Friday, July 26, 2019

🚀 Starship Flies! (Briefly), LightSail 2 is Sailing! Chandrayaan-2 Launches a Rover to the Moon, and More...



Starship Prototype Flies! (Briefly)

Hi, Vasiliy.

Thursday night was a big one, as SpaceX's Starship prototype briefly took flight at the launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. It was hard to make it out through all the smoke, but for a few seconds, the watertank-inspired rocket lifted off the launch pad powered by its methane-fueled Raptor engine, hovered for a few seconds and then landed gently.

It's hard to understand what's so special about this brief test, but when you consider the implications, it's hard not to get excited.

If this thing actually gets built, SpaceX will have built a true, fully reusable multi-stage rocket capable of blasting off, going to orbit, returning to Earth and then doing the whole thing all over again.

SpaceX actually has two of these things in construction, by two separate teams competing with different designs to solve all the challenges in front of them. No customer is funding their efforts, but again, if this thing flies, at the price point Elon Musk thinks it can do, paying for only the fuel, everyone will be their customer.

A full Mark 1 prototype is expected to fly in the next 2-3 months, and Musk claims we'll see the fully orbital vehicle fly next year. I'll keep you posted.


Fraser Cain
Universe Today

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LightSail 2

Planetary Society Deploys LightSail 2's Solar Sail. What Does The Future Hold For Solar Sails?


Where you can travel in space depends on how much propellant you've got on board your rocket and how efficiently you can use it. But there's a source of free propellant right here in the Solar System - the Sun - which is streaming out photons in all directions. You just need to catch them.

And right now, the Planetary Society's new LightSail 2 spacecraft is testing out just how well it'll work.

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There are Ring-Like Formations Around the Lakes on Titan

Even though Cassini is gone, scientists are continuing to pore through the data the spacecraft sent home, giving us clues about this amazing moon of Saturn. Most recently, scientists announced that they've found a raised ring that surrounds the bizarre liquid methane and ethane lakes on Titan. What kind of process could be generating them?

Local void

Meet Our Neighbour, The Local Void. Gaze Into It, Puny Humans

We live in a concentrated part of the Universe, with planets, stars and galaxies, but right next door (cosmically speaking) is the Local Void. This is a region of lower density, the gap opened up as gravity pulls galaxies together into larger and larger structures. It's tough to study because it happens to be on the opposite side of the galaxy from us, obscured by the core of the Milky Way.

Chris Kraft

Chris Kraft, Legendary NASA Flight Director, Dies at 95

One of the legends of NASA's human space exploration efforts, Chris Kraft, passed away this week at the age of 95. He created the concepts of mission planning, real-time monitoring and control of space missions and was one of the leaders of the US space program.

Earth over time

Searching For The Red Edge: How The Earth's Forests Are Telling The Aliens Where We Live

People are always worried that alien civilizations will detect the transmissions from our old radio shows and television broadcasts, and send in the invasion fleet. But the reality is that life itself has been broadcasting the existence of life on Earth for 500 million years. 

Blame it on the plants.


Mars 2020

NASA is Starting to Load up Nuclear Fuel into the Mars 2020 Rover

NASA is continuing work on the Mars 2020 rover, the follow up to Curiosity. And this week, workers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California started to load up the rover's radioisotope thermoelectric generator with its nuclear fuel. This is a kind of battery, where a chunk of decaying plutonium creates heat which can then provide the electricity to run the rover and its instruments.


Lunar rover

Toyota is Building a Pressurized Lunar Rover for Japan

The Japanese Space Agency is teaming up with Toyota to build a pressurized rover that astronauts could use as they're exploring the Moon. Their goal is to build a rover that can keep astronauts safe on the lunar surface, in a vehicle capable of driving 10,000 kilometers, enough to drive around the entire Moon. If all goes well, it could fly to the Moon in 2029.


Crew Dragon is Off to the Station

SpaceX had a busy day Thursday. In addition to their Starship test, they also launched a Crew Dragon supply capsule to the International Space Station on board a Falcon 9 rocket. The launch happened at 3:01 pm PDT from Florida, carrying 5,000 pounds of experiments and supplies to orbit. This is SpaceX's 18th cargo flight.


India's Chandrayaan-2 is Heading to the Moon

This week we also saw the launch of India's Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon. The follow-up to their first lunar mission, this time they're sending a lunar lander and rover, which will touch down at the Moon's south pole in early September. The Vikram orbiter will raise its orbit over the next 23 days, and then it'll make an insertion into lunar orbit. Then on September 7th, its lander will touch down, and its Pragyan rover will explore the lunar surface for one lunar day (about 14 Earth days).


China's Tiangong 2 was Destroyed Last Week, Burning up in the Atmosphere Over the South Pacific Ocean

China quietly ended the mission of its Tiangong-2 space station last week, de-orbiting the spacecraft so that it burned up over the Pacific Ocean. Most of the lab was destroyed as it passed through the atmosphere, but chunks of it probably survived, and now it's at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The station spent over 1,000 days in orbit, and was visited 4 separate times by Chinese astronauts.


VP Pence Unveils the Spacecraft that will Take Astronauts Back to the Moon in 2024

As part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of Apollo 11, US Vice President Mike Pence showed off the Orion crew capsule which will be used for the first Artemis mission to return humans to the Moon by 2024. It's expected to launch as part of EM-1 (now Artemis 1) sometime in 2020 or 2021. Artemis 2 will do a flyby of the Moon, and Artemis 3 will launch a crew on the Moon in 2024.

Thirty Meter Telescope

Protests Delay Construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope

While the other mega telescopes are moving forward, the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii is getting delayed because of protests by Native Hawaiians. Thousands gathered this week to protest the construction of the telescope, and police arrested 33 people last week. What happens now? It could be moved to another site, like the Canary Islands, it could be renegotiated, or construction could push on (amid growing protests).


Lunar surface

Lunar Ice at the Poles is Probably Getting Eroded

Everyone is focused on the permanently shadowed craters at the Moon's south pole because there seem to be vast quantities of water ice that astronauts could use for fuel, air and more. But new research from NASA is indicating that even this ice could still be escaping into space because of meteorite bombardments and the solar wind.

Other Interesting Space Stuff

Amazing Astrophotography on @universetoday


I love startrails, and so does Sydney-based Heesoo Chung. He shared three of his carefully planned star trail pictures on our Instagram feed this week, and this one was my favorite.

We have featured over 1,000 astrophotographers on our Instagram page, which has more than 180,000 followers. Want to do a takeover? Use the hashtag #universetoday and I'll check out your photos.

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