To investigate the south polar region of the Moon during Artemis missions, NASA is looking for industry proposals for a next-generation LTV (Lunar Terrain Vehicle). This LTV will enable humans to travel further and carry out more science than ever before.

The Artemis crew will use the LTV to explore and sample more of the lunar surface than they could do on foot. Instead of owning the rover, NASA will hire LTV as a service from the private sector. NASA can take advantage of private innovation and offer the best value to American taxpayers while meeting its goals for human spaceflight science and exploration by contracting services from business partners.

Lara Kearney, manager of NASA’s Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility program at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said, “We want to leverage industry’s knowledge and innovation, combined with NASA’s history of successfully operating rovers, to make the best possible surface rover for our astronaut crews and scientific researchers.”

The Lunar Terrain Vehicle will operate similarly to a hybrid of an unmanned Mars rover and an Apollo-style lunar rover. Similar to NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance Mars rovers, it will support both phases driven by astronauts and phases as an unmanned mobile science exploration platform. This will make it possible to conduct scientific even when there aren’t any crews on the lunar surface. The LTV will be used by the Artemis astronauts to travel around the lunar surface and transport research gear, increasing the lengths they can travel on each moonwalk.

NASA has specified requirements for businesses interested in creating and demonstrating the LTV under the Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services Request for Proposals, including a strategy that encourages businesses to create an innovative rover for use by NASA and other commercial customers for several years.

In order to move supplies and scientific payloads between crewed landing sites and enable more science returns, resource exploration, and lunar exploration, engineers will be able to control the LTV remotely. This will increase the amount of scientific study that can be conducted on the Moon during uncrewed operations, allow researchers to look into potential surface mission landing sites, and help them determine their aims and objectives for each location.

The Lunar Terrain Vehicle will need to have several systems to support both crewed and uncrewed operations to manage the peculiar environment near the lunar South Pole, which includes permanently darkened regions and prolonged periods without sunlight. Modern communication and navigation systems, semi-autonomous driving, enhanced power management, and environmental protection are some of the more crucial systems.

Companies are needed to offer end-to-end services as part of the bids, from development and delivery to the lunar surface to execution of operations. Each rover must be capable of accommodating two astronauts in spacesuits, a robotic arm, or other devices to aid in science exploration and the harsh conditions at the lunar South Pole. Before employing the LTV with humans, the corporation will be required to successfully test it in a lunar environment.  

As of Artemis V in 2029, NASA plans to employ the LTV for crewed activities. The rover will be utilized for uncrewed and commercial tasks before the crew arrives once it landed on the lunar surface.

The deadline for proposals for the Lunar Terrain Vehicle services contract is July 10, 2023, and the contract will be awarded in November of that same year. Through a draft call for proposals and an earlier request for information, this request for proposals has considered industry feedback.

Through Artemis, NASA will send astronauts to the Moon for scientific research, and commercial gain, and to lay the groundwork for crewed missions to Mars, including the first woman and person of color. 

The basis for NASA’s deep space exploration comprises its Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, Gateway lunar orbiting base, cutting-edge spacesuits and rovers, and human landing devices.

Dr. Alice Agogino was working on spherical robots that could one day be dropped onto Mars or the Moon to collect data and conduct the study when she discovered her NASA-funded technology could also be used on Earth.

What kind of data can the robots collect on Mars or the Moon?

Squishy Robotics
A drone transports one of Squishy Robotics’ tensegrity robots as part of an exercise with Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue in Florida.
Credits: Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue

After reading a study on the dangers and death tolls of disaster response, Agogino envisioned her robots, outfitted with the appropriate sensors, gathering data at the scenes of fires, wrecks, and other disasters to assist first responders in assessing dangers such as hazardous gas leaks and planning their approach. 

Dr. Alice Agogino:

“We thought, wow, if we can do this on the Moon, we can do it on Earth and save some lives,” said Agogino, who was then the director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Berkeley Emergent Space Tensegrities Lab.

She went on to cofound Squishy Robotics Inc. in Berkeley, California. The business designs and manufactures impact-resistant, customizable robots for public safety, military, and industrial applications.

What is the concept behind the construction of Squishy Robotics Inc.’s robots?

Agogino’s robots have the appearance of ball-shaped skeletons made of rods and elastic cables. She refers to the construction as “a tension network” because when a robot is dropped, the impact is dispersed over the network, dissipating the force, according to the tensegrity principle. Tensegrity, short for tensile integrity, was coined by architect R. Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s, who popularized geodesic domes, which are also tensegrity constructions.  

The ability of these structures to resist the impact of a lengthy drop is very intriguing to NASA, as is their ability to collapse into a small package during transit.  

How much Agogino and her UC Berkeley group was awarded and why?

Agogino and her UC Berkeley group were awarded Early Stage Innovations (ESI) money in 2014 to study tensegrity

Tensegrity Robots
Weighing less than three pounds, the stationary robot can be integrated with most commercial drones.
Credits: Squishy Robotics Inc.

robot mobility utilizing gas thrusters. The multi-year, $500,000 ESI proof-of-concept grants aim to speed the development of novel space technologies with great promise. The funds are provided by the Space Technology Research Grants program, which assists academic scholars working on space-related science and technology.

What is the focus of Agogino and her colleagues’ research?

Agogino and her colleagues were developing probes that could drop from planetary orbit or larger spacecraft, survive the plunge while carrying sensitive sensors, and then roll and hop through rugged terrain to perform missions and study distant worlds.

Terry Fong:

“Think about the Mars Curiosity and Perseverance rovers,” said Terry Fong, chief roboticist in NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California. 

What are the current updates of the rover on the moon?

The rovers had to be delicately lowered to Mars’ surface using the sophisticated Sky Crane system, according to Fong, NASA’s technical representative for Agogino’s grant.

“With tensegrity robots, the robot itself is the landing device,” Fong explains. “It could survive a fall from very high up and keep going.” 

The tensegrity devices can be folded flat for transport; in fact, Agogino distributes robots to customers in this manner. The instruments and sensors are suspended in the center when they unfurl, protecting them from the impact of a fall.

“So, you save on throwaway mass,” Fong explained. “It’s expensive and difficult to launch mass into space, so you want more of it to be used beyond landing, on the surface with scientific instrumentation and other payloads.”

How is NASA using tensegrity robots in Earth science research?

Tensegrity robots, whether on Earth or on other planets, make it easier to position delicate instruments in difficult-to-reach regions. That is, after all, the underlying premise of Squishy Robotics. NASA has investigated Earth science uses for tensegrity robots, which may monitor a glacier that is poised to break off into the ocean, for example. 

“That’s the kind of place you wouldn’t want to send a person to because it’s extremely dangerous,” Fong explained.

“The entire surface may collapse.” A super instrument positioning system would be a structure that could withstand a drop while remaining mobile.” 

What is customer discovery and how did Agogino and her team use it?

