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Satellite

Representation of a satellite being destroyed by collision with orbital debris (Image: ESA...

Orbital debris is (nearly) forever, and threatens to render near-Earth space unusable, and all but impassible. The 2007 Chinese anti-satellite test and an accidental collision between two communications satellites in 2009 highlighted the need to study orbital collisions of modern satellites. The NASA Standard Breakup Model, based on hypervelocity collision studies of 1960s-era satellites, fails to accurately describe collisions of modern satellites, owing to advances made in materials and construction. To address this problem, NASA is updating the SBM by building and destroying a modern dummy satellite called DebriSat.  Read More

CHEOPS, the first of ESA's S-class missions, will study super-Earths

The European Space Agency (ESA) is set to give existing orbiting probes, such as COROT and Kepler, a helping hand in studying super-Earths. Selected from 26 proposals, the CHEOPS (CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite) spacecraft is the first S-class (“small”) mission in the ESA’s Science Programme. A partnership between the ESA and the Swiss Space Office, CHEOPS will not seek out new exoplanets, but will instead target nearby, bright stars that are already known to have orbiting planets.  Read More

Artist's concept of a servicing satellite (Image: NASA)

Geostationary satellites cost a fortune and, despite their sophistication, they break down or eventually run out of propellant to keep them oriented. This is unfortunate when the nearest garage is back on Earth, so NASA wants to remedy this with an orbital version of roadside service. The space agency is developing a service robot that can visit ailing satellites and refuel or even repair them on the spot.  Read More

The Spitzer space telescope has peered through dust and gas to establish a new value for t...

The size and age of our Universe is not only a critically important issue in cosmology, but is also among the most controversial and delicate of the cosmological questions. Infrared observations made using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have now given us the most precise estimate yet of the rate at which our Universe is expanding. The key was not the discovery of a new method for measuring distance. Rather, astronomers discovered how to measure brightness more accurately. The new value for the Hubble constant, good to within three percent, is 74.3 kilometers per second per megaparsec (km/s/Mpc).  Read More

The Last Pictures time capsule

When the EchoStar XVI television satellite lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome later this year, it will be carrying a message to the future designed to last billions of years. As it swings in geosynchronous orbit 35,786 kilometers (22,236 mi) above our planet, it will have a gold-plated silicon disc bolted to it, nano-etched with 100 black-and-white images depicting life on Earth.  Read More

A rendering of the debris cloud surrounding the earth (Image: NASA)

Boeing has filed a patent for a method of disposing of dead satellites and other debris orbiting the earth by hitting them with a puff of gas. The method, which is still at the conceptual stage, is designed to slow down satellites, forcing them to re-enter the atmosphere without sending up more space junk that itself will need disposing of.  Read More

Drought bites deeply – this year's corn crop in Missouri Valley, Iowa (Photo: USDA and Dav...

Recently, drought seems to be a fact of life. As the lead photograph poignantly illustrates, most of the U.S. has been struggling with serious levels of drought for the past several years. Worldwide, drought affected areas include Europe, India and Pakistan, Russia, much of Africa, South America – the list goes on. But when the rains start again, everyone expresses great relief, not realizing that long-term depletion of groundwater reserves is part of the price for surviving drought. It was with this in mind that GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), a joint U.S. and German space project, was designed a decade ago.  Read More

The different components that make up the MIT microthruster (Photo: MIT)

Small-scale satellites show a lot promise, but unless they have equally small-scale thrusters they’re pretty limited in what they can do. Unfortunately conventional thrusters are heavy and take up a lot of valuable space, but a penny-sized rocket engine developed at MIT holds the prospect of not only increasing the capabilities of miniature satellites, but of combating space junk as well.  Read More

The NASA missions will use CubeSats similar to Montana State University's Explorer-1 [Prim...

Having landed the car-sized Curiosity rover on Mars, NASA is looking in the other direction with its Small Spacecraft Technology Program. Dedicated to improving small satellite technology, the program recently awarded contracts to three teams working in the areas of communications, formation flying and docking. The tricky bit is that the satellites they’re working with are only four inches (10.16 cm) tall.  Read More

The RBSP mission will study the Van Allen Belts (Image: JHU/APL)

Radiation is a common hazard of space exploration and space agencies usually tend to avoid it for obvious reasons. It can be dangerous for astronauts and fatal to the microcircuitry of satellites. Why, then, is NASA sending its next unmanned mission right into the worst radiation hazard in the neighborhood? On August 23, two Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) will launch atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida to study the radioactive Van Allen Belts.  Read More

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