Virgin Galactic pilots have new spacesuits for a trip to space this month

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Virgin Galactic test pilots Jameel Janjua (left) and Kelly Latimer and chief pilot Dave MacKay (center) show off the company’s new spacesuits, designed in collaboration with Under Armour.


Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is preparing for its first rocket-powered test flight from New Mexico, where future customers will begin their journey to space from Spaceport America in the high desert north of Las Cruces.

The company founded by magnate Richard Branson had been hoping to begin sending tourists toward orbit this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic and New Mexico’s relatively strict health guidelines delayed the company’s spaceflight preparations.

Virgin has been planning to do two more test flights before Branson finally gets to take the joy ride to space he’s been waiting (and paying) for since the company’s founding in 2004. The first of those flights was set for November, but a surge in coronavirus cases in New Mexico last month scuttled that plan. Now there’s a new launch window that opens on Dec. 11.

While the pandemic has slowed preparations in 2020, Virgin Galactic still managed to debut the look of its spaceship cabin for space tourists and signed a deal with NASA to send private astronauts to the International Space Station in the future.


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On Friday, the company also revealed the new look of its new spacesuits, designed in partnership with Under Armour. Each suit is personally tailored for Virgin’s pilots, and the overall design has a modern, or perhaps future-modern look, almost like something out of Star Trek: Discovery.

The test flight planned for this month will also be carrying some small payloads as part of a NASA program. If all goes well, the second test flight will happen in early 2021.

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‘For All Mankind’ patches depict space history changes in Apple TV+ series’ season 2

A new set of mission patches hints at how space history will change in the second season of “For All Mankind.”

Icon Heroes, a pop culture collectibles company, has begun selling embroidered patches styled after the designs that will be seen in the next installment of “For All Mankind.” The alternate history series is set to return to the Apple TV+ streaming service with the first of 10 new episodes on Feb. 19, 2021.

“As a bonus, each collectible tin is personally autographed from series creator and writer Ronald D. Moore!” Icon Heroes announced Thursday (Dec. 3). The officially licensed patches are limited to 100 sets for $100 each.

Related: Astronaut-led video tour reveals details in ‘For All Mankind’ moon base

Icon Heroes' new "For All Mankind" Season 2 patch limited edition set includes 19 embroidered emblems from the next 10 episodes of the Apple TV+ alternate space history series.

Icon Heroes’ new “For All Mankind” Season 2 patch limited edition set includes 19 embroidered emblems from the next 10 episodes of the Apple TV+ alternate space history series.  (Image credit: Icon Heroes)

“For All Mankind” explores what might have happened to the U.S. space program had it been a Soviet cosmonaut, rather than American astronauts, who was first to walk on the moon. Season two picks up in 1983, a decade after the events of the first season, at the height of the Cold War.

“Ronald Reagan is president and the greater ambitions of science and space exploration are at threat of being squandered as the U.S. and Soviets go head to head to control sites rich in resources on the moon,” Apple TV+ described in its official synopsis. “The Department of Defense has moved into Mission Control, and the militarization of NASA becomes central to several characters’ stories: some fight it, some use it as an opportunity to advance their own interests and some find themselves at the height of a conflict that may lead to nuclear war.”

A teaser trailer released in July revealed that NASA’s space shuttle, which in real life launched for the first time in 1981, still exists in the “For All Mankind” alternate timeline. The same is reflected in the patch designs now offered by Icon Heroes.

Five of the 3.5-inch (9 centimeters) emblems depict the winged orbiters, including one that resembles NASA’s triangular space shuttle program patch. The insignia also shows that at least three of the vehicles in the series were named as they were in reality: Columbia, Discovery and Atlantis.

Other patches illustrate how history will play out differently in “For All Mankind.” Two of the designs include Skylab, the United States’ first space station, which fell out of orbit and dropped debris over Australia two years before the space shuttle began flying. One of the second season patches, however, shows Atlantis docked to the orbital workshop, an event that NASA, in real life, had considered as a way to save Skylab, until it was clear that the space shuttle would not be ready in time.

A patch similar to the real Apollo-Soyuz Test Project insignia is included in the set, suggesting that the joint

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Astronauts on the ISS harvest radishes in space

Astronauts are harvesting fresh radishes grown in space, a delicious prospect that also could help seed food production efforts for longer-term missions to the moon and Mars.



