HARVARD SCIENTISTS PROPOSE SUPER-TALL TOWERS TO POWER MOON BASE

WITH THE MOON’S LOW GRAVITY, YOU COULD BUILD INCREDIBLY TALL TOWERS.

by VICTOR TANGERMANN

Moon Tower

Scientists have come up with an ambitious new idea to provide bases on the Moon’s surface with solar power, New Scientist reports: massive, kilometer-high towers constructed from lunar concrete and almost entirely covered in solar panels.

The team, led by Sephora Ruppert from Harvard University, suggest in a yet-to-be-peer-reviewed paper that the towers could be constructed by mixing lunar soil and heating it to bind it together, not too dissimilar from regular concrete.

“We choose concrete as the capital cost of transporting large masses of iron or carbon fiber to the Moon is presently so expensive that profitable operation of a power plant is unlikely,” the researchers write in the paper. “Concrete instead can be manufactured in situ from the lunar regolith.”

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Dwarf planet closest to Earth is geologically alive

On the way to its lowest and final orbit, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft captured this dramatic image of Ceres’s limb.IMAGE BY NASA/JPL-CALTECH/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The tiny, frigid world Ceres amazes with evidence of recent ice volcanoes fed by the remnants of an ancient underground sea.

Tucked into the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the dwarf planet Ceres is a small world that holds big surprises. A slew of new research from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft advances the case that—in its own cold, salty way—Ceres is a geologically active body, with ice volcanoes and surviving pockets of an ancient ocean.

About a year’s worth of data collected by Dawn from late 2017 through late 2018—during its final orbits before running out of fuel—show that the dwarf planet probably has briny liquid seeping out on its surface, as well as mounds and hills that formed when ice melted and refroze after an asteroid impact about 20 million years ago. 

The idea that liquid water could persist on Ceres—a world that’s less than a third of the moon’s width—would have once seemed outlandish. But now that humankind has seen it up close, we know that frigid, tiny Ceres is geologically alive. 

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RUSSIAN SCIENTIST PROPOSES USING LASERS TO MELT SPACE JUNK

SATELLITE MELT

byVICTOR TANGERMANN

THAT’S ONE WAY TO DO IT.

As we speak, thousands of small pieces of debris are cluttering Earth’s orbit. Even entire derelict satellites are drifting through space, having long fulfilled their purpose. In fact, an astonishing 60 percent of our planet’s roughly 6,000 satellites are no longer in operation.

That’s a problem, as any collision could end in disaster — or the dreaded knock-on effect known as Kessler syndrome, a cascade of collisions generating new pieces of dangerous space debris that could render Earth’s orbit uninhabitable.

That’s why Russian physicist Egor Loktionov is suggesting a highly unusual intervention: using space-based lasers to melt non-operational satellites into plasma, the Academic Times reports.

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World’s First Commercial Space Station Project Just Raised $130 Million

By  Brad Bergan

We’re one step closer to round-trip space tickets.

One of the most ambitious space startups — Axiom Space — has completed a $130 million Series B funding round, confirming investor confidence in the company — which NASA tapped to add privately-manufactured space station modules to the International Space Station (ISS), according to a Tuesday press release.

Crucially, Axiom Space also plans to build the first entirely-private space station once it’s finished with NASA’s ISS addition.

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NASA CONTRACTOR SIGNS DEAL TO BUILD GREENHOUSES IN EARTH’S ORBIT

SPACE FARMING


“COVID AND THE CLIMATE CHANGE REALLY OPENED OUR EYES TO THE FRAGILITY OF FOOD SECURITY IN BOTH THE DEVELOPING AND THE DEVELOPED WORLD.”

Private space company Nanoracks recently signed a deal with investors in the United Arab Emirates to build orbital greenhouses and grow extremely-resilient crops out in space.

It sounds like an unusual idea, to say the least. But Nanoracks CEO Jeffrey Manber told Space.com that he believes any crops capable of surviving the extremes of life in space could go a long way toward solving looming food security crises here on Earth — and pointed to scientific evidence support that hypothesis.

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Three robotic spacecraft set to arrive at Mars this month

By Marcia Dunn

Cape Canaveral: After hurtling hundreds of millions of miles through space since last northern summer, three robotic explorers are ready to hit the brakes at Mars.

The stakes — and anxiety — are sky high.

The United Arab Emirates’ orbiter reaches Mars on Tuesday, followed less than 24 hours later by China’s orbiter-rover combo. NASA’s rover, the cosmic caboose, will arrive on the scene a week later, on February 18, to collect rocks for return to Earth — a key step in determining whether life ever existed at Mars.

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Japanese researchers are developing satellites made of wood

Shane McGlaun 

The number of satellites being put into orbit is always increasing, and many researchers and scientists worldwide fear the amount of space junk that will accumulate in orbit around the Earth. A Japanese company called Sumitomo Forestry is working with researchers from Kyoto University to develop the first satellites made of wood by 2023. Sumitomo Forestry says that it has started research on tree growth and the use of wood materials in space.

The partnership between the company and the University will start by experimenting with different wood types in extreme environments on Earth. According to the partners, wooden satellites would burn up in the atmosphere without releasing harmful substances or raining debris onto the ground. Kyoto University Professor Takao Doi says there is concern that all satellites that reenter the Earth’s atmosphere burn and create tiny alumina particles that float in the upper atmosphere for many years.