In a process known as customer discovery, Agogino, and her team interviewed 300 first responders. Squishy Robotics now incorporates miniature chemical gas sensors onto tensegrity robots that may be dropped by aircraft to take readings in an area before firefighters arrive. The company now only provides stationary robots, but Agogino and her team are working on mobile ones. 

The data collected by these robots can help firemen decide whether to wear hazardous material gear, which can add up to an hour of prep time – a delay that is only worthwhile if it is absolutely essential.

Which agencies have Squishy Robotics collaborated with?

Squishy Robotics has collaborated with some of the country’s largest fire agencies, including Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue in Florida, Tulsa Fire Department in Oklahoma, and San Jose Fire Department in California. In addition, the company has reseller partnerships with a number of wholesalers. 

What are the potential applications of Agogino’s tensegrity robots?

  • Defusing of bombs:

Agogino’s tensegrity robots could also aid in the defusing of bombs and the monitoring of gas and electric lines.

  • Wildfire prevention:

Another emerging field for Squishy Robotics is wildfire prevention. Tensegrity robots might be used to monitor high-risk regions, assist authorities in responding to reports, and ensure that lesser fires are completely doused.

“The early detection of wildfires is critical,” Agogino says, “because so many of the wildfires that have become raging firestorms could have been prevented if they had been caught early.” 

NASA’s Fong expressed delight that Agogino was able to commercialize the tensegrity robot technology. “We believe these robots could serve unique purposes for space,” he said. “She obviously saw a way to also have a major impact on Earth.”

Additional Information:

Agogino is currently emeritus, having retired from Berkeley in December, allowing her to devote more time to Squishy Robotics.   NASA has a long history of technology transfer to the private sector. The agency’s Spinoff publication highlights NASA innovations that have evolved into commercial products and services, illustrating the broader advantages of America’s investment in space. The spinoff is a magazine of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) Technology Transfer program.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has unveiled a virtual Mars habitat where four non-astronaut volunteers will spend a year preparing for human missions. The 160-square-meter habitat simulates Martian environmental constraints and allows the crew to work with limited resources, be isolated, and experience equipment failures. Volunteers will do simulated spacewalks, robotics, exercise, habitat care, and crop planting. NASA’s Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog program 3D-printed the habitat.

Mars Dune Alpha
A working area is seen inside the Mars Dune Alpha, NASA’s simulated Mars habitat, being used as preparations for sending humans to the Red Planet, at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, U.S. April 11, 2023. (REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

First, let’s discuss,


In a recent showcase, NASA presented a simulated Mars environment where a team of four volunteers will reside for a year. The project helps the US space agency prepare for human spaceflight. In June, a group of non-astronaut volunteers is set to enter a specialized environment known as a habitat. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has constructed a significant research facility.

According to a recent NASA announcement, 4 crew members will participate in numerous activities. These astronauts will be participating in a variety of activities and tasks during their space expedition. These activities include simulated spacewalks, robotic work, habitat maintenance, exercise, and crop cultivation.

Crew quarter inside the Mars
A Crew quarter is seen inside the Mars Dune Alpha. (REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

The lead researcher of the CHAPEA experiments Grace Douglas says: “CHAPEA was developed as a one-year Mars surface simulation with the intent that we can have crew in isolation and confinement with Mars-realistic restrictions,” Moreover, she said: “That is one of the technologies that NASA is looking at as a potential to build habitat on other planetary or lunar surfaces,” 

Now, let’s dig into,

The architecture of the isolated environment:

Scientists have developed a 160-square-meter habitat that simulates the environmental pressures that could be encountered by future visitors to Mars. The habitat simulates Mars’ harsh conditions to give visitors a taste of living there.  NASA has announced that they will be conducting activities with limited resources, experiencing equipment failures, and being isolated. These challenges will be faced as part of their ongoing efforts to explore space.

The pretend Mars house was made using 3D printers, which are machines that can print out 3D objects layer by layer. People have been using 3D printers to make bigger things, like entire houses!

simulated Mars habitat
(REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

NASA’s latest endeavor, the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA), includes the Mars habitat as one of its integral components. The upcoming project is set to feature a trio of simulated environments.

Now some might be wondering what is the,

The Motive of NASA CHAPEA:

Even though NASA is preparing to send people to Mars. They’re focusing on returning people to the Moon after 50 years! NASA will monitor volunteers’ health in the Mars habitat.

simulated Martian environment
Plant pods to grow vegetables are seen inside NASA’s simulated Mars habitat, being used as preparations for sending humans to the Red Planet, at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, U.S. April 11, 2023. (REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

“And we can really start to understand how those restrictions are associated with their health and performance over that year.”  Douglas says.

The simulated Mars environment features an outdoor area that emulates the planet’s surface and surroundings while remaining within the confines of the habitat. NASA will pick individuals with strong scientific, technological, engineering, and math skills using the same criteria as astronauts.  The identities of the volunteers for the initial experiment have not been disclosed yet. Furthermore, those who are interested in participating must be within the age range of 30 to 55, exhibit good physical health, and have no issues with dietary restrictions or motion sickness. Former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield shared his views with The Associated Press in 2021, stating that these requirements indicate that NASA is seeking individuals who possess qualities similar to those of astronauts, which in turn will enhance the overall quality of the experiment.


Published by: Sky Headlines

In a major test flight of SpaceX largest rocket, the massive Starship took off from a launch pad in southern Texas today. However, the rocket exploded before reaching space and cut short the flight. In a recent launch attempt, Starship and its booster successfully lifted off from the launch pad and ascended to a height of 39 kilometers. However, the spacecraft unexpectedly lost control and unfortunately exploded just four minutes into the flight before the planned separation could occur. During a webcast of the launch attempt, John Insprucker, the principal integration engineer for SpaceX, which constructed Starship, stated that the situation was not normal.

SpaceX has achieved a significant milestone with its most ambitious rocket. It successfully launched from the pad with up to 33 engines firing in synchrony. This achievement is a major step forward for the company. According to Insprucker, the Starship provided a remarkable conclusion to an already remarkable test.

SpaceX has set the upcoming Starship flights to usher in a fresh era of space exploration, which includes transporting people to the Moon and Mars. This development could also pave the way for novel forms of astrophysics and planetary science. The rocket had no crew on its inaugural test flight.

The rocket with the highest power:

In a recent development, it has been revealed that Starship boasts of almost double the power of NASA’s latest deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which took its maiden flight in November. Until now, Starship had only undergone a few tests at low altitudes above SpaceX’s spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas. Today’s mission was to achieve space travel and orbit most of the planet before landing in the ocean near Hawaii.

According to Laura Forczyk, the executive director of Astralytical, a space consulting company in Atlanta, Georgia, the successful demonstration of Starship’s ability to reach orbit by SpaceX would have a significant impact on future developments.

SpaceX has announced its plans to utilize the Starship spacecraft to establish a human settlement on the planet Mars. NASA has set its sights on utilizing the vehicle to assist in landing astronauts on the Moon’s surface soon as a component of its proposed Artemis missions. Scientists are envisioning the potential of utilizing Starship’s vast size to transport large telescopes for planetary missions into the depths of space.

