Profile: The Cosmosphere

Image (Credit): Exhibits at the Cosmosphere’s Hall of Space Museum. (Cosmosphere)

You may have visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum or ventured down to Florida to visit the Kennedy Space Center, but have you heard of the Cosmosphere in Kansas?

Started in 1962, the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas claims to host “…the largest combined collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts in the world and telling the comprehensive story of mankind’s race to space unlike anywhere else on Earth.”

For example, here are a few of the items you can view at the museum:

  • Flown Liberty Bell 7 Mercury spacecraft;
  • Flown Gemini X spacecraft;
  • Flown unmanned Russian Vostok;
  • Flown Apollo 13 command module, Odyssey;
  • Apollo space suits; and
  • Russian Sokul Spacesuit.

You can also find material related to German V-1 and V-2 rockets, Cold War spying, X-planes, and more. The expanded multinational coverage of space and conflict makes this a unique destination.

Image (Credit): A German V-1 rocket from World War II in the Hall of Space Museum. (Cosmosphere)

Profile: China’s Xuntian Space Telescope

Image: Artist’s impression of the Xuntian Survey Space Telescope.

Next year China plans to launch the Xuntian (Chinese for “survey to heavens”) Survey Space Telescope that will orbit near China’s space station. Like the Hubble Space Telescope, it will be easier to service from this location. Unlike the Hubble, it will have a greater field of view – about 300-350 times greater. This field of view will allow the telescope to observe about 40 percent of the sky within its 10 year lifespan. If it last 30+ years like the Hubble, it will capture even more of the sky.

In terms of the space telescope’s planned mission, a Chinese news story stated:

It will observe well over one billion galaxies and measure their positions, shapes and brightness which may help explain how those galaxies evolve

The telescope will also be able to help determine the upper limit of neutrino mass and shed light on the mysterious dark matter and dark energy. They’re believed to account for the majority of mass-energy content of the universe.

The versatile telescope can undertake many more intriguing studies such as drawing galactic dust map of the Milky Way, observing how super-massive blackholes are gobbling up surrounding materials, exploring exoplanets and discovering new peculiar celestial bodies.

The Xuntian should be launched later next year and be fully operational in 2024.

As long as scientists around the world can share in these observations, this type of space race benefits everyone. The more eyes on the sky, the better.

Profile: Asteroid Bennu

Image (Credit): Mosaic image of asteroid Bennu composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2, 2018 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

Back in 2020, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected samples from asteroid Bennu, named after the ancient Egyptian mythological bird associated with the Sun, creation, and rebirth. These samples are scheduled to return to Earth until next year, but in the meantime there is already a lot that NASA knows about this asteroid. Some of the key points are listed below:

  • Bennu is over 4.5 billion years old.
  • Bennu is a “rubble-pile” asteroid, meaning it is rocky debris compressed by gravity.
  • Bennu is likely to be rich in platinum and gold compared to the average crust on Earth.
  • Between the years 2175 and 2199, the chance that Bennu will impact Earth is only 1-in-2,700.

You can tour the surface of Bennu by viewing a video produced by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Titled “Tour of Asteroid Bennu,” the film was featured in the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival Electronic Theater. While it did not win any awards, it was still a great opportunity to share the mission with a wider audience.

Missions to planets and moons tend to get most of the attention, but asteroids can reveal plenty about the origins of our solar system. You can learn more about the OSIRIS-REx mission to Bennu here.

Profile: Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport

Image (Credit): Rocket being launched from Virginia’s spaceport. (Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport)

When you think of NASA space launches you most likely think of Cape Canaveral in Florida, but what about Virginia? The Eastern Shore of Virginia hosts the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), which is currently being used for resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Created by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1995 at the site of a World War II Navy air station, it is the only other official spaceport on the east coast.

Northrup Grumman has been using the site for various missions, including resupplying the ISS as well as other federal payloads. Orbital Sciences Corporation (now part of Northrup Grumman) launched NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission from the site in 2013. In addition, last year Rocket Lab announced it planned to use MARS for launches of its new reusable Neutron rockets.

In February 2022, Northrop Grumman successfully launched its 17th ISS resupply rocket from the spaceport. The Cygnus space freighter carried needed supplies to the astronauts conducting research in orbit. The freighter will also be used to “boost” the ISS, or adjust its orbit, as noted by NASA:

This Cygnus mission is the first to feature enhanced capabilities that will allow the spacecraft to perform a reboost, using its engines to adjust the space station’s orbit as a standard service for NASA. The agency has one reboost is planned while Cygnus is connected to the orbiting laboratory. A test of the maneuver was performed in 2018 during Cygnus’ ninth resupply mission.

You may recall that such boosting is something the Russian’s claimed earlier could not occur if they abandoned the space station. Fortunately, NASA has other rocket options should they be needed. Moreover, we have additional spaceports to keep our astronauts in the sky and well supplied.

Image (Credit): Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter is pictured moments before its capture with the International Space Stations’s robotic arm in February of 2021. (NASA)

Extra: Below is a map showing the location of MARS on the Wallop Islands. The address of the facility is 7414 Atlantic Rd, Wallops Island, VA 23337.

Image (Credit): Location of MARS on the Virginia shore. (Google Maps)