Kathleen Rubins sitting at a table: NASA astronaut and flight engineer Kate Rubins checks out radish plants growing on the space station as part of an experiment to evaluate nutrition and taste of the plants.


© NASA
NASA astronaut and flight engineer Kate Rubins checks out radish plants growing on the space station as part of an experiment to evaluate nutrition and taste of the plants.

On Monday, NASA flight engineer Kate Rubins pulled out 20 radish plants grown in the space station’s Advanced Plant Habitat, wrapping them in foil for cold storage until they can make the voyage back to Earth next year.

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Radishes are the latest type of fresh produce to be successfully grown and harvested in zero gravity, joining “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce, green lettuce, Chinese cabbage, lentils and mustard, according to a NASA fact sheet.

“I’ve worked on APH since the beginning, and each new crop that we’re able to grow brings me great joy because what we learn from them will help NASA send astronauts to Mars and bring them back safely,” said Nicole Dufour, the Advanced Plant Habitat program manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, in a news release.

Food for future space missions

Back on the ground, scientists at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are growing radishes in a control group set for harvest on December 15. The researchers will compare the space-grown radishes to the veggies grown on Earth, checking on how space produce measures up on providing the minerals and nutrients astronauts need as they prepare for longer trips.



The Advanced Plant Habitat cultivates radishes, a plant that is nutritious, edible and has a short cultivation time.


© NASA
The Advanced Plant Habitat cultivates radishes, a plant that is nutritious, edible and has a short cultivation time.

Meanwhile, astronauts will repeat the radish experiment in the heavens, planting and harvesting another round of radish crop to give scientists more data to draw from.

With their short cultivation time, radishes present potential advantages as a food source for future astronauts embarking on deep space missions in years to come. The radishes grow quickly, and they can reach full maturity in 27 days.

The root vegetables also don’t require much maintenance from the crew as they grow.

“Radishes provide great research possibilities by virtue of their sensitive bulb formation,” said Karl Hasenstein, a professor of biology at the University of Louisiana and the principal investigator on the project, in a news release.

Researchers will analyze the effects of carbon dioxide on the radishes as well as how the vegetables acquire and distribute minerals, according to Hasenstein, who has run plant experiments with NASA since 1995.

Astronauts have grown 15 different types of plants on the station, including eight different types of leafy greens. And NASA has already tested more than 100 crops on Earth, identifying which candidates to try out next in space.

“Growing a range of crops helps us determine which plants thrive in microgravity and offer the best variety and nutritional balance for astronauts on long-duration missions,” Dufour said.

Years of research with space crops

The latest experiments build upon ongoing research growing and

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Tony Robbins puts money behind Cape Canaveral space balloon business

Self-hep guru Tony Robbins is reportedly putting some of his money behind a Cape Canaveral start-up that wants to send people to space onboard balloons.

The company, Space Perspective, announced Wednesday in a press release that it has secured $7 million “for the development and early flights of Spaceship Neptune to the edge of space.”

A high-performance space balloon with a pressurized capsule.  (Space Perspective)

“The infusion of capital advances the human space flight company another step closer to fundamentally changing the way people have access to space for research and tourism,” the statement read.

Space Perspective said it chose investors who are the “cutting edge of venture capital.” Among its investors is Robbins.

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“My life is dedicated to delivering people extraordinary experiences that expand human consciousness,” Robbins said in a press release. “I always say a belief is a poor substitute for an experience and Jane and Taber’s work at Space Perspective will deliver a life-changing experience to people across the world and help us all realize that we are part of a human family sharing this remarkable planet.”

According to the company, the “space balloon” uses a pressurized capsule technology that “gently travels to and from the edge of space over a six-hour period.”

WITH SPACEX LAUNCH MUSK, BEZOS, BRANSON LEAD BILLIONAIRES IN SPACE RACE

The company says it will offer “opportunities for groundbreaking research and life-changing travel experiences for off-world travels.”

It’s first flight, Neptune 1, is scheduled around the end of the first quarter 2021 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility.

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Japan Space Probe To Bring Asteroid Dust To Earth

Call it a special delivery: after six years in space, Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe is heading home, but only to drop off its rare asteroid samples before starting a new mission.

The fridge-sized probe, launched in December 2014, has already thrilled scientists by landing on and gathering material from an asteroid some 300 million kilometres (185 million miles) from Earth.

