Archive for the ‘Space News’ Category

Image credit: Michaela Musilova/HI-SEAS

 

Mars researchers are keeping their fingers crossed concerning the new lava flow in Hawaii – perhaps endangering the Hawai‘i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) site.

HI-SEAS is a Mars and Moon exploration analog research station, currently operated by the International MoonBase Alliance.

Flow front

According to a Facebook posting by Michaela Musilova, former HI-SEAS Director (2018–2022):

“I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that the HI-SEAS station will survive the current Mauna Loa eruption. It was spared a couple of days ago when a big lava flow front came within a mile of the station.”

Image credit: USGS/Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

More recently, it appeared that another flow front was coming straight towards the habitat.

Musilova reports that the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory shared an image from one of their webcams “and it does not look promising for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog & Simulation. I remain hopeful that the ridge next to the HI-SEAS habitat may protect it, but it’ll depend on a number of factors, such as the direction and speed of the lava flow(s). Here’s hoping for the best!”

Image credit: Hi-SEAS/Michaela Musilova

Analog space missions

HI-SEAS is situated at approximately 8,200 feet above sea level.

The HI-SEAS habitat is a 1,200 square foot dome located on a Mars-like site on the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawai‘i Island.

HI-SEAS has been the home to long-duration (4 to 12 month) NASA Mars simulation missions and tens of other analog space missions in collaboration with multiple space agencies, companies, and organizations worldwide.

As detailed by the HI-SEAS website, the habitat is semi-portable, low-impact and designed to have all the desirable analog features. It has a habitable volume of roughly 13,000 cubic feet, a usable floor space of approximately 1,200 square feet and small sleeping quarters for a crew of six, as well as a kitchen, laboratory, bathroom, simulated airlock and engineering bay area.

Lava tube exploration. Image credit: Michaela Musilova

Habitat risk

“As it happens, I was there in September with a group of researchers from NASA Goddard who were studying a lava tube near the habitat,” said Carol Stoker, a planetary scientist at the space agency’s Ames Research Center.

The habitat sits on a ridge created by a previous vent. The hab is a metal geodesic dome covered by a fabric cover, Stoker told Inside Outer Space.

“I suspect the biggest risk is heat from a nearby flow damaging the cover unless the old vent becomes active again.  If that happens, all is lost,” Stoker added.

Map showing the recent flow (dark red) the new flow (dotted line). The yellow dot is Hi Seas and the blue dot is the lava tube a NASA Goddard team was studying. Image credit: USGS, courtesy Carol Stoker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information on HI-SEAS, go to:

https://www.hi-seas.org/

On the prowl and cupping a high-tech ear to eavesdrop on ET – a new signal search is underway using the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest radio telescope.

Breakthrough Listen – the initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe – announced today the start of observations using a powerful new instrument deployed to the MeerKAT radio telescope in the remote Karoo region of South Africa.

This is a new search for technosignatures – indicators of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligence – and expands the number of targets searched by a factor of 1,000, according to a Breakthrough Listen statement.

New approach

The new approach complements Breakthrough Listen’s ongoing searches using the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in the USA, the Parkes Telescope in Australia, and other telescopes around the world.

But there’s a difference. While those GBT and Parkes facilities involve moving thousand-ton-plus dishes to point at targets all over the sky, the program on MeerKAT typically won’t mechanically move the antennas.

The use of MeerKAT for the ET search was announced at a conference organized by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).

Image credit: SARAO

Receptors

The South African MeerKAT radio telescope is situated over 50 miles (90 kilometers) outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon.

MeerKAT was originally known as the Karoo Array Telescope (KAT) that would consist of 20 receptors. When the South African government increased the budget to allow the building of 64 receptors, the team re-named it “MeerKAT” – that is, “more of KAT.” The MeerKAT (scientific name Suricata suricatta) is also a much-loved small mammal that lives in the Karoo region, explains the MeerKAT website.

Large field of view

“MeerKAT consists of 64 dishes, which can see an area of the sky 50 times bigger than the GBT can view at once,” said Andrew Siemion, a Breakthrough Listen Principal Investigator.

Credit: Breakthrough Listen

 

“Such a large field of view typically contains many stars that are interesting technosignature targets. Our new supercomputer enables us to combine signals from the 64 dishes to get high resolution scans of these targets with excellent sensitivity, all without impacting the research of other astronomers who are using the array,” Siemion said.

