Space News & Blog Articles

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Russia launches sharp-eyed spy satellite for Iran

Iran will soon have access to sharp orbital imagery, thanks to a newly launched Russian-built spy satellite.

Pluto explorer deep dives to the Titanic

For planetary scientist Alan Stern, witnessing the 20th century deep sea sarcophagus that is the Titanic serves up analogies to spaceflight.

Watch SpaceX launch 53 Starlink satellites and land a rocket at sea tonight

SpaceX will launch 53 of its Starlink internet satellites and land a rocket at sea on Tuesday (Aug. 9), and you can watch the action live.

How dancing black holes get close enough to merge

New research suggests a way for black holes to merge quickly: They must be caught in the accretion disk of a supermassive companion.

A month on 'Mars': Traveling to the Red Planet

The Month on Mars expedition traveled to the Haughton-Mars Project base for its summer field season at a simulated Martian outpost.

Tracking marine plastic drift from space

Every 60 seconds the equivalent of a lorry-load of plastic enters the global ocean. Where does it end up? Right now, researchers simply don’t know. But in a bid to help find out, an ESA-led project developed floating transmitters whose passage can be tracked over time, helping in turn to guide a sophisticated software model of marine plastic litter accumulation.

With Martian air, Dirt, and Sunshine, It Should be Possible to Make Iron on Mars

When the first humans reach Mars, they’ll probably live in habitats that were there ahead of time or in habs made from their landers. Eventually, though, if people are going to settle on Mars in large numbers, they’ll need to become self-sufficient. A group of researchers at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia is looking at ways to make it happen. Their goal is in-situ resource utilization on the planet for solutions to building out the materials needed for Mars cities. They’ve come up with a proposal to produce metals for use on Mars, using only what’s available on the planet. It’s the first detailed study of its kind focused on metal production at another world. It has further implications for colonies on the Moon, as well.

Why make metals, particularly iron, on Mars when there’s plenty on Earth? It’s a matter of economics and accessibility. Space launches off Earth are expensive. It can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars per kilogram of payload to nearly $60,000 per kilogram to get stuff out of Earth’s gravity well. If the payload contains people and materials bound for Mars, that can get spendy very quickly. Sure, the early missions will contain everything people need to live on the Red Planet. They’ll transport food, oxygen supplies, and so on. But, for long-term colonies and science bases, it’s pretty clear that in-situ resource utilization is the wave of the future. It’s cheaper, and in the long run, more sustainable. And, Mars does have resources for future inhabitants to use.

Think about it. A colony on Mars needs homes, labs, and equipment for creating oxygen and harvesting water, growing food, and making fuels. While some plastics could be useful as part of the mix, much of what settlers will need requires metals. And, bringing them from Earth will not always be possible. It’s also not likely that asteroid mining will provide a permanent answer. At least not in the short term. So, going “local” is the best solution.

In-situ Resource Utilization on Mars

In Australia, Swinburne professor Akbar Rhamdhani and his team began looking at ways to produce metal on Mars and recently published a paper about their ideas. Basically, without assuming the existence of metal deposits on the Red Planet, they developed a process that would take processed air from the Martian atmosphere, dirt from the surface, and concentrated sunlight, and come up with a method to create metallic iron. Solar energy provides the heat source for this “smelting” operation, while cooled CO gas provides carbon. CO itself is a by-product of oxygen production in the Martian atmosphere. We already know that oxygen can be produced on Mars through artificial means. The Mars Perseverance rover’s Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) has already done it. It’s a prototype for oxygen-producing equipment people will need on the planet.

The MOXIE unit is being placed into the Perseverance rover. Courtesy NASA/JPL.

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Weather looks good for SpaceX Starlink launch on Tuesday

There's a 70% chance that the weather will be good enough to allow another batch of SpaceX's Starlink satellites to get off the ground from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Massive megastructures circle the Earth in trailer for sci-fi film 'Orbital'

Filmmaker Hashem Al-Ghaili has created a micro-budget sci-fi film with amazing visual effects in 'Orbital.'

