Inside Space - March 6th, 2020

Inside Space (Mar 6th, 2020)

SpaceX tourism deal / ISS new research module / Starliner's "corrective actions" / Rocket Lab to launch Capella sat

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1. SpaceX has signed a deal with Axiom to fly three space tourists to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021. The passengers will travel aboard a Crew Dragon capsule that will be deployed by a Falcon 9 rocket, the companies said. The tourists will be accompanied by an "Axiom commander," and will spend ten days in space – eight aboard the ISS and two traveling to and from. In February, SpaceX signed a separate deal with Space Adventures to take tourists into space aboard the Crew Dragon. In late January, NASA announced that Axiom had been selected to build a commercial module that will be attached to the ISS. Axiom’s co-founder and CEO is Micheal Suffredini, who formerly worked as the ISS' program manager at NASA's Johnson Space Centre. – CNBC

2. A SpaceX Dragon capsule is set to transport a new research module that will be attached to the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon, which will be lifted into space by a Falcon 9 rocket this evening, is loaded with cargo and supplies for the ISS, including the new Airbus-built module, which is called Bartolomeo. Astronauts will attach Bartolomeo to the ISS's Columbus hull during a spacewalk later this year, ESA said in a statement. Bartolomeo is designed to host up to 12 experiments. "Radiation biologists, solar physicists and astrophysicists, Earth observers and atmospheric and climate researchers will all benefit from the new platform," said Julianna Schmitz, from the German space agency DLR. Airbus will charge customers between €300,000 and €3.5 million a year, depending on the size of their experiments. – SPACE DAILY

3. Two leading ground-based telescopes will not be severely disrupted by large satellite constellations, a new study says. Over the past year, astronomers have argued that the Starlink sats being launched by SpaceX reflect too much sunlight toward Earth, which can disrupt the observations being made by telescopes. But the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope and the forthcoming Extremely Large Telescope will not be seriously disrupted, according to a new study by ESO's Olivier Hainaut. The telescopes will need to cease observations when the sats cross the field of view but, "this is something that we can mitigate by scheduling, and by 'closing the shutter' when they pass overhead," Hainaut said. "It has a cost, of course; we would need to develop the software to compute the positions of the satellites, etc. That's not horribly complicated, but it will need to be done," he added. – BBC

4. Investigators have asked Boeing to implement 61 "corrective actions" before launching the Starliner again. The recommendations are pertaining to at least three major technical and design issues, NASA said. The spacecraft's December test mission was cut short when it failed to raise its orbit at the necessary time. It was later discovered that Boeing's tests ahead of the mission were not up to standards. "This was a close call. We could have lost a spacecraft twice during this mission," said Doug Loverro, the head of NASA's human spaceflight program. Loverro said that NASA has not yet decided whether to ask Boeing to conduct another uncrewed test flight, but the aerospace giant has set $410 million aside to pay for such a test. – CNBC

5. Rocket Lab has signed a deal to launch a  synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite for Capella Space. The launch will take place in mid-2020 from Rocket Lab's spaceport in New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula. The first sat of Capella's Whitney constellation will be positioned in a mid-inclination orbit, giving it coverage of the Middle East, Korea, Japan, South East Asia, Africa and the U.S. According to Capella, its satellites will be able to capture high-quality images at nighttime and through clouds. The San Francisco-based firm plans to launch seven satellites in 2020 and aims to increase the size of its constellation to 36 satellites by 2023. – FORBES

6. Thiophene, one of the organic molecules found on Mars in recent years, may have a biological origin, a new study says. Thiophenes are found in coal, crude oil, and even white truffles. In other words, on our planet, these compounds are linked to biological processes but, on Mars, they could have a thermochemical origin – impact meteorites could, theoretically, create thiophenes by heating precursor compounds to 248° F (120° C). However, scientists say that a more plausible explanation is that thiophenes may have been produced by bacteria eons ago when temperatures were milder and water was abundant on Mars. ESA’s Rosalind Franklin could test this theory because it is equipped with an instrument to study the isotopes present in molecules. Biological thiophenes would have different isotopes than thiophenes created by thermochemical processes. – NEW ATLAS

7. Later this year, the International Space Station (ISS) will start growing new vegetables such as pak choi, dragoon lettuce, wasabi mustard and red Russian kale. Gioia Massa the lead scientist on NASA's space vegetable garden project, known as Veggie, said that astronauts will also grow tomatoes and peppers. Veggie, which relies on LED lights and pillows filled with a clay-based growth media and fertilizer, arrived on the ISS in 2014. Since then, NASA astronauts have grown a variety of vegetables – eating some of them and sending others back to Earth for analysis. Finding a way to efficiently grow plants in space would provide astronauts with nutrients during long-duration missions. "If you store packaged food for a long duration the quality, flavor and nutritional quality decrease, the vitamins degrade," Massa said. "We can’t guarantee that they’re going to get enough nutrition right now," she added. – THE GUARDIAN

8. In preparation for the 2024 crewed lunar mission, NASA is putting together a map of the moon's southern regions. According to NASA, the Lunar South Pole Atlas will contain topographic maps, permanent shadow maps and slope maps, as well as images and illustrations of the region. The Atlas will feature images of two of the largest peaks in the region: the Leibniz Beta, which at 6.2 miles is slightly taller than Mount Everest and Malapert Massif (5 miles). Scientists think that the massive meteor impact that produced the South Pole-Aitken basin also created the mountains. – UNIVERSE TODAY

9. A NOAA environmental satellite is operational again after suffering a major malfunction nine months ago. The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) was switched off last summer due to issues with its attitude control system. To fix the problem, engineers had to design new software and upload it to the satellite. DSCOVR studies clouds, vegetation, atmospheric ozone and aerosols. It also monitors space weather. Launched in 2015, DSCOVR was designed for a two-year mission but carries enough fuel to last for a few more years, NOAA said. – SPACEFLIGHT NOW

10. Image of the Day: This image of the Moreux crater in Mars was taken by ESA's Mars Express orbiter in October 2019. "Many of the features, such as dunes and flows, surrounding the central peak and southern region of Moreux crater (to the left of the image) appear to have been formed by ice," ESA said. 

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. 


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