Using a “commensal” mode, the Breakthrough Listen initiative gains access to the MeerKAT sensitive radio telescopes almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Processing pipeline

The ability to scan 64 targets at a time within the main field of view also improves Listen’s ability to reject interfering signals from human technology, such as squawking Earth-orbiting satellites, according to a statement.

The Listen team has developed targeting and scheduling software, as well as an automated data processing pipeline that scans through the information-gleaned in near-real-time to look for interesting signals.

Notes Cherry Ng, Breakthrough Listen’s Project Scientist for MeerKAT: “It will take us just two years to search over one million nearby stars. MeerKAT will provide us with the ability to detect a transmitter akin to Earth’s brightest radio beacons out to a distance of 250 light years in our routine observing mode.”

Artist’s conception of the surface of Proxima Centauri b. The Alpha Centauri binary system can be seen in the background, to the upper right of Proxima.
Credit:ESO/M. Kornmesser

First targets

“One of the first targets we’ll be observing is our nearest neighbor star, Proxima Centauri, which appears to host two small rocky planets in the star’s habitable zone,” said Breakthrough Initiatives Executive Director, S. Pete Worden.

“Routine observations with the Listen backend on MeerKAT are now underway,” Worden said, “and the team looks forward to sharing the first science results in the coming months.”

According to Daniel Czech of the Department of Astronomy, University of California Berkeley, simulations predict that the Breakthrough Listen survey on MeerKAT “will significantly improve on prior surveys, with the potential to become the most comprehensive SETI survey of its type yet conducted,” Czech and colleagues explain in their research paper – “The Breakthrough Listen Search for Intelligent Life: MeerKAT Target Selection” – at:

https://arxiv.org/pdf/2103.16250.pdf

Docking of Shenzhou-15 crew with China’s space station.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The crew of China’s Shenzhou-15 successfully linked up with the front port of the country’s Tianhe space station module on early Wednesday (Beijing Time).

Following launch atop a Long March-2F Y15 carrier rocket, the taikonaut trio — commander Fei Junlong, along with two newcomers, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu – made a 6.5 hours long “fast automated rendezvous and docking” and will carry out China’s first-ever, in-orbit crew rotation.

China’s six-person crew onboard the country’s orbital complex.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The six astronauts now onboard the station are projected to live and work together for about five days to complete planned tasks and handover work, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

Launched back in early June of this year, the Shenzhou-14 crew — Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe — have worked in orbit for more than 175 days.

Shenzhou-15 crew. Credit: GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Smooth operations

“The Shenzhou-15 mission marks the first time that we are running a simultaneous measurement and control on the space station with three modules and three spaceships in place,” said Yang Yanbo, deputy commander of the space station mission at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Two manned spaceships are berthing at the space station at the same time. We worked seriously to figure out a thorough plan as well as contingency plans on the whole launch-rendezvous-docking process to ensure it all goes smoothly,” Yang told China Central Television (CCTV).

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

Year-end goal

China officially kicked off the in-orbit construction of its space station after launching the core module Tianhe in April 2021.

Shenzhou-15 is the sixth flight mission of China’s crewed spaceflight program this year, notes CCTV, and the last one in the construction phase of China’s space station – the final, year-end goal of China’s “three-step” human space program initiated 30 years ago.

Space traveler, Yang Liwei, aboard Shenzhou-5 in October 2003, is the country’s first astronaut to reach orbit.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Crew rotation

According to Huang Weifen, chief designer of the astronaut system for China’s human spaceflight program:

“This is the first ever in-orbit crew rotation for us, but it will be something regular in future space station missions. We will make optimization and improvements from this rotation and form a standard practice to guide future in-orbit crew rotations.”

After launch, as Shenzhou-15 reached its 200-meter berthing point prior to the final docking, the crew members of Shenzhou-15 and Shenzhou-14 had talked with each other.

“When Shenzhou-15 was at the 200-meter berthing point, we heard Fei Junlong talking with the Shenzhou-14 crew aboard the space station. This is a big difference from previous experience without people aboard the space station,” said Huang, interviewed by the China Media Group (CMG).

Inventory of all supplies

“The Shenzhou-14 crew will help the Shenzhou-15 crew transfer supplies, equipment to the space station,” said Huang. “The Shenzhou-15 crew will also help the Shenzhou-14 crew prepare samples and other items they planned to take back and take them to Shenzhou-14.”

