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Tag Archive: space

  1. Space Station leak probe

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    Investigations into an air leak in a Soyuz return spacecraft docked to the International Space Station (ISS) have been stepped up as it was revealed this week that the hole was most likely a result of human error rather than a micro-meteorite impact.

    Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Roscosmos space agency told Russian media he was not ruling anything out, saying the hole was drilled “by a human hand” which could have happened on the ground before launch. He also speculated that it could have occurred after the spacecraft reached orbit on 6 June 2018.

    In an English-language report posted by the TASS news agency late on Monday, Rogozin – known for his often controversial comments and tweets – said the agency was “considering all the theories”, though in the case of the latter he did not address why an astronaut or cosmonaut might do such a thing given the obvious danger to the Space Station and its crew.

    “The theory one about a meteorite impact has been rejected because the spaceship’s hull was evidently impacted from inside,” he stated.

    The ISS crew – which comprises two Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts and an ESA German astronaut – used tape to seal the leak after it caused a small loss of pressure that was not life-threatening.

    Initially it was announced that the hole in the side of the ship, which is used to ferry astronauts to and from orbit, was most likely caused from the outside by a tiny meteorite. NASA issued photos of the so-called ‘impact’ but after detailed analysis Roscomos admitted that an external impact had been ruled out.

    Apart from releasing a series of photos NASA has not commented, referring all questions to the Russian space agency which is overseeing the investigation.

    Alexander Zheleznyakov, a former space industry engineer and author, told the TASS state news agency that drilling the hole in zero gravity would be nearly impossible in that part of the spacecraft.

    “Why would cosmonauts do it?” he asked. The hole is in a section of the Soyuz ship that is discarded in orbit and not used to carry people back to Earth.

    It seems more likely the spacecraft was damaged during testing at Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan after passing initial checks and the mistake then hastily covered up. “Someone messed up and then got scared and sealed up the hole,” one space industry source speculated, but when the Soyuz reached the ISS the sealant “dried up and fell off”.

    Energiya, which builds the Soyuz spacecraft, will carry out checks for possible defects on all Soyuz ships and Progress unmanned ships used for cargo at its production sites outside Moscow and at Baikonur.

    The leak was discovered last Wednesday (29 August) evening when sensors aboard the ISS detected a slow loss of cabin air pressure. It was not deemed serious enough to wake the crew but the next morning it was traced the leak to the upper module of the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft docked to the Russian Rassvet module.

    Photographs of the hole in the Soyuz’s upper habitation module showed what appeared to be a drill hole in an interior panel with several nearby gouges, like those that would be caused by a drill skipping across a surface before digging in.

    Some Russian media accounts have speculated a technician mistakenly drilled the hole during pre-flight processing and then attempted to cover up the mistake by applying a sealant of some sort. After two months in orbit, the sealant could have dried out and been expelled by cabin air pressure, causing the leak.

    Article first published on ROOM – The Space Journal website, 5/9/18

  2. UK’s rocket plans

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    Space companies Lockheed Martin and Orbex are investing in space launch operations and plan to bring innovative new technology to Britain, business secretary Greg Clark announced today (Monday 16 July) during the Farnborough International Airshow.

    Two separate government grants worth a combined £23.5 million will assist Lockheed Martin in establishing vertical launch operations at Sutherland using proven technology and to develop an innovative new system in Reading for deploying small satellites. Known as an ‘orbital manoeuvring vehicle’, this will be the upper stage of Lockheed Martin’s rocket and will deploy up to six small satellites to separate orbits.

    The figure includes a £5.5 million grant to UK-based Orbex to build an innovative new rocket for launch from Sutherland, with the support of British manufacturing operations and supply chains. Its orbital launch vehicle, called Prime, will deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit, using a single renewable fuel, bio-propane, that cuts carbon emissions by 90 percent compared to hydrocarbon fuels.

    The announcements build on awards of £2.5m to the Scottish Highlands and Islands Enterprise to develop a vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland and a £2m development fund for horizontal spaceports such as those planned in Cornwall, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia

    Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our Industrial Strategy. The UK’s thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites.

    “This will build on our global reputation for manufacturing small satellites and help the whole country capitalise on the huge potential of the commercial space age.”

    Horizontal launch sites have significant potential in a future UK spaceflight market, which could attract companies from all over the world to invest in Britain. Sites such as Newquay, Glasgow Prestwick and Snowdonia will share a new £2m fund to grow their sub-orbital flight, satellite launch and spaceplane ambitions.

    See blog post – Lift-off for Scotland

  3. UK in unchartered waters

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    A ‘hard’ or ‘no deal’ Brexit delivered by a future Tory government could seriously damage the UK’s £14 billion a year space industry which is estimated to contribute around £250 billion a year across the British economy.