During the Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs, Colorado on April 18th, Julianna Scheiman, the director of NASA satellite missions at SpaceX, expressed her enthusiasm for the potential of utilizing Starship to advance scientific research.

Crafts that can be reused:

The Starship spacecraft resembles a colossal metal tube. It stands at a towering height of 120 meters. When combined with its Super Heavy rocket booster, it becomes even taller. Moreover, scientists have developed a new spacecraft that can transport up to 150 tonnes of equipment into space. The designers have innovatively crafted a fully reusable transportation system for future space missions, making it cost-effective. In a bid to reduce the expenses of space travel, SpaceX has announced its intention to recover and reuse its components.

According to Jennifer Heldmann, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, the limitations of space flight have always been mass, volume, and cost. Starship effectively removes all of these limitations.

Between 1981 and 2011, NASA completed 135 missions to low Earth orbit with its space shuttles. These shuttles were designed for routine space access. NASA has decided to retire the shuttle. Instead, they will focus on developing a more advanced SLS. This will enable deeper space exploration.

SpaceX has successfully created smaller rockets that are partially reusable, including the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy series. Various users, including governments and companies, frequently use these rockets to launch satellites. SpaceX plans to utilize its Starship spacecraft for the deployment of larger objects, including the upcoming Starlink communications satellites. However, some astronomers have raised concerns about the potential impact of these satellites on nighttime observations.

Challenges Faced by Rockets:

By Forczyk, the ability of SpaceX to deliver on its commitment to frequent and also cost-effective Starship flights remains uncertain. The potential of Starship to deliver smaller rockets is advantageous for the spacecraft. NASA has endorsed it as a crucial component of their Moon exploration initiative, which further strengthens its potential.

As demonstrated by today’s flight, the development of any new rocket remains a difficult task. Shortly, it is highly probable that SpaceX will conduct tests on several other Starships that have already been constructed. According to Forczyk, there is a possibility of witnessing substantial advancements this year. The possibility remains uncertain.


Published by: Sky Headlines

RHESSI satellite has a total mass of 270 kg but will disintegrate into gas and ash during impact. Experts predict that in the following days, a NASA spacecraft that is no longer operational will begin its uncontrolled descent to Earth.

According to their calculations, the US military expects the RHESSI satellite, which monitored the sun from 2002 until 2018, to hit Earth’s atmosphere on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. You should adjust the time by 16 hours, give or take. During impact, RHESSI will disintegrate into gas and ash despite its weight of only 270 kilograms (670 pounds). Yet, we expect the spacecraft to retain some of its components despite the descent. On Monday (April 17), NASA authorities updated that the probability of endangering humans is approximately 1 in 2,467.

Before we discuss any details about the crash, we first need to have a look at the,

RHESSI’s mission and significance in solar research


NASA launched the Radiation Hardened Electron Sensor (RHESSI) spacecraft in 2002 to study the Sun’s high-energy particles, specifically those released during solar flares. During its time in space, RHESSI observed over 100,000 X-ray events, which provided valuable data for scientists to study the particles’ behavior during these events.

Scientists were able to piece together the source and mechanism of acceleration based on the data collected by RHESSI Satellite, which included the frequency, location, and motion of the energetic particles. Understanding the processes that occur during solar flares and how they affect Earth’s space environment requires this data.

Moreover, Astronauts are growing increasingly worried about a pressing concern that is,

The danger posed by space debris:

The RHESSI’s fall is a sobering reminder of how crowded and dangerous Earth’s orbit is getting. Global space monitoring networks currently track over 30,000 individual bits of orbital debris. Nonetheless, there are a great deal more bits that are too small to be tracked.

According to estimates by the European Space Agency, there are presently a million objects in Earth’s orbit, the smallest of which is 1 centimeter across. Over 130 million pieces exist between 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) to 0.4 inches. Little fragments traveling at such high speeds pose a serious threat to a manned spacecraft or satellite.

Several spacecraft in low Earth orbit average around 28,160 kilometers per hour (17,500 miles per hour). When galaxies crash into one another, they disseminate their debris all over space, making future collisions more likely. The ability to explore and utilize space could be severely hampered in the case of a Kessler Syndrome cascade.

In February 2002, a Pegasus XL rocket put RHESSI Satellite into low Earth orbit. Since then, it has been studying solar flares and coronal mass ejections. The satellite has a single science instrument, an imaging spectrometer that records X-rays and gamma rays.

Lastly, if you are wondering,

Is this the first spacecraft that will crash to Earth?

The answer is straightforward no! When it crashes to Earth, RHESSI won’t be the largest piece of space junk to do so. In November, for instance, roughly five days after launching the third and final module for China’s Tiangong space station, the rocket’s 23-ton (21-metric-ton) core stage crashed down to Earth. To date, all four Long March 5B missions have ended with the huge core stage reentering the atmosphere without human intervention.


Published by: Sky Headlines

NASA’s X-59 QueSST mission is set to revolutionize supersonic air travel by creating technology that can help in the sonic boom reduction. This mission, part of NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles and Integrated Aviation Systems Programs, will use the X-59 research aircraft to collect data on human responses to the sound generated during supersonic flight. The data will be used to develop new sound-based rules for supersonic flights over land, paving the way for faster and more efficient air travel. 

Let’s explore the X-59 mission and its history, features, and recent updates.


NASA’s X-59 QueSST mission aims to revolutionize supersonic air travel by developing technology that can reduce the loudness of a sonic boom to a gentle thump. This will enable supersonic flights over land, which has not been possible due to the loud sonic boom created by conventional supersonic aircraft. NASA’s aeronautical innovators are leading a government-industry team that is carrying out the mission.

Engineers are designing and building the X-59 research aircraft with cutting-edge technology to achieve the mission’s first goal. After its construction, the X-59 will take to the skies above multiple U.S. communities to gather information about how humans respond to the noise produced by supersonic flight. The collected data will be provided to both American and global regulatory authorities to aid in the creation of fresh regulations for supersonic flight over land that are based on sound. These new rules would pave the way for faster-than-sound air travel, opening up new commercial cargo and passenger markets.

NASA’s aeronautics programs organize the X-59 mission as part of the Advanced Air Vehicles Program and the Integrated Aviation Systems Program. The Systems Project Office is managing the mission with members spanning both programs and all four of NASA’s aeronautical research field centers: Langley Research Center in Virginia; Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; and Ames Research Center and Armstrong Flight Research Center, both located in California. The X-59 QueSST mission represents a crucial step towards achieving faster and more efficient air travel that can transform the way we move around the world.

Now, let’s dig explore the fascinating history of this project,

Flash Back:

Seventy-five years ago, on October 14th, 1947, a groundbreaking moment in aviation history occurred when the Bell X-1 rocket plane broke the sound barrier for the first time over the high desert of California. A small group of researchers, including the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), studied techniques for reducing sonic booms caused by supersonic flight.

