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Stories From June 2020
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Preparations complete in Western Australia for construction of world's largest telescope
A 20-second exposure showing the Milky Way overhead a test array of SKA-Low antennas. Credit: Michael Goh and ICRAR/Curtin.
Following seven years of design and prototyping work, the Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) has completed its preparations for the construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Western Australia, which will begin next year.
130,000 individual radio antennas, along with associated electronics, will be built and spread over thousands of square kilometres at CSIRO's Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), approximately 800 km north of Perth. This will work in tandem with an array of 197 dishes located in the Karoo in South Africa, north of Cape Town.
To be built by a global collaboration of 14 countries, the SKA will be one of the world's largest science facilities, exploring the entire history and evolution of the Universe, and uncovering advances in fundamental physics.
The ICRAR-Curtin University leader, John Curtin Distinguished Professor Steven Tingay said, "We have now passed the last major technical milestone. "Over the last seven years, the Commonwealth Government has supported my team with $10.1M to reach this milestone, and a significant fraction of these funds has helped Western Australian industry to get ready for SKA construction contracts, especially around Geraldton and the State's Mid-West."
The search for the first stars 13 billion years ago, the discovery of missing matter in the Universe, and galaxy surveys of unprecedented scale feature among fundamental advances from the precursor telescopes, ready to be taken to the next level with the SKA.
Both the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Western Australia have strongly supported the development of the SKA project over a significant period of time. The SKA project will play a part in economic recovery, injecting hundreds of millions of much-needed dollars into the regional, Western Australian and Australian economies, as well as those of other SKA countries, over many years.
"All West Australians can be proud that our State is going to be the home to the SKA, one of the biggest science projects in human history," said Western Australian Minister for Science, the Hon Dave Kelly MLA. Since 2009 the WA Government has provided funding of $71 million for ICRAR to attract the SKA to Western Australia ," he said. "Through this investment, Western Australia has become a global hub for radio astronomy."
Professor Steven Tingay said Western Australia had placed itself at the forefront of international scientific research.
Cosmos Centre: In a galaxy not so far away..., actually it's just right here in the our very own Charleville Queensland, the absolutely gobsmacking Cosmos Centre and Observatory.
This is truly the place to actually spend the night under the stars, either for a romantic star gazing experience or just a stunning opportunity to clear appreciate the cosmos and its infinite wisdom, make sure you don't miss out.
5 trillion bytes a day: SpaceX engineers flash some facts about Starlink satellites
An artist's conception shows the deployment of SpaceX's Starlink satellites. (SpaceX Illustration)
SpaceX's Starlink satellite constellation is still deep into testing mode, but it's already generating 5 trillion bytes of data on a daily basis and getting software updates on a weekly basis. Those are a couple of the nuggets coming from a weekend Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session featuring SpaceX's software team.
SpaceX tends to play its satellite cards close to the vest, in part because the process of building a satellite system is "highly proprietary". This weekend's Reddit AMA attracted more than 7,000 questions and comments, and the engineers could reply to only a few of them.
As of last week, SpaceX has launched eight batches of 60 Starlink satellites, forming a constellation of roughly 480 spacecraft (with a few that have gone out of service). There's a continuing controversy over the satellites' visibility and potential interference with astronomical observations. If the skies are clear, you can use Heavens-Above.com as your guide to spot the satellite train passing across the sky.
The broadband data network is already being tested for military applications. Just last month, SpaceX and the U.S. Army struck a deal for three more years of experimentation and evaluation. Limited commercial service could begin later this year, though it's not yet clear exactly how the service will be marketed.
Eventually, thousands of Starlink satellites could offer always-on broadband internet access to billions of people around the world. A spokesman said his favorite moment at SpaceX came a little more than a year ago, when the first batch of 60 satellites was deployed in orbit like a deck of cards.
"I remember sitting there, with Falcon lifting off the pad, thinking: OK. In an hour we're either going to be idiots for trying a thing that obviously never could have worked, or geniuses for doing the thing that's obviously the right way to deploy lots of satellites. Luckily it went well."
Astronomers warn 'wilderness' of southern night sky at risk from SpaceX satellites
SpaceX Starlink satellites visible in the night sky Photograph: Georgi Licovski/EPA
Astronomers in the southern hemisphere have warned that the wonders of the night sky are at risk from hundreds of satellites that have been shot into space by Elon Musk's company SpaceX. The night skies of Australia and New Zealand are globally renowned for their clarity, drawing tourists from across the world to dark-sky sanctuaries such as Tekapo on New Zealand's South Island and the Warrumbungle national park in New South Wales.
