Space News & Blog Articles

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Boeing Starliner's 1st astronaut launch delayed again, this time with no new flight date

The 1st astronaut mission aboard Boeing's Starliner will not lift off May 25 as planned. NASA has not yet revealed the cause, but a helium leak has been ongoing in the spacecraft.

Space debris could be dealt with more cheaply than previously thought, new NASA report suggests

A new report by NASA outlines the most promising approaches to keeping the space around Earth safe and usable for future generations.

How does spaceflight lead to medical breakthroughs? Veteran astronaut explains

Sierra Space Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Marshburn shares how medical research in space makes a difference here on Earth.

ESA and the EU update their Security of Information Agreement

Keeping information secure in today’s interconnected world is becoming ever more important. ESA and the EU have amended their security of information agreement, reinforcing their trusted partnership.

Stellar telescope deal: Save $230 on the Celestron Astro Fi 130

The Celestron Astro Fi telescope features in our best telescopes guide and now it comes with a $230 discount.

Boeing Starliner launch Saturday ruled out as helium leak analysis continues

The United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket that will carry Starliner, pictured on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral prior to its first launch attempt in early May 2024. Image: Michael Cain/Spaceflight Now.

Plans to launch Boeing’s oft-delayed Starliner spacecraft on its first crewed test flight Saturday were put on hold Tuesday night to give managers more time to evaluate a small helium leak in the ship’s propulsion system. A new launch target was not announced.

The Starliner’s crew — commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and co-pilot Sunita Williams — remained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston awaiting word on when to head for the Kennedy Space Center to make final preparations for launch to the International Space Station.

They had hoped to blast off at 3:09 p.m. EDT Saturday, assuming NASA and Boeing managers agreed it would be safe to launch the spacecraft “as is,” with a small-but-persistent leak in the ship’s propulsion pressurization system.

But multiple sources said earlier Tuesday that option was no longer on the table as additional meetings were planned to discuss the rationale for launching the spacecraft assuming the leak would not worsen in flight.

In a short statement late Tuesday, NASA said “the team has been in meetings for two consecutive days, assessing flight rationale, system performance and redundancy. There is still forward work in these areas, and the next possible launch opportunity is still being discussed.”

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SpaceX launches first batch of satellites for the NRO’s reconnaissance satellite constellation

A Falcon 9 heads to orbit with a payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office. Image: SpaceX.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) began start building a constellation of unknown size with a middle-of-the-night launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The mission, dubbed NROL-146, featured an undisclosed number of satellites riding onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) happened at the start of a launch window that opened 1 a.m. PDT (4 a.m. EDT, 0800 UTC).

The Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this mission, tail number B1071 in the SpaceX fleet, launched for a 16th time. It’s first two flights were for NRO missions and it also launched a pair of Transporter rideshare flights.

A little more than eight minutes after liftoff, B1071 landed on the SpaceX droneship, ‘Of Course I Still Love You.’ This was the 91st recovery for OCISLY and the 310th booster landing to date for SpaceX.

Starshield takes flight

While the details of the mission are largely under wraps, the payload onboard is believed to be a batch of Starshield satellites. These are government-specific versions of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, which the company previously stated focus on three main areas:

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Space Force orders 'jetpack' to give 2 years of maneuverability to military satellite

In a first-of-its-kind mission, Starfish Space will attach a "jetpack"-like satellite to a U.S. military satellite to give it two years of additional propulsion and maneuverability.

Dream Chaser space plane arrives in Florida ahead of 1st launch to ISS (photo)

Dream Chaser is almost ready for its first mission. The space plane Tenacity and a cargo module are at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for final testing ahead of an ISS launch.

Doctor Who 'Boom': Who are the marines really fighting on Kastarion 3?

The Doctor has his foot on a landmine throughout this high-concept adventure for episode 3 — but who's the real enemy on Kastarion 3?

China's Chang'e 6 mission gearing up for early June landing on moon's far side

China's robotic Chang'e 6 sample-return mission to the lunar far side is now in orbit around the moon, gearing up for its landing attempt.

Observe the sun in detail and save 25% on Celestron's EclipSmart binoculars

Celestron's EclipSmart binoculars are specialists for solar observation and now they're 25% off on Amazon

A comet approaching Earth could become brighter than the stars this fall

By the end of this summer, we may have a good idea as to whether we'll have a bright naked-eye comet gracing our early autumn evening sky, known as C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan–ATLAS).