This achievement demonstrated that it was possible to penetrate the imaginary wall in the sky that many believed could not be breached, marking a significant milestone in the history of aviation. The NACA team worked in collaboration with the newly formed US Air Force and Bell engineers and pilots to achieve this breakthrough.

“That first supersonic flight was such a tremendous achievement, and now you look at how far we’ve come since then. What we’re doing now is the culmination of so much of their work,” Catherine Bahm, an aeronautical engineer at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, said.”

NACA contingent in October 1947
The NACA contingent in October 1947 in front of the Bell X-1-2 and Boeing B-29 launch aircraft

Today, a new generation of aeronautical innovators is working on NASA’s QueSST mission, which aims to revolutionize supersonic flight once again. This time, the goal is to design and build an aircraft, the X-59, that can generate a sonic boom so quiet that it will be barely noticeable on the ground. This breakthrough would make it possible for supersonic flight to occur over land, opening up new commercial cargo and passenger markets and drastically reducing travel times.

Through their hard work and dedication, the aeronautical innovators of NASA’s QueSST mission are poised to break the sound barrier once again, this time in a way that will transform the future of air travel and make it possible for us all to travel just as fast as the X-1 pilots who flew supersonic seventy-five years ago.

So, If you are wondering,

What’s the purpose of this mission? 

The X-59 QueSST is part of NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) project, which aims to gather data and inform the development of new regulations that could permit commercial supersonic flight over land. The goal is to provide a safe and economically viable way for supersonic flights that helps in sonic boom reduction to transport passengers across the world, drastically reducing flight times.

The X-59 QueSST’s unique design is the key to its quiet supersonic flight. Its long, slender shape reduces the shockwaves that produce the sonic boom, allowing it to fly at supersonic speeds without causing the loud disturbance that typically comes with it. Instead, the X-59 QueSST produces a “soft thump” that is barely audible on the ground, if at all.

NASA officials have said about the purpose of the project: “Through QueSST, NASA plans to demonstrate that the X-59 can fly faster than sound without generating the loud sonic booms supersonic aircraft typically produce. This thunderous sound is the reason the U.S. and other governments banned most supersonic flights over land,” To achieve this feat, the X-59 QueSST will use advanced technologies, including a uniquely-shaped cockpit window that allows the pilot to see forward without producing a shockwave. It will also use a specially-designed engine nozzle that reduces the exhaust velocity, further minimizing the sonic boom.

The X-59 QueSST, designed for sonic boom reduction and make supersonic flight quieter, is scheduled to make its first flight in 2023. NASA hopes that the data gathered during the LBFD project on sonic boom reduction will help the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establish new rules and regulations for supersonic flight over land. This could pave the way for commercial supersonic aircraft to fly across the United States and beyond, while minimizing their impact on the environment and communities.

Now, let’s uncover,

What are the features of NASA’s QueSST?

NASA’s QueSST mission is developing the X-59 aircraft, which features an advanced external Visibility System (XVS) that uses augmented reality technology to enhance the pilot’s situational awareness. This system comprises a front-facing camera and display combination that overlays critical information such as guidance to destination airports, airspace warnings and alerts, and landing approach cues onto the pilot’s view.

Supersonic Space Travel
Instead of a forward windshield, the pilot will navigate via a heads-up display connected to cameras on the aircraft’s nose.
Courtesy NASA

Engineers have adjusted the X-59 aircraft’s external Visibility System (XVS) to enhance pilot situational awareness and reduce sonic boom during supersonic flight. The engineers designed the XVS to seamlessly work with sensors and a 4K camera feed, so that it provides the pilot with an ultra-high-definition (UHD) monitor display inside the cockpit. This ensures that the pilot has access to a crystal-clear view of their surroundings, enabling them to make critical decisions quickly and with confidence. Additionally, the aircraft also features a retractable camera located underneath it that provides a second view during lower-speed flight, such as during airport approach and landing.

With these advanced features, the X-59 promises to be a game-changer in the field of supersonic flight, paving the way for faster-than-sound air travel over land while ensuring the safety and comfort of pilots and passengers alike.

Moreover, The aircraft has received a 13-foot-long engine from General Electric Aviation, which will provide 22,000 pounds of thrust and enable the X-59 to fly faster than the speed of sound. The flight, scheduled for around 2025, aims to demonstrate that the X-59’s new supersonic technology will only produce a “thump” as heard by people on the ground, rather than a sonic boom. Lobbyists could use this information to persuade regulators to amend existing rules that restrict the speed at which planes can fly over land, potentially reducing travel times. We expect the engine to propel the X-59 to speeds up to Mach 1.4 and altitudes around 55,000 feet (16,764 meters).

We got some recent updates about the project for you here as well so let’s find out about that,

Recent updates on the Project:

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, California, has recently finished installing the lower empennage or tail assembly for NASA’s X-59 QueSST project. The installation of this key component allows the team to carry out final wiring and system checkouts on the aircraft as it prepares for integrated ground testing, including engine runs and taxi tests. The QueSST mission will showcase the X-59 aircraft’s ability to fly supersonic while significantly reducing the loud sonic boom to a quieter sonic thump, which is a major milestone.

NASA's X-59 QueSST
Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

According to Ray Castner, NASA’s propulsion performance lead for the X-59, “The engine installation is the culmination of years of design and planning by the NASA, Lockheed Martin, and General Electric Aviation teams.” Castner also expressed his admiration and pride with these words: “I am both impressed with and proud of this combined team that’s spent the past few months developing the key procedures, which allowed for a smooth installation.”

Currently, the X-59 is undergoing installation within support framing, and its completion will mark the beginning of the next stage of the mission. The QueSST team aims to fly the X-59 over several U.S. communities to collect data on the human response to the sound generated during supersonic flight, with the ultimate goal of providing this data to U.S. and international regulators. The QueSST aircraft will prove supersonic travel with less noise is possible, altering air travel.


Published by: Sky Headlines

Military Satellites have become integral to military operations around the world. They provide crucial services such as communication, reconnaissance, navigation, and weather data. As the demand for these capabilities grows, so does the need for increased space budgets, particularly in the United States. However, military space spending patterns are evolving. The focus now is on finding a balance between the need for advanced and capable systems and the need for more rapid deployment, while also weighing satellite needs against the requirement for other equipment, particularly cyber defense systems.

Before we get started, let’s discuss,

Military Operations and Commercial Satellites:

Military operations around the globe are increasingly relying on commercial satellites to achieve their objectives. The use of commercial communication satellites is particularly cost-effective and beneficial for military purposes. Additionally, commercial reconnaissance satellites are proving to be an asset for countries that cannot afford to launch their satellites, allowing them to access photos of their rivals.