Hayabusa-2 will near Earth to drop off rare asteroid samples before heading back into deep space on a new extended mission Hayabusa-2 will near Earth to drop off rare asteroid samples before heading back into deep space on a new extended mission Photo: AFP / Behrouz MEHRI

But its work isn’t over yet, with scientists from Japan’s space agency JAXA now planning to extend its mission for more than a decade and targeting two new asteroids.

Before that mission can begin, Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu — “dragon palace” in Japanese.

Scientists are hoping the capsule will contain around 0.1 grams of material that will offer clues about what the solar system was like at its birth some 4.6 billion years ago.

Graphic explaining how Japan's Hayabusa-2 space probe will drop off asteroid samples to Earth before starting a new mission Graphic explaining how Japan’s Hayabusa-2 space probe will drop off asteroid samples to Earth before starting a new mission Photo: AFP / Janis LATVELS

The samples could shed light on “how matter is scattered around the solar system, why it exists on the asteroid and how it is related to Earth,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda told reporters ahead of Sunday’s drop-off.

The material is in a capsule that will separate from Hayabusa-2 while it is some 220,000 kilometres above Earth and then plummet into the southern Australian desert.

They were collected during two crucial phases of the mission last year.

Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu - 'dragon palace' in Japanese Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu – ‘dragon palace’ in Japanese Photo: JIJI PRESS / Handout

In the first, Hayabusa-2 touched down on Ryugu to collect dust before firing an “impactor” to stir up pristine material from below the surface. Months later, it touched down to collect additional samples.

“We may be able to get substances that will give us clues to the birth of a planet and the origin of life… I’m very interested to see the substances,” mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters.

Half the material from Ryugu will be kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology Half the material from Ryugu will be kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology Photo: Jaumann et. al., Science 2019 / HO

Protected from sunlight and radiation inside the capsule, the samples will be collected, processed, then flown to Japan.

Half the material will be shared between JAXA, US space agency NASA and other international organisations, and the rest kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology.

Videographic presenting the Hayabusa2 mission. Nearly six years after its launch from the Tanegashima space centre in Japan, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 is on the verge of completing its mission.
VIDEOGRAPHICS Videographic presenting the Hayabusa2 mission. Nearly six years after its launch from the Tanegashima space centre in Japan, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 is on the verge of completing its mission.
VIDEOGRAPHICS
Photo: AFP VIDEOGRAPHICS/CNES/JAXA / David Lory

After dropping off its samples, Hayabusa-2 will complete a series of orbits around the sun for around six years — recording data on dust in interplanetary space and observing exoplanets.

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Gaia space telescope measures solar system’s acceleration

Gaia space telescope measures solar system's acceleration
The image shows the apparent motion of 3000 randomly selected, distant quasars caused by the acceleration of our solar system. For each quasar an arrow indicates the direction in which it is accelerated. Note how the motions appear to converge towards a point just below right of the direction to the centre of the Milky Way, which is in the image centre. The background shows Gaia’s all-sky view of our Milky Way Galaxy and neighbouring galaxies, based on the data released in the new EDR3 Gaia catalogue. Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC / CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The measurement of the acceleration of our solar system by astronomers of TU Dresden is a scientific highlight of the third Gaia catalog, which is now being released. With its publication on December 3, 2020, at 12:00 , the public will have access to high-precision astronomical data, such as positions, velocities, magnitudes and colors of about 1.8 billion astronomical objects.


What is Gaia? The aim of the ESA mission, launched on December 19, 2013, is nothing less than to produce a three-dimensional map of all astronomical objects that can be detected by the satellite’s 1000 megapixel camera—an impressive average of three million stars per hour. The observations are so accurate that Gaia could trace a motion of only a few centimeters for objects that are as far away as the Moon. An international team of scientists generates scientifically usable results from this enormous amount of observational data. This calculation, the iterative solution of a huge system of equations with 10 billion unknowns, has kept supercomputers in several European research institutions busy since 2015. Among those, TU Dresden’s high performance computers were heavily demanded by Prof. Klioner’s team to produce the numerous interim solutions which finally resulted in decisive improvements of the new Gaia products.

The excellent quality of these results enabled the scientists in Dresden to detect a highly interesting phenomenon: The acceleration of our solar system. In astronomy, it has been known for a while that such an acceleration causes a slow, apparent displacement of all astronomical objects, which should become noticeable as a global pattern in the measured motions. However, for nearby stars, this effect is completely superposed by the complex structure and dynamics of our galaxy.