Station complete is set for year’s end.
Credit: CMS/CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The two crews will hand over and confirm the state of equipment onboard the space station, the status of all experiments and make an inventory of all supplies. The focus will be an inventory of all supplies, Huang added.

In an interview with China Global Television Network (CGTN), Huang also noted that the handover period for the two crews is five days.

“Before its completion, the Shenzhou-14 crew is responsible for the duties at the space station. And then, it’s the turn of the Shenzhou-15 crew. The former will introduce and guide the latter, helping them to adjust to the environment,” Huang said.

“Then, the former will return to the Earth and the latter will assist them during the process. Such coordination was rehearsed on the ground. And, we arranged the space-and-ground communication via audio and video. The Shenzhou-14 crew also shared their experiences and offered support. This time, the Shenzhou-15 crew has prepared gifts for their departing peers. I believe they will have a great time together during the handover,” said Huang.

Credit: CMSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space

Launch rate

Ren Changwei, the chief designer of the manned spacecraft system general assembly, said in an interview that more improvements will be needed in the future spacecraft design and their research and development capability, in order to adapt to the future operation of the space station.

“For the follow-up missions, we have to adapt to the new schedule that two spacecrafts will be launched every year in the future, which is quite different from what we had done before that only one manned spacecraft was launched within a couple of years,” Ren said.

“Thus, we need improve our research and development capability,” Ren added. “Moreover, we will upgrade functions of the Shenzhou spacecraft. We will also improve its load transport capacity, enabling it to carry more loads and meet other demands in its ascending and descending.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Preparatory astronauts

China’s selection process for their fourth batch of preparatory astronauts has more strict requirements and higher standards, according to Yang Liwe, China’s first astronaut. He is the current deputy chief designer of China’s piloted space program and has led China’s crewed spaceflight project for nearly two decades.

Yang said that this year’s selection of China’s fourth batch of astronauts is relatively different from the previous one, not only because the new reserve astronauts are supposed to adapt to a more challenging in-space tasks, but also due to a new arrangement of the types of astronauts.

Selection process

“There are adjustment in terms of physiological standards, as we have added different types of astronauts. For example, we have loosened requirements on our payload experts in terms of their eyesight compared with that on our rocket pilots, but imposed stricter requirements or higher standards in terms of their knowledge structure,” Yang said.

Training facilities. Credit: New China TV/GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China began its selection of its fourth batch of reserve astronauts in September, and some 12 to 14 reserve astronauts will be selected.

The selection process will take about one year and a half, and for the first time ever, candidates for payload specialists will also be selected from the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions.

A number of videos were released focused on the Shenzhou-15 liftoff and docking. You can find a selection here at:

https://youtu.be/8QHXpSZcqjI

https://youtu.be/HSleQoPGr6s

https://youtu.be/6IK5v4E12Rg

https://youtu.be/Gf3DCc7TI9U

https://youtu.be/82H-8p1rxIg

 

 

 

Today the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) released its annual report on “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” commonly known as the China Military Power Report.

The People’s Liberation Army (PRC) has clearly stated its ambition to strengthen its “strategic deterrent,” and has continued to accelerate the modernization, diversification and expansion of its nuclear forces, as well as the development of its space and counterspace capabilities, is a key take away message from the report.

 

 

To read the full report, go to:

https://media.defense.gov/2022/Nov/29/2003122279/-1/-1/1/2022-MILITARY-AND-SECURITY-DEVELOPMENTS-INVOLVING-THE-PEOPLES-REPUBLIC-OF-CHINA.PDF

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China has blueprinted an implementation plan for a human lunar mission.

In a press event Monday, Ji Qiming, assistant director with the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) made the statement in response to a question on China’s future lunar exploration plans.

“China’s manned space exploration will not only stay in low-Earth orbit, but will surely go more steadily and farther,” Ji said, as reported by the China Central Television (CCTV).

Credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Ideal base and outpost

“The Moon is the ideal base and outpost for humans to expand and exploit outer space, and lunar exploration has been the hot spot and focus of the development of manned spaceflight in the world,” Ji said. “In accordance with the development strategy approved by the Chinese government, we have completed key technological breakthroughs and in-depth demonstration of the manned lunar exploration program.”

Chinese characteristics

Ji added that breakthroughs have been made in crewed spacecraft, new-generation crew-carrying rockets, a lunar lander and a lunar suit.