But local astronomers say SpaceX's Starlink satellites are changing the night sky forever, risking not only a sacred cultural space but also the work of scientists around the globe. "As a global community, we need to have a conversation about how the night sky should look - this is an urgent public issue,"says Dr Michele Bannister, a senior lecturer in astronomy at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
"The sky is just starting to become filled with these very optically bright satellites. When you look into the night sky, do you want to see nature or do you want to see artificial constructions? Because this is what it comes down to." Since May last year SpaceX has launched about 400 of the satellites. Their mission, according to the company, is to provide high-speed, cheap broadband internet to remote parts of the globe. But their presence is causing alarm .
Since the satellites have been deployed - they are launched in batches of 60 and look like a train travelling across the sky - images of the solar system taken by scientific observatories have been destroyed due to the light pollution they cause. Prof Jonti Horner, an astrophysicist at the University of South Queensland in Australia, said sightings of the satellites had increased under lockdown. He said the night sky itself was under threat. "We've lost a lot of the night sky already and this is the next step in its destruction - unless we do something about it."
Similar concerns have been voiced by astronomers and amateur stargazers from Canada to Cornwall, with many of them sharing images of night skies ablaze with trails of Starlink satellites on social media. "What caught everyone, principally, by surprise was the sheer brightness of the 'string of pearls' going across the sky," Jeff Hall, director of the Lowell Observatory in Arizona said.
With American astronomers at least, Hall said SpaceX has been "very receptive, very proactive", in discussions on brightness. But in the southern hemisphere, the concerns are particularly acute, as the low light pollution from other sources makes the Starlink satellites more noticeable, even to the naked eye.
SpaceX has previously said it plans to launch 12,000 satellites, and after protests from the public and the astronomical community, it has begun testing ways to make the satellites less obtrusive, including painting them in dark colours and installing sun visors to limit light reflection.
According to a recent report SpaceX's new DarkSat design reduces the brightness of its satellites by 55%, and by the end of June all of its StarLink launches will include the VisorSat design - essentially a sun visor to reduce the satellite's reflectiveness.
Southern hemisphere astronomers remain sceptical about SpaceX's claims and say no matter what provisions the company makes, the sheer volume of them will remain an issue in the clear skies of the southern hemisphere - especially at twilight. On the Otago peninsula at the bottom of the South Island, Dr Ian Griffin, an astronomer described the satellites as "vermin of the sky".
Michael Brown, an associate professor at Monash University's school of physics and astronomy, said, "You want to be able to see the night sky as it was seen by people for millennia - there is something very precious and important about that."
Amazing discovery. 20 new moons discovered orbiting Saturn
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Paolo Sartorio/Shutterstock
Astronomers have found 20 new moons orbiting Saturn, bumping its total up to 82 moons. That surpasses Jupiter, which was the prior reigning champion with 79 moons.
One of the new moons has the farthest known orbit around Saturn, and all are similar in size, with diameters around three miles (5 kilometers). Two of the moons take about two years to orbit, while the other 18 take more than three years to do so.
Seventeen of the new moons orbit Saturn backward - or in retrograde - compared to the planet's other natural satellites. The retrograde moons have orbits resembling some of Saturn's other already-known moons. And by looking at their inclinations, astronomers suspect these moons could have been part of a much larger moon that broke apart long ago.
The moons were discovered by a team led by Scott S. Sheppard at the Carnegie Institution for Science and using the Subaru Telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea. By studying these small moons and their interactions with our solar system's large planets, astronomers can answer questions about how these worlds were formed and how they've evolved.
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NASA's $1 billion Spacecraft At Jupiter Just Sent Back Some Jaw-Dropping Photos
An illustration of NASA's Juno probe flying over Jupiter.
Juno, a tennis-court-size NASA probe at Jupiter, recently sent scientists a new batch of data, and the photos it included are even more stunning than the last set.
NASA launched Juno toward Jupiter in August 2011 and the probe arrived in July 2016. Every 53.5 days since then, Juno has performed an orbital manoeuvre called a perijove.
This chaotic strip of storms (from the previous image) is punching into adjacent cloud bands.
During a perijove, the probe dives over the north pole, screams past the Jovian cloud tops at 130,000 mph, and exits at the south pole. This highly elliptical loop helps protect the spacecraft's electronics from Jupiter's powerful radiation fields while also allowing it to record unprecedented observations.
The $US1-billion mission successfully pulled off its 13th perijove on May 24. Fans of the mission like graphic artist Seán Doran and NASA software engineer Kevin M. Gill have since processed the raw image files into colourful works of art.
New Distance Measurements Bolster Challenge to Basic Model of Universe
Artist's conception illustrating a disk of water-bearing gas orbiting the supermassive black hole at the core of a distant galaxy.
One mystery that keeps getting harder and harder to explain is the expansion rate of the universe. Since everything that is once occupied a single point and now occupies an undefined and vast volume, we know expansion happened. By using objects of known luminosity, we can measure the distance to galaxies in the near to middle-distance of our universe and then use Doppler shift measurements to get their velocity the same way a speed trap clocks your car's velocity. Using complex models and measurements, we can also get at the expansion rate by looking at various facets in the early universe, including the cosmic microwave background radiation.
