The option of dropping a 500-ton structure on India and China
February 27, 2022 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Updates from February 2022 in space. The human effort to explore space continued this month, intersecting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On earth American president Biden announced new sanctions targeting Russia's space industry. In response, the director general of Roscosmos speculated freely about the ISS falling out of orbit onto several choice nations. Russia announced it would withdraw personnel from Europe's French Guiana spaceport, in response to European Union sanctions. Elon Musk tweeted that he was making Starlink connections and terminals available to Ukrainians. Russia's invading armies destroyed an Antonov An-225 "Dream" (Мрія), a huge aircraft designed to carry spacecraft. And NASA prepared to launch a new weather satellite on March 1st.

In Earth Orbit A cargo ship successfully reached the International Space Station. China launched 22 satellites from one Long March rocket, a national record. SpaceX launched more satellites, but solar storms took out 40 of them. The International Astronomical Union launched a project to protect the night skies from "the increasing number of launched and planned satellite constellations in mainly low Earth orbits."

On and around the Moon China's Chang'e 5 (嫦娥五号) service module took up a new, never before attempted lunar orbit. India announced plans to launch a new lunar mission this summer. A rocket heading towards a lunar crash is not, after all, from SpaceX, nor does China think it belongs to them.

In the Earth-Sun Lagrange-2 point The Webb Space Telescope is settling in, receiving photons, taking a selfie, and aligning its mirrors (a helpful GIF).

On Venus The Parker Solar Probe caught new, visible light images of the Venusian surface.

On and around Mars The Chinese Tianwen-1 mission marked one year on and around the red planet. The United Arab Emirates produced an Atlas of Mars based on images from their Hope (Al-Amal) orbiter; that mission also enjoyed a one year anniversary. The ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter captured surprising images of land near Hooke Crater, marked by extreme dust devils. America's Perseverance set a new record for Martian distance driving. Curiosity's wheels have been showing some damage. NASA's Mars Insight Lander survived a major dust storm and powered back up, but its power levels will probably drop over time as Martian dust accumulates on its solar panels.

Hoping for Mars An Earth-based study predicts successful water electrolysis on Mars. Five McGill University scientists published a new way for humans and our stuff to get to and from Mars much faster.

Around the sun The European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter observed the largest solar prominence on record.

Jupiter Juno sent back some striking images of Jupiter and one of its moons. Astronomers learned more about the giant planet's X-ray emissions, thanks to observations from the Earth-orbiting NuSTAR telescope.

WASP-121b MIT scientists observed the dark side of a superplanet more than 800 light years from Earth.

Arp 282, or the combination of NGC 169 and IC 1559 Hubble imaged vast interactions between these two galaxies, 320 million light years away from us.
posted by doctornemo (24 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I have fond memories of the Skylab reentry, I hoped for a piece landing in my backyard. It was a real worldwide happening!
posted by credulous at 4:29 PM on February 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

Scott Manley's video on recent space news [youtube]

It sounds like even if Russia took their ball and went home the ISS would remain in orbit for years, more than enough time to get Cygnus and Dragon to take over boosting its orbit. The Cygnus mission in progress right now (NG-17) is going to demonstrate boosting for the first time.

Rogozin is just running his mouth and should have learned from the results of his trampoline joke.
posted by allegedly at 4:46 PM on February 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

Putin's regime is really coming across as generic Bond Villiany now
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 4:49 PM on February 27, 2022 [10 favorites]

The Webb Space Telescope is settling in...

Basic alignment is done (so there's now a single image) and phasing has begun, which involves getting the mirrors set so that the photons (as light waves) from each of the 18 segments 'arrive' at the secondary mirror at more or less the exact same time, i.e. in phase. At the wavelengths of light involved (infrared) that means making adjustments with the precision of tens of nanometers.
(More here.)

I'm starting to think Webb may be one of the most accurate and sophisticated astronomic instruments ever built.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 5:42 PM on February 27, 2022 [12 favorites]

creulous: I have fond memories of the Skylab reentry, I hoped for a piece landing in my backyard.

I know, right? I remember seeing footage of someone who had a piece of Skylab solar panel land in their back yard and I was so jealous.
posted by indexy at 5:52 PM on February 27, 2022

Oh man, I was lucky enough to get to see the oxygen tank from Skylab after it fell.