This work, Ji said, has led to formulating an implementation plan for a piloted lunar mission “with Chinese characteristics.”

Artist’s view of International Lunar Research Station to be completed by 2035. Credit: CNSA/Roscosmos

“All these works have laid a solid foundation for the manned lunar exploration program,” Ji stated, “and we have the conditions for its full implementation. I believe that the dream of the Chinese people to explore the Moon will come true in the near future.”

Research station

In an earlier interview with CCTV, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, Wu Weiren, also outlined the country’s humans to the Moon aspirations.

China is upgrading the carrier rockets and launch sites for future piloted space sojourns to the Moon and Mars, Wu said.

Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, details future plans with reporter.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“In the next five years, I hope we can retrieve the samples from the far side of the Moon, Mars and asteroids and can complete the construction of Chinese lunar scientific research station. In the next 10 years, I hope the international lunar scientific research station can be completed and the asteroid defense and asteroid impact experiments can be conducted successfully. In the next 15 years, I think we should start preparations for sending human beings to the Mars and we should leave Chinese people’s footprints on the Moon. These are the goals to be basically reached,” Wu said.

Upgraded facilities

Wu noted that the thrust of current launch vehicles need to be upgraded to better facilitate future deep space exploration initiatives.

Credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“We now have the Long March-5 rocket with the maximum thrust of around 1,060 tons. That is an incredible thrust, which can send the payload of 8.5 tons to the moon and 24 tons to the low Earth orbit. The next generation of rocket will have four times the thrust of Long March-5. What does four times mean? It means that we can send the payload of over 100 tons to the low Earth orbit and 30 to 40 tons to the moon in the future. It can prepare us for future manned missions to Mars, to the Moon, and for the mass transportation to near-Earth space,” the chief engineer said.

Wu mentioned that a new heavy-lift rocket with a 10-meter diameter is under development, which will take on future crewed missions to the Moon and further expeditions to Mars and is expected to carry out the one-time configuration flight verification mission around 2035.

“What is a one-time configuration? That is, in the past rockets had several boosters, but in the future, we won’t need the big-diameter boosters, only the first-stage and second-stage engines of about 10 meters in diameter. The Long March-5’s diameter is five meters. It will increase its diameter to 10 meters in the future and quadruple its thrust. Hainan’s Wenchang will rebuild its launch site and launch base, and redesign the launch stations,” said Wu.

Go to this CCTV video at:

https://youtu.be/VqckiD9gPdk

 

Shenzhou-15 prepared for launch.
Image credit: CMS/CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The crew of China’s next human spaceflight has been announced: Veteran space flyer Fei Junlong along with Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, both first flight crew members.

The Shenzhou-15 manned spaceship will be launched Tuesday, November 29 at 23:08 Tuesday (Beijing Time) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Taikonaut trio, left to right: Zhang Lu, Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming. Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

This upcoming mission marks the sixth piloted flight of China’s crewed spaceflight program this year and the last one in the construction phase of the country’s space station.

Former space traveler Fei flew 17 years ago a five-day Shenzhou-6 spaceflight mission with colleague Nie Haisheng – the second piloted spacecraft of the Chinese space program.

Six areas of work

The Shenzhou-15 trio will stay in orbit for six months.

After entering China’s space station, the Shenzhou-15 crew will carry out missions in multiple areas after entering China’s space station, including spacewalks and a number of space science experiments, Ji Qiming, assistant to the director of China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), said at a press conference on Monday.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“During the mission, the Shenzhou-15 crew members will focus on six areas of work,” Ji said. “First, they will carry out long-term residency verification of the status of the three modules of the space station. Second, they are to get 15 science experiment cabinets unlocked, installed and tested, and carry out more than 40 space science experiments and technology tests in the fields of space science research and application, space medicine and space technology.”

Ji added that the soon-to-launch crew will carry out three to four extravehicular activities, in order to install an expansion pump set and a load platform exposed to the space. Also, they will verify the working mode of cargo airlock cabin and conduct six extravehicular tasks of cargo in coordination with our colleagues on the ground.

A fifth area, Ji added, involves the crew carrying out regular platform test, maintenance and management of the space station. Lastly, the astronauts will roll out exercises for health protection on orbit, as well as training sessions and drills.

Shenzhou-15 crew meets reporters.
Credit: GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Crew handover

Also on tap, the Shenzhou-15 crew members will join the now orbiting Shenzhou-14 colleagues to complete the space station’s first-ever crew handover, as they strive to complete the final phase of construction by the end of the year.

