On 10 September 2020 an asteroid missed our planet by 40 million kilometers, more than 100 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
It was detected only very recently by amateur astronomer Leonardo Amaral of the Campo dos Amarais observatory in Brazil.
To quote Planetary Society’s Chief scientist Bruce Betts: “the fact that this relatively large near-Earth object, or NEO, wasn’t detected until now serves as a reminder that there’s much work to be done when it comes to defending our planet from dangerous asteroids”.
Leonardo Amaral’s important discovery was supported by the members of The Planetary Society, which awarded Amaral an $8,500 Shoemaker NEO grant to purchase a more stable telescope mount for better tracking and longer camera exposures.
You, too, can become a Planetary Defender by donating. Every dollar will power our crucial planetary defense initiatives.
Mars Missions 2020
This year will see four missions launching to Mars. The timing is of course dictated by the orbits of Mars and Earth in relation to another, which open a good launch window every two years. But the number also shows how space exploration has become a global affaire instead of one conducted only by a few nations.
(Titel image ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO )
[themify_box color=”yellow” icon=”announcement”]Update: the launch has been moved to 2022 because “tests necessary to make all components of the spacecraft fit for the Mars adventure need more time to complete” [themify_icon icon=”ti-hand-point-right” link=”http://”] see the ESA website for more details [/themify_box]
This is part two of a mission that started in 2016. Part one brought the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) into Mars orbit and released the Schiaparelli EDM lander. The TGO has since produced some interesting science. The lander did not land successfully, proving that a) space is hard, and b) you test to learn from your failures.
Part two will now deliver the Rosalind Franklin rover, named after the X-Ray cristallographer so instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA. It will land using the Kazachok lander and descent stage.
One of the main instruments will be a drill to “retrieve samples from up to 2 m below the surface, delivering them to the onboard science laboratory for detailed analysis to sniff out signs of biological signatures.” (see this ESA-post for more details)
The entire mission is dedicated to help answer the question whether life has ever existed on Mars.
Mars 2020 / Perseverance
The mission will bring a rover to Mars now named Perseverance, that is based on the Curiosity rover but with all new instruments.
It will also have a drill. And it will also be about bio-signatures – to quote Wikipedia: “It will investigate an astrobiologically relevant ancient environment on Mars and investigate its surface geological processes and history, including the assessment of its past habitability, the possibility of past life on Mars, and the potential for preservation of biosignatures within accessible geological materials.”
It is also the first step for the proposed Mars sample return mission – which now looks like it could actually happen, as both ESA and NASA have been given budget to perform part of this complex mission.
There is also a NASA JPL fact sheet for the mission (PDF).
Here is the launch:
And here is the landing
Hope Mars Mission
The Hope Mars Mission – aka the Emirates Mars Mission – is a probe (not a lander) that wants to provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers and so help answer key questions about the global Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over the span of 1 Martian year.
Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover - Tianwen-1
The Chinese Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover is now officially named Tianwen-1, meaning ‘questions to heaven’. The name was revealed on China Space Day, marking the 50th anniversary of the launch of China’s first satellite, DFH-1, on April 24th.
The priorities of the mission include finding both current and previous life, and evaluating the planet’s surface and environment. Solo and joint explorations of the Mars orbiter and rover will produce maps of the Martian surface topography, soil characteristics, material composition, water ice, atmosphere, ionosphere field, and other scientific data will be collected.
CNSA initially focused on the Chryse Planitia and on the Elysium Mons regions of Mars in its search for possible landing sites for the lander and its associated rover. However, in September 2019, during a joint meeting in Geneva of the European Planetary Science Congress-Division for Planetary Sciences, Chinese presenters announced that two preliminary sites in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars have instead been chosen for the anticipated landing attempt, with each site having a landing ellipse of approximately 100 by 40 kilometers.
These and more details can be found on the Huoxing-1 Wikipedia page
Let’s talk about the European Union’s plan for space for a moment. Because besides ESA, the European Union itself also funds various space activities, for example Galileo (the European Union’s Global Satellite Navigation System (GNSS)) and Copernicus (European Programme for the establishment of a European capacity for Earth Observation).
