I never really got the appeal of collecting stamps. I’m not saying the hobby doesn’t have an appeal, mind you, merely that it doesn’t appeal to me. But hey, I say that as a guy with a half dozen longboxes of comics I’ll probably never look at again packed into a storage unit, so who am I to judge? Still, if anything were going to woo me into the field of philately, these vintage Soviet stamps honoring Russia’s space program might be just the thing.
The Opportunity and Curiosity rovers are triumphs for NASA, but why should the space agency rest on its laurels? Even though both rovers are rolling around on the Red Planet, NASA is hard at work on other vehicles for future Martian exploration, particularly spacecraft to deliver payloads. Their efforts are currently focused on supersonic parachutes and inflatable saucers to help slow and gently deposit cargo on the planet’s surface.
The technologies are a part of the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project. As we continue to explore Mars, and other planets, we’ll need a way to transport larger loads. Spacecraft move at incredibly high speeds through the Martian atmosphere, so they need to decelerate quickly and safely, allow for a soft landing for whatever they’re carrying. Previous missions, such as the one that delivered Curiosity, have relied on the Viking parachute, which NASA has used since 1976. But a simple parachute doesn’t generate enough drag for the heavier equipment that future endeavors will need, especially if humans do try to colonize Mars.
A long time ago (1978) in a galaxy…well, pretty close to us, NASA launched the ISEE-3 (International Sun/Earth Explorer 3) probe, sending it to space to study the magnetic field and solar winds of Earth. Since then, ISEE-3 has done NASA proud, accomplishing firsts such as flying through a comet’s tail. It collected data until 1999, when NASA decided it would party no more and switched it off. It’s been sleeping ever since, but if a crowdfunding project turns out to be successful, NASA may wake the ISEE-3 up as it passes near Earth later this year and put it back on the job.
The ISEE-3 Reboot Project, which is sponsored by Space College, Skycorp, and SpaceRef, is currently running on RocketHub. It’s currently a third of the way to meeting its $125,000 goal, with 22 days left to fund the project. The idea is pretty simple, especially since a team has already been assembled, and they’ve got a radio telescope that can make contact with the probe. Scientists working on the project want to contact the probe, which is now generally known as the ICE (International Comet Explorer), fire it up, and get it back in orbit around the Earth where it can continue harvesting information and chasing comets.
I don’t know about every craft the U.S. sends into orbit, nor am I familiar with all of the missions, but I do keep a pretty close watch on space news. Thus, I’m pretty surprised to learn that the U.S. Air Force has a space plane that’s been in Earth orbit for nearly 500 days.
The X-37B plane, which looks like a much smaller version—roughly 25% of the size—of a typical space shuttle, is carrying out a classified Orbital Test Vehicle 3 mission. It’s unclear what that means, given that it’s classified, but this is the third trip to the cosmos for the unmanned vehicle, which launched in December of 2012. In March, the shuttle took the title for the longest spaceflight. It’s also the world’s smallest robotic space plane.
DARPA’s doing more than working on robots and super soldiers. It’s also developing the biggest space telescope in history, with the hopes of launching it to join the majority of communications satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit in the Clarke belt, about 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface.
The MOIRA (Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation) telescope is being designed with something called membrane optics, which allow for higher resolution magnification, lighter weight, cheaper launches, and fewer deployment challenges. Membrane optics are a cutting-edge field in telescope lens development, and the main difference between them and conventional lenses is that membrane optics use diffraction, rather than the more conventional reflection or refraction.
Some of you might have woken up on April 1 to find that Pluto had been reinstated as a planet. Of course, it wasn’t true — neither was the rumor that Richard Branson bought Pluto, thank the stars. But here’s some information about Pluto that appears to be totally legit: astronomers now think it has a subsurface ocean.
A new study proposes that, after a massive object smashed into Pluto, creating its moon Charon, the heat released by the collision warmed up a region in Pluto’s interior, creating an ocean that may still be there and may actually exist in liquid form. It seems crazy to think that a planet so far from the sun could have liquid water, but come on, it’s the Cosmos — strange and crazy are its bailiwick.