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Japan’s space agency finds ample soil, gas from asteroid

by Mari Yamaguchi

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This photo provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), shows soil samples, seen inside a container of the re-entry capsule brought back by Hayabusa2, in Sagamihara, near Tokyo,Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Officials from Japan’s space agency said Tuesday they have found more than the anticipated amount of soil and gases inside a small capsule the country’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft brought back from a distant asteroid this month, a sample-return mission they praised as a milestone for planetary research.(JAXA via AP)

Officials from Japan’s space agency said Tuesday they have found more than the anticipated amount of soil and gases inside a small capsule the country’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft brought back from a distant asteroid this month, a mission they praised as a milestone in planetary research.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said its staff initially spotted some black particles sitting on the bottom of the capsule’s sample catcher when they pulled out the container on Monday. By Tuesday, scientists found more of the soil and gas samples in a compartment that stored those from the first of Hayabusa’s two touchdowns on the asteroid last year.

“We have confirmed a good amount of sand apparently collected from the asteroid Ryugu, along with gases,” JAXA Hayabusa2 project manager Yuichi Tsuda said in a video message during an online news conference. “The samples from outside of our planet, which we have long dreamed of, are now in our hands.”

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Space Force opens SpaceWERX technology accelerator in Los Angeles

by Sandra Erwin 

space-force=spacewerx-technology-accelerator
Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics (left) and Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, announced Dec. 7 the opening of a SpaceWERX technology accelerator office that will work with commercial companies in the space industry. 

Lt. Gen. Thompson: SpaceWERX will “help us ensure the Space Force can tap into cutting edge space technologies.”

WASHINGTON — Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, announced Dec. 7 the opening of a technology accelerator office that will work with commercial companies in the space industry.

Known as SpaceWERX, the new organization will be the “space arm of AFWERX,” Roper said during a virtual event in a joint appearance with Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center. 

Thompson said SpaceWERX will be located at the SMC campus in Los Angeles and will be led by Lt. Col. Rock McMillan. 

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The plan to turn scrapped rockets into space stations

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Spent rockets are dangerous space trash, but they could be the future of living and working in orbit.

IN EARLY OCTOBER, a dead Soviet satellite and the abandoned upper stage of a Chinese rocket narrowly avoided a collision in low Earth orbit. If the objects had crashed, the impact would have blown them to bits and created thousands of new pieces of dangerous space debris. Only a few days prior, the European Space Agency had published its annual space environment report, which highlighted abandoned rocket bodies as one of the biggest threats to spacecraft. The best way to mitigate this risk is for launch providers to deorbit their rockets after they’ve delivered their payload. But if you ask Jeffrey Manber, that’s a waste of a perfectly good giant metal tube.

Manber is the CEO of Nanoracks, a space logistics company best known for hosting private payloads on the International Space Station, and for the past few years he has been working on a plan to turn the upper stages of spent rockets into miniature space stations. It’s not a new idea, but Manber feels its time has come. “NASA has looked at the idea of refurbishing fuel tanks several times,” he says. “But it was always abandoned, usually because the technology wasn’t there.” All of NASA’s previous plans depended on astronauts doing a lot of the manufacturing and assembly work, which made the projects expensive, slow, and hazardous. Manber’s vision is to create an extraterrestrial chop shop where astronauts are replaced by autonomous robots that cut, bend, and weld the bodies of spent rockets until they’re fit to be used as laboratories, fuel depots, or warehouses.

The Nanoracks program, known as Outpost, will modify rockets after they’re done with their mission to give them a second life. The first Outposts will be uncrewed stations made from the upper stages of new rockets, but Manber says it’s possible that future stations could host people or be built from rocket stages already in orbit. In the beginning, Nanoracks won’t use the interior of the rocket and will mount experiment payloads, power supply modules, and small propulsion units to the outside of the fuselage. Once company engineers have that figured out, they can focus on developing the inside of the rocket as a pressurized laboratory.

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Alphabet will use beams of light to deliver internet in Kenya

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The moonshot project has a new name, too.

 It’s been a while since we’ve heard about Alphabet’s Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC) project. If you’ve forgotten all about it, we don’t blame you: the acronym doesn’t stick in the mind quite like Google Fiber or Project Loon. To solve the problem, Alphabet’s ‘X’ division has renamed the initiative Project Taara. (I like it, though Project Tidal already starts with the letter ’T.’ If both moonshots ’graduate’ and become fully-fledged companies, one will have to rebrand or ruin Alphabet’s otherwise immaculate naming scheme.) It suggests that Google’s parent company now sees the technology, which uses laser-beaming boxes to deliver connectivity, as something that can eventually become a real business.

In a blog post, Taara general manager Mahesh Krishnaswamy announced that the team is formally working with telecoms giant Econet in Africa. It’s not clear, however, if any money is changing hands. Initially, Taara’s hardware will support Econet subsidiary Liquid Telecom in Kenya. It’s an obvious move given that the moonshot has already trialed its technology in the country, which followed pilots in Andhra Pradesh, a state in India.

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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture fleshes out plans for 2023 cargo delivery to the moon

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An artist’s conception shows the human landing system that’s being developed by Blue Origin and its industry partners in the foreground, and Blue Origin’s Blue Moon cargo lander in the far background. (Blue Origin Illustration)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is working on a landing system that could put astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024 — but it’s also keeping its options open to deliver a ton of cargo to the lunar surface a year before that.

Blue Origin’s chief scientist, Steve Squyres, outlined the current state of plans for an Amazon-like cargo delivery to the moon today during a virtual symposium presented by the University of Washington’s Space Policy and Research Center.

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