Despite decades of research by superpowers, there has never been a clear military role for humans in space. In the 1960s, the United States experimented with several piloted military space systems, including the DynaSoar spaceplane and the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL). The MOL was intended to carry a large reconnaissance camera, and two astronauts were to spend up to a month in orbit, taking photos of ground targets. However, the program was canceled in 1969 as it became evident that humans were not required for the task, and robotic systems could perform the work efficiently and often better than humans. Similarly, the Soviet Union briefly operated manned space stations resembling the MOL, but they also abandoned the program for the same reason as the United States.

Now you probably might be wondering,

What is the job of military satellites?

Military satellites have been playing an important role in modern warfare. People use them for a variety of purposes such as conducting reconnaissance, navigating, communicating, gathering signals intelligence, monitoring meteorology, and defending against satellites. Reconnaissance and surveillance satellites take photographs of targets on the ground and relay them to receiving stations. They are in low orbits and can photograph a target for only a little over a minute before they move out of range. 

In addition, there exist satellites that utilize diverse wavelengths to penetrate through camouflage, identify the composition of objects, and scrutinize emissions from smokestacks. Signals intelligence satellites listen for communications from cellular telephones, walkie-talkies, microwave transmissions, radios, and radar. They relay this information to the ground, where it is processed for various purposes. Satellites for communication purposes enable communication with sea vessels, ground troops, and submarines having small dish antennas. Navigation satellites are also vital to military forces as they help determine positions at sea or on land. Accurate weather information is also critical to military operations, and the United States and Russia operate meteorology satellites for military use. Antisatellite and missile defense satellites are not currently part of any nation’s arsenal, but ASAT weapons may be used to intercept missiles in the future.

You should also know,

Why satellites are essential for modern warfare?

Effective military operations depend on the transfer of data. Despite the reduced number of troops stationed overseas compared to previous years, the need for satellite capabilities has remained significant. Militaries around the world face tight budget environments, especially in Western Europe and the U.S. Nonetheless, the U.S. will continue to invest more money in satellites than any other country, and the production of military satellites will remain steady for years to come.

Poland, Germany, and Japan are just a few of the countries launching military satellites. China and Russia will largely drive the market for military satellites during Forecast International’s current forecasting period of 2023-2032. However, the war in Ukraine may hamper Russian efforts. Western countries will require replacements for their aging satellites by the start of the next decade, which should drive production through the 2020s.

Now let’s dig into the past and upcoming,

Military Space Innovation:

SATCOMBw and Syracuse IV are satellite-based networks providing secure communication capabilities for the German and French Armed Forces respectively. Both programs consist of military satellites and ground stations to provide long-range communications between areas of operations and decision-making centers. Airbus is the prime contractor for SATCOMBw and Syracuse IV, responsible for designing, implementing, and delivering deployable systems that provide autonomy, security, and absolute reliability for satellite telecommunications. Additionally, Airbus is the partner for space for the UK Ministry of Defence and has been providing Skynet services for over eighteen years. Skynet is a hardened X-band constellation of satellites providing all Beyond Line of Sight communications to the UK military. Airbus designs, enhances the Skynet fleet, builds the Skynet 6A satellite for launch in 2025, and ensures the sustainability and system availability of Skynet.

military communications satellite
Illustration of the ESPAStar-HP satellite bus. Credit: Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) gateway system has achieved 200,000 combat operational flight hours since its deployment in 2008, as a leader in the design, development, and delivery of end-to-end communications and advanced networking capabilities. The company’s gateway systems, including BACN, are capable of securely sharing mission information across military branches and enhancing the flow of data, and strengthening the overall command-and-control structure of the Defense Department. The BACN system functions as a communications gateway in the sky, operating at high altitudes to disseminate voice, imagery, and tactical data from various sources. This results in improved communication, coordination, and situational awareness for joint military personnel operating across different domains, including space, air, land, and sea.

Northrop Grumman is creating a geostationary communications satellite that will compete with Boeing’s similar design in a military procurement worth $2.4 billion. The U.S. Space Force selected both companies to develop Protected Tactical Satcom prototype payloads, known as PTS, which will become the military’s next-generation secure communications satellites. Northrop Grumman’s PTS payload will fly on a dedicated spacecraft built on an ESPAStar-HP satellite bus and will launch on a national security space mission aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket in 2025. The ESPAStar-HP is faster to manufacture and launch than traditional military satellites and can be operated in geostationary orbit. The Space Force could select one or both companies to produce additional payloads, and whichever PTS version is selected will provide “uninterrupted communications even in the presence of sophisticated jamming threats.”

However, scientists and astronomers around the globe are concerned about the,

The Future of Military Satellites:

As the demand for satellite capabilities grows, militaries will begin to rely on alternative means of accessing the services required to conduct operations. One option is to lease capacity on commercial communications satellites to supplement government-owned birds. For instance, SpaceX offers a business line called Starshield, which derives from the Starlink system created for the military. Another possibility is the use of hosted payload arrangements, where a government pays a commercial satellite operator to install a government-developed payload on board a commercially operated satellite. This offers commercial satellite operators extra funding while also providing a means for militaries to decrease their overall expenses.

Moreover, the US Department of Defense is exploring a plan called disaggregation. This involves purchasing larger numbers of smaller, simpler satellites rather than smaller numbers of larger, complex satellites such as Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) and Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) spacecraft. The Pentagon believes that disaggregation will lead to satellite networks that have more redundancy, allowing them to survive an attack, and will reduce development costs and timelines. The rise of small satellites in the commercial market, driven by hardware miniaturization, will further accelerate interest in small disaggregated satellites.


On the Whole:

Satellites have revolutionized military operations by providing crucial services. Military operations across the world depend heavily on satellites to provide essential services such as communication, reconnaissance, navigation, and weather data. The need for satellite capabilities continues to grow, leading to increased space budgets worldwide. The future of military satellites lies in finding a balance between the need for advanced and capable systems and the need for rapid deployment while weighing satellite needs against other equipment requirements. The rise of alternative means of accessing satellite capabilities, such as commercial leasing and hosted payload arrangements, will also help reduce overall costs. The future of the military satellite market looks bright, with stable production forecasts for the next decade.


Published by: Sky Headlines

Space debris is a growing concern for the space industry and the safety of our planet. As we continue to rely more on satellites for communication, navigation, and scientific research, the accumulation of debris in Earth’s orbit poses a serious threat to our space infrastructure. It’s estimated that there are over 100 million pieces of debris larger than 1 mm in diameter orbiting Earth right now. Imagine the impact of a collision with even a small piece of debris. 

Here we will discuss everything about space debris that you need to know. Let’s start now.

What is Orbital debris?

The term “orbital debris” pertains to any object that was made by humans and is currently orbiting around the Earth, but no longer has any practical function. This encompasses spacecraft that have been abandoned, upper stages of rockets, and vehicles that are designed to carry multiple payloads. During spacecraft separation from its launch vehicle or mission operations, the team intentionally releases other types of debris. Spacecraft or upper-stage explosions or collisions, solid rocket motor effluents, and tiny flecks of paint released by thermal stress or small particle impacts create debris.

