Building the World

May 17, 2021
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SPACE: Red Traffic

“Riding dragon gods” illustration from Myths and Legends of China by E.T.C. Werner, 1922. Image Project Gutenberg.

Not only is the sky getting crowded with satellites, some working and others defunct but still orbiting, the planets are seeing traffic. This weekend, China landed on Mars, after arriving in orbit on 10 February. China’s Tianwen-1 mission features an orbiter, lander, and rover named Zhurong (Chinese god of fire). Watch the landing here.

“Diagrama of the Perseverance Rover with Instruments.” NASA. 17 June 2020. Image: nasa.gov/wikimedia.

Red Planet traffic includes: NASA’s rovers Curiosity and Perseverance. (Preceded by Spirit and Opportunity in 2004). Decades ago, NASA’s Viking 2 lander touched down on Utopia Planitia, a basin thousands of miles wide in the northern area of Mars. That’s the same place China landed this weekend. Scientists hypothesize that Utopia Planitia may have once been an ocean, so it’s a good site to look for signs of life. In fact, water may still be there – under the surface. NASA’s Reconnaissance orbiter detected ice there in 2016; there may be as much ice as Lake Superior. That’s good news for a number of reasons including potential for agriculture, habitation, and power. Besides China and the USA, other contributors to the study of Mars include Argentina, Austria, the European Space Agency (ESA), and France. Also in the Martian traffic pattern: Hope, an orbiter sent by the United Arab Emirates, arrived in the neighborhood on 8 May and is observing atmosphere and weather, recently releasing images of hydrogen atoms around Mars on 24 and 25 April 2021.

“Animation of Emirates’ Mission around Mars.” Image: wikimedia.

Will traffic on Mars continue to increase? Only every two years. There is a timing window when Earth and Mars are closest, and that is why there is so much activity now. While most traffic is on land, NASA’s Ingenuity, a helicopter, has been logging flight time in the Martian atmosphere – the first time (that we know of…) anyone has flown on the Red Planet.

Goswami, Namrata and Peter A. Garretson. Scramble for the Skies: The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space. 2020: Lexington Books. ISBN: 978498583114 and 9781498583121.

Hope Mars Mission. @HopeMarsMission. https://mobile.twitter.com/hopemarsmission/status/1392063293649424386

Myers, Steven Lee and Kenneth Chang. “China’s Mars Rover Mission Lands on the Red Planet.” 14 May 2021, updated 16 May 2021. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/14/science/china-mars.html?referringSource=articleShare

NASA. Ingenuity. WATCH the flight in 3-D. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/seeing-nasa-s-ingenuity-mars-helicopter-fly-in-3d

NASA. “Where is Perseverance?” Track the Rover. https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/where-is-the-rover/

NASA. “NASA confirms evidence that liquid water flows on today’s Mars.” 28 September 2015. Release 15-195. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-confirms-evidence-that-liquid-water-flows-on-today-s-mars

Tianwen-1. VIDEO of Mars landing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVKGDitCtXU

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

 

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May 11, 2021
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SPACE: What goes up, must come down. But how?

Long March 5b just missed the Maldives. Image: “Diamonds Thudufushi Beach and Water Villas, May 2017, Ari Atoll, Maldives.” by Martin Falbisoner, 2017. Wikimedia commons.

It was a long march and a splash entry. On 8 May, the Long March B5 fell from space into the Indian Ocean, thankfully missing the nearby 1, 192 islands of the Maldives. Long March 5B launched on 29 April 2021, conveying into orbit the hefty main module of the new space station that China is building, to open in 2022. Some questioned the decision not to fire the Long March 5B rocket engine after releasing its payload, therefore sending it into “uncontrolled reentry.”

“Long March 3B Launch,” by Aaxanderr, 2008, public domain creative commons.

Even if the odds were good, since 70% Earth happens to be water, dumping space debris in the ocean whether in controlled or uncontrolled reentry, may not the best practice. Just ask the marine life at 72.47 degrees East and 2.65 degrees North.

“It starts right here – in Maldives.” by Nattu, Male, Maldives, 2008. Image: Creative Commons 2.0, wikimedia.

