Fly over Jupiter in this stunning video from NASA’s Juno spacecraft

What if you could hitch a ride on NASA’s Juno spacecraft at Jupiter? We may be stuck on Earth, but the space agency has given us the next best option: a new video flyover of Jupiter based on photos from Juno’s recent flyby in June. The stunning video, which is made up of 41 images captured on June 2, gives us a glimpse of what we’d see if we were able to fly around Jupiter ourselves, combining pictures taken from different angles as the spacecraft sped by the solar system’s largest planet. Throughout the video, we see zoomed-in views of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere at Juno’s closest approach, when the spacecraft was about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometres) above the planet’s cloud tops, as well as zoomed-out views. At the spacecraft’s closest point to Jupiter, the gas giant’s powerful gravity sped the spacecraft up to an impressive 130,000 mph (209,000 kph) relative to the planet, according to a NASA statement.

Japanese asteroid mission to drop ancient samples in Australian desert

The Japanese space explorer Hayabusa2 is about to complete a six-year, 5.1-billion-kilometre journey, when it releases a capsule down to Earth in the Australian desert. And when the capsule, carrying precious samples of a 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid finally makes its landing at the Woomera test range in South Australia, a Japanese recovery team will be there waiting. The capsule will be released by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft into the upper atmosphere, where it is due to parachute into the Woomera test range on December 6. It’s expected to land within a 100-150km area where it will send a radio signal that the Japanese team will track down.

Launched on December 3, 2014, Hayabusa-2 is the second such “return exploration” mission by JAXA. It arrived at the Ryugu asteroid in June 2018, which it shadowed for a year and a half, deploying purposely built “hopping” rovers to explore the surface. Hayabusa-2, which means “peregrine falcon” in Japanese, then performed a delicate operation to take samples from Ryugu’s surface before departing on November 2019 for its return trip. After nearing Earth to drop the capsule, Hayabusa will fire its engines to adjust course to manoeuvre past our planet and continue its exploration of the solar system.

Scientists want to build a telescope on the Moon to look at something even older: from the lunar surface, we’ll be able to look at the universe’ earliest stars

Ever since astronomers began staring at the sky using telescopes, they have worked to build bigger and better cosmic eyes to help them see deeper into the universe. Today’s telescopes range from large, ground-based telescope arrays to ones that orbit way above us in space. And a team of astronomers is looking to build a telescope like no other, one that looks out onto the very first stars — from the Moon.

Scientists from the University of Texas, Austin are proposing a telescope to be built on the Moon. This is not a new idea. The concept was first mooted in the year 2008 by a team of astronomers from the University of Arizona. But after examining the proposal, NASA decided not to pursue the project at the time. But now scientists want to revive the idea with a specific goal in mind — to be able to study the first stars in the universe that formed shortly after the Big Bang. These stars are known as population III stars. Elusive population III stars are believed to have formed when the universe was merely 100 million years old, before galaxies had started to form. These first stars are thought to be 100 times larger than the Sun, formed from an ancient cosmic mix of hydrogen and helium. But these first stars have never been observed before since current telescopes are not able to see that far into the universe. Therefore, they remain a theory.

Start-up company, Orbit Fab, to launch first fuel tanker in Space

Refuelling instead of graveyard: The Californian company Orbit Fab opens the first gas station in space, the company said. The San Francisco-based start-up agreed with Spaceflight, the rideshare and mission provider, to launch its first operational fuel depot, dubbed Tanker 001 Tenzing, into space next year. Tanker 001 Tenzing will provide fuel for the fast growing in-orbit servicing industry, Orbit Fab said, and is expected to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 no earlier than in June 2021. Tanker 001 Tenzing will store propellant in sun synchronous orbit, where it will be available to satellite servicing vehicles or other spacecraft that need to replenish fuel supplies. Orbit Fab plans to provide a ubiquitous supply of satellite propellant in Earth orbit, expanding the operational potential of new and existing space assets, the company says. “In the future, valuable satellites will no longer be sent to the graveyard when they run out of fuel.”