Orbital debris

As Alice Gorman writes in her book “Dr. Space Junk vs The Universe: Archaeology and the Future, “There are places where litter is acceptable and others where it is not. What is the proper place for space junk? You could say it is the atmosphere: that abandoned satellites and debris should be cremated, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There’s a contradiction here. We’ve placed junk where it is perpetually ‘out of place’ as a human object, but in another sense, this is its natural place.”

The impact of orbital debris on space exploration and the safety of our planet cannot be underestimated. Currently, more than 25,000 objects larger than 10 cm are known to exist. Additionally, there’s an estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 cm in diameter, which is approximately 500,000. Shockingly, the number of particles larger than 1 mm exceeds 100 million. Furthermore, as of January 2022, the amount of material orbiting the Earth exceeded 9,000 metric tons. In recent years, the issue of orbital debris has become a growing concern in the space industry.

Now Let’s discuss the

Determination of Space Debris:

Most of the orbital debris resides within 2,000 km of the Earth’s surface, and the amount of debris varies significantly with altitude. The greatest concentration of debris can be found near the altitude range of 750-1000 km. This concentration poses a significant threat to space infrastructure in that altitude range.

The U.S. Space Surveillance Network routinely tracks large orbital debris larger than 10 cm. Ground-based radars can detect objects as small as 3 mm, which provides a basis for a statistical estimate of their numbers. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network has been critical in monitoring and identifying potential collisions between space objects and debris.

Assessments of the population of orbital debris smaller than 1 mm can be challenging, but they are essential to understanding the scope of the debris problem. Scientists have limited the examination of impact features on the surfaces of returned spacecraft to those operating in altitudes below 600 km. Detecting and tracking small debris requires new methods to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the debris problem, which is an ongoing challenge.

NASA reports that in 2009, a decommissioned Russian spacecraft collided with a functioning U.S. Iridium commercial spacecraft, resulting in the destruction of both and contributing over 2,300 pieces of space debris to orbit. Recently, in March 2021, a fragment from a Russian rocket destroyed a working Chinese military satellite. In June of the same year, an unidentified piece of space debris struck the robotic arm of the International Space Station, causing damage but not destruction. As the amount of space debris increases each year, such incidents are becoming more frequent.

You would also be concerned about,

What is the Impact of Space Debris on Space Infrastructure?

A significant amount of debris does not survive the severe heating that occurs during reentry. The components that manage to survive reentry are highly likely to end up in bodies of water such as oceans or sparsely populated regions like the Canadian Tundra, Australian Outback, or Siberia in the Russian Federation. Scientists have recorded an average of one piece of debris falling back to Earth per day over the last 50 years. There have been no confirmed instances of reentering debris causing any serious injuries or significant property damage.

Orbital debris circles the Earth at a speed of about 7 to 8 km/s in the low Earth orbit, below 2,000 km, and it can be found in significant amounts. The typical velocity at which orbital debris collides with another object in space is roughly 10 km/s, and in some cases, it can even exceed 15 km/s. This is over ten times faster than the speed of a bullet. As a result, collisions with even a small piece of debris can lead to catastrophic consequences.

Companies deploying low-altitude commercial communication satellite systems such as Iridium, Orbcomm, and Globalstar are designing ways to minimize orbital debris generation. These systems do not pose unique debris problems. Often, upper stages and spacecraft are placed in lower-altitude orbits. This is done to accelerate their fall back to Earth after completing their missions.

However, there are some,

The Long-Term Effects of Space Debris:

The higher the altitude of debris, the longer it remains in Earth’s orbit. Debris left in orbits below 600 km typically falls back to Earth within several years. Orbital decay at altitudes of 800 km can take centuries to occur. Above 1,000 km, orbital debris will normally continue circling the Earth for a thousand years or more. Debris accumulation over time is a serious concern. It could result in a cascade of collisions, which could lead to an increase in debris. This increase in debris has the potential to cause long-term damage to space infrastructure. Thus, cleaning up orbital debris and preventing its creation are essential for space exploration.

Now if you are wondering,

What are the precautions we made so far?

Leading space agencies worldwide have made efforts to address the issue of orbital debris. They formed the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). As well as the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). These committees have published guidelines for international compliance

While some debris will naturally fall back to Earth and burn up, the amount of space junk in low Earth orbit will continue to grow due to collisions between existing debris. As our reliance on satellites for communication, navigation, and other purposes increases, researchers have been exploring various methods to remove and reduce the debris cloud, including technologies such as electronic space whips, giant magnets, harpoons, and nets. Additionally, many nations are limiting future debris by ensuring new spacecraft have appropriate end-of-life plans.

  • Russia, China, Japan, France, and the European Space Agency: These countries have all issued orbital debris mitigation guidelines.
  • United States:

Since 1988, the official policy of the U.S. has been to minimize the creation of new orbital debris through orbital debris mitigation. In 2010, the National Space Policy was established to preserve the space environment, including orbital debris mitigation. The directive instructs NASA and the Department of Defense to research and develop technologies. The aim is to lessen and eliminate debris in orbit.

  • Space Policy Directive-3 (SPD-3):

The SPD-3 issued in June 2018, highlights the threat of orbital debris and emphasizes the need for periodic revisions of debris mitigation guidelines, standards, and policies. It further calls for the development of new protocols of standard practices. These protocols aim to promote efficient and effective space safety practices in the U.S. industry and internationally.

  • The International Space Station:

ISS’s primary focus is to prevent the unnecessary creation of additional orbital debris by implementing cautious vehicle design and operations. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network regularly monitors trajectories of orbital debris to identify any potential threats to the ISS. The ISS typically maneuvers away from any object if the risk of a collision exceeds 1 in 10,000, which happens approximately once a year on average. 

The ISS shields itself highly, making it the most robust spacecraft ever flown, and its habitable compartments and high-pressure tanks can typically withstand debris impacts as large as 1 cm in diameter. Although the risk of debris ranging from 1 to 10 cm in diameter striking critical ISS components is low, researchers are working to investigate ways to reduce this risk even further. The task of removing debris from space is still a substantial hurdle from both a technical and financial perspective.

So, let’s conclude this by saying,

Crux of the discussion:

You don’t have to worry too much about space debris colliding with the Earth’s surface. Space agencies worldwide are taking steps to mitigate the creation of new debris. They are also working to remove existing debris from Earth’s orbit. It’s no wonder, given the potential risks associated with orbital debris. As long as we know to overcome the effects of Space junk, we are completely safe!


Published by: Sky Headlines

Have you ever heard of a solar storm? These fascinating and dangerous phenomena occur when the Sun releases a burst of energy in the form of charged particles and electromagnetic radiation into space, which can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth. However, if you are wondering what would happen if a solar storm were to hit Earth, or what it would take for us to reverse its effects, then you are not alone in your curiosity. Moreover, you may have questioned whether solar storms pose any real danger to humanity or if they are merely a misconception. For all your questions, we are here to answer.