Only a precise measurement of extremely distant astronomical objects, so-called quasars, could reveal this acceleration effect. These extremely luminous nuclei of distant galaxies are considered to be almost fixed on the sky, which is why they are used in astronomy as reference points.

The Dresden team identified about 1.6 million Gaia objects to be quasars, which will now be published as a Gaia own celestial reference system. These quasars clearly show the expected motion pattern of the extremely small acceleration, which, according to the results produced in Dresden, is 0.23 nanometers per second squared. It is the first time that this detection is obtained using optical observations. Professor Klioner explains:

“Measuring the acceleration of the solar system with a relative precision of 7 percent is a very

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Voyager Probes Spot Previously Unknown Phenomenon in Deep Space

Artistic conception of a Voyager spacecraft.

Artistic conception of a Voyager spacecraft.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Voyager spacecraft may be billions of miles away and over 40 years old, but they’re still making significant discoveries, as new research reveals.

A paper published today in the Astronomical Journal describes an entirely new form of electron burst, a discovery made possible by the intrepid Voyager probes. These bursts are happening in the interstellar medium, a region of space in which the density of matter is achingly thin. As the new paper points out, something funky is happening to cosmic ray electrons that are making their way through this remote area: They’re being reflected and boosted to extreme speeds by advancing shock waves produced by the Sun.

By itself, this process, in which shock waves push particles, is nothing new. What is new, however, is that these bursts of electrons are appearing far ahead of the advancing shock wave, and that it’s happening in a supposedly quiet region of space. The new paper was co-authored by astrophysicist Don Gurnett from Iowa University.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have done tremendous work for king and country, and they’re still enabling meaningful scientific work after so many years. But instead of studying active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io or taking glorious photos of Saturn’s rings, these probes are now studying the uncharted waters beyond the heliopause—the zone between the hot solar plasma and the cooler interstellar medium at the outer reaches of the solar system.

“This is analogous to seeing light reflected from the cloud of a far-away explosion, and then hearing the boom at a later time.”

Voyager 1 is currently 14.1 billion miles away, and Voyager 2 is 11.7 billion miles away (the probes were launched within 16 days of one another, but they were sent on different trajectories during their respective sojourns through the solar system). Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause boundary in 2012, and Voyager 2 did the same in 2018. They’re currently traveling through a region referred to as the very local interstellar medium (VLISM), according to the study. The Voyager probes are the most distant human-made objects ever.

Some may quibble about the term “interstellar medium” and claim that the Voyager probes are still technically inside the solar system, but Gurnett is adamant that the Voyager probes are indeed traveling through interstellar space, which literally means the “medium between the stars,” as he explained by phone. “We won that argument,” said Gurnett, “but of course I’m biased.” The pressure of gas at the location of the Voyager probes, he said, is equal to the pressure of gas we would expect to see in interstellar space. To him, that means the probes are inside the interstellar medium.

In 2012, Gurnett at his colleagues declared that Voyager 1 crossed into interstellar space, a claim confirmed by NASA the following year.

Years ago, before the NASA probes entered this region of space, “we thought

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How robot tentacles may capture our floating space trash

It could be one small step for space junk, one giant leap for commercial space operations. 



How robot tentacles may capture our floating space trash


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How robot tentacles may capture our floating space trash

The European Space Agency signed an €86 million contract with a team led by Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA in November, talking to reporters on Tuesday about what could be the first space mission to remove an item of debris from orbit, and one that could potentially push the commercial space trash removal market forward. And folks, the proposed spacecraft has four robotic tentacles.

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Space debris has long become a colossal problem, not one you can personally see clogging up your streets and drains outside, but one that could have serious impact on future space endeavours — particularly if you’re in the business of launching say, thousands of satellites. 

It’s been 60 years since the Space Race started, and more than 5,550 rocket launches from Earth have left approximately 23,000 tracked objects remaining in space, not to mention the millions of bits and pieces floating around low Earth orbit known as “space junk.” About 9,600 satellites have been placed into Earth’s orbit to date, with about 5,500 still in space, and just 2,300 of those are functioning. 

This only stands to increase, with today’s space industry averaging 100 launches a year. Add to this the rising popularity of satellite “mega-constellations” as a means for worldwide telecommunications coverage, consisting of hundreds, even thousands of objects — Elon Musk wants to send a total of 42,000 satellites into orbit for SpaceX’s Starlink project, aiming to provide high speed internet to the globe.