    Speaking to more than 1200 British and European space experts at the biennial UK Space Conference (UKSC) in Manchester, Richard Peckham, head of trade organisation Ukspace and director of strategy for Airbus Defence & Space, raised the prospect of Brexit damaging a buoyant and expanding sector.

    “Research-based academia and industry here and in Europe are completely entwined with goods, services, data and people crossing borders and I don’t think I’ve met anybody in the space industry or academia who wanted Brexit. Uncharted waters lie ahead,” he said.

    “The space industry sees many challenges ahead as we navigate ourselves as a nation out of the European Union with the potential for major disruption to our businesses if things go badly.”

    Mr Peckham described the most immediate threat as continued participation in the EU’s Galileo navigation and Copernicus Earth observation programmes, as well as Govsatcom (communications), IRIS (air traffic management) and SSA/SST (space debris).

    “Our industry is already feeling the pain, especially as customers and suppliers in other nations are making contingency plans for the worst case in which British companies become ineligible for future contracts, and are planning to exclude British companies now just to be on the safe side,” he added.

    “To be realistic there are some other countries out there who will see this as an opportunity to take work from the UK and I would urge government not to approach these negotiations in such an adversarial manner.”

    Earlier Graham Tunnock, appointed chief executive of the UK Space Agency (UKSA) on 1 April, said election rules allowed him to attend the conference but restricted his comments on future government space policy.

    Jan Worner, European Space Agency (ESA) director general, reminded delegates that at last year’s ministerial meeting the UK had committed €1.4 billion to ESA’s budget until 2020 and he urged the UK to remain a strong member of the ESA community.

    “Brexit is happening and you have made a decision which I do not like,” he said. “UK membership of ESA is not at all in question but of course a future exchange rate might have an effect in the future.”

    He also said it would be vital to find a solution for the ESA family members living and working in the UK from other countries.

    “I understand the politicians will be discussing a divorce between London and Brussels but in any divorce there are the children and in that respect we are the children,” he added.

    The UK space trade association presented a ‘facts and figures’ document and urged British delegates to lobby their MP on behalf of the space industry.

    “The decision to leave the EU has created significant uncertainty and could impact the efficiency of the integrated supply chain, R&D collaboration and joint programmes with other countries,” it stated.

    Five key requests for the Brexit negotiations were listed:

    ∙ Retain full access to vital EU space programmes
    ∙ Avoid UK industry being marginalised during Brexit process
    ∙ Retain access to and influence in the collaborative R&D programmes run by the EU
    ∙ Maintain access to the EU pool of skilled labour which is required to maintain UK competitiveness
    ∙ Keep frictionless access to the EU single market without burdensome customs and administration.

    The UK space industry is showing growth of around seven percent a year and currently provides jobs for around 40,000 people.

  4. Brave new world

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    The latest issue of global space magazine ROOM – The Space Journal is published this week and is a must-read for anyone interested in space and the future.

    Printed copies delivered either by mail direct to your home or electronic digital versions for download are available on subscription from the ROOM website

    In this issue of ROOM there are exclusive articles on ‘Sky-fi – the dawn of the space internet era’, ‘Surviving radiation for space colonisation’, ‘Growing plants without gravity’ and ‘Recipe for success on flights to Mars’, looking at how food will be more than just nourishment on future journeys to the red planet.

    In his opinion piece ‘Could Brexit blow a hole in UK’s space ambitions?’, Dr Mike Leggett suggests Britain’s decision to leave the EU might have unanticipated effects on the long-established cooperation of the UK and Europe in space.

    Swift progress towards deployment of large satellite constellations also point to serious issues in the space environment – not just for the future but for now – and these are eloquently addressed in articles ‘Mega challenges for mega constellations’ and ‘Urgent action needed to keep satellites safe in orbit’ by Holger Krag and Mark A. Skinner.

    In ‘Spaceplane rationale – a new way of thinking’, David Ashford argues that a choice made by NASA four decades ago probably led to a very different future for the global launcher industry – and can we change it?

    The latest issue of ROOM also highlights the search for a new system of space governance – a globally agreed system of laws and codes of conduct for the benefit of all humanity, not just those with the power and might to muscle their way to the front.

    Articles in a special Space Security section come from a definitive new study contributed to by more than 80 lawyers and space professionals from around the world.

    Other articles look at ‘How to build a Moon base cheaply’, differences between ‘Automated and human-operated systems’, Bepi-Colombo’s forthcoming mission to Mercury and ‘Hunting for neutrinos in the ice of Antarctica’.

    “Important choices and decisions lie ahead, not only for our national and global politicians but also for those at the heart of the international space community,” suggests Managing Editor Clive Simpson in the issue’s challenging Foreword.

    “Does humanity take the well-trodden path of least resistance or do we head intelligently and wisely into a brave new world of cooperation and togetherness – and go daringly and boldly into the future?”

