world, orbiting within the habitable zone of its star – meaning it may have liquid water.
It hit the headlines recently when unexplained radio signals were detected coming from the star system, although radio astronomers now believe this was just natural inference, rather than an intelligent alien race saying ‘hi'.
The system is also popular due to the fact it is the closest star system to the Earth at 4.2465 light-years (1.3020 pc) away from the Sun in the southern constellation of Centaurus.
Breakthrough Starshot is a mission to send a fleet of tiny solar sail powered probes to Proxima Centauri travelling at 20% of the speed of light propelled by around 100 gigawatts of Earth-based lasers.