Astronews Recent Space News Discoveries (Starship SN15 Test, 3D Map Of The Heliosphere & More)

Welcome to the tenth review of “Space and Astronomy” news, selected for you by Insane Curiosity Channel. The news, which will be weekly, will try to provide a quick overview of everything interesting that has happened in recent days in the field of astronomical research and space exploration. Keep following us! Postcards from Mars On June 15, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover took 82 images to make complete 54K pixels panoramic photo driving to a new location called Séítah. Séítah is a region with sand ripples. A place with huge potential for the rover to find signs of ancient life on Mars. Inside the panorama, we can see the UHF antenna of the rover at the center of the panorama, while on the right of the antenna the small helicopter Ingenuity is seen perched on the ground. On the left part of the panorama, between Kodiak Butte and Jezero Delta crater is also visible a Dust devil. And speaking of Ingenuity… the drone performed its eighth flight on June 21, traveling 160 meters and landing at a new site 133.5 meters from the Perseverance rover. The flight, which lasted 77 seconds, was the third since Ingenuity shifted from its original five-flight technology demonstration mission, proving it could fly in the thin Martian atmosphere, to serving as an operations demonstration working in conjunction with Perseverance. Those flights are scheduled to continue for at least a few more months. That includes obtaining imagery of places that the rover cannot travel, such as a region called Seitah that is too rough for the rover to traverse. Helicopter images could also be used to create “terrain meshes” to enable longer drives by the rover by giving it information about terrain the rover’s own cameras, mounted on a mast, cannot see. Now this will continue for at least a few more months, at the rate of at least one flight every two weeks. The helicopter has flown a cumulative distance of nearly one kilometer, including 266 meters in one flight. However, the project is considering “stretch capabilities” of individual flights up to one kilometer long, lasting up to three minutes. And that would really push to its limits this fantastic experimental aircraft. Data collected by Ingenuity is also supporting the planning of a future helicopter design by engineers at JPL The Mars Science Helicopter of the future will probably be a hexacopter, or six-rotor helicopter, with a mass of about 30 kilograms. Ingenuity, by contrast, weighs only 1.8 kilograms. Mars Science Helicopter will be able to transport as much as five kilograms of science payloads and fly up to 10 kilometers per sortie. The first three-dimensional map of the heliosphere Using data collected between 2010 and 2019 by Nasa’s IBEX satellite, the boundary of the heliosphere, the region of space surrounding the Sun in which the density of the solar wind is greater than that of interstellar matter, has been mapped for the first time. The measurement provided a better understanding of how the solar and interstellar winds interact. “For years, physical models have theorized about this boundary,” explains Dan Reisenfeld of Los Alamos National Laboratory, first author of the paper published in Astrophysical Journal. “This is the first time we’ve been able to measure it and create a three-dimensional map of it.” Reisenfeld and other scientists used data from the Interstellar Boundary Explorer satellite, which orbits Earth and detects particles coming from the heliosheath, the boundary layer between the Solar System and interstellar space. The team was able to map the boundary of this zone, called the heliopause. Here, the solar wind that “blows” toward interstellar space collides with the interstellar wind that “blows” toward the Sun. To make this measurement, the researchers used a technique similar to that used by bats to “see” the walls of a cave. “Just as bats send sonar pulses in every direction and use the return signal to create a mental map of their surroundings, we used the solar wind, which blows out of the Sun in all directions, to create a map of the heliosphere,” explains Reisenfeld. They did this using the Ibex satellite’s measurement of the energetic neutral atoms that result from collisions between solar wind particles and interstellar wind particles. The intensity of this signal depends on the intensity of the solar wind hitting the heliosheath. When a wave hits the boundary, the collision count increases and IBEX is able to detect it and draw the collision pattern. The map shows that the minimum distance from the Sun to the heliopause is about 120 AU in the direction facing the interstellar wind, while in the opposite direction it extends to at least 350 AU. As a comparison, the orbit of Neptune is about 60 AU in diameter. “Hey, guys, just a moment before we continue… BE sure to join the Insanecuriosity Channel… Click on the bell, you will help us to make products of ever-higher quality!” Maybe next July will be the first orbital test of Starship! SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says the company is “shooting for July” for the first orbital launch of the company’s Starship vehicle despite lacking the regulatory approvals needed for such a launch. Speaking at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference on June 25, Shotwell said the company was pressing ahead with plans for an orbital flight involving the Super Heavy booster and Starship upper stage from the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, test site. SpaceX last flew a Starship prototype May 5, with the SN15 vehicle flying to an altitude of 10 kilometers before making a successful landing, a milestone that had eluded four previous prototypes in tests between December 2020 and March 2021. While SpaceX originally appeared to be planning a second suborbital flight of that vehicle, it instead moved the vehicle from the launch pad. Another Starship prototype, SN16, has remained at the production site. SpaceX has since turned its attention to preparing for the first orbital test flight. In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission on May 13, SpaceX outlined the flight plan for the mission, starting with liftoff off from Boca Chica. The Super Heavy booster would land in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast from Boca Chica, while Starship would go into orbit but reenter after less than one orbit, splashing down 100 kilometers northwest of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. However, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has not yet issued a launch license for Starship/Super Heavy launches from Boca Chica. The company’s existing license covers only suborbital flights of Starship. Shotwell made no mention of the licensing in her brief comments Later in her remarks, she said the orbital launch attempt was the next big test for Starship. Shotwell said she was also “very excited” about the progress on the Starlink program. She said SpaceX will have full global coverage once all the satellites launched to date reach their operational orbits. SpaceX launched the most recent batch of Starlink