Controlled reentry aims at a watery grave. Coordinates 48 degrees 52.6 minutes south latitude and 123 degrees 23.6 minutes west longitude mark Point Nemo, or the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility. It’s 1,450 nautical miles from anywhere, which is why it is the chosen splash-down spot for space detritus. Between 1971 and 2016, space agencies worldwide crashed 260 spacecraft into Point Nemo: there’s part of the MIR space station, a SpaceX rocket, and over 100 resupply vehicles. Over time we may regret that ditching strategy, no matter how much we believe Point Nemo or the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility poses no problems. As water rights develop, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) may rule on Point Nemo.

“Point Nemo or the Oceanic Pole of Inacessibility,” by Timwi 2007. Creative Commons Public Domain. Image: wikimedia.

But most space debris never gets to Point Nemo. There are an estimated 9,000 tones of material circling Earth. Many pieces like old satellites drop out of orbit and burn up before they hit the surface (that’s what happened to Sputnik, the first object in space in October 1957). But even such burning is cause for concern. Little has been done to assess effects on the upper atmosphere, especially consequences of alumina particles that remain trapped and can deplete the ozone layer. The protective layer that keeps Earth from ultraviolet radiation was the subject of the 1987 Montreal Protocol and 2016 Kigali Amendment.

“Image of Depleted Ozone Layer on South Pole Antarctica 2006.” Image credit: NASA. http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/lookingatearth/ozone_record.html

Space business is increasing faster than we can keep up in laws and treaties. For example, early laws and conventions spoke only of governments, on the assumption that space was just too expensive for private enterprise. Today, companies like SpaceX are rewriting that text. Space law’s founding documents include the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1972 Space Liability Convention. The first regulates what people can do in space; the second considers how to assign responsibility for activities or objects that cause damage. With satellite constellations like SpaceX and OneWeb launching rapidly, the sky is suffering from traffic, some of it from dead satellites taking of space while waiting to drop, burn, or splash. And we’re putting more up there. As of August 2020, there were 2,787 satellites in orbit (1,364 of those are communication satellites used by business and government). In addition, there are 3,000 dead satellites (and 34,000 pieces of space junk bigger than 10 centimeters and who knows how many particles) still up there, and causing not only traffic but danger.

“Image of Space Debris and Human Spacecraft.” NASA.gov.

We’re only getting started. Since COMSAT began, we’ve sent more satellites, and spacecraft, each year. Estimates now predict 9,000 units by 2025. Some of those will burn, some will splash, and eventually some of them will be retrieved. It’s a new industry. Watch for more laws about what goes up and how it comes down, along with innovations in space sanitation.

Gorman, Alice. “The growing problem of space junk.” 8 May 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/08/opinions/long-march-5b-space-junk-growing-problem-gorman/index.html

Gorman, Alice. Dr. Space Junk Vs The Universe: Archaeology and the Future. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2019. ISBN-13: 9780262043434; ISBN-10: 0262043432.

Hunt, Katie. “Mission to clean up space junk with magnets set for launch.” 1 April 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/19/business/space-junk-mission-astroscale-scn/index.html

Jones, Andrew. “Huge rocket looks set for uncontrolled reentry following Chinese space station launch.” 30 April 2021. Space News. https://spacenews.com/huge-rocket-looks-set-for-uncontrolled-reentry-following-chinese-space-station-launch/

Mosher, Dave. “A spacecraft graveyard exists in the middle of the ocean – here’s what’s down there.” 22 October 2017. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/spacecraft-cemetery-point-nemo-google-maps-2017.10

Myers, Steven Lee and Kenneth Chang. “China Says Debris From Its Rocket Landed Near Maldives.” 8 May 2021. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/08/science/china-rocket-reentry-falling-long-march-5b.html?referringSource=articleShare

O’Callaghan, Jonathan. “What is space junk and why is it a problem?” Natural History Museum, London. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/what-is-space-junk-and-why-is-it-a-problem.html

Paoletta, Rae. “This Is What Legally Happens If An Uncontrolled Rocket Damages Something.” 5 May 2021. The Planetary Society. https://www.planetary.org/articles/uncontrolled-reentry-rocket-damage-space-lawyers-explain

Thompson, Helen. “There’s a Spacecraft Cemetery in the Pacific.” 21 May 2015. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/theres-spacecraft-cemetery-pacific-180955338

United Nations, Environment Programme, Ozone Secretariat. “The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.” https://ozone.unep.org/treaties/montreal-protocol-substances-depleete-ozone-layer/text

United Nations, Environment Programme, Ozone Secretariat. “The Kigali Amendment.” https://ozone.unep.org/treaties/montreal-protocol/amendments/kigali-amendment-2016-amendment-montreal-protocol-agreed

United Nations. Office for Outer Space Affairs. “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. https://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/introouterspacetreaty.html

United Nations, Office for Outer Space Affairs. “Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.” https://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/introliability-convention.html

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

 

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February 12, 2021
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Lunar New Year: Postcard from Mars

Year of the Ox. Image: wikimedia commons.