Crew Dragon docks to ISS on first operational mission

A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience, successfully docked with the International Space Station Nov. 16, a day after launch on the first operational commercial crew mission. Onboard the spacecraft were NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Vic Glover, Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi on board. The four astronauts on Crew-1 have now joined NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who have been on the ISS since arriving on a Soyuz spacecraft in October.

Crew-1 marks the beginning of operational flights to and from the ISS on commercial crew vehicles. The spacecraft will remain docked to the station for six months, with the four astronauts returning home shortly after the launch of the Crew-2 mission on another Crew Dragon spacecraft next spring. Besides ending reliance on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for getting crews to and from the station, commercial crew vehicles like Crew Dragon will enable the station to support seven-person crews for long-duration missions. NASA has touted the additional science that the additional crewmember will be able to perform. “NASA, with American industry, has developed these commercial vehicles that will allow us to bring more people to low Earth orbit, bring more people to the International Space Station, allow us to do more science in low Earth orbit and allow more commercial opportunities,” Joel Montalbano, manager of the ISS program at NASA, said at a Nov. 13 prelaunch briefing.

Germany joins JAXA’s low-cost deep space test mission

The German Aerospace Center, DLR, has partnered with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on a planned low-cost asteroid mission called Destiny+, expected to launch toward the asteroid 3200 Phaethon in 2024. DLR will build the Destiny Dust Analyzer instrument, which will measure the properties of cosmic dust during the spacecraft’s four-year cruise and its flyby of the 5.8-kilometer asteroid. The spacecraft will test innovative technologies that JAXA hopes to utilize in its future deep space exploration missions. “The objective of this mission is to make deep space exploration accessible with a small launcher,” Carsten Henselowsky, Destiny+ project manager at DLR, told SpaceNews. “The mission will also test advanced trajectory planning routines that will probe new ways of reaching the desired orbit, new lightweight solar cells and electric propulsion.”

JAXA is responsible for funding the mission, including its launch aboard Japan’s Epsilon rocket. Germany is the biggest contributor to the European Space Agency’s budget, but also has its own space program with international partnerships. During the online bilateral meeting, DLR and JAXA discussed more than 60 joint projects. The two have a comprehensive joint strategy agreement dating back to 2016.

Virgin Galactic executive to lead Australian Space Agency

A long-time Virgin Galactic executive will return to Australia to take over the country’s young space agency, the Australian government announced recently. In a statement, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Enrico Palermo, chief operating officer of Virgin Galactic, will take over as head of the Australian Space Agency in January. Palermo will replace Megan Clark, who led the agency since it was formed in 2018 and will become chair of the agency’s advisory board.

Palermo is an Australian native who graduated from the University of Western Australia. He joined Virgin Galactic in 2006 as one of its first employees, originally based in London before moving to Mojave, California. He worked at The Spaceship Company, the Virgin Galactic subsidiary responsible for manufacturing the company’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane, rising to president of that unit in 2018. He became chief operating officer of Virgin Galactic in January 2020. “Palermo’s leadership will rocket Australia toward our goal of becoming a major player in the international space industry, while providing benefits across our economy,” Morrison said in the statement.

This bizarre planet could have supersonic winds in an atmosphere of vaporized rock.

Scientists think they have identified a lava world so dramatic that it might boast a thin regional atmosphere of vaporized rock where it is closest to its star. That exoplanet is called K2-141b and was originally discovered in 2017. The world is about half again as big as Earth but orbits so close to its star, which is one class smaller than our own, that it completes several loops each Earth-day with the same surface permanently facing the star. Now, scientists predict those factors mean that two-thirds of the surface of K2-141b is permanently sunlit — so much so that not only is part of the world covered in a lava ocean, but some of that rock may even evaporate away into the atmosphere. “All rocky planets, including Earth, started off as molten worlds but then rapidly cooled and solidified,” Nicolas Cowan, a planetary scientist at McGill University in Canada and a co-author on the new paper, said in a statement. “Lava planets give us a rare glimpse at this stage of planetary evolution.”

