NASA is looking for dangerous asteroids, Io is blasting lava into space, the solar wind could be creating water on the Moon, space power is finally getting a test.
NASA Makes Asteroid Defense a Priority
NASA has taken a significant step towards defending the Earth from asteroids and announced that the NEO Surveyor Mission has moved into the development phase. Once launched in 2028, this space telescope flies to the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange Point and surveys the sky in infrared, looking for previously unknown asteroids. Even the darkest asteroids will be visible in the infrared, and from this vantage point, it’ll be able to find asteroids that Earth-based astronomers can’t detect. When you match this with the success of DART, it looks like humanity is getting a handle on the asteroid threat.
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Io Is Having a Major Volcanic Outburst
Astronomers have been watching Jupiter’s moon Io and detected enormous volcanic outbursts starting last summer. According to one scientist who has been watching the moon since 2017, this is the largest volcanic outburst he’s ever seen. Because of its low gravity, volcanic eruptions can hurl lava with escape velocity, putting it into orbit around Jupiter. It’s believed this orbital lava contributes to surface features on other Jovian moons and forms part of Jupiter’s rings.
Solar Wind Might Create Water on the Moon
We know there’s water on the Moon. Not just in the permanently shadowed craters at the poles but mixed in with the regolith across the Moon. Not much, though, about a water bottle’s worth of H2O in a cubic meter of regolith. How did it get there? By studying samples returned by the Chang’e 5 mission, scientists have matched the chemical constituents in lunar water to the hydrogen particles streaming from the solar wind. These particles impact the regolith and combine with oxygen to produce water.
Structures on the Moon Could Be Built With Microwaves
Although it’s been 50 years since humanity walked on the Moon, we’re on our way to building a permanent habitat there. And that means building permanent structures that protect people from the brutal lunar environment. Building your structures, roads, and landing pads out of the plentiful lunar regolith makes sense, but what’s the best way to do it? A team of engineers suggests that just beaming microwaves at the slightly magnetic regolith could sinter it into structures without the need for binding agents like cement.
How to Navigate on the Moon
We use GPS technology to find our way around the Earth, but what about exploring the Moon? There’s no GPS there. Instead, a NASA engineer believes they’ll be able to use landmarks to navigate on the Moon. They fed data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter into a machine-learning algorithm. Then they built up a 3D simulation of what it would look like from any spot on the Moon – a navigational fingerprint. Just by looking at their surrounding mountains and craters, astronauts will be able to know precisely where they are.
China’s Considering Where to Build a Lunar Station
China recently announced its plans for upcoming missions to the Moon, including its subsequent three landers/rovers in the Chang’e series. Chang’e 6 will return to the Moon’s south pole and retrieve a sample for study back on Earth. Chang’e 7 will comprehensively survey the south polar region, and Chang’e 8 will test technology for a future lunar research station. This will pave the way for future humans to fly to the Moon and build a permanently inhabited lunar base.
Space-Based Power Test
Generating power in space and beaming it down to Earth isn’t a new idea. It also isn’t the most realistic way to do things, as there are obvious major downsides. However, the technologies required to achieve space-based power generation and transmission can be promising and can be used in other use cases. So, a team at Caltech just launched a satellite called Space Solar Power Demonstrator that will test some of the tech involved. It consists of three main experiments: DOLCE, which demonstrates the architecture and deployment mechanisms of the modular spacecraft; ALBA, which assesses the effectiveness of different types of photovoltaic cells in space; and MAPLE, which demonstrates wireless power transmission at a distance in space.
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