California startup hopes to build a factory in space

It’s common for U.S. manufacturers to outsource production to less-developed countries where the overhead is less, but one California-based startup looks forward to a future where companies may outsource production to low-Earth orbit.

It’s common for U.S. manufacturers to outsource production to less-developed countries where the overhead is less, but one California-based startup looks forward to a future where companies may outsource production to low-Earth orbit. Made In Space, a company based in Mountain View, Calif., is developing plans for space factories that could float above Earth and build products more cheaply than is feasible down on our planet’s surface.
The company has reported making some progress on its quest this year. In June, the company tested its manufacturing equipment for the first time in a vacuum chamber that simulated the microgravity of space.
The company also now has a $20 million partnership with NASA, whose researchers hope to turn Made In Space’s experimental technology into orbital spacecraft as early as 2020.
“In-space manufacturing and assembling has been the stuff of science fiction and the dream of the industry for almost the entire existence of the industry,” said Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush. “But now, for the first time, we’re making these really transformative steps toward making that a reality.”
Rush would like to see the rise of a “low Earth orbit economy” fostered by these orbiting manufacturing centers. The factories could be a great asset for space science, as well—and maybe even the search for extraterrestrial life—suggested Steve Jurczyk, associate director of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, who explained that if the factories could coordinate the building of a telescope in space, they could construct a bigger and more powerful telescope than humans could ever launch off Earth’s surface.

Satellite rides into space via converted missile parts

Private space-flight company Orbital ATK built the rocket, a five-stage Minotaur IV. Its first three stages are derived from a decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missile.

The U.S. Air Force used a rocket built with parts of a nuclear missile to launch a defense satellite into space Saturday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite, a SensorSat spacecraft, will help the military keep track of the myriad chunks of space debris floating above Earth.
Private space-flight company Orbital ATK built the rocket, a five-stage Minotaur IV. Its first three stages are derived from a decommissioned intercontinental ballistic missile.
On top of the three converted-missile stages were a pair of Orion 38 stages, both built by Orbital ATK. The company’s rockets usually include only one Orion 38 stage, but this rocket had two to help steer the satellite toward its destination point.
The launch succeeded and deployed the satellite within a half-hour to an orbital point about 370 miles above the equator. The satellite will follow an orbit at this point and turn its sensors outward to track an orbital zone about 22,000 miles higher up.
This higher region is known as “geostationary orbit” and is where commercial and national-security satellites that provide critical military and weather data operate. The SensorSat satellite will watch the geostationary-situated satellites from below to keep a lookout for space debris or any other objects that threaten them.
“It’s sort of analogous to a surveillance radar at an airport, which goes around and around and around and around, surveilling the domain,” said Grant Stokes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, which built the satellite.
The satellite weighs around 113 kilograms and is about the size of a coffee table, according to the laboratory. The researchers said that they built it for less than $100 million, a low price by space-satellite standards.

North Korea fires missile directly over Japan

North Korea tested a ballistic missile early Tuesday morning, local time, that flew nearly 1,700 miles and soared directly over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido before landing in the ocean.

North Korea tested a ballistic missile early Tuesday morning, local time, that flew nearly 1,700 miles and soared directly over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido before landing in the ocean.

Television programs in Japan were interrupted with an announcement of the missile’s presence over the country and the government warned people who were in its path to take cover, a report by The New York Times said.

“North Korea’s reckless action of launching a missile that passed over Japan is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat,” said Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

The missile test also could be seen as a taunt to President Trump, who recently threatened to rain “fire and fury” down on North Korea if it endangered the United States. And at Trump’s rally in Phoenix, Arizona, last week, the president boasted that his threat was making North Korean leader Kim Jong Un begin “to respect” the U.S.

The projectile fired over Japan appeared to be an intermediate-range missile that could reach American, Japanese, and South Korean bases in northeast Asia, the Times report said.

Japan did not try to shoot down the missile because the government did not perceive a threat to Japanese territory, according to Lt.Gen. Hiroaki Maehara, Commander of Japan’s Air Self Defense Force. But residents in the path of the missile were advised to take cover in case any parts dropped on Japan.

