¶RS1 suffered a launch failure. LauncherOne, unfortunately, seems to have started a trend, with ABL Space System’s RS1 rocket failing on launch less than 24 hours later. The vehicle “experienced an anomaly and shut down prematurely,” with all 9 engines cutting out simultaneously, causing the rocket to fall back to the pad and explode, damaging ground equipment (fortunately no people were harmed). A mushroom cloud rising at sunset over picturesque Alaskan mountains isn’t an ideal outcome if you’re an early-stage launch startup. RS1 is a two-stage rocket—with nine kerolox E2 engines on the first stage and one vacuum-optimized E2 engine on the upper stage—which will hopefully lift 1,350 kg to LEO when it returns to the pad after a thorough investigation.
RS1 looking majestic, shortly before exploding.💥
- TESS spotted a second Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of TOI 700, a small, cool red dwarf star ~100 light-years away. Likely tidally locked, the two planets may have liquid water on their surfaces, perhaps on the terminator line between their hot and cold sides. JWST also spotted its first exoplanet, which is almost exactly the same size as Earth, but is an unfortunate few hundred degrees warmer.
- We’ve previously written about Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs)—such as the Deccan Traps in India and the Columbia River Basalt Group in Washington and Oregon—and how these massive lava flows may have caused climatic effects and mass extinctions. We’ve even cited evidence that they occur randomly, and if they happen to co-occur too often, they could change a planet’s fate dramatically. Now, a new NASA study— Large-scale Volcanism and the Heat Death of Terrestrial Worlds—suggests this is exactly what happened to Venus, transforming a once wet world to one 80% covered in volcanic rock with hellish temperatures and unbearable pressures. Future missions, such as DAVINCI, will look specifically at the planet’s potentially-unfortunate volcanic past.
- Stereoscopic imagery from Mars orbit provides the best evidence yet of the shoreline remains from a massive northern ocean 3.5 billion years ago, including evidence of changing sea levels over time, consistent with a warm and wet climate (paper).
- Due to this warm and wet beginning, with enough water delivered by meteorites (paper) to cover the entire planet in a 300-meter-deep ocean in its early years, Mars was likely habitable long before Earth.
- So, early Mars was likely reasonably warm and wet, and during that period it would have had a hydrogen-rich atmosphere (paper), friendly to hydrogenotrophic methanogens. However, if there were once life forms that metabolized such an atmosphere, they may have brought on their own demise. A Nature Astronomy modeling paper shows that the act of metabolizing hydrogen from the atmosphere of early Mars into methane would have quickly cooled the planet, freezing water, thinning the atmosphere, and ultimately wiping out any life.
The floor of Gale Crater is visible in the distance at the top of this image taken by Curiosity. Gale Crater is near a region called Aeolis Dorsa which may once have been a massive ocean. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
¶News in brief. Russia is planning to launch an uncrewed Soyuz to the ISS next month to act as a lifeboat for the two cosmonauts and one astronaut potentially stranded by last month’s micrometeorite strike on the exterior coolant loop of Soyuz MS-22 ● SpaceX launched another Falcon Heavy, delivering a second round of classified US Space Force payloads directly to GSO—this required expending the heavy lift rocket’s center booster, while both side boosters performed launch enthusiasts’ favorite synchronized return and landing ● Capella Space raised a $60M growth equity round—the company currently has 7 SAR satellites in orbit with more planned ● World View Space, developer of high altitude balloons for science and tourism, announced a $350M SPAC ● Toronto-based startup Magnestar raised a $1.1M pre-seed for a radio frequency interference avoidance platform ● Stell raised a $3.1M pre-seed to develop a supplier workflow platform for the aerospace industry ● NASA’s Lunar Flashlight, on its way to the Moon, is having some underperformance issues with its experimental Advanced Spacecraft Energetic Non-Toxic (ASCENT)-fueled thrusters ● The first ULA Vulcan Centaur is now on its way to the launch site ● A Chinese Long March-2D took 14 satellites to orbit ● SpaceX may be aiming for a Starship 33-engine static fire test on Jan 20th ● GOES West (née GOES-18) is now operational (cf. Issue No. 111).
The Earth, as seen by GOES-18, with a bomb cyclone heading for California.
- Using publicly available satellite data, University of Copenhagen researchers have developed machine learning models to identify individual, tree-level carbon stock across Rwanda. Of particular interest are the ability to do carbon mapping of non-forest trees and the ability to do individual tree canopy size estimation, important for the ongoing measurement of precise carbon content.
- Low-cost, ground-based giant magnetoimpedance (GMI) sensors for monitoring space weather from the ground. These cheap, 5 cm-wide PCBs can detect geomagnetic field variations of about 0.1 nanotesla (paper).
- Laser-guided lightning.
- Let’s take a break from hard science for a moment to talk about some favorite hard(ish) science fiction novels that we read recently. Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir (author of The Martian), is great. Delta-V, a very hard sci-fi novel about asteroid mining, has a sequel coming out shortly. Of course The Expanse series. And, Expeditionary Force (recently concluded after 15 books) and the Bobiverse series are just tons of fun. (Unsurprisingly, >80% of astronomers identify as sci-fi fans.)
“I have never seen a work of fiction so perfectly capture the out-of-nowhere shock of discovering that you've just bricked something important because you didn't pay enough attention to a loose wire.” XKCD #1536