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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#244 Space News Week

Chris joins Matt to chat about Aphelion, Heavenly Navigators, Sir Richard, Bezos and Musk private space race and Earth as a transiting exoplanet, and Subterranean homesick aliens.

"It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality"

Sir Richard Branson

Born on this day!

Louise Freeland Jenkins (July 5, 1888 – May 9, 1970) American astronomer who compiled a valuable catalogue of stars within 10 parsecs of the sun, as well as editing the 3rd edition of the Yale Bright Star Catalogue.

  • born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

  • In 1911 she graduated from Mount Holyoke College, then she received a Master's degree in astronomy in 1917 from the same institution.

  • From 1913 to 1915 she worked at the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh.

  • Afterwards, she was an instructor at Mount Holyoke from 1915 to 1920.

  • About 1921 she moved to Japan, becoming a teacher at the Women's Christian College, a missionary school.

  • She returned to the United States in 1925 after her father died.

  • A year later she returned to teach at a school in Himeji. (Hinomoto Gakuen girl's high school.)

  • In 1932 she returned to the US and became a staff member at Yale University Observatory.

  • She was co-editor of the Astronomical Journal starting in 1942, and continued in this post until 1958. She would return to visit Japan later in her life.

  • She was noted for her research into the trigonometric parallax of nearby stars. She also studied variable stars


China Spacewalk

Following up on the space station chatter from last week.

  • Three astronauts (or hángtiānyuán, literally heaven navigators, as they’re known in China) currently onboard

  • Commanded by Nie Haisheng

  • first time since 2008 that Chinese astronauts went outside their spacecraft, Sunday morning Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo have completed a 7hr space walk.

    • elevating a panoramic camera outside

    • testing the station's robotic arm which will be used to transfer future modules around the station,

    • installed foot stops on the robotic arm and, with its support, carried out other assembly work,

    • wearing newly developed suits said to weigh some 130 kilograms

    • Zhai Zhigang made China the third country to complete a spacewalk after the Soviet Union and the United States 2008

    • first crewed mission in nearly five years, marks the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party this month with a massive propaganda campaign.

    • 122 dishes onboard included shredded pork

    • Spinning bike and treadmill

    • spacewalk garnering 200 million views on China's Twitter-like platform Weibo

    • Roscosmos is looking into the possibility of launching spacecraft from the Guiana Space Center in South America to carry cosmonauts to the new Chinese space station. Need a better inclination ... The Russian Soyuz vehicle currently launches from Kazakhstan, which is an ideal location to reach the International Space Station. But reaching the Chinese space station at an orbital inclination of 42.8 degrees would be strenuous. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said he discussed the possibility of crewed launches from French Guiana during a recent video conference with Philippe Batista, the president of the French space agency, CNES.

All launches this week are going to be Chinese


OneWeb has become fully funded.

  • Bharti to invest an additional $500m into the company.

  • The eighth launch on 1st July OneWeb × 36 from Vostochny, completed 40% of Network

  • On completion of the Call Option and with Eutelsat's $550m investment, Bharti will hold 38.6%. The UK Government, Eutelsat, and Softbank will each own 19.3%.

  • OneWeb will have secured $2.4bn of equity investment, with no issued deb

  • Probs good news for UK Tax Payer.

  • Musk is set to invest 30 billion in his Starlink

  • Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Observatory, announced that the observatory’s council had formally approved plans to move into the construction phase of the radio telescope.

UK Space Agency signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) this week a decade after the first that has facilitated and helped projects like

  • Bebi columbo

  • Astroscale

  • UK-based Inmarsat partnered with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to develop ‘InRange’, a concept to enable a cost-effective, flexible launch range service.

Good week for Dickie Pickles but will he be the first of the big boys in space?

  • Virgin Galactic announced July 1 that the flight window for its next SpaceShipTwo Unity flight opens July 11

  • fourth crewed spaceflight, first mission with a full crew.

  • Branson and three other Virgin Galactic mission specialists,

    • vice president of government affairs, Sirisha Bandla,

    • Pilot Dave Mackay,

    • engineer Colin Bennett,

    • instructor Beth Moses,

    • pilot Michael Masucci.

  • Bezos’ flight is scheduled for July 20, on the New Shepard rocket’s first-ever crewed flight, Blue Origin shared that 82-year-old pilot and aviation pioneer Wally Funk will accompany Bezos, his brother, and an auction winner on the flight (Musk :))

  • Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said: “We wish him a great and safe flight, but they’re not flying above the Karman line and it’s a very different experience.”

  • Musk would probably point out that none of it is orbital. SpaceX announced that it would be launching the world’s first all-civilian crew into orbit, dubbed Inspiration4 and could launch as early as September 15

    • Toilet, with curtain, will have a Cupola instead of a docking port.

  • The Karman line 100 km/328,083 ft but 80 km/262,467 ft is also recognized ...Jonathon Mcdowell is probs your man here.

  • Blue Origin New Shepard crew capsule reached 106km above ground level. Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity reached 89km

  • Virgin Orbit was also in action and on wednesday, the rocket deployed seven small satellites into an orbit about 500 km above the planet

    • Northrop Grumman's Pegasus rocket is also dropped from an airplane, it uses a simpler solid-fuel design, which also has less flexibility during flight

    • Branson has invested in an unproven technology, and built up infrastructure to enable them to scale up production fast and avoid growing pains of a rocket company after the first initial launch.

    • Virgin Orbit is already planning launches from Guam and Cornwall, England, and has had discussions about locations in Japan, Brazil, and elsewhere.

The Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation, released the first global images of Mars in the far-ultraviolet, providing new insights into the discrete aurora phenomenon in Mars’ night side atmosphere.