SpaceX launches next-gen US spy satellites and sticks the landing early on Wednesday May 22

SpaceX plans to launch the first batch of satellites for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office's "proliferated architecture" early Wednesday morning (May 22).

Plants signal NASA satellites with waning 'glow' ahead of flash drought

NASA scientists have discovered signs of an impending flash drought months before the onset by observing the brightness of "glowing" plants from space.

EarthCARE pre-launch press briefing

Video: 00:51:05

ESA’s Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer (EarthCARE) mission is designed to advance our understanding of the role that clouds and aerosols play in reflecting incident solar radiation back out to space and trapping infrared radiation emitted from Earth’s surface.

Developed as a cooperation between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), this exciting mission will make a range of different measurements that together will shed new light on the role that clouds and aerosols play in regulating Earth’s delicate temperature balance. 

With global climate change increasingly affecting our planet, EarthCARE is poised to provide data for climate research, improve the accuracy of climate models and support numerical weather prediction. 

The EarthCare pre-launch press briefing featured: Simonetta Cheli, Director of Earth Observation Programmes, ESA, Dirk Bernaerts, EarthCARE project manager and Acting Head Earth Explorers Division, ESA, Futoshi Takiguchi, Vice President and Director General for the Space Technology Directorate, JAXA, Eiichi Tomita, EarthCARE/CPR Project Manager, JAXA and Maximilian Sauer, EarthCARE Project Manager, Airbus.

After Swirling Around a Black Hole, Matter Just Falls Straight In

The physics surrounding black holes is just plain weird. A gravitational well so strong that not even light can escape can do some pretty strange things to normal matter. Over the decades, plenty of theories have been put forward about what those strange things might be. And now, a new paper from physicists at the University of Oxford has proved that, once again, Einstein’s theory of gravity was right. 

Their work focused on a “plunging region” immediately outside the black hole’s radius. In this region, matter “plunges” straight into the black hole rather than orbiting it via the more familiar laws of orbital mechanics. One of the paper’s authors, Dr. Andrew Mummery, equates it to watching a river turn into a waterfall. Matter flows nicely along a well-defined path and then seemingly drops off a cliff.

Theoretical work has been ongoing for this region for decades. The idea of the plunge came originally from Einstein’s theory of gravity. It noted that sufficiently close to a black hole, the matter would be forced into the black hole at close to the speed of light. However, no one had yet collected any data and proved this theory.

Fraser celebrates the first direct image of a black hole.

However, data from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) change that. They collected X-ray data on a relatively small black hole located in a star system about 10,000 light years away. That data showed that matter (which is all plasma at that point) rapidly moves toward the interior of the black hole once it reaches a certain threshold. 

This discovery is only the first step in a long-term plan, where researchers hope to use a much bigger telescope to study much larger black holes. The Africa Millimetre Telescope is a proposed new ground-based telescope planned to begin operations in Namibia. Originally proposed back in 2016, the project is slowly moving toward first light and has so far received 10 million Euros in funding. 

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The Habitable Worlds Observatory Could See Lunar and Solar ‘Exo-Eclipses’

A future space observatory could use exo-eclipses to tease out exomoon populations.

If you’re like us, you’re still coming down from the celestial euphoria that was last month’s total solar eclipse. The spectacle of the Moon blocking out the Sun has also provided astronomers with unique scientific opportunities in the past, from the discovery of helium to proof for general relativity. Now, eclipses in remote exoplanetary systems could aid in the hunt for elusive exomoons.

A recent study out of the University of Michigan in partnership with Johns Hopkins APL and the Department of Physics and the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology entitled Exomoons & Exorings with the Habitable Worlds Observatory I: On the Detection of Earth-Moon Analog Shadows & Eclipses looks to use a future mission to hunt for eclipses, transits and occultations in distant systems.

“HWO is likely to be able to detect exomoons using a variety of detection methods, unlike existing observatories,” Mary Anne Limbach (University of Michigan) lead author on the study told Universe Today. “In a system where we detect an exomoon via an exo-eclipse, we might be able to observe other signatures, such as light from the moon within the combined reflected light spectrum of the moon and the planet.”

