The list of spacefaring nations remains small, but thanks to continuing advances in technology that promise to reduce the financial and logistical hurdles involved, the numbers are set to increase. One country that could be joining the club, if the University of Queensland (UQ) and Heliaq Advanced Engineering get their way, is Australia. The two are teaming up on a project intended to deliver payloads weighing from 50 to 500 kg (110 to 1,102 lb) into orbit.
NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has returned a breathtaking image of planet Earth from a distance of roughly one million miles from the homeworld. The image captures the full disk of our planet showing a stunning sunbathed vista of blue oceans and swirling clouds, with glimpses of the North and Central America land masses.
In the early days of spaceflight, every new satellite was a one off. Today, satellites are produced in classes, but each new mission still needs a satellite that's individually configured for its role. With the goal of creating a next-generation universal satellite, ESA, Eutelsat, and Airbus Defence & Space have signed an agreement to develop the first fully reconfigurable Quantum satellite.
Solar storms – or Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) – are caused by the sudden release of built-up magnetic stress in the Sun's atmosphere. On Earth, we see the results of small versions of these when plasma streaming from the sun strikes our upper atmosphere and creates the Northern and Southern Lights (the Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis). Sometimes, however, these ruptures can be inordinately large and have the potential to wreak havoc on orbiting satellites, radio networks, and national power grids. In an effort to be prepared well in advance of such events, a UK consortium has proposed a satellite system that can provide as much as five days warning of potentially damaging CMEs.
Three years ago, Swiss research institute EPFL announced its plans to build a spacecraft that could grab orbital debris and then carry it back towards Earth, burning up in the atmosphere with it on its way down. Called CleanSpace One,
the satellite was depicted at the time as using a claw-like grasping
tool. Now, however, EPFL has announced that it will utilize a folding
conical net to essentially gobble up bits of space garbage.
PlanetiQ has begun testing its new Pyxis weather instrument. Pyxis tracks GPS signals traveling through the atmosphere and makes measurements based on their behavior. PlanetiQ says it can "dramatically improve weather forecasting, climate monitoring and space weather prediction."
ESA's mission to
mitigate the environmental impacts on low-Earth orbit from mankind's
relentless march into space has entered a new phase, ahead of its
make-or-break review before the ESA's Council of Ministers in
December 2016. The e.Deorbit program would launch multiple
debris-seeking probes into orbit each year, tasked with the removal of
defunct satellites and other potentially hazardous man-made objects
from low-Earth orbit.
Less than four months after lift-off, testing on NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory is complete, and science operations have begun. The data recorded by the mission, which will give rise to more accurate weather forecasting, will now be subject to a year of validation against existing measurements.
If you browse the internet, it's easy to find an image of the International Space Station taken by an amateur astronomer that looks as if it was taken only a mile away. DARPA wants to go several magnitudes better with a telescopic system that can take detailed images of satellites in geosynchronous orbit. The research agency is seeking ideas on how to achieve this from an unorthodox mix of small businesses, academic and research institutions, and first-time government contractors.
The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts NIAC program has announced 15 phase I winners in its quest to make science fiction science fact. The aim of the program is to encourage the innovation of ideas with the potential to transform future aerospace and exploration operations, but more importantly, it grants us a tantalizing and often fantastical glimpse of what the future may hold.