Elon Musk turned 50 a couple of months before I do. ...but does he have two podcasts?

Cool papers from the Discord.

Past, present and future stars that can see Earth as a transiting exoplanet

L. Kaltenegger1,2 & J. K. Faherty

  • Transiting exoplanets are best for searching for life

  • Let the Aliens find us, and do the hard work?

  • What star systems could see our life?

  • 2034 stars in total.

  • Taken over 5000 years - Human civilisation, what stars could see us and what stars will come into view over the next 5000

    • Within 100 Parsecs (326.156 LY)

    • 1715 will have been, and 319 will be able to.

    • Among them 7 known exoplanet hosts

      • Ross-128 (in the past)

      • Teegardens star in 29 years

      • Trappist 1 in 1642 years

    • 75 stars on list have had radio waves from earth wash over them.

    • Stars with this type of vantage point are interesting because of the way you can possibly pick up a deliberate broadcast from them, and as a result a priority

    • 109 of the objects in catalogue are White Dwarfs, dead stellar remnants. Whereas most searches for life on other planets concentrate on main sequence stars the recent discovery of a giant planet around a WD19 opened the intriguing possibility that we might also find rocky planets orbiting evolved stars

    • Characterizing rocky planets in the HZ of a WD would answer intriguing questions on lifespans of biota or a second ‘genesis’ after a star’s death

Hallsworth, J.E., Koop, T., Dallas, T.D. et al. Water activity in Venus’s uninhabitable clouds and other planetary atmospheres. Nat Astron (2021).

The recent suggestion of phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere has regenerated interest in the idea of life in clouds. However, such analyses usually neglect the role of water activity, which is a measure of the relative availability of water, in habitability. Here we compute the water activity within the clouds of Venus and other Solar System planets from observations of temperature and water-vapour abundance. We find water-activity values of sulfuric acid droplets, which constitute the bulk of Venus’s clouds, of ≤0.004, two orders of magnitude below the 0.585 limit for known extremophiles. Considering other planets, ice formation on Mars imposes a water activity of ≤0.537, slightly below the habitable range, whereas conditions are biologically permissive (>0.585) at Jupiter’s clouds (although other factors such as their composition may play a role in limiting their habitability). By way of comparison, Earth’s troposphere conditions are, in general, biologically permissive, whereas the atmosphere becomes too dry for active life above the middle stratosphere. The approach used in the current study can also be applied to extrasolar planets.

Earth-like Habitable Environments in the Subsurface of Mars

J.D. Tarnas, J.F. Mustard, B. Sherwood Lollar, V. Stamenković, K.M. Cannon, J.-P. Lorand, T.C. Onstott, J.R. Michalski, O. Warr, A.M. Palumbo, and A.-C. Plesa

  • The surface of Mars is an extremely hostile environment characterized by freezing temperatures, desiccating conditions, high levels of ionizing radiation, oxidizing chemicals, low pressures, and a lack of liquid water that preclude any Earth-like organisms from surviving without adaptation that is unprecedented on Earth

  • In Earth's deep continental subsurface, where groundwaters are often isolated for million to a billion years, energy released by radionuclides (atoms that emit radiation as they undergo radioactive decay through the emission of alpha particles (α), beta particles (β), or gamma rays (γ).) within rock produces oxidants and reductants that drive metabolisms of non-photosynthetic microorganisms.

    • Within the last three decades, researchers have discovered that fluids preserved within Earth's kilometer-deep subsurface contain significant quantities of biomass utilizing a wide diversity of redox reactions to drive their microbial metabolisms

  • Similar processes could support past and present life in the martian subsurface.

  • Sulfate-reducing microorganisms are common in Earth's deep subsurface, often using hydrogen derived directly from radiolysis of pore water and sulfate derived from oxidation of rock-matrix-hosted sulfides by radiolytically derived oxidants.

  • Radiolysis thus produces redox energy to support a deep biosphere in groundwaters isolated from surface substrate input for millions to billions of years on Earth.

  • Radiolysis by itself could produce sufficient redox energy to sustain a habitable environment in the subsurface of present-day Mars, one in which Earth-like microorganisms could survive wherever groundwater exists.

  • The source localities for many martian meteorites are capable of producing sufficient redox nutrients to sustain up to millions of sulfate-reducing microbial cells per kilogram rock via radiolysis alone, comparable to cell densities observed in many regions of Earth's deep subsurface.

  • Demonstrate that martian subsurface groundwaters, where present, would largely be habitable for sulfate-reducing bacteria from a redox energy perspective via radiolysis alone.

  • Evidence for crustal regions that could support especially high cell densities, including zones with high sulfide concentrations, which could be targeted by future subsurface exploration missions.

  • Planetary objects with lower surface gravity than Earth, including Mars, likely have higher volumes of habitable pore and fracture space that extend deeper into the crust compared to Earth increasing the volume of feasibly supportable biomass if sufficient liquid water and redox energy are available

  • This should be considered in the context of future extant life-detection missions to Mars

Super Heavy rocket rolling to launch site in South Texas.

On Thursday, engineers and technicians at SpaceX's production facilities in Boca Chica rolled a large Super Heavy booster out of the high bay. This titanic rocket is bound for a test stand at the nearby launch site for ground tests. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said this rocket, which was built in just six weeks, will not fly.

Next rocket will fly ... According to Musk, the current plan involves testing this booster and launching the next one, which itself is currently being built. This next Super Heavy rocket will be mated with a Starship for an orbital launch. SpaceX sources have told Ars they are reasonably confident this flight will occur in July or August, but the company has yet to obtain regulatory approval for such a flight launching from the "Starbase" site in South Texas.

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