Now about a year ago, the European Commission proposed a long-term budget for the 2021-2027 period. On 17th of April 2019, the European Parliament endorsed the provisional agreement reached by the co-legislators on the EU Space Programme for the next budget of 16 Billion € over the period from 2021 to 2027. It includes continuation for Galileo, Copernicus, Space Situational Awarness.
In the words of Massimo Salini, an Italian member of the EPP group “The navigation system and the earth observation improve the performance of transport services, that will produce many benefits at global and European level. A more efficient traffic management will reduce emissions and tackle the problem of climate change, an increased use of drones will improve delivery and postal services, better flight tracking will reduce flight cancellations and noise.”
Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs stated: “With the new Space Programme we also introduce new security-related space initiatives: space and situational awareness (SSA) and Governmental Satellite Communication (GOVSATCOM). We will also put the European space sector in a better position to react to the ongoing changes the space sector is undergoing worldwide. In particular, we will support a European ‘New Space’ approach with innovative start-ups, reliable and cost-effective European launch solutions and increased European technological autonomy. Space matters for Europe.”
Now this budget ist not yet finalized – it has still to find the approval of the member states. As such, it may be caught up in whatever Brexit may yet have in store for us, even thought the Financial Times thinks that won’t be so because “The EU’s next long term budget is unlikely to come to a vote within the next year…”, which the EU space programme is subject to.
Image Copyright ESA-M. Cowan, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
How can we all do space
How can we all do space, @fillingspace recently asked me on Twitter. That’s a good question, because space still appears to be something huge that nations do or super-wealthy investors. But of course the question got me thinking, and there are definitely a few areas where all of us can do space. So I thought I’d collect a few here – which means that this is more of an ongoing post, that will undergo the occasional revision or may spawn a sequel at some point. So here we go.
This is a great way to participate in the scientific endeavor. Sometimes there are science projects that need a human eye to sift through reams of date – images, sounds – because we are still way better at detecting patterns than uncle AI. A kind of one stop shop for some of the loveliest projects is Zooniverse. There, for example, you can go hunt for Planet 9 if you so feel inclined. Other space related projects (loads) are available.
Engagement and Advocacy
For ways to get involved in person, there are also a few options – some depend on location, others not so much.
The Planetary Society offers several options. This US-Organization – originally founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Louis Friedman, and Bruce Murray – creates programs to raise awareness of space exploration, has projects like Lightsail, a solar sailing spacecraft slated to launch 2019 on the third Falcon Heavy launch and has become very active in advocacy in Washington, making the case for space exploration. To support their work, you can become a member or actually “become a space advocate” . They work they do in Washington seems to be quite successful.
I have yet to find a European counterpart that would allow citizens to make a coordinated advocacy effort. So if anybody knows anything, drop me a line on twitter please.
Or you can just have fun – by joining a Yuri’s Night Event near (or starting one yourself) or going to whatever the space place nearest to you has to offer. ESTEC in Noordwijk/NL has an annual open day in the fall, others may also do things – ESA is all over Europe.
There are a few fun choices out there to that allow you to stay on top of the issue.
Take a look at Emily Lakdawalla’s for beautiful imagery and insightful, detailed information.
Data & Dev
There are also almost always hackathons going on with ESA, EUMETSAT or NASA – and I try to post them on my twitter feed as I get aware of them. On big one is actinspace – next one is scheduled for April 2020.
If you want to get even more serious than that: ESA running a Business Incubation program with currently 21 local representations all over Europe (see list on ESA-website). They also rund regular events, competitions, etc.
There are always life choices you can make. Over the years I had the privilege to work with some marvellous people who had found their place in space.
One is Janja Avbelji. Her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut and her love of figuring out how things work led her to become an engineer working on satellite data. Here is her TEDx-Talk:
And Kwame Adu Agyekum on how to hunt down pirates fishing where rightfully only fishers from Ghana are allowed to by using satellite data!
Or all videos from TEDxESA.
That’s all for today. If you know about something that should be added on here, let me know on @how2space.