“The Shenzhou-15 mission is the last leg in the construction phase of China’s space station, and the first leg in the application and development phase of the space station. It plays an important role in linking the past and the future,” Ji said.

In a related China Central Television (CCTV) story, Ren Changwei, chief designer of the manned spacecraft system general assembly of the China Academy of Space Technology, said: “Actually, we will launch the Shenzhou-15 spacecraft for this mission, but at the same time, the Shenzhou-16 manned spacecraft has also been transported into the launch site and is also in a standby state. When the Shenzhou-15 is launched, the Shenzhou-16 will be on standby for emergency rescue.”

For new videos detailing the upcoming Shenzhou-15 crew and launch, go to:

https://youtu.be/oNGDQlLt-Y0

https://youtu.be/qQ7zlOHks3w

Shenzhou-15 prepared for launch.
Image credit: CMS/CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China is readying its next milestone in completing the country’s space station.

The piloted Shenzhou-15 spaceship program underwent a joint pre-launch rehearsal on Sunday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Meanwhile, the crew of the Shenzhou-14 mission now in Earth orbit have made preparations for the arrival of their successors, and they will make China’s first crew rotation in orbit.

The Yuanwang-6 spacecraft tracking ship, which will carry out the tracking and control mission, is also in its designated mission area.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Severe winter conditions

One challenge flagged by China Central Television (CCTV) is severe winter and bitter cold conditions at the launch site. The Shenzhou-15 launch time has intensified meteorological support for the takeoff, reportedly set for November 29th.

“To deal with the low temperature during the launch, the teams in charge of all systems at the launch site continue to carry out facilities and equipment review. Judging from the outcome of the inspection of all equipment and the joint rehearsal of the entire system today, all the systems of the rocket, the spaceship and the launch site are in good condition, and all the preparatory work before the rocket refueling has been completed,” Wang Xuewu, deputy director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, told CCTV.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Launch pad upgrades

The Long March 2F Y-15 rocket, topped by Shenzhou-15, was transferred to the launch tower on November 21.

“Through inspection, we have determined that the rocket itself is in very good condition. We hope that our rocket can carry the Shenzhou-15 crew smoothly into space,” said Chang Wuquan, chief designer of Long March 2F.

CCTV notes that the weather at the site is chilly, at about minus 20 Celsius degrees. “This temperature would be the lowest in the launching history of manned spaceship,” they report.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“During the construction of the space station, we comprehensively upgraded the air conditioning equipment in the launch tower, equipping it with heat pumps, unit electric heating and air duct electric heating systems. After debugging twice, the heating effect has apparently improved,” said Li Pengchong, a test and launch control system engineer at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Shenzhou-15/Long March 2F Y-15
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Intelligent launch

Technicians also used a special canvas to seal all chinks of the launch tower, and all stages of the rocket are equipped with thermal insulation material so that the temperature, humidity and cleanliness can be precisely adjusted.

“Focusing on the vision of intelligent space launch, the center has developed a brand-new rocket ground test and launch control system, which greatly improves the automation and intelligence level of rocket test and launch. Now all the systems at the launch site are in good shape and up to the requirements for launching,” said Shen Tingzheng, expert of overall ground test and launch control technology at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

During their mission, the trio now in orbit — Chen Dong, Cai Xuzhe and Liu Yang — oversaw the arrivals of the station’s two lab modules, Wentian and Mengtian, and saw off two cargo crafts, Tianzhou-4 and Tianzhou-5. The Chinese space station is on track to be fully completed by the end of this year.

Completing their 6-month space trek, the Shenzhou-14 crew is scheduled to return to the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in December.

For new videos showing Shenzhou-15 launch preparations, go to:

Also go to:

https://youtu.be/gku0aYHItBU

https://youtu.be/ZVM5g01A2Eg

Space Race 2.0 – SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, NASA, and the Privatization of the Final Frontier by Brad Bergan; The Quarto Group/Motorbooks  (2022); 176 pages; Hardcover: $40.00.

This is a splendid read, chocked full of impressive images that showcase the entrepreneurial get-up-and-go that is opening up space to private exploration.

Science journalist Brad Bergan has authored a perspective on the private space sector, a business that is providing cargo and supply services, as well as lofting astronauts to low Earth orbit…and eventually beyond.