Lunar New Year and Spring Festival usually bring families together, but in this time of social distancing, many greetings are sent from afar. How about from a distance of 33,000 miles? Year of the Metal Ox occasioned a notable message from Mars: Tianwen-1 celebrated Lunar New Year as China National Space Administration (CNSA) released two videos.

Ingenuity, helicopter for Mars. Image: artist’s rendering for NASA/JPL.

Mars is busy this season because the chance to reach the Red Planet comes only every 26 months. This past summer, China launched Tianwen-1; United Arab Emirates sent the Hope probe, and United States’ Perseverance rover set off for Mars in July with a first made-for-Mars helicopter named Ingenuity. UAE’s Hope will position in orbit to give a complete picture of the planet as a whole system along with its atmosphere. NASA‘s Ingenuity will be the first test flight on another planet, evaluating flying in an atmosphere thinner than Earth’s, preparing for spaceflight when humans venture beyond the moon.

Mars (animated simulation). wikimedia.

Earth and Mars are close neighbors, in terms of space distancing: Earth is the third closest planet to the sun and Mars is the fourth. Earth moves at 67,000 miles per hour around the sun, yielding a 365-day orbit or year. Maris is slower, so Martian year is 687 days. But every 26 months, the alignment of the two planets is optimal. Expect to learn a lot about Mars in the near future.  Suitably named, Tianwen means “questions to heaven” and references a poem by Qu Yuan, poet of ancient China.

Mars missions may be a good venture for the Year of the Metal Ox. The lunar new year system revolves around twelve animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig; and five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. With their separate rotations (similar to Earth and Mars),  animals line up with a particular element only every 60 years. The qualities of the Metal Ox symbolize devotion, diligence, excellence, honesty, and perseverance.

Qi, Lin. “China Post to issue Year of the Ox stamps.” 31 December 2020. China Daily. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202012/31/WS5fed379fa31024ad0ba9fc8a.html.

Strickland, Ashley. “This summer, multiple spacecraft are launching to Mars. Here’s why.” 29 July 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/27/world/mars-mission-launches-summer-2020-scn/index.html.

Xinhua. “China’s first Mars exploration mission named Tianwen-1.” 24 April 2020. Xinhuanet.com. http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020=04/c_139004464.htm.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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December 21, 2020
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SPACE: Rock Hounds bring Finds to Earth

There’s a goddess on the moon and she’s a rock collector. China’s lunar explorer, Chang’e 5, named after the lunar deity, returned four pounds of rocks to Earth this week.

“The Moon Goddess Chang E.” Ming Dynasty Scroll, Metropolitan Museum of Art Acquisition number 1981.4.2. Image: Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

It’s been 44 years between rock collecting expeditions: for the first time since 1976 (Soviet Union’s Luna 24 returned 6 ounces (170 grams), humans reached the lunar surface, collected samples, and headed home with prize specimens. The USA returned moon rocks in 1972. Since making its first lunar landing in 2013, China has achieved notable milestones including the first space probe landing on the far side of the moon in 2019. Change’e 5 brought 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar material back, landing in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region landing site on 16 December 2020. Some was surface rock, but a probe mechanism also collected material from 6.5 feet (2 meters) underground.

“Chang’e 5 Assembly, leaving CZ-5 rocket.” China News Agency. Image: wikimedia.

We may be in what some call a “golden age” of sampling from space. In addition to moon samples, we have retrieved interplanetary material from NASA‘s Stardust that returned samples from the tail of Comet 81P/Wild 2, and Genesis mission that sampled solar wind. JAXA’s Hayabusa that brought samples from asteroid Ryugu in December 2020; NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex visit to asteroid Bennu will return material (in 2023). Meanwhile, in 2021, we expect China’s Rianwen-1 to reach Mars, and Russia’s Lunar-24 to revisit the moon. JAXA’s Martian Moon Exploration (MMX) mission will soon return samples from Martian moon Phobos.

