On January 28th, China the released its five-year plan for its space program. Titled China’s Space Program: A 2021 Perspective, the paper addresses both accomplishments to date as well as how the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and China Manned Space (CMS) Program will build upon those accomplishments. China has plenty to be proud of, including multiple lunar missions with a sample successfully returned to Earth, a Mars mission with a rover, and efforts to finalize the nation’s first space station. The paper states, “From 2016 to December 2021, 207 launch missions were completed, including 183 by the Long March carrier rocket series.”
In terms of space exploration, in addition to sending more missions to the Moon, the paper states China plans to:
· Launch asteroid probes to sample near-earth asteroids and probe main-belt comets;
· Complete key technological research on Mars sampling and return, exploration of the Jupiter system, and so forth; [and]
· Study plans for boundary exploration of the solar system.
The paper also addresses planned progress in some of the other areas already discussed on this site, including limiting the amount of debris in space and monitoring what is already up there. For instance, China plans to work on “space debris cleaning,” improve its “space debris monitoring system,” and “actively participate in formulating international rules regarding outer space.” Such actions should benefit all spacefaring nations.
Check out the paper for more on China’s plans for the future.
The January 31st edition of The New Yorkerhas an article written by Joshua Rothman where he interviews Kim Stanley Robinson they hike through the Sierra mountains. The article,”Best-Case Scenario,” covers a lot of ground and has its ups and downs (sorry, I could not help myself). The Sierras offer a nice setting for experiencing the beauty of this strange planet while also scaring the reader about what may be lost as the hikers deal with the smoke of distant forest fires.
The two most prominent books discussed in the article are Mr. Stanley’s recent The Ministry for the Future and his 2015 novel Aurora, allowing the reader to appreciate both the uniqueness of this world as well as attempts by his characters to reach more distant worlds. I enjoyed reading both Aurora and Mr. Stanley’s Mars trilogy, but I should probably spend some time reading his works focusing on planet Earth. Mr. Stanley has made it clear that we need to preserve the one place in the universe that we know can host us. As he stated in BoingBoing back in 2015, “…there is no Planet B. Earth is our only home.”
With regard to expanding into our galaxy, in the same article he stated:
I’m not saying we shouldn’t go into space; we should. We should send people to the moon, and Mars, and the asteroids, and every place we can in the solar system, putting up stations and swapping humans in and out of them. This is not only a beautiful thing to do, but useful in helping us to design a long-term relationship with Earth itself. Space science is an Earth science. The solar system is our neighborhood. But the stars are too far away.
Mr. Stanley has spoken far and wide for some time about his novels, his views on space travel, and his concerns regarding our future. For more on all of this, you can try his Facebook page or this unofficial site. And you may want to check out some other articles in The New Yorker as well, such as this May 2021 piece, “Is Mars Ours?“
In the early days of March, a SpaceX rocket booster is expected to crash into the surface of the Moon just north of its equator. Part of a rocket launched in 2015, the booster has been floating around ever since.
In general, the Moon has not been used for trash storage beyond the lunar missions. Moreover, SpaceX likes to be known for landing its boosters back on Earth rather than sending them off into the wild blue (or black) yonder.
This could be an opportunity for SpaceX to claim it has created one of the first unintentional man-made craters on the Moon. The small crater could be known as the Musk Mini-Basin.
Luckily, Mr. Musk’s Tesla Roadster, launched in 2018, made it past the Moon with little incident (and then overshot Mars). We did not need an Elon Musk Parking Lot on the moon, yet the little red car would have been quite a sight for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Update: Recent news indicates that the object about to hit the Moon is not a SpaceX rocket booster but rather a Chinese rocket part from the Long March 3C that launched the Chang’e 5-T1 lunar mission. I guess we will need to rethink the naming of that new crater.
In an earlier posting, I pointed out that both China and Russia have left debris in orbit after conducting anti-satellite tests. To be fair, they are not alone. Back in March 2019, India also blew up one of its satellites with a ground-based missile, spreading debris and jeopardizing its own space program as well as that of others. Luckily, the explosion happened at a height that does not threaten the International Space Station or the majority of satellites in orbit. Moreover, most of the pieces of debris were expected to burn up and disappear quickly.
There have been other such anti-satellite missions as well, with the U.S, Russia, and China in the lead. So who started all of this, you may ask. The same Forbes story cited above makes it clear that the U.S. began this space arms race more than 60 years ago:
The U.S. tested its first anti-satellite missile in 1959, when the space lanes were mostly empty. Russia followed suit in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but after the end of the Cold War, space warfare mostly fell off the defense policy radar.
The radar is active again given the continuing series of destructive anti-satellite missions in Earth’s orbit. You can add to this the various other secret spacecraft believed to already be in orbit to enhance each nation’s ability to kill another nation’s satellites. Things are pretty ugly on the ground these days, and the heavens above seem to be fair game as well.
The image above was taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on June 8, 2021. You can watch the full flyby video here that starts with the Juno spacecraft going past Jupiter’s moon Ganymede on June 7, 2021 before moving onto Jupiter. The violence of the storms in Jupiter’s atmosphere are smoothed into the beautiful giant marble we see from a great distance.
Launched by NASA in 2011, Juno’s goal is to improve our understanding of the solar system’s beginnings by revealing the origin and evolution of Jupiter. With its primary mission completed last July, the spacecraft will continue to operate through at least 2025 by continuing to observe Jupiter, its rings, and its moons.