Space Stories: Europeans Not Joining Chinese Space Station, the Milky Way is Odd, and Lucy has a New Target

Image (Credit): A computer rendering of China’s new Tiangong space station in orbit. (Alejandro Miranda/Alamy Stock Photo)

Here are some recent stories of interest.

Royal Astronomical Society: “European Space Agency Says it has No Plans to Send Astronauts to China’s Tiangong Space Station

A top official with the European Space Agency said it had no plans to send European astronauts to the newly completed Chinese space station, making it clear for the first time that the agency is no longer committed to working with China in human space flight in the near future. “We are very busy supporting and ensuring our commitments and activities on the International Space Station,” ESA director general Josef Aschbacher told a press conference in Paris on Monday.

Royal Astronomical Society: “Milky Way Found to be More Unique than Previously Thought

Is the Milky Way special, or, at least, is it in a special place in the Universe? An international team of astronomers has found that the answer to that question is yes, in a way not previously appreciated. A new study shows that the Milky Way is too big for its “cosmological wall”, something yet to be seen in other galaxies. The new research is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Southwest Research Institute: “SwRI-Led Lucy Team Announces New Asteroid Target

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will add another asteroid encounter to its 4-billion-mile journey. On Nov. 1, 2023, the Southwest Research Institute-led Lucy mission will get a close-up view of a small main belt asteroid to conduct an engineering test of the spacecraft’s innovative asteroid-tracking navigation system. The Lucy mission was already on course to break records by its planned visit of nine asteroids during its 12-year mission to tour the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, which orbit the Sun at the same distance as Jupiter. Originally, Lucy was not expected to get a close-up view of any asteroids until 2025, when it will fly by the main belt asteroid (52246) Donaldjohanson. However, the SwRI-led Lucy team identified a small, as-yet unnamed asteroid in the inner main belt as a potential new and useful target for the Lucy spacecraft.

Space Mission: Ongoing Problems with Lucy’s Sails

Image (Credit): Artist’s rendering of Lucy near an asteroid. The two large discs are the solar arrays. (Southwest Research Institute)

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft continues to face some engineering issues as it travels away from Earth after the first of two flybys before it can reach the Trojan asteroids where it will begin its survey. While the earlier problems with deploying its solar array continue, the matter will most likely need to be resolved in 2024 when the spacecraft is closer to Earth again. Fortunately, the array is 98 percent deployed, so there is no risk to the 12-year mission at this time.

NASA will keep all of us posted. You can read more about the solar array issues here.

Image (Credit):  Lucy’s orbital path (shown in green). (NASA)

Space Stories: Approaching Lucy, Chinese Space Ambitions, and Conan the Bacterium

Image (Credit): Image from NASA’s Lucy spacecraft showing the Earth and Moon from 890,000 miles away (look closely – the moon on the left is a very pale dot). (NASA/Goddard/SwRI)

Here are some recent stories of interest. “NASA’s Lucy Spacecraft Captures Images of Earth, Moon Ahead of Gravity Assist

On October 13, 2022, NASA’s Lucy spacecraft captured [the above] image of the Earth and the Moon from a distance of 890,000 miles (1.4 million km). The image was taken as part of an instrument calibration sequence as the spacecraft approached Earth for its first of three Earth gravity assists. These Earth flybys provide Lucy with the speed required to reach the Trojan asteroids — small bodies that orbit the Sun at the same distance as Jupiter. On its 12 year journey, Lucy will fly by a record breaking number of asteroids and survey their diversity, looking for clues to better understand the formation of the solar system. “China Considering Mission to Ceres and Large Dark Matter Space Telescope

The Chinese Academy of Sciences is considering potential missions including a Ceres orbiter and a huge telescope to hunt for clues about the nature of dark matter. More than 20 candidates are vying for funding for further study under the Chinese Academy of Sciences Strategic Priority Program on Space Science, also known as the New Horizon Program, and are currently undergoing evaluation. “Extremophiles on Mars Could Survive for Hundreds of Millions of Years

One of Earth’s toughest microbes could survive on Mars, lying dormant beneath the surface, for 280 million years, new research has shown. The findings increase the probability that microbial life could still exist on the Red Planet. Deinococcus radiodurans, nicknamed “Conan the Bacterium,” is one of the world’s toughest microbes, capable of surviving in radiation strong enough to kill any other known life-form. Experiments have now shown that if Conan the Bacterium or a similar microbe existed on Mars, it could survive 33 feet (10 meters) beneath the surface, frozen and dried out, for 280 million years.