Hayabusa in hover mode. Image: JAXA. Wikimedia commons.

What did Chang’e find on the moon? The legendary goddess told a tale of global warming involving the heat of 10 suns. Perhaps rocks from the moon may shed light on Earth’s plight. As for the Chang’e mission, Pei Zhaoyu deputy director of China National Space Administration (CNSA) stated: “We hope to cooperate with other countries to build the international lunar scientific research station, which could provide a shared platform for lunar scientific exploration and technological experiments. ” Earlier, Johann-Dietrich Woerner, then director general of European Space Agency (ESA) suggested building a village on the far side of the moon to replace the aging International Space Station: “Partners from all over the world contributing to this community with robotic and astronaut missions and support communications satellites.” Frank P. Davidson, co-founder of Camp William James of the CCC, envisioned a program called Lunar U. Should there be a lunar study-abroad program for students, too?

“Moon and International Space Station.” That’s ISS in the lower right of the photo. Image: NASA.gov. Wikimedia.

Elin Urrutia, Doris. “We may be in a ‘golden age’ of sample-return space missions.” 5 December 2020. Space.com. https://www.space.com/golden-age-space-sample-retrieval-missions.html

Hauser, Jennifer and Zamira Rahim, “China’s Chang’e-5 lunar probe successfully delivers moon samples to Earth.” 16 December 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/16/asia/china-lunar-probe-intlindex.html

Quirke, Joe. “European Space Agency proposes village on far side of the moon.” 15 July 2015. Global Construction Review. https://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/european-spa8ce-age6ncy-8p0r6o4p2os8e0s6-4v2i0l8la/

Xinhua. “China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft brings home moon samples.” 17 December 2020. www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-12/17/c_139595181.htm

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

 

 

There are plans in development for lunar base establishment; some aspects will be scientific, other may be commercial.

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December 10, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: Treasure Box Tamatebako delivered by Peregrine Falcon

“A peregrine falcon,” by photographer jam.mold 2015. Image: wikimedia commons.

A peregrine (Hayabusa is named after the falcon) flew 3.25 billion miles from Earth to explore asteroid Ryugu and carry back a certain treasure box that may open the secrets of the Solar System and the origins of Earth.

Leaving Earth in December 2014, Hayabusa2 first explored Ryugu from orbit, then scraped the surface to comb some samples, and finally sent small explosives into the asteroid’s rocky surface to blast a crater, collecting sub-surface samples. The precious pieces of debris were deposited into a capsule: that’s the treasure box. In December 2020, Hayabusa2 swooped over Woomera, South Australia, dropped the treasure box capsule, and proclaimed “I’m home.”

“Hayabusa2 seen with Earth in background.” 2018. Image: wikimedia.

After six years, it’s now a rush job to get the capsule back to JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) before any Earth air might leak in, because “There is no perfect sealing,” according to Dr. ShigoTachibana, principal investigator. First stop on the way home? A field lab on an Australian Airforce Base, reached via helicopter from capsule touchdown site. There, a special instrument extracts from the capsule any gases that may have been shaken out of the rock bits by the jarring flight and landing. Then, the treasure box continues via jet plane to JAXA’s lab. Eventually, samples will be shared around the scientific world.

Why all this interest in asteroids? They’re not even mentioned in the Outer Space Treaty. Asteroids are relics from billions of years ago – same time Earth was being formed. Asteroids are bits that didn’t latch onto any planet but instead just continued to spin out into space. There are millions of asteroids in a belt between Mars and Jupiter. Asteroids like Ryugu could tell us how life on Earth began, and how the Solar System evolved. Some asteroids may have commercial value: one is thought to contain platinum, worth $50 billion.

“The Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter contains millions of asteroids.” Image: wikimedia.

