A little over a year ago, and about 150 million kilometers (93 million miles) from where you’re currently reading this, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe quietly made history by safely flying through one of the most powerful coronal mass ejections (CMEs) ever recorded. Now that researchers have had time to review the data, amateur space nerds like ourselves are finally getting details about the probe’s fiery flight.
Launched in August 2018, the Parker Solar Probe was built to get up close and personal with our local star. Just two months after liftoff, it had already beaten the record for closest approach to the Sun by a spacecraft. The probe, with its distinctive solar shield, has come within 8.5 million kilometers (5.3 million miles) of its surface, a record that it’s set to break as its highly elliptical orbit tightens.
As clearly visible in the video below, the Parker probe flew directly into the erupting CME on September the 5th of 2022, and didn’t get fully clear of the plasma for a few days. During that time, researchers say it observed something that had previously only been theorized — the interaction between a CME and the swirling dust and debris that fills our solar system.
According to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the blast that Parker flew through managed to displace this slurry of cosmic bric a brac out to approximately 9.6 million km (6 million miles), though the void it created was nearly instantly refilled. The researchers say that better understanding how a CME propagates through the interplanetary medium could help us better predict and track potentially dangerous space weather.
It’s been a busy year for the Parker Solar Probe. Back in June it announced that data from the craft was improving our understanding of high-speed solar winds. With the spacecraft set to move closer and closer to the Sun over the next two years, we’re willing to bet this isn’t the last discovery to come from this fascinating mission.
In the vast realm of space exploration, new discoveries often emerge from old data. Thanks to advanced algorithms and keen observers, the seismic activities of our closest celestial neighbor, the Moon, have recently been thrust back into the limelight.
Ever since humans figured out that planets move along predetermined paths in the heavens, they have tried to make models that can accurately predict their motion. Watchmakers and astronomers worked together to create orreries: mechanical contraptions that illustrate the positions of all planets and the way they move over time through complex gear systems. [Illusionmanager] continues the orrery tradition but uses a different approach: he built a beautiful ceiling-mounted model of our Solar System without a gearing system.
The mechanism that makes his Solar System tick is deceptively simple. All planets can move freely along their orbit’s axis except Mercury, which is moved along its orbit by a motor hidden inside the Sun. Once Mercury has completed a full revolution, a pin attached to its arm will begin pushing Venus along with it. After Venus has completed a full circle, its own pin will pick up Earth, and so on all the way to Neptune. Neptune is then advanced to its correct location as reported by NASA, after which Mercury’s motion is reversed and the whole procedure is repeated in the opposite direction to position Uranus.
Cycling through the entire Solar System in this way takes a long time, which is why the planets’ positions are only updated once a day at midnight. An ESP32, also hidden inside the Sun, connects to the internet to retrieve the correct positions for the day and drives the motor. The planet models, sourced from a museum shop, are hanging from thin aluminium tubes attached to wooden mounts made with a desktop CNC machine.
It’s not an overstatement to say that the International Space Station (ISS for short) is an amazing feat of engineering, especially considering that it has been going for over two decades. The international collaboration isn’t just for the governments, either, as many images, collected data and even some telemetry have been made available to the public. This telemetry inspired [Bryan Murphy] and his team to create the ISS MIMIC, a 1:100 scale model of the ISS that reflects its space counterpart.
The model, covered by [3D Printing Nerd] after the break, receives telemetry from the real ISS and actually reflects the orientation of the solar panels accordingly! It also uses this entirely public information to show other things like battery charge level, power production, position above the earth and more on a display. An extra detail we appreciated is the LEDs near the solar panels, which are red, blue or white to indicate using battery, charging battery and full battery respectively. The ISS orbits the earth once every 90 minutes, which can be seen by the LEDs changing color as the ISS enters the shadow of the earth, or exits it.