“We have lodged a firm protest to North Korea,” said Prime Minister Abe, in a statement. “We have requested an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council.”

Record-size ‘sea dragon’ rediscovered in museum collection

Woah! A crazy discovery in the least expected place.

As paleontologist Dean Lomax of the University of Manchester in the UK said on confirming that a fossil on display at a museum in Hanover, Germany, was the largest Ichthyosaurus, or ‘sea dragon,’ ever found: “You don’t necessarily have to go out in the field to make a new discovery.”

The fossil was first spotted at the Hanover museum by paleontologist Sven Sachs, according to BBC News. He then got in touch with Lomax, who is an expert on Ichthyosaurs.

The reptile, dating to the Jurassic period, belongs to the species Ichthyosaurus somersetensis — named after England’s southwest county of Somerset where many remains of the ancient marine creatures have been discovered. It was unearthed in the 1990s at Doniford Bay, Somerset, and ultimately ended up in the Lower Saxony State Museum in Hanover.

The record-breaking specimen, which measures more than 11 feet (3.5 meters) long, is of a remarkably well-preserved female Ichthyosaur that is not only remarkably well-preserved, but also contains the remains of a developing fetus.

“It amazes me that specimens such as this can still be ‘rediscovered’ in museum collections,” said Lomax, in a statement, as reported by Gizmodo. “You don’t necessarily have to go out in the field to make a new discovery. This specimen provides new insight into the size range of the species, but also records only the third example of an Ichthyosaurus known with an embryo. That’s special.”

Ichthyosaurs were dolphin-like marine reptiles that died out about 90 million years ago. Not true dinosaurs, they roamed the planet long before the emergence of their more ferocious cousins and, like mammals, gave birth to live young.

The study is published in the journal Acta Paleontologica Polonica.

NASA’s InSight lander will probe Mars’ interior

Optimal launch conditions from Earth to Mars occur every 26 months, which is why the mission was postponed for two years.

NASA’s next Mars probe, a lander scheduled for launch during a five-week window starting May 5, 2018, will study the planet’s interior in an attempt to learn more about the processes by which rocky worlds form.

Named InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Support, the lander will touch down near the Martian equator the Monday after Thanksgiving 2018. It will be powered by two solar panels that will open up much like paper fans.

A robotic arm will place the probe’s two main instruments, a seismometer and a heat probe, into the ground, where they will perform a variety of studies.

Equipped with shielding to protect it from Martian winds, the seismometer is highly sensitive, capable of detecting ground movements as small as half of a hydrogen atom’s diameter. It will keep track of both seismic waves and meteor impacts to provide scientists with data about the layers below Mars’ surface.

The heat probe, capable of hammering itself as deep as 12 feet into the planet’s interior, will measure the degree of energy originating there.

Separately from the robotic arm, radio transmissions will be sent between Earth and Mars to measure possible disturbances in the way Mars rotates on its axis.

These disturbances could help scientists constrain the size of the planet’s core.

The first mission to ever study the planet’s deep interior, InSight was selected by NASA, beating out 27 other proposed solar system missions.

Initially scheduled for a March 2016 launch, the mission was subsequently postponed when a leak was found in the metail container protecting the seismometer’s main sensors. That leak would have compromised the seismometer’s ability to keep near-vacuum conditions.

Since then, the vacuum vessel protecting the seismometer has been redesigned, tested, and installed on the probe.

Optimal launch conditions from Earth to Mars occur every 26 months, which is why the mission was postponed for two years.

“We have fixed the problem we had two years ago, and are eagerly preparing for launch,” InSight project manager Tom Hoffman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said.

InSight will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California.

Chinese businesses risk U.S. sanctions to do business in North Korea

On August 22, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned several Chinese companies that it said were assisting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s development of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles.

China may be one of the United States’ top two trading partners, but it can still incur U.S. sanctions over business transactions with North Korea. U.S. officials have begun instituting punitive measures against Chinese firms that are operating in the Stalinist state in defiance of U.S.-led UN sanctions against commerce with North Korea.