The proposed Habitable Worlds Observatory (HWO) was derived from the LUVOIR-B (Large Ultraviolet Optical and Infrared explorer) concept. This was highlighted in the Astro2020 Decadal Survey for space-based astronomy. HWO would work from the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point (the current home for Euclid and JWST), and launch on either an SLS or Falcon Heavy sometime in the mid-2030s. HWO would employ a free-flying ‘star-shield,’ allowing it to observe exoplanets orbiting stars directly. But what’s really enticing to observers is the idea of seeing large moons orbiting said planets. Thus far, claims of exomoon detections such as Kepler-1625b and Kepler-1708b have remained elusive. If, however, these moons orbit along their respective ecliptic planes, we’d see tell-tale dips in brightness as these moons pass into the planet’s shadow, then cast their shadows back on the host primary.

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New Shepard’s 25th Launch Carries Six to the Edge of Space and Back

Sending tourists to space is still relatively novel in the grand scheme of humanity’s journey to the stars. Dennis Tito took the first-ever paid trip in 2001, but since then, plenty of others have journeyed to the heavens. Increasingly, they’ve done so via systems developed by private companies. On Sunday, May 19th, Blue Origin, originally founded by Jeff Bezos to pursue his dreams of humanity’s future in space, successfully launched its seventh crewed mission – this time containing six first-time astronauts, including one that waited a long time for his day in space.

The astronauts’ professions and ages varied widely—from a twenty-something male venture capitalist to a retired female CPA, they came from different walks of life and various stages of life. One owns a brewery in France, while another is a trained stunt pilot. Most impressively, this was the opportunity for Ed Dwight to go into space.

He’s a former Air Force Captain who was the first black person ever to be selected for the Aerospace Research Pilot School, which he reached after being a test pilot in the Air Force for eight years. After making it through the first cut, Captain Dwight wasn’t selected to join NASA’s astronaut program, and many modern-day observers think that was simply down to the racism prevalent in the country back then.

Blue Origin promotional video for the NS-25 mission.
Credit – Blue Origin YouTube Channel

After leaving the military, he went on to have a successful life as an entrepreneur and became a well-regarded sculptor. Many of his themes focused on black culture, and he has over 100 pieces on show. He was also eventually made an honorary member of the US Space Force back in 2020.

Most importantly, he had never made it to space until now. Did we mention he’s also 90 years old and now, officially, the oldest person to have ever been sent to space? He and his fellow travelers—Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Carol Schaller, Kenneth Hess, and Thotakura Gopichand—spent 10 minutes in space. If you’re interested in watching the process, there’s a YouTube video that tracks the whole mission—the launch takes place near 1:22 into the video.

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That Recent Solar Storm Was Detected Almost Three Kilometers Under the Ocean

On May 10th, 2024, people across North America were treated to a rare celestial event: an aurora visible from the Eastern Seabord to the Southern United States. This particular sighting of the Northern Lights (aka. Aurora Borealis) coincided with the most extreme geomagnetic storm since 2003 and the 27th strongest solar flare ever recorded. This led to the dazzling display that was visible to residents all across North America but was also detected by some of Ocean Networks Canada‘s (ONC) undersea sensors at depths of almost three kilometers.

ONC, an initiative of the University of Victoria supported by the Government of Canada, is one of the country’s major research facilities. Its network includes cabled observatories along the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic coasts of Canada and the Southern Ocean. that supply continuous power and internet to scientific instruments, cameras, and over 12,000 ocean sensors. According to a statement released on May 15th, ONC instrument platforms on Canada’s west and east coasts recorded the temporary distortion of Earth’s magnetic field at depths up to 2.7 km (1.68 mi) under the ocean.

Ocean Networks Canada infrastructure map. ONC operates world-leading observatories in the deep ocean, coastal waters, and the land of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic coasts of Canada and the Southern Ocean. Credit: UVic/ONC

The disturbances triggered the movement of compasses, which the ONC uses to orient its Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCP) instruments that measure ocean currents. The most significant magnetic shift was detected by the ONC NEPTUNE cabled observatory off the coast of Vancouver Island. A compass belonging to this observatory, at a depth of 25 meters (82 ft) at the Folger Passage site, shifted within a range of +30 to -30 degrees. These magnetic disturbances were discovered during data quality control checks, which the ONC routinely performs to ensure their sensors work.

ONC data specialist Alex Slonimer was completing a daily check on the Ocean 3.0 Data Portal in late March when he first noticed the anomaly. Last week’s much larger solar storm reinforced the observation. Slonimer noticed that the peaks in compass headings were closely correlated to the peaks in the visible activity in the aurora. “I looked into whether it was potentially an earthquake, but that didn’t make a lot of sense because the changes in the data were lasting for too long and concurrently at different locations,” said Slonimer in a UVic News release. “Then, I looked into whether it was a solar flare as the sun has been active recently.” 

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