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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#187 - Human Space Flight

This week, we do a rundown of all the human spaceflight endeavours, and how astronomers are using FRB's to get closer to solving the missing matter problem. We are also joined on the Podcast by David Baker to talk about some articles in Spaceflight this month

If our so-called facts are changing shadows, they are shadows cast by the light of constant truth
Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington

28th May 2020 The 150th day of the year.

Solar eclipse of 1919 – Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity is tested and confirmed by Arthur Eddington (pictured) and Andrew Claude de la Cherois Crommelin

1999 – Space Shuttle Discovery completes the first docking with the International Space Station.

Johann Heinrich von Mädler (May 29, 1794, Berlin – March 14, 1874, Hannover) was a German astronomer of note, especially for his work on the first proper map of Mars and the moon.


New Era of Space flight has to wait a few more days, due to weather.

Amazingly few rockets have carried men into space in the last 60 years.

Successful programs

Only 10 Actual Manned Orbital Types of Rockets ever flown so far.

  1. Vostok program (USSR, 1956–1964) Gagarin - 1961 R-7 Rocket

  2. Project Mercury (USA, 1959–1963) -

    1. Mercury-Redstone and

    2. The Mercury-Atlas

  3. North American X-15 (USA, 1954–1968) - 13 of the flights (by eight pilots)(80Km)

  4. Voskhod program (USSR, 1964–1965) - 2 flights including EVA

  5. Project Gemini (USA, 1965–1966) - 10 crewed flights occurring in 1965 and 1966. Titan II

  6. Soyuz program (USSR/Russia, 1967–ongoing) unbelievable!!!

  7. Apollo Program (USA, 1961–1975) - Saturn V and Saturn 1B

  8. Space Shuttle (USA, 1972–2011)

  9. Shenzhou programme (China, 1992–ongoing) - Chinese citizen, Yang Liwei, into orbit on 15 October 2003 - the Long March 2F

  10. SpaceShipOne (USA, 2004–ongoing) SpaceShipOne reached space with a pilot in three test flights in 2004.

  11. SpaceShipTwo December 13, 2018. Marking the end of the "shuttle gap." VSS Unity made its second spaceflight on February 22 2019.

Upcoming in the next few years

  1. Dragon 2 (USA, 2010–ongoing) - Falcon 9

  2. CST-100 Starliner (USA, 2010–ongoing) - Atlas 5

  3. Long March 5B with the Next-generation crewed spacecraft

  4. New Shepard (USA, 2006–ongoing)

  5. Dream Chaser (USA, 2004–ongoing) Atlas 5

  6. Indian Human Spaceflight Programme (India, 2007–ongoing) -spacecraft called Gaganyaan for December 2021 on a GSLV Mark III rocket.

  7. SPICA (Denmark, 2008–ongoing) Copenhagen Suborbitals is an amateur crowd-funded, human space programme.

  8. Orel (Russia, 2009–ongoing) - formerly Federation -

  9. New Glenn (USA, 2012–ongoing)

  10. Starship (USA, 2014-ongoing)

  11. Iranian crewed spaceship project (Iran, 2015–ongoing) Surely the most dangerous!!!!

  12. Artemis program (USA, 2017–ongoing) - SLS

Abandoned spacecraft

  • The “Megaroc” man-carrying rocket proposal had been put forward by R.A. Smith in 1946 after H.E. Ross observed that the V-2 was “nearly big enough to carry a man.”

  • Man In Space Soonest (USA, 1957–1958)

    • Armstrong was one of the men on this mission to use a Thor Rocket to get to space. Cancelled when Nasa was formed

  • Dyna-Soar (USA, 1957–1963)

    • The X-20 Dynamic Soarer was a crewed spaceplane that could be used for a variety of military missions, including reconnaissance, bombing, space rescue, satellite maintenance, and sabotage of enemy satellites. The program ran from 24 October 1957 to 10 December 1963 and was cancelled just after spacecraft construction had begun.

  • Manned Orbital Development System (USA, 1962–1963) + Manned Orbiting Laboratory (USA, 1963–1969)

    • Replaced Dyna Soar ...but never happened

  • Soviet Orbital Station 1 (Soviet Union 1962–1965)

    • The 6 man "Battlestar Khrushchev" a nuclear-armed space station, about 5 times the volume of Salyut 1 and as heavy as Skylab

  • Spiral program (Soviet Union, 1965 – late 1970s)

    • The Spiral system consisted of three main components:

      • GSR reusable hypersonic air-breathing launch aircraft

      • RB expendable two stage rocket

      • OS orbital spaceplane

        • Similar to Dyna Soar

    • Buran came along

  • TKS (Soviet Union, 1970–1991)

    • conceived in the late 1960s for resupply flights to the military Almaz space station.

