Space Stories: Deorbiting the ISS, Impounded Russian Rockets, and a Telescope on the Dark Side of the Moon

Image (Credit): View of Earth from the International Space Station (ISS). (NASA)

Here are some recent stories of interest.

Space News: “NASA Planning to Spend up to $1 Billion on Space Station Deorbit Module

NASA is projecting spending nearly $1 billion on a tug to deorbit the International Space Station at the end of the decade to provide redundancy for safely disposing of the station. NASA released additional details March 13 about its fiscal year 2024 budget proposal. An outline of the proposal, published by the White House March 9, requested $27.2 billion for the agency, a 7.1% increase from 2023 that roughly keeps pace with inflation.

Radio Free Europe: “Kazakhstan Impounds Property Of Russian Cosmodrome Operator In Baikonur

Kazakh authorities have impounded the property of Russia’s main operator of spacecraft launching sites in Baikonur (Baiqonyr) in the Central Asian nation’s southern region of Qyzylorda…According to the media outlet, the decision was made due to the Russian state company’s debt of 13.5 billion tenges ($29.7 million) to the Baiterek Kazakh-Russian joint venture for work related to estimating ecological damage caused by Souyz-5 rockets.

SciTechDaily: “NASA, DOE Telescope on Far Side of the Moon Will Reveal the Dark Ages of the Universe

NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) are working together to develop a science instrument that will survive the harsh and unforgiving environment of the lunar surface at night on the far side of the Moon to attempt first-of-its-kind measurements of the Dark Ages of the Universe. The instrument, named the Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment – Night (LuSEE-Night), is a collaboration between DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, the DOE Office of Science, UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Space Quote: NASA’s Proposed Budget for FY 2024

“President Biden’s budget will help us explore new cosmic shores, continue to make strides in traveling to and working in space and on the Moon, increase the speed and safety of air travel with cutting-edge technologies, and help protect our planet and improve lives here on Earth.”

Statement by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson regarding the release of the The President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2024. Under this budget, NASA proposes to:

  • Build on the successful Artemis I mission and pave the way for a long-term presence at the Moon. 
  • Further new scientific discovery in our solar system and beyond. 
  • Support a future in low-Earth orbit.
  • Advance U.S. leadership in technology innovation in aviation and space. 
  • Engage diverse learners in NASA’s mission to create our nation’s next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers – the Artemis Generation. 

Movie: 65 (Million Years Ago)

Credit: Sony Pictures

Adam Driver (from Star Wars fame) is starring in a new movie released this weekend that combines Planet of the Apes with Jurassic Park. Driver plays a space traveler who goes back in time and does not know the “uncharted” planet he landed on until the big-teeth neighbors come around to say “hi.”

Here is the set up from Sony Pictures:

After a catastrophic crash on an unknown planet, pilot Mills (Adam Driver) quickly discovers he’s actually stranded on Earth…65 million years ago. Now, with only one chance at rescue, Mills and the only other survivor, Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), must make their way across an unknown terrain riddled with dangerous prehistoric creatures in an epic fight to survive.

You can catch the trailer here as well.

So far, Rotten Tomatoes has give it a critic’s score of 36%. Here are a few of the comments:

  • There’s a reason such films have, in theatrical terms, been pushed to the brink of extinction, and 65 represents such an uninspired effort as to look like a fossil even before the credits roll.
  • Sometimes a short, simple premise with good leads is all you need. 65 is no Jurassic Park but it will entertain and get out before you want it to.
  • It’s not schlocky enough to be so-bad-it’s-good and nowhere near good enough to be taken even a tiny bit seriously.

I thought the movie was expected to be released on March 17th, but instead the movie 65 was in theaters this weekend.

Don’t let the critics deter you. If you are looking for a simple, fun film, I would check it out.

Television: The JWST on NOVA, Again

Credit: PBS

NOVA has a new episode this season on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Unlike last season’s episode, Ultimate Space Telescope, which discussed the creation, launch, and early success of the space telescope, this episode, New Eye on the Universe, goes deeper into the goals of the space telescope as well as the findings since the first images appeared.

Here is a list of the topics covered in the latest episode (and their spot on the recording):

  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 04:11 The James Webb Space Telescope’s First Images
  • 05:47 Searching for Life on Exoplanets: Are We Alone in the Universe?
  • 14:40 Looking for Life in Our Own Solar System: Moons of Jupiter and Saturn
  • 18:52 Adjusting New Images from JWST: Science Meets Art
  • 23:55 Studying Supermassive Black Holes and Merging Galaxies
  • 30:25 Detecting the Oldest Galaxies with the JWST
  • 37:13 Troubleshooting the New Telescope’s Light Measurements
  • 42:12 Detecting the Atmosphere of a Rocky Exoplanet
  • 46:28 Results from the Team’s New Studies
  • 51:05 Conclusion

The section on adjusting the images is interesting in that we would not see these beautiful images as portrayed even if we could fly though space for an up-close look. Our eyes cannot see all of what the JWST can see in infrared. This is further explained in a Scientific American article, “Are the James Webb Space Telescope’s Pictures ‘Real’?

You can watch the latest episode on the PBS internet site, your local PBS station, or YouTube.

One More Rocket Mishap, This Time in Japan

Image (Credit): Japan’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3, which was lost in the latest rocket failure. (JAXA)

The string of rocket failures continues. I had earlier mentioned the UK and Alaskan mishaps, while an Arianespace Vega C rocket launch from French Guiana when awry last December, and now Japan has suffered its own failure this week. Tuesday’s failed launch of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) H3 rocket is a setback for this new rocket. When the second stage of the rocket failed to ignite, the rocket self-destructed. The destruction included the rocket’s payload – the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3.

In additional to assisting with key Japanese defense and research satellite payloads, the H-3 rocket is part of Japan’s plan to assist with cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as well as future Artemis missions. Japan will need to figure out what happened here and get back into the game as soon as possible.

Following the recent failure of two Russian capsules at the ISS, this latest mishap demonstrates that both new and well-tested government-run space missions are subject to failure and delays. Redundancy within the commercial space industry will be critical as a backstop to these government-run programs.