This is a well-written and nicely packaged product – a ground floor look at what the future holds. As Bergan notes, the pace of Space Race 2.0 “is and will be relentless, as countless scientists, engineers, and politicians join hands with a few billionaire space barons to signify humanity’s first solid steps into a wider universe.”

The book’s contents are divided into 8 sections, from healthy servings of Elon Musk at SpaceX to Richard Branson as the space knight, along with Jeff Bezos and his empire of dreams to detailed looks at the long road to reusability and sustainability, the race itself, and the future of conflicting realities.

There’s a festival of little-seen photos included in this volume, documenting both successes and missteps. The reader will also find a section on China’s emerging role in shaping the second space race.

“Until very recently, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the second Space Race would be a friendly, if at times rude, rivalry between major aerospace firms vying for contracts with NASA and other major space agencies,” the author notes. “But in the last several years, a new power has rapidly accelerated its own growth into space exploration…that new power is the Middle Kingdom: China.”

Bergan offers illuminating and distinctive thoughts in the book, asking what will sustainable practices mean in space? Also, the author pointedly observes that much like the first Space Race, the international dynamic of Space Race 2.0 is likewise serving as “an extended domain for mounting tensions between rival nations.”

Once again, this informative and nicely packaged book is well-worth reading, both a retroflection on private space growth and where it stands today, as well as what’s in the offing and challenges ahead.

For more information on this book, go to:

https://www.quartoknows.com/books/9780760375549/space-race-2-0

Credit: ESA

It looks like a sunny forecast for Europe’s Solaris project to investigate space-based solar power.

The European Space Agency’s recently concluded Ministerial Level meeting agreed to fund the Solaris project, one that scopes out the viability of developing, from 2025, a space-based solar power system.

Within ESA’s General Support Technology Program (GSTP) Element-1 is where funding for SOLARIS work resides. However, how much of the GSTP Element-1 budget each Member State foresees specifically for space-based solar power will be, reportedly, forthcoming in early December.

Credit: ESA

High-tech testing

Around the globe, numbers of high-tech tests of SPS-related hardware are underway.

Take for example the China Academy of Space Technology and Xidian University. On campus, a large ground recipient verification system has been built to enable next-generation microwave power wireless transmission technology and space-based solar power plant technology. The project uses a steel tower that’s over 245-feet (75 meters) high. The work is codenamed Zhuri (“chasing the Sun”).

Yang Hong, chief designer of China’s space station system with the China Academy of Space Technology.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Toss in for good measure is use of China’s nearly complete space station. It will provide in-orbit verification for key technologies related to space-based solar power stations. That’s the word from Yang Hong, chief designer of China’s space station.

 

Yang told China Central Television (CCTV) that space solar power stations are one of the directions of new green energy.

Hardware in space

In the United States, space-based solar energy technology has already been appraised in Earth orbit.

The recently landed U.S. Space Force X-37B robotic space plane – chalking up 908 days in orbit — carried among its payloads the U.S. Naval Laboratory’s (NRL) Photovoltaic Radio-frequency Antenna Module Flight Experiment. It is comprised of “sandwich” modules that are more efficient for space solar power.

Artwork depicts X-37B in Earth orbit.
Credit: Boeing

There’s another U.S. endeavor in the offing to show-off hardware to beam energy to Earth.

Enter the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research (SSPIDR) project, a team effort involving Northrop Grumman and the NRL.

They recently conducted the first end-to-end demonstration of hardware for an in-space flight experiment dubbed Arachne.

Project Managers James Winter (Air Force Research Laboratory) and Tara Theret (Northrop Grumman) hold models of the photovoltaic and the radio frequency sides of the sandwich tile, while at the Linthicum, Maryland facility, to witness the conversion and beaming experiment. Courtesy photo/Northrop Grumman)

Anticipated to be launched in 2025, Arachne is to showcase more efficient energy generation, radio frequency forming and beaming.

Technological innovations

Tara Theret, program director at Northrop Grumman, said that the SSPIDR project was established to rapidly infuse space technological innovations in collecting solar energy to provide uninterrupted, assured, and logistically agile power to expeditionary forces.

“By removing costly and dangerous energy supply lines from the front lines, this technology has the potential to save money and save lives,” Theret told Inside Outer Space. “From a technology standpoint, space solar power beaming has the potential to provide energy anywhere on Earth at any time. This technology could make power available to remote locations that need medical and communications equipment.”

