The Artemis Accords. Last week, NASA announced the Artemis Accords, a set of guidelines for their vision for a multinational cislunar space. The proposed guidelines range from rescuing foreign astronauts in distress, to sharing full scientific data openly, to the governance of resources extracted from planets, moons, and asteroids. Related to resource extraction, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 states that you cannot claim territory in space. The US has taken the stance that this applies to resources as well, with them becoming “owned” by an entity once they are extracted—this is a stance that has not been agreed on or objected to by any other nation to date. But, with the proposed bilateral negotiation of agreements in the Artemis Accords, it may become the accepted interpretation. Related: The Moon Village Association is currently requesting public feedback on a second draft of their Moon Village Principles, internationalist guideposts to building a human presence on the lunar surface.
Demo-2 is almost upon us. SpaceX and NASA’s DM-2 mission is still scheduled for the 27th, hopefully bringing the gap in US-based crewed launch to a close at a little short of 9 years. DM-2 will launch from KSC LC-39A to the ISS, where it will stay for between 30 and 119 days (while this mission is limited by solar panel degradation due to atomic oxygen, future versions of Crew Dragon will be rated for 210 days on-orbit, like Soyuz). The Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 (sporting the recently revived worm logo) are ready to be mated and their astronauts have started the standard two-week “health stabilization” quarantine. Already assuming an uneventful trip, SpaceX is preparing for Crew-1, their first operational mission, scheduled for later this year. (Related: SpaceX is sending a mosaic of pictures of Class of 2020 graduates onboard DM-2—if that’s you, add your own photo!)
Papers (about exoplanets and interstellar objects!)
- Interstellar asteroid ʻOumuamua, discovered in 2017 moving through the solar system at 87 km/s, has an oddly elongated shape. Using simulation, a new Nature Astronomy paper suggests that it may be a shard from a parent body that passed too close to its star and had long fragments ripped off by tidal forces. “The near and far parts of the planetary body are pulled apart from each other by the star’s tidal forces, forming an elongated band of ‘sand particles’. At the same time, since the body is so close to the star, some of its surface melts and freezes after it flies away. This process glues the surface ‘sand particles’ together, and helps to form elongated fragments.” Others think it’s an interstellar comet, based on its odd acceleration. This all just means it’s still not an alien spaceship. 👽
- Meanwhile, interstellar comet 2I/Borisov, which is passing through our solar system at 33 km/s, was recently observed by ALMA. The radio telescope array detected hydrogen cyanide and high concentrations of carbon monoxide (paper). Both compounds are common in comets, but “the concentration of CO is higher than anyone has detected in any comet within 2 astronomical units (au) from the Sun,” suggesting that “the comet must have formed from material very rich in CO ice, which is only present at the lowest temperatures found in space, below -250° C. [...] If the gases we observed reflect the composition of 2I/Borisov’s birthplace, then [...] it may have formed in a different way than our own solar system comets, in an extremely cold, outer region of a distant planetary system.” Perhaps it originated in the Kuiper Belt of a red dwarf or is a fragment of a dwarf planet. Related: a proposal for how to catch up with the next one when it shows up.
- Kepler-1649c, an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of its red dwarf star 300 light-years away, was recently found hiding in Kepler data where it had previously been overlooked (paper). It’s the most Earth-like planet that Kepler has found in terms of size (1.06x Earth) and estimated temperature. Unfortunately, since it’s orbiting a red dwarf, it may be subjected to superflares that would make the formation of life “challenging”. The system has 1 or 2 other planets as well.
News in brief. After 83 days at the ISS, the disposable Cygnus NG-13 cargo craft left for its eventual fiery trash disposal in the atmosphere, but first it will deploy two CubeSats and perform the Saffire-IV fire safety experiment safely away from the ISS and its occupants; Planet is launching six of their SkySats as rideshares on two upcoming SpaceX Starlink mission (meanwhile, due to weather, the next Starlink mission was delayed from launching this week until after DM-2); SLS has been formally delayed until late 2021—it was originally planned to launch in 2017; two 93 kg Chinese IoT satellites launched last week with demonstration intersatellite laser links; following up from last week, the first stage of China’s massive 21-ton Long March-5B primary stage made a uncontrolled reentry and parts landed on villages in the Cote d'Ivoire (after being detected on reentry by Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization infrasound stations)—had it returned 15 min earlier, parts could have hit New York City; an Atlas V launched the X-37B OTV; and, a derelict Russian Fregat upperstage broke up (possibly for a second time), generating 65 pieces of trackable debris in a high, >2,000 km orbit.
- NASA Kennedy Space Center is hiring a US-resident postdoc to work on bioreactors. The ideal background is chemistry, biology, or environmental engineering. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for an introduction.
- The Aerospace Corporation currently has 366(!) positions posted including everything from non-technical positions to technical-area experts. Aerospace is the only federally funded, non-profit, R&D center focused on space.