JAXA’s not the only rock hound in space. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx explored and sampled asteroid Bennu recently; those samples will arrive in 2023. Scientists from both Bennu and Ryugu teams plan to meet, compare findings, and share samples. Other scientists around the world will participate: “Different labs contribute different expertise, which all helps in understanding the material collected and what that tells us about the formation and evolution of the Solar System,” stated Dr. Sarah Crowther of Manchester University. Professor Sara Russell, of the planetary materials group at London’s Natural History Museum, commented: “We think that this asteroid may have organic material and water which can give us information about how these things were delivered to the early Earth.” (Rincon, 2020) Hayabusa2 is not finished: after coming within 125 miles of Earth to drop the capsule, the peregrine flew towards its next destination – 1998 KY26, an asteroid discovered in 1998 and so tiny it completes a rotation day  every 10.7 minutes. While mainly a fly-by,  KY26 may yet yield treasure: the falcon kept one probe, just in case. For a video of Hayabusa2 and the mission, watch here.

“Urashina Tarō hand scroll showing the winter side of the palace Ryūgū-jō.” Origin: Japan. Image: Bodleian Library, Oxford University. wikimedia commons.

Flying a robotic intelligent vessel billions of miles, taking measurements and readings and tiny precise samples from far away rotating celestial locations, may be a mythic feat. Mythic feats deserve mythic names. Ryūgū-jō is the palace of Ryūjin, dragon king of the deep sea. In the Japanese myth of Urashina Tarō, a human fisher rescues a turtle, who gives the rescuer magic gills, and brings the fisher to the Ryūgū-jō. The turtle then transforms into a princess. Princess Otohime gives Tarō a tamatebako or “treasure box” upon the human’s return to Earth. In this space odyssey re-enactment, asteroid Ryugu is the palace, and we’re about to find out what’s in that treasure box.

“A Treasure Chest” 2009, graphic design by badaman. Wikimedia commons.

Chang, Kenneth. “Japans’s Journey to an Asteroid Ends With a Hunt in Australia’s Outback.” 5 December 2020, updated 7 December 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/05/science/japan-asteroid-hayabusa2-woomera.html?referringSource=articleShare

Edwards, Jim. “Goldman Sachs: space-mining for platinum is ‘more realistic than perceived.'” 6 April 2017. Business Insider. https://www.insider.com/goldman-sachs-space-mining-asteroid-platinum-2017-4.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). “Video for the extended mission.” https://www.hayabusa2.jaxa/jp/en/topics/20201116_extMission/

Lang, Kenneth R. “1998 KY26.” 2010. Tufts University. https://ase.tufts.edu/cosmos/view_picture.asp?id=749

Lies, Elaine. “Asteroid sample arrives in Japan after six-year space odyssey,” 8 December 2020. Reuters.com. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-space-exploration-japan-layabusa2-idUSKBN2810NU.

Lusk Brooke, Kathleen and Zoë Quinn. “Space: Hayabusa touchdown on Ryugu.” 21 September 2018. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2018/09/21/space-hayabusa-touchdown-on-ryugu/

Redd, Nola Taylor. “Asteroid Belt: Facts & Formation.” 5 May 2017. Space.com. https://www.space.com/16105-asteroid-belt.html.

Rincon, Paul. “Hayabusa-2: Rocks from an asteroid set for delivery to Earth.” BBC.com. 6 December 2020.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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November 6, 2020
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SPACE: 20 Years of International Cooperation

Emblem of the International Space Station, celebrating 20 years of cooperation. Image: nasa and wikimedia.

Twenty years ago this week, three people whose nations were formerly enemies embarked upon a journey of scientific and social cooperation. NASA astronaut William Shepherd and Russian space engineers Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev set foot in a laboratory orbiting 227 nautical miles above Earth. They left behind conflicts, differences, and rivalries. Living and working together for 136 days, they built what has become the International Space Station.

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the ISS Cupola observing Earth. Image: nasa.gov.

During the last two decades, what is perhaps civilization’s greatest success in peace has welcomed 241 people from 19 nations. The International Space Station was an investment of many countries (costing over $100 billion) but it has yielded a good return on investment. We now know how to build in space, we have studied the effects of microgravity, we have developed new technologies including Lasik laser surgery, and we have learned to live cooperatively.

“Golden sunset on Earth seen from International Space Station on 18 April 2015. Image: nasa.gov

International Space Station is scheduled and financed for the next four – five years. Some say it will be privatized after that, with commercial ventures supporting the $4 billion per year upkeep. There are plans for Axiom Space, located in Houston, Texas, to build a commercial module addition to the Space Station. But many are reluctant to pursue privatization of what has been a monument of international cooperation. In Japanese, the International Space Station has a poetic name: Kibo, meaning Hope. It was Japanese astronaut Wakata Koichi who composed the first poem ever written in space:

Afloat in the darkness before my eyes

the watery planet bluely flows

How strong is my affection for that ancient home of ours,

how deep my gratitude for the gift of life.