Back when our measurements had large error bars, all the measurements were consistent, but as our data has gotten better, the agreement between the expansion rate measured from things going on in the early universe and the rate measured from things going more recently have fallen into a disagreement. This could mean our ability to measure distances is wrong, or that our physics is wrong. I'm not going to lie - I've been hoping we'd find a measurement error.
Today, however, a new paper in the Astrophysical Journal Letters by lead author Dom Pesce finds that measurements of the expansion rate that use masers as standard candles are consistent with measurements from supernovae and gravitationally lensed quasar geometry, but do not match the early universe measurements. This means there is something wrong with our physics. This is terribly exciting - we have a new problem - and also kind of terrible because we have a new problem.
This isn't to say our physics is necessarily wrong - although that's always an option. In all likelihood, we have some term missing or some assumption is just wrong and when we run the numbers... it's like forgetting to include the dog in the household budget, things just don't work out as expected and everything falls a little short. Add in that missing term, and everything works.
China will begin constructing its space station in 2021
The Chinese space agency is building a brand new space station, and they're going about it in a suitably impressive way: an ambitious schedule of 11 planned launches crammed into only two years. When it's done, the 66-ton space station will host crews of three astronauts for up to six months at a time, lasting for a planned 10 years before de-orbiting.
The new station, slated to open for spacey business in 2023, will feature three modules: a main living space and two modules designed to host experiments from collaborators around the world investigating everything from space technologies to zero-gee biology.
The first module should go up - if everything goes as planned - in the first quarter of 2022 onboard the heavy-lift Long March 5B rocket, which made a controversial debut recently when its main stage rocket fell back in pieces scattered across the eastern Atlantic (and bits of Africa) in a haphazard way shortly after launch. The remaining launches will place the experimental modules, as well as supplies and some folks to run the place.
Speaking of folks to run the place, the Chinese space agency announced plans to select their latest batch of astronauts this July. According to recent statements, the selection will for the first time include civilians with science and engineering backgrounds, not just military personnel from the People's Liberation Army Air Force.
In addition to the cool new space station, the Chinese are also planning to launch a cool new telescope, dubbed "Xuntian". It will have the same size mirror as the Hubble Space Telescope, but be able to image a much wider field of view on the sky. The new telescope will share the same orbit as the space station (an altitude of 340-450 kilometers with an orbital inclination of 43 degrees), allowing the telescope to dock with the station for repairs and upgrades.
Breakthrough theory. Wormholes to other galaxies could exist in Milky Way
Wormholes have long been considered to exist only in the realms of science fiction, but some physicists believe the theoretical portals could be real, and there could be one relatively close by. Wormholes, which were predicted by Einstein in his theory of General Relativity, are areas where space and time are bent to manipulate the distance.
It would take a huge mass to produce the manipulation of spacetime, and no natural examples have ever been found. However, experts from the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, say they are possible, and could be hiding within dark matter inside the Milky Way.
Professor Paulo Salucci, said: "If we combine the map of the dark matter in the Milky Way with the most recent Big Bang model to explain the universe, and we hypothesise the existence of space-time tunnels, what we get is that our galaxy could really contain one of these tunnels, and that the tunnel could even be the size of the galaxy itself.
"But there's more. We could even travel through this tunnel, since, based on our calculations, it could be navigable. Just like the one we've all seen in the recent film 'Interstellar'." Scientists had believed any wormholes which exist in the universe could simply be the size of a pin prick.
However, the team of astrophysicists say the one in our galaxy could be big enough to fit a spaceship which could traverse the cosmos, as they would likely exist in other spiral galaxies. Prof Salucci, continued: "Obviously we're not claiming that our galaxy is definitely a wormhole, but simply that, according to theoretical models, this hypothesis is a possibility."
The paper published in the Annals of Physics, read: "Our result is very important because it confirms the possible existence of wormholes in most of the spiral galaxies. "Dark matter may supply the fuel for constructing and sustaining a wormhole. Hence, wormholes could be found in nature and our study may encourage scientists to seek observational evidence for wormholes in the galactic halo region."
NASA Are Considering Fusion Energy to Power Our Moon and Mars Bases
An artistic impression of what a lunar colony might look like.
US Nuclear Corp. (OTC: UCLE) announces that NASA has just released "Artemis Accords - Guidelines For Humans to Abide by in Space" which also covers protection of the astronaut's basic infrastructure, including their major assets: spaceships and the Moon and Mars base power plants. Ideally, these will all be fusion powered.
NASA and the new US Space Force need a clean, high-powered, compact, and safe energy source for spacecraft propulsion and to establish operations on the Moon and colonizing Mars. Since there is little spare oxygen on space ships, the Moon, and Mars, most conventional energy sources (such as fossil fuels) will not burn and are not useful. Nuclear fission is not safe, and solar cells do not generate adequate power.