First, let’s find out:

What is a Solar Storm?

Solar storms are a fascinating yet dangerous phenomenon that occurs due to the sun’s complex magnetic field. A solar storm is a natural phenomenon that occurs when the Sun releases large amounts of charged particles and electromagnetic radiation into space. A solar storm is a burst of energy emanating from the sun’s surface through charged particles and electromagnetic radiation.

According to atmospheric and space scientist Aaron Ridley of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor: “We understand a little bit about how these solar storms form, but we can’t predict [them] well,”

This continuous stream of particles and radiation is known as the solar wind. However, sometimes the Sun releases more energetic bursts of charged particles called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The sun’s corona rejected these massive clouds of plasma and magnetic fields. They can travel at high speeds toward Earth. When these particles interact with Earth’s magnetic field, they can cause geomagnetic storms.

solar flare
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare on Oct. 2, 2014. Credits: NASA/SDO

Moreover, you should know:

What Happens When a Solar Storm Hits Earth?

When a solar storm occurs, it can send coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and shock waves hurtling toward Earth. These events can create

geomagnetic storms when they interact with the planet’s magnetic field. The storms can trigger auroras or Northern and Southern Lights, which are beautiful natural displays of colorful lights in the sky. However, these charged particles can also cause significant disruptions in electronic systems. Geomagnetic storms can cause disturbances in Earth’s power grids and navigation systems and disrupt radio communication. A massive solar flare that occurred on August 7, 1972, triggered an intense magnetic storm that disrupted radio waves, telecommunication networks, and power systems. While auroras are a stunning sight, the effects of a solar storm hitting Earth can be significant and potentially damaging.

Note: What are Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs)?

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are the most potent source of solar storms. The sun’s corona ejected these massive clouds of plasma and magnetic fields. They can travel at speeds of up to 3 million miles per hour. Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are large bubbles of plasma from the Sun’s corona, consisting of strong magnetic field lines that are discharged into space over several hours.

coronal mass ejections
This movie, captured by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). It shows two eruptions from the Sun called coronal mass ejections, which blasted charged particles into space on Oct. 28 and 29, 2003.Credits: NASA/ESA

Fortunately, We are safe. However, there is another question that arises:

Do Solar Storms Affect Humans?

The answer is no! However, solar storms do not directly affect human health. They can impact the technology we rely on in our daily lives. Solar storms can affect humans, including disruption of communication and navigation systems, damage to electrical grids, and radiation exposure. When a solar storm hits Earth, it can produce powerful electromagnetic fields that induce electrical currents in power lines and pipelines. It potentially leads to blackouts and infrastructure damage.

Solar radiation storms can also pose a risk to astronauts and airline crew and passengers. As they can be exposed to high levels of radiation. For example, a severe solar storm in 1989 caused a power outage in Quebec that lasted for 12 hours. In today’s increasingly connected world, the effects of such an event would be much more widespread and devastating.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Heliophysics Science Division Associate Director for Science is Alex Young. He says: “We live on a planet with a very thick atmosphere… that stops all of the harmful radiation that is produced in a solar flare”.  Moreover, he says: “Even in the largest events that we’ve seen in the past 10,000 years, we see that the effect is not enough to damage the atmosphere such that we are no longer protected,”

You may not worry if you are wondering:

When is the Next Solar Storm Expected?

Solar storms are a natural phenomenon. The frequency and intensity of solar storms vary based on the sun’s activity cycle, which lasts about 11 years. Currently, we are in a minimum solar phase where the Sun is relatively quiet. And the number of solar storms is low. However, the next solar maximum phase is expected to occur around 2025. During this phase, solar activity is at its highest, and the frequency and intensity of solar storms are likely to increase.

Despite studying the Sun for decades, scientists have yet to determine what causes these storms to erupt or how to predict when the next solar storm will occur. However, NASA has several satellites, including the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). It monitors the Sun’s activity and provides warnings of a potential storm. Additionally, ongoing missions like the Parker Solar Probe are collecting data that will help scientists better understand the Sun and its behavior. It leads to more accurate predictions of when the next solar storm may occur.

The AI got us covered with,



How it Works and its Potential Impact!

DAGGER’s developers compared the model’s predictions to measurements made during solar storms in August 2011 and March 2015. At the top, colored dots show measurements made during the 2011 storm. Credits: V. Upendran et al.

The DAGGER model (formally, Deep Learning Geomagnetic Perturbation) is an innovative computer model that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to predict and quickly identify geomagnetic disturbances or perturbations that could affect our technology. To develop this model, a team of international researchers from the Frontier Development Lab used deep learning AI to recognize patterns between solar wind measurements and geomagnetic perturbations observed at ground stations globally. The team utilized real measurements from heliophysics missions such as ACE, Wind, IMP-8, and Geotail to train the computer and develop the DAGGER model.

Advantages of DAGGER

DAGGER can predict geomagnetic disturbances worldwide 30 minutes before they occur, making it faster and more accurate than previous prediction models. The computer model can provide predictions in less than a second. And the predictions update every minute, providing prompt and precise information for sites globally. The team tested DAGGER against two geomagnetic storms that occurred in August 2011 and March 2015 and found that DAGGER was able to quickly and accurately forecast the storm’s impacts around the world.

Professor Vishal Upendran of India’s Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics. He authored a paper on the DAGGER model for Space Weather. It says: “With this AI, it is now possible to make rapid and accurate global predictions and inform decisions in the event of a solar storm. Thereby minimizing – or even preventing – devastation to modern society,”

Unlike previous models that produced local geomagnetic forecasts for specific locations on Earth or global predictions that weren’t very timely, DAGGER combines the swift analysis of AI with real measurements from space and across the Earth to generate frequently updated predictions that are prompt and precise for sites worldwide. Power grid operators, satellite controllers, and telecommunications companies can adopt the open-source computer code in the DAGGER model and apply the predictions to their specific needs. Such warnings could give them time to take action to protect their assets and infrastructure from an impending solar storm.

With models like DAGGER, there could be solar storm sirens that sound an alarm in power stations and satellite control centers worldwide. Similar to how tornado sirens warn of threatening terrestrial weather in towns and cities across America. The potential impact of the DAGGER model could be significant in mitigating the effects of solar storms on technology and infrastructure.


To Put It All Together:

Solar storms are an unpredictable force of nature that can seriously impact our society. Despite decades of research, scientists still cannot predict when the next solar storm will occur. However, the DAGGER model developed by NASA provides advanced warnings of impending solar storms. It gives organizations time to take necessary precautions. This development highlights the potential of AI in space weather forecasting and its critical role in mitigating the impact of natural disasters on our technology-dependent world.