Tomorrow, I will dare the blue sky

and open up worlds unknown

For there we have our dreams.

Axiom Space. “Missions to the International Space Station today; the world’s first commercial space station tomorrow. Axiom Space. https://www.axiomspace.com/

Chang, Kenneth. “How the Space Station Became a Base to Launch Humanity’s Future.” 2 November 2020. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/02/science/international-space-station-20-anniversary.html?referringSource-articleShare

International Space Station. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Koichi, Wakata. “Afloat in the darkness.” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). http:issjaxa.jp/utiliz/renshi/index_e.html

Stickland, Ashley. “Humans have been living on the space station for 20 years.” 2 November 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/02/world/space-station-20th-anniversary-continuous-human-presence-scn-trnd/index.html.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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October 26, 2020
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SPACE: Bienvenue, Bennu

Bennu and Osiris-Rex animation. Image: wikimedia/nasa.

Bennu is an asteroid 4.5 billion years old and 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth, but it may hold secrets to the origin of our planet and our solar system. That’s why NASA launched the OSIRIS-REX (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) mission on 3 December 2018.  On 22 October 2020, the spacecraft that had been circling Bennu descended at 1.5 inches per second, reached out an arm, landed for 6 seconds, and vacuumed up stardust. The collection mechanism was nicknamed Tag-Sam (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism). Later, the sample will be sequestered in a chamber to preserve its pristine nature and avoid contamination.

OSIRIS-REX kicks up a little dust, maybe more than expected. Image: wikimedia.

The mission may have been a bit more successful than planned: Bennu’s surface was softer than imagined and the probe picked up so much material than its door was not able to close completely. There has been some leaking, and mission scientists are trying to close the leak before losing the valuable contents. If successful, OSIRIS-REX will begin the return to Earth in March of 2021 and bring the capsule back in 2023.

Bennu, as seen by orbiting Osiris-Rex. Image: nasa.gov.

The USA is not the only rock collector in space. JAXA, Japan’s space agency, already sent Mission Hayabusa, to Itokawa, bringing back 1,500 grains from the asteroid. Now, Hayabusa2 visited a second asteroid, Ryugu, and is on the way back to Earth, expected to return in December 2020 with samples.  JAXA representatives and the University of Arizona Bennu project team plan to exchange data and even portions of their respective samples. The USA brought back lunar material to Earth during the Apollo missions to the moon.

Bennu, an Egyptian flying deity that landed on a rock and called out a song to determine the course of nature. Great heron associated with Osiris. Image: wikimedia.

The mission to Bennu was conceived by Michael J. Drake, born in Bristol, England, UK who held senior science positions at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and was principal investigator of the team. A plaque honoring Drake states Michael J. Drake inspired and led this mission that will help us to understand “Where did we come from?” and “Where are we going?”

According to current mission principal investigator Dante Lauretta, different parts of Bennu will also have names including Tlanuwa Regio, one of the giant birds of Cherokee mythology, and Amihan Saxum for the Tagalog (Philippines) deity, also a bird, that was said to be the first creature to inhabit the universe. Much can be learned from studying lunar and asteroid samples.  As Neil Armstrong, first human to set foot on a celestial surface, stated: “Geologists have a saying – rocks remember.

Interested in becoming a citizen scientist? Join Target NEOs to identify near-Earth objects (NEOs) and collect data about asteroids. Join here.

More:

Amos, Jonathan. “Osiris-Rex: Nasa asteroid mission confident of success.” 23 October 2020. BBC Science.

Bennu: VIDEO: https://youtu.be/QunVAWABQSc/

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk and Zoë Quinn, “Haybusa Touchdown on Ryugu,” 21 September 2018, Building the World Blog. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2018/09/21/space-hayabusa-touchdown-on-ryugu/

Chang, Kenneth. “NASA Mission Springs a Small Leak After Touching an Asteroid: The OSIRIS-REX spacecraft collected rock and dirt samples from Bennu, but it appears to be losing some of what it grabbed.” 23 October 2020. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/23/science/osiris-rex-asteroid.html:referringSource=articleShare.

NASA. “Touching Down on Asteroid Bennu.” 21 October 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/touching-down-on-asteroid-bennu/.

