Axiom Space Unveils Ambitious Plans for Low Earth Orbit

Axiom Space, a Houston-based company founded in 2016, is making significant strides in the realm of low Earth orbit (LEO) with a vision to establish its own space station. The company has already achieved noteworthy milestones, including the first-ever private citizen flight to the International Space Station (ISS) through its Ax-1 mission in April 2021. Following the success of Ax-2, the company’s second flight, which concluded in late May, Axiom Space is gearing up for Ax-3 scheduled for November. These missions have not only facilitated groundbreaking scientific experiments but have also played a pivotal role in shaping Axiom’s future space station design and operations.

In January 2020, Axiom won a contract from NASA to construct the initial commercially manufactured module for the ISS. Previously targeting completion in 2024, Axiom’s senior director of in-space solutions, David Zuniga, revealed that the first module is now set for deployment in 2026. This module will be connected to the forward port of the ISS’ Harmony module, serving as the foundation for subsequent components in Axiom’s planned space station architecture. Following this, the company plans to attach a second module in 2027, a third module in 2028, and a thermal power module before 2030. This critical addition will enable Axiom’s space station to detach from the ISS, transforming it into an independent, commercially operated LEO destination.

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Airbus’ ROXY System: Transforming Lunar Regolith into Oxygen and Metals for Future Space Exploration

New advancements in space technologies continue to emerge, originating from both established and emerging companies. In 2020, Airbus, one of the largest players in the aerospace industry, unveiled a groundbreaking technology with significant implications for future lunar exploration missions. The Regolith to OXYgen and Metals Conversion (ROXY) system, developed by Airbus, has the potential to revolutionize the utilization of lunar resources over the next decade.

ROXY employs the regolith, the abundant lunar surface material, to produce vital resources such as oxygen, crucial for human survival and rocket fuel, along with metals that can be utilized for manufacturing tools, equipment, and even structures on the Moon. This innovative process bears similarities to MOXIE, an experiment carried by the Perseverance rover during its 2021 landing on Mars. However, when Airbus announced the successful test of ROXY in October 2020, MOXIE was still unproven and en route to Mars.

A key advantage of ROXY over MOXIE is its ability to generate metals, facilitating on-site production of tools, containers, and other essential objects on the Moon, eliminating the need to transport them from Earth. This aligns seamlessly with the ongoing efforts to introduce 3D printing technologies to lunar exploration, attracting the attention of multiple companies actively pursuing these endeavors.

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Artificial Photosynthesis: A Crucial Step for Sustainable Space Exploration

Photosynthesis, an ancient process dating back 2.3 billion years, has played a vital role in supporting life on Earth. This remarkable yet still partially understood reaction enables organisms to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy in the form of sugar. While photosynthesis is often taken for granted on our planet, its rarity and value become evident as we venture beyond Earth. Recent advancements in artificial photosynthesis offer promising possibilities for space exploration and colonization, as explored in a new study published in Nature Communications.

The challenge of space travel lies in the human need for oxygen. Limited fuel capacity restricts the amount of oxygen that can be carried, particularly for long-duration journeys to destinations like the moon and Mars. Trips to Mars typically span around two years, making it impractical to transport sufficient resources from Earth. Oxygen production through carbon dioxide recycling is already accomplished on the International Space Station (ISS) using a process called electrolysis, which employs electricity from solar panels to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Additionally, a separate system converts exhaled carbon dioxide into water and methane.

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Caltech Achieves Groundbreaking Space-Based Solar Power Transmission

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has made a remarkable breakthrough in the field of space-based power by successfully beaming solar power from space to Earth without the need for any physical wires—a significant milestone, according to reports.

This groundbreaking experiment is part of Caltech’s Space Solar Power Project, and the institute recently announced the successful transmission through a press release. Researchers accomplished the power transfer using the Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment (MAPLE), a small prototype deployed aboard the in-orbit Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1) launched in January. The team achieved a significant feat by transmitting solar power collected in space using microwaves to a receiver on the rooftop of Gordon and Betty Moore Laboratory of Engineering on Caltech’s campus in Pasadena.

Co-director of the Space Solar Power Project, Ali Hajimiri, expressed excitement about the results, stating, “Through the experiments we have run so far, we received confirmation that MAPLE can transmit power successfully to receivers in space. We have also been able to program the array to direct its energy toward Earth, which we detected here at Caltech. We had, of course, tested it on Earth, but now we know that it can survive the trip to space and operate there.”

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Chapea: Testing the Psychological Challenges of a Simulated Mars Mission

On June 25, 2023, a team of four crew members will embark on a groundbreaking Mars mission, but with a unique twist—they won’t actually leave Earth. Instead, they will spend an entire year living in a small 3D-printed habitat within a hangar at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. This simulated Martian environment, known as Chapea (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog), aims to examine the psychological and social challenges that future astronauts may face when venturing to the Red Planet.

The isolated and harsh conditions of Mars pose formidable obstacles for early visitors, making it crucial to understand how to ensure the well-being and productivity of the crew. Lessons learned from this social experiment could help NASA devise strategies to enhance crew comfort, foster positive interpersonal dynamics, and address issues such as loneliness and homesickness. The mission’s biomedical researcher and commander, Kelly Haston, acknowledges the difficulty of the undertaking, emphasizing the importance of completing the year without any attrition. Unlike this simulated mission, actual Mars missions will offer no exit option.

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Japan’s Ambitious Plan: Beaming Solar Energy from Space

Japan, alongside its space agency JAXA, has dedicated years to the pursuit of beaming solar energy from space. In 2015, a significant breakthrough was achieved when JAXA scientists successfully transmitted 1.8 kilowatts of power, equivalent to powering an electric kettle, over a distance of more than 50 meters using wireless receivers. Now, Japan is on the verge of bringing this technology one step closer to reality.