That leaves fusion energy as the most desirable energy source because it is safe, it is the most powerful energy source known, and it is not subject to runaway meltdown like fission reactors.
US Nuclear has strong confidence in a new type of fusion energy being developed by our partners, Magneto Inertial Fusion Technologies, Inc. (MIFTI) and MIFTEC Laboratories, Inc. Last year, MIFTI's Z-Pinch system demonstrated its capabilities when it achieved a major milestone at the University of Nevada, Reno National 1 million ampere, Terawatt Facility. MIFTI broke all records and repeatedly generated over 10 billion neutrons from each pulse of their stage Z-Pinch fusion generator.
There is only one measure of success or failure in fusion: the production of neutrons. Not just extreme temperatures which many have previously accomplished, but actual neutrons that contain the exceptionally powerful energy that is produced in our sun and all the stars. MIFTI is poised to build compact fusion generators that could be a reality in under 5 years.
Results were so compelling that MIFTI quickly moved forward with the detailed design plans for their new 10 million ampere machine, projected to deliver 1,000 trillion neutrons per pulse, which may be enough to power hypervelocity space ships, and to provide all the power that is needed to build colonies on the Moon and on Mars.
China outlines ambitious plan to build space station in orbit
China has an ambitious new plan to build a space station in orbit by 2023.
Why it matters: The U.S. sees China as a rival in space, so any large undertaking like this one will be watched closely.
- The space station also represents the evolution of China's space program, which made use of two smaller test stations in orbit that hosted crew before moving on to this more complex design.
Details: China plans to launch the first module of its new space station next year, with a total of 11 launches needed to complete the station by 2023, according to a report from SpaceNews.
- The station is expected to eventually play host to crews of three astronauts aboard for six months who can perform experiments and other activities from orbit.
- "It's quite possible that maybe even their first but probably their second or third crew for their space station will include a foreigner," Dean Cheng, a space analyst focusing on China at the Heritage Foundation, told Axios.
- China is also planning to launch a telescope that will be able to dock to the station for maintenance, SpaceNews said.
What to watch: In mid-May, intact pieces of China's Long March 5 booster fell back to Earth, potentially putting people on the ground in Ivory Coast in danger and flouting norms among nations to safely de-orbit their spent rockets.
- With a number of launches coming up, it remains to be seen whether China will start issuing warnings about where their rockets are coming down or find new ways to dispose of them safely.
- It's also possible the crewed SpaceX launch could influence the burgeoning commercial space sector in China, according to Cheng.
- "The Chinese are worried, not about Elon Musk per se, but they recognize that companies can do entrepreneurship way better than state-owned enterprises," Cheng said.
The Space Age is making a comeback, but it's cheaper this time with SpaceX.
This is huge, but in a sense nothing new: We were launching people into orbit over 50 years ago, after all. But SpaceX is doing it for much less, and that's revolutionary.
Though the news is filled with stories of riots and a pandemic, the most transformative things going on at present are in a totally different sphere. One of those things is pretty obvious, the other less so.
The obvious transformation involves SpaceX's successful launch of a human crew into orbit, the first such launch involving an American spacecraft in nearly a decade, and the first such launch ever by a commercial spacecraft.
This is huge, but in a sense, nothing new: We were launching people into orbit over 50 years ago, after all. SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule is bigger and fancier than a Gemini, but the mission profile is not all that different. And of course, our last mission to orbit, on board a space shuttle, was basically old hat itself.
SpaceX births new era
But SpaceX is doing it for much less, and that's revolutionary. To get a kilogram into orbit on the space shuttle costs $54,500. To do the same thing with SpaceX's newest rocket, the Falcon 9, costs $2,720. That's basically a twenty-fold reduction in cost.
Lots of things that are too expensive to do at $54,500 become doable at $2,720. And SpaceX isn't standing still. Its Starship reusable rocket, under development now, is to cost a mere $2 million per launch, and Elon Musk says its cost per kilogram to orbit will be at least 10 times lower than the Falcon 9. There are a lot more things that become doable at $272 per kilogram. At those prices, things like space tourism, space hotels, lunar mines and asteroid mining become feasible.
As Robert Heinlein once said, once you get to Earth orbit, you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system.
Which brings me to the second, less obvious transformation of this spring: President Donald Trump's opening outer space for business. "The executive order, "Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources," is meant to create a new industry: the extraction and processing of resources from the moon and asteroids toward the settlement of the solar system," as I wrote in April.
There's a lot of wealth in space as I wrote back in 2013, "A 79-foot-wide M-type (metallic) asteroid could hold 33,000 tons of extractable metals, including $50 million in platinum alone. A 23-foot-diameter C-type (carbonaceous) asteroid can hold 24,000 gallons of water, useful for generating fuel and oxygen. Larger asteroids could be worth as much as the GDP of a superpower. Asteroid 1986 DA is a metallic asteroid made up of iron, nickel, gold and platinum. Estimates of its value range between $6 and $7 trillion. Something that size won't be retrieved anytime soon, but the figure gives some idea of just how much wealth is out there."
