Japan spacecraft carrying asteroid soil samples nears home

Phys.org  November 29, 2020 The Hayabusa2 spacecraft left the asteroid Ryugu, about 180 million miles from Earth, a year ago and is expected to reach Earth and drop a the pan-shaped capsule with a diameter of 15 inches containing the precious samples in southern Australia onto a remote, sparsely populated area on Dec. 6. It will drop the capsule containing the samples from 136,700 miles away in space, a big challenge requiring precision control. The capsule, protected by a heat shield, will turn into a fireball during re-entry in the atmosphere at 125 miles above ground. At about 6 miles […]

Scientists find way to track space junk in daylight

Phys.org  August 4, 2020 Utilizing a higher-powered laser, space debris laser ranging detects diffuse reflections from defunct satellites or rocket bodies up to 3000 km. So far space debris laser ranging was only possible within a few hours around twilight while it is dark at the satellite laser ranging station and space debris is illuminated by the sun. An international team of researchers (Austria, Spain, Germany) has extended the visible window using a combination of a telescopic detector and filter to increase the contrast of objects as they appear against the sky during the day. Overall, the new technique could […]

U.S. military tests radiation belt cleanup in space

Science Magazine  January 3, 2020 High-energy electrons, shed by radioactive debris and trapped by Earth’s magnetic field, are fritzing out the satellites’ electronics and solar panels. Now, defense scientists are trying to devise a cure. Three space experiments—one now in orbit and two being readied for launch in 2021—aim to gather data on how to drain high-energy electrons trapped by Earth’s magnetic field in radiation belts encircling the planet…read more. Related article

Controlling robots across oceans and space

Phys.org  October 8, 2019 The first experiment took place in 2012 when NASA astronaut Sunita Williams controlled a LEGO rover in Germany to test a newly-developed ‘space internet’ – proving it is possible to control a rover from orbit. Human-robotic partnerships are at the heart of ESA’s exploration strategy. The ESA’s Meteron project was formed to develop the technology and know-how needed to operate rovers in harsh conditions. It covers all aspects of operations, from communications and the user interface to surface operations and even connecting the robots to the astronauts by sense of touch. The experiment, dubbed Analog-1, will […]

A European mission will intercept an unknown comet for the first time

MIT Technology Review  June 20, 2019 On June 19, the European Space Agency announced plans to launch a fleet of three small spacecraft in 2028 and loiter a million miles away until an interesting and accessible comet is found. The Interceptor will tag along with Ariel, a larger observatory designed to study the atmospheres of planets orbiting distant stars. Two of the spacecraft will pass close to the comet’s nucleus where they hope to gather enough data to understand the structure of both the nucleus and the comet’s tail. The third spacecraft will act as a backup and data relay…read […]

Earth’s atmosphere stretches out to the moon – and beyond

Phys.org  February 20, 2019 Where our atmosphere merges into outer space, there is a cloud of hydrogen atoms called the geocorona. An international team of researchers (Russia, France, Finland) found that the measurements made in 1996, 1997 and 1998 showed geocorona extends at least up to 100 Earth Radii encompassing the orbit of the Moon. The extra source of hydrogen is not significant enough to facilitate space exploration. These particles do not pose any threat for space travelers on future crewed missions orbiting the moon. But the Earth’s geocorona could interfere with future astronomical observations performed in the vicinity of […]

Team tests feasibility of EmDrive and Mach Effect Thrusters

Phys.org  May 23, 2018 The idea behind the EmDrive is simple—it is a hollow cone made of copper or other material and placed in a frame. Natural microwaves bouncing around inside the cone are supposed to provide thrust. If feasible, such an engine could push a rocket through space without the need to carry fuel. But as many physicists have pointed out, such an engine would defy the laws of physics as we know them. To test this concept researchers in Germany built an EmDrive similar to the one NASA had looked at. They report that while the EmDrive did […]

New thermal coatings for spacecraft and satellites developed using metamaterials

Phys.org   April 25, 2018 Optical solar reflectors (OSRs) made of quartz tiles designed to reject solar radiation and dissipate the heat that is generated on board satellites, are heavy, fragile, cannot be applied to curved surfaces and add significantly to assembly and launch costs. An international team of researchers (UK, Italy, Denmark) working on Horizon 2020 sponsored space technology project, developed a new meta-OSR coating enabled by the use of metal oxide that has very strong infrared emissivity while retaining a low absorption of the solar spectrum. A ‘smart’ radiator based on their metamaterial design allows tuning of the radiative […]

Earth’s magnetosphere

Phys.org  March 26, 2018 The magnetosphere was key to helping Earth develop into a habitable planet. NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) was launched in March 2015 to observe the electron physics of magnetic reconnection for the first time. Bristling with energetic particle detectors and magnetic sensors, the four MMS spacecraft flew in close formation to areas on the front side of Earth’s magnetosphere where magnetic reconnection occurs. Data from investigations by NASA and partner agencies not only help unravel the fundamental physics of space, but also help improve space weather forecasting. Understanding our magnetosphere is a key element to helping […]