A Trip to Space is a series of reporters, features and interviews exploring the latest in space research, the orbital economy and the people involved. This includes astronauts, scientists, engineers and policy specialists.
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.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Jeff Bezos (@jeffbezos)
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...
Episode 7: A Trip to the Edge
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.
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
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 Trip to the Sun
This week on A Trip to Space we take a Trip to the Sun, exploring the where, why, how hot and what for of our own host star – a G-type main-sequence star at the centre of the solar system that formed 4.6 billion years ago.
The Sun is often described as a yellow dwarf, but while it falls into the dwarf category, in visible light it is more white than yellow. It reaches temperatures of 5,780 Kelvin on the surface and 15,000,255 Kelvin in the core.
This week on the show we look at the European Space Agency Solar Orbiter spacecraft, explore coronal mass ejections, why the corona is so hot and why the solar wind is still hot when it reaches the Earth.
Among the features explored in this episode is a report into two massive Coronal Mass Ejections detected by the Solar Orbiter and a piece from NASA on what a CME is.
I also explore why the solar wind that reaches the Earth is so hot – it’s to do with turbulence and magnetic fields – including an interview with the senior researcher on a project.
Finally, to finish things off – what is it that makes the sun so hot? Hint …. campfires.
Episode 3: A Trip to Mars
In the latest edition of A Trip to Space we take a trip to Mars, wrapping up some of the latest research on life on the Red Planet and the sound of a helicopter flying in the Martian sky.