A Remote Surgical Robot is Going to the International Space Station

In the near future, NASA and other space agencies will send astronauts beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for the first time in over fifty years. But unlike the Apollo Era, these missions will consist of astronauts spending extended periods on the Moon and traveling to and from Mars (with a few months of surface operations in between). Beyond that, there’s also the planned commercialization of LEO and cis-Lunar space, meaning millions of people could live aboard space habitats and surface settlements well beyond Earth.

This presents many challenges, which include the possibility that the sick and injured won’t have licensed medical practitioners to perform potentially life-saving surgery. To address this, Professor Shane Farritor and his colleagues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s (UNL) Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC) have developed the Miniaturized In-vivo Robotic Assistant (MIRA). In 2024, this portable miniaturized robotic-assisted surgery (RAS) platform will be flown to the International Space Station (ISS) for a test mission to evaluate its ability to perform medical procedures in space.

Farritor is the David and Lederer Professor of Engineering at the University of Nebraska who studied robotics at MIT. As part of his studies, he worked with the NASA Kennedy Space Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in support of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) program. This consisted of assisting in designing and assembling the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, defining their motion planning, and inventing a process where the rover’s Sun detectors are used to determine its direction of travel.

In 2006, he and Dmitry Oleynikov – a former University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) professor of surgery – founded Virtual Incision, a startup company based at the NIC. In April 2022, Farritor was named the inaugural winner of the Faculty IP Innovation and Commercialization Award – issued by the University of Nebraska for intellectual property. For nearly 20 years, Farritor, Oleynikov, and their colleagues have been developing the MIRA robotic surgical suite, which has attracted over $100 million in venture capital.

Recently, NASA awarded Virtual Incision a $100,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to help engineers and roboticists at the NIC prepare it for its test aboard the ISS. Compared to conventional robotic surgical suites, MIRA offers two advantages. First, its instruments can be inserted through small incisions, allowing doctors to perform minimally-invasive operations (such as abdominal surgery and colon resections). Second, the technology could allow for telemedicine, where surgeons can perform operations remotely and provide services to locations far from a medical facility.

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SpaceX's Starship Super Heavy rocket returns to launch pad (photos)

SpaceX's massive "Booster 7" Super Heavy rocket prototype moved back to the launch pad Aug. 5 and 6 to prep for an orbital test flight with Starship later this year.

Surprise solar storm bashes Earth, with a second wave predicted for Monday

NOAA reported that a "moderate" solar storm struck Earth over the weekend, and another once could hit today.

Cosmonaut Anatoly Filipchenko, who led two docking flight tests, dies at 94

Soviet-era cosmonaut Anatoly Filipchenko, who launched on two docking tests, first for a possible Russian moon landing and then the first joint flight with the United States, has died at age 94.

Perseid meteor shower generates early 'shooting stars' (video)

If you're worried about the full moon washing out the Perseid meteor shower peak Aug. 12, go out now. NASA cameras have already spotted 'shooting stars.'

NASA opens up Artemis moon missions to all astronauts

The first agency assignments, for Artemis 2, should be announced later in 2022.

Artemis 1 moon mission launch ticket sales crashed website: report

Ticket sales for NASA's next moonbound launch briefly overwhelmed the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's website, but officials quickly addressed it.

Chinese astronauts start testing new space station module (video)

China's Shenzhou 14 astronauts are getting the country's new space station module ready to host crews over the next decade.

Powerful cosmic explosions left abundant stardust in our solar system

Stardust provides the building blocks that form new stars and planets. New research shows a significant proportion of this stellar material may have been left in the solar system by giant stars going supernova.

US Space Force tests robot dogs to patrol Cape Canaveral

The Space Force has conducted a demonstration using "robot dogs" for security patrols and other repetitive tasks.

Hubble Space Telescope captures photo of a dazzling star cluster

The Hubble Space Telescope has imaged globular cluster NGC 6638, located in the constellation Sagittarius.