    • The Functional Cargo Block (FGB) of the TKS spacecraft later formed the basis of several space station modules, including the Zarya FGB module on the International Space Station.

  • Buran program (Soviet Union, 1976–1993)

    • One test flight, perhaps one of the best rockets ever made

  • Shuguang (China, 1968–1972)

    • Similar to Gemini

  • Piloted FSW program (China, 1978–1980)

    • Manned version of a recoverable satellite

  • Saenger 1 60s and II 80s

    • 2 stage Space plane, really cool, They even looked at launching it on a steam train!!! 230 passengers for a range of more than 10,000 km (Frankfurt to Tokyo) at a cruise speed of Mach 4.4 in 24.5 km altitude

  • HOTOL (UK, 1986–1988)

    • The Alan Bond masterpiece

  • Zarya (Russia, 1986–1989) - Super Soyuz

  • Rockwell X-30 (USA, 1986–1993) single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) spacecraft and passenger spaceliner. It was cancelled before a prototype was completed, although much development work in advanced materials and aerospace design was completed. While a goal of a future NASP was a passenger liner capable of two-hour flights from Washington to Tokyo, the X-30 was planned for a crew of two and oriented towards testing.

  • Hermes (ESA, 1987–1993)

    • Similar to X20 and Dynasoar, would have launched on an Ariane 5

  • HOPE-X (Japan, 1980s–2003)

    • Another dynasoar type space plane that was supposed to go to the ISS, prototypes built but cancelled due to the Japanese economic stagnation and the urgent need to spend money tacking the going on in North Korea

  • RAKS (Russia, 1993–?)

  • Kankoh-maru (Japan, 1995)

    • Funny looking squat version of Falcon 9

  • Venturestar (USA, 1996–2001) and the X-33

    • Epic spacecraft almost took the Aerospike engine to its logical place in spaceflight history. SSTO space plane

  • Hopper (ESA, 2000) - another Hermes style spaceplane

  • Kliper (Russia, 2004–2007) another spaceplane that ESA was uneasy about funding so it got cancelled

  • Project Constellation (USA, 2004–2010) -morphed to SLS

  • XCOR Lynx (USA, 2008–2016) - very small suborbital spaceplane

  • OPSEK (Russia, 2009–2017) -

FRBs and the missing Matter

Before we start this is not about dark matter, as I think it is often misunderstood that it is.

But when you look at the cosmic microwave background closely you can infer how much NORMAL matter or baryonic matter should be in the universe, about 5% of the universe should be made of matter! (the rest is dark matter and dark energy), The theory of Big Bang nucleosynthesis gives you the same answer!! So it’s pretty established as fact.

But, if you add up all the mass of stuff in galaxies, the stars and dust and exoplanets and everything, you end up about half of the stuff missing, So Astronomers had a missing Baryonic Matter problem. Where had the stuff gone!! Since about 2017 Astronomers have been convinced that this missing mass is in the hot strands of gas between galaxy pairs, like the filaments of a spiders web, and looking more closely at the CMB they were able to find these dim patches that low and behold gave the right answer, but with some wiggle room for inaccuracy.

A paper A census of baryons in the Universe from localized fast radio bursts in Nature by J.-P. Macquart of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia and Astrophysicist J. Xavier Prochaska of the University of California, has examined five fast radio bursts that are known to come from five different galaxies, all detected by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder. Using the time delay of various frequencies of the light arriving from these fast radio bursts they have been able to further verify this result.

This technique determines the electron column density along each line of sight and accounts for every ionized baryon, So as the light passes through the insanely sparse intergalactic medium, it changes depending on the amount of matter it has to go through, and the detector is so sensitive it can pick up on this very small time delays. The astronomers were able to determine the redshift of each galaxy that the FRB came from and therefore work out how far each burst had travelled, and using this information the number they got for the density of these intergalactic regions is pretty spot on to the number required to solve the mystery of the missing matter.

It looks like that once more FRBs are measured the error bars will become small enough to call this case closed.

But perhaps even more interestingly, a scientist could go further and start mapping the cosmic web in more detail as more and more FRBs shine their very bright lights through the universe.

The intergalactic medium where all this mass is is fun to think about. The density of material is 1 baryon per cubic meter, Each cubic meter of air on Earth contains about 10 trillion trillion molecules. This falls to around 4 trillion trillion at the top of Mount Everest. A hundred kilometres up, sometimes considered to be the border of space, there are around a million trillion molecules per cubic meter. At the International Space Station, roughly 350 kilometres away, there are only around 10 trillion.

100,000 kilometres from the Earth (over a third of the way to the Moon, where there is absolutely no influence from the Earth’s atmosphere), there are around seven million particles per cubic meter. At the edge of the Solar System, the density is down to about a thousand atoms per cubic meter

The fact that half of the matter is in intergalactic space should make you realise how BIG intergalactic space is!!!

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