¶Artemis I CubeSat update. Of the 10 small, secondary payloads deployed from the top of Artemis I’s ICPS upper stage, at least 6 are operational: ArgoMoon (fly-along proximity ops and photo documentation of the ICPS—it has returned photos of the Earth and Moon already), BioSentinel (taking biology—yeast—further into space than ever before to study radiation’s effects), CuSP (solar flare and radiation monitoring), EQUULEUS (space environment research at the Earth-Moon L2), LunaH-Map (lunar ice mapping via a hydrogen neutron detector), and Lunar IceCube (lunar ice hunting spectrometer). LunIR (infrared mapping and imaging) also seems to be working but has a weaker signal than expected. Unfortunately, OMOTENASHI (the world’s smallest Moon lander, from Japan) is struggling, and without reliable communications, or attitude control could not be commanded to attempt its landing. And sadly, Team Miles (citizen science deep space plasma thruster demonstration) and NEA Scout (solar sailing, Asteroid 2020 GE-visiting explorer) both have yet to phone home. 😟
¶Webb keeps pumping out quality. The L2-orbiting space telescope continues to pour forth beautiful pictures and new science to the delight of all space enthusiasts. We thought we’d do a quick round-up of a few recent releases.
- Yesterday brought us new papers (1,2,3,4,5) on exoplanet Wasp-39 b from 700 lightyears away. Wasp-39 b is a “hot Saturn” tightly orbiting its star at a cozy distance of just 0.0486 AU—Mercury’s orbit, for comparison, is 0.387 AU. This observation contains another first: a molecular and chemical profile of the planet’s atmosphere (sodium, potassium, and water, along with carbon dioxide and monoxide, but little hydrogen, methane, or hydrogen sulfide which are present in the atmospheres of our gas and ice giants). This builds a picture of an inhospitable atmosphere with intermittent cloud cover above a planet formed from merged planetesimals. We’re looking forward to similar observations (1,2) of Trappist-1, the first of which happened this past Monday.
- JWST recently imaged what appear to be two of the very earliest galaxies ever detected, formed just 350 and 450 million years after the big bang—they were spotted in JWST data more quickly than expected. These galaxies could host theorized Population III stars, the first stars in the Universe, that formed out of primordial helium and hydrogen and would be devoid of the heavy elements normally formed in stars—additional spectra observations will help determine if any of these ultra-hot stars can be pinpointed in the farthest galaxy, GLASS-z12.
- On top of these, Webb recently released another stunner (below; full-res here), this time of a pre-star system in the midst of formation. Its accretion disk blocks the protostar’s burgeoning light, but it illuminates the dust and gas of its surrounding nebula in an hourglass shape above and below the disk. Phil Plait has lots more details in his paid (and highly recommended) newsletter, or you can read more about it here.
| ¶News in brief. Orion performed a two-and-a-half minute perilune engine burn just 130 km above the lunar surface—track its current status here ● China launched five satellites on a commercial Ceres-1 Y4 and a Yaogan-34 remote sensing/military sat on a Long March 4C ● Gravitics, a startup designing next-gen space station modules, raised $20M ● Spacewalks occurred at both the ISS and Tiangong ● Eutelsat’s board approved a merger with OneWeb—the deal is now pending regulatory approval ● Advanced Space won a $72M AFRL contract for cislunar space situational awareness ● ClearSpace is collaborating with Intelsat on GEO sat life extension—their ClearSpace-1 debris removal mission is NET 2025 ● Canada announced the country’s first lunar rover, with $43M CAD in funding, to be launched in 2026—it will explore shadowed polar regions and is designed to survive the 14-day-long lunar night ● SpaceX will receive $1.15B from NASA for a second lunar lander mission, probably Artemis IV (this is a big deal, Artemis IV wasn’t originally planned as a landing) ● Prometheus, ESA’s next generation engine focused on price and reusability, conducted a first test fire 🔥 ● Skyroot launched the first private Indian rocket to reach space, reaching a suborbital altitude of 89.5 km (video) ● NASA & JAXA will expand collaboration on Gateway, including SLS flying a Japanese crew member and JAXA providing life support systems, batteries, and their HTV-X(G) spacecraft for resupply missions ● Overstory, an EO company providing vegetation intelligence, raised a $5.2m seed round ● Good Night Oppy, a documentary about Opportunity, is scheduled to be released today.|
| “We all remember those famous first words spoken by an astronaut on the surface of Mars: ‘That's one small step fo- HOLY SHIT LOOK OUT IT'S GOT SOME KIND OF DRILL! Get back to the ... [unintelligible] ... [signal lost]’” XKCD #1504|
- Even Space Shuttle astronauts who spent only 12 days in space showed signs of DNA mutations that signal increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer (paper). It’s not clear if these are due to microgravity, radiation, or other spaceflight environmental factors. Fortunately, no one from the studied astronaut cohort has actually developed relevant cardiovascular disease, cancer, or neurodegenerative diagnoses.
- Yet another call for action related to satellite constellations and their significant harm to ground-based astronomy.
- In addition to BioSentinel, many of the sensors onboard Orion are dedicated to radiation analysis. This reminds us of Zond 5, launched in 1968, which was a Soviet spacecraft that carried two tortoises, worms, flies, and seeds around the Moon and then back to Earth. Why tortoises? Some tortoises have a chemical in their blood that fights radiation sickness which can even be used as a drug to that effect. “The tortoise, Testudo horsfieldi, enjoys a unique radiation resistance in the animal world. The lethal dose required to kill up to 50 percent of a population of the species is 40,000 Roentgens, compared to only 800 Roentgens needed to kill 50 percent of a human population.” Just don’t think too much about how we know this.
- ‘The first satellites launched by Uganda and Zimbabwe aim to improve life on the ground.’
- Probably the best launch video you’ll see today of Artemis I. Related: Watch Artemis I’s launch via weather radar.
- And, a timelapse from Orion as it headed away from Earth.
- The recently released cislunar plan from the Whitehouse (pdf) calls for—among things like international cooperation, cislunar comms, navigation, monitoring, and more research—the establishment of an International Lunar Year (ILY). The ILY will follow in the scientific footsteps of the International Geophysical Year, International Polar Year, and International Space Year. Also, ILY ❤️🌚
- After spending 3.5 years testing solar sailing in LEO, The Planetary Society's crowdfunded LightSail 2 cubesat reentered on November 17th. Fittingly, the asteroid-visiting NEA Scout, informed by data from LightSail 2 and with a much larger 86-square-meter solar sail, launched on Artemis I the day before (but, worryingly, has not yet made contact). LightSail 2’s academic results and open-source schematics are available online.
| The plucky craft’s final image.|
(And here's a video compilation of images from LightSail 2’s time in space.)