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Copernical Team

Copernical Team

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A capsule with antiviral drugs grown in space returns to earth
The W-1 capsule landing at the Utah Test and Training Range. Credit: Vargas Space Industries

On Wednesday, February 21st, at 01:40 p.m. PST (04:40 p.m. EST), an interesting package returned to Earth from space. This was the capsule from the W-1 mission, an orbital platform manufactured by California-based Varda Space Industries, which landed at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR). Even more interesting was the payload, which consisted of antiviral drugs grown in the microgravity environment of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The mission is part of the company's goal to develop the infrastructure to make LEO more accessible to commercial industries.

Founded in 2020 by former SpaceX employees and Silicon Valley venture capitalists, Varda is part of a burgeoning space industry (aka NewSpace) that is taking advantage of the declining cost of sending payloads to space. In particular, the company's vision is to develop pharmaceuticals and other products in space and return them to Earth via their proprietary reentry capsules.

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Sideways moon landing cuts mission short, private US lunar lander will stop working Tuesday
These photos provided by NASA show images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team which confirmed Odysseus completed its landing. After traveling more than 600,000 miles, Odysseus landed within 1.5 km of its intended Malapert A landing site, using a contingent laser range-finding system patched hours before landing. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University via AP

A private U.S. lunar lander is expected to stop working Tuesday, its mission cut short after landing sideways near the south pole of the moon.

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Steward Observatory balloon mission breaks NASA record 22 miles above Antarctica
Attached to the balloon, the gondola is being prepared for launch on Dec. 31, 2023. Credit: NASA

Fifty-eight days ago, on a nearly windless morning on the Ross Ice Shelf, a stadium-size balloon took flight above Antarctica, carrying with it far infrared technology from the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory in search of clues about the stellar life cycle in our galaxy and beyond.

GUSTO—short for the Galactic / Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory—has now broken the record as NASA's longest-flying heavy-lift balloon mission, which previously stood at 55 days, 1 hour and 34 minutes. Currently, the enormous zero-pressure balloon is riding stratospheric air currents 120,000 feet above the Antarctic continent, collecting far infrared radio emissions from the matter between stars. GUSTO surpassed the previous record at 10:22 a.m. Saturday Tucson time.

The faint terahertz signals that GUSTO seeks—with frequencies up to a million times higher than the waves emitted by an FM radio—are easily absorbed by water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere before they can reach .

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Image: ERS-2 buckles and bends during final farewell
Credit: Fraunhofer FHR

Following a hugely successful mission and almost 30 years in orbit, ESA's ERS-2 reentered Earth's atmosphere at approximately 18:17 CET (17:17 UTC) on 21 February 2024.

Predicting the exact time and location of ERS-2's natural reentry was made more difficult by the lack of new observations of the during its final revolutions around Earth.

This GIF combines some of the final images of ERS-2 tumbling through the sky. They were captured by the Tracking and Imaging Radar (TIRA) at the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR in Germany.

TIRA's 34-m antenna tracked the satellite as it passed overhead for a few minutes on 19, 20, and 21 February. The final session took place around 8:00 CET on 21 February, still roughly 10 orbits before reentry.

By comparing the from the three TIRA tracking sessions, we can see that ERS-2's solar array was already coming loose and no longer firmly attached to the rest of the satellite the day before re-entry.

When predicting a satellite's reentry trajectory, experts treat it as one rigid object until almost the very end.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket flies carrying a payload of 22 Starlink satellites into space
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket flies carrying a payload of 22 Starlink satellites into space.

Argentina on Monday gave authorization for the deployment of Starlink, the satellite internet service of Elon Musk—a fan of the South American country's self-styled new "anarcho-capitalist" President Javier Milei.

In a decision published in the government gazette, Argentina's Enacom communications authority authorized Starlink but also its new competitor from Amazon, Project Kuiper, which is due to launch this year, and the London-headquartered OneWeb.

"This means... greater freedom, greater investment and greater competition in everything related to the internet market," presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni told reporters in Buenos Aires.