Problems arise when larger objects in orbit collide in space, causing fast-moving, smaller fragments of space debris to break off, creating a space junkyard that can cause all kinds of hazards at speed, especially for active spacecrafts. The 2009 collision between active commercial satellite Iridium 33 and inactive military satellite Kosmos-2251 has become the prime example of this, but even as recently as September last year, the European Space Agency’s Aeolus satellite had to fire its thrusters to avoid colliding with one of Musk’s Starlink satellites. 

It’s a problem with exponential growth potential, most notably due to a phenomenon known as “Kessler Syndrome,” a term coined in 1978 by astrophysicist Don Kessler, a former senior scientist for orbital debris research at NASA, which describes the idea that one collision could result in several more, like falling dominos.

“The more populated the orbits around us get, the higher probability of collisions,” Rolf Densing, ESA director of operations told reporters on Tuesday. “This has happened in the past, and unfortunately, I’m quite sure that this will happen in the future as well.”

Space junk clean-up is no easy task — you can’t just vacuum it up, sweep it under some space rug, or pluck it out like a piece of lint on a cardigan. People have tried, some more successfully than others. NASA has been studying this since the ’70s. But ClearSpace’s

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NASA reveals Earth’s ‘mini-moon’ 2020 SO is definitely just space junk

centaurupperstage1964

This photo from 1964 shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket. Space object 2020 SO is one of these.


NASA

Welcome back, Surveyor 2 Centaur rocket booster. We just got a new chapter in a bittersweet space saga that involves a fiery launch, a doomed moon mission and decades of space wanderings. 

A rocket booster NASA used to launch the Surveyor 2 lunar lander in 1966 has returned to us for a temporary spin as a mini-moon in orbit around Earth. When scientists spotted it in September, they named it 2020 SO. On Wednesday, NASA announced the strange object has been positively identified as the ’60s booster.

While the booster did its job admirably back in 1966, the lander didn’t survive a crash landing on the moon’s surface.   

The booster’s specific orbit around the sun tipped astronomers off that it probably wasn’t an asteroid, one of the many space rocks that zip around our cosmic neighborhood. Some sleuthing tracked the booster back to near Earth in 1966. 

Telescope observations have now revealed the stainless steel composition of 2020 SO. This cosmic detective work involved comparing spectrum data on the enigmatic object with data gathered on a known Centaur rocker booster that’s been floating around in space since 1971. It was a match. 

The object has attracted a lot of interest due to the mystery surrounding it and the fact that it was captured into an Earth orbit that makes it a cute little visiting mini-moon. The Virtual Telescope Project livestreamed 2020 SO when it came in close to Earth on Nov. 30.

The Centaur booster will stick around with us for a few months, but is expected to continue its space adventures back in orbit around the sun sometime in March 2021. At which point we can all say, “Goodnight, Centaur. Goodnight, mini-moon.”


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NASA determines mystery space object 2020 SO is a ’60s rocket booster

centaurupperstage1964

This photo from 1964 shows a Centaur upper-stage rocket. Space object 2020 SO is one of these.


NASA

Welcome back, Surveyor 2 Centaur rocket booster. We just got a new chapter in a bittersweet space saga that involves a fiery launch, a doomed moon mission and decades of space wanderings. 

A rocket booster NASA used to launch the Surveyor 2 lunar lander in 1966 has returned to us for a temporary spin as a mini-moon in orbit around Earth. When scientists spotted it in September, they named it 2020 SO. On Wednesday, NASA announced the strange object has been positively identified as the ’60s booster.

While the booster did its job admirably back in 1966, the lander didn’t survive a crash landing on the moon’s surface.   

The booster’s specific orbit around the sun tipped astronomers off that it probably wasn’t an asteroid, one of the many space rocks that zip around our cosmic neighborhood. Some sleuthing tracked the booster back to near Earth in 1966. 

Telescope observations have now revealed the stainless steel composition of 2020 SO. This cosmic detective work involved comparing spectrum data on the enigmatic object with data gathered on a known Centaur rocker booster that’s been floating around in space since 1971. It was a match. 

The object has attracted a lot of interest due to the mystery surrounding it and the fact that it was captured into an Earth orbit that makes it a cute little visiting mini-moon. The Virtual Telescope Project livestreamed 2020 SO when it came in close to Earth on Nov. 30.

The Centaur booster will stick around with us for a few months, but is expected to continue its space adventures back in orbit around the sun sometime in March 2021. At which point we can all say, “Goodnight, Centaur. Goodnight, mini-moon.”


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