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Monday, 19 October 2015

Europe and Russia may join forces for Moon landing, ESA launches tiny spacecraft from the ISS, and more....

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Europe and Russia may co-operate on Moon lander

Dr James Carpenter, of the European Space Agency, has described to the BBC how he expects Europe and Russia might co-operate on a lunar lander that would land on an unexplored region of the Moon's south pole. The Lunar south pole is home to a lot of mysteries, including valley where the sun has not risen for billions of years,mountain peaks where it never sets, large amount of water ice and organic molecules, unique geological formations, and temperatures colder than the far side of the planet Pluto. The lander would mainly be aimed at searching for usable materials such as water ice, and might be a first step towards a manned base (although I've heard that before).

Above: A topographic Map of the Lunar south pole, the lander's destination. Courtesy of ESA.

Fuel mined on the Moon may be the key to Mars

But, while we're on the Moon, Olivier de Weck (a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems at MIT) and Takuto Ishimatsu (a postdoc at MIT), have published findings that suggest the easiest way to get to Mars may be via a refuelling stop in Lunar orbit. If there are enough resources on the moon for a small automated factory to refine into fuel, a tanker of gas could meet a Mars mission in lunar orbit, saving the mission nearly n70% of it's take off weight overall.
“This is completely against the established common wisdom of how to go to Mars, which is a straight shot to Mars, carry everything with you,” de Weck says. “The idea of taking a detour into the lunar system … it’s very unintuitive. But from an optimal network and big-picture view, this could be very affordable in the long term, because you don’t have to ship everything from Earth,” said de Weck.

Above: An Apollo Lunar lander, one of only a few spacecraft able to launch a significant payload off the Moon. Might a similar craft one day carry the fuel for a Mars mission? Courtes of NASA.

ESA launches technology testing satellite from the International Space Station 

ESA has launched a nanosatellite (with the unlikely name of GOM-X3)from the International Space Station, carrying a suite of new communications technologies to test, including technology to measure the transmission efficiency of satellite thousands of kilometres away in geostationary orbit.
“This tiny satellite was developed in only a year and now we are very pleased with the rapid progress made during the first few days in orbit to check its readiness for its mission,” notes Roger Walker, overseeing ESA’s technology CubeSat effort.

Above: The tiny spacecraft launching from the ISS. Courtesy of ESA.

Orionid meteor shower (bits of Halleys comet) comes to town 

Back on Earth, if you're lucky enough to get clear skies over the next week you might be able to spot the Orionid meteor shower. The shower is actually the trail of dust and small stones left behind by Halleys comet, and Earth passes through it every year. These little chunks burn up high in out atmosphere as meteors.  The Orionids aren't a s numerous as some showers - maybe ten or twenty meteors an hour, but if you have the time it's a fun challenge to see how many you can spot. 

If you fancy something a bit more advanced: Go out to the countryside and give youir eyes a full thirty minutes to adapt to the dark. Now start looking for meteors - when you find them some may well have a visible colour. The colour tells you what that particular chunk of space rock was made of - follow this link here to see what the different colours mean. An exceptionally big one, that gets close to the ground, may even cause a sonic boom!

Above: Timelapse footage of 2012's Orionid shower, courtesy of David Kingham

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