People have been talking about asteroid mining for awhile and even started companies with that in mind, but they've been slowed down by two problems: The expense of getting into outer space, and the legal uncertainties around extracting lunar and asteroid resources. Musk is addressing the expense; Trump is addressing the legal uncertainty.
The executive order makes clear that America rejects the failed 1979 Moon Treaty - which the United States never joined, and which banned private property rights in space - and that it will recognize and defend the rights of its citizens in developing space resources.
In doing so, it's pretty bipartisan: In 2015, President Barck Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which provides that "a U.S. citizen engaged in the commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource ... shall be entitled to ... possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States."
Trump's order ensures that international obligations will be supportive and not destructive of such efforts.
Rather than the Moon Treaty, the administration is working on a new set of agreements with other spacefaring nations, known as the Artemis Accords, in which participants will agree to respect each others' rights in outer space. There's already interest from other nations, though the Russians, whose space-launch business has collapsed in the face of competition from SpaceX, aren't happy.
At any rate, it may well be that future historians will remember 2020 much more for being the second beginning of a wave of human expansion into space, than for the grubby earthbound problems that occupy the news on a daily basis. I certainly hope so.
Cr: Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor
How close can you get to a black hole?
Streams of gas fall to their dooms, plunging into black holes, locked away from the universe forever. In their final moments, these gassy shreds send out one last flare of light, some of the brightest emissions in the universe. These death dives are too far away to be seen directly, but astronomers have devised a new technique for detecting their panicked cries for help. They're using the method to test our knowledge of gravity in the most extreme environments in the universe.
In a new study, physicists looked at specific features of that light to figure out the closest you can get to a black hole without having to work hard to prevent disaster - a threshold called the innermost stable circular orbit or ISCO. The researchers found their method could work with more sensitive X-ray telescopes coming online.
Over the waterfall
The event horizon of a black hole is the invisible line-in-the-sand across which you can never return. Once anything passes through the event horizon, even light itself, it can no longer return to the universe. The black hole's gravity is just too strong within that region.
Outside a black hole, however, everything is just dandy. A particular black hole will have a certain mass (anywhere from a few times the mass of the sun for the smaller ones in the galaxy up to billions of times heavier for the true monsters roaming the cosmos), and orbiting the black hole is just like orbiting anything else of identical mass. Gravity is just gravity, and orbits are orbits.
Indeed, lots of stuff in the universe finds itself orbiting around black holes. Once these foolhardy adventurers get caught in the black hole's gravitational embrace, they begin the journey toward the end. As material falls toward the black hole, it tends to get squeezed into a razor-thin band known as an accretion disk. That disk spins and spins, with heat, friction, and magnetic and electric forces energizing it, causing the material to glow brightly.
In the case of the most massive black holes, the accretion disks around them glow so intensely that they get a new name: active galactic nuclei (AGN), capable of outshining millions of individual galaxies.
In the accretion disk, individual bits of material rub up against other bits, draining them of rotational energy and driving them ever-inward to the gaping maw of the black hole's event horizon. But still, if it weren't for those frictional forces, the material would be able to orbit around the black hole in perpetuity, the same way that the planets can orbit around the sun for billions of years.
A call for help
As you get closer to the black hole's center, though, you reach a certain point where all hopes of stability are dashed against the rocks of gravity. Just outside the black hole, but before reaching the event horizon, the gravitational forces are so extreme that stable orbits become impossible. Once you reach this region, you cannot remain in placid orbit.
You have only two choices: if you have rockets or some other source of energy, you can propel yourself away to safety. But if you're a hapless chunk of gas, you're doomed to fall freely toward the waiting dark nightmare below. This boundary, the innermost stable circular orbit (or ISCO for the lovers of astronomical jargon), is a firm prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity, the same theory that predicts the existence of black holes in the first place.
Despite the success of general relativity in predicting and explaining phenomena across the universe, and our sure knowledge that black holes are real, we've never been able to verify the existence of the ISCO and whether it conforms to the predictions of general relativity. But the gas that falls to its doom may provide a way for us to verify that existence.
Trends and predictions for the global space industry
The global space industry is at a pivotal point. In the coming years, the industry is set to advance and open up, which will trigger growth - by 2030, the global space industry will be worth around $600 billion. This will generate opportunity for national governments and private sectors players, with companies from several industries looking at space to improve and transform their own businesses.
In a new report by KPMG, experts from the professional services firm look into the key trends and levers behind the expected growth. According to the authors, a set of 30 developments will drive significant change and the anticipated growth, across five pillars: life and work, deep space exploration; space business models; space data; sustainability in space.