Published by: Sky Headlines

The Dawn spacecraft was a groundbreaking mission launched by NASA in 2007 to explore the early days of our solar system by studying two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt – Vesta and Ceres. This $500 million spacecraft equips ion propulsion technology. This allows it to achieve impressive acceleration and make a significant contribution to the field of space exploration. During its eleven-year mission, Dawn provided critical data on the formation and evolution of celestial bodies, including key findings about Vesta and Ceres, the location of their formation, the potential for oceans on dwarf planets, and the discovery of organic molecules on Ceres.

Asteroid Vesta
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft took this image of asteroid Vesta on July 24, 2011, from a distance of about 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers). Dawn entered orbit around Vesta on July 15, 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

First, we should know;

What is the Dawn spacecraft?

Dawn spacecraft was a mission launched by NASA in September 2007 to study two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt – Vesta and Ceres. The spacecraft used ion propulsion, a space propulsion breakthrough. The total cost of the spacecraft is $500 million, which includes $370 million for building and launching the spacecraft and $130 million for 11 years of operations and data analysis. At launch, the spacecraft weighed 1,647.1 pounds and carried 937 pounds of xenon propellant for the ion propulsion system. The spacecraft’s pointing control at launch was achieved with four reaction wheels, augmented by 100.5 pounds of hydrazine.

snowman on asteroid Vesta
Dawn took this picture of a group of craters resembling a snowman on asteroid Vesta on Aug. 20, 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

What is the functional structure of the Dawn spacecraft?

The ion propulsion system of the spacecraft consisted of three thrusters. Each of which measured 13 inches in length and 16 inches in diameter, weighing 20 pounds each. The system produced a thrust ranging from 0.07 to 0.33-ounce propulsion system allowing the spacecraft to achieve an acceleration of 0 – 60 mph in 4 days at full thrust.

“It is a tribute to all those involved in the design and operations of this remarkable spacecraft,” said Marc Rayman. He is the chief engineer for the Dawn mission and former project manager for Deep Space 1, in a statement. “I am delighted that it will be Dawn that surpasses DS1’s record.”

The launch of the Dawn spacecraft was on September 27, 2007, at 7:34 a.m. United Launch Alliance, Denver provided EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Pad 17B, aboard a Delta II Heavy 2925H-9.5 rocket, including a Star 48 upper stage. The mission had two extended missions, the first from July 2016 to October 2017, and the second from October 2017 to November 2018. The spacecraft’s mission came to an end on November 1, 2018, after completing its objectives. The Dawn spacecraft was a remarkable technological achievement and a significant milestone in the exploration of the solar system.

Now let’s find out;

What did the Dawn spacecraft discover?

NASA’s Dawn mission began in 2007 to study early solar system processes. The spacecraft visited two-time capsules of the solar system, Vesta and Ceres, which are the largest bodies of the main asteroid belt. Dawn’s mission aimed to build a detailed picture of the early days of the solar system. It was formed 4.6 billion years ago. Dawn mapped these planet-like worlds from orbit. As it provides key pieces of data that scientists could not obtain using telescopes or brief flybys.

Image of Ceres
This image of Ceres was made in September 2017 from views that Dawn took at about 240 miles (385 kilometers) above the surface. At the center is Occator Crater, home to the brightest area on Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA


Location is Key:

NASA’s Dawn mission discovered that the location of the formation of celestial bodies in the early solar system is essential to understanding their evolution. Scientists studied Vesta and Ceres to determine their histories, and the findings from the mission indicate that Vesta likely formed in the inner solar system and remained there. Whereas Ceres likely formed farther from the Sun and drifted inward. They differ in local action and determined the amount of water present in the bodies, which played a crucial role in how they cooled. Vesta cooled slowly and formed a metallic core and rocky mantle and crust. While Ceres cooled rapidly and formed a stratified interior consisting of a water-rich rock mantle and a water-rich ice and hydrate outer shell. These findings have implications for early solar system and planetary migration models.

Dawn’s Findings on Vesta:

The Dawn mission revealed important findings about the dwarf planet Vesta, including the confirmation that the giant basin in Vesta’s southern hemisphere, Rheasilvia, is more than 310 miles in diameter and 12 miles deep. The mission also discovered a second impact basin what we call Veneneia.  Rheasilvia partially covered it.

Christopher Russell, the principal investigator for Dawn. He stated that: “We went to Vesta to fill in the blanks of our knowledge about the early history of our solar system”.

The data from the Dawn spacecraft shows that these giant impacts created dozens of canyons. Hence, rivals the size of the Grand Canyon, and the surface of the southern hemisphere appears younger than the northern hemisphere due to the massive impact that carved Rhea Silvia. Furthermore, Dawn found water-rich minerals on Vesta’s surface. Since asteroids or comets from the outer solar system delivered them to planets.

Floor of Occator
This view of the floor of Occator Crater on Ceres is based on images taken by Dawn in 2018. Occator Crater is 57 miles (92 kilometers) across. The salty liquid released during the freezing of the water-rich floor formed bright pits and mounds. It followed the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI

Dwarf Planets and Oceans:

Dawn’s findings indicate that not only icy moons, but also dwarf planets could have sustained oceans for a significant portion of their existence, and may still possess them. Ceres are an essential element in understanding ocean worlds. As its crust consists of a combination of ice, minerals, salts, and other substances, making it a relic of an “ocean world”.  It retains the chemical composition of its previous ocean and evidence of surface interactions. The observations made by Dawn suggest that some amount of salty liquid could still exist beneath its surface. Ceres, as an advanced dwarf planet, has the potential to offer insights into the environmental conditions of other ocean worlds.

Organic Molecules at Ceres:

Scientists remain curious about the organics discovered by Dawn at Ceres. According to the Dawn team, these organics were likely generated in the dwarf planet’s deep ocean, beginning from its innards. The organics were mostly aliphatic carbon-hydrogen chains. Ceres’ loose surface material contains considerable quantities of carbon globally, despite the organics being found in a small zone. Despite this, the origin of the organics found on Ceres remains unknown.

Lastly, we should conclude this by,

Where is the dawn spacecraft now?

The Dawn spacecraft was a pioneering mission that greatly expanded our understanding of the early solar system and the evolution of celestial bodies. The mission ended on Nov. 1, 2018. The mission was a great success. It was no longer able to communicate with Earth due to the reason the spacecraft ran out of fuel. Furthermore, experts say the spacecraft is still orbiting around Ceres.

When the mission came to an end, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C says: “Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission — its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us. And the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries”. Moreover, he says: “The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system.”

Dawn's End of mission
Dawn’s end of mission statistics. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


The spacecraft’s ion propulsion technology and advanced instruments allowed it to gather a wealth of scientific data during its 11 years of operation including more than 51,000 hours of ion engine thrusting, 172 GB of science data, 3,052 orbits around Vesta and Ceres, and over 100,000 images. Additionally, the spacecraft traveled over 4.3 billion miles since its launch in 2007. It reached a record distance of 367+ million miles from Earth. The success of the Dawn mission stands as a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of NASA’s scientists and engineers. It continues to push the boundaries of our knowledge of the universe.


Published by: Sky Headlines