Adorni said the move would bring to "companies and people for whom, for whatever reason, other technologies don't allow" such access.

According to the Starlink website, its satellite internet service will be available in Argentina in the second quarter of 2024.

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Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

After the historic return of the U.S. to the surface of the moon after more than 50 years last week, a private company's lunar lander will likely have its mission cut short because of how it landed.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines managed to touch down on the moon with its Nova-C lander Odysseus, but the craft tipped over to one side, likely because it had one of its landing gear catch, company officials said. The lunar lander is not expected to be able to maintain power or communicate with mission managers beyond tomorrow.

"Flight controllers intend to collect data until the lander's solar panels are no longer exposed to light. Based on Earth and moon positioning, we believe will continue to communicate with Odysseus until Tuesday morning," reads an update from the company's website.

That's for NASA, which paid the company $118 million as part of its Commercial Lunar Lander Services program, which tasks private companies to build hardware capable of bringing payloads to the moon. NASA has six payloads on board worth about $12 million that were aiming for eight to nine days of life before the sun set on that part of the moon, although Intuitive Machines' pre-launch target was seven days.

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Reproducing the Moon's surface environment on Earth
The photoelectric current measurement unit. Credit: Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT)

Continuous research is being conducted globally on using the moon as an advanced base for deep space exploration, and Korea is no exception in these efforts. The Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT) successfully implemented an electrostatic environment that simulates the moon's surface conditions, not in space but on Earth. The researchers also assessed its performance and effectiveness.

Among the most serious threats in executing lunar missions is the 's surface environment, which is electrostatically charged. Due to its extremely thin atmosphere, the moon is directly exposed to solar ultraviolet rays, X-rays, solar wind, Earth plasma, etc. Thus, clouds of dust on the moon exhibit strong static electricity. The moon's electrostatic environment is positively charged during the day and negatively charged during the night.

Given that the moon has nearly no atmosphere, dust can be easily blown away even by small impacts due to the minimal air resistance.

Tuesday, 27 February 2024 15:04

Could tardigrades have colonized the moon?

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Could tardigrades have colonized the moon?
Image of the species Milnesium tardigradum in its active state. Schokraie E, Warnken U, Hotz-Wagenblatt A, Grohme MA, Hengherr S, et al. (2012), CC BY

Just over five years ago, on 22 February 2019, an unmanned space probe was placed in orbit around the moon. Named Beresheet and built by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, it was intended to be the first private spacecraft to perform a soft landing. Among the probe's payload were tardigrades, renowed for their ability to survive in even the harshest climates.

The mission ran into trouble from the start, with the failure of "star tracker" cameras intended to determine the spacecraft's orientation and thus properly control its motors. Budgetary limitations had imposed a pared-down design, and while the command center was able to work around some problems, things got even trickier on 11 April, the day of the landing.

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Electrodes in spacesuits could protect astronauts from harmful dust on Mars
Martian dust could be a serious health hazard for future missions to Mars. Credit: NASA/AI. SpaceFactory

To quote NASA associate administrator Jim Reuter, sending crewed missions to Mars by 2040 is an "audacious goal." The challenges include the distance involved, which can take up to six months to traverse using conventional propulsion methods. Then there's the hazard posed by radiation, which includes increased exposure to solar particles, flares, and galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). And then there's the time the crews will spend in microgravity during transits, which can take a serious toll on human health, physiology, and psychology.

But what about the challenges of living and working on Mars for several months at a time? While elevated radiation and lower gravity are a concern, so is Martian regolith. Like lunar regolith, dust on Mars will adhere to astronauts' spacesuits and inflict wear on their equipment. However, it also contains harmful particles that must be removed to prevent contaminating habitats.

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Toppled moon lander sends back more images, with only hours left until it dies
This image provided by Intuitive Machines on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024 shows its Odysseus lunar lander over the south pole region of the Moon. The toppled lunar lander is still beaming back pictures of the moon, as its nears the final hours of its life. The photos were taken shortly before last Thursday's touchdown. Credit: Intuitive Machines via AP

A moon lander that ended up on its side managed to beam back more pictures, with only hours remaining before it dies.

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