Humans will live, work and holiday in space
The key trends & predictions:
1. Space travel will be a collaborative multinational venture.
2. Living in space will be easier but not easy.
3. Zero gravity - new medical conditions and new treatments.
4. Many will experience space - but not all will go.
5. You will know an astronaut.
6. The human genome will change to support human deep space exploration.
In 2030 expect society's interaction with space and in particular the Moon to revolutionize. While in recent years we have flirted with the idea of travelling to the Moon commercially, by the end of the decade we will move ahead in leaps and bounds with many having completed this 'once in a lifetime' experience.
In a world where leisurely travel to the Moon is viable, expect open discussion of the prospect of people permanently residing on its barren terrain. While it will be a possibility by the end of the decade, the financial, logistical, physical, and psychological implications will mean it's still a hard task for humans to conquer.
Space travel will still be costly and not accessible to all. With technology improving at a rapid speed, virtual reality will play a large role in giving people the experience of space travel. This will be critical to increase interest in space.
While we will need to identify solutions to challenges to enable us to stay in space and on the Moon for longer, easier access to space and increased presence in space will enable us to conduct more medical research in zero gravity. This will provide opportunities to discover new treatments for conditions we thought weren't possible. Furthermore, we may start to see the ability to deliberately alter the human genome to further support humanity's sustained exploration of space.
Deep space exploration
The key trends & predictions:
7. We'll successfully mine the Moon for water by 2030.
8. We may finally discover evidence of life in space.
9. We'll operate assets remotely on the Moon like mines in the Pilbara.
10. Growing and eating food in space will be commonplace.
11. Virtual companions will assist with the mental health challenges of long space travel.
12. We will look back in time more than 4 billion years.
As space industry technology continues to improve in the new decade, so will our ability to expand our horizons and more deeply explore all aspects of the solar system, in particular our Moon.
With a much greater appetite to have permanent human residence on the Moon by 2030, there will be a focus on ensuring we are able to use water on the Moon for fuel and life. Through new extraction technology we will be able to separate water into the basic constituents of rocket fuel (hydrogen and oxygen) and support agriculture on the Moon.
Traveling further into space means astronauts will be isolated for extended periods of time. With the assistance of technology, 'virtual buddies' will ensure that these people will stay in a healthy mental state while away from Earth.
New telescope technology will enable us to see the first galaxies being formed after the Big Bang, through projects like the James Webb Space Telescope, which will expand our understanding of the solar system.
We now have a much better idea of what we are looking for on other planets for signs of life. Over the coming decade, missions to other planets like Mars 2020 with the Perseverance rover and Europa Clipper to one of Jupiter's Moons will help determine if we are alone in the universe.
Space business models
The key trends & predictions:
13. Every business will be a space business.
14. The leading space businesses of 2030 are start-ups today.
15. Long-established terrestrial industries will build a presence in space.
16. Government will be a customer of civil space business.
17. Multinational co-operation, while challenging, will drive the peace dividend.
18. Manufacturing in space will be real and viable.
Already in 2020, many multi-national businesses are investing in the space sector and understanding how it can add value to their business on Earth. By 2030 we expect all businesses across all industries, whether related or not, to benefit from space, with many having dedicated space teams and resources.
Operations that have long been run on Earth will now take place beyond our planet. Organisations will be trialing experiments - from medical research to manufacturing - in space, introducing new products and solutions into the market. This may include growing tissue and artificial transplants in zero gravity, as well as manufacturing fiber optics for communication.
Rather than space programs being purely government-led, we will see more and more partnerships between the public and private sectors. These partnerships will drive new activities and push technological boundaries as we aim to develop new commercial applications from the sector and make new discoveries about the solar system. Global levels of cooperation will help enhance economic and political ties between nation states.
What were considered to be 'small start-ups' in the space industry in 2020, by 2030 will become the leaders of this sector. As space becomes commercially focused, more businesses will realize the value of space, and new business cases will become viable. The majority of space companies will be valued in the billions of dollars and operate across multiple countries.
Space data comes back to Earth
The key trends & predictions:
19. Space data will become completely commoditized.
20. An international regulatory body for space data will be established.
21. AI will be commonplace in space.
22. Data will not be owned - rather shared.
23. Governments will conduct their census from space.
24. Personal privacy will be challenged.
Data collected in space will continue to increase in value over the next decade as volume, variety, velocity and veracity increase. With the increased use of space data, a central international governing body will need to be established, employing new agile approaches to regulation as new issues appear - but getting there will not be easy.
Much of the data collected will be analysed by edge analytics in-orbit to reduce the volume of data that needs to be transmitted to Earth and stored. At the same time, in-orbit relays will increase our transmission capacity to Earth, providing more data to input into analytics. AI will also be used in deep space missions to overcome communications delays due to distance, and help pre-empt and correct problems.
We expect that space data will be prolific, though provide little value on its own. Companies will find real value in generating and selling actionable insights from the data they collect and intersect with other sources. New data will help identify and drive new business opportunities across different industries.