What could you do to make this better you might ask? Make the it open-source of course! The ISS MIMIC is fully open-source and uses common tools like 3D printing with PLA, Raspberry Pis and Arduinos to make it as accessible as possible for education (and hackers). Naturally, the goal of this project is to educate, which is why it’s open-source and aims to teach programming, electronics, mechatronics and problem solving.
The Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) of Australia just released a digitized version of a 1957 film documentary on Australia’s rocket research back in the day ( see video below the break ). The Woomera test range is an isolated place about 500 km northwest of Adelaide ( 2021 population 132 ) and hosts a small village, an airstrip, and launch facilities. In the Salisbury suburb of Adelaide, a former WW2 munitions factory complex was repurposed as a research center for rockets and long range weapons.
The documentary showcases a wide variety of state-of-the-art technologies from the late 1950s. As ancient as those appear today, a lot of the basic concepts haven’t changed — careful choreography of the launch countdown sequence of events, the antenna and radio systems to receive and store rocket telemetry, photographic records of the rocket in flight, and post-flight analyses of everything to fix problems and improve your designs. They tried to do as much as possible at the Salisbury campus, because as the narrator notes, it’s expensive to work at the distant test range, a concept which is still a consideration today. There’s even a glimpse of the residents’ leisure life in the barren village. It was a different time, to say the least. Continue reading “Rocket Range Australia, 1950s Style”→
Yesterday, the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft performed a powered soft-landing on the Moon, officially making India the fourth country to achieve a controlled descent to the lunar surface. Up to this point, only the United States, China, and the Soviet Union could boast successful landings on our nearest celestial neighbor.
What’s more, Chandrayaan-3 has positioned itself closer to the Moon’s south pole than any other mission in history. This area is of great interest to scientists, as there is evidence that deep craters in the polar region contain considerable deposits of frozen water. At the same time, the polar highlands receive almost constant sunlight, making it the perfect location to install solar arrays. These factors make the Moon’s south pole an ideal candidate for a future human outpost, and Chandrayaan-3 is just one of several robotic craft that will explore this area in the coming years.
But as is usually the case with space exploration, the success of Chandrayaan-3 didn’t come easy, or quickly. The ISRO started the Chandrayaan program in 2003, and launched the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008. The craft successfully entered lunar orbit and surveyed the surface using a wide array of instruments, many of which were provided by foreign space agencies such as NASA and the ESA. In 2019 the far more ambitious Chandrayaan-2 mission was launched, which included a lander and small rover. While the orbiter component of Chandrayaan-2 was a complete success, the lander crashed into the Moon’s surface and was destroyed.
With Chandrayaan-3 now safely on the surface of the Moon, there’s much work to be done in the coming days. The planned mission lifetime for both the lander and rover is a single lunar day, which equals just about two weeks here on Earth. After that, the vehicles will be plunged into a long stretch of frigid darkness which they likely won’t survive.
The recent news that Russia’s Luna 25 Moon lander had made an unexpected lithobraking detour into the Moon’s surface, rather than the expected soft touchdown was met by a variety of responses, ranging from dismay to outright glee, much of it on account of current geopolitical considerations. Yet politics aside, the failure of this mission casts another shadow on the prospects of Russia’s attempts to revive the Soviet space program after a string of failures, including its ill-fated Mars 96 and Fobos-Grunt Mars missions, the latter of which also destroyed China’s first Mars orbiter (Yinghuo-1) and ignited China’s independent Mars program.
To this day, only three nations have managed to land on the Moon in a controlled fashion: the US, China, and the Soviet Union. India may soon join this illustrious list if its Chandrayaan-3 mission’s Vikram lander dodges the many pitfalls of soft touchdowns on the Moon’s surface. While Roscosmos has already started internal investigation, it does cast significant doubt on the viability of the Russian Luna-Glob (‘Lunar Sphere’) lunar exploration program.
Will Russia manage to pick up where the Soviet Union left off in 1976 with the Luna 24 lunar sample return mission?