¶More JWST. A roundup of more JWST news and reactions from the week.
- An article from December about the JWST which won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting.
- JWST took images of Jupiter during commissioning, as well as of asteroid 6481 Tenzing in order to determine the fastest object that the telescope can actively track—67 milliarcseconds per second, more than twice the expected baseline.
- An accessible 40 min Bloomberg Quicktake documentary video digging into the science planned for JWST.
- It’s worth remembering that Webb’s goal isn’t simply pretty pictures, it is to expand the frontier of infrared imaging and spectroscopy. Among other things, this allows never-before-seen views through interstellar dust, which is more transparent to infrared than optical wavelengths. JWST will allow imaging of stars forming inside of nebulae, determination of the elemental makeup of the earliest objects in the Universe, analysis of the atmospheric composition of exoplanets, and views of black hole accretion disks, planets in our solar system, and brown dwarfs wandering the void.
- That said, zoomable versions of its first images are nonetheless breathtaking: Stephan’s Quintet (at over 150 million pixels), NGC 3324, the Southern Ring Nebula (and in a tool to compare with Hubble imagery), and of course Webb's First Deep Field.
¶So long, Dmitry. In an unanticipated move, Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin was dismissed on July 15th. No reasons were given for the dismissal, and it is even unclear whether it is a reprimand or a commendation—with rumors also swirling about a possible new appointment for Rogozin. The ever-outspoken leader of the agency since 2018 became particularly bombastic in his nationalistic threats and grandstanding after the invasion of Ukraine (his actions encompassed ambitions for deorbiting the ISS, suggesting American rockets are no better than broomsticks, hacking the German X-ray telescope for Russian use, having cosmonauts display flags from occupied regions of Ukraine, recently ordering cosmonauts to stop using the ESA robotic arm on the ISS, and more). This strained relations with ESA and NASA above and beyond the diplomatic tensions already caused by the unprovoked invasion—we wonder if this mostly-Twitter-based bravado was too much even for Putin. On the same day as his dismissal, Roscosmos and NASA signed a long-anticipated seat exchange agreement to fly ‘integrated crews’ to the ISS aboard Crew Dragon and Soyuz. First flights including members of the opposite agency will be this fall with Crew-5 and Soyuz MS-22. Rogozin’s replacement is Yuri Borisov, a long-time figure in Russian defense and politics.
- Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) are massive accumulations of volcanic rock created by lava floods and igneous intrusive formations forming over large areas for a few million years, such as the Deccan Traps in India and the Columbia River Basalt Group in Washington and Oregon. LIP formations in Earth’s past are tied to major climate shifts and mass extinctions, due in part to LIP events releasing large quantities of greenhouse gasses. According to a new paper, occurrences of LIPs appear to be random in Earth’s history and some have overlapped. The authors propose that, if too many LIP formation events overlap (purely by random chance), it could trigger a runaway and irreversible greenhouse effect. Earth may have dodged this fate only by chance, and this could be what happened to Venus.
- Earth’s magnetic field reverses polarity roughly every 200,000 years. The growth of the satellite-irradiating South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) and the weakening of the Earth’s magnetic field by about 10 percent over the past 180 years have led some to suggest that the next field reversal is imminent. However, a new study that built a 9,000-year historical record of the Earth’s magnetic field by measuring remnant magnetization of burnt archaeological artifacts, volcanic samples, and sediment drill cores found that anomalies like the SAA are probably recurring phenomena. This model predicts that the current anomaly will “probably disappear within the next 300 years, and that Earth is not heading towards a[n imminent] polarity reversal.”
- An Implosion-Driven Launcher (IDL) uses shock-compressed helium to accelerate 0.3 g magnesium projectiles to simulate impacts of space debris (paper). Previous light gas guns work in the 8 km/s range, while this new technique uses disposable launchers surrounded with high-explosives to compress the propellant gas to a very high temperature (30,000° C) and pressure (five gigapascals) and expel projectiles at 10 km/s. (Tangentially, this reminds us of explosively pumped flux compression generators which use high-explosives to produce magnetic fields of 1,000 teslas and/or currents of hundreds of millions of amperes.)