NASA. “Ten Things to Know about Bennu.” 16 October 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/bennu-top-ten/

NASA. “First Official Names Given to Features on Asteroid Bennu.” 6 March 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/first-official-names-given-to-features-on-asteroid-bennu/

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October 16, 2020
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TRANSPORT: 5G Whiz

It all started with DARPA. Image: “Darpa – Big Data.” Wikimedia.

“Gee Whiz” is an old-fashioned phrase, first used in 1876, but the combo of astonishment + speed related to the saying may well describe 5G speed in telecommunications. In this case, the G is for generation. And whiz – it’s still about speed.

5G is fifth generation mobile technology. Back in the days of 2G, mobile phones and texting were new, 3G brought mobile broadcast data, and 4G was faster and came to be called Long Term Evolution (LTE). Now we are at the advent of 5G. Ericsson created the initial 5G platform in 2017, but it is only in 2020 that 5G is coming to market. 5G is a breakthrough because of a something called “latency.”

Will 5G advance human and other mobility? Image: wikimedia.

Latency is the time it takes for information sent to be received. While 4G seemed fast at the time, taking about 30 milliseconds from sender to receiver, 5G could travel that synapse in 1-2 milliseconds. That whiz of time is barely perceptible. Closing the gap of latency will enable leaps the “Internet of Things” (IoT) including:

Autonomous vehicles

Drone navigation

Gaming

Robotics

Will 5G allow next-generation bicycle helmets? Image: wikipedia.

Many breakthroughs in technology began with military or government research, including the Internet that stemmed from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), founded in 1958 by American President Eisenhower in response to Sputnik’s success the year prior. DARPA led to computer networking, the Internet, and graphical user interfaces – and also to the NASA lunar landing.

Now, government may again take the lead in connection. The United States Department of Defense is exploring sharing a new 5G wireless network with commercial enterprises. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are rolling out 5G upgrades, and Google’s Alphabet has advocated sharing the wireless spectrum. A shared network would keep military use, but add commercial partners. License bidding for spectrum access through a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) raised $4.6 billion recently; in December 2020, another auction will determine future power and access. While CTIA, trade association for the wireless industry, may favor private-sector decisions, some advocate sharing. Precedent may be found in FirstNet, AT&T’s $40 billion service for fire-fighters and public safety. In 2021, the Pentagon may direct 100 megahertz of spectrum towards the FCC for auction. What do you think of military and commercial interests – combined or separate?

Drones – both military and commercial – may benefit from 5G. Image “Drohnenflug im Abendrot.” Wikimedia

Meanwhile, 5G network leaders include Ericsson (ERIC) with a market capitalization of $25 billion, Nokia (NOK) with $18.5 billion, and Qualcomm, with $81 billion market capitalization. Ericsson created the first 5G platform in 2017. Huawei is among 35 global carriers active in 5G deployment. New chips will be needed: Qorvo (QRVO) and Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) are active. It will also mean new phones: Apple (AAPL) announced the 5G-capable iPhone 12 this week.

5G – fifth generation mobile network. Image: wikimedia

Speed has always driven advances in transport. Wheels were faster than walking; cars were faster than horses (we still use the term “horsepower” for speed); jets were faster than propeller-equipped aircraft. Now, a new era of connective transport is arriving, with the advent of 5G. But latency exists in more than signals; it’s also a roll-out timing factor. Full 5G capability requires new infrastructure. China, South Korea, and Switzerland made progress in 2019; in 2020, U.S. low-band is more available than mid-band or high-band, and only in some cities. By 2023, 5G may support more than 10% of the world’s mobile connections. Investors are betting on developing capacity, including chip-makers, with the next wave of significant activity from 2021-2022. Meanwhile, important policy issues regarding 5G access are in discussion: what do you think?

Carpenter, J. William. “5G Network: Top 3 Companies to Invest in Before 2021.” Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing-strategy/062916/5g-network-3-companies-invest-2020-qcom-nok.asp/

DeGrasse, Martha. “Which vendor leads in 5G contracts?” 13 September 2019. Fierce Wireless. https://www.fiercewireless.com/5g/which-vendor-leads-5g-contracts

Fisher, Tim. “5G Availability Around the World.” 16 October 2020. Lifewire. https://www.lifewirecom/5g-availability-world-4156244.