Governments by 2030 may conduct their own census from space rather than by the ten-yearly survey we've become used to filling out. This will enable more precise humanitarian and medical support in developing countries and enable more frequent updates.
Sustainability in space
The key trends & predictions:
25. Sustainability in space will benefit sustainability on Earth.
26. There will be a 'CFC moment' in space which will trigger a moratorium on space debris.
27. Space ecology will be imperative for our millennial generation.
28. Space will get its own legal jurisdiction.
29. Space will be forced to accelerate quickly as an operational domain for armed forces.
30. A Master's of Space Ecology will be offered at universities.
Businesses are already putting sustainability at the forefront of what they do on Earth, and in the years ahead the same will be applied to our activities in space.
Debris in space has long been an area of concern. This will only escalate as we are more active in space, to the point where international agreements will have to be made to find sustainable solutions. The recovery of decommissioned satellites in space will also involve a strategy to recycle and find a new purpose for them. As access to space is opened up and deep space exploration grows, legislation and treaties governing space will need to evolve. Expect space to become its own legal jurisdiction.
Space is already softly militarized, with many countries leveraging it as an operational domain for armed forces. There are however deliberate efforts and treaties to ensure this doesn't become hard militarization. With the applications possible in space constantly expanding, treaties and regulations must evolve to ensure it is not exploited.
Expect a Master's degree in Space Ecology to become a viable degree for students wishing to have prosperous careers in the sector.
NASA Should Beware of Viruses From Outer Space
This summer, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will launch a rover designed to collect samples of the Martian surface and store them until they can eventually be brought back to Earth. When they arrive, according to a former NASA scientist, they'll be "quarantined and treated as though they are the Ebola virus until proven safe.
"His statement caused a minor media sensation, and understandably so. In the midst of one pandemic, Americans aren't ready for another imported from outer space. But ready or not, the U.S. and other spacefaring nations need to start updating planetary-protection measures for a new era of spaceflight.In the years ahead, NASA's Mars initiatives will likely be emulated by other countries. Ambitious private space companies are eager to follow with their own robots (and perhaps, eventually, humans).
Clearer safety guidelines are essential both for protecting Earth and for ensuring that a wary public is comfortable with humanity's next steps into the solar system.No one knows, of course, if there's life elsewhere in the universe. But as far back as the mid-1950s, scientists were thinking about ways to prevent alien lifeforms from contaminating the Earth (and vice-versa). In 1967, the Outer Space Treaty codified a consensus that member states should avoid "adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter."
When the Apollo 11 astronauts returned from the moon in 1969, they were immediately sealed in a decontamination chamber for three weeks, on the off chance that they had conveyed lunar micro-organisms to Houston.In the years that followed, planetary-protection guidelines were gradually updated. The Committee on Space Research (or COSPAR), a global research group, came up with non-binding protocols for various types of missions, and wisely requested that any "non-terrestrial replicating entity" - that is, a lifeform - remain contained on landing.
At NASA, the Office of Planetary Protection ensures that these and other guidelines are followed when planning new missions.But while these rules worked well enough when NASA was mostly focused on protecting other planets, they're turning out to be incomplete or obsolete in an era of one-of-a-kind missions like the Mars sample return. In 2018, a review by the National Academy of Sciences found that "there did not appear to be a solid scientific basis" for some of the agency's planetary-protection rules.
And even as it prepares to launch the new Mars rover in July, NASA has yet to come up with policies on how to safely distribute any returned samples to scientists.Meanwhile, private space companies increasingly have the technology and ambition to make Mars visits of their own. Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, says he hopes to send a crewed mission there in 2024. If the company manages to meet that unlikely deadline, it might be able to avoid planetary-protection requirements altogether. At the moment, no federal agency has jurisdiction to authorize and supervise such a mission. Among other problems, that regulatory gap places the U.S. out of compliance with the Outer Space Treaty.
Addressing these issues is essential, and not just to avoid a real-life Andromeda Strain. For one thing, steps taken by the U.S. now will be adapted by COSPAR and become a non-binding global standard, which should help ensure that this new space age is a safe one. At the same time, a public scarred by the coronavirus is likely to be wary of any space missions that require Ebola-level containment strategies. If NASA and other spacefarers want to assure people that they shouldn't be worried about Martian Ebola, they need to prove that their safety efforts are as failsafe as their engineering.
For a start, NASA should reassess its planetary-protection measures in light of recent technological advances, and make sure it fills any gaps. It should also establish a standing forum devoted to updating those policies as circumstances warrant. Imposing safety requirements on private space companies is a trickier issue that ultimately will require congressional action.
But in the meantime, NASA should link planetary-protection compliance to eligibility for federal contracts.There's no telling when and where the next pandemic will emerge. But with a little care, NASA and its partners can all but guarantee that it won't be extraterrestrial.