Actually, it was just okay. I guess you had to be there.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:15 PM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm hoping that with the next gen spaceships the cost will lower enough that when the ISS is retired it is boosted into one of the graveyard orbits where it can just hang out until an off planet branch of the Smithsonian is established.
posted by sammyo at 6:24 PM on February 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

I remember a silly novelty song "Is it really gonna to fall on me?", about Skylab, sung to the melody of Joe Jackson's "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" Funny how that's about the extent of my memory of the event. Curiously, a quick search turns up nothing of the tune. I thought I heard it on Dr. Demento, but maybe not.

It'll be interesting what kind of amusing memories 13 year olds today will have in 40 years. If any.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:28 PM on February 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

I'm starting to think Webb may be one of the most accurate and sophisticated astronomic instruments ever built.

This guy 3D-printed his own positioning motor based on the Webb design. Even his crude setup was able to get 40 micrometers of travel. That's...insane. I'm fascinated by how they did all of this.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:55 PM on February 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

Just a quick shout-out that the NOAA GOES-T satellite is scheduled to launch Tuesday (March 1st), and will hopefully be providing new and improved images of hurricanes (or even future Pacific volcanic eruptions) within about six months or so.
posted by Flight Hardware, do not touch at 7:09 PM on February 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, is a real piece of shit.
Before taking over Roscosmos, Rogozin was a nationalist politician whose career took off in 2003 when his Motherland party won seats in parliament.

His party's deputies were known to lash out at Jews and the LGBT community, and Rogozin once appeared in a video featuring migrants from the Caucasus calling for a "clean up" of Moscow.

He is deeply loyal to Putin and opponents have speculated that his party was a Kremlin project aimed at channelling the nationalist vote.

His loyalty was rewarded in 2008 when Rogozin, who is fluent in English, French, Spanish and Italian, became Russia's ambassador to NATO -- a post he held until 2011.

He continued to be provocative, hanging a poster of Stalin in his Brussels office and fiercely opposing efforts by Russia's ex-Soviet neighbours Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO.

He was blacklisted and sanctioned by the United States in 2014 over Russia's annexation of Crimea and in 2019, NASA put off a planned visit by Rogozin to the US after protests from lawmakers.

He had recently joked that Russia would send a mission to the moon to "verify" whether or not NASA lunar landings ever took place.
He hates gays, jews, and immigrants. He pushes fake moon landing conspiracies. I recall Scott Manley once calling him the Scott Pruitt of Roscosmos. He was the guy Trump appointed to the EPA after Scott sued them multiple times and vowed to abolish the agency. I forget what this was in relation to, but I think he was all about slashing funding for Roscosmos before he found himself the head of it.

He tweeted something along the lines of 'who are you going to get to move the ISS if we don't do it'? Elon's replied to this with a SpaceX logo. Apparently the Dragon can be modified for this role. I'm not a big fan of Elon, he has his own problems, but I wouldn't mind seeing him bonk this guy on the nose.

Corrupt putin crony bigotted piece of shit. Apparently Roscosmos staff loathe him too, after he shitcanned veteran cosmonauts because they called him an idiot. Strap him to a fucking soyuz and get rid of him.

And fuck putin for taking the pride of the russian people and handing over to one of his minor goons.

posted by adept256 at 7:37 PM on February 27, 2022 [17 favorites]

Shadoobie Skylab Skylab.
posted by Reverend John at 9:22 PM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I normally find Elon Musk to be tiresome but I've been enjoying his dick swinging this week.

Activating Starlink over Ukraine? Claiming that SpaceX will save the ISS from falling from the sky? I have no idea if he can follow through on any of that but it's nice he's trying.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:52 PM on February 27, 2022

Near Cape Canaveral there used to be an old club called The Space Station. I never went in there, but I had a joke armed and ready that I seldom got the opportunity to use. The joke was that it was like a real space station, smelling like old socks and full of bored Russians.
posted by credulous at 10:09 PM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm starting to think Webb may be one of the most accurate and sophisticated astronomic instruments ever built.

I don't have the math skills to back this up, but I would guess that this title would still be held the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) experiments, which does similar high precision magic with mirrors and optical phasing but over the distance of several miles.

Granted the LIGO mirrors are here on Earth and we had direct access to them. On the other hand, the LIGO mirrors are here on Earth and every vibration and temperature fluctuation also had access to them.

We do this kind if ultra-precise optical alignment and phasing pretty regularly with one piece or segmented optical mirrors on terrestrial scopes, including large reflector binocular telescopes

ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) is also nothing to sneeze at, but like most radio telescopes it isn't as "sexy" as optical telescopes so they tend to be forgotten or misunderstood.