satellites on May 26. “Roughly six or so weeks from now we will have full global continuous coverage with the Starlink constellation, which should really help people who are un- or under-served to get broadband internet,” she said. Venus mimics Earth: its crust breaks up and large rocky platforms move and collide with each other By analyzing radar data obtained from Nasa’s Magellan mission in the early 1990s, an international team of researchers has found evidence of recent tectonic movements on the surface of Venus. Modeling studies of these surface deformations have uncovered that convective motions in the underlying mantle may explain the partitioning in the plate puzzle and the tectonics observed at the surface. A dynamic that could indicate that Venus is still geologically active. Although Venus is the Solar System planet most similar in size to Earth, it is a radically different world from our own. But not in every way. According to a new study, contrary to popular belief about its surface, which is thought to be as static as that of Mars and the Moon, the crust of Venus would have been affected in the recent past by tectonic movements and deformations, a dynamic similar to what we call plate tectonics on Earth and that could indicate that the planet is still geologically active. “We have identified a previously unknown pattern of tectonic deformation on Venus, driven by the planet’s internal motion just as it occurs on Earth,” explains Paul Byrne, associate professor of planetary science at North Carolina State University and coauthor of the paper. “Although the tectonics are different from what we observe on Earth,” Byrne adds, “it is evidence that the planet’s surface is in motion.” The team of researchers came to this conclusion thanks to old radar images obtained by the Magellan, used to map the planet’s surface and misurate the gravitational field and subtle changes in this force in different regions. In examining these vast Venusian plains and depressions, scientists observed areas where large blocks of land, called clods or plates, appear to have shifted, moving apart, approaching and colliding, rotating and sliding over each other like a broken ice shelf on a frozen lake, hence the name pack ice pattern that researchers have given to this particular clod tectonics. Tectonics that, according to the researchers, would be driven by the deformation of the mantle, the layer just below the surface crust. In fact, the team created a computer model of these deformations that allowed them to discover that the slow movement of the planet’s interior can explain the division into plates and the tectonics observed on the surface. This is not Earth’s plate tectonics, no mountain ranges or giant structures produced by subduction here, but it is evidence of deformation due to convection currents in the mantle. A movement of the crust coupled with that of the underlying fluid mantle that has never before been demonstrated on a global scale and could mean that the geology of Venus still holds many surprises. “We know that much of the surface of Venus contains volcanoes that have emerged over time, with some parts of the planet that may be, geologically speaking, very young,” Byrne points out. “Tectonic movements formed and deformed these young lava expanses, which means that the lithosphere fragmented after those plains were created. This gives us reason to think that some of these clods may have moved geologically very recently – perhaps even to the present day.” As a reminder, NASA and ESA recently approved three new space missions to Venus that, by making new observations of the planet’s surface at a much higher resolution than Magellan, will allow for further confirmation to support the results of this study. There’s a Problem With Hubble, and NASA Hasn’t Been Able to fix it yet For over thirty years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been in continuous operation in Low Earth Orbit and revealing never-before-seen aspects of the Universe. In addition to capturing breathtaking images of our Solar System and discovering extrasolar planets, Hubble also probed the deepest reaches of time and space, causing astrophysicists to revise many of their previously-held theories about the cosmos. Unfortunately, Hubble may finally be reaching the end of its lifespan. In recent weeks, NASA identified a problem with the telescope’s payload computer which suddenly stopped working. This caused Hubble and all of its scientific instruments to go into safe mode and shut down. After many days of tests and checks, technicians at the Goddard Space Flight Center have yet to identify the root of the problem and get Hubble back online. The payload computer was built during the 1980s and its purpose was to control and coordinate the scientific instruments aboard the spacecraft. The last time the computer experienced a failure was back in 2009, which delayed the final servicing mission until a replacement was installed as part of the fifth and final servicing mission conducted with the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The current issue began when the computer halted on Sunday, June 13th when the main computer stopped receiving the “keep-alive” signal from the payload computer – which lets the main computer know that everything is in working order. As a result, the main computer automatically placed all of Hubble‘s scientific instruments into a safe mode configuration. A day later, the Hubble operations team restarted the payload computer, but it halted again. To this end, the team is designing tests that will be run during the next few days, the purpose of which is to further isolate the problem and identify a potential solution. These tests are also intended to determine what hardware is still working properly aboard Hubble for future reference. Assuming that normal operations cannot be restored, we could potentially be looking at the end of Hubble‘s long history of service. The only alternative would be to mount a sixth servicing mission to swap out its hardware for new components, which would be very costly and offers no assurances of success. If this should prove to be the case, then Hubble will remain in space until its orbit decays sometime in the 2030s or 2040s. During its thirty-plus years in operation, the venerable Hubble has revolutionized the fields of astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics. Thanks to its Deep Field and Ultra Deep Field, humanity has been able to peer farther into space (and back in time) than ever before. These observations led to the realization that the cosmos are expanding at an accelerated rate over time, prompting scientists to theorize the existence of Dark Energy. It’s a foregone conclusion that the astronomical community would like to see normal operations restored so the mission can keep going for a few more years. But if any mission deserves a comfortable retirement at his juncture, it is Hubble, the space telescope that validated space-based astronomy and paved the way for missions like the James Webb and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. OK guys, we’re done for the week too. What do you think? What news struck you the most?