According to Nikkei, a Japanese public-private partnership aims to initiate the beaming of solar energy from space as early as 2025. Led by Naoki Shinohara, a Kyoto University professor who has been actively involved in space-based solar energy research since 2009, the project intends to deploy a series of small satellites into orbit. These satellites will collect solar energy and attempt to transmit it to ground-based receiving stations located hundreds of miles away.

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Wood Takes Off: Japanese Researchers Set to Launch World’s First Wooden Satellite

In a surprising development, Japanese researchers are gearing up to launch the world’s first satellite constructed primarily from wood after a successful experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS) demonstrated the material’s resilience in outer space.

In collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), a team of scientists from Kyoto University conducted an experiment outside the ISS, exposing three different types of wood to the harsh space environment. After 10 months of observation, the researchers confirmed that the wood remained unaffected by cosmic rays and solar particles, opening doors for further exploration. The experiment took place on Japan’s Kibo module aboard the ISS, marking a significant milestone.

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Deep Underground Tunnels in North Yorkshire Pave the Way for Lunar and Martian Living Research

In an unprecedented initiative, tunnels deep beneath North Yorkshire are serving as a remarkable testbed for studying the potential for human habitation and operations on the moon and Mars. The University of Birmingham’s researchers have embarked on the Bio-SPHERE project, utilizing a unique research facility located 1.1 km below the Earth’s surface, within one of the UK’s deepest mine sites. This project aims to investigate the scientific and medical challenges of working in the demanding lunar and Martian environments.

The Bio-SPHERE project marks the commencement of a series of laboratory facilities aimed at examining how humans can effectively function and maintain good health during prolonged space missions. Ensuring mission continuity on other celestial bodies necessitates addressing this crucial requirement.

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NASA Embraces Nuclear Rocket Engines for Faster Mars Missions

In the pursuit of landing humans on Mars, NASA is placing a significant bet on nuclear rocket engines as the key to transporting astronauts to the red planet. The agency recently announced a partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a rocket that utilizes nuclear propulsion, enabling expedited journeys to deep-space destinations like Mars. This groundbreaking technology promises to reduce travel time and make long-duration spaceflights less hazardous for crew members.

A conventional spacecraft powered by liquid fuel combustion typically takes around seven to eight months to reach Mars. However, nuclear rocket engines have the potential to trim at least a third of that duration, as stated by scientists. The shortened journey would offer crews greater flexibility in their missions to Mars, allowing them to spend three to four weeks on the planet’s surface before returning within a reasonable timeframe, as explained by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

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Innovating Space Food: From Breath-Based Protein Shakes to Fungus Burgers

The future of space food is taking an intriguing turn as researchers explore unconventional solutions such as protein shakes made from astronaut breath and burgers crafted from fungus. For years, astronauts have relied on pre-packaged meals or the occasional harvested lettuce during their space missions. However, with aspirations of venturing beyond Earth’s orbit, NASA has initiated a competition aimed at revolutionizing sustainable space food. As missions to Mars and the moon become increasingly feasible, the challenge seeks to develop a food system capable of supporting long-duration journeys and establishing a new era of nourishment in space.

The Deep Space Food Challenge:

Recognizing the limitations of the current pre-packaged food system, NASA launched the Deep Space Food Challenge in January 2021. The competition invited companies to propose innovative methods for creating sustainable food options suitable for future space missions. After receiving approximately 200 entries, the selection process narrowed down the field to 11 teams in January 2023. Eight teams from the United States and three international teams were granted $20,000 each to advance to phase 3. On May 19, NASA revealed the finalists who will progress to the final phase, culminating in the announcement of winners in April 2024 following rigorous testing of their proposals.

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Satellite Resurrection: How a Bold Heat Shield Design Could Reshape the Future of Space Exploration

A Welsh design firm called Space Forge is making strides in the development of reusable satellites with their innovative foldable heat shield. Unlike retired satellites that usually disintegrate upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, Space Forge’s shield, named Pridwen after King Arthur’s legendary shield, is engineered with a durable alloy capable of withstanding the extreme temperatures generated by atmospheric friction. The company has been dedicated to perfecting this technology for over four years, thanks to funding from the U.K. Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Pridwen is designed to unfold prior to reentry, effectively redirecting heat away from the satellite and enabling a controlled descent back to Earth for future use. This breakthrough aims to emulate SpaceX’s success in revolutionizing the rocket industry through the reusability of its Falcon 9 boosters. Space Forge seeks to replicate this achievement with satellites, which are typically rendered useless at the end of their operational lives.

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Pushing the Boundaries: The Radical Proposal That Could Catapult Space Exploration to Unprecedented Heights

The groundbreaking discovery of gravitational waves (GW) by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in 2015 marked a turning point in the field of astronomy. These ripples in spacetime, resulting from the merger of massive objects, had been predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity a century earlier. Looking ahead, the advancement of this field will be significantly propelled by the introduction of next-generation observatories such as the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA).

With its enhanced sensitivity, LISA will enable astronomers to trace GW events back to their origins and utilize them to investigate the inner workings of exotic objects and the laws of physics. The European Space Agency (ESA), as part of its Voyage 2050 planning cycle, is currently considering mission themes that could be realized by 2050, including the realm of GW astronomy.

In a recent publication, researchers from the ESA’s Mission Analysis Section and the University of Glasgow presented an innovative concept building upon LISA, known as LISAmax. According to their findings, this observatory has the potential to improve GW sensitivity by two orders of magnitude.

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