¶Blue Ring / Blue Moon. Last week, Blue Origin unveiled Blue Ring, a large orbital transfer vehicle capable of accessing LEO, MEO, and cislunar space while offering multiple planned services. Abilities include carrying 3,000 kg of payload (including sats up to 500 kg for deployment), multi-orbit transfers, refueling (itself and others), ESPA adapters, and data relay services for hosted payloads. The craft features hybrid electric/chemical propulsion developed in-house and fed by 44-meter-wide rollout solar panels. Blue Ring is launch vehicle agnostic, fitting into the >5 m fairings of ULA Vulvan and SpaceX Falcons (and of course New Glenn). Blue Ring will be larger than most other existing space tugs & OTVs, although it will squarely be in competition with Quantum Space’s 2,500 kg capable Ranger. Hot on the heels of the Blue Ring announcement, the company showed off a new and improved boilerplate mockup of their Blue Moon Mk 1 lunar lander. Built in Huntsville, Alabama and launching on New Glenn, the 3-story tall Mk 1 lander (of which this is a full scale mockup) will prove out systems before Mk 2 carries crew to the lunar surface as part of Artemis V (c. 2029). Mk 1 will participate in the CLPS program after its maiden pathfinder mission (SN-001) to shake down the BE-7 engine and the lander’s high precision terrain relative landing systems developed and tested on New Shepard. Commercial lunar payload services are planned from SN-002 onward and later with ongoing Mk 2 flights—although so far there has been no indication of when any of these missions might launch other than “on early New Glenn flights”.
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- An association has been observed between changes in the rotation rate of magnetars (which are really just ridiculous objects—see Issue No. 210) and mysterious fast radio bursts (c.f. Issue No. 51). A new paper suggests a cause: an asteroid being ripped apart by a magnetar and the system’s conserved angular momentum resulting in a small shift in the star’s rotation rate, simultaneous with the asteroid debris interacting with the magnetar’s monstrous magnetic field to release a fast radio burst. If this theory is correct, the asteroid debris impacting the neutron star (likely at relativistic speeds) should create flares that we can watch for and correlate.
- Relatedly, an “ultra-fast radio burst” was recently spotted, a new type of fast radio burst that lasts only microseconds (paper). (What’s next? A ‘super-ultra-fast’ radio burst?)
- A Nature paper, leaning on microwave data from both the Chinese Chang'e 1 and 2 orbiters, adds support for a suspected ancient volcano on the lunar farside. The Compton-Belkovich Thorium Anomaly is an area, visibly more reflective than its surroundings, with unusually high thorium content (it was found via a gamma-ray spectrometer in 1998). It sort of looks like a caldera. The paper finds that the area’s subsurface is glowing at microwave frequencies, suggesting that it’s warmer than surrounding regolith, which would point to the thorium’s radioactive decay extending deep within the crust. The only rock that would contain this much thorium is granite, and granite comes from cooled subsurface volcanic magma chambers… so it’s probably an ancient volcano that last erupted ~3.5 billion years ago.
- JWST detected water vapor in the inner portion of a protoplanetary disk located 370 light-years away (paper). This is a region where rocky, terrestrial planets like Earth could form, and this is the first detection of water in the “terrestrial region” of a system already known to house protoplanets. Water is usually thought to be destroyed by UV radiation from a star and to be generally limited to objects formed beyond a solar system’s frost line, which is why comets have long been suspected as the source of Earth’s water. However, this finding may instead support evidence that Earth formed with water (or at least hydrogen) directly, without requiring water solely from a cometary delivery service.
| ¶News in brief. China launched three astronauts to the CSS aboard Shenzou-17 and is now welcoming foreign astronauts to join them on future space station missions ● The UK has made plans with Axiom to send UK astronauts to the ISS on an up to 2 week long mission ● Ingenuity flew 579 m on its 63rd flight ● Hong Kong firm ASPACE invested $200M in a deal with Saudi Arabia to build satellites in the country ● Intuitive Machines delayed its CLPS lander launch to January (NET 1/12/24 on a Falcon 9) ● SpaceX will likely launch four of ESA’s Galileo navigation satellites, a first for EU classified satellites ● Spanish startup Arkadia Space raised a $3M seed to develop green propulsion systems for spacecraft ● Two Russian cosmonauts conducted a spacewalk to investigate the coolant leak on the Nauka module of the ISS ● Russia is also hoping to have the first segment of its own space station in orbit by 2027 and to launch Luna 26 to lunar polar orbit in 2026 ● Starship conducted a wet dress rehearsal while the FAA completed its safety review following IFT1—the environmental safety review being conducted in partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service is all that now stands between SpaceX and IFT2, with NASA impatiently waiting on the sidelines ● NASA has surpassed the collection mass goal for OSIRIS-REx by processing 70.3 g of rocks and dust so far, with plenty more to collect once they figure out how to open surprisingly finicky primary sample container.|
Stereoscopic images of material retrieved by OSIRIS-REx from Bennu, on top of the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) instrument, which is currently held closed by the two most stubborn fasteners of its original 35.
- Launch news: SpaceX is gearing up to launch a rocket every 2.5 days next year; ULA’s inaugural Vulcan launch is scheduled for a Christmas launch (the 24th, 25th, or 26th); Rocket Lab is planning a return to flight by EOY; Ariane 6 is undergoing dress rehearsals for a likely launch early next year; Isar completed a 260 s full duration Aquila engine test; and, ABL shared details of their upgraded RS1 launch vehicle and ground systems for their upcoming second launch attempt—their first failed after liftoff and crashed back onto the pad last January.
- The seventh and final mirror for the upcoming Giant Magellan Telescope is being cooked in Arizona. This ~20-ton honeycomb mirror, at a staggering 8.4 meters in diameter, was cooked at 1,165° C in a spinning oven under the University of Arizona football stadium and will slowly cool 3° per day for three months. When combined with its six siblings in the high desert of Chile it will form a 25.4-meter diameter monster optical to mid-IR telescope, as wide as the length of a full-grown blue whale, with ‘200 times the sensitivity and four times the image resolution of today’s most advanced space telescopes.’ Check out this quick video on the process.
- Based on this recent NASA infographic, there are estimated to be 50 undiscovered NEOs over 1 km in size, with 853 already known, and a whopping 14,000 undiscovered NEOs larger than 140 m, with another 10,541 known. (Related: NASA’s Eyes project, which we mentioned last week, also visualizes asteroids.)
- A flock of satellites, named ANSER (latin for wild goose) are experimenting with fuel-less flappy formation flying. The trio, launched on Vega VV23, are designed to deploy wings that will use the trace amounts of air at 500 km to control their positions through ‘Differential Lift & Drag’ maneuvers. The objective is to stay within 10 km of one another and snap hyperspectral images of Spain’s waters using sensors distributed across the formation. However, with the deployment failure of VV23, Anser Leader will not be joining its two intended followers, leaving the mission’s viability in a questionable state.
- The CASSINI Challenges, a €1M competition to “support the development of innovative commercial solutions - such as mobile apps or hardware-based solutions - that are leveraging EU Space data from Galileo and/or Copernicus.”
- Detecting polar bear dens with airborne SAR (paper).
Watch a Martian dust devil cross the top of Perseverance’s view at about 19 kph.
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