By Tyler DeWacht
Hello, and welcome to the final edition of Space News. In the last article (which is available online), I covered the rocks of our Solar System. This last article in the series will bring us back home to the third rock away from the Sun that we know as Earth and its compatriot moon we call the Moon. Without further ado, let’s get into the news, shall we?
A lot can go wrong in space where technology is concerned. Manufacturing defects can slip past even the most thorough inspections, somebody made a calculation half a millimetre off that resulted in a catastrophic error, a moving part doesn’t move properly in zero gravity. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope, a groundbreaking technological marvel that has given us profound sightings into the universe, recently ran into some trouble. The gyroscope, which allows it to reposition itself, broke down recently. The backup unexpectedly also broke down, so operations had to stop for a while. Some fiddling was done around with the controls, and the problem was able to fix itself, so now it should be working normally once again.
You’re probably familiar with the International Space Station, the joint effort of multiple spacefaring nations to establish a base of operations in the final frontier. The 3-6 person crew onboard the ISS is supposed to rotate about every six months, but the Soyuz rocket that was supposed to perform the next rotation unexpectedly failed and had to make an emergency landing in Kazakhstan. Thankfully, everyone on board survived in good condition, but the current crew is going to have to extend their stay. They can’t leave the station unmanned, and 3 uncrewed Soyuz launches will be required before the Soyuz craft is approved for another manned launch. There are no other rockets available at this time.
Russia is not having a good time in space lately. In addition to the rocket failure, a tiny hole was discovered in the hull of a Soyuz capsule attached to the ISS. The hole had to be sealed temporarily after it was discovered to be leaking precious oxygen, with a more permanent solution in the works. The Roscosmos investigation launched into the matter has revealed that the hole was most likely created deliberately with a drill. Was this just a production defect, or could it be a case of sabotage in space? The investigation is still underway at the time of writing this article, but nothing has been ruled out yet.
How long is the International Space Station going to be around? Legislation has been introduced to extend operations until 2030, but the station will eventually become too expensive to upkeep, so it will eventually be brought down and disintegrated upon re-entry, making a controlled fall into open waters so larger fragments don’t risk hitting populated areas. There are currently no American plans to replace the ISS, but China plans to launch their own space station that will be operational by 2022. The Tiangong (translated as Heavenly Palace) programme’s third phase space station will have up to 13 laboratories for conducting various experiments within a 10-year timeframe, and it will be open to all UN member nations.
The China National Space Administration has recently been stepping up their space game in their efforts to make China the next dominant world power. The Soviet Luna 9 probe was the first to land safely on the Moon, but the upcoming Chang’e 4 mission in December aims to land a probe safely for the first time on the dark side of the Moon. For those curious, Chang’e is the Chinese goddess of the Moon. They also have an ambitious project to launch a bright artificial moon over the city of Chengdu that will provide continuous lighting, though they’ve stayed silent on the exact details of that plan. We’ll just have to see what happens with this and how it could affect local wildlife. China isn’t always transparent with their plans, and their space program is no exception to this.
Who else is working towards accessing the final frontier? Asia has a lot of players in the game. India isn’t too far behind the leaders; the Chandrayaan-2 lunar probe is scheduled for a 2019 launch, while the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme intends to send people to space (following training in Russia) for the first time aboard the Gaganyaan by 2022. Pakistan’s space program SUPARCO, not wanting to be left in the dust, is planning its first manned mission in the same year with the help of China. Japan isn’t as interested in manned missions to space, instead focusing on the technological possibilities. In addition to the Hayabusa2 probe discussed in the last edition, a new collaborative mission between JAXA and the ESA launched on October 19, and the target destination is Mercury. The BepiColombo will be travelling as one unit for a while before splitting into two spacecraft that together will give us more detailed information about this seldom-seen planet.
The British Commonwealth has been active in the satellite department, with the United Kingdom’s high-resolution satellite system that can track pollution, pick out ocean trash and potential poachers, and serve as an early disaster warning system. One such satellite, the newly-launched NovaSAR-1 co-controlled by Australia, works even at night and in cloudy conditions. Australia and Canada will benefit from this as well since some new information-sharing agreements were recently negotiated. Perhaps the Canadian Space Agency could also use this knowledge to improve our satellite security, which has been criticized recently for being too vulnerable against cyberattacks.
On the business side of affairs, SpaceX continues to move forward with their dreams. The Big Falcon Rocket is nearly ready to test, starting with re-entry dives to test the heat shield. If everything goes according to schedule, the first commercial space flight will occur in 2023 with a flyby of the Moon. Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire who founded the online website Zozotown, is confirmed to be one of these passengers, and he’ll be bringing 6-8 artists with him for an art project called #dearMoon. What new works of art could this voyage inspire, I wonder?
Last but not least is the United States, and they’ve had no shortage of news lately. NASA recently turned 60, for instance! So, what does NASA have planned next? With the current US government’s introduction of Space Policy Directive 1, the Moon is going to be walked upon once again. There is a new space station in the design phase as well, the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, that will serve as a midway point between the Earth and the Moon. In the future, when a lunar base is finally established, it will also serve as a direct line of communication and a stepping stone to the ultimate target Mars.
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is ten years old now as well, and NASA has named some new constellations to commemorate this milestone. They’re not your typical constellations; rather than being based on stars, they’re instead based on gamma rays, which are the strongest form of electromagnetic radiation. These new constellations, 21 in total, have interesting designs. Some are based on important landmarks or technological feats such as the Eiffel Tower, Mount Fuji, and the Fermi satellite itself. Others are a bit more abstract, like The Little Prince and Schrodinger’s Cat. Still others are pop culture references like The Hulk, Godzilla, and the Starship Enterprise. If you want to learn more about them, there’s an interactive map available online that has all 21 in their respective celestial positions.
It’s hard to go a week without hearing something new about Donald Trump, and to say he’s a controversial President would be an understatement. Why am I bringing up politics now? Well, if you’ve been following the American situation, you’ve probably heard of Trump’s proposed Space Force. Intended to be the 6th branch of the US military, the Space Force would monitor space, carry out rescue operations, and protect the Earth from hostile forces and rogue asteroids. Negotiations are underway, and if everything goes according to plan, the Space Force would be up-and-running by 2020. Disregarding your opinion on Trump, what are your thoughts on the Space Force? Does the military have a place up in space?
With that question, I leave you to think about the universe we live in. Thank you for reading Space News and The Bolt News, and I hope you continue to gaze into the cosmos. This is Tyler DeWacht, signing off for now.