New report outlines international approach to lunar exploration

An updated version of a study developed by an international working group backs an approach to lunar exploration that largely follows NASA’s Artemis plans to return humans to the moon in 2024. The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG), a group of 24 space agencies, released an updated version of its “Global Exploration Roadmap” report in August with little fanfare. The document offers what the group called a “a shared international vision for human and robotic space exploration,” although one that is not binding on member agencies. The new report, an update of a version published in 2018, reflects “new national priorities and intensified and accelerated lunar exploration plans” by member nations announced since that earlier report. While not explicitly stated, that would include the United States, which in March 2019 moved up the date for a human return to the lunar surface by four years, from 2028 to 2024.

The report outlines a scenario for lunar exploration similar to NASA’s plans for the Artemis program with three phases. The first phase, dubbed “Boots on the Moon,” calls for a human return to the moon in 2024, just as NASA is planning. Phase 2 envisions establishing a more permanent, sustainable presence at the lunar south pole, with excursions elsewhere on the moon. A final phase calls for “a sustained and vibrant lunar presence in the coming decades” including commercial activities. “We don’t know when it will be,” Sato said. “We’d like to encourage industries in the world to achieve a fully developed lunar economy using technologies demonstrated in Phase 1 and 2.” That approach, particular for the first two phases, closely mirrors NASA’s own plans. The plan doesn’t specify specific roles for individual countries, but does include elements of NASA’s plans, like the lunar Gateway and reusable lunar landers, as well as contributions announced by partner nations, like a large pressurized rover that JAXA has said it will develop.

Scientists detect strange ‘fast radio burst’ from within our own Milky Way

Mysterious super powerful blasts of radio waves once seen only outside the galaxy have for the first time been detected within the Milky Way, new studies find. In addition, scientists have traced these outbursts back to a rare kind of dead star known as a magnetar, the strongest magnets in the universe, for the first time. Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are intense pulses of radio waves that can release more energy in a few thousandths of a second than the sun does in nearly a century. Scientists only discovered FRBs in 2007, and because the bursts are so fast, astrophysicists still have many questions about them and their sources.

Scientists have dozens of theories about the causes of fast radio bursts, from colliding black holes to alien starships. Many theories suggest the bursts originate from neutron stars, which are corpses of stars that died in catastrophic explosions known as supernovas. (Their name comes from how the gravitational pulls of these stellar remnants are powerful enough to crush protons together with electrons to form neutrons). Specifically, previous research has suggested fast radio bursts might explode from a rare type of neutron star known as a magnetar. Magnetars are the most powerful magnets in the cosmos — their magnetic fields can be up to approximately 5,000 trillion times more powerful than Earth’s. “A magnetar is a type of neutron star whose magnetic fields are so strong, they squish atoms into pencil-like shapes,” Christopher Bochenek, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and lead author on one of the new studies, told Space.com.

OSIRIS-REx safely stores asteroid sample

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has secured material it collected from the asteroid Bennu into a sample return capsule, a process the mission accelerated after images showed material leaking into space. Project officials said they had stowed a sample collection device called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) into a capsule on the spacecraft. A robotic arm moved the TAGSAM head into position within the capsule, which then sealed shut. That TAGSAM head touched down on the surface of the asteroid Bennu Oct. 20 for several seconds, and appeared to capture a large volume of material. However, officials said Oct. 23 that the TAGSAM had gathered so much material a Mylar flap designed to seal the material into place had been wedged open by several large rocks, causing some material to leak out, as seen in images from the spacecraft. NASA then decided to accelerate the process of stowing the TAGSAM head into the capsule that will return the material to Earth, skipping a manoeuvre to weigh the sample. Controllers spent about 36 hours on Oct. 26 and 27 to use the robotic arm to move the TAGSAM head into position in the sample return capsule and verify it was locked in place, and then sealed the capsule.

With the material collected form Bennu secured inside the sample return capsule, the mission is now focused on returning those samples to Earth. The window for the spacecraft’s maneuver to depart the vicinity of Bennu opens in early March 2021. Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said the window for that maneuver extends through May. The departure manoeuvre would bring the spacecraft back to Earth in September 2023.