The IDL projectile impacting a surface.
¶News in brief. Masten Space appears to be struggling to stay solvent, with all remaining employees now on furlough—Masten is contracted to deliver one of NASA’s CLPS missions to the Moon, and is developing the FAST self-sintering landing pad, among other technologies ● The first Vega C launched successfully from French Guiana on July 13th with the LARES2 passive laser retroreflector satellite (used for studying the Earth’s gravity field and gravitomagnetic frame-dragging effects of general relativity) and six smallsats—we covered Vega C in Issue #175 ● ABL static fired the first stage of their RS1 rocket, with stage mating, a wet dress rehearsal, and finally a first orbital launch attempt from Kodiak Island in Alaska coming up soon—the RS1 upper stage, now repaired, was damaged during a test in January ● The UAE is setting up an $820 million space development program, including SAR satellites and a Venus and asteroid observation mission ● Saudi Arabia is the 21st nation to sign the Artemis Accords ● Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) also completed an engine test campaign of their Helix rocket engine for the upcoming RFA One rocket launch vehicle ● SpaceX's CRS-25 ISS resupply mission launched from Pad 39-A, delivering 2,630 kg of supplies, equipment, and cubesats to the ISS, including EMIT, an externally-mounted spectrograph to measure desert minerals and global dust ● SpaceX also sent 53 more Starlink sats to orbit (2,858 have now been launched) in what was their fourth launch in 10 days—the launch also brought this year’s F9 launch count to 31, already level with last year’s tally ● China launched a Tianlian 2 geostationary comms relay satellite on a Long March 3B rocket in support of the Tiangong space station ● KPLO, South Korea’s first planetary mission, arrived at the Cape for an August 2nd Falcon 9 launch toward the Moon ● Perseverance collected its ninth core sample, for possible eventual sample return (from as flat a spot as possible), while Ingenuity is taking a few more weeks off to wait out winter dust.
- Today is International Moon Day.
- ESA released Terra Novae 2030+, detailing the agency’s vision and strategy for exploration in the ‘30s, which includes the European Large Logistics Lander, lunar ISRU projects, collaborations with NASA on Artemis and Gateway, their Moonlight comms network, a CLPS-like commercial lunar landing program, and more.
- The International Space Apps Challenge 2022 runs October 1-2, with registration open now. Join NASA and 11 other space agencies in a truly international hackathon “for coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, technologists, and others in cities around the world, where teams engage with NASA’s free and open data to address real-world problems on Earth and in space.”
- It’s been over 12 months since Virgin Galactic’s last suborbital flight which took Richard Branson to space, during which time Blue Origin’s New Shepard launched 6 times (and SpaceX twice) with paying customers. Ars digs into what's going on with this seemingly struggling space tourism company. Meanwhile, the company just announced a new Mesa, Arizona-based manufacturing facility “capable of producing up to six spaceships per year.”
- China is getting serious about planetary defense. The nation is working on a near-Earth object observation and deflection demonstration mission for launch in 2026, with the ~40 m wide NEO 2020 PN1 as its target. In addition, the Beijing Institute of Technology is building an array of 20 radar antennas, each 25-30 m in diameter, to image potentially Earth-threatening asteroids.
- ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti recently flexed a Starbuck cosplay from Battlestar Galactica on the ISS.
- NASA laboratory experiments indicate that aminoacids in Martian regolith are broken down by cosmic rays much more quickly than previously thought. This means that future rovers may have to dig down 2 m or more to find potential signs of ancient life (paper).
- “Based on our metagenomic analysis, we found that the simulated Martian environment drastically disrupted the microbial ecology of kombucha cultures.” 🍻