Now you want to talk really high precision? Instead of just one space telescope, imagine pairs observatories like the JWST in opposing Lagrange orbits to make very large baseline interferometry telescopes and lining up those segmented mirrors not just within one telescope but two or more telescopes with the same kind of optical wavelength-sized precision.
posted by loquacious at 4:43 AM on February 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Points taken. Seeing Webb succeeding just makes me a bit giddy, I suppose.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 6:05 AM on February 28, 2022

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea that the people who make jars for canning food also have the skillz to make nanometer-precision equipment for orbiting astronomical telescopes.

That’s more impressive to me than a pantyhose company building spacesuits, because I don’t see the overlap in underlying expertise.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 6:13 AM on February 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

pantyhose company building spacesuits,

Audible audiobook read by Bronson Pinchot!
posted by mikelieman at 6:21 AM on February 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Big Al 8000

Ball Aerospace has been providing advanced aerospace components since 1956, when one of the Ball brothers was hanging out with some rocket engineers.
posted by nickggully at 8:54 AM on February 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I was going to say 'earlier than that' because of Chuck Yeagar breaking the sound barrier in 1947 but then realized his X-1 was built by Bell Aircraft, not Ball Aerospace.
posted by Rash at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2022

Points taken. Seeing Webb succeeding just makes me a bit giddy, I suppose.

Oh, me too. Please do feel free to feel giddy. The fact they're doing all of this remotely is utterly fantastic, and the armatures and sensors they're using to tune the mirrors are definitely A-list scientific optics of the finest order.

I just find that a lot of the non-optical astronomy and observatories like radio astronomy or gravitational wave stuff like LIGO get passed over for the love because their results aren't as sexy or pretty as, say, the Hubble Deep Field images and it's much harder to get excited about a LIGO scatterplot or the super low resolution simulated images we get from radio astronomy.

And, well, the kind optical wavelegth scale precision being demonstrated on the JWST exists in a lot of other places. Another one that springs to mind is the fused quartz gyroscopes of the Gravity Probe B satellite, which as far as I know contains one of the most perfectly spherical object ever made, something like within 40 atoms of a perfect sphere.

And if we had built the Hubble primary mirror with this kind of active optical tuning as found on the JWST we probably wouldn't have had to correct the flawed optics system, but it's important to remember that the Hubble was basically a surplus Keyhole surveillance satellite gifted to NASA by the NRO with some upgraded sensor packages, optics and computers.

This point that the Hubble was basically a leftover NRO surveillance satellite has always stuck in my craw, because I can't help but imagine what kind of astronomy we could have accomplished by now if all of those active Keyhole satellites were pointed out at space instead of Earth.

We could have had a whole constellation of Hubbles. We could have been flying them in pairs, aligned them with laser rangefinding and doing large scale optical interferometry, or even parked groups of them in Lagrange points. We could be using a large scale system like this to scan the local solar system for existential threat asteroids and comets.

Imagine Hubble quality optical astronomy with as much as 2-3 orders of magnitude more resolution. Imagine a Hubble Ultra Deep Field image that was 2-3x more than what they did with just one scope and nearly a thousand orbits. Imagine the same kind of program but with combined resolution of 10,000 total orbits spread out over dozens and dozens of Hubble Space Telescopes.

It would be a hell of a thing.

Another high precision observatory project in the works to keep an eye on is LISA - Laser Interferometer Space Antenna which demonstrates the whole concept of using lasers and satellites in space to measure baselines between satellite constellations as a gravity measuring tool and will make LIGO look like a crude toy, without all of the incredible complexity of having to maintain a high vacuum in miles long tunnels and filtering out all of the inherent noise on the ground based LIGO system.
posted by loquacious at 1:11 PM on February 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, if you like the Lagrange point orbit of the JWST orbiting "nothing" and how precisely they nailed that launch, make sure you check out the animated GIF of the orbital plot or diagram on that LISA wikipedia link above.

It's a thing of beauty. Three satellites in matching heliocentric orbits of different orbital inclinations designed to end up in a precise triangle that wheels and dances along the same heliocentric orbit of the Earth, all while keeping a distance of known precision from each other and beaming lasers at each other just so they can try to detect the compression and ripples in the fabric of gravity and spacetime from things like colliding supersized black holes.

I don't even want to know what the orbital calculations for that look like. I'm assuming they're going to have to account for and correct local perturbations from other planets and solar bodies, too. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

All of this space astronomy has me thinking really big. I mean, really really big, like Isaac Arthur big Like so big that just the data and computing support infrastructure would likely dwarf the current state of the entire internet kind of big just to support this gigascale observatory.