On August 22, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned several Chinese companies that it said were assisting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s development of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles. One company, Dandong Chengtai, is on the list for suspect money-laundering on behalf of North Korean clients.

U.S. prosecutors also said that they will attempt to recover $11 million from China- and Singapore-based companies that they accuse of conspiring with North Korea to evade sanctions. And Derek Scissors, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington, DC., told Bloomberg that U.S. action against large state-owned Chinese banks and businesses, such as China National Petroleum Corp., might be next.
“We have the ability to say, ‘Any Chinese state-owned enterprise that we consider relevant is fair game,”’ said Scissors. “We haven’t even gotten close to the economic coercion we’re capable of.”
China conducts a limited but growing amount of trade with North Korea and thereby provides the North Korean regime with an economic lifeline. Two-way trade between China and North Korea grew 11% in the first half of 2017 to reach $2.55 billion, even while regional tensions flared over North Korea’s weapons programs. China also provides the North Korean regime with a million tons of crude oil every year, amounting to almost all of North Korea’s oil supply.
U.S. officials have historically been wary of targeting Chinese institutions over North Korean trade, however, since it would put Chinese-U.S. economic activity at risk. Gary Samore, former coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction in the Obama White House, warned that imposing penalties on large Chinese financial institutions would have “major economic consequences on the U.S.”

Northeast states’ cap-and-trade system makes gains against climate change

Businesses potentially make money by cutting their pollution and selling off their permits, while businesses that continue to pollute must pay more for their pollution.

Nine northeastern states—five of whom are headed by Republican governors—confirmed Wednesday that they have cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 40% since 2008 under their interstate “cap-and-trade” program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The states also announced a follow-up goal of reducing emissions 30% more by 2030.
“It’s a major victory for the region, given the fact that it has all nine states on board, five of which are Republican governors,” Jackson Morris, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s director of Eastern energy, told the Huffington Post. “You couch all that in the lens of the Trump federal situation, and it’s a major victory today for acting on climate.”
The nine states in the RGGI—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont—brought their total carbon-dioxide emissions down from 110 million tons in 2008 to 79.2 million tons in 2016. They committed this week to cap emissions at 75 million in 2021 and reduce them by another 2.25 million a year over the following decade.
Cap-and-trade is a system by which the government sets a limit on pollution emissions and fines businesses if they run over it. However, it also lets the businesses by and sell “permits,” which allow the businesses that buy them to pollute more up to a certain amount.
Businesses potentially make money by cutting their pollution and selling off their permits, while businesses that continue to pollute must pay more for their pollution. The government prints more permits if the prices of permits get too high and threaten to spike consumer electricity prices.
California has its own state cap-and-trade program, but RGGI is the only interstate program in the country.

NASA releases movie depicting Saturn’s rings

Another beautiful photo of Saturn via NASA.

NASA has released a closeup movie depicting several of Saturn’s rings, created through a process of combining 21 images taken over four minutes by the Cassini spacecraft in one of its final dives between the rings and the giant planet.

The probe’s wide-angle camera captured the images, whose initial sizes are 512 X 512 pixels, on Sunday, August 20. In order to collect more images over a short time period, mission scientists reduced some of the photos to a smaller size.

Each of Saturn’s main rings is visible in the video. Because the pictures were taken from a low viewing angle, the rings appear closer and smaller than they actually are.

The animation begins by showing the rings’ sunlit side, then moves to highlight the side in shadow.

Variations in lighting among the images compiled to create the movie results in some of the rings being easier to see than others.

Being closest to the probe and in sunlight, Saturn’s gray-colored C ring looms large in the forefront, with the bright B ring and less bright A ring respectively beyond it.

Visible between the B ring and the A ring is the large gap known as the Cassini Division, caused by the pull of the small moon Mimas, which is not seen in the movie.

Also clearly visible in the animation is Saturn’s F ring.

First discovered in the 17th century, the A, B, and C rings are considered Saturn’s main or classical rings, as opposed to the D, E, F, and G rings, which were found much more recently.

A labeled view of the rings has been posted by NASA on the site PIA0389.

Large asteroid will safely fly by Earth September 1

A massive asteroid will flyby Earth later this month.