Fitzgerald, Drew. “Pentagon Considers Sharing 5G Network: Private businesses would get opportunity to use spectrum without an auction.” 22 September 2020, page B6. The Wall Street Journal.

Krause, Reinhardt, “5G Stocks To Buy and Watch.” 17 September 2020. Investors.com. https://www.investors.com/news/technology/5g-stocks-5g-wireless-stocks/

McLaughlin, Ronan “%G Low Latency Requirements.” Broadband Library. https://broadbandlibrary.com/5g-low-latency-requirements/

Ranger, Steve. “What is the IoT? Everything you need to know about the Internet of Things right now.” 3 February 2020. ZDNet. https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-the-internet-of-things-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-iot-right-now/

Shankland, Stephen. “How 5G aims to end network latency.” 8 December 2018. CNET.com. https://www.cnet.com/news/how-5g-aims-to-end-network-latency-response-time/.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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June 4, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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SPACE: Dragon (and Dinosaur) in the Sky

“The dawn of a new era in human spaceflight,” by Anne McClain, astronaut, showing SpaceX Crew Dragon approaching the International Space Station. Image: wikimedia.

Space is a new field, and firsts happen regularly. But this week’s milestone marks a signifiant new era for public and private cooperative success. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and NASA achieved delivery of astronauts Behnken and Hurley to the International Space Station. It’s also the renewal of American crew launches from the original place where humans first set off for the moon. SpaceX and Nasa will now move into a new phase of the $2.6bn contract to delivery six “space-taxi” flights to ISS.  Also aboard: a sequined toy dinosaur, sent aloft to accompany by the astronauts’ children. “Tremor” will be the first dinosaur to experience zero gravity, so the Apatosaurus also sports a leash.

NASA. “NASA Astronauts Launch from America in Historic Test Flight of SpaceX Crew Dragon.” 30 May 2020. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-astronauts-launch-from-america-in-historic-test-flight-of-spacex-crew-dragon/

Pearlman, Robert Z. “SpaceX ‘stowaway’ revealed by crew.” 31 May 2020. Space.com http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-053120a-spacex-dragon-tremor-dinosaur-doll.html.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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May 20, 2020
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SPACE: Spring Cleaning

Satellite in geosynchronous orbit. Image: wikimedia

When COMSAT began a new era in communications, emphasis was on getting satellites into orbit, not how to get them down. One option: a “graveyard” orbit where old tech circles endlessly in a geriatric retirement lap; another solution, crash and burn; a third, shoot them, causing space junk to become space debris, now tallied at 50,000 pieces hurtling at 17,500 miles per hour and causing hazards to active spacecraft. The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects established some guidelines, but so far humans are better at launching satellites than retrieving or fixing them, and many satellites are getting old. But there has been a breakthrough.

Intelsat. Image: wikimedia.

In April 2020, Intelsat 901, beaming Internet to airplanes and ships, was running out of steering power but still functioning. Northrop Grumman built a spacecraft called the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) to fly to Intelsat 901, latch on and supply propulsion and steering. This is the first time in history that two commercial spacecraft have docked together in space, proving that in-orbit service is possible. Existing satellites are getting on in years, and may need servicing. Space will see more communication satellites, along with observation technology monitoring Earth’s climate. Northrup Grumman and Intelsat plan to continue in-orbit service, a new industry.

Davenport, Christian. “In historic first, an aging satellite is resurrected by another in a technology that could reduce junk in space: A Northrup Grumman spacecraft latched on to a communications satellite, extending its life.” 20 April 2020. The Washington Post. Includes video. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/04/20/new-technology-creates-fountain-youth-aging-satellites-potentially-reducing-space-junk/.

European Space Agency. 6th European Conference on Space Debris, 2013. http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Operations/Space_Debris/

Henry, Caleb. “Intel-901 satellite, with MEV-1 servicer attached, resumes service.” 17 April 2020. Space News. https://spacenews.com/intelsat-901-satellite-with-mev-1-servicer-attached-resumes-service/

Intelsat. https://intelsat.com. Ticker symbol: I

Northrop Grumman. https://www.northropgrumman.com. NYSE: NOC.

United Nations. Office for Outer Space Affairs. “Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.” September 1972. http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/introliability-convention.html/

Thanks to David H. Marks for sharing research and suggesting this post.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp

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