Why not a Dyson swarm of heliocentric astronomical observatories?

Imagine combining all of the astronomical and cosmological instruments we have now and even some we don't as a super mega James Webb Space Telescope.

But instead of one super mega JWST - imagine a constellation of observatories numbering in the tens if not hundreds of thousands that has UV, infrared and radio and radio astronomy instruments that also have laser ranging and communication between them all based on a common chassis and frame so they can do multiple duties, like a really big Starlink constellation surrounding our sun dedicated to astronomy, physics and cosmology and gravitational wave observations and/or all of the above.

Shoot, you could put some solar observation instruments into that package, too, or make the constellation out of diverse satellites focusing on a specific type of observation but they can all talk to each other and do some neat tricks like pairing visible/optical wavelength observations with RF interferometry and correlated data sets.

Imagine such a large astronomy constellation being able to cover much of the entire visible sky - if not all of it - and perhaps the entire surface of the Sun itself and much of the solar system - all at the same time all of the time - across most of the known electromagnetic especially with high heliocentric orbits far out of our solar orbital plane.

And as far as I know there's no reason why such a swarm would be limited to the diameter of the orbit of the Earth outside of the insane costs, logistics and delta V needed, which you could likely sidestep by building them in orbit and setting up a mass production factory of some kind for it and getting in to some asteroid or lunar mining.

You could probably spin up some really big glass, quartz or other mirrors in space. You might not even need furnaces for them like you do on Earth because of how slow heat transfer is in a vacuum. Use spin gravity and the natural vacuum of space and you could likely make perfect mirrors the size of city blocks - or even larger. Use giant solar furnaces as your heat source to refine and melt glass mirrors that could also be incredibly thin and relative low mass because no planetary gravity or launch stresses to deal with.

Or imagine radio telescopes made of gossamer spiderweb reflectors and antennae the size of a large city. Imagine not one mega-Arecibo, but tens of thousands of them, all of them able to communicate with each other via direct laser data links. Imagine if they also had planetary-range radar like Arecibo and you could steer them.

We could map and track every asteroid or chunk of rock bigger than a baseball with a giant network of radio telescopes and radar/radio transmitters like that. Or peer into the hearts of the gas giants, or even rocky-icy planets and moons. You could get radar echos off the Kuiper belt and beyond with a system like this.

Or, however inadvisable it may be - beam out Arecibo style interstellar "Hello!" messages complete with beam steering and other advanced RF technology aimed at specific targets like a giant phased array antenna non-figuratively larger than the Sun.

That would be one hell of a compound eye on the cosmos and universe around us. As well as our own solar system. You could do an incredible amount of observational research with such an instrument of this scale.

We'd be able to capture fleeting things like supernova and compare it across a wide variety of observable spectrum, correlate the optical observations with radio. Or capture fast gamma ray bursts. Or compare, say, infrared observations of black holes at the centers of galaxies and reference that with gravitational wave observations. The gravitational wave observations alone would be enormous.

You could even use the very, extremely large baseline for things like gravitational lens observations just like the JWST is planning to do, but on a scale that absolutely boggles the imagination.

You could basically pick any large gravity source in the sky around us and use it like a galaxy sized lens, in any direction we wanted to look and peer back to the very beginning of time itself.

And imagine being able to watch some or all of this through a real time web service like Google Earth where you could just go sightseeing and shoulder-surfing on your choice of observations and detectors and ride along with whatever is going on. Or imagine a world where anyone, anywhere can access this data and do some serious research.

Imagine pulling out your smart phone and playing with one of those augmented realty astronomy apps and pointing your device at the sky and being able to, say, zoom in and observe the Moon, or the Sun, or any of the gas giants or zoom anywhere deep in the sky all in real time, including from really novel and unique vantage points. Imagine being able to see dust storms on Mars, the storms of Jupiter, or the volcanoes on Io in real time. If relativistic, at the speed of light and data.

Imagine a world where professional or amateur astronomers alike don't even have ground based telescopes at all any more - perhaps outside of photographers, artists or quirky vintage hobbyists - because they're basically obsolete.
posted by loquacious at 6:23 PM on February 28, 2022

Well my mind was blown by the WASP-121b news but now loquacious has spread the pieces over a city block.
posted by Mitheral at 6:56 PM on February 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Imagine billionaires being more fired up by space based astronomy and defence of Earth projects than First Men On Mars boondoggles. Wouldn't that be something? It would almost feel as if humanity actually had something of value to offer to the rest of the biosphere.
posted by flabdablet at 8:59 PM on February 28, 2022

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