Cleaning Up SPACE

Once upon a time, only space wonks and those in charge of keeping the crews safe aboard the International Space Station and the shuttle orbiters worried much about space debris. The problem is fast becoming a boardroom issue, given all the new proposals to populate low Earth orbit with swarms of small commercial satellites. Even if the new satellites don’t add to the junk pile, their mere presence will make space more crowded and increase the likelihood of catastrophic collisions. Debra Werner spoke to technologists about ideas for addressing the problem.  Six thousand metric tons of spent rocket stages and circuit board fragments clutter Earth’s orbit amid 1,300 operational satellites, including billions of dollars of spy satellites and commercial communications, weather forecasting and scientific spacecraft. Launching a few small satellites would not add much to the overall debris problem, says J.-C. Liou, chief scientist in NASA’s orbital debris program office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “But if you are talking about deploying hundreds or thousands of small satellites, then that could be a problem.”


Mice in Space Develop Thin Skin

A study of three mice that spent 91 days on the International Space Station has found abnormalities in their skin. This is a record stay for any animal in space; due to their short lifespan it equates to about seven “mouse years”. The study is one of 20 experiments looking at various parts of the mice to measure the health effects of zero-g. Using microscopes, scientists found the “astromice” had thinner skin than mice that had stayed on the ground, as well as changes to their muscles and hair. The findings appear in the new journal NPJ Microgravity. Researchers say they are only preliminary, because of the very small sample size of three mice. But the observations are of interest because astronauts often report skin problems after long periods in space.


ISRO to Test Plane-Shaped Space Launch Vehicle in July

Come second half of July, India’s space agency is likely to test a small model of reusable launch vehicle shaped like an aeroplane, said a senior official. “It is going to be an important engineering experiment for the Indian space agency. A small aeroplane-shaped vehicle would be launched from Chennai sometime during the second half of July,” MYS Prasad, director, Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) told IANS over phone from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. India launches its rockets from SDSC in Sriharikota, around 80 km from Chennai. According to officials at Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the launch vehicle will be mounted on a strap-on solid booster of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket with 9 tonne fuel. At an altitude of 70 km, the model would get separated and would glide back to earth. The descent speed would be around 2 km per second.


Probing Satellites’ Mysterious Death Tumbling

Down on the ground, death equals stillness – but not in space. Derelict satellites can tumble in unpredictable ways and ESA’s team tasked with developing a space salvage mission want to find out why. In recent years, satellites beginning uncontrolled reentries have been tracked, such as Russia’s Phobos-Grunt and Germany’s Rosat. In a few cases, satellites suffering unexpected failures in orbit have also been followed, including ESA’s Envisat and Japan’s ADEOS-II. In every case, the satellite has been seen to be tumbling – but the reason why remains a mystery.

Source: ESA

Will We Ever Colonize Mars?

Mars. It’s a pretty unforgiving place. On this dry, dessicated world, the average surface temperature is -55 °C (-67 °F). And at the poles, temperatures can reach as low as  -153 °C (243 °F). Much of that has to do with its thin atmosphere, which is too thin to retain heat (not to mention breathe). So why then is the idea of colonizing Mars so intriguing to us? Well, there are a number of reasons, which include the similarities between our two planets, the availability of water, the prospects for generating food, oxygen, and building materials on-site. And there’s even the long-term benefits of using Mars as a source of raw materials and terraforming it into a liveable environment.


The Silly Reason the Chinese Aren’t Allowed on the Space Station

A nonsensical law only increases geopolitical risk. Geopolitics can be child’s play—literally. How else would you describe the did-not! did-too! brawl that can result when one country crosses another country’s invisible line in the playroom that is the South China Sea? How else would you describe the G-8 canceling its playdate in Sochi after Russia climbed over the fence to Ukraine’s yard? Something similar is true of the International Space Station (ISS), the biggest, coolest, most excellent tree house there ever was. Principally built and operated by the U.S., the ISS has welcomed aboard astronauts from 15 different countries, including such space newbies as South Africa, Brazil, The Netherlands and Malaysia. But China? Nuh-uh. Never has happened, never gonna’ happen. China has been barred from the ISS since 2011, when Congress passed a law prohibiting official American contact with the Chinese space program due to concerns about national security.


Divine Eagle, China’s Enormous Stealth Hunting Drone, Takes Shape

The Divine Eagle is a low observable, high altitude UAV meant detect stealth aircraft at long ranges, using special purpose radars. Photos have emerged of the Divine Eagle, perhaps China’s most ambitious drone design. Planned to hunt stealth planes from afar, it could turn out to be not just the world’s largest drone, but one of the most important to the future of war. Compared to original design concepts, the Divine Eagle prototype has less stealthy features, such as conventional vertical stabilizers (upright tailfins), and an unshielded engine intake located in between the tailfins.


Boeing Gets First Order for Commercial Crew Mission

NASA has placed an order with Boeing for the first operational mission to ferry a crew to the International Space Station in a new era of commercial human spaceflight. The flight is expected to occur in late 2017 after Boeing’s CST-100 capsule completes unmanned and crewed orbital test flights and wins final certification from NASA for regular crew rotation missions. “This occasion will go in the books of Boeing’s nearly 100 years of aerospace and more than 50 years of space flight history,” said John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s space exploration division. “We look forward to ushering in a new era in human space exploration.”


Satellite Experiment Proves Case for Space-Based ADS-B

The European Space Agency launched its Proba-V satellite in 2013 to monitor vegetation growth, but the small – less than 1m3 (35ft3) – spacecraft is also carrying experimental payloads including an ADS-B receiver, which appears to have demonstrated the feasibility of tracking aircraft from orbit. Automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B) signalling capability will be mandatory on most aircraft operating in the USA and Europe by the end of the decade, but the signals are designed to be picked up by ground stations to supplement air traffic control radar, particularly where that radar is blind – such as over oceans. However, ESA and Germany’s DLR aerospace research centre believe that the Proba-V experiment shows that a constellation of orbiting ADS-B receivers could provide space-based backup. “We’ve shown that detection of aircraft can work from space with no showstoppers, despite the fact that these signals were never designed to be picked up from space,” says DLR’s Toni Delovski, who is overseeing the experiment. “In fact, the signals are beamed sideways from their host aircraft rather than omnidirectionally, making them hard to detect from orbit


Space Radiation Threat to Astronauts Explained (Infographic)

Radiation in space takes the form of subatomic particles from the sun as well as from sources in the Milky Way galaxy and beyond. These high-speed particles tear through DNA molecules, splitting them or damaging the instructions they have encoded for cell reproduction. The damaged DNA can lead to cancers or other diseases. Radiation exposure can be acute (a high dose in a short period of time) or chronic (low levels of radiation over a long time). The magnetic field generated by electric currents in the Earth’s liquid iron core extends far into space, shielding the planet from 99.9 percent of harmful radiation. The Earth’s atmosphere provides additional protection, equal to a slab of metal about 3 feet (1 meter) thick. For people outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, space radiation becomes a serious hazard.