Elon Musk 'overcome with emotion' after SpaceX's 1st successful manned flight
SpaceX founder Elon Musk celebrates after the successful launch of the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on May 30, 2020
SpaceX founder Elon Musk was choked up with emotion after his company successfully launched astronauts to space for the first time on Saturday (May 30). "I'm really quite overcome with emotion on this day, so it's kind of hard to talk, frankly," Musk said in a post-launch press conference at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Saturday evening. "It's been 18 years working towards this goal, so it's hard to believe that it's happened."
Musk's comments came a few hours after SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the center's historic Launch Complex 39A, carrying a Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board. By successfully launching its new Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts on board for the first time, SpaceX became the first private company to launch astronauts for NASA.
VIDEO (Above) NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken give a tour of the Crew Dragon a few hours after launch. Hurley and Behnken named the capsule 'Endeavour'
Start Of A New Era
The uncrewed test flight, called Demo-2, is also the first crewed launch from the United States since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. SpaceX and Boeing were both selected for NASA's commercial crew program to wean the agency off its dependence on Russia's Soyuz to fly astronauts after the shuttle program was retired.
"I think this is something that's particularly important in the United States but appeals to everyone throughout the world who has within them the spirit of exploration," Musk said. "This is something that I think humanity should be excited about proud of occurring on this day." If all goes well with the Demo-2 test flight, SpaceX will soon begin launching astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA as well as other space agencies and private companies.
The first operational Crew Dragon mission, called Crew-1, could launch to the ISS as early as Aug. 30, with three NASA astronauts and one astronaut from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency on board. Behnken and Hurley will arrive at the ISS Sunday morning (May 30), and the Crew Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to autonomously dock with the orbiting lab at 10:29 a.m. EDT (1429 GMT). You can watch the docking live here on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV.
The Demo-2 astronauts, who will be joining the three-person crew of ISS Expedition 63, will spend anywhere from one to four months at the station. SpaceX and NASA will determine the duration of their stay after they assess the condition of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in orbit as well as the Crew Dragon that will fly the Crew-1 mission this summer. When asked about his conversations with the Demo-2 astronauts' kids, Musk - who recently became a dad again(he has six sons) - got choked up. "It really hit home," he said of the time he told their two boys that he would do everything in his power to bring their dads home safely.
"I think it was an argument that the return is more dangerous in some ways than the ascent, so in order to declare victory yet, we need to bring them home safely [and] make sure that we're doing everything we can to minimize that risk of reentry and return," Musk said.
Top 3 astronomy events to look for in June 2020
No telescope is needed to see any of the astronomical events this month, but a grouping of Jupiter, Saturn and the moon will bring the perfect opportunity for people to get familiar with a new telescope.
Here are the top three astronomy events to look for in June:
1. Strawberry Moon
When: June 5
The first weekend of June will kick off with a full moon rising in the eastern sky right around sunset on Friday, June 5. Across North America, this is commonly called the Strawberry Moon.
This name originated with Algonquin tribes in eastern North America who knew it as a signal to gather the ripening fruit of wild strawberries. June's full moon takes on different nicknames around the globe. In Europe, it is typically called the Rose Moon, but in China, it is known as the Lotus Moon.
For us in the Southern Hemisphere where the season will soon transition into winter, it is referred to as the Long Night's Moon. The full moon will also come with an added bonus for some areas of the world. A penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible on Friday night across Australia, Asia, Europe and Africa, as long as cloudy conditions don't obscure the event.
2. A celestial trio you can spot with the naked eye
When: June 7-8
Jupiter and Saturn will shine brightly next to each other all month long, and just before the middle of the month, the planets will have a visitor. On the nights of June 7 and June 8, the moon will swing by Jupiter and Saturn. The trio will l be hard to miss.
This will take place over the course of two nights, so stargazers will have a couple of opportunities to see the event. No telescope is required to see the celestial meetup, but having one will add to the experience.
Pointing a basic telescope at the moon will give onlookers a more detailed look of all the craters on its surface. More powerful telescopes will allow folks to see some of Jupiter's largest moons and even Saturn's famous rings.
3. Stargazing on the summer solstice
When: June 20
Summer officially gets underway across the Northern Hemisphere on June 20 with the summer solstice. In The southern hemisphere it marks the start of Winter. The solstice features the longest day and shortest night of the year, but don't let that dissuade you from stargazing if you live above us.
There will also be a new moon around the solstice this year, meaning that there will be a dark, moonless night to kick off the summer stargazing season. The Winter in Australia is also the best time of the year to look for the Milky Way, although people will need to head to dark areas away from light pollution to see it.
Looking east at 5am the comet is where the 30 altitude line crosses the 90 degree line.Just looked at the comet with 20x80 binoculars, I could see about 1.2 degrees of its tail. With my 305 mm Dob the head of the comet was spectacular. Credit: Astronomer Glen Cousins Via FB
NB/ Comet SWAN is currently located in southern skies, best seen by telescopes in Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa and South America. Stay tuned for updates