Depiction of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Arachne flight experiment on orbit.
Image credit: AFRL

Rearview mirror

SSPIDR is working “to make science fantasy into science reality,” Theret said.

The Northrop Grumman/AFRL team has made significant strides forward that have matured a concept “and taken it off paper and into the manufacturing and test environment,” Theret noted.

That work has led to successfully testing a pioneering “sandwich tile,” technology able to collect solar energy, convert it to radio frequency (RF) energy, and transmit it to a ground-based rectenna in a lab environment.

Theret added that tangible progress is being made in panel assembly to prepare for on-orbit flight demonstration. “And we are continuing to work towards AFRL’s planned 2025 on-orbit demonstration mission.”

Bolstered by the work on SSPIDR, “the toughest technical milestones are now in the rearview mirror as we have successfully demonstrated solar energy to wireless power beaming and wireless controlled beam steering through our two most recent demonstrations,” Theret concluded.

Go to this informative video from Northrop Grumman – “From Science Fiction to Reality with Space Solar Power Beaming” — at:

https://youtu.be/dGVqUFTcII0

 

 

Image taken from the International Space Station of the Atacama Desert and the numerous salt flats in the Andes Mountains along the border of Chile and Bolivia.
Credit: NASA

The Atacama Desert in Chile continues to offer Earth-based clues on searching for astrobiology off-planet.

Recently, a novel type of “biocrust” was discovered in the Atacama Desert, one of the world’s oldest and driest deserts, covering most of its floor. This biocrust is made of prokaryotic cyanobacteria, eukaryotic green algae, fungi, lichens and other microbes.

The harsh conditions under which they thrive in this biocrust – or at least individual strains contained therein – might be suitable candidates for testing their vitality in outer space or under conditions found on Mars.

Credit: Patrick Jung, et al.

A new research paper — “The grit crust: A poly-extremotolerant microbial community from the Atacama Desert as a model for astrobiology” – appears in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.

Extra-terrestrial landscapes

According to the research, led by Patrick Jung, a post doctoral researcher at the

University of Kaiserslautern in Germany, the grit crust mediates various bio-weathering activities in its natural habitat.

“These activities prime soil for higher organisms in a way that can be envisioned as a proxy for general processes shaping even extra-terrestrial landscapes,” Jung and colleagues explains. The grit crust as a model for astrobiology “in terms of extra-terrestrial microbial colonization and biotechnological applications that support human colonization of planets.”

Potential fossilization traces of the grit crust depicted by various techniques.
Credit: Patrick Jung, et al.

Jung and associates explain that one of the biggest challenges during human colonization of other planets has been the formation of soil as a weathering product of mainly unweathered rocks found on other planets. “Access to nutrient rich soil would subsequently allow the growth of microorganisms and/or plants in order to support human life,” they suggest.

Wind-blown dust

The atmosphere of the Red Planet is full of dust, with loads that greatly fluctuate with the year’s season. Indeed, that aeolian (wind-blown dust) transport, including microbes, is a likely scenario that could support the microbial colonization of other planets that support human life.

In the Atacama Desert, for example, it has been shown that certain soil-borne microorganisms were transported more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) off the coast towards the hyper-arid core of the Atacama, the researchers point out.

“The ecology of the grit crust, including its extremophile microbial constituents, are unique amongst biocrusts on Earth that can be beneficial for human colonization of other planets or rock bodies such as the Earth’s Moon or Mars,” the research team observes.

Humans on Mars – the reach for the Red Planet.
Credit: Boeing

Consortium of microorganisms

The grit crust’s extremophiles can be used to test their suitability during mass cultivation in photobioreactors (food-, oxygen source for crewed missions), screenings for Chlorophyll F, a photosynthetic pigment which is able to capture light energy in the infrared spectrum.

“For these reasons, the grit crust as a consortium of various microorganisms on a mineral substrate opens up a new opportunity to test hypotheses and ideas in the context of astrobiology that surpasses other biocrusts known on Earth,” Jung and colleagues report.

Currently, the research project “Grit Life” funded by the German Research Foundation, aims to untangle the microbiota of the grit crust based on metabarcoding data applied to a recovery experiment over several years.

To read the full paper – “The grit crust: A poly-extremotolerant microbial community from the Atacama Desert as a model for astrobiology” – go to:

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fspas.2022.1052278/full