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Inside Space

Inside Space (Aug 13th, 2019)

Welcome to a new edition of Inside Space. We're trying to reach as many space enthusiasts as possible. Forward this newsletter to others who would be interested. As always, I welcome comments, tips and any other piece of information that may help us improve this newsletter. Just hit reply and let me know!

-- Eduardo  

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1. The ExoMars 2020 mission that is due to send a spacecraft to Mars next year failed a second parachute test this week. The four parachutes are crucial to the success of the mission because they will lower the ExoMars spacecraft – which consists of a rover developed by ESA and a science platform built by Roscosmos – onto the surface of the red planet. However, some of the parachutes did not deploy as expected during the latest test, which occurred Aug. 5, ESA said in a statement. "We are committed to fly a safe descent and landing system and will work very hard to attempt a timely qualification of this parachute system before launching in July 2020," an ESA spokesperson said. "There is, of course, no margin for one further failure any longer," he added. ExoMars 2020 is one of the four Mars missions planned for next summer, during a narrow launch window that opens once every 26 months. As part of the ExoMars project, ESA and Roscosmos sent a lander that crash-landed when it was descending toward Mars aided by parachutes. – THE VERGE

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2. United Launch Alliance (ULA), SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin have submitted bids for U.S. Air Force launch contracts. The AF plans to choose two companies that will launch 60 percent and 40 percent of 34 missions that the military and intelligence community plan for the 2022-2026 period. ULA and SpaceX currently launch most U.S. national security satellites while Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin are trying to break in. Blue Origin recently filed a complaint arguing that the contract bidding system favors ULA and SpaceX. The system, says Jeff Bezos' space company, will help "perpetuate a market duopoly in national security space launch well into the next decade." – SPACE NEWS

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3. Two humanoid robots are due to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) before the end of the year. After being upgraded, NASA's Robonaut 2 will return to the orbiting laboratory aboard either a Cygnus or a Dragon cargo spacecraft. The robot first arrived at the ISS in 2011 and was sent back in 2018 following a malfunction. During a test planned for later next year, the Robonaut 2 and Astrobee robots will collaborate to locate and fetch specific cargo bags. Meanwhile, a Russian-built humanoid robot called Skybot F-850, or FEDOR, is scheduled to travel to the ISS aboard a Soyuz capsule on Aug. 21. – SPACE NEWS

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4. The next test flight of the SpaceX Starhopper could take place next weekend, Elon Musk said. When a Twitter user asked Musk if the flight in which the Starhopper will reach an altitude of about 200 meters will take place sometime between Aug. 16 and Aug. 18, the SpaceX CEO said: "Just spoke with FAA, so hopefully yes," referring to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which grants launch permits. The Starhopper is a scaled-down prototype of the Starship, the launch vehicle that SpaceX is developing to transport people to the moon and Mars. SpaceX is building a more advanced test vehicle called Starship MkI so this could be the Starhopper's last test flight. – SPACE

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5. SpaceX plans to deploy a second vessel to catch rocket fairings. GO Ms. Chief will join GO Ms. Tree, which has caught rocket fairings twice this summer. Reusability is part of SpaceX's founding principles and recovering the fairings – the two halves that make up a rocket's nosecone – could help the company reduce launching costs. – SPACE

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6. NASA has selected four potential areas on asteroid Bennu for a future sample collection mission. The agency has named the sites after birds native to Egypt: Nightingale, Osprey, Kingfisher and Sandpiper. Engineers plan to continue studying the sites over the next four months before narrowing the list to two areas. They need to identify a site that is free of boulders that may pose a risk to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and rich on fine material for the probe's sampling mechanism to ingest it. The OSIRIS-REx sample collection will take place in the second half of 2020. OSIRIS-REx began studying Bennu in December 2018 and is scheduled to return to Earth in 2023. – NASA

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7. A team of U.S. scientists has created millions of virtual galaxies on a supercomputer to study galaxy formation. By comparing these "Ex-Machina" galaxies with real ones, scientists can infer which rules govern the physical universe said Peter Behroozi, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona Steward Observatory. "We took the past 20 years of astronomical observations and compared them to the millions of mock universes we generated," Behroozi explained. Among other things, the astronomers in charge of the project found that galaxies formed stars more efficiently in the early times than scientists previously thought. – POPULAR MECHANICS

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8. A NASA suborbital sounding rocket flew to an altitude of 96 miles on Monday. There were seven technology and science experiments aboard the rocket, including projects to develop spacecraft reentry and thermal protection systems, measure cosmic rays and gather organic molecules in space. The launch was part of NASA's RockSat-X program which aims to give students hands-on training in spaceflight. The rocket launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia and the experiments were later recovered after landing into the Atlantic Ocean via parachute. – NASA

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9. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. "He would [be] our first openly goth president. I think this is very important," Musk said on Twitter, apparently referring to a Jezebel article in which Yang said he is a fan of The Smiths and The Cure. Yang later thanked Musk for the endorsement. "Thank you Elon – this means a great deal. Congrats on building the future," he tweeted on Saturday. Musk backed Hilary Clinton in the 2016 election. – SPACE

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10. Image of the Day: This composite image shows last year's Perseid shower over the Poloniny Dark Sky Park in Slovakia. The building in the foreground is a planetarium. 

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Written and curated by Eduardo Garcia in New York. Eduardo is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School M.A. Science program and writes regularly for the New York Times Climate Fwd: newsletter. In one of his previous lives, Eduardo worked as a Reuters correspondent in Latin America for nearly a decade. 

Editor:  David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology).

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