A 2.7-mile wide asteroid, the largest near-Earth object to fly close to our planet since such objects were discovered approximately 100 years ago, will make its closest approach to Earth on Friday, September 1.

Nicknamed “Florence,” the object poses no threat to our planet, and will come no closer than 4.4 million miles, or approximately 18 times the Earth-Moon distance, which averages 238,855 miles.

Because of its large size and relatively close passage to Earth, the asteroid makes an ideal target for NASA to measure with radio telescopes.

With a visible magnitude of 9, Florence will be an easy target for anyone with a telescope, who, starting on August 27, will be able to see it pass through several constellations, including Piscis Austrinus, Capricornus, Aquarius, and Delphinus, noted Rudiger Jehn of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Initially dubbed Asteroid 1981 ET3, Florence was discovered in October 1981 at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. It was subsequently named Florence 3122 in honor of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale.

Its size was determined by scientists studying it with the Spitzer Space Telescope and with NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, a project that measures the sizes of asteroids and comets near the Earth.

“While many known asteroids have passed by closer to Earth than Florence will on September 1, all of those were estimated to be smaller,” explained Paul Chodas, who manages NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies.

A total of 1,826 asteroids and comets are being tracked by NASA as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids. This means they could at some point pose a threat of impacting our planet.

Although a few of those are larger than Florence, none has come as close to Earth as it will later this week.

Earlier this year, asteroid  AG13, with a diameter between 36 and 111 feet,managed to come within half the Earth-Moon distance, surprising astronomers, who had no advance warning of its passage.

A similarly-sized asteroid, 2012 TC4, will harmlessly come within one-quarter of the Earth-Moon distance on October 12.

Millions view solar eclipse in person and online

The great American eclipse puts on a show seen by tens of millions.

The “Great American Eclipse” of August 21, the first with a path of totality from one US coast to another in 99 years, may have been the most observed and photographed solar eclipse in history.

Approximately 12 million people live in the 70-mile wide path of totality that ran through 14 states while several million more traveled from all over the country and the world to locations on the path to view the phenomenon.

A partial eclipse was visible in all US states, Canada, Central America, northern South America, northwestern Europe and Africa, and the eastern Chukchi Peninsula in Asia.

More than 40 million people watched NASA’s live online broadcast of the event, making it the agency’s most watched live broadcast, seen by more people than the highly popular broadcasts of the 2012 Mars Curiosity rover landing and the 2015 New Horizons Pluto flyby.

“We’ll admit it–even we were blown away by the sheer magnitude of response to the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017,” the space agency said in a public statement.

According to YouTube, more than 100 million people watched livestreams and videos of the eclipse.

Many students took part in citizen science projects that involved photographing the event.

The Eclipse MegaMovie Project is assembling photos and videos taken by more than 1,000 photographers and amateur astronomers across the country to create a continuous view of the eclipse as it traversed the continent.

Images taken along the path of totality will provide scientists with unprecedented insight into the solar corona and changes it undergoes over time.

Because the project will be repeated during the next solar eclipse in the US on April 8, 2024, it will illustrate changes in the Sun’s outer atmosphere over a period of seven years.

In Lake Barkley State Resort Park, just outside of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, as in numerous locations along the path of totality, hundreds of people observed the eclipse after traveling many hours from other states and even from Prince Edward Island in Canada.

Like many parents, Kale Dowdy and his wife, residents of Evansville, Indiana, took their children out of school to view the eclipse as a family event.

Mark Grove of South Bend, Indiana, viewed solar flares coming from the Sun’s surface through a ten-inch telescope with a 25-millimeter eyepiece.

Temperatures at the Cadiz, Kentucky State Resort Park were in the 90s when the eclipse started, with a heat-humidity index ranging from 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit.

As more and more of the Moon proceeded to obscure the Sun, a slight wind picked up; lighting became muted, and weather conditions went from brutal to comfortable.

At totality, the sky suddenly darkened to twilight. Venus became visible, and strange clouds appeared on the western horizon while observers marveled at the corona.

Following totality, the heat and humidity returned as the Moon moved away from the Sun.