    Want to read more? Then order your own copy of ROOM now – visit the website now.

  5. Rosetta inspires Vangelis

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    Legendary composer and pioneer of electronic music Vangelis has produced a brand new album, ‘Rosetta’, inspired by ESA’s Rosetta mission.

    The release of the album by Decca Records on 23 September coincides with the culmination of Rosetta’s 12-year mission to orbit and land its Philae probe on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta is set to complete its journey in a controlled descent to the surface of the comet on 30 September.

    The story of this mission fuelled Vangelis’ long-held passion for space and inspired him to create his first new studio album in 18 years.

    Vangelis’ music is often linked to themes of science, history and exploration. Alongside his Academy Award-winning score for ‘Chariots of Fire’, he has written for films including ‘Bladerunner’, ‘Antarctica’, ‘1492: Conquest of Paradise’, ‘The Bounty’ and ‘Alexander’.

    “Mythology, science and space exploration are subjects that have fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow with the music I write,” said Vangelis.

    ESA’s connection with Vangelis goes back several years to when ESA astronaut André Kuipers was on the International Space Station. André is a big fan and he had a lot of Vangelis’ music with him in space.

    After sharing stories and experiences with André via video call from the ISS, Vangelis was inspired to write some music for ESA to mark the landing of Philae on the comet in 2014.

    To Vangelis, music is a sacred, basic force of the Universe, its purpose to elevate, inspire and to heal humankind. Never has this been more obvious than on ‘Rosetta’, an album that perfectly blends his fascination with the Universe and his ability to compose stirring music.

    “With music, you can enhance emotions and create memories: I believe that what Vangelis wanted to do was share a lasting memory of our Rosetta mission through his music,” says Carl Walker, from ESA’s communication department.

    Vangelis has dedicated this new album to everyone who made the ESA’s ongoing Rosetta mission possible, in particular extending the track called ‘Rosetta’s Waltz’ as an expression of his appreciation to the mission team.

    “Rosetta has been an amazing journey for everybody involved, both scientifically and technically, but it has also connected emotionally with so many people around the world,” says ESA’s Prof Mark McCaughrean, senior science advisor in the Directorate of Science.

    “So you can imagine how proud we were when one of the world’s great composers Vangelis made some music for us at the time of landing, and how excited we are that he’s put together a whole album of original music about this astonishing adventure.”

  6. Space defence platform

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    Dr Igor Ashurbeyli, founder and editor-in-chief of ‘ROOM: The Space Journal’ and chairman of the Moscow-based International Expert Society on Space Threat Defence, has proposed that nations should co-operate to build an armed space station capable of tackling both natural and man-made threats to the planet.

    Ashurbeyli was delivering the keynote address at the 4th Manfred Lachs International Conference on Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law in Montreal, Canada.

    Talking to this meeting of lawyers from around the world he said that a new international approach to space, which he dubbed ‘astropolitics’, would be required to bring this concept to reality. Astropolitics would also be needed to deal with other potential issues such as defining who would be responsible for trying, convicting and punishing someone who commits a murder in space.

    He highlighted space-derived threats to mankind ranging from asteroids to sun storms as well as threats arising on Earth from human activity including war and global warming. One defence against some of these threats, he suggested, was what he termed ‘URBOCOP’ – a Universal Robotic Battle Cosmic Platform.

    It would be an armed, unmanned space station capable of monitoring Earth and space. It would have on-board weapons capable of destroying both natural and man-made objects threatening Earth – including ballistic missiles launched by one national against another.

    The control system would be entirely automatic and free from human bias, allowing it to make decisions about striking dangerous military launches, regardless of their country of origin.

    To be acceptable to governments around the globe it must be an international platform with completely transparent intellectual property rights and open architecture. Funding and the right to use it must belong to all mankind – encompassing advanced nations and developing countries alike, with no restrictions or boundaries.

    It will require a new approach to international politics which Ashurbeyli named ‘astropolitics’ – something which would need to encompass not just major aspects of international relationships but legal matters of a much more human scale.

    He said: “Given our history, the question I now pose is inevitable and perhaps a little sad – but is key for international law makers. At some point the first murder of a person, either from space or in space, will take place.

    “If, or rather when, this happens – will a legal framework to deal with it already be in place – before it is unavoidably popularised by a bestselling book and a Hollywood blockbuster?
    “Despite the fact that space development is currently largely the domain of around ten countries from more than 200 across the globe, I maintain that space law should not be the law of the rich and powerful.

    “We do not need space cowboys in space saloons or a new gold rush in pursuit of the natural resources of space.

    “We all share responsibility for a world of eight billion people and as we move into a new era of space exploitation and exploration we will need steadfast and robust laws